Post Norwescon Thoughts and Feelings

Melissa and I got up late and basically went straight to the airport. I’m sitting relatively close to our gate, with a couple of free hours in front of me, and a whole lot of thoughts running through my mind.

Before I get too much into it, this is the 4th post in a row, which might look like I’m getting into daily posts again, but I’m not. My plan going forward is to write one post a week, unless it is October, or unless there are other circumstances pushing me to write more or less. I’m going to look into setting up an actual mailing list, which will be different from my blog. That’s an item for later. Right now, it’s retrospective time while I wait for a plane.

Questions floating through my mind throughout the con: Why am I doing this? Why Norwescon? Was it worth it? Did I learn anything? Did I have a good time?

I can probably answer some of those questions now.

Why Norwescon? Because it was the next convention. It’s on the same coast as my home, so it’s not that hard in terms of tavel. I like Seattle. I knew some of the people coming to the convention, and I like them, too. Jim Butcher was going to be guest of honor, and there was a little bit of a draw there. It’s a shame he caught Covid and couldn’t make it, but him being at the con was more of a bonus than a major reason.

I had never attended Norwescon, and this seemed like a good year to give it a try.

Was it worth it? It was not financially worth it. I met a few people. I hung out with some great people, especially dinner on Friday night. I’m not so transactional as to think of these meetings, these friends and acquaintances, in terms of how they might advance my career. Hanging out with people should be its own reward.

“But will it?” asks the devil on my shoulder. Who knows? Gun to my head, I’d say “probably not” but this is a funny industry. Heck, maybe someday I’ll be the one helping them out.

Did I learn anything? I went into several panels with an open mind, and I listened to intelligent, articulate people talk about craft in a compelling way. Much of what they had to say involved practices I have already embraced. Much of the material in these panels is targeted at people with less experience than me, so I’m not sure if I learned anything worth mentioning.

Whether I learned anything or not, I feel the hint, of a notion, of a possible quantum of inspiration. I felt like writing while I was there, which I haven’t felt strongly in over a month. I finished a revision I had been putting off for a long time. I’m thinking about stories, and collaboration, and the next, big thing. That may or may not be better than learning something, specifically.

Why am I doing this? and Did I have a good time?

I’m putting these questions together and answering them together because, if it’s not obvious, I’m still working through depression. I’m not having a good time, even when I’m hip-deep in my favorite activities. The knob on the “fun” volume was turned to a low setting and then snapped off.

I can still laugh, and make jokes, and in the moment, be perfectly fine. I’m fine right now! But… I’m kind of not fine, too.

Last night, I played in a tabletop roleplaying game, and I did my best. This is one of the activities I love the most, and while pick-up games like that can be terrible, this one wasn’t. The person running it was pretty good, and the other players were okay. It was fun! But the enjoyment I felt playing the game felt distant. It was someone else’s good time, and I was getting it second-hand, if that makes sense.

That is why I do this. I go through the motions, feel what I can feel, and keep working at it. The alternative is to just sleep a lot and wait out the clock. I’ve done plenty of that this month. It’s better to pretend everything is okay than to give in to the despair.

Anyways. No need to make this one a complete bummer.

I’ve had at least one event every month this year. I think April is relatively clear. I’ll attend Michael’s next Bard for Life show, but that’s not quite the same as attending a convention.

April looks like a good month to do some writing and maybe finish some projects. We will see.


Norwescon 2024 – Day 3, Finale

Technically, there is one more day, but since we have to leave so early to catch our plan, this is realistically our last day of the con.

Neither one of us felt terrific waking up, We slept badly. Melissa has a bad cold, and the A/C in our room enhanced my morning crud. Once I got out of the room and put some food in me, I was fine. Melissa kept sneezing and coughing, though. We’ve been wearing our masks constantly, and Melissa spent a great deal of time in the room, just to be sure.

I went to a panel on writing with a partner, and I went to several readings. It was good! I capped it off by playing in a short TTRPG. My convention cup runneth over.

This convention was good. I’m glad I came. I met some cool people and did some fun things. It probably didn’t make much financial sense, but that doesn’t have to be a consideration when determining if this was worth it.

Will I do this again next year? I don’t know! Maybe!

Something else I did today… I finished the next revision of The Psychic on the Jury. When I get back to Sacramento tomorrow, I’ll work on the query letter and submit it to Water Dragon. It’s just under 15,000 words, and it’s a perfect stepping stone between The Repossessed Ghost and The Psychic Out of Time. It also doesn’t contain any spoilers for The Repossessed Ghost, so it could be an easier way for people to get into that world.

I want to finish the sequel novel, then write another novella, then finish the series with a third novel. I’ve got plenty to write, and I’m feeling more motivated to get to it. That, alone, makes this Norwescon worth it.


Norwescon 2024 – Day 2

Due to no fault of the convention itself, I’m struggling to find panels I want to attend.

I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve attended, taken notes, practiced, and verified the wisdom dispensed at these panels for about a decade and a half. I’ve written dozens of short stories, 3 novels, and participated in assorted contests. Many of these panels are targeted at people with less experience than me.

I attended a panel this morning which was advertised for all writers, wherever they are in their career. A two hour panel, in which you write down questions, post them to the wall in the back of the room, and the two career professionals read the questions and provide answers.

They were good answers, but they weren’t necessarily complete. For example, the first thing they tackled was, “How do I get an agent?” It’s a great question, and while I do not yet have an agent myself, I’ve looked into the matter. It’s hard.

One of the answers given was along the lines of, “You don’t want to pair up with an agent that is too strict on the rules.” That’s an interesting answer, but there is an implication that needed to be addressed, so I raised my hand and asked if I could offer some numbers and context to help. They gave me the go-ahead, so I said:

“In 2017, a mid-level agent posted her numbers to Twitter. In one month, she received around 30,000 submissions. She was able to accept 6. Agents are looking for ways to screen and get the numbers down, so if you are not adhering to the submission guidelines, you’re going to be automatically cut.”

They nodded and acknowledged that everything I said was true, but then softened it a little. In my opinion, blunting the reality is not particularly helpful to new writers.

Tell people that it’s difficult, because it is. Tell them to follow the rules, because if they don’t, they’re not going to make it very far. Miracles occur, it’s true. It’s possible to get picked up off the slush pile. It’s possible to sidle up to an agent at the bar, at a convention, and have a great conversation that launches your career. That’s what happened to Jim Butcher. It could happen to you! But if you really want to increase your odds, keep writing, keep submitting, and follow the submission guidelines.

Also, if you’re still with me on the agent thing, it’s better to have no agent at all than to be burdened with a bad agent.

There were some other questions answered, and I listened, and it was fine. My question was:

“You’ve made it! You got your book published, after years of perseverance and hard work! How do you deal with the disillusionment that follows, that no one talks about?”

They acknowledged it as a good question and said, “Talk about the disillusionment.”

So here we are. At the risk of sounding ungrateful for my successes, let me tell you about the disillusionment.

Water Dragon is great, and none of these feelings are a reflection of them. This has nothing to do with the publisher. It’s about reaching that mythical state of being published and finding an audience.

Why do we write stories? Why do we write anything? We want our messages, our stories, our thoughts and our feelings to be read. How does it feel to send a text message to someone that never acknowledges it? How does it feel to put a comment in code when the next programmer just ignores it and does the wrong thing? How does it feel to send someone a letter, but for whatever reason, it never reaches them? How does it feel to go unread?

Most of my stories are unpublished. I know where they are, and I know why no one’s reading them. They’re either not ready or not right. It’s fine.

Some people have read The Repossessed Ghost, and a few people have read One for the Road, but it’s mostly people that have known me for a long time. My readers are people that are rooting for me. It’s all the people I can reach.

I shouldn’t say this, but I get it if not very many people are into The Repossessed Ghost. If you are a fan of The Dresden Files, you’ll love my Mel Walker stories. I wrote them with you in mind. Otherwise, it might be a challenging read. It’s good, but not my best work. It’s better than a lot of books out there in the same genre, but that’s still kind of a niche thing. So, I get it.

One for the Road, though, is sweet. It’s short, cheap, cozy, clever, and fun. And I don’t know how to get it in front of people.

You can’t give stories away. Seriously. Reading a story involves a small investment of work and time on the part of the reader, so thrusting a book into their hands — uninvited — is a kind of assault. Even the most voracious reader devalues a free book. A reader will always reach for the book they purchased over the strange book that fell into their lap.

This is where the disillusionment comes in. You put your head down and write the best thing you can write. You work up the courage to submit it. You face rejection after rejection, but you persevere because the advice you’ve been given is that if you just write the best story you can, it will be enough. Once it’s published, you can move on to the next, building on each success… and people will read your stories.

It’s not entirely true, though. You can self-publish, or you can publish with a small, independent publisher, or you can get an agent and publish with the Big Four (or Five), and the answer is the same: publishing is not enough to find an audience.

That’s the illusion. Once you’re published, you see through it.

How do you find an audience?

I started to say “no one knows” but that’s not entirely true. I do have an audience. Melissa reads all of my stuff. My critique group looks forward to my stories. A handful of people really care and support me and genuinely seem to like my writing. There are a few people that have bought my book at conventions.

The hope is that word of mouth will spread, and people will read my stories that have never met me. That’s the point where the story can take on a life of its own, I think.

Okay. That’s enough of that. I feel like I’m whining when I’ve already been extremely fortunate.

I’m writing this from a table, not far from the heart of the convention. People are walking by me constantly. Some of them are writers that are still trying to get their first success. I wish I could give them what I know, not to discourage them, but to prepare them for what comes next.

I’m disillusioned, but I’m not deterred.

I’m not sure there are any other panels I want to attend today, so when I hit “publish” on this post, I’m going to open up one of my projects and see if I can make some progress. Maybe I can get The Psychic on the Jury in a better state. Maybe I’ll submit to Water Dragon sooner than later.


Norwescon 2024 – Day 1

Melissa and I got up hours before the sun poked its head over the horizon. We had a 6:30AM flight, which meant leaving the house around 4AM in order to deal with baggage and security. Boy oh boy do I miss the days of air travel before September 11th.

We boarded a small-ish plane, and the turbulence during take-off had me climbing the walls. The flight settled down after a little while, with only minor heart-racing incidents compared to the full-on heart attack that was the opening of our flight. No in-flight movies or entertainment, and I could not nap. Some of the other passengers must have been slabs of meat, and Delta didn’t want any of them to spoil. I shivered under my jacket for the hour and a half it took to get to Seattle.

Once past baggage claim, we lucked out. The hotel has a complimentary shuttle, and it pulled up just as we stepped outside to find it.

It has been more than 20 days since I last posted anything, and the further I go on without addressing those missing days, the more pressure I feel. I will talk about most of March at the end. Today is the first day of Norwescon, and I want to get that out first, while the experiences are fresh.

In October, I decided to set up our Norwescon adventure. On January 16th, I double checked to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. How do I know this? Because the hotel informed me that I had put down a deposit for 2 rooms, once in October, and again in January. Oops. They canceled the January reservation and applied that deposit to the first, which was very nice of them.

So far, so good. I’m tired, hungry, anxious, and for the first time in a long time, I can feel the symptoms of having high blood pressure. I didn’t bring anything to measure it, but my fingers are swollen and I am more irritable than usual. After depositing our bags in our room, we walk downstairs and get in line for Norwescon registration.

I don’t want to be mean. You can tell this is going to be toxic because anytime someone starts an anecdote with “I don’t want to be mean,” you can rest assured you are about to hear a boiling hot magma of a take-down. Running a convention is hard, and a whole bunch of volunteers are doing their best in a difficult situation. With that in mind, I’m going to try and tone this down. If you come away from this under the impression that Norwescon is a club-footed clown show stumbling over its own ineptitude, that’s on them, not me.

The line lagged down the hall, glacial and ponderous. Both unregistered and pre-registered shared this line. Melissa and I joined the tail just before 9AM. Our business would not be concluded until well after 10:30AM. By way of comparison, I’m told it took 45 minutes for folks to complete their registration at Sac Comic-Con, and that event featured a line of attendees wrapping around 2 or 3 city blocks. The Norwescon line had about 14 people in front of us. Take these numbers and do with them what you may.

For much of this time, I thought that the unregistered might be holding things up. At a certain point, one of the volunteers directed people to a line of terminals if they were unregistered. These terminals sat completely empty, until Melissa and I wound up occupying one of them. More on that in a minute.

Five volunteers received people from the line for processing. The volunteers were untrained in the usage of their workstations. They got through it, helping each other out, but the lack of training was obvious when one of the volunteers tried to process us. She kept misspelling my name, even though she had both of our driver’s licenses in front of her. Some other attendee dominated her screen until a different volunteer helped.

Again, the volunteers tried their best. I felt my anxiety rising, but I did not take it out on them. I kept muttering, “This is going up on the blog,” as if you people were going to provide some kind of comfort or solace in my temporary time of need.

They eventually found me in the system, but they did not find Melissa. No record whatsoever of Melissa.

It’s possible I set this up without including her. I could have made a mistake. However, I booked the flight and the hotel for the both of us, and with the exception of Sac Comic-Con, I haven’t attended an event without Melissa in over 10 years. My emails don’t show any record of registering Melissa, but then again, my emails don’t show much with regards to my registration, either. I was supposed to get some membership number, but I don’t have it. So what happened?

There is another workstation operated by a more senior staff member. Melissa and I are sent to him, but there is another line in front of him. We stood nearby for 10 or 15 more minutes before we relinquished our licenses. Again, he finds only me. No Melissa.

We’re at an impasse. Melissa is ready to give up and just spend the weekend in our room. Since I can’t provide proof that I’ve already paid for anything, Norwescon is ready to take our money again. I am definitely not okay with Melissa missing out, so we take option B and I’m ushered over to the unused “new registration” terminals.

As I fill in Melissa’s information, I realize I am still unburdened by such public identification. Neither of the 2 previous volunteers bothered to print my stuff. I start to wonder if we’ll go 3 for 3.

We get ushered to another volunteer station, and they print our tags and take my money. At this point, after standing in line for so long, going through the hassle of getting pushed from workstation to workstation, and paying for something I thought I already paid for… I realized I was not only tired, but hungry, and I did not want to take my frustration out on anyone. Especially not the volunteers. Melissa and I wandered over to the coffee shop inside the hotel, which offered breakfast burritos and decaf caramel macchiatos. We acquired two of each, took them back to our room, and did what we needed to make me a peace-loving human again.

After a generous nap, I started writing this post. Before I could finish, the clock rushed forward to 3:30PM. There was a panel on dialog I wanted to attend at 4.

The panel turned out to be really great. The participants were all very knowledgeable and articulate. They talked about a lot of things I already do, including reading it out loud. The ear picks up things that the eye misses.

After the panel, I went back to the room long enough to pick up a copy of One for the Road to give to Jennifer Brozek. She was one of the participants on the dialog panel, and I knew she would be in the dealer’s room. She was happy to receive it, and she asked Melissa and I to sign her copy. We were happy to do so.

In the dealer’s room, we visited with several authors. I really enjoyed that. We also bought some decaf tea from a very nerdy shop. And, we solidified dinner plans for tomorrow night.

It’s been an emotional day, and it’s not quite done yet. Melissa and I are going to venture out of the hotel and try to find a suitable dinner nearby. If I’m awake enough, I’ll try to attend con parties or barcon, whichever makes the most sense. I might just go to bed early, though. The last several days involved me getting up very, very early.

Okay. Deep breath. I promised to talk a little about why I disappeared. What happened to my goal of writing a post every day in the year 2024?

Since March 5th, my birthday, I’ve been excruciatingly busy with work. I posted a lot of unpaid overtime. I’ve been getting stuff done, but there hasn’t really been room for anything else. I worked and slept. That’s pretty much it.

One of the weekends involved Sacramento Comic-Con, which was fun, but also exhausting. The other weekends I either worked until I was exhausted, or I slept to recover.

I’ve been overworked and depressed. And I haven’t been writing, which makes things worse.

I probably could have muscled out some blog posts, but who would want to read those? It would just be more whining from an extremely privileged dude. It would not have been worth the effort.

Also, I don’t think it’s a great idea for me to post every day for an entire year. A couple of months in the year? Sure. Especially if the topics are planned out, coherent, and focused enough to be higher quality.

I would prefer to produce quality over quantity. I can do both for shorter periods of time, but not a year.

Some people get my posts/rants via email. Occasional essays from me can be a treat. Daily essays are less special, and probably a nuisance.

I’m going to go back to posting more occasionally. I’m also going to finish posting and writing the story about the Fireman-elementalist. There’s value in me exposing the way I write.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re a serious trooper. Get yourself some ice cream. You deserve it.


March 4th Thoughts

Tomorrow, I’m 51. Tonight, I’m sitting on my work laptop, still working.

Here’s some details, which gives an idea of the pain of the evening. For about a week, I’ve been trying to figure out why the messaging component in this one service just stopped working. The logging shows that it can longer post messages, which is terrible. Unfortunately, it was swallowing the exception, which, you know, makes it a bit harder to figure out what was going on. I did some dark sorcery and got it to reveal its secrets: a dependent library was newer than another dependent library was expecting.

It’s called “DLL Hell” and it is a real place. It’s where I’m living right now, and for the next couple of hours. Somewhere along the lines, a dependent library needed one of its supporting libraries to move forward, because the version was old and a security risk. It was like a pressure valve, building up steam over time, until finally someone saw the warning lights and threw the switch to allow it to move before everything exploded.

Exploded for them, anyway. I allowed the rest of the libraries and packages to move forward to their latest stable version, which broke everything. Method signatures no longer match up. Entire portions of the code are on fire. Things don’t compile. The damn busted and instead of having a broken messaging component, the entire service is under water.

So, no writing tonight. Also, I took the weekend off. I might keep doing that. It’s hard to write when I’m recovering from the long week days. And then there’s days like today where it’s hard to do anything at all.

Tomorrow, I have an eye appointment. And then I probably need to work a bit late to make up for lost time and to try and get this stupid sprint to the finish line.

If there’s no blog post tomorrow night, it’s because I’m still under water.


Writing a Story Part 8: Worlding Building

I have lots of opinions on world building in general, but tonight I’m going to keep this relatively brief. The workdays have been long, and I don’t have a lot of brain juice for fun writing stuff tonight.

World building is fun. I’ve attended many writing conferences and most of the panels are world building in disguise. World building is more than geography or map making, though that can be part of it. World building is about the magic systems, the clothing, food, religion, and other cultural aspects of the world. World building is all about the little things that remind of us of our own lives, and the major things that prove to us that we’re visiting some place else.

The story we’re writing is set in present day California, so we get a lot of details for free. We’re writing a fantasy, though, so we’re not off the hook.

From the decisions we’ve already made, we know that there is magic in the world. We have people that can manipulate the elements. Is there any other sort of magic in this world? How widespread is the knowledge of this magic?

Looking at the show Supernatural, which is one of our inspirations, we can answer the second question first. Magic is secret in the world. That makes it much closer to our own world, where the only magic we find is the stuff in our stories. There are folks that believe in magic, certainly, and maybe they’re right to believe. Most of us are skeptical, because there is no proof of magic existing. So shall it be with the world we’re about to write.

Is there any other magic use, other than the elementalists? In this instance, I say less is more. I think it’s more interesting if there are only elementalists, and that Aristotle was one of them.

According to Aristotle, there are only 4 elements, and all things are made up of them. Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. While we will respect Aristotle and his thoughts on the subject, we’re going to say that this fictional world resembles our world, in that there are atoms and a periodic table, and science continues to function and behave as we would expect.

How about the magic system? What do we want to do about that?

We want to setup everything, and we want there to be limitations. Limitations make things more interesting, and they force both the writers and the characters to be creative and clever. So how does elemental magic work in Angela’s world?

People with the elemental talent are usually only gifted with one element, though it’s not unheard of for special people to have affinity with two. Our girl Angela doesn’t know it yet, but she’s gifted with all four elements. The first she’ll work with is fire.

Elementalists cannot create their element, but they can manipulate it and control it. Without the presence an of existing flame, a fire dancer can’t do anything.

Fire dancer. I just realized that I’ve got a bit of world building in my head which I haven’t shared yet.

In Avatar: The Last Airbender, all of the elementalists are benders. I want to shake it up a little bit. Each elementalist gets their own description. Fire Dancers. Wind Riders. Water Shapers. Earth Movers. It’s a little bit of flavor that I think will go a long way.

The affects of the elements are not suppressed when elementalists use their powers. Fire still consumes fuel and creates heat and smoke. When earth is moved, sink holes happen, and it’s noisy. Wind carries with it whatever is in the air. Water gets things wet, and can cling to surfaces and saturate into porous material.

What’s it like being an elementalist and using their power? What is the cost?

When an elementalist is using their gift, they have to concentrate. While they are concentrating, they can feel their element nearby, and they can control it the same way they control their limbs. The fire becomes an extension of the Fire Dancer.

I’m not sure there needs to be any sort of “cost” beyond that. I imagine focusing on the elements is a lot like how I have to focus on work. When I get distracted, or if I show up sick or tired, I don’t perform as well. So it is for the elementalists.

We don’t need mana bars for our story to be interesting. We just have to do the right kind of setup at the right time, and our readers will pick up what we’re putting down.

That’s enough for now. We still need to talk about our villain and our secondary character. We’ll be drafting very soon.