Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I'm a Moron... The Proof (part II)

Remember when I blathered on about all these podcasts I listened to the other day? Well, here’s the thing, I'm still blathering.

See, I was on one of them. And here’s the other thing: I sucked. I sounded like a moron. 

Sigh, really.

Now, for the first time ever, you can hear my perfectly acceptable reason why I came across so poorly.

Way back in the early days of the 2012, I found this brand new podcast called the Roundtable Podcast. I mentioned before (in part 1 of this post) that it invites writers to come on and pitch a story while they, and a guest pro-author, go over the story in some detail and talk about what story points might be a bad idea and what might need to be added in order to make the story stronger.

Funny, I’ve been struggling with my epic fantasy novel now for some time. I’ve been stuck on it and have been looking for someone to bounce my story around with and see if I can hammer  out some things.

So I sent them an email and said I could use some help. The ball was in motion. I was put in the queue and I felt the freedom to work on some other things and wait until we could set a date. Which we eventually did.

Meanwhile, I was told to work on my pitch. My 5-8 minute synopsis of my novel that lays out all the major plot points that we need to discuss. I had something, like, 5 months to get that down.

No problem.  I got to work. I worked, worked, and worked on it. I recorded myself, timed myself, tried it out on people and asked how well they understood. I went back and tried it again, and again. Whittling it down to the perfect segment. I became the master of the synopsis.

The week finally came. I had a Skype call with the regular hosts to go over my synopsis and make sure things were okay. The call went fine, the time and date with the guest pro was verified and we were all set.

Then, through one of those quirks that happens when you have to coordinate the schedules of several people, someone had an emergency at the last minute and we had to reschedule.

I was given a few possible dates for the make-up date. I chose the one I thought would be best. No big deal.

Then my dad came to town.

My father lives on the west coast and comes in when he can. It happens once or maybe twice a year. He has a busy schedule when he comes, as he is responsible for much of the financial decisions regarding his mother (my awesome grandmother, which I wrote a fictionalized story about in an anthology that came out a few years ago…. which is also going up on the Kindle this week), and his week was pretty booked.

I was pretty booked too. I had to go out of town for this work-thing. I Spent a couple of days away for that, I worked some very long hours during my time in town, I only had a few moments to even acknowledge my father during his stay… except for his last night, which happened to be a Friday… the day before my recording session.

We went to my son’s football game, his team won in a blowout under perfect weather. Afterwards, we decided to go to my sister’s house in the next town over to hang out.

So we went, we hung, we had beers and pizza and we talked, it was a great night/morning.

I awoke on my sister’s comfy couch and was a bit fuzzy about what was going on. I know my dad was about to walk out the door to fly back to Cali and I had a recording session coming up in about 2 hours. Then I found out I had to take my step-son somewhere (I forget now, but it was important). So I hugged everyone and grabbed my kids and took off.

I arrived home a few minutes before our scheduled recording session only to find that my wife had brought someone in to help with our never-ending kitchen remodel. Great, I could use the help. Lots of noise and banging though.

I sequestered myself in a room and connected. Just in time.

Part of the format of the show is that the guest pro has an interview before the writer-in-trouble spills all their story telling woes. That interview gets put up as its own podcast a few days before the story discussion happens, but it all gets recorded together. It was about 30 seconds into the interview before I realized that I’d not really slept the previous night - I’d just dropped at some point when I was too tired to continue. I was really sleepy.

So sleepy, in fact, that I fell asleep during the interview – the interview with Hugo award winning author Tim Pratt, who was about to critique my story. Zonked. Then, as Skype is wont to do, it disconnected me. The sudden silence woke me. I frantically fiddled with things until I was reconnected to the call… once on, I immediately went into that synopsis I spent the last 5 months slaving over.

… and forgot every damn thing about it.

Every. Damn. Thing.

I said something about having already written 50,000 pages of text for the story, then went on to start describing unimportant details and stuttering until, mercifully, I just stopped talking.

At that point it became a bit more conversational, and wasn’t as bad.

Sigh. After it was over, the wonderful moderator/host told me that he’s a masterful editor and that he’d do his best to make me sound less than stupid.

That podcast is up by the way… go listen – then tell me how well you think the host did in fixing me.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I'm a Moron... And I Can Prove it! (part 1)

I'VE GOT A LOT TO SAY TODAY, apparently. Sorry about that wordcount. But before I first want to point out that Andrew Leon's ongoing Serial about a little boy whose not quite of this world continues with the release of Part 5: The Police Car. I hope everyone has been getting these as they come out, he tends to make them all free for a day or two when first released. Please go check them out. 

I'VE MADE MENTION in the past of how much of a podcast junkie I am. Well, it’s still true. I’ve made lists, recommendations, all sorts of that sort of thing – doing my best to inform he world of all the great stuff that’s out there.  Unfortunately for me, there is a real Darwinian competition for what reaches my ears. I don’t have time to listen to all the shows I want to so I tend to have a rotating schedule. I’ll find something new and something old will get pushed aside, I’ll usually come back around later to pick it back up, but that means I’ve dropped something else from my listening schedule.

Funny about that, as I used to fancy myself a bit of a musician and listened to music almost exclusively. But way back in the day, when I drove my super-awesome car with my extra-super-awesome stereo (a completely badass 10 disk changer with dedicated amps for the speakers…. I had two 12” subs, four 10” subs (to be honest, I got rid of the 10” subs… they tended to muddy up my bass tones and took up tons of space - I put the 12"s in a bigger box and it sounded much better)– several sets of smaller speakers scattered throughout my interior for the high and mid-range portions of the spectrum. I even recall going on vacation and not being able to pack because my car was full of equipment.

All so I could listen to Pantera at volumes that would make my ribs crack.

But after a while I was spending more and more of my drive time listening to a.m. talk radio - political or sports related mostly. My interest in music started to dwindle and fade. It wasn’t long before I was more interested in finding something interesting that was being discussed.

Fast forward a few years (5 or 6 maybe), late nineties I think. Anyone remember Broadcast.com? I do. I don’t remember the details of what they had to offer, but I recall listening to tons of stuff there: sitting at my giant, wall-sized mainframe of a computer and staring out the window and listening to… well, stuff.

And by the mid two-thousands I was a podcast junkie. I had to wait for the iPod revolution and for the content to fill it with, but once I had podcasts my life was over.

At first I mostly listened to science related things, but as I found more and more niche programming I was able to really start honing in on things that specifically related to writing.

And that concludes this post. The rest is just stuff about some of my favorite writing-centric podcasts. Feel free to ignore.

As of this writing, here are the podcasts I most highly recommend if you’re aspiring to write:

The Roundtable Podcast: MUST LISTEN if you are an aspiring writer and you want to improve your craft. The format of this show is that a writer with a story brings it to the table where the pros listen to their pitch for 5 – 8 minutes, ask some clarifying questions, then start hammering away at the plot until they’ve eked out as much drama as they can for the story. It’s a brilliant show

Actually, that’s on Tuesday. Every Friday, they interview a guest host (a pro author) and discuss writing in a more general since. Still brilliant.

Writing Excuses: MUST LISTEN if you want to understand how stories work. Brandon Sanderson is the real reason this exists, but he shares the hosting duties with several other published writers. They sit around and discuss all sorts of topics that are intended to help the fledgling writer improve. If you ever listen to words, then listen to this. It might be the most listenable of all the podcasts on this list for someone who isn't that interested in the topic. My wife will sit and listen to many episodes with me if we're in the car, she won't do that regularly for any other podcast.

Speculate!: I’d almost give this a MUST LISTEN, but I’ll hold off on that. I’ll give this a STRONG RECOMMEND. Really, I just like writing stuff in all caps. Beyond that, an academic (and Fantasy author) and another author tend to pick a book and over several podcasts really get in depth into the book they’ve chosen. The format isn’t always exactly the same, but generally speaking, they will spend an episode discussing the book’s plot and how well they felt the author did. Another episode is usually an interview with the author, where they discuss the writing process. The final in the series is usually a detailed breakdown of the themes and techniques the author used to tell the story. It’s almost always insightful. I love this.

Dead Robots Society: This is a more free form podcast, where the triumvirate of hosts discuss what they are currently working on and how close they feel they are to achieving their dreams.  The third spot on the panel seems to rotate from time to time for whatever reason, like the drummer from Spinal Tap. I tend to be fascinated as I listen because more often than not, things delve into the self-publishing vs traditional route, as one host has gone the traditional route, with another choosing self-publishing exclusively (making $6300 per month at the last update I heard) with the third (currently) also forgoing traditional publishers, but with much more modest levels of monetary success. Great stuff.

Story Wonk Sunday: This one has a format that took me a bit of getting used to. It’s a pro author and her husband – an aspiring author – as they break down and discuss books and movies and look for the elements that worked well and those that didn’t. Again, the format is a bit odd, and they tend to sound more like a drive-time radio show – something that can be tough to listen to – but they always give wonderful insights into what makes a compelling story. Again, you have to be able to get past the talking over one another and bursts of laughter that seem to come out of nowhere. But if you can deal with that then you’ll be rewarded

Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing: This one gets grandfathered in, the unpredictable release of new episodes (none for a month or more, then two-a-week for three weeks, followed by another drought). Still, I’ve been listening to this podcast more or less since I first discovered it, back in 2007 maybe? Wow. That seems like a looong time ago. Is that right?

Regardless, it was Shaun Ferrell that first figured out that if you wanted to be a published author, it’s probably a good idea to find a published author and ask them how they did it. Well, he probably isn’t the first person to figure it out, but he was the first person I know of that actually did something with the idea… and was kind enough to record the conversations that came out of that.

I love the show, but I get the feeling that the host has a lot of demands on his personal life that keeps him from putting in the hours needed to keep new episodes coming out regularly. The time he had his co-host Sam was the true golden era for this podcast. I miss her snark and wish she’d turn back up.

The host conducts an interview wonderfully and has a charm that makes him hard to not want to listen to more.

There are tons of other podcasts I listen to that feature authors regularly: SF Signal, Sqeecast, The Functional Nerds, Sword and Laser, Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy… but those don’t have a stated goal of helping me improve as an author, and the focus can be different. Still very intriguing though, please check them out.

Also, our very own blogger buddies Vic Caswell and Author Emily White run the Pod People podcast. They aren’t really targeting themselves towards authors, but instead they discuss things more closely associated with the YA fandom. Everyone should give them a listen even if that isn’t your thing.

Phew. That was wordy. Can you believe that was all a preamble to what I really wanted to talk about? Hang in there, part 2 will bring it all together (where my moronic side gets exposed) in a magical way.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Guilty Pleasures Blogfest

The mighty Alex J Cavanaugh is hosting the Guilty Pleasure blogfest. Where I reveal, for the first time anywhere, my favorite genres of Movies, Music, and Books… then reveal one genre that I enjoy as a guilty pleasure. Cool beans. Let’s get started.

Movies: Hmmm, if I’m going to the theater, then I want my money to be right there on the screen. Production values, fx, those are important to me if I’m paying to see it on a 100 ft screen (or whatever), so I tend to prefer…

Science Fiction!

I know - everyone’s shocked, right? You were thinking I was going to say historical romance – but then I threw a curve ball.

Music: Well, I once fancied myself as a musician. That was a long time ago. Although I dabbled in as many styles as I could in hopes of improving my skills, I tended to want to play heavy metal. As a guitar player, I preferred some of the more intricate guitar work and the aggressive mood that the genre was known for. But as a listener, and a b-list singer, I tended to enjoy the more melodic types of music that was more standard, radio rock. So my enjoyment was neatly divided into the creative parts (heavy) and the consumer (lighter).

Pantera, especially their older stuff, really blending the aggressive, rage fueled power of metal, but produced music that was also filled with hooks and singable parts.

Whatever, I have a post going up later this week where I discuss how little I listen to music nowadays anyway. And I really don’t. But when I reminisce, it’s a great feeling to whip out some ol’ heavy stuff and dream about restarting a band. So, my answer:

Heavy Metal

Books: Oh boy. It’s funny how this has changed over the years. I used to read Star Trek novels and non-fiction, nothing else. I read pop-science books almost exclusively for years. Over time, I started reading science fiction, but of the sub-genre of hard sci fi, and no, it’s not porn, but one where the scientific rigor of the stories were paramount. I tended to engage with the books only as far as I could get on board with the scientific concepts being presented.

Time marched on, and I branched out, reading the genre more or less as a whole, later still, I spread out to read fantasy novels, then thrillers, some literary fiction. As I grew more interested in writing, much like I did music, I wanted to read as widely as I could, find out what captured my imagination and pick up clues as to what makes something good. I still haven’t quite figured that one out, but I’ll let you know as soon as I figure that one out. My chosen genre?

Science Fiction

As if there was ever any doubt. Weirdly enough, the type of Sci Fi I enjoy reading is much different that than the type I enjoy seeing in movies. The type I want to read tends to be more philosophical, heady, while the kind that I watch tends to blow stuff up.

MY GUILTY PLEASURE: now that’s interesting. What is it, out of the three things I talked about above? Well, I suppose in the eyes of many, my three choices would be considered guilty pleasures in-and-of themselves. So what does a person, whose every love is probably a guilty pleasure, think of as their guilty pleasure?

Well, I do, sometimes, enjoy, solely for the pleasure it gives my ears, to listen to Irish Folk songs. I won't say that it's embarrassing or anything, but if I'm at the redlight and the windows are down, I will cut the volume down on my stereo.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Boring Crap That Happened

I’m not around much these days. I think that I’ve been spending less and less time blogging since the spring. It started as a break after a brutal A-Z Challenge, but since then I think a lot of my mojo for blogging has gone whoooosh.

I’ve not announced anything, mostly because I’m sure that as soon as I say that I’m not going to post more than once a week I’ll turn around and start putting stuff up every day. But as the summer has worn on I think I’ve come to realize that posting isn’t so tough, but responding to comments and visiting other bloggers is what’s suffered.

So, fair warning to all, I love everyone but I’ve been a bad responder/visitor of late. I don’t see that changing real soon. Please forgive me (if you’ve noticed at all).

My wife told me she bought a shed to go in our backyard. She said she wanted a workspace to use as an office for her day job, and something that she could use to work on her stained glass. Sounds great.

Then she got horribly ill and had to stay home from work to recover. She called me at the office last week and told me I had to rush home. Worried, I took off.

I arrived home to find that the shed was on its way. She said it’s a bit bigger than I might be expecting so she needed me to remove a few portions of the fence.

I immediately got worried. I recall that those 4”x4” posts were set very deep in the ground and affixed with concrete. I came, put on my working clothes – my ‘I heart science’ t-shirt and cargo shorts – then my wife told me that I shouldn’t wear my good working clothes, but my working clothes that are better equipped for ruination. So I changed again THEN I came out and started digging things up. I moved about a ton of concrete (from another, unrelated, project) and managed, with some labor, a bit of help, and time, to get it all cleared.

Then the shed arrived and I understood why she was being so coy, that was no shed… that was a barn. My wife bought a barn. Why would she buy a barn? It had windows, two entrances, a LOFT! Is it really a shed if it has a loft? I mean, a few more feet of headroom and it would have been a second story. The thing was huge.

And now it’s in our lawn.


Sigh. Our fung shei is shot. But we’ve got a barn.

Interspersed with the barn thing (which took place Thursday AND Sunday – I had to dig new holes as I moved the fence to fit around the monstrosity) was a meager attempt to combine quality time with the missus while still reading. It’s called Yard Sale-ing.

We drive around town and I drop the missus off at people’s houses so she can see their yard sale and I sit in the car and read. It’s awesome, we’re both really happy, she comes and gets me if they’re selling any books or cool things, then she spends the rest of the time looking at used baby blankets and glass jewelry.

While out, we were driving through this subdivision, rather typical, if clearly one without ANY homeowners association, the signs for the garage sale we were going to pointed down this little side road that jutted off of the regular streets.

And suddenly, we were somewhere totally alien: a kudzu-covered post-apocalyptic world.

See? End of the world stuff

 We drove up the little street to turn around and were astounded to find lots of abandoned vehicles that have been overtaken by nature. Weird. But pretty. I wondered around the place for a few minutes and couldn’t decide if I should be afraid of zombies or cannibalistic hillbillies.

I think the fear of hillbilly cannibals was stronger, so I didn’t get to take as many photos as I wanted to. Still, the place was awesomely creepy.

That's a car under all that nature!

The lesson? That horror is right around the corner. So be careful

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Insecure Writers Support Group - May Edition Part... Uh oh.... I forgot

Alex J Cavanaugh once had a dream of letting folks like me vent about their writing woes and before we knew it, the Insecure Writer's Support Group was founded.

Now, A year later, it's as big as can be and all of us writers with issues have a forum for letting out all our fears.

This month, I'm not going to talk about the 3 or 4 short story markets that have decided to not respond to my submissions at all. Not a rejection, not an acceptance. Just nothing. If it were one place I would suspect it was lost or something, but for it to be so many makes me think they are colluding to make sure I have a proper freak out about it all. They must be getting so angry at my constant submissions they've decided to blackball me going forward. Only explanation.

But like I said, I'm not going to talk about that.

Instead, I'm here to talk about something much more positive - The need for not giving up. I read somewhere on the interwebs yesterday a line from someone famous that said something like this:

"To be a successful author, the need a little talent and a lot of perseverance.... Actually, it's mostly perseverance."

So, don't give up, the implication is that you don't have to be any good, just bull-headed. So there's hope.