Ye gods, it has been hard for me to avoid spoilers for Mandalorian Season 2. Even though I deliberately avoided every article, every review, still things would slide by on my Twitter feed, and then boom spoiled.
So two of the “biggest” reveals — well, okay, three — were basically spoiled for me before I even started rewatching Season One.
I…well, I hate that, so I’m going to be very careful here. The first part of my review will be completely spoiler-free, promise.
The second part will have spoilers, but I’ll label it in huge header-style letters first, so if you haven’t seen Season Two yet, you can stop before you get there.
Season Two is a huge improvement on Season One.
In Season One, the episodes were very much disconnected, both tonally and plot-wise. It felt like the kind of show that a network that 20 years ago would have been shown out of order on a network, because they thought no one would notice.
Season Two finally gets its plot arc together. Each episode flows naturally from the last, and builds on it, till the final episode feels inevitable, instead of weirdly tacked-on.
As a result, every single part of the writing is stronger. The dialog is better, because it has a purpose. The individual plots are better, because they’re not mucking about, they’re building to a conclusion. And we get to see more character moments from Mando, learning more about him, and how he changes over the course of the Season.
Basically, everything that was missing from Season One is finally in place.
And thankfully, they don’t throw out the elements from Season One that mostly worked. They revise them a little, perhaps, but amidst the new cameos and characters, it felt good to see them tying into locations and events from Season One. It made the whole thing seem more grounded, more real.
So what’s not to like?
Well, I’ll save the details for the spoiler section, but basically they still don’t know what to do with Moff Gideon other than have him be SO EVIL, LIKE REALLY EVIL, HE WEARS BLACK AND EVERYTHING CAN’T YOU SEE HE’S EVIL?!!
And they can’t seem to think of a good name for something Imperial other than to call it “Dark,” which makes me think they drank the Dark Kool-Aid in their Dark Treehouse while wearing their Dark Hat (and listening to Dark Music) just a little too much. It’s not scary at this point, it just sounds uncreative (and a little racist, to be honest).
Finally, after all the buildup I heard online about the last episode, it was a complete and total letdown. Plot-wise, character-wise, and ending-wise. Just meh.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
This next part of the review has spoilers! If you don’t want ’em, skip out now. I’m going to give you till the count of 3.
“Dark” Troopers? Seriously? That was the best name they could come up with? The scariest name?
And what’s scary about them? They have better armor than stormtroopers, they’re kind of strong? I mean, really, how are they a frightening force?
They’re obviously there so that the only thing that can rescue our heroes from them is a Jedi. Which is…so frustrating, and feels like a lost of wasted potential.
Ditto Moff Gideon. “I’m done with the Child, you can have him”? And then Mando just believes him? Mando, who a few episode earlier we saw shoot an enemy that claimed to be disarming? Mando, who we’ve seen call in a New Republic hit on an entire base? That Mando?
I don’t buy it, not one bit.
I feel sorry for Moff Gideon. They have him strutting around in that ridiculous armor, which he has no business wearing in the first place, spouting villain dialog which goes nowhere and does nothing.
Dear god, I just remembered: “Dark Saber.” Jesus Wept. What a horrible name for a MacGuffin.
And then Luke shows up, and he doesn’t sit down to chat, doesn’t explain anything, just this dude in black comes up and says “Give me the child,” and Mando just hands him over, no problem.
They’ve taken the ship. Why not have Luke stay for a bit? Discuss his plans? Get to know the Child?
Oh, it’s because de-aging CGI is expensive? Well, gosh, maybe they should have had some other Jedi come in and take the Child.
Like, oh….How about Qi’Ra? No computer-based aging required. We know she was working with Darth Maul, so her being a trained Sith is possible. And she can pretend to be a good person, at first, who’s willing to take the Child.
But having someone actually evil, actually, interestingly evil, take the Child gives us a plot engine for Season 3, and a cliffhanger for all of us who’ve seen Solo.
Instead, Luke’s flown in, taken the Child, end of story. What’s left to do?
Oh, the whole rule over Mandalore thing? That’s so obviously a fake problem, I don’t…I don’t really care.
I might care, if Mando had to try to protect the Child while getting involved in a plan to retake Mandalore and put what’s-her-name on the throne. That’d be interesting.
But that ship’s sailed, hasn’t it?
So for me, the final episode was just a big letdown. Going out with not a bang, not even a whimper, but more of a sigh.
I think the first five episodes of the Season are fantastic. But things start to wobble in Episode Six (it was good to see Boba Fett kicking ass, sure, but did Mando really need to throw himself at that force field three effing times?), and then completely come apart in the finale.
I don’t know if I’ll watch a Season Three. Having established their show once, and fixed it the second time, then thrown it all away, what’s there to draw me back?
In preparation for diving into Season Two, I’ve been rewatching The Mandalorian’s first season. And there’s a lot of things I’m noticing, good and bad, about the series that I didn’t pick up on before.
Warning: Slight spoilers for Season One below.
I still love the decision they made to set it just after the original films. Both aesthetically, because it lets them recreate the look of those movies (which I’m still a sucker for), and story-wise, because it gives them a lot of room to play, with the Empire crumbling (but not gone) and the New Republic still finding its feet (along with everyone else). Lots of possibilities.
And seeing characters that got short shift in the originals, like the IG unit and the Ugnaught, finally get their due as fully realized people, warms the heart of this old fanboy.
The special effects are simply spectacular. You can tell they poured a lot of money and time into them. And it’s not just The Child, either; the ships, the creatures, everything looks as good as (or better) than anything made for the movies.
Ditto the music. I love the theme: So sparse but memorable, really sets the Western tone for the series. They keep the music low-key or gone for most of the show, which I appreciate. It’s there to heighten some moments, but otherwise they know they don’t need it.
And sometimes — not often enough, but sometimes — the dialog crackles. I think the scene between the two speeder troopers at the open of Episode Eight is one of the funniest, most re-watchable scenes in a modern Star Wars production.
Far too often, though, the dialog is clunky. There’s too many times where characters point out something completely obvious, like when they reach the lava river in Episode Eight and someone actually says “That’s a river of lava.”
Or the dialog simply makes no sense at all. Like when The Child approaches Greef, hand out, intending to heal him, and Greef cries out “It’s going to eat me!” Which is laughably bad. Nothing Greef’s seen in his time with The Child could make him think that tiny thing was going to try to eat him. It’s just ridiculous.
Often they recap something that the audience has heard already, sometimes twice. And I don’t mean the whole “I don’t take off my mask thing,” which they obsess over for some reason. I mean actual plot recaps they have two characters give each other after we (the audience) have just seen it happen in that same episode. There’s a scene in Episode Seven where Cara and The Mandalorian recap not just the situation he’s in (which we know because we saw him get it in) but also why he brought her along (which we know because we saw him recruit her).
It’s not just the fact that these recaps don’t make any sense in-story (because they’re often between characters that know the things they’re rehashing). They’re also wasted time, in a show that doesn’t have time to waste (only 8 episodes for season one, each only about 30 minutes long).
Setting aside the dialog, I also wonder if The Mandalorian changes at all over the course of the season? His circumstances change, sure, but he starts out a pragmatically ruthless, honor-among-thieves type, and ends the season as…a pragmatically ruthless, honor-among-thieves type. There’s no grand moment when he realizes something about himself that he wants to change, and makes a conscious decision to change it. The droid IG-11 has more of a character arc then he does!
There’s so many parts of this season that make me cringe.
Basically all of Episode Six (“The Prisoner”). For that episode to work at all, we need the other crew members to look and feel like a tight-knit group, moving and working like a well-oiled machine. That way, when they betray Mando, we’ll actually be worried about him being able to take them down. As it is, he’s the only member of the crew to display any competence at all, so it’s no surprise when he comes out on top.
The less said about Xi’an’s “I’m a bad girl and I’m into you, Mando” shtick, the better.
They really obsess over his helmet wearing. Too much. In a galaxy filled with all kinds of intelligent creatures, from Calamari to Tusken to Jawas, is it really so odd for someone to always wear a helmet? Re-watching it, I was struck by how much I really don’t care what Mando’s face looks like. I care about other things, like “Why did you leave The Child alone in an empty ship in the middle of Mos Eisley?”
And the whole sequence with Moff Gideon…Ooof. Where to begin.
Let’s start with why he doesn’t already know the troopers have The Child? The speeder guards obviously know The Child’s important. They have working comms. Why don’t they just tell Gideon? Because that’d eliminate the need for his “I’ll keep them alive to drag out this episode” speech.
Then he commits the sin of actually saying they know what the e-web thingy is, and then goes on to explain it to them anyway.
Gives them “till nightfall” to talk things over, as if he cares about their lives…When, if he did care about them, he wouldn’t have sprayed blaster shots into the bar in the first place.
It’s all such mustache-twirling villain stuff, I can’t help but roll my eyes.
Which is a shame, because the actor, and the character, is fantastic. An Imperial Moff, clinging to some semblance of control in his corner of space, defying the fall of the Empire. Great stuff.
I just wish they gave him something to do other than posture and bluster. Oh, and pilot a Tie-Fighter, something an administrator who came up in the intelligence services has no business doing. It’s kind of like if the Governor of Montana used to be in the CIA in the 1970’s but then decided to hop into an F-22 for funsies. Just…why??
On first watch, I felt The Mandalorian was a solid B-movie in TV show form, a nice little Western story told on the edges of the Star Wars universe.
After re-watching it, I still think that, but I’m more frustrated than before at the mistakes the series makes.
It’s hard not to compare it to Firefly, another Western-in-Space story that had a pulpy feel. The Mandalorian doesn’t come off well in that comparison: It stumbles out of the gate, with clunky dialog and “villains” that don’t act in ways that make sense.
There were still plenty of good panels, though, with a great interview with Tom King in-between. And it was absolutely thrilling to see a friend of mine, local indie author J Dianne Dotson, share a panel with Cory Doctorow!
All my notes are below. Looking forward to next year!
let’s talk about making space for everyone by, maybe, making space-suits for everyone?
maura: there’s a whole bunch of tech that people can modify into the suit, to accommodate themselves; for fashion, she tends to make everything black; it’s kind of camouflage in a way
dianne: how fabulous can you make it and it’s still fashionable? always wants style and function; wants to think space should be for denizens, not dilettantes; everyone should be able to go, in 2019, we should have suits that fit everyone on the international space station
s.b.: comes at it in an economic angle; money talks, it’s often used as an excuse for not accommodating everyone; the way she approaches it in her fiction is protagonists from economically disadvantaged backgrounds having to use the tech designed for the advantaged
cory: works on a non-profit who wants to abolish the phrase “so easy your mom could use it”, because it takes more ingenuity to use something when it wasn’t designed with you in the room; “so easy your boss could use it” is a better phrase, since they’re the ones bullying employees to bypass firewalls
let’s talk about some of the emotional aspects of interacting with tech (for example, apologizing to siri when asking q’s)
maura: has book where “monitors” control the room, interact via holographic projection; you can’t just order them around, though, you have to negotiate with them, or trick them
dianne: on the space station in her book, there’s a variety of bots and drones to interact with; there’s a character that has a problematic relationship with an AI that he’s altered to resemble someone he used to be involved with
s.b.: fascinated by how tech impacts lives and relationships of people; any tech derived from our needs as human beings: to remember appointments or navigate a room or communicate with our family a long way away; teleporter’s are cool, but become more impactful when think of what it can do for your life
cory: thinks most salient thing is not what it does but who it does it for and who it’s designed for; likes exploring those power dynamics; in his book walkaway, explores the “how did that get there?” effect with the interaction of human beings and drones helping them build homes out of garbage
another emotion we like to experience is security; problem with consuming or creating science fiction is the burden of knowledge; we have cool medical apps now, but also hackers that can go in and change medical records; how does that knowledge impact you personally?
s.b.: in her fiction, she turns it around; enjoys thinking about what we gain as we give up privacy; we expose ourselves to risk, but we gain so much: connections with family and friends, etc; likes the pendulum to swing both ways, showing the dark side of our tech and the bright mirror of what good things we could achieve if we wield these technologies appropriately?
dianne: comes from a place of wanting patient data being secure; informs how people in her books come into a medical situation, and the ethics of their privacy and possible manipulation
maura: something she worries about; with all the data she has to give to a company everytime she downloads an app; but there’s always something about yourself that they can’t get to; in her book, everyone knows a character’s crimes, but no one knows what makes her tick, you have to make a personal connection in order to figure that out
cory: his motto: “this will all be so great if we don’t screw it up”; skeptical of accounts that say we’re indifferent to losing our privacy, just because we give our info to facebook; being with your friends is an unalloyed good, and we hope that we can control these companies with democratic solutions; best we can hope for is to use cryptographic tools and networks as tools to help us advocate for building a better state; there’s no parallel world, no getting away from a state that is often captured by the powerful
Spotlight on Tom King
nothing but audience q&a 🙂
recommends word balloon podcast, interviews with comics creators, awesome for people that want to break in, he listened and picked an origin story he wanted to follow — brad meltzer’s — who wrote a novel, sent it to comics publishers, and got in
The Art of Garbage: Writing the First Draft
dr billy san juan, jonathan maberry, christine boylan, dr travis langley, dr janina scarlet, jonathan butler, danielle jaheaku
how do you take that first seed and turn it into a first draft?
janina: lots of panic attacks and coffee; lots of late-night writing, lots of “this is the worst piece of garbage i’ve ever written”
maberry: process changes a lot; first novel, had no expectation of selling it, just wanted to see if he liked doing it and wrote something he’d like to read; hated it at various times, but wrote an outline and basically wrote to the outline; now writes the ending first, and aims for the ending; writes an outline but doesn’t stick to it; “first draft is you telling the story to you, cut yourself a break” (ray bradbury)
christine: there’s a huge different between an assignment and something you’re writing on your own; some plays have taken her 10 years, and some episodes of tv she wrote in a weekend; sometime you’re first draft is what’s on the board in the writer’s room, second draft is the outline, third draft is the first full crack at it (and might be the last)
travis: for him, writing nonfiction, the first draft is the book proposal
how do you overcome the “this is terrible” voice?
butler: it needs to be really rough and ugly, the first draft, so those feelings of “it’s terrible” come with the territory; you should feel that it needs work early on, those are good instincts, but you’ve got to ignore them to get the draft done
danielle: for her students, the hardest part is often getting started; she tells them to just write it down; don’t worry about what it looks like, if you get wrapped up in self-doubt, you’ll never get it down
maberry: a lot of us get hit with imposter syndrome; each freaking books, even the pros reach a point about 2/3 through where they email their friends saying “this is going to be the book that sinks me”; we never lose our insecurity
christine: yes, that text or that email that says “i’m done, i’m going to walk into the sea”; get a group of people you can send those texts to, so they can give you a reality check (and you can do the same for them)
butler: don’t leave this room without those people; we’re all here to do the same thing
christine: definitely work on yourself; do self-care; do not try to get rid of that voice; but pushing against it will give you the energy to do your work
travis: writer’s group is so important, yes, even if they’re outside of your genre or your area of writing; also having deadlines with that group can give you motivation to finish things
maberry: started the writers’ coffeehouses because when he was writing his first novel he thought all the problems he was having were things that were unique to him; the coffeehouses give you a chance to see other writers going through the same problems and trade solutions
janina: likes the writing groups because she noticed we tend to be more compassionate to others’ writing than we are to our own; these anxieties show up because we care, because we love this product so much, and we want to put it out there and see other people enjoy it; for her, keeping that person who’s going to read it in mind has helped her through the dips in the process
Day Two of WonderCon was packed with panels and interviews. I admit it was almost too much; towards the end of the day I stopped taking notes, and just sat back and listened.
But I still took down lots of good advice, from building a career in comics to getting hired on staff for a TV show.
Many thanks to the creators who took time away from their work and their families to share their insights and advice with us!
Breaking in and Staying in Comics
jim zub, max dunbar, chip mosher, ivan salazar, kiersten wing
jim zub: currently writing the avengers and iron man; did the rick & morty vs dungeons & dragons comic
max dunbar: artist, worked on dungeons & dragons, various comics at dc and marvel
jim zub: unlike a lot of other industries, you can go to conventions and show off your stuff, meet people; easiest way to get started in comics is to start making comics; got his own start in animation, because it seemed easier (to him) to break into (so many people needed for every project); started doing his own comic in the evenings after work (c. 2001); what’s amazing about the internet is a lot of the barriers to getting your work out there are gone
max dunbar: x-men cartoon blew his mind when he was young; drew all the time, thought “there’s a job where you get to draw non-stop”; much later, started taking his work to conventions; first breakthrough was convention in 2012, getting into a portfolio review, talking to editor directly, showing them his work
kiwi: there’s a lot of different jobs in comics: marketing, editorial, etc. lots of other ways to get in
chip: got into comics in ’82, parents let him have a subscription to rolling stone, which was a mistake, but it had an article about the dark knight, and he thought “this comic’s going to be hot”, so he went into the shop and bought two number 1s; soon followed with swamp thing, watchmen, etc; one his favorite comic companies at the time was kamiko: robotech, johnny quest, grendel, mage, etc; worked in a comic shop when he was a kid; somehow talked his parents into letting him take a bus from houston to san diego to let him go to comic-con when he was 16; he volunteered because he couldn’t afford a badge; ended up meeting bob and diane with kamiko, who took them to a party where he got to hang out with mark hamill, ended up working for them, and then moving to boom studios and helping them staff up and become a major player, then to the movie side for oni press, then…
max dunbar: make as many contacts as you can early on, never know when those contacts are going to provide an in
jim zub: joined a creative community early on, they would go to the cons and then to dinner afterward, and all look out for each other as each of them got their foot in the door
kiwi: and not only those contacts help you get in the door, but they become your support system later on
jim zub: though if you take a hunt-and-kill approach to making contacts, just looking for the next person to help your career, people are going to notice and you won’t be the kind of relationships you need to not only get in but become a better artist, a better collaborator; seek out the people on the sidelines, who aren’t being mobbed, they’re all important, and they can become part of your support system (and also: it’s just good people to recognize the humanity in others)
ivan: got his job in marketing not on the basis of his professional stuff, but on the strength of his fan-mix covers; because (according to chip) they were more him
jim zub: agreed; so many people pitch stories that they don’t really care about; but the biggest successes in indie comics over the last 25 years have been passion projects; nothing else is going to keep you going when you’re juggling a day job and grinding this out on the side
for jim: how do you get in the mindset for villains? jim -> when writing, he’s done so much d&d, he’s literally roleplaying all of it; villains are people that think they’re good and can always justify how they’re working towards their goals; they’re driven people; if you don’t know who your characters are, if you’re just putting them in there because “we need a bad guy” they’re not going to feel real to the reader; finds villainy for villainy’s sake to be boring, always wants to find their motivation
if you come in later in life, with a day job, how do you balance that?
jim -> can be really difficult, he’s still teaching, and writing at night, it’s nuts and it’s hard to get in the right amount of writing; like any hobby, like exercise or dieting or anything habit-forming, you need to be able to carve out that time; and hopefully the people in your life understand that and will give you your space; it’s so important to stop pretending like “i’m going to take 6 months off and do my creative project”, that’s a lie; make incremental progress constantly, daily, and then you’ll look in the rearview mirror one day and marvel at your progress
max -> start small, on anthologies, short comics; it’s important to work on projects and finish them, put them in your portfolio; put in the daily effort you’ll need to work on your craft
jim -> definitely don’t do things like cashing out your retirement account early so you can take a year off work to produce a comic; the problem with getting advice from successful people is that none of the bodies strewn on the fields around them speak up and talk about how things didn’t work out for them
max -> you can keep your job and work in comics, it’ll just take more discipline to juggle the two
american market is saturated with superheroes, can you talk about pitching stuff that isn’t that?
jim -> would not recommend trying to break in with a superhero comic; better to do a different genre, and build your rep there
max -> plenty of other stuff out there; his first superhero book was just last year
ivan -> for pitching, look at editors, see what they’re working on, look for similar stuff, and pitch your stories to those editors
jim -> check the names in the back, be targeted in your pitches, look for the people/names in common with the work you like; when you reach out to them, be genuine, don’t blow smoke, make a real connection based on your research and your fandom
jim: don’t send generic emails out to companies; meet people, and send your stuff to them
Spotlight on Scott Snyder
with whitney moore, host of the DC Daily (podcast?)
“what does it mean to have 80 years of batman?”
batman was one of his favorite comics when he was little; he’s from New York, grew up when times square, etc wasn’t considered safe; batman resonated with the problems he saw growing up, every day
and you want him to win, because he’s the most human of the heroes; no super speed or strength or anything else
didn’t handle his first year of writing batman well; got the book when he was in a low place, was really unsure of himself; was writing short stories at the time, one of them caught the attention of editors at DC, was only supposed to do background for the book, and then suddenly got handed the whole book; thought he’d only have that one shot at batman; wasn’t handling pressure well, was drinking too much at cons and parties, getting into fights with editors, etc; ran into grant morrison, who told him the only way he could deal is if made his character have a birth and death, and that’s when he started working on zero year; wanted batman to deal with the problems his kids are dealing with (shooter drills, terrorism, things that scott didn’t have to deal with when he was little)
batman laughs is his chance to vent, be crazy; write the anti-batman; let loose with all his little problems like “i got stuck in traffic today”
what is it about the horror genre that draws you?
was a very weird, anxious kid; lots of worries and anxieties; horror helped him deal with them
found a loophole in the video store: they wouldn’t rent R-rated videos to kids, but they would deliver them to your home; remembers getting night of the living dead, made a huge impact on him, so bleak, so socially conscious, lived in his imagination for months
horror is the perfect distillation of conflict; even if you’re writing a drama, you’re pitting the hero against their own worst fears; if you’re writing horror, you can go at it directly
takes your worst fear and makes you face it; takes the worst version of what you’re afraid of, and makes you face it, and then you come back ok
but even your horror has levity, how do you approach that? is a formula of timing, or..?
tries to throw in jokes because you need some release through the book
always puts himself in the work; it comes from what he’s struggling with personally; if you’re an aspiring writer, be prepared to be vulnerable, because the only way you’ll make these characters original is to bring to them your fears and problems
advice for aspiring writers and artists?
you gotta write your own favorite story that day; doesn’t have to be the smartest or the funniest, but the story that would change you that day
pragmatically; it’s going to suck; there’s going to be lots of years when everyone else has careers, and you’re like “i’m a writer!” with no credits
you can’t wait for the muse, you have to think of it as your real job, your secret identity, and work it like a real job
when he started out, he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the class when it came to writing, but he wanted to do it, and so he kept at it
writer’s block is just the fear of writing something shitty; even on the days where you suck, you have to write anyway
what if you don’t want to confront yourself on the page?
there’s no way to avoid it; whatever you write will be you; even if you don’t want to face your fears, write what about something you love, and make the villain the thing you hate, and you’ll still be confronting yourself on the page
Inside the Writer’s Room
chris parnell, gabrielle stanton, ashley miller, steven melching, ryan condal, deric hughes, bo yeon kim, kay reindl, jesse alexander, sarah watson, brian ford sullivan, marc bernardin, mark a altman
haven’t done a breaking in panel in a while, let’s do that, shall we?
focus on the staff writer today; how do they fit into the room?
gabby: levels: staff writer -> story editor -> executive story editor -> co-producer -> producer -> supervising producer -> co-executive producer -> executive producer, and that’s wobble for a while
who hires writers?
mark: writers hire writers; he wrote comic books for a while, didn’t work out, agent got ahold of one of his comics and said what do you want to do when you grow up; need to be able to write a pilot, need to come to LA for meetings, need to wow a show-runner, need to be able to plug holes as a staff writer; your job is to help the show-runner execute their vision
ryan: even show-runner has to get approval up the chain
in order to get hired, have to get your name on a list. how do you get on a show-runners list?
sarah: once you’ve written your one great script, write your second great script; you don’t know what show-runners are gonna be looking for; having a breadth of material helps; write as much as you can, because you get better with every script
recording this for inside the writer’s room podcast, which will launch later this year
jesse, how many scripts had you written when you got staffed?
wrote mostly features first, got into tv because a friend did and said it was fun
found his voice very early on, but now he’s so old that he’s lost his voice
write what you love and what you want to see, just crank out tons of it
wrote 40-some scripts just to learn how to do it
understand: the show-runner’s been moving up the chain for years, and this is their one shot to get their vision out, so they want to build a room that can get their voice out there
as a show-runner, what are you looking for?
jesse: had series with nbc, young writer submitted 2 spec scripts for other shows, and they were amazing and they were two very different shows, and so he hired her
kaye: is always looking for the writing; tip: read lots of scripts, read good ones and bad ones; most scripts aren’t bad, they’re just average; when you read something with a craft to it and a point of view to it, it stands out; she’s looking for someone that has their craft working for them
mark: wrote an original pilot that got him on castle; but he’d written features for years
when trying to get in a room, should they focus on specs or original material?
mark: recommend writing original material; really depends on the show runner; he prefers reading original
gabby: have a spec in your back pocket, because a lot of the writing programs now are asking for a spec and an original
sarah: have a spec because it teaches you how to write in someone else’s voice
kaye: also helpful to learn how to breakdown a show
when staffing colony, ryan only show sci-fi scripts, but he really wanted drama writers, because the show was meant to be character-driven in a sci-fi backdrop; also looking for diverse voices, even someone that doesn’t like science fiction to find out what kind of show they would watch
gotta market yourself to get on staff, right?
deric: yes, you want to pick a lane, get known for something to get on a list, and then once you’re established, you can move out of the lane; writing a smallville episode got him representation, but writing a rescue me episode is what got him his first job; gotta prove that you can write, no matter your lane
ashley: i’m supposed to have a lane, but i’ve been drinking, and so i don’t know the lane until i get home; been doing a lot of sword&sorcery lately; finding a lane is good advice, because it’s about knowing who you are as a writer; having a ground truth you can start from is very powerful; should constantly be creating material and developing skills
nelson, any different in animation?
in the early days, in the 80s, was studio staff driven; building full of writers would be assigned to whatever shows they were doing
then it became a freelance model, with single show-runner
now it’s more like tv model, with staffs of writers working on show
want to emphasize that it’s important to find your voice and where you fit, because it’ll be soul-crushing to be stuck somewhere you’re not happy working in (imagine being stuck in a show type you don’t like for 4-5 years)
what sets a good script apart from a bad script?
ryan: voice; it’s the hardest thing to quantify, but when you read a cormac mccarthy novel, you know it: that’s a voice; that’s the thing that leaps off the page, especially for people reading tons of scripts every day
jesse: looks for craft in the scene; needs someone who can tell a story and knows the format of tv; know how to tell a story in a scene
kaye: no more excuses for not having the right format for your script; when reading for a competition, knew she had a good script just from the way the writer started off the episode (just five pages in)
sarah: it’s character; wants to feel like she knows those characters; nothing more boring than a cop show that’s just about cop stuff; hook her with the characters, and then she’ll be into everything else
what’s a good pilot character?
jesse: put specifics in it; don’t say “i love a car” say exactly what car; this is nuts and bolts stuff that’ll make your work stand out
marc: it’s a character that’s never satisfied; the show is them trying to cross that gulf between where they are and what they want (ex: buffy and her need to be normal); mulder is much more interesting before he finds his sister
brian: got in through the warner-bros workshop; made it through a scene of house he wrote
what are options out there for getting in the room?
warner brothers writers’ workshop
writers on the verge (nbc)
cbs writers’ mentoring program
writers’ assistant is another way in; they’re the keeper of the wikipedia of the show, they keep all the notes and all the discussion from the room; they have to take everything and collate it into coherent thought at the end of the day, and send it out to the writers
marc: don’t be a dick; conduct yourself with grace; a lot of this business is people you know, and if you’re a dick, people will find out and they won’t want to hire you
also: don’t go on twitter and tear other shows down, it’s not a good way to get known; people look at your social media when considering whether to hire you
sarah: twitter is an optional platform with real-life consequences
can you be too old to break in?
marc: got first staff job at 43 years old
what about show bibles?
deric: no do not write the show bible, the show runner has that and they don’t want to read yours
kaye: don’t save anything from the pilot, don’t assume you’ll get a second episode; just blow shit up in the first episode, and deal with it once it gets accepted
nelson soler, lia martin, kristine huntley, kayreth williams, suzanne park, teresa huang, ken choy
feeling fear makes you a writer; wants to create a safe space; teach you how to utilize it
if you don’t have a writing support system, get one, to help you through your periods of doubt
take those traumas you’ve been through and turn them into fodder for comedy; it can be very cathartic
one method to add the comedy: have a character that can do things they wouldn’t normally be able to do (example: if they have cancer, there’s a lot of taboos they can break)
the rules: be funny, be honest, and be ugly; if you’re going to go (expose trauma) go all the way; dig deep, write all the ugly into the script
“all procrastination is fear”
epiphany: the fear never goes away; you have to learn how you’re going to live with it; stop fighting it or feeling bad about having it
technique: use creative kindling; give yourself 5-15 min to write something else: from a writing prompt, or a diary complaining about how things are going; then set timer and write during the whole time
every story is about fear; fear gives you the stakes, and the tension
take your fears and build them into stories, that’ll make them resonate with other people
for a tv show, need to take that fear and make it big enough to form an umbrella for 100 episodes of a show; example: fear of failure in college, make the college a super-prestigious place where failure means derailing your entire life (and maybe ruining your family): now all the normal events and stresses become much more dramatic
I feel like a real test of a good Con is one you can attend by yourself and still have a good time.
WonderCon passed that test this year, with flying colors!
My wife couldn’t make it this year, so I was on my own. But the panels were fantastic, the dealers in the exhibit hall were warm and friendly, and everyone in general seemed to be having a blast.
I also learned a lot about world-building, dealing with fear while writing, and what to expect when trying to break into comics or TV writing.
My notes from Day One are below. I’ll post Days 2 and 3 later this week!
Fantasy Set Decoration
sam sykes, mary e. pearson, tricia levenseller, kali wallace, livia blackburne, with nadine armstrong
kali wallace: has a PhD in geophysics
dr livia blackburne: wrote first novel while researching neuroscience of reading
to sam and livia: what was the first thing you did when creating new world to make it stand out and be different?
sam: i don’t know, i just started writing; details of a different world comes after; my worldbuilding technique is all about designing things that will inflict pain and suffering on the main character, and everyone’s pain is unique; started with the protag with a cool gun, made the gun sentient, then it just spiraled out from there
livia: akin to sam, starts with something really cool, had an image of snakes while hiking in san diego, thought about how people inject themselves with venom to get immunity, what about a rite of passage where you have to build up your immunity and then they inject you with three types of poisons and if you survive, congrats you’re a healer; flowed from there to what kind of society would that be, etc
to mary: how do you keep a long-running world feeling fresh?
map on the inside, 12 kingdoms, trilogy only explored three kingdoms, all kind of different, gives glimpse of how world works, built on ashes of bygone civilization, in the spin-off duology, set in a very different geography; geography informs a lot of how people live and how they dress, etc; every little culture on our planet builds their own mythology, and the point of her series is to explore different mythologies built by these different kingdoms
tricia: wrote two novels with lots of swordfights, didn’t want to write more swordfights in her next book, but needed an action hook, so thought of gimli and his battle-axe, so decided it’d be cool to do battle-axe fights, so from there thought “why would you use a battle axe? it’s not very practical…what if the monsters have tough exoskeletons and the only way to get through them is with a massive battle-axe?” and went from there
kali: changes her worldbuilding based on the perspective of the main character, thinks a kid would notice different things from the world than an old person would or a 12-yr-old, etc
sam: cool stuff alone is not enough to tell the story, it only matters as much as it impacts the character
livia: tends to not like reading journey novels, but then she wrote one, and needed to figure out how to deal with it; had things happening in two far apart locations across a big empire, had to figure out how they communicate, etc; in the end, pushing her characters out let her show off the empire, and created challenges for the characters that made things more interesting
tricia: had to give her character a reason to come back home, even when she didn’t want to; likes tackling problems that are really hard; thought “i’ll just have my characters kill a god,” but didn’t know how that would happen; important to keep in mind what a character’s goals are, and what problems they have to deal with
sam: people will remember gimmicks, magic systems, all that cool stuff, but it’s not what makes you go “oh!” and tell your friend about the story that hit you; it’s all set decoration unless the plot and characters pull you through it; the world-building feels more thorough when we see the impact of things on a character (or characters) that we like
mary: the world has to help carve and mold the character; if we can plop them in another world and their problems are the same, then either the character’s forgettable, or the world is
sam: magic system in most recent book has a price; it’s a deal with an eldritch creature that takes part of what makes you, you; was him being lazy, instead of having to worry about the impact of magic and the price, just made it directly affect their personality
livia: went into a series of questions to look into how people tick; like what if you lose your memory? and while it’s gone you fall in love with someone you despise? and then what if your memory comes back?
tricia: main character was betrayed by close ally; wanted to explore how do you work to get trust back once your trust has been broken?
mary: her character came to large fork in the road; even while writing it she was wondering what her character was going to do; part of the fun of writing is looking at choices and how we make them, and how we learn to forgive ourselves
tricia: had a lot of fun making monsters in her last book; took her fears and made monsters that encapsulate them
how to build a good magic system?
start with what your character needs it to do, and then make it cause more problems than it solves
pay attention to whether magic is innate or trained, because that’ll affect how your character experiences it
how much worldbuilding changes over drafts?
mary: has a lot of it in her head before she writes, it feels a little flat in her first draft, and gets richer from there, but nothing changes radically; most important thing is to go back and ensure it’s all consistent from beginning to end
sam: you can always flesh something out later, but if it doesn’t impact the characters, the reader won’t care
grew up in dallas, tx
shows some of the earliest comics he made, from when he was a kid
went to film school, made a movie called “robot stories”, then got a gig writing comics for marvel
best-known for planet hulk, also co-created amadeus cho, who even became the hulk for a while (“the totally awesome hulk”), got to put together a superhero group called the protectors (largest group of asian-american superheroes)
also wrote “the princess who saved herself” and “the princess who saved her friends” (went to college with joco, based these on his song)
with boom! studios, done “ronin island” and “mech cadet yu” (creator-owned comics)
what he does: combine genre hijinks with real emotional storytelling
things he thinks about while working on these stories:
heroism: how does that work? heroes don’t do the right thing all the time; characters are trying to do their best in a complicated world; he really enjoyed writing superman, there’s something compelling about characters that are really concerned with other people
written several sequences where monsters turn out to not be monsters, and it’s the hero that recognizes their non-montrousness
diversity: he’s biracial, half-korean, half-white (his terms), very conscious of the need for justice in the world; “why isn’t there an asian kid in peanuts?”; now that he create comics, he’s consciously bringing in more representation; it’s great to get one diverse character in there, but when you get a whole bunch of them together, you get to show the diversity within the diversity, and no one character has to stand in anymore for everyone in their group (immigrants vs second-generation vs third-generation, etc); and this isn’t new, matt murdock is a great character because he’s very specifically irish catholic
he’s also noticed in a lot of stories with biracial histories, they become tragic backstories for someone else, or they’re always being torn by their two cultures, instead of the real experience of people that just live as 1/4 chinese, 1/4 white, 1/2 black, etc.
kingsway west: chinese gunslinger searching for his wife in an old west with magic
Science of Game of Thrones
dr travis langley, tamara robertson, allen pan, steve huff, jenna busch, jonathan maberry
q about joffrey: he was poisoned, and that poison seems to be similar to some real ones?
travis: there’s so many ways to poison joffrey; he dies fairly quickly; he’s checked with his chemist friends; can mix up different poisons with belladonna, and several others, but it seems to have been strychnine (rat poison)
let’s jump to wildfire
tamara: definitely similar to greek fire, but even more so like napalm, in the way it sticks to its victims and can be launched long distances; greek fire was famous for being able to float on sea water and explode on impact
travis: napalm was actually around in world war ii
jonathan: martin inspired by napalm, he thought it was one of the most horrific things ever invented
allen: have to address the fact that wildfire burns a very bright green; boron, for example, will burn green (borax mixed with rubbing alcohol); copper also burns green; “don’t do that, but that’s how you would do that”
let’s talk about the ice wall: could you build one? and if you did, how would it work, and could a dragon take it down?
jonathan: no, you couldn’t do it; it’s too big, the temp’s not cold enough for it; you’d have to sculpt a glacier
allen: 700 ft tall, 300 miles long; 300 feet wide; 6 trillion gallons of water; the entire flow of the mississippi river for 15 days (!)
tamara: u of alaska looked at this, for it to be 300 ft thick, would need to be 20 miles (?) thick at the base
travis: what if it wasn’t all ice? their great wall froze over
allen: no way, we’re still talking an order of magnitude bigger than the great wall of china
jonathan: also, the whole idea of a dragon flame taking it down; i know it’s dead but they had it breathe flame for 2 minutes, that’s too long; also cruise missiles couldn’t have taken that thing down, let alone a 2 min flame; but where does all that gas come from?
allen: dragons, breathing fire, closest actual animal is a bombadier beetle; the beetle has two glands in its abdomen, has hydrogen peroxide and ??? mixes the two together so the two react and boil, expansion of steam is enough to shoot those chemicals out of its butt at those temps (to defend itself); is lethal to smaller predators (spiders, etc); hypergallic chemicals: rocket propellants that combust when mixed; his two candidates? hydrogen peroxide and kerosene; that would work, but doesn’t cover the volume
tamara: can look at cows if you want it to come out of the mouth; cow produces 66-132 gallons of methane in a day; just before the dragon died we see a huge sac under the throat burst, it could be holding the gas there
travis: there’s a discworld book where that is how it works for their dragons: they fart fire, and it’s how they fly
travis: dragons have 2 legs, and then the wings! no four legged things with the wings
allen: devil’s advocate here: pegasi have six limbs, maybe dragons and pegasi have a common ancestor?
jonathan: also the mass to weight ratios are completely wrong, there’s no way it could fly because it’s too heavy; for the show, they studied how birds and bats fly, so they do some cool stuff when they take off, but they get airborne way too fast
tamara: but it could be thermal currents, giving them extra lift?
let’s talk about valyrian steel and dragonglass steel
steve: idea behind valyrian steel is that it’s a sword of loss; similar to damascene steel in our world, because it was a lost art; both damascus and folded steel you’re looking at layers; different from japanese swords, which tend to be harder, with a soft core, which makes the edge brittle (so they would never go edge-to-edge when fighting); so we have methods of forging steel that’s similar to valyrian steel; and dragonglass is basically obsidian, which can be quite sharp and strong, but can snap
travis: what about under high heat?
steve: that’s where you get into the fantasy bit; a real sword should have a bit of flex, you should be able to bend it and it come back to true; but under high heat, it’ll damage the blade and it’ll become brittle or start to warp
allen: if valyrian steel is lost, wouldn’t melting it down and then making two more a terrible way to make a sword?
steve: yes; in the real world, if a sword breaks, they would just resharpen it an use it as a smaller weapon; also forged blades are stronger than anything that’s cast
jonathan: q about the obsidian: that’s chipped, not forged; they’re bringing in a swordsmith for those, wouldn’t you rather get a sculptor?
steve: definitely would want someone that has experience with knapping, not forging
what about jaime learning to use his other hand?
steve: he and his students train with both hands; just because we never saw jaime train with his other hand, it doesn’t mean he couldn’t do it
jonathan: surprised they didn’t go into that; he trained with both hands as well, with jiu-jitsu; losing one hand might make him a lesser swordsman, but he’d still have a great deal of skill
steve: most of combat is mastery of concepts; he’s not going to suddenly lose those skills because he lost a hand
psychology question: let’s talk about hodor; anything that would cause someone to continually repeat one word
travis: yes! expressive aphasia: the person has trouble with communication that they previously didn’t have, because of a brain injury; dr broca, the researcher that the language area of the brain is named for, had a patient that said “tan”; when travis was an intern, he had a patient who could only say two words: “party” and “shittin”
let’s talk about white walkers: could they exist? wouldn’t any liquid left in the body freeze?
allen: ok, we’re gonna talk weird animals again; like, how are the white walkers even moving around if they’re some kind of frozen? there’s a wood frog in NA, can be frozen solid for up to 7 months at a time, and when spring comes around, it’s fine; creates glucose and urea in its cells, that act as cryoprotectants; lowers the glass transition temp of tissue; main issue with walking around, is that it should not be able to move; he proposes, as part of their conversion process, they develop these cryogens in their tissues
jonathan: there’s a couple other squirrels and creatures that freeze like that, but they don’t move; each zombie book he writes, he has to mug a bunch of scientists to come up with different theories to make zombies make sense; closest he ever got were parasites that hijack the nervous system to operate it after the loss of intelligence; but the cold factor you can’t get around, there’s nothing that allows frozen tissue to be flexible enough to walk; they don’t act according to any laws of physics in those fight scenes
allen: i would like to counter, with the idea that, the temps around the wall can’t be that cold because there’s a forest there; there’s a lower limit to the temps there
jonathan: so as winter arrives, they should freeze?
allen: not if they invade westeros! i think that if you took a dead body, and reanimated it, and injected it with glucose and urea, and put it in a tundran environment, where there are still dire wolves, i think that body is still mobile
what about the psychology of evil?
travis: narcissism isn’t enough; you need the dark triad: sadism, narcissism, and psychopathy; people with just one of the three can be high functioning and members of society; there’s a measurable difference in brain activity with psychopaths, particularly in the p3 wave, so they think there’s a biological component, but they don’t know; current theory is that they might have some kind of very early brain injury; and the novels mention joffrey having had a brain injury early in life
tamara: there’s also the genetic anomaly of being born from twins; they see increased incidents of schizophrenia with incest
is there some way for daenarys to have gone into a pyre and coming out ok?
why the irregular seasons? tamara: a volcanic eruption, around valyria, would both explain the long winters and the sheer amount of dragonglass they have (as well as explaining what happened to valyria); reference: explosion of krakatoa in the 19th century, which erupted in southern pacific but affected winters as far away as europe
takacs: hungarian, lots of hungarian sf has not been translated yet
schwartzmann: reads russian, ukrainian and polish; has done translation work
schwartzmann: russian writers: bulgakhov (magical realism, 1920s and 1930s)
takacs: strugatsky brothers; stanislaw lem, especially the cyberiad; rana ras;
lyau: france produced second-most varied scifi tradition; planet of the apes; their golden age was the thirty years following jules verne’s heyday; maurice renard; french new wave post-1968; robita; de nizorres
kastersmidt: hector hermann oesterheld (argentinian, was killed by junta for publishing comic)
schaff-stump: has handout with japanese names; since japanese novels are often turned into manga and anime, can often find those in translation even if the book hasn’t been
schwartzmann: for chinese scifi, start with three-body problem, first volume had to adhere to communist standards, second was a little looser, third volume he completely jumps out of the box; tor is releasing “invisible planets” collection of chinese short stories translated by ken liu
takacs: yerg dragoman (the white king; bone fire); adam bodor (the sinister district)
fantastic planet: was based on french novel called “humans by the dozen”
lyau: start with the pulp novels to brush up on your french
kastersmidt: if you haven’t read borges, do so; camilla fernandes (brazilian); also check out the apex book of world science fiction, runs to four volumes, collects stories from new authors from around the world
schaff-stump: hex (from dutch author) was rewritten for us edition, not available in strict translation
tiptree award is going out of its way to bring non-english scifi to anglophone attention (check past award winners)
takasc: african sf: afro-sf anthology series; african speculative fiction society website will soon go live
first emeriati science fiction publishing house is opening its doors
omenana: african sf in english (online)
german scifi: andres eschbach, the carpet makers (?)
ukrainian literature: vita nostra, available in english, by sergey and marina ____, basically the magicians
Promoting Yourself as an Introvert
tamara jones: writing since seven yrs old
doesn’t leave the house much
lives in small town iowa
has four novels, first won compton cook award
had to suddenly start speaking to a lot of strangers and big crowds
hard to relax
introverts are like onions, have awesome core, but many many layers of protection on top of it that prevent people from getting to know your core
on panels, need to let hair down, but you can hide behind the table for safety
editor liked just first 66 pages of first book she bought, had to rewrite everything else, which completely changed her plans for the second book; so: don’t write the next books in a series until you sell and finish the first one
some people don’t want to let you talk on a panel, but don’t get aggressive, that doesn’t come off well
readings are the worst
but: get your ass out of the chair, gives you better diction, more control; move around, even though there’s no where to hide; it’s performance art: talk about self, talk about book, read short pages (two pages), then talk about it, then two more pages, then talk about it (make it different works or passages for variety)
find whatever it is that gives you feeling of safety (small sweater, lucky socks, etc) and wear that to the reading to help you feel safe and able to be yourself
has had three stalkers already, so no one knows where she lives (deliberately)
tries to avoid the parties; but when you’re starting out you have to go because editors and agents will be there; grab a drink, wander around and listen, take a drink if you get nervous
what do you do when drained? Find a capsule of solitude somewhere: a quiet corner, maybe even the restroom stall, close your eyes and be alone for 15 min
editors love to talk about their work; her typical question is “what’s the best thing about your job?”
need one sentence description of each of your books
also need one sentence description of yourself “i slaughter people on paper for money”
thinks introverts should not moderate, have to insert self and take control, which introverts are not good at
don’t overprepare for panels; whatever you prep for will probably be thrown out the window as soon as the panel starts
at end of the day, selling self, if you do that people will want to buy your books
betsy dornbusch: writes mostly epic fantasy, used to buy flash
anna yeatts: flash fiction online owner/publisher, also writes flash
caroline m yoachim: just launched collection with fairwood press
flash: definition varies greatly; over 1,500 wordsis definitely not flash; something you could read in five minutes
yeatts: want a full complete story in a coffee break; still want a complete story arc, pared down to the essence
vonallmen: looking for the pop of “oh, wow” in just a five minute read
wowell: couldn’t write GoT in flash
yoachim: now i want to write that
wowell: customer service call for death ray works really well in flash format; sci-fi comments thread works really well as flash
dornbusch: don’t do vignettes about the sun, they don’t get bought
yoachim: great focusing on small piece; focused emotion, etc; great for putting hints of the larger world in the story, rest up to reader’s imagination
yeatts: grobnak ama
running of the robots
first story from daily science fiction: story with three substories, and the meta-story, all in 1,000 words
strain of sentient corn writing to monsanto
if you were a dinosaur, my love
six names for the end
what skills are important?
dornbusch: editing; revision; the shorter the length, the more powerful
dornbusch: likes humor in flash, but not the punchline
wowell: need to recognize how many plots and subplots you can fit into each story length
vonallmen: ability to focus on tone
send mothership zeta your cat stories (joke)
yoachim: so much needs to happen in the first paragraph: need to tell reader what they’re in for, little about their world, the action, tone, everything
dornbusch: try telling story where reader knows the secret, usually it’s better than hiding the secret from the reader
wowell: if you like twists, do it at the beginning, not the end; starting with the twist will get me reading
yoachim: remember can play with your title, do a lot of setup there
flash fiction online; daily science fiction
unsung stories (uk)
fantasy and science fiction takes some flash
lots of calls for flash, but don’t give it for free
yoachim: targets markets that specialize in flash fiction
uncanny magazine does flash
fireside fiction does flash and shorts
nature runs flash fiction
flash one of the few markets where second person won’t overstay its welcome
The Art of Worldbuilding
amanda downum: necromancer chronicles
luc peterson: runs civic innovation office
peter tieryas: fiction where japanese won world war ii?
downum: need fresh ideas, sense of wonder, in showing this new world
bear: burroughs first to do world-building in science fiction
downum: likes to start with character and scene, let world unfold from there; likes characters to pick up and interact with objects in the world, rather than just moving on a sound stage
patel: starts with what a society values most, and what they fear most; what do they invest in, what do they build walls and defenses against
bear: receives a vision; might take years to stitch visions together into a story
what do you need to know? How many doctorates?
bear: english major, don’t know anything
patel: need to know what touches your characters; need to have lots of prior work done to know what this is before writing
downum: has someone ask her questions, to reveal those things she hasn’t thought of, those pieces she hasn’t built out herself; really good if someone that doesn’t read genre, they come at it from a completely different angle
tieryas: even things (research) that don’t show up in the book can be valuable
bear: history of asia a target-rich environment for mining world-building ideas
how do you put limits on the research?
downum: hard, but do a little at first to get started; when come across detail to fix later, mark in brackets and keep going; do more research afterward to fill in details, etc
patel: timebox your research time so you push yourself back into writing; can be iterative, don’t have to answer all questions at beginning, questions that come up during writing can give you chance to do focused dive into research again
patel: shorter work is, less research you’ll have to do, but you may have to do very detailed research into a single focused topic
downum: likes first person for short form, but at novel length it’s like being stuck in an elevator for a very long time, so prefers third person multiple perspective
patel: look for opportunities for drama and conflict in all worldbuilding; how would your characters tell their history? How would their enemies tell it?
How to Handle Rejection
wallace: stopped counting at 1,000
worst rejections: ones that are really really close to acceptance
wallace: never count on money until the check clears
carringer: rejection is evidence that you’re trying, that you’re sending stuff out
carringer: rejection was so nice, went back with later work, has been her agent for ten years
carringer: don’t fall in love too much with a particular book, be willing go move on and write more and try something else
reader reviews are not for you, they’re for other readers
carringer: would tell younger self to try different genres and styles earlier
carringer: never ever ever respond to a rejection
wallace: btw, anything you post online, anywhere, is a response, and is a bad idea
carringer: some agents/editors will be full up with authors in your genre, and so will reject you because they don’t want to take on any more
remember that they’re rejecting the product, not you
what if your gross terrible neighbor was a real monster?
a way to crack open the puzzle of the weird world we’re in and understand it better
it’s a way to be sneaky: can talk about deep things in a fun way, with people that don’t notice
perception: history has been edited down from multiple conflicting perspectives; urban fantasy lets you deal with these different perspectives for more immediate events
no real bad guy: bad guy is someone pursuing their goals in a fanatical sense, still think they’re the good guys
people are always writing urban fantasy from their primary experience; in feudal days it was fears from lord of the manor, today it’s shopping malls and steelworks (instead of fairy rings)
changeling stories are ufo kidnapping stories, just told in a different time
uf is the intersection of contemporary fiction and fantasy fiction
danger: to cover over real experience with a fantasy gloss; example: the magical homeless people of the 80s)
can use unreliable narrators to try to avoid the problems with covering over messy experience
why first person?
noir influence: almost all first person, huge influence on urban fantasy and its style
adrian mcinty: leicht’s favorite irish noir writer
rowland: j d robb’s books
Finance for writers
put 40% away for federal govt, 10% for state, pay quarterly income taxes estimate, will usually get something back at the end of the year
most first books don’t make back their $5,000 advance
don’t quit your day job, even after signing tge first contract
some contracts don’t last past 2 or 3 books
not a steady income
be careful with your money; lots of authors aren’t good with their money
get good agent: writers tend to not read contracts, approach it very emotionally; good agent will catch things and get you the best deal possible
okay to lose money on your craft at first, but have a budget and be aware of it
spend money on your craft (take classes, do workshops) and your network (attending cons, etc)
but: if you’re at cons, write down what you want to accomplish before you go
if you self-publish, spend money on quality: an editor and a cover designer; everything else you can half-ass, but not those
keep all receipts for your craft in a shoebox, use them (plus your spreadsheet) to fill out your schedule c for your taxes
if you don’t make a profit every seven years, the irs considers it a hobby, not a business
average income for writers is $5,000
don’t quit your day job until you have 2 years’ worth of living expenses saved up
rule one: write, finish, send it out
one benefit of incorporating is the ability to defer income from one year to the next (should you score the $70,000 advance)
78% success rate for publishing projects on kickstarter if they get 25 backers; difference between people that are prepared and know what they’re doing and those who don’t
bud: turns profit every 5 years; how? Doesn’t report all his expenses that year
lots of ways to use kickstarter: events, book tours, playgrounds inspired by literature, self-pubbing books, magazines; can get really creative
margot: think of marketing as sharing these stories you’re passionate about with others and inviting them in, not “selling yourself”
Idiot’s Guide to Publishing
all scifi community on genie network at the time
doctorow hadn’t written a novel yet, so got karl involved
patrick: liked it because it was very practical
rejectomancy: shouldn’t read too much into rejections; form rejection could be from someone that loved it but didn’t have time, personal could be from someone that doesn’t like the story but likes you personally
schroeder: never sold any short stories to the magazines, has only ever sold stories to anthologies
at the time, discussion over ebooks concerned fact that they never go out of print, so publishers argue that they don’t have to revert the rights to the author
would not try to write today, because has no idea how to get into the field now
Nifty Narrative Tricks
bear: what character is like matters less than how you handle the character
kowal: people want the familiar in the strange; familiar makes you feel smart, the strange is compelling; when have character engaged in activity or emotion that readers find familiar, then when i engage them in something weird they already have a hook
kelly: characterize people by what they own. before walking them on stage, go into their room, or their car: what’s there? is it messy? neat? what’s hanging on the walls? bonus: gives you things to use later in the plot
walton: writers get some things for free, and some things they have to learn; easy to teach the things you learned, but almost impossible to teach the things you got for free; she got interesting characters for free, so…story is contract with reader, try to get what story is right up front so reader doesn’t feel betrayed
bear: beginning writers make mistake of writing passive characters
bear: give the character something to love; instantly makes them more engaging
gould: best way to intro tech is to show it when it breaks down; very engaging to intro character when frustrated
kowal: frustration will show what character wants, what they love, and give you a measure of their competence
kowal: figure out what character wants, and smartest way for them to get it, and then you block off that way (and keep blocking off ways)
walton: __ starts with character really having to go to the bathroom while giving speech on history; is pure exposition but you don’t care because you sympathize with having to use the restroom
walton: farmer in the sky (heinlein) has similar trick, with tons of worldbuilding done in describing a father and son making dinner
kelly: how can you tell beginning from middle from end? beginning -> middle: character goes through one way door, and can’t get back to the start; middle -> end: character goes through another one-way door, and story has to end one way or another
kowal: stakes are something particular to the character; we’re all going to die, so death is not great stakes; “you’re going to lose your right foot” is more personal
kowal: focus indicates thought; what you’re looking at is what you’re thinking about; rhythm and breath: same action at different speed gives you different emotion; how long you linger on something shows how important it is to the character
walton: pacing very different between genres; same story told at different pacing can change the genre of the book
kelly: look at the story; if you see a section of solid text or solid dialog, that’s probably a pacing problem
bear: starting with bloodbath, before you care about the characters
kelly: end of story is not the climax, you need a moment for the character to come to grips with what the climax means for them
gould: leave some things for the reader to figure out from context
kowal: starting with way too much backstory; solve by getting deeper into point of view
walton: too fuzzy, character not in focus; can fix by switching to first person, forces you to focus on personal experience
walton: often rushes endings, has to go back in and fix pacing after draft finished
kowal: best trick: dumping exposition into a sex scene
kelly: world-building will happen almost without trying; less you can do of it, the better
Evolution of Epic Fantasy
tessa grafton: the united states of asgard
sarah beth durst: queen of blood
epic fantasy: need close in shots, and medium shots, and landscape shots, all mixed in
leicht: research into irish time of troubles taught her everything involved in world-building: how economics is tied to politics is tied to religion is tied to class is tied to language
kate elliott: crown of stars
leicht: viking skeletons found in bogs: no one checked if they were male or female; many of them (warriors) are female
elliott: archeologists finding statues mostly female, labeled one male statue as priest-king and all female as just “fertility”, then were mystified as to why they kept finding female statues
perspective of character that has been in a fight versus one that never has is completely different. People who experience regular combat (bouncer) have different frame of mind and see things differently
also person not in fight can see things that those in the fight can’t
can use training sequence to describe the moves in great detail, and then keep it brief when the actual fight happens
daily exercises or training routine can serve a similar purpose
fight’s aftermath: talk to emts and paramedics about the kinds and causes of trauma they’ve seen
think of fight musically, with rhythm of blows and building to resolution in a limited amount of time
don’t forget: characters that have been in a fight are going to carry injuries with them for rest of book
remember that fight is happening because of conflict, two or more characters that want different things, and they’ll be thinking about their goals during the fight
50 years of star trek
people knock the new movies, but even old movies were often about finding someone to fight instead of exploring; classic series had fights, but central theme was exploration and making friends
jar jar abrams
star trek at its best when its about discovery and making friends
what would you want in new series? snodgrass and gerrold: shut down holodeck (or find out it causes cancer)
no media? snodgrass: they tried, wrote episode where they showed wesley’s cabin, with pinups on wall, and they were not allowed to show it
snodgrass: in original series, their time in rec room created sense that they liked each other and hung out together; she created the poker game in next generation because she felt that was missing
snodgrass: please ditch the bodysuits from TNG, they limited who they could cast in each role because they were not forgiving; much prefer the uniforms from the first few movies
star trek: new voyages: fanmade series that gerrold did an episode for
star trek: continues: finn fancy necromancy author really loves it
could we do non starship star trek? Gerrold: yes, if about star trek academy, or federation council, etc
house of picards
As you know, bob
hiding the infodump: article in april 2015 analog
tamora pierce: works in genre where extra exposition gets cut mercilessly
“teenagers pay my bills, i don’t explode them” pierce
exposition can get too detailed because in first draft writers are figuring out what’s happening as they write it. It’s fine, so long as they take it out later
know as much about your background as possible, tell as little about it as you can get away with
know your audience: some them can really get into detailed exposition, while others will skip it
don’t load it in as a block, slip it in as part of the action, because it’s fatal
tnh: expository chunks can happen because authors with clout can be late, and rather than push book release out, editors will edit book less than they normally would because they ran out of time
tnh: don’t tell people things before they want to know it; rowling is a great example of how to do it right: she intros sorting hat as just talking hat, only later introduces other properties when they’re needed
conflict can also be a driving force of exposition
or: new guy comes in, has to have everything explained to them
pierce: usually starts with character at cusp of new phase of life, transition drives exposition, will drip exposition into story as it goes, have characters act it out rather than infodump
tnh: technical master of exposition of our time is joss whedon; watch first few minutes of serenity, within ten minutes you know everything you need to know about the universe
pierce: early stephen king, elizabeth bear
jodi shapiro: new books, well done exposition and context
reader can infer a lot from context, can trust them more than you think
when chapter has ended, preferably with a hook, it’s clear that something new is coming, you can get away with slipping a little omniscient viewpoint exposition in there
tnh: get a 14-yr-old beta reader. Their brains are fully developed but they don’t have any tact
tactic: when people are angry, they’ll state obvious things (“look! Water *is* wet!”)
tnh: every time you explain something to the audience, you give them a chance to argue with you; great example is time machine: don’t explain how it works, because they don’t, tell me how it smells, how much cargo it can carry, how much time it needs to recharge between trips
How to write a mystery
clues can be great, but if characters aren’t three-d, will feel hollow
misdirection: all clues have to be there, but distract reader at same time
mystery great tool for other genres, can reveal aspects of world for spec fic using mystery tools
why is it important that characters solve this?
would this mystery have happened in any other world? What does this crime reveal about the greater society and the people that live in it?
harris: beat, beat, beat; explication, explication, boom! Follow the rhythm of the book
harris: have to provide false suspects, but not so many that you wonder why the victim didn’t get killed earlier
harris: when you have something that you think is too mean to do to your characters, you should do it!
small mystery and large mystery: can add texture to the book; small mystery small stakes, answer can be humorous; can also tie the two mysteries together, link the two mysteries
thematic echo: guinea pig squealing in the night out of fear; person had murdered another because they thought (wrongly) that they were being threatened
turn tropes on their head to try to get something new (no more detectives with tortured pasts)
harris: people love to talk about what they do. Undertakers? Don’t nobody ask them what they do.
amateur detective: has to have compelling reason to get involved and not leave it to the police
randall garreth; darcy series
the last policeman
nora roberts’ detective novels set in the future
do you read mysteries? Yes, all the time; new j d robb; anne bishops’s written in blood series; expanse series by james a corey; mike connolly; steven hunter; stewart mcbride; ben aaronovich rivers of london series
Crafting and Editing the Short Story
how involved are you in the process?
datlow: will buy imperfect stories, but will dig in and ask for changes, work with author to make it better; harder with new writers that may not take editing well
clarke: take everything from slush, always open to submissions, often working with new authors more; will work with author if they believe in the story
uncanny: usually buy more fully-cooked stories; there are enough submissions that they just don’t take the story if they don’t think it’s ready
swartzmann: often buy ready stories, but will sometimes pluck out a rough diamond and polish it, which makes him very very happy
williams: will work more with authors she hasn’t seen before; still rare though
what stops you from reading?
datlow: bad writing
uncanny: has to care about the characters
clarke: zombies…really anything that indicates they haven’t read the market guidelines
datlow: have to want to spend time with the character; don’t make them boring
what about problem endings?
datlow: usually means 3/4 of the way through they took a wrong turn
clarke: very frustrating for good story to have bad ending
uncanny: the sigh of having given up on a story
williams: wait to send stories out; your subconscious can come up with things to improve it if you give it a chance
uncanny: problem she often sees is the tendency to describe everything instead of only the things relevant to plot and characters
datlow: not supposed to do talking head stories, but can use descriptions of events around them to prevent it from being boring
clarke: seek out slush reading opportunities; good way to see what’s out there and what mistakes people make
williams: buys 6 stories a month; receives around 1,000 submissions a month
swartzmann: in humor, don’t try too hard, and make sure reader can enjoy story even if they don’t find it funny
uncanny: take chances, don’t reproduce what you see out there
datlow: humor a harder sell for her because she usually doesn’t find it funny
uncanny: many stories are bittersweet, so will look for whimsy to lighten the mood
Mind of villains
psychopaths are born not made
reactive attachment disorder comes from environment, inconsistent caregiving before age of 2
not good or bad caregiving, just inconsistent
passed around from caregiver to caregiver, start to view people as providers of services, not worthwhile as individuals
pdf from doj on problems with criminal justice in the united states
most psychopaths choose to follow the rules of society for their own benefit
if you have a psychopath as your villain, you need something to kick them out of their natural rule-following
don’t know what fear is or what love is
but can have long-term relationships or get married, just don’t feel love
10% of murders in US are committed by children (under 18)
kids released at 21 have no higher incidence of crime as adults than anyone else
children kill for different reasons than adults; when take them out of that environment, they stop (take them out of abuse, teach them anger control, etc)
in court cases, often someone sitting in the back crying; usually the mother; “why are they picking on my child?”
hitler attached to his dog, attached to his cousin; would he have had anyone killed if he’d gotten into art school?
there’s a way to raise a psychopath: reward good behavior immediately and punish bad behavior immediately; give them the praise that they crave
BTK killer was church leader, good husband, good father
tend to see people that do evil as “really” evil: he was a good father but really he was a serial killer. It’s not but really, it’s *and*.
most people that do evil are people, with good and bad that they do
bones is a great example (in early seasons) of a successful psychopath
psychopaths are normal: 1 out of 100 people is one
psychopaths can empathize with other people
if you call psychopaths on their bs, they’ll try to spin it with them as victims or play it off as an accident
psychopathy and high intelligence are not correlated, but intelligence and being in prison is: prison population of us is more intelligent than general pop (though with lower education level)
It’s in Kansas City this year, which is only a 4.5 hour drive for us. For once, no plane tickets to buy 🙂
This’ll be our first WorldCon, so I’m both excited and nervous. A lot of our friends will be there, but so will many — ye gods, so many — of the authors I admire. I’m going to try to keep my squee to an acceptable level.
Also, thanks to the efforts of Tanya Washburn and the Accessibility Committee, there’s going to be multiple ASL-interpreted events! The Masquerade, all Business Meetings, the Hugo Awards Ceremony, and the Paul and Storm Concert will all be accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing.
They’ve even arranged for a personal interpreter for my wife for one day of the Con, so she can enjoy that day’s panels as much as anyone else.
It’s going to make a huge difference in my wife’s independence during, and participation in, the Con. The Accessibility Committee has been very responsive and welcoming, and I’m quite thankful for their efforts.