Sep 30 2009

Day 7- And the ash falls like snow…

I woke Sunday morning, after a few hours sleep, and stared down from my window at this.


Ah, Hollywood.  How quickly your luster fades in the hard light of morning.

Anyway, it was the last day.  Time for book signings!  We rolled out from the hotel in a very special short bus of success, cruising over to our first meeting with our adoring public.  Well, the pros had adoring public.  We had people who were willing to give us a shot at not boring them.


First stop was at Vromans, an independent bookstore in Pasadena.  The trip was fun, with Tim Powers pointing out various landmarks, and I talked writing with some of the others.  I had the joy of trying to explain what my first book was about to Schon, realizing as I did so that I was making it sound fairly incoherent and goofy.  Time to work on that pitch.  In the background, out the bus windows, great black columns of smoke were rising up.  The hills above LA, in the heat of the previous week, had decided to spend the weekend exploding in to flame.  Thousands were fleeing for their lives.  In Pasadena though, we bravely pressed on.  There were books that needed signing.


Vromans is a nice place, and the signing was well organized and went fast.  We put a lot of ink in a lot of books, and then we headed out…  Actually, no.  Turns out the very special short bus had gone missing.  After an hour or so–had I mentioned this was around lunch–it finally turned up.  We piled on and went to the next stop, a Barnes & Nobles.  Originally, the plan was to get food, then go to the signing.  After the mysterious missing bus caper, we had time to get there and run through the restaurant next door where most of the pros were finishing their lunch (they had a very special van, which hadn’t gone missing).  We grabbed caffeine and finished their leftover nachos (already the hedonistic lifestyle of an author was leaving me dizzy), and then went to the signing.

It went well too, although the layout this time wasn’t quite so good.  I was back somewhere in the cooking section.  But it was fun talking to people, and the GW and Kid 1 showed up and I got my copy of the anthology signed by everyone.  Then I drove back to the hotel with the family, and actually managed to talk to them for a little while

Then the wrap up.  Back to Author Services, where first we were fed (yay!).  After, there was a Chick Corea concert.  He’s a grammy winning Jazz pianist.  I have to admit, I don’t listen to Jazz.  But it’s always incredible to watch someone who is a genius work.  Finally there was a dramatic reading of an old Hubbard pulp story, then dessert.

After all that, there was the last hang out.  The pool was closed, so we all settled in to the lobby and talked.  It had been such a long, hectic week, there was that strange sense of time having both stretched and skipped.  It had lasted forever, and was over far too fast.  Eventually, the body gave up, and early Monday morning I staggered off to bed.

Sep 22 2009

Day 6- Hollywood

Saturday, the big day.  I managed to sleep in until 7.

At 9:30 we had a sort-of meeting, in which we sacrificed Jordan to the publicity gods.  He had it coming.  Galaxy press was doing some sort of documentary on the pulps, so they asked if any of us were fans.  Guessing what was coming next, we all stayed silent.  Except poor Jordan.  So he got to go do an interview.

There was nothing else scheduled for the day, except a chance to go do a soundcheck, then get make up.  Yep, make up.  They were filming this, so we got to be prettified for the lights.  I had lunch with Don, and then I met up with Cheryl and gave her a bag full of quarters.  Her mom was collecting state quarters.  To pay me back, I made her rank the severity of British swear words.  Did you know that bollocks ranks higher than bastard?  Now you do.  And knowing is half the battle!

So, laying around and being nervous.  Finally I cracked and went down for my make up.  I went an hour and a half early, and guess what, huge line.  I stood there, dithering, wondering if I should run back up and put on my tux, but I hung out.  Eventually, they were ready and dragged me over.  I told the woman working on me that I wanted the absolute minimal amount of make up possible.  I was going to dinner before the ceremony, and figured I would be smearing it everywhere.  Plus, y’know, makeup, and I’m so manly.  She nodded, the grabbed a trowel and slapped the stuff on.  Then she asked what I wanted done with my hair.  I said just try to make it orderly.  She grabbed a handful of gel from a bucket (totally serious about this bit), and larded it in.  About this time my wife showed up and I passed her my key to the room so she could go change.

When I escaped the stylist, I went upstairs to change.  GW was there, almost ready.  She didn’t have any makeup to put on.  I looked at my hair in the mirror, decided I hated it, and quickly undid the stylists hard work. It still looked bad, but at least now it was my fault.  I quickly put on the tux, with the GW’s help, and off we went.  The six year old was staying with the relatives that night- no way were we subjecting her to this.

First, dinner.  We got to sit with Matt and his family, Gra, Rob Sawyer and Carolyn Clink.  Rob was very nice, talking with us about writing and the biz.  Dinner went pretty well– the food was good, even though I only ate about half.  Nerves.  Then on to the ceremony.

Whoever was coordinating that thing, kudos.  It started on time, and snapped right along.  First the dance number.  Union rules, must be at all award shows.  It was kinda fun, but I did want a quill fight.  Then intros of all the stars, and all the writers (I have to say this was probably the only awards ceremony in Hollywood where the writers got more applause).  Then us.

Here’s the thing– we gave our speeches in the order in which our stories appear in the book.  My stories last (which everyone assures me is a nice position to be in an anthology), which meant I went last.  Long wait.  Everyone gave a great speech, then finally it was me.  And it seemed to go okay.  Most importantly, I didn’t fall down the stairs.


They announced the grand prize winners, and Emery and Sasha got to go up again and get their biggie size trophies.  Both gave nice speeches, but they disappointed me slightly.  Neither of them said “I’m going on a (explicative deleted) blimp, (explicative deleted)!”  Oh well.

With the terror of the public speaking done, time for the after party.  We went back to the room where we had dinner, and there was a giant pile of books inside– the anthology.  Really there, all printed up.  Nice.  We sat down, and started signing.  Thankfully, Nina Kiriki Hoffman gave out some advice on how to do a signing.  Do they want it personalized?  How do you spell that?  Where would you like it?  No one asked for a body part.  It went pretty well.


The guests were great, and I had one of the best compliments of the week there.  One of the people asked me what my 24 hour story was about.  When I told him (the whole black-market trade in the blood of dead gods thing), he looked at me and said “You guys aren’t from around here, are you?”  No, no we’re not, in a number of different ways.

The signing finally ran down, and we were left in an empty room with a much smaller stack of books.  I kissed the GW goodbye (she had been busy helping my career by providing water for the other writers and pros– the wait staff was overwhelmed), then I joined in with my fellow winners in stuffing our arms with books and running for our rooms.

Still, I was a bit wired, and went to the hospitality suite.  About half of us were there, talking it over, and then Joni ordered burgers for us all.  It was three a.m., but I stuffed myself.  Finally, we all drifted apart as incoherency took over the conversations.  I went back to the room, stared at the book for awhile, and read the first story.  Then I passed out.

Sep 18 2009

Day 5-Send in the Pros!

Enough socializing, back to the workshops.

Friday morning we spent picking on– I mean encouraging three of our class mates.  Schon, Don, and Heather got to be the honored fattened calves, and we spent the morning rotissering their stories.  They were all pretty good, but to be honest they felt a bit rushed.  Like they were rough drafts, cranked out the day before.

Yeah, I laugh now, but we promised to e-mail each other our 24 hour stories after the workshop.  So the pain will be shared.


After that, it was time for the guest lecturers.  First up was Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta who talked about a lot of things, but chiefly professionalism.  They showed theirs by providing us with pizza, which we really needed.  Then Doug Beeson and Yoji Kondo spoke, reminding us that science fiction does involve the word science, and that our stories should probably at least make a stab at scientific accuracy.  Dave Wolverton, Sean Williams and Steve Savile were next, but I was dragged away before I could hear them.

They were having us do radio interviews for Sirus XM Book Radio.  So they pulled us out in pairs all through the lectures.  Me and Cheryl went together, managed to find the place and did our interviews.  I believe I was coherent, but I haven’t heard the interview yet.  I have no idea when those interviews are suppose to air, but if I hear I’ll post the times.

Back to Author Services, where Jerry Pournelle was finishing up.  He was doing some storytelling about the business, and how it’s changed.  He wrapped it up with a good luck, I have no idea how your going to make it nowadays.  Then the folks from Locus came and talked to us about why its important to read Locus (got it covered), and Robert Sawyer came and talked about working with Hollywood.  His book, FlashForward got picked up to be a series on ABC, so he talked about options and other cool Hollywood stuff.  And managed to make it seem like it might be an interesting experience, as opposed to one of utter horror which was the impression I’ve gotten from most other writers.  Then we had a little lesson about PR, and how to sell, sell, sell ourselves to the public.  Good and useful stuff, but again, introverts…

The pros wrapped it up, and then the illustrators came in and showed us the artwork they had done for our stories.  Very cool.  Mark Payton did mine, and I love the concept, the trophy snapshot.


Then we got to go over to the Blossom room in the hotel, where the ceremony would be held.  It was all set up, lights hanging everywhere, a giant flatscreen, a huge stage.  And dancers, spinning around, chasing each other with a giant quill pen.  That was odd.

When the dancers were done, they had us go up on the stage.  They pointed out how to receive the trophies, where we should stand for the pictures, and had us check out the mic.  This was when the whole public speaking reality of the thing crashed in.  I had visions of falling down the stairs and impaling myself on the trophy (they’re kinda pokey).  But I handled it in my usual way– finding someone who was more nervous than me and pretending that it was no big deal, see, I was perfectly calm (Thanks, Cheryl!)

Last thing of the night was a party in Sean Williams room.  Got to hang out and talk some more, which was great, but eventually exhaustion set in and it was off to bed.  The next day was going to be long.

Sep 13 2009

Day 4- Tap, tap, tedious (then burgers!)

This was the one day I didn’t mind waking up early.  Out of bed, shower and breakfast, and then settling in by eight at the computer.  That left me with nine hours to finish the story.  In the movie, this is where we would have the montage shot- I slip the earbuds of my I-pod in, crash back on my billion thread count fancy sheets with the laptop, and the fingers dance.  Hip hop plays, the camera swoops around the room, and my facial expressions are oscar worthy as they convey my doubt, excitement, desperation and grim determination.

Yeah, that’s why movies about hackers are so desperate seeming.  Watching someone type is boring as hell.


Anyway, the story came out.  So what was it about?  My one line response- It’s an urban fantasy about the black market trade in the blood of dead gods.  And yeah, I used all my elements- there are glass spheres (paper weight), tattoos (interview), mythological gods (research).  I even managed to drop in some random things from the week- phrases I’d heard people use, names, descriptions of people I had seen on the street.

I finished my rough at two.  I grabbed lunch, took a nice walk around Hollywood, came back and gave it a quick once over.  Slapped on a title- Blood & Change, which I’m not sure I’m happy with.  Then off to Author Services to drop it off.

(So is it a good story?  I’d say it’s the start of one.  It needs some serious editing and clean up though.  Right now it looks like something I hammered out in a few hours while short on sleep.)

After a long anti-social day, I got to chat with people again.  Than back to the hotel to get ready for the barbeque.

The barbeque was the first official social event.  The judges were going to be there, and it was the first official time we got to meet the artists who did our drawings.  (We unofficially met them a little earlier, when we went to the tux fittings) It was also my first chance to see my wife and eldest since we had seperated at the airport, since they were coming by.

I linked up with them in the lobby, where my daughter was exclaiming about the decorations.  She thought the hotel was very cool.  A bright lights, big city girl, and going to be annoyed as hell at us when she gets older and realizes that we voluntarily moved out into the middle of nowhere to raise her.  If you read my story, yeah, she’s one of Lilly’s inspirations.

We headed off to the bbq, which was near the hotel pool.  Along the way, the poor girl was subjected to some careful coaching from the parents, basically amounting to the traditional be seen not heard admonishments.  Which we usually aren’t so heavy about, but this was kind of a professional thing for me, and I was a bit nervous.  I really didn’t want to be remembered as the guy whose kid kicked Jerry Pournelle (or any of the other judges).  Not that I expected her to, she’s a good kid.  But plan for the worst.  Especially with children.

So of course she was great.  We got to sit with Dave Wolverton and Eric Kotani, which was a lot of fun.  Kiddo did great, even proudly telling them how I was so good at pouring her water because once, I’d been a waiter, which she considered an interesting job.  After dinner (enormous, tiger-choking burgers), we settled the kid beneath a palm tree with the i-pod (ah, modern media, how would we neglect our children without you?) , and chatted with others.


It was a lot of fun, but a bit nerve-wracking.  It was like finally being allowed to sit at the grown-up table, and constantly being afraid you were going to spill the gravy boat.  But it was great fun to meet the illustrators and the authors.  Eventually, kiddo and the wife headed out, and not too long after that they passed out our homework for the night.

Yep, homework.  K.D. had randomly picked three of the 24 hour stories, and we were to critique them for the next day.  Mine wasn’t one of them, which was a relief in some ways- I knew it had problems, but on the other hand it would have meant that I only had to critique two stories.  The party broke up soon after that, and it was back to the room to start reading.

Sep 9 2009

Day 3- The Horror

Day three, and back to the workshop. Lots of talk about research today, where to find facts, what to do with them, how not to be too distracted by it. Because Wikipedia is the devil, sometimes. Then we were off to the library, to do some research for our 24 hour stories.

The Hollywood library was six or seven blocks from the Author Services building, so we walked. It was hot in LA that week- high 90’s and 100’s. We clung to the shade and scurried along, pale roaches who feared the scorching sun almost as much as we feared the sweaty masses of tourists that clogged the street. Finally the crowds thinned out as we got away from the touristy areas, trading the stars in the sidewalk for the lingerie stores in the store fronts. One of the last stars was Ray Bradburys- maybe the only sci-fi writer who has a star. I could research that, but… meh.

So a long walk, but it was entertaining. We got to talk to each other, and Tim Powers was giving a running commentary on Hollywood and how its changed over the years. Eventually, we reached the library, a little urban place that had a lot more movie posters in it than I was used to, but otherwise seemed pretty standard. There, I got to impress everyone with my amazing ability to find books. On the shelves. Yes, I have the Library use skill.


I spent my time stripping the shelves of mythologies. I was mulling an idea about a black market in mythical monsters, monsters caught in glass. I didn’t get much on monsters thought, and instead ended up reading about spirits and gods.


Then it was time to go, time to get lunch and make it back for the rest of the workshop. We had an hour and a half, no problem. You would think. Maybe having almost all of us descend on the same hapless restaurant at once wan’t such a good idea. About two and a half hours later, we finally made it back.

Then, we had to face it. The dark side of the workshop. The evil side. The stranger interview.

This is a part of the whole research idea. Y’know, chat with people, see how they talk, steal their lives and personalities to use as characters. Basic stuff. But talking to strangers? Seriously, I was told not to. By Grover. Besides, I’m an introvert. Anti-social. I thought these were good qualities for a writer. But we had to do it, so out we went.

Luckily, I had a plan. Hollywood is lined with all kinds of shops, including a bunch of tattoo parlors. So I went in, asking about getting a tattoo. I tried to be nice, told them I wasn’t getting any ink today, just that I was thinking about it. And I have thought about it. Vaguely. On occasion. Anyway, the first place was a wash- the guy barely said three words. The second place went fine though. Had a nice conversation about tattoos, how they’re done, how he liked working on Hollywood, etc. So after that I wandered around a little, made myself bug a few more people, and went back. I noticed that unlike lunch, everyone made it back early from this assignment.


Oh, the poor guy in the picture was one of many I saw all week hauling guitars around. I asked him what was up with that, and he told me that there was a school for becoming a studio musician a couple of blocks from the hotel. So there, I learned something.

Once we were back, we got a little more encouragement, and then the clock started. In 24 hours, we had to have a story.

So back to the hotel, and the work began. My basic plan- connect up some of the random thoughts I had, do some more research, stay up late and try to have a very rough draft done for the next day.

By about nine, I had my idea, my research was mostly done, and I was typing away. Slowly. Time for dinner. So I went down to the lobby, where Gra, Cheryl and Heather were hunched over their laptops in the posh lobby of our ritzy hotel. Ah, we were all such writing nerds. Anyway, Gra and Cheryl also needed food, so we hit the fancy burger bar in the hotel. Very good, giant burgers, and overpriced. Not so much the burgers, but four bucks for a coke? Really?

Anyway, back to work. I stayed up for awhile, got about a thousand words, then gave in for the night. I could finish the rough tomorrow. It’s not like I wouldn’t be getting up early. Whether I liked it or not.

Sep 8 2009

Day 2- Mega Workshop Action Go!

So on Tuesday I woke up at 6:30. I didn’t want to wake up then, but I my body wasn’t offering choices. It was time to get up.

Did I mention that our room was over the pool? That has a bar in it. Where people talk loudly, and yell into their cell phones, late at night. Not a great nights sleep. So getting up early was not a welcome experience. But joy-of-joys, I was up, and that was the way it was the entire week. Well, I think I slept until seven one day.


So, workshop. It was in the Author Services building, in a nice space set out on the first floor. They had posters of all the covers of the previous WOTF books. I recognized my old ones, the ones I bought in high school. They also had treats, which was good. Sugar and caffeine were going to be my chemical buddies.

First thing was a tour of the Hubbard Library. Very pretty room with lots of books and art work from the pulp era. Off to one side was a little library dedicated to the contest. It contained all the books written by previous winners, and a lot of the magazines that had stories from same. Very impressive. I resolved to contaminate that room with my own creative leavings as soon as possible.

Then back to the workshop room, and advice from Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth. Eager to hear what they said? Ha! You’ll have to win the contest for yourself to learn those dark secrets. And its worth it, too. The spell for cursing editors with incontinence, after they have had the temerity to suggest you learn at least a few grammar rules? Priceless.

Actually, I’m just lazy. Jordan took extensive notes and plans to post them at his site. Go check it out.

We also started setting up for the 24 hour story. An old WOTF tradition, this is an exercise meant to develop… something. Mostly I think it was to prove the point that you can crank stuff out, if you really want to, so stop being so damn lazy. Anyway, first part of this was the random object. K.D. gave each of us, hold on for this, a random object. This was suppose to be something that would inspire in us the seed of an idea for a story.


I got a paperweight. Or was it the protective dome over a futuristic city? The diamond cage of a strange, magical creature? A flower, encased in ice? Or a wishful glass ball, suitable for chucking at enemy heads?
Who knows? I took it back to the room to set on my nightstand, where it mocked me silently.

After the workshop, we all went out for Italian with Steve Saville. He was a winner six years back, who then turned around and wrote 26 books. Which is nuts. He was very cool, and it was great talking with him and getting to know the other members of my group.

We hung out for a bit after, then it was coma time. After I had piled a few pillows on top of my head to block out the noise from the pool.

Sep 4 2009

Day 1- The Arrivining

Monday morning, we got up early. GW, Eldest daughter and I piled onto the bus in the dark and were whisked on our way to O’Hare. GW and the kid were going to be staying with some relative she had in the area, so once we dragged ourselves through security we split up. Miraculously, the flight was on time and went perfectly smoothly.

LAX was as I remembered it from the last time I had visited-crowded, grimey and strange. It reminded me of a Futureworld exhibit gone seedy. I kept expecting to see George Jetson sacked out in one of the chairs, looking ragged and complaining about treacherous domestic robots while sneaking sips from a flask. But I found the baggage area eventually and claimed my suitcase. Then the hunt was on for my ride.


I went out the door and wandered for a bit, struggling through the crowds of nicophiliacs and dazed travelers waiting for taxis. Luckily it wasn’t long until I saw the someone carrying a blue sign with ‘Writers of the Future’ on it. Emily was one of the Author Services reps who had the lovely task of tracking down and hauling in wandering contest winners.

She introduced me to Donald Mead, another winner who happened to be on the same flight I was on, but further ahead in the airplanes crumple zone. I also met Meliva, our photographer. I have to say, now, after the fact, I am thrilled with all the pictures she has sent me. (I’m using her pictures for these posts) I brought my camera but barely used it. At the time though, it was weird. I’m not used to someone following me around, taking pictures.

We piled into the van, and drove into Hollywood. At the hotel, we met Joni, the contest coordinator. She was very nice and helped us check in. Turns out Don and I were to be roommates, and so we got our keys and hauled ourselves up to the room.

The hotel was nice- one of those trendy places with cool photos and decorations, but dimly lit and oddly laid out, so you had the feeling you were in an art gallery designed by Clive Barker. But the room was nice, it overlooked the pool, and it had more closest space than my house.

Me and Don chatted, then went out looking for food. We ran into Jordan, another winner, and wandered up and down Hollywood talking and gawking. Food was acquired, and Jordan showed us the Blossom room, where the ceremony was to take place. Other than being chased out by hotel security (large men who would materialize at odd times throughout the week, giving you that hey, how you doin’ look), it was a nice afternoon. I passed out for a little while, then we headed down to the lobby to meet up with everyone else and our workshop instructors down in the lobby.

So here we were, finally, all the winners together. Except not really, as Cheryl, from the UK, wasn’t going to be arriving until 10. But close. And here was K.D. Wentworth and Tim Powers. Real, live authors. Good ones. Who would be teaching us. Very cool.


Jodi broke down our schedule, showed us around the hotel a little and pointed out the Author Services building (which was literally a block from the hotel) where we’d be having our workshop. Then we just hung out and talked. With Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth. On Hollywood Boulevard. Which was all sorts of weird, but in a good way.

Me and Heather split off for awhile, grabbing dinner at a nearby mall/theatre thing attached to Grauman’s (yeah Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was across the street. That night they were doing the premiere of Halloween II. Did not see Rob Zombie, which was unfortunate. I would have invited him to the book signing.) Then it was back to the hotel, to hang out in the hospitality suite and talk with the other contest winners. Jordan introduced us to the game, Thing, which is played at cons and workshops and other fine geek venues. Finally, things wound down and I wandered off to bed.

Sep 3 2009

Pre-Day 1

Now that I’m done with the workshop–well done, since I am late as usual in actually putting this on the web–I’m putting up my take on it.

I’m going to start out with the pre-game. Me and GW decided that it would be best to leave the youngest at home for this. Traveling with a one year old is stressful on everyone, but especially the kid. So we left a few days early, headed down to Illinois and dropped her off at her grandparents for a week of spoiling.

Then on Monday, me, GW and eldest daughter got up way too early and headed out to O’Hare. Now, GW and the girl weren’t staying with me, though the contest said it would be possible. Instead, they were off to visit some relatives of GW who live in Orange County. So they were on a different flight, and after dragging our way through security we split up.

Then I hit the plane, and was off to Hollywood.