Happy New Year!

It’s actually a little difficult to believe that 2018 is upon us. The past year has certainly gone faster than I would have imagined – and not nearly as cleanly. There are lots of reasons that 2017 wasn’t fantastic – but there were certainly a lot of good things for me personally and that’s the level I really have to work at here.

For anyone keeping track I haven’t changed my personal view on resolutions. Many years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to NEVER make a New Year’s resolution again. Guess what? Totally nailed it. Still going strong on that one. IF you want or need change in your life, the calendar is convenient, but not required. Make the change to grow or get better when you make that choice. You can do it!

That being said I do intend to keep forging ahead with my personal projects this year. I’ve still got about 9 things going at any one time. I’m still being a fan, an author and an artist. I game, I work at the day job and I spend time with my awesome family.

I genuinely hope that you and yours have an excellent year – positive feelings and good things should come your way!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Goodreads Technology

I shouldn’t be grumpy about the wonderful technological thing I’ve been able to do… but I am.

I have been posting personal reviews of books I’ve read to Goodreads since 2009. I’ve got hundreds of books up on there. I like being able to share my thoughts with friends both local and distant. I like being able to go back and look at the list of things I’ve read and be able to sort them into various categories or descriptions. Others have tried to tell me there are better systems out there, but I haven’t really felt the need to move.

Much like any other business that wants to remain relevant, Goodreads has an app. I can access my account from my phone to look things up while I am out and about. Excellent. I love having access to the data. They also have a little part of that app that allows users to scan books by the ISBN code on the cover of the book. I can basically let my phone look at a picture of a code and the book in question will come up on my phone. IF the code doesn’t work, I can just let the phone look at the cover of the book and it will likely find the book that way. Amazing.

I needed to clear up some space in the back room. I moved a recently acquired book shelf (thanks mom!) in there and needed to put a stack of books on it so that I could reclaim the various flat surfaces where they’d been living. It was a random collection of stuff. I went into Goodreads, made up new “shelves” so that when I scanned the books I could put them together as actual, physical copies that reside in the house rather than the Kindle variety.

Here’s where I get picky about this little app. Of the 40(ish) books I scanned, 5 of them didn’t work. Some were old and didn’t have the right code but a couple just failed. Not a big deal – I’ve got weird stuff in the collection (I think you’re only allowed to use eccentric if you’re rich…). The problem was the process. First, there are 3 base categories that ALL your collection falls into – want it or not – “want to read”, “currently reading” and “read”. That’s it. No matter what other virtual shelves you create your book automatically falls into one of those, you can’t change it or avoid it. I hear somebody out there saying, “well, yeah – why would you have a book if you don’t actually want to read it or have read it?”. What if it’s an additional version that’s part of a collection? Yes, it’s likely that it falls into the “read” category or why would you have it, but I found the lack of an option there to be really annoying.

I also didn’t really want those books to qualify under the “read” category for other reasons. I have specifically resisted putting all the books I read before I was a Goodreads member up on the site. It seemed disingenuous to post something without a review while claiming to have read it. As I re-read titles I go back and add them. If I’m not re-reading them, I’d like the option to qualify my listing in another way. I don’t want the 40 books I scanned today to be added to my “read” count for the year. That’s bad data. I want it to sort better than that.

Yes, in the end it’s great technology to be able to do what I have done. No, it is not perfect. Hopefully there will continue to be improvements as the site keeps moving forward. I also hope they make it possible to cross post to Amazon reviews – but that’s another post.

Persuasive

One of the things I’m working toward understanding better is how persuasive a really well written piece can be. I’ve been struggling with some of my writing lately and have thankfully had good readers and editors that have helped me get through the work.

I almost always get caught up in the idea of people reading what I write. That sounds silly since I write and publish stories and articles. Every single time I want to put anything on line, on my web site or even on my Facebook feed where it’s only family and friends I have anxiety over my word choice, my punctuation, my lack of grammatical knowledge and my own imposter syndrome issues (not that I’ve really achieved anything to have that issue, but it’s there).

I know some really excellent writers. I am frequently moved by their descriptions of their travels, words written about the works they’re doing or even something as simple as a book review. I have put more than one thing up on my “to read” list because I read a review written by somebody I know – even if it’s a book about something I have no real interest in reading about.

Letting the truth and passion behind the typing is something I’ll be working hard at. I want to be that good – and that takes practice. Maybe I’ll even get persuade people to pick up a book with one of my stories in it…

Your Protest May Vary

This is a republish of my article from the March issue of Watch The Skies Fanzine.

“The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Protesting” by pouring thousands of words onto your blog or into your Facebook driven slactavism has become so knee jerk reactionary most people don’t give it any thought. I can’t stand it. I have outrage fatigue. The number of things I see raging across my screen on a daily basis is exhausting. Instant calls to action for the slightest affront. Demands that I join your current bandwagon, even it it’s nothing I’m interested in talking about. Boycotts for things I wouldn’t buy anyway. Petitions wanting my signature despite being something I have no experience with or connection to. It’s a bit like the tiny print that flashes past at the bottom of a car commercial, you see it, but you don’t read or understand it. You go for the flashy picture and the punchy lines. If you noticed the small print or actually stopped it and read the words it would undermine the whole commercial. That’s similar to how I feel about these new, first world, so called protests. The best description I’ve ever heard for this is “The burning of the library of Alexandria by way of the Hot Topic t-shirt printing press”. Grab the easy slogan and go with it. Make a t-shirt and ‘tag’ your friends.

I’m betting that within my first couple of lines here you’ve worked up a comment or two. You’ll soon discover a reason that I am wrong then the venomous words will slide out. By the time you reach the fourth paragraph someone will be trying to figure out what I look like so that I can be burned in effigy. Ready?

There must be both accountability and separation when discussing creators and the things they make. The creation can and should be judged separately from the creator. The creator should be accountable if they take their views public, but their creations can and must be considered apart from the creator. Long, important, creative and scientific endeavors can be brought crashing down in mere moments, potentially without hearing more than a slogan. Don’t believe me? Ask Tim Hunt. Think I’m totally wrong already? Point to Milo Yiannopoulos. Both really interesting examples to discuss.

What does this mean for me? I might go and pick up (or watch or listen to) things created by people who hold political or religious views I don’t agree with when and if I find them worthy of my entertainment dollar. I think Orson Scott Card works best as my personal example. I can’t totally back away from a man so totally intertwined with science fiction as I know it. Do I want to support him? No, I really don’t. For anyone that doesn’t know, Mr. Card is a very well known author. His writing, one of his stories in particular, is the basis for the relatively recent movie Ender’s Game. His list of accomplishments is many and varied. He’s famous. He’s also directly politically opposed to certain views I hold. Personal, important things to me are the opposite of what he wants. When the movie was announced a large and vocal group of people denounced his work based on his personal views. I couldn’t say they were wrong.

In all honesty I’m still trying to figure out where the line is that separates the creator and the work. I realize my personal example is old and out of date now when it comes to protests, but the principle remains. There are no easy answers when it comes to supporting what you believe in and laying out your hard earned money to buy something you enjoy. It absolutely matters, but everyone must consider these things in their own way. The current political climate makes this an even more dangerous place to tread. There have been lots of people smarter, more creative and far more famous than I am that have covered variations on this topic. Oscar Wilde went to jail. George Orwell tried to come to grips with it. I’d rather go with a much more personal example to me because that’s how I think each person should handle their choices.

Here goes –

I am lucky to have a handful of my works published and by way of those publications get invited to attend science fiction conventions. That was actually one of my earliest stated goals as a writer. I wanted to publish enough that I would land on the guest list rather than paying my way in (thus saving me a not insignificant amount of money along the way). In achieving that goal I also learned a great deal about the nature of the industry behind the genre I love that I have taken small, faltering steps into.

I was scheduled to be part of a panel at one of the first conventions I was ever invited to be a guest at. I had very little experience sitting on the presenter side of the table. I had done some research but I was anxious about the topic being presented. I was nervous about being an unknown person sitting before a room full of people interested enough to pick this panel over another. What reason did anyone in the audience have for caring what I had to say about anything, let alone the matter at hand? The panel got rolling and the moderator kept things on a steady path. He had bounced different questions around to the other panel members, then did something I totally didn’t expect. He asked me a direct question based on what he knew of me and what he’d read about me in the convention program. I was stunned. I almost dropped the ball on answering the question because I hadn’t expected anyone to know who I was or care why I was there. I managed to use words and form complete thoughts, but I can’t for the life of me remember what the topic was. I was just blown away.

It was a vital lesson in convention panel attendance. Know who you’re going to be working with when you’re up there in front of people. I had to go and ask somebody who he was when we were done because I’d been so wrapped up in the panel topic I hadn’t remembered I was there to share things with other fans. I had forgotten how many well known people started off as fans and convention attendees. I had no idea who I was sitting with.

Turns out that person was part of the editorial staff for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Somebody working in the industry and in a position to work with writers far better known than I am took the time to look me up and know something about me. He took the time and made the effort when others I’ve met have not. He was unfalteringly polite when we all got a chance to shake hands and chat at little at the end of the panel. It was moving to know he bothered. What I found out later was that he was working directly with OSC at the time. OSC is the publisher and executive editor of Intergalactic Medicine Show. Direct connection to somebody I didn’t want to like or like anything connected to him.

I don’t want to support views directly opposed to something important to me. If I lay out my hard earned money and the person directly benefitting from that uses the money to oppose me am I implicitly helping? My problem is multifaceted. I have never personally met the man. I have heard from many others that have met him and worked with him that he is generous and helpful. I’ve enjoyed his work in the past and often refer to parts of it in discussion with my friends. My direct experience with somebody on his staff was more than positive. Going out of your way to work with somebody that doesn’t directly benefit you is a good thing – and I have since continued to encounter folks directly connected to his organization who have been unfailingly polite, helpful and welcoming. They have always been good to me. Where is the line? This is my dilemma, but it also points to the bigger picture.

I am not a scholar of history by any means but it seems to me an inverted symmetry to have OSC trashed so completely in the same manner as Oscar Wilde more than 100 years ago. Wilde was put on trial and jailed for being against the moral character of society at the time and OSC has been attacked (if not properly tried) for being the diametric opposite of Wilde. The issue remains the same – the artist is not separate from his art. The problem as I see it now is that many folks don’t look beyond that flashy image or the catchy phrase they believe states their position so clearly. Hit the like and share buttons and move on. Mission accomplished. Trial by public opinion – no facts needed.

Much like Lord Henry living vicariously through Dorian’s hedonism most people don’t really commit themselves. They rely on the voyeuristic nature of the internet to maintain a safe distance all the while denouncing everything they watch. They add a virtual voice without any personal stake.

It’s beyond time for people to take a step back and pause before launching the latest barrage of indignation at the world. Did it truly affect you? Do you have direct experience with the subject? The consequences have become much more significant these days for even the smallest missteps. The current atmosphere will kill creativity and expression and discourage others from reaching out and making a learning connection if we are not significantly more cautious. Get out from behind your screen and go talk to people. Meet some folks that aren’t your normal circle. Stretch and learn and try to see things from a new point of view.

Today the pen clearly kills more than the sword. As for me, I’m going to keep working, keep writing and continue trying to find that line separating the artist from the art. I’m going to hope I can convince people to learn to trust and see value in differences. I want people to connect and I particularly hope they do so through the filter of science fiction. I suggest everyone take a serious look at things before denouncing them. Seek out articles and opinions from many sources, not just those that agree with you. Take your time. Do your homework. Step back and consider your reaction before you launch your words out there. Remember to read the small print; your protest may vary.

EDIT:

The creator’s work, judged without his name attached seemed to do OK – see File 770.

The New Year!

So here we are in the all new year – a happy, shiny, just out of the packaging 2017.

I’m pleased to say that part of the reason my posts here have been slow during the holiday season is that I am blessed with many family and friends. Part of the reason my posts here have been slow is that I have been working on things that don’t involve me being here and posting. Professionally (day job) things are moving forward toward a goal I’ve had for many, many years. It’s going to make things here slow. I’ve started moving toward finishing a lot of things that I’ve started. This should make for a very interesting year to come.

Yes it’s a convenient way to mark the time. Calendars are good like that. What it is not, is a time when I “make a resolution”. I’ve posted about this in the past. It hasn’t changed. If you want to be consistent, then what it takes is an ability to keep showing up. I have found that is one of the things I’m actually really good at. I can certainly keep showing up.

I look forward to seeing all the big things the coming year has to offer. Keep showing up. I want to hear what’s going on with you as well!

All Quiet – Philcon 2016

It has once again been a week since I returned from Philcon and I could almost just re-post last year’s review. I went back and read the post convention review I did last year before I started in on this one. This review and that will be remarkably similar.

There were differences and they were notable, but the portion that continues to worry me is the attendance. It was dead there. I mean to the point where I wondered if the convention was actually still open a couple of times. I can only believe this desperately low attendance drove some of the other factors. I know the sales numbers were crushingly low for a couple of the folks in the vendor’s area. There looked like a lot of no-shows in there. The art show was slim pickings, including a couple of no-shows. The artist guest of honor had 4 or 5 sections and beyond that there were only a handful of artists on display. I won’t disparage the quality – they were and are fine artists, it just seemed to be very small. The freebie and flyers area in front of the vendor room wasn’t full – and there’s ALWAYS somebody looking to get word of mouth out there that way. I continue to worry for this con, but they seem to survive.

My schedule was decent for the weekend. None of the panels had huge attendance. Lots of empty seats. My favorite panel was the first one on the list – the best of military science fiction. I was really looking forward to being on that panel with Barry Longyear, but alas he was unable to attend… no-shows are starting to feel like a theme here too. Anyway – if you haven’t ever checked out his work, see if you can dig up a copy of “It Came From Schenectady”. The forward of the book makes me laugh every time I read it. It’s from the early 1980s and still works. That’s just the forward. The stories are wonderful. There’s some really good stuff in there.

camefromschenectady

The programming was good. It was in fact better and more timely than the past 2 conventions I’ve been invited too. There was a dud of a panel in there that I consider a tremendous missed opportunity, but that had everything to do with the moderator and nothing to do with the topic itself. All in all I think I held my own. I have made panel suggestions for next year and I think the panels will continue to be strong.

I didn’t stay in the con hotel this year. It’s the first time I’ve stayed off site for a con. It worked and was a really good thing to save the expense of the hotel. What else it did was pretty much eliminate any shenanigans or chances for weird encounters late at night in the hotel. No pizza, no elevator roulette. Just quiet really.

I actually feel like that’s as much review as I need. There just wasn’t much. I hope to go back again next year – and I hope a lot of folks join me.

Random Bits and It Could Have Been Worse

I’ve made a sincere attempt to pare down the number of things going on in my life lately. I really want (and need) to get into more of my personal projects. I need to get more writing done. I’ve got a couple of year and a half old art projects that I’m desperate to finish. I’m working on it.

Little things keep cropping up. Thankfully all of these things land in the “it could have been worse” category. There are some that I won’t post here – stuff that won’t be public knowledge – but here are a couple of examples:

Just found out today that the washing machine needed a new pump. Why would it need a new pump? Because a sock go sucked into the impeller and jammed the whole thing tight of course. So – it’s 150 bucks, but it could have been a lot worse. I can tell you that we were able to cover that repair bill AND we don’t have to go shopping for a new and far more costly washing machine that likely doesn’t work the way we want. Happy with paying that money out? Not exactly, but it beats 500.

OR

Yesterday I got a call from my lovely wife that she had been in a car accident. That’s the sort of thing that immediately sets my world on “wobble” and I start to not think clearly. Fortunately it was an extremely minor fender bender – from her point of view. Somebody hit the car behind her really hard (hard enough for that guy to head to the hospital to get checked out) and that car bumped into hers. Loud bang, no real damage. What it cost was some time standing around waiting for the police to show up and get everything written up. Again – could have been significantly worse. I’m SUPER thankful that’s all it was. There’s a spot to buff out on the back of the car and a phone call to clear up some paperwork. I’ll take it.

I suspect most people wouldn’t land these in the “good” category, but I do. I’d much rather the lesser of the choices. What it has done is made a week when I had nothing really going on and was planning to write bunches much less hospitable to writing time. I suspect I’m going to squeeze some in while I’m catching up on laundry…

That’s where I am right now. I’m going to get some reviews done and posted to try to catch up as well – I’ve actually got a few to write up. I’ve got some promotional stuff I NEED to get posted as well.

Most of all I just need to get some creative stuff out there. Watch out – here it comes!

Struggle

I meant to post this earlier. I sat on this post for a while. I still struggle with putting my feelings forward into words. It’s what an author is supposed to do really, but I just don’t believe I’m that good. Hopefully one day I’ll be good enough to write words that move people.

The past couple of weeks in my life have been the definition of chaotic. An emotional roller coaster peaking and dipping day by day. In the past 2 weeks I’ve had the death of a family member, a 50th wedding anniversary celebration, a departure meeting for the exchange students I’ve worked with this year, an ongoing issue at work involving a substantial amount of money, my daughters spring band concert and the funeral for the relative we lost. Oh and right at the start of all that one of the exchange students suddenly living with us for a little while after she was asked to leave the house she was staying in (surprise!).

Some of these things were one day after the next – a couple of them were on the same day. It’s been… I don’t even know what it’s been. I’m exhausted. Wrung out and done.

Perhaps it’s this state of mind that has brought on my choice of examining these things in the context of the military and particularly the military in science fiction and fantasy.

There’s a lot of debate out there about the best way to handle the military, it’s role and the soldier’s place in it all when writing. There are those that ignore introspection and go for action. There are those that take on the story from a commander’s point of view and those that take it all from the grunt’s point of view. Ethics, sanity, the physical toll and the reasons behind it all. I have spent some time attempting to review military science fiction over at milscifi.com and spent more time considering how it is I feel about all these stories.

At their heart military stories are about the people involved and what war does to them. The soldiers and their families are the ones that pay the price of war. There are stories out there that show the trauma and mental damage soldiers end up with as a result of having everything stripped away to the core of their self and being forced to face that. Some people make it, some people don’t. Some are broken and spend the rest of their lives living with the broken parts. That is the reality we live with, every day.

I have come to learn that what I prefer are the stories where there is a level of heroism. The main character should be someone I can empathize with. He or she needs to be somebody that faces down very real dilemmas, struggles through and ultimately comes out with a positive result, even if not the initially intended result. I struggle with and generally don’t like stories where the mental damage wins. I dislike the characters that don’t make the heroic choice. I want the sacrifice to mean something. I want the positive result, perhaps as a direct reaction to the real world.

I like the fiction. The reality is much more difficult to manage. The death in our family was my father-in-law. He was a veteran of 2 wars and was laid to rest this past week with full military honors. Flag ceremony, rifle salute, taps and a direct punch in the heart for me. I didn’t expect it to hit so hard. I’m not going to lionize the man now that he’s gone. He wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but I suspect that some part of that imperfection might be that damage seeping through. I wept when it was time to say good bye – and I haven’t wept in many, many years.

I wanted to have some grand, sweeping point here but it’s just not coming to me. Maybe one day I will master the words, but today is not that day.

Rest In Peace.

Shell2

I’ll pencil you in…

I’ve been criticized lately for being too busy. This is not from my family, this is from other people. Friends of mine seem to think I do too much – and I will tell you flat out I don’t understand that criticism. Just don’t get it. How can I NOT be busy? There are not enough hours in the day for all the cool stuff there is to do in the world!

There have been many flavors of this critique of how I use my time, but the least flattering of them was something along the lines of, “go ahead, tell us again how big your junk is…”

Am I busy? You bet I am. I’m scheduled flat out until sometime in June. No, I’m not joking. There are times in there that are less busy than others. There are things I’ve lined up that have piled on top of each other, but that happens from time to time. I can’t say that I’m always happy with it. Sometimes the circumstances mean I miss something along the way. Am I doing this as some form of competition? Of course not. It’s not a win/lose kind of thing! Everyone should find stuff they’re passionate about and get out there and do it!

I can say for certain that I have no intention of changing. The stuff I do is based on people I have made commitments to. I am cautious about who I commit to when I’m asked to do things. I am busy. I am also connected to some amazing things and wonderful people. IF I say I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it – and I don’t particularly care what you think of my schedule. I love the things I do. I help with conventions, I write, I create art, I run professional organizations – and have a great time on the way. Stay home and watch TV if you want, I’ve got things to do and people to meet. I mean, seriously – how many people have you met that do old timey strongman stunts these days like, tearing a license plate in half, ramming nails through board using bare hands OR:

Seriously, would you want to miss out on dinner with somebody that has stories like that?

Put your finger on the problem

I’ve written about conviction and commitment before. It’s one of those things I’m learning about myself (slowly). It comes up a lot with wanting to do something, anything really, related to creative work. Art, writing, convention running – all those things take commitment. Consistency. Back when I wrote about my new secret writing project I was full of hope and really felt like this was the one that would succeed.

It didn’t. Well, at least not yet.

The thing I’m struggling to teach my daughter about is what it takes – that commitment to getting what you want. I’ve fallen back to what I know – sports. I actually wish I’d had somebody sit me down and break it out into simple terms then stick with it as much as I needed to get it through my head. I hope I’m teaching that. Being dedicated to what you’re trying to achieve is important.

I’ve heard a lot of folks talk about sports in a negative manner in the past. Many times deservedly so. Sports, and particularly American football, have become so ingrained in our culture that it’s very difficult to avoid. I am not part of the ‘cult’ of sports, but there are many, many good things that come from sports as well. They can certainly show you the good and the bad of commitment. Football players are frequently mocked – but any that reach the professional level have such commitment as to amaze a person. This is where both the good and the bad show up. Totally dedicated to success (awesome) to the point where it physically destroys you (whatever the opposite of awesome is). I’m putting this here as partially as a reminder about dedication and partially as a teaching tool.

How far will you go to succeed? What will it take to stop you? It’s a fine line between commitment and needing to be committed.

This is not for the squeamish but consider what level of commitment it took to go there…

Finger