Sunday, May 31, 2015

Ten Things I Learned While Doing the Crazy Ivan

So maybe you already know this, but in The Hunt for Red October, and subsequently Joss Whedon's Firefly, a "Crazy Ivan" is a screaming-fast, metaphorical-rubber-burning U-turn.  It's pretty intense.

This is not Crazy Ivan.
This is the man daring enough to do one.
And that's the analogy that's stuck with me as I pulled a week-long Crazy Ivan of my own: flying out to San Jose for the first half of BayCon (and a Californian friend-fest), taking the overnight flight to Houston to catch the second half of Comicpalooza, slogging through a cancelled flight, a failed rebooking, and about seven inches of truly Biblical downpour before finally giving up and renting a car to brave the four-hour drive up from Houston, passing through Dallas and arriving up in Denton with about an hour to spare before my worldbuilding presentation, staying out carousing with my North Branch buddies after the fact, and going home (at last!)... find that everything in our fridge and freezer had spent the entire week rotting at room temperature.  There proceeded about an hour of frantic, eye-watering defunkifying, all windows open and damn the thunderstorms, before finally stuffing towels under the bedroom door and passing out about 2 AM.

To say that I'm tired would be an understatement. To say I had a good time would be a heinous one.

Anyway, I won't give you the blow-by-blow, but here are ten things I learned on my trip.

1.    Not all cheap hotels are awful.  Some are just hilarious. 

If you need to stay in downtown Houston on a budget, check out the Athens: it's 1/3 Addams family, 1/3 Overlook Hotel, and 1/3 luxury oasis.

One of Cicero's lesser-known quotations.

2.    Fandom is fantastic 

Really.  I said this on Facebook already, but it's such an endless thrill to surround yourself with people full of shared enthusiasm and the joy of making things.

No, she is not 'cute as a button'.  Buttons WISH they were this cute.
(Also, do you know DL Young? Great things happen near him!)

3.    SuperShuttle are dicks.

No picture, because those fuckers drove off without me.  Listen, asslamps: if I book for 5:15, don't blow up my phone at 5:00 and then peace out at 5:04.

4.    Sometimes it's actually a good thing when your flight is cancelled...

5.    ...but not when everyone else's is too.

Seriously. This was the line for rebooking flights and getting hotel vouchers last Monday night, and I bet you beer-money that there are STILL people waiting in it.


6.    Don't try to work when everyone else is playing 

See, it's a visual analogy, because "CalorieMate" is this weird brand of diet food-block, sitting conspicuously straight-laced amidst all the fun treats at the Japanese grocery store.  This is what you look like when you go to convention panels and workshops expecting some kind of rigorous education.  (I know, cuz I've done it.)

Also, I can now say without shame that I would like EveryBurger.

7A. Kittens are terrific

7B. Friends are terrific

7C. Being friends with a kitten is basically the best thing ever

Of course, I have to settle for being friends with the people who are friends with the kitten - but that's pretty good too.

8.    I should probably stop saying "clownshoe" like it's a bad thing

If I hadn't seen such riches, I could live with being poor.
9.    If you're going to drive home in a lightning storm, bring some metalicious cartoon music along for the ride. You will feel like Thor.

Seriously, guys.  Seriously.

10.    Sometimes the littlest things are the biggest deal

I was reminded of this over and over this week, and at the most unexpected times.  When you feel like a hack in a headband, when you're wondering whether and how badly you've just wasted everyone's time, when you're starting to question whether any of this self-indulgent cross-country attention-seeking makes any difference at all... that's when somebody comes along to say "by the way, that was just delightful" - and suddenly you're ready to throw down on Larry King Live.  Big love, y'all.  Big, big love.

WHO'S FLYING THIS THING?  ...oh right, that would be me. Back to work!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Slush, Bang, Boom!

This is me, not writing a blog post.

This is me, not writing a blog post, because I have a million other things to do.

This is me, not writing a blog post, because I completely 100% do not have an hour to spend meticulously word-crafting a digital Fabergé egg.

Dammit, I just stopped to look up where the accent goes in 'Fabergé'. I guess I'm committed now.

But briefly, friends, briefly!

1. Write Club - Secrets of the Slush Pile

Write Club kicks off today, and my rakish colleague Dan Koboldt and I could not be more excited! How excited, you ask?  So excited that we did a postmortem slush-report together!  Think of us as your friendly local Macy's Day Parade reporters, if the giant Pikachu balloon and the Hamburger Helper float were going to duke it out right there in the middle of Fifth Avenue... cuz that's exactly what's happening!

Anyway, do get your seat and popcorn ready for the contest - and if you're a writer who wants to know what makes a submission stand out, check out the trend breakdown of our epic 85,000-word slush-fight.

Oh lord, that took way too long.  I actually Googled the Macy's Day parade float entries. Faster, friends, faster!

2. Shirtless, Peerless, Fearless RT

I went to the RT Booklover's Convention this weekend!  (In much the same manner as pigeons go to the zoo: neither a paying guest nor a featured attraction, but present nonetheless.)  And oh my cheese, y'all.  What a place. What a time! 

Y'know, in my sci-fi/fantasy circles, romance doesn't get much respect. Well, I tell you what: you can gawp and sneer all you want, but these are some of the most friendly fans, the most professional pros, and the most devastatingly organized convention I've been to.  Forget all the comic-movie-actor-media-celebrity stuff we're used to seeing at our high-dollar cons: this place had lines out the door and down the hallway- for BOOKS!  People were patiently waiting for hours - for AUTHORS!  Everyone was nicely dressed and pleasant-smelling - because they took SHOWERS!

Ugh, and *I* should have showered half an hour ago. Hurry with me to the end!

3. Tex's Two-Step

Okay, and speaking of comic-movie-actor-media-celebrity cons, I am getting on a plane tomorrow, preparing to attempt my most ludicrous feat yet. Are you ready? Are you sure?  Here it is:

Two cons. Two time zones. One weekend.

Yes!  I will be at BayCon in sunny San Jose this Friday and Saturday, and then jetting to Houston for Comicpalooza on Sunday and Monday.  It will be EPIC.

"Tex, you mad fool!" I hear you say. "You'll never make it!"

Maybe not, hypothetical companion-friend, but I have to try!

And now I really do have to stop typing into this box and start packing my Stetson.  Find me this weekend, and if I don't make it back, tell my cat that I love her!

P.S.: Ally, if you're reading this, this totally does not count towards my New-and-Improved Blogging Lifestyle. Love me. Forgive me. Call me.

Don't they look lovely, June?
Fabulous, Harry - I love the feathers.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book Review: SCHISM

Hey, remember when I did book reviews? That was fun. Let's start doing that again. In fact, let's blow the dust off with a book that will blow your socks off.  You've heard me interview the author - now let's handle up on the story!

by Laura Maisano

Art therapy hasn’t done squat for Gabe Jones. A thousand sketches of his fiancée can’t bring his memory, or her, back to him. Nothing on Earth can. His past lies in another dimension, a world just out of sight.

Another student on campus, Lea Huckley, unknowingly shares Gabe’s obsession with the fourth dimension. The monsters from the other side attacked her parents and fled, getting her folks locked up in the loony bin. Proving this other world exists is the only way to free them. Lea and Gabe strike a deal to help each other, and together they manage to open a door to the world of Gabe’s true origin. She’d use him for proof—if she didn’t already care too much.

While Gabe tries to reconcile his feelings for Lea and his rediscovered memories of his fiancée, a much more sinister plot unravels. He uncovers his history just in time to become the unwilling lynchpin in a conspiracy to start a war. His memory holds the secret to the final riddle the would-be conqueror needs to get the upper hand. Gabe must protect the riddle at all costs, even if that means leaving Earth, and Lea, behind forever.

What if you weren't who you thought you were?

What if you were someone powerful and important, maybe even from another world?

What if something horrible happened to your family, and you felt it was your fault?

What if you had a long-lost sibling you never knew about?

What if you loved someone you couldn't possibly have?

What if you had to destroy one of your best friends in order to save the world?

What if you got a lot of people killed?

Y'know, if you're anything like me, you'd agree that any one of those questions could make for a stellar book –but in SCHISM, we are hitting ALL of them at eighty-eight miles per hour.  Hold on to your hats, buckaroos: you're in for a wild ride.

Before we get into it, I have to tell you that I am probably the worst possible reader for this book, because I'm not usually a YA reader, don't go in much for romance, and want my fantasylands to read like magical molasses – rich, thick, and slow.  By comparison, SCHISM is a double-shot of espresso in a giant oh-shit to-go cup.

So what useful things can I, the worst possible reader, tell you about this book?  Well, for starters, you are in no danger of nodding off: from chapter one, page one, strange happenings are afoot, and every next verse is less like the first: a little bit faster, and a whole lot worse.  It's a hell of a plot, with twists and turns that make me legit jealous.  In a lot of ways, that's a great thing: no time for heroes to sit around and angst for a hundred pages, no drumming your fingers waiting for some inevitable, predictable "twist", no pointless waffling of any kind.  I dare say there is not a word wasted anywhere.  For me, that was a mixed blessing: I love the story, but wish we'd had more time to stop and smell the roses.  I'm dying to know what's for dinner in that universe-next-door, what the fashions are like, what the cool slang is, how people get married and what you say when somebody sneezes.  Sadly, there is not a lot of time for sightseeing here: there are so many plot points, all falling one after the other like so many awesome disaster-dominoes, that we don't spend a lot of time on any single one.

I tell you what, though: maybe it's just my inner curmudgeon speaking, but Lea warms the cockles of my cold and withered heart.  Like, I love me a tough girl with a gun, but it is so refreshing to see a heroine who's smart, empathetic, generous, compassionate, honest, and indefatigably bubbly-fun.  (I mean, that's like all six My Little Ponies in one. Is that even legal?!)  To be sure: it's not all kittens and rainbows here – there is plenty for her to be afraid of and/or upset about – but I love that her eventually-more-than-friendship with Gabe is the solid emotional bedrock supporting all of the unholy supernatural shenanigans that follow. 

Yeah, actually, I think that's the best way for me to summarize it: there's a portal-hopping shape-shifting havoc-wreaking worlds-colliding epic story starting up here (and don't think you're gonna see the end of it without picking up the next book) – but right from the first page is a warm, sweet center that gives life to the whole thing.  Take everything else I say with a grain of not-my-usual-genre salt, but I can promise you that SCHISM is a hellraiser with heart.

Buy at Barnes & NobleAdd to GoodreadsOrder From Amazon

My favorite bit:

It was stupid. What was she to him? Oh yeah, a college buddy. She was the loud, weird chick in the art class, not exactly his type. His type was Heather. Heather the beauty, the girl who seemed to sweat strawberries from her teeny-tiny pores. Lea couldn't compare to her alive, and now – a ghost was perfect. She could never live up to a ghost.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Worldbuilding, Rally-Racing, and Total Kitten Anarchy

Y'know, my notorious frenemy Benjamin Inn said something about me once, which has since become the controlling metaphor for my life.

"She’s like an explosion of 52 enthusiastic kittens all trying to go in the same direction, but instead latching onto everything at once."

He nailed it.  My life in twenty-three words.  And if you haven't heard from me in awhile, it's because there are kittens friggin' everywhere.  Clambering through the cabinets and chewing on the electrical cords and leaving little wet spots on the carpet.  It's not good.  Anyway, let me try and corral a few of them into something resembling an update.

1. Worldbuilding workshop - secret special engagement!

So speaking of Ben, I'm probably going to have to start being nice to him or something, because that obstreperous clownhat actually, successfully agitated to book me for a worldbuilding workshop in Denton this month.  I'm seriously irritated at how excited I am about this: we're going to make personal worldbuilding cheat-sheets, take apart some of the most fun and successful fictional realms to see what makes them tick, and maybe even gin up one of our own. It's going to be immense.

And here's the best part: this was originally going to be a private party, but (since we just found out that we can seat 80 instead of 20) the North Branch crew and I are flinging the doors open! Come join us at:

Emily Fowler Central Library
502 Oakland St. in Denton
Tuesday, May 26th from 7 to 9 PM

Oh! And come ready to write - I promise to keep you busy!


Okay, so there's this book that came out last week.  It's called Tracked, and it's a YA sci-fi novel that people are calling Star Wars meets Speed Racer, and I hear it's a hot, delectable mess of action and romance and all the bad-assery you would expect from a heroine named Phee van Zant.

And you know what?  I can't tell you much about it myself, because I haven't read it yet.  But let me tell you a thing or two about this lady here:

Man, I swear these YA readers get younger every year...!

Her name is Jenny Martin, and she is basically the avatar of authorial goodness.  Like... to put it in context, this book has been in pre-publication for literally the entire time I've known her (for the record, that's three years). She has suffered through every setback and frustration and hair-pulling nightmare you can imagine - including watching newbie punks like me roll into workshop, land an agent, get a book deal, and see our books on the shelves, all while she was stuck rolling her own boulder endlessly uphill - and she has been the absolute soul of grace and selfless enthusiasm all the while.  She has cheered us on, talked us up, and dried our tears (oh god, please tell me I'm not the only one who leaked on her), and I am so, SO excited that her day in the sun has finally arrived. 

Anyway, needless to say, you should check out the book.  Because it's cool, and because she's phenomenal, but also because I took a second piece of cake at the launch party and said it was for you, so now you basically have to.

3. Something something look at me, aren't I wonderful

Sorry, that's all the subtlety I have left in me.

I want to tell you about this one really great review that came in. ("One Night In Sixes is a first rate example of this new “genre”, mixing a very sharp take on racism, slavery, justice, love and loyalty, all combining effortlessly in this deep, moving and involving start to a new trilogy". Oh my god, MARRY ME.)

I want to gush about this amazing interview I did, where I got to talk about the best experience I've had as a published author, and what I want people to take away from my books.

I want to showcase my updated con schedule, with SoonerCon and the Campbell Conference and more awesomesweet events than you OR I can handle.

I want to regale you with the epic tale of how my mom set me up the bomb.

But like I said, there's kittens hanging from the light fixtures around here and I just can't razzle-dazzle all this the way I want to.  Suffice to say that being an author is basically the act of falling all over yourself in gratitude for what people have already done for you, while simultaneously asking them to do even more.

So... if you've bought my books, read my books, reviewed my books (ESPECIALLY if you've reviewed my books), talked me up, come to one of my events, or ever had a nice thought in my direction... man, thank you so much.  Here, have a kitten!

It’s a bundle of my imperfections, eighty thousand words or so, folded up and sharply creased.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Fanart Friday!

You know, the world is just full of wonderful little surprises.

On Monday, for example, I got an utterly fantastic email from one of my oldest and fiercest writer-buddies (lookin' at you, Merlin!)

On Tuesday, I saw a very handsome shirtless man walking a little white pig.  (I did not take a candid photo, because that would be hella rude, but trust me - it was marvelous.)

And yesterday... well, let me show you.

See, first came the notification that this excellent fellow was following me:

An illustrator AND a bookseller?  Don't tell me you're a pastry chef too,
or you'll need to take out a restraining order.

Then I get this little piece of joy:

And after some reciprocal enthusitude from me, he comes back with this:

This is officially the baddest-ass depiction of Elim there ever was or will be. 
Friends, I am in pieces.

Not just because the art is amazing (though it is awesome to see my flinching masculine potato channeling the Duke!) but because man.  It has been years since I had any fresh fanart, and the very idea that somebody who hasn't known me for more 140 characters - who can't be more than five chapters into the freaking book! - would break off a chunk of their time to make me something is just... wibblesome.

Like, you know, it's nice when somebody does something good for you - takes you to dinner, buys you a present, gives you a lift. But when they do something for you that you absolutely need or want and can't do for yourself... that is the apex of Platonic generosity.

Anyway, needless to say, I could not let this kindness go unanswered.  So after workshop last night, I got out my crayons and sat down to reciprocate:

Isn't friendship magic?

Anyway, that got me thinking: maybe I should do a Fanart Friday thing every now and then. I've got some vintage gems that have been languishing on my hard drive for years now, and it'd be fun to show them to the world.  In the meantime, y'all should go check out Dan's gallery on the quick side - and if anybody else out there is ever taken with an itch to make me a picture, a keychain, or a macramé tea cozy, please know that I am deeply, deeply comfortable with that.

Well, you know my name is Simon, and I like to do drawings.