Saturday, July 30, 2011

What Motivates Me to Write Speculative Fiction

At the recent San Diego Comic-Con, I attended a panel on Speculative Fiction.  You can read my write-up in my entry, "Comic-Con Day Four & After Action Report."  
A couple of the questions put the the writers on the panel got me thinking about what my own answer would be.  This blog is my answer to one of those questions: "What motivates you to write Speculative Fiction?"  
For me, the answer goes back to when I was thirteen years old.  
I was a studious boy growing up.  I did well in school.  I loved to read.  My dad used to work for a company that pulped paper and turned into cardboard that was used to make tubes to roll things on (think toilet paper or paper towels).  Dad's company would often get crates of old books sent to them to use as scrap paper.  My dad thought there was something wrong with shredding books like this and would often bring boxes of books home.  We kept them in a spare room in our house, which we started calling our library.  We had four or five different kinds of encyclopedias, including ones on astronomy and geography, and a really neat medical encyclopedia which had these really cool transparent peel-away drawings showing the different layers of the human body.  There were a number of text books, thrown away by students that no longer were taking the class, probably.  
Eventually I moved my bedroom into the library.  Whenever we moved into a new house after that, the books moved with me into my new room.  It became my practice to pull a volume from one of the shelves surrounding my bed and read for a bit before going to sleep.  Most of the books my dad brought home were non-fiction.  When asked by my older relatives what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer usually came from whatever book I was reading at the time.  "A doctor," I would say.  Or, "a scientist."  Fiction to me at the time was the stuff they sometimes made us read in school, about adults doing stuff.  
One day, sometime after Christmas break was over, I ran into a friend of mine in the halls at school  I guess you could call it "that fateful day."  He was sitting in the hall waiting for the next class.  He was reading a paperback book with a strange illustration on its cover.  I asked him what it was about.  He replied, "it's science fiction."  
Science...  What?  It was the first time I could recall hearing the term, 'science fiction.'  My friend tried to explain to me what it was about, "the future and spaceship and stuff."  Finally he suggested I try reading some myself.  He gave me the name of the author of the books he was reading, someone named, "Heinlein."  He told me he was probably going to return the book that day.  
After classes were over, I went to the library before starting home.  I found the science fiction section on the inside wall.  Thinking back, our librarian must have been a science fiction fan, because that section ran all the way down one wall, turned a corner, and down another wall until it ran into the rear door to the library.  I went to the "H's" but couldn't see the title my friend was reading, something about traveling with a spacesuit.  I found another one by the same author.  I checked it out, tucked it under my arm with the rest of my books and walked home.  
After my usual routine, chores, dinner, homework, I crawled into bed and picked up the science fiction book I had checked out that day.  I figured I'd read a chapter or two before going to sleep.  Just as I usually did.  
I finished "Tunnels in the Sky" around 5 AM.  I closed the book and lay back, staring at the ceiling.  In my mind I kept seeing myself with Rod Walker, "Jack" Daudet and the other students who had made the Ramsbotham Jump to that strange world.  They were kids my age, or close to it, which was what made it seem so attractive and so real.  I wondered if travel like that was possible.  I wanted to know what happened to Rod when he went off to found a new colony.  I wanted to go with him.  
When my alarm rang two hours later, I got up, changed, ate breakfast and hurried off to school.  I went straight to the library.  I returned the book I had read and went back to the science fiction section.  What could I read next?  How was I to decide?  Would my friend have any other recommendations for me?  
I decided to do it systematically.  I went to the "A's" and grabbed the first book that caught my eye.  "Nightfall and Other Stories" by Isaac Asimov.  I think that one took me two days to read.
It went like that for the rest of the year.  Anderson, Bradbury, Clark, De Camp, more Heinlein, including "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel," which my friend had shown me, Howard, Lieber, Norton, Piper.  I marched my way down the one wall and across the other.  On the last week of school I tried to check out "Damnation Alley," by Roger Zelazny, but the librarian told me they didn't check out books the last week of school.  I still haven't read it, now that I think about it.  To this day, I will see some 'classic' science fiction book and think, "I really ought to read that," pick it  and within a few pages realize I had already read it that year in Junior High School.  
I did get my fix that week though.  I remembered a set of books a cousin had given me for Christmas which I hadn't read yet.  At the time I received them, I didn't have much interest in them.  What was a "Hobbit," anyway?  I couldn't find it in the encyclopedias in my room.  I took it with me, along with the other three books in the box set, on Christmas vacation.  That was the first of about a dozen times I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  
By the end of that summer, my answer to the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" had changed.  Now, when asked, I would shrug my shoulders and say, "I dunno."  I couldn't think of how to tell them that I wanted to go to other planets.  That I wanted to learn to speak Elvish.  That I wanted to see if I was really a prince switched at birth by spectral creatures and that the time of my ascension was at hand.  When another friend of mine and I found a game called, "Dungeon & Dragons," it our local game store, I became obsessed.  Playing D&D, along with "Traveller," which came after it, was as close to what I wanted to do with my life as I could imagine at that time.  I became my group's perpetual game-master.  Partly because I bought all the latest supplements and add-ons as soon as they came out.  But mostly it was because I was the one spending all my free time writing adventures for them to go on.  Creating characters for them to meet.  Writing histories of the areas they would explore.  I once created a map of an entire continent on hex-map paper, where each hex equaled 100 miles.  When folded out completely, it covered the entire living room floor.  I still regret that my friends only explored a fraction of that territory.  So many unfound secrets remained.  Tombs and temples, dangerous beings, mad kings, desperate villagers and lost treasures they never found.  
I remember hearing a writer on a panel at a convention I went to say, "beware of people that write books with maps in the front of them.  They are inviting you to become lost in their world and you might never get back."  I think my motivation for writing speculative fiction is a bit different.  As a person that writes such stories, I'm including the map because...  Well, I am already lost there and I'll hoping you'll use the map to come find me.  Not to rescue me, though.  But because I think together we might have a really fun time.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

Comic-Con 2011 - Day Four & After Action Report

You can see the signs as you arrive at the convention center on Sunday morning.  The little villages built around the convention center itself, like the real life version of South Park and the Fun Zone near the Transit Center, are gone.  Workmen are stacking the facades into the backs of trucks in preparation to haul them away.  The giant robots at the end of the road, promotion for a movie called, "Real Steel," are missing too.  Presumably they were disassembled and hauled away as well, and didn't walk away on their own.  The crowd waiting to get in, while still considerable, doesn't press upon you in the same suffocating way as they did for the last three days.  
This is fourth, and final day of Comic-Con 2011.  
My usual plan on Sunday is to see if there are any last panels I want to attend, walk around the convention floor one last time, and say good-bye to the people I know that might still be there.  This year all the people I knew left before I did, so that final walk through the thinning crowds was a nostalgic one.  
I attended just one panel today.  
Speculative Fiction
A panel of science fiction writers brought together to discuss why they write speculative fiction and what they want their readers to take from their works.  The three panelist whose work I am most familiar with were Greg Bear, Vernor Vinge and Timothy Zahn.  Also included were James S.A. Corey (author of Leviathan Wakes), Gini Koch (The Alien/Katherine "Kitty" Katt series), Ernest Cline (Ready Player One), Kristen Imani Kasai (Tattoo) and Michael Cassutt (along with David S. Goyer, wrote Heaven's Shadow).  
This panel represented something that I would like to do more often myself, get together with other writers and talk about writing and stuff.  Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy, a well known science fiction book store in San Diego, did a good job of moderating the panel, as she had other panels I had attended.  The panelists seem to enjoy the discussion and her questions to them engendered some lively exchanges.  For example, when asked about his current work, Greg Bear described it as a "short novel," reminincsent of those written during the golden age of science fiction by Poul Anderson and Roger Zelazny.  To that, Vernor Vinge quipped, "I'm trying to figure out how to write a shorter novel."  
There were two questions Ms. Hart put to the panelists that intrigued me that intrigued me the most.  The first was, "What motivates you to write speculative fiction?"  The other was, "What inspiration do you want readers to take from your work?"  I've been mulling over my answers to those questions since the panel ended.  The second one in particular seems to be an important question a writer, or any artist for that matter, should consider about his work.  Once I come up with my answers I'll post them here in my blog.  
After Action Report
Now that the convention is over, I'm taking stock of my experience to see what I gained from it.  
As I ride the train home, I can already feel myself wanting to do more.  Write more.  Submit more.  Publish more.  From that standpoint the convention is almost always a success.  I can not remember the last Comic-Con I went to where I did not feel primed and ready to get back to writing, determined do what I could to make sure the next time I went to the Con it was as an invited guest.  
This year I did pick up a couple of tricks to use in my writing.  I used something I heard in the Marv Wolfman panel to rewrite and improve a scene in a story I'm rewriting to submit.  And I set myself the goal, and with the writing of this entry achieved, of writing a blog entry for each day of the convention.  This is the something I've tried to do in the past, but this is the first year I succeeded.  
This year, though, I am going home feeling the desire to be more business like in my approach to the conventions I attend.  They are and always will be fun things to do, but I need to use them to get more of my work published.  Over the years I have left too many conventions without any genuine prospects for getting more work published and I want to change that.  
Related to that is a desire to stay closer to the convention center itself.  In recent years the cost of a hotel room in downtown San Diego has driven me to get rooms farther out and take the trolley to the convention on a daily basis.  But doing so puts a definite limit on the amount of time you can stay at the Con each day.  The trolleys only run until midnight.  If I want to attend on of the numerous parties that are had around the convention at night, I'll need to be able to stay later than I'm doing now.  
I've described the convention to others as a "geek-fest," and the people that attend it as "my tribesmen."  My goal is to be the full time village shaman and make my life like Comic-Con every day of the year.  

For anyone interested, you can see photos I took of the people in costume by clicking on this link: Comic-Con 2011 Cosplay.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Comic-Con 2011 - Day Three

You're tired from lack of sleep.  You're sore from all the marching you've been doing.  You're low on supplies.  And they keep coming at you in wave after wave...  Thousands upon thousands of a faceless horde charging toward you bearing bloodied weapons, grabbing their booty and crying out in horrific, incoherent voices.  No...  This is not the last stand of Roman legion on the Germanic borders.  It's...
Saturday at Comic-Con.  
In recent years I've made a point of watching at least some of the entries at the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival.  The science fiction entries were on Saturday this year.  Unfortunately, that meant I was going to see very few of them this year.  In fact, I only saw one of the entries.  But the one I saw was definitely worth it.  
The Man Who Knew How to Fly is based on a short story by a Czechoslovakian writer from the 1930's named Karek Capek.  A bit of trivia for you...  Capek is responsible for coining the word, "robot."  He invented the word, from a slovak word, "robotnik," which meant a slave laborer, for a play he wrote back in the 20's called "R.U.R."  The Man Who Knew How to Fly is the story of a man who discovers he has the dream fulfilling ability to fly without mechanical assistance, and what happens to him, and that ability, once the "experts" and "authorities" discover this.  
I don't want to give away any details about the story and what happens.  The film, however is absolutely beautiful.  It is a touching story told in an inventive way.  The special effects were extremely well done and naturalistic looking.  More importantly, they were done in a way to serve the story and not to draw attention to themselves.  Robi Michael, who directed the film and also wrote the adaptation of Capek's work, did a truly masterful job.  This wasn't just the best film I've seen at the CCI-IFF thus far.  It was one of the best made films I can remember seeing in recent years...  Period.  
During the discussion about the film that followed its showing, Michael announced that they would be showing film in the Pasadena area sometime next week.  I'm going to find out when and post the information.  I recommend you go see it if you can.  
Spotlight on J. Michael Straczynski - Going to the spotlight panel for J. Michael Straczynski, creator of the science fiction television show Babylon 5 and former writer of The Amazing Spiderman, defining that character in the same way Marv Wolfman defined Superman and Frank Miller defined Batman, has become something like a pilgrimage to Mecca for devout Muslims.  It's something I HAVE TO do, otherwise Comic-Con really won't be complete.  
"Joe," as he prefers to be called, was in typical form.  Amusing the audience with his mix of both self-deprecating humor and good natured ribbing at the audience.  The very first thing he did was display some "Joe, You Suck!" tee-shirts a fan had made after some of his jabs at himself.  
The meatiest thing I got from Joe this year was his take on rewriting process, how your first draft was basically crap and that it was through the revision process that you make it something worth the time someone else will take to read it.  Putting it succinctly, Joe said, "All you CAN say about something is in the first draft.  All you WANT to say about something is in your second draft.  All you HAVE TO say about something is in the final draft."  
Joe handed out some news about upcoming projects: 
The new version of Babylon 5 is on hold again.  Warner Brothers had some "new distribution system" they were going to use for the project which fell through.  No time frame as to when they might be able to proceed again.  
The script for World War Z is in the hands of the studio.  
He sold a treatment for a movie to Dreamworks about the real life friendship between Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  
The Twelve, his most recent comic book project, is completed.  It should be out by February.  
He's working on a new pilot for Will Smith's production studio called, "Epidemic," a C.S.I. style procedural based on the Center for Disease Control (C.D.C.) in Atlanta.  
The best things that you get from a Straczynski spot-light is the encouragement you get to do what you want to do.  As a self-described "kid from the street," whose family moved 21 times in his first 18 years of life, he likes to depict himself as someone as far from being the type of person who should have succeeded as a writer as anyone you can think of.  And yet, here he is, standing before a room full of fans just like the fan he was sitting in similar convention halls when he was young.  
"Pay more attention to your failures," he said to everyone during the spotlight.  "They will teach you more than your successes."  "Stay true to your passions and fight for what you believe in."  
It's taking his words to heart that has given me those successes I've experienced this year.  

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Comic-Con 2011 - Day Two

Saw this moment at Comic-Con today while standing in line waiting for one of the panels.  I noticed this guy in a wheelchair in line behind me.  Like most people at the convention he had something written on his tee-shirt.  His said, "Keep staring.  I might do a trick."  
I chuckled.  I liked it.  It said something about the guy's attitude toward the nature of things that I appreciated.  I was waiting for him to look up from the book he was reading to give him a thumbs-up when one of the Comic-Con volunteers overseeing the lines heading into the panels came up to him and asked if he wanted to be moved to a space near the front of the line.  The guy waved her off saying, "It's OK...  I'm fine waiting."  
The volunteer went away.  The guy went back to reading.  I readied myself to say something to him again when another person, this time a Comic-Con staff member, came up to the guy and asked, "We can move you to the front of the line if you want.  Would you like to do that?"  
The guy sighed.  He took the sigh back in with a deep breath and looked up at her.  "That's OK.  I'm fine waiting.  Thanks."  He pointedly returned to his reading.  
The lady left.  I was beginning to think that maybe he might not appreciate my approval of his tee-shirt as much as I thought, but I still thought to say something to him.  Before I could catch his eyes, a Comic-Con staff supervisor comes up to him.  "Excuse me...  Would you want to be moved up front?  We can do that if you'd like..."  
"Yes," he said, slapping the book closed.  "Let's do that.  You're the third person to ask me, and I've said I was OK each time, but it seems people are going to keep asking me until I say yes."  
He started to maneuver his chair back and forth to turn it around.  The supervisor starting instructing the people in line to move to make way for him.  "Please...  If everyone can give him room."  Her voice was loud, to get everyone's attention.  People passing by turned their heads to look.  I wondered how many of them noticed what was written on his tee-shirt.  
Marv Wolfman writing seminar. - Marv became famous for his treatment of Superman.  Best thing I got out of the seminar was Marv reading the text of the Pixar Writing Bible.  Per Marv, this is part of a document that Pixar Studios give to writers who work for them, telling them how to structure their stories.  It is very short and succinct.  It  reads: 
"Once upon a time, just as it was every day..."  
"Until one day..."  
"And because of that...  And because of that...  And because of that...  Etc."  
"And since that day..."
"The moral of the story is..."  
I'll write more about this structure later.  Marv also gave out a trick about how to bring out exposition without using long expository passages.  He says he often writes a scene where two characters argue about what to do, during which they will cite the facts of the situation to support their case.  I have a scene in mind in one of my stories where I can use this method.  
Writing the Apocalypse - A panel about writing end of the world stories and what makes them attractive.  Do you pick an apocalypse based on science?  Nature?  Some religious event?  Human stupidity?  For most of the writers it was some combination of all of the above.  
My favorite statement about such stories came from the moderator.  In apocalypse stories, anyone can become the most important human being in the universe.  When so few people are left, anyone left could make the difference between the survival or the ultimate extinction of the human race.  
Del Rey/Spectra - A preview of books coming from this publisher.  The ones I took most note of were: 
The War That Came Early Series by Harry Turtledove - The master of alternate history writes a series of novels in which World War II starts when Germany invades Czechoslovakia in 1938, and Herman Hess offers a deal to England to join forces against the Soviet Union.  Apparently the offer by Hess was actually made, according to Turtledove, though it was rejected.  Something I never knew.  
George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones series is being made into a series of graphic novels, starting in October.  
The Star Wars Craft Book - Instructions to make things like a Jabba the Hut body pillow or a "droidle" to give your Jewish Star Wars fans on Hanukkah.  
More tomorrow.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Comic-Con 2011 - Day One

Comic-Con 2011 - Day One
The first day of the convention is over.  I feel like I've been here for a week and that Sunday is a year away.  
I went to four panels today.  Two were related to writing.  Two were related to more fannish interests.  
The first of the two writing panels was entitled, "Putting the Epic back into Epic Fantasy," and featured a who's who of classic fantasy writers.  The most noteworthy was George R. R. Martin, writer of Game of Thrones, but there was also Brandon Sanderson (The Way of Kings), Patrick  Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind), Christopher Paolini (The Inheritance Cycle), Peter Orullian (The Unremembered), K. J. Taylor (The Fallen Moon Series) and Kevin J. Anderson (Terra Incognita).  The panel was moderated by Michael Spradlin, writer of the Youngest Templar series.  
The panelist discussed what made "Epic Fantasy," epic.  The replies ran the gamut from  the belief that "epics" are the stories which societies have used to sustain themselves to  the idea that it is merely a marketing category used by publishers.  There was some talk as to whether the term 'epic' referred to the size of the either the story being told of the book containing the story.  The panel seemed to generally agree that a lot of what made a story 'epic' was the degree to which the reader was immersed into a particularly world.  
While listening, I came to the idea that epics are stories that give the reader a sense of immortality.  We see the grand scope of the story's history either by literally following a story that could take years, or even decades, to tell, or by dealing with characters whose sense of history, even personally history, can stretch across the ages.  
The most interesting tidbit about craft from the panelist was about Kevin J. Anderson, who writes his novels by dictating them while mountain climbing.  If I tried writing a story by that method, I would only be able to get a short short story out, which would read, "AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH....  Thump."  
The second panel I went to was entitled, "Books vs. Graphic Novels & Comics."  The panelists included Christopher Moore (The Griff), Jim Butcher (The Harry Dresden Series), Tom Suiegoski (The Fallen series), Amber Benson (who appeared on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer as Tara and writes The Calliope Reaper Jones novels) and Matthew Holms (Babymouse and Squish).  David Mariotte of Mysterious Galaxy moderated.  
The panelists talked about the differences between writing novels and writing scripts for visual story-telling, such as graphic novels and comics.  Having written both fiction and comic book scripts myself, a lot of what they said was familiar to me.  They spoke about how the approach is different.  In writing fiction, you are relying on the readers to essentially cast, clothe and stage the action in their heads.  Often you are not trying to give them a specific detailed description of what is happening, but one that is more emotionally based.  For comics and graphic novels, you are writing for one person, the artist, and you want to be as detailed as necessary for him or her to 'get' what you are trying to convey.  The collaborative nature of writing for visual story-telling was brought up, where you have the artist you are working with to help support the project, and compared with fiction writing, where the author is entirely responsible for how the final product turns out.  
The last two panels were both in Hall H, which is one of the big presentation rooms at the newest end of the convention center.  It was only the second time I've been in Hall H, which has its own "exclusive" food stand where you could buy snacks and drinks without leaving the hall.  It's one of the rooms were they often have sneak previews of new movies and TV shows, and they don't want people leaving until after the presentation is over, I guess.  
It was here that I found out that some of Frank Frazetta's original artwork will be on display tomorrow at the convention.  Robert Rodriguez of Quick Draw Productions, which had produced the adaptation of Frank Miller's Sin City, and who is a fan of Frank Frazetta's work, announced that ten original classic Frazetta paintings, including Death Dealer, Swamp Demon, The Snow Giants, and A Princess of Mars will be on display at the convention.  It is to promote the opening of a new museum to open in San Antonio, Texas dedicated to Frank Frazetta's work and a movie Quick Draw Productions is producing based on the late artist's paintings.  I've been a fan of Frazetta's since I bought my first Adventures of Tarzan novel, the black covered paperbacks that Ballantine Press published, each of which featured a separate Frazetta painting on its cover.  You have to send an email to an address they gave out to receive a reply with the viewings location.  
The last panel I saw came right after the Quick Draw Productions event.  It was a discussion with Jon Favreau, who directed the Iron Man movies, Hellboy and the new feature, Cowboys & Aliens, and Guillermo del Toro, who produced Pan's Labyrinth.  They both discussed movies they are currently working on, their inspirations and their friendship.  You could tell from listing to them that they are both 'fanboys' who got the chance to do what they loved doing.  They both seemed remarkably friendly and fun individuals.  Guillermo del Toro gave out an email for people to use if they wanted to have a tour of his current production and have "coffee and donuts" (and before you ask, I forgot the email address).  Favreau is premiering "Cowboys and Aliens" at the convention as his way of saying thank you to the fans.  It was a fun panel.  
And now, it's time for me to get to bed before I fall to the floor and sleep right there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Comic-Con - Preview Night

It's the time of year when I give graphic proof that while my body may be half a century old, my heart and mind are still that of a 17 year old kid.  It's Comic-Con time.  
I am currently in San Diego after having taken the train from Union Station in Los Angeles.  Tonight was "Preview Night," which is an additional evening for the dealers to sell their goods and an opportunity for attendees to get their badges before the convention starts in full force tomorrow.  
My goal this year is to write an entry each day giving some details of my experience.  I'm doing to share with my fellow nerdy tribesmen that couldn't make it what this year was like.  And to give my not so nerdy friends a glimpse into the lifestyle of those us lurking around you.  Some of them are like me, house-trained and able to pretend for extend stretches of time that they are normal.  Beware.  
The train is definitely the way to go.  With the creation of the Gold Metro line since the last time I came here by train, all I had to do was walk to Del Mar station near my apartment, ride the metro to Union Station, take the Amtrak Surfliner to San Diego, and ride the Trolley to the stop closest to my motel, which was as close to the station as my apartment is to the metro.  
Sat opposite a guy that just returned from the Ukraine after being in the Peace Corp.  He and his buddy are traveling around America, helping him get re-acclimated to the place.  
It was opening day at Del Mar racetrack in Oceanside today as well.  The train was packed.  Nerds like heading to the Comic-Con.  Well dressed socialites, with women in flowered straw hats and summer dresses, men sporting hats and sneaking bottles of champagne on board.  It became a traveling party, with people standing in the aisle laughing and drinking.  I didn't dare leave my seat for fear someone might take it.  
Had a dose of reality set in when I took the trolley to my motel.  Found myself in a conversation with a well dressed gentleman wearing a matching dress shirt and tie, emerald green in color, and a knit vest.  He was just coming from a meeting with members of the state assembly about homelessness.  He spoke of being hopeful that something could be done about the problem, though he allowed for the fact that the politicians might just throw money at it.  I asked him if he worked in politics or if he was a contractor or social worker.  "No," he replied.  "I'm homeless."  
"Really...?" I said after an embarrassed pause.  "You don't look...  I mean, you don't dress like a typical homeless person."  The man told me that he's been without a home for ten months now.  Once he knew he couldn't afford his home anymore after losing his job, he immediately moved himself into St. Vincent DePaul's, a homeless shelter in the area.  
"Anyone can be homeless these days," he added with an undeniable conviction.  "I met this one lady, she has three college degrees.  She's been homeless and out of work for 16 months now."  I thought about my job, which I was taking time from to come to San Diego.  I've told friends and acquaintances that I would almost look forward to being laid off, then I could take unemployment and spend my time writing.  I don't think I'll tell people that any more.  
I said good-bye to the gentleman and wished him luck at his stop.  On the way back to the the convention to get my badges for the next day I sat across from a young guy dressed as Captain America.  I asked him, jokingly, if he was going to a lumberjack convention.  That's when his mom, who was sitting next to me, told me that he was deaf.  
His name was Yasha.  This is his 11th Comic-Con in a row.  It's my 17th, in case anyone wants to know.  Yasha and his mom come every year together.  She interprets for him.  He dresses as a different superhero each day.  Today, for Preview Night, he came as Captain America.  Tomorrow he's coming as Wolverine.  
While I was talking with them I was trying to remember what little American Sign Language I had learned years ago.  As we got into the conversation, and I began to gesticulate more, the mom suddenly exclaimed, "You're signing!"  She complemented me on the presentation of my hands.  I was doing it all unconsciously, though, and the moment she pointed it out I lost it again.  I got Yasha's picture, though.  I hope to see his Wolverine tomorrow.  
The dealer's floor was packed to the gills.  As busy as any Saturday, the busiest day of the convention.  I fear for the rest of the week.  I can see myself being crushed under foot.  
It'll be fun.  
I'll be posting pictures of my trip and the things I see here.  I'll let you know when they are up.  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

One Sale per Break-up?

I realized something the other day.  The two short stories I've sold thus far were completed after I had ended romantic relationships with someone.  And, they contained scenes from those failed relationships.  
My first short story was published back in 1990.  At the time, I was dating someone I had met while working in the same theatre company.  I had recently had started writing again after a hiatus of a few years when I was focused on being an actor.  I had sold some articles to role-playing game magazines but had yet to sell a piece of fiction.  
I was working on a couple of stories while dating my then girlfriend.  One was a rather sappy romantic story about finding one's One True Love.  I think it was inspired by the current relationship.  The other was a science fiction story about robotic mind control.  Neither of them were going well, I recall, but I was working on them every day.  
One night, my girlfriend asked me to stop by where she was doing some volunteer work for her church.  I picked her up at the school she was at and we went to a diner nearby.  Over pie and tea, she told me that she came to the conclusion that she didn't love me any more.  She cited a recent trip she and her sister had taken to their family's cabin in the woods where she hadn't "missed me at all," while she was there.  This is what lead her to end the relationship.  
I took her back to the school and made the long drive home by myself.  I don't remember feeling much pain driving back.  I remember congratulating myself for taking the break-up so well.  When I got home and went into my bedroom, I saw the most recent drafts of the two stories I had been working on sitting on my desk.  
"These are actually one story," I said to myself.  I immediately sat down and starting working, taking the two stories and making them into one.  The next morning I read the new story, switched the position of one paragraph and decided it was done.  I printed it out, put it in an envelope, opened my copy of Writers' Market and found the first magazine listed that accepted science fiction stories, which happened to be a well respected magazine called Aboriginal Science Fiction.  I put it in the mail box with the the thought, "That's that."  
The story sold.  It eventually appeared in their Sept/Oct issue entitled, "Random Access."  It was the story of a young man, in pain over a recent break-up with the woman he thought was his one true love, who uses a computer to delete his memories of her.  I didn't read the story again until someone said to me, "There was a lot of you in there."  When I did read it I remember feeling a little taken aback and somewhat embarrassed by the scenes I had included in the story.  I also thought that it read like someone else had written, because of how good I thought it was.    
The story I sold most recently took a long time to write.  The idea for the story came to me when what was the opening line popped into my head.  It was, "I need you take me to Broombridge, Emil...  Before this gets sent to me."  I immediately started hammering out a rough draft; a story about a space pilot/navigator who takes on a dangerous transit through what I termed, "sponge space," in the hopes of winning back his ex-wife.  
I liked the draft I wrote, but there were some things about it I thought needed fixing.  First off, I had set it in a universe I had created for myself where I was placing all of my stories, one in which an alien race visits Earth in the first half of the twenty-first century and then leaves after staying in orbit for forty years, taking a hundred and forty-four thousand people with them.  I wanted to create a specific form of faster than light travel that would fit thematically with the universe I was creating.  
More importantly, though, I kept thinking that there was something...  Not quite there in the story.  It had numerous scenes and passages that I enjoyed, but they didn't quite hang together the way I wanted them.  
It was a couple of months after writing this draft, at the suggestion of a friend of mine, that I auditioned for a play at a community theater near where I work.  The play they were performing was "Rashomon," based on the movie made back in 1956 by Akira Kurosawa.  I loved the the movie and wanted to perform the same role that Toshiro Mifune played in the movie, that of "The Bandit."  So, for the first time in years I auditioned and got the role.  
It was during the audition that I met the young woman that played "The Samurai's Wife," who is raped by my character.  Without going into all the gory details, she and I started what I guess you would call a "showmance."  This was a startling occurrence for me.  She was just about half my age at the time I did the show, in her mid-twenties.  And, even more startling, she had approached me about getting together.  We were together from about a month before the show opened to about two or three months after.  Changes in her work made it impossible to spend time together, compounding all the other problems that we faced given our differences.  I wasn't surprised by the break-up.  
After the show ended, and I turned my focus back to writing again, I finished rewriting the story I had been working on.  I made a number of changes to it.  I got in contact with an Australian physicist about an article he had posted on line regarding, "quantum hyperspheres," which I used as the basis of my FTL drive.  I restructured the story, changing it from a linear progression to one that jumped back and forth, from the present, to memories of the past, to the future.  And I changed the relationship of between the "sponge-pilot" and his ex-wife.  She was much younger than him now, about half his age when they met.  And I put in details about how they met, while they both worked on a play they had auditioned for while he was taking a leave on a station he dove to.  With these changes, which I didn't take that much notice of at the time, I submitted the story to Asimov's Science Fiction.  
It sold.  I got the email from the editor about two months later.  For the next two months, on and off, I made some minor changes and went over the galleys.  It will be appearing in their September Issue under the title, "Shadow Angel."  It's been a dream of mine to get a story published in Asimov's.  I'm very proud of the story.  
It was a couple of days ago that it occurred to me what made these two sales similar.  Both of them were reworked after I broke up with someone.  And, as I write this entry, I am realizing that both women were met while doing theatre work.  
But there is also a specific difference between the two.  Random Access was written almost unconsciously.  It was an effort, I believe looking on the process years since, to purge myself of the pain I was feeling at the time.  It startled me to no end to see it published, and I spent years trying to figure out just what I did in an effort to replicate that success.  As much as I was proud of the story and glad to see it in print, I was frustrated over the fact that I could not tell you how I had written it.  I just had.  Only when I gave up trying to duplicate what I did do I think I started to progress again as a writer.  
Shadow Angel, on the other hand, was a deliberate and consciously made work.  When I wrote the first draft I knew it wasn't right.  I knew that I needed to create a form of faster than light travel that was not only plausible, but which had a aesthetic to it that fit the story I was telling in Shadow Angel, as well as the overall epic I wanted to tell with my universe.  I knew that linear structure wasn't right for the story, but that I didn't want to tell it in flashback either.  When I finalized my method of FTL, I used it's impact on a pilot's perception and experience of time to go back and forth over the sequence of events in a fashion that told the story the way it needed to be told.  
And when I broke up with the lovely young woman that I was involved with during and after the play I was in, I realized that the relationship we had, of having someone that you really couldn't keep, was the same that the main character in Shadow Angel was experiencing.  I folded those moments from my experience into the story in order to make it come to life.  It was a deliberate choice to do this.  It was, I think and hope, an artist's choice.  
Finally, I think one of the reasons these two stories sold was because, at the time I was rewriting them, I was wide open emotionally.  Unconsciously, with Random Access, and by deliberate choice with Shadow Angel, I let my feelings go into the stories where they needed to be.  Recently, in my life, I have made the decision to live more "experimentally."  To do what I feel or think I need to or want to do and see what results, instead of imagining what might happen and refraining from taking action.  I am hopeful that not only will this make me a healthier, happier person, but will also allow me to invest myself into my stories to a greater degree, and create more work that will sell for people to read.  
Otherwise, I'm going to have to find someone to marry and divorce in order to sell my first novel, and that will end up being a real royal pain.