Monday, September 12, 2016

So... It's been a year.

The other day, Silverfox asked me a question about my blog, and it took me a few minutes to remember I had one. It's been over a year since my last post, and that annoys me to no end. If you're a fan of my work, you know that it's been a while since I last released a novel, either.

So, what happened? Life. Life happened. 

Finding time to write has always been an issue for me, doubly so when I'm holding down another job. One of my mixed blessing traits is that when I have a job (of any kind) I throw myself into it. I refuse to do even a part time gig in a half assed way. The problem I have always had is that if I throw myself into one thing, another part of my life invariably suffers.

This is very much what happened to me towards the end of college. I got my job at Steamboat, and started ignoring all the effort I should have been putting into school, and as a result, didn't graduate. Right now, it's my writing that's suffering because keeping a roof over my family's head is more important. I know that if I could throw myself into my writing career, I might be able to make it a viable revenue stream, but taking care of the wife and kids is proving to be as challenging as any job. My time is split three ways, and my pride won't let me slack on at least two. 

It's all very very frustrating.

Picking up this blog again is a good start. We'll see how long it lasts.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Today's post comes with a side of DANGER!

One day, my wife is gonna get me killed, and not in a way that will allow her to collect on my life insurance policy, either.

Silverfox has a passion for "augmented reality" games. For the most part, these games consist of finding a particular set of geographic coordinates with a game program on your smartphone, and then in some way proving you were there. 

In Geocaching, you find a capsule/piece of tupperware/ammo can someone has hidden somewhere on planet earth with a piece of paper in it to sign. It involves using your smartphone or a GPS unit to track down the lattitude/longitude of the thing you're looking for while not falling off a cliff.
I say falling off a cliff, but here in Louisiana, you are far more likely to get bitten by a venomous snake or an alligator. The principle is the same, and while there are urban Geocaches, the fun ones are more remote and rural in nature.

With Ingress, you either capture the coordinates, or "portals" or hack them to get in game loot. everything in it is virtual, ad must be tethered to a real world object like a statue or monument. As a result, it is a more urban game, and can be challenging and frustrating as there are two factions trying to capture portals and claim territory. The factions are the resistance (blue) and the enlightened (green)
Kind of like a worldwide game of capture the flag, only with nerds with smartphones clustered around a statue of Rodrigue's "Blue dog" while muttering derogatory comments about frogs and smurfs at each other.
true story!
My wife started as a Geocacher, but moved up to Ingress a few months ago, bringing me with her under the "must always try something fun for us to do together" clause in our marriage vows. I've been playing this game, which I have found to be both fun and slightly addictive. It makes me a little paranoid, but I hear that's fairly normal. the game has a real cloak and dagger element to it, which I really grove on. I play probably once a day, when I can find the time.

Silverfox is WAY more into it than that. She will hop out of bed at two in the morning because the "damn smurfs have taken rivertown!". She teams up with other players of the game to perform huge city-wide ops against the opposing team. When I tell her that I have a book signing in a city we've never been to, she looks at a special map to see how many Ingress portals she can hack along the route. She takes the whole thing pretty seriously. I have my own quirky things that I take too seriously, so I don't judge.

Unfortunately, I must have missed where we got to the point where us being out on the roads during tornado/tropical storm conditions just so she can "hack portals" for game loot was a perfectly acceptable thing to do. We were driving uptown, lightning flashing above, tree limbs crashing down in our path due to the winds, floodwaters obscuring the roads, and the torrential downpour making visibility nealy zero, with my knuckles white against the steering wheel, and Silverfox is next to me happily playing the game. To make it clear, this is the same storm where this happened:

That video is of TRAINS BEING PUSHED OFF A TRELLIS DUE TO HIGH WINDS! And we were out in it playing Ingress.

My wife has nerves of steel. I will grant her that. I however have nerves of jello. All I'm thinking is, "Please don't let them have to put 'Died playing Ingress' on my tombstone." I mentioned this to Silverfox at the time, and she said "That would be AWESOME!" right before one of her in-game rivals made a comment on the in-game chat/comm about how he was hoping a house would drop on her so that he could steal her ruby slippers.

Yeah... my wife isn't the only one that takes this game a wee bit too seriously.

The flip side of doing such a dumb thing is that it makes for a GREAT story. Like Hemmingway said, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you a better writer" My wife is apparently dedicated to making me an EXTRAORDINARY writer.

God, I love this woman.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The never ending battle...

I know that some of you might read that post title and say "Great... Rob is about to regale us with a boring rant about how Superman looks so much better with red underpants! I'm outie". You would be wrong, and not just because of your use of the past pleurperfect tense of "out". True, I could go on endless rants about Superman's preference for briefs, but today's post is actually about what seperates the "Writers" from the "People who Write".

Perseverance. 

There are many people that spend years writing and perfecting their novel, short story, or poem for it never to be seen by another human being, but will maybe read it aloud to their cat on valentines day if the feline in question promises to poop in the goddamn sandbox. 

These people (that we'll call Bob) got a rejection notice on the first thing they ever sent to a publisher, and never tried again, thinking to themselves "Well, if editor A thinks my stuff is crap, I guess my Mom was right about my writing, and I should consider truck driving school."

Here's the thing... Just because Editor A twisted his mustache and stomped on Bob's dreams, it doesn't mean Editor B will. In fact, Editor B will run over those dreams with a steamroller. What Bob doesn't see is that it may take all the way through editor gamma (Bob ran out of english alphabet letters and had to go to greek) before Bob gets that validation of "yes, we'd like to see the full manuscript"

Rejection is part of the job, kids. Be ready to hear lots of bad stuff about your work before you hit that editor that "gets" where you were coming from with the drag queens exploring the final frontier, because when you find that editor, it's soooo worth it.

Finding the time...

ThisOne of the biggest challenges when you're a writer is trying to find the time to fit in all the projects, the social media stuff, your family, and having that crazy thing that normals refer to as "a life". I've always been the kinda guy that has issues when I try to multi task. I have nothing but respect for people that can do it well, but whenever I try to balance work, school, writing, and my life, something always suffers.

Interesting side note... My autocorrect tried to change "writing" to "writhing" in that last sentence. If the tech guys at apple only knew...

When I find myself committed to multiple projects, the first thing to suffer is this blog. I just find myself having no time to do it. 

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to be a part of history... This changes today. I have found the time to do almost daily updates, and it was in front of me all along.
 
This is a photo of me in the carpool line to pick up Charlie from school. For about half an hour each day, I sit with this as my view:
 
This is a full half hour that through the magic of modern telecommunications I can spend writing instead of singing Billy Joel songs loudly and off key along with the radio. I'm sure the school's neighbors will appreciate it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Slice of Life... (and PB&J)

Most mornings, I fix the kids breakfast. The Monday after a convention, I am less than enthustiastic to do so... The scene in my kitchen this morning:

Oldest Kid: Dad, can you make me a PB&J sandwich?

Me: Sure kiddo, but I'll need your help. I'm hurting from the con.

Oldest Kid: Sure Dad. What do you need? 

Me: Well, get the Peanut butter from the pantry, the jelly from the fridge, and the bread from the counter.

Oldest Kid: okay. 

Me: Could you open the peanut butter for me? I wrenched my arm lifting boxes this weekend...

Oldest Kid: Sure.

Me: now take out two pieces of bread...

Oldest Kid: You're making me make this sandwich, aren't you?

Me: I'm just surprised it took you till the bread to figure it out.

Oldest Kid: jerk move, Dad. Jerk move.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Bad. Bad writer.

I neglect this blog. There, I said it. On the bright side, I only neglect it when I'm busy with other projects, so realitive silence here means that I'm getting steady writing work.

 That is the dream, after all... Still not making enough from my writing and associated endeavors to pay all the bills, but I am covering on average one a month. I also still get to travel a bit and make new friends and fans around the region, and I've been more visible in the media. 

Not too shabby, and a definite improvement from last year. I sold a screenplay which is currently in pre-production, sold two short stories, and am helping organize a writers conference in June!

Monday, April 28, 2014

On Publishing vs. Self Publishing

Today, my thoughts are focused on a topic of great import to many writers in the modern age. I just completed what is potentially my third novel, and I don't know whether to self-publish it, or try to go the "for realsies" publishing route. It's not a Jake Price book, so I'm comfortable at least trying to go with a traditional publisher, but my head just keeps spinning around about it.

By focused, I really mean that while on the same topic my brain sounds a little like cats in a dryer right now.

Both sides have their pros and cons. Self Publishing has the allure of immediate gratification, more control, and a larger cut of the end product. Traditional publishing means that my books would reach a much larger market than I currently can with my meager resources. Even smaller presses manage to hit at least two conventions a month and are available to brick and mortar stores, whereas I tend to average a con every two months and am currently only available through the internet. I'd still have to do a fair amount of self promotion with either for the book to be successful.
Me, self-promoting at LA Sci-Fi festival. A fan added the "The" to my sign.

The real problems come in when I start thinking about where I want my career as a writer to take me. While I am one of those guys that's not really in it for the money, I do have bills to pay just like everyone else. I also have a few awards I'd like to be considered for some day, like the Nebula and the Hugo, and a long term goal of getting accepted into the Science Fiction Writers of America. Currently, most of these establishments look very poorly upon indie publisher types like me. The SFWA in particular, will not allow membership unless you have been published in "accepted markets" meaning high-end publishers and magazines. This means that even though I've sold six or so stories to small presses over my career, I do not qualify by a long shot. This means that if I'm serious about having "Hugo nominated author" in front of my name, or "SFWA member" on manuscripts I send out, I need to really consider going through the traditional route.

The big drawback to that is that it takes time. Most publishers on SFWA's list will not even look at unagented, unsolicited manuscripts. Those that do have turn around times that require multi-year calendars to keep track of, and get pissed if they find out you sent out multiple submissions (two year turn-arounds are common just to be rejected). The last thing I need is to get rejected after rising to the top of an editor's slush pile, only to be rejected by another publisher just for having been in said slush pile. As a writer, it's a frustrating and painful process at best. This is why my "for realsies" writer cred comes in the form of the short stories I've had published. The turn around times are much shorter, and if it's an anthology with a specific theme, my odds rise slightly as humor always grabs an editor's eye.

So I sit here printing up a copy of my latest manuscript for my beta readers, unsure if it will see the light of day anytime soon. I know full well that if I self-pub, it's an immediate windfall as I would likely sell at least fifty to a hundred books at the next con I attend, and because it's a departure from my other work, I would pick up a bunch of new readers as well. Would this advance my career in the direction I want it to? I'm not sure. More fans means more buzz, more popularity, and in a very real way these awards I covet so much are a popularity contest. The current controversy behind the Hugos shows that very clearly. I could probably go to a Worldcon and make enough of an impression as a person that I could conceivably get on the nomination ballot... but I don't want to be that guy. If I'm to be nominated, I want to know I deserve to be there.

Boy, after reading this all back to myself I realize that for a guy that writes comedy, I sure am taking this all very seriously. Maybe I should just bang out a book of fart jokes, publish it on kindle, and call it a day.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Fanboy- Sherlock

Today's Friday Fanboy is brought to you by the month of December.

December... where the kids are off of school for a month, and no work gets done till early February so your mind can recover.

So, to keep my sanity during the month of December, I always try to find a Netflix obsession that will last me a few weeks. It has to be engaging enough to keep me entertained, long enough that it will take me a few weeks, and just boring enough that I can comfortably pause it when the kids start chasing the dog around the house with a laundry basket and a nerf gun.

Sherlock fails on at least two of these accounts, but I have so many friends that enjoyed it that I felt like I should take a nice, long look at it. What I didn't know going in is that the first two seasons consist of only six episodes, so I burned through them in two days.

Damn you, BBC and your efficient storytelling! now I had to spend time with my family!

I will say right off that many things about the series surprised and delighted me. I had no idea that the story is set in modern day London, for instance... I fully expected Victorian London. I was also very impressed with Benedict Cumberbatch. As my only experience with his acting was in that god-awful Star Trek movie, It was a pleasant surprise to me that the man is actually a very talented actor.

This re-imagining of Sherlock and Watson as sometime police consultants and internet sensations was really intriguing. I found myself drawn in quickly and captivated by the buddy cop/ procedural tone of the series. I highly recommend it if you haven't watched it already. If I have one gripe about the series, it's that the episode titles give away the plot and often the ending if you are already familiar with the original works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle... but hang in there, bibliophiles... the series adds enough to the legend without taking away from the larger myth that you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tuesday Tirade- On not getting paid.

If there's one thing about being a writer starting out in the modern age that kinda sucks it's the pay; by which I mean that there really isn't any.

I am generally comfortable with my role as a small fish in a big pond, but it really annoys me that people undervalue the hard work of people like myself that bust their fingers on their keyboard every day, trying to entertain the masses. Most people assume that I get paid well for my convention appearences, but I don't. I generally attend on my own dime in exchange for a place to sell my books and "exposure". I often just barely break even, but I justify it in newfound friends and networking opportunities. Sadly, this "exposure" is the case with authors way up the food chain from me as well, and it sometimes gives me pause about my chosen profession.

"Exposure". God, I hate that word with a passion that would give the devil blisters. Would you seriously look your mechanic in the face and tell him that you can't afford to pay him to replace your fuel pump, but he'll "generate great buzz" for doing it? Yet when I look for open calls to submit short stories and novels to, They generally only pay in "exposure" and copies. Not a lot of copies either... I generally get two books each time I publish.

My wife and I often talk about the financial viability of my career. It comes up at least once every six months or so, and it's always a very difficult conversation to have. We sit there and do the numbers, and more often than not, it works out that my writing and speaking career is sustaining itself, but not actually turning a profit. For a few months after these conversations, when I get approached about submitting to a new anthology, or writing a screenplay for a local filmmaker, I'll ask how much I can expect to be paid.

I swear, you would think I just asked them to sacrifice their first born on an altar to Zenu by their reactions. It just makes me want to grab them by the throat and explain to them that THEY approached ME because they see talent there, (or a skill they themselves do not possess) or they would just write it themselves. I really don't see why I should be considered greedy or a sellout for expecting to be paid for what I bring to a project.

okay... this is getting a little intense, and I'm not done. here's a picture of a baby hippo to help us all relax a little:
You see, all of this is leading up to the fact that I would like to be a card carrying member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, a guild that looks out for Sci-Fi authors, and mentors and advocates for its members. They host the Nebula awards each year, and it's a pretty big deal. Here are their membership requirements: (from http://www.sfwa.org/about/join-us/sfwa-membership-requirements/)

To become an Active member of SFWA, applicants must demonstrate either:
  1. Three Paid Sales of prose fiction (such as short stories) to Qualifying Professional Markets, with each paid at the rate of 5¢/word or higher (3¢/word before 1/1/2004), for a cumulative total of $250, minimum $50 apiece; or
  2. One Paid Sale of a prose fiction book to a Qualifying Professional Market, for which the author has been paid $2000 or more; or
  3. One professionally produced full length dramatic script, with credits acceptable to the Membership Committee.
Even though I have two novels and four sold and published short stories, I do not qualify for for membership because I haven't earned enough. The thing is, many of the smaller presses that will take submissions from a small fish like myself can't pay that much or aren't considered a 'qualifying market'. The larger ones won't even look my way until I have more serious publishing cred. It a classic catch-22 of you need to be a well known author to make a sale, but you're not a well known author until you've made a sale. Either way, until you're in the inner sanctum, SFWA doesn't want to know you.

I suppose I'm not much of a joiner anyway... but it would be nice to be able to say my writing pays a bill once a month.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

This month's Netflix Obsession- Eureka

This month, I started watching the SyFy original series, Eureka. For those unfamiliar with the show, it follows the adventures of the sheriff of the fictional town of Eureka, Oregon, a town which was set up by the U.S. department of defense as an enclave for super-geniuses. The setting of a town where backyard mad scientists are common, and most have seemingly unlimited resources and inventive prowess, is one that is rife for great storytelling. The threats to Eureka range from the dangerous to the downright silly, and it makes for a really fun watch.

We are shown the town through the eyes of Sheriff Jack Carter, (played by Colin Ferguson) who is one of the few people in town with a perfectly ordinary IQ. It's a pretty typical narritive device in Sci Fi to put a 'dumb' guy in a room full of super scientists to give the geniuses someone to explain the incredible events around them to, and thus explain the situation to the audience. The fact that in this crowd of incredible scientists and innovators, Jack is obviously also the most expendable member of the town is not lost in the storytelling either, and him often risking his life to save the town on a weekly basis becomes almost a running gag by the end of the series.

I really enjoyed this series. I was a big an of Northern Exposure back in the day, and Eureka definitely picks up on the 'Fish out of water' and 'quirky small town' vibes from that series, and twists them with a wonderful level of nerdieness. If there's one criticism I have of the series, it's that the episodes themselves are very formulaic. There are season long story arcs that mitigate this somewhat, but the typical Eureka episode is "Scientist develops a new technology that has unforeseen/disastrous consequences, Jack has to save everyone with some help, we see a new clue to the season's big arc, repeat.". It's a good formula, (it sure beats "freak of the week" formulas that tend to run rampant in genre television) but the show never really breaks out of it until somewhere in the fourth season, where the season arc is really front and center, with only the occasional formula show.

Overall, I think Eureka is definitely worth the time to watch. It's not often that the genre serves up something that is so lighthearted in tone, and for that reason alone deserves your attention.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Writing Music

An important part of my process when it comes to writing is the music I listen to while I write. Like many writers, I have a fairly well established routine that gets me in the mood to write every morning. While I admit that my morning Mocha Latte and a breakfast sandwich have their place in my writing routine, neither is really as important or essential as what i've come to think of as my writers soundtrack.

It doesn't help that my local coffeehouse has TERRIBLE music. (A fact that I've gone on record about multiple times)

This of course, leads me to use my iPhone and a pair of earbuds to tune out the rest of the world as I type frantically in my usual 'hunt and peck' meets 'ingrained pattern' on the keyboard style. I doubt very much that my 7th grade typing teacher would be very happy with me if she saw the haphazard way I've boosted myself to my meager 50 wpm. She certainly wouldn't have approved of me listening to music and bopping my head while I do so.

The choice of music for me was a very personal one. I tend to listen to upbeat tempo songs while writing, mixed with a bunch of Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and Paul Simon. I know other writers that change it up depending on the scene they're writing, and while I can see how moody music would effect the tone of what you're writing, I have also found that it doesn't really work for me. One friend in particular had created seperate Pandora stations for each character in his NaNoWriMo novel, and would alternate between the stations as he wrote their scenes.

I guess I'm lucky that I've chosen a tone for most of my work that reflects my style, and that style I think is reflected in the music I write to. I could easily see myself getting obsessed with picking out the perfect song/songs for each scene otherwise, spending all my time trying to capture the setting in someone else's music instead of my own mind. I doubt I would get much writing done that way.

Having said that, I do pick out upbeat songs for the simple reason that I find myself trying to type to the beat, which always helps me type faster, and get more ideas down on the page ion less time that I normally would. I've also "hacked my brain" into prepping my imagination when I hear a particular song.

I discovered this effect quite by accident. with my old iPod, i had no control over things like "shuffle" or "repeat", primarily because I refused to read the manual Cheri gave me with her hand-me down iPod. "Come on honey!" I proudly declared, "Where would man be without the adventure of discovery! Would Columbus have really been better off with a Garmin on the dash of the Santa Maria telling him how to find the west indies?"

At this point my wife launched into a tirade about the attrocities of Columbus, which I will save for another time.

Anyway, with no way of controlling my song order, I had to listen from song 1 to song 2, etc through to the end, where I would restart the ipod if I wasn't done, just like my good old walkman cassette player in high school. This was oddly comforting to me as I would start writing. I later figured out shuffle, but my playlist would always start on the first song. I noticed that whenever I listened to that first song, my brain would start to get into writer's mode, just like Pavlov's dogs had he been sitting them at typewriters instead of feeding them.

Of course, one would imagine Pavlov's mutts ripping him to shreds after weeks of getting typewriters instead of kibble...

In any event, the song at the top of my playlist is currently (and appropriately, I think) "Why don't you get a job" By the Offspring:

.By the time the steel drum kicks in, I am jazzed to write, and the images flow. Ultimately, that's what it's all about. That and typos. Lots of glorious, glorious typos.... Hmmm... Maybe I should have paid a little more attention in 7th grade typing after all.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The book that made me want to be a writer...

A question a lot of authors get asked is "What made you want to be a writer?". I have always tried to come up with a wise ass response to this question without success, my 'witty' replies varying from "Beats a real job" to "I was just bored one day and didn't want to play scrabble".

Like I said, without success.

The fact is that for most of us, there is no 'moment' that made us want to write to entertain others. It's a combination of a lot of things, and usually some insignificant thing that pushes us over the top to try it on a professional level. One thing that I have found though, is that there are common points on an authors journey that we all hit at one point or another. One of these is 'THE BOOK' that made us say to ourselves "yeah... I want to do that."

For me, that book was "Night Probe!" By Clive Cussler.

First edition cover, the one I read as a boy.
I know that some would be surprised that my book isn't by Douglas Adams or Issac Azimov, or even comedy or sci-fi. I won't deny that both are huge influences on my writing style, but Clive Cussler has always been my favorite author overall. I was nine when my Dad suggested that I read 'Raise the Titanic' and I enjoyed it so much that I went eagerly to my father's bookshelf to find more books by this Cussler guy. I found 'Night Probe!' and was immediately captivated by this incredible adventure novel. It's about an Oceanographer named Dirk Pitt, and a mysterious document called the "North American Treaty" which was lost in twin disasters over a hundred years ago. The resulting tale is equal parts James Bond thriller and Jacques Cousteau, with a healthy dose of historical mystery. To me it is one of the best plotted books I have ever read, and remains so thirty years after I first read it.

It so made me want to tell my own stories about my own larger than life heroes like Dirk Pitt, very human, always ready for the challenge, and with an extraordinary skillset.

In many ways, my Jake Price character is very much a spiritual brother to Dirk Pitt. I'd like to think that if Jake ever found himself in the universe of Cussler's NUMA crew, he would gladly by Dirk Pitt a beer while the two of them compared notes about their adventures. I would also like to think they would become very good friends.

If I ever have the opportunity to meet Mr. Cussler, however... I know I am totally gonna spaz out. I may offer him my dogeared copy of 'Night Probe!' for him to sign, but I doubt I will be able to form a coherent sentence while doing so.

I know it's unlikely that anyone within his circle of friends will ever read this blog, but in the unlikely event that he winds up reading these words I apologize in advance for being a spaz if I meet you, Mr. Cussler. That part that came out "Blug blurr magg blib" was really meant to be "Thank you for inspiring me to write, sir. I am forever grateful."

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Con game...

A question I'm asked a lot when I do public appearances and convention panels is "What is the key piece of advice you would give to someone thinking about self publishing their own work?" A lot of my peers answer this question with things like "Make sure you proofread it well" and  "Don't expect to get rich". Me, I always answer "Have a marketing plan." To me, the fact that I had one before starting off on this ride was a crucial difference between success and failure. Success being measured as "My wife lets me continue" and failure being measured as "Weeping in the corner in the fetal position because no one loves me enough to buy book one".

Me, trying to look as "authory" as possible.
Okay, so maybe that's a little melodramatic... but I did have a plan going in, and it relied heavily upon having a presence at Science Fiction conventions.

Sci-Fi Fan conventions are in many ways, what makes me a "real" writer. It's difficult to describe what it is about scheduling an appearance at a convention that makes me feel more validated somehow as an author. All I know is that from the moment I confirm an appearance to the moment I sit in the coffee shop on the following Monday, I feel like my writing is more "career" than "hobby". It doesn't hurt that I make money selling books at the Convention, but it really isn't about that to me. I've been to a number of cons that I didn't even break even on, but still loved every minute of.

Writing by its very nature is a solitary art... and interacting with my fans is one of the few occasions where this does not apply. I have no illusions about my work... (I know full well that the Jake Price series is never going to win a Hugo award) but there is a personal satisfaction I get when someone tells me how much they enjoyed Dimensional Games that is really indescribable. It also happens when I see a fan has posted a quote from one of my books on Facebook, but to a lesser degree. Reading kind words on the internet about what I do is completely different than a flesh and blood person saying "I loved that book! When's the next one coming out?" in person.

Yeah, not quite as authory here.
Being a guest at a convention takes much more work, effort, and actual time than an outsider would generally think it would. My con prep work starts months out, with hammering out my travel arrangements, making sure I have stock of books, finding out what other authors and guests will be there so that I don't sell the same books they are, and working out what expectations the Convention organizers have of me. Do they want me to do panels? readings? is there a meet the guests event I need to plan on attending? Then there's the tricky discussion of compensation for my time and effort, which is always balanced by what the organizers feel that I bring to the convention.

That last part, in particular can be one of the most difficult parts of the process. I have no illusions about my role as a small but entertaining fish in a big pond, and my wife always insists I undervalue my efforts. My compensation varies form convention to convention, and I always try to be mindful of the convention's resources when I approach them. Some can only afford to give me admission to the con and a place to sell my books. Others can spring for a hotel room if they're feeling generous. A lot of times, I will attend a convention that can't afford to compensate me well simply because of the networking opportunities it will afford me. Writers on the next level (national recognition, publisher support) can usually ask for travel expenses and a per diem. Someday I hope to be in that club, but not yet.

Me, being entertaining solely to myself.
Closer to the con, I start worrying about the details, like is the tablecloth I have clean? Do I have enough business cards? Do I need a banner? Doing research for my panels is a big part of it. A lot of guests will wing their topics, but THE Rob Cerio will never show up to a panel without at least doing some research on the topic at hand. Allan Gilbreath of Dark Oak Press and I once had a long talk about the responsibility an author to the convention attendees, and he told me something that has always stuck in my head. "Once you agree to being a guest at a Con, you are no longer an author." He said, "You become an entertainer, and the Con has hired you to entertain their guests." And it has been my experience that he's right. Boring, unprepared guests seldom get invited back... and furthermore Convention organizers talk to each other all the time about how their guests were, how much of a draw their panels were, what they did to promote the con, etc. I like to think that I have a number of references I can present to new Conventions at this point when I fill out a guest application that will get me in the door, but after that it's up to me to prove that I deserve to sit alongside guys like Timothy Zahn and Larry Nemecek.

I will never deserve to sit alongside Niel Gaiman though... primarily because I would pass out in fanboy glee.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Dimensional Games... The movie.

One of the things that you can't help doing as a writer is coming up with a visual in your head of your main characters. It's really important I think, to have a real handle on the people that your characters are before writing about things like their hopes, fears desires and everything else that makes them real people. A lot of writing advice books are well aware of this, and advise you to picture a favorite actor in the role of your main character. When writing Rising Sun, Michael Crichton pictured Sean Connery as the protagonist for instance.

Me, I've done this to some extent in that all the characters in my books are based to some degree on people I know, rather than Hollywood type actors. My main characters however, are almost always based on some aspect of my personality. It's one of the reasons that if you read Dimensional Games carefully, you'll find I never really describe Jake Price's appearance... there is another reason for this, (in that it allows the reader to more readily identify with Jake) but mostly it's because Jake is my point of view on the story. When I write about him, I am very much looking at the world through Jakes eyes, and like me, the man doesn't look in the mirror very often.

A fun exercise that we writers like to do is cast the movie version of our novels. Crichton got really lucky when it was time to cast Rising Sun, in that the producers cast Sean Connery in the role. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have written the character based on an actor, and then have them play that character later on. I can only guess that it must be amazing.

The above movie poster is something I threw together last April, as an April Fools gag to my friends and fans. I have never seriously considered who would play my characters in a movie version of DG, (I guess it's just so astronomically improbable that it's never come up) but now that I'm putting some thought into it, Nicholas Cage is actually a pretty good pick for Jake Price. He's old enough, sufficiently snarky, and plays 'too old for this shit' really well. He also can show great empathy when needed, which is how I've always pictured Jake to be. He can be an asshole... but when it comes down to it, he wants to be the good guy.

Sandra is a much tougher call. I always picture her as much curvier than the average Hollywood actress, tough but capable of a great gentility. She would also need to have really great comedic timing. Mellisa McCarthy would be pretty good, but not quite right I think.

There are a few characters in Jake's world I have no doubt about though... Jake's boss, Adrian Mitchell, would have to be Ving Rhames. Doc Laporte I've always imagined as being played by Christopher Lloyd.

Miss Cheri is a really tough call, as I always imagine my wife when writing her. I would be forced defer to a casting agent's judgement to keep myself out of the doghouse if it's a call that my wife would take exception to. But seeing as how that's really a cop-out in this exercise, if I had to pick an actress that I feel captures my image of Miss Cheri as "tough, sexy, exotic and mischievous", I think it would have to be Gina Torres.

Those are the main characters... I would also insist on having a cameo as a Moderator of one of the really boring dimensions... Just 'cause.

Feel free to post your suggestions over on facebook!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Politician next door... Tuesday Tirade

For some reason, I've noticed that the coffee shop I write in most often (despite the bad music... see previous Tuesday tirade) is a favorite one for local politicians. In the booth behind me, I've overheard impromptu school board meetings, city councilmen plotting revenge against their rivals, and even a state senator reassuring his wife that his position on the upcoming millage vote has nothing to do with HER. I've also noticed that a lot of campaign-runner type people do their business sitting in the booths around me, from calling supporters to remind them about an upcoming fundraiser, to figuring out tactics to get out the vote for their candidates.

I find it all equally fascinating and annoying.

I grew up in New York City, where the people that ran the city and state were as far removed from me as the typical American is removed from the staff of the White House. Meaning that before I moved to New Orleans, it simply wasn't in my experience to even be in the same building as these elected officials, much less in the next booth from them at a coffee shop. City council members, for instance (or even borough Council members) were never people that were accessable, or even all that relevant to my life. Sure, they made the decisions about things like whether... well, now that I'm writing, I don't even know how to finish that sentence, and that's the point. In NYC, the government became this big, faceless thing that operated behind the scenes to make sure that the trains ran on time, cause god help them if they didn't. Politicians never had a direct effect on my life in the slightest.

But now, here I sit in a coffee shop in a suburb of New Orleans, and I am surrounded by political goings on. I know that the dude in the next booth who is ranting about slashing the school budget to spite a political opponent is talking about slashing the budget to MY kid's school. I know that as annoying as I find the woman calling out supporters for the state senator, that senator is trying to pass a bill to protect the rights of LGBT couples. I know that the Mayor of our city is an excellent tipper, and I really want to be blissfully ignorant to all these facts like I used to be in New York.

"So, then don't listen, Rob!" I can hear you saying, and that simply isn't an option for me. Eavesdropping may be rude, but it is also an essential part of what allows me as a writer to write convincing dialogue. While the content of the conversation between the state senator and his wife will remain between them, my facebook friends, and anyone else that was within earshot, their loving tone and his sincerity to his wife will undoubtedly make it into one of my novels someday. I also have learned a lot about how my local government works as I take the time to Google some key words and phrases from their conversations.

Fact is, it would be awesome if it didn't distract me so. Maybe I really need to train myself to write with headphones on.