Sunday, April 13, 2014

My NorWesCon schedule

I'm sorry for neglecting you, blog! I will show you some love. For now, my Norwescon schedule:

Fantasy in Comics
Fri 1PM - 2PM Cascade 5
Comics have great potential for fantasy as a visual medium. Fantasy comics range from traditional fantasy like Prince Valiant to the more unique Bone, and reinterpretations like Fables and Conan. Here's a look at some of the great work that has been done and what's being published currently, from comics to graphic novels, and how fantasy comics have evolved over time. 
Jeff Grubb (M), Clinton J. Boomer, Spencer Ellsworth, Duane Wilkins

Comics and Cultural Appropriation 
Fri 3-4 PM Cascade 5
How accurate are comics are portraying different cultures? Does the medium limit or enhance an artist's or writer's ability to genuinely show other races and cultures? Our panelists will discuss how comics such as Habibi and Scalped represent other cultures and how comics can pay homage to other cultures without marginalizing them. 
Dennis R. Upkins (M), Clinton J. Boomer, Spencer Ellsworth, G. Willow Wilson

Lies My Writing Teacher Told Me
Fri 5-6 PM Cascade 2
Much of what we think we know about publishing is wrong--or rather, it's not true anymore. This panel aims to dispel common myths and radically update everyone's understanding of etiquette, norms, and plausible paths to success in this fast-changing industry. 
Dean Wells (M), Susan DeFreitas, Spencer Ellsworth, Diana Pharaoh Francis

The New Big Two
Fri 6-7 Cascade 2
How has DC's treatment of creators affected their business and fans? What does Disney have in store for Marvel comics? Hear our panelists discuss upcoming news on the biggest publishers in American comics. 
Ashley Cook (M), Spencer Ellsworth

Comics for Young Adults and Teens
Sat 11-12 AM/PM Cascade 6
Our panelists will discuss a range of comics that are age-appropriate for a younger audience, including graphic novels like Bone as well as popular titles like Adventure Time. 
Spencer Ellsworth (M), Lola Watson, G. Willow Wilson

Reading: Spencer Ellsworth
Sat 7 PM- 7:30 PM Cascade 1
Something new! Rated PG
Spencer Ellsworth

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Massage Your Sore Butt, Last Year

I kicked 2013's bootie.

Hence the title of this blog post.

It was a stunningly productive year and one full of huge changes.

Most importantly, this thing happened:

I have three kids now instead of just two. This is in an interesting development. It means that there is no more "you deal with that one, I'll deal with this one." If our kids are split into two categories, the categories are Baby and Not-Baby.

My three-year-old and six-year-old are cute, but when they bawl I want to tell them to fix their own damn problems. When the baby cries she sticks her lip out and big baby tears appear and she must be held and lovie loved. This is the main difference.

The baby's name is Brigitta, although I call her Betty after my grandmother, who always hated the idea of Betty being a proper name and not just a nickname. All solved.

Also, this year...

- I sold two stories.
- I wrote a novel! From start to finish. I began it in March, desperately writing fifteen minutes a day. It's a total piece of crap. But it has a beginning, middle, end.
- I recorded and mixed and released Pawnbroker's new album. BUY IT IT'S REALLY GOOD. Seriously. We dumped our brains and sexies into it.
- I bought a house! This was a big first for us. We've been saving in order to buy inside Bellingham city limits (can't do zero down in any liveable places around here). We had a great realtor, a former builder, who was also an old friend. It was a massive financial juggle with only one huge expensive last-minute extra issue. We just got in before Christmas. Wowee.
- I actually lost a little weight. I've been about ten pounds up from comfortable for years, and I am now back at comfortable.
- I determined that I wanted to change Primary Job, and have begun the transition...
- I quit writing for IGMS, and started writing for Bleeding Cool.

There were more things. My only disappointment was in the lack of publication, but most of that is due to lack of submission. A Hugo or Nebula wouldn't hurt.

By far the greatest side effect of this list, besides the cute baby squees, is this: writing feels fun again. For the last few years I've had to shackle myself to my desk. This year I looked forward to just about everything I sat down to do.

I am not sure why. I came out of a long depression that began in 2011, for one. I was teaching so much (and really enjoying it) that I got the reverse of teacher burnout; I had to write to process everything I was doing.

Now, I would like to point to this as a model productivity year. All year long I worked a full-time and a part-time job and I was a full-time parent (that includes time spent behind a locked door, pretending I wasn't there, btw). I am fairly amazed that I got all this sheeeeyit done.

If I do, though, I'm afraid I'll hate myself as soon as I hit a lower period. So rather than making this year the standard, I shall call it Extreme High Tide and hope the tide is high enough that I can get some more stories out the door soon.

That is why I follow my longstanding practice of NO DAMN RESOLUTIONS. I hate those things.

How about you? How was your year, and how is your relationship with Productivity getting on?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Spirit Summoner Cover Reveal!

Hey everyone

A shout out to my buddy Matt Campbell. His book drops December 3rd! Matt and I have been in a writing group for years, although he's not very good about attending. (Angry look).

Book One of The Chosen of the Light Series
Spirit Summoner
By Matt Campbell
Coming December 3, 2013 
Darr has the ability to hear the disembodied voices of the spirits. Unfortunately, the spirits have nothing useful to say. A young, inexperienced Spirit Summoner, Darr often wonders at the purpose of such a useless ability. When an unnatural fire sweeps through his village, Darr sets out on a mission of self-discovery and curiosity.
As a Spirit Summoner, Darr learns he can enter the spirit realm. There he has access to the elemental magic contained within the Sephirs, legendary artifacts that once promised balance for a world turning towards chaos. Now, the Sephirs’ powers are dwindling since their untimely disappearance, and Darr is at the center of the quest to find and recover them. Suddenly, Darr’s curiosity is a whirlpool threatening to drown him, but his compulsion to see things through locks him into a journey attracted to disaster.
For the Sephirs do more than restrain the primal forces of magic. The Devoid, an evil long caged and hungry, has begun to loosen the bars of its prison. If the Sephirs fail, the Devoid will escape and feed on the Light of the living until nothing remains.
And the Devoid knows Darr’s lack of confidence is the key needed to free itself completely.
Pre-order now from Wild Child Publishing!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Getting In/Staying Out

Do you know the Penny Arcade Dickwolves thing?

If you don't, this is the general idea. And this is Mike Krahulik's recent apology. And you can find the original strip in there somewhere. Links upon links upon links!

For the record, I don't go to PAX. I do read Penny Arcade. I love the comic's absolute lack of decorum. I have to admit I chuckled at the dickwolves joke. It was so bizarre and over-the-top. As I read it, I realized it could be offensive to rape victims. I didn't think that was the intent, but I was interested to see what conversation would come of any backlash.

Once that backlash arrived, the PA guys reacted in an utterly stupid, immature, disingenuous way. I think they've finally realized that.

And I know why. I've been accused of rape humor when I really meant something else entirely. Not just using it in an over-the-top way like Penny Arcade did--in this case I meant something completely different. When someone took my humor as a rape joke, I immediately sprang to my own defense, and painted myself as a victim, and said "how could you think that of me..."

I should have just said, "Oh, I didn't mean it that way. I'm sorry to have hurt you or brought up bad feelings. Please forgive me." That easy.

But hey, it was a nice awakening, and I was embarrassed, and I started to become aware of rape culture and all the subtle cues I had absorbed growing up about rape. I don't get to decide what should and shouldn't be a trigger. So I thank my friend for working with me (and still being my friend) on the whole thing.

Point being, the conversation is less about whether or not Krahulik was being an idiot, and more about PAX itself, and whether the gaming convention fosters rape culture and culture hostile to women. Would you be better off quitting PAX in protest? Or should you stay, trying to use your influence to change the organization from within? This is much like another conversation I am very familiar with. It has to do with a large institution, staffed by committed volunteers, and driven by deep passion for the material. (Not SFWA, but that applies here too.) This institution is rife with problems, deep-seated in rape culture and homophobic culture, and yet it has great potential.

The Mormon Church.

I'm what author Samuel Woolley Taylor called an "eating Mormon"--I'll go to events where food is served, but you'll have a hard time catching me in church. I don't get a lot out of the services themselves. I've been to congregations where I really enjoyed the services, because we talked about the things that interested me--feminism, LDS history, the Church's tendency to rewrite said history to "safer" versions.

Around here, at least in church, people stick to the safe stuff. I get bored.

The Internet has opened up a lot more dialogue than Mormons used to tolerate. So while many LDS people I know glommed on to the deep-in-rape-culture post FYI: If You're A Teenage Girl, this satirical rebuttal was written by a Mormon mother. Since Proposition 8, the gay-rights-Mormon minority has been more and more vocal.

But the LDS Church fosters an unhealthy (in my humble opinion) near-worship of their leaders, so that few people are willing to talk about issues in the Church for fear of undermining the Brethren and going against the general grain. This is why many moderate Mormons supported Prop 8 in California, and thirty years ago, opposed the Equal Rights Amendment. Because the leaders said so. Only liberal Mormons seem to have a problem with, for instance, "The Tolerance Trap." The leaders are supposed to be modern-day prophets, so while they are not infallible, you'd have a hard time figuring out where that "not" begins with orthodox Mormons.

If you're interested in the ex-mormon/liberal, doubting Mormon point of view, the Mormon Expression podcast gives a lot of good overviews. (If you want to know the orthodox LDS viewpoint, just find the guys on their bikes.)

My wife attends every Sunday although, like me, she is bored a lot, and sometimes offended. Unlike me, though, she believes that she can change things. She may be right. She works with teenage girls, and has determined to create a sex-positive, inclusive, tolerant (gasp!) curriculum. This is great, considering that most Mormon girls grow up with damaging messages about sex. For instance, the leaders in my congregation in the 90s would lick the frosting off a cupcake, ask if any girls in the audience wanted it, and then explain that the cupcake symbolized a girl robbed of her "virtue." I'm not alone. A particularly choice verse in the Book of Mormon describes extramarital sex as "the sin near unto murder." I knew missionaries who spent their two years in deep, crippling depression and anxiety because they could not stop masturbating. Some tried to commit suicide. A good leader can intervene before these attitudes develop.

Mormonism offers a rich history and a profound set of opportunities to serve. Even from a pessimistic point of view, that church ain't going NOWHERE. It's huge, it's rich, it converts at a rapid rate.

Returning (finally) to PAX, a volunteer, blogger or participant has a certain sphere of influence within their organization. So... stay in or get out?

In any organization that fits this strained comparison, it might be helpful to ask yourself a few questions:

1- What do I get out of this organization? Is it fulfilling for me?
2- Am I in a position to mitigate damage that might come from leaders, other members? Am I willing to speak up and isolate myself when these messages are shared?
3- Am I willing to choose my battles?
4- If I leave and criticize the organization from the outside, will my criticism be more effective than my presence would be on the inside?

There are other questions but this blog post is turning into a book. Which reminds me. I read books. Next time I post, it will be a nice simple book review. Amen!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The State of the Rock

I have debated whether to post this. What the heck.

You've got friends who are in bands, who put on comedy shows, or who put on a local circus. If you don't, I feel bad for you, son.

Those friends send you even invites every time they perform. You RSVP to some. Sometimes you go. Often you forget, or you RSVP to some and then the night rolls around and you can't do it. I was just there. I had RSVPed to an event Monday night, and by the time I got the kids in bed, the event was half over, and I had to be up at 6:30 for the first day of school, so I flaked. Yep, it happens.

Thing is, those clubs that host the shows? Unless you live in a one-bar town with nowhere else to go, they expect said bands and comedians and performers to bring the audience.

My band, eh, well, we are liked. Many a compliment do we receive, and our CD sells well online, and we can usually book on the strength of our recordings. But our audience? Our turnout? Not so much. We just played at a great venue. The other bands liked us, the patrons liked us, and the bar staff liked us. But we won't get invited back.

We didn't smash a urinal or fight the bar staff. No, all our friends, all 70 that we invited, failed to show. We brought three family members, two of whom got in on the guest list. The bar didn't break even for the night.

We will never play there again. 

We've puzzled three hours, till our puzzler was sore. Perhaps we rely too much on friends. Perhaps we're not reaching the right group of fans. Perhaps we need to pursue different venues.

Or perhaps this situation sucks.

First question out of any bar owner's mouth is not "What does the music sound like?" It's "can you bring a crowd?" Well, bar owner, let me ask you this. When you can watch two hours of live footage from your favorite bands online, when Netflix is calling and you've got millions of songs on Spotify, do you always go support your favorite local bands?

I'm sure you did when you were 19 and life was all about punk shows. Or maybe you're one of those lucky popular folks who never lacks for followers. For the rest of us, it's a real gamble. We've played with one of the biggest bands in the Seattle/Bellingham area, Keaton Collective,and not only did our audience failed to show, theirs did too. They have over one thousand likes on Facebook, they get played on KEXP, and there were maybe three people in the audience that night.

We love what we do. And we want to share it with you. Every show we play is a privilege and a reward and the product of thousands and thousands of hours of hard work. It's NOT for us. We want to play you a kind of music you do not hear everywhere.We busted our brains and hammered out songs and put in week after week of practice in our drummer's basement to make something UNIQUE. Oh, and we sank tons of our money into instruments and recording gear.

That goes for any performance your friends put on. It is the result of more sweat and strain and practice than you know.

If you don't show, the bar owner notices that this band/comedian/fire-eater doesn't bring a crowd, and won't give them another chance, and eventually they stop booking shows, and "eventually I'll see them" turns into "dang, I wish I had seen them when they were still gigging."

Monday, August 19, 2013

What I Learned From This Album

My band Pawnbroker recently finished the recording process for our second album. One song is up in the "Band Profile" section of the Facebook page as a preview. Buy the first album here.

Stay tuned for when it drops! Things I learned:

- My singer lives in the same house where Death Cab For Cutie lived in the 1990s. I know this because my friend Chris also lived there. When Chris moved in, a quick search of the attic yielded the detritus of Death Cab's "side gig"--clippings, fertilizer, reflective sheets and various other weed-growing paraphernalia.

- It's cool to look at my Shure SM7B and be like "I OWN THAT."

This is a bar mitzvah for musicians. I finally own a nice vocal mic!

- It's not that cool that it weirds out the pitch correction function in Logic Express. Our singer Nicole doesn't need pitch correction, but I'm not so good with the whole staying in key thing...

- Don't try to record an album and have a baby within a few months of each other.

- Unless you magically can live without sleep.

- I need like, five more guitars to be happy.

- I still don't know how to describe our music. "We want to put the 60s and the 90s together" is my best. Someone smart said, "sweet driving in the rain music."

- HEY! Readers! If you can come up with a better description in the comments, I'll send you a prize! (What's that? The prize that you want is for me to stop spamming you with my band stuff? Okay, wiseguy...)

- One can put songs together just through the process of recording. Two of the tracks did not so much have endings or arrangements. We kind of invented said arrangements, in our drummer's basement, during the recording sessions. Yeah! It's like free-form funk inspiration. Or possibly like the part on Spinal Tap where they decide to become an acid-jazz band.

- "Like the part on Spinal Tap where they decide to become an acid-jazz band" is not quite a good description of our music.

- For the last album, a lot of the material had been in heavy rotation for years, through the last two projects Nathan and I were involved in. For this album, we wanted to root our music in the current lineup, reflecting everything that is happenign now. We came up with six new songs and rerecorded one that we put on the first album. All seven of the songs on this album come from the current incarnation of Pawnbroker and from the gigging and writing and fun-having of the last year. I'm very excited to give birth to this thing.

- I wish I had money for another five guitars.

- I can't deny it any more. I need to lose some weight. There has definitely been more of me in the last year of band photos. On the world tour, when I tear my shirt off, I don't want everyone to be horrified.

- I like my bandmates. Speaking as the guy who sometimes creates the drama, this band has a low level of drama. Also, we actually hang out. Nicole and I babysit for each other, and our drummer Scott did my taxes. Who knew that drummers could do stuff like that?

Enjoy the music!

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Great Never-Wrote

Writing Week! Subject to change, this blog now has a different subject each week, in an attempt to get some of my many many ideas out of this head.

It will go thus: Writing Week, Music Week, Food/Fitness Week and Teaching/Parenting Week.

This week, I discuss the Great Never-Wrote.

So who's your Great Never-Had, people?

If you haven't hear the term, the Great Never-Had is your hopeless crush, or a relationship ended before its time, or a relationship that died before it started.

My great Never-Had was an artist, a vegetarian, and a redhead. I tried to date her all through my junior year of high school and failed. When senior year started, she serendipitously reciprocated. A few blissful months later, my Spider-Sense told me she was not that interested in me and was about to break up with me any minute.

Disclaimer: my Spider-Sense sounds exactly like typical adolescent neurosis.

So I dumped her, then went right back to pining after her. She, rightly, surmised that I had broken her heart once and I was a farking mess.

She got over me. I piiiiiiiiined.

We lost contact for a while, then became friends again in college. At this point, she ate meat, gave up painting, joined the Army, and went brunette. I had a lot of fun with her, but I never dated her college incarnation. Yet if her high school incarnation showed up to my 22-year-old self's door and said she'd take me back... damn the age gap, damn the time travel, I would have done it.

You understand, people.

In writing terms, she has a cousin in the Great Never-Wrote. More accurately, the Great Wrote-But-Never-Got-Right. It's that novel or story that you pour your soooooooul into, cram all your ideas into, rewrite and rewrite and give to everyone to critique and then... send it out and no one even wants to look at it. Or you realize that you learned a lot, but the ambition of the project has contributed to its downfall. It's too big and unwieldy. The plot hinges on an event that just does not work. The story is an allegory for your faith, but you became an atheist. The love interest is based on your great Never-Had and you don't want her to recognize herself because now you're Facebook friends (that's a stupid reason not to write something, btw).

My Great Never-Wrote sits, unfinished, in the middle of it's fourth full rewrite. That's not revision. That is Re-Write, from scratch, starting with a blank page.

It started as a novel called Blood Earth, which I wrote in 2004. For this novel, I took the four or so fantasy ideas I had and threw them all together into a blender. The result was cool. Part epic fantasy, part portal fantasy, part doomed messiah, part religious war.

So by 2005 it was ready for submission, and I put together some subs and sent it out and... THUD.

That was a good year for form rejections. I hope you bought stock in stationary in 2005.

In 2007, I noodled around with a new version of the book. Although it had seemed perfect when I submitted it in 2005, by 2007 I knew where the problems were in the structure. I decided to try rewriting it. What could it hurt?

The original version had been set in a nondescript fantasy world. I made the whole thing more like the Crusades, my favorite historical clusterf***, and my elevator pitch became "it's the Crusades, if the Muslims were telepaths and the Christians were shape-shifters."

Version 2.0 was a mess, but a good one. I changed a lot, let it breathe, added characters, tried four titles and finally closed it out at 220,000 words. That's over one thousand manuscript pages. I whittled it down to 180,000 and gave it to my writing group to read. We were all in agreement that it was...

...still a mess.

I decided cut away some of the characters to simplify things. Instead of six viewpoint characters, we went down to four. I got kind of far in that version, but couldn't deal with the issues I had now created for the ending, because so many crucial characters had been cut.

I was tired. It was now 2010. The title of the work was now "The Betrayer's Song." I referred to it as The BS.

In late 2010, I attended Viable Paradise, a one-week science fiction writing workshop on Martha's Vineyard. At VP, I had a VISION.

I knew how to fix the Great Never-Wrote. I got home and finished NaNoWriMo 2010 in two weeks. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and burned out at 82,000 words, with about 60,000 words left to go. Stuck, I gave that version to a friend who said "Your first chapter really needs to be a novel of its own. This is great but it's Book Two." And, while this is dangerous advice to heed, I thought he was right. The advice clicked. So throughout 2011 and 2012 I wrote 110,000 words on the first-chapter-into-a-whole-novel version... and burned out with only 20 or 30 thousand words to go.

In the words of Tolkien, "Foresight had failed and there was no time for thought." Less profound: I have such a huge pile of The BS, and nothing to do with it.

This year, I started working on an entirely different project, although I'm recycling some of the stuff I threw away in early drafts of The BS.

I think about it often. Specifically, I think about the fun I had writing it way back in 2004 when I didn't know what I was doing. Or the joy of that late-night idea session at VP. My critique group's feedback on the second version. And the most recent version, for which I have notes and fix attempts from just a few months ago.

Occasionally I pine. But I don't pine for what I have now. What I have now is a huge mess. I pine for all the times I thought it was working, and I knew exactly what to do with it.

(However, I did cull a number of flashback sequences and publish them as the story "The Death of Roach." In case you want to know what the world looks like.)

How about you? What's your Great Never-Wrote?

(Although this is so 2006, I still believe in the virtues of a good comment left on the blog page, in the blog's format. So leave one if you have an answer. I