April Already?

Updates

     I’ve finished two novels since my last blog post. Okay, one of them was already
almost finished, and the other was well along — but now they’re actually finished.

     In early February, I finished and turned in Mercy Kill, the next Star Wars: X-Wing novel. The Monday after I finished it, I turned to Growing Up Dead, the humorous
vampire adventure I’d written and mostly completed in 2010 and 2011. Across February
and early March, I polished it into completed form and passed it on to my agent. The
day after I completed it, I returned to Mercy Kill to proofread and amend the copyedited
manuscript, then returned that to Del Rey.

     So — yeah, it’s been a little busy.

     And during that time, I passed a milestone: the three-year anniversary of my
heart attack, which started March 27, 2009 and was diagnosed (when I was
hospitalized) on March 29, 2009.

     It’s good to still be here, and to be completing projects. Thanks go to everyone
who’s offered help during those three years.

Appearances

     I just updated my Appearance Schedule page
with loads of information about my
summer convention schedule.

     The fun starts on May 5, when I do a signing at Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy
in Austin, TX in celebration of Free Comic Book Day. Peter Mayhew, portrayer of
Chewbacca in the Star Wars movies, will be signing at the same event.

     Then there’s an updated schedule for my attendance of the Origins Game Fair at
the end of May/beginning of June. There are notes on ArmadilloCon in July and Celebration VI in
August. Rounding out the list is information on my activities at Dragon*Con at the end of August/beginning
of September, including a complete listing of the writing seminars Michael A. Stackpole
and I (joined this year by Alison Richards) will be conducting there.

     So, basically, a busy winter/spring is going to be followed by a busy summer.

Connect the Dots

(An Essay About Something That Confused Me)

     Once upon a time, I used to watch soap operas. These were the CBS daytime
soaps in the early 1990s — The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful,
Guiding Light, and As the World Turns. I did this chiefly to learn about sustaining plots and
character arcs across months and years, possibly across thousands of episodes.

     I also occasionally read entertainment-industry news stories about various soap
stars. A story that came up occasionally, apparently as a universal consequence of
being a soap star, told of actors being stopped by ardent fans of their shows. The fans
would speak to them as if they, the actors, were their characters. The fans would
criticize (even harangue) them for villainous behavior or offer sympathy for personal
tragedies… all without apparently being aware that these characterizations and events were
fictitious.

     I never could quite understand that behavior. Surely most of these fans actually
did understand they were watching TV shows. I know there are delusional people out
there, but the frequency of these stories seemed out of proportion to the
number of delusional folk I have personally encountered.

     More recently I rewatched a favorite movie of mine, Bob Clark’s brilliant A
Christmas Story
, in which one incident has young Ralphie dealing with the fact that his
grandparent can only think of him as being a very small child.

     And, believe it or not, that’s when the question of delusional soap opera fans
clicked for me.

     Picture this: Grandparents visit their grandchildren, who are now teenagers. An
awkward silence ensues between the grandparents and the grandchildren. Grandma,
uncomfortable, makes a noble effort to break the silence.

Grandma: “So, do you remember when you were two and you dropped the ice cream in
your lap?”

Teen Granddaughter: “No.”

Grandma: “Oh. Or the time when Billy pulled the arms off your doll and you were so
mad?”

Teen Granddaughter: “He likes to be called Will now. And no.”

     Believe it or not, that’s exactly the same situation as a fan accosting a soap
opera star with criticism of the star’s on-screen behavior.

     How, precisely, is it exactly the same?

     It has to do with context.

     Grandparents who selcom have the opportunity to see their grandkids have only
a few points of context, of connection, with those kids. And those points of connection
are often events from early in the kids’ lives, events they may have forgotten or prefer
not to remember in light of their current, striving-to-be-cool lives. But the grandparents
invoke those old events anyway, in a desperate attempt to bridge the gap of years, and
get eye-rolls and dismissiveness as a response.

     Back to the soap opera star. A fan approaches and is desperate to connect, just
for a moment, with a TV idol. But what are the fan’s points of connection? Only the
star’s character’s behavior and life events. So the fan slips into a conversation just as
awkward as the grandparents’. Except such a conversation is bound to sound more
interesting to onlookers.

Fan: “Do you remember when you had Sir James chained up in his
basement and the control panel caught on fire? Why did you run? Why didn’t you save
him?”

     Context.

     It’s easier for writers. People read our work and don’t somehow transfer us into
the events on our pages. (Which is good. I assure you that if I tried to fight a werewolf,
pilot a starfighter, or wield a sword, tragedy would ensue.)

     What’s the solution? Hell if I know. I’m just pleased to have come up with an
explanation for a behavior that confused me for years. Even if I’m totally wrong, other
people can argue about it while I sit back and relax.

     But if you run into someone you’re a fan of, and you’re stuck for something to
say, try this: “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I really enjoy your work.” You won’t sound like a
lunatic.

     (Disclaimer: No, I don’t disparage soap operas, and I don’t think most soap
opera fans are nutbags.)

Blogapalooza

     Several years back, I did a fair amount of blogging. I had blogs on starwars.com and LiveJournal — multiple blogs on the latter, in fact. Between them, I posted with some regularity.

     But I ran out of steam with the Star Wars blog and slowed down on LiveJournal. Then I
had my March 2009 heart attack, which was an interruption at every level of my life.

     But I knew I’d get back to posting some day, and here it is. I hope I won’t run out
of steam anytime soon. And maybe I’ll get my act together with regards to my Facebook and Twitter accounts as well.

Ivory Towers and Distant Lands

     I thought I’d start, self-referentiall enough, by talking about the relationship between writers and fans. See, although I’m an early adopter of some technologies and cultural changes, the interactivity between writers and their readers that has arisen in recent
decades is still a little alien to me.

     I grew up in a very SF&F friendly house, which gave me a keen awareness of writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Lester Dent, Walter B. Gibson, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke… And though I wanted from an early age to be a writer, it didn’t occur to me that at any point I might someday interact with people who read my work. All those writers whose work I knew were either dead or (as I perceived it) living in some remote land in citadels whence they never emerged to walk among mortals.

     Yeah, okay, I simply hadn’t thought this through. But in my childhood and teen years, I never met a published SF&F writer. Period.

     Only after I went off to college and then went to work for Steve Jackson Games, the Austin-based game publishing company, and began attending SF&F conventions, did I encounter authors in the flesh. They lived, they met fans, they gave talks, they ate pizza, they flirted, they argued… they were arguably human, and they were obviously far too numerous to live in just one remote citadel. It was kind of eye-opening.

     So the upshot is that now, even thirty years after I began experiencing this phenomenon, when someone walks up and says he or she is a fan of my work, I can accept it at an intellectual level but still have some trouble believing it an an emotional level. After all, these people have come to this conclusion before I was dead or living in a back corner of one of Mad King Ludwig’s Bavarian castles.

My Current Status

     An update on details, in no particular order, of my life…

Health

     Good. Taking all my medications and regularly seeing my doctors.

     Because of lingering ramifications from my heart attack and corrective surgery, air travel is still kind of demanding for me. Somehow, sitting in a cramped chair for hours, followed by a period of hustle-bustle through a busy airport, causes my fun, semi-inexplicable blood pressure drops to visit me with a greater frequency than I enjoy.

Public Appearances

     Related to the above, Dragon*Con was especially challenging for me this year.

     I was lucky enough to be on a flight to Atlanta with my friend Lillian Butler, who stepped in and took charge when I had one of those woozy post-flight sp3lls in the Atlanta airport. Thanks to her, I got through that all right, but I played it safe and didn’t overexert myself at the con itself. Apologies to members of the 501st, whom I’d hoped to join at their Saturday night mixer; I was just too pooped and chose to play it safe.

     Upcoming public appearances include Sci-Fi Expo’s Star Wars Fan Days and an SF&F event at the Pflugerville (TX) Community Library. Check my Appearance Schedule page for more details.

What I’m Working On

     Lots, including —

  • Mercy Kill, first and foremost. This is the first new Star Wars Wraith Squadron novel since 1999, a project I’ve hoped for years to be able to do.
  • Growing Up Dead, an original urban fantasy, a vampire action/comedy novel. It’s in rough draft form and I’m editing it into polished first draft form. I’m very pleased with the results so far.
  • Sky of Fire, an original fantasy novel still in the early writing stages.
  • “Replay Value,” a fantasy short story submitted to an anthology for (I hope) publication
    next year.
  • “Collide-o-Scope,” an SF short story now in rough draft form. It was originally intended for that same anthology but it got too long. Now I’ve set it aside for future development.
  • “Big Plush,” a longish SF pseudo-military short story intended for a military SF anthology. I won’t describe it yet except to say that it’s odd.
  • Plotting: The Novelist’s Workout Guide, a nonfiction work on the art of fiction plotting, which I hope to release in e-book form late this year.

     And a few weeks ago, I released a fantasy short story, “An Occurrence at Bifrost Bridge,” as an e-book. “Occurrence” tells the tender story of what happens when a 1940s-era fantasy author decides to put a bullet into his brain but is stopped by supernatural forces. It’s available for sale from the Kindle Store, the iBookstore, and my own sales web site, ArcherRat Publishing.

     So, yeah, I’ve been keeping busy, and that list doesn’t even include other work still in developmental stages. Feels good.

Last Notes

     That’s all for now. I hope to be back in a week or so.