Ten Years: Ask Me Anything

On Tuesday the 23rd I'll be doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything) in r/fantasy over on Reddit. Why? Because I've been self-employed for ten years now.
 
2004, September 20th, a Monday... that was my last day at Novell. Tuesday the 21st was my first day cartooning full-time.
 
And here we are in 2014. I think that the right day for celebrating a decade of Schlock Mercenary as my day job is the 21st, because while quitting was satisfying, I'd rather celebrate the beginning of the next thing than the ending of the previous thing. That said, here's what I wrote ten years ago on September 20th:
 
In the face of this new-found freedom, I’m going to spend the next 90 days pretending to be a full-time cartoonist. It may be little more than a sabbatical, or perhaps a pilgrimage-at-the-drawing-table. Then again, it may be a pretense that dictates the shape of reality. I’m not unemployed. I’m SELF-employed. Pretend that with me, please.
 
The game of pretend has turned out pretty well thus far. I look forward to the perpetuation of the pretense for another decade and beyond...
(note: Schlock Mercenary is 14 years and 3 months old -- the decade thing is how long Schlock's been paying all my bills.)
 
(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

The Maze Runner

Obligatory Disclaimer: The Maze Runner is based on a novel written by my friend James Dashner. I have a policy about reviewing books, which basically says I only write a review if the book is one that I can recommend. Movies, though, I'll review if I've seen it and have something to say.
 
With that out of the way...
 
The Maze Runner (movie) is a pretty good character drama with science-fiction thriller elements in it. I enjoyed it, but it didn't clear my Threshold of Awesome
 
Why not? Well, because it's not my kind of story. And here's where my policy kind of trips me up -- I think that The Maze Runner (movie) is a very faithful adaptation of Dashner's best-selling novel, but the novel itself isn't really my thing, mostly for stylistic reasons, and now I have to tell you about a book I don't actually love.
 
I think that the conceit of the maze itself, in which a tiny community of young men and boys is trapped at the maze's center, is super-cool and very engaging. The film brings the maze to life in ways that fans of the book will probably love, and though the events of the book are necessarily compressed, the film gets those right, too.
 
But I don't love the style of storytelling in which volumes of new information are dropped on the reader or viewer right at the end. Sure, in real life there's not much foreshadowing for things that are unexpected, but that doesn't satisfy me in a book or a movie. I want "surprising yet inevitable," not "whoa, where did THAT come from?" I like the final twists and reveals to be easily explained in one or two sentences in which everything comes together, rather than long explanations which raise as many questions an they answer.
 
I also love settings that fully explore the ramifications of their "what ifs," and The Maze Runner doesn't really do that. There's a little bit of a Lord of the Flies feel to the glade in the center of the maze, but the glade is nothing like what I imagine an all-boy subsistence community to be like, especially not with the arrival of a girl.
 
But hey, I had the same problem with The Hunger Games, and those books and films have entertained a lot of people. Your mileage may vary, and now you have one of the key points of variability.

Telling the Printer to Take My Money

Page proofs and slipcase blanks arrived this morning. Hey, look what I can build! 

Book 11 (Massively Parallel) and the 6-11 slipcase (Munitions Canister 2) are go for printing along with a re-print of the 1-5 slipcase (Munitions Canister 1.) This means we're about to spend five digits of dollars on printing, and that digit in the 10,000's place is not a one, and might not get to be a two.

On a related note, pre-orders for Book 11, both slipcases, and the 2015 calendar will all open on October 15th (Patreon supporters will be able to pre-order starting on October 13th.)

(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

Salt Lake Comic Con 2014: "Wonderful, notwithstanding..."

Salt Lake Comic Con is a great show.
 
It has some problems, and some of them are big and painful, but the good outweighed the bad for me this time around. I still think the registration issue is something the top brass need to fall on their swords for (last I heard they were blaming subordinates rather than admitting their own egregious failings in the matter) and the convention center itself is not nearly as pleasant a place as the San Diego, Phoenix, or Indianapolis convention centers with which I'm familiar, but at the end of the show there were happy crowds, happy vendors, and I had an energized sort of exhaustion that said "this was worth it" rather than "I don't know why we do these things."
 
If I point out problems, it's because I want the show to be better, but I can now state with confidence that it's a really good show.
 
My panels were a blast, and had good crowds. The panel discussions weren't quite as erudite or deep as the panels at literary-focused genre events like LTUE, LDStorymakers, or the GenCon Writer's Symposium, but those are events for writers, and the SLCC panels were, for the most part, events for fans (some of whom are writers, but they're a small minority.) The important thing for this show is that the panels were fun--at least the ones I was involved in. I did catch a little mumbling from attendees coming out of one panel or another along the lines of "I was hoping it would be about..." or "I wish they'd covered..." but I think that's as much an issue of setting the audience's expectations as it is about delivering the goods.
 
Sandra had good panels as well, and that's important to me. As a micro-publisher, editor, designer, and writer, she has at least as many important things to bring to a discussion as I do, and at Salt Lake Comic Con she got to bring 'em, and she came back from her events at least as energized as I did.
 
Some key differences between SLCC '14 and SLCC '13:
 
  • The aisles got wider
  • The Expo Hall's hours got shorter
  • The Expo Hall's hours didn't get changed at the last minute
  • Security was managed professionally
 
This meant that the crowds flowed well, even when the show was full, and that vendors like me could have a reasonable 9-hour work day, allowing us to keep that game face on without needing to chew helpless, innocent attendees' faces off when the last layer of battered veneer of our humanity finally sloughed away. It also meant that I was able to spend time with fellow professionals after floor hours. I had a delightful dinner with fellow cartoonists, including Pat Bagley, Dave Kellett, and Jake Parker, and was able to have a decompression dinner Saturday night with Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Sandra, and Brian McClellan (who was a great booth-mate.)
 
Oh, and we made decent money. Return-wise, the first SLCC was the worst large show I have ever done. The second barely broke even. This one, though, made twice as much for us as the first two put together. Finally I can look at the event with confidence and start planning my year around doing it regularly.
 
Admittedly, I don't know what the average attendee's experience was. I think most folks at the show were there to stand in line for celebrity signings or photo-ops, and that's way outside my area of interest. The fans who showed up at my booth were happy, and they were fun to talk to.
 
How big was it, really? Here's what it looked like empty, as seen from the Green Room:
 

Looking south from the Green Room
 
Looking west from the Green Room
 
These pictures obviously don't do the crowds justice. From my booth, which was in the southwest corner of the south wing, it took about 15 minutes to get to booths or events on the west end of the west wing... unless I flashed my exhibitor's badge and slipped out and back in through the loading docks.
 
Here are the big hurdles that Salt Lake Comic Con needs to clear for their next event:
 
  • Get everybody into the hall within 3 hours on Thursday. Issue badges via mail, and open the on-site registration on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • Attendee names on badges, at least for the adults, the vendors, and the professionals.
  • Roll out carpet. This will reduce noise, reduce fatigue, and class the event up a LOT. (AFAIK, right now the Salt Palace does not own enough carpet to do this.)
  • Lock in the panel schedule 60 days in advance.
  • Print a meaningful map, and hang better signage in the Expo Hall
 
But the show was wonderful, notwithstanding the problems I've described. Sandra and I have already begun planning how best to exhibit and attend the "Fan Experience" version of this event in April.
 
(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

Shipstar by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

Last year I read Bowl of Heaven by Benford and Niven, and really enjoyed it. The book had lots going for it, and my biggest complaint was that it ended pretty much in the middle of the story. Sure, local threads got wrapped up, but the overarching crisis had not been resolved.

Shipstar resolves it nicely. 

This is science fiction like the kind I grew up loving, in which the scale of engineering evokes sense of wonder, and the setting is a critical player in the story being told. The second volume adds of detail the setting and depth to the characters, and of course it finishes the story much more satisfactorily.

Thanks to Writing Excuses I'm pretty interested in the process of creating the things that I like, and I was delighted to find afterwords by both authors. These essays by Benford and Niven were fascinating, not only for what they said (lots of cool things about designing BDOs, B-"Smart"-Os, and eon-spanning civilizations), but for what they didn't say. In particular, they made no mention to specifics in designing characters. I'm sure that's something that the authors did, but for some reason that's not what they thought would interest us in the essays.

I wish they had, because the alien characters were interesting and distinct, and the human characters got a lot deeper with the second volume. I'd love to know what went into making that happen.

At the end of Bowl of Heaven I was pretty sure I knew what Shipstar's big reveal was going to be. I got the reveal right, but it wasn't the big one. I'm quite happy to have been mostly wrong. Shipstar had a bunch of new things in it (something to shop for in a new book, obviously,) and I found the reveals very satisfactory, right down to the surprising-yet-inevitable bits.

(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

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