Wednesday, August 30, 2006

From The Horrors of War To Just Plain Horror

Finished Gust Front by John Ringo today, finally, and I must admit, I'm getting a little burned out on military SF for now, having gone from Wentworth's Hrinnti series to Drake's Hammer's Slammers to Ringo's Posleen war almost without pause. So now I'm reading something completely different, suggested by Jess Nevins and Chris Roberson at ArmadilloCon.

I'd never read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, although I'd seen several movie versions. But after being burned by several failed attempts at reading classics above my level as a child (in my youth, I got somewhere between a third and halfway through Frankenstein and Dracula and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea {failed to finish that one twice} and The Time Machine and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, which was not at all like the Invisible Man movies, BTW), I've always been a little leery of reading classics for their own sake. Not that I was unable to understand the books, although a lot admittedly went right over my head. They were just boring for a kid raised on The Brady Bunch and Space Ghost, Jonny Quest and Gilligan's Island.

I've rectified some of that lack in later years. I did get all the way through Frankenstein on my second try, and whizzed through The Time Machine. I read The Iliad once for the hell of it, and I read The Sun Also Rises on a dare (the deal was that I read Hemingway while my friend read Stephen King - neither of us liked what the other one loved).

So Nevins and Roberson said that Jekyll & Hyde was a great book to read, well written in a style that hasn't dated nearly as much as other authors of the period. They also mentioned a lot of gay subtext, which is not so much an attraction, except I just had to see it for myself. And as I'm about a third of the way through right now, I have to say: I see it. I don't know if I'm only seeing it because I've been told it's there, like listening to "Stairway to Heaven" backwards, but I definitely see the intimation.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Wait... Okay, I'm Ready... Wait...

I finally got an answer on my short story "Shell,"which has been languishing in the slush at Intergalactic Medicine Show since February. It has gone into the editor's "Read Again" pile, so there's hope that this could be that elusive second sale. This also means at least another couple of months of waiting. Aaargh, the pace of this business kills me.

Which is not a criticism of the editor at IGMS, any more than it is of the editor at Baen's Universe, who has a story I submitted in December of last year and won't be giving me a definitive thumbs up or down until after my 44th birthday, probably. I mean, it's basically a result of too many people chasing too few dollars.

Also, I'm approaching the halfway point of the novel rewrite and hitting one of those "this book totally sucks and I should quit and do something else" doldrums with it. One of the problems is that I've planted so many clues to the villains' plot that the heroes need to twig to it a little earlier, which means revising their actions for the remainder of the second act.

Problem is, what I really need is for them to do something in reaction to the perceived danger that actually puts them in a worse position when the real danger is revealed. So I know what I want the effect of their actions to be, but as far as their substance, I'm clueless. Need to think...

Of course, once I finish it (which if I work really, really hard will maybe be within a year of the time I started), then it goes into a slush pile somewhere, where it will wait for two years, if I'm lucky and they like it, before being accepted for publication in another two or so years. So start the chant now: "Digger in 2010."

Friday, August 25, 2006

Out of the Loop

Well, the WorldCon is in full swing, and I'm not there. Not that I ever had serious plans to go, but it's in Anaheim this year, which is where I attended my first WorldCon 22 years ago. I have lots of memories of that con, probably more memories of it than of the other WorldCon I attended, which was just six years ago in Chicago. Next year's is in Japan, which I would love to attend, but certainly cannot afford, but maybe the year after that. It's an event worth doing every few years.

To clarify the post from a couple of days ago, I have never personally killed nor maimed a cat. But I will admit I don't much like them, which may be why I find stuff like funny (their site was down when I included this link - if it's still down, you can read about the phenomenon here and here and here and see a mirror of the site here). There's something about cats that makes their destruction and torture an acceptable subject for humor while the same cannot be said about dogs or snakes or even goldfish. You would never see a BonsaiPuppy website (unless some catlover ginned one up just because I said it couldn't be done). You would never see a dog equivalent of How to Kill Your Girlfriend's Cat. I don't know why this is, but it seems to be true, and it works for me.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Cold War Hilarity

I know this will probably get some animal rights folks all het up, but come on, it's cats. They deserve it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Second Draft: The Countdown Begins

So I decided to start back up with the word counter thingie, except since I'm in the middle of a second draft that is growing quickly (and that I'm not rewriting from scratch), it's easier for me to do a page counter. Here's where I stand right now:

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
192 / 504

To illustrate how different the second draft is, this is the corresponding place in the first draft:

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
153 / 466

So I've fleshed out the beginning quite a bit. The manuscript is almost 10% longer than it was before. I don't know if the rest of the manuscript will grow at the same rate. I hope not. Then again, if I do still decide to go to Baen first, they want at least 100,000 words, and I'm still not there, so I've got room to grow without really needing to cut much more.

One cool thing I'm finding is that scenes that seemed sort of pointless or throwaway in the first draft are being rewritten to focus a lot more on the overall arc of the story and really draw out the conflicts between the characters. The second act wandered all over the map while I tried to find the storyline in the first draft. The second draft is much clearer and more focused.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Going Postal

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the event that gave birth to the phrases "going postal" and "disgruntled postal worker." Twenty years ago today, Patrick Sherrill went on an armed rampage at the Edmond, OK post office where he worked, killing 14 people and wounding six more before taking his own life.

I was working for The Daily Oklahoman at the time, so I was peripherally involved in the news coverage that day. I was grabbed early in the day to follow one of the reporters to the post office, because they needed radio-equipped cars to coordinate the coverage. I can remember riding back to the paper with one of the reporters, listening to other reporters on the radio telling about the people they were interviewing, relatives and friends and neighbors. One reporter in particular mentioned that Sherrill's neighbor, completely opposite of the old cliche about the neighbors saying 'he was always such a nice, quiet man,' could not say enough bad things about the guy.

I remember how the newsroom buzzed frantically all day, and how, about 10 minutes before I was supposed to go home, I got grabbed again by one of the editors and sent to Edmond to pick up a photo of one of the victims from her husband. I drove the half-hour out to the home, feeling awfully put out because this would keep me working for an extra hour at least. When I got there, the red-eyed husband handed me a Polaroid photo that had been cut in half so only his wife's face showed. I hesitated as I took it, and he asked me what was wrong. With my usual lack of tact, I mentioned that the resolution of the Polaroid was really not suitable for reproduction. He began to get upset, and someone else came and angrily told me to get out of there, so I took the photo and returned to the newsroom. The picture went out over the AP wires that night.

I really don't like myself sometimes.

That night, at home, I watched the local news of all three stations. One station billed the story as "Tragedy in Edmond," and had the local anchors interviewing Sherrill's sister on the living-room-style set of their morning show, all muted colors and hushed voices. "Did you ever get any indication that your brother was capable of something like this?"

One of the other stations had a blood-red graphic that simply said, "Massacre!" and interviewed Michael Bigler, one of the surviving victims, in a live remote from his hospital bed. "So where exactly did he shoot you, Mike?" asked the grinning anchor.

Bigler later recounted in an article in Guidelines magazine how God had saved his life that day. When Sherrill shot him, God told him to play dead. So Bigler lay still on the floor and didn't move, listening to the shots and screams as Sherrill continued to gun people down. And then the screams stopped. Then Bigler heard footsteps in the adjoining room, punctuated by occasional single shots. "He's shooting everybody again, to make sure they're dead," Bigler realized.

And God said, "Run."

Bigler then scrambled out the nearest door while Sherrill was reloading.

That day was actually my second experience in a newsroom frantically covering a breaking story. The first had been in 1985, when a fireworks factory blew up in Hallett, Oklahoma. But I wasn't personally involved in it like I was in the Edmond story, however peripherally. So the Edmond thing affected me more and taught me some things about myself that I didn't particularly like.

The novel rewrite continues apace. I'm over a third of the way through, and the second draft has expanded quite a bit so far. I've deleted some extraneous material and tightened up some of the dialogue, while adding quite a few scenes to make the timeline clearer and develop the characters and their relationships further. I've also added a lot of sensory descriptions for setting and atmosphere, so the characters aren't walking around in a bland gray void. I still don't know if the book will work as a whole, but I think it's getting better.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

More Reality TV

So I mentioned a couple of weeks ago about Who Wants to Be a Superhero? It's a weird show, a combination of reality tropes and cheesy cheese. The thing is, sort of like The Apprentice, the show's biggest weakness is its centerpiece: Stan Lee. The attack dog challenge was awesome, but some of the others, like the prisoner interview challenge, have been either ill-conceived or just too simple and vague. In some cases, Stan The Man has had to grasp at straws in choosing which hero to dismiss.

For instance, Stan took one hero to task for making fun of another's costume. "Superheroes are supposed to make people feel good about themselves," says the man who introduced the concept of heroes who constantly bicker and fight in the Fantastic Four.

One challenge involved heroes ordering food in a restaurant and being seduced by a sexy waiter/waitress into giving up their secret identities. "The number one rule of being a superhero is never give up your secret identity," says the man who started a new era in comics by introducing superheroes whose real identities are common knowledge (the Fantastic Four, again).

And then there's Major Victory, a former male stripper who keeps getting chided by Stan about taking off his cape during challenges. "You'd never see Superman taking off his cape," Stan says. Well, apparently, Stan didn't read the same Superman comics I did, because Superman took his cape off all the time, wrapping Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen in it to protect them when he flew them to the Fortress of Solitude. Batman has also taken his cape off a few times, for instance, to fight a hawk or to duel R'as Al Ghul.

And perhaps most frustrating of all, whenever he talks to the superheroine Lemuria, Stan can't pronounce her name (although to be fair, no one else can, either), pronouncing it "Lumeria," except for the occasional voiceover.

I'm looking forward to the final episode, although I fear that Fat Momma, she of the doughnut utility belt, could well win it all, which would just be wrong. I would rather see Feedback win, although he has crazy-ass long mutant arms and is taking all this way too seriously. But he's got the best costume, he's a martial artist, and he plays the game well.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Working Up My Courage

So I mentioned a while back that I had this idea for a magazine that I would never produce. And then I got a favorable comment about the idea. And then I went to ArmadilloCon and met several small publishers, some of whom, like Chris Roberson and Monkeybrain Books, are putting out some awesome product (I really want the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana and Superhero: Origin of a Genre). And I'll stop geeking out about Monkeybrain now, I promise. Seriously, you guys.

So I started thinking more about it. I have quite a lot of it in my head. I know vaguely how I want it to look. I know what kinds of stories I want in it, and how I plan to sell content and pay contributors (a different scheme that I don't think anyone has tried before, although Universe is similar in some respects). I have a couple of ideas on marketing, but not enough. My big problem now is numbers; when I sketch out my idea of what an issue will be and translate that into costs, and then I look at what kind of response I have to have to get that back, it's pretty scary. And the one thing nobody can predict is how people will respond to something new.

One thought I've had is trying what I call Issue Zero, something about half the size of my eventual goal, and seeing what kind of response I get. I'm not going to go into details here. If you want to know more, email or comment me and I'll give you the big picture.

Monday, August 14, 2006

I'm Back

ArmadilloCon Day 3:

I was entirely too bright-eyed on Sunday. I'd expected, from that first panel on Friday, that this would be an ultra-party con, but it was not so much (or maybe it was, but the parties all revved up after I left). They seemed to anticipate big party action on Saturday night, else why delay the panels until 11 a.m. on Sunday? Which is not to say there weren't parties when I left Saturday night, but just a couple.

Went to a couple of good panels on Sunday. One, on 19th Century Fantastic Fiction, was very informative, and I came away with titles of several things I want to look up and read. The other one was on Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan. This is the 100th anniversary of Howard's birth, and they're planning big doings at World Fantasy Con this year (also being held in Austin). I won't be there, both because it's during November Sweeps and because I can't afford it. But this panel was good and informative, and once again, I came away with some titles of things I need to hunt down and read.

I've only ever read one thing by Howard, a Conan novella in some anthology I can't remember (I'm sure I've got it packed away somewhere). I remember sort of dreading it before I tried to read it, just because I anticipated some muscular but dreadfully clumsy pulp prose. I was pleasantly surprised at how good the writing was. Not perfect, but better than I'd anticipated. I'm in a reading phase right now (currently reading A Hymn Before Battle by John Ringo - in this first book, at least, he's obviously knowledgeable about the military, but the prose and characterization are clunky, and 5 chapters in, I'm getting impatient for the action to start), so I want to take advantage of it by reading some classics as well as new stuff.

I'd planned to attend another panel at 3 p.m., on using current scientific discoveries in writing, and attending the legendary Howard Waldrop reading after that (I heard him recite the opening sentences to the story in the first panel of the con, and it sure sounded intriguing), but about 2 p.m., I decided I'd had enough and decided to beat feet for home. The drive was mostly uneventful, except for traffic jams in Austin and Fort Worth. I listened mostly to music rather than talk radio.

When I left Tulsa, gas here was $2.95 a gallon. When I got to Austin, it was $2.84 in places. As I was driving back, I made sure to refill before I got back home, so I could save that 10-ish cents a gallon. Got back here and discovered that gas was $2.75. Doh! It dropped 20 cents a gallon here while staying basically the same in Texas. And the weird thing was, while I was on the road, I was hearing news reports that gas had hit an all time high, with the lowest gas in the nation costing $2.82 in North Carolina or someplace.

Anyway, I'm back, and I even got some novel work done while I was gone. I also got bored at the friend's house while I was waiting for the Mobile Command Center to recharge, so I got out their copy of The DaVinci Code and started analyzing the structure. The book is clumsily written on a prose level, to be sure, and you can pick it apart endlessly on its errors of fact and its wooden characters. But on the structural level, where it introduces mysteries and weaves together parallel plotlines as it doles out small answers and clues while deepening the mystery further, it's actually pretty sophisticated. If I could do that with Hero Go Home, I might have a page-turner on my hands. I only got through about the first tenth of the book, but I think I learned some things that I might try to apply on the third draft of Hero Go Home (and there will be a third - I'd hoped to clean it up sufficiently in the second to submit it, but I can already tell it will need further polishing).

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Day 2

ArmadilloCon Day 2:

Wow, long day. Went to several panels, including one on editing, one on comics, a really fascinating one on small press publishing, a fun one on King Kong and giant apes in general, one on finishing a novel manuscript, and one on on-line publications. I also did some math and realized I had economized enough to buy at least one book. I bought a copy of an anthology titled Adventure, edited by Chris Roberson (whom I mentioned yesterday). He liked the "Whack a Monkey" shirt, and asked me to send him one of my stories. If he likes it, he'll keep me in mind for his next anthology project.

The capper of the day was the evening's performance in lieu of a dance. At Conestoga, they have a costume contest and a play during the judging. The play itself has been hugely entertaining the two years I've actually watched it. It is written by members of our local writers group, and is generally hilarious, due to its script, but also to the rather embarrassingly amateurish performances. A Penguin Playhouse production is neither smooth nor rehearsed, but the way the players deal with cheaply-built props falling apart, blown lines, missed cues and other disasters is part of its charm.

The performance at ArmadilloCon was the polar opposite of the Penguin Playhouse. The show by the Violet Crown Radio Players was slick and smoothly rehearsed. It was an onstage performance of a radio play, with a small band, a crew of voice actors and sound effects being performed live. They did King Kong, and it was hella cool. It made up for the disappointment of not having the Baen crew here. I have met four other Baen's Universe authors, but there was no official presence, so that was kind of a bummer. However, the other benefits have made up for it. I'm having fun, and there's still one more day to go.

Friday, August 11, 2006

So Yeah, Okay, I Went

ArmadilloCon Day 1:

So I came down yesterday. Eight hours of driving, sipping Diet Coke and listening to AM radio (the AstroCruiser does not have a CD player). Heard Air America for the first time. I was able to listen to about 10 minutes of it before I started screaming at the ignorant host-chick, who was prattling on about how the neocons don't understand the "peace process." Then she started explaining the peace process in terms that would make the Underpants Gnomes proud.

Step 1: Israel withdraws its forces
Step 2:
Step 3: Peace

Turned off the radio before I blew a blood vessel in my head, causing me to go blind in one eye, causing me to lose depth perception and smash into a road barrier at one of the ENDLESS road construction sites.

Went to the hotel at about noon today. Registration wasn't supposed to open until 1, but I was getting tired of sitting around my friend's house. Spotted the hotel from the freeway: easy. Found a road route to actually get me to the hotel: not so easy. Looked for the entrance to the hotel's parking structure: nearly blew another blood vessel in my brain. After a brief fit of rage and FOUR LAPS around the block, I talked to the con staff and figured it out, then discovered that there was literally nothing to do until, like, 5 p.m. Even the dealers' room didn't really open until four-ish, which brought me back to remembering why I've always been kind of take-it-or-leave-it with cons, at least until Conestoga this year, which I loved.

If you aren't actually a guest of the con, there will be long stretches where you have nothing you want to do, but you don't want to leave, because it's such a pain in the ass to leave the hotel and navigate your way back. So along about three, four in the afternoon, I started thinking I might have made a big mistake coming here.

Then I attended the "Welcome to ArmadilloCon" panel, which made me think that maybe this would not be like any other con I'd ever attended. I've attended a few cons in my time, mostly in Oklahoma, but also in Nebraska and L.A. and Chicago, and even one in Austin (a NASFIC 21 years ago, God, has it been that long?). I have never been to a panel where the moderator pulled out a huge bottle of gin and said, "Who wants martinis?" followed by another panel member saying, "If you don't like martinis, I've got Shiner Bock and barbecue ribs." I was worried about my food budget here, but I had a chili dog in the Con Suite, a rib at the opening panel and some crawfish in the ApolloCon party. I may actually save enough money on food that I can buy a book if I want to, and there are some books in the dealer's room that I really want.

Met a member of my online writing group in person (the first such I've met). I also met Julie Czerneda, a fellow Universe author, as well as Elizabeth Moon, who writes military sci-fi (I have not read any of her books yet, but they will go on my list soon). And I talked comics with Chris Roberson, who has written a book called Paragaea: a Planetary Romance. I don't know if the book is any good, but it has one of the coolest covers I've seen in years.

I'm still kind of on the fence about whether this will be worth the trip. I don't know, for instance, if there will be an official Baen's presence tomorrow or not, but I am ready to schmooze if there is.

During the down times, I've been working on the second draft. It's really eating at me; I thought the second draft would be much easier than the first, but I've felt kind of adrift. I read through the revised first act. When I read the first draft, it was like, "This has some cool energy, but structurally, it's a mess." Now it's like, "The structure works a lot better, but the prose feels dead." Dang it, when did writing get so hard?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Kind of Boring Discussion on Rewrite Goals

This may not interest anyone, but once again, it helps me to write it out.

The novel rewrite is proceeding. I'm done with Act I. I don't know how much better it is (if any), but it's longer by about 25%, and that's with at least two short scenes cut out. The basic problems I tried to address: introduce some major characters and their motivations earlier, give the protagonists and their relationships a little more time to breathe (the first part of the first draft was a NaNoWriMo project, so it was a little breathless, with major story elements elided), flesh out the generic first act climax with detail specific to the setting.

Since the first act climax takes place in Phoenix, I hit up an online acquaintance for help. He came up with some pretty good ideas, but in the end, I decided not to use his suggestion, setting my big action set piece not on Camelback Mountain, but in Patriots Square Park downtown.

Moving on to the second act now. The second act has different problems, mostly caused by my wandering around as I tried to find the storyline and fill time between the end of Act I and the Act II climax. Major goals here are much the same as in Act I, only more so: eliminate the extraneous elements and false starts, the scenes and subplots that end up going nowhere, while fleshing out the parts that push the story forward. First reader reaction to the Act II climax was that it felt a little rote. This says to me that I emphasized the action too much, while losing track of the emotional connection to the characters. Goal: play up the emotions more while still retaining the big explosions.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mobile Command Center: The Verdict

The first act, second draft is finished. Much of the rewriting was done on the Mobile Command Center (aka my New Toy) . So now that I've had two weeks to break it in, how does it stack up to my expectations?

On balance, I have to say it's working better than I'd expected.

The negatives first: even though the T/X has a bigger screen than most other Palm devices, the screen is still small and hard to read sometimes. Although the resolution can be adjusted, it sometimes changes unexpectedly, and I'm not sure why. I get a lot mistyped characters on the keyboard, more it seems than on a regular keyboard, because the sensitivity of the keys seems to vary or something (it communicates with the Palm via infrared rather than plugging in). Also, using the stylus as a selection tool, rather than a mouse, is frustratingly imprecise. And I have occasionally gotten a lot of typos introduced as artifacts during the synchronization process; I think it has to do with the translation between regular Word files and Word To Go files. And the battery life is not as great as I might like between charges.

Now the positives: I'm finding a lot more time to write than I'd expected. When I bought the MCC, I was planning to use it mainly as a tool for typing in bars on the one night a week or so I go out. Instead, I find I'm working during my lunch hour almost every day, which means I'm being a lot more productive than I'd planned. The ebook function is getting a lot more use than I'd expected, also. Depending on my mood, I might spend my lunch time reading a couple of chapters (currently Stars/Over/Stars, the sequel to Black/on/Black), or writing a couple of pages, or doing a little of each if I have time. I'm loving the flexibility. The keyboard is not perfect, but the keys are almost full-sized, so it's not as difficult to type as I'd thought. And I like the fact that I can either edit the full MS or start a new document to write a self-contained scene to drop in later.

So on balance, although it's not perfect, I think I'm going to get good value out of the Command Center. Now I've got to get back to work.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Second Draft Blues

So I'm approaching the end of the first act in the rewrite, nowhere close to the pace I wanted to set, but not bad, considering. The thing is, although the draft is cleaning up okay, I don't know if it's actually going to work. The book has good parts, but I'm having one of those crises of confidence, where it feels as if no amount of polishing can fix the deep problems with basic structure and the book's overall storyline/character arcs. I should finish the first act rewrite by this weekend. I think it's better, but I really have no idea.

I've got a place to stay in Austin, but still don't know for sure if I'm going. Stupid Alaska pipeline. Gas alone for the trip will be over $100 (don't know how much over, but probably close to $110 total). So I'd be in for $150 just in gas and con registration fees, before I've eaten a single meal, or bought so much as a paperback from the dealers room. Are the networking benefits worth it? Of course, there's no way to know until after I've done it.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Miscellaneous Crap

Went running yesterday. I've been trying to get back into running for over a month. For some reason (probably a mix of infrequent training, low carb diet, and killer heat, plus maybe just getting damned old), yesterday was the first time in this training cycle that I've been able to complete the entire 2 1/2 mile course without stopping to walk. Usually I bounce back to being able to run the entire distance after one or two break-in runs, but this time, it's taken weeks.

I saw Stan Lee's "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" on Sci-Fi last night. I love reality shows anyway, but this one was especially fun. They had to complete a challenge by fighting off attack dogs while trying to advance 50 yards or so to a door. A couple of the guys succeeded by simply carrying the dogs (which had latched onto the sleeves of their protective garments and hung there like furry icicles). One really big guy who's a bouncer in real life carried the dogs almost all the way, then fell about a foot from hte door and quit. The women all got taken down by the dogs really quickly and quit, except for the last girl, Monkey Woman, who fought with the dogs for almost 10 minutes (!) and managed to drag herself all the way to the door and complete the task, the only one of the women to do so. Now that's a hero.

The coolest twist on the show was when they kicked the bouncer off, only to redesign his costume and turn him into a supervillain to challenge the remaining hero candidates.

I washed the "Whack a Monkey" shirt tonight. I didn't read the care tag and dried it on high instead of low. I think I shrank it, but it looks like it will still fit. I'm telling myself that I can make it to ArmadilloCon. I emailed someone today to see if I can stay with friends down there. I've also been approved for vacation days during FenCon in September, if this con doesn't work out.

The Mobile Command Center is turning out to be pretty handy. Although I bought it for use in bars, I've used it almost every day this week to write during my lunch hour. If I can turn that into a regular ritual, I'll get a lot more writing done this year than last, and finish the novel in decent time.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Working for the Man vs. Entrepreneurial Drive

I said some things in yesterday's post that could be construed as disparaging to the small press and those authors who publish there. This is the flipside of that, another aspect of my dilemma, if you will.

When the Wife and I were dating, I remember one time we were discussing something about the future and she said something about how she wished I could get a really good job with a company that I could stick with for a long time. I objected to that, because it was never an ambition of mine to be a corporate man. She and I were brought up in different types of households, understand. Her grandfather and her mother both worked for rather large companies, and had worked for the same company for basically all of their adult lives. On the other hand, my father owned a jewelry store, his father and brother were independent farmers, my stepmother was a florist and my stepfather was a partner in a construction equipment firm, for a while at least.

So she came from a family of company folks, and I came from a family of entrepreneurs. It's not surprising that we looked at the issue from different directions. Now I'm in my forties, and I've been a company man for several years (although with different companies). I still think it would be cool to be my own boss, but like those folks who say they want to write when what they really want is to have written, I don't know that I have the mindset to be a successful entrepreneur.

And this is the thing about the small press. Say what you will about Yard Dog (which I mentioned yesterday) - the lowbrow humor and the amateurish production values and the cheesy marketing techniques - but they have managed to survive through some really tough times for ten years now. They've grown and built a core audience, and they've managed to collect a stable of authors who are willing to jump through hoops to publicize their books.

And the thing is, if it weren't for entrepreneurs like Selina Rosen, one of the driving forces behind Yard Dog, we wouldn't get the new blood that the publishing industry needs. If the Big Three or Five or Seven publishers were the only game in town, who knows how much good work would go unnoticed?

But it takes a special type of person to lead that charge, and I don't think I'm it, as much as I might want to be. I've got this idea for a fiction magazine, something like Baen's Universe, only with a bigger emphasis on adventure and not limited to SF/F, something like the old Argosy, only pitched at the same audience as Maxim, say. A magazine full of fast-paced adventure and rowdy humor. Frankly, I first thought of it as a way to market the stories I've written that don't seem to fit the existing markets, considering the big magazines are looking for serious literary stuff and the small magazines are mainly looking for dark stuff. Nobody seems too interested in a romp for its own sake, and that's what this would be. In fact, I even call it Romp!

I think it could sell, and my limited experience combing the slush piles at Baen's and picking winners (defined as "stories I liked that ended up being bought") makes me think that I could do a good job editing it. But will I ever try?

Probably not. Like I say, it takes a special type of person to want to take on the challenges of publishing a magazine and trying to get it marketed, and I just don't think I'm it. I think, as much I may have denied it years ago, that I've now thoroughly become a company man. I demonstrated that pretty definitively with Blue Falcon, which I hardly dared to market at all once it was published. I'm content to write and cash the checks, and let others go through the heartburn of publishing. Which disappoints me a little, but there you are.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lake, Drake, Eudaly, McQuay, Wooley and Me

Apologies in advance if this is too long and rambling, but I'm trying to work some things out.

In yet another example of the synchronicity which seems to permeate my life, I happened to run across this blog entry by Jay Lake on the same weekend as Conestoga, and it has me reevaluating my life and work. I had already been nibbling on the edges of this idea, by applying for a writing job in the previous week, but this has all come together on me in the last couple of days, so forgive me while I type it out so as to sort it out in my head.

The blog entry: the thing that prompted it was a discussion within an online writing group (of which I am a member) that has run for several days, debating the value of sales to semi-pro markets (markets with miniscule readerships that pay less than 3 cents a word). On the one side, ably represented by Mr. Lake here, you have the people arguing that for many writers struggling to build a career and a reputation in a shrinking small fiction market, any sale is cause for celebration. On the other side, you have the more ambitious neo-pros arguing that time spent pursuing sales to tiny zines for tiny pay and no eyeballs is time that could have been spent working toward a more productive end.

Conestoga: David Drake sits next to Rhonda Eudaly at a panel. David Drake is a seasoned pro, a very successful author with a career spanning decades. Rhonda Eudaly is a vivacious up-and-comer with several short story credits, and a fixture on the Texas/Oklahoma convention circuit. Eudaly is currently fighting tooth-and-nail to sell 300 copies of her latest book to win a bet; to Drake, only 300 copies sold would be an abysmal failure. So there's Eudaly, performing a ritual of the modern-day convention circuit author, setting up a wall of books in front of her as a big billboard advertising what she's got for sale. And Drake looks at her and says, "What are you doing?"

She explains that she's setting out her books so people will know what she's written. And Drake says something like, "I've written lots of books, but you don't see me setting them in front of me." (Or maybe he didn't say it but only shook his head or something-I was there, but not paying close attention, but Eudaly talked about the incident more than once on other panels).

Her feeling, of course, was that he didn't have to, because he's David Freaking Drake, but people who are still struggling to make a name for themselves must promote themselves more actively. And I see her point, I really do. But at the same time, I found myself feeling rather sad for these struggling writers, setting their stacks of low-budget stapled chapbooks with amateurish covers face out on the table in hopes of convincing one of the ten or fifteen people attending the panel to pick up a copy. It seems like a lot of effort for miniscule return, effort that could be more profitably spent improving their craft and their product.

Which is easy for me to say, with my one (1) sale to an on-line market, and my one (1) self-published POD novel turned face-out on the table right alongside theirs, when it's not gathering dust in my office not being sold to or read by anybody. But I wonder if the so-called snobs and elitists in the writing group aren't onto something, which is (if I may paraphrase) that thinking small leads to acting small, which leads to small returns. If I want to be the David Drake on the panel, perhaps I shouldn't follow the Yard Dog crowd in hyping and pushing $5 chapbooks and POD novels (which I so far haven't done). At the same time, I should probably stop pretending that I have unlimited time in which to make my mark, and start pushing hard to get more and better product out there.

My big soulsearching dilemma is that I have known two novelists pretty well (I know more now, since joining OSFW, but I'm speaking of years back). The late Mike McQuay was a science fiction novelist I knew back in OKC. He cut his teeth on work-for-hire Mack Bolan novels and movie adaptations, then moved to science-fiction books under his own name, won some awards, and in the later phases of his career moved to political thrillers. He signed some lucrative contracts in his career, but never really sold enough to justify his high advances, and his career slumped badly toward the end of his life. His most successful book (and his only hardcover release) came out after his death in 1995. He was a tremendously intelligent man, who had managed the feat that so many writers only dream of, which is that he supported himself solely through writing novels. But he was a profoundly unhappy man at the end, I think.

Through Mike, I met John Wooley, a writer for the Tulsa World who has also authored several novels, both by himself and in collaboration with Ron Wolfe. John has worked continuously in all sorts of media for years: he has scripted TV movies and documentaries, written novels and magazine articles and non-fiction books and stage plays and comic books, put out a CD with a garage band and hosted his own radio show, in addition to his duties at a daily newspaper. At one time, I mentioned to McQuay that John was writing copy for a set of (I think) Betty Page trading cards, in addition to his comic book endeavors. Mike made a face and said, "John's always knocking himself out doing all these little projects that never make him any money."

So yeah, if they were sitting together at a con, the '95 Mike McQuay and the '06 John Wooley, McQuay would probably be the Drake at the table and Wooley would be the Eudaly. But Wooley would be the happier man, getting paid (however little) to do what he really loves.

So the questions I've been asking myself today are, what are the chances that I can become a Drake, or even a McQuay (supporting myself solely by my writing, to the point where I don't have to jump through hoops trying to sell a couple hundred copies of a small press book or content myself with sales to tiny webzines that pay one cent a word and have a subscriber base made up almost solely of other writers wanting to sell to that same webzine)? Am I willing to commit myself to the effort and sacrifice it will take to achieve such a goal? If I am willing, what are the best steps I can take right now to put my feet on that path?

I'm guessing one of those steps will be setting aside time (at least an hour) to write every day, rather than the sort of casual "when I feel like it and I can get out of the house" that I'm doing now. I'm starting to do that a little by carrying the Mobile Command Center with me to lunch. I've managed to write two weekdays in a row now, which is sort of unusual, actually. But I'll need more than 20-30 minutes stolen out of my lunch hour if I intend to make a serious change.

So that's my first goal: establish a writing schedule that allows me to get some serious writing done every day.

A little over a week till ArmadilloCon and I haven't figured out precisely how to raise the money to go, yet, but I feel as if I need to go. I've set aside the vacation time, and they say it's one of the best literary cons in the Southwest. I need to get my name and my face out there, and it couldn't hurt to start by being seen with the Baen contingent visiting Austin. I just need to figure out how to pull $200 out of my ass. I'm starting to regret having bought the Mobile Command Center, because I could really use that money right now.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

OPW Pimping

I'm going to take a moment to pimp some Other People's Work, both because it's good stuff, and because doing so could indirectly help me as well. Here's the deal:

Baen's Universe Issue Two is now live. That means my story is no longer in the active issue, but in the archives. If you've thought about subscribing, but have held off because you didn't know what kind of value you could get for a $30 subscription, try this:

The first issue contained 22 short stories, including a Laundry story by Charlie Stross, a Tran-Ky-Ky story by Alan Dean Foster, a Hammer's Slammers story by David Drake, along with excellent stories by Gene Wolfe, Greg Benford, John Barnes, Elizabeth Bear and ME! It also contains the beginnings of 3 serialized novels by guys like David Brin, John Ringo and Eric Flint.

The second issue contains 16 short stories, including a new Dune short story by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson, plus stories by L.E. Modesitt, Catherine Asaro (I'm not familiar with their series, but these stories do fit in with them), Cory Doctorow and Esther Friesner, plus some awesome stories in the Introducing Section: kick-ass military SF by M.T. Reiten and William Ledbetter, plus a great story called "Technical Exchange" by Kevin Haw that I had the great pleasure to read in the slush pile. All this, plus the continuations of the 3 serials.

By contrast, the three issues of F&SF that I picked up from the freebie table at Conestoga contained a total of 21 stories (of which 6 were technically novelets, but then again, so are some of the Universe tales). Which is not to put down F&SF, but to say that Universe gives you a lot of bang for your buck: two to three times the number of stories you get in an average issue of F&SF, with no ads. And they're downloadable in a variety of formats with no copy protection. I have an HTML copy on my desktop and a Mobipocket version in the Mobile Command Center, so I can read them on the go.

Universe is a noble experiment that deserves to succeed. I understand that they had an excellent initial response from Baen regulars when they first announced their subscriptions, but in order to succeed, they have to move beyond just their own regular audience. I realize that, out of the average of 6 people a day who read this blog, most of you either have subscriptions already or have decided not to subscribe. But if you're on the fence, please take a chance and subscribe. They are working hard to make science fiction fun again, and I would hope we can all get behind that.

In other news, I need to come up with a way to raise about $200 in ten days to make it to ArmadilloCon.