he palm trees are green, the hedges play jazz music, and it's late autumn in California.
The last time I posted in my blog, I was going insane with my novel rewrite. This is no longer the case. I have attained a zen-like attitude of fatalism. If I finish the rewrite and it works, great. If not . . . I still believe the current version is a good book. If it never gets looked at due to its structural problem, then I'll just wait until I'm famous and have it published then!
I just returned from the World Fantasy Convention, which is a conference for professional genre authors, editors, and publishers (despite its name). They're so professional that they hold the convention on Halloween and don't dress up in any costumes. There was an art show there, and panel discussions, but the point of this convention was mostly to shmooze--aka network. I'm not a social person, but to my surprise, I had a really good time. I met a lot of online friends for the first time, and (to sound corny) met new friends. It was also a thrill for me to hear some big-name authors and publishers speak their minds.
I want to go on about this conference at great length, but that would be boring to many readers, so I'll save it for the end of this entry.
On the animation front, I'm full-swing into the job hunt. It's a demoralizing process, because most of my queries receive no reply, and I'm not qualified for most of the jobs I want. I'm not qualified because I don't have the right experience, and I can't get the right experience because I can't get those jobs. It's the old catch-22. I can see a way out of this vicious cycle: I need to make a kick-ass 3D film single-handedly. But that requires a lot of time and dedication, and I don't like the idea of putting aside my writing ambitions in favor of that.
However, I am learning Flash MX and making an animated short that will probably put my other films to shame. It's a lot of fun, and I think it'll be a great thing on my demo reel. The process is also setting me up for my future ambition: A series on online cartoons, a la Homestar Runner. I have high hopes for this project. The voice actors are lined up (thanks, voice actors!), the scripts are ready, and the characters are designed. All I need now is to do it.
Speaking of animation, I just saw The Incredibles. Go see it! I think they made an incredible film, exceeding my expectations by a long shot. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually WANT them to make a sequel. (pout) I wish Pixar would hire me. My applications to them never received replies.
So anyway, back to other stuff. Larry and I took a little road trip through the deserts of Arizona on the way back from the convention. The photos should be on his website soon. We stopped at Montezuma's Castle, an ancient fortress built into a cliff wall by Native Americans. It was inhabited by 35 people from a community of 200. Apparently the other people had a ground-level place, but it burned down 600 years ago. The same day (Halloween), we drove from a saguaro cactus desert--with warm summer temperatures--to an icy cold pine forest with a foot of snow on the ground. We passed through the town of Sedona at sunset. All the kids were trick-or-treating. According to the people of Sedona, there are energy points around the town that make people feel good. I'm a total skeptic, but I must say, I felt good driving through there! It was so pretty. Larry and I turned to each other at the same moment and said "Let's live here!"
We stayed overnight in Flagstaff--brrr--and then we checked out Meteor Crater. Yeah, it's basically a big hole that got blasted into the desert 50,000 years ago, but it was impressive. Also windy. I figure the wind chill factor was 30 F. And then we drove the eight hours back to L.A., reading the last book in the Dark Tower series on the way. We're still not done with it, but I must say, the action is building toward some kind of crazy climax. My favorite books in the series so far have been Books 2, 3, and 6. Book 6 was hands-down awesome. If anyone out there is looking for a good SF/Fantasy epic, I recommend this one.
RECENT PUBLICATIONS AND NOVEL STATUS
As you know, the process of editing my novel has become gruesome to me. I'm taking it more slowly now. I also want to polish my scary screenplay and write new short stories. I'm afraid to start a new novel, because I get sucked in and tend to pay less attention to job hunting and films and stuff like that. Once I feel like my life is on a more comfortable track, you can bet I'll start another major project. I have more than enough ideas to run with.
I have a story accepted by Aoife's Kiss. "Leveling Mountains" will appear there sometime in 2005.
I have one submission waiting at Realms of Fantasy, one at Borderlands 6 anthology, and one at Corpse Blossoms anthology. That's all I have out there right now, which is pretty meager for me. You can count on a lot more news with my next update.
MOVIE AND BOOK REVIEWS
The Grudge was relentlessly scary. Lots of fun! Team America was very funny, but not the sort of movie I can watch repeatedly. Most of the gags were one-time only. But other than those movies and The Incredibles, there haven't been many good films lately. The Forgotten was like a low-budget made-for-TV movie. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was a huge disappointment, to me. They went all out on special FX, and the imagery was beautiful, but the plot completely failed in its attempt to pay homage to old-time pulp fiction.
Um . . . what have I been reading? Lots and lots of short stories. I'm a member of two critique groups now. That amounts to about three critiques per week. I'm also working through the last Borderlands anthology, in which my friend Lon Prater was published. And reading a bunch of SF magazines I got at the convention. And reading/critiquing a friend's novel. The novel is a relief, because I'm still more of a fan of epics than short form, but I'm also continually suprised by how much plot and character one can pack into a short story.
And now it's time for the . . .
WORLD FANTASY CONVENTION 2004 REPORT
This was my first con, and I learned a few things. Here are the highlights.
01) Many of the authors I talked with had completed five stand-alone novels or so before their first book was picked up by a publisher. There were a LOT of neo-pros there. I had this weird feeling that no one was taking me seriously because I have no pro publications. My conclusion is that I haven't written and submitted nearly enough stuff. I need a few pro publications!
02) The panels were pretty silly. A friend advised that I should attend panels based on WHO is on them rather than the topic, and I think this held true. The panelists were often answering audience questions or talking about their personal opinions rather than holding an illuminating discussion of the topic. There was one panel where they strayed completely from the topic and never came back to it. However, it was illuminating to listen to all these published authors and major editors speak. I feel like I have a much better sense of who they are and what they're about.
03) Ellen Datlow says that the SciFi Channel doesn't read her magazine, SciFiction. Both Ellen Datlow and Gordon Van Gelder want more SF and more Humor, and more complete stories with a protagonist who changes during the course of events. They believe that the importance of story structure is being forgetten, and want to see more stories with the traditional structure of a single hero who undergoes the most important change of his or her life.
04) Gordon Van Gelder gives detailed feedback to writers whom he considers to be promising. He says that sometimes a story is great except that the fantastic element shows up too late, or the setting/style is generic, or it's too literary.
05) All of the panelists on short stories agree that Robert Reed is a model of what a short story writer should be. He has at least 15 stories per year in all the major markets, and they're always good.
06) Tor editor David Hartwell cares so much about finding talent that he actually read a short story of John C. Wright's, then tracked him down and asked him if he had a novel.
07) I was really happy to talk with a screenwriter who's produced TV shows such as DS9 and Sliders. He gave me some nice tips on how to get in on the industry here. I know that book writers and screenwriters don't often mix, but I don't see why not. The mediums are not hugely different. The biggest difference I see is this: Screenwriters cannot survive if they're overly attached to the purity of their work.
08) Interestingly enough, I met an extremely talented animator who's attending the school (and department) I graduated from at CalArts. That was a surprising coincidence. We talked animation industry for a while.
09) The parties were tiring, and they stuffed a lot of people into those little suites. The Tor Books party was particularly crowded. There were about 100 people in a room designed to hold maybe 50. I'd been told that the parties would be mostly invitation only, but it seemed that anyone could walk into any party. There were only four suites or so in the hotel, and a party in them every night. I popped into most of them.
10) Shmoozing was not nearly as frightening as I'd imagined. Writers are very open to conversation. Unfortunately, most of the people there knew each other and were wrapped in private conversations. A few times, I struck up conversations with other people who looked alone. Most of them had their own weird tales about the getting-published process, and most were further along than I am (I have a competetive spirit, and couldn't help but compare). I really found everyone easy to talk to, which was a HUGE relief. I've known writers who are snobbish. It was also nice to realize that just about everyone at this convention wants a lifelong career as a writer or editor.
11) I met a whole bunch of people that I've hitherto only known online. It was exciting to meet other Odyssey graduates, friends from science_fiction_writing on Yahoo, and Samantha Henderson from my online critique group.
12) There were some good artists in the art show amidst the not-so-talented ones. I found a new artist to admire: Sarah Clemens. She's one talented woman. It was also cool to see the original book cover paintings by Janny Wurts and Don Maitz. They're much more impressive up close than on book covers.
13) One of the highlights of my experience at WFC was that a girl asked for my autograph. She was collecting them in case any of the new writers get famous. It was the first time anyone's requested my autograph, and I was flattered!
14) Authors did readings at the con, and I thought this was a great way to sample their work and decide if I wanted to buy one of their books or not.
15) The first panel I went to was a discussion on why adults read Young Adult novels. I thought that one of the best points in the debate was brought up by an audience member. He said that adult fantasy often focuses on using the magic for war and fighting, whereas YA fiction is still about the sheer wonder of magic. This may be why Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is compared to the Harry Potter series. Although it's adult fiction, it's about the wonder of magic rather than using magic for war.
16) I enjoyed the panel about stereotyped characters. The panelists all had interesting things to say. Charles de Lint said that for him, beginning a new novel project is like starting a new job and having to get used to a new setting, new co-workers, etc. He also finds it important (as I do) to have people read the novel before it's published. Jo Walton mentioned that the "spunky woman heroine" in a medieval setting often doesn't belong in that world. The spunky woman heroine is a 20th century woman, not a person that grew up in a medieval society.
17) The panel about villains got a little silly, but it was fun. I'm glad that L.E. Modesitt, Jr. pointed out the done-to-death stereotype of stupid bad guys who also happen to be powerful. Those also bother me. I get bored with stupid villains in novels and movies. Enough with the James Bond cliches! David Levine mentioned that villains are often the agents of progress or change--a new regime--while the protagonists are often trying to restore the old way of doing things. Strange, huh? I think so. But it holds true more often than not. Even in my Yeresunsa saga, the protagonists are trying to restore an ancient culture, and the bad guys are all about technological progress.
18) Finally, the panel about recurring characters in series was a good one. James Barclay doesn't believe in writer's block; he said that Terry Pratchett holds the same opinion. An audience member--Carrie Vaughn--brought up the point that a character must change in order to be interesting, but this might get tiresome in a long series where the character changes in every book. L.E. Modesitt answered this by saying that he never writes more than three books about any given character; beyond that, the character begins to seem plastic. Barclay said his limit is six books before the character gets tired. There was much mention of Lois McMaster Bujold handling a character through seven books without making him seem too plastic. Yes, Bujold is definitely on my list of authors to try soon!
With that, I believe I've run out of things to say. Oh! Email. If you email me, and I don't reply for a month or two, it's because I want to take the time to write a thought-out response. I'm usually too busy or lazy to do that. The one-sentence replies tend to go out the fastest. If I have more than one sentence to say to you, then . . . sorry. I'll reply eventually.
Best of luck to everyone who had the patience to read this. Happy Holidays!