Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I was driving by a party supply store when I noticed a striking costume on a mannequin:  

Impressive, right?  How many women would have enough confidence to dress like that? 

Next to it was this: 

Again, are you confident enough to wear that? 

By now, you’re asking about the male half of the race.  I suppose I could always dress like this: 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Surrey Day 2—Agent Pitch and Peace Arch

One of the most important parts of the Surrey Writers’ Conference is the chance to pitch to an agent or editor.  To get the person of your choice, sign up way ahead of time (during summer).  The agent I pitched to was Vickie Motter.  I didn’t get a picture of her, but her blog is here: 

Each pitch session is scheduled for ten minutes.  The usual advice is to summarize your novel (that you’ve worked on for a year) in two minutes or less.  I had my pitch down to one minute and fifteen seconds, emphasizing at the start what makes the character unique and the particular angst she has.  Then I mentioned a couple of try/fail cycles in the plot, and the climactic ending.  If your story is more plot-oriented, you may want to spend more of the time on the try/fail cycles, but still keep it short. 

Presentation is important.  I dressed business casual with a nice sport jacket and spoke at a moderate pace with a clear voice, somewhat louder than my normal (all the pitches were occurring in an open area).  Eye contact is important—do not consult notes during the pitch. 

She had a few questions for me, including what well-known books I could compare mine to.  I could think of only one series, and she advised me it’s a good idea to have more than one comparison to cite.  After only a few questions, she said I could send her some sample pages. 

So this is promising.  Even if she does not accept my manuscript, take a look at her website for what particular genres she is looking for—she was one of the more sought-after agents at the conference.  What’s astounding is that agents in general say that even after asking for pages from a potential client at one of these conferences, most of the would-be authors never send their pages in.  Could it be loss of nerve, or they did not really have completed manuscripts?  In my case, I sent in my sample pages the Monday after the conference. 

On the way back into Washington, I passed the Peace Arch.  This picture was taken in passing—I rolled down my window and snapped it while holding the camera in my left hand. 

The Peace Arch symbolizes the peaceful nature of the border between Canada and America.  This is kind of ironic, since this is the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and I plan on reading a book on the war at sea.  As for the land war, British troops from Canada burned the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.  I guess the Peace Arch emphasizes the border between British Columbia and Washington.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Surrey Day 1—Storylines and the 20s

On Friday, my smartphone informed me that since I’m in the foreign country of Canada, roaming charges will apply. 

This flag outside my room was at least fifty feet wide
Susanna Kearsley gave an interesting workshop on weaving together a twin-stranded storyline, which I certainly do in my War of the Worlds mashup (a single strand sample is here), and my historical fantasy Virgin Unknown (sample here). 

Often, at science fiction conventions or writers’ conferences, speakers will refer to scenes from movies to illustrate their points.  This has to do with many people in the audience seeing the same movies, and even if we’ve read the same book, we might visualize the scenes differently.  Even with The Lord of the Rings, people will refer to the movies, not the books, to make a point. 

Susanna Kearsley mentioned The Words, starring Dennis Quaid—a movie I haven’t seen—to illustrate the twin-stranded story.  After she was done speaking, I mentioned In Good Company, where every scene is a contrast between an older man played by Quaid and a younger man played by Topher Grace.  She stated that Dennis Quaid must like that sort of story, since he was also in Dreamscape.  I recognized that one, saying it was the first PG-13 movie. 

The evening dinner had the theme of the roaring 20s, and although I did not dress for it, these ladies certainly did: 
They have their steampunk, clockpunk, and dieselpunk blog here.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Surrey Day 0—Highway Patrol and Argo

I’ve driven to the Surrey Writers’ Conference before, but I’ve never seen so many people pulled over by the highway patrol.  No less than three vehicles were stopped, I assume for speeding.  This included one middle-aged jerk—balding, driving a red convertible—who tailgated a number of us on the freeway until we switched to a slower lane to let him pass.  Compensating for much?  I saw a motorcycle cop pull him over. 

photo by pdxjeff

So I arrived early for the conference and took in a movie.  I don’t have time to review Argo, so I’ll just say that Ben Affleck has somehow become a master director. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book Purge

I decided to sell a lot of books that I either will never read or have no motive to read again. 

The picture above has innocuous titles on top, since I don’t want to offend anyone.  But that was just the start.  In addition to the books in the pictures, I took two grocery bags full of books to a used book store. 

Partly, this was to reduce clutter and organize my place.  But it’s also partly due to the notion that e-books are the future, and I should try to mainly buy books in that form for my Kindle, which will take a lot less space.  In a previous entry, I discussed how some professionals in the field think the mass-market paperback will go away.  So, as some old science fiction and fantasy titles become available in that format, I should sell the paper versions and order the digital versions. 

This is hard, since I think of the paper form as “real” books.  I’ve said that to people at work who use e-readers, and they agree with me.  And anecdotal evidence suggests most teens want paper books, not e-books.  It will be a younger generation, who are toddlers right now, who will think of the digital format as normal.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Face Off

If you’re not watching the TV show Face Off, I strongly recommend it.  It’s a reality show where special effects makeup artists compete.  Here’s a clip from last season. 

I say Tara was the real genius last season. 

You can learn things for your own art—writing—by watching other peoples’ creative processes.  Face Off is on Tuesday nights on the SyFy channel at 9:00 pm, so I urge you to take a look.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

War of the Worlds -- Two Drafts

I’m going to show an earlier and a later draft of a new chapter for my reimagining of The War of the Worlds .  Something has smashed into the house Ashley has fled to.  Try not to laugh at the early draft: 


It was several hours later when I woke up, since it was broad daylight.  Or, it would have been if we hadn’t been covered with plaster and no light came in from the windows.  In what the dim light we had, I brushed myself off gingerly, since along with the plaster were sharp pieces of crockery and even shards of glass.  One shard had embedded itself in the upper arm of the men’s jacket I wore.  If this had been my peaceful life back in Maybury, I would have called for Mr. Jonesworthy to remove it.  Or, if left to my own devices, I would stare at it for five minutes, seeing how the fabric was distorted around the impact point before getting the courage to pull it out from the weave. 

Here, I grabbed it and plucked it out.  It skittered among the other wreckage on the floor. 


Looking at this, I realized I didn’t need the “Several hours later” because the previous chapter had ended at midnight, so the daylight implied it.  So I then added some sensory detail in the first sentence—in this case, taste.  Also, the description of the distortion in the sleeve was awkward, and “grabbed it” is redundant for “plucked it.”  After tinkering with other parts, the chapter now begins this way: 


I woke up with a mouth full of plaster.  I spit out bitter dust and saw it was broad daylight—or it would have been if we hadn’t been covered with wreckage and no light came in from the window.  In the broken daylight I brushed myself off gingerly, the plaster accompanied by pieces of crockery and even shards of glass—a sharp one embedding itself in the upper arm of the men’s jacket I wore.  If this had been my peaceful life back in Maybury, I would have called for Mr. Jonesworthy to remove it.  Or, if left to my own devices, I would have stared at it for five minutes, seeing how the cruel glass had distorted the fabric around the point before getting the courage to pull it from the weave. 

Here, I plucked it out.  It skittered among the other wreckage on the floor. 


You might ask, “Are your first drafts always so lousy?”  No comment.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: The Lost

Waiting on Wednesday is an internet meme hosted by Breaking the Spine, where we show interesting upcoming books. 

The Lost will be the latest in Vicki Pettersson’s Celestial Blues series.  She’s been very helpful in giving me advice on writing when I’ve spoken to her at writing conferences.  Read more about Vicki here

And if you like this entry, please page down and look at my review of Kevin Sorbo’s book.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review: True Strength

I’ve mentioned Kevin Sorbo’s book before, but this is my actual book review. 

Kevin Sorbo is synonymous with Hercules.  Reportedly, when people see him in public, they just want to go up and touch him.  When I told my parents that this was the book I wanted for my birthday, my mother went into a strongman pose.  If you had seen her, you would know this was a “Who are you, and where’s my real mother” sort of moment! 

I mainly know him from his Andromeda series—affectionately known as “Hercules in space.” 

I hate to shock most of you, but Kevin Sorbo suffered three strokes while he was filming Hercules.  That’s right, the man with all the muscles, who was in the habit of working out every day after filming, studying his lines for the next day’s shoot around midnight, then getting up after a few hours’ sleep to arrive early to prep for the day’s filming went through a thoroughly debilitating health crisis.  This is what his bio is mainly about. 

To say that True Strength is compelling is an understatement.  Try reading page 1, where Sorbo wakes to find himself in an ICU, in danger of bleeding out from the blood thinners meant to save his life, and not continuing.  You will want to read through this book in the minimum amount of time possible, then immediately go back and read parts over again. 

Sorbo is a remarkably humble guy, considering—everything.  He gives no credit to himself for persevering through his long, agonizing health crisis.  He gives plenty of credit to his wife, certain doctors, friends, family, etc.  So he comes off as well-grounded guy, not the typical shallow celebrity.  On the other hand, he reveals no great secrets on how to persevere through suffering—just a daily slog full of unexplained setbacks:  Bouts of dizziness, weakness, lights flashing inside his eyes, etc. 

This bio is not only about suffering, though.  Along the way, he gives amusing insights about Hollywood in general and Hercules in particular.  One clueless producer noted that Sorbo, in his trailer, had an unshaven look.  He said it was a new look for him, and a good one.  Sorbo replied that he always had an unshaven look for Hercules, and they had been filming him this way for years!  The producer stormed out of the trailer. 

A few disadvantages are that he tells his story out of order, which was disorienting more than once.  And he is open about being a Christian, but he seems to just check that off by saying he met with his pastor on a regular basis during his recovery.  And I’m sure there were more amusing stories he could tell, but he probably holds back in order to keep working in the business. 

But True Strength is a great read, and just a surprisingly different bio than you would expect from the man who was Hercules.  And don’t discount the factor of respectability, when you carry it around under your arm.  Do your parents think you read too much of that weird sort of fiction?  Remember my mother’s reaction.  And you can talk about what you’re learning about persevering through suffering.  Wow.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review of Pitch Perfect

Okay, I’m reviewing another movie, but this should be it for a while. 

Pitch Perfect is a fun, uplifting movie.  Not only are the songs great, the songs are presented as performances—in contrast to musicals, where people burst out in song for no reason.  You can completely enjoy the singing, even if you don’t like the plot. 

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the story.  They didn’t pretend to do anything original.  Anna Kendrick plays Beca, the smart new girl who comes along to an all girl group of singers, is looked down upon by the leader, but eventually is able to remix their act.  What I like about this movie is it’s an old story done well. 

Kendrick herself is amazing.  When she does her audition for the group, the movie theater I was in was hushed in amazement.  I knew she was an actress but had no idea she had that level of talent.  And she’s completely believable as the seemingly unflappable girl who knows her stuff, but has a good deal of brittleness beneath the cool exterior. 

All the songs are a capella.  The boy group who are their bitter rivals are amazing.  And when the leader of the girls keeps insisting they sing “I Saw the Sign,” it is laugh out loud funny.  After a certain unpleasant character leaves the story, there are no bad guys when it comes down to the final competition.  Just enjoyable singing that leaves the viewer with a lift. 

I now have two different pictures of Anna Kendrick as desktops, one at home and one at work.  


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