21 Aug

Off-Topic Tuesday: Silence is Electrum

I frequently discuss the strange dichotomy of my writer’s desire to remain undisturbed and my baser human need for socializing. It’s probably because I feel that tug-of-war all of the time, whether it’s related to writing or not. The recent round of “care and feeding of an introvert/extrovert” blog entries and subsequent Facebook links just went entirely around me. I don’t feel like either, or maybe I feel like both. It’s hard to say, hard enough that I think the label is pretty pointless. (And I’m wary of people who deliberately seek labels for themselves.) I’m usually very social when I need to be social, and pretty antisocial the rest of the time.

Here's Johnny!
“Who feels like being sociable?”

People often seem surprised when they realize I have “the other half” of what they knew me as. People who are accustomed to the grouchy asshole me are shocked to see me laughing and carrying on at a party. And the ones who met me at the party are surprised to hear what I sound like on the phone when they call while I’m working. Most accounts portray me as, well… a grouchy asshole. (I’ve tried to explain that if I was as irritated as I sounded, I wouldn’t have even answered the phone but, apparently, that’s not the point.) Continue reading

19 Jun

Off-Topic Tuesday: Communities for Recluses (A Triptych of Rambling)

Two Reasons to Ask WHY?
“I just think certain things are meant to be done by yourself.”

I often advise people that writing is solitary business. That is, of course, based on my own personal experience. When I see a book written by two authors, I tend to be a bit baffled. In most cases, I can’t imagine the process that was used to produce the book in my hand. Nonfiction and scientific works seem plausible: a technical expert working alongside a wordsmith creating something that is both valid and readable. The same goes for autobiographies that receive the aid of a professional author. But once work strays into the fictional realm, I just scratch my head and wonder how it happens.

After all, it takes a lot of effort to simply remain focused (and remain kind) when I’m interrupted by another human being, even if it’s only for a minute, while I’m writing. Taking it to the (un)natural extreme, which is what I do, I just imagine two writers sitting side by side at a single keyboard, alternately pointing at the screen and tapping at the keys as they talk over one another. Not ideal. But apparently people make it work. And they probably accomplish it in some saner fashion than my “piano duet” method.

Although I’ve already expressed my opinion of writing-as-performance-art, a.k.a.: The Starbucks Method, I think there is a time for writers to gather, shamelessly, in public. After all, spending every day reminding yourself that you’re in this alone, results in the inevitable conclusion that, well, you’re all alone. Hearing from other lonely people can prove reassuring. There is hope in their success stories, and failures can finally become more comedy than tragedy with a sympathetic audience. Best of all, a gathering like that brings together a variety of perspectives as each writer has evolved in isolation, adapting in his or her own way to the demands of the business of writing.

Sci-fi SaturdayLast weekend at the York Emporium I had the opportunity to talk to several authors and artists, each with their own approach to their craft. Better yet, each had a well-conceived and deliberate approach to the operational aspects of their craft. Being a lowly, small-time freelancer, I couldn’t have been happier to get all these opinions in one place. Collecting anecdotes and great stories -also what I do- was just icing on the cake.

Thanks to Lawrence M. Schoen (who does a lot more than just talk and write about the Klingon language), the folks from Fortress Publishing (who are willing to do what it takes to get a cannoli), and cartoonist Dawn Griffin (who’s comic can be found here). Their insights, whether they knew they were imparting them or not, were valuable and their company highly entertaining. And special thanks to Jim of the York Emporium who puts on events like this, for a variety of genres, all year long!

After my talk, I had the opportunity to chat with some interested readers and the conversation turned to gaming in its early days. A clear difference between now and when I was playing role-playing games nearly thirty years ago is the difference in the community. Technology has connected all of those tiny pockets of gamers, sci-fi and fantasy fans, and the various tangential subcultures. It’s now much easier to bring those people together as a community. (Yes, conventions did it in the past, but that’s a post for another day…) Not only does it cement the culture, but it promotes the expansion and inclusiveness of the culture. I think it’s a good thing that my in-laws watch The Big Bang Theory and my non-gamer friends post about “A Game of Thrones” in their Facebook feeds.

Cave Troll
“As long as we don’t meet in real life, I don’t have to act like a human being!”

But it’s easy to lose sight of positives of the interconnected nature and growing inclusiveness of the community now. The negative aspects of what the internet can do to a culture are often glaringly obvious. (Sadly, a bit of looking around just these past two weeks reveals some of the ugliest sides of that behavior.) I think personal connection goes a long way towards moving in that positive direction and face to face interactions, outside the technology, help to further the cause.

12 Jun

Close Encounters: Proximity Alert

You may recall that about a month ago that I went on about my experiences as a 2nd grader who was essentially told to pipe down. You may also recall that not only that the “pipe down” lesson not take, but now some people actually ask me to talk. Such is the case for the upcoming Sci-fi Saturday event at the York Emporium. (Sorry, UK readers, but that’s York, Pennsylvania; it’s got more firearms, but fewer pubs.)

What am I going to be talking about? Well, for starters, I’ll be talking about Dungeons & Dragons and my experiences with the game, both as a player and as a freelancer. There’s a good chance I’ll also carry on about how roleplaying games form a natural bridge to creativity and writing. I’ll also be answering questions based on my limited knowledge and experience or, if those fail me, resorting to tangents and distracting anecdotes until my hour’s up.

The event is this Saturday, June 16th. Here’s the schedule for the day:

10:30   I talk about Dungeons & Dragons until I catch a whiff of the free popcorn…
11:30   Movie Screening: Light Years (free popcorn!)
1:00     Author/Publisher Dr. Lawrence D. Schoen
2:00     Author Alethea Kontis reads from her novel Enchanted
3:00     Science Fiction Jeopardy
4:00     Author Darryl Schweitzer
5:00     Light Saber demonstration with the Capitol City Jedi Knights

A Space Invaders tournament continues throughout the day. Yes, they have a fully operational Death Star coin-op Space Invaders machine in the store. Also, I want to point out that the grand prize for winning science fiction Jeopardy is an autographed copy of Bradbury Speaks. So, umm… you should leave before that starts so I win by default because I’m sure you don’t want to win it.

Also, beyond the science fiction events throughout the day, you owe it to yourself to browse one of the best used bookstores I’ve ever been to. And that’s coming from a guy who sets aside a minimum of one day of any vacation he takes to track down used bookstores. It seems like a little place from the front, but once you step inside you will be shocked at the actual dimensions of the place. (Rumor has it, the place might be a TARDIS.)

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16 May

Close Encounters: Will Talk About Nothing for Food

Guard Tower
Yeah? Well then what did your second grade classroom look like?

In the second grade I was relegated to the corner of the classroom and, not long after, was surrounded by a three-sided screen. While defensively impressive, I think the teacher’s idea was to prevent me from communicating with the rest of the class. Perhaps it was my radical, second-grader agenda of planning a bloodless coup to seize control of the blackboard for use as a drawing area for space battles. More than likely, it was my constant chatter that proved distracting to classmates who didn’t wrap up their times-tables as efficiently.

My line of thinking was that multiplication was boring and rather than write down all of these answers, the teacher should just ask us what she wants to know and we’ll tell her so we can then go back to the important business of thinking. I wanted to share ideas about starships and adventures with my classmates and her constant interruptions were getting old. Besides, if she had that many questions about multiplication should she really be put in charge of teaching other people how to do it?

"I'm not being contrary Mrs. Miller. I'm just saying that this would be a more efficient design."

Needless to say I suffered the fate of so many other dissident voices subjugated by authoritarian regimes. I was promptly placed in the classroom gulag, a walled structure on the outskirts of the room, separate from my classmates but able to see the blackboard. My teacher should have learned something from Jeremy Benthem, however, because despite the fact that I could see her, she could not constantly observe me. And my prison was constructed at the perimeter of the classroom’s library…

The outcome was inevitable.

It should surprise no one that I now spend my days isolated in the corner of the house, surrounded by bookshelves, silently thinking. But there are times when I still want to talk and share my ideas. Years later, I can still run my mouth with the best of them, particularly when it comes to talking about the imaginary worlds of science fiction and fantasy. Give me the chance to talk about dystopian worlds and the marginalization of intellect and creativity by inefficient rulers and then I’ll really get going… I can’t imagine why.

I have been invited to rage against the machine talk about science fiction, fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons, and the hungry life of a freelance writer at The York Emporium’s annual Sci-fi Saturday. The owner, Jim Lewin, promised me food so I didn’t even entertain the idea of saying no. And who knows what I’ll actually end up talking about? I get the floor for an hour, and Jim has offered to keep me on track with some interview-style questions. What, me worry?

York Emporium Poster
For the safety of all involved, I will not be issued a light saber.