Archive for February, 2013

Approachable Authors

Posted: February 19, 2013 in Conventions, Stuff, Writing
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I spent a good portion of my day talking up my Boskone weekend to anyone that would listen (i.e. my wife and that’s about it). I had one of those moments where I stepped back from it all and thought if I could tell thirteen year old me that I could go shoot the breeze with an author or trade digital high fives via twitter… damn that thirteen year old would be stoked. Also confused because I think I was still rocking the Tandy computer back then and internet and twitter would have been mythical concepts. And then excited again because at thirteen I would have known to take the information from the time traveling version of me who just told him cool shit about the internet and run to the market with it and made a butt load of money. A whole butt load.

Before I tangent off into time travel paradox, I am serious that it would have blown my mind. Even five years ago it would have.

See I picked up all my reading habits from my parents. Being from Connecticut and New Hampshire, it’s not like there were big city cons and huge bastions of fandom for me to grow into. Oh it was probably out there in some form, but it wasn’t their scene regardless, especially since I was six when my parents were my age. Hell, I barely knew anyone other than my parents who read the same kind of SF I did. Authors were mythical beings up on a pedestal. They were personified by a paragraph and a mug shot on the last page if I was lucky. They certainly weren’t people you could talk to.

So early on in high school I eventually figured out that being a writer was something you could just do. And I started putting some things on paper. At the time, most of what I read was either epic fantasy or space opera, both sub genres that lend themselves to massive ongoing series with sprawl. Being an extrovert isn’t something that always comes easily to me now as an adult so back then I was kind of an introvert and really got into the world building and stuff. Funny considering I didn’t get an opportunity to play DnD until I was seventeen. So, being emotionally invested in these worlds, some of the stuff I put on paper was epic fantasy fanfic.

Now I wasn’t playing with someone else’s characters. It was like a Wild Cards story. I was playing on the map but I brought my own toys. That is to say, I wrote characters and plots that were off to the side who might have waved at a main character from the actual series.

This coincided with getting a computer with a consistent internet connection and finding out about a thing called email groups. Just thinking about email groups is laughably archaic now but it’s what we had back in the day (because I never did time travel to invent twitter ten years early) and damnit we were happy with it. I joined an email group for the author of this favorite world and was thrumming full of energy because holy crap the Author was a part of it! Well brilliant thirteen year old version of me brought up fanfic. I didn’t even know what the fuck the world ‘fanfic’ was until someone said “Oh… Author doesn’t like that stuff.” There was a round of back and forth direct with the Author and I couldn’t tell you exactly what I said. I was frazzled nerves at my keyboard going “Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap…” I’m sure whatever exactly I said was probably standard nervous weird kid. The problem became the response I got. I don’t remember specifics but it was condescending and snarky and frankly, just douchey. Did being a weird teenager blow something out of proportion? Not that badly. I know tone can get misconstrued in email, especially back in the day when email wasn’t ubiquitous but somethings you can’t miss that much.

It discouraged me at a time when that wasn’t exactly helpful. I took a small sampling of writing classes in high school and college. I even had the head of the creative writing department at my college tell me “Please take our program” and I didn’t do it. I stayed with the film program I had started. It was eight years from that time in high school until I had an inkling that writing might be a good thing for me. It was another three before I actually acted on it.

I’ve never read any of that Author’s books again.

Now this is a story I don’t actually like to talk about. I doubt I’ve told it a half dozen times and I never have (and never will) say who the Author was because said Author is still publishing. After typing it out here, I’m debating deleting the whole thing because it’s going to nag at me for days now. But when I talk about how much sheer awesomeness I feel at the state of current fandom, I can’t convey it without telling where I came from.

Ever since I made headway into the internet I was always reasonably tech savvy. Probably more so back in the Wild West days of the internet where you could teach yourself what was going on without needing advanced coursework. But thanks to that Author, I never sought out SF fandom online. I still read voraciously as ever but authors remained a mug shot and a paragraph.

The first toe into the SF community was after reading Old Man’s War in 2009 (Zoe’s Tale on the awards lists that year got me to go find the first book of the set). John Scalzi’s blog is essential reading for anyone even tangently interested in SF. I started getting a lot of book recommendations from his Big Idea feature which remains one of my favorite things to read in the entire community.

After going to a writing conference at the University of Rhode Island (got a lot of dirty looks for being a genre writer) and having a writing group fail (again, literary vs genre problems), I realized I am at my most productive when I am around writing. I sure as hell wasn’t finding good ways to be around it kicking around in Rhode Island. My adoption of twitter, creating this blog and my first literary con all happened within six weeks of each other.

Authors have become real people.

Twitter is fucking magic. I started with Scalzi and worked outward. I’ve had conversations with a plethora of different authors, a lot of times not even about books or writing. I made the “Hope your flight doesn’t make it to Providence… the airport is in Warwick” joke to Tobias Buckell who got a chuckle out of it. I had a discussion with Madeline Ashby about how American infrastructure isn’t designed for public transportation outside of big cities (three hours by bus to go to work from my old apartment). I follow a cadre I’ve dubbed the Writer Dads because they’ve all got kids in the little kid bracket (Buckell, Saladin Ahmed and Peter V Brett). I discover more new authors who sell me as a person now and make me want to find out what they have to write. People like Chuck Wendig. I’ve had more than one author tell me I turned around a crappy day because I sent them a tweet saying how much I liked their book. It’s hard to explain how awesome that made me feel. Writing is fucking hard work, it can drain your psyche. But the littlest of things can make you feel like King of All the Words though and when you feel like King of All the Words, magic happens. (or Queen of All the Words as applicable. It’s not applicable for me what with being a dude so I chose the word that was)

I mentioned yesterday how at last year’s Boskone, I was kicking myself for not talking to the pros more… or at all really. I always feel like I’m in this awkward spot where I know enough not to ask the obvious questions but not enough to ask the good questions. With the crappy weather on Sunday and my friend I went with Saturday not able to go for a second day, I almost stayed home. But I had this moment of zen where I was like “Fuck it! Ima gonna do this!” and I went for the day and went to Myke Cole’s kaffeeklatch.

If you want the epitome of approachable authors, it’s Myke Cole. This guy could run a master’s class in public speaking and he will talk to you about anything. He’s also got some of the coolest swag associated with his books ever in the history of book swag. I think the kaffeeklatch may have been one of the coolest things I’ve ever done because it was so… normal. It was a small group with similar interests hanging out shooting the breeze and talking some shop. I didn’t realize it until later in the day, but I walked away from there more determined to get on that side of the con table. It was kind of a “Fuck discouragement! Look at all the cool shit you could do on that side of the fence with all those other cool people!”

It was a full circle thing for me because Myke Cole was the first person I reached out to in anyway out in the nebulous social media. I was all “Dude! Your unit logo is awesome, is it available on a tshirt?” and he was all like “Absolutely. Cafepress.” And I never did get a shirt made because I thought it would be cheating getting a cafepress shirt that didn’t send him a dollar for it.

Someday I’ll get to the other side of the fandom fence where all the authors get to play and talk shop and curse together over low word count days. And lately I am starting to actually believe myself when I keep saying that I’ll get there. But it’s truly wonderful to know there are people who will lean over the fence and talk to you.

Boskone 50

Posted: February 17, 2013 in Conventions
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And the blog has come full circle. This site was all of what, two weeks old, when I went to my first Boskone and right up until the last day of the year, it was the most trafficked thing here. This time around, for Boskone 50, I made the commute for two days instead of one. The downside is that I had to drive to Boston twice, and that isn’t fun.

But this isn’t a 2k word tirade about how much Boston is lame (18 and 1). This is a pile of words about how Boskone is awesome.

I went to seven different panels and a kaffeeklatch, which last year took me half a day to figure out what the hell it was. I was at The Year in Short Fiction, Military Motifs in SF, Death Becomes Her (or Him), Safety and Security Now and in the Future, Writing Advise: The Next Level, Worlds You Won’t Forget, NonEnglish Fiction and Translation, and Exit Stage Left. Whew. That was a long list. But I was able to do a lot in two days.

The Year in Short Fiction was a lot of fodder for my own reading. I’ve talked here before about how I want to read more short fiction, but it is very needle-in-a-haystack-y for me. I get most of my novel recommendations from other authors now so this served a similar purpose for short fiction. The people on the panel are all involved in editing so there’s a lot of fodder for my reading enjoyment.

Military Motifs in SF and the Safety and Security panels were very similar in that they both ended up on the topic of authenticity. This is where I got a lot of useful ideas for my own writing. Myke Cole and James McDonald were on both and Jerry Pournelle is the kind of old guy that every young guy should strive to be. They’re all great speakers and could talk about paint drying and make it interesting. They talked about the mindset that goes with the field. When they talked about it out loud, it sounded like a no brainer, but it’s the kind of no brainer that is easily missed anyways. It’s almost too obvious until you slow down and look at it. It’s got me thinking a lot about the level of professionalism by the crew on the ship in the novel I’m writing. It’s not something I even touch upon since two of the three protags aren’t involved with the daily operation of the ship. But I’m thinking it’s something I need to add in, even if just in little bits. Show the commitment of the revolutionaries.

And I’m off on a tangent. But they got me thinking a lot, which is the great part the cons.

Back on topic though. The Death Becomes Her panel explored Death as a character. There was a lot of philosophy in this one. Michael Swanwick actually shared a near death experience with the panel which is a pretty intense way to start out. The personification of the intangible forces is something I always find ripe for fiction, godpunk or otherwise. F Brett Cox was there again on that one. The panel stayed in the neighborhood of personifications to help people cope.

The Writing Advise panel didn’t quite hit on the stuff I was looking for but it was still a good panel. Elizabeth Bear is a very quotable personality. I was also incredibly amused at the end during questions when one older woman asked her what process she uses to put together her novels. Bear went on to explain that each one she does is different and the method she uses for writing are subservient to the story she’s telling. The woman asking the question seemed to insist otherwise. I think Bear answered three times before people started shuffling in and out for the change of panels and the woman couldn’t ask again. I chuckle, but I also imagine it was frustrating so golf clap for dealing with the repetitive newbie question. Bear also dropped a Futurama reference. Made me happy.

Worlds You Won’t Forget was another one full of reading fodder. I happen to think world building is awesome and when the land or city becomes a character in itself, it’s one of the most enjoyable things out there for me. I love the books when I can tell there are details in the author’s head that I’m not actually reading about. Bear was a font of great quotes on this one again, but it was really interesting that Melinda Snodgrass said how hard she finds worldbuilding. It was totally unexpected from one of the architects of Wild Cards.

I went in to Non English Translations looking for some reading fodder. I have been looking for new stuff to read all the time and the new point of view is always something I want to check out. The guys on the panel were specialists in East Asian stuff because those are the languages they know. Apparently there’s some Chinese space opera coming out soon which is something I want to look forward to. It’ll be good to get beyond just Battle Royale and the Nightwatch series. I think those are my only non English novels and I’d like to check out more but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much of a two-way traffic in translations.

Exit Stage Left was all about character death. That’s another one that came down to serve the need of the story. That kind of came down to plotting vs pantsing. Something as big as character death really needs to be prepared for rather than thrown down out of hand. There needs to be significance to it otherwise the reader starts to dismiss the story.

Whew. Rambled a lot about the panels. One of the big things I made it a point of doing, was going to the kaffeeklatch. Last year I kicked myself for not talking shop with people in person. It’s a lot different than floating around the internet. So this year I was all like Bam! Gonna do it. So I went to Myke Cole’s. He’s a nice guy who’s super approachable and we had talked earlier in the con. (More on that when it shows up on his blog) It was eight people hanging out and shooting the shit. Damn that’s the kind of stuff I wish I could do everyday. It’s that exact kind of being around writing which makes me more productive and better at my own.

Another of my favorite parts of these cons, is finding authors who sell me as a person and make me want to go read their books. Last year it was Cole, Peter V Brett and Ben Tate/Joshua Palmatier. This year, it’s Elizabeth Bear, David Anthony Durham and Theodora Goss. I saw them all a couple times and they had very thoughtful, intelligent things to say involving the topic and their work. I’m game. Downside, the dealer room didn’t carry any of their stuff. There were some tables of uses books which is all well and good for people who don’t have access to The Book Barn, but you’d think the book sellers would stock up on the people who are going to be at the con. I picked up one of Bear’s books but so many others that I’d be interested in buying weren’t there. Yeah internet and all. But I want to buy stuff at the con from the people I see. I got a signed Wild Cards book, one of Bear’s and an unrelated cyberpunk book that invoked the Rule of Books. I was looking for Goss, Durham, Cox, Jennifer Pelland (who was at the con but I missed this year) and nothing. From a purely business standpoint, you’d think they’d want to have the products that correspond with the participants.

I’ve been typing a lot of thoughts and it’s time to wrap it up. I leave you with some of the choice quotes. Mostly proper quotes, not just amusingly out of context one-liners like last year’s quotes.

  • “Being dead was not a barrier to participation.” -Walter Hunt on killing off characters
  • “We come to stories because we want drama. We have tedium in our day to day lives.” -Myke Cole
  • “Turns out, living forever kind of sucks.” -Theodora Goss
  • “There’s no twelve year old that doesn’t want to be a dragon.” -Elizabeth Bear
  • “I don’t think we get the props for what we do. [World building] is a daunting task.” -Melinda Snodgrass

Journey to Wudang Trilogy

Posted: February 13, 2013 in Reading
Tags: ,

So it’s been a while since I posted about a novel, eh? Well that’s because I dove into an anticipated trilogy, so I’m playing catch up. Doubly so because Australia got these books back in 2010. And I am going to use the word ‘trilogy’ until it loses all meaning to me. Today’s Journey to Wudang trilogy is the second in a trilogy of trilogies by Kylie Chan. This set follows the Dark Heavens trilogy, which was the last thing I read prior to starting up this site and posting my musings about the things I read. I’m posting all three of the books together, Earth to Hell, Hell to Heaven and Heaven to Wudang, because they are more of a single 1800 page book rather than three six hundred page books. Page 595 in Earth leads directly to page 1 of Hell. This is one of those things that’s a non-issue as long as you know what you’re in for, which I did because Dark Heavens was exactly the same.

Now we’ve got a set of nine books total at six hundred pages a pop. There’s some sprawl going on here. Makes me wish I had taken notes along the way, but I’m going to do my best. (And ramble a lot while trying to avoid spoilers)

Back of the Books time!

Earth to Hell

It is either years since Xuan Wu, God of the Northern Heavens, living in Hong Kong as wealthy businessman John Chen, was exiled from the mortal realm. Emma Donahoe and Simone, John’s daughter, are facing a new series of threats, while their best fighter, Leo, sits in Hell. They must persuade him to come home… but, in Hell, nothing is as it appears.

On Earth, Simon Wong, the Demon King’s son, is no longer around to trouble them, but his associates have taken over Simon’s underworld activities. The otherworldly stones are being targeted and are in danger of their kind being completely destroyed.

It seems that the Demon King is the only one Emma can turn to for help…

Hell to Heaven

Emma Donahoe teeters on the edge of becoming fully demon, and must make a journey to the Kunlun Mountains of the West, home of the reclusive ancient goddess Nu Wa, in an attempt to regain her humanity. Traveling with Emma is Xuan Wu’s daughter, Simone, who is struggling with her growing power and trying to defend herself from the demons who want to destroy her.

And Michael is trying to come to terms with the shock of finding out he might be half demon… and a danger to them all.

Heaven to Wudang

The demons that could control stones and elementals have been defeated, but the most powerful of Simon Wong’s associates still remains to create almost undetectable copies of humans and Shen. The demon allies with Kitty Wkok to prepare a torturous trap for Emma and Simone, from which they may never return.

Wudang Mountain is enveloped by dark foboding as Xuan Wu begins to reappear– sometimes human, sometimes turtle, but always without memory.

Emma and Simone are in a race against time as they try to rescue Xuan Wu… before the demons capture him.

Whew. Getting wordy already. This time around in Wudang, it’s really the kind of sequel that really forces you to read the first set before jumping into this one. I’m not one for large info dumps in a book series to remind you what happens previously, but this time we’re just thrown right in the deep end. I’m bad with names in real life so with the large supporting cast of characters, many with multiple names, it took me a few chapters to get back into the swing of things. This time around, Emma isn’t an outsider, the Aussie expat being brought into the world of the Chinese gods. She’s running the show as Regent while Xuan Wu is recuperating from his exile. There’s a glossary in the back of the various Asian language terms (remember, Chinese comes in variants and there’s also some Japanese and Thai in the mix at some point) that the characters themselves would have no reason to explain to each other. Epically helpful, just wish there was a cast of characters too. Minor point and not something that’s really common in books at all anymore, but wonderfully helpful when you have sprawl.

There’s that word ‘sprawl’ again. Don’t attach any negative connotations to it. It’s the same kind of sprawl that you’d find in a long running space opera series, like David Weber’s Honorverse books. The plot in the Wudang trilogy lends itself to sprawl more than Dark Heavens did, even though the whole thing is told in first person past. Emma’s post as Regent means that at any time, she’s got a dozen problems up in the air. Problems tend to show up, get scheduled and then dealt with in another four or five chapters. Emma had a very busy secretary. She was constantly challenged to duals, going down to the Courts of Hell to release her retainers, being summoned by the Jade Emperor (the head of the Chinese celestial) and occasionally talking to the Demon King (aka George) or recovering from an ass kicking.

The pacing of the books manage to escalate in all the right places as individuals. So even with the overarching plot, each one has its own climatic battles. Remember those “associates of Simon Wong”? Well they happen to come in three, the demon Six, the Geek and the Death Mother, plus the overarching presence of Kitty Kwok. The seeds for the trio were sown near the end of Dark Heavens and Kitty Kwok showed up back in the first chapter of the whole saga. So the author has gone with the slow play here. Each of the trio has one of the major road blocks facing Emma and the Northern Heavens. The disappearing stone shen, the hybrid elementals and the demon copies. Three books, three problems. Structures out nicely.

One of the things I really enjoy about this series is that I come out of it feeling like I learned something. Most godpunk books I’ve seen focus on the big Western pantheons, Greco-Roman, Norse and to a lesser extent, Egyptian. The Chinese pantheon is large and complicated in its structure so there’s always something new even in the sixth book. The Eastern focus of this is very different than most of what is published in this hemisphere. It was one of the things that originally drew me to the series and it hasn’t worn off even after all six books.

With Emma no longer being the outsider, I was happy to see the introduction of Chang, a Shaolin Monk who became enamored with material trappings working as a goon for Six. Eventually he finds its way to Emma’s doorstep and works for her. There’s a good middle chunk where we get to have that outsider view again which was refreshing for me in amongst the constant crisis state.

There was another running theme, especially through the front half of the trilogy, that spaces out  the constant demon fighting and hunting. Simone is a teenager now, not a little kid. There’s an eight year gap from the first trilogy to the second. So there’s some high school drama. It never got stupid, it’s not like the commercials for those suspect ABC Family shows. (Seriously, now the hell is that family??) Simone’s reality as Princess of the Northern Heavens means she has to kick a lot of demon ass and has to skip school to do it. She gets kicked out of school and it becomes a big problem to find a new one and then fit in.

Not all of the things introduced into the books get fixed. Remember back when I mentioned Kitty Kwok the authors was going for the slow play? Especially in the third book, not only are you expecting it, you can spot the slow play coming. Dancing around spoilers again, but I can tell I’m going to like where the third trilogy reaches out to. I suspect it’s going to have a lot to do with Emma’s past so that’s some serious slow play going on.

Demons, martial arts, celestial palace intrigue, relationships, double crosses… I’m only touching the surface of what’s going on in this massive amount of pages but the amount of spoiler potential is huge not to mention I shouldn’t let this post balloon up as big as the books. Yes the page count is very large. Yes there is a learning curve (especially if you’re just starting with this trilogy). But the payoff is great.