WonderCon 2019: Day Two

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

audience questions:

  • 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

audience questions?

  • 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
  • abc/disney
  • 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

audience questions:

  • 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

Writing Fear

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

WonderCon 2019: Day One

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

Pak Talk!

greg pak

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

dragon flight?

  • 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

audience questions:

  • 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

Notes from WorldCon 2016: Day Four

Non-anglophone authors you should know

  • dr schaff-stump: japan and russia
  • kastersmidt: born in texas, living in brazil
  • dr lyau: specialty is french sci-fi
  • 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

Notes from WorldCon 2016: Day Three

Flash Fiction: Short but not easy

  • 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
  • favorite stories?
    • 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
  • current markets?
    • flash fiction online; daily science fiction
    • unsung stories (uk)
    • fantasy and science fiction takes some flash
    • mothership zeta
    • vestal review
  • 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
    • downum: ditto
    • 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

  • gail carringer
  • 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
  • best rejection?
    • 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

Notes from WorldCon 2016: Day Two

Enjoying urban fantasy

  • diana rowland: white trash zombie
  • melissa f olson: tor.com novellas
  • what do you like about uf?
    • city as character
    • looking at things just a little differently
    • 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?
    • immediacy
    • tight perspective
    • 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
  • term: incluing
  • 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
  • common mistakes?
    • 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

To WorldCon!

Wife and I are heading off to WorldCon today!

It’s in Kansas City this year, which is only a 4.5 hour drive for us. For once, no plane tickets to buy ­čÖé

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┬áthe 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┬áduring, and participation in, the Con. The Accessibility Committee has been very responsive and welcoming, and I’m quite thankful for┬átheir efforts.

Allons-y!