Origins 2013 After Action Report

As many of you know, this last weekend I spent in lovely downtown Columbus Ohio at Origins Game Fair, (while a pride festival was also going on, making for interesting people watching, but I digress). This was my first year at Origins, and I must say it was rather fantastic. For the uninitiated, Origins is a convention that focuses on games of all varieties; board games, card games, minis, RPS, LARPS, etc. The only game type without heavy representation is video-games, but mainly because those have their own specialized conventions.

Think of Origins as a smaller version of GenCon. That is not at all a slight. I love GenCon, and will be attending again this year. However for many people the size of the Indianapolis convention center, the scarcity of hotel availability, and the frenetic pace of 40k+ attendees makes GenCon more than a little intimidating, if not outright exhausting. If you fall into this group, Origins is definitely for you. It’s less crowded and generally less expensive, but it retains everything a great gaming con needs. All of your favorite games are there, as well as new favorites to explore and discover.

Running parallel to the gaming events is a writer’s track of programing we call The Library. But if you think a smaller con meant a smaller selection of writers to meet and learn from, you would be wrong. Such industry luminaries as Michael A Stackpole, Timothy Zahn, Aaron Rosenburg, and Aaron Allison attended and gave many hours of presentations and panels. Along with them, many other up and coming writers, and good friends of mine, were there to share the experiences of professionals coming through the ranks in this rapidly evolving publishing environment. People like Kelly Swails, (who did a fine job of wrangling the rest of us), Dylan Birtolo, Maxwell Alexander Drake, Jennifer Brozek, Sarah Hans, Don Bingle, R.T. Kaelin, Gregory Wilson, Bradley Beaulieu, and myself of course, were there shouting great information to anyone who would listen. The audiences were generally small, giving everyone a chance to get their questions asked and answered in a far more intimate setting than is usually available at panels like these.

For me, it was a great first year. Not only did Timothy Zahn ask me to sign something, (almost had a fanboy moment there) but there was enough traffic through the author’s area that we managed to sell out the convention of copies of Sidekicks! as well as quite a few copies of  Eighth Day Genesis, which was up for an Origins award, but lost out to BattleTech, the bastards, (oh, I wrote for BattleTech, right…) I can’t wait to do it all over again.

A Completely Unbiased, Spoiler-Free review of Star Trek: Into Darkness

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Here’s my review of the new Star Trek movie: It was awesome. Just pure, unadulterated awesome sucked up into a syringe and injected right between your toes. I’m assigning J.J. Abrams as the beneficiary of my 401k in the event that my little heart gives out when I go to see it again, like tomorrow.

It was great, is what I’m saying. The cast was, once more, as tight and on-character as a tachyon beam. Despite the fact there was nearly non-stop action, (and the 3D was the best I’ve seen since Avengers, btw, definitely worth the extra few bucks) character development and their relationships and banter was constantly at the forefront. In fact, like all of the best Trek, this was a character driven movie, even more so than this crew’s first outing four years ago. It improved on its predecessor in every way. I’ve got to admit, between the action, the nods to Trek history, and the brilliant character writing, I was way overstimulated. The entire movie, every second of it, I was sitting there in a little puddle of nerd goo, smiling and giggling like someone in desperate need of a psych eval and a padded cell.

It was Trek in all its grandeur, silliness, and its emotional core of brotherhood and hope. It kills me that so many people who count themselves as Trek fans have turned on it. Over and over, I hear that it’s a summer action movie, but it’s not really Trek. Somehow, they’ve gotten lost among  the foam of complaints about pacing, Apple-Store set design, and lens-flare. They Pine for the Trek of their youth (Get it? Chris Pine plays… oh forget it.) and focus entirely on the superficial differences instead of recognizing the core DNA they share.

These guys are missing out. My love of Trek goes way, way back twenty-five years ago. I was eight years old, and I’d stayed home from school sick. I was tripping balls on NyQuil, but my little ADHD brain wouldn’t go to sleep, so I sneaked out to the living room to watch TV after my dad fell asleep on the couch. Back then, Channel 3 out of Madison played TOS reruns at midnight. My first episode of Star Trek was “Spock’s Brain”, viewed on a 12′ black and white TV. Arguably one of the worst episodes of the entire series, except maybe the space hippie ep, but to a budding eight-year-old nerd, it was pure magic. I sneaked out the next three nights and watched “Space Seed”, “The City at the Edge of Forever”, and whatever the Nazi planet one was called. My dad admitted years later that I wasn’t nearly as sneaky as I thought, and he’d sat there silently watching his son “getting away with” watching one of his favorite shows, too.

Many of you will think about the timeline of this and realize what happened next. It was 1988, and Next Generation was just getting going. It wasn’t long before I realized this and got absolutely hooked as new episodes came out each week.

Here’s the thing, guys, Trek has been constantly reinventing itself for decades. Next Gen is a very different show from TOS, DS9 is even more different from Next Gen, and so on. Now, I understand this is the first time we’ve experienced the recasting of characters, but so what? A good friend of mine explained it to me like this over the weekend. What Trek has accomplished is to transcend TV and film. Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu are something else now. They have become American archetypes. They are one of our contributions to world culture. And just as Hamlet has been played by a thousand actors, James Bond gets a new face every few years, and we’re on our eleventh Doctor Who, (the best one, incidentally) we’re going to have to deal with the fact Kirk, Spock, and McCoy will be reintroduced to each new generation in many, many different forms.

The fact our favorite characters have moved past the actors who launched them is a sign of their strength. Each has their strengths, each has their weaknesses, and each would be nearly useless without the others to balance them out. Just like real life. We all know a Kirk, we all know a Spock, we all know a Bones. It’s why Gene’s characters continue to resonate today, and will for an unknowable amount of time into the future. They touch on something fundamental about being human, struggling against one’s demons and trying to impose some measure of fairness, justice, and honor on a chaotic, uncaring universe. And always leaning on your friends and family, building on each other’s strengths and guarding each other’s weak spots.

These last two movies have done that beyond my expectations. And they were pretty high. The Trek that has been was simply awesome. People remember it fondly for good reason. But times change, progress marches on, and the stories we tell have to adapt to survive.

This is what Trek is today, and it’s equally awesome. Go see Into Darkness, right now, ignore the big plot hole at the end, and let your geek flag fly high.

News and Such

Afternoon all! A few things to cover in today’s update. First of all, I was fortunate enough to be last week’s guest on Dungeon Crawlers Radio. If you missed it, you can find a recording here. I come in around the fifteen minute mark, and if you keep listening, you get a bonus interview with actor Ted Raimi!

Next up, I’m going to be appearing at Origins in Ohio next month. Lots of cool stuff going on there. I’ll be sitting on several panels along with a whole bevy of my talented author-type friends, some of us are sure to do a reading party of Sidekicks, and perhaps most excitingly, Eighth Day Genesis has been nominated for an Origins award! All of the authors involved in the Library, (as we’re calling the writing track programing) have collaborated to write an anthology, which will be available for sale both at the show and online, and includes such genre luminaries as Michael A. Stackpole ans Timothy Zahn. My short, “A Blank Canvas” is somewhere in the middle. If you can’t come out to Ohio, please consider supporting the authors by picking up a copy.

And finally, I have a new antho out! “A Walk in the Abyss” features stories set in Shane Moore’s “Abyss Walker” universe. With tales Shane, Patrick M Tracey, Paul Genese, and my short “Unerring”, it’s sure to be a crowd favorite. Paul also edited this one, and brought the same sharp eye that he’s used editing the Crimson Pact series. As an added bonus, you get the first five chapters of my novella “A Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition! Come check it out!

 

A Little Housekeeping…

With everything else going on around here, I’ve completely forgotten to do my publishing updates! First of all, The Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition is now available in both trade paperback and eBook formats. Early reviewers have called it the best of the series so far.  I’ll leave that to the reader, but it does have 100% more soft-core bondage artwork on the cover than the previous volumes.

Also just released is an excellent anthology, “Sidekicks!” Edited by my friend Sarah Hans as her first antho project, it focuses on the Number Two’s of the superhero world. The often overlooked proteges, lackeys, personal assistants, and groupies.  My story, “Coffee and Collaborators” leads off the collection with a duo meeting in secret to keep their bosses from blowing up the planet, while protecting their personal gravy-trains. It’s one of my favorite short stories yet. The stories that follow are also excellent, ranging from funny, to action-packed, to desperately sad. A lot of the other authors are friends of mine, and I’m proud of what we’ve put together. “Sidekicks” can also be had in trade paperback or eBook format.

Please consider giving these books a try. I have motorcycle insurance to pay for while I pray for spring to actually start.

Happy Birthday, Douglas Adams.

Today we mark the coming of a truly formidable mind. As certainly all of you know, Douglas Adams was a novelist, satirist, screen-write, and I’m told quite the MMA fighter (I made that last one up). His seminal series, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is a must-read classic of both the humor and sci-fi genres. His genius touched print, radio, television, and the silver-screen. He was a towering figure among the British people, who’s humorous insights and razor-sharp wit spoke truth to power and  advanced the causes of rationality and environmentalism at every opportunity. He is among a cabal of my personal heroes who passed before I had the chance to meet them, such as Gene Roddenberry, Jim Henson, Carl Sagan,  Christopher Hitchens, and which ever clone of George Lucas was responsible for the first three Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies.

But even among these great men, Douglas Adams stands above them in my own life, because the man done me wrong.

Lemme explain. No, that would take too long. Let me summarize. You see, I started reading Hitchhiker’s Guide at a most inopportune time. After watching the excellent movie adaptation, I picked up the book to see where the story went. It took me a couple of years of bouncing around between different books before I finally finished the whole five-book trilogy. For any of you who haven’t had the pleasure, I won’t spoil anything, except to say that the fifth book ends in a place that is about as bleak and hopeless for the characters as it’s possible to be. To say it was an unsatisfying way to end a series would be like saying that the Committee of Public Safety maybe went just a teensy bit overboard with the Guillotine.

Upon turning that last page of Hitchhiker’s, and with the knowledge that the author, through an epically poor sense of timing, was not going to be available to fix this lapse in good judgement, I, like so many angry nerds before me, started to put pen to paper to correct this egregious assault on decency and the proper order of the universe. That’s right, the first piece of fiction I ever wrote was Hitchhiker’s fan-fic. Don’t tell anyone. By the time I was about five chapters into this ill-advised tome, it was announced that Eoin Colfer was in the process of writing the sixth book in the series, the under-appreciated And Another Thing, so I abandoned the project and returned to the real world. It sat there, unread and unloved, in a folder on my computer for many months, until it came up in conversation one day and I emailed it out to a few friends as a joke.

Much to my surprise, everyone who read it came back and told me to keep going. They wanted to see the rest of it. And my circle of friends aren’t exactly a mindlessly supportive group of ditto-heads. We’re pretty ruthless. So I sat down, stripped out everything that connected the work to Mr. Adam’s universe, and started crafting a brand-new story. That evolved into my first novel, A Hole in the Fence, (which is still looking for an agent…). The joke was apparently on me, though, because during the eighteen months I spent writing the damned thing, it never occurred to me to investigate how many sci-fi comedies make it to print in a given year. In case you’re wondering, it’s not many.

However, other stories followed, some short, some serious, some fantasy, but all because of the angry little spark the last page of Hitchhiker’s lit in my mind. Within a few months, I had my first acceptance letter, and I was hooked on this whole story-telling path for good. So thank you, Douglas Adams, for dying when you did. But, more importantly, I, and the world, have been enriched by the fact you lived at all. And that’s all any of us can hope for.

After Action Report: VisionCon 2013

Hello nerdlings! After burning a day on such enticing activities as expense reports, I’m back up and running from a weekend in Springfield, Missouri. VisionCon was once again a great experience. It was going to be tough to top last year’s performance, but I think the organizers did so masterfully. A few personal highlights for me included the successful launch of The Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition, judging the Saturday night Masquerade alongside the guest of honor, Aaron Douglas, (I hear he got his picture taken with the mayor) and drinking some excellent twelve-year-old Scotch with friends both new and old.

The diversity of guests was impressive, and the charitable nature of all the attendees was evident as the con raised over $4,000 for breast cancer research. Not bad for a local convention. As far as I know, VisionCon managed to break all previous records for attendance. It’s wonderful to see such a fan-focused con growing at a time so many others are struggling to stay afloat. If you’re anywhere near Springfield and like to party, come on by next February and say hello. I’ll be there to launch Book IV of the Wererat saga, and probably to get a tattoo. Yup, they had a temporary tattoo parlor setup in one of the hotel rooms!

D.C. Comics, Orson Scott Card, and Cognitive Dissonance

Morning, everyone. The big dust-up in the world of geeks this week comes courtesy of D.C. Comics decision to hire world-renown but controversial sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card to pen upcoming issues of Superman. And since everyone is sharing their opinions on the topic, I figured I’d get in on the action.

I’ve actually struggled with my feelings about OSC for a number of years. For those of you who may not know. Mr. Card is a best-selling and multiple-award winning author of such famous sci-fi works as Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. His work has also included writing for screenplays, video games, and other lines of comic books such as Iron Man for Marvel. Ender’s Game is soon to be released as a major movie staring Harrison Ford, among others. I consider Mr. Card to be right up there with the second wave of great sci-fi writers like Larry Niven and William Gibson. Several of his novels sit on my bookshelf as I type this.

So it’s under this umbrella of professional accomplishments that I have to confront his repulsive personal views. An active and outspoken member of the Mormon Church, Mr. Card has very publicly denounced homosexuality as aberrant behavior, and has aided in the fight against things such as same-sex marriage rights, the repeal of DADT, and other measures that would bring equality and dignity to so many of our fellow citizens. That his public statements are in line with the tenants of his religion holds very little water with me.

The predictable response to Mr. Card’s personal views, a response D.C. really should have seen coming, has been calls to boycott the Superman titles in question, and even D.C. comics in general. Many people within the pantheon of comic geekdom feel particularly betrayed by D.C.’s decision, and rightfully so. The clan of geeks has always contained a large slice of social misfits and outcasts. People who didn’t fit into the mainstream. Instead, they built their own community based on inclusiveness and non-conformity, (unless you’re an attractive cosplay chick, but that’s another post). So it should be no surprise that there is a significant overlap between the community of LGTB persons and their supporters, and geek culture. Asking a proud homophobe and enemy of equality to write for the most important comic book character in American history must have come as a real slap in the face, and D.C.’s tone deafness led them right into this trap

However, all that said, while I certainly can’t blame anyone for being upset, or choosing to participate in a boycott, in this instance, I can’t recommend it, or participate myself. Here’s why. If you haven’t read Speaker for the Dead, you absolutely must do so right this second. Leave your job, abandon your children, interrupt the lunchtime copy-room tryst with the new girl from accounting, and go buy this book. While it is a sequel to Ender’s Game, it takes place far in the future and does enough catch-up and character-building early on that it stands alone very well. All you’re really missing is how much of a bad-ass young Ender was.

What you’ll find inside the pages of “Speaker” is the most elegant, moving, and iron-clad argument for tolerance, diversity, and inclusiveness ever captured in sci-fi, or perhaps any genre. The journey the human characters take in learning about, and eventually accepting the incredibly alien “piggies” is at times challenging, heart-wrenching, and ultimately empowering. I won’t ruin the ending, but the final scene of the book caused me to weep with relief. If you boycott Mr. Card’s work, you deprive yourself of the opportunity to read a work that turns the entire argument for diversity on its ear and shakes out all the loose change. It is simply beautiful.

The experience of reading “Speaker”, then running head-first into Mr. Card’s bigoted intolerance was… jarring, to say the least. It took me a while to work through it, and it’s been percolating around in the back of my head for several years. This latest incident has given me a reason to talk about it publicly. How, I wondered, could a mind that had written something that profound, simultaneously expound the sorts of regressive, backwards beliefs that he had just penned perhaps the greatest refutation of in contemporary literature?

I really couldn’t understand it for the longest time, and in some ways I still can’t. But what I’ve come to better understand is that Mr. Card, like so many millions of people in our culture, suffers from compartmentalized thinking. His plea for religious tolerance in “Speaker” was written with the benefit of his clan, the Mormons, in mind. He has never taken the next logical step to apply those same arguments to other groups. To do so would risk cognitive dissonance, which would be an unpleasant experience indeed for someone with a mind as sharp as his. It would require a level of self-reflection and bravery that he has, alas, not yet acquired. It is for this reason that I pity him more than I loathe his opinions.

However, I also believe that even if he does not yet possess the mental tools necessary to see over the walls he has built, there are many millions of others who are not so afflicted. I think that with the core message at the heart of his seminal work, Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card could inadvertently do more to further the very causes of tolerance and acceptance that he has publicly opposed. It would be a fitting fate if his accidental message of inclusiveness and diversity spread far and wide, and ended up helping liberate those his personal beliefs had sought to condemn.

Seriously, go read the book, then share it with your friends.

Thoughts on a Snowy Afternoon

Wisconsin finally decided to commit to the whole “winter” thing, so I’m here basically locked into the house for the day. A few things have cropped up in the community of writers and publishing in the last week or so, and I thought I’d take a minute to add my thoughts.

First, there was the curious case recently of an editor of a small, no-pay ezine flipping out on a writer who asked a simple question about her publication. The writer on the receiving end of the tirade posted the comments to social media, where they quickly went viral. Well, viral among writers and other people connected to the craft.

Now, I’m not going to weigh in on the merits of publications who only pay their writers in exposure. Most of them are small and just starting out, trying to build up subscriptions and page-views. This very closely mirrors the journey new writers have to undertake, and I wish all of them the best of luck. Personally, I believe in being paid for my work, even if it is only a token sum. I’ve been paid as little as $3 for a piece of flash fiction before, but it was still real money that was able to buy me a significant fraction of a Culver’s Snack Pack. Other writers may feel that in the early goings, exposure is a sufficient reward for their troubles, and that’s fine. The only person who can make that call for you, is you. But there comes a time in the career of every creative where people will only start valuing your work if you do. I just decided that for me, that was Day 1.

No, what was so strange about this incident was just how much of an outlier it was, at least in my experience. From the get-go, I’ve been shocked at how supportive, even nurturing the community of writers, editors, agents, and publishers is. You have to be willing to work hard, and churn out quality material, but there has never been a shortage of people willing to extend a helping hand with advice on the business, critiques, beta-reading services, etc. I cannot tell you how many of the friends I’ve made over the last few years have gone out of their ways to help pull me along and try to find success. It’s unlike any working environment I’ve ever been a part of before. There is almost a complete lack of competition among writing professionals. It’s a fraternity, and a warm one at that. I would send a shout of thanks out to everyone who has helped me, but the list would take up far too much space, and I would invariably forget someone.

So it was through this lens of camaraderie that I read this editor’s attack, and that’s all it could be called, upon a fellow writer for having the gall to ask her a politely worded question about compensation, and for the nerve to believe her work might be worth real money. How dare she believe she should be compensated for her work the way everyone else in the universe is compensated for theirs! Not only did this editor display an incredible lack of grace and professionalism, but she had somehow forgotten the people who had in their own time helped her reach what success she had achieved. I don’t care who you are in this business, someone took the time to give you constructive critiques, someone gave your first published story a break, someone volunteered to be the Beta reader for your first novel manuscript. No one does this alone, it’s just not possible.

And maybe most importantly, someone teaches you the ‘rules’. Listen, we all make mistakes coming through this process. There is no creative writing program in the country that teaches you the rest of the story. Finding markets, submitting, landing an agent, negotiating contracts, running a social media campaign. branding, etc. We all walk into that part of the job blindly and stagger around in the dark for a while. Mistakes will be made, and all you can do is hope whoever catches you will be gentle and understanding.

I, for example, am still in the process of shopping around my very first novel manuscript. I’d sent it out to nearly eighty agents and publishers. And while I’ve gotten some solid nibbles, I haven’t managed to drag any of them back to the boat with this one yet. Then, late last year at World Con Chicago, I thought I was getting a break, when a side conversation with an acquisitions editor for one of the biggest sci-fi publishers in the business (names withheld to protect me from embarrassment) asked me to send him the manuscript. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. I ran right back to my hotel room and emailed it to him straight away. Only later did I come to realize that another person, whom had asked for a sample of the manuscript some months earlier, was actually an editor for the same publisher. I had inadvertently gone around his back and submitted directly to his boss.

Now, this is a Four-Alarm, Gold-Plated, No-No. But here’s the thing that our meanie editor above had either forgotten, or never knew. When you fuck up by the numbers, the best possible thing you can do is fess-up and immediately apologize. Acting tough, entitled, or too important for such lowly concerns is the single fastest way to stain your reputation. And this is a very small industry, with very long memories. In my case, I hadn’t known the two men worked for the same company, but even that wasn’t good enough. Unlike submitting to agents, who expect that you are blasting your novel out to anyone who’ll listen, editors at that level expect an exclusive look. This was one of the rules I hadn’t been in a position to learn yet, so all I could do was thank the man I’d wronged for educating me, and promise not to repeat the mistake. Fortunately, I hadn’t run into a primadona, and while he was rightfully irritated, he chalked it up to a rookie mistake. Would he have been willing to do so if I’d been defensive, or given him an attitude? Would you?

The moral of all this is, no matter how far down the road of succes you get in this industry, always remember that there were people there all along to help push your cart. Someday, it will be your turn to do the same for the next person coming up the road. And that ended up being quite a bit longer than I’d planned, so I’ll sign off for today. More tomorrow on “used eBooks” and “Space Marines.”