Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween! Who wants literary candy?

I've just set up on Smashwords as a new distro for my e-books. (My cut's a little lower, but they have a huge distro range, and a pile of formats)

And they encourage a 50% sample! Yeah, that means any of you can go to , my smashwords page, and go down and read the first half of Lifehack or Watching Yute for free!

All you kiddies out there who said "I wanna get one, but..." You have no money, you can't do X,Y,or Z, or all your stolen creditcards have been reported by their owners... You can go read the first half of the books at least!

By then, I'll have you hooked on my sweet sweet candy. Then you will send me all your empty pop cans to get the book, and I WILL BE RICH! RICH IN MY CASTLE OF ALUMINUM! And I shall look across the lands from my sugar-sticky throne, breathing the air of caffeine, and I shall say, "Geez, I should get more writing done for Echoes of Erebus."

I know, I promised a pic of my coste for my next post, but my next post wasn't supposed ot be so soon. I just wanted to let y'all know about the free samples I have out now...!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

VCON day 2: Hard Sci-Fi, and space vampires.

Hopefully this one will be a bit shorter, as there was only really one event on day 2 that I haven't covered in previous posts. (My next post will be revealing my halloween costume, which I wore about 80% of through VCON, including the event I'm detailing in this post.)

So, roughly a week before VCON, I was informed I was on a panel talking about "Hard Sci-fi". The topic was to be about the usage of science, how 'real' you make it in fiction, how far you can bend the science in to make a story work, and how much you can push realism in science before it turns a novel into a textbook, or a commentary on a game of chess played by 2 copies of Big Blue coated in ritalin.

(That's my phrasing, not the official wording.)

I saw it as my chance to complain about Star Trek. The panelists were all there a tad early, myself last in the door- but still early. Our moderator, Rob Sawyer, (Ahem, Robert J. Sawyer) wrote Flashforward, which was picked up as TV show. He's written for a ton of stuff, won a ton of awards, and written for other TV as well....

So yeah, he was the nobody in the room..... Seriously tho, he was a blast, and became more of a panelist with us others up front, than a ref. BUT, he was running behind, as can happen to the big names at a con.

In the meantime, those of us in the panel decided to toy with the reason we were all there, and discuss how we use and abuse science in our books. It became quickly apparent that among us 'hard sci-fi' authors, I was the softest. That's fine by me overall... softest of the hard. Uhmm... that could be phrased better...

I mentioned how I abuse "EMP" (Electromagnetic pulse) in Lifehack. Commonly in mainstream sci-fi, an EMP is used to screw up electronics, and often, we're told that you can prevent damage from an EMP by shutting off your electronics.

This is BS. Avoiding EMP damage is a fair deal trickier, and does not necessarily require powering down. But I told them all that I went with the BS, because it was needed for the story, but I also explained that there were several sci-fi 'standards' that I won't use.

Here's where I picked on Star Trek a bit. I won't do warp-speed. I'm not even attracted to space travel in general. I won't do transporters, or food replicators, solid holograms, or time travel.

"And I have to apologize in advance to any Stargate:Atlantis fans, but-"

A girl in the front row, I'd guess 14 years old or so, gasped with horror, and switched to red alert. A lady sitting next to her, either her mum or a much older sister, laughed, put her arm around the girl, and said to me, "Oh, you're in trouble now!"

I looked directly at the girl with my most sympathetic face and tone, "I'm truly sorry... but SPACE VAMPIRES??"

The audience at large giggled as the girl hunkered down to bombard me with the grumpiest pout-glare she could summon. From time to time, I found reasons to say things like..."Just because I don't USE things like time travel, doesn't mean I can't enjoy books and shows that use these ideas, there's just not my style. So many of them have been done to death, I don't feel the need to add to that. Still, sometimes on TV, I'll see something just totally ridiculous that just makes me wonder what the writer was thinking... things like...."

And here, I narrow my gaze to the girl, " SPACE VAMPIRES!" Oh, I made myself an enemy, didn't I?

Later on, the panelist at the far end of the table, (I forget his name, but he's got his master's degree in...EVERYTHING, with bachelor of arts in ... EVERYTHING ELSE... so he was the hardest of the hard sci-fi authors in the room.

Anyway, he was going on about how ridiculous the space program was to suggest going to Mars, or to even bother going to the moon. I'm not sure what celestial body he was going on about at the time, but he'd entered a slow ranting laundry list of why colonization was a stupid idea.

It was something like "There's all this radiation, the light is totally unsuitable, there's no practical way to get supplies there, there's no oxygen, there's no water,-"

"There's no starbucks," I couldn't help interrupting. I don't think he took it personally, but it got a laugh from the audience, many of whom I feel may have been getting a little tired of his rant. I was actually into what he was saying, and I wouldnt have inturrupted if I didn't think he had made the point he was trying to, but between that and other cheap jokes, I was the comedian of the lineup, for better or worse. Blame the nerves.

I asked several people I ran into the rest of the day who I knew were at the panel, "Hey, did I make a COMPLETE ass of myself in there?" I think it was Rob who replied with a chuckle "COMPLETE ass? If that was your objective, I'm sorry to say you didn't achieve it." Good good.

When I got back to the dealer room, I ran into that girl, the Stargate:Atlantis fan. She presented herself boldly before me, and pointed at me. "There IS such a thing as intergalactic space vampires!"

I would have loved to discuss it further, but I was in a rush. "I dunno! I never met any!"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

VCON Day 1, part 2: The Book Launch

The dealer room closed at 7. All the dealers tidied up for a few minutes, and left the room to be locked up for the night.

By the time that was all done, I had a bit less than an hour to waste until the book launch. I don't want to send the wrong idea, it's not as if it was some huge gala event just for Watching Yute. Every year VCON has this event, where Authors of any sci-fi books released in the last year are invited to come and talk about their book.

Last year, I found out 2 weeks before the event that I'd be expected to do a reading. After the little panic attack, I carefully chose a passage from Lifehack, and did some practicing. It was going to go awful, I just knew it. But I was 'ready'.

And then the readings were canceled, due to unfavorable acoustics at the lounge. It turned into a 'meet & greet' casual thing. It was a disappointment and relief.

This year, (new location, BTW) I hadn't gotten an invite to the launch, but was ready. I had joined a couple meetup groups, at which I was asked to do a little reading. I was semi-prepared.

At the first one, I chose a melancholy passage form the perspective of Watching Yute's heroine, Cassidy. This was a mistake. Between my nerves, lack of a female voice, and the fact that it's a section better ready to one's self quietly, it just didn't come off well. The group was supportive though. I wormed my way to having a 2nd reading. I chose a section of one of the antagonists, Jacob Kirison, trying to fight his paranoia when meeting with a mafia contact.

Here, my rattling nerves proved an asset. The reading didn't go perfect, but it went a lot better. Kirison's generally a jittery fellow, and I used most of my fumbles as part of it, and pressed forward.

At the next meetup with a different group, I did Kirison's bit again. It went smoother. I 'acted' a bit. My errors were secondary to the fun.

Now I was at VCON's book launch, with red bull coursing through me, and no idea if there'd be a reading. I bought a horribly overpriced cuba libra from the 'bar cart' that the hotel had running there. It was twice what I expected to pay, and half the alcohol. I chattered with professor Whovianart, and a few others. One person, I feel bad I don't remember her name... she invited me to a convention party afterwards for Canadian sci-fi writers, but I knew my time would be really tight by the time the launch was over. I was expecting a 2 hour transit ride, and I didn't know what time they buses stopped out on the destination end of the trip.

Some time after I had given up on the idea of a reading, someone walked up to the front, where there was this stage-ish long table with a podium, and suggested to the room that the authors should come up and talk/read a bit. Alright, it was on.

I didn't know what kind of order the authors should go in, so in my typical aggressive style, I waited patiently and listened to others.

One lady was a representative of a local publisher. She got up there and thanked a long list of people, listed books, and prattled on. I was a little confused, she didnt fit into the flow that the room had going. We'd been listening to writers get up there and represent their own brain-children. This didn't feel like the venue for what she was doing. Just when I thought she was wrapping up, she introduced a paid actress, who was going to be doing a reading from a book who's author wasn't there.

I have no idea what the reading was, I was a little lost in a cloud of WTF. That sounds aggressive, but... I just didn't get it. When she wrapped up, people around me nudged me to get up there. Alright. Alright, I'd better go to it.

By the time I crossed the room, a graphic novelist was at the podium already. I forgot his name.. I'm horrible. He had the table across from me last year. Nice meek fellow. I don't think he was planning on a reading, and struggled valiantly to read a graphic novel story without the audience seeing the pictures. He did a good job for being on the spot, but next year, maybe he should see about a projector screen or something.

Alright. My turn at the podium and the microphone. Up the steps, and.. oh. Hm. Wheelchair. I sat below, in front of the podium and stage, and promised to read with my big-boy voice. Two words into reading, someone marched up from the back of the room. "Nah, can't hear ya in the back." and a mic was wrenched from the table, into my hand.

Jacob Kirison came to life once more, fuelled by taurine and nerves. Some time before I got to the line "What?! Why not?!", I was really into it, I was acting it the way I heard it in my head when I wrote it. (FYI, what I read was the Kirison sections from the experts I have on my page, here.)

When I went back to my 'seat', someone peeked over my shoulder to get the title of the book, soon returning from the little sales table looking for a signature for the book. Yaaay!

It wasn't long after that that the launch event was thinning out. I had a bus to catch. As it happened, on the last leg of my journey, I'd be on the 2nd last available bus, and I'd be waiting an hour for it... I might have gotten the 3rd last bus, but on the way out of the launch event, I was stopped in the hall.

"Hey, hold up, you're next, okay?"

Who am I to argue with a TV camera crew? They were interviewing some lady I didn't know. I knew the interviewer though, kind of. Before the launch event, I spotted a guy with a really cool wrist.. bracelet.. thing. It was pretty punk, and would have gone well with my costume bits. Yeah, I was still wearing it. Keep in mind, it's a bit hazardous- though I didn't look as freakish as I will by the time Halloween comes around.

So, the interviewer recognized me and tagged me for a spot. A spot on what? I have no idea. It seems like could have just been a student project, but once again, who am I to argue with a camera crew?
"So, introduce yourself!"
"I'm Joseph Picard!" Was I feeding off his energy, the red bull, or the good reading? In any event, he joked,
"I'm Joseph Picard, he says, as we should already know!" Well of course, aren't I famous yet?

He asked about the costume bits I was wearing, and about what I was doing.

"... and I just did a reading from my new book in there...!"
"Wow! How'd that go?"
"Well, it's hard to be objective, but I think I did pretty good..!"
"Oh! Listen to him and the false modesty! You nailed it didn't you? Yeaaah, you nailed it!"

Hehe, I wish I knew who that guy was, I wouldn't mind a copy of that vid.

That wrapped up, I had to get my transit-unfriendly costume bits safely into the dealer's room. I went to the 'HQ desk' of the convention. Three people were behind the tables, the one on the left partly hidden in shadow. I rolled up and got to the point.

"Hey, I need to get into the dealer room.."
One of one on the right piped in. "Dealer room closed at 7."
"Well, Jeff said I could get in to drop stuff off after the launch, and if he wasn't around, to find Danielle, i think her name was, and-" I blithered on a little bit. The partly hidden figure on the left stood, and waved a keycard for the dealer room.
"That's Danielle." the guy on the right said.

Yeah, she was sitting there all along, and between the low lighting and my fatigue, I didn't see it. She looked a little tired too, which was understandable- she runs the friggin con.

With my transit-hostile costume bits stored safely, I began the longest trip home of the weekend, between pushing my chair uphill to burrard station while already tired, and waiting an hour in coquitlam for the 2nd last bus home, I was spent. And glad I didn't succumb to the temptation to go to that party. Next year, get the hotel room.

I ended up getting into bed at 2:30 or so, and had the alarm set for 6 am. I woke up at 5, and couldn't get back to sleep. I was still tired as heck, but also hyper as heck. It was an odd mix that would get me through saturday... with some assistance from taurine.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

VCON Day 1, part 1: The dealer room

Friday, I roll in around noon to set up. Adam was due any minute to drop off my stash. I found my way to the dealer room on the 3rd floor, and was pointed in the general direction of my table. I had the room map in my head- Once I realized which way the map in my head should be facing, it was all good.

On the way in, I spotted Kevin from BC chains, (specializing in custom chain-mail armour) who I was across from last year. He said he'd re-read Lifehack quite a few times, and was happy to hear I was launching the next book today.

I chatted a little with a fellow vendor across the aisle, who was setting up a board game display for her shop, Starlit Citadel. (I forgot the names of darn near everyone... I suck. I'm having to look up a lot of names here..) After checking out my position a little, I left the room to meet up with Adam, only to find him coming down the hall with 2 Omnex minions helping to haul stuff in. Once deposited, he and his minion mini-horde receded into the shadows, and were gone.

Across the trench from me, (The vendor-only space between the tables) Autumn D. Gentle was setting up her table, with her vampire books (she also does audio books!) and some other bits and bobs. Autumn is a bit of a contradiction in herself. Too shy to really talk to visitors much and push her books, but confident enough to wear thigh-hugging fishnet stockings with a skirt not much bigger than a tutu. "This is nothing," she said about the outfit on a later day, "You should see what I wear to go clubbing." she was a riot. Her sister and her boyfriend came to help out/hang out a bit at different times over the weekend. His name... Blake? And he had awesome pants. Autumn's boots took the cake though.

To the left of her table was a fellow representing "Mindstorm" games, with their new pen&paper RPG system, "Alpha and Omega". It's set 200 years after the bombs go off, and there's a bit about alient involvement. (Which is a playable race)
They'reBEAUTIFUL friggin books, just jaw dropping. Layout and presentation, and the illustrations.. and primo stuff. Oh yeah, and the game system looked logical and solid too. Unlike D&D manuals, you could open a random page in Alpha&Omega, and have a ****ing CLUE what it was talking about with a little logic, and not by looking up 47 tables in different manuals. If I was still in the RPG phase of my life, I would have been really tempted to grab a set. I think at least one of his customers bought em just for the illustrations.

Across the trench from him, and to my right... was a blank table. On day 2, and ONLY day 2, White Dwarf books occupied it, and did alright. But beyond that was a man selling for "Gaukler Medieval wares". He had 2 tables to display all his stuff (mainly jewelery) and when White Dwarf wasn't there, we both took half of that table, partly just to avoid an unsightly blank...

One more notable dealer within earshot, (To yabber on with in the quiet times) was against the wall to my left, "Professor Whovianart" who seemed to specialize mainly in steampunk oddities. He's got yo-yos (Oh, excuse me, RETURN TOPS), an oscilloscope, and a funky collection of goggles, among other things. And his lego is NOT for sale! (Tip, Professor:, any sentence that stats out "Everything but the lego," is not the kind of thing I want to hear!)

Nearly everyone I mentioned gave me a bit of a hand with my Poster display, which started out on the table... until it changed its mind. It spent the rest of the con standing on the floor.

As the dealer room hours went on, we saw many of the same visitors from last year... well... I did, anyway. Alpha&Omega guy... uh, let's call him Alpha... and Autumn hadn't done VCON before, so I felt like the veteran in my section of the room, with a whole other year's event with of experience. Whoopiedo!

"Is is always this dead?" Autumn asked early on Friday.
"No," mulled the seasoned VCON veteran Ozero, "This is just like before. Friday starts slow. People still at work, grabbing dinner. They'll come. They mostly come out at night. Mostly."

Alright, I might not have phrased it like that... but it was also the series premiere of Stargate: Universe that night... much to my own irritation.

The dealer room closed for the day at 7pm, and my own sales had come around, one of which was to Kevin of BcChains, who added a small tin of candy, that I had bought him out of last year. (They make great RPG dice containers!)

Many familiar visitors 'orbited' around the dealer room, striking up conversation, generally hanging out. Not buying. But that's fine, half the reason I'm here is to hang with my fellow nerds, not to push sales onto 'the orbiters'.

Wow, I've gone on quite a bit... good time to wrap up this entry. Next time: Friday- Book Launch event!

Note to those of you following this through facebook or other places my blog gets exported to: If you prefer, you can also see my blog through a tab on the top section of my site.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Transit, dangerous appearel, and a tale of Pete.

Okay, I promised I'd write about VCON, and I have several topics lined up, but let's start with a warmup.

I've but a fair bit of effort into my halloween costume this year. Big credit to my father in law, Paul, and uncle... uh.. in law.. Mark.. is that a thing, uncle-in-law? and my fellow Optimist, Peter Gobbee. I lack in power tools.

Anyway, with all this fuss, I thought I'd get as much mileage out of the thing as I could. So it seemed like a fun idea to wear it to VCON. It's not huge and bulky, but for SOME reason, my wife thought it would be a bad idea to wear it on the bus. I won't leak much more about the costume, as I still want to surprise people who may read this, but suffice to say, for public safety, I agreed not to wear it during my trip from Pitt Meadows to VCON, 2 hours by bus and skytrain, near Burrard station.

Volunteer editor Adam Zilliax came though, porting the dangerous bits of the costume, as well as the books and other stuff I was going to setup at VCON. Thanks again Adam!

Dangerous bits aside, I wore much of the costume on transit, earning some odd looks here and there. And outside the Burrard station, from people on an open-top tour bus.

In the course of 3 days, I took 3 round trips, totaling well over 15 hours of travel time, once you include an extra hour I had to wait at Coquitlam Station at midnight, waiting for the next bus, and my sunday detour on the way home to meet up with Grace Endo at GF strong.

Highlights include my first trip across the new Pitt River bridge sunday evening, (whoopie, the day before it officially opened!.... whoopie.) and my first ride of the fairly new Canada Line train. Picture the skytrain, 30% wider, and ... clean. I mean, the skytrain isn't generally FILTHY, but the Canada line train was Star-Trek Federation clean. And it ran smooth and quiet, like the skytrain used to.

In the process, I did a lot of wheeling on new and 'hostile' terrain. From Burrard station to VCON was mostly downhill, which made for challenging but manageable trips back to the station in the evenings. Waterfront was downhill form VCON, but quite a bit further.

The low point of the transit adventures was the one day I took the 160 bus from Coquitlam to Burrard. The website said it was a shade faster than the skytrain.. and it was.. a shade.. but the stop-go action didn't help my pain situation. Worse though was the trip through East Hastings. You hear about the homeless situation there, you see it on TV, but seeing it for real really hits ya. Oddly, I felt a little like a tourist. "Oh, look at that hotel, I've seen it on the news a lot!" "Oh, that place is a notorious dive! I saw it on the news a lot!" "Oh, I saw that on the news, and that, and.."

In a related story, last wednesday on the way home, Michelle and I stopped at the 7-11 I used to work at to pick a few things up. I stayed in the van, since I wasn't needed, and it's a huge hassle to get out. In front of the store, near the doors sat Pete.

Pete's a homeless guy who's been in Maple Ridge for ages, though he's been seen quite far off. That was before he was in a wheelchair though. There's rumor and 'truth' about Pete. I've spoken with him a couple times. He's VERY quiet, and not super sociable, but he's friendly, and by all accounts, a harmless fellow. He's been pulled off the streets many times, and somehow always finds his way back. Conventional wisdom is that he refuses to stay where they stick him, but the rumors around him as so thick, it's hard to say.

At any rate, I sat in the van, watching people go around him and avoid him, mostly. A few said a few words to him, and he replied. I couldn't hear what was said. He never started a discussion with anyone, never bothered anyone. Michelle eventually came out, and leaned over to Pete, offering him something- what I later learnt to be a slice of 7-11 pizza. He seemed to take a little time to understand. He accepted it, and nodded. As we pulled out, Pete was munching away at it, seemingly oblivious to the world. What does he think about? Why has he been out there so long?

Alright, that ended up depressing...! Next time: Meet the vendors!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire…

Last day of VCON, I'm heading out, rollin' down to waterfront station. On the way, I pass the big convention centre.

I spot a freaky looking cop car. "Polizei" on the side. I ask a couple girls taking pictures of each other in front of it. "Is that German, or Russian, or?"

"German, I think." By now, I'd spotted several more of these 'German police cars' (The real thing doesn't look as funky as these ones did) along the road, as well as a "LuftPost" van or some such. All around, signage on buildings was covered up with German variants. Set crew moved tables, and a "crew only" catering table sat nearby. I wheelied over cables, around random bits of movie-set junk, trying to play it cool while I tried to look for clues.

Finally, I imposed a little, when I saw a couple actors/extras sitting down to munch an early dinner sandwich. My eye was drawn to the redhead sitting at the end for some reason. "Hey, alright, I'll bite. What is this, can ya leak a little info?"

She smiles, "The A-Team movie!" El Oh El. I had heard rumors about an A-team movie, but I certainly didn't expect to stumble onto the set. "We're in 'Stockholm' next."

Half a block later, I ran into a gal who WANTED to be an extra, as she's a big fan of Liam Neeson (Hannibal). The directions she gave me were totally wrong... Maybe she was bitter for not being able to be an extra, or maybe her sense of direction cost her the gig somehow. Either way, I pity da foo.

It was a strange side-event in my VCON weekend.

I plan to be blogging a lot about the con over my next few entries, but the short version is: It was great. Crazy nerdy fun, sold a heap of both Lifehack and Watching Yute, got great feedback, and have already set myself up for next year. I'm still recovering sleep. Next post: Day 1, part 1.