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!