Adventures Around the Web August 19-25, 2017


The Passive Voice

A Check Girl

This is a quote from a Raymond Chandler story.   Wow.  Just wow.

Susan Elia MacNeal on Signature

These Six Incredible Women Served as Undercover Spies During World War II

When I was in school, history that was taught wasn’t particularly interesting.  It was dates and events, not about the people.  Finding things like this on the internet gives history a very different perspective that’s often lost.  And well…spies.  Shared from Gail Reid in the Desert Storm Combat Women Facebook group.

Bored Panda

10+ of the Best Shorts of the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Number two is awesome!

Fossil Guy

Mallows Bay Ghost Fleet Along the Potomac River, Maryland

This is a ship graveyard in Maryland.  I would check it out, but it’s only accessible via the water.  But the story about it is pretty cool.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Business Musings: Eclipse Expectations

Kris was was in the starting place for the eclipse, so it’s got a lot of good details.  But it also talks about how hyped it was and people planned for big business in the totality areas–and didn’t get enough business.  Which slides right into what publishers do with books, like assuming everyone will buy a book because it’s like another book.  Very interesting post on marketing.

 

Snow, Power Outages, and Pantsing


We’ve had some very typical weather for Washington, though most of it is waaaaayyy early.  We don’t get frigid weather until January or February.

It was in single digits on Thursday.  Saturday started the day with freezing rain.  The ground was pretty slick.  Maryland had a 67 car accident on the freeway (no, that is not a typo!), and we had a 23 car one in Virginia.  People drive like it’s normal day, and we have major accidents.

Then the freezing rain turned to snow, and it warmed up a bit.  Was kind of nice on Sunday until 1:00 when a very cold wind blew in.  My power went out about 10 times between 1:00 and 5:00.  I want to write, and I have to get off so I don’t fry the computer!

I’m about 27K into the story, which translates as 10K.  Yes, I’ve written about 15K that is going bye-bye.  It takes me a while to write my way through the story. Some of my process is kind of like throwing paint at the wall to see what sticks.

My learning point on this is working on a B-story.  I thought it would be X when I started and even have a scene for it.  But as I wrote, a new character introduced herself into the story, and she’s very clearly the B-story.  So I’m thinking on some additional scenes early on for her.

But also as I got further into the story and events unfolded, some in quite unexpected ways, I realized that my opening chapter isn’t the right thing.  It served its purpose–get me started. But I had to learn more about what else was going to happen in the story so I could figure out how to open the story.

Being a pantser always means being open to change as the story evolves.

Time traveling back to the Colonial Era


One of the really nice things about the Washington Metropolitan area is that there’s a lot you can see without necessarily going on a long, expensive trip.  I usually dislike going into Washington, DC, where all the tourists tend to be, not to mention even drive through it to get to Maryland.  It’s because the roads are convoluted to navigate, and the city is hungry to give tickets for anything.

But Virginia has many different places to visit that I have sometimes dig around to find.  Not all of them are advertised.  Some are free, some cost $3-$15, so it can depend both on budget and what I want to see that day.  Last weekend, I happened to run across a community advertisement for the Claude Moore Colonial Farm.  They were having a Market Fair on Saturday and Sunday.  I decided to go Sunday because I figured they wouldn’t be crowded.

The Claude Moore Colonial Farm is located in McLean, Virginia, right near the CIA.  I believe I drove right behind the CIA to get to it!  At least I couldn’t explain why there were gates and armed guards.

When I got to the entrance, I was shocked to the parking lot was packed.  People were parking on the grass and the shoulder.  I drove several times through the parking area, trying to find a spot that wouldn’t block someone in.  I finally found one, and this guy pulled in beside me.  We’re looking around, wondering if it would work.  My concern was someone parking behind me and blocking me in.

Keeping my fingers crossed, I heard up to the entrance and paid my $7.  During regular events, the site is a historic demonstration of a family working a farm.  They rotate the crops four times a year, so visitors can get a different experience from summer to winter.  The family dresses up in clothing of the time and interacts with the visitors.

The Market Fair was probably more like what you would see in a fantasy novel.  It consisted of market stands set up in the area, though in this case, they were selling things like perfume soaps and men’s products.  The stands were manned by volunteers in period costumes.  There was also a puppet show and a juggler for the kids.

The chicken was cooked on a giant spit, and corn was boiled in a pot over an open fire.  The corn was absolutely delicious.  It was sweet and succulent.  It was also very popular.  They kept running out!

Chicken roasting on an outdoor spit as smoke blows out.
Chicken roasting on a spit.

After that, I wandered down and checked out the farm.  It’s quite large, which is good to get walking in while enjoying the history.

I found a pen with pigs in it.  They didn’t seem at all bothered by the humans gawping at them, and I was able to reach down and touch one (the one on the right in the photo).  His/her fur was very sparse, almost wiry.  Not soft at all.

Down angle of two pigs in a pen.
Pigs in a pen

 

I wandered inside one of the buildings.  A woman was at a table making a simple cake while a fire roared in the fireplace.  I checked out the contents of the pot in the fireplace, and she told me it was an apple chutney.  She was going to use a dutch oven for the cake and put it on the fire (enlarge the photo so you can see the chutney).

A pot of apple chutney hangs over a fire in a fireplace
Apple chutney cooking

On the way to it, I spotted another place that I’m going to have to drop in and visit, Turkey Run Park. So more exploring is in order!

A conveniently timed The Daily Post Prompt:

‘Tis the season for road trips — if time and money were out of the equation, what car-based adventure would you go on? (If you don’t or can’t drive, any land-based journey counts.)

A Temporal Rift to Darkover Con


Thanksgiving Weekend (after Turkey Day!), I went to my first Darkover Con in Baltimore, and also my last, since it’s undergoing a name change.   The person who owned the licensing for the name recently died without passing it on, so they had to do a name change.  Next year’s will be called Chessiecon, which refers to Chesapeake.  Not sure I like the new name …

The con did start on a bit of a sour note for me.  They were so eager to promote the new name that I thought Chessiecon was the con this year.  I found flyers for Chessiecon but none for Darkover, and this was more than a year in advance.  Chessiecon also had a different website, almost identical dates.  This, by the way, is what happens when you’re not detail-oriented.  I booked the con in advance and wound up not being registered for the actual con …

I’m still not sure what I think of the con itself.  To be fair, the con was the last one, and it was a memorial for the person who had died.  Since I was attending for the first time, I didn’t have the context that everyone else did.  Since it was the last con with this name, they had a few workshops dedicated to variations of that theme.  The result was that it seemed a little content-lite for a newbie like me.

However, I also look for specific things in a con.  I like workshops on reading or reading-related, plus writing.  Demonstrations are also really cool to watch, and I like it when someone sets up a table and I can handle things.  I also have really enjoyed some of the science workshops (not all.  The speaker’s presentation abilities really make a difference).   Unfortunately, schedules are generally not available until right before the con starts.

But there were a few interesting workshops:

Military/SF.  Mike McPhail and Kathy Harmon (sorry, name was too common, and I couldn’t find her site).

Well, yeah, you knew I had to attend this.  Most of the panelists didn’t show up so the audience filled the void.  One of the things that was surprising to me was about a book I’d gotten, called No Man’s Land.  It’s a book about women soldiers in space.  The editor Mike McPhail mentioned that he had trouble getting promotion for it.  The SF side wasn’t interested, and the feminists decided that women in the military were wannabe men.

Hmm.  Hey, feminists, you do know that I enlisted because I needed a job?

Cross-Genre.  Panelists: Katherine KurtzMeriah CrawfordD.H. Aire, and Melissa Scott.

This one was on crossing science-fiction with mystery.  I know of writers who never ever read outside their genre, and I read where ever the books take me.  This panel discussed the appeal of mysteries, and of solving the unanswered puzzles.

Research.  Panelists: Melissa Scott, Leona Wisoker, D.H. Aire, and Electra Hammond.

I approached this one with caution because fiction writers can treat research like they’re being graded on a term paper.  Story has to come first and sometimes the best tale isn’t accurate, and sometimes the facts get in the way of the story.  I saw recently a writer saying you would only use 10% of what you researched — that’s a lot of time wasted researching and not writing.  I’d much rather it be closer to 50-60% and then reusing the rest on another project.

It was an okay con, but if I hadn’t booked the next one accidentally, I’d probably take a pass on it, since it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

Week 1: A Month of Setting


This is my first week of just working on doing the details of descriptions by looking around the Washington, DC area.  I wanted to do real places because it’s very hard for me to get even the most ordinary of details into the story.  I’m finding as I do these, my head keeps going, “Why would anyone care about this?” and yet, it’s what I I keep getting comments on.

Virginia

1. It was hard not to pull back the blinds and look outside.  Just verify that nothing was really out there.  The wind moaned, and the skeletal fingers of the tree branch scratched at the window.  It sound like some thing was trying to get in.

2. She hated this time of the year, the first day when the cold really settled in.  It didn’t look cold outside. The sky was a bright blue, clouds spilling across it like white foam.  But then the evil winds blew, trying to sever the warmth from her body.

3. The house wasn’t hard to find.  It was a Cape Cod, white gone down to dingy and suffering from three additions too many.

4. She padded down one flight of stairs to the entrance.  Leaves had wandered in through the doorway to escape the rain, yellow going brown and dry. 

5. It looked like a maniac had slaughtered the Christmas decorations.  They were those big inflatable ones that people get to show how rich they were.  There must have been a grand worth of them on the lawn, all in deflated puddles on the dried grass.

Maryland

6. The whomp-whomp drew her eyes briefly to the sky.  A olive-brown and white helicopter followed the line of the freeway, then turned off toward Andrews Air Force Base.

This is the helicopter.  We see it a lot around Washington, DC.

7. I passed by the hotel sign three times before I spotted it.  Seemed almost as if the owner had hidden the hotel because he was embarrassed he’d had to build it in an industrial park.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to visit a ship graveyard?!


I was working on developing an idea for a story based on a title which included the word river.  So I needed a river and since the Potomac River runs through the area, I started searching on it to see what looked interesting.

I was greatly surprised to find a ship graveyard at Mallows Bay in Maryland!  It’s about 200 ships from World War I.  The government hired a company to build ships for the war effort, only the ships were so shoddy that they were leaving the dock leaking.  Hmm.  A hundred years and the government is still letting shoddy stuff go out.

Since the war was winding down, the ships were sold off.  That company raided the boilers and other metalwork and then sank the ships in Mallows Bay.  Now nature has taken over the wrecks:

The ships are still there, now barely more than the outlines of their hulls. Nature has taken over. Trees as high as 50 feet sprout from some ships, and animals have made themselves at home.

“There are beaver, river otter, an incredible population of bass,” Don said. “I once saw six bald eagles at one time.”

I thought about rushing over that weekend since it’s only 50 miles away, and well, shipwrecks!  But it’s not like I can walk along the shore and go “Ooh!  Ghosts!”  They can only be accessed by kayak.  Fortunately, someone was kind enough to shoot a video so I could ride over the shoulder and see what they saw.  Enjoy!

Cowbells at the writer’s conference


A hotel conference room with tables and people
This is what a pitch session looks like

 

I went to the Books Alive! In Bethesda, MD, this weekend (formerly, the American Independent Writers Conference).  In this case, I wasn’t attending the conference, but running the agent pitch session all day.  This is what the pitch session looked like:

I run it like a drill sergeant (though I was never one in the army).  We stay on time.  Period.  The authors had eight minutes, and I called a two minute warning for the agents, and then time.   One of the volunteers brought a cow bell I could ring when time was up.  Sometimes I said “Moo” to the agents (yes, I really did).

To prove it, here’s the photo …

Me with the cowbell
Moo!

 

In keeping with cows, I had my Moo cards with me, in my Arc planner.  I just had the planner open on the table with all the pretty colors on the cards (did you expect anything else).  That caught the eye of two agents, and they’d never even heard of Moo cards.  So I was happily giving away cards as examples.  Never know …

Emory Hackman, me, and Mike Causey
Pitch session volunteers Emory Hackman and me with Mike Causey

 

 

Tidbits from Balticon


This weekend I went to a science fiction convention in Baltimore, Maryland, called Balticon.  Every con has its own personality, and Balticon is more for the small press publishers.  These were some of the tidbits I picked up.

Social Media is Indirect Marketing

One of the points a panel brought up was that social media is indirect marketing.  That is, posting tweets or blogs doesn’t make a reader jump over to buy a book.  More likely, the repetition of the name is what will make the sale.  You’ll go to a con, see an anthology, recognize an author name, and that’ll trigger the consideration for buying.

All this lead to the comment that not to spend 55% of your time on social media, and instead focus on getting more stories out there.

A pink power strip with a pink plug
A shameless plug (sorry, I couldn’t help myself. 🙂 )  Photo is from Clipart.com

For Pantsers: Don’t Rely on Memory.  Keep a Story Bible

Yup.  I’m guilty of this.  I can see the problem because eventually I will forget things, especially if I’m not in the story for a while.  But simply filling up a notebook with random information about characters is not going to work for me.  So I’m thinking of doing it more visually, like the one below.

A family tree showing my main character and his parents, his mother's siblings, and his mother's parents.

A family tree for the main character.  Four additional characters on this appear in the book.  I did this using PowerPoint (I’m a PowerPoint speed demon.  Most of the time was looking up several of the character names).

Birds are dinosaurs!

Cool fact from Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. from the University of Maryland, who specializes in dinosaurs.  Scientists have learned a lot from recent discoveries of fossils in China.  Dinosaurs may not have looked like reptiles, but more like birds, complete with feathers.  The bones don’t give us a good idea of what an animal looks like.  If you want to see some surprising examples off modern examples like cats and elephants, check out the book All Yesterdays.

Sea gull on a fishing pier
Did you know you’re a dinosaur?  This is a seabird from Virginia Beach.  Yes!  Beach pictures are coming!

Was it a good con?  Hmmm, well, I’ve been to better and to worse.  The science sessions, at least when they got a good presenter, were exceptional.   The writing ones were things I’d already heard before.  It looks like the con committee lost control of the scheduling.  There were a lot of workshops that were the same thing, only slightly different, and with one panel, it was done twice.

I did have an opportunity to meet fellow WANAer and HTYRNer Rabia Gale, who wrote up her own review of the convention.

Anyone else check out Balticon?

Also check out:

Convention Review: Capclave 2012


For my last con of the year, it was off to Clapclave, which was in Maryland.  Not that far for me, but I was glad I stayed in the hotel.  The temperature dropped on the first day, and it was cold and windy.  I think everyone was a little scratchy.

The con itself had a studious vibe to it.  There were a lot of workshops — nothing too crazy like what would the military do during a zombie apocalypse (at a previous con).  There was one on research that was interesting and had a surprise guest, A.C. Crispin.  One on Details was a waste of time for me — they focused more on doing too much and I felt like they blew off my question about not being detail oriented.  The result was that they might as have been talking in French, and I didn’t speak the language.

The one workshop that really caught my attention was “Online Presence.”  The first thing was that the authors on the panel came across as knowledgeable.  In the other ones I’ve been to, it sounds like the lost leading the lost.  Panelists included Jamie Todd Rubin, Morgan Reyes, and John Scalazi.

For the writers here, we all know that publishers say we have to have a platform and promote ourselves via social media.  Platform is about expertise and credentials.  When I first heard about platform, non-fiction writers were blogging about it, telling fiction writers they needed a platform.  But beyond that, there wasn’t any answers.  And there still isn’t.  If I run a time management business for creative people, I have a platform because that expertise and credentials are there.  That’s going to be the reason readers will buy the book and visit me on social media.

But fiction?  What the heck do you do with that?

So one of the things that was mentioned at the workshop was that platform makes no sense for fiction writers, and that it’s been abused so much that it doesn’t mean anything.  It’s just a way for the publishers not to do their job.

Thank you! That mirrors my opinion.  I see other writers saying that platform is essential, but all those writers fit into three categories:

  1. Already published, so they have the credibility for the platform and are growing their existing base.
  2. Their platform is focused in a non-fiction area (usually for writers).
  3. They are already published in fiction, but are focusing on a non-fiction platform (usually for writers).

Other points that came out of the workshop:

  • Not everyone is suited for an online presence.
  • People are going to know when you’re going through the motions (I think this about 3/4s of the writers on Twitter who keep spamming me because I’m a writer).

But what’s a successful example?

  • Something that’s a joy to read.
  • Make it worth someone’s time.

So I’ll leave you with this question: Do you believe in platform for fiction authors?

VISIT

Shannon Knight’s blog post on Making Zombies, which poses the interesting question of “Why are we drawn to monsters?”

Charlie Gilkey’s Productive Flourishing, which is a time management business for creatives.  He has a handy blog planner, which is one of the reason I’m trying out themes.

Photos: Fall Colors of Washington, DC


Just thought I’d share some photos of the fall colors in Washington, DC.  We didn’t get much rain, so a lot of the trees don’t have good color.  But there are a few standouts.

A tree in front of the Hilton turns red.

 

This was taken while I was at Capclave in Maryland.  That’s the con hotel in the background.A tree's leaves turn orange.

 

This guy was blooming out in the convention parking lot.  I love the oranges and reds of fall, but with the trees so dry, these weren’t as vivid this year.Park path lined with trees changing to a variety of yellows.

 

The trees are starting to change color at Potomac Overlook Park, Virginia.Up angle shot of overhanging tree trunk framed by red and green leaves.

 

This was a tree trunk that leaned over the path.A small tree's leaves turn bright red and are framed by the still green trees around it.

 

One tree turns orange amidst all the green.Small trees bloom red.

 

And a fiery one.

How have the fall colors been where you’re at?