Archive for May, 2011

Report from Balticon

It would be entirely too easy for me to write a nice long woe-is-me post regarding my experiences with doing one day of Balticon.  However, I’m trying to avoid woe-is-me posts, because I don’t like reading them when other people do them, so instead I’m just going to do some lessons learned.

Lesson one.  One day is not enough to do a convention.  Sure, it lets you attend some panels and wander around the dealers room, but it means you’re there as a casual fan rather than someone who is serious about getting some networking done.  The two big problems?  Networking largely happens after hours, and an hour spent in a panel is an hour where you’re not getting to talk with people.

Lesson two.  If you can’t network, stick with people who can.  It’s an art, it’s a skill, it’s not something everyone was born to do, or can even learn to do.  That’s why having friends who are better at it than you can be a benefit.  Though remember, they’re often trying to do some networking as well, so don’t cramp their style.  But don’t be completely out of touch either.  Networking is about knowing people who know people, and anyone you know at a convention who you’re not staying in at least some contact with while there is an opportunity lost.

Lesson three.  Plot ideas can come out of the strangest panels.  Deep brain stimulation.  It’s like hooking a pacemaker up to the brain, and is being explored as a possible treatment for depression that isn’t responding to typical treatments.  Oh yes, there’s a hell of a plotline there that’s churning over in my head.  Hopefully that alone will end up worth the price of the one day admission.

So next year?  I’ll probably do Balticon again, with the unquestionable goal of doing it better.

Tomorrow is June 1, so look for State of the Writer, and the day after is a Fortnightcap day.

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Comments and Balticon

Some administrative notes.

First: I have scaled back the tight grip that I held on comments.  I had a few blogs that descended into spam, so I’ve likely over reacted in the way I hate when other people do it (punish a few by making things nearly impossible for everyone).  Akismet is patrolling, and into every blog a little spam will fall.  Hopefully it doesn’t go too crazy.  (I’m also hoping that by saying spam three times, this is where they’ll land, spambots are weird that way).

Second: I’m going to be hitting Balticon on Saturday.  It’ll be my first time at a con with my writing name, rather than my regular name, on my badge.  Find me!  Ask me for a networking card!  Gawk at how many times my fantastic wife was able to get “DL” and “Thurston” onto a 3″x5″ piece of card stock (hint: 5 and 4).

Third: The Rust experiment has been closed.  I love the story, I love the book, I love that it taught me I could write novel-length fiction.  I love that anyone supported it.  But it is what it is: written quickly by a novice, edited by an amateur, and slung together into ePub formats by someone who was learning as he went.  Going forward, it’s not what I want to be the face of my fiction.  I thank everyone who read it, even (hell: especially) the guy who gave it two stars on Amazon.  He taught me I’ve reached a point where I can let negative critiques roll off my back and just keep right on going.  There’s a time where that wasn’t true.  To everyone who read it and liked it, I’m thrilled, for everyone who read it and didn’t, thanks for at least giving me a try.  One day it might be back in some format, but I can’t say when or how.

That is all.

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Capsule: Hotel Robot

Oh man.  Oh man, oh man, oh man.  Sorry, this has me just a little bit creeped out, and anyone who has been beta reading Capsule might understanding.

A new hotel in New York City has a robot arm, looking quite a bit like one you would see assembling cars, working as an employee.  It’s job?  Holding onto the luggage of guests who have either shown up before check-in time, or need a place to stow their bags between checking out and actually leaving town.  It costs what I would normally tip for this service, maybe even a little less, and for that it will pull a box off a shelf, remember which one your luggage is in, and retrieve it for you when you want it back.

First they’ll use robots to put our luggage in the right place, then they’ll use them to put us in the right place.

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Picking up a thrown gauntlet

What is it about me and writing challenges.  Nanowrimo.  #5MinuteFiction.  And now this:

For those who don’t want to hand-copy bit.ly links, the link heads over here.  The idea of the challenge is to follow in the literary footsteps of Ray Bradbury, who would write and submit one short story a week.  If you’re looking for someone to emulate, Ray Bradbury is certainly a hell of a person to choose, if for no other reasons than offers like this Hugo nominated one.  But also because he’s one of the most prolific writers in the history of the genre.

Now, in part he’s been so published because he’s damn good, but also because he pushed and tried to get published, and because he just made himself write.

There’s a clear problem with the challenge, and that’s the problem that I’ve clearly failed on it before.  In 2009 I attempted a project based on Jonathan Coulton’s Thing a Week where I endeavored to write a new short story every week.  I failed.  It’s part of why for 2011 I chose to write a new short story every OTHER week.  Clearly, at least at this point in my output, I’m not ready for writing something new every week.

What’s that?  #5MinuteFiction?  Okay, yes, I’ve taken up doing that, but for some reason I don’t tend to count that.  Please don’t tell Leah Petersen.  Why don’t I count that?  To me that’s more of a writing exercise, some mental gymnastics, which is a lot of fun but triggers different parts of my brain than writing for publication.

Fortunately there’s a secondary challenge.  A monthly challenge.  So: challenge accepted.  With the following rules imposed on myself:

  1. 5MinuteFiction does not count.
  2. Fortnightcaps do not count.

Basically, write one story intended for publication rather than a story intended for free distribution each month.  And submit one story (or, ideally, two) each month.

Going to be tough starting mid-month as I am, but I’m not going to let that be an excuse.  And if I can get to a point where I feel more prolific, maybe I’ll up the challenge to 2 of each a month, or even take on the weekly challenge again in 2012.

Damn you, Day.

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Fortnightcap: Last Christmas

Last Christmas

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

Creative Commons License

Unusual Christmas Shopping Patterns Reported

December 19, 2012

Economists are forecasting a mixed bag for the retail sector this Christmas.  The overall number of consumers is at its lowest level since holiday shopping trends were first tracked, but the amount being spent by those consumers has driven the overall boon to the economy higher than last year’s recession-dampened Christmas.  One shopper, loading down his car with three massive 3D televisions and armloads of BluRay movies commented, “what else are you going to do with your money right now?  There’s no reason not to be spending every damn cent of it.  And anyway, it’s Christmas!”

This matches the general mood that retailers have seen from consumers in the past few weeks, but Christmas cheer is running out as stores are having harder and harder times keeping in-demand customer goods on the shelves.  “There’s only so many televisions,” one store manager said, “and that’s it, it’s all we’re going to get.  I don’t know what to do when we’re out and won’t be getting any more.  Lock the doors?  Hopefully people understand.”  Shortages are spreading beyond just the retail electronics sector, forcing retail outlets of all stripes to decide on their contingency plans.

For those who are staying out of the commercial realm, there looks to be a unified reasoning.  They want to spend time with family, try to focus on the things that are important, especially at a time of year that so many religions find so sacred and that even agnostics and atheists feel a special connection to.  “What’s the point of buying more things?” asked Joanne Rhea, a young mother of two who has decided not to even put a tree up this year.  “In the end it’s all just stuff, some way for materialistic assholes to keep score right up until the bitter end.”  When her children were asked if they would miss having presents to open this year, her older son just started crying.

There has been an increase in charitable giving for the first time in a decade this season, with Toys for Tots bringing in record donations.  Major Michelle Prior, spokesperson for the organization, has issued words of thanks for the increase.  “It’s great that we’re going to be able to give so many children in need the best Christmas possible.”  The bell ringers of the Salvation Army have also been getting increased donations, including no fewer than five instances of checks for over $10,000 being found in the kettles.

Many people are choosing not to spend the holiday at home this year, and are instead traveling.  This has meant long lines at the airports, especially as many security personnel have stopped showing up for work.  At Dulles, Kevin Lorne was trying to make his way through the line in time for his flight to the Bahamas.  “It’s supposed to be paradise, ya know.  I always meant to go there.  Go see the Bahamas at least once before you die, that’s what I always figure.  Just once before you die.”  The State Department has reported an uptick of passport applications, though many countries have enacted new, less restrictive travel laws in recent months.

It brings to an end a necessarily unusual year that opened with the news that an extinction-mass asteroid is on an unstoppable collision course for earth, and will end with that asteroid striking during the early hours of December 29th.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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Fortnightcaps administrative note

Due to me getting hooked on the 5 Minute Fiction contest every Tuesday, Fortnightcaps will shift to being posted on Thursdays, effective this week.  Anyone looking for a little fresh fiction from me today, check out over here around 1:40pm.  Or come by earlier and join in the fun!

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A Writer Reviews: Thor

Recently I read Blake Snyder’s classic screenwriting instruction manual Save The Cat.  The book is perhaps best known for introducing the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, or BSBS for short, a formulaic approach to writing screenplays that can be used to analyze the seemingly most unformulaic of movies.  Even Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is given a Beat Sheet breakdown in the sequel Save The Cat Goes to the Movies.  These books have been revitalizing my interest in screenwriting, and I’ve been trying to get into the right mindset for going through the Beat Sheet.  However, it takes a lot of concentrating on a movie, which is something I’m not very good at.  Oh, I’ll catch all the plot elements and am usually not the person wandering out blinking into the sun asking what a character’s motivation was.  No, when I mean concentrating on a movie, I mean being able to break it down to base elements, run it through the beat sheet, and start recognizing where the act breaks are, where the midpoint is.  I have to see a movie several times so that I can turn off the part of my brain attempting to be entertained and turn on the part that can look at plot.

And therein lies the problem with Thor.  I went to see it over the weekend, and was able to start Beat Sheeting the movie, especially using two of Blake Snyder’s favorites the “Whiff of Death” moment and the “Break Into Three”.  There was something that was simply failing to engage me about the movie.

And it all started to come back to writing, and the fact that there are some universals when it comes to writing, whether it be for the page or for the screen.  The first and foremost of these is “show, don’t tell.”  Throughout the movie we are constantly being told what a brilliant scientist Natalie Portman’s character is.  But that’s really it.  We’re being told this without there being any moment in the movie where her knowledge is called on to solve a problem.  She is allowed absolutely no chance to participate in the story other than being Thor’s chauffeur and love interest.  This is, mind, the biggest name actor that the movie had going for it, and the clear number two character in the work, but she’s not given anything to actually work with to prove that she earned that Oscar she won a few years ago.  Now I’m not going to say that Oscar winners are never allowed to do fluff pieces after bringing home their trophies, but it’s a clear disappointment when an actress recognized for her talent is given such a one dimensional character.  And all because we’re only told she is such a great scientist without ever being shown it.

Character development.  Characters have to grow and change over the course of any narrative.  Hopefully all of them, but at the very least the protagonist.  And this is not one of the failings of Thor.  Through the movie Thor transitions from being a head-strong warrior who doesn’t care about consequences to being a more level headed and caring leader.  Which is great, and it’s the transition that the character needs to make.  However, the problem comes in when the impetus for change feels insufficient.  The path that he takes is such a short one that, as an audience member, I don’t feel like I’ve journeyed it with him.  And this is a problem with a lot of super hero movies, the films have to try extra hard to make the audience identify with a character so much different than they are.  It’s why Superman never really works on the screen, because he can’t be made as compelling as an audience wants.  And it’s part of what happens for Thor.  There’s nothing about the transition he makes that’s compelling, because it all has to be done so quickly because the movie has to fit in all the required elements as well.

Ah, the required elements.  It felt like no one had their heart in the necessary “I’ll join The Avengers” scene that got tacked into the movie, as Thor walks up to a guy who had spent a good part of the movie holding him hostage and tormenting him and saying what amounted to, “hey, if you guys are forming some super hero team that I would have no way of knowing about count me in!”  I could almost hear Kenneth Branagh gritting his teeth through the filming of that.

In the end the movie simply suffers.  It suffers from telling not showing.  It suffers from poorly laid out character growth.  It suffers from being filmed as an obligation towards The Avengers.  It’s fun to watch, certainly.  But it doesn’t really hold up in any way, and will probably go down as the weak link in the build-up to next year’s The Avengers, barring some complete collapse on the part of Captain America.

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Mustache Cat: Bottling Day

Adventures abounded during the bottling of the first batch of DL’s New Peculiar.  While doing all my santization, I re-read the instructions and saw that it was recommended to turn the priming sugar into a priming syrup, so the process got put on hold while I did some quick boiling and cooling.  During that time, I started working on sanitizing all my tubing, just to discover the bottling wand (a fantastic device that makes it a lot easier to fill a bottle to the correct level) and the tubing didn’t form a seal.

Look, I’m not saying I did the right thing.  I used duct tape.  Going forward I’m going to seek out a solution that doesn’t involve having to dunk duct tape into every bottle of beer I’m filling, but for yesterday it worked.  I got the solution in place, and started bottling.  Had a good thing going.  I was filling bottles, wife was capping them.  We were through about 18 of 24 22-ounce bottles we were filling when I suddenly remembered the priming sugar.  Sitting upstairs in the fridge.

What choice did I have?  We popped all 18 bottles and dumped them back into the bottling bucket along with the priming syrup.  This syrup provides just a little more sugar for the yeast to feast upon and provide some carbonation for the beer.  So I was damn close to bottling a full 5 gallons of really flat beer.  Redoing the bottling then resulted in my tubing clogging up with strawberry chunks twice.  Whole lot of not fun, but at least when everything got cleared out we had a good system in place.

It’s all in bottle now, priming and conditioning.  Few more weeks until I actually get to have any, but had a quick taste of the natal beer going into the bottles, and it wasn’t bad.  So here’s hoping for a good batch.

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Moment of Zen

Gotten two submissions off this week.  Feels good.  So I’m going to allow myself a moment of rest.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Alright, back to work.

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The Week That Is

Just some updates. First, got a rejection from Mammoth Book on Vampires of Mars. Cry cry, depressed, move on. The story is already back out the door and winging its way towards Writers of the Future. This is a story I really believe in, so I’m going to keep it in heavy circulation with its next several stops already well planned out. This is actually going to be a good week for me submission-wise as I send two stories out the door. Other one is for an anthology with a July 1 deadline, but the story is ready and I don’t want it hanging over my head. Especially since there’s another July 1 anthology I’m going out for that I’ve only got a few hundred words written towards. Eep.

Continuing to be told July on the publication of Steam Works, so I’m still hoping that anthology actually does happen.

The bigger news is about Rust. Several months ago I put Rust out for the Kindle and on Smashwords, largely to explore the process and see how it works for a series of posts over on Unleaded. I left it out there because, what the hell, why not? Well, I recently got my first review on Amazon. Two stars. Ouch. And that started the wheels in motion for eventually pulling it back offline. This isn’t a petulant “someone didn’t like my book so I’m taking my ball and going home” move, but rather one that I’ve always sort of planned. The review drove home that Rust isn’t necessarily the best public face for myself. It was a Nanowrimo project with a plot that’s disjointed at times, a bizarre conclusion, and probably less editing than I would have really liked to do. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t throw out a completely unedited Nano project, I gave it several passes. But in part that’s the problem: I gave it several passes. And I’m really not the world’s best editor.

So Rust will probably come down before the publication of Steam Works.  It won’t be today, but it’ll probably be in the next month or so, and likely without notice.  Anyone who still wants a copy is still free to grab one, just remember to keep your expectations low.  I know, that’s the hard sell right there, isn’t it?

I’m likely talking to some new readers.  At least I hope I am.  I’ve been participating in 5 Minute Fiction the last two weeks (if you’re reading this on the morning it was posted, it’s not too late to vote for my story to help me move from a distant last to merely a distant 4th place) and have seen the readership of my blog spike both Tuesdays and stay higher-than-usual in between.  It’s been a hell of a lot of fun doing these pieces the last two weeks, and plan to keep going and evangelize it to other writers as I can.  It’s all the fun of Nanowrimo with just 1/10800th the time commitment!

Finally, I’ve been talked into Balticon, though will likely only be attending one day of the event.  It’s going to be my first attempt at attending a con semi-professionally.  Yes, I’m going to actually meet people and not shyly wander around and not ask questions in panels.  Fortunately I’ll be guided by much more extroverted friends towards the right people to meet and talk to.

So there’s the week that is for me.  It’s Wednesday, which means I’ll also be posting over on Unleaded today, just as soon as I figure out what I’m going to talk about.  No.  Seriously.  I haven’t a clue right now.

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