On Genres and Fandoms

A while back there was a significant flare up across the Internet surrounding sexism in science fiction. Specifically around the SFWA and their publication. Smarter people than I have covered this, therefore I don’t have to. Seriously, if you are really interested Jim C Hines did a listing linking to most of the blogs on it that I had seen.

For my part, I was concerned with how this affected fandom and convention communities. If I am going to be part of these communities, I wanted to be sure I went into it eyes open. I came across this concern when reading a blog from author Ann Aguirre on sexism in scifi. In which she describes problems she had at science fiction conventions as a female author. One of the more powerful statements was how a respected author had referred to her as “girlie” and demand coffee from her. That scene happened before the beginning of a panel they were on together.

The question is are we in the science fiction equivalent of Mad Men, or are we in 2013? And what does that mean to be in 2013?

Honestly I don’t know. I can’t explain how it is I have friends still to this day that are homophobic and preach hate and inequality. But I do. I still have people in my life that swear the Tea Party ideal is correct and we should all follow it. Those same people that try and convince me the significant drop in my public employee paycheck is “paying [my] fair share.” Even though I have given up years of any raise for those “cherry benefits.”

What I do know, and said so much in the comments on Ann’s blog, was that if she was a panelist at Odyssey Con I would get her coffee before a panel. I even upped it to include a cupcake. One that I made from scratch. Doesn’t matter that this coming year would be my first year as con chair. In fact, I think that makes it matter even more. Though, if the same situation came up at WisCon, I offered the same thing. (Though a cupcake at that con would be more difficult to produce.)

In the comments section of her blog I also went on to extend that offer to Larissa Ione. You see Ann lives in another country, limiting the possibility of me having to deliver on my promise. Larissa Ione lives in the same state as me. My offer stands to get her coffee before a panel should she wish it. (I will add the caveat that for WisCon I have to be attending or speaking on the panel in question. Odyssey Con grants me more mobility and communication.)

Now here is the kicker. If you are a female professional on one of our panels at Odyssey Con and want coffee, I will produce it for you. If I am not in or on your panel, someone there will be able to reach me. If you wish I will give you my contact information so you can text me with a coffee request. My hope is that the science fiction communities and fandoms that I am associated with will be welcoming to all. And in light of these recent events, I will personally work to make sure they are to the best of my ability.

Along similar lines, in the event our committee arranges a guest that goes against these principles in a very public fashion (as we have seen with several authors even before this latest mess), I won’t be bringing them coffee. Just sayin’…

Meet the Duke

So I said that I would be posting something about the new story and it’s main character. Admittedly I’m still getting the feel for him and his voice, but I want to introduce you all to Duke Benjamin – the new protagonist to join my Wisconsin state police detective. To properly introduce you though, I need to take you back to when I was inspired to create him.

I’m sure you’ve all read my “about” page in which I talk about getting into watching The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Well, around the end of February there was an incident where an audience member was ejected from the show. He yelled out, “I love you Kelly Bundy!” For this an Audience Coordinator escorted him out. The next night Craig Ferguson had the AC in question on the opening of the show. I’ve embedded the video below from the gentleman’s YouTube account.

So I had this picture of Ben Dukes roaming the countryside and ejecting people from their own homes. This morphed into a guy who was a country western version of the mariachi from Desperado. A weapon toting badass with a guitar case full of sharp pointy things. Country singer for pay, bounty hunter and monster hunter by trade. So thus, the second protagonist for this story was born.

Of course some of this came by linking up to his Twitter account and seeing the video on YouTube. Basically the singer with the guitar case weapons cache was born from seeing his videos where he plays his music. He’s an Audience Coordinator (I just love the sound of that) and also a singer/songwriter. Check out his YouTube page and you can see some videos of his music.

Now normally that would be the end of it. I was inspired to make a character, I made it, I used it. But this time around I was pledging out parts of my story. I decided to self publish the book and allow people to have characters named after them. For more money I allowed them to bribe me so that I let their character live. In one case I offered a bribe not to have a character named after a friend killed by spiders. So far none have taken me up on the “not dead” bribe. But this gave me an idea.

I contacted Ben Dukes with the information on the story. I told him about how in plotting the story I wanted to introduce this character he inspired and asked if (in the nature similar to the others) he would like the character named after him as well. His response was that it would be great to be adapted into a weapon toting badass. Additionally he is helping to give me ideas on music that would relate to the character for my scene writing. Specifically he gave me the name of a Johnny Cash song used in a zombie movie – When the Man Comes Around. Don’t ask me why I hadn’t thought of this in the first place, but I didn’t.

This morning was the shift at the coffee shop for the barista I have code named Rockabilly Barista. And I’m not lying here. She has spurs on her boots. Spurs! She also has a penchant for playing Johnny Cash on their sound system. And yes, Johnny Cash was playing this morning. And yes, When the Man Comes Around was totally playing when I walked in. That adds serendipity to my story right at Day 1. I mean I knew I had a better than even chance of JC being on the system, but what are the odds that one song would be playing when I came in?

So I sat down with my triple Americano, a cinnamon roll (forgot my damn lunch and breakfast at home), my iPad, a new journal for notes in this project, my writing totem (Monkey!) and my first merit badge. The merit badge was a no-brainer. It’s awarded for writing a friend or family member directly into your story. Hell, I knew I was doing that before I even started! Just over 1200 words later I’m not at my goal (1667 minimum for the day), but I’m getting the voice on Duke down. Getting a feel for the personality as it were. Now I just need to know that girtty nasty stuff that led him to become a self-trained monster hunter.

I’ll have more offerings throughout the month revolving around the book. I’m also going to release the playlists on iTunes for the story once I solidify them. Keep checking back for all sorts of DVD extras. Until then, anywhere I mention Ben Dukes here will link to his website and you can check out his music.

Update: Since working this blog I may be leaning towards Dukes as a nickname for the character. If I do, I may not name him in this book. Or, I will give him a name that is only used once or twice. Playlist is nearly done, I just need to figure out how to make it so I can link it in a blog for people to sample and purchase.

Camp NaNoWriMo: Fundraising 201

Updates for Under the Hood

  • Sitting at 9546 as of mid-morning June 7th (about 2k under goal)
  • Sponsors/Friends Mauled: 2
  • Friends’ Homes Destroyed: 1
  • Days of Doubling Down on Coffee: 2
  • Totem Named: Might name him for MC, or just call him Plot Monkey

Badges Earned

  • Creative Nonfiction – the whole premise of my pledge levels ensured this one.
  • Word Count Padding – I actually have to remind myself to use contractions once in a while.
  • Secret Noveling – I’ve written during lunch, and hid in a corner at our Italian Community Festival to get more words in.
  • Eureka Moment – Not sure I’ve met this one yet. I did take a sidekick (named for the son of a friend who pledged) and took him from being left behind, to getting mauled, to coming back at the end as an antihero. Could be, or may not be an “aha” moment.

If you are signed up for the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge, you’ve probably been through the Fundraising 101 section or email. Assuming you’re fundraising this time around. I’ve hit a few pitfalls and some new tricks to get more people involved in your story and pledging for it.

Tip #1

Talk about your story. Additionally, talk about some of the folks who’ve pledged to have something added to the story. For my part I posted to Twitter asking if it was okay to have an author kill a monster with a coffee mug. Specifically a custom, hand-fired one that said “Because I’m the Author, that’s why.” It gets people talking and gets them thinking. Plus, if you’re excited about the story it will show and be infectious. You are Patient Zero for your own story.

Tip #2

Take cash donations. My wife had a friend that doesn’t like using her credit cards online. As such, she took the money from her directly and is going to make the donation online to the pledge page herself. She did the same with a couple of her coworkers. Just today Patrick (the owner of the coffee shop I do my writing in) donated to the pledge page for using the store in a scene by handing me a check. It makes it easier for people you know locally to contribute without having to remember while they are in front of a computer.

As an aside to this, for accountability, I would post each donation separately and list who the donation is from in the comments. That way not only do you know, but the people who made the donation will see it as well. It also allows you to thank them on the pledge page in addition to in person when they hand you the money.

Tip #3

Consider “DVD Extras” for the story to go out to contributors. Or as things you’ll release if you hit certain levels. What I currently have in the works is an iTunes playlist for the main character. Sort of a “what’s in his iPod” sort of thing.

Pitfall #1

Consider limiting the sponsorship options. Like limit how many “maul a friend” or “name a character after you” donations you’ll take. I was really driven towards a zombie outbreak story based on the amount of people I had to maul. Naming all of them and calling attention to it in the story could come out a bit awkward, but this is for charity. I’m not trying to win any awards here.

Next time, I’ll probably set a limit. It could be a fluid list too. Sort of a “got another victim in need of a name, first person to…” situation.

Pitfall #2

When doing a “sponsor this story” fundraiser, it is a little tricky to “pants” it. An outline would help in setting up what things you can sponsor. Not that I am a full supporter of outlining as I have never stuck to any outline I set up. My characters always seem to deviate from the path.


Overall, I am really enjoying this. So much so that I’m considering doing another next year. In that instance I will likely outline it and will probably set it to be benefiting a local children’s charity in town. But that remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen how quickly I can figure out the formatting for self-publishing.

Busy first week of camp. How are y’all doing?

Opening the Scene

Writing Totem at The VictoryWell honestly I’m not sure this will be the opening scene. In fact, I’m not even sure about the title. The tentative title of Under the Hood pertains to a piece from the first story in this setting I wrote a while back. It has since gone through revisions that took that reference out. This means either putting it back or bringing out the other layers to the title. You know, like an onion. Or an ogre.

As I said before, I’m writing this as a series of scenes or vignettes. The will be the stories of a bunch of people tied together and brought to bear under the main story of two protagonists. Therefore my “opening scene” (or the one I labeled “Scene 1.1” in my project file) takes place where I started writing it. The Victory, my local coffee shop in Madison. It is my wifi-devoid sanctuary where I can go to write without the distraction of my house, my dog and the Internet. It was also the scene of several current events headlines this past year. All of which I am pouring into this story.

As this is also my writing spot, my version of Neil Gaiman’s gazebo if you will, I will post up some photos of the location as well. You can get photos of the infamous rock-through-the-window scene on their own web site. While this place is definitely not for everyone, it has an atmosphere to it that I find invigorating. The only difficulty I ever find in writing there is that sometimes the music playing in the store system doesn’t match my scene. I fix that with an iPod and a playlist. This also allows me a unique view of the people around me without the benefit of hearing what’s going on. You notice much different things that way.

If you’re in the Madison area and want to get a look at one of the scenes from the story, check this place out. Be warned the store is cash only. There is an ATM at a gas station less than a block away, but having cash on hand is something I’ve just gotten used to. To quote Patrick, the owner of the Victory, “It’s not that we don’t believe in credit, it’s just that we don’t believe you should pay for it.” And yes, he has offered to let people pay next time if they don’t have cash on them.

Say what you will about Madison, its politics or the current landscape of the state, but its places like The Victory that make me want to stay here. And places this close to me I feel the strange need to put in to stories and mess them right the hell up. Luckily for me Patrick seems to have the same messed up sense of humor I do and loves the idea of The Victory being in the story.

So, welcome to Scene 1.1 – The Victory from my Camp NaNoWriMo story, Under the Hood. (Tentative title)

Writing Accountability

I have done a number of personal and public challenges to offer myself some form of accountability in my writing. No matter how much this is a smoke and mirrors trick on myself, it works for me. Change Write Now pushed me into losing weight and getting back into the swing of writing every morning – no matter how hard it is to get out of bed. Writing Streaks put me into the mode of motivating other people to keep ahead of my word count as well as getting me into the writing habit with at least one local person. Okay, so I may be addicted to community like Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club.

This past couple weeks I’ve also been feeling a fund-raising pull. Had I signed on earlier and been able to set up a pledge page, I would have been doing the Walk a Mile event. Now I was looking towards cancer-related charities, but locally my family-favored one The Badger Childhood Cancer Network has a golf outing coming up being sponsored by my Italian Heritage Club. Also, I don’t have the resources I used to for putting together a gaming weekend event like I did several years ago. There’s also the foundation started through the Rockstar Ronan story I started following due to social networking. (Side note to wear purple on May 12th. Memory and all.) And while these are all worth the time and any effort I can put through, I have settled on something a little more directly involved with my life for my personal effort this month.

Love it or hate it, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has not only kickstarted me back into writing, but has gotten me more involved with the local writing community. Local authors and support groups have been more an effort of writing conferences and social networking, but this group of aspiring authors are really my people. They’re in the same boat I am. In a strange way, I look forward to the whirlwind that is November every year. Hell, I even shamed Dale into participating this year even though she had no intention of doing it. I meant it when I told her the write-ins wouldn’t be the same without her. To answer the question, this has everything to do with the fundraising effort I am going to take on this year.

Donations to the Office of Letters and Light (the folks than run the NaNoWriMo site) go to funding the event every year and the Young Writers Program they run. I see it the way some people see Twilight, which is to say that even if you hate the idea of NaNoWriMo, it is getting people – young people especially – writing. I can’t see this as being a bad thing. To that effect, I am going to be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, their June event that is sort of a summer camp of writing. The goal is the same, a 50k story in 30 days. In this instance though, you can set up a pledge page. Once I have the page set up and ready to take donations, I’m thinking I may do some kickstarter type stuff for this. Such as first person to pledge X amount to the fund gets to name a character, pick a genre (from within a list), pick a villain, etc.

According to the web site, the top fundraiser is being given a Neo (battery operated portable writing devise). It seems to me that this will not take the place of my iPad and wireless keyboard, so in the event that I win it with donations, I think I’ll run a writing contest for teens. All entrants will get posted and the winning story will get the Neo. Relatively sure I’ll handle this one locally. Not 10o% on that, and honestly not sure I need to worry about it.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Any categories of challenging writing inserts/sparks you’d like to seed out there for your donations? Post now or until the end of May hold your peace.

In Which Zombie Joe Contemplated Critique Partners

Okay, so my titles are still feeling a bit Victorian. Don’t judge. It’s an ugly habit. The judging… not the… never mind.

This is one that is out there for my author friends. Even if you aren’t friends, or wish you didn’t know me. Feel free to comment on this subject. Currently I am contemplating writing partners and critique partners. This has been on my mind the last couple weeks thanks to Odyssey Con and the panel on collaboration. Not to mention the week before I had lunch (well they had lunch, I had a soda and conversation) with some authors who had long distance critique partners.

I have a weekly writing group. We meet at a diner every Tuesday (provided nobody is sick/away and someone has something to share) to read bits of our work aloud and critique them. Considering some of our members are writing erotica I think it is pretty amazing the diner accommodates us. But lately most of us have been in a funk. I’m putting in solid words every morning, but nothing that is developed enough to share. I just today have a chapter in my rewrite/revision ready to share with them. So I have an outlet for feedback. Lately I’ve been contemplating if I am missing an opportunity.

Until I put these first couple of manuscripts to rest (trunking them or reworking for submitting), I can’t see me doing a collaboration. Not that I wouldn’t be open to it, but I can’t see me doing it until I know I’d be in the right place. Also, currently I don’t see me offering much to the table for any established author willing to do a collaboration. I don’t see me getting past the “Well tell me a story” line that Larry Niven gave Steven Barnes. That could be the neurotic author in me talking, but there it is.

What I think I am missing out on is the possibility of a long distance critique partner. Someone I’m not face to face with every week that I can simply meet online every now and again to brainstorm and then send a complete and polished work for a fresh pair of eyes on it. For instance, once I rework my current piece to have the first three chapters popping (as I just did) and then clean up the rest of it I messed up by doing that (as I have yet to do), if I bring it back to my writing group it will take months to go through it again, and they will have read it all before. I can see the value of having someone from a different state (or country for that matter) to send it to for a fresh opinion.

My questions for you established authors out there are:

  1. Do you go to a weekly/monthly writers/critique group?
  2. Do you have a writing partner?
  3. Do you use a critique partner?
  4. If yes, local or distant?
  5. Do you have multiple critique readers/partners?
  6. What do you look for in a critique partner? What value do you get out of it?

I’ve read a number of advice pieces on how to find a critique partner, so the how to is not really the questions I have. Part of me would like to stay local, but the bigger picture part of me knows that my writing community is a vast network and not just limited to Southern Wisconsin.


National Buy a Book Day

Writing as a Community: September 7th

Last time I touched on the idea of writing as a large community. I gave a nod to some of the people that have helped me and continue to motivate me in my writing. Today I am going global. Sure, it is being called National Buy a Book Day, but that was just because someone decided to call it that. Honestly, I don’t remember where it started, just that I was watching it being passed around Twitter and other social media like a cheap whore and it caught my eye.

The reasons I am bringing this up now are many and varied. It may have to do with the fact that I was due for another blog. It may have to do with the situation of waiting for my Highlander TCG night ready to start and I am waiting for the players to show up. It may even have to do with the blog I read today that I was directed to thanks to a tweet from Stacia Kane. (And honestly if you have not read the blog on “How to Help a Starving Author” you really should, it is more concise than mine.)

In an update (as I never finished this blog last week when I started it) Borders has announced a joining with Build-a-Bear to offer teddy bears in the store as an effort to combat lost sales to online retailers. In the world of food service, many places are adopting the buy locally, think globally aspect – like Bleeding Heart Bakery in Chicago. They buy their ingredients local when possible. I support the same idea for game stores. Yeah, I may save $4 if I buy that new D&D book off of Amazon, but what about the local game store that holds weekly events for me and allows me to host a weekly game night there? Don’t they deserve my extra $4 for the service they give me?

Same idea, but in this instance it is keeping our local bookstores in business. Even if in your area the “local” bookstore is part of a huge chain. More than just them, this is a chance to help out the midlist authors. If you are not familiar with the term, this refers to the majority of the authors out there. These are not your Stephen Kings, Stephanie Meyers, Jim Butchers or Charline Harrises. A midlister would be the author that is either writing while maintaining a day job or who has learned to exist on next to nothing for income. For me personally, this group contains most of my favorite authors and all of the people who have mentored me in one way or another – both knowingly and unknowingly.

The plan is on Tuesday September 7th to walk in to a brick and mortar book store. You can still bring your Nook with you, but the plan is to find a book on the shelves (or maybe even a couple if you can manage it) and purchase them. A real honest-to-goodness forest-killing book. If you do this, then this unpublished author will thank you for keeping the dream alive.

Me personally, I am going to take it a step further. Purchase a new, full-priced book that is an author you do not know. Take a recommendation from booksellers in the store. Maybe ask a friend who they are reading right now and pick up something they are enjoying. If you are feeling really adventurous try out a title in a genre you are not familiar with.

Are you a literary fiction nut who thinks that genre fiction like science fiction and urban fantasy are the Michael Bay movies of the literary world? Try reading a strongly recommended urban fantasy title. Think that romance novels are all just bodice-rippers? Find a romance title in a sub-genre close to your favorites, mysteries, paranormal, historical, etc. Try something new.

For my own part I have been looking into some genres that I would like to pull elements from for my own writing, but I am personally going a step further and only looking at books that are in the genres I want to pull elements from but are not NY Times Bestsellers. No offense at all to the best sellers, but I am looking to put some monetary love where it will impact the midlisters the most. After all, the top item of my Bucket List is to be among the ranks of the midlist authors.

I will put up suggestions for books over the next week that I can honestly say I enjoyed. I am also going to ask if you do this, post a comment below with what you picked up. Maybe a short explanation to why you chose it as well.

Note: Thanks to Jaye Wells, I have found the original blog written by Phillip Athans.