Saturday, October 31, 2009

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, San Jose, day 5

I actually slept a reasonable amount last night, which was wonderful. I can't say I feel rested right now--in fact, I could fall asleep in an instant--but I do feel better than I have in about a week.

An odd thing occurred to me about yesterday's panel and several conversations I had last night: by publication count, I was the senior writer. Very strange indeed. I still feel the rank beginner, and few know me or my work, but sometimes I encounter groups with a different perspective.

Earlier today, after a healthy lunch (hot dog with cheese, plus shared onion rings; I must keep praying for those artery-cleaning nanobots), I attended a panel on urban fantasy. It went well enough, but it never quite gelled.

Afterward, I signed a bunch of books in the dealers' room, a process that involves me spying, thief-like, for copies of my books, then springing upon an unsuspecting bookseller and saying, "Would you like me to sign my books?" Fortunately, they always agree, either because they genuinely would like me to do that, as they say, or because they are scared of the look in my eyes. Whatever works, I suppose.

Ticia, who is helping with tonight's Liars Panel, then went with me to the front desk, where we procured the appropriate bills for the panel (tens for when I get caught, plus a bunch of ones for when I feel like challenging), as well as some disposable ice buckets for money collection.

The hotel's beautiful central bar was in full swing, afternoon tea service already started. Tables of laughing and talking writers, editors, and fans filled the large space. I spotted a few I might have joined, where people who know me would no doubt have let me pull up a chair. Instead, I came to my room, where I worked, wrote, composed this entry, and will, momentarily, write a bit more. It's an alienating experience to leave such a space for my quiet room, but if I don't do it now, I'll have to do it later tonight, when I will be more tired and less productive. I know that I must write each day, because down any other path I stop being a writer--or so I fear. That fear is reason enough to maintain the habit.

Perhaps one day I will take off a stretch and not write, but most likely I will not; I have so many books in me and so little time, and only these stretches alone at the keyboard makes them appear.

Friday, October 30, 2009

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, San Jose, day 4

So many writers, artists, and editors attend WFC that if you're a beginning writer, as I am, you're lucky if you get on any programming items at all. Consequently, I was quite tickled that this year I was fortunate enough to have the chance to participate in two panels. The first was today at 5:00. Here's what the con program guide had to say about it:

5:00 PM Gold Room The Last Resort

It’s been observed by some that fantasy authors elevate conflicts in their work to the level of lethal violence with considerable frequency. Though on one hand it can make for an exciting work, on the other hand it can reduce the impact of the violence to the point of triviality. Is there a desirable balance that can be reached? And, what are ways of achieving violent tension without actual violence?

Mark L. Van Name (moderator), Sue Bolich, Peter V. Brett, Joan Spicci Saberhagen, Alan DeNiro
The idea for this panel, which was one I pitched, grew from a conversation I had at last year's World Fantasy Con with Malcolm Azania, a great guy who writes as Minister Faust. He and I were discussing the uses of violence in fiction, when writers go too far, how much violence a situation justifies, and so on. We explored those basic topics and more in today's panel, which played to a pretty full house (ca. 150 folks) and seemed to go over fairly well.

Dinner was at Los Cubanos, a Cuban (duh!) restaurant within easy walking distance of the hotel. The portions were larger than we expected, so we both ate more than we should have and also left some food, but it was all tasty. I'd eat there again.

The evening featured the mass signing, which is largely an exercise in humiliation for the lesser known writers. Picture a large hotel ballroom with the perimeter covered with tables and rows of tables in its center. Behind every six-foot table sit two writers, their shoulders touching (or nearly so), their name cards in front of them, their pens ready to sign, promo material (bookmarks, postcards, and so on) at hand--and no one in front of them. I felt lucky that a few hardy souls came to see me.

Next up is the Tor party, which I will visit and then return to work. Enough for tonight; off I go.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, San Jose, day 3

Another trip day, another 4:30 a.m. bed time after a late night of work, another early wake-up call for work and phone meetings. Frustrating. Ah, well, so it goes.

Want to know what most of my day looked like? It's this photo, taken from the perspective of my computer, which spent most of its day staring at me. I pity the computer. Note the lovely hotel drapes; I keep them closed lest I accidentally recall another world exists outside them.

I did escape the room twice earlier today. The first time, a small group of us went across the street for a pleasant lunch of decent Indian food, and then we spent some time setting up Jain's art balls and necklaces in the dealer's room. These pieces are amazing, and if you're reading this and at the con, you need to hustle your butt down to the art show and buy one. Or two. Or half a dozen: they make nifty holiday gifts.

I then made a quick pass through the dealers' room--strictly a scouting run, no purchases--and returned to work.

In the evening, a larger group of us related to Baen Books (my publisher, of course) enjoyed a good Italian dinner at Il Fornaio. The food and the conversation were both quite enjoyable, and I thank Senior Editor Jim Minz for hosting it and, of course, Publisher Toni for paying for it. May all our book sales be so stupendous that you want to buy us ever more expensive meals!

After that gathering, though, it was back to the room for me, where I've been working for some time now. I hope to finish soon and perhaps wander a bit, maybe engage in a few late-night conversations before finally getting some sleep. I should probably just crash, because I desperately need sleep, but we're in the hours when I am wide awake and ready to rumble.

Which is my cue to return to work so that either of those options--sleep or wandering--becomes possible.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, San Jose, day 2

My dating of this trip is a bit odd, because the con doesn't start until Thursday, but I arrived Tuesday. Two reasons: I am doing some business meetings while in the Bay area and thus need extra time, and Alan Beatts, of the wonderful Borderlands Books, orchestrated a lovely area tour and group signing for this afternoon. For obvious reasons, I won't discuss the former, but the latter deserves some coverage.

Alan really treated all of the writers wonderfully. A bus picked us up at the con hotel and drove us to San Francisco. Borderlands staff folks met us and led us to our tour guides. My group went with the redoubtable Don Herron, who led us on his Dashiell Hammett walking tour. I'm a big Hammett fan, so I enjoyed myself greatly. I highly recommend this tour to anyone who appreciates Hammett.

The bus then picked us up and took us to the bookstore, where we hung out for a while (some got dinner, but we decided to eat later), and then we did a mass signing at the newly renovated (by Alan) cafe next door. (If you live here, you need to see the cafe, if only for the floors, which Alan restored beautifully.) The signing was a lot of fun, and I even had a fair number of folks come by and ask me to sign books.

Afterward, a group of us, led by new friend and cop, Griffin, walked a few blocks up the street and enjoyed a very nice French meal at Garcon.

All in all, a lovely event that Alan, Jude, and all the good folks at Borderlands should be proud to have held.

Though I'm intentionally dating the posts on the day I'm discussing, it's actually two in the morning and I still have work to do, so to it I go.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, San Jose, day 1

I'm on a plane to DFW using free bandwidth, courtesy of a coupon from the Admirals Club, and I was able to upgrade to first class. Aside from having slept only 1:45, it is thus a good morning.

So, what do I do with all this Internet power at my disposal? I work, of course, but I also borrow this image from this link, which an anonymous commenter provided me. I could own this sucker for the mere price of $1,159--and that includes shipping! Hey, he's six feet tall, he comes on a wheeled base, and, as the site proudly proclaims, "has real shoe laces and proudly wears an All American Wrapper!"

If it weren't for the fact that every single woman who lives in or ever visits my house would kill me, I would seriously consider this beauty. Wouldn't you like to be greeted by it at the front door?

Do you think the fact that I've slept less than four hours in the last few nights is affecting my feelings about this thing?

I don't, but I thought I should ask.

Despite the travel and the lack of sleep, today was enormously productive. I got a ton of work done. Meals were on planes and in the hotel room, but I have no real complaints. My big treat of the day was half an hour in San Mateo, during which we stopped by an old favorite haunt, the Pancho Villa taqueria, for my all-time favorite fruit drink, the mandarina, a beverage they make there. We then spent a few expensive minutes in M Is for Mystery, a wonderful bookstore that Ed Kaufman and team operate. It was a lovely break in an otherwise work-dominated day.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mr. Creepy Cone needs a friend

He's lonely now that The Eared One has gone off to college with Sarah. (When during our parents weekend tour we got to see Sarah's dorm room, she showed us that The Eared One is indeed keeping a watchful eye on the situation there from its perch high in her closet. Nothing escapes The Eared One's watchful gaze.) Fortunately, while at the fair, Gina found and photographed that special companion: this guy.

If you're like me (and if you are, seek therapy), the first thing you think when you see this hot dog/human hybrid is, "Man, I need me one of those!"

For those who are wondering, if you're like me the second thing you think is, "Hmmm. I wonder how it would feel to squirt condiments on my head."

Again, be thankful you're not like me.

Anyway, even those of you who are considerably less odd than I must admit that this statue is awesome. Check out the weirdly accurate legs and shoes, the oozing mustard, the curly ketchup horn, and, of course, the focused, demented expression, complete with protruding, overly red tongue. The closer you look, the more the craftsmanship behind this creation becomes obvious. Note, for example, the eyebrows, one mustard and one ketchup. That's quality.

Yup, Mr. Creepy Cone needs a companion, and this guy is the thing for the job.

Now, if I could just figure out where to buy one....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

UFC 104 pick recap: We sucked at the undercard

Last night's fights should have taught all readers of this blog a valuable lesson: don't ever use Kyle or my fight picks as the basis of any bets. While we did okay on the main card, we sucked on the preliminary fights.

Speaking of which, let's recap that undercard:

Yushin Okami vs. Chael Sonnen - We both chose Okami, and we were both wrong. Sonnen dominated the guy in route to a unanimous decision victory.

Pat Barry vs. Antoni Hardonk - We both chose Hardonk, and again we were both wrong. Barry won by TKO.

Jorge Rivera vs. Rob Kimmons - Kyle called this one, as Rivera won by TKO in the third. I incorrectly picked Kimmons.

Ryan Bader vs. Eric Schafer - We both correctly chose Bader to win this one, though he did it via decision.

Kyle Kingsberry vs. Razak Al-Hassan - We both thought Al-Hasan would win, and instead he lost a split decision. We did think it would be close, so we got that right.

Chase Gormley vs. Stefan Struve - Again, we agreed on our selection--Gormley to win--and we were wrong, as Struve submitted Gormley in the first.

So, at the end of the undercard, Kyle had gone 2-4, while I was a lowly 1-5.

In the all-important battle for victory in our three differences, Kyle is now ahead by 1.

Fortunately, in the main card I carried the day:

Anthony Johnson vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida - Johnson KO'd Yoshida a mere 41 seconds into the fight, justifying my faith in him--and handing Kyle a loss.

Joe Stevenson vs. Spencer Fisher - This one went pretty much as we expected, with Stevenson winning. Kyle was confident of a finish from the top, while I thought it would be that or a decision, and Stevenson did indeed pound his way to victory.

Josh Neer vs. Gleison Tibau - Tibau handed me the picking-the-fights victory over Kyle by winning a unanimous decision over Neer. Neer was always the more energetic, and by the end he had a lot more gas left than Tibau, but Tibau's take-downs carried the day for him.

Cain Velasquez vs. Ben Rothwell - We both chose Velasquez, who dominated the fight and ultimately won via TKO. I do think the referee stopped the fight early, because Rothwell had posted with his hand and was standing when the ref called the match, but I believe Velasquez would have won in time.

Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua - We both chose Machida to win, and he did, so we were right. That said, I think Shogun was robbed. From where I sat--and Joe Rogan sure agreed, as did many of the fans--Shogun won at least three of the rounds, maybe four. Shogun did more damage, was more aggressive, and fought an amazingly smart and patient fight. His game plan--punish Machida's legs and body--worked superbly, and at the end I expected him to win.

I considered this to be quite a weak card, but I came away having enjoyed the fights a great deal. Shogun showed how to beat Machida, and I expect every smart light heavyweight to be ramping up their leg-and-body-kick practice.

As for Kyle on the picking front, he'll have to improve his game as well--though mine was frankly nothing to brag about. The final tally for us both:

Mark: 6-5
Kyle: 5-6

I passed Kyle a draft of the above entry for his comment. He offered this short essay, which I think is insightful and accurate. Enjoy.

This card was a lesson in the limits of knowledge. I'd looked at the FightFinder records of all the fighters on the card. But two of my bad picks--Chase Gormley vs. Stefan Struve and Anthony Johnson vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida--I knew were wrong as soon as I saw the fighters in the ring. The winners in those fights were just bigger men, with eight inches or more of reach advantage over the losers.

I almost picked Ben Rothwell over Cain Velasquez, too, based on their records. But once I'd watched Rothwell's fight against Andrei Arlovski, I didn't think he'd have any answer for Velasquez's control on the ground. I changed my mind, but still thought it would be close.

Even fighters like Velasquez that I thought I knew well surprised me on this card. The fact is that fighters are always learning new skills; suffering new injuries; having good days or bad. We only get to see them fight for fifteen minutes at a time every four to six months. That's a really coarse instrument by which to measure their skills.

The careful and conditioned Mauricio Rua who fought Lyoto Machida to a stalemate last night wasn't the same man who gassed against Mark Coleman last year or the same man who overwhelmed Ricardo Arona with a whirlwind of attacks in Pride four years ago. The Shogun that we saw last night is a match for anyone at light heavyweight. Apparently the UFC's going to give him an immediate rematch against Machida. I expect that fight to look nothing like the fight we saw last night.

Cain Velasquez struggled against Cheick Kongo back in June. He tried to box more than he should have, and his transitions between striking and grappling looked awkward and telegraphed. But against Ben Rothwell, Velasquez used strikes to set up takedowns. He controlled Rothwell completely on the ground. His strikes were accurate and unceasing. Most people criticize the stoppage, but I don't have a problem with it. Rothwell wasn't going to win. He was just going to suffer more traumatic brain injury. Velasquez's performance was flawless, and he's ready to move up to face Antonio Nogueira, Frank Mir, or Junior Dos Santos.

Anthony Johnson also just gets better and better. I thought that he and Yoshida were on the same level. Johnson demolished Yoshida in forty seconds. Although Johnson lost to Rich Clementi in the UFC two years ago, he's progressed far enough that I'd expect him to win a rematch. Like Velasquez, he deserves a step up to fighting top-five competition. I'd love to see how he'd do against Josh Koscheck, who combines a similar mix of wrestling, striking skills and explosive athleticism.

After five years spent toiling away in smaller shows, Chael Sonnen has really stepped up his game over the last couple of years as he's made the transition from the WEC to the UFC. His performance last night was, in a way, more impressive than Johnson's 40-second knockout or Velasquez's wrestling domination. Sonnen also showed dominant wrestling. But he did it against a top-ten fighter with a strong wrestling base. He also outstruck Okami standing and outworked him throughout. Sonnen sustained the pace of a lightweight, always moving forward, always working, for a full fifteen minutes. He's ready for Nate Marquardt or Dan Henderson.


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