Works in Progress

Appearances, Book Talk

January is almost over, and while I have gotten to a point where I loath writing for the blog, the last entry was the one where I noted that my cat died. It’s probably time for us all to move on past that, especially since New Cat has already adopted a movement pattern in the house that presages me heading for the writing couch. He always gets there first and is flopped RIGHT where I’m going to sit.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I did my third Clarion West One-Day Workshop for a gaggle of attentive folks. They listened, they asked questions, and I didn’t spend too long making them watch the opening to John Boorman’s Point Blank. I’ll be back for another workshop in May. This time around, Greg Bear will be co-teaching with me. It’s called “Equine and Canine Paradoxes: Publishing and Collaborating in the Modern Age. Details are here

It will be the Dog and Pony Show of Writing Workshops, I promise you.

The next writing book is coming out in March, whether I’m finished tweaking it or not. Here’s the cover.


It’s a continuation from Jumpstart Your Novel, and digs into the what and how of making a book after you’ve got your sexy outline.

About that same time, Night Shade Books is re-releasing Lightbreaker in a sexy trade edition.

AND, a month later, the print version of The Potemkin Mosaic will be coming out.

Which is why I’m invisible online. My to-do list is very long.

Miscon, Out in Big Sky Country


One of the presentations I did at the Creative Ink Festival was a new iteration on the Jumpstart Your Novel dog and pony show that I’ve been doing off and on for a few years now. Since CIF, I’ve done it a handful more times for a number of 8th grade classrooms. In each instance, I’ve had about an hour to pitch this new method of approaching story, and have had a chance to refine it down to a near-science. Or at least an entertaining hour discussion.

I’ll be doing it again at Miscon this year, out in Missoula next week. Though, we’ll be returning to the two-hour format where audience members are actually going to be plotting and outlining their new novels in the room with me. It’ll be fun. Really.

Miscon is turning 29 this year, and it’s my second time attending. It’s a great con, and Montana is—usually—done with all its cold weather by this time, and so it’s quite pleasant. The Miscon staff has paneled me up pretty well, and so if you’re in the area, here’s where you can find me.

Friday 4:00pm Creating the Brands of Tomorrow (Thunderdome Left) with John Picacio and Shawn Speakman. Three leading sf/f creatives will share why they created their own publishing houses, what they’re producing, what’s next, and where the next frontiers are.

Saturday 3:00pm Writing to Prompts (Upstairs Programming 3) with Brenda Carre, David Keck, and J. A. Pitts. Prompts are a great way to build and hone your craft, not to mention get published and win contests. In this panel we’ll learn how to write original, unique stories based on those prompts. We’ll also discuss how to know if you’ve strayed too far from the original concept.

Saturday 4:00pm First Page—Make or Break (Thunderdome Right) with Anne Groell, Andrea Howe, Shawn Speakman, and Patrick Swenson. Wherein the panelists will do live critiques of manuscript first pages to give the audience unparalleled insight into what can make or break a story before it even gets rolling.

Sunday 10:00am Author Signing (Thunderdome Right). Like it sounds. Not just me, but dozens of other authors too. Signing damn near anything shoved in front of us, though we prefer books with our names on them.

Sunday 12:00pm Elevator Pitches, Queries & Synopses (Thunderdome Right) with Anne Groell and Laurey Patten. Now, the official description is: “Panels on these subjects may be ubiquitous, but they’re important. Selling your book through one of these means is hard. In this panel, we’ll learn from authors and editors about how to craft the best pitch possible for your book or short story.” But I dislike writing synopses, so my superpower here will be turning everything into an elevator pitch, which I’ve gotten pretty good at. So, it’ll be entertaining.

Monday 10:00am Jumpstart Your Novel (Upstairs Programming 2). Yep. Two hour session. Bring something to write on/with. We’ll be busy.

Monday 1:00pm Organizing Story Ideas (Thunderdome Right) with Andrea Howe, S. A. Bolich, and Eldon Thompson. Writers usually have a tornado of ideas swirling in their heads at any one time. What do you do with all these ideas? How do you organize them? You might get them onto the page, but sometimes they don’t live up to what’s in your mind. What do you do then? What do you do when your ideas run wild? It’s easy to feel defeated. In this panel we’ll discuss how to organize those ideas into a coherent story and juggling expectation with reality.

Otherwise, I’ll be in the dealer’s area in the bookroom. Resurrection House and Fairwood Press will have tables along with all the other books that A Good Book Cafe will be bringing out to the con. I hear there are going to be some pretty cool books for sale this year. Definitely worth your time, and we don’t mind selling you some new reads.

Creative Ink Festival 2015


Over the weekend, I had the privilege of being the Guest of Honor at Sandra Wickham’s inaugural Creative Ink Festival. Held up in Burnaby, BC, the Festival was a day-long event, packed with panels and presentations for writers, artists, and readers. I like doing panels at conventions and usually tell programming folks that I don’t mind being heavily scheduled. Most of the time, convention programming doesn’t think I mean it, but Sandra? Oh, yes, Sandra definitely took me at my word.

The day started with an hour long presentation on “Jumpstarting Your Novel.” I usually do this as a two hour interactive presentation (and have done it as a full-day workshop as well), and so I was a little concerned that compressing this to an hour would turn it into sixty minutes of me blathering as fast as I could. However, as I’m in the process of restructuring this presentation into a more compartmentalized model, this hour was a chance to try out the new format. It seemed like it went well, and the Q & A with the audience gave me some useful feedback. Next step is to start laying out these ideas in a short how-to book format.

photo of the publisher, reading by Patrick Swenson

[photo by Patrick Swenson]

Next was an hour of improv storytelling with Colleen Anderson, Jennifer Lott, and Danika Dinsmore. The audience provided prompts that were either nouns or verbs, and the panelists were to perpetuate a story started by one of the panelists using whatever prompt was on the slip of paper they were given. It took a story or two for us to warm up to the format, but by the end, we were telling complicated narratives and inventing things like the “trans-dimensional information rodeo.”

This sort of panel can expose just how much of a liar a writer is. Er, well, maybe it was just me. Writing is not like public speaking in that you get a few tries to get a sentence right, and if you can’t recall the right word for something, you can take a few minutes and look it up. When you’re in front of a room full of people who are all staring at you? Yeah, there’s no time to wander off and check your vocabulary. Me? I double down. “Listen, lizards are just like toads. Only drier.”

“Uh-huh,” says another panelist. “So they’re just dry amphibians, right?”

“Absolutely,” I say. “You got your dry amphibians. You got your moist amphibians. You got your window-licking big-eye amphibians. You got your fuzzy hat wearing amphibians. They’re all amphibians, really.”

During lunch, we had a fantastic keynote speech from Devon Boorman, who is the Maestro of Academie Duello, the largest European sword fighting school in the world. I tapped out a few aphorisms he offered, which will fail to encompass the breadth of his keynote, but they’re chewy little nuggets nonetheless. My apologies to Devon if I’m misremembering anything he said.

• “Systems and rhythms are much more important than goals.”
• “Break out of the interia between nothing and something.”
• “You get what you want no matter what you get.”
• “What is the difference between nourishment and numbness, and which are you embracing?”

Later in the afternoon, I went into my long stretch of programming, ping-ponging back and forth between the two ballrooms. Action GOH! First, there was “Growing up a Reader,” with Cathy Ace, Randy McCharles, Andrea Westaway, Dani Duck, and Jennifer Lott. Six was one more than the table could easily fit, so I sat in the front row of the audience and grilled the panelists for a while. The group offered up a lot of engaging discussion about their experiences with books at an early age and their perceptions of how people engage with books now. Great stuff, and I learned a few things about the modern fascination with YA that have been eluding me.

Next up was my second presentation of the day: “Everything from Nothing: Giving Yourself Permission to be Creative.” Somewhat facetiously, I had imagined this being a very short presentation. I stand in front of a room full of people and assume the attitude of the kindly old fart. “You all have my permission to suck,” I would say. “And you all have it in you to finish the book you are working.” Followed by a moment of silence, and then: “Okay, thanks for coming this afternoon.” Mic drop; exit stage left.

Yeah, it was the other 48 minutes that were going to be a bit trickier to fill. Fortunately, the structure I’ve been using for the Jumpstart presentation also works for the Permission model. Again, a little bit of guinea pig testing with the audience, but the hour went by quickly and there were a lot of good questions and discussion with audience. I’m calling that one a win.

Then, an hour of insider talking about self-publishing with Randy McCharles, Katrina Archer, Jo-Anne McLean, and Sabina Khan. All of whom wrote their books, did their research, and then self-published their books directly. Me? I wrote some books and then went off and started a publishing company. I’m not sure I’m doing it right. But I had some insight into indie publishing at that level somewhere between publishing one title a year and the massive juggernaut of traditional publishing.

Publishing is, in my opinion, still in a lot of flux. The tools to publish your own books get easier and easier to use, which makes the reality of self-publishing more affordable and more available all the time. The flip side of that is books are being published at an astonishing rate, which makes discovery much more difficult. And it’s not just for indie publishers. Big publishers have the same problem as well, and while they have name recognition and presence in the marketplace, they’ll still caught in the same flood of content.

Our discussion boiled down to: “Write. And keep writing.” More and more, this is becoming the only truism worth holding on to.

Finally, we had an hour of Live Action Subs. Audience members submit the first page of a story or novel. Our esteemed reader—the always delightful Ian Alexander Martin of Atomic Fez—performs a cold reading, and the panel of grumpy editors and publishers indicate when they would stop reading. Discussion ensues with the intent of providing insight into why a story might get rejected beyond the frustratingly oblique form rejection one normally gets.

For instance: One of the first times, I did this panel, we had a story that kicked all of the panelists out before the reader finished the first line. Why? “Girlfriend in the fridge,” one panelist said. “If this was supposed to get my attention and shock me, where are you going to go from here?” another said. Which led to a discussion about bad story tropes and pacing, all of which was more detail than is ever detailed in “thanks for sending this story, but it didn’t work for me” form rejection response.

This iteration of the Live Action Subs Hour included Patrick Swenson, Claude Lalumière, Alex C Renwick, Jennifer Landels, and myself. I was the youngster of the group in regards the number of manuscript pages that had passed across my desk over the years, and it was fascinating to learn the various quirks of each experienced editor. Proving, yet again, how much of publishing is a matter of personal taste. As both Claude and Alex were keen to remind our audience: a rejection of a story is merely a disconnect between that story and that editor. The writer should always hold fast to their belief in the value of their work. Never stop submitting.

At the afterparty of this year’s event, even though we were all worn out after a long day of hard work, I could tell that Sandra was already refining her vision of the Festival. She’s got plans to build CIF into a world-class weekend for writers, artists, and readers, and as this first year ably demonstrates, she’s well on her way.

The Creative Ink Festival will be back next year when the Guests of Honor will be Carrie Vaughn and Galen Dara. I’m trying to convince Sandra that I should get a sash that says “Old GOH” (or maybe just “Old Goat”), and my job will be to sit in a comfy chair in the lobby and direct traffic with a stick. But I suspect that she’s going to put me on a bunch of panels instead. Which will be fine too.

As long as I get that sash.

A Hint of Moon

Appearances, Book Talk

There’s a stretch of road that always makes my brain churn out content. I don’t really know why. It’s not a very interesting stretch of road, and at any given time, it can be terribly snarled with traffic. But, for some reason, along that ten mile ribbon of road, my mind gets to writing, and it always sounds fabulous in my head.

But the next morning, I can barely remember any of it (other than it sounding fabulous). I should learn to dictate to my phone, but the few times I’ve tried that, I become terribly self-conscious about the pauses and hiccups in my speech. Again: fabulous in the brain; not so fabulous when it materializes.

Perhaps there is just some sort of weather subduction zone along that stretch. Where the air pressure is different enough on the outside that my brain swells a little bit on the inside, and my perceptions of the world are a little skewed.

Illustration by Jerry Minor.

Illustration by Jerry Minor.

I was at the Starships and Sorcery Book Club meeting last night at the U Bookstore in Bellevue. They had read my collection The Court of Lies, and I was asked to come sit in on the discussion. I didn’t really have any idea how having the author sit in would play, and was delighted to spent almost two hours with the group chatting about all sorts of things. The lovely thing about reading a collection in a book club is that everyone can have a favorite (or not) and it doesn’t create divisions within the group. If you’re reading a novel and you don’t like it, you’re sort of stuck for the evening’s discussion, and probably more prone to sitting the session out entirely. Props to Olivia, Danny, and Jerry for pushing the collection on the group.

Plus there were waffles and Bloody Marys with bacon skewers. What’s not to like about a book club meeting with breakfast food?

A reader pointed out to me that I use the term ‘cat herder’ in my header, and as someone knew to reading my work, they didn’t know the history of that word in regards to the past few years. They were disappointed there were no cat pictures to be found on the website. Here now, rectifying that problem, is a picture of Enkidu. I realize there is only one cat, and implicit in the phrase ‘cat herder’ is the suggestion that there are enough cats to herd, but in the case of this ghostly orange cat, one is enough.

Cat in a box, properly herded.

Cat in a box, properly herded.

Earlier this week, I read at the Quarterly SFWA Reading Series event along with Scott James Magner and Randy Henderson. We were all celebrating the release of Randy’s first novel, Finn Fancy Necromancy, which is a delightfully charming take on loving the dead—in this case the ’80s. Which, as Randy adroitly notes, haven’t truly died; they’re still shuffling along. Zombified Zeitgeist.

I read Chapter 4 from VERTIGO, and was pleased at the reaction I got from the audience. I think I’ve finally managed to sort out the issues with the name of the city, which has been one of those lingering world-building issues that have been dogging me for what? A decade now? Silly writer. Anyway, EMPIRE CITY -> the SPRAWL -> VERDIGRIS CITY -> VERTIGO. I think that’s settled finally.

Next week is Writing Time in the Woods. I hope to get another chunk of either FERAL or VERTIGO down, as well as some bits on BLACK MOON, a new project that takes its name from our current cycle of two new moons in January and March of this year, making February the month without a new moon. Good time to be in the woods, I suspect.

I’ve become somewhat curmudgeonly about projects, in that I have a preference these days to not want to talk about them until they are far enough along that they might actually be finished in the near future. The downside of this attitude is that I can very easily NOT say anything at all, which makes it easy to disappear as a creative. Which, in turn, does little to keep up a relationship with one’s audience.

“Hey, writer guy, whatcha working on?”


“What kind of stuff?”

“New stuff.”

. . .

It’s not a very fulfilling conversation. For anyone.

I’ll leave you with a sliver of BLACK MOON. You know, the new stuff.




This weekend is VCON, Vancouver’s premier SF, fantansy, and games convention (Vancouver, BC, for those who live along the I-5 corridor). I’ll be in attendance, doing double-duty as both writer and publisher, which means I’ll be EVERYWHERE. Otherwise, I’ll be at the Resurrection House table in the dealers’ room where we’ll have four of the five fall titles for sale.

That’s right, Canada. You get first crack at The Jonah Watch. Make me feel remiss for not bringing more copies, would you?

Schedule-wise, here’s what I’ll be doing.

FRI OCT 3 @ 4pm
We’ll be moderated by Bruce Taylor, Mr. Magic Realism himself, in fact.

SAT OCT 4 @ 11am
Oft-requested, occasionally done, this is the workshop where I run you through how to plot a novel from start to finish in an hour and a half. It is possible. It is even fun. But you shouldn’t take my word for it; Heather Roulo wrote a nice write-up of the workshop back in the day, and you can still read it here.

SAT OCT 4 @ 12:30pm
(I’m not participating in this, but Devon Boorman will be demonstrating his masterful sword skills, and as a fan of Academie Duello, I can attest that this’ll be worth your time.)

SAT OCT 4 @ 2pm
Yep. I’ll be taking pitches. For novels of the non-YA persuasion.

SAT OCT 4 @ 6pm
Wherein the panelists attempt to pass judgement on slush read aloud without coming off like total asses.

SUN OCT 5 @ 10am
We’ll be talking about publishing, not other . . . less publicly appropriate topics.

SUN OCT 5 @ 11am
Wherein we will discuss how to actually start the damn book as well as finishing the f*ing thing.

SUN OCT 5 @4pm
Not necessarily a follow-on to the previous panel about starting and finishing, but tangentially related in that “What the hell do I do in the middle?” way.