Friday, September 4, 2015

The Rarely Asked Questions of 2015

Chuck Allen asked: If I bought a John Wiswell lunch box (those cool metal ones like when I was young, not those cheap plastic or cloth kind they have today) what all would be included on the graphics?

I used to have the He-Man one of these! Mine will probably have the same number of swords on it. In fact, put Skeletor on there. Me high-fiving Skeletor, because that guy worked hard and clearly took flossing to the next level.

Grimlock. Wolverine and Jubilee (possibly riding Grimlock). A Rogue Knight and a Healer Slime from Dragon Quest (playing poker with Jubilee, who's still riding Grimlock). Beorn (losing that poker game). Lupin the 3rd, Jigen, and Goemon (stealing the pot from that poker game). Leland Gaunt sweeping the front stoop of his new shop, and Pyramid Head coming to greet him with gruesome baked goods.

What I'm saying is: my lunchbox is covered in copyright lawsuits.


Catherine Russell asked a literary three-parter: "What books do you read in your bathroom? Do you do a lot of reading there? How many books have you finished reading via 2 minute reading sessions in the throne room?"

a. Mostly short fiction and non-fiction, and comic books. Every October I stick a big Horror item in there, like the Walking Dead Compendium or Poe's Children. I've read a tremendous amount of manga in there.

b. Usually just a couple pages at a time. It's a sign of a great book like Max Gladstone's Full Fathom Five when I stick around to read an entire chapter. If it's something I'm profoundly into, like I was with Jo Walton's Among Others, I'll carry it back out with me to keep reading.

c. Probably about ten a year. Bathroom books double and bathtub books. Post-exercise soaking often benefits from a good story.


Elephant's Child asked, "If you could give one person (other than yourself) a super power what would it be? Who would get it, and why?"

Kneejerk reaction is to give Jimmy Carter the ability to rearrange matter. I trust both his moral compass and his ability to organize a community to make the most of it. Plus, who doesn't want to see a Magical Jimmy Carter? I guess maybe the Reagans?


Alex J. Cavanaugh asked: "What's the most illegal thing you've ever done? Did it involve jello or burning bags?"
I suffered a witch to live once.


Mary Garber asked, "If you could be instantly transported to anywhere on earth (and back, if you so desire) just once, where would you go, and for how long? Now, make it the solar system."

The trouble with teleporting is there's no safety application. If I visit the Marianas Trench, I'll drown before I get to wave at any neat fish. If I visit the Haribo factory, security will tackle me before I get to jump into a pile of gummy bears. And while I'd like to visit Borderlands Books, the woods of Washington, the streets of Moscow and Cork, those are all places it's feasible to go. Better to use teleportation on an impossible wish.

So my grim answer is that I'd wait until I was close to my likely death, and then teleport to the sun. Death would be instantaneous, which is why I'd only visit at that moment. But for a fraction of that instant I'd be privy to a raw experience of something earth has been eight minutes away from for evolution's entire run. All the warmth, all the brilliance that we try to photograph, or to reflect upon on cloudless days. I'm so used to pain that turning into fuel for the sky-god wouldn't deter me from making it my end. Turn me not to dust, but part of the brilliance that has inspired poets since they were only plants rhyming in pollen and chlorophyll.

I'd just have to live a full life before then. Maybe get a tan. I could use more sun.


Nadya Duke asked: "Who would win in a knife fight - Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton?"


That one's neck-and-neck. Literally, they might immediately knife each other in the neck because they were daft and cutting ladies. But Anthony has the reach and is just a little faster to turn on you if you've crossed her (just ask around the NSWA). Stanton's best chance is to tuck her chin, go for the intestines, and not tacitly oppose African American rights.


Carrie Bailey asked: "In case of the apocalypse, how do you think you'd define your life as worthwhile if you actually survived, but none of your friends did."


I've put more thought into this than is healthy, but it's also a sticking point in much of my fiction. Your direct loved ones are gone. That really sucks, right? But you can still strive to make the world a better place. Put out those demonic fires, plant whatever seeds were stored, collect and record history.

And it's likely there are other survivors who could use your help. It depends on the apocalypse. If it was killer robots, then even my sickly self can clean guns for the resistance soldiers. If it's plague, I can counsel people with grief, as survivor guilt is likely to be widespread.

Awful as desolation is, reducing the world to near-zero means you have to accomplish very little to have a significant practical effect. The four trees I plant may become a forest people rely on two hundred years after we kick the Fire Nation out.

The real world isn't so different. I'm a tiny part in a tremendous machine with so many things that could improve. I try to contribute to food banks, blood drives, and my beloved industry of fiction. But it is easier in our world where my friends are still alive. One imagines you're a lucky apocalypse survivor if you make new ones. Luckier still if one's a billy-bumbler.


Cassie Nichols asked: "What scent triggers a happy memory for you?"


When you open up a container of Country Time Lemonade Iced Tea Mix, and the powder particles get in your nose? It has both a scent and a nose-feel that reminds me strongly of the red dust at my childhood baseball diamonds. It brings back the heat of the day, the fun of playing with a few friends, and the orange dimming of the sky as afternoon waned. They really got me hooked on that drink. Product placement in my psyche.


And Cassie Nichols asked: "Would you spend a year as a dragon? If yes: How big a dragon would you be? What would you hoard? Where would you make your home? If no: Why not?"


Given one of my great fantasies is to become Smaug but not live life as a jackass, yes, I would like to be a dragon for a year. My first order of business will be to arrive at an NFL game and demand seating. When they claim I'm obese, I'll offer to buy two tickets. If they deny me entry, I'll ask what their favorite kaiju movie is.

I actually look forward to the legal ramifications. Do I have to file a flight plan with the FTA for my ride to work? Do I have to pay taxes on my bed of gold? How funny will it be when I eat the IRS and turn their building into my new den?

The power will be used for good (occasionally). Let some Make-A-Wish kids "slay" me. I can guest star on Game of Thrones to relieve the world of their terrible CGI for a year.

I'll very badly want to hoard books, but living an entity of fire, I may become the world's worst book-burner. That could make me less popular with Tor and Harper Collins than I want to be. Gradually I'll realize that you hoard precious metal because it metals but remains precious metal, whereas if you hoard iPhones, they bend in your pocket. I'll want to hoard hamburgers, but much as I love them, they don't keep for very long.

So at the end of things, I think I'll hoard recycling. Plastic and tin need melting for re-processing anyway. Cheap, and everyone wants to get rid of them anyway. They'll probably wash the damned glass bottles first before giving them to the dragon. Sort those plastics, people, or he'll eat you. For a year.

A New Challenger Appears! Alex Haist asked: "What is your favorite instance of bureaucratic drama?"

The West Wing is one of my favorite shows in television history. The scene when the power flickers and Bartlet is fed up with congress and tells the Speaker to shut the government down has stuck in my memory for quite some time.

The show created several memorable moments of unreal bureaucracy, like John Goodman taking over the White House, and both political parties being terrified the country will sympathize with the other.

It's something I wish Fantasy bureaucracies would do. We've had an awful lot of kings and not many interesting wrinkles of power. If Mervyn Peake had been more prolific, he probably would have come up with some great stuff there. Daniel Abraham is trying his damndest right now with nifty results.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Civil War Draft: How the Sides of Captain America: Civil War Were Decided




Tony: My movie came first so I get to draft first.

Cap: Is that how this works?

Tony: Vision is essentially my operating system plus Ultron's ultimate body. So, gimme.

Cap: It's on already? Uh, alright, alright. You have a guy who can fly. I want a guy who can fly. I need somebody I can trust. He's the highlight of that Ant-Man movie. Falcon.

Tony: Hell. Take Ant-Man, too.

Cap: I don't know...

Falcon: What? No, take both of us.

Cap: Do I have to?

Ant-Man: I don't know why anybody wants me either. Is Carol Danvers in these movies yet?

Falcon: You guys know this is a war, right? Civil War?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Have You Seen My Big RAQ?

My birthday is next Friday. That gives everyone plenty of time to take a look at my big RAQ.

Rarely Asked Questions is my birthday tradition. Until the evening of September 3rd, I'm requesting everyone leave questions they don't normally ask anyone. Want to ask about me? You can do that, but you can also ask:

"What's the boiling point of Tungsten?"

"What does my mother's snore remind you of?"

"If he wants to avoid the conductor and skip the fare, what is the best time for a Wendigo to hop the Baltimore light rail?"

Anything you never ask, and the more outlandish the better. I'll compile them and answer at least one question per person on September 4th - my birthday. That's how I celebrate. With my big RAQ.

Please leave your mysteries and queries in the Comments section of this post.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Story Sold to Daily Science Fiction!

I'm happy to announce that I've sold "The Terrible" to Daily Science Fiction. It's my first sale to DSF, and will make my fourth debut in a market this year. I couldn't be happier with the story they took.

"The Terrible" is a short about a supervillain who's never paid proper attention to how his hero's weaknesses work, or why she keeps escaping and checking back in on him. He thinks he's her arch-nemesis. We all have things to learn.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Seven Tips For Better Conventions


Three conventions in five weekends was a great pleasure, but also exhausting! Though I'm working on a long breakdown post of 4th Street, Readercon, and Otakon,  I compiled a few tips to share on con-going. These things stuck out from con-to-con, and I think could help us all have a better time when we nerds congregate. Consider, and thanks for reading!

Instead of: interrupting the panelists with what you think are insightful comments...
Try this: ...spend this time writing down your question so that, when the panel opens to audience interaction, you have something clear to say and don't ramble. People will remember a succinct question.

Instead of: walking ten feet outside the panel room and continuing your conversation in the middle of the hall, blocking everyone else trying to get to their next destination...
Try this: ...invite your chat-buddy to an empty row of seats, or the bar or cafe, or to walk out of the hall and find a nook elsewhere that won't block traffic. Then talk to them for as long as you like as everyone else passes.

Instead of: disappearing immediately after the panel you were on...
Try this: ...look around to see if any panelists or audience members are waiting for a word with you. If you don't the time or mental bandwidth, excuse yourself for now, but offer to chat later in the con, or hand out cards with contact information.

Instead of: avoiding actors/writers/artists you love because even though this is the only weekend all year you could possibly see them, you're nervous...
Try this: ...tell them. Practice one-sentence praise if that's all your introversion allows. You can't fathom how much even one sentence in passing encourages creative people.

Instead of: touching anyone without permission, no matter how they are dressed, or how funny you think it is...
Try this: ...ask them. If it feels wrong to ask, then just don't make physical contact.

Instead of: only talking to your friends for the entire convention and then complaining that you never see young people at conventions...
Try this: ...invite new strangers to chat. It can be one-on-one, or you can invite them to sit with your group in the lobby or con suite. We all know how hard it can be when you're new and alone at a convention. Look outside your social pod for people you can include.

Instead of: putting up with unwanted attention that the other person won't stop, no matter how minor or major it is...
Try this: ...report the offending party to con staff. Codes of Conduct are becoming more common for good reasons. And if you feel uncomfortable extracting yourself, grab an ally. Even if you don't know me, just saying, "Excuse me, that person is making me feel unsafe," will be enough to get me to hang out with you until you're clear of the offending party. I'm serious.

There's at least one alliance of people who will do that same service for anyone feeling uncomfortable towards another con-goer, but I can't find the name. If you know it, please link it in the comments, and I'll add it here.

None of the above is that hard, right? Yet it slipped the minds of so many people across the three conventions that it seemed worth writing down.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Pain in the Neck



A little update since the blog has been quiet during convention season. Both 4th Street and Readercon were delights, and I'm greatly looking forward to Otakon this Friday. But travel just got harder.

Five weeks ago I did something bad to my neck. I cannot remember a singular incident, but it was around then that I began experiencing persistent shooting pains down my neck, through my left shoulder, and down my left arm. It seemed like an exacerbation of problems I've had in my shoulder ever since a botched muscle biopsy in my teens. It feels a lot like something sticking your finger in an electrical outlet, at random, every couple of minutes.

About two weeks ago I had a hard exercise session, and really pushed my cardio. Recent meds have caused me to gain a lot of weight, and I wanted to push against it. Instead, something in my neck popped. That was the first time I couldn't feel my left arm anymore.

The arm regained feeling, and I never lost motor control. Since then the shooting pains have randomly started appearing in my right arm to compliment the left. These symmetrical pain is rare enough that I keep trying to pretend that was just one-- okay, just two-- maybe just three times, not a pattern.

I have a doctor's appointment in August, which is the earliest they could take me. But for now, it's a distraction and a worry.

And If I've randomly frowned or grimaced at you lately, please excuse me. I promise that you're not a pain in the neck.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Life Finds a Way: Jurassic Park's Obsession With Bad Parents (Spoilers for the series)

Jurassic Park is a series about absent parents. The dinosaurs are mostly clones - they were created from mishmashes of frogs and mosquito guts. They're built as living entertainment products, and raised to obey in cages. Subconsciously you know all this, and it's part of why you root for them to eat people so many times. But they aren't the only parentless children in this universe.

Consider Jurassic World's most obligatory characters: the kids. Zach and Gray Mitchell are tourists, put upon to survive, with minimal contribution to problem solving. They are a checklist of child tropes, and one obvious check item is their parents' divorce. The Mitchells sent them to the park to have one last positive memory before their impending split. Zach and Gray know it's coming, and it brings the younger to tears. The people that gave them life and are supposed to raise them won't stick it out. The older brother reflects that at least he'll be out to college in a couple years. These kids don't even expect to rely on their parents.

It's no accident that the dino-obsessed kid is named "Gray," while the lead raptor is "Blue." They're the lead colors of the logo, most of the promotional posters, and the color filters over the film. They are the opposite sides of Jurassic World's obsession with children of questionable parents.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Bibliography for 4th Street Fantasy 2015

Below is a bibliography of works discussed across the eleven panels at 4th Street Fantasy this year. It was taken mostly from the whiteboard postings, many of which were written by Tom Whitmore. If anyone has names of other whiteboard scribes, I'd like to include them.

Panel 8, on Playing The Cards You Weren't Dealt, was so author focused that I don't think we have a list for it, but if someone has one, I'd be happy to include it.

I've added author attribution to unattributed books where I could. In some cases only authors were named rather than works. These have been kept just as author names.

Panel 1: Does the Arc of Fantasy Bend Toward Justice
Colin Cotterill
Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover
Blade of Tyshalle by Matthew Stover
A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
Jo Walton's The Just City
Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs
K.J. Parker

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Alligators by Twitter" at The Sockdolager

This week I'm happy to present "Alligators by Twitter," the story of a simple man who'd just like to trend worldwide before he's eaten alive.

The story originally ran at Flash Fiction Online five years ago, but the way we use Twitter has changed since then. The editors helped me update the story a bit, and I think the ending is even funnier now. Thanks to Paul Starr and Alison Wilgus, who have gathered a fine issue for the summer.

On top of that, I'm packing for 4th Street, a convention in Minnesota. I'll be doing my first panel there, discussing self-care for authors. I hope to have a glowing report for you when I get back.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Pain of Special Needs in Mad Max: Fury Road (Some Spoilers)

For this discussion I'm going to use "special needs" to refer to people with an array of physical and mental problems. There is no term I'm wholly comfortable with that collects things so ranging. "Disability" doesn't even cover it for me, and is sometimes more uncomfortable. But know that preference of terminology changes from person to person. This is always easier talking person-to-person, where you can tailor to what makes individuals comfortable.



You probably don't know Nathan Jones. He was a professional wrestler who quit because, at 6'11" (2.1 meters), travel became incredibly painful. He didn't fit in an airplane seat or on any motel mattress, and good luck driving a rental car from town to town with legs that long. He quit WWE in 2003 and went into film. To date, I don't think I've seen him in a film that acknowledged his size could be a problem in life. He tends to play villains, because it's easier for average people to see giants as powerful and dangerous.

He plays Rictus Erectus in Max Mad: Fury Road. He lumbers through the movie with very few lines. When he speaks, it sounds like the character has a learning disorder. That's typical of giant villains.

Since he has no individual agency, always acting in obeisance to his murderous father (Immortan Joe), his only further characterization is a breathing apparatus strapped to his back and plugged to his nose. He chases heroes, overpowering any he gets his hands on because Dad told him to. Late in the movie, a hero finally manages to stab Jones's breathing machine. Jones crumples, possibly suffocating, and my whole theater laughed.

I mean, the whole theater laughed except me. But my lungs are probably what'll kill me, so I'm biased.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My 2015 Convention Schedule

Since I keep getting questions about where people can find me this year, I'm sharing my convention schedule. I'll be traveling to four cons in four states. This ignores Boskone from February, which was more of a snow day than a convention anyway.


June 26-28
4th Street Fantasy
Minneapolis, Minnesota

July 9-12
Readercon
Burlington, Massachusetts (no, not Vermont)

July 24-26
Otakon
Baltimore, Maryland

November 5-8
World Fantasy
Saratoga Springs, New York

Originally I'd intended to hit WorldCon in Washington, but my health isn't up to traveling that far across the country. Some day, West Coast. I'd also love to do a Canadian convention eventually...

If you'll be attending any of these, or in the area, feel free to drop me a line! I'm happy to meet people who are normally states away from me.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Siren Call - #fridayflash

Devenna held the garage shutters open as bombers zipped overhead. Old Man Moa drove their only taxi inside, and idled for half a minute before turning it off. The air raid siren was too loud for Devenna to ask Moa about his passengers; the codger had fit six corpses in his cab, one sitting up front, five others packed into the back with creative use of the footwells.

The siren was too loud to ask Moa what he'd done. A bomb rocked uptown, its voice loud enough to be heard over the siren, and the old cabbie ignored it and began removing the bodies, laying them out on the cracked concrete floor. Devenna could only help him. Together they carried a woman who was missing half her head, but whose wound was wrapped in the yellow blanket Moa wore on winter drives. Comfort covered cruelty.

When all six passengers were laid to rest on the floor, Devenna handed Moa a rag for his face. He had grit and gore stuck in his gray beard, and in the wrinkles of his leathery forehead, yet he cleaned the faces of the dead before his own. Somewhere, another bomb tried to speak up over the siren, and then both voices went silent. Maybe the foreigners had hit the siren's source. Devenna had never thought about where the city kept that sort of thing.

Moa blinked through the window, and the spirals of smoke still rising from uptown. It was like he heard something in the new silence. Devenna strained to listen, and heard the old man wheezing.

To Devenna's disgust, the old man huffed a deep breath and climbed back into his taxi. Devenna stepped in, barring him from closing the door.

Moa rubbed his eyes. "There are more bodies every hour. Foreign monsters won't stop shelling."

"Then leave them." Devenna made an obscene gesture at the city through the garage shutters. "Come hide out in the shop with me. The dead aren't paying you fares."

"They've paid enough. They deserve proper burial."

Devenna grabbed the old man's shirt and shook him. He felt so light, like there were just bones inside his clothes. "Stay. You'll be killed."

Moa narrowed his bloodshot eyes up into Devenna's face. "The meaning of life is not to live forever."

"Life has no meaning!"

"I'm sure yours doesn't."

As though the world punctuated his sentence, the air raid siren resumed. Devenna tried to argue and couldn't hear himself, and Moa jerked the cab door closed. He drove off down Seven, making the left that took you towards uptown.

It was their only cab. The garage was on the outskirts, a lousy target the foreigners might still hit. They could hit anywhere. Devenna remained with the passengers on the concrete floor, regarding the woman who had a stained blanket instead of a face. Either because Moa was wrong or because he could do nothing else, he left her to go out back and begin digging graves.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Guest Post: Peter Newman on Turning The Vagrant from Serial to Novel


Today I'm happy to present to you one of Friday Flash's original stars: Peter Newman. Peter is co-host of the lovely Tea & Jeopardy podcast, and author of The Vagrant, which was just released by Harper Voyager. While I was privileged with early glimpses of the story in its formative days as a serial, it's developed into something very different. Peter is a heck of a writer and has some insights to share from his journey into publishing. -John

The Vagrant turned up one day when I was trying to write some flash fiction. I didn’t really have much of an idea what was going to happen immediately but I went with it. It was slow going, excavating little ideas that were floating around in the darker parts of my brain.

I quickly began to realise that I wasn’t actually writing a piece of flash fiction, I was in fact writing a serial. Part One quickly became Part Two, Part Three… then Part Ten, and onwards. As the episodes went on, various things settled into place, like the fact it was going to be written in the present tense. At first I wrote it in the past tense but found myself drifting in and out by accident. As an inexperienced writer, I took that to mean that I wasn’t very good at writing consistently but I now see that I was trying to find the right way to tell the story and had to experiment for a while before getting comfortable.

Writing the Vagrant each week was a strange experience. I now had the primary character and the world was taking shape. I’d known from early on where the story was going but the path to get there always descended into the mists. I was writing the serial in thousand word chunks but those thousand words often took a long time to find.

It’s worth adding that at this time I had a lot of support from the Friday Flash community, and people took time out to comment on what I was doing. A lot of this was essentially cheerleading (which I needed then and I still need now) but there was also criticism in there too (positive and negative) and I came to cherish those comments.

Twenty five episodes later and I realised that I wasn’t writing a serial either. I was in fact writing a novel.

Transitioning from one to the other was an interesting process. There were some advantages. For example, a serial format keeps things punchy, with lots of cliff clangers and crisis points to keep the reader motivated. However, there were also drawbacks. I had no chapters! And the rhythms of a novel are different. Some scenes had to be reworked and sewn together, others expanded significantly. The other thing I found was that I still had to write slow. I continued writing in thousand word chunks. Any more, and the quality of the work suffered.

But for all of that, the core style didn’t change and the Vagrant carried on the same way he always had.

As I approached the end of the book, I realised that I wasn’t just writing a novel, I was writing a series. I’d always planned The Vagrant to be a stand-alone novel but as I moved into the closing chapters, ideas for a sequel began to blossom. That sequel is written and currently with my editor.

And now find I have ideas for a new book in that world. I very much hope I get the chance to plunge into the mists once again. And if I do, I’ll keep following the Vagrant for as long as he’s happy to lead me.

The point I want to make here is that sometimes (rarely!), you wake up with a story fully formed in your mind, or a killer concept that screams for you to start writing. Sometimes you just get a spark that needs to be followed. And sometimes, if you let it, the story will take care of itself.

with it. It was slow going, excavating little ideas that were floating around in the darker parts of my brain.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Sold Two Stories!

Part of why I've been so quiet for the last couple months is intense writing and editing work. I've had my fingers in so many different projects that I'm not sure how to begin counting them all. But today I'm happy to announce two: I've sold "Bones at the Door" to Fireside Fiction, and a special reprint of "Alligators by Twitter" to The Sockdolager!

"Bones at the Door" is a Horror Comedy about a little girl's relationship with the local flesh-eating monster. It's one of the best structured stories I've ever written, and I have to thank Max Cantor for giving it a thoughtful critique that showed me how to finish it. I can't wait to show it to you all.

"Alligators by Twitter" was my first-ever pro sale, and is the Twitter feed of a man whose house is invaded by suspiciously intelligent alligators. He really wants to trend before he gets eaten. The way we use Twitter has changed since the original publication, and editor Paul Starr helped me update the story just enough that there are some new laughs.

Both publication dates are pending, but I'll be sure to announce when they're available. Hopefully I'll have more good news in the near future. I'm about to dive back into a novel.

One sneak announcement, though: this Wednesday I'll host a guest-post by my old #fridayflash buddy Peter Newman, whose debut novel just came out from Harper Collins! I'm so proud of Peter and look forward to him telling you about The Vagrant.
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