Seattle

I’ve spent the last week up in Seattle for a conference. It’s not my first time in the Pacific Northwest (I’ve been to Portland once or thrice) but it is my first time in the Emerald City.

Overall, I’ve had a good time, but there’s been some…bumps…along the way.

First Impressions

Things got off to a rocky start.

A young woman demanded I gave up my seat on the commuter rail in from the airport, not by asking, but by standing in the aisle, glaring at me, and then saying “Well?!”

Later, when I tried to get in an elevator that was about half full, the guy blocking the doorway just stared at me, and refused to let me by, even after I asked him if I could get in.

And I’ll not mention the number of cars that tried to run me over as I was crossing the street (at a crosswalk, with the light green).

This was all the first day. People I met later on (at the conference, when eating out, etc) were cool and friendly, but that first impression…lingers.

Architecture

I’m not sure what I was expecting Seattle buildings to look like, but I definitely wasn’t expecting this thing, which looks like it’s going to fall over any second now:

Or this, which looks like someone framed out half a building and decided “eh, it’s good enough”:

I mean, I like ’em, they’ve got a cool sci-fi vibe to them. But damned if I can explain ’em.

Hills

Ye gods, Seattle is hilly. San Francisco, eat your heart out.

You can see why I never had any trouble meeting my Apple Watch’s Move demands each day.

Weather

I’ve discovered December is the wrong time to visit Seattle.

Not when I throw open the curtains in my hotel room, hoping for some morning sun, to find this:

I think I’ve seen the sun once all week. Suddenly I understand how grunge music came from this place.

MoPop

I can forgive everything, though, for the Museum of Pop Culture.

Housed in another building that looks like it just dropped in from a sci-fi movie lot, this place is amazing. I spent three hours there on Wednesday night, and it still wasn’t enough.

How could it be, when they’ve got original models used in filming Aliens:

And Gimli’s helmet:

And Shuri’s gloves:

They even did up the hall where the Doctor Strange props and costumes are exhibited in mirrors and glass, so it looks like you’ve stepped into the mirror dimension:

Wow.

Conclusions

I definitely want to come back. There’s a technical bookstore I want to browse, a bunch of machines at the Living Computers museum I want to play with, and too many breweries I want to patronize.

But I’ll wait for the late spring, maybe summer, when I can actually, you know, see things.

Rebooting My Writing Brain

When I finished the first draft of the latest novel two weeks ago, I told myself I could take the rest of the year off. Maybe do some editing of a few short stories, but no real work till the first of the year, when I planned to dive into editing the novel.

So, of course, I’m already outlining my next book.

It surprised me. For a good week there it felt weird to not be writing, but also rather good. I had more time to exercise, to study French, to simply read again.

But then I read Cicero, followed by Legion vs Phalanx, and that connected up with an idea for a YA novel I’ve had bouncing around in my head, and suddenly I’m writing down characters and plot points and trying to work this story into shape.

It’s like a damned addiction, this writing thing.

I’m not keeping score, though; not yet. I want time to think things over, to brainstorm and throw ideas away, before committing to daily, serious work.

For now, it’s time to play.

Cicero, by Anthony Everitt

Masterful. Not only did I get a better sense of who Cicero was as a person, and why he was important, I also got a good feel for the politics of the late Roman Republic. More specifically, Everitt lays out the flaws inherent in the Roman system that — coupled with the stubborn refusal to change of most Senators — led to its downfall and the birth of the Empire.

I found this book easier going than Everitt’s biography of Augustus. They’re both good, don’t get me wrong, but I never felt lost in dates and events in Cicero, because Everitt constantly tied things back to the larger movements of the period. It gave me a better perspective, and also let me see how important Cicero really was.

For example, after watching the HBO series Rome (which is fantastic, highly recommend checking it out), I thought of Cicero as little more than a pompous windbag, unable to make up his mind or stand for anything.

On the contrary, while he could be long-winded, and tended to talk up his deeds too much, he was a capable administrator (he was only sent to govern provinces twice, but both times was very popular with the locals for being competent and incorruptible) and a rare thing in the late Republic: a Senator that sided with the wealthy (optimates) but wanted to change things just the same. Not to mention his original claim to fame as a great orator, which he won by ably defending clients in the courts.

He even, apparently, had some skill as an investigator. While on his second tour as a provincial governor, he uncovered a banking scandal that was being run by Marcus Brutus (the Brutus that later was one of Caesar’s assassins!).

In short: Highly recommended if you’re interested in Roman history, or even (like me) just curious to know more about the personalities glimpsed through series like Rome.

Writers Coffeehouse: December 2018

Another great coffeehouse! Since it’s December, we had a bit of a holiday pot-luck: people brought EggNog (spiked and not-spiked), cookies, candy canes, and wine. They also collected Toys for Tots, and even lit the first two candles of a menorah in honor of the first night (upcoming) of Hanukkah.

Lots of people had just wrapped up NaNoWriMo, so there was a lot of good news to go around. Biggest news was probably Henry Herz getting published in Highlights for Children, which is (apparently) a wickedly hard market to crack.

My notes are below. Congrats to Henry and all the NaNoWriMo winners! And, as always, many thanks to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting us, and Jonathan Maberry for running the Coffeehouse!

  • the one golden rule: no writer bashing; like or dislike the twilight books or da vinci code, but they opened doors for thousands of other writers and injected billions into the books industry
  • san diego writer’s festival: april 13th, central library, similar folks to the festival of books
  • option prices have dropped a lot since the recession; standard is now $5K, but can include lots of extras, like five-star treatment to get to set, executive producer credit (paycheck per episode), royalties per tv episode, etc
  • remember that your agent is a business partner; don’t be afraid to contact them, but don’t think they’re your best friends, they work for you, and you can learn a lot from them; agents love writers that are business savvy
  • nov and dec used to be a bad time for agents, but since it’s the slow season, it’s a good time to submit to them; ditto pitches to editors of magazines for articles to write
  • “we’re looking for original stories, not original submission practices”
  • when selling anthology to publisher, need a few big names on there so they feel that it’ll definitely sell
  • maberry: budgets 10 min out of every hour for social media; has a lot of pages and has to manage them, and manage his time on them
  • henry herz: got article accepted into highlights magazine! very hard market to crack
  • january coffeehouse will be about pitching; will also do sample panel
  • on a panel: they’re looking for a celebrity, need people to be a little larger-than-life; sometimes audience will ask questions they know the answers to, just to hear a celebrity say it
  • being a panelist is a skill; you need to be a slightly different version of yourself that the public will accept as “writer”
  • neil gaiman is naturally very awkward; had to hire an acting coach to script out appearances so people will get to see the “neil gaiman” they come to see
  • pitching, being on a panel, these are all skills you need to practice, but they *are* skills you can develop and improve, even if you’re a complete introvert
  • exercise: pick your favorite novel (or movie), and pitch it as if you wrote it; something you know well enough to do without notes
  • need to be good at it and comfortable with friends so that when in front of agents you aren’t so scared and vulnerable
  • people are more comfortable with peers than with people that put them on a pedestal
  • recommends using donald maas’ workbook on writing the breakout novel; the way it’s intended is after a first draft is done, makes you drill deeper into the book
  • also: don’t revise until after you’ve waited a month and then also read the whole thing through again
  • finally: do revising in waves; handle one change at a time, to make them manageable
  • unsure whether to make book a mystery or fantasy? write the book you’d have the most fun writing; if unsure of audience, pick the one you’d have fun writing for and go all in