Archive for June, 2009

“Writing Excuses” Nominated for a Parsec Award

Monday, June 29th, 2009

The Parsec Awards are given out each year at DragonCon, celebrating awesome achievements in SF&F podcasting. This year, we are pleased to announce that Writing Excuses has been nominated in the category of “Best Writing-related Podcast.” We’re very honored and excited, and I encourage you guys to check out their site.

My Trip, Part 2

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

And thus we continue (and possibly conclude) the long and, at this point, irrelevant tale of my family vacation to California.

On Sunday the Stoker conference was officially still ongoing, but only in the strictest sense; I actually wanted to attend some of the administrative meetings, but we had to pack up and go. My wife has an old college roommate living in Santa Monica, about half an hour from our hotel in Burbank, so we drove out there to go to Church and visit them for a while. After that we followed Santa Monica boulevard pretty much as far as we could in an attempt to see the Hollywood sign, which happened to lead us straight through a gay pride festival. Yes, that’s correct: a van with Utah plates, full of Mormons in church clothes, driving through a gay pride demonstration in the heart of Prop 8 California. In reality the drive was not nearly as exciting as it sounds, since the world is full of reasonable people who don’t start random fights, but I was glad our kids got to experience a piece of culture they don’t really see in Utah.

And then we saw the Hollywood sign, blah blah blah, and then we went to Anaheim and checked into our hotel (the Portofino, about a block from Disneyland’s front gate), and then our ten-month baby went nuts and screamed for about twelve straight hours. Turns out he was cutting two teeth. We got to Disneyland bright and early the next morning, trying to beat the rush so we could ride the new Nemo thing without spending three hours in line, and it was kind of cool. I actually think I liked the old Jules Verne ride better; it felt more like I was seeing objects under the sea, and less like I was watching a movie through a tiny submarine porthole. Whatever. The rest of the day was spent in California Adventure, which is as boring as everyone told me it would be, with the shining exception of the Princess Breakfast, or whatever it’s called, where you get to go eat breakfast while Disney princesses come to your table and get pictures taken with your kids. Because they are princesses, my daughters loved it, and because they are 19-year-old girls in costumes, my son loved it even more. We got to see Ariel twice over the course of our time in Disneyland, and he was so adorably in love with her both times that I just couldn’t get enough. I could have spent all three days just watching him smile shyly at Cinderella, I’m not even kidding.

The first two days of our Disneyland trip happened to be, we later learned, a hellish nexus of evil: the summertime passes become active, but the off-season passes haven’t ended yet. This resulted in the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen in the park; they actually filled to capacity and started turning people away at the gate, which I didn’t think Disneyland would ever do. I’m glad they did, though, because the press of people during the fireworks shows was so humongous you could barely move. We made good use of the fastpass system and managed to ride all the “cool” rides my son had been begging to see, like Star Tours and Indiana Jones and Splash Mountain and so on. I took the two eldest children on most of those while Dawn waited outside with the babies (then I waited with babies while she rode the roller coasters, which are her favorites), and it was fascinating to watch the ways my children reacted to the different rides. My daughter, almost 8 years old, was so convinced that every ride would be horrifying that she almost threw up in the line for Pinocchio, but then when we actually got on the rides she was fine. My 6-year-old son, on the other hand, loved the fast stuff but couldn’t handle any of the stuff that jumps out at you; he cheered all through Star Tours, but kept his eyes sealed shut for the entire length of Indiana Jones. We decided that taking either of them on the Haunted Mansion would just kill them outright, so sadly I didn’t get to go on that one. I’ll hit it next time. I didn’t get to see any of the 3D shows either, because my family is boring.

My youngest daughter is only 2, and she loved most of the 2-year-old rides, but none of that really mattered because she got to meet Tinkerbell. Even the princesses couldn’t match that–when I waited in line for 90 minutes so she could meet Jasmine, all she did was run up to her and say “I saw Tinkerbell!” and then run away. As for my youngest son, well, he finally stopped teething and had a great time, but his night of screaming followed by an 18-hour day in an overcrowded park managed to wipe out my immune system and give me a cold. One day he will pay for that, I assure you.

On the third day in Disneyland we left early (“early” being about 8 pm) and drove five and half hours up I-5 to Livermore, a little town outside of San Jose, where we spent the night with an old friend of mine from High School. She, like, me, now has four kids, and they played together happily while Dawn did laundry and I slept off my cold. We had planned to spend that day driving around San Francisco, which is one of my favorite cities, but we were just too wiped out to go anywhere. It was a nice break, and a good chance to catch up with my friend.

Late the following night we drove to Sacramento and stayed for three days with Dawn’s grandparents, plus one afternoon with my aunt. My kids actually loved my aunt so much that they said “I wish we’d only spent two days in Disneyland so we could have one more day with Teri!” That’s a pretty high compliment, but she did buy them ice cream, which is the fastest way to any child’s heart. Dawn’s grandparents were absolutely thrilled to have us, though they have a very nice house and we had to move about four thousands things out of baby range. An unfortunate side effect of the grandparent portion of the trip was that our presence underlined to Grandpa just how old 95 really is, and he felt like a terrible host the whole time despite our protestations. It was a great time overall, though, and we hope to go back sometime soon.

The drive home on June 22 was pretty much a straight shot on I-80 for 12 straight hours, with brief stops for food and gas and far too many stops for potty breaks. Seriously, I don’t know why three kids can’t all potty at the same time. The highlight of the day was passing through Wells, Nevada, which lived up to my fondest dreams in the most wonderful way possible. The website mentions both “real cows” and the Interstate speed limit of 75, and I’m pleased to say that we made ample use of both, if you count pointing at cows while traveling at 75 mph. In addition to that, I’m pleased to report that the town bearing my name has a chinatown-themed casino/motel, multiple RV parks, and a trucker brothel. I feel so proud.

On the other end of the awesomeness scale was Wendover, the smallest, saddest, most desperate little town I have ever been to in my life. Every state that touches Nevada has multiple little border towns that exists solely for out-of-towners to come and gamble; California has Reno and Primm, Utah has Mesquite and Wendover, and so on. Some of those are kind of nice–I actually thought Reno was a pretty cool little city–but Wendover has the misfortune of sitting on the outskirts of Utah’s West Desert, a land so hellish and inhospitable that it’s actually covered with pools of fetid salt water. The one redeeming factor was the time zone border, that actually ran between our freeway exit and the Arby’s where we ate dinner, which meant that technically we finished eating before we even got there. So that was pretty awesome.

Also, it turns out people live in Tooele? When did this happen?

Anyway, that was our trip. We laughed, we cried, we learned a little about ourselves, and we got to drive past that big smokestack that looks like Barad Dur from far away and the “Close Encounters” alien landing zone from up close. And that’s worth the whole trip all by itself.

My Trip, Part 1

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Yeah and behold, I didst go upon vacation, and 18 days later I did return alive. In the meantime I went to a family reunion, yelled at many children, met awesome people at the Stoker Conference, got sick at Disneyland, spent the night with an old girlfriend (note: not as salacious as it sounds), delighted an old woman, and convinced an old man of his withered and useless condition . And that’s not even counting the Gay Pride parade. All in all it was a super awesome trip, which I shall now illuminate for your pleasure.

We began with a family get-together in Snowbird, a place in the mountains just outside of Salt Lake. During the winter it’s a really expensive ski resort, and during the summer it’s a really expensive hiking/biking/etc. resort, but for a few weeks in the spring it’s a really affordable place that no one’s really interested in. We went with my parents, my brother’s family, and my sister’s daughter (the rest of her family was, alas, not able to join us). It was a lot of fun and included both outdoor swimming and intermittent hailstorms. Utah has crazy weather.

On June 10 we left Snowbird, drove home to Orem, and packed our car for an early morning drive on June 11, bringing us to Burbank at about 5:00pm. I took my stack of books into Dark Delicacies, a completely awesome horror bookstore/specialty store. I introduced myself to Del and Sue, the owners and operators, and had a fantastic time at the mass signing held there. I reconnected with a friend from last year’s HWA conference, Lynne Hansen, and finally got to meet F. Paul Wilson, a fabulous writer who had earlier given me an awesome cover quote for the US version of my book. Paul turned out to be far friendlier than I had dared to hope, and we talked several times throughout the weekend, and he took several opportunities to pitch my book to other people. Just a class act all the way around. I sold six copies of my book at the signing, and made plans with Del to come back for another signing next spring when the US version comes out. I’m excited. (Also, maybe next year I’ll finally break down and buy the incredible sculpture of Basil Rathbone from The Pit and the Pendulum; I can’t even tell you how cool that was.)

Friday the 12th was actually spent in Huntington Beach, introducing my children to the Ocean. It was way too cold to be playing on teh beach, but is was our only chance so we did the whole thing–sand castles, wading, diving into waves, etc. We were so from out of town it wasn’t even funny. Also, we learned that my wife was far more scared of the ocean than our kids were (she couldn’t handle not seeing her feet). That night we went back to the conference where I hung out for a while and talked to people.

Saturday was the big day of the conference, with all the panels and pitches and readings and the actual Stoker Awards themselves. Starting at the beginning:

7:00am: I was still on Utah time, so this was about when I normally get up. There was no free wireless in the rooms so I snuck downstairs and found a good signal and rode it for an hour or two, trying to get caught up on everything.

9:00am: I found Jeannie Eddy, the saint who put together all the pitches, and found out that I was meeting with my first movie producer (Zac Sanford of Suntaur Entertainment) at 9:45. I hung out and talked to Jeannie and her husband for a while, learned that Zac had been delayed by a power outage, and ended up being the only one free when he showed up at almost precisely 9:45–so instead of having to wait, I got the first pitch. I think it went very well, but we could both tell my book wasn’t a great fit for their needs. Things might change, though, and at the very least now I know someone in Hollywood, so huzzah. A good personal contact is worth its weight in gold.

10:00am: This years Lifetime Achievement Stoker winners were F. Paul Wilson and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and at 10 they had a panel where they just kind of chatted about stuff. It was like collecting brilliance, and I filled the margins of my program with scribbled notes and scattered bits of wisdom that I totally intend to steal and use on Writing Excuses some day. Here’s the best bit: horror, boiled down to its essence, is a mix of terror and fascination, and both of those are built on the foundation of uncertainty as seen through the lens of a very strong character.

11:00am: “Breaking into the Mass Market,” a panel with David Hartwell, Hank Schwaeble, Alice Henderson, Cody Goodfellow, and John Skipp. I would gladly pay just to listen to David Hartwell talk about the publishing industry, and in the fifteen or so minutes he spent setting the stage for us at the beginning of this panel I learned all kinds of incredible stuff. Among the many notes I took from this panel was the perfect answer to a question people always ask me, and I never really know what to say; well, now I do: Q) If I’m struggling to break in and sell my first book, do I need an agent? A) “Very few agents can sell your first novel, because what you’re really selling is you, and an agent can’t do that for you. Go out, do the work, sell your book, and then get an agent.” Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, but that advice is very hard to beat for the vast majority of people.

12:00pm: Once again Jeannie Eddy comes through, and I got to join a handful of other authors to have lunch with Don Murphy, another producer. This was less of a pitch session than a chance to sit around and chat, which mostly turned into a chance to listen to a very knowledgeable insider talk about the business of Hollywood. I learned a ton, and I left him with a copy of my book, so we’ll see.

1:00pm: I was signed up for a Kaffeeflatch with F. Paul Wilson, but the lunch went long and I missed it. Alas. I got to talk to him many other times, though, like I said before, so it all worked out. Note: I did go and specifically apologize for not being able to attend. That’s good networking advice: never break a commitment if you can avoid, even something silly like a sign-up sheet for a Kaffeeklatch, and if you have to break it make sure to apologize. It can be a bigger deal than you think, for good or ill.

2:00pm: The next two hours were spent back in my room, consolidating my notes and reading through some extra materials and not getting burned out. I feel bad that I missed a couple of good panels, but there’s no sense pushing yourself too hard, and since lunch turned out to be very engaged instead of relaxing, I need to take some time.

4:00pm: This was my only panel of the conference, featuring me and four other new authors (all of them nominated for the “Best New Author” Stoker) talking about how to get your first novel published. It was a lot of fun, and it was good to meet some other new authors. After the conference many people came up to ask questions, and I started chatting with one of them and realized he was freaking Brian Freyermuth, one of the writers from the original Fallout. The tables turned rather suddenly, and I got to geek out and go all fanboy on him. We talked for a bit afterward, and he was a really great guy. We also talked a bit with Brad Hodson of Cat Scare Films, who was great.

5:30pm: This was a pre-Stoker party, which was a lot of fun, but most of the time the music was so loud you couldn’t hear anyone say anything, which made it hard to talk. I spent more time with Paul Wilson, and hung out for quite a bit with David Oppegaard, a young author from Minneapolis who was on the “first novel” panel with me. He was great to talk to, knows what he’s talking about, and I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of his book.

7:00pm: The Stoker banquet was tasty, but I assure you it does not take a full hour to eat dinner. Thankfully we had a couple of empty chairs at our table, so we passed the time cannibalizing their goody bags.

8:00pm: The Stokers themselves were fantastic, ably MCed by Jeff Strand. I called a few of the winners, but overall my guess percentage was pretty abysmal; you can find the full list here. I want to give special congratulations to John Little and Lisa Morton, who not only won some well-deserved Stokers, they put the whole weekend together and really hit it out of the park. I was overjoyed to hear that they’ll be involved with next year’s conference as well, because putting this kind of thing together is very hard, and they did a fantastic job (while, apparently, still writing Stoker-worthy stuff). I’m very impressed and very grateful.

The big news at the end of the conference was that Fantasy Flight Games is producing a Pegasus/New Caprica expansion for their Battlestar Galactica board game. Actually that’s not news from the conference at all, but I heard it the same night so this is where it fits in my brain. No, the big news from the conference is that next years’ Stokers/HWA conference will be held in Brighton, England, the same month my second book is being launched there, and just a few days after the Leipzig Book Fair, which I’m already attending. Unless something crazy happens, this means I’ll be in Brighton next March helping to launch Mr. Monster and enjoying another great Stoker conference. Huzzah!

That’s more than enough for Part 1 of this vacation recap. What surprises does Part 2 have in store? Well, obviously a Gay Pride parade of some kind; I already let that one out of the bag. But what else? And what about the Indian reservation and the polygamists? Be patient, dear reader. All will be revealed.

Starting from Scratch: Mid-Stream Revision

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here because I’m currently on vacation with my family: 5 days with my extended family in the Utah mountains, then four days at the Stoker conference, then three days in Disneyland (with 4 kids–I’m going to die), then five days in Sacramento with family. It’s a lot of fun, but there’s not a lot of time for posting things on websites.

What there is time for, however, is reflecting on the revision process. I’m not far enough along in Strawberry Fields to need any major revisions yet; doing big revisions before a book is finished is a sign that either 1) you didn’t plan well enough beforehand, or 2) you’re scared of imperfection so you’re wasting time fixing things instead of finishing them. Ideally, I try to finish a book AND wait a month or so before I go back to it and start any kind of in-depth revision or re-writing. That does not mean, however, that I do no revisions at all. There is plenty of room for small-scale revisions as you go, as long as you’re not letting them get in the way of finishing your book.

When I talked about “Plowing Onward,” I described the way I use an outline: a broad skeleton that lets me know what should happen and when, and on which I can hang all the little details and backstory and foreshadowing that I know (from my pre-writing) need to be there. This system works really well for me, but that doesn’t mean I always get all the pieces in place on the first try. Sometimes (by which I mean “several times per book”) I’ll get to a point in the story where I know it’s time to go back and fill in all the extra details that I missed on the first pass. Maybe there’s a character who doesn’t show up until later, and I need to go back and add a few early references to make the introduction work. Maybe there’s a mystery that should be coming clear by a certain point, but I need to go back and add more clues. Recently in Strawberry Fields, I was writing up some character backstory that really felt stupid, and I couldn’t figure out why, and then I realized that it’s because I hadn’t foreshadowed it right–this was a good place for that information to be explained, but not a good place for it to be introduced. I had to go back and add a few blips here and there to make the flow of information seem more natural and less like a big crazy revelation out of left field.

This doesn’t work for everybody, especially if your internal editor is stronger than it should be–you want to be telling a good story, not worrying about repairing tiny mistakes. Most of the revision you feel like you have to do RIGHT NOW (particularly for newer, less-experienced writers) can actually wait until after you’re done. But once you’ve learned how to tell your internal editor to shut up and mind its own business, it’s easier to identify which changes can wait and which changes will help you write a stronger book.

Starting From Scratch: Plowing Onward

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

First, an update: Last week I completed the US copyedit of I Am Not a Serial Killer. It’s the same book as the UK version, but honed to a killing edge. It’s really great. You’ll love it. Now I’m sitting on the Book 3 edit (not the copyedit, but the first-round rewrite edit), which I’m kind of putting off while I work on Strawberry Fields. It’s going to mean a fairly large-scale rewrite–not of the ending, which everyone loves, but the early stuff, which is weird because usually my endings are terrible in the first draft. It’s good to know that I’ve finally managed to learn how to do endings without a writing group and an editor beating me over the head.

Now, Strawberry Fields. I’m just shy of 20,000 words so far, which would not be a great Nanowrimo pace but isn’t bad for something I consider to be in pretty readable condition. When I put my outline together I realized that it was almost exactly the same shape as the three Serial Killer books: about 22 chapters, of about 3k words each. There’s nothing wrong with that shape, but it’s one I’ve already done it a lot, and I wanted to branch out. This being aimed at the adult market, I really wanted it to be a little longer, and since it’s a thriller I decided to shorten the chapters a bit, so the book moves quickly from scene to scene. So as I’m going along, each 3k chapter in my outline is actually ending up as about two 2k chapters in the book–simultaneously longer and shorter than the original plan. It’s working pretty well.

My outlines are always pretty complete, plot-wise, but the benefit of developing my ideas so fully beforehand is that once I start writing I get to fill in all the cracks with hints and foreshadowing; I know the whole story, even when my characters don’t, so it’s easy to make it look rounder and fuller than the outline suggests. For a cheap and easy example, there’s a character who doesn’t show up until a third of the way through the book, but I know who she is and what she does, so I can mention her and drop hints about her during the first part before she comes on stage. For a weird and complex example, the final revelation of the truth behind the conspiracy doesn’t come to light until the end, but it’s affecting everything they do now, so I’m able to seed the book with metaphors and words and images that seem completely normal now, but will gain extra meaning (possibly multiple meanings) by the time you get to the end. I can’t tell you what these are, obviously, but I hope once you finally read the book they’re as cool for you as they are for me.

3rd Act Twists

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Looking for a great twist for your novel? Just name your genre, choose what kind of twist you want, and this handy chart will make you look like a genius.