Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek’

I’ve mentioned more than once that characters have a way of telling the author what they want to do in a story. I can’t count the number of times that characters have intervened in scenes they weren’t supposed to be in, or decided that they want to take up romantically with another character without telling me first. But those things are not so tough to deal with; they can be handled. In the extreme, the author can veto the whole idea. What’s more difficult (and difficult to understand) is when a character thinks he’d better serve the story by being dead.

For such willful souls, characters can be very selfless. In a recent book, I had a character walk into a room and unexpectedly find another character’s lifeless body. And when I say “unexpectedly,” I mean that neither he nor I saw this coming. It was like the one characters said, “Ooh, what if you walked in and found me dead. Wouldn’t that be cool?” Well, yeah, except that all he has to do is play dead; I’m the one who has to explain how he got that way, and more importantly, why.

In this instance (not to give anything away), I had set the character up to be aligned in the reader’s mind with the bad guys–so why was he dead? Why would his supposed allies do him in? This raises possibilities: Maybe he wasn’t who you thought he was. Was he merely an innocent bystander? Was he actually playing for the good guys? I mean, thank you for the chance to mess with the readers’ perceptions and expectations, but come on, I wasn’t planning to do all that extra work! And I thought you were going to be around for the climax!

Oh, well, he’s dead (Jim). Deal with it and move on. But I wish he had warned me. I was going to put him in a sequel. Yeah…you didn’t see that coming, did you? You could’ve been a star… Well, let that be a lesson to the rest of you. Writers write, characters act.

And preferably, not on their own.



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If you know anything about me by now, it’s that I’m all about the work. If you’re going to do it, do it right. Respect the reader. You aren’t Amazon or Facebook or a cable company (unless you are), with a near-monopoly and the assurance that people will use your product regardless, because they have little choice. You are one creator among thousands, and a button-push away from oblivion (at least as far as any individual consumer is concerned).

Which is why is makes me so angry that concern with craft is going the way of the dinosaur. I’m not talking about self-publishing; that’s an easy target. True, the attention to details varies wildly, but it’s the Wild West, and anyone venturing therein knows that he’s taking his chances. I’m talking about people who not only know better, they have lines of defense against such things: editors and proofreaders and continuity-checkers.

More and more, the big players are getting away with throwing whatever garbage they want on the page or screen and calling it “art,” whether it’s re-making a classic movie with new characters (The Force Awakens), or re-booting an old series with a “new timeline” and forgetting everything that made the old series worth re-booting (Star Trek), or just the awful writing in a best-selling series of thrillers (where do I start?). And the reason they get away with it is because people will buy into a big, splashy franchise simply because it is big and splashy.

Now, such franchises aren’t invulnerable–unlike some of their stars. The DCU has suffered badly (by its standards) for its treatment of Batman, Superman, and the Justice League. (This year, it is appropriately ironic that Wonder Woman saved the day for the boys.) And maybe enough losses at the box office will effect change, although it will be slow, if it comes.

I’m not asking that every book, TV show, and movie be a classic, or even good for that matter. All I’m asking is that if you want my money, you respect me for more than my wallet. I have a brain. I appreciate entertainment created by someone who cared enough to do it right (e.g., the scrolling prologue of Star Wars).

And if it’s big and splashy as well as smart, I’ll gladly be your fan.




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I have been given my tentative panel assignments for Loscon, at the LAX Marriott November 24-26, and as I know that my appearances have long (well, since last year) been a highlight of the early holiday season, I wanted to list them here. They are, of course, subject to change, but if they do, I’ll let you know. (We don’t want a repeat of last year’s near-riot at the Star Trek panel when I didn’t show up!)*

I self-published my first book, and I didn’t die! (11/24, 5:30pm) I believe this panel was specifically named to exclude posthumous-American indie authors from attending. I will be taking this up with the committee on behalf of all of my writer colleagues who feel like zombies (which is pretty much all of them).

Blending mystery and speculative fiction. (11/25, 5:30pm) As far as I’m concerned, everything was speculative when I was trying to become a published author. It’s how I did that which remains a mystery.

Writing & Intuition: What happens next? (11/26, 2:30pm) As faithful readers of my blog know, it’s really the characters who write the story and the author simply takes the credit. So I’m going to allow one of my characters to sit on this panel for me–as soon as I can find one who lives in this century…

Given my schedule, I should be around for most of the con. Look me up and ask me to autograph your e-book. I’ll sign a piece of paper and you can tape it to your Kindle.


*Oh, wait, there was nearly a riot at the panel because I did show up. If I’d realized Star Trek was that popular, I wouldn’t have said those things…


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I recently, in the course of another discussion, asked parenthetically how authors can estimate their final word counts tens of thousands of words ahead (or even when they’re starting a story)? I guess the easy answer is that if you know roughly how much more plot you’ve got to shovel in, and you’ve done this long enough, you can figure out vaguely how many more words you’re going to need. And hey, it’s not like anybody’s keeping score. Like every other aspect of the writing process, it’s just you.

But that led me to a bigger question: How do you write a novel?

I don’t mean physically, and I don’t even mean by plotting v. pantsing. I mean–how are some people able to create stories that are tens (let alone hundreds) of thousands of words long? And even more to the point, how am I able to do that?

Let’s face it, big numbers usually means math, and I suck at math. I started having trouble when they introduced long division, and it hasn’t gotten any easier since. Any equation with more than one variable is a struggle, and taking calculus in college is, to this day, one of my greatest regrets. (And this is with a roommate studying engineering, and friends who majored in chemistry, astronomy, and physics.)

I understand that mathematics is a language, one that I don’t speak. At all. And yet. If you were to ask my science buddies (up to and including Ph.D.s) to write a 4000-word short story, their brains would fizzle like an android in a logic contest with Captain Kirk. I went to school with people who discovered planets, but write a short story? That ain’t happening.*

And yet I, who couldn’t master the first class needed to discover planets, can make them up wholesale. I can create worlds out of nothing. I created an entire future of the Earth from my own head. Nothing I create existed before I wrote it down, and I am almost 50,000 words into my latest creation. Think about that. Fifty thousand words.

And yet, I have no idea how it’s done. People ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” Like that’s the hard part. Ideas? I’ve got lots of ideas. Except how to stretch most of them into a story. Because I have no idea how that’s done. I do it; I’ve done it almost all my life, but I haven’t a clue how. And still, here I am, chugging away at 1500 words a day. Which is really mystifying, because a year ago I would have been satisfied with 500 words a day, 1000 on a real hot streak.

In the end, of course, some people are good at one thing, others another. This seems to be what I’m good at. But I grew up wanting to be a scientist, and that inner scientist isn’t going to rest until he figures out this problem.

Maybe if I keep at it, someday I’ll write a story that explains it all. Kind of like the programmers in “The Nine Billion Names of God.” I just hope it doesn’t end up destroying the universe.


*Yes, I know there are scientists who are also writers. I’m acquainted some of them. They require no explanation; they’re simply geniuses.



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It occurs to me that except for blaming the lost weekend for my lapse in productivity (yeah, like that’s the only reason), I have said very little about Comic-con. This seems odd, since the very scope of Comic-con would presumptively lend itself to having a great deal to say. This is true, and yet not.

Let me emphasize here that I like the idea of Comic-con. I grew up with comics. I own a lot of them (and the ones I’ve lost that would be worth a fortune today?–don’t ask). I love that they’ve finally hit the mainstream.


My personal experience inside Comic-con was largely limited to one room (Hall 20), which in and of itself does speak volumes about the event. We were only there one day, and we were there to see a particular panel (Outlander), which did not premiere until late. Under the rules by which Comic-con operates, however, this meant we had to sit in the room all day. And that is where the concept of blame, of which Comic-con bears much, comes in.

You see, Comic-con’s large halls (H and 20) feature panel discussions all day. Hall H is where the infamous “movie reveal” panels happen, where you can see the entire cast of “The Avengers,” for example, on stage. Hall H holds 6000 people. It caters to movies and some very popular TV shows (like The Big Bang Theory). Hall 20 is the smaller venue for TV shows of somewhat lesser, but still significant, popularity. It holds, if memory serves, 4800 people.

The problem with these rooms (and thereby hangs the blame), is that they are not cleared after each panel. Once you get in, you stay. You can try to maneuver your way to a seat closer to the stage once people vacate on their own after seeing the panel that they came to see, but given the high standard of events in Hall H, I doubt that happens much. (It did in Hall 20.) This is why people camp out all night to get into Hall H. (Kind of a waste of a hotel reservation, wasn’t it?) In our case, it meant sitting through several hour-long panels we cared nothing about.

Now I understand that clearing a 6000-seat (or even 4800-seat) auditorium and re-filling it every hour would be a mammoth task. Notwithstanding, this policy is garbage. If you don’t want to empty the hall six times a day, do it once. People can come in for the morning sessions, or the afternoon sessions. Force them to choose what they want to see, and give twice as many people the chance to see something. At least allow people to pre-register for Hall H the way they pre-register for the convention so that they don’t have to camp out all night.

Comic-con is big. Really big. It shows no signs of slowing (to my knowledge), but a lot of events now happen outside the convention center. I saw Star TrekBladerunner, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones events, among others. This trend will grow. Exhibitors are already complaining that the traffic in the dealers’ room is declining. Part of that is the outside events, and part is because anybody who wants to see a panel in the latter part of the day cannot do anything else that day. You want to see a 4:00 panel in H or 20? You’re stuck from 9 to 5. (And for Hall H, that’s 9 PM.)

Like any monster, Comic-con moves slowly. And like the dinosaurs, even if it lasts millions of years, it carries the seeds of its own destruction. “Really big” is only a short step from “too big.”

And who would be to blame for that?


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As we wave good-bye to the tragi-comedy that has been 2016, I present you with the summation of my writing year, for whatever it might be worth. (Probably more to me than you.)

Submissions: 96. Trust me, this is a lot more than I thought. I credit the dozens of markets available today; when I started, there were three. Twelve of these subs are still outstanding.

Sales: 9. This is a record. Four original stories, five reprints. One of the original stories, moreover, was solicited by an editor. That was a first. (Woohoo!) The most-rejected of the original stories, “Hoskins’ War”  (appearing in Cirsova), had been rejected five times. Of the reprints, “Grinpa” (appearing in an upcoming volume of Digital Quick Fiction) had been rejected eight times before it first sold; this will be the first time it is reprinted.

Words written: 72,433. This is not in and out itself an impressive number, but in my own defense it only counts original works, not the extensive re-writing of older stories (some of which I sold). I would guess the true number to be closer to 90,000. The bulk of these words (66,000) are contained in The Cosmic City, which will be done very soon. I promise!

I also appeared on a panel, for the first time in, oh, let’s just say since I began selling, at Loscon. It was on what life would have been like without Star Trek. I was the guy who half-seriously pointed out how Star Trek had delayed some technical innovation. Nobody threw any tomatoes.

So that’s how I spent my free time. This is the first time I’ve added up these numbers; there are some surprises. Next year, I want to write more original fiction (easier when you’re not concentrating on a novel), and of course I want to sell more. With any luck, those things will go hand-in-hand.

I guess it’s up to me.

Happy New Year!


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So I was on this panel at Loscon, and it didn’t go all that badly. I made a few points, got a laugh or two, and didn’t feel at all uncomfortable, except the hotel kept the rooms too cold. But we had a standing room only crowd, and lots of audience participation (which actually kept me from saying some things I wanted to, but hey, we were there for the crowd, not vice versa). No fistfights broke out (no matter how I tried), no one raised his voice, and no tomatoes were thrown. All in all, a pretty good return to convention speaking after 33 years.

Also, if you are a writer, I recommend getting on some panels, because you get to use the green room. The food is good and the conversation was lively.

And I used my new contacts to get a line on applying to be a guest at another con next year! I’m afraid I may be becoming addicted to fame…


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