Sunday, June 22, 2014

Paul Lamarre: A Tribute

If it hadn't been for Paul Lamarre, I may have never joined the DFW Writers' Workshop. The first time I visited in 2007, I was nervous. The Workshop seemed so large and everyone already knew each other. No one spoke to me and I was too shy to initiate a conversation. I felt ill at ease. Started to leave. Questioned why I'd visited in the first place.

Then, Paul sat next to me and we chatted. He wrote science fiction, a genre I also enjoyed. We spoke the same 'language' even if he was more of a hard SF guy, while I preferred soft SF. Still, I instantly liked him.  

Each week, our friendship grew. When I finally found the courage to read for the first time, Paul was in the room. No one told me beforehand that first-time readers received applause. As everyone clapped, I thought I must be a darned good writer. Then, the applause stopped and I was shredded during the critique. I doubt I would have ever read again if Paul hadn't been there to ease the sting.  

In time, we began to critique each others work outside of the Workshop. We texted daily, and celebrated each others successes, including Paul's first short story sale. More importantly, we kept each other motivated when the rejections came in faster than the acceptances did.

Paul and I shared a fondness for SF&F conventions. We always hung out together and made the rounds of the parties. In 2013, we road tripped to the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in San Antonio with our mutual friend, Gabe. By that point, Paul had endured almost a year of chemotherapy for colon cancer. The trip was a celebration of his improving health. He was excited to be at Worldcon and to meet some of his favorite authors such as Kim Stanley Robinson and Ben Bova.

Shortly after we returned, Paul's doctors advised him that the cancer had spread to his abdomen. Paul continued to fight with the support of his loving wife, Sheila. It was one of the bravest battles I've ever seen. His attitude was always pleasant no matter how much pain he suffered. He joked with hospital staff and thanked them for the care they gave him. In fact, he was so cordial I would tease him the nurses kept him in the hospital because he was their favorite patient.

Throughout, Paul never abandoned his love of writing and was eager to start a Middle Grade novel. He also never stopped being supportive of other writers. He always asked about their work in progress whenever they visited him in the hospital.

Paul Lamarre passed away on June 18, 2014. He was a loving husband and the proud father of three wonderful children, Megan Kathleen, Sarah Elizabeth, and Joshua Paul Lamarre. He served in the Navy during Operation Desert Storm as a Nuclear Machinist aboard the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser USS MISSISSIPPI. A graduate of Dallas Baptist University, he worked as a Supply Chain manager for Poly America. He attended Retta Baptist Church in Burleson, and served a term as Treasurer of DFWWW.

But most of all, Paul was my friend. One who I will miss more than any words can ever express.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I See Dead People in Jefferson, Texas (Or At Least Their Furniture)

Let's begin with two clarifications to help understand this post:
  1. February 14 is Valentine's Day. However, having no significant other, I had not reserved a room at the Jefferson Hotel with romantic intentions in mind. I reserved it because:
    • It was the weekend of a full moon.
    • Paranormal activity is supposed to increase when there's a full moon. 
    • Room 19 at the hotel is supposedly haunted. 
    • Feb 14 was the only Friday of a full moon the room was available*. 
  2. I am one of those people who wants to believe in ghosts but I can't accept them on blind faith. I need proof. This was my fifth trip to Jefferson (purported to be one of the most-haunted cities in Texas - if not the whole USA) in search of that proof. Needless to say, nothing out of the ordinary had happened on any of my previous trips. 
A view of the lobby inside of the Jefferson Hotel.
I did not take this picture. I borrowed it from the
hotel's website. I've included the link in this post.  
Typically, my youngest son, Jacob, travels with me. He bowed out due to a conflict and my sister, Gwen, agreed to go. Having her accompany me was a little awkward at first, because too many people thought we were married. But we soon got past that and had a really good time. Gwen and I never lack material for a conversation and enjoy each other's company. She makes an excellent traveling companion.

When we checked into the hotel and the staff realized we were in room 19, I noticed a hint of hesitation in their eyes. I assured them I wanted the room. I happily accepted the key and hauled our luggage up the stairs. As we made our way down the hall, Gwen examined and commented on each piece of antique furniture. 

We entered the room. Based on the stories I'd heard about 19, I guess I expected to feel an overwhelming sense of dread, or to see the bed floating, or at least to have a flower vase hurled at me. Instead, I observed a small nondescript room decorated with stylish wallpaper and antique furniture. No cold spots. No voices telling me to get out. No mists wafting toward me. 

Just a hotel room. In fact, one so boring I failed to take a picture of it.   

The ghost walk went inside a
closed antique store reported
to have lots of activity. This
was the scariest 'monster' I
saw. I think it's a doll, but
can't be 100% sure since the
store was dark.  
Later that evening, we participated in the ghost walk. If you ever visit Jefferson, I highly recommend this activity. Jodi Breckenridge hosts an excellent tour. She weaves the history of this unique little town among stories of the paranormal activity that's been experienced for over one-hundred years. I've taken the ghost walk six or seven times (yes, multiple tours during a single visit) and have always enjoyed it. However, I've never experienced a supernatural event. This time was no different. 

After the tour, Gwen and I returned to our room. We talked for a while, then she decided to take a bath. I left in search of a bottled water. I met the front desk clerk as she was leaving about 10:30 PM. The Jefferson Hotel is unique because it closes every night. There is no staff onsite until they return in the morning. Just a phone number to call if there's an emergency. The machine had no bottled water, so I settled for a soda and walked upstairs (Queue ominous music here, if you would like.)  

The phantom chair as I found it in
front of the door to room 19. 
As I approached room 19, I saw a chair in front of the door. I recalled Gwen's earlier examination of the furniture in the hallway. She had paused before every piece, but this chair had not been discussed ... because, this chair had not been present. 

I moved the chair and unlocked the door, but the knob would not turn. Instantly, my mind flashed on the hundreds of horror movies I've seen. I twisted the doorknob harder and it finally gave. I rushed into the room. 

"Gwen, are you alright?"

"Yes," she called from the bathroom. "Why?"

I told her what had happened. She finished her bath and joined me. We both examined the chair and agreed it had not been in there earlier. I moved the chair away from our door and into a far corner. Gwen assured me she was not playing a prank on me. I even opened the door several times just to see if the chair would return. It didn't.

I went into the bathroom to prepare for bed. When I returned to the main room, Gwen was staring at the closed door with the strangest look on her face. 

"What's wrong?"

"Someone's outside."

Without hesitation, I opened the door. No one was there. I walked into the hallway and the floorboards creaked. 

"That's what I heard," Gwen said. "Only it sounded as if someone was jumping up and down."

"There's no one here now," I said and locked the door. It didn't happen again and we went to bed. 

This is exactly how we found the chair the
next morning. Neither Gwen nor I put it there.
The next morning, I awoke and got ready for the day. I opened the door and the chair was back. Only this time, it was resting face down. Neither of us had opened the door or left the room during the night. Since we shared a single, full-size bed, if one of us had gotten up, the other would have known it. 

Gwen with the phantom chair. Notice
she's wearing her jacket. We intended
to check-out when the chair appeared
for the third time before the closed door. 
By this point, I suspected the hotel staff had pulled a prank. I once again moved the chair to the corner away from our door and I went downstairs to inquire. The front desk was still closed. The hotel had not opened yet. 

I returned to our room and half expected to see the chair in front of the door. It wasn't. We gathered our belongs and prepared to check out of the room. When we opened the door - you guessed it - the chair was back. There was no way Gwen had done it. She'd never left my sight since I'd returned to the room. 

"I wasn't going to tell you this," she said. "But last night, I felt a tug on my pajama top and a child giggled. I told it to go night-night and it stopped." 

The upstairs hallway of the hotel. I did
not take this picture but found it on the
Internet. No credit was given to the
photographer who took it. 
I understood why she hadn't wanted to tell me. She'd been concerned I might be jealous that she had had a paranormal experience and I hadn't. 

We left the room with our luggage and happened upon two housekeepers beginning their day. I showed them a picture of the chair and asked if they recognized it.

"Yes, but what's it doing in front of that door?"

I told her our experience. 

"Oh, that's Sarah. She haunts room 4 and 19." 

By this point, my brain with its there-must-be-a-logical-explanation kicked in and I began to sort the 'facts'.  
  • The first time the chair appeared, Gwen could have staged it while I was gone. However, having been around my sister for 47 years, I know that she is no prankster. It's not in her nature. 
  • The second time the chair appeared, it's doubtful Gwen could have staged it. The bed was just too small. We felt each other's every movement with her under the covers and me in a sleeping bag atop them. 
  • The third time, it's impossible Gwen did it. She never left my sight.  
  • Gwen had told me about the child tugging her PJ's before we met the housekeepers. In fact, she hadn't mentioned a little girl, just a child. If she had fabricated the story, she would have been more specific. Especially because Gwen had refused to hear any of the stories associated with the room**.
  • She did not have the time to conceive a plan this elaborate, or to enlist the help of others, because she had agreed to travel with me only a few days before we departed. 
  • Most importantly, I trust my sister. She does not lie. She also does not share my writer's imagination. Whereas I might want to trick a friend, she couldn't conceive of doing such a
    The stairs at the Jefferson Hotel with ...
    you decide. Again, I did not take the picture.
    I found it on the Internet. The photographer
    was not given credit. 
Okay, the hotel staff did it, but why? 
  • Tourism drives their business and they need people to spread word about haunted Jefferson. However, I don't believe this one either, because there are more residents in the town who refuse to discuss the possibility of ghosts than there are folks who embrace them. In fact, some of the older residents are downright hostile toward "all that spook stuff".
  • The hotel runs on a small staff. They wouldn't have time prank the guests. 
  • This was not my first time to stay at this hotel. I've stayed in three other rooms and never had a supernatural experience. In fact, I talked with one guest who said he's stay there over 10 times in as many different rooms and has never seen a ghost. If the staff were staging sightings, surely they would have included him at some point. 
That means one of the guests did it. 
  • Same question: why? 
  • What was their motivation? No one knew Gwen or me. 
  • To pull a prank you need to anticipate the prankee's reaction. The whole basis of the TV show Scare Tactics is friends scaring their friends. In other words, a prankster needs to get something out of it. A laugh. Seeing their friend piss their pants. Something. No other guest at the Jefferson Hotel had a vested interest in spooking us. Even if they did, they didn't get their monies worth. Neither Gwen nor I screamed, or ran down the hall. We were both just curious.
I made the whole thing up - either consciously or unconsciously - because I want to see a ghost.
  • That would be the logical answer.
  • But it's the wrong one. I did not do this, especially not the third time it happened. The door was closed and locked, and just like my sister, I can't walk through solid wood. 
Do I believe in ghosts now? I'm still unsure, but I know I cannot fully explain what happened to my sister and me. We may have experienced the spirit of a bored child who wanted to play, and that makes me sad. To envision anyone stuck in limbo for an eternity searching for a playmate. 

What about you? Do you believe in ghosts? Let me know your thoughts and experiences.  

* And to get Feb 14 I had to make my reservation way back in May 2013. Yes, the room is that popular. 

** I knew the history of the room. However, none of the stories I had previously read mentioned a child haunting 19. In fact, I had expected to see either a woman in a white dress, or a cowboy in a duster. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Science Fiction: The Cat's Meow

I am not a cat person, yet two cats reside in my house. One of them because when my youngest son came to live with me, he wanted a cat and it seemed like a good idea at the time. The other, because I made a promise to my sister and I keep my promises.

Despite my lack of cat aptitude, I do my best to care for them. Name-brand dry and wet food. Fresh water daily. Clean litter box. Warm beds (one upstairs and one downstairs). And toys. 

During their annual tuneup, the vet told me they both needed their teeth cleaned. Because the service required anesthesia, it would cost me about $400 per cat. 

Well, that wasn't in my budget, so I searched for a more economical way to maintain their pearly whites. The pet store offered toothbrushes and toothpaste made just for cats. Seemed reasonable to me, but not to the cats. It took both me and my son to hold them down. They struggled and fought. We never managed to fully scrub their teeth. I needed another option. 

There are several brands of cat treats to purport to clean teeth. I bought one brand for a while until the cats grew tired of its limited flavors. Then, I switched to a pricer brand that offered more variety. The TURKEY or OCEAN BLEND or MILK FLAVORED kept them happy and the vet stopped pressuring me about cleaning their teeth, so I was happy.  

The thing is, I question if the treats really are varied. Despite the different flavors printed on the outside of the packages, the food inside is all the same size (quarter inch squares), the same color (tan) and smells the same (slightly musty).*

Then, a new flavor appeared on store shelves that simply declared itself to be DENTALICIOUS. The food inside was still square and smelled musty, but was a bright emerald color. Upon seeing it for the first time, I thought: "Soylent green is made of cats!" 

Not that my two would care. They gobbled it down.

And I finally arrive at the real point of this blog after such a long setup: I realized that many of the references in my life are framed by the science fiction I've always loved. Growing up, the majority of my Halloween costumes were SF themed. When I turned 35, I naturally thought of carrousel in Logan's Run. At WorldCon last year, the remote-controlled darlek excited me just as much as it did the little kids who chased after it.

What books/movies/tv shows/games/etc. frame your life? Therein (I bet) is the real variety. 

* I have not taste-tested them. I'll leave that to the cats.        

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sit & Give Me 2500 Words, You S.O.B.

Yesterday, as the weather in Texas reached the lower 70's after too many days in the high 20's, I went outside to exercise. As I slogged up hills, down winding paths, and across miles of sidewalks I had an epiphany.  

Writing and exercise have a lot in common. Both require time, commitment and dedication. When I walk/jog or lift weights I have to force myself to push just a little harder. To achieve words on the page, I have to make myself sit, write and pretend the Internet (with all its many distractions) was never invented. This resulted in a second, more sobering realization. 

I am better at encouraging myself to exercise than to write.

Oh, I sit down to write every day. However, my production of new pages is inconsistent. Some days I manage 500 words. Others 300. The worse are my goose egg days where I tell myself editing is just as important as achieving new words on paper.*

Yet, when I exercise I manage to walk/jog the same distance as I achieved before; I complete the same number of reps I did last time. Why can't I do that with my writing? 

I decided I need a better muse. Not some woosie Tinkerbell who says "Bless his heart, he's trying" but a drill sergeant bastard who screams "Sit and give me 2500 words!" 

What about you? What inspires you to apply-butt-to-chair and produce new words?      

*Yes, I know editing is a crucial part of the overall process, but it's not the same as seeing new words that become new stories. Besides, I'm a re-writer at heart. I enjoy editing whereas the act of creating brand, new fresh sentences from nothingness has always been a struggle for me.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

"What Type of Romance do You Write?"

Today, I tired a new experience and attended a one-day writers' workshop sponsored by the Dallas Area Romance Authors (DARA). There were approximately 75 women in the room - and me. As the only man present, I started to blog that I 'stepped outside of my comfort zone', but that would be untrue. Having worked most of my life in the healthcare industry (which is predominately female) I'm very comfortable around women. I was not "drowning in an estrogen sea" as one attendee put it. I do, however, have some observations.
  • As the only man in the room, I was an oddity. Several women cast sideways glances my direction as if I might be lost, or had mistaken the Holiday Inn ballroom for a gentlemen's club.
  • I dislike standing out. A friend of mine from DFWWW, Carolyn Williamson, was kind enough to save me a seat - right up front where my big ole broad-shouldered, former football tackle self could block the view of 99% of the ladies sitting behind me. Carolyn assured me I was not in anyone's way, but for the longest I felt conspicuous. To say I'm a back-row joe is putting it lightly. At no time in my educational career did I ever sit at the front of the classroom. I made my A's and B's from the back, thank you very much. Of course, I could have moved, but didn't because Carolyn had been so nice to think of me, and the other tables in the room were full.      
  • The most frequently asked question of me was "So, Kyle, what type of romance do you write?" I would laugh and respond "I don't, but I believe all stories should have some romantic elements."
  • When DARA advertised a 'Continental Breakfast' they didn't mean some donuts a member picked up on the way over. They were serious. We had muffins and fruit and pastries and scrambled eggs and fried potatoes and bacon and sausage and juice and coffee. These ladies know how to provide a Texas-sized-stick-to-your-ribs breakfast. Lunch was even better with a similar astonishing array of choices, plus the best cake I've eaten in a long time (I wish now I had had a second piece). And hot cookies for an afternoon snack. I was good and didn't have a cookie despite some teasing from my fellow tablemates.  
  • Romance writers know their craft. During the presentation (more on that next) we were asked to preform some quick writing exercises and to share our work with the room.* We normally had 5-10 minutes to complete the task. As writers volunteered to read their efforts, the quality they had produced in such a short time amazed me. Many were as polished as if the author had spent months wordsmithing instead of mere minutes. I've always said the Romance Writers of America offers the best educational opportunities of any professional organization.
We had gathered to learn from successful mystery author Hallie Ephron. I had read and enjoyed her books Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel and Never Tell a Lie. One of the benefits of sitting at the front table was Hallie also sat there. As such, I learned additional writing tips over both breakfast and lunch. Some of my ah-ha! moments included: 
  • Your protag, villain and suspects - basically every main character - need a secrete. Some piece of backstory (not dumped, of course) that isn't quickly answered and keeps readers turning the page. 
  • Don't let suspense go on for too long. The reader will grow numb. (I am bad about non-stop action that never gives the reader a moment to take a breath. Gotta fix that.)
  • The ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz were used as an example of an item that all major characters wanted but only one of them could have. This was a new concept I had not heard before. It adds tension to a story and should be an item from the protag's past so its even more significant. 
  • Sensory details are a good way to build tension (yeah! I believe I do these well based on feedback at DFWWW). 
  • It's okay to call writing a pain in the ass and not to claim you 'love' the process. Simply put, writing is hard work. Some days the words flow. Other days its like pulling mental teeth.
In summary, I'm glad I tried this new experience. I had an enjoyable time and learned a lot. DARA is a terrific organization full of talented writers. Hallie Ephron provided solid instruction that gave me insight into writing mysteries. As an additionally bonus, some of her advice may help me fix a few trouble areas in my WIP steampunk novel. 

What about you? Ever step outside your comfort zone and try something new? If yes, what effect did it have on your writing?      


* Did I share my writing? Not back-row Kyle. I'm happy to listen to other, braver writers read their efforts.

Friday, January 17, 2014

2014 Writers' Conferences Around Texas

My annual list of writers' conferences and other writerly events in and around Texas for 2014. These are provided as a public service only. I am not promoting any of them.

Feb 21 - 23                         ConDFW
March 29 - 30                    North Texas Two Step Writers' Conference

April 11 - 13                       Houston Writers Guild Annual Agents & Editors Conference

April 23 - 24                       NETWO's Writers' Roundup Conference

May 2 - 4                            OWFI Conference
May 3 - 4                            DFW Writers' Conference
June 6 - 7                           Arkansas Writers' Conference
June 9 - 13                         West Texas Writers' Academy 
June 27 - 29                      Writers' League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference

June 27 - 29                      ApolloCon
July 11 - 13                       LexiCon Writers Conference
July 13 - 20                      Taos Summer Writers' Conference

July 25 - 27                      ArmadilloCon

Sept 26 - 28                     FenCon 

Sept 27 - 28                     SCWBI Regional Conference 

How did I compile this list? Google.

Did I miss some events? Probably, but not intentionally.

What were my criteria? The webpage had to mention 2014 dates, even if details were limited. For example, FenCon (an event I attend regularly) did not have 2014 information available when I compiled this list, so they are missing. FenCon now has information available, so I edited the post to add them, as well as a few others I forgot.

Have I personally attended all of these events? Nope.

Have I attended some of them? Yep. I went to ConDFW and the Writers' League conference once. I've gone to the DFW Writers' Conference four times and plan to attend this year (honesty-in-blogging: I'm a member of the DFW Writers' Workshop); and I've attended FenCon five times.

The most ubiquitous icon of writers' conferences are laptops.
Every class and the hallways are full of them. When I saw
this photograph, I giggled imagining writers in the past
lugging their heavy manual typewriters to conferences.
Silly, I know, but a fun idea nonetheless.    

Are all of these conferences? Nope. I included West Texas A&M because I've heard it's money well spent; ConDFW and FenCon because they are so much fun.

Did Blogger give me fits formatting? Yes, I swear whatever software they use hates me.

If you plan to attend these, or any other writer's conferences/classes/events in 2014 tell me about them.

Friday, January 10, 2014

WARNING! Fan Boy Gushing Ahead

In my thank-goodness-this-year-is-finally-over post, I mentioned that I read less fiction in 2013, but that didn't stop me from buying new novels.

Hi, my name is Kyle and I have an addiction to books.*
I didn't realize how large the monkey on my back was until I recently did a little cleaning to prepare for income taxes (there will probably be a future post on that subject). As I surveyed my ever-growing list of to-be-read books I found:
  • One from Ace
  • One from Abaddon Books
  • Two from Tachyon
  • Two from Harper Voyager
  • NINE from Angry Robot (two of which I purchased last week)
Holy printing press, batman, I'm helping to keep Angry Robot in business - and with a good reason. Their books are consistently the best I've read in the SF&F industry. Not all of their authors are British, so I can't say there must be something special in the water in England. Instead, I'll give credit to the editorial staff at AR. They consistently purchase stories I want to read.
Am I a member of The Robot Army? No. Those are readers
who frequently post reviews online. Since I suck at writing
reviews, I never applied. However, it is good to know there
is a legion of others who help spread the word about AR. 
As I mentioned in post # 5, I met an editor from Angry Robot at WorldCon. Not that I got to speak with him much (he was too busy selling books) but I did offer my opinion of several of the works on display. With a sole exception (which I won't name here), I've thoroughly enjoyed every book I've purchased with the AR logo on it. (I admit I envision my medieval steampunk WIP as an Angry Robot title.)
What about you? Do you have a favorite publisher? If yes, why?
* Traditional paper books. I haven't made the switch to ebooks and truthfully don't see myself doing so any time in the future.