Sunday, February 28, 2016

Rejuvenated

It's the end of February here on the eastern edge of the West and it was 70F yesterday and nearly as warm today. The tulips are pushing up and there's certainly a vibe of Spring in the air. But damn, it's WRONG. It's supposed to be winter here. What the hell is summer going to be? Get ready, there's a lot of swearing here. Fair warning.

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Not the cover.
In November 2011 I started writing a book for NaNoWriMo. It was a space opera/heist tale with quantum computers and aliens and a young orphan who chooses a life of adventure and crime. For those who don't know, NaNo is a directive to write 50,000 words in 30 days. There are local support groups and a national forum to help the writer out. I attended local write ins, ran word sprints with my friends. At the end of November I won NaNo by having written a bit over 60,000 words. By the middle of December I'd written over 90,000 and the story was complete.

Fast forward through 2012 and 2013 into 2014. I'd been revising and editing and revising and editing and I sent the book to a couple of publishers and agents. Of course the agents didn't want to read it because I'd poisoned the well by sending it to science fiction publishers. One house requested the full manuscript and took six months to write back that they liked it but they didn't know what to do with it.

A nice rejection, to be sure, and motivating. I decided to self-publish. That meant another round of beta readers.

By this time I've lost count of how many revisions I've gone through at this point but readers will tell me what has to happen to make the book better. And I need to know if I'm really going to do this.

Last spring, one of my volunteers is an independent editor and she gave me potentially devastating feedback. I didn't have a novel, after all. A little over three years of working the story to make it better and make it better and getting a requested full manuscript from a major SF publisher what I had was an outline for THREE novels. 108,000 words of outline!

Also not the cover.
This, my dear friends, was a revelation. It could have destroyed me, sent me spinning into a black hole of 'what the fuck have I been doing all this time?' It could have broken my will to get this book into your hands.

Instead I read through her notes and saw exactly what she saw. I knew exactly where to start the book, I knew now where the serious flaws in my (lack of) worldbuilding. I knew what had to be done.

So I started revising again. It was both easier and more difficult than I imagined. I knew where to start so I had to figure out the ending. Since I knew the one book was going to be a series (there are solid outlines/treatments for at least four more books) I could spend some time foreshadowing. And worldbuilding. And character expansion. I had a couple more folks read it in December when I engaged the time of another independent editor.

Today I sent my final revision of The Cold Distance to my editor. I've never worked with her but a friend who has says I will definitely benefit from the experience. Which is exactly what I'm hoping for/paying for. We're working in two stages: first will be developmental edits and then line edits after I revise the developmental stuff.

Still not the cover.
This is the process that authors working for publishers go through. I'm excited and trepidatious at the same time. Will it be good enough? Will it come back marked with so much red I'll wonder if all the blood, sweat and tears I put into are leaking off the page?

It doesn't matter. The book will be better after I read the edit notes. Right now I'm really happy with it. If there's a lot of red there I'll learn from it. I'll do more and do better on the next one. But I want to give you readers (and potential readers) the best damn book I can make. That's one reason why it's taking so long. Another is The Fear.

You know what I mean.

But I'm ready. The book is ready. I can't wait to get it in your hands this summer.

So once I've accomplished the fixes of the developmental stage, I send it back for line edits. Then I get those back, make the fixes, read through it again and then I enlist the help of several friends who've graciously volunteered to help with a Proof Party. This is going to be the most professional product I can put in your hands.

The cover will be revealed in May. I'll put up a preview here (the first three or four chapters) about the same time. I'll be at Planet Comicon at the end of May with those to show off and a new Evolver book. The final one, at least for now. But this summer is about The Cold Distance. The launch party will be at Kansas City Comic Con where actual, physical copies of the book will be for you to purchase. I'm looking forward to it.

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If you've ever told someone to 'die' on social media, you're a bully. And a bastard. Stop it. No matter how much you dislike someone or disagree with them, you're a dick for wishing them dead. Death should be reserved for one's most dangerous enemies. There are few people in the world who might actually wish you harm so it won't cost you anything to be nicer. If you can't do that, maybe foregoing comments in the first place is better.

Spend your energy on what you believe in rather than tearing someone you've never met down.

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Stay tuned for an announcement about a story of mine in an upcoming anthology. There'll be a Kickstarter where you can get your own copy of the book.

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The poor treatment of convention guests is something that has to be addressed in all circles. No matter the convention, no matter what is being celebrated, there has to be a policy against harassment. It has to be enforced. If you're running a convention, you're running a business. An anti-harassment policy is good human resources planning and you have to follow through with it.

Too many shows are coming under scrutiny for bad behavior that doesn't get addressed. There are many, many more issues that the public never hears about. (Trust me on this one. I'm barely a blip on any con's radar and I've heard things that will break your soul.) I can only imagine the stuff I don't hear about.

For you, the average attendee at any convention here are some rules to help you:


  1. Don't be a dick.
  2. Report bad behavior.
  3. Help others do the same.
Have fun at your shows, behave accordingly and recognize when someone calls you out on your bullshit. that you're probably having fun at someone else's expense. See the above item about being a bully.

For the owners of the cons, do your best. Hire enough staff to deal with everything that could come up. The bigger the show, the more staff you need. Actual, paid staff who are trained and can manage volunteers. There's going to be less and less tolerance of shows that don't do their homework and take care of business. 

This is not an indictment of any one show, by the way. Merely an observation.

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Let's end on a positive note, shall we? Last weekend I attended the inaugural Empower Comic Con in Topeka, Kansas. I had a great time, enjoyed the panel I was on and the other I saw. I will definitely be returning next year, maybe as a vendor, hopefully as a guest. 

I got to see several friends and talk with John Holloway of the Worst Comic Podcast Ever and then listened this week to his panel from Empower with Lindsay Wagner who some of you might recognize as having been in The Bionic Woman. He's obviously a fan of hers (as most straight men of a certain age likely are) and the questions are great. 

John's a terrific, professional interviewer. You should spend the hour and listen to the whole thing here. And check out the WCPE. 

That's all for this week. Be good to one another.  Because baseball's spring training is on and hey, the Royals are set to make another run toward the postseason. As long as they're competitive and leave it all on the field like they have the last two years, this fan will be more than satisfied. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Rabbit Hole

Welcome to the eastern edge of the west. If you believe in climate change or global warming, that shimmer in your rearview isn't just the sun on the blacktop. It's the curtain that separates our plane of existence from the ones on either side of us.

So this week came the announcement that gravitational waves had been detected. Albert Einstein was RIGHT. Can any of us really say we're surprised? The man had some kind of insight into the way the Universe works that no one else has ever been able to come close to. There are a couple of names from science and physics that the general public are familiar with: Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. But none of those men have done the same Great Work that Einstein did. It's possible they may yet but it would defy precedent if they did.

Still, GRAVITATIONAL WAVES. That's the thing that's produced by two black holes colliding. The stuff of science fiction, isn't it? It means the world, the Universe is as weird and wild as any novelist or TV or Film writer imagined. It's all possible now. It means that there is a unifying theory of Everything out there and those standing on the shoulders of giants in respectful awe are going to find the things that will excite and probably terrify us.

It means that we are even smaller than we think we are. And for Americans that's really, really frightening. We won't be the the center of everything sooner or later. That's why some are predicting the end times and some are pushing for missions to Mars. What more should we be doing?

Caring for our fellows, of all faiths and persuasions is the big one. If there's a larger Universe out there and there are possibilities for us to expand into it, we'd damn well better get our collective shit together. We are only as good as the least of us. We should not be found wanting if we were to be judged as we have judged so many.

Rod Serling got it right. So many times he got it right.

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I'm continuing to revise The Cold Distance before it goes to my editor. It's a blast as I'm adding things like sense descriptions and scenery. I tweeted over the weekend that I'm finally seeing the book on the page that I've seen in my head over the last four years.

I've been told not to do too much to it before I send it off but I can't help it. I'm making it better and better. I know I am. I'm so proud of this book.

And yet, it's a little like cleaning the house before the maid comes to clean.

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I can't wait to tell you the special bits concerning the release of the book but I have to. There are pieces that aren't quite done yet and it's up to me to ensure that everything's in place. If there's a downside to self-publishing it's that I have to manage everything.

For some authors that means really, really pushing hard on social media. Four, sometimes five times a day (or more!) they're sending out messages that are essentially 'read my book!' with links to their Amazon home page and clips of the oftentimes really bad cover.  I'm hoping I don't have to resort to that. I'll be appearing several places in and around my home area to launch the book with the big party being at Kansas City Comic Con in August. If you want to find me before then, good luck. There are only a few appearances on the books.

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Here are some stories I can easily endorse:

Scott Snyder's and Jock's WYTCHES from Image Comics. God, it's so fraught with horror in the first volume.

Nnedi Okorafor's BOOK OF PHOENIX. Talk about a vision of the future that is from a very different point of view than what I'm used to. It's also, ALSO, terribly plausible. Read it. Open your mind.

Cullen Bunn's DEADPOOL books. 'Nuff said.

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Finally, I don't really care about the Grammys in general. I used to, back when I was playing music. Now, though, it's gotten so obviously incestuous that I can't be bothered with them.

Besides, they ignored Failure's The Heart Is A Monster totally. Didn't even make it into the alternative category. Sigh. Once again a band I like and who is at the height of their powers is ignored by the Recording Academy and its voters. 

Bah.

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So I mentioned I would be appearing a few places here and there and yon later this year. I've started a list in case you're curious. This coming weekend I'll be at Empower Comic Con in Topeka on Saturday only. That is if things are confirmed as I expect them to be.

And that's all for this week. I hope you get to enjoy some intemperate weather this coming week. It should scare the hell out of you, though, that we'll be hitting 70 degrees in February in Kansas.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here?

Welcome and hello to the eastern edge of the west. If you squint you can glimpse the plains of the fantastic in the shimmer on the horizon. Thanks for stopping by to read a ramble.

2015 was a damn good year for science fiction. We got a new Mad Max film, we got a new Star Wars film, Failure made a new record. Warren Ellis gave us Trees and Injection. Syfy (rebranded once again!) dropped Childhood's End and The Expanse on our TVs. And THAT my friends, is just scratching the surface.

Seemingly, genre is cool again.

Who's to blame for that?

Maybe it's the nerds who support the endless run of superhero movies at the metroplexes. Maybe it's the crop of executives coming up in the studios who remember when science fiction was cool among a smaller set, who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy and films like Outland and Heavy Metal and TV shows like the Hulk on CBS. Maybe they remember reading about Marvel's plans from the 70s for a Silver Surfer movie, a Spider-Man movie. Maybe it's writers who decided that Superman The Movie and Tim Burton's Batman could've benefitted from slightly better scripts.

Or maybe it's that technology advanced enough that George Lucas decided to make his creatively underachieving prequels. More likely it's the influence of Marvel once again over-saturating the market with big FX-driven, testosterone-laden fight fantasies. It's the other aspects that allow for more story, more development of new characters.

And those characters are played by women. I disdain the 'strong female character' label in favor of 'strong character' but either one works.  In 2015 we got three great characters in science fiction films: Imperator Furiosa, Rey the scavenger and Captain Melissa Lewis.

If you haven't seen Ridley Scott's The Martian, there are spoilers from here on. You've been warned.

Lots and lots has been written about both Furiosa and Rey and maybe there's something written about Captain Lewis that I haven't stumbled across. Maybe it's because she's a supporting character in The Martian that she's been overlooked, but she shouldn't be. Without Captain Lewis, Mark Watney does not make it off Mars alive. Let me emphasize that: Captain Lewis is directly responsible for Watney getting off Mars.

She does not feel guilty for leaving Watney behind when the storm hits, her decision is the right one for everyone else. It's not her fault Watney got hit, either. When she learns he's still alive on Mars she's determined to go back and get him but she wants input from her crew. She's loyal, not guilty. Big difference there. Watney survives on his wits, his education and his disdain of her choice in music.

But because The Martian isn't her story, we don't learn much about her other than she's an excellent leader and her taste in music runs to 1970s disco. In my mind that doesn't make her any less a strong character than Furiosa or Rey, just not as fleshed out. Her will to rescue him is strong and maybe it influences the crew but I doubt it took that much for them to want to go back and rescue their companion. They were all willing to pay the cost.

And Lewis sets everything up exactly the way a leader is supposed to: with each crew member contributing. When the plan goes cockeyed, she takes over; she is the one who goes out to grab Watney. She puts herself at risk not because she feels guilty, but because she's responsible. She's loyal. She's a commander and she's the one who takes the risk. She's the one who grabs him so they can be reeled back in.

She's brilliant in the short time she's allowed to shine.

Everyone could grow up to be like her. Girls could use this supporting character in a very entertaining film to decide that a career as an astronaut might be cool. Guess what? NASA's next class of astronauts is 50% female. And they may be heading to Mars sooner than later.

That's fucking cool. (As an aside, they'd better get equal pay to the men. Make sure that happens, NASA.)

At comic conventions last year I saw an awful lot of Furiosa cosplay. There'll be more this year and Rey will figure MUCH more heavily in the mix, too, because there are more women and girls coming to comicons to cosplay. Will I see more Agent Carters? Probably. Will there be any Captain Lewises? I doubt it. Maybe, but probably not. I hope so, though. She deserves to be cosplayed as much as the other two (well, three including Peggy Carter) because she's as badass as the others. She just didn't get the publicity.

Watch The Martian. Pay attention to the last half, close attention and tell me that Lewis is not a badass. I dare you. Lewis is the reason Watney gets to go home.

This year we're going to see Wonder Woman on the big screen for the first time. Next year, she gets her own movie. That's cool. It's about time. There will be a Captain Marvel film with Carol Danvers as the main character. I would love to see Jessica Chastain in the role. There should be a Black Widow movie. There should be toys of all these characters, especially Rey. The controversy over the deliberate exclusion of Rey action figures and toys is reprehensible. Don't let it happen again.

So with Lewis in mind, and NASA making an effort, will we see an uptick in girls and women working in the field that could define the human race for centuries to come? Your guess is as good as mine. I'm too old and too stupid to be an astronaut. Someone needs to get out there and do cool things. Gentlemen, open your minds and set aside your prejudices. There are women who will kick ass when you give them the chance.

The world doesn't have to rest on your shoulders to do great things. But when it does, I'm hoping you've got strong, capable people around you. If their names are Imperator Furiosa, Rey or Melissa Lewis, you're in good hands.