I arrived at WorldCon 2012 with few goals: meet my fellow Angry Robots, don’t make a statistically significant ass of myself, and learn how to behave like a professional writer by observation. Now that the re-entry dust has settled and the respiratory infection has been shown to the door, I can reasonably believe I accomplished those goals. More importantly, however, I came away with a number of lessons that I will take with me into all future conventions.
1. Alcohol-to-food budget ratio should be at least 1.5:1
The first night of the convention, I informed my colleagues that I was looking to learn and adopt a professional writer’s behavior patterns. They immediately told me to get skilled at drinking. Though imparted with joviality, a few nights in the hotel bar taught me the immense truth behind such lighthearted comments.
Once the realization set in, I quickly became the bane of the hotel wait staff by water-logging myself every night. I’m not a teetotaler by any means, but I simply had not included 3-4 drinks at the…generous hotel prices into my daily budgeting. While there is a certain appeal to being the only sober person in a conversation, temperance doesn’t lend itself to a loosening of the tongue. I’m naturally withdrawn, and a few drinks would have put me more at ease in the many unfamiliar social situations. Henceforth, I will plan for this in calculating trip expenses, or I will buy a bottle of rotgut at the corner store and bring a flask into the bar.
2. A reinforced immune system is one’s greatest ally
Con crud is a well-documented phenomenon. One day, a pandemic apocalypse film will depict the initial infection spreading from San Diego Comic Con instead of a casino or airplane. However, the general consensus seems to be that con crud is something that hits you after the fact: you start languishing at the end of the con, realizing with growing dread and resignation that your first few days back home are going to be miserable.
However, things are entirely different when you’re one of the people responsible for distributing con crud. Both Tori and I came down with head colds early into the convention, leading me to believe that we brought them with us. This made for notably lower energy levels, strained breathing, goofy-sounding voices, and fevered hazes clouding everything. None of these are particularly useful when trying to meet new people and have a good time. Said illness even short-circuited my golden opportunity to interrupt George R.R. Martin for a bit of fanboy gushing. My fever had not yet robbed me of enough sense to figure that infecting the man with a respiratory virus wasn’t the best first impression to make. Next time, adequate immuno-defensive preparations will take place well in advance.
3. Stay in hotels with complimentary wifi
While wandering through the lower halls of the convention, I passed by a group of forlorn-looking temporary walls identified by a single hand-written sign: “Message Board.” This inspired a brief speculation on what correspondence between con-goers must have looked like in years past. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of social coordination at the convention this year happened via social networking. Myself not being in possession of a phone with a “data plan” or “apps”, I intended to rely on my Nook tablet and complimentary hotel wifi to facilitate meet-ups with other members of Team AR. These hopes were quickly dashed by the $13/day price tag attached to the hotel’s wireless service.
Thus stymied by my own fiscal conservativeness, I was at a serious disadvantage when attempting to locate people for meals, panels, signings, readings, and glasses of water. Rustic as I am, the hotels I frequent offer wifi and continental breakfast with the price of admission. Until such time as Tori and I deem it necessary to purchase data plans for our phones, I will be searching out such lowbrow hotels for future convention lodging.
4. Everyone I met was essentially fantastic
Sadly, this is not one lesson I expect to stand the test of time. Repeated exposure, increased sample size, etc. That said, the Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry corps and their affiliates are wonderful, friendly, hilarious people. I felt singularly quiet and dull by comparison, and I unfortunately can’t blame this on my illness and sobriety.
Feeling pressured to make an impression is a singularly horrible feeling that I happen to know quite well. The diverse array of clever, intelligent people around me intimidated me into orbiting their conversations more often than not. The writer’s life is not as solitary as I had hitherto believed, and my social skills will need some serious working out if I am to minimize future instances of awkwardly crunching ice in the midst of fast-flying conversations.
With these lessons in hand, I am eagerly anticipating the next convention that comes my way. Despite the illness, the awkwardness, and the expense, I had an absolutely marvelous time at WorldCon 2012. Thanks to everyone who endured my croaking, my sobriety, and my contagiousness to make it such a memorable experience!
Note: this is the first in what will probably become a series. I recently picked up Fallout: New Vegas and found myself thoroughly enjoying the post-nuclear Western vibe. Acting upon the overwhelming impulse, I created a character resembling my vision of Cora Oglesby in such a world. What follows is a chronicle of her adventures through New Vegas. Yes, I am writing my own crossover fan fiction.
I ain’t got no clear memory of what happened. Best I can figure, some feller gave me a right smart smack when I wasn’t looking. Woke up feeling fit to split like a melon that’s been left in the sun too long. Pudding-headed though I was, I thought I heard voices coming from somewhere close, so I looked around a bit. Sure enough, some city feller and a pair of roughnecks was looking me over like I was a second place hog at the county fair. Before I could so much as open my mouth, the feller in the suit made his business clear.
Way I see it, that should’ve been my ticket to the hereafter, but it wasn’t. Somehow, I held on long enough for some other folk to pull me right back out of my grave. Came to for the second time with a different feller looking at me. This one said he was the doctor who’d patched me up. Even gave me some sort of fancy mirror to make sure everything was where it should be. Never been much of a looker, mind you, but the doc patched me up so’s a body couldn’t even tell I’d taken a bullet between my teeth.
Doc asked me a few questions to make sure my brains wasn’t scrambled or nothing. Turns out my thinker wasn’t no worse for the trip to the boneyard, so he gave me back my gun and a funny-looking outfit besides. Ain’t never been much for looking fancy, but can’t say I was fit for a ball in that getup, neither.
Having done what he could, Doc sent me on my way. Said he didn’t have no idea who that fancy feller was who shot me, but told me to ask around town. Maybe some of the other locals had a notion, he said. Didn’t have no idea where Ben was, neither. Guess I was alone when they found me. Still, he had a point, so I made for the nearest saloon. Happened to be the only saloon in town, meaning it was where all the locals wet their whistles. I had me a powerful thirst of my own that needed tending to. Seems dying does that to a body.
I wasn’t inside more than two ticks when this big old bear of a dog jumped up and started making himself known. My hand was already on my gun before some young sprout grabbed the mutt by the scruff and yelled at it to simmer down. Introduced herself as Sunny Smiles. Right funny name if you ask me. Still, she had herself a fine-looking rifle across her back and seemed to know her way around that dog of hers, so I reckoned she couldn’t have been all bad. Sure enough, I introduced myself and we got along just fine. Turns out little miss Sunny needed some help with local critters, salamanders or some such. I told her I was a fair shot with a rifle, so off we went into the desert for a spot of game hunting.
We shot up enough lizards to make the rest tuck tail and get. Sunny Smiles got this big old smile on her face then, saying that the town’s water supply was safe again. We both helped ourselves to a few sips before heading back into town. Sunny didn’t say much on the way, which left me to wondering where that damn fool husband of mine had got himself to. Nowhere good was my guess. Couldn’t rightly make up my mind on what I ought to do first, find his sorry behind or get on the trail of them as tried to kill me.
Before I could puzzle it out, we was back at the saloon. A drop or two of rotgut would set my thinking straight, I reckoned. Could almost taste that fire in the back of my throat. Problem was, when I made my way over to the bar, the lady bartender had herself a whole other mess of trouble that had nothing to do with a thirsty customer.
To be continued…
Lately, I’ve found myself at the behest of some rather odd desires.
Disappointingly, these desires have very little to do with any sort of experimentation. No additional fruit will be purchased at the store this weekend. These desires would seem much more ordinary were I a 14-year-old girl, I think. Since I am not, I am forced to conceal them from colleagues and passersby alike (the desires, not the 14-year-old girls). Were I to voice them, I would surely become the victim of sidelong glances, queries into my well-being, and swirlies. Thus, the only avenue of expression left to me is the one place nobody ever sees anything: the Internet.
I really want to play Harvest Moon.
Okay, so maybe not Harvest Moon specifically, but I’ve really wanted to play some sort of production-themed game. I’ve had my eye on the new(ish) Rune Factory title for awhile, but I’ve become almost exclusively a PC gamer these days. As such, I was thinking about picking up Sim City 4. User reviews insist that the game has a steep learning curve, though, and financial frustration isn’t exactly the escapism venue I’m hoping for. Even if I were able to triumph over the economic hardships of the Simverse, I’m not sure SC4 would scratch this particular itch. I’ve even toyed with the idea of becoming a manufacturer in EVE, but my lack of supporting skills, a private station, nine years of training, and twelve hours of free time per day put me at a disadvantage in that particular market.
What is perhaps even more perplexing is where this desire originated: fuck if I know. I’m usually content with my RPG/MMO/TBS/Steam sale cocktail, so I have no idea why I suddenly have a craving for a particular type of game. Hell, even having a game craving is rather rare for me. The urge to play a specific game will occasionally hit (almost exclusively when I don’t own said game), but I usually pick the evening’s entertainment on the fly. Why, then, do I have a powerful urge to grow crap on a pretend farm? Perhaps my electronic conscience is demanding nonviolent entertainment for once. Perhaps I am looking for even more non-stressful ways to relax. Perhaps I am feeling the need to create something again and am desperately hoping to stave it off with pointless games before it becomes another book.
Oh well, time to go play more Civ. If anyone has any recommendations for Harvest Moon-esque games for PC, I’m open to suggestions.
MMO beta weekends are odd little snapshots of gaming; throw a bunch of early-adopters into a expansive game world for 48 hours and watch most of them never make it out of the starter zones before you shut up shop and delete everyone’s progress. That said, the hours I sunk into the Guild Wars 2 beta this past weekend were anything but wasted.
I could wax lyrical for hours about the things I loved about GW2 – my Asura’s personal story of stolen inventions and warring tech enclaves; the communal events that rewarded people for playing together without being dicks about it; that not once did I have to deliver 20 rat scrota to some guy with a punctuation mark halo – but I couldn’t help but consider how GW2, alongside other interesting examples of the latest wave of MMOs, are helping to progress the genre away from its stereotype of ‘grind monsters for loot’. No matter how good the world and the lore and the end-game content of an MMO are, if the primary aim of the game is simply to kill the same gaggle of foes over and over again for hours at a time it becomes like working a shift on a production line. Endless repetition, broken up by occasionally sweeping up discarded debris from the floor.
The trick seems to be to make a game which actively rewards doing interesting things, then filling the world with fun stuff to do. In GW2, you gain more XP from exploring nooks and crannies than you do from smashing an army of random mobs. You get big XP bonuses for killing more than ten different types of enemy a day, or for clambering to the top of buildings and mountain peaks for Assassins Creed-style camera-swirl viewpoints (even if the actual jumping controls are decided unsuited to the precision being asked of them). You progress even faster by joining randomly-occurring local quests which flash up in the corner of your screen, quickly degenerating as an influx of players struggles to cooperate, stringing together combo attacks or working to revive downed players. And it mostly works.
After a weekend of play, Guild Wars 2 reminds me of Disney World. You wander through brightly-coloured worlds full of automata spouting pre-recorded lines, and there’s always something new to look at, some new toy to play with or ride to experience. And just when things are beginning to feel predictable, a spontaneous parade erupts and everyone’s cheering and having fun.
Until you come back again for the second day; you’ve already been on the rides you gave a damn about, and when an identical parade erupts just as spontaneously for the new arrivals as it did back when you saw everything with neon-tinted glasses, the illusion begins to waver. The world is never as dynamic as you think it is, but while you can believe in it you’ll have a lot of fun.
But I can’t imagine going back to Disney World for a third day; all I’d have to look forward to is the slow degeneration of fine illusion into mundane reality. Perhaps GW2 can sidestep that through progression – by day three I’d be levelled up enough to move out of the starting zones and into the wide world – but whether the full game can keep up that sense of momentum throughout is beyond the bounds of a weekend of play. And if not, at least I won’t be spending fifteen bucks a month for the pleasure of grinding my way to level 80.
I’ve spent much of the past week in the charming New England town of Kingsmouth. It’s one of those places that seems trapped in time. Unlike the quiet hamlets in central Iowa that typically merit such descriptions, however, Kingsmouth is not of the belief that Eisenhower is president and horn-rimmed glasses are fashionable. No, Kingsmouth is perpetually celebrating that most fantastic of holidays: Halloween.
As the first exotic destination in the newly-released MMO The Secret World, this quaint town is not without its problems. For example, I thought I would spend my first evening enjoying a quiet drink on one of the many piers along Fletcher Bay. Not only was the place I chose somewhat rundown, but the service was terrible and the wait staff lacked charisma.
Once I was done taking in the local charm, I set to work exterminating all manner of evil things. Zombie, draug, wendigo, and hippie alike fell before my sword and my axe (yes, my in-game persona is as awesome as Aragorn and Gimli combined). It only took me about a week to play through most of the Kingsmouth quests at a fairly casual pace of 2-4 hours per night. My storyline now calls me toward the Savage Coast, but I have temporarily delayed my progress so I might serve as Tori’s guide through the lovely port town.
Things I Liked
-Horror-themed MMO. Let me say it again: HORROR-THEMED MMO. After spending years frolicking about lesser copies of Middle-Earth, MMO players now have the chance to crawl down the twisted paths of dark mythologies ancient and modern. No more elves with floppy ears and orcs with horrible dental hygiene. Now we can explore modern cities, crushing the un-life out of Lovecraftian spawnlings and ancient Egyptian deities. Even better, Funcom gives the player NPCs with personalities and dialogue that is fun to listen to.
-The ability wheel lets you take your character in any and all directions you choose. Equipping seven active and seven passive abilities gives you a “deck” of skills, much like a Magic: the Gathering player’s deck. As you can see from the screen shots, my character favors swords and hammers/axes, but I’ve also started exploring the mysteries of chaos magic. I’m intending to craft a solid tanking deck for running dungeons before branching out into heavier damage-dealing powers. The powerful system for selecting and equipping powers means I don’t have to roll and level different toons to play various roles. There are no tank, healer, or DPS classes, just different builds.
-Combat is a good blend of traditional hotbar with the flexibility of free movement. Spells and other channeled abilities don’t require nailing your boots to the ground, and most mobs have some sort of AoE power (advertised by white lines on the ground) that one would do well to dodge roll away from. While still not up to par with true hack-and-slash titles, it’s still a cut above standard MMO offerings.
Things I Didn’t Like
-As with most MMO launches, there are quite a few bugs. Quests glitching out, rough animations, server dumps, etc. Teething problems happen to all games, and Funcom has actually weeded a surprising number of them prior to launch (I was in <1.0 beta builds). It’s certainly no buggier than Skyrim was at launch, but that doesn’t mean the bugs are any less annoying.
-I rolled my character on the RP server Arcadia hoping to find two things: a strong roleplaying community and a lesser chance of moronic toon names. I haven’t joined up with any serious RP guilds yet, but the vapid chatter and rampant spoilers in every chat channel I’ve joined (local, global faction, and help) are absurdly effective immersion-breakers. Similarly, the server rules (if there are any) regarding character names are not enforced to any degree I’ve seen. I’m not one to go around reporting violators, but the sheer amount of idiocy people display in their name choices never ceases to amaze.
Verdict: I’ve been anticipating this game for four years now, so it’s frivolous to restate my opinion here. I own it, I play it, I love it. Furthermore, I seriously recommend it to those questioning the future of the MMO. After the disappointment that was SW:TOR, you may be mistrustful of the genre as a whole. While not perfect, The Secret World builds on tried-and-true delivery methods while innovating in all the right areas.
In high school, I always thought one of the best parts about being in a band would be getting to write the “Thanks to” sections for each album. It was a chance for the band members to give shouts out to friends, family, and colleagues. I loved reading them because it made the musicians I so admired seem more human. They would also drop inside jokes I didn’t get but still laughed at because people in bands are cool.
Book acknowledgements and dedications are similar. A short list of people who helped make the book happen plus an personal italicized message. Just give shouts out to your friends and family, maybe name drop a few, be funny. Work up a sweet nothing if you (like me) are dedicating the book to a significant other. When you’re done, pour yourself a glass of something, lean back, and cogitate. Like train etiquette, it seems like super simple stuff.
At least not for me. I’m sure other authors have a much easier time of things like that. And, to be honest, the acknowledgements didn’t take me all that long. I had a good idea of who I wanted to include by name, and I kept it short so as not to bore the few that might read it. One or two inside jokes for good measure, and I’m done.
The dedication, on the other hand, was a monster. I spent a full month trying to come up with something absolutely fantastic, something beautiful and stirring, something that might approach the level of meaning I wanted to infuse into the few words I was permitted. Something perfect. Having written poetry long before trying my hand at prose, I am familiar with obsessing over word placement. Yes, fiction writers do it, too, but as someone who has successfully composed both, I can say the process is different. My poetry subscribes to the “economy of words” philosophy; I don’t blather on in my stanzas, preferring to keep them tightly-focused and potent. With that sort of background, one might think I’d be well-equipped to tackle something like a novel dedication.
Well, one would be wrong. I spent more time trying to come up with a single line than I spent drafting the synopsis of She Returns From War. You only get to dedicate a first novel once, after all, and I wanted it to be perfect. However, after spending many weeks working and reworking various ideas in my head, I finally had to go with something I fear falls short of that goal. Really, though, how do you sum up the entirety of a loved one’s undying belief and support in a single line? If there exists such a level of writing prowess, I have not attained it. So, much like the larger work of the novel, the single line of dedication is something that may never reach the divine ideal hoped for at the outset.
It somehow feels like a greater failing, though. Sure, nobody can ever write the perfect a novel. It’s big, it’s complex, it has all of those stupid words in it. A beast of many backs that can never truly be domesticated. A dedication, on the other hand, is just one line. One. Line. If you can’t perfect that, perhaps you should give up the whole writing gig altogether. So say the whispers of insecurity, and who’s to say they’re wrong?
Anyway, the deadline for the dedication came upon me last week, so I went with something I hope serves as a portal into the universe of gratitude I feel. It’s something of an inside joke, but it isn’t the kind that makes every other person return their breakfast to the earth via the most direct means possible. I’m not perfectly happy with it because it isn’t perfect. In fact, I’m more apprehensive about how Tori will like it than I am about how book critics will view the novel itself. Perhaps my priorities are askew. Then again, it’s highly unlikely I’d have ever written the book I did without her support.
A friend of mine told me that this post had to be epic. No reason was given. I am accustomed to following arbitrary directives from my friends, however, so I began speculating how I might bring such epicness to bear. The speculation ended rather quickly with the realization that all of the hard work had already been done for me by the mighty Chris McGrath:
I confess to complete and utter ignorance in the realm of cover art. Never having been particularly proficient at visual art, I didn’t study it much (only taking one class in high school). The massive, dynamic world of cover artists went subconsciously heeded at best except for the occasional gripe at an inconsistency. When I finished my first draft of The Dead of Winter, I slapped a picture of a moon over a snowy forest on the front page when I sent it out to friends for beta reading. I spent literally minutes combing through Google images for a
perfect decent picture of wintry doom to accompany my manuscript. Little did I know that the perfect cover could only be had by signing on with a wrathful publisher and letting them bring in a AAA-caliber artist to breathe spirit and soul into the characters.
I say “spirit and soul” rather than “life” because Chris McGrath did more than fashion physical forms for characters that (in my mind) were visually nebulous. When the Robot Overlords asked for physical descriptions, I was able to trot them out in short order, but I didn’t envision them in my head. I never had, really. When I write, my characters are words and thoughts and actions and reactions. They interact, they murder, they weep, and they laugh. They do all this in my virtual headspace, mostly divorced from the physical forms they take therein. They are spirits, flitting briefly into the physical plane before returning to the great ether.
In creating these covers, Chris McGrath captured those ethereal essences in a way I could never have imagined. When I first saw the proofs, my sense of wonder and excitement was augmented by something else, something almost eerie. For the first time since I brought them into the world, I was actually seeing Cora and Benjamin Oglesby. The ferocious determination sparking in Cora’s eyes, the way Ben cradles the book in his arm, the overpowering threat of coldness and death surrounding them…it was all perfect. I don’t know if Chris read the manuscript prior to completing the work or not (he says it varies from job to job). If he didn’t, I recommend the skeptics of the world start testing him for psychic powers. I can’t fathom how he so precisely captured my characters based solely on third-party description.
Then again, he’s just that good. Both proofs arrived in March, at which point only a handful of people–a subset excluding the Robot Overlords themselves–had read She Returns From War. In January, Marc asked for scenes from the book that might make for a good cover. I sent him a few possibilities (at least one of which I hadn’t written yet), frustrated by my own inability to adequately describe them. Chris somehow transformed those lackluster outlines into a singularly haunting image that captures the essence of the story in a way I myself hadn’t yet realized. If having my characters stare back at me from The Dead of Winter’s cover was eerie, seeing the art for a book I had only just finished drafting was downright unsettling.
So here’s to you, Chris McGrath. Thank you for capturing the essence of Cora Oglesby with such grace, precision, and beauty. You probably hear such sentiments a lot in your line of work; I hope the repetition fully reinforces the belief that you do damn fine work. If ever our paths should cross, dinner’s on me.