The Issue of Names
jwoliver
Every now and again, I consider adopting a pseudonym for my writing. I find the world is rife with John Oliver's and adding another to the mix (even with a "W" in the middle) is hardly distinctive. I know I shouldn't really worry about it. I should concentrate on my writing and let an agent or editor figure it out it when I get to the point when I really need to be branded. However, with short story publishing, I think of that as laying the foundation of my later career, so I should try to adopt the name I plan to use earlier rather than later.

It must seem silly to worry about something as simple as a name, but I do. Blah. I just needed to say this to someone. I know my wife gets to hear about it often enough from me.

Conjecture is Coming
jwoliver
It's been a little bit since I updated my LJ, but hey, it's not forgotten.

One of the things I wanted to say is I'm excited with Conjecture coming up in a couple of weeks. I'm excited to see Robert J. Sawyer. I'm excited to witness another bout of Iron Hack. I'm excited to see my name potentially along side some cool people on the coming panels. I'm also excited to catch up with friends (some of which are on those panels).

In the meantime, I'm cranking out a cool piece. Not sure what I'm going to do with it, but I'll figure that out once I have it finished. I also have something interesting fermenting in the back of my head. And yeah, I think fermenting is the right word.

So take care, and I'll be seeing a number of you soon.

Coping with Distractions
jwoliver
I haven't been too productive this past week with my writing. Of course, I suffered the doom-sickness that rendered me almost voiceless for a week, but that's just a poor excuse. Even though I did get a lot more sleep the past week than I usually do, I still had plenty of awake-time no one was paying me for.

It would be easier to blame my resurfaced interest in genealogy. I've spent plenty of idle time uselessly googling obscure names as I work on entering the previously researched records I do have into my database. I've also found a couple of useful podcast resources, but I talked about these last time and you all know how to use the scroll bar. I find the research consuming my thoughts even when I'm not in front of a computer. It's like a good book that I have an active part in. And I've come to realize, it's a book without end.

Now, if I continued at my current pace, I won't get a lick of writing done in four months; pretty much until I burn myself out. Then I'll limp back to my project and try to pick it back up. Knowing me, I'll start something new, all those doubts having crept in while I wasn't looking. The good thing is that I know this about myself and can adjust my course so I do things a little differently.

What I need to do is cut back the genealogical research. Even ration it to myself. Take the sheets that need to be entered off my desk and put them back in the binder. When I'm ready for the next one, I can pull it out. I need to limit my intake of the podcasts. Pretty much, I need to allow less of the genealogy in my daily life and let my project fill its place.

By airing my intent here, I'm publicly making myself accountable to this plan. Once I ween myself away, I should be good. It's just like WoW; the first week or two is the worst. So let's hear it for obsessive personalities that like to concentrate on collecting things and other projects to the exclusion of everything else.

Distracted by Genealogy
Face pic
jwoliver
We all find our own ways to procrastinate, and over the years, I've found more than a few: hanging out with friends, getting your character to the next level in World of Warcraft, gaming with your friends, painting miniatures, joining an international live-action role-playing troupe, running games for said troupe, going to con, spending time with your family, petting the cats, cleaning the house. I can go on and on and on, and there's never really an end to the extent I'll go to procrastinate.

Like writing this blog.

That being said, I usually find a very fulfilling and satisfying way to wheedle away my time. I love gaming. I love my friends. I love my family. And well, I just dredged up another one. Genealogical research. It combines my interest in my family's origins with my interest in history. Not to mention my penchant to wile away hours with browsing the internet (another one of those procrastination practices). I've already procured a genealogical database and started entering records. Being as I'm working off of my grandmother's work, I have a lot of research to get through before I start my own. And she compiled it all before computers made the work a heck of a lot easier. She was one dedicated woman.

To help me get my own research practices into the 21st-century, I started listening to a couple of podcasts by Lisa Louise Cooke: Genealogy Gems and Family History: Genealogy Made Easy. With these podcasts, I'm arming myself with the tools necessary to go down this trail. And really, it's an endless trail I'm stepping onto.

The writer in me though can't help considering the story possibilities of my research. Really, everything a writer touches is fodder, and often the more personal it is, the more emotional resonance it has, the stronger the kernel that might be generated from it. The thought of speculating about the whys and wherefores about the decisions of my ancestors is enticing, and I'm looking forward to many hours of procrastination ahead.

First-time Panelist (kind of)
jwoliver
Over the past weekend, I attended Condor XVII here in San Diego. It was pretty much the first time I sat as a panelist at a convention. Yeah, I'd done it for the one con at Conjecture 2007, but it felt like forever when I sat down in front of everyone this weekend. I was a little rough, but I had a good time and the audience seemed to as well.

For the duration of the weekend, I was scheduled for six panels. They were:


    Friday, February 26, 2010
  • Science and Technology Before Its Time: C. J. Cherryh, William Stoddard, Jefferson Swycaffer (M), John Oliver, Bret Culpepper

  • Saturday, February 27, 2010
  • Pirate Republics: C. J. Cherryh, William Stoddard, Matt Pallamary (M), Sherwood Smith, John Oliver

  • Hogwarts Educational Retreat: Muggle Studies (Muggle Eye for the Wizarding Guy): Kate Morgenstern, John Oliver, Kathy Lear (M)

  • Inventing A Visual Style for an Imaginary Culture: David Trowbridge, Ramona Szczerba, Shweta Narayan, John Oliver (M)

  • Roundtable: What Would You Like To See Made Into Movies? – John Oliver

  • Sunday, February 28, 2010
  • Potter And Twilight: Do blockbusters bring in readers to SF and fantasy in general?: Chris Marie Green, John Oliver, Val Ontell (M)


The first couple of panels I started off on, I felt very much out of my depth. The rest of the panelists were very knowledgeable, and every time I opened my mouth, I sounded tongue-tied. I often had enough "ums" and "ems" to make everything else I said unintelligible. I had lunch with Matt Pallamary and Betina Davis, and Matt had some great news about a film project he's been a part of. However, I can't remember the life of it for the life of me. I'll have to poke around the more and find out. These panels also provided me with the chance to meet C.J. Cherryh, and later on on Sunday, I had a drink with her, Jane Fancher, and some local friends: Shweta Narayan, Nathaniel, Sharon Mock and Zak Jarvis (whom I had had dinner with the night before).

By the afternoon, I was beginning to hit my stride. Picking up a couple of lulls in the Muggle Eye of the Wizarding Guy (which was a cool panel where I pretended to be a katana-umbrella wielding wizard in a cowboy hat and a haori). I had a small slip in the Visual Styles panel. Mostly because we had hit a lull and all of my prepared questions had been covered by the intense discussion going back and forth between Shweta and David, and the question that had just dawned on my slipped out of my brain as quickly as it had slipped in. In retrospect, I should have asked for questions. After all, there were only 10 minutes left at that point. I'll know next time. At the end of the day, the roundtable went by painlessly, and I got to sit back and have a Corona.

The next day, I had an early morning panel where most of the potential audience was still in bed. It went well though. I took up the mantel of moderator, and we had a pretty good discussion about how blockbuster movies affect fantasy and science fiction. And later we went off to talk about how they were changing mainstream, young adult and middlegrade as well. It was a very positive discussion. The best of them all. I was sad to finish it as I was just managing to hit my stride.

So, do I plan on doing this again? Absolutely. Conjecture is in six months or so, and I plan on volunteering for the duty. I need to expose myself to these situations so I become more comfortable and articulate. I'm always more comfortable in front of the page than speaking in front of people, and I need to alter the balance here a little. I wish I still had the opportunity to role-play a bit more. I was definitely more comfortable with pulling crap from no where when I did, but I can't afford to start running games myself. Just not enough energy to start that endeavor.

And a bit about the Saturday night entertainment, Steam Powered Giraffe kicks butt. Check them out when you have a chance.

Reviewing Writer's Workshop of Horror, edited by Michael Knost
jwoliver


I've read mote than my fair share of writing books in the past twenty years. And until a month ago, I'd kept them all. In a desperate attempt to make room for more books, I donated the ones I had grown out of or just weren't that good to begin with. At least the Friends of the Library could make a little money off of them, or a friend or two could add them to their collections (the good ones that is). Since'm winnowing the books of my shelf, I try to be picky about what I want to replace them with. Which isn't always an easy task considering how many books pass through my hands each day. However, I broke down and bought Michael Knost's Writer's Workshop of Horror, and after consuming it all, it will find a space on my bookcase.

The WWoH is an anthology of articles, written by prominent members in both the small and large presses of the publishing field. So many in fact, it would do a disservice to anyone to list a select few here. You can always go by Mr. Knost's website to learn all you need to know about the book's contents. Under Mr. Knost's invitation, these authors wrote about their respective strengths and knowledge, giving the reader a concise glimpse into their craft. The result is an engaging read from a variety of voices in the field. He writes in the Introduction, "I wish I could have read Writer's Workshop of Horror during my first year in the craft." And I have to agree.

Among the articles that caught my attention in particular was Gary A. Braunbeck's "Connecting the DOTS." It spoke of the importance of immersive character development, and explaining tools in terms that actors us. I hadn't even heard of DOTS (which stands for Definition of the self) before this, and after reading the article, I couldn't help noticing it cropping up elsewhere. I am thankful to Mr. Braunbeck for at least increasing my awareness of the topic.

Another article made me think twice about musings about experimenting with screenwriting. Lisa Morton's "Why Writing Horror Screenplays is REALLY Scary" doesn't beat around the bush with what must be done. Number one among them is moving to Los Angeles. And while I do not live too far away from the old smog bowl, there's a big difference between San Diego and L.A.. Not to mention I don't think my wife would be too keen on the idea. Oh well, I suppose I can dabble, so long as I don't expect much more.

Oh, and the most important article for me was, "Time, and How to Make it," by Brian Keene. Another kick in the pants to keep myself moving, its always nice to have this subject reinforced over and over again.

Honestly, there are a lot of articles in WWoH for writers of all levels. I would recommend taking a gander through this book and adding it to your library. It's worth the valuable space on your shelf.

A Look at Horns
jwoliver
Horns is the second novel to be released by Joe Hill, the author of Heart-Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts. It follows Iggy Perrish when he wakes up one morning to find a new pair of horns poking out of his head and pees down his leg. From here, we follow him into his despair over the rape and death of his girlfriend, Merrin Williams. And everyone in town thinks he did it.

Now, I could tell you a hell of a lot more about the novel, but you can just as easily hop over to Amazon or Mr. Hill's site and check it out. Or better yet, pick up the book and read it yourself.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The layering and development of the characters is intricate. What you think about someone at one point may be significantly altered later. The way Mr. Hill uses flashbacks is well managed, and I enjoyed the device he employed to draw the past into the now. The development of these characters compounds the story making an intricate weave that is a delight to unravel.

Like in Heart-Shaped Box, the characters did not instantly appeal to me, because he paints them in vivid shades of gray that can repel as well as attract. I enjoyed the effect, but if you need to like your characters straight away, it might put you off. I would recommend hanging on though, because you're in for a great experience.

It is also interesting that Horns is set in the same world as Heart-Shaped Box. It is not a series. You do not have to read one to understand the other. There are just hints (very concrete ones). I am already anxious for his next book to see how this builds in the long run.

Discovering History . . . Podcasts
jwoliver
As I listen to my queue of podcasts, I inevitably get caught up and have to go looking for something new. And in my search, I've been able to rediscover how much I love history.

Yeah, I read history books when the opportunity arises, but I have to fit them along with the rest of my reading, which gets rather crammed when I'm trying to schedule writing, a second job and just time with my family as well. I had been checking out the occasional history audio book from the library when I see a subject that appeals to me, but often, there isn't much that strikes my fancy.

So when I was searching the other day, I remembered one of the podcasting hosts mentioning a podcast about the 12 Byzantine Emperors. Taking that clue, I started poking around for that podcast. Sadly, I haven't been able to find it yet. However, I have been able to find a couple of others that have fed my need so far, and I expect to lead me to others.

The first one I found was Binge Thinking: HIstory Podcast, by Tony Cocks. With an emphasis on a British perspective on history, Tony Cocks takes the time to put together a quality production, working out the scripting of each episode ahead of time, but it does not sound like it's being read. The podcast is very easy to listen to and I would definitely recommend checking this one out. A particular topic will often take more episodes for Tony to tackle than he anticipated, but he is giving it his all, and I very much appreciate that.

After Binge Think, I headed on over to Histoyzine: The History Podcast, by Jim Mowatt. I heard about this podcast from Binge Think, when Tony Cocks said Historyzine had paid them compliments. So I went over and downloaded a few episodes and checked it out. One of the things I have thoroughly enjoyed is the podcast reviews. I won't have anymore problems finding more history podcasts as with each episode, Jim Mowatt reviews another. Additionally, his topics are a bit more succinct.

That's all I've been able to cover so far, but I expect to be absorbing more podcasts as the months go by. I really enjoy being able to absorb a subject this way. It feels very immersive, and I've already felt some of effects in my writing. I had a story I had been trying to put together for a few months, and the other night it just clicked. And I can owe that in part to the history podcasts I've been listening to.

World Fantasy Convention 2011--San Diego!
jwoliver
I am ecstatic.  The World Fantasy Convention is coming to San Diego in 2011.  Though WFC was only a short hop up the coast last year in San Jose, I was not able to make it.  I really wanted to, but the stars were not right.  I stayed home in sunny San Diego instead.

Why do I want to go to WFC?  Well, a big part of it is I want to be a professional in this business, and WFC is where the professionals come together.  I want the opportunity to meet people, rub elbows and just immerse myself in the industry.  It does not matter to me if I am a amateur at the moment.  I know what I want, and diving in head first is the best way to approach it.

Oh yeah, it does not hurt that Neil Gaiman is going to be the Author Guest of Honor, Shawna McCarthy the Editor Guest of Honor and Connie Willis the Toastmaster.  Even from a year and a half away, it looks like an awesome line up.  I just need to make sure I buy my ticket before they sell out.  I am sure since it's going to be located in Southern California, the tickets are going to be picked up a little quicker.

So I have a carrot to dangle in front of myself to encourage my writing for the next year or so.


How the Internet Got Me to Buy Spellbent
jwoliver
I like urban fantasy, but I tend to have discerning tastes. Butcher is fun, but I find there's something missing from Green. I love de Lint. Pratt was different and weird. I keep my eye open for weird and different. When Lucy A. Snyder's Spellbent came into my story a couple of weeks ago, I had already been sold. Through over a year's worth of internet marketing, I had been primed.

I first heard of Lucy Snyder through the podcast, Pod of Horror. Nancy Kalanta was pimping Snyder's collection of short stories, Sparks & Shadows. Yes, Nancy's company, HW Press, did publish the book, but generally any publisher isn't going to put something into print that they don't believe in. And to this day, Pod of Horror has a promotional mention of her book at the beginning of each episode, keeping her name fresh in my mind.

So when Facebook suggested I might want to be Friends with Lucy Snyder, I recognized her name and clicked the "Yes" button. Occasionally, I'd noticed an update from her appear, but honestly, I follow so many people it's hard to remember everything that's going on. However, when her icon changed to a neat piece of artwork of a girl with a fiery eye, I started to pay attention. This was how I learned Spellbent was coming out from a major publisher, and as I saw new updates from her, my interest was drawn.

Come the end of December, when I opened a box of mass markets and saw eight spines of Spellbent staring up at me, something clicked. In my mind, the book had already been sold. Since, I've consumed its contents and have found myself pimping it to my friends.

One of the things I took away from this experience is the importance of an internet presence for an author. Not that I didn't know this before, but it's nice to have a personal experience to verify what you know. If Nancy Kalanta hadn't been talking about the book, Mark Justice not including its promotional ad on Pod of Horror and Lucy Snyder hadn't been keeping up with Facebook, this book would've quietly passed through my hands like a thousand others do everyday. A consistent presence gets you noticed. It can be quiet or loud. To me, that's all about personal style. However, if someone's heard your name before, they're more likely to pick up your book and give it a try.


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