Monday, July 31, 2006

Just In Time... NOT!

So guess what came in the mail today, one day after Conestoga has ended? That's right. The "Whack a Monkey" T-Shirt.

So now here's my dilemma. I've already taken vacation days in two weeks, the weekend of ArmadilloCon in Austin, TX. Problem is, I ended up spending more money than I expected at Conestoga, and not making any back by, say, selling copies of Blue Falcon (not that I tried very hard, really). But as I'm not an invited guest, the chances are even slimmer that I could really get any immediate financial benefit from a visit to ArmadilloCon.

But on the other hand, there will be Universe events that I could attend, and hopefully help the magazine with its publicity efforts (by, say, wearing the "Whack a Monkey" T-Shirt, among other things). I could meet industry folks who didn't make it up to Conestoga and make valuable connections. On a personal level, I could hang with some cool people that I currently only see, like, once a year. I could squeeze out some money to go, but it would be a rough time. Is it worth the investment?

Guest Starring: Tony Frazier

Conestoga's over. It was my first convention as an invited guest, and I had a blast.

Cons are weird animals, because the first day is all sort of set-up and prelude. There are a few activities, but it's mainly just opening ceremonies and a couple of practice panels, followed by parties. This con was weird, because although I went to a couple of parties, I did not drink at all Friday night, and only a little Saturday. Saturdays, everything gets into full-swing, day and night. Sundays, everybody's exhausted and (for some) hung over, and the con is ending soon, so everything feels low-key and brittle. And then you go home.

Friday, I got to the hotel about an hour before registration was due to open because of a childcare snafu. Walked into QT to get breakfast and ran into K.D. Wentworth, who said, "They need help setting up the art show." So I got "Hey, you"'d into service before the con actually started. After I'd helped them hang up some art, I went to registration to check in and ran into Paula Goodlett, assistant editor at Baen's Universe. I've corresponded with Paula via email quite a lot, but had never met her in person, so that was cool. As it turned out, I saw a lot of Paula over the weekend.

My first panel was "The Year in Movies." I thought it was weird that I ended up on that instead of "Year in Television," since I work in TV but rarely go to movies anymore. However, it turns out that most of the TV panel was spent talking about shows I don't watch, and I actually got in some good comments on the movie panel, so it turned out okay.

Saturday was full. I had a New Writers panel, where I sat next to K. Hutson Price, whom I had also sat next to on the Movie panel. Turns out she's a former 98G Voice Interceptor Linguist (only Russian instead of Korean). Small world. She was a lot of fun, but we didn't get to talk much, because it was such a busy day.

Later I had a panel about anime. I mentioned a while back that I needed to study up for this one. Well, as it turns out, I didn't do it, but I think it turned out well. It's been a long time since I've had an opportunity to flip that switch and go into onstage mode, but I think I got the hang of it pretty quickly, and the audience seemed interested. I had planned to get something signed by the Guest of Honor, David Drake, but I never did dig the books out of storage, so that opportunity passed. I did get Black/on/Black signed by K.D. Wentworth, though, which was cool.

The con was at a hotel which was way out on the east side of town, just a mile from the only Korean restaurant in Tulsa. I rarely eat there, because it's so far out of the way and I'm hardly ever out that far. So Saturday, I took advantage of the proximity and went there. I had the buffet, which was ok, but I wish I had ordered from the menu. One funny thing: the sneeze shield had little signs to identify which food was which. I grabbed some stuff identified as "Chicken Teriyaki" even though it was stir-fry in some red sauce. As I was eating later, I noticed a tentacle in my "Chicken Teriyaki," so I'm pretty sure it was mislabeled, unless they were using, like, Elder God chickens or something.

After lunch, I went back to the hotel and realized that I'd just had a spicy kimchi-laden lunch just minutes before I was supposed to sit on a panel with the Guest of Honor, so I jumped into the Green Room and drank a bottle of water in about 2 minutes to try to wash away some of the residues. Of course, once I got to the Baen's Universe panel, David Drake sat right next to me. I hope I didn't smell too awful. The panel was pretty good, but I fear I babbled.

My reading was opposite the Yard Dog Press Travelling Road Show, which means no one was there. Lee Killough was the only person in the audience. I bummed around, watched bits of panels featuring my friends, and then went up to the film room to see a short film by Frank Wu. Frank is a hyperactive dude, very enthusiastic, who is a former Illustrators of the Future winner and who is featured in the first DaiKaiju! anthology. He has turned his DaiKaiju! story into an animated film, which is pretty hilarious. I got a free "Guidolon, the Giant Space Chicken" T-Shirt from him.

At 6:30, the Universe folks met in the lobby to go to dinner. We ended up having one person too many to fit on the vehicles provided, so I offered to follow in my car. William Ledbetter, another Universe author, rode along with me. We were going to a restaurant I'd never been to before.

I got lost. Called The Wife for directions, but she didn't answer her phone. Bill called his wife to see if she could pull directions off the internet, but she did not answer either. I ended up calling the Master Control room at the station to ask them to check the address for me. Dinner was good, but expensive, and the portions were huge, which caused me some later distress after my spicy Korean lunch.

We had a Universe party in the hotel after dinner, which was sparsely attended, but fun. I drank a little (thanks for the beer, Matt), but went home a little after one in the morning. I missed the masquerade and play, which means I also missed the announcement that I had won second place in the Bad Metaphor contest. My winning entry (as well as I can remember):

Her eyes clouded over with a troubled expression, like the coating of dust on a car in a Wal-Mart parking lot; he wanted to take his finger and write "Wash Me" on her eyeball.

Even though I hardly drank at all, I had a raging headache all the next day. I had no activities scheduled for myself except a signing. I broke out some old copies of Blue Falcon, just to have something to sign, but didn't sell any. I mostly watched panels by my friends, then attended the closing ceremonies.

Later that evening, I went to the Dead Dog dinner at Johnnie's. David Drake and James Hogan were there, which surprised me, but I was still all with the headache, so I wasn't as social as I might have been otherwise. Then again, everybody was tired, so maybe they didn't care.

Anyway, it was fun, and I even took some pictures, but they didn't turn out very well. I was having flash problems. The pictures where I didn't use the flash are blurry because of the long exposure time. The pictures with flash have little blobs of light all over them. I think my lens is dirty.

So there were some problems, but overall, it was a great time.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Little Worried

The "Whack a Monkey" T-Shirt has not arrived yet. It's not a huge deal. I'd planned to wear it Saturday, so I still have tomorrow, and if it comes Saturday, I can still wear it Sunday. But it sure would have been better to have it in hand today.

Other than that, things are okay. Only about a quarter of a way through The Tank Lords, and it's not what I expected. I sort of knew what to expect, given it's a Hammer's Slammers book, but what I didn't realize is it's a collection of shorter works. So there was an opening scene that was only tangentially connected to the next big storyline (which I'm currently reading), but I don't get the feeling that it's going in to a definite conclusion. It just seems to happen aimlessly, moment by moment, which is not bad, exactly, but doesn't really keep me glued to the page in suspense, trying to help push them to their goal.

Making no progress on Hero Go Home, but with luck, this weekend will inspire me.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Ivanhoe Problem

So I finished Black/on/Black and now I'm reading David Drake's The Tank Lords, one of the Hammer's Slammers series. I'm hoping to have it and Stars/Over/Stars, the sequel to Black/on/Black, finished by the start of the con. I probably won't, but the new toy has made reading fun again, now that I can carry several books, plus my own manuscripts, in my pocket. I find myself reading during lunch, during breaks at work, during any sort of lull, really. I was suffering a bit of buyer's remorse right after I bought the Palm, but I'm hoping that the Frazier'sBrain Mobile Command Center will prove its worth at the con.

About Black/on/Black: I had avoided reading this for quite a while, mainly because of the main character (a seven-foot-tall fuzzy alien with fangs and claws who goes by the name of Heyoka Blackeagle). The alien species seemed terribly derivative of both Niven's Kzin and Cherryh's Chanur series, plus having an alien with an American Indian name seemed a little too precious. But when the author read a portion of a short story in progress featuring the same character, I was intrigued enough to hunt down the book and try it out, and I've got to say, I'm glad I did. It was pretty good.

The one big shortcoming for me is a matter of personal taste, a pet peeve I call the 'Ivanhoe Problem.' When I was young, I read a book titled Ivanhoe; I don't think it was the Sir Walter Scott version, but perhaps a novelization of the movie or a modernized version for younger readers. I remember liking parts of the book quite a lot, but I was horribly frustrated by one major feature of the book's plot.

Wilfred of Ivanhoe, the title character, is terribly wounded early in the book, and spends much of the plot being shuttled and hidden and cared for by Rebecca, only to emerge again toward the end to win the day in the big battle alongside Robin of Locksley. So for most of the book, instead of reading about the heroic knight whose adventures I'd signed on to read, I was reading about all of the plots and counter-plots surrounding the heroic knight, along with the efforts of the supporting cast to get the heroic knight into position for the climax. The "hero" I wanted to read about was lying in bed, sweating and shivering with fever and infection.

Once again, perhaps the balance is better in the original than the version I read (if indeed I read a different version - it was 30 years ago or so when I read it). But ever since, it has irritated me to one degree or another to open a book and get interested in a character, only to have that character torn to shreds and spend a long time recuperating. In Black/on/Black, we're introduced to two main characters on page one, and within a couple of chapters, they're both wounded and helpless and spend most of the rest of the book incapacitated in some way, being shuttled around by the supporting cast. I like the writing, and I like the characters, and I understand the impulse by the author to signal to the audience that the characters aren't invulnerable, but damn, I hope the sequel lets them stay on their feet a little more.

Monday, July 24, 2006

A New Toy

So for about two decades now, I've made a habit of taking a notebook with me when I go out for a beer. Over the years, I've written major parts of three screenplays, three aborted novels and two finished ones in bars over a beer and (in more recent years) a cigar. I like the ambience, the rush and babble of people, and the fact that when I get tired of writing, I can pause and observe people, and when I get tired of that, I can go back to writing.

But lately, I 've found myself getting more and more impatient with paper and pen. Sometimes, I want to stop in midstream and work on something different, but I don't want to get the pages mixed up. Sometimes I get an idea I want to save, so I jot it in the margins, only to forget about it once I've transcribed the notes. Sometimes, my fingers just want the feel of a keyboard under them. So I've considered getting different types of laptops over the years, only they're too big and too expensive. On the other hand, a PDA/keyboard combination wasn't practical because of the limitations of the technology.

But now, technology has caught up to what I wanted to do. I bought a Palm T/X with a Wireless Keyboard. The Palm T/X has bluetooth and Wi-Fi, plus built in software to make it compatible with Microsoft Office, so I can edit my Microsoft Word manuscripts on it, plus I can carry and read ebooks as well (I'm currently reading Black/on/Black by K.D. Wentworth, an award-winning writer and a member of my local writing group - snagged it out of the Baen Free Library - this weekend at Conestoga, I'll probably buy a paper copy and have her sign it). The keyboard is collapsible, so that I can carry both it and the Palm in the same small zip-up binder that I've been carrying my mini-legal pad in.

That's right. I can carry my Wi-Fi compatible computer with an almost full-sized keyboard, and still have my old notebook with me, in the same binder. I hope it turns out to be worth the investment.

Only a few days left till Conestoga. The "Whack a Monkey" T-shirt is on its way. I still have to decide what story to read. I need to do some reading up on what genre movies came out in the past year. I need to bone up on my anime. And I need to get some work done on the second draft of Hero Go Home. And then I've got to figure out whether I'm going to Armadillocon in Austin or not. I've got the weekend cleared for vacation, but I still haven't bought a membership or figured out where I would stay if I went. Rrrrrgh.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Redesign Time?

The more I look at that freaking enormous banner I made, the more I think I want something more compact and reader-friendly. And maybe a less bilious color sceme while I'm at it. Keep your eyes open.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Whack a Monkey

Okay, the "Whack a Monkey T-Shirt is now available. It's not exactly the same as the pic I posted yesterday; I noodled a bit on the monkey's arm and did some digital surgery on the stop sign to change the angle. It's something so subtle that maybe no one would ever notice, but it was bugging me, so I fixed it.

I'll probably only sell one to myself, which would be sad, because this one is so much cooler than the first one. I'll be wearing both to Conestoga, though, so maybe they'll be worth something as advertising, if nothing else. Damn, art is fun, but it's eating a lot of time that I probably should be writing. Still, I feel the need to stick to the art kick while I can to get some stuff out of my system (plus, you never know, I may get all cocky and pull a naamah_darling by entering Illustrators of the Future as well as WOTF).

Monday, July 17, 2006

Another Shirt

I mentioned a while back that I had another idea for a shirt. It may not make it all the way to shirt-hood, but I felt compelled to try the illustration anyway, and I think it turned out okay. Here's a small example. Click on the picture to see it a little larger.

The JPEG is a little lossy and blurry, but it should give you the flavor. It was quite a long process to go through all the steps, but I'm happy with the result. If anyone is interested, I'll put together a little something to show the steps the illustration went through. There are some interesting things in there you might not expect. But I won't go to the trouble unless someone asks.

Oh yeah, if this did become a shirt, the back would read something like...

"...and he's got this stop sign that he's yanked out of the ground somewhere, and he's popping these monkeys on the head with it. Like, you ever see North by Northwest? When the biplane's chasing Cary Grant? Kinda' like that, only with, you know, green monkeys."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Missed Again

Well, I finally got notified of my WOTF entry's fate. Quarter-finalist again. It's odd. I've been waiting so long that I really was hoping for more significant news, so I'm really disappointed right now, even though I knew when I submitted the story that it was not a contest winner. It's not a bad story. It's fast-moving and quirky and fun, but as I mentioned when I submitted it, it's lightweight. All flash, no real substance.

Which makes me wonder which market to send it to. It's one of those stories that just rides the edge of the genre. The fantasy element is almost all in the stylization. I've heard the term "magical realism" bandied about, but I've never read one of the books in question, but I wonder if this is what they mean. It's almost mainstream in the sense that it never totally crosses the line into fantasy in terms of magic or elves or such, but the characters and events are so cartoonish that they feel like fantasy. All I know for sure is that it's not right for the big SF mags, it's not right for the big literary mags, and Universe, for which it is very nearly perfect, isnt buying right now. I must chew on this for a while. Maybe I'll just start throwing the orphans up on Amazon Shorts.

In the meantime, does anybody know of a good market for a funny, slipstreamy story about hot rods?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Latveria For Real

The Shirt arrived yesterday, and it looks pretty good. There's a little color bleed, but it's green from the monkey, so that's okay. Makes him look like he's glowing or something, which is all good. Got my submission to Playboy put together last night for transport to the Post Office this morning. Got up this morning and realized I'd forgotten to include the SASE. Doh! Time for some envelope surgery.

We were sitting around the station yesterday talking about North Korea, which was the subject of news stories on at the time. And the subject comes up about where they get their money from, and it is mentioned that much of their money comes from weapons sales and organized crime (e.g. gambling parlors in Japan, counterfeiting of U.S. currency, etc). At which point a light bulb goes on over my head, and I say, "They're Latveria!"

Which, as you know, is the fictional country run by Dr. Doom in Marvel Comics (I say this having not read a Marvel comic in years, the company having pissed away my loyalty as a consumer long years ago). A worldwide pariah, a country run by a maniacal madman (but Dr. Doom's no madman, you say - go perform your own experiments that combine science and black magic, that go so horribly awry that thay scar your face so terribly you have to wear a mask just to be seen on the streets, and then we'll talk about sane or mad), isolated and feared by the world community yet rolling in the dough to buy massive amounts of weaponry, financed through illicit means. North Korea isn't identical in every detail, but it is the closest thing to a real-world analogue.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Superman Returns

I saw Superman Returns on the Fourth (was it really just yesterday?). My reactions are mixed. By now, you probably know that the film does not so much reimagine Superman as revive the 70's movie version, acting almost as a replacement Superman 3. From the opening titles to the production design to Brandon Routh's performance to Lex Luthor's band of thugs, the film refers back to the first two 70's films constantly, but updates things on a grander scale and with awesome updated effect (the bit where Superman is shot in the eye absolutely rocks).

But when it was over, I wasn't satisfied, like at all. My complaints:

Taking off from the 70's films gives you a built-in history, but at times, it almost feels like a really big-budget fan film. You know, where you've got actors playing all the right parts and going through all the right motions, but the faces and voices are just wrong. There's a certain spark missing. Case in point: the final shot of the film mimics the final shot of the Christopher Reeve films, but Routh doesn't nail the mugging-the-camera smile with the same panache that Reeve did.

Lex Luthor again? Seriously. I know that Superman's villain bench is not as deep as, say, Batman's or Spiderman's, but the Superman animated series showed that you could do interesting variations on the comic's villains. But out of five Superman films, Lex has been a baddie in four. I thought Spacey was great in the role; he was brilliant and sociopathic, with a perfect balance of envy and hatred. But dang it, let's give somebody else a shot, mmm-kay?

The climax disappointed me. Superman only seems to win because Singer decided to retcon kryptonite. In earlier versions, kryptonite weakens Superman whenever he is in close proximity to it. In Singer's version, it only seems to affect him if he's touching it. It makes for a disappointing climax, because instead of rooting for Superman, I'm trying to figure out why he isn't dead.

I had others, but these are the biggies. I liked it, and I'll probably buy it, but this one didn't thrill me the way Batman Begins or the original Reeve Superman did.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Scheduling Blues

I volunteered for as many events as they could put me on in Conestoga, because it's my first con as a guest, and I was excited. But now I find that my Baen's Universe panel, for instance, is opposite my friend Richard Cox's reading. My reading is opposite both Richard's signing and a panel about gaming (with another friend from my writing group) that I'd like to attend. My signing is up against both a Writing Action Sequences panel I'd like to attend (with Richard), and a Graphic Novel panel likewise (with mtreiten). Now granted, in my experience, panels are rarely as good as you hope they'll be, so I probably won't be missing much. And there will still probably be plenty of fun to be had. Baen's Universe is throwing a party Saturday night, and I'll be sitting on a panel with David Freaking Drake at one point, so good for me. But still, I'd like to be able to support my friends as well.

In other news, I submitted a story to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine a while back. It got rejected pretty quickly, and it's been sitting quietly waiting for me to figure out the next place to send it to. I think I'll send it to Playboy. I may go through and trim it a bit more before I do, but if you're submitting, might as well start at the top.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Chilling and Regrouping

I've actually gotten a lot done this weekend, but it's hard to point to any one thing. I've been repainting my flash drive casing (the silver coating had almost completely rubbed off the plastic, so I've been doing a Superman-type blue and red), but screwed it up this afternoon and have to redo one side. I washed my car today (which might not sound like a big deal, but trust me, it is). I've done laundry, I've done some computer maintenance stuff, and I got my T-shirt store set up.

Weird thing about that: I ordered the shirt Saturday, then slapped my head when I realized, it's a four-day weekend, so the order probably won't even get sent out until Friday. So imagine my surprise when I get an email on Sunday saying my order is on its way and giving me a UPS tracking number!

I haven't written a short story since March, and haven't really written anything since finishing the first draft of Hero Go Home in May. I've been reluctant to work on short stories until I finished the novel, and once I did, I was just too tired in my brain to work on one. I've got a few old ideas still floating around, plus a couple of new ones, but I don't know what I'm going to do first. I need to write some new short stories so I can enter Writers of the Future again, assuming my current entry is not a winner (I hear through the grapevine that the finalists have already been notified, so I'm not hopeful).

I've got four stories out right now, and all of them have been waiting on responses for a long time. "Double-Secret Weapon" has been at Baen's Universe since December (and won't get a decision until October at the earliest), "Frame by Frame" has been at "Paging Mr. Hitchcock" since late January, "Shell" at IGMS since February (where it has apparently been passed up from slush to the editor - he tells me it's in "the middle" of his stack), and my current WOTF entry since late March. The ironic thing here is that the latest submitted will probably get the first response.

It's weird. After a while, I get tired of waiting and hoping for acceptance and just start saying, "Reject me already." After a certain point, I'd rather have rejection and closure rather than a continuing vague promise of possible acceptance out there somewhere.

On the good side, I got some good feedback about Hero Go Home (not so much in the "this is great" sense as in the "this is what you need to fix" sense) that actually helped me sort out a lot of my own thoughts about what I want to accomplish with the rewrite, so I may be starting that really soon. I want to have a lot of progress made by Conestoga.

Speaking of which, more tomorrow...

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Shirt Is A Reality

Well, I finally finished the design for the shirt. I decided to include the quotation in the illustration and leave the back blank. I may change that if I get inspired, but it was enough work just getting the front prepped. If you want one (and you know you do), go to my store and check 'em out. I only selected a few styles to offer, but if they have a shirt style you want that isn't in my catalog, I can add it, no problem. Just let me know. Here's a look at the final illustration:

I've already ordered mine to wear at Conestoga. See you there.

A Further New Look

Decided to make it a little more colorful. Learned about the wonderful uses of color wheels, to keep the colors from clashing. What a great tool; wish I'd paid more attention in freshman art class.

Anyway, I'm still not totally thrilled with it, but it's getting closer to what I want. I may leave it alone for a while (which in practice usually means a year), because I have other things to do. I got the green light from Baen's Universe for the T-shirts. One step closer to making them a reality. Now I've got to see if I can get one in time for Conestoga.

The New Look

If you've been here before, you obviously notice a change. I'm not 100% satisfied with it, but at least it's not all girly like the previous look. I'm going to keep toying with it while I try to find something I like, simple and direct, yet fun. I'll probably change the plain colored background to some kind of image background, once I find something I like. I may change the grey boxes to different colors. And in a couple of months, I'll probably get tired of the banner at the top and change it to something better looking (as I get more experienced at image processing). I may switch to a 3-column layout. At this point, I'm not sure of anything except that I was tired of what I had before.

Enjoy your long weekend, if you get one, and if not, work hard.