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.  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Gearing up for the next Novel...

Well, November is almost upon us, and that means it's time for me to get off my butt and knock out a draft of another novel. As most of my regular readers know, I'm a big fan of National Novel Writing Month, an online challenge to writers to write a full novel length work in 30 days. I owe them big time, as without the challenge, it's doubtful that "Dimensional Games" would have ever been written. I used the challenge to break the mold of the "one day" novelist that so many writers find themselves in, and am better for having done it. I now use the challenge as my "No excuses, time to grind out another book" point of the year, where I give myself entirely to the words, and allow myself to go whooping through the fields of my imagination for your entertainment.

Note to self... write book about me running whooping through a field for 200 pages.

Gearing up to write a novel was the default state of my writing career for decades. I have since learned that writing a 300 page bible for a 200 page book is a waste of my effort. There are writers that this works well for, some of whom are quite famous, (Tolkien is said to have had generated volumes of reference material for the Lord of the Rings books) it's just that I'm not one of them.

My gearing up for a new Novel consists of me writing down clever ideas and concepts for a few weeks as they come to me (usually in the morning) with no clear plan about how they're going to come together. Dimensional Games is a really great example of this. My prep work for DG was as a page of hastily scrawled notes, which read as follows:

Idea- other dimensions used for larping!
Character- Cyborg designed primarily for recording historical events.
Idea- Time traveller pissed because he cant change history
Character- inter dimensional troubleshooter that is woefully unprepared for the task.
Opening scene- troubleshooter stops errant larper from getting some booty
Idea- Troubleshooter should come off like an old west gunfighter.

And that was about it. Almost everything else that went into DG was invented on the fly as I wrote it. I've gotten much better about it since, going as far as to come up with an outline consisting primarily of chapter titles for last years writing project, but I try to let my imagination do most of the work as I write. I surprise myself all the time that way, and it gives me a great amount of pleasure to experience the story that way.

Then again, maybe I'm just plum crazy.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

In search of the perfect Bagel- tuesday tirade

Growing up in New York, there are two things I learned at an early age. One, how to avoid falling into an open Manhole, and Two, what constitutes the perfect bagel. I am totally a bagel snob too... with a strict criteria about what separates a bagel from a "roll with a hole". When I moved to New Orleans, I sadly found out that not all of America was as discerning in their Bagel needs as I was. (The same held true for pizza, but that's a rant for a later date, I think.)

The bagel is a Polish invention. It was brought to the United States sometime before WWI by Polish-Jews getting out of Europe while the getting was good, which is why the bagel is so heavily identified with the Jewish-American culture. In New York City, a Bagel Bakers union formed to ensure hand made quality in all the Bagel bakeries in  the city. The Lenders baking company worked out an automated system for producing frozen 'bagels' in the 60's and introduced the things to the rest of the country, allowing housewives in middle America to think that they were spicing up their breakfast routine with these weird ethnic rolls that were almost but not completely, unlike bagels in every measurable sense.

A good Bagel (capital B) is all about the texture. it should ideally be like a soft pretzel without the salt... Chewy on the inside, the skin just a little tough, but not so much that dipping it in coffee won't soften it. A real bagel is boiled first in a brine of the purest water you can find (although it has been rumored that NYC tap water is special somehow, any sufficiently pure water will yield the same results) mixed with kosher salt and barley malt. then you pull it out of the brine and bake it. If it isn't boiled, it doesn't matter how good your bread recipe is, it's just a roll with a hole. I also know that letting the dough rest in bagel form for at least 12 hours before boiling is a big part of the process, supposedly making the dough tough enough to be boiled first. A true Bagel does not need any toppings such as poppy, sesame seeds, or garlic to shine. It does not need your fancy onion infused spreadable cheeses. It's awesome by itself.

It amazes me that so many places around the country that sell "bagels" (small b) can't seem to work this out for themselves. Really great Bagels are a thing of beauty... the perfect food for breakfast, lunch or even dinner if you add some salmon and cream cheese to it. Even big eaters like myself will have trouble eating more than one at a sitting.

Like I say, I take Bagels very seriously.

Occasionally, a local bakery will open up run by a NY expat that makes really good bagels, but never Bagels. This drives me insane. It's always a situation where they get something minor wrong that spoils the whole mess for me. Either the crust isn't quite tough enough to the bite, or the interior isn't quite the right texture. If I complain about it, the baker always looks at me like I have three heads, and need to get a life.

Not an option, lady.

We all have our comfort foods. One of mine is a rally good Bagel. Nothing speaks to me of simpler, peaceful days sitting on the ferry on the way to school like a bagel with cream cheese and a cup of weak, terrible coffee from the local bagel shop. Is it really too much to ask that now that I live in part of the country that makes an outstanding cup of coffee that I have a good Bagel to go with it?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

In defense of bad writing... Authors I hate that I love.

While I am on record with my love of poorly written and produced movies (like Sharknado), there are a few authors I am almost embarrassed to admit that I can't get enough of. My embarrassment stems from the fact that while popular (three are on the NYT best sellers list) these authors will never be mistaken for great literature. The characters that are presented are generally two dimensional and cliche, the prose rambles aimlessly at times as if the author is getting paid by the word, and the plot holes are generally big enough to drive the state of Texas through. Generally these fall into three categories...

1) Authors who rely on a gimmick, or a core idea that is so fantastic/controversial that it carries the whole book. Dan Brown, I am totally looking at you. While the DaVinci Code was an international best seller, and made gobs and gobs of money, it is hardly a good book. It's the literary equivalent to a summer blockbuster/popcorn movie, even though it's trying really hard to be more than that. The ideas at the core of the book, about Jesus having had kids, Mary Magdalene being suppressed by the male dominated church, and clever puzzles are what keep the reader turning the pages, not our empathy for Robert Langdon or Sophie. It's a literary trick, and an obvious one to a writer. I still loved DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons (which does the same thing with the illuminatti) and ran through The Lost Symbol in less than a day.

2) Authors that recycle the same plot over and over, to great financial success. Now I will admit that part of me is just really jealous of the ability of some authors to do this over and over, but I absolutely hate myself for being an avid fan of some authors that do. Michael Crichton is the best example I can think of this. His writing style is exceptionally rambling, and his plot twists are telegraphed chapters in advance, which is why I feel like I shouldn't enjoy the novel. Worse than that is the fact that his novels are just so, so formulaic. Every Crichton novel is exactly the same... New Technology discovered that leaves main character in awe, then something goes dreadfully wrong. The rest of the novel is spent dealing with the consequences and ethical ramifications of the technology. The only one of his novels that breaks this mold is The Andromeda Strain, which is by far my favorite, but I would be lying if I said I didn't adore Jurassic Park.

3) Protagonists that suddenly have whatever expert skillset is needed to vanquish the antagonist, with only a slight mention in an earlier chapter, but never in any previous work where the protagonist appears. There are two huge offenders to this whose books I adore... Ian Fleming and Clive Cussler. While James Bond could have theoretically learned a lot of his skills as part of his MI6 training, it pains me to say Dirk Pitt cannot be an expert fencer, oceanographer, special forces, expert pilot, medic, star fisherman, auto restorer, historian, antiques expert, gourmet chef, and scuba diver all in the same book. I'm all about having a diverse skillset, but Cussler gives Dirk whatever skills he needs to save the day on an 'as I need them' basis. I LOVE THIS MAN'S BOOKS, but it drives me crazy.

Anyhow, I'm sure that years from now people will complain much the same way about Jake Price. I could do worse than have one of my badly written novels on the NYT best seller list, even for a second. I guess that 'well written' is kind of in the eye of the beholder anyway... Critics tend to belittle the work of all of these authors, and I'm sure their opinion really matters to Mr. Brown as he laughs at them from on top of a huge pile of money.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Adventures of Keith Flippen Premires!

The Adventures of Keith Flippen, Didgeridoo player from the 3rd Dimension: The Webseries premiers today, and I have to say I'm pretty proud of our little group of maverick filmmakers. For those that have no clue what I'm talking about, Keith Flippen is the film short from the 48hour Film Festival that allows me to put the words "Award winning author" in front of my name. The original short won 12 out of 15 awards that night, the indie filmmaker equivalent to sweeping the Oscars. Our producers were so inspired by all the attention that it was decided to go forward with the project and make it into a full blown webseries. One nail-biting Kickstarter and a crazy summer of filming later, and the frenzied scrawlings of myself and the other writers (Mario Campesi and Shannon Kitchens) have been made manifest.

Producing something of the scope of Keith Flippen on a budget of only 9000 dollars is nothing less than an amazing achievement. The logistics and creativity needed to get an all-volunteer cast and crew to produce quality work is staggering, but our team totally came through. Here's the first episode for your viewing pleasure. If you like what you see, please go to YouTube and comment on it, or better yet, share it with your friends!

 Now that you've seen it, let me say this... Keith Flippen is a labor of love for all involved. As much as I sometimes bitched about deadlines and edits, I am really proud of the finished product, and will never tire of writing the dialogue for Queen Calamitous and her minions. (I'm already looking forward to seeing episode 2!) nor will I ever stop enjoying watching actors breathe life into the characters I helped create... But web work of this quality is only successful if shared, so please help support your local filmmakers by getting the word out about Keith Flippen! As Colonel Victory would say, "We can't do it without you, Space Chums!"

Monday, October 21, 2013


This past weekend, I was a guest at CONtraflow III, and had a pretty amazing time. The convention takes place in Kenner, Louisiana, not far from Casa Cerio, and it's always a pleasure to appear at a con I don't have to drive several hours to get to. It's small, fan-run, and extremely awesome.

Signing books like a beast!
The founders of CONtraflow started their convention with the basic idea of creating a convention like the ones they grew up on. Even though the concept of the mega-con like SDCC and Wizard World is the one that is getting spotlighted now in popular culture, these huge money making monsters really owe their success to the formula created by fans for fans years ago when science fiction was all about the books, and there were hardly any sci-fi movies or TV shows to speak of. At it's heart, it's this literary legacy that CONtraflow strives to uphold. You won't see the actors from your favorite TV shows at a convention like this, but you will meet the men and women that put the words in their mouths, and the words on the pages of sci-fi classics. Past guests have included David Brin and Vernor Vinge. This year's Author Guest of Honor was the incredible Eric Flint. Truly, it is an honor for me to be included as a guest (however minor) among heavy hitters and Hugo winners like these. This year's Artist Guest of Honor, John Picacio, has enough Hugos and like awards by himself to have to consider adding an entire wall in his studio to hold them all.

For a guy like me, it's really humbling. I mean, Eric Flint alone has seven successful SERIES of hard sci-fi books to his credit. The man comes to a con with a host of other authors and fans dedicated to his 1632 series. People cosplay as his characters, despite never having a visual media with them in it. Me, I just try to keep Jake Price's adventures free of fart jokes.

Humbling. Like the Puffin.
insert obligatory "Puffins are adorable AND Humble" comment here.

CONtraflow's mission is actually a deeper one than just meeting incredible authors. As the Con Chair and friend Raymond Boudreau put it this weekend, CONtraflow is a convention that is all about getting the "Con family" that has developed in the gulf coast together once a year to enjoy each others company. Many of the fans that make up CONtraflow's attendees (myself included) have been fans since long before the internet was conceived, coming to sci-fi and fantasy back when our only opportunity to connect with other fans was at cons like CONtraflow. For many fans, it was only at these conventions that they felt normal, and accepted for who they were. It is the hope of the organizers that their event will become this place of acceptance for a whole new generation of fans in the years to come, and as I see how my Step-kids come out of their shells at events like it, I'm really grateful to them for making the effort, and including me in it.

Wow, this post got really shmaltzy really quickly. I guess I'll save all the "awesome room parties, they totally make me feel like a rock star every year". stuff for another post!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Coffee Shop Music...Tuesday Tirade

Welcome to our second installment of "Tuesday Tirade". Today's topic will be bad coffee shop music.

As a writer with two kids and a dog, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. I do this for two reasons... one, Children and animals are not especially conducive to the creative process, and two, I really like coffee. The atmosphere in my local coffee shop is awesome. I never get hassled for taking up a table for hours while I type frantically at a keyboard trying to make what shows up on my computer funny, the booths are high backed and comfy, and the power outlets are plentiful.

During NaNoWriMo, my friends and I have an annual event we call "Coffee Crawl" where we go from coffee shop to coffee shop, drinking coffee and writing a few thousand words in each location before moving on to the next. It is a wild, twitch-inducing, word filled ride though the local coffee shop scene. While the actual coffee varies, all the coffee shops we hit tend to be well lit, funky styled places that are glad to have us, and smile in wonder at the sudden influx of bohemian writer-types all frantically pecking at their keyboards and then disappearing into the night.

It makes you proud to be a writer.

The one thing I universally hate about these coffee shops, (and especially in the one I write in most often) is the music. I don't understand what it is about coffee shops that makes whoever picks out the background music hate the customers so much. Even as I write these words, I am being subjected to an acoustic version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller".

Yes, you read that correctly:

This is the kind of thing they play all the time in my coffee shop. (Although the 'artist' they have doing the Thriller cover is way more off key on the chorus) It's apparently a Sirius station that specializes in "Coffeehouse Music". Good god, it's awful. At first I thought it was just my coffee shop, but I have found that all the coffee shops on the crawl have equally abhorrent music, all from different sources. In one of the uptown shops (blanking on the name of it) it was an entire album of Musak covers of Nine Inch Nails.

Yes, you read that correctly too.

My options? Earbuds, I suppose... but I don't like to completely cut myself off from the background noise when I write. (which is why I can't write with the boys around) I could also complain, I guess... but I really don't want to be 'that guy'.

And as I wrote that, the music changed to an acoustic version of "Crazy Train" by Black Sabbath. I'm gonna go throw up now.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Upcoming stuff, and being "THE" Rob Cerio...

This coming week, my calendar is exceptionally full. On Tuesday (TUESDAY! my old nemesis...) there will be a Book Launch Party/Signing at the East Bank Regional Library for the new steampunk anthology New Orleans by Gaslight, which I'm really looking forward to. As a contributing author, I think book launch parties are one of the coolest things I get to do, even though I have never personally been to one. It just so screams "elegant author" somehow.

 "Oh, I would have come to your tea social, but I had to be at a book launch party at my editor's request. No, I don't fart or belch in public, and my underarms smell like freshly baked cinnamon rolls."

Yeah... maybe not, but I'm still looking forward to it.

Then the following weekend (Oct 18-20th) is CONtraflow III, at the Kenner Doubletree. I'll be there all weekend, doing panels, signing books, and generally being "THE" Rob Cerio. If you go to either event, be prepared to hear and see a lot of people referring to me with the "THE" in front of my name.

"THE" Rob Cerio is something that originally started out as a gag, but one that grew legs and my fans, friends, and friends that are fans embraced. I suppose that this is the part of the story where I'm supposed to get all humble, say "I have no idea who started it" and talk about how I have come to begrudgingly accept it.

Yeah... that's bullshit Puffin talk. I love being "THE" Rob Cerio, partially because it's so much better than being "A" Rob Cerio, and partially because it has really become a branding thing for me.

Pictured: A Puffin. Better looking and cuter than Penguins, but very humble about it.
It all started at the first CONtraflow, three years ago. For those of you that haven't followed my career since that strange rhyme I turned in in third grade started me on this wacky path, (Hi, Mom!) this was my first real "appearance" as an author. It was the first time I had attended a con as an actual honest to goodness guest, not just a worker bee or attendee. When the guest services lady gave me a goody bag full of swag and granola bars, I asked her if she was sure that it was for me. After being assured that it was, I walked off with my panel schedule in hand, genuinely surprised that anyone was making even a little bit of a big deal about me. I was intimidated as hell, being put on panels with guys like David Brin and Mark Van Name as an equal. My amazing wife Cheri sensed this, and became intent on making sure I felt like just as big a deal as any other guest at the con. She somehow convinced a large portion of her friends at the con to yell "Hey! Is that writer guy THE Rob Cerio!?!" every time they saw me. And with Cheri's years in New Orleans fandom, this was not a small group of people.

The first time, it embarrassed the hell out of me. As the weekend wore on, it became less so. Plus that, it really did work... people that had never heard of me suddenly wanted to know who this big dude was that everyone was shouting about. By the second or third convention I was a guest at, it had become less and less of a joke. By the time the second CONtraflow rolled around a year later, all of the convention signage with my name on it had "THE" before it. When I do the occasional interview, I'm consistantly introduced as "THE" Rob Cerio. It has in a very real sense gone from a joke among friends to being my brand.

I know a lot of my friends are still joking when they do it, but it's not in a mean way. At the last Wizard World convention I attended (Not as a guest, still working on that) a few of my friends did this as I innocently walked past my booth, and before I knew it, there were a hundred or so people all cheering the fact that I was simply there, most of whom had probably never heard of me until that moment. I was a little embarrassed at all the attention when I wasn't even a guest or had a table or anything, but it was really kind of awesome.

It's a little strange having a "public persona" to manage, and for a long time I kept trying to separate the two in my head before I came to the realization that it's a false distinction.  I found out fairly quickly that "THE" had to still be "ME" or I was going to drive myself a little crazy. Things are just so much easier when you realize that for better or worse, the public persona is you. Maybe with a "game face" but you nonetheless. It's not without risk, putting yourself out there for others to appreciate or judge... but the risks are totally worth it.

ADD and the art of writing

It's been often said that writers are dreamers. The problem is that in an educational setting, this is not always a good thing. Short Stuff has been having some trouble in school lately, getting easily distracted and not doing his schoolwork in class. The teachers are very frustrated at what they site as his inability to "apply himself to the task" and say that he has a tendency to disrupt the class.

The thing is that my teachers said exactly the same things about me in school. I more often than not sat and looked out the window, ignored assignments that I considered too easy, and was constantly questioning what we were being taught. I would argue with my classmates constantly about why watching Star Trek was much more fun than watching baseball. I have no doubt that I was disruptive to the class, and I remember getting punished more than once because I didn't know when to shut the hell up. I find myself in a difficult position when it comes to disciplining the boy over it, because I think it's these qualities that I that make me a good writer.

All writers, by necessity I think, are a little ADD. It's our job to daydream... to look beyond our existence to give life to the stories we're passionate about and put them on the page. The "Squirrel of mass distraction" I often joke about is really my brain suddenly becoming fascinated with a detail in my surroundings that most people wouldn't notice. The details are what makes the world within the story seem real to the reader, and those with short attention spans notice more details than those around us.

So, the next time something strikes you as "oooo... Shiny!" write it down. Write a few paragraphs about it being shiny, if you prefer. At the very least, it will allow you to pad your word count come next NaNoWriMo!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Tuesday Tirade

Welcome to a new segment on Dogs Of Atlantis, which I have chosen to call "Tuesday Tirade". My regular readers will recognize that I have issues with regular posting on my blog, and this is my latest valiant attempt to trick my brain into thinking that posting to my blog regularly is a good idea for all concerned.

In all seriousness I know I need to post a LOT more often, (particularly when I have books to sell and such), but as I grow as a writer, I find myself spending more and more time on stuff that... well, to be blunt, will bring in some money. I love this blog. I really do. At 690 some-odd entries, it stands as the longest single work I have ever produced. (The Jake Price books are slowly catching up. I think that if I ever make it to a fourth book, they will have surpassed the blog for sheer word count) The problem with this blog is the same problem I have with a lot of things in my life of late...

When I post, I pour my heart and soul into it, and get almost nothing back.

There is something to be said for the catharsis of writing out my thoughts and ideas on a blank page for all those that stumble across my weary rantings to see. It can be therapeutic... while most would say that I desperately need to seek a social worker or other mental health professional to unload to, I've always had problems doing that. I hate opening up to strangers about stuff that doesn't concern them. It feels like I'm complaining about my life.

Which I don't need to, because my life is kinda awesome. I mean, sure I have the occasional financial crisis, the boys get in trouble in school, or the wife discovers some brand new form of pain in a part of her body that has scientists baffled, but that's life.  There are people out there that have it far worse than I do, with a far less adequate support system, and I feel a little guilty taking valuable couch space in a psychiatrists office when there are others out there far more deserving of the inscrutable nods and judgmental "hmms" of someone whose papers on the wall shout how superior they are to you.

Yes, I have issues with psychiatric professionals. No, not because one touched me inapproprately as a child.

I just can never shake the idea that I'm being judged somehow. When I post here, the internet won't judge me unless I post a picture of myself in a Sailor Moon costume (or something equally silly) and even then, it's an anonymous internet troll, not a flesh and blood human being. More often than not, the posts I make garner no attention or comments at all, and that is almost worse sometimes. At least with my books, I can convince myself that the people buying them are actually reading them. But silence of the internet can be far more discouraging to a writer than critisism.

And that's our Tirade for today, ladies and gentlemen. Please don't forget to tip your servers!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

What a difference a day makes...

My favorite Author (Douglas Adams) always had a problem with Thursdays. I personally find Tuesdays to be far more repugnant, and in fact the worst day of the week.  Worse than Wednesdays, or even the dreaded Mondays.

"What, Rob?" You say now, staring aghast at your monitor/smartphone/tablet, "Are you insane? Mondays are universally accepted as the worst day of the week!"

While I am sure that the fat cats in Washington and comic strips want us to believe that, Man... it simply isn't true.   Mondays get a bad rap, but it's all a carefully orchestrated illusion, and I'll explain why. To begin with, Monday was never intended to be the first day of the week, and the whole Monday-Friday 'workweek' is a relatively new invention. In the past, every day was 'workweek' or you starved. You had to hunt/gather/farm/shelter etc., or you were screwed.

When the wacky Jews came up with the idea of resting for a day (Like they say God did, depending on your faith... me, I like to believe that he didn't rest, but instead came up with things like mai-tais and swimming pools in his off time) it was actually a radical idea. Devout Jews will tell you that back then it wasn't Sunday either... It was sundown Friday till sundown Saturday. This left Sunday in the unenviable position of hatred by lasagna eating cats as the first day of the week. But again, this mattered less when every day was caught up in the work of survival. Cows and chickens don't milk themselves, and fish don't jump in the canoe just because you decided to take a break today (Asian Carp notwithstanding.).
But in our modern society, Monday gets a bad rap because it means "Back to work." Which is kinda understandable. But it also means "Beginning of the week" which is overall a good thing. On Monday your week is still full of promise, hope, and expectation. Anything could happen this week, and that anything could still be AMAZING! Optimism rules on Monday, even on bad Mondays, because you have the entire week to get over the obstacles of Monday.

Tuesdays however, suck ass.

By Tuesday, you have a much better idea how the rest of the week is going to shape up. Whatever issues couldn't be resolved on Monday are likely to carry through to the rest of the week. If you're like me, Tuesday is when you start really questioning your life choices up to this point, particularly those you made on Monday knowing full well that you have three more days of this crap until you can take a breath. Helplessness. Rage. Despair. Tuesday.

Wednesday is a little better because we're halfway home. Wednesday shows you that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it's all downhill to Saturday. Thursdays you can phone in. Fridays you're buoyed by anticipation for the weekend. But Tuesdays... Fuck Tuesdays.

From the DOA management: This post was written on a Wednesday, after a particularly dreadful Tuesday. Rob seldom gets writing done on a Tuesday, for obvious reasons. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

A little talk about Easter and the mechanics of the search engine...

This time of year, I always see an increase in the amount of traffic here at Dogs of Atlantis, a fact that continually surprises me. I don't often talk about my faith, because, well... I don't think anyone really wants to hear about it. Still every Easter like clockwork, I get roughly twice the visitors to my site that I normally get, and considering I never talk about Christ, the Church (Capital C) or faith other than to make the occasional "Vampire Jesus" joke, I have always wondered why.

The answer my friends, is simple. It's all about food, which I talk about constantly.

Part of my Easter tradition growing up was to eat a lot of chocolate bunnies. When I say a lot, I mean at least two a year, three if I could sneak my brother's out of the basket before he realized he had one. After that, we would all pile into the family car and go over to my Grandpa's house where he would have prepared a traditional Italian Easter dish I grew up knowing as Pizza Gain.

This is apparently where all my hits at Easter time have been coming from. A few years ago, I had a longing for Pizza Gain, and posted about it. It was heartwarming, touchy feely and as devoid of crude humor as I ever get. It also included my Pizza Gain recipe for all the world to see and enjoy, and apparently that... among all my hard fought attempts at comedy, pathos, slice of life essays and writing advice... is what interests my fellow travellers on spaceship Earth.

Far be it for me to argue... it's a really good recipe. Here it is again, and Happy "Jesus is A Zombie so let's all eat a chocolate rabbit for some reason" day to one and all:

Rob's Pizza Gain (Pizza Rustica, Italian Easter Pie)

2 lbs of good ricotta cheese (dense, not watery, being the standard here)
1lb of deli ham, cubed (or capicolla if your local deli has it)
1lb of Genoa salami (any hard salami should work... but Genoa has just the right blend of garlic and fat)
9 large eggs
1lb cubed Mozzarella cheese
3 tbs of dried parsley
2 tbs of dried basil
2 deep dish ready-made pie crusts, or 3 regular depth**
1 copy of Dimensional Games or any other one of Rob's really funny books

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. in a large bowl, mix together the eggs and the ricotta. add all the deli meats and cheese, and the basil and parsley. Pour the mixture into the pie crusts and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the edges turn golden brown. remove from oven and let stand until completely cool before serving. Read the copy of my book that suspiciously found it's way into my ingredients list while you wait. My Mom says that you need to let it age for at least a week... yeah, you just try waiting that long. Even my fun adventure novels won't keep you from digging in for that amount of time.

**Note- Grandpa Ferdinando's traditional Pizza Gain always had a top crust... I have never gotten the hang of making pie crust from scratch, So if you feel up to it, go for it. Don't forget to do an olive oil wash (not egg) and vent the top.