Monday, September 30, 2013

The Odd Couple: Father & Son Style

My youngest, Jacob, and I have different definitions of the word 'clean'.
I believe:
  • Dishes should be done nightly.
  • Vacuuming every two weeks.
  • Clothes washed, folded and put away weekly.
  • Bathrooms scrubbed regularly (I am a bit lax here).
  • Basically, the public areas of your home should be presentable enough that company could drop by unannounced. (My writing area remains a constant mess, but that works for me).
Jacob believes:
  • Dishwashers should include arms to load themselves.
  • Vacuuming - what's that?
  • Washed and folded clothes (dear ole Dad does that part, of course) are just fine stacked on his bedroom floor.
  • Scrub a bathroom? Why?
  • Company should never drop by unannounced. (His artist area is an even bigger mess.)
From Zits, one of my favorite comic strips (who hopefully won't get mad
I copied this from their website - I have a good reason, really I do, but I don't
have a lawyer. Please, no cease and desist letters. No one reads my blog anyway).
As part of our never ending battle, when I saw this Zits cartoon, I decided to play a joke on Jacob. I carefully cut out the cartoon and taped it to his bedroom door. I expected shouts of rage that I had dared to post propaganda on his sanctuary.

Nary a word.

When I asked him, Jacob said he loved the cartoon and intended to leave it posted to his bedroom door. He said it summarized his philosophy on cleanliness.

So much for dear ole Dad psyching him out. All I accomplished was enabling his eventual appearance on Hoarders.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Private Man Goes Public, or Hey Look! I Know How to Download the Pictures from my Phone

Lucas in his high school graduation
gown. I knew the kid would graduate
(he's too determine not to) but I wasn't
confident he'd walk the stage to get his
diploma (he said it was a waste of time).
I'm glad he did. He earned that degree.
I am a private person. I rarely share information or photographs of my family. However, as I was sorting through the pictures on my phone* recently, I decided a few were worth sharing.
Me and my sons. Jacob (in the red coat)
and I went to hear Lucas (Mr. Shades)
play with the Zak Brown Band in Dallas.
It was fun, but I'm glad Lucas warned me
to wear ear plugs. Otherwise, I might still
be deaf several months later.
Lucas and Jacob kidding around before
Lucas' high school graduation. I find this
picture humorous, because when they were
younger, Lucas was bigger/stronger than
Jacob and used to bully him a bit. No longer.
Jacob got bigger/stronger and can hold his
own now. I'm glad the tables turned.

During the concert, Jacob met Zak
Brown. I didn't (I think I had gone
to get the car. Always my luck.)
In his travels, Lucas gets to meet lots of famous
people. Here, he's with Willie Robertson from
Duck Dynasty fame (I enjoy their TV show).
Jacob holding his first paycheck
from his first job. Yes, I encouraged
(he says forced) him to get a summer
job. The way he complained you
would think I had indentured him
for life. Of course, he loved the
money and missed the job when
the summer ended.



These two might as well be my children. Leo (gray) and I
tolerate each other (he only 'likes' me when it's feeding time,
but I know his leg rubbings are fake). Levi (black) is my
best buddy. I got him from my sister (Leo, too), and Levi
was very sick. Snotty nose, crusty eyes (cost me over $1000
to keep him from going blind), and he still has health issues
today. However, he genuinely loves me, whereas Leo wishes
I'd fall off the planet (as long as someone continued to feed him)

I know these pictures aren't in a logical order. Blogspot gave me so many problems trying to move the images I finally gave up and let them post where they would. Thanks for looking.
* Being able to take photographs with a phone. How science fictiony, all Space 1999, does that sound? Especially considering we've only had these things a few decades and they used to only make phone calls (which everyone thought was miraculous!)  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Review: Sleepy Hollow on Fox

I've decided to dedicated more time to writing. To achieve this, I had vowed NO NEW TELEVISION SHOWS. In fact, I've deleted some long-standing programs from the record feature on my DVR.
When I read a summary of Sleepy Hollow on Fox, I decided to make an exception. Obviously, I'm a big fan of anything paranormal, historical, and just plain weird. The show sounded as if it would meet all three criteria. It did … and it didn't. Here's why:
·     Set in 1781, Sleepy Hollow opens strong. There's lots of action and the battle scene was apparently filmed with that new technique that makes the audience feel as if they are in the middle of action*.

Actually, I thought the story opened too fast. I wanted a moment to connect with Ichabod Crane before he's killed. Maybe that would have made me care more when he's mysteriously resurrected later.

·     Next, we move into modern day and the Headless Horseman is searching for his head. He confronts a mysterious priest who says: "I'll never tell you where it is. I'm prepared to die."

Headless accommodates the priest's wishes and cuts off his head. Then, we switch to the priest's point-of-view as his head slowly tumbles to the ground and we watch the Headless Horseman walk away. It was meant to be dramatic, but it turned out to be melodramatic. I had to pause the show for several minutes because I was laughing so hard.

·     Wiping away my tears of mirth, I pressed on. Next, Ichabod finds his wife's grave. According to the tombstone, she died in 1782. However, the tombstone looks as new as if it had been erected that same day. It's a small gripe, but if the set director had taken the extra effort to make the headstone appear aged, it would have done much to help a show that wants to be dark and serious, but is more of a silly comedy.  

·     Jumping forward a bit in the story (by this point, I was only paying half attention) Ichabod and his cop friend, Abby, open Ichabod's wife's grave to recover the Headless Horseman's head. (Long story. Apparently wifey isn't dead, but is possibly trapped in a dreamworld.) When Ichabod finds the head, the tarp that covers it looks brand new and clean (not a spot of dirt on it after being buried for 231 years). I guess the same magical powers that put her in dreamland and preserved her tombstone also kept the tarp in mint condition.

·     Up to this point, Headless Horseman has been a real bad ass. He's chopping off heads left-and-right with his trusty ax. I kinda like Headless. He's a man with a goal. I respect that.

Then, toward the end of the episode, Headless puts his ax away, picks up an automatic weapon, and starts blasting everyone with bullets. I couldn't stop laughing. It was so silly. It also made me wonder why he even needed a head so badly. He can walk/chop/slice/dice/shoot and never misses despite his lack of a noggin.

By the end of the show, Headless has everyone beat. He's going to win. Then, a single ray of sunlight strikes his neck area and we see a whiff of white smoke. The next thing we know, Headless is on his horse and rides away. Hell, if that's all it takes, just stay out of his way after dark.

·     The episode concludes with Ichabod revealing to Abby that they are the two witnesses foretold in Revelations to endure a seven-year battle against the four horsemen of the apocalypse. I giggled. The show's producers had given themselves a goal for how long they wanted to stay on the air. Good for them.

Overall, Sleepy Hollow accomplished being a paranormal story (even if a bit inconsistent one). It sucked from a historical viewpoint (but, again, that's my pet peeve). And was less weird than unintentionally comedic.

Whether the series will last seven years, or seven episodes is up to the viewers. I, for one, will not be tuning in. I can use that hour to write my own scary, historical, and weird stories.  

*It's not 3D [no special glasses are required] but still feels more like being inside the TV than just watching a flat screen. I don't know how it's done, or the name of the special effect, but I have noticed more history programs using it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

WorldCon Post # 5: My Personal Successes

·     I met three literary agents, two of whom I added to my query-when-I-have-a-novel written spreadsheet.
·     One of those two agents sampled my writing (I can't reveal all of the details, since I swore to secrecy). She liked what she read enough to comment that if I ever wrote a novel set in the same world, she knew some editors who would be interested.  

Her statement made me want to kick myself. Once again, I had missed an opportunity with a literary agent because I have no book written. Heck, I didn't even have an idea. Then, one slapped me in the shower the next morning (isn't that where all the greatest ideas come from?). I'm currently world building a quasi-steampunk novel.  

·     I met the editor of Angry Robot Books, my favorite publisher. I wish I could say I handled myself like a pro, but in truth, I gushed like a fanboy.

·     I thanked Sheila Williams, the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, for her kind rejections. At first she laughed, but when I stated that she always includes a brief sentence that gives me hope, she looked surprised and said:

"I mean those comments, too. Very few writers get them."

I don't think my feet touched the ground for the rest of the day.

·      I met my all-time favorite author: Joe R Lansdale. I almost didn't, but Paul encouraged me to speak to Mr. Lansdale. I visited with him a couple of times over the course of the weekend. He signed several books for me - both ones I had purchased at the Con and novels I already owned.

·     I may have discovered a new favorite author: Chuck Wendig. He writes horror and dark urban fantasy, and so far, his books have blown my mind.

·     I attended my first Hugo Awards. I'm glad I sat in the audience versus watching the live stream. There was a special feeling to being in the room, seeing all the fancy clothes, hearing the many acceptance speeches, and fantasying about one day walking on stage to accept my own Hugo.

·     I received five free books: three from Angry Robot and two from Solaris. All look interesting.  

·     I purchased nine books, two of which were Simon's Cat (I didn't know there were books - so funny!) and one was the children's book version of the poem on which the movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas, was based.

The rest of my purchases were either writers I've previously read, or were new authors I had discovered at the Con. (Not sure book purchases qualify as a success considering my goal was to buy zero books.)

·     I ate one bug and received one free audio book in return. (The bug was a cricket and it tasted spicy at first, but then very bitter. I needed lots of water to wash it down.)

·     I bought six t-shirts. (Okay, Paul believes I have a t-shirt addiction, so maybe this one isn't a success either. My goal had been to buy zero t-shirts, but my favorite t-shirt vendor showed up and I couldn't resist.)

·     I attended 18 panels, which does not seem like a lot in retrospect considering I was there for five days. How did I spend my extra time? In the Exhibit Hall, apparently.

·     I attended … pauses to try to remember … LOTS! of parties. I lost track of the actual number, because there were multiple room parties almost every night. I will say I enjoyed the food in the Nippon (Japan) in 2017 bid party the most. They had candy and snacks that I scarfed on repeated visits.  

·     I gained only one pound, despite being too tired to exercise regularly, eating mostly fattening foods, and almost devouring the Japanese room party (hey, I donated to help defray their costs). Overall, I did make a good attempt to eat healthy thanks to the consuite stocking fresh fruits and some veggies. 

·     I walked about gazillion miles between the hotel and the convention center (hmmm, maybe that's why I didn't gain much weight).

·     I had the best time of any Con I have ever attended. That alone was my biggest success.  
      If you attended WorldCon 2013, or previous WorldCons, or other SF&F cons, what did you consider your biggest successes?  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

WorldCon Post # 4: Writers' Workshop

I am a proponent of workshopping one's writing. Authors get too close to their stories and can't see all of the problems. Fresh eyes help strengthen a piece.
As I previously blogged, I registered for the writers' workshop at WorldCon. However, I did so with apprehension. Having participated in five previous workshops at two different Cons over the years, I knew that anonymous workshops can be stressful. I simply do not know where a fellow writer is in his/her journey, or how my comments might affect their willingness to continue the uphill slog toward publication*.
Therefore, it's important that I reexamine my original reasons for participating.
This clip art is a pretty good
representation of a writers'
critique group. You sit around
a table critiquing each other's
work. At DFWWW we read our
writing aloud for 15 minutes & then
receive five minutes of critique. In
other groups I've participated in the  
story is emailed ahead of time and
everyone brings a marked copy to
share with the submitter. Both
methods work equally well in my
opinion. I'd be interested to know
the thoughts of other writers.
1.    It's Worldcon. If I hadn't participated, I would have regretted it. The writers' workshop was one more positive experiences in probably the best Con I've ever attended.

2.    It's inexpensive. The nominal price I paid was a bargain compared to everything I learned. Without a doubt, this was the best Con writers' workshop in which I've participated. 

3.    The small group size (four aspiring, two professional authors) was perfect. Not too much to read, so I didn't feel brain dead. The stories were written at different levels of experience, but none were amateurish. I can honestly say I enjoyed every story and look forward to reading its polished form in a pro mag one day.  

4.    Yes, I grew. Going in, I knew something was wrong with my submission, but I couldn't pinpoint the problem(s). The critiques revealed several plot holes I had overlooked. To say I felt silly for failing to see my own errors is putting it nicely.

5.    A good friend told me 'networking' is a bad word and should not be used outside of the business world. Whatever you want to call it, I still suck at it. However, this workshop had such a good vibe we continued it afterwards by sharing lunch. That was a new experience and I felt that I had established some good friends in the SF&F writing community.

Final assessment: my five solid reasons for participating in the writers' workshop all proved to be valid. I'm happy I registered and I'm still buzzing from all the incredible mojo.
Next, the last post of the WorldCon series: my personal successes.
*It's easier critiquing people in my weekly writers' group. I know them and they know me. We've already established a baseline for critiques. Con workshops involve unknown factors. I have no idea if my comments will help or harm the participants. I know there are some writers who take the stance that all authors must possess a thick skin. I agree with that, but I still don't want to be the reason someone trashed their dreams because of a comment I made. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

WorldCon Post # 3: Community

During Worldcon 2013, I attended my first Hugo Awards ceremony. For those who don't know, the Hugo is probably the biggest award* in the SF&F industry. In a way, it was like attending the Oscars. Many of the nominees arrived in tuxedos. The ladies were spectacular in their gowns. The list of nominated writers read like a current pantheon of SF&F royalty.
Of course, I didn't get to sit up front with the pretty people (one day I will). I sat in the back with the regular joe audience, and the room was packed with us regulars. To get my up-close seat I had to be in line early. Gabe and Paul, my road trip buddies and roomies, bailed on me and decided to watch the live streaming. Unfortunately, the broadcast had difficulties and they missed much of the show. Besides, watching through a laptop cannot compare to being there in person. It was both a learning experience and a magical one. 
The winners presented a consistent theme among the many standard "thank you" and "couldn't-have-done-it-without" acceptance speeches. They spoke of the sense of community that binds all SF&F readers, writers, fans, and industry professionals. Many said they were nerds in high school who had been persecuted for their love of SF&F. Yet, when they discovered the Cons, they found their people. It didn't matter if their primary interest was writing, reading, making music, creating art, or wearing a costume, everyone was accepted as equals.

(Left to right) Tex Thompson, Paul LaMarre, Gabe Guerrero
(costumed as his orc cosplay character, Tarbuz), Alley Hauldren,
Grace Roeber, and me. (Not pictured Gerald Warfield)
That thought made me smile. I'm blessed to be a member of the DFW Writers' Workshop. While not everyone at DFW writes SF&F (thank goodness, the competition is already too intense) we share a sense of community that I've never found in any other organization. I'm also blessed that there are several SF&F writers at DFWWW. People whose work I admire. Stories that I enjoy following during each week's read. Folks knowledgeable of SF&F tropes who critique my writing and make it better.

Attending WorldCon with several of my fellow Workshoppers made me appreciate them all the more. The Con and its thousands of attendees were not scary because I already knew people there. We helped each other meet our favorite authors (I ate a bug so Gabe could meet Martha Wells, and Paul encouraged me to say hello to Joe R. Lansdale). We attended panels together; provided support as we spoke to literary agents; and entertained each other during meals. Without the strong writing community I'm a member of, I'm sure I'd never have taken the first steps toward writing a novel (even if my journey has been a long and often confusing one).

Next blog: my WorldCon Writers' Workshop experience.  
*There are many other awards in the SF&F community, and it's debatable if the Nebula is more important than the Hugo. However, I've yet to meet anyone in SF&F who does not consider the Hugo to be the more prestigious award.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

WorldCon Post # 2: More Kudos

Solaris Presents was the first panel of my first full day at Worldcon. I have to admit I did not know much about this publisher from the UK, but found myself impressed with them. My fav publisher is Angry Robot (also from the UK), but Solaris may give Robot some competition. I purchased several Solaris books to sample.

However, what impressed me the most was Tex Thompson. All you have to do is read my August 15 posting to know that Tex and I workshop together and she's recently joined the ranks of the soon-to-be-traditionally-published. More than that, at WorldCon I saw the makings of a superstar.

I've observed more than a few panels consisting of established and newbie authors. Too many times, the newbies act as if they have to prove themselves. This can result in the newbies hogging questions and speaking over the established writers. Sad doesn't begin to describe it.

Tex was the epitome of professionalism. She shared a panel with Solaris editors and three of their authors.

Some big name authors.

Best-selling authors.

Tex carried herself with dignity and poise. She spoke over no one. She waited her turn and answered questions with confidence and authority. She proved she's not an insecure newbie. I can give no higher praise than to say when I participate in my first panel someday I hope I do as good a job as Tex did.     

Next blog: more stories from the WorldCon.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

WorldCon Post # 1: Kudos

The 2013 World Science Fiction Convention (aka LoneStarCon3 & WorldCon) held in San Antonio, Texas, from August 29 to September 2, was one of the most positive experiences of my writing life. I'll blog more about my personal experiences in future posts. For now, I want to share some kudos for another. 
Gabe Guerrero, a good friend and great writer, spent the last year sculpting his body in preparation to cosplay his orc creation, Tarbuz. He lost weight (I'm not sure how much, but I know he long ago surpassed the number of lbs I've dropped). He bulked up by following a strict weightlifting regime. He crafted his orc costume with care, and all of his planning paid off. I can say without reservation
Gabe looks mean, but under
all that green paint he's really
a big softie.
As Gabe describes it, he couldn't walk two feet without someone asking to take his picture. There were other non-SF&F events happening at the same time in the convention center and those people flocked to Gabe as much as the geeks did. Little old ladies wanted their picture taken with him. Small children screamed "Shrek!" and some even hugged him. (I guess little ones can't tell the difference between an ogre and an orc. Actually, many adults couldn't either. Gabe educated folks on the difference.)
As great as that is, it gets better.
Locus Magazine, the major trade publication for the SF&F industry took Gabe's picture. At first, they intended to use it on their blog. Now, the photo will possibly appear in a future issue. How cool is that?

His photograph is the artwork for an online article in The Austin Chronicle. (Gabe looks great, but I think the article's author got lots of things wrong about WorldCon).
A local Spanish language television station asked to take Gabe's picture. Using Spanish, they discussed among themselves how to pose him. When Gabe responded in Spanish that he'd do whatever they wanted, they were shocked.
"You're Latino?"
Apparently, it amazed them that people of Latin descent were fans of SF&F. How silly is that? The crowd at WorldCon was very diverse. I saw people of all genders, races, and nationalities. For all its shortcomings, SF&F is inclusive.
Finally, Gabe also won a Hall Award for his costume. Several of us encouraged him to participate in the Masquerade, but with no success. However, Gabe says he will participate in the Masquerade at FenCon in October 2013.
As I said, I'll blog more about WorldCon later. So much good happened, one post can't capture it all.