Saturday, November 1, 2008

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, day 4

If you're coming to Calgary and are considering this hotel, I need to warn you about five things you should fear.

1) The elevators hate you.

You can't go up without inserting your key and then pressing the floor number. If you move quickly, you can press a few floors, but let the thing start going, and you're back to needing the card. You can almost hear the elevator laughing at each new unsuspecting victim.

2) You get a free newspaper--but read it or lose it.

When I'm in a hotel, I, like many folks, read parts of the paper in the bathroom. This bathroom has a lovely little shelf across from the toilet, a nicely finished piece of wood ideal for holding those sections of the paper you haven't read yet.

Don't trust it.

Leave your papers there, and they will take them away. I speak from experience.

3) They'll decide how many glasses you need.

I use a lot of glasses in my hotel room: two at the desk, one for water and one for Diet Coke, and a pair of water glasses by the bed. These habits are not usually a problem; hotel rooms come with four glasses, and I've paid for the right to use them.

Not here. I started with four, but the cleaning crew decided I was a glass hog. Soon, I had three, then two, then one. I asked for more, and now I'm back to four, but to keep them I must hide them. Probably not with the newspapers, though; don't want to put all my eggs in one basket.

4) They'll decide how you should manage your dirty clothes.

I hit the treadmill (hotels) or walk outside (home) six days a week. To cut down on baggage (and I do already over pack), I bring two workout shorts and two workout shirts. I hang the dirty ones over a chair to air out. I arrange them so the more recent one always has the most exposed surface area, so the wetter one will dry faster.

Uh-uh. They know best and rearrange my garments as they see fit.

Time to hide them, maybe with the newspapers, which could soak up the sweat, but not with the glasses, because, well, eeew.

5) The toilet can eat you alive.

Flush this toilet, and you better have ear protection. It starts like a 747 firing up, and then it gets louder. Don't even think about sitting on it while flushing, or you will experience birth in reverse as you get a free ride to the Calgary sewers.

Overall, this is a nice hotel, but, hey, you've been warned.

It. Is. Alive.

Okay, maybe not alive, but done in first draft. I just finished all the work on the first draft of Overthrowing Heaven. Last night, I typed "THE END" for the first time, but the draft wasn't complete because I had some patching to do related to the cover. I did that tonight, finished the front and back matter I'd already drafted, and assembled the whole thing in one file just because, well, that's what I do.

For those interested, a few key stats about that file:

* 129,874 words -- over 10,000 more words of awesomeness than Slanted Jack
* 63 chapters (yeah, they're short, but I think they work)
* 500 double-spaced manuscript pages

At this hour, I have no one with whom I can celebrate, not that I do that very well anyway, so I thought I'd tell you all.

Tomorrow, I start the second draft, which means I begin at the very beginning and start editing on the computer. Though I will be cutting madly, I will also be working to improve my imaginative concentration where it's weak, so if I run true to typical form the book will grow a bit.

I have a lot of work to do, a ton, really, but I also have a complete book draft, and that's kinda cool.

Sleep now.

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, day 3

When you fill out the questionnaires from con programming staff, you always get to indicate the times you do not want to be on a panel. I always ask that they not schedule me before noon. I believe the con folks try to oblige these requests, but I suspect I am but one of many, many writers asking for the same morning relief. Thus, it was with no real surprise that I learned a week or so ago that my one panel at this con was at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, today.

The panel's topic was writing villains. My fellow panelists were the writer guest of honor, David Morrell, Anita Siraki, and as moderator, Janine Young (sorry, Janine, but in a few minutes of searching I couldn't find your site). I thought the topic had the potential to be interesting, but one never knows with panels; they can go anywhere.

In this case, the panel went quite well, with everyone contributing, Janice doing a swell job moderating, and all of us having a good time. I think the fairly full audience also had a nice time, which after all is the point of us being up there, so I was happy. I was particularly pleased that the conversation moved over a broad range of topics and types of evil and villainy.

I worked between panels but still managed to attend two others today. The first was an interview with publishing guest of honor, Tor founder and head Tom Doherty. Tom is a friend and, in my opinion, one of the last of the great SF publishing giants. His stories are always interesting and informative, and the interview that David Hartwell conducted provided more of Tom's usual wit and wisdom. I quite enjoyed it.

A different beast entirely was a later panel that was to feature the usual four panelists but that instead ended up including only my friend David Drake and David Morrell. The panel's topic of record--is fantasy an inherently violent genre?--was dumb and met with a quick and accurate answer from both panelists: No. The conversation then turned extremely intense, however, as Drake (going to last names here due to identical first names) discussed some of his experiences with violence in Viet Nam and Morrell explored what those meant and added his own cultural references and experience. I thought both writers ended up doing a super job, though I'm sure the panel must have left Drake wrecked and Morrell stunned. The nearly full house really got a treat in this one, though a rough sort of treat.

Dinner was also a treat, but an entirely fun one, as Tom Doherty and Linda Quinton hosted Dave (Drake), his Webmaster, Karen Zimmerman, Jennie, and me at The River Cafe. We ate and chatted about a wide range of topics, and everyone had a good time. I was particularly pleased to get to spend more time with Tom and meet Linda (I mean no insult to the other fine folks there; I just get to see them more often).

I slept little and worked a lot, and a great deal of work still awaits me, but overall it was an interesting day.

Friday, October 31, 2008

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, day 2

Most of today went to work, so I will spare you those details that would be exciting only to a very few (and all of those work at PT).

Lunch was at a restaurant in the pedestrian walking mall that runs along the southern edge of the hotel and continues for several blocks. Getting out into the air was good, the food was tasty, and I enjoyed most of the people watching. I say "most" because the congregation of homeless people led, at least in spirit and occasionally in motion, by the hopping insane-looking woman was rather sad. Even Canada, nice as it is, faces the homeless problem.

I took an early evening break to seek soda at a nearby quickie mart and managed to stroll right into a somewhat sketchy stretch of buildings: one man pissing on a wall in the twilight, taking long enough that he appeared to be enjoying the process and even admiring his handiwork; a different man carefully stuffing his crack rock (or another chunk of drug) into a cigarette; and a few loiterers who assessed my likelihood of being a compliant target (no freaking way, as they decided). The store where I bought the soda seemed to attract the sketchoids, so I kept the transaction quick.

In the walk to and from dinner much later in the evening, I got to enjoy all the lights in the trees and on the buildings. Yes, I agree it's too early for Christmas decorations, but I still love lights in trees, and I have a particular soft spot for them in Canada in the winter. Lovely, just lovely.

The book, which is very near its end, beckons me, so I shall remove myself to it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, day 1

The con actually starts tomorrow, but as is my wont I arrived a day early. Travel ate most of my day, though the pilot on the flight from DFW managed to get us in a whole half hour early and thus reclaim a tiny bit of that time.

Today marked my first flight out of the new terminal at RDU. Though the space is lovely and makes RDU look like a modern airport in a real city, the American Airlines folks were clearly not accustomed to working in it and with their new gear. Checking in and dropping off my bag, a process that typically took only a few minutes in the previous space, consumed twenty or so today. They were shorthanded, the luggage tag printers weren't working, some staffers had trouble reading the new computer font--we saw one problem after another. I hope they work out the kinks sooner than later.

I worked a lot on the planes today, but I'm still behind at work. My beard continues to grow untamed and will do so until at least one day after I'm home, and probably for longer. I'm very nearly done with the first draft of Overthrowing Heaven, but nearly is not done. Five of the nine major work tasks remain, and my budget box is still not empty.

All I can do is keep trying.

Dinner was from room service, and as such meals go it was fine, even better than most.

I haven't been in Calgary since 1986. I hope to get to see a bit of the city, but I'm sure that between the con, work, and writing I won't get out much. That's okay, though, because the con features plenty of interesting panels, many friends and acquaintances, one of the best SF/F art shows around, and a dealer's room full of books. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Want to hear me yak about tech stuff?

When I was in Portland on September 18, I mentioned having done some interviews for Intel. They're live now. If you're interested in listening to me yak on technical topics, I've embedded the videos here. Warning: For reasons unknown to me, both Intel videos (unlike their Youtube counterparts below) start playing automatically. So, pause them ASAP or be prepared for the cacophony of me talking on two subjects at the same time. Not good.

First, they asked me about multi-core computing, and I, of course, had plenty to say.

Next, they asked what I thought of Netbooks, so I told them--and then kept talking because, well, it got good for me.

With no disrespect to myself, I can imagine you might need a mental palate cleanser after listening to tech stuff. I recommend almost any Blue Rodeo song or video, but to make life simpler for you, today I've chosen this one.

Okay, and this one.

Words to heed.

By the way, these guys are awesome, one of the best bands ever. I've mentioned my first experience hearing their music; someday I'll tell the whole story. And, they tie to this week's trip, because they're Canadian. Which means, of course, they're nice.

Monday, October 27, 2008

On chapter length

A few folks have asked if I've moved to shorter chapters so that I can write one chapter in one day's writing session. The answer is most definitely, no. I thought I'd give a bit more information, though, about why that's the case.

First, I don't plan chapters during my outlining. Instead, I plot in a sort of top-down fashion. I start with a very brief, almost elevator-pitch version of the whole story. I then break that story into what strike me as the major parts of the tale. (Overthrowing Heaven has eight of these.) I then write key action, characterization, and setting notes as text summaries in paragraphs in the plot outline. It's tempting to believe that these paragraphs would turn into chapters, but they don't; again, there's no relationship.

The way I pick chapters is simple: As I'm writing the book, I look for moments that will both close one door and almost--almost, but not quite--open another, and I end chapters at those moments. My goal at the end of each chapter is simple: To entice you, to pull you along, to make you want to read the next one. That's it. I love reading books at night, and I love books that always make me want to read one more chapter, so I'm trying to write them. If I can do that, I'll be happy. My test reader is me; if a chapter ending doesn't make me think hard about and yearn to write the next chapter, it isn't right yet.

Finally, I routinely stop a day's work well before the end of a chapter. I don't think I've ever stopped in the middle of a sentence, but I've stopped in the middle of paragraphs, sections, and chapters. Time and, occasionally, stamina determine when I stop writing, not chapter boundaries.

And now, back to the middle of one of the final few chapters of draft 1 of Overthrowing Heaven!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I voted today

I'm due back in town from the World Fantasy Con in Calgary quite late in the evening of Monday, November 3, the day before the election. If anything were to go wrong with the flight, I could end up really crunched for time the following day, and I did not want to take any chance that I might miss the chance to vote. So, I voted early today.

I believe that voting is a citizen's right and duty, and we should all vote. So, I was pleased and proud to see a busy polling place when I showed up this afternoon to cast my ballot. Voting made me happy, and seeing the great turn-out made me even happier. I hope you vote on November 4 (if you haven't already).

Tonight, we held our annual pumpkin carving party, at which a group of about a dozen of us got together and ate spaghetti, talked (probably too much politics for some of the folks there), and, yes, carved pumpkins.

As is our tradition, after eating dinner and finishing the pumpkins, we set them up on the front stoop, turned off all the lights, and admired them.

In the first photo, you can see how they look in the flash. This picture makes clear the wide range of pumpkins we carved: big, little, classic orange, greenish white, and a pair of rather nubbly rascals.

The second picture shows the same creations in the darkness, where all their scary and silly and just plain mysterious virtues are most manifest. We had so many that to fit them all in this picture we had to shoot wide enough that the details of any particular pumpkin are hard to see, but I have to say that I quite liked them all. I won't be home this Halloween, so I'm particularly glad I got to participate in tonight's festivities. I find this little event a welcome sign of the changing season and a marker on the ramp-up to the always hectic but always fun holiday season. I hope your weekend and your Halloween are good.


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