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Posts Tagged ‘conventions

That’s the name of the first chapter of David Gerrold’s book Worlds of Wonder, which I bought from him personally at I-Con last weekend. We also traded books, a copy of my St. Martin’s Moon for his Little Horrors. He may read mine (I suspect lots of authors trade books with him), but I’m already reading WW. I read the bio at the front, and noticed that he failed to mention a book that I had on my shelves, a Star Trek novel called The Galactic Whirlpool. I got it signed the next day, of course.

This chapter is more in the way of an introduction, some biographical notes and a discussion of the basic nature of stories which will underlie the rest of the book. So it’s a bit unfortunate that the definition of a story presented in this chapter is not one I entirely agree with. “A person has a problem, he explores the problem until he understands it, finally he makes a choice (usually a difficult one) that produces a transformation of understanding and resolves the difficulty. So a story is about the experience of problem solving and the lessons learned.” (p. 4)

I’m not sure I agree with the whole ‘makes a choice’ bit. Sure it feeds into the whole idea that the hero makes his own destiny, chooses his course, etc. But I like to think my heroes will do the right thing once they know what the right thing is, so making the choice is pretty much a given once a proper understanding has been reached. That’s why they’re heroes. (Which may be why we’ve started calling them ‘Main Characters’ or ‘Protagonists’, rather than heroes. ‘Hero’ has a certain moral component to it that those other terms don’t.)

The problem for a hero is understanding the issue. Sometimes the hero has to make a difficult choice, relinquish some cherished belief, in order to achieve the necessary understanding, but once he has it he’s good to go. Which may be why my stories have so many characters in them who aren’t the hero, because watching a hero do the right thing is dull. Maybe frenetic and plot-heavy, but worth little in terms of character development.

Or it could be Mr. Gerrold’s science fiction background talking. The understanding the hero arrives at could be a theory, like all theories in need of verification. The difficult choice could be the Hero’s decision to test that theory with his own skin, and perhaps those of his group.

On the other hand, regarding his remarks on the benefits of enthusiasm over rage as a driving force behind the writing, we are in much more agreement. I’ve never written from rage, so I have trouble imagining how that would work for me. Enthusiasm, however, I have a lot of experience with. I wrote the equivalent of 8 novels thanks to enthusiasm, in the fanfiction realm, which also served to fulfill my million-word apprenticeship, about which more in some other post.


I don’t know about you, but the aspect of this whole published author thing that I find most daunting is keeping track of all the little pieces that go into it.

I just spent a good part of my day updating my website, putting all sorts of material up there about my upcoming release, St. Martin’s Moon. (Which, I will probably find to my shock and horror, was probably half wasted effort, as–surprise!–I have a short story also in production called ‘Ex Libris’, which will probably come out first and I’ll have to redo the whole thing.) As part of my overhaul I added the new cover to the book, as well as created two new pages with the first chapter and some FAQ, not that anyone’s asked me too many questions about it as of yet.  Then I added a couple of review comments, and some of this and some of that, only to find that I’d messed up something else and OMG. And my back hurts. Please swing on by and tell what you think, what you’d like to see, all that good stuff. I’m even pretty sure the email links work.

At least this time I have plenty of time to go about asking for reviews of the book before it comes out. Which means I have to find reviewers and ask them, and then keep track of the fact that I asked them and keep track of who I sent the ARCs to, and who I got reviews from. (2 so far, thank you for asking.) BTW, I would like to thank both Paul Jessup and Curtis Jobling for having published werewolf novels recently, and mentioning their own reviewers, so I know who to ask myself.

Fortunately we have some folks at Echelon who are constantly finding and mentioning any little treasure trove they come across, so I don’t have to do it all myself. Occasionally I also troll the web, googling my own name to see if anyone’s mentioned me that I don’t about. I found a number of very nice comments about Unbinding the Stone that way.

At some point I have to get around to taking the cover art and getting posters made from it (and bookmarks and postcards), nice large prints that will be visible to everyone as they walk past my booth at all the events I’ll be doing this year. Once I get them set up, that is. I’m set up for a few, have find my calendar and figure out which ones they are, and when, so I don’t double-book myself. O Crap, I just realized I did that already. My library is doing an author event and it’s opposite Icon, the biggest SF/F event in the northeast. And here I am with a new paranormal! Can’t exactly miss that. Now I have to call the library and see if they can reschedule, otherwise I’ll have to miss it.


I once asked my boss about all the time off days I took here and there about the year, mostly Fridays and Mondays so I could travel to the SF/F cons andbook festivals around the country. To be honest I think these are much better vacations for me that a trip to the beach, it forces me to focus on something non-work related and I make money doing it! But I felt kind of bad for taking so many little days, rather than one big vacation interval, but he said it was fine, at least I knew well in advance when I would be out so he could plan ahead!

What is this thing you call ‘planning ahead’? We do not know of it on my planet.

Last weekend was my first experience at Philcon, and unfortunately, it was like my experience at quite a few other cons lately.

For one of the countries longest-running cons it was pretty lightly attended, in part because of the location, outside of Philadelphia itself. A lot of city dwellers don’t have cars, so getting to a venue far removed from their usual routes is a bit of a problem.  At least, I’m hoping that’s the reason.  Multiply the light attendance with an increased reluctance to buy anything in the dealers room and you can see my problem.  I think we did better than most there, simply because I learned long ago, at a con, that you can’t just sit there.

I was a guest at I-Con in Stony Brook, and had a turn at one of the author tables in the dealers room, on a Sunday when most people had either already spent their money and were getting ready to leave or had decided what they wanted to spend their money on.  Experienced con guests will usually go through the dealers room several times over the course of the weekend, and only buy the things they want on the last day.  This is because a) they don’t want to have to carry this stuff around, b) if they still want it on the third day they must really want it, and c) they get a chance to run the numbers and decide what they can afford.  A new author like me, just showing up on their radar on the last day, didn’t have much of a chance.

But I learned from watching the author next to me what not to do. She put out a small stack of books, a stack of postcards (on a huge table), and then ignored everyone as she sat and talked to another author.  What’s wrong with this picture?

I learned to a) stand up, so people will actually see you. B) face front and look at them, better yet, talk to them, call them over. They aren’t going to come up to you begging for the glorious opportunity to buy your books.  If they talk to you and get some idea of how you talk and what you sound like they’ll be much more likely to get a book written by you (if they like what they hear, that is).  It’s like these blog posts and tweets and whatnot. You read my glorious prose here, and immediately dash off to acquire everything I’ve ever written. Right?

Where was I? Oh yeah, c) display. I had only a few books and CDs, but I spread them out to cover a lot more room. I spread my little stack of bookmarks to cover half a table, and put my poster to one side. I owned that table.  We’ve been doing this sort of thing ever since, and Philcon was no exception.  We noticed several vendors who were very closed off from their customers, and surprise, they got few sales.

It also helps that we give away little rubber ducks.  Never underestimate the power of the Duck Side of the Force.

The real problem we had with this con was the con itself.  In addition to charging for the table they also require all dealers and their helpers to have memberships in the con.  Which we never get a chance to use, because we’re dealers, in this room, at our tables.  We never get to go to the panels, although access to the con suite is helpful at times.  If I’d been able to stay I would have spent a lot of time there, schmoozing.  I suppose it’s easier for them to just admit everyone with a badge, rather than have to screen the badges and exclude the dealers, but it’s a monster expense for us.  I would have made a profit on the table except for that.  Fortunately for me, I’m doing this mainly to get the books out there, not to make my living. Lots of dealers make their living this way and expenses like this are a deal-breaker.

On the plus side, I did meet Robert Quill again, and this time I decided to get an Author Guy image made.  It was probably due to my lack of sleep, I’d driven home the night before and then driven back, so I’d had 6 hours of sleep.  So my rational ‘Don’t spend money’ reflexes were down, and I wanted one. Go to his site, look at his work, and tell me you don’t want one too.  So eventually I will get an Author Guy image, and then I’ll have to figure out what to do with it.

I also met a few fellow authors, most of whom spent a great deal of time regaling me with all the intimate details of their books.  Yay.  One, Russ Colchamiro, had a book called Finders Keepers, which looks like fun. I just went to his website and played the video there.  One poor guy came to my table and asked if I had any books with demons. So I told him all about Origins, a book that will be coming out in February, about a vampire girl born of a demon and a witch, working with a government spook squad, when daddy decides to visit.  And he’s like, “Oh crap, I was gonna write a book about a girl born of a demon and a human, who’s out to kill her father, but maybe I won’t now.” And I’m like, “Dude, write it anyway, every author tells a different story.” So then he asks me if I’d like to read his book about cows from outer space, trying to conquer Earth.  I traded him a copy of Killer Cows, sitting right there on my table.  Some days you just can’t win.

Have you been to any cons, as a guest or a dealer? What have your con experiences been like lately?

I came across my umpteenth post a while back, on the subject of names and how to choose them.  I checked my own archives, spread across three different websites, and found that I’ve never done such a thing myself.  So, in the interest of craft completeness and giving myself something to link to when the subject comes up again somewhere else in the future, I’m going to address this burning issue now.

Bear in mind that I am a fantasy novelist, so the business with names is rather different than it is for a book set in the normal world, even for urban fantasy or a paranormal.   In some ways.  In UF or PN the characters can have more fantasy names, but they’ll also usually have a nickname or short form that interfaces well with the normal human population.  Since I have both fantasy and paranormal stories, I’ll handle each separately.

Generally, when coming up with a name, I don’t want to use a standard name in a fantasy context, since that would sort of burst the bubble of fantasy-ness that I’m trying to construct.  Tom Bombadil is not a name I’d choose, and Sam was only good because it was short for Samwise.  I have been known to use human but non-standard names in my stories, but only for the sake of a mid-story twist.  In general I’d start with a naming convention and generate names from that, rather than select random syllables that sounded cool.  Names have rules, usually the same ones languages have.  A commonly used word is usually a short word, and names are intended to show how the bearer fits into the community in at least one level, usually family, with clan or village designations also possible.

When I first started writing Unbinding the Stone I hadn’t given any thought to a naming convention, I just had the hero’s name, Tarkas.  Spinning out the logic from that one seed, I decided on a convention that had a family name in the first syllable, the personal name in the last, so Tarkas’ parents were Tarmel and Tarsis.  Beyond that I had a village designation, although I don’t know why I did that.  Since he didn’t stay in that village long it wasn’t really important, but it sounded nice.  ‘Tarkas tel Kwinarish’ has a much better sound in certain contexts that plain old ‘Tarkas’ does. 

That is another point to remember as a writer: poetry.  Names should have a certain rhythm, a flow, that makes the sentence and paragraph work.  The reader is going to be reading that name pretty often, so make the experience a pleasant one.  Tongue-twisting combinations usually don’t do that.  This is a point also overlooked in the editing process, where the importance of auxiliary words like ‘was’, ‘had’, and ‘that’ is overlooked in the mechanical exercise of removing them with more active verbs.  Sometimes they are not there for the verb but for the poetry of the sentence.

Anyway.  Tarkas eventually got a new one when he shifted to a new realm, with a more military view of things.  In that context, families were subordinated to clans, and the city of residence didn’t matter at all.  The name of the city had its own convention, though.  In this realm there was a central artifact called the Eye of God, and all cities took their names as a reference to this artifact.  Over time the custom degraded, and the reference dropped out, but the directional nature of the name remained.  I did not come up with any of this as an abstract idea, I’m showing this in the course of the stories I write, so we see that naming conventions can have significant backstory possibilities as well.

My paranormal book is a futuristic, with pretty normal names.  As a number of people have recommended, however, most of these names are not ordinary names like Jack or Tom.  The hero is named Joseph, but he is never called Joe, usually Major or Marquand.  The administrator is always Robert, and my bad-ass villain Bertrand is always Bertrand.  There is a Ron, but he’s Dr. Ron.  For each I have a variety of secondary titles to use in place of names, so constant references to them by name don’t get dull. 

Sometimes the name is not what matters, but the function.  That’s what I did in my short story ‘Chasing His Own Tale’, where Author Guy has to deal with Fearless Hero and Evil Enchantress et al.  Then even an ordinary name like Loretta (the Damsel in Distress) will stand out.

What conventions do you use?

Unbinding the Stone

A Warrior Made

A Warrior Made

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St. Martin’s Moon

St. Martin's Moon

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Chasing His Own Tale

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Struck By Inspiration

Struck By Inspiration

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Steampunk Santa

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Bite Deep

Christmas among the vampires!

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Cyber-pirates. Sort of.

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Off the Map

Reality TV...without the Reality!

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