Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pass the buck

Last week I saw a buck deer for the first time while biking to work. I saw a group of seven deer, and they were remarkably fearless. I walked my bike up to within twenty feet of them. One of them actually moved a few steps toward me.

I took ten photos with my cell phone camera, but it has no zoom: none of them were worth looking at. You couldn't even be sure there were deer in the frame at all.

I'm nearly at my year's goal of 100 rides already: the price of gas, and my car's doddering ways, have been phenomenal motivators. Next year I think I'm going to aim for 150 or more rides. And I've been trying to work from home a little to reduce the number of car trips even further. The idea there is to work from home on days when I need to run an errand...because the need to run an errand with my car is the prime reason for ever using my car at all. If I can solve that, then really rainy days are the only ones that'll get me into the tin box.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Space Dwarves in Mjolnir-shaped Cruiser!

If you're gonna geek out on Lego, I can think of no better way than to build a Space Dwarf his own Mjolnir-shaped spacship.

This is right on so many levels.
  • It's a creative use of Lego.
  • It's an interesting spaceship with lots of interior detail.
  • The choice of a Space Dwarf is a nice oddity, and the thing has lots of dwarf-specific details, like a beer stein, a pig for later eating...
  • Mjolnir brings in a nice Thor and comics reference and is highly recognizable. Ordinarily I think I'd hate a spaceship that was shaped like something else. But Mjolnir is holy!
I told my wife about this. She was completely unimpressed. I can't understand this. Did she fail to read Norse mythology, dwarf stories, and Marvel comics?

Oh yeah. She's a girl!

Friday, August 29, 2008

_The Career Novelist_: Don't quit your day job too soon

I am still enjoying The Career Novelist. It's filled with audacious ideas, when you approach it as someone who always-wanted-to-be-a-novelist-with-10,000-maniac-fans-and-a-pony. I just finished a chapter that's all about advising you not to quit your day job too soon.

Maas advises you to wait until your royalties pay enough to cover your expenses. This makes a lot of sense. Other writing monies, especially advances, are more likely to fluctuate.

He also advises getting 3 to 5 books in print and selling well first...saying that this is a strong indicator you've got a tidy authorial brand going, a long-term business. And he admits people aren't likely to follow his advice...that they make this decision from excitement and from the heart.

This is an exciting idea and scary way to think. Why plan on writing one novel? Let's dream about the day when you've got five novels in print and making money at the same time.

But heck, if you don't dream about it, plan for it, how will you ever get there? It's not like I haven't thought this way all my life. But Maas's expression of this is very practical. I know I always saw myself as a published novelist, but I don't think I thought about what it would really take to make a living from novels. Developing a string of books and a loyal readership will take years, and that's what you need to make noveling pay the bills.

I was kind of hoping Madonna would have herself frozen or something

Madonna turned 50 on the 16th of this month. You know you're getting old when the pop star you lusted after in your high school days turns 50. She has plenty of money; I was hoping she'd use some of it to preserve herself or something.

I remember having Madonna posters all over my bedroom when I was 17. I thought they would shock my parents, what with all the crucifixes she wore. I didn't actually have the gutsbad taste to put up posters of someone scantily clad. My mom would have taken them down then, and I'd have been out $5.

So she's 50 now. And I'm almost 40 and I have three kids. So I'm going through the terribly usual feelings, I think. I have days where I wonder what the heck I've done with the 39 years I've had so far. I usually laugh those off, but it's not always easy.

I know: I've been accumulating life experience for future writing...while being a technical writer. Hmm. Perhaps I should have gone into military technical writing. More experience, faster. But in that case, I think I might be dead. Of boredom. Having to number section in format would just about kill me.

But then I pick up my littlest one, or debut a new juggling routine, or actually turn a phrase that I like in a piece of fiction, and I know one thing: I'm getting better at all the things I care about, day by day.

Madonna, if you ever start feeling your age and you need to talk about it, you know where to find me.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kerbey Lane North has moved

The Kerbey Lane North location has moved ...further up highway 183, to the Anderson Mill shopping center.
Apparently this happened 8/21. I had to hear about it from an out-of-town friend who had the news from in-town family.

Recommended: To Court the King

"To Court the King" is a card and dice game. I played it at Armadillocon and got a kick out of it. It was elegant and easy to learn, and it had pretty cards. I liked that it has a lot of knobs you can twist: every turn, I felt like I had a lot of options...but not so many in the beginning that I felt paralyzed.

The basis of play is throwing dice and choosing to retain or reroll them. You start with three dice on your turn; you roll them, and choose to "lock" one or more of them. Then you reroll the others. Each time you lock a die, you can reroll the rest, until all of them are locked.

You make your choices in order to achieve poker-like combinations such as a straight or three of a kind. When you achieve one of the combinations on a chart, you get one of the game's character cards. For example, if you roll 3 of a kind, you get the Guard, who allows you to bring an extra die into your hand every turn. Every card you acquire improves your dice-rolling abilities.

Some of the character cards allow you to change the values on dice, others add additional dice. In the game I played, it seemed like you had a good chance to achieve one useful combination or another every turn, so your choices centered around which card to aim for in a turn. You're only allowed to have one card of any given type, and there are always fewer cards available than there are players (that is, if there are four players, then there are less than four Guard cards available).

The top card is the King, and when someone acquires it, the endgame begins. Everyone gets one more turn to try and court the King to themself, and the last person holding it wins.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lolbat references for PVP readers

I love the webcomic PVP, but it has a long history now. Lately when the comic refers to old storylines, I want to go back and reread them. But there's no easy way to find them. I know Scott Kurtz tried a tagging system at one point, maybe it didn't work.

In any case, recently the Lolbat returned to the PVP saga. The Lolbat first appeared back in June.

There, I feel better.

The cat who walks through hamstertown

I told you so. I really told you so. I told you that if we got a cat, we shouldn't get a kitten, because they're nothing but trouble. And I told you that the fact that we already had two hamsters would be a problem.

We let the kitten have the run of the house for the first time yesterday, and while we were out, it knocked one of the hamster habitats off its table, separating it into its many Lego-like components andspraying wood shavings everywhere.

I'm beginning to think that putting the kids' computer next to the hamsters may not be a great idea.

We came home to find the hamster AWOL. Later he was discovered in the mouth of our terrier, a little damp but otherwise fine. Apparently our dog is more than willing to be a hamster taxi.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mushroom Men stories are up on two magazine sites now

I didn't realize the Mushroom Men stories were going to be published on RevolutionSF as well as Space Squid. I'm excited to see that.

_The Career Novelist_ by Donal Maass

This book full of advice about crafting a writing career is available as a free download. I started looking at it a couple of days ago. I particularly like how it identifies several different emotional rollercoasters that one can be subject and downs that are caused by the publishing process.

I'm working my way through it and making some notes on some of the questions it asks you to ask yourself. I think it's going to provide a lot of value.

He asks you to think about why you write, and talks about writing not just one book, but five or more, to create a growing readership. He talks about trying to keep your books in print while you put out other books. It makes a lot of sense.

(I should mention that I found this because of Gav Thorpe's excellent blog Mechanical Hamster, which is full of writing advice.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Incoming -- duck!

I really hate to unleash this meme on the world, but I'm also too proud of it to keep it inside.

My sister found a great guy and married him. She never considered how that would affect me. Since he was great, I suddenly had a new person to buy gifts for.

The mature thing to do would have been to get to know him. But that's so much work. So I just decided that he liked ducks.

So far, I've gotten him a wooden duck, a rubber duck, and some canned faux duck meat. Before this, I didn't know there was such a thing as faux duck meat. You learn so much when you give.

Lately my sister and her beau have started giving ME duck things. I don't know who they think they are, changing the rules like that, but that's what happens when you let a meme out.

I seriously considered hinting to the rest of his family about his obsession with ducks, to see if I could get them to buy him duckstuff, but I had to draw the line somewhere. That's just mean. Plus, it would be a lot of work.

Last Christmas, my sister and her hubby gave me some boxers with the tasteful legend "Butt Quack" on them. But it was all right, because later, when they went to see his family, his own mom gave him an identical pair.

I swear I've never spoken to the woman.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Why is plotting so hard?

So, I've been working on short stories for a while now. And I don't seem to have any trouble coming up with interesting characters, and even with intertwining the story lines of protagonist and antagonist. Well, that's a little tough, but still. No, I can come up with a good story, and even describe it succinctly. The trouble comes when I try to go from the high-level descriptions to a list of scenes. There's always something that doesn't work or doesn't fit. At the high-level, you can get away with a lot of assumptions that don't work when you get down to the details.

I'm forming the impression that this is a problem for a lot of writers, which would be good to know. Then I wouldn't be so depressed and could get down to the business of learning how to plot properly.

Okay, so clearly THAT'S the thing to do...learn how to plot properly. And I'm trying. Here's an article I found that is interesting, because it makes a distinction between plot and story that I think could be useful. It's specifically about screenwriting, but don't let that hold you back.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Soap in a microwave

Do this now:

  1. Cut a bar of Ivory soap into thirds.
  2. Place one piece in a microwaveable bowl and microwave for one minute.
  3. Remove and enjoy foamy goodness.

It looks like shaving cream, feels like sticky powder. The soap expands tremendously. It's a simple chemistry experiment that's well worth doing. This page has a lot more info; among other things, it says non-Ivory soap doesn't have enough trapped air to foam up and will just melt.

Tanya was watching a cooking show called Food Detectives and they did this and she then tried it with our oldest daughter and it was good.

If you get on YouTube you can find a bunch of videos of this.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wil Wheaton does it

I was all chagrinned about being a blithering idiot when cornering Steven Brust in order to shake his hand at Armadillocon, but I just read about how Wil Wheaton does the same thing, so I'm okay with it now.

Everybody I know was already at Armadillocon

When I got home from vacation and reviewed all my e-mail, I realized that the launch party for the Space Squid issue that my story is in was going to be here in Austin, because of the Armadillocon sci fi convention. I didn't even realize that Space Squid was an Austin-based magazine. But this meant I could actually GO to the launch party.

Then I thought...maybe I should go to the convention too. And it was ridiculous that I'd never been to Armadillocon before. So I thought, well, if I'm going to be a big-time scifi writer who gets published in actual magazines printed on real paper, maybe I should go to the convention too. Sure, they wanted the ungodly sum of $30 for a day's admission, but I had a bunch of cash burning a hole in my pocket. I'd come back from vacation to find out that my project team had won a prize at work, and they gave us all some cash.

So I thought, what the heck, I'll go to the convention. I called a friend of ours and she promised to come help Tanya with the kids while I disappeared for a day. And I went.

Now, the next morning when I got up to leave, I dithered. I delayed. I thought, I'm not going to know anyone there, it's going to be weird.

But the website said Stephen Brust would be at one of the first events. And I really enjoyed the Staples convention that I went to. So I managed to get in my car and get there on time.

Then as soon as I walk in, I see two guys from my college dorm. Then I see the wife of one of those guys...she was ALSO in my dorm at the University of Texas. And eventually I run into Kimm Antell, who though she didn't actually live in my dorm (at least not the same year that I lived in Jester Center) hung out with the same group. Kimm's a volunteer with the con. She takes me all around, introduces me to people, shows me the game room and the con hospitality suite. In the game room I sit down and learn a new dice/card game called "To Court the King" and have a blast.

And I run all over the convention, finding new books, new authors, new magazines to submit to, and new techniques. It's a blast.

The con is really different. I was expecting something like a comic/gaming/scifi convention. But this one was heavily focused on writers and writing. And they do a 3-day writer's workshop every year, so next year, I'm going to attend that.

Later I see the husband of one of my coworkers at the con. Okay, it makes sense really that there would be a lot of overlap among scifi fans, my college crowd, and the Austin computer industry, so I should drop the surprise. But it was a ton of fun to have it turn out that way.

Finally I go to the launch party for Space Squid, where they keep referring to me as "our prize winner." It was hard to get my head through the door of the bar, but I managed. There were about 15 people there. We played a flash fiction game where you get a topic and a prop and have to write something in 15 minutes. I got the topic "Fabulous Demonic Sex" with the prop "grapefruit." I'd never played a flash fiction game before, but I wrote a story about demon sex and then I read it out loud in front of these people I've just met.

All in all, just about a perfect weekend.

Notes from "In the beginning" panel at Armadillocon

One of the panels I went to was about world building. It was called "In the beginning", and featured Warren Spector, John Scalzi, Stephen Brust, and Martha Wells.

The panelists were a lot of fun. Scalzi was great to see; Brust was awesome, his personality flows out and fills the room.

How do you start?
- Brust: I start with the food
...loves this book, Principles of Field Crop Production...if you have steak, you have cows, what are they fed on? defines a ton about your world.
- Wells...doesn't separate world building from char design...they're intertwined...char couldn't be same in a diff world
--world-is-a-character and world-is-character

Do you PLAN to write a series?
- Brust: don't hold shit back for the sequel
- Scalzi: every book should stand alone
- Wells: I didn't intend to do series
- Brust: (About people holding stuff back) It's a trope I call "Wheel of Irritation"
- Scalzi: Old Man's War wasn't meant to be a series

- Know more than you put into the book
Brust: sequels are fanfic of your own stuff. "Wow, this world is cool."
Wells: write what you'd like to read

Brust: Two kinds of narrator, unreliable and the ones you don't trust.
Paraphrased: Everybody makes mistakes, so all narrators are actually unreliable. This also gives the author an out if he makes a mistake. The narrator's mistakes make the world more real.

Brust: A few details of irrationality that the viewpoint char does not understand, but the AUTHOR does, help add realism.
streets that dead end
one house built sideways
Another panelist adds (I think it was Wells?) Japanese concept of the single flaw that points up the perfection of the rest

Who are your influences?

Brust: Fritz Leiber = big influence on him

Brust: A great way to write SF is to pick a writer you like but about whom you hate one thing...."I like Fritz Leiber but I hate that the Thieves Guild is legal."

Scalzi: I used the Heinlein Juvenile structure because I understood it and I knew that it sold. Wholly ripped off the structure.
Says this is a natural development...the Beatles 1st albums were ... derivative...then over time, got more unique style

Wells...was reading a Victorian murder mystery with magic...hated....inspried her to write The Death of a Necromancer

Scalzi: writing nonfic gives me an excuse to learn things.

Scalzi: You know you've done enough worldbuilding when you have fanfic.

How do you avoid "the dreaded info dump"
Brust: Assume the reader is not stupid. Tell the story, not the world. I'm gonna throw some concepts at him and he'll figure it out. Figuring out what the reader MUST know is hard.

Scalzi: Every time I read Dune I see something new.
(Every time he reads Dune? That's awesome. I've gotta go read Dune for the 8th time now...)

Wells: The char must think like a native of his world, not a modern 20th cent person

Brust: likes to invent his own colloquialisms and expressions. "There's the devil to pay." come up wth a replacement.

"To know a profession, learn what jokes they tell each other." Any creative group creates its own language.

Everyone in the story should speak uniquely.

I got a story in Space Squid Magazine!

I got a story in a magazine! When you're approaching 40 fast, there' s nothing like a little bit of encouragement in your creative endeavor to make you feel good.

Last month I entered this writing contest in Space Squid magazine, where you write a short piece set in the world of an upcoming video game called Mushroom Men. While I was on vacation last week, I got e-mail telling me I'd placed in the contest, and they were gonna publish the tiny piece I wrote for it.

(My story is online here, but you'll need a little background for it to make sense. The Mushroom Men world is one where several different tribes of mushroom people exist, some of them are poisonous, and all of them are in conflict. I wondered what it would be like for two hapless mushrooms from different tribes who fell in love.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

These Googley Eyes Were Free Just For You

It was 7/29/08. My eight-year-old daughter was trying to get me to come look at a "store" she'd created upstairs and I was doing something.

I finally went and looked but I left pretty quick...I got bored with playing store, and wanted to get back to what I was doing.

Then she gave me the note pictured here.

If you can't read it, here's a transcription: "These googley eyes were free just for you, but you didn't care."

The note was wrapped around a pile of plastic googley eyes. Since I love crafts, it seemed like a good enticement to her.

I'll be the dad crying his eyes out in the corner now. :)

I shook Stephen Brust's hand today

Why is it that I can now, after years of therapy, talk to practically anyone at an event like a scifi convention...except the authors?

The main reason I actually got out of bed and went to Armadillocon today was that I'd read that Stephen Brust would be there at one of the first sessions. I went, I saw him on a panel, he was great, but I didn't get a chance to speak to him...even though a friend I saw at the con apparently knows him well.

But I saw Brust as I was leaving the con, and he was being cornered by a fan to sign a couple of books. So I waited and then shook his hand and told him I was grateful he'd come out to an event like this...which sounds great...except I mumbled it and then I said something fairly insane about how I'd heard he'd moved to Texas and I was glad to have him here. In Texas. Like I'm the Texas welcome guy or something. :)

I've read, I dunno, 11 Stephen Brust books. I really like 'em. I can't for the life of me think of anything to say to an author when I meet 'em, though. I always think of that SNL sketch where Chris Farley has a talk show that just says "remember that scene, where you did the thing? That was great." I went to an Octavia Butler book signing once, it was the same way for me.

The books? All 11 of them? They were great, Stephen. Just great.

Brust was a trip at the convention, though. He totally took over the panel discussion and made it a lot of fun. At one point he offered a "free handshake" to the first person who gave him 4 ibuprofen.

The fellow sitting next to me was the first out of the gate. My friend from college. Who knows Brust personally. Well enough that Brust took pills from his hand without question, anyway. :)

Fancy version of "Kill Doctor Lucky" available

I was at Armadillocon today, and happened to see a mighty fancy version of the Cheapass Games favorite "Kill Doctor Lucky." I love this game and I was happy to see it get a fancy treatment with nice game pieces.

The game is a great adult-and-kids game. Kids of 9, 10 or so can play it easily, younger ones can probably manage it though they won't optimize their play, but adults will enjoy it lots as well.

The premise is fun. It's pre-Clue...instead of trying to solve a murder, you're trying to kill the doctor. But the game play is much more sophisticated than Clue's. The reason your attempts mostly fail is that other players can play cards to make you fail. And since the person who kills him wins, the other players always have a reason to try to make you fail. It's a fun time.