The Big Idea: Sharon Short

Sharon Short made a name for herself as an author of mystery novels — but sometimes an idea comes to you from outside the usual places. In the case of her mainstream novel My One Square Inch of Alaska, that idea came from the northern wilderness… and the 1950s… and a cereal box. Here she is to explain how all three came together.

SHARON SHORT:

At a book club gathering, one of the women asked if anyone remembered the deeds to one square inch of Alaska that used to come in cereal boxes in the 1950s. (The question wasn’t related to the book we were discussing.) The 1950s were before I was born, but I was immediately taken with this compelling concept… the desire for a deed to one tiny bit of land in a vast frontier, and what that could symbolize. Almost immediately, the shadowy image of a young woman and her little brother (Donna and Will), standing together and holding hands, appeared in my imagination. I couldn’t ‘see’ them yet in sharp detail, but I could ‘feel’ them saying, “tell our story.”  I had no idea what their story would or should be, but by the time I returned home, I’d written in my head one of the closing scenes, which narrated itself in what would become Donna’s first person voice.

Frankly, it took a while for me to firmly grasp “the big idea” that’s the driving force in my first mainstream novel, My One Square Inch of Alaska.

First, I had my doubts about an entire novel kicked off with the concept of a kid longing to get a square inch deed in a cereal promotion. (In real life, the promotion was for a deed to one square inch of the Yukon Territory, but interestingly, everyone remembers the promotion as being to Alaska, which I think says something about what Alaska represents in the collective imagination, so I went with the way the promotion was remembered. Besides, “My One Square Inch of Yukon Territory” doesn’t quite flow off the tongue.)

Yet, the story wouldn’t let go of my imagination. So I kept plowing along, writing draft after draft, trying to figure out just who Donna and Will were. And why their story was important. And why I had to tell it.

For a while, I thought the novel might be suitable for a Young Adult audience, since Donna is 17/18 in most of the novel. I’d written a draft of the opening chapters that was good enough to win a local literary arts grant, and I invested that money in going to a conference that focused on writing for children and young adult readers. That conference happened to be in New York City… and coincided with the big snow storm of January 2011.

My flight was cancelled. So, I tossed my luggage in my trunk and started driving east. On the drive out (10 hours of boredom followed by 30 minutes of sheer terror), I thought, hey, look at me! I’m off to get advice on this YA novel I’m writing.

But at the conference, an editor (not mine!) told me that YA fiction set in early to mid-20th century America never, ever sells. (That afternoon, it was announced that a wonderful novel set in the late 1930s Midwest America won the Newbery Award.) On the other hand, that same editor told me that she thought my novel’s concept and theme were better suited to an adult audience, with crossover appeal to older teens—if I’d think more carefully about my protagonist’s story goal.

On my drive home–30 minutes of sheer terror followed by 10 hours of… well, not boredom, because I realized that on this point she was right. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, I pulled off the highway to a rest stop and re-thought my novel, then went home and revised (again), feeling much more on track when I finally realized I was writing an adult mainstream historical novel.

But… I still hadn’t quite tuned into The Big Idea of my novel. Then I started writing what I thought was the opening to Chapter 18, with Donna (a wanna-be fashion designer) describing how she’d discovered her mama’s suitcases full of costumes and beautiful clothes. And suddenly, I realized I’d actually just written the opening lines to my novel. (Fortunately, I didn’t have to toss out Chapters 1-17… just revise… yet again.)

I’d also discovered my novel’s Big Idea. Not about suitcases and clothes and mamas… but about dreams. About the power of embracing, believing in and following one’s dreams…. even if the odds are long or everyone else is saying ‘you can’t do this!’ And about the danger of ignoring those dreams.

And I realized that’s what Will’s quest for one tiny square inch in all the vast Alaskan Territory represents: the life-affirming importance of embracing one’s dreams, even surrounded by the vastness of the challenges life can offer. Will himself represents the wonderfully innocent belief of the very young in chasing dreams simply for the joy of the chase. Donna represents the journey from not believing in one’s dreams to embracing them. Other teen characters find themselves under pressure to ignore exploring their own dreams in order to follow others’ expectations, while many of the adult characters have denied their dreams or followed a dream that’s really an illusion. Two of my favorite adult characters, though, are the exceptions to this; they understand and embrace their dreams, and encourage Donna and Will in theirs.

I’ve always believed in following one’s dreams and working hard to achieve them, balancing that belief with realism. (For example, it’s a good thing that being a world class diver wasn’t my dream; I’m terrified of heights and deep water.) But I think this novel was important for me to write to reaffirm my own writing dreams, as well as to find the courage to tell a story that, in a way, is very personal—Donna’s emotional coming-of-age journey tracks very closely with my own, although the details of her background are different than mine. Additionally, my children were transitioning from being teenagers to being young adults, so this also influenced my attraction to exploring the Big Idea of the impact of affirming (or denying) personal dreams.

I hope readers, whatever their dreams are, enjoy going along with Donna and Will on their journey in My One Square Inch of Alaska.

—-

My One Square Inch of Alaska: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Read the author’s “Literary Life” columns in the Dayton Daily News. Follow her on Twitter.

Sharon Short

I’m giving a quick shoutout and mad props to my literary homey Sharon Short, whose first novel Death of a Domestic Diva just came out. Sharon’s a fellow Dayton Daily News freelancer; she writes a weekly humor column for them (as do I, except it’s cleverly disguised as DVD reviews). Diva’s a mystery novel that takes place in small-town Ohio and features as its protagonatrix a laundromat owner who may have the best stain-removing powers in the entire of the United States. To which I say, yeah? Come down and tackle my carpet after Rex has done his daily yakk all over it. Be that as it may, you can be assured of lots of murder, skullduggery and cleaning tips, and really, I don’t know how much more you can ask out of a novel. Here’s a link to the sample chapter excerpt.

It occurs to me as I’m giving Sharon a shout-out that all the novelists for whom I’ve done a logroll recently have been female: Sharon, Pamie and Naomi Kritzer. I don’t have anything against male novelists, I guess I just don’t know any personally. So, male novelists: Who wants to be my new pal? Anyone? Anyone? Hmph.

The Big Idea: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

The great thing about Sharon Lee and Steve Miller is that they give true value for your reading time. For example, in this post about Necessity’s Child, the latest installment in their celebrate Liaden Universe series, they are not content to give you just a single Big Idea — no, they give you a whole smorgasbord of ideas. Let’s dig in, shall we?

SHARON LEE and STEVE MILLER:

The ideas that ganged up on us and finally produced Necessity’s Child come in several sizes — Huge, Big, Medium, and Small.

The Big Idea came from Sharon’s maternal grandmother, who was wont, when she was particularly exasperated with her granddaughter’s elementary school self, to exclaim: “If only you would be stolen by the gypsies!”

That actually sounded kind of cool. Unfortunately, though the wish was frequently repeated, the Rom of Baltimore clearly knew better than a funny-looking gadje kid who read better than she talked; Sharon remained unstolen

On one particularly. . .strained. . .day, the wish having been reiterated several times, with feeling, Sharon thought she’d take matters into her own hands. Whereupon, she put the question — subtle-like, you understand: “Where do the gypsies live, Grandma?”

Grandma was reading a magazine. She answered without looking up from the page

“They live hidden.”

Oooh, that was even cooler, though it posed a potential problem.

“Where?”

Grandma beamed a look of disdain over the top of her half-glasses.

“If I knew where, they wouldn’t be hidden, would they?”

Point.

Since there didn’t seem to be any way to pursue this line of investigation without opening herself up to even more grandmotherly scorn, Sharon abandoned the topic. But, had she only known it then, she’d already gotten the gold.

They live hidden.

Face it — there’s a reason why so many fantasy and science fiction stories want to talk about the Land Beyond the Wall, and Those Beautiful People, and The Slans, and The (various) Secret Societies of This ‘n That.

They live hidden? That’s not just a Big Idea; it’s a Huge Idea.

It’s certainly an idea to which we’ve returned many times, because, in fact, we all live hidden; we’re each of us more, or other, than we show ourselves to be — and often more than we, ourselves, know. You could write a million riffs on they live hidden and learn something new, every time.

For Necessity’s Child, we decided to take the Huge Idea more literally than we often do. We not only wanted to find out what-or-who, specifically, was hidden, and why, but what would happen when (1) it-or-they were revealed, and (2) what was hidden over here intersected with what had been hidden beneath our feet.

So, we met three characters in our shared headspace, as we do; three people from very different circumstances, each of whom lived — or had lived — hidden.

First, we met Kezzi of the Bedel, apprentice to the kompani’s grandmother. Kezzi glories in the hidden life and despises Those Others, the gadje.

Syl Vor yos’Galan Clan Korval has until recently reluctantly lived hidden from Korval’s enemies, learning survival skills that no little boy should ever need. Reunited now with his mother, on a strange world, he’s struggling to re-adapt to open living.

And, last, we met Rys, a man so deeply hidden that he’s even a cipher to himself.

So, what do we have so far?

Huge Idea — they live hidden; Big Idea — Sharon’s unrequited romance with the gypsies; Medium Idea — what will happen when the lives of three very different people intersect; how will they change; and what will we learn, this time?

Which brings us to the Small Idea.

The Small Idea is, well. . .awfully prosaic.

You see, this month, February 2013, marks the Silver Anniversary of the Liaden Universe®. The first book in the series, Agent of Change, was published by Del Rey, in February 1988. Necessity’s Child, available, well. . .right now, from Baen, is the sixteenth Liaden Universe® novel.

When you’ve been writing in a particular universe for twenty-five years, it’s only fair to those readers who may want to sample your work, but who are understandably hesitant to commit to sixteen novels — it’s only fair to give those readers a door into the Universe; a book they can read without any prior knowledge of the series, or of the ongoing characters. We’ve previously written several Liaden portal novels. . .and it was time to write another.

The challenge in writing portal novels is that they have to be satisfying to both new and existing readers of the series. There should be new characters, new situations, and hooks into the rest of the Universe so readers who have been with us since 1988 will find a fresh and exciting narrative, characters that catch their hearts, and a story that enriches the existing canon.

In addition to all of that — because who doesn’t want an exciting story and engaging characters? — a portal book needs to do scene-setting, and lay deep background, for the new folks, so that when they, hopefully, step through the door to explore the rest of the Liaden Universe®, they’ll feel right at home.

Portal books ought, also, and ideally, be fun to write. That’s true of all books, really; life is too short to write stories you hate. But it’s especially true of portal books, which allow authors to leave the straight narrative pathway, and chew up the scenery a little — or, OK, a lot.

Necessity’s Child was enormous fun to write; it was like giving ourselves two weeks at the ocean in high summer, with unlimited roller coaster rides.

We hope you have just as much fun reading it.

—-

Necessity’s Child: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Sharon Lee’s Facebook page. Visit Steve Miller’s Facebook page.

Friendpimping on a Wednesday Morning

Because you don’t read enough blogs, here are two more for you to go check out. First: SeeLight, the personal blog of writer Claire Light, whom you may remember as a guest blogger here last July. Claire’s FAQ entry is already a classic of the form. Second, The Little Blog of Murder, which is the group blog of five mystery writers from Ohio (which is to say, they write mysteries, not that they themselves are, like, all mysterious or anything). Sharon Short, one of the writers, is a pal of mine.

In both cases the blogs are in their first week, so stick with them through all the introductory stuff and see what they’ve got going over the next couple of weeks.

There we go: friendpimpery. It’s good for the soul. Now, if you’ve got some friends with some relatively new blogs (say, from the last three months or so), go ahead and pimp them in the comments. Because I don’t read enough blogs, either.

The Great Lakes Booksellers Convention

glba1.jpg

Gaze, if you will, at the Holtzbrink table at the Great Lakes Bookseller Association convention, Tor being a subsidiary of said publishing group (and OMW being visible right there in the middle of the table — although not for long, because someone walked away with that copy not too long afterward).

My major involvement with the convention happens tomorrow, when I sign copies of OMW for various booksellers, although I kept myself busy today: Breakfast with mystery writer Sharon Short, who writes for the Dayton Daily News (just as I do). I couple of years ago I had helped her get her Web site online but this was the first time we had actually met in the flesh; she is a delightful breakfast companion, should you ever be in the need of one. Afterward I went into the exhibition room (where I snapped the above picture) and walked about schmoozing booksellers and checking to see what’s coming up in the book world.

My plan after that was to head into Chicago and snap some pictures of the architecture, but what I ended up doing was collapsing on the bed and sleeping through most of the afternoon — a worth pastime, to be sure, but I’m mildly sad I didn’t make it into town (don’t feel too sad for me, though, since I spent most of Friday afternoon in Chicago, and will have pictures of part of it (when I was at the University of Chicago) to show off once I get back). This evening was dinner and lively conversation with author Jane Lindskold and her husband, as well as Tor publicist David Moench. And now I think I’ll collapse into bed and read Four and Twenty Blackbirds until I pass out. Truly, a perfect day.

(As an aside, I’m several chapters in to 4&20 and have been enjoying it quite a bit. I’ll have more to say, I’m sure, when I’m done. In the meantime I’m pleased to see the book has been doing gangbusters on Amazon this weekend: It got up to #7 on the Amazon horror list, and its Amazon ranking was in the low hundreds on Saturday. Excellent work, Ms. Priest!)

Whatever X, Day XXVI

What was I like when I was a kid? Here are some snippets.

MARCH 7, 2006: 10 Childhood Nuggets

For the second entry in Reader Request Week 2006, Gabe, seconded by Claire, asks about my childhood. Rather than trying to bang out a coherent structure to this one, let me do a grab bag factoid nugget approach and see if it works.

* The very first memory I know I had was of being in a swimming pool when I was two. My mother tells me that when I was two I knew how to swim, but I lost that ability somewhere along the way and had to relearn it again when I was five. My second memory was of lying in bed in an apartment and watching a ghost go by the window. I suspect it was Halloween rather than it being a real ghost.

* As I think I’ve noted before here, I have no memory of not being able to read. I started reading when I was two. I was reading adult-level books by the time I was in first grade; I remember reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull and not quite getting what the fuss was about (I also read the parody, Jonathan Livingston Chicken, in which a chicken eventually joins the Israeli Air Force).

* I believe I also mentioned that when I was five and my sister Heather was six, our mother had a back operation and we were sent to live with our aunt Sharon for a year. It was a fun time; my aunt and her then-husband kept cattle and I remember carrying out a huge milk bottle for a calf who had lost its mom one way or another; the farm also abutted a Christmas tree farm in the back. One of my more vivid memories of that year was going with my uncle to slaughter a pig. He and another man had the pig in the back of a truck and they shot it, and I remember the thing falling to the bed of the truck and squealing while it bled out. I don’t remember thinking one way or another about it, although today I’m not entirely sure that’s how you’re supposed to kill a pig.

* I was a very precocious kid and like many precocious kids, could be more than a little annoying about it. There were some adults who would leave a room when I came in because they found me irritating. Looking back I couldn’t blame them although at the time I was puzzled.

* As many readers here discovered by way of the “Being Poor” entry, I was poor when I was a kid. However, it wasn’t constant poverty; we (like many people who are poor) alternated between periods of doing okay and then not. Mostly (but not always) this co-incided with when my mother was a single parent and when she was not. There were brief times when technically we were homeless — I say technically because at no time did we ever sleep in a car or a shelter, we just stayed at a friend’s place for a week (or three) — but by and large whatever our situation my mom kept us fed and with a roof over my head. It’s again one of those things where you don’t realize how much work that is for a single parent to do something like that until you become an adult yourself.

* My sister and I are eighteen months apart, which is close enough in age (particularly considering my being a precocious little twit as a kid) that we were basically in a constant state of warfare, except when we weren’t. Whether we were at war or not changed from minute to minute. It didn’t help that Heather was something of a troublemaker and I wasn’t, so I received apparently favorable treatment and she didn’t (this is a gross oversimplification of the situation, but it works for what I’ll tell you, the general public). This was a bone of contention between us until our adult years. We get along swimmingly now; carrying over your childhood issues into adulthood is generally silly.

* I could be inexplicably emotional. When Muhammad Ali lost to Leon Spinks in 1978, for example, I just about lost my mind and cried up a storm. Not exactly sure why, since I had no interest in boxing nor was a huge fan of Ali (or Spinks, for that matter). No one else could figure it out either. But weird things would set me off. At some point the emotional tripwire thing settled down, which I suspect is a good thing.

* Major childhood injuries: Seven stitches in the foot, from stepping on a piece of glass; five stitches above my eye, where my sister (accidentally) whacked me in the head with a golf club; three stitches in my head from when a rock dropped on me during a camping trip; and a broken leg, from being hit by a car. My sister also fed me Dran-O when I was a toddler, but in her defense, she was three or four at the time and didn’t know any better (at least, I hope).

* When I was 12 I learned that I had an older brother who my mother gave up for adoption when she was 16; shortly thereafter he located us. In one of those weird twists his mother and my mother were in the same club and had recently been discussing their troubles with their kids, his mom with him and my mom with my sister (I was the good kid, remember). They both remarked how similar their troubles were.

* This “good kid” thing is not to suggest I wasn’t (and couldn’t get in) trouble from time to time, and indeed like a lot of kids I went through my minor thievery phase when I was about 12. That stopped when, after stuffing a Whatchamacallit candy bar down my underwear and then sneaking out of the local Ralph’s, a huge baldheaded man walking toward the Ralph’s came up to me and told me that God watches everything I do. Yeah, I got the message.

That’s enough childhood nuggetry for one post.

Reader Request Week 2006 #2: 10 Childhood Nuggets

For the second entry in Reader Request Week 2006, Gabe, seconded by Claire, asks about my childhood. Rather than trying to bang out a coherent structure to this one, let me do a grab bag factoid nugget approach and see if it works.

* The very first memory I know I had was of being in a swimming pool when I was two. My mother tells me that when I was two I knew how to swim, but I lost that ability somewhere along the way and had to relearn it again when I was five. My second memory was of lying in bed in an apartment and watching a ghost go by the window. I suspect it was Halloween rather than it being a real ghost.

* As I think I’ve noted before here, I have no memory of not being able to read. I started reading when I was two. I was reading adult-level books by the time I was in first grade; I remember reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull and not quite getting what the fuss was about (I also read the parody, Jonathan Livingston Chicken, in which a chicken eventually joins the Israeli Air Force).

* I believe I also mentioned that when I was five and my sister Heather was six, our mother had a back operation and we were sent to live with our aunt Sharon for a year. It was a fun time; my aunt and her then-husband kept cattle and I remember carrying out a huge milk bottle for a calf who had lost its mom one way or another; the farm also abutted a Christmas tree farm in the back. One of my more vivid memories of that year was going with my uncle to slaughter a pig. He and another man had the pig in the back of a truck and they shot it, and I remember the thing falling to the bed of the truck and squealing while it bled out. I don’t remember thinking one way or another about it, although today I’m not entirely sure that’s how you’re supposed to kill a pig.

* I was a very precocious kid and like many precocious kids, could be more than a little annoying about it. There were some adults who would leave a room when I came in because they found me irritating. Looking back I couldn’t blame them although at the time I was puzzled.

* As many readers here discovered by way of the "Being Poor" entry, I was poor when I was a kid. However, it wasn’t constant poverty; we (like many people who are poor) alternated between periods of doing okay and then not. Mostly (but not always) this co-incided with when my mother was a single parent and when she was not. There were brief times when technically we were homeless — I say technically because at no time did we ever sleep in a car or a shelter, we just stayed at a friend’s place for a week (or three) — but by and large whatever our situation my mom kept us fed and with a roof over my head. It’s again one of those things where you don’t realize how much work that is for a single parent to do something like that until you become an adult yourself.

* My sister and I are eighteen months apart, which is close enough in age (particularly considering my being a precocious little twit as a kid) that we were basically in a constant state of warfare, except when we weren’t. Whether we were at war or not changed from minute to minute. It didn’t help that Heather was something of a troublemaker and I wasn’t, so I received apparently favorable treatment and she didn’t (this is a gross oversimplification of the situation, but it works for what I’ll tell you, the general public). This was a bone of contention between us until our adult years. We get along swimmingly now; carrying over your childhood issues into adulthood is generally silly.

* I could be inexplicably emotional. When Muhammad Ali lost to Leon Spinks in 1978, for example, I just about lost my mind and cried up a storm. Not exactly sure why, since I had no interest in boxing nor was a huge fan of Ali (or Spinks, for that matter). No one else could figure it out either. But weird things would set me off. At some point the emotional tripwire thing settled down, which I suspect is a good thing.

* Major childhood injuries: Seven stitches in the foot, from stepping on a piece of glass; five stitches above my eye, where my sister (accidentally) whacked me in the head with a golf club; three stitches in my head from when a rock dropped on me during a camping trip; and a broken leg, from being hit by a car. My sister also fed me Dran-O when I was a toddler, but in her defense, she was three or four at the time and didn’t know any better (at least, I hope).

* When I was 12 I learned that I had an older brother who my mother gave up for adoption when she was 16; shortly thereafter he located us. In one of those weird twists his mother and my mother were in the same club and had recently been discussing their troubles with their kids, his mom with him and my mom with my sister (I was the good kid, remember). They both remarked how similar their troubles were.

* This "good kid" thing is not to suggest I wasn’t (and couldn’t get in) trouble from time to time, and indeed like a lot of kids I went through my minor thievery phase when I was about 12. That stopped when, after stuffing a Whatchamacallit candy bar down my underwear and then sneaking out of the local Ralph’s, a huge baldheaded man walking toward the Ralph’s came up to me and told me that God watches everything I do. Yeah, I got the message.

That’s enough childhood nuggetry for one post.

(Have a question for Reader Request Week? Submit it here)
 

Noreascon Schedule — Final

The fine folks at Noreascon have been so kind as to publish the final version of the program, along with room numbers and so forth, so please to find below where I will be at Noreascon and when, and with whom:

Thursday 1:00 p H310:
They Should Make a Movie of That

What SF/F/H short stories, novelettes, novels, trilogies, or series would make great cinema?
Mike Conrad, Jim Mann, John Scalzi (m), Carrie Vaughn

Thursday 3:00 p H205:
Must-See TV and Movies

Are you cineliterate? Can you call yourself a fan if you can’t recognize “Klaatu berada nicto?” Do you know who Tom Corbett is? Why you should stay away from pod people? We’ll talk about the classics, and even the good stuff, from Metropolis to Rocketship XM to Princess Monomoke
Chris Barkley, Daniel Kimmel, Craig Miller (m), John Scalzi

Friday 1:00 p H304:
Looking Backward: the 20th Century

It was a time of terrible wars and great evils and unparalleled progress, ending with democracy triumphant, right? WellIt was also the time of Milton Berle and Cheese Whiz love beads and Elvis, andOK, so will the writers and fans of the late 21st century look back on the 20th with nostalgia, with surprise, or with horror? How will people in far future times look at us? Imagine what things about the 20th century that those in the future will look back on in the same way as we view the Roman gladiators
Esther Friesner (m), Craig Gardner, Terry Pratchett, John Scalzi

Friday 4:00 p H305:
Rumors at the Speed of Light

The downside of rapid internet communication.
Charles Ardai, Sharon Sbarsky, John Scalzi (m)

Saturday 2:00 p H305:
Lies I Learned at the Movies

Let’s discuss at least a few of the thousands or scientific facts that movies teach usthat turn out not to be true. Our favorite: the title of the 1969 “historical” epic about a volcano disaster, Krakatoa, East of Java umit’s WEST
Bob Devney (m), Tamara Jones, Peter Morwood, John Pomeranz, John Scalzi

Saturday 4:30 p Exeter:
Reading

John Scalzi

Sunday 10:00 a H306:
Grow Old Along With Me: Aging Your Characters

Why get stuck in adolescence? Middle age is another quest/rite of passage, and so is old age/death. How do you help your characters grow old (gracefully, or not)? How do you work with those parts of the voyage through life in your work? Or, are we being merely mercenaryto sell to an aging market segment?(Or, because we grow old, we grow old?)
Lois McMaster Bujold, Nancy Kress (m), Jean Lorrah, Steve Miller, John Scalzi, Susan Shwartz

Sunday 4:00 p H303:
Writing for Massively Multiplayer Online Worlds

Good SF/F writing makes or breaks a persistent massively multiplayer online world. Without them, a MMORPG becomes a slayfest, or a simple “go here and do that” list of quests. Experts from the industry talk about how to get more involved in persistent worlds as creative forces from the start of a project to its launch, and what good writing means to a creation of a great game.
Jessica Mulligan, John Scalzi

Monday 2:00 p H309:
SF Chick Flicks

So many SF films are about boys and their toys. What are the SF films with heart and soul? Are there any great SF “romances” that would really work on screen?
Bob Devney, MaryAnn Johanson (m), John Pomeranz, John Scalzi

If you only come to one thing of mine, for God’s sake, come to my reading. I’m hoping to improve attendance from last year, in which only six people attended. To be fair, it was a quality six people — indeed, if you can only have six people attend your reading, it’s hard to do better than Nick Sagan, Justine Larbalestier, Scott Westerfeld, Charlie Stross, Cory Doctorow and some nice random lady — but I am hoping a few more people will show this time around. It’s almost certain I will be taking a reading from Old Man’s War. And to sweeten the pot, I will be giving something away at my reading. Something very cool. No, I won’t tell you what it is. You’ll just have to come to find out.

If you want to see me outside of panels/readings: Unless you’re planning for serendipitous meetings as we walk around, you need to tell me — you can send me e-mail, since I’ll be taking a computer with me and will be checking my mail fairly frequently. Some folks have already made requests for my time, but it would be a big fat lie to say my time is entirely booked up, and I’m of course always happy to chat with people. Some non-panel-related stuff I know I’m going to be at:

* The Hugo Awards (good luck finding me at that, though)
* The Tor Party on Friday night
* The Strange Horizons Tea Party Sunday afternoon

Aside from this stuff I’m likely to be found in the late evenings frequenting whatever bar all the cool kids are hanging around, desperately trying to shoehorn myself in to their circle just like I did last year. I won’t be that hard to find. In case you’ve forgotten what I look like, and can’t be bothered to read the name tag, here’s the look I’m currently sporting:

See you there.

My Wildly Overpacked Noreascon Panel Schedule

I just got sent my Noreascon panel appearance schedule, and let me just say: Holy buckets, am I on a lot of panels. I’ve got eight of them, plus a reading. This is a bit of an upgrade from last year, in which I was on two panels and had a reading. So if you were hoping to see me on a panel this year, well, now you’ll have lots of chances. I don’t know if this is because they think I’m actually interested or just a sucker. Guess we’ll find out.

Here’s what I’ll be on, so you can start planning to come (or avoid) now. I’ll also add some preliminary comments. The panel descriptions, by the way, come from the convention e-mail I got. Don’t blame me if they’re not descriptive enough — I know as much about them at this point as you do.

Thursday, 9/2 @ 1pm: They Should Make a Movie of That…
Description: What SF/F/H short stories, novelettes, novels, trilogies, or series would make great cinema?
Co-panelists (to date): Jim Mann, Carrie Vaughn
Notes: I’ll be moderating this one, apparently. It turns out I’m on a lot of film-based panels, which makes sense considering The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film and all those years as a critic. I expect more additions to the panel before it actually gets under way; three seems a little understaffed for such a topic. Being moderator, I expect we’ll open up the panel to questions and comments, although I expect I’ll check in with my co-panelists to see what they have to say on the matter.

Thursday, 9/2 @ 3pm: Must-See TV and Movies
Description: Are you cineliterate? Can you call yourself a fan if you can’t recognize “Klaatu berada nicto?” Do you know who Tom Corbett is? Why you should stay away from pod people? We’ll talk about the classics, and even the good stuff, from Metropolis to Rocketship XM to Princess Monomoke…
Co-Panelists: Chris Barkley, Daniel Kimmel, Craig Miller (moderator)
Notes: Again, another panel playing off the SF film book and my years as a critic. This should be an interesting panel, not in the least because I expect that should we discuss fantasy as well as SF films, Kimmel and I will have differing opinions about the value of the Lord of the Rings films, as evidenced by his largely negative review of The Return of the King here. And he describes The Chronicles of Riddick as “a good cheesy sci-fi action movie that one can actually enjoy.” Well, it is cheesy, that’s for sure. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be any fun if people didn’t have differences of opinion as to what is essential viewing and what is not.

Friday, 9/3 @ 1pm: Looking Backwards: The 20th Century
Description: It was a time of terrible wars and great evils and unparalleled progress, ending with democracy triumphant, right? Well…. It was also the time of Milton Berle and cheese Whiz, love beads and Elvis, and……OK, so will the writers and fans of the late 21st century look back on the 20th with nostalgia, with surprise, or with horror? How will people in far future times look at us? Imagine what things about the 20th century that those in the future will look back on in the same way as we view the Roman gladiators…
Co-panelists: Esther Friesner (moderator), Craig Gardner, Terry Prachett, Connie Willis
Notes: Given the presence of Willis and Pratchett, I expect no one shall even notice I am on this panel. But on the other hand, I expect it to be well-attended. And as it happens, however, I do have an opinion as to what the average person in 2099 will think of 1900s (i.e., roughly what the average person thinks of the 1800s, which is basically a big blank except for the Civil War and possibly Mark Twain), and the whole panel looks really good, so it could be a lot of fun.

Friday 9/3 @ 4pm: Rumors at the Speed of Light
Description: The downside of rapid Internet communication.
Co-panelists: Charles Ardai, Sharon Sbarsky
Notes: Once again I am called to moderate. I wonder if I can dragoon Charlie Stross or Cory Doctorow to sit in on this panel, as they’re both obviously qualified to opine, although I’m sure both of them have incredibly packed schedules as well. No matter what, I think this can be a very interesting topic.

Saturday 9/4 @ 2pm: Lies I Learned at the Movies
Description: Let’s discuss at least a few of the thousands or scientific facts that movies teach us — that turn out not to be true. Our favorite: the title of the 1969 “historical” epic about a volcano disaster, “Krakatoa, East of Java” ….um…it’s WEST….
Co-panelists: Adam-Troy Castro, Bob Devney (moderator), John Pomeranz
Notes: Since I’m doing a chapter on this sort of thing in the SF Film books, I’ll be taking notes at this panel.

Saturday 9/4 @ 4:30pm: Reading
Description: I’ll be doing a reading of some of my work for a half hour.
Notes: You can thank Justine Larbalestier for this one, since apparently she pestered someone on the programming staff to make sure I had a reading scheduled. It’s nice to have friends. Now all I have to do is come up with something to read. An obvious choice would be something from Old Man’s War, but I’m actually thinking of writing up something else special for the reading. Something amusing. We’ll have to see if I have the time and/or ability to fight against sloth.

Sunday 9/5 @ 10am: Grow Old Along With Me: Aging Your Characters
Description: Why get stuck in adolescence? Middle age is another quest/rite of passage, and so is old age/death. How do you help your characters grow old (gracefully, or not)? How do you work with those parts of the voyage through life in your work? Or, are we being merely mercenary-to sell to an aging market segment?(Or, because we grow old, we grow old…?)
Co-panelists: Lois McMaster Bujold, Nancy Kress (moderator), Jean Lorrah, Steve Miller, Susan Shwartz
Notes: Finally, a panel that’s actually related to the science fiction novel I’ll have coming out. The panel does look rather tightly packed; I hope I don’t get squeezed off at the last minute.

Sunday 9/6 @ 4pm: Writing for Massively Multiplayer Online Worlds
Description: Good SF/F writing makes or breaks a persistent massively multiplayer online world. Without them, a MMORPG becomes a slayfest, or a simple “go here and do that” list of quests. Experts from the industry talk about how to get more involved in persistent worlds as creative forces from the start of a project to its launch, and what good writing means to a creation of a great game.
Co-panelists: Alexander Macris, Jessica Mulligan
Notes: I assume I’m on this panel because of my work with OPM and the Watchdog column therein. Clearly I am not a writer or a designer of MMORPGs, although of course I have opinions about them. No one’s listed as moderating the panel; if no one eventually is listed, I may ask to do it if only to make sure someone can’t ask me a really difficult question I know nothing about.

Monday 9/6 @ 2pm: SF Chick Flicks
Description: So many SF films are about boys and their toys. What are the SF films with heart and soul? Are there any great SF “romances” that would really work on screen?
Co-panelists: Bob Devney, John Pomeranz, MaryAnn Johanson (moderator)
Notes: Is anyone still at the convention at 2pm on Monday? Also, and not to knock my own sex here (Y Chromies is my homiez!!!), but if the name of the panel is “SF Chick Flicks,” why is 75% of the panel male? I know I’ll be surprised if we get much attendance. On the other hand, I’m excited about the panel because I have a secret crush on MaryAnn Johanson, who is a damn smart and funny reviewer and also lists Buckaroo Banzai as her favorite film ever, which would be enough for me to propose marriage if, in fact, the US didn’t have this totally irrational hangup about bigamy. Stupid US laws. Anyway, don’t tell her about my secret crush. It’ll just weird her out.

So there you have it: All my panels and reading. Inbetween these, I expect to be hanging out in bars (odd for someone who doesn’t drink, but apparently everyone else does. What can you do), catching up with friends and avoiding sleep in all its myriad forms. If you don’t catch me at a panel, you’ll undoubtedly see me around. Don’t be a stranger. Unless you’re, you know, a crazed Internet stalker. In which case: 500 feet at all times, just like the restraining order says. Fortunately that’s not most of you.

Contest Winner!

Thanks everyone for the many interesting entries in the contest to win The Rough Guide to the Universe. Here’s how it went:

Third Place: “The Universe is a very short poem.” Very clever. And linguistically not incorrect.

Second Place: “The Universe is ribbed for your pleasure.” This one cracks me up because, aside from comparing the universe to a condom, it’s also not entirely far from the truth: Thanks to quantum irregularities during early expansion of the universe, the universe’s matter distribution is, if not actually ribbed, certainly a little lumpy. However, it’s not likely that was done for our pleasure. Even so.

First Place: “The Universe is… the beta-test version of the biverse.” This would explain all too much about the way things are.

So, Sharon, e-mail me your address and I’ll send out a copy.

For everyone else, remember that I have at two more books coming out this year. We’ll be playing again.