Today’s Kidney Stone – The Gory Details

On Facebook, I already posted about the kidney stone I experienced earlier, and I posted a couple of pictures of my hands when they they had wires in or on them.  There’s also a picture of me taken shortly after I’d been given pain medication.  I was feeling much better, but I was very, very sleepy.

I want to take a moment to jot down the details.  It’s not that I want anyone to go through my pain.  I wouldn’t wish the pain of a kidney stone on anyone.  However, there are details of the process that I think are interesting, and maybe some other people will think so as well.

Today’s kidney stone was either my 5th or my 6th.  It isn’t faulty memory that makes me uncertain on the exact number.  The 5th one was not confirmed by the hospital.  With the 5th one, I felt the pain coming on close to bed time.  I was well hydrated and I had access to Vicodin, so I took a pill and went to bed, hoping for the best.  When I woke up the next morning, I was fine.

Unless the stone itself gets to a certain size, negotiating a kidney stone is all about pain management.  There isn’t really any pain in “passing it,” in the sense most people think.  Once the stone reaches the bladder, I no longer feel it.  Maybe it’s different for women.  I can only speak from my own experience.

Today started off like any other day.  I woke up, went through my morning routine, gathered my equipment, and drove to work.  On the way, I stopped and picked up a dozen doughnuts as I do every Monday.  The hints of what was ahead of me didn’t start until just before I got to work.  At that point, I thought it was hunger, or bad gas.

I dropped off the doughnuts in the break room and made myself a breakfast drink.  I started going through my morning routine, hoping the minor discomfort would go away once I had something in my stomach.  I went to the bathroom and answered nature’s call, but the pressure continued to escalate.  That’s when I knew what was happening.

Again, I don’t want other people to experience the pain of a kidney stone.  I will, however, describe it in this paragraph, so skip on if you are prone to sympathy pains.  My kidney stone pain isn’t a stabbing pain, like a dagger in the belly.  It’s more like a crushing pain.  It’s pressure.  The first one was so much like severe gas that I thought that’s what it was for hours.  I kept trying to burp or fart or anything to make it stop, but it wouldn’t.  The pain from a Kidney stone is inescapable.  There is no position that offers release.  Pacing doesn’t help.  It’s a constant, relentless, crushing pressure that starts off slow and builds, until it consumes all thought.

There is a window of opportunity with kidney stones, where the pain hasn’t reached the point of causing nausea.  During that time, strong pain relievers, such as Hydrocodone (Vicodin) and Oxycodone (Percocet), are effective, and can help me get ahead of the pain and keep it manageable.  I left work in the hopes that I could get home during that window and self medicate.   I also left when I did because I knew that at a certain point, I wouldn’t be able to drive.

Luck was not on my side.  I hit all of the lights red, and each stop aggravated my condition.  I considered going straight to the hospital.  In retrospect, that would have been the smarter move.  I still hoped that I could self medicate and avoid the hospital.

Chris was home playing on his computer when I arrived, and he was worried as soon as he saw me.  It’s difficult for a boy to see his father in pain.  I tried to be strong.  I grabbed a Vicodin and swallowed it, and I had Chris call Melissa to let her know what was going on.

Fortunately, Melissa knew better than to take chances with this sort of thing.  She immediately left work.  Unfortunately, it’s about an hour between Melissa’s work and our home.  During that time, nausea settled in, and I lost the Vicodin, along with the breakfast drink.  I reached the point where the only thing that was going to help me was a shot from the hospital.

Being that this was not my first kidney stone, I knew exactly what I was in for.  I knew about the nausea and the severe, escalating discomfort.  I also knew what it was going to be like at the hospital, and all of the tests they were going to perform.  Knowing what was coming did not bring me any comfort.

When Melissa arrived, I was ready to leave.  Chris stayed home, and Melissa took me to Mercy San Juan, where I’d gone for my first kidney stone.  Navigating to the emergency room was more complicated than I remembered.  There appeared to be one lane, and in front of us, an SUV stopped to drop off a doctor.  Melissa and I were both in shock at this, because they were not fast about the drop-off, and they were blocking the only way to the emergency room.  I started swearing, but once we got moving again, I calmed down.

We parked and I walked in, leaning heavily on Melissa.  Inside, there was a line and a full waiting room.  I half expected that.  It was 10AM on a Monday morning.  I knew that unlike other times we’d gone to the emergency room, the place was going to be well staffed.  I was hoping we wouldn’t have to wait long, but I had my suspicions.

Once they took my name, I turned and threw up in the nearest garbage can.  There wasn’t anything left in my stomach.  As I straightened and wiped my mouth, I became conscious of how I looked.  I hadn’t bothered to button up my shirt when we left, and my pants were undone and a little bit baggy on me, from all the weight I’ve lost over the last few months.  My hair was messed, and I was pretty sure that I was pale and sorry looking.  I thought about all of the people in the waiting room, and how I would feel with someone looking the way I did, vomiting in the trash can.  I tried to straighten, compose myself, and take a seat.

I sat next to a tired looking, older black woman that was doing something with her hands.  I don’t remember if she was playing with her phone or doing some sort of needlework.  I struck up a conversation with her, trying to be polite, and she reciprocated.  It was very pleasant.  I don’t think she expected someone looking like me to be nice to her, and we had a nice talk.

They called my name much sooner than I expected.  They put me in a chair to take my blood.  It took the nurse a few minutes to get to it, and I kept curling over in the chair, resting my head on the arm supports.  When examined my arms, I sat as still as I could.  She had a hard time finding a vein, because I had been throwing up and was dehydrated.  I hadn’t really had an opportunity to get many fluids in me.  She wound up using a smaller needle and a surface vein, which hurt a little, but was nothing next to the pressure pain in my stomach.

I was taken to one of the tiny rooms in the area and given a gown to change into.  I stripped immediately, not even waiting for the curtain to be drawn.  Modesty is one of those concepts that is simply abandoned on the road I was traveling.  There is no time for it, and it doesn’t do anyone any good.  Melissa tied me up in the back, and a very nice orderly wheeled me away on the bed for a CT scan.

There’s not much to talk about with the scan.  I got onto the table and they slid me into the doughnut.  The sounds of heavy machinery surrounded me, and a recorded voice told me several times to hold my breath, then breathe.  The hardest part of the experience was staying still.  I managed just fine, though, because the procedure was very brief.

As they wheeled me back to my room, a very nice nurse offered me a blanket.  It was fresh from an oven, and they draped it over my exposed legs.  It was very nice.  I hadn’t realized how cold I felt.  It made me feel spoiled, and I thanked them for taking care of me.

Back in the room, I girded myself for the next obstacle: the urine sample.  Another nurse had left a cup in a bag with Melissa.  She handed me the bag, and I wobbled my way to the bathroom to do my best.

I knew that this was going to be a challenge.  I was dehydrated, and I’d peed while I was at work just a couple of hours before.  I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to give them a sample, and I was a little bit afraid that I wasn’t going to get pain medication until I gave them some urine.  I think the hope of getting pain medication was the right motivator, because I was able to squeeze out enough for them to test in short order.

Let’s get gross for a moment.  Since I’ve been doing my meal replacements, I’ve been a little bit fascinated with the color of my urine.  I was always told that if you’re well hydrated, it should be clear.  The thing is, I’ve been loading so many vitamins and minerals into my system lately that my pee is never clear anymore, no matter how much I’ve had to drink.  It’s a super bright, almost neon yellow.  I expected the sample to be this bright color, but it wasn’t.  It was brown.  I held it up and looked at it, and there were a few circles of red in it.  I thought, “So that’s what it looks like when there’s blood in your urine.” While I’m sure I’ve experienced this before, I’ve never really looked at it.  It was unsettling.

I went back to my room, offered up my sample, and prepared for the part I dreaded the most: the wait.  Like I said, this wasn’t my first rodeo.  I knew what each of the steps was going to be.  The hardest part of the whole process is waiting for the shot of pain reliever.  There is nothing to do but wait, and time slows down.  Crying doesn’t help.  Visualization and breathing exercises don’t seem to help.  There’s just time and pain, both in unmerciful quantities.

After an eternity, an angel in a nurse’s uniform appeared, and put something in my IV.  The stuff is called dilaudid, and it’s some derivative of morphine.  I’d been given it before, and I knew how effective it was.  After a few minutes, the pain began to subside, and I started getting sleepy.

The rest of the experience at the hospital was mostly me slipping in and out of consciousness.  The pain started to return after a little while, and I thought I was going to need another dose.  But then the pain receded again, and I knew that the worst was over.  I knew that the stone had made it to my bladder.

This was a smaller stone than others I’ve had.  This one was 4mm, where others had been 6 or 7mm.  As I said before, the pain from a kidney stone isn’t where it’s physically leaving the body.  It’s the passage from the kidney to the bladder, through the ureter.  The urethra is massive in comparison to the ureter.  Because of this, I’ve never actually seen one of the stones.  I’ve tried to strain my pee a few times, but it’s a disgusting process that hasn’t ever yielded results.

I’m home, now.  I’m physically comfortable, and I’m emotionally buoyed up, because everyone has been so nice to me.  Melissa was there for me the entire time, and cared for me.  This is the other side of the experience that no one talks about.  Relief from severe pain brings clarity and peace.  I feel loved and happy, and thankful to be alive.  When people talk about kidney stones, they focus on how much it hurts.  No one ever stops to talk about this part, where all of life’s little dramas and obstacles have been stripped away, and all that’s left is what is important: peace and love.

I know that what I’m feeling right now is momentary.  When I wake up in the morning, I’ll get back into the grind, and pick up all of the burdens that I didn’t have to carry today.  That’s why I wanted to write about this experience now, while all of the details are still fresh.

I don’t wish the pain of a kidney stone on anyone.  But, I do hope that everyone feels as cared for and loved as I felt after the pain was over.


How Handy Are You?

Let’s talk about fear, courage, and unexpected competence.  This can apply to just about anything, but in my life, it applies to writing, programming, and being a homeowner.

A couple of weeks ago, I started a project I’d put off for too long: retiling my shower.  The previous “tile” was actually some sort of particle board made to look like tile, and it was water damaged and warped.  It was scary, and I’d procrastinated fixing it because I thought it was going to be really expensive, or really difficult.  After worrying about it for years, I got up one morning, put on my worker boots, and went to work.

I’d done my homework.  I’d watched several hours worth of videos that covered the subject material.  When I went to Home Depot for the parts, I asked the people working there about specifics.  The cloud of uncertainty dissipated as I was armed with enough information to get the job done.

What I had going for me was resolve, which you can use in place of confidence.  With confidence, you can face a task without worry, knowing that you’re going to get through to the other side.  With resolve, you still have the worry.  You just know that you’re going to do it anyway, even if it means royally screwing up.

While talking to one of the guys at Home Depot about refinishing the shower pan, he started to say something and then stopped and asked, “How handy are you?”

I said, “I don’t know.  Kinda handy?”

Later on, that question kept coming back to me as I worked on the project.  What does it mean to be handy?  Is there an objective measure for the level of someone’s handiness?  How handy was I?

I pushed on.  I cut out old parts of the wall and replaced it with new material.  I sealed the walls, tiled them, and grouted.  I scoured the shower pan and refinished it with a white epoxy material.  I acquired masonry bits and drilled holes in the porcelain tiles, so that I could put up the shower doors.  Today, I installed the shower head and controls, and everything looks pretty good and works.

Job finished!  Yay!

So, I guess I’m pretty handy.  I thought about it some more, and looked back at all of the other projects I’ve done around the house.  I’ve replaced faucets, installed appliances, replaced ceiling fans, run network and speaker cables… I’ve done a ton of stuff in this house.  I’ve plumbed.  I’ve carpentered.  I guess I am handy!

Looking back at it, the hardest part wasn’t the work itself.  Don’t get me wrong… there were aspects of this project which were extremely difficult.  None of the physical labor compared to the mental anguish I put myself through, trying to figure out if I could do it.  I had to tackle self-doubt and fear just to get to the point where I was picking up tools.

It didn’t matter how much work I’d done around the house before this project.  I kept asking myself the question, “What if I fail?” I couldn’t move on until I either answered that question, or decided that it didn’t matter.

Now let’s look at my writing.

The same kind of fear, and the same kind of question comes up. “What if I fail?”

Just like with the shower project, I have to push past that.  Sometimes, I’m able to gather up my resolve and push on.  Other times, I get deflected and wander off to do something else.

The hard part isn’t the actual writing.  Once I start going, I have a great time.

It doesn’t matter how much writing I’ve done in the past.  It doesn’t matter how many stories I’ve already written.  The one that’s important is the one that’s in front of me.  Even if it doesn’t come out perfect, I have to pick up my tools and start crafting, and let fear be damned.


I’ve Started Editing my Novel

After the last several days of physical labor, where I’ve literally been tearing down walls and rebuilding them, I expected editing my story to feel like difficult labor.  It wasn’t.  Tiling and grouting my bathroom walls have left my hands bruised and cut, and I expected that retooling my story would leave similar damage on my psyche.  Instead, it was like meeting up with an old friend and catching up on the past.  Instead of feeling drained and beaten, I felt invigorated and hopeful.

This isn’t to say that I’m going to drop everything else I was doing and finish editing my novel.  My original plan was to finish the first draft of my epic fantasy before going back to do the next draft of my urban fantasy.  That’s still my plan, but I needed to take a detour in preparation for Convolution.

I was contacted a week or so ago and asked if I wanted to participate in another Writer’s Workshop.  It was a fantastic experience, so I replied that I did.  I then had some back and forth with the coordinator as to what story I should send.  Her first suggestion was that I send the updated story from last year.  I would rather workshop the first few thousand words of my novel.  She suggested I send both and do two workshops, and I simply couldn’t argue.

Before I could send her anything, however, I needed to make sure it was “ready.” I know on some level that I will always have doubts about whether or not my writing is ready to send off or not.  This isn’t a case of doubt or fear, though.  I just wanted to do a quick check before letting my work go.

And now I’m here, excited about my novel again.  I really didn’t expect to enjoy editing it.  Have I ever enjoyed editing something?

I might have a name for my urban fantasy, thanks to Melissa.  I can’t keep calling it “the Mel Walker story” because it’s my hope that it will be the first of many.  I’m leaning towards calling it The Repossessed Ghost.


Some Stories are Harder than Others

Every convention I’ve been to, I’ve walked away with a variety of delicious tidbits, like chocolate chips in a cookie.  Sometimes information is repeated over and over in a weekend, such as “treat your writing like your job and show up to work.” Other tips or tricks I hear once, and they float in my thoughts for weeks to come.

I’m reminded of one of those bits of information every time I sit down to work on my epic fantasy.  It is this: you might not have the skill yet to tackle some story ideas, and you’ll need to come back to it later when you have more skill.

The epic fantasy that I’ve been working on is one that has perplexed and stumped me for nearly two years.  It was the story that I attempted when I failed my first NaNoWriMo.  I struggled with the story for most of the year last year.  I put it on a long pause last November, in order to start the Mel Walker story, and tried picking it up again in February.

I’m still struggling with it.

There are a few reasons that this story is harder than others.  For example, I’ve plotted out more of it than I usually do.  I’ve spoiled the story for myself.  There is still more for me to discover, but not as much as there was with the Mel Walker story.

Another challenge with the story is the premise itself.  I’m dealing with a troupe of characters that are awoken from being imprisoned in stone, and they have no memory of how they got there.  This amnesia is pivotal to the main plot of the story, but it raises the difficulty of writing the story substantially.

On top of these challenges, I’m working hard at improving the overall quality of my prose.  I feel like I’m juggling flaming chainsaws.

On the bright side, I’m a better writer than I was when I first started the story.  The rewrite has produced a much stronger start to the book, and I am much happier with it than I was.

I think I just need to take a deep breath, hold my nose, and jump in.  I’m typing this into Scrivener, not chiseling the words into marble.  I suppose I am setting my words in stone, if you consider the silicon in electronic media, but that’s getting technical.  The point is, I can easily change whatever I write, so why not just allow myself to make some mistakes?

The problem is that I might be trying to work on a story I’m not ready to write, and it might be a better use of my time to simply put A Clean Slate away and work on something easier.  I don’t want to do that, but it might be the smarter thing to do.


One Year Complete, Let’s Review

One year ago today, I made my first blog post.  It was a pretty big step.  I’d deliberated over setting up a blog for more than 10 years, mostly because I thought that I wanted to write blog software.  I wanted to do everything myself, and I wanted to do it the hard way.  There’s a lesson to be learned in that, I think.

So as I sit in my hot garage, procrastinating over my epic fantasy, let’s take a moment to look at the journey so far.

A year ago today, I set myself the lofty goal of writing a little bit every day.  I fell a bit short on that goal, but I did keep writing.  I kept to a schedule for most of a year, going out at least once every week to a Starbucks.

I attended conventions, taking notes and posting them to my blog, so that all of my viewers could learn what I have learned.

I installed some plug-ins so that I could keep track of how many people came to read my words.  To all three or four of you, you have my heartfelt thanks for showing up.

I rose and I fell.  I was diligent, and I was slothful.  I procrastinated, and I pushed myself.  The year was definitely full of ups and downs.

There were two challenges that I rose up and faced valiantly.  In October, I succeeded in 31 blog posts in 31 days.  That led into November, where I managed to get 50,000 words completed late in the evening of the last day.  My first successful NaNoWriMo.

I tried a self-imposed challenge in March, which fell flat.  I attended writer’s groups, where I was both wonderful and terrible.

Fiction was created in good ways.  Drama was generated in bad ways.

This post is mostly written in generalities, for various reasons.  In less general terms, what do I have to show for this last year of writing?

I finished the first draft of an Urban Fantasy novel.  In terms of writing, this is my biggest accomplishment.  A long time ago, I’d written a novel, but it was before I knew how hard it could be.  It was before I’d developed a good sense of taste, and while I was still young enough to know everything.  It was before I’d created a demonic, mean-spirited inner editor.  Somehow, in the month of November, I managed to get over myself enough to sit down, shut up, and write.  And it was glorious.

I’ve grown as a writer.  I can see many of the mistakes I was making a year ago, and I know how to correct most of them.

I haven’t given up.  There have been times where I’ve considered it.  It would be easier to just work during the day, play games at night, and accept my life as it is.  I have a good, comfortable life.  There’s nothing wrong with it.  I just know that if I stopped writing, I wouldn’t be happy.

My journey as a writer over the last year has been pretty good.  Let’s make this next year even better.


Westercon 67 Notes Posted

At the top of this site is a Convention Notes section.  Within this section are all of the conventions I’ve attended, starting with Renovation, and going right through to Westercon 67.  Some of the notes are better than others.

There were four “panels” I attended at Westercon that I did not include in the notes.  They were:

1. Choose your Own Apocalypse

The panelists were:

  • Carter Reid
  • James Wymore
  • Bradley Voytek
  • Robert Defendi

It was more of a game than a panel.  James Wymore moderated and directed it, while Carter Reid represented the zombies, Brad Voytek represented trans-humans, and Robert Defendi represented aliens.  They took turns describing how the world would be different under their rule.  The audience occasionally asked questions, and changed positions in the room in order to vote for which apocalypse sounded the most appealing.

It wasn’t particularly educational, but it was fun.  Melissa and I had some laughs.

2. Regency Dancing


  • John Hertz
  • Mary Robinette Kowal

This was very educational, but there was no way I could take notes.  We were taught quite a bit about the Regency, in terms of how the nobility thought, how they moved, and how they probably thought.  We were also taught to dance.  As I said in a previous post, it was a great deal of fun, and well outside our comfort zone.  I’m glad Melissa and I participated.

3. Tag Team Jeopardy and The Avenue of Awesomeness

In my opinion, this was one of the weaker events.  There were too many writers involved to be named.  They were mostly in the back of the room at tables, meeting fans and signing books.  Four at a time would be called up to the stage, where they would be asked trivia questions.  Some questions were collected from audience members, and if those questions stumped the panelists, the person that submitted the question received some a free book.  Every 15 to 20 minutes, a new set of writers or artists would be called up.

One of the problems with the event was the lack of structure.  The guests called up were called up at random, where they probably should have been selected beforehand and given forewarning, so that they could be more comfortable on stage.  The means by which the questions were selected was inconsistent.  The way the audience questions were handled was inconsistent.  Believe it or not, a little bit of applied structure and consistency breeds familiarity and comfort.  The way the trivia portion was executed, the only person that seemed particularly relaxed was the one asking the questions.

Another problem was the sound.  The people on the stage often couldn’t hear the questions, even though everyone was using microphones, and the person asking the questions was only about 15 feet away.  From where I sat in the audience, I could hear everything clearly.  The guests on stage were not so fortunate, which made the experience uncomfortable.

4. Dresden Files LARP Playtest

Run by: Erin Ruston

Melissa did not join me for this event.  Instead, she wound up having drinks with some of our friends.

I was nervous about going to this, because of the LARP part.  I love the Dresden Files, and I love role playing games.  I’ve done musicals, and I’m relatively comfortable speaking in front of people.  I even participated in LARPs, about 20 years ago.  Even still, I was nervous.  This was another event where I was stepping out of my comfort zone.

It turned out that it was really light on the Live Action part.  Unfortunately, it was also light on the Role Playing part.

About ten of us showed up, and I did my best.  I donned a British accent, gave my pregenerated character a name, and tried to get into it.

It went okay, but it wasn’t a satisfying experience.  I’m pretty sure I would have had a better time getting drinks with Melissa, Michael, and Jim.


With that said, I think I have now completely documented my entire experience at Westercon 67.  Overall, it was a great experience, well worth the price of travel and admission.

I’m really looking forward to Convolution, now.



Westercon – Final Day

The earliest items for Sunday at Westercon begin at 10AM.  Since Melissa and I are flying at 11:20, we do not have time to enjoy the convention today.  Therefore, yesterday was the last day of the convention for us.

It started much as the previous days had.  We woke up early enough to catch breakfast before attending a 10AM panel.  We ran into Michael in the lobby, and he joined us.  We went to a place called the Blue Lemon and had omelettes.

We made it back to the hotel and attended a couple of panels before going across the street to watch the live taping of Writing Excuses.  Michael was the guest on the show, following Peter Beagle.  Peter was a difficult act to follow, but Michael did well, and the audience was responsive with laughter and applause.  I’m really proud of Michael, and how far he’s come.

After Writing Excuses, Melissa and I made our way back to the Westercon side, and tried to figure out what we were going to do next.  I was considering going to a World Building panel, featuring Brandon Sanderson.  I knew it would be interesting, but I wasn’t particularly excited about attending it, as I feel that my world building is already pretty good.

Melissa had spotted Mary Robinette Kowal in the lobby.  Mary Robinette looked different, as she was dressed in a regency gown and had a very convincing hair clip.  Melissa thought it might have been Mary Robinette’s daughter.  Mary Robinette saw us and invited us to attend the regency dancing panel that was coming up.

I don’t think I’ve talked about dancing before.  To me, dancing is like cooking, in that I am very good at following instruction, but not so skilled at improvisation.  When I was doing amateur music theater in New Mexico and I joined the cast of Grease, the rest of the cast had been practicing the dances for a couple of weeks.  Within the first hour, I’d picked up the dances and was performing them more accurately than those that had been with the show from the beginning.  It sounds like I’m bragging, but I don’t mean to.  I can pick up and memorize the instruction, but I don’t take much joy in the dancing itself.

Because of this, I’ve always been resistant to taking ballroom dancing with Melissa.  Melissa has a more normal skill level with dancing.  I usually try to avoid activities with Melissa where I will find myself frustrated with her, especially when it’s not her fault.

Mary Robinette had invited us, though, and it was something well outside our normal comfort zone.  I told Melissa that it’s important to try and do at least one thing that frightens you at every convention, and she agreed.  We attended the regency dance.

We were both a little nervous before the lesson began.  Mary Robinette was passing out dresses to some of the ladies that weren’t wearing any.  The room was one of the normal conference rooms, with all of the chairs pulled to the walls.  I looked around at all the other couples sitting around the room, and I saw that most of them were nervous, too.  At that point, I sat up straighter and stopped being nervous.  We weren’t the only ones out of our element, and that gave me comfort.

The first part of the instruction was about posture.  We were to stand up straight, but relaxed, as though an invisible string was attached to our chest and was pulling us up.  This was difficult for me, because it was very close to standing at attention.  When I stood at attention in the Air Force, it was a very stiff stance, and we needed to not be stiff.

We were then told to partner up with people we didn’t know.  I think Melissa and I were the only ones that followed that instruction, though I didn’t find that out until much later.  Melissa wound up in one line, and I wound up in another.

I could write quite a bit about the dance, but I feel like I’ve already droned on quite a bit.  The instructor was very knowledgeable and funny, and he taught us not only about how to move, but how the people during the Regency period thought.  It was very interesting, and Melissa and I both had quite a bit of fun.  As I had expected, I picked the dance up very quickly, and received many compliments from the people that shared the line with me.

After the dance, Melissa and I attended an event that was a mix of trivia questioning and book signing with the authors.  It was in the large room.  In the back of the room, tables had been set up for authors to sell and sign books.  At the front of the room on the stage, groups of 4 of the authors would be called up to be asked trivia questions.  Some questions had been gathered from the audience, and if those questions stumped the authors, the person that supplied the question would get a prize.  I supplied to Harry Dresden questions, but mine were never asked.

This event was not very well executed.  They structure was not very consistent.  The people on stage often couldn’t hear the person asking the questions.  It was a little bit boring for both the people that were called up on stage, and the people in the crowd.  Melissa and I did our best to stay interested, but there was only so much we could do.  The event was not well executed.

I left just before 8 to attend what was described as a Dresden Files LARP.  I love the Dresden Files, and I like role-playing, though I was a little bit uncomfortable with the LARP aspect.  Melissa went off to find food, and wound up having some drinks with Michael and Jim.  I think Melissa had the better experience.

It wasn’t that the game was bad.  When I found out what it was all about, and what they were aiming for, I relaxed quite a bit, because it was really just a collaborative storytelling experience, much like the roleplaying games I try to enjoy normally.  One of  the problems was that 10 people had shown up to participate, and I was the only one that was prepared to get into a character and roleplay.

I did my best.  I assumed an accent, got into my character, and assumed the spotlight several times, so that I could cast it to other players in the game.  There is a phenomena in these sorts of games where if you roleplay with confidence, and try to play with people, they will usually reciprocate.  You can pass your confidence, real or imagined, on to other people.  This was no exception, and the people I played with responded fairly well.  Unfortunately, there were just too many people for me to charge up, and the person running the game was somewhat inert.

When the game was done, I felt clever and tired.  I returned to my room instead of going to con parties.  Melissa was there, and we went to bed relatively early.

Overall,  the convention was a success for us.  There were ups and downs, but more ups than downs.  Melissa had a really good time and enjoyed herself.  I had a good time, and I feel re-energized to write again.  That’s one of the things I love the most about conventions like this.  My writing engine gets refueled.

It’s been a really great weekend, and I’m looking forward to Convolution.  I bet Melissa will join me for that one, too, which would be fantastic.


Westercon – Day 2

Melissa and I awoke early enough to get an overpriced breakfast at the hotel.  It wasn’t terrible, but it was a long measure from good.  The main problem was that the eggs tasted like powder.

With our bodies fueled, Melissa and I began to attend panels.  I won’t detail the panels too much in this post, as I’m going to be putting all of my convention notes up above when I get home.  I will say that Melissa seemed to enjoy the panels much more than I expected.  Most of the topics were about writing and the business of writing, and it wasn’t really new to me.  I thought Melissa would be bored by much of it, but she took some notes of her own on her phone.

At one point, we wandered over to FantasyCon, taking place directly across the street at the Salt Palace.  We didn’t spend a ton of time there, but we got to see some interesting costumes, and a lot of really cool art.  We got our pictures taken in front of a green screen, and we were added to Guardians of the Galaxy.  As you can see below, Melissa is now named “Ravager” and my name is now “Outlaw.”




When all of the panels were finished, Melissa and I met up with Michael in preparation for going out to dinner.  Michael was feeling a little down in general, as many of his plans for the weekend had fallen through, and his sales hadn’t been stellar that day.  He was down enough to have doubts about some of the relationships he’s enjoyed over the years with some of the big names that come to the conventions.

As we were waiting for the elevator, Howard Tayler approached us and asked if we had dinner plans.  We then went to a fantastic local Italian place that sold traditional pizza.  During the course of the conversation, it occurred to Howard that Michael would be perfect as a guest on the Writing Excuses Podcast, and invited Michael to join him on stage the next day.  As you can imagine, Michael’s feels of doubt were replaced with euphoria, and he walked about 6 inches off the ground back to the hotel.

Once back at the hotel, I took Melissa up to the 15th floor, to enjoy the parties.  Unfortunately, the party scene was extremely dry.  We enjoyed a couple of nice conversations, but it wasn’t the kind of experience that I’m accustomed to at this sorts of conventions.  We excused ourselves relatively early and went to bed.

It was a very full day, with more ups and than downs.  We’re having a really great time.


Westercon – Day 1

Melissa and I completed our first real day of the Westercon experience.

If I adhere to adage, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” then this will be a somewhat short post.  I do have some nice things to say, though, so I’ll start with this.

We started off meeting up with Jim Doty.  Jim is the guy that gave me the words I needed at Westercon last year, which led to me creating this blog.  He’s a really great guy, and it was a pleasure introducing him to Melissa.

As we were talking with Jim, Melissa and I noticed that people appeared to have programs for the convention.  I acquired some, and they had some detailed information about the different panels and events.  They didn’t have a map or schedule, however.

We had some time to kill, so Melissa and I wandered around the hotel so that we could find where all the rooms were.  One of the hotel staff saw us meandering and printed us a couple of maps.  She was very helpful, and the maps were useful.  The hotel staff have been absolutely fantastic.

Melissa and I entered the room for opening ceremony a little bit early and got seats towards the front.  They wound up being front row, when the chairs in front of us were snatched up and put next to stage for guests.

I’d warned Melissa that opening ceremony and closing ceremony are two of the events of a convention that are usually skippable.  This opening ceremony was no exception.  It wasn’t bad.  The chair of the event did a good job with introductions and had a good sense of humor.  The honored guests are all fantastic.

The next event Melissa and I attended was the Writing Excuses anthology release party.  Each of the members of Writing Excuses spoke a little about the project, and then snuck the presentation of an award to Dan Wells.  I had a pretty huge smile on my face the whole time.  When presentation was finished, they had books for sale, and they provided some fruit and cheese for snacks.  I bought a book for Melissa and I and had all of the members of Writing Excuses sign it.

With the anthology presentation completed, the next event was live taping of several Writing Excuses episodes.  I’ve listened to the first few seasons of the podcast.  I highly recommend listening to them.  I also attending a live recording if you get a chance.  If you do, be sure and sit towards the front, as they set their volumes for best recording quality, which means it’s a little quiet for a large, crowded room.

After the Writing Excuses recordings, Melissa and I followed Mary Robinette Kowal to a panel on schmoozing at conventions.  Also on the panel was Sandra Tayler and David Doering.  They didn’t present a lot of information I didn’t already know, but it was interesting, and I took lots of notes.  When the convention is completed, I’ll post my notes in a new section at the top of this blog.

That was the last panel Melissa and I attended.  We had dinner, then went to the ice cream social for an hour.  We sat with Richard Crawford and his wife.  I’ve run into them at conventions many times, and they are integral in the NaNoWriMo chapter I’ve attended the last two years.  We had a great visit.

After the ice cream social, I went to the game room and participated in a Magic: the Gathering draft, hosted by Brandon Sanderson.  I was nervous, because I’ve been out of the game for quite a while.  Thankfully, Brandon kept it low pressure, and I wound up doing well and having a lot of fun.

The convention itself has been a bit disorganized, from my perspective.  But Melissa has been having a great time, and I think it’s been a great first convention for her.  And, really, these things are about the people, and all of the people have been wonderful.  The organization of the convention has been a bit of a mess, but I would have to declare Day 1 a success.


Westercon 67 – Travel Day

With WorldCon beyond my reach this year, I will only be able to attend two conventions.  Convolution, at the end of September, and Westercon, starting this week.  As usual, I will attend panels and take copious notes.

One difference with this convention is that I’ve brought Melissa with me.  She was delighted when I invited her along, and I think she’s been more excited about this convention than me.  This is her first, so I’m going to do my best to make sure she has a good time, and gets the greatest Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention experience.

The travel day was exceptionally light and easy.  Melissa was worried we would be late getting to the airport, so we wound up leaving a little earlier than I wanted.  We had to wait for a little while, but we had each other and our tablets to keep each other entertained.

The flight from Sacramento to Salt Lake City was uneventful.  Aside from some queasiness brought on from ascent and descent, there was no turbulence, and the landing was the smoothest I can remember.  As we were landing, I thought of the conversation Melissa and I had about our life insurance, and how inadequate it probably is.  I’m not the most confident of fliers, but this was a really easy flight.

Since Melissa was with me, I arranged for us to have a rental car for this week.  I normally just take the shuttle from the airport to the hotel, but I wanted to make sure that Melissa could escape if she got too bored with all of the geekery.  This led to a discovery about Salt Lake City that I will need to incorporate in one of my books.  I’ll get to that in a moment.

The route from the airport to the hotel was extremely easy.  In fact, getting around Salt Lake City seems like it would be very simple, under normal circumstances.  It is laid out in a grid, and there are adequate signs on all of the roads I’ve seen.  The street names themselves are confusing, since they not only use numbers, they repeat the same numbers for different streets.  At one point last night, I turned from one 300 street to another, and a little while later, was at an intersection that was 300 and 300.

Melissa and I arrived at the convention about a day early, but registration was open.  I saw a few familiar faces from other conventions floating through the hotel as we wandered into the registration room.  There were 3 volunteers in the room, looking a little bit bored.  We signed in, got our badges, and a little bit of swag.  They didn’t have their programs yet.

We had some time to kill, so we wandered around.  We went to dinner at a Brazilian steak place, where they come around periodically and bring different types of meat.  It was really expensive, but it was good, and we had a good time with it.

After dinner, Melissa and I went back to the registration room, hoping to get our programs.  I wanted to plan out our day.  The programs were still late.  As I’m writing this, it’s 20 minutes before opening ceremonies, and the programs still aren’t anywhere to be seen.  This is not a good sign, but I’m going to try and stay optimistic.

We were fed, and there wasn’t much more we could do with the convention, so we decided to buy some internet access and watch some Netflix.  I thought it would be great to put it on the television in our room via my laptop, but to do that, we needed an HDMI cable.  Well, we had a car, and the hotel staff gave us directions to a Walmart.

That’s when we discovered something interesting about Salt Lake City.  It is easy to navigate the place, but the lights seem to be timed strangely.  There was road construction going on near the store, and it was looking like we couldn’t go there.  Then it hit me: In Salt Lake City, no one cares if you’re trying to go somewhere.

That doesn’t sound that unusual.  Apathy is pervasive.  In practice, this particular brand of apathy struck me as unique.  As easy as it is to navigate, I found people stopping and blocking paths with indifference, both in their cars and walking around.  Even the road construction we encountered seemed to encapsulate the idea.  They simply blocked stuff off, and gave no detour or path as compensation.

Something else that struck me as strange about the place: it felt empty yesterday.  Melissa and I were walking through the downtown area, and there just didn’t seem to be many people around.  We were in the middle of an open mall area, and it felt like it was built up bigger than it needed to be.  Chicago, San Francisco, and Sacramento all have a little bit of a crowded feel around 5 PM, but not this place.

I’m hoping that the convention doesn’t feel the same way.  We will find out soon enough!