No Plan Survives Contact With Reality

And the reality is that my work-in-progress, which may be about to steal the title of a potential future story, isn’t going to be done by the end of November.

I came to that realization on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, upon hitting the roughly 60k words-mark in the first draft. It was supremely liberating as I knew Thanksgiving weekend was going to be busy, especially with my wife Michelle on the other side of the planet. (She’s in Taiwan for professional reasons.) This let me enjoy the annual Black Friday Game-a-thon at my friendly local game store (FLGS), Games and Stuff; to spend Friday evening binge-watching the last half of season 2 of The Last Kingdom; and to do a lot of reading. Oh, and a bunch of household chores that had backed up.

My understanding of the real story that I’m writing, the things hidden behind the helicopter chases and fight scenes, has also had a chance to percolate up from the depths. That understanding goes beyond the WIP, too, into the cycle of stories I hope to tell in this universe. The influence of current world events, and the laying bare of our understanding of the true underpinnings of not just US society, and not even Western societies, but a particular set of cultural moments that are occurring world-wide right now-resurgent nationalism, the rise of strongmen, the oligarchs ascendant-my brain has been steeping in this for a while, and it’s no wonder that my story is becoming colored by it all.

So: goal reset. End of the year is the current objective, which is once again doable if aggressive. And I see already the rough shape of the revisions I’ll need to make to the parts already written, but those are January’s work.

From Beginning to Middle

I’ve been heads’ down banging away on the (still-untitled) work in progress for the last month. This has entailed a couple of rounds of the merry game of “This is a better idea, now I need to re-outline the rest of the book.” The most recent round occurred last night; I reached what I realized was the true mid-point of the story on Monday, around the 52k word mark, and it wasn’t where I’d planned plot-wise.

Which is OK! Even though it has made me re-think the ending of the book.

Which is again OK, because I think it will make for a more cohesive story. The originally-planned ending took things off at an angle that might be better used for a what-comes-after tale. If I get to write it, anyway. Because that is definitely gonna be sequel material, and a lot less understandable without reading the WIP.

In any case, I’m more-or-less still on track to wrap up the first draft by the end of November. Which means my free time for November is pretty much spoken for; writing is what I do at least 6 days a week. It’s taken a conscious effort to carve out time for one of my face-to-face RPG games, and I’m managing to get some reading in, because I start losing my shit if I don’t keep those things (and people!) in my life. (And of course sword training on Sundays, and the other rare occasions I can sneak it in.)

It also means I leave the house around 6 AM and get home between 8:30 and 9 PM most weeknights. But hey, this is the ride I’ve signed up for. (And which my family supports, to my undying gratitude.)

So: that’s where the new book is at, and what I’m up to.

(And “The Frozen Past,” my first book, is still out on query. We’ll see what happens. These things take time.)

Meanwhile, back to the word mines.

Take A Knee

This veteran not only supports the athletes “Taking a knee” today, I agree with them. If you disagree, it strikes me that you may not be listening to their message, the thing they’re trying to bring attention to: “Please stop killing us.” Because that’s what is happening. Police in the US have killed at least 721 people in 2017 in less than nine months (source: Washington Post database). That’s on track to beat the 963 killed by police last year.

The single biggest factor in whether police will shoot someone they apprehend is the color of their skin, not the crime for which they are being sought. Many, it turns out, were innocent. Whites who are sought for the same offenses, even violent ones, are much more rarely shot. These are the facts.

Acts of protest, by their very nature, make us uncomfortable because they force us to consider aspects of ourselves, and of our nation, which we don’t want to believe are true. If this protest bothers you, I urge you to stop for a moment of introspection and ask why that is.

Trust me when I tell you that it takes more moral courage to make a stand like these people are than it does to jump out of an airplane.

And for those who are saying that athletes (or musicians, or artists, or writers) should just shut up and do their jobs: becoming a public person in the execution of your profession does not remove one’s right to speak out against injustice.

All respect to Colin Kapernick and those following the path he’s blazed.#TakeAKnee

Convention Report – May & June

It’s solstice time! Well, just past, anyway. And time for a check-in on the three conventions I’ve attended so far this year.
The SFWA Nebula Awards Conference kicked off my season over May 18th – 21st. Pittsburgh hosted the event this year, and the location was by and large terrific. The event space itself was just the right size – not too crowded, but not so spread out that you couldn’t easily get to things or feel like you were missing out because things were happening elsewhere. The con suite was a bit tight, and there was an issue Saturday night with the post-award party – we were loud, and there were non-SFWA people on the floor, so the party had to relocate downstairs. But otherwise, the facility worked really well for the size of the event.
I got a lot out of the programming too, and so did Michelle, who came along with me. Mary Robinette Kowal and her programming team have worked very hard to make this a convention both for pros and “early career” writers, folks like myself or just a bit further down the path, i.e. those with a few sales under their belts. But the established folks were warm and welcoming to those of us working to break in, sharing their knowledge and experience through the formal sessions as well as in pick-up conversation throughout the weekend. My VP 20 pals Karen Osborne, Jo Miles, and Jennifer “Macey” Mace had similar experiences. All of us met a number of people at all levels of the field, and I think we all walked away with some new friends and contacts.
One of the highlights was meeting astronaut Dr. Kjell (pronounced “chell”) Lindgren, the toastmaster and a life-long fan of science fiction. Dr. Lindgren also very graciously took about 45 minutes on Saturday to chat with Karen and myself about medical issues in zero-gravity and vacuum, things very relevant to our works. Five-year-old John was bouncing up and down, but 52-year-old John managed to comport himself more-or-less like an adult during our conversation.
The following weekend brought Balticon 51, my local con. Now, despite being a lifelong fan of science fiction & fantasy, last year was the first time I’d attended Balticon for more than a single day. Balticon 50 in 2016 experienced a number of issues, organizationally and logistically, but those were mostly ironed out this year.
I split my time at Balticon between volunteering with the science track, attending panels, socializing, and being on panels myself. I wound up sitting on five panels: one on worldbuilding, two on cyber & hacking (one science track, one on hacking & cyber ops in genre), one on infodumps which I moderated, and one on “writing after the workshop”. I’m not sure I was at my best on the first panel, but found my groove after that, and one of the panelists on the infodump panel complimented my moderation.
Assisting the science track team turned out to be a great experience. Balticon has a very strong and varied science track, which isn’t surprising given the sheer number of research-related institutions in the region. My volunteer gig was running the camera while recording the sessions, which meant I got exposed to a lot of cool science – everything from the science of touch to dinobirds.
Balticon also featured a lot of hanging out with friends, both people I already knew and others I met at the convention.
My most recent con trip was the one I’d been most looking forward to: 4th Street Fantasy in Minneapolis. Where the Nebulas is a professional conference, and Balticon is very much an old-school SF/F con, 4th Street is something of it’s own beast. Programming is a single track of panels, ten in all over the weekend, and the topics are at a pretty high level, intellectually-speaking. But what I was most looking forward to was the opportunity to connect up with my Viable Paradise 20 tribe; fully fifteen out of the twenty-four of us attended.
Man, 4th Street was a blast. The Cheese Weasel Reunion was everything I’d hoped for, and I got to spend some time with a couple folks I didn’t get as much time with on the Island as I’d have liked. We got to have a little send off for our classmate Karen Osborne, who’s headed to the Clarion writing workshop later this week. And, of course, about half the VP instructors were there as well.
I was a little nervous going into Saturday as Scott Lynch, who runs the programming for 4th Street, had approached me a week before about being on a panel titled “Dreaming Under Darkening Skies: Writing and Living During the Cold War,”, and I’d accepted. Knowing I’d not only lived through the last half of the Cold War, but that I’d served in the US Army during the Reagan years, Scott thought I’d have an interesting perspective to offer. Fortunately, my co-panelists Elizabeth Bear, Beth Meacham, and Marissa Lingen were awesome and it was easy to fall into dialogue with them, despite it being the first panel of the morning. I quickly got over my jitters and folks seemed to really get something out it.
(Let me just say that I’d pay money to listen to Stella Evans, John Chu, Arkady Martine and Max Gladstone talk about whatever they wanted to for hours. Their Sunday panel on “idea commerce” was by itself worth the trip to Minneapolis.)
I got to meet still more awesome people at 4th Street, fans and writers alike, and am
already making plans to go back.
“But John,” some of you are likely saying, “Wasn’t there some sort of controversy at 4th Street?” Yes, there was, and I don’t mean to diminish the impact it had on good friends of mine. But that warrants its own post.
One convention left for the summer for me: ReaderCon in July. Meanwhile, back to that story about paragliding telepathic gene-tweaked smart dogs.
And one final note: I’m participating in the Clarion Workshop Write-a-Thon in honor of my friend Karen Osborne, who is attending this year. My goal is to write 25,000 words between June 25th and August 5th. You can sponsor me (either a one-time donation, or a per-word pledge) here.


I need to do a write-up of the SFWA Nebulas weekend at some point, but there’s only been a short break before Balticon 51 starts tomorrow (Friday, May 26th). I’m on four panels:

Friday, 7 PM: How We Imagine the Future and What it Says About Us (panelist)

Sunday, 9 AM: Hacking and Cybersecurity: Phishing, Botnets, and Data Breaches, OH MY!  (Science track, moderator)

Sunday, 10 AM: Hacking and Cyber Ops in Science Fiction (panelist)

Sunday, 9 PM: Handling the Unavoidable Info-dump (moderator)

Balticon is my home convention, though I’ve only been to it once before – which I’m coming to realize is my loss. Special guests this year include my Viable Paradise instructor Steven Brust and S.M. Stirling. It promises to be another great convention. Hope to see you there!

Rolling Into May

Things have been busy in House Appel. On the writing front, I wrapped up the fifth draft of The Frozen Past and as soon as I can wrangle the synopsis into shape, I’ll start querying it. Between the Writing the Other class I’ve been taking online and doing some beta reading, the writer brain has been pretty engaged. In odd moments I’ve begun addressing the changes to the outline of the next book, which lacks a working title. (I’m calling it “Exile Cluster Book 2” for now.) The changes are necessary because it finally became clear that a character I created on-the-fly while drafting some early scenes needed to become a viewpoint character, and ultimately, she’s displacing one of the two existing viewpoint characters. This means ECB2’s protagonists are a couple of 60+ women kicking ass on a space station. I hope I can pull this off.

April also brought a milestone in my bariatric post-op journey: I’ve dropped a full 100 pounds since surgery, about 140 since first starting the process. This brings me to 260 pounds or so. There’s a ways to go and a lot of work to make it down to 200, but it should be possible. And it’s only possible with the great support I get from Michelle, Alexa, Ben, and my medical team at Hopkins Bayview.

Where swords are concerned – well, I’ve plateaued for a bit, while Ben has advanced pretty rapidly. He’s reached a point at which our senior instructor no longer fights him from nach, or “after” – Brian will not take the vor against Ben, meaning he won’t wait passively for Ben to attack, but will seek to launch first attacks against him. I’m definitely not at that level yet (and have the bruises to prove it!) but improvement is coming, if slowly.

Looking towards the summer, this year marks my first as a science fiction con-goer, and I’m doing so as an “early career” writer. The last two weekends of May will be taken up with first the Nebula Award Conference in Pittsburgh, followed by Balticon. And I got some big news on the Balticon front over the weekend: not only will I be heading up a science track panel on real-world hacking and cybersecurity, but I’ll be on four additional panels over the weekend. At the moment, I’m set to moderate one of those. More details on that closer to the con.

June takes me to Minneapolis and the Fourth Street Fantasy convention, and July sees a combo of 25th-anniversary trip for Michelle and I to Cape Cod, followed by Readercon in Boston. We may pop out to visit some folks in western Mass after Readercon.

Somewhere in there, work will begin on the first draft of the next book. I’m also noodling around with a shorter piece featuring a minor character from The Frozen Past that everyone loves and wants to see more of. And in odd moments, I’m playing with ideas for a far-future, is-it-science-fantasy-or-super-science-as-magic story, book length.

Busy looks to be the watchword for the summer. Stay tuned.

I Begin As I Mean to Go On

Permit me to offer some perspective I’ve learned over the last few years. I’ve made a conscious effort to meet, talk to, and follow the writings of people of color (especially women of color), LGBT+ folks, and people of different heritages, faiths, and traditions. And this discomfort you’re expressing?

This is their daily life under the status quo. They have to live in a environment in which what’s promoted as normalcy does not account for them.

Telling people in a public forum to stop talking about the issues that concern them? That, in itself, is a political act.

This does not mean there’s a place for vitriol. Nor should one spout falsehoods.

But if there’s anger? It doesn’t come from a vacuum. It often comes from pain. It comes from being smacked around, or watching those you care about being smacked around, and finally reaching the point where one says “That’s enough.”

Unfirend or unfollow me if you feel you need to. But don’t tell me, or others, to be silent.