A New Class and a New Book

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I like Neil Gaiman’s post the other day about writing, wherein he talks about the magical state and the fog state of the craft. Some days, you know where you’re going; other days, it is akin to being lost in a fog.

For me, these days, it is somewhat akin to being strapped to a locomotive with a fully-stoked engine, going down-hill. It’s all I can do to hang on.

This, then, is one of those attempts to raise my head enough that I can shout out a few things without the wind ripping me off the engine entirely.

I’m teaching another class in a few weeks. Branching Narratives: The Mechanics of Plot Topiary”. It’s on March 25th at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle. For those who attended the one I did last fall an outlining a novel, this is sort of the follow-on workshop. It’s coming up quick, and I have no idea how full the class is, but the previous one sold out and then some.

The PR machinery for The Mongoliad is starting up. We should have some exciting announcements about Phase Two of our Sektrit Plans about that same time. Meanwhile, remember what I said about the train? Yeah, there’s a lot of work being done behind the scenes right now. There’s actually a bit of new Foreworld content that’s been written as well.

The Cabiri, an aerialist group I do some things for, is having their spring show in a few weeks as well. Tarhun: Legend of the Lightening God runs the first two weekends in April. It’s basically an ancient Hittite spring festival performance with monsters. I know. Where else are you going to see such a thing?

I signed the contract last week for a one-off book. Its codename was GREENFANG, but its official title is going to be EARTH THIRST. Night Shade is publishing it, and it should be out in the early part of 2013. It’s my vampire book, and yeah, it’s a “vampire” book in the same sense that the CODEX books are strictly “urban fantasy.” The gang at Night Shade is pretty excited about this book and that’s exactly the sort of home it needed, and so I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with it.

And now you can understand why I’m going to go hide out at the Rainforest Writers’ Village for a few days. I’ve got some writing to get done.

Norwescon Schedule

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Norwescon is coming up the first weekend of April, and I’ll be on several panels again. Here’s my schedule. I think I’m doing the writer’s workshop again, but other than that and the listed panels below, it’ll be BarCon.

And yes, on the “Science of Magic” panel, I may play the “I’m a practicing magickian” card again. And I’ll report on the act of magick that came out of the WFC panel on the somewhat similar topic.

Whose Story Is It, Anyway? (Friday Noon Cascade 3&4)
Having trouble with too much villain and not enough hero in your stories? Do you have too much hero, while the villain never comes out of the woodwork? Striking a balance isn’t always easy, but sometimes a balanced tale isn’t the best thing to write, either. Come discuss with the pros which villain- or hero-heavy stories they thought worked, which ones didn’t, which ones were great when well-balanced, and which ones sucked anyway.
Christopher Bodan (M), Mark Teppo, Irene Radford, Jean Johnson

Fact and Fantasy (Saturday 11 am Cascade 6)
When does ‘staying real’ matter, and when does it just get in the way? Should fantasy Seattle streets match real Seattle streets perfectly? Does your pseudo-medieval weaponry have to perform like the real thing? How much can we alter history for the sake of the story before the reader cries ‘Enough!’
J. A. Pitts (M), Stina Leicht, Mark Teppo, Mary Robinette Kowal, Adrienne Carlson

Character Arc, Plot Arc — Story! (Saturday Noon Cascade 11)
Knowing how your plot and characters change as the tale moves forward helps a writer to craft more powerful stories. What makes a great character arc, and how can you make your character’s internal change more compelling? What makes a great plot arc, and how can you intertwine your plot with your character?
Carol Berg (M), Corry L. Lee, Mark Teppo, Mary Rosenblum

The Science of Magic (Saturday 6 pm Cascade 7)
How do you create a believable system of magic? Is knowledge of Latin useful? What about wands, crystal balls, and other tools? And, how do you create real jeopardy in a story when, literally, anything is possible?
Mickey “Meowse” Phoenix (M), Bart Kemper, Carol Berg, Mark Teppo

Post WFC

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I never know when to leave conventions, and World Fantasy Convention always flummoxes me. Do I stay through the banquet, congratulate the winners, and then leave? Do I leave Sunday morning and simply miss the last day of watching the dead lumber around? Or do I wait until the site goes quiet for the banquet and then take my leave?

It always feels like I’m slipping out of a friend’s house while they’ve left the room for a moment to use the bathroom.

But WFC 2011 is behind us now. Tonight is Halloween, and due to the timing of the con, it will be the first Halloween I’ve done with BOTH kids. And that realization takes a lot of the sting out of leaving. That last hour, however, was still filled with the frantic calculations of when you will see everyone again.

Did I accomplish the business I hoped to do? Not entirely. Did other awesome and interesting opportunities present themselves? Yes, they did. Going to WFC reminds me why one should never set one’s five- and ten- year plans in stone. One should always be flexible. One should always be ready to say “yes” to something new and unexpected without thinking too much about how that project will actually come together. WFC reminds me that, while writing can be a solitary experience, creating is not. As much as I love writing, I do love creating more.

My convention began with a panel on Magic and Metaphysics. Ted Chiang, Kristin Janz, Peter Orullian and I kept an audience entertained for more than an hour at a time past when panels are supposed to be interesting. A number of people stopped me throughout the rest of the con, expressing their appreciation for our discussion and clearly wishing we could continue it. One gentleman actually posed a very interesting non-fiction book idea that, at the very least, might be an interesting follow-up panel. Perhaps at Norwescon in the spring.

I signed copies of Lightbreaker and Heartland at the Night Shade Books table for a few hours on Saturday. I felt very much like the shabby cousin, surrounded by the depth and breadth of the New Voices program that the Shade has launched this fall. So very many gorgeously designed and enticing books. I made up for my feelings of inadequancy among these wunderkind by personalizing the remaining copies of my books before I left. I didn’t just sign them; I left little messages in each. I hope they all find happy homes.

One of my favorite conversations was not about fantasy or science fiction or the business of publishing but about Sir Richard Burton and the terror of William Blake, about the Coen Brothers and David Fincher and their fierce vision of making film, about Thucydidies and Xenophon and how The Aeneid was nothing more than fan fiction (but yes, we’d all read parts of it in the original Latin).

I miss you all, crazy dreamers. But now we must go work through the cold winter.

WFC Appearance

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I’ll be attending World Fantasy Convention next week in San Diego, CA. While seeing all of my pals, I will also be moderating a panel on Thursday evening at 10:00PM. It’s called “Magic and Metaphysics.” Here’s the panel description:

What makes a magic system believable? Authors and world builders create the rules that govern their magic when the whole point of magic, one would think, is to break the rules. Is it reasonable to try to constrain magic by the laws of nature? Bonewitz proposed a whole set of rules based on principles such as similarity and contagion? Is a logical and consistent magical system actually magic?

It’ll be held in Pacific 2/3, which I would assume to a nicely sized room. On the panel with me are Ted Chiang, Kristin Janz, and Peter Orullian. Drop by. It looks like it will be a fun panel.

Thinking, Planning, Reading


Link round-up today while I’m off banging out words in the catacombs.

Late last week, I dropped by the Clarion West house and entertained this year’s crop of students for a bit, doing the dog-and-pony about epublishing and urban fantasy. They were nicely attentive and didn’t roll their eyes too many times at my soap-boxing. So very kind of them. During the party, later in the evening, I learned that the fall workshop schedule had been posted. I’m doing the one in October.

Called “Jumpstart Your Novel,” it’s the six-hour version of the two-hour talk I did at Norwescon back in March. I packed the room during the con version, and we didn’t have enough time to cover all the material I had. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to do this again, both with more time and with a smaller class size. So, yes, registration is limited, and I believe it is filling up already.

Writer pal Jonathan Wood has a new book out called No Hero and it posits as its entertaining premise the question of “What would Kurt Russell do?” Plus it has all sorts of eldritch horrors. He’s serializing a story over at Geek Dad these next few weeks, and here’s a link to Case File #1 and Case File #2.

Annoyingly, there isn’t a way to get to Case File #2 from the first one. Hopefully, they’ll go back and update the first post with the subsequent links.

Speaking of posts and updating, I’ve gone and written something for DARKLINE, the other blog. A bit of ruminating on magickal systems. I have been remiss on keeping up with the esoteric studies. Many distractions offered by life, of course.

Including the fact that grass can’t be bothered to grow on its own. You have to manage it. Stupid grass. More annoyingly, the neighbor across the street who already has an immaculate lawn has decided to rip out the front edge and plant shrubbery. Most of which he accomplished in the course of a single day. Over-achiever.

The Foolscap Reading Series recap

Making Things Up

Sunday was the first of the Foolscap Summer Reading Series, wherein I rambled on for nearly three hours to a room of attentive and interactive listeners. It was more of a rolling discussion than a Watch The Monkey Dance! sort of show, but scarlettina was kind enough to tweet the proceedings and make it seem like all the bon mots were coming from me. For the sake of posterity, here’s the highlights of the afternoon (in a somewhat edited version from the flatstuff twitter stream).

* I start off by reading the two pieces I wrote for Omnivoracious, the Amazon blog, related to the Codex of Souls series. [NOTE: those would be “On the Nature of Magick” and “On The Existence of Monsters]

* Mark Teppo is fascinating: In twenty minutes, he’s invoked Alistair Crowley, Jesus, and Descartes.

* Teppo says: “We just wanna get naked with things that we shouldn’t.”

* Teppo says: As I wrote Lightbreaker, I repeated the words, “Men and mantras, shotguns and sigils.”

* On writing fantasy & making stuff up: Teppo says he actually did more research for his fantasy book than he did for his science fiction story.

* Teppo says: The trouble with doing research is the more you get into it the more interesting things you find.

* Teppo says: There are elements of abstract esoteric thought that, when applied to scientific thought, start adding sense to the universe.

* Teppo says: Faith is reliance on the external to deliver to you. Crowley says there is no faith, only will. Faith is reactive; will is active.

* This is more than a reading; it’s practically a class on esoteric thought. Fascinating stuff!

* First scene of Lightbreaker, what was the inspiration? Teppo says: “It was . . . kinda cool.” First scene was the only thing saved from first draft. [NOTE: Alas, Twitter doesn’t really afford the means to capture the three minute off-the-cuff grad school style breakdown I did of the first scene and why it was the way it was; but at the same time, I can admit that I made it all up on the spot. Also, I should note that the VERY first scene–with the deer–isn’t actually in the first draft. The early version references the deer, but it starts as he boards the ferry; I hadn’t remembered this until I was reading it aloud yesterday.]

* Beautiful image in the first scene of Lightbreaker: a deer glowing with human soul energy in the dark of night. Magic afoot!

* Book is set in the Seattle; Teppo invokes the mystery of the woods, the mundane experience of a ferry ride with an acute perception.

* Teppo says: “What’s the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance? Paranormal romance has happy endings; urban fantasy really doesn’t.” [NOTE: I’m not the first to say this.]

* Teppo recommends Mark Henry’s series about Amanda Feral, a zombie, in the hip, happening capital of the undead, Seattle.

* Q: What makes a story horror? A: An awareness of dread. [NOTE: The longer version of is a rambling discussion about the difference between Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Thing Are and what we thought the Welsh translation’s title was: In The Land Of Wild Things. (Don’t ask; that’s an even longer digression.) The point is that the Welsh title is a fantasy title, in the sense that it is the story of a magical land over there; Sendak’s original is a horror story, because you don’t know where the Wild Things are, and they’re probably right here.]

* And then, we launch into discussion of The Mongoliad. I do a demo. We talk about how it is going to drop on all the major mobile platforms. [NOTE: I explicitly point out that it will also be available via the web, but as that’s not nearly as exciting as the mobile devices, it’s not been a major talking point in the press releases so far.]

* I detour into a discussion of the evolution of publishing, complete w/drawing of the internet as a cloud–not to scale. Somewhere in there I posit that, in five years, the mass market paperback is going to be an e-book.

* Teppo defines the distribution mechanism for The Mongoliad. PULP. Personal Ubiquitous Literature Platform.

* Q: What is The Mongoliad about? A: In 1241 the Mongols raided Europe; in 1242, they went back. The story tells the secret history of why.

* The Mongoliad will be told as a weekly serial online by a group of authors including Teppo, Greg Bear, Neal Stephenson, Nicole Galland, and others. Contributors to Mongoliad may be musicians, artists–there are more ways to tell a story than only writing.

* Q: If I invest in a Mongoliad subscription I want to know it has a beginning middle & end. Will it? A: Yes. We want that. But. . . it will have seasons, like a TV show, and shorelines will intertwine.

* Discussion about piracy, and Subutai’s solution: build a interactive, entertaining site with low overhead to join, and people will do what is easier. Piracy may increase readership; it definitely improves sales. The trick is to make it effortless to participate honestly.

The How Book Publishing Works diagram. Notice the Internet cloud down there in the lower left, along with the top three distractions that plague a writer (“snacks,” “cat vacuuming,” and “WoW”). Later, I redraft it for the Internet Age and how it is relevant to the Mongoliad model.

The map of Europe. On the far right (you can see the edge of it) is another cloud that is the Mongol horde, not the Internet. Though, at first glance, you could mistake one for the other.

Finally, there were some questions about the status of The Codex Of Souls, and I re-iterated that I had scoped ten books, Night Shade had bought (and published) two, and things were in wait and see mode. They’re still in wait and see mode, but I can tell you that the wait and see hold-up is on MY END now. Night Shade has re-expressed their interest in more books, and I’m looking at my schedule and giving it some honest thought.

Upcoming Reading / Discussion

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The gang at Foolscap have tapped me to start off their summer reading series. Saturday, June 26th from 2:00pm – 5:00pm at the Shoreline Library.

Three hours, gang. I’ll read something from the CODEX books (as that’s ostensibly why we’re there), talk about some of the world-building (read geek out about the occult), and I’m sure someone will start a conversation about The Mongoliad, which I’ll indulge as best I can.

As it’s taking place at a library, there won’t be books for sale, but I’m happy to sign anything you bring.

On the Foolscap Convention page, there’s a discussion topic if you want to preload any topic you’d like me to discuss. Otherwise, hopefully I’ll see some of you there.

Subutai in SF

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There’s a regular geek-up in San Francisco called Dorkbot, and a couple of the SF-based Subutai officers will be at this week’s meeting on Wednesday (Facebook event listing). They’ll demo The Mongoliad and engage in a little Q & A. For those of you not in SF, we’ve put up a YouTube video of Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear doing the talking head routine about the historical backdrop against which The Mongoliad plays out.

Historical Scope video

For those of you who’ve gone to the Mongoliad website, I’m sure you’ve noticed the header of “Foreworld.” In the YouTube video, Neal–briefly–hints at why such a header exists.