Convolution 2014 Conclusion

If this were a series, I’d start this with “Last time, at Convolution 2014…”

I remember finishing my previous post and thinking that the evening was nearly done, and that I wouldn’t have that much to write about.  That was before Melissa and I decided to go to the Delphic Oracle panel.

I laughed so hard, I had tears.  Michael was duel wielding hip flasks, and though he claimed to be sober, he certainly seemed like he was at least a little bit toasty.  Chris Garcia was drinking pitchers of water as though he were preparing to cross a desert.  Todd McCaffery hosted the event, and everyone was present and hilarious.  It was so much fun!  I’m so glad we went to it.

Afterwards, Melissa and I went back to our floor and poked our heads into a few parties.  We imbibed with FLARE, and with Klingons, and we supported a couple of convention parties.  To my surprise, Melissa drank a bit more than I did.  I think we appreciated not having to contend with stairs or elevators when we finally retired for the evening.  Also, the noise wasn’t an issue.  Of course, part of that could have been because we were slightly inebriated.

Concerning the party floor, there was some strangeness with the hotel staff.  While Melissa and I were in a hallway, two large, suited men with earpieces came to the door near us, and pulled down some posters.  At first glance, I thought they were attendees in convincing secret service costumes.  Then I saw that one of them had a thick stack of posters acquired from the rest of the floor, and he was not happy.  Apparently, the hotel had changed its policy in regards to posting things to the walls and doors.  I watched the security guards move on, and where they went, it was like the a couple of high school bullies moving through a lower grade school yard.  The attendees shrank away from them, looking small and defenseless.

All of that was Friday.  The first day.

Saturday morning, Melissa and I got up early enough to go to breakfast.  Then I gathered up my things, went up to the 8th floor, and prepared for the back-to-back writers workshops.

“I was nervous” would be an understatement.  When it comes to my writing, I still care too much.  Intellectually, I know that the stories I produce are distinct from me.  I know that my stories are not perfect, and that they are getting better.  Comparing my recent work to stories from just a few months ago shows noticeable improvement.  My brain knows one thing, but my heart feels another.  My heart tells me… well.  My heart tells me a lot of bullshit, and I’m not going to repeat it here.  Not tonight.

I steeled myself for the worst.  The pros and the other writer for the first session arrived.  Then it began.

I’m going to write about the experience of those two workshops in a different post.  I learned a lot.  I felt a lot.  There’s quite a bit to talk about, and I’m not going to short-change the experience by condensing it too much.  For me, both workshops were extremely positive, and I’m still processing it all.

After the workshops, Melissa joined me, and we attended a couple more panels.  I’ll post the notes regarding those later this week, when I’ve had a chance to type them all out.  In the evening, we attended the Masquerade (which was a contest, not a ball… I had misunderstood before, and Michael corrected me well in advance).

It had been a long day, and Melissa and I were both hungry.  We went to the sports bar inside the hotel to get a late dinner.  I had fish and chips, which were greasy and good.  As we were leaving, Jon Del Aroz, his wife Sam, Todd McCaffery, and someone else (I’m sorry I don’t remember your name!) were on their way in.  Jon invited us to join them, and I couldn’t refuse.

Everyone there was amazing and friendly.  Jon mentioned karaoke, and we talked about different songs.  The beer I’d had earlier was catching up to me, and after Jon and I had shots of vodka, I was feeling bold enough to go sing Ebony and Ivory with him.

We wound up singing Dancing in the Street instead, and it was not quite as amazing as what we had imagined.  We were undeterred, however.  We just needed a better song.  We pawed through the books, and Jon was leaning towards some music that was a little bit more urban and unfamiliar to me.  I suggested Regulate by Warren G and Nate Dogg, and we knew we had our song.

Unfortunately, we were never called up to perform that piece.  I’m pretty sure it would have been spectacular.  Jon and I will have to perform that lyrical masterpiece at our next opportunity.

After karaoke, Melissa and I went to the parties, and I imbibed a little bit more.  We made it back to our room a little after 1AM, feeling pretty good.  Again, being on the party floor was not a problem, because we found sleep easily.

Sunday morning, Melissa and I rose feeling a little bit rough around the edges.  We were well enough to go down for breakfast, then attend a couple of panels.  Jennifer Carson, one of the pros that had really liked my Mel Walker story, invited Melissa and I to join her and her friends for lunch, and we accepted.  We went across the street to the American Grill, and I felt spoiled.  Everyone at the table was very generous with me.

After lunch, Melissa and I attended one more panel, then closing ceremonies.  With the event drawn to a satisfactory conclusion, we jumped in my mustang and cruised back to Sacramento.

Convolution 2014 was really quite magnificent.  To paraphrase Tanya Huff at the closing ceremonies, the community at Convolution is extremely generous and appreciative.  The programming was really well done, and there are tons of enthusiastic, talented people in attendance.  There were over 700 individuals attending this year, and both Melissa and I were glad to be among them.


Convolution 2014 — Day 1

Melissa and I got off to a nice, easy start.  We gassed up the car, picked up some cash, and had breakfast before hitting the road.  There was a little bit of traffic, but it wasn’t terrible or unexpected, and we arrived at the hotel about 10 or 15 minutes ahead of what I had predicted.

Registration was a breeze this year.  Last year, there had been some hiccups along the way, but there was none of that this year.  Just like last year, the staff was exceptionally friendly and helpful.  We got our Patron Goody Bags, took our stuff up to the room, and made plans.

Speaking of the Goody Bags, we received toy ray guns!  It was a fun treat.  There were some other fun items in the bag, too, but like a little kid, I was giddy over the plastic noise maker.  What can I say?  It’s the little things.

We set off to explore a little and make our way to Opening Ceremonies.  That was the first item on my list.  Along the way, we ran into friends.  When they invited us to go with them for lunch, we realized that would be a much smarter move than going on to the panels, hungry.

After lunch, Melissa and I headed to the first panel on my list.  I’m not going to go into detail on the panels in these updates, saving that for my Convention Notes, which I will post when all is said and done.  The panel was fine, and I did get some interesting insights from it.  For example, if you want to portray something as magical in your story, you do it through the reactions of the characters.  This isn’t a new concept to me, and it wasn’t stated explicitly in the panels.  But it’s an important part of storytelling, worth remembering from time to time.

Melissa and I went continued to the next panel, which was only okay.  The problem with the panel was that the topic was too broad, which made it that much more challenging to find focus or clarity.  It was okay, but I didn’t take a lot of notes.

Then it was dinner time.  Melissa and I went off to a grill a block away, and I ate food that was fried, full of fat, and tasty.  It did not meet the Brian Approved Diet Plan, but one meal isn’t going to kill me.

Melissa and I discovered that our room is on the party floor.  It’s still a little bit early in the evening, so I don’t know yet how that’s going to play into our enjoyment of the convention.  I think it will probably be okay, but who knows?  Maybe it’ll be loud.  Maybe we’ll enjoy the parties that much more, knowing that we don’t have to deal with stairs or elevators in order to stumble  back to our bed.  We will see!


Convolution Approaches…

Friday, Melissa and I will be jumping in my mustang and cruising over to the San Francisco area (Burlingame specifically) to attend Convolution 2014.  I have all sorts of conflicting emotions surrounding the convention this year.  Mostly anticipation and excitement, punctuated by inarticulate and irrational fear.

This morning, I went through the programming, and I have a rough idea how my time will be spent.


1:00 PM — Opening Ceremonies

2:00 PM — You Got Your Science in my Fantasy

4:00 PM — One of the following:

Nothing in the evening really pulls me.  If the Texas Hold’em event is actually Texas Hold’em, I might be interested in that.  There is a panel at 8:00 PM that Melissa might want to attend.  There is a reading that I could go and listen to.  Or, maybe I’ll find somewhere quiet and work on my own fiction.



9:00 AM — Writer’s Workshop #1

1:00 PM — Writer’s Workshop #2

4:00 PM — One of the following:

6:00 PM — Don’t Crush Me (Hand Me the Duct Tape) (again, this is after the two workshops.  Too funny!)

8:00 PM — Masquerade and Halftime Show



10:00 AM — Worldbuilding for Gamers and Writers

12:00 PM — Military Fantasy, Different Themes then Military SF?

4:00 PM — Closing Ceremonies


I’m nervous about the masquerade.  I had borrowed a jacket and a hat from Michael last year, and I didn’t look like I was in costume as much as I was wearing a funny hat and jacket.  Melissa will be with me this year, and neither of us have any sort of costumes.  Maybe we can pick up something in the dealer’s room.  Or maybe I shouldn’t be so self-conscious, and just try to have fun, regardless of how I’m dressed.  When I figure out how to do that last one, I’ll let you all know.

The last two weeks have been fairly difficult for me, in terms of work and time management.  I’ve been stressed out long enough that I’m having a difficult time harnessing the right kind of excitement for this weekend activity.  Instead, I feel like I’m gearing up tend to some unpleasant but necessary obligation.  That’s not how it should feel, and it’s purely my own, internal bullshit that’s responsible.

I’m sure that when I wake up Friday morning, I’ll take a shower and wash away all of the dread and negativity.  Melissa and I will get dressed, load up the car, and somewhere near Davis, I’ll remember how to feel enthusiastic again.  And then we’ll have an awesome weekend!  Right now, with my workload and job stresses sitting so heavily on my shoulders, it’s hard to lift my head to see the joy.  But I’ll get there.


Walkadoo is Trying to Kill Me

Walkadoo is this online service which tracks your steps and gives you daily goals.  It has some social aspects to it, where you can follow people on the website, see how they’re doing, “smile” at the things they post, and enter into “derbies” with them.  It’s all centered around trying to get people to walk more.

This started through Blue Shield of California health insurance, which I get through my wife.  There is a wellness program that allows a person to get a discount on their insurance if they gain some number of points through various programs.  Walkadoo is one of the programs that qualifies.

The first thing you do once you sign up is order a Pebble.  The Pebblie is a little black device that acts as a pedometer.  It counts your steps, and when you’re near a sync station, transmits your step count to Walkadoo.  Walkadoo tallies up the total count, and eventually, if you meet your daily goal, sends you an email or text congratulating you on your good deeds.

This is all well and good, except that I spent a large portion of my 3rd day with the Pebble walking.  I went on a really long walk, and Walkadoo raised their level of expectation of me accordingly.  I went from needing to walk 2000 steps a day to 4000 steps a day.

The next weekend, I did the same walk, and Walkadoo rewarded me with steeper goals.  All this week, I’ve needed to walk at least 7000 steps a day to meet the goal.  Today’s goal was 8383.

To put that into perspective, I walk a mile in about 2100 steps.  Today, I’ve walked over 15,000 steps.

If you recall my previous post, this is the sort of external pressure that I respond to.  Every day, I’m getting increasingly difficult goals to achieve, and each day, I’m rising to the challenge and meeting them.  Eventually, the target will be beyond what I can do, and then I’ll feel as though Walkadoo has beaten me.  After that, I might stop all of this crazy walking.

In the mean time, the walking has been pretty amazing for me.  I’ve been thinking while letting my feet carry me through my neighborhood.  Much of the time, I’ve been thinking about a work project which I’m trying to finish before Monday.  I’ve also been thinking about my stories.  Today, I came up with some plot points and characters for the second Mel Walker story.  I also thought about the book I’ll be starting in November with NaNoWriMo.  And I thought about a short story which I might submit to Writers of the Future before the end of the month.  I don’t think the story is very good, but maybe I’ll put it out there anyway.  It’s not like it will hurt anything.

Walking is good exercise.  It isn’t as stressful on the ankles and knees as jogging or running.  It’s easy and pleasant, and it allows me a lot of time to think.  Sometimes, that’s all a person needs in order to get past some creative hurdles: time to think.

Whether you have some faceless online organism trying to wear you out as I do, I encourage anyone to go out and walk whenever they have the chance.  It’s amazing what a sunny stroll can jog loose from one’s mind.


I Am a Competitive Asshole

I was talking to a couple of coworkers earlier this week about working under pressure.  One of my coworkers is working on a certification in her career field, and she mentioned that 50% of the people that take the test do not pass.  I said that is exactly the kind of thing that would motivate me to pass, and she looked at me like I was crazy.

It’s true, though.  With the right amount of external pressure, I excel.  It doesn’t always feel good at the time, but you can’t argue with the results.

For example, a project I’ve been working on stalled for a while.  When the CTO made it clear that we were going to demo the project in less than a week, I panicked.  We didn’t have enough time.  There were too many features that weren’t tested.  It looked like an impossible task.

The reality was that it was possible.  It was just difficult.  I wound up working extra hours, and I pushed and I shoved and I swore, and in the end, we had something that was not only presentable, it was impressive.

It is something I’ve known about myself for several years.  It came out during therapy, when I was having trouble working.  My therapist illuminated several areas in my life where, if I wasn’t competing, I was inert.

I’ve mentioned competitiveness and external pressure as though they are interchangeable.  They are different things, but I’m able to turn pressure into a competition.  When I’m in a position where I have to do something that would be extremely difficult, like the software project I mentioned, it turns into a battle.  It is me versus the clock.  In that context, if I don’t get the project finished, I lose.  And I hate to lose.  I have to win.  Always.

Well, not always.  I’ve learned to back off a little when trying to play a game for fun, with people I care about, or people I’m ostensibly supposed to be teaching.  There is no joy in destroying your young child in a game of chess when they’re just learning the game.

But even then, I’m an asshole enough to want to win.  I’m just mature enough now to recognize the folly, and to focus on other things I want, such as making other people happy, or fostering good will.

I’m a competitive asshole.  So what?  Lots of people are, right?

I bring it up because it is a very large part of who I am.  Without a sense of competition, I find it difficult to move forward with projects.  This includes writing.

Isn’t that amazingly silly?  The act of writing is one of the least competitive activities in my life.  It is a solitary activity.  It is about using imagination and words to create something new and interesting.  It is communicating ideas and fantasies to some future audience that you may or may not ever meet.

There are ways to turn it into a competition, certainly.  There are writing contests, and there are awards to covet.  During NaNoWriMo, some people participate in “word wars” where they see who can write the most words in a short amount of time.

For me, it isn’t enough.  I look for and long for places where I can try to excel as a writer.  When I’m in a writer’s group, I want to be the best writer in the group.  I try to be nice to everyone involved, but underneath my smiles, I want to win.

What do I do when I’m not in a writer’s group?  What about the stories I’m working on that I haven’t shared?

Well, that is a problem.  It is difficult to find motivation to finish.  My fantasy story, A Clean Slate has been growing very slowly.  My original time table was to have the first draft done in May, and here we are in September and I’m not even through the first act.

Then there are the short stories.  When Writer’s of the Future turned down a story I’d worked really hard on, some part of me became convinced that it was not a place I was capable of competing.  I haven’t been able to bring myself to write a short story since.

It’s a troubling dilemma.  I’m looking at the problem and I see myself.  I’m unhappy when I’m not writing, and at the same time, I’m struggling with a fundamental aspect of my personality that seems to be at odds with this hobby.

I have been a little bit self-deprecating with this post, and I don’t want to end this with the wrong idea.  I do not believe that being competitive is a bad thing.  When I use it properly, I’m driven, and I accomplish great things.

What I need to do is learn how to use my competitiveness to stay focused on my writing.  Money is not the answer.  If I was only interested in money, I would focus more on my programming.

Writer’s groups aren’t really the answer.  I want to be a part of them, but I need to suppress my competitive side in that area, so that I’m not a jerk.

Setting arbitrary dates has not been sufficient.  I’ve set tons of dates, but none of them have had any real meaning.  It’s like trying to play chess with yourself.  It just isn’t very interesting.

What do you think?  Maybe there’s an obvious answer, and I’m too close to the problem to see it.


I Became a Picky Reader

I’ve become a picky reader.  I want to say that it started when I began to write more, but it doesn’t really line up, especially since I’ve written less this summer than I did in the spring.  I thought my pickiness sprang from the writers’ groups I’d attended, but I haven’t really attended one in months.

I noticed it when I starting reading/listening to Brandon Sanderson’s stories.  I thought they were very good, but I felt like I could see the man behind the curtain.  I felt like Neo, standing in a world made of streaming lines of code.  I enjoyed the books, but I lost some of the immersion.

Initially, I thought it was just Brandon Sanderson.  I thought Brandon’s favorite patterns and crutches were apparent to me, more than the trappings of other authors.  Again, I really enjoyed the Mystborn books, and I’m currently enjoying The Way of Kings.  It’s just that some of the structure of the story is apparent to me as I’m enjoying the story.

After Brandon Sanderson, I moved on to Patrick Rothfuss’, The Name of the Wind.  That’s when I realized that I wasn’t the same kind of reader I once was.  The adjective I kept using to describe The Name of the Wind was “indulgent.” I found the multiple beginnings, and the describing of things by declaring how impossible those things were to describe, indulgent.  At one point, I turned to my coworker (that had already read the book) and said, “This is a story about a man telling two other men a story about himself as a child, listening to a man tell him a story.”

I did enjoy the book, but when it was done, I couldn’t go straight to the next in the series.  I had to take a break.  I moved on to something completely different, and I found myself enjoying it, but noting the pieces of the story that didn’t seem necessary.  Then I went on to something else completely different, and I couldn’t get through it.  It seemed to me that I was listening to exposition mixed with cliche in a blender, pureed, then poured into my ear by someone that may or may not have been on Valium.  I tried my hardest to get through it, but it was too painful.

I want to say that I’m reading more critically, but I don’t know if that’s accurate.  I’m hearing the places where we’re told something, rather than shown.  I’m more aware of adverbs than I’ve ever been before.  The passive voice is something that I’m seeing more clearly than before. (See what I did there?) I don’t think that necessarily means “reading critically.”

I thought that it might be the difference between reading a book and listening to a book.  However, when I went back to finish reading Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist, I found the author there with me.  As much as I enjoyed the story, I still found myself aware of how the story was constructed.

Someday, this greater attention to story construction might serve me as a writer.  Right now, it is a distraction, and a substantial impediment.  Flaws in my writing jump out at me with sharp clarity, and it is hard for me to shut down my inner editor.  The main problem is that my appetite for a greater story has become deeper, but my ability to prepare such a meal has not grown proportionally.  At least, that’s my perception.

The answer as always is to keep writing.  I just wish that what I’m trying to create met my standards.