Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Con Etiquette, Pt I

             D’you see what I did there...?
            So, Emerald City Comic Con was a few weeks back,  Wondercon’s this weekend, and we’re kinda lunging full force into the spring con season (followed by the summer con season, the fall con season...).  I think I may be doing eight or nine cons this year, which may be a new record for me.
            I love cons.  I think I went to my first convention, in Boston, for my thirteenth or fourteenth birthday. I met artist/writer Dave Cockrum (who gave young me some career advice), a few Marvel editors, and Matthew Waterhouse (who played Adric on Doctor Who back in the day).  And we won’t talk much about when that was, but I’m pretty sure Reagan was president at the time...
            Over the past couple of years, though, I’ve been seeing conventions in a whole new way.  I started going as a vendor, hawking my books to whoever I could attract over to my little folding table.  Nowadays I’ve hit the point where more of my con time is panels and signings.  If I happen to be at a table, it’s not quite so much work to get somebody to talk to me.
            Anyway, while my experience isn’t exactly overwhelming, I thought it might be cool to toss out a couple of convention tips I’ve gleaned over my years of con-going, seeing things from a few different angles.  But I thought I’d divide them up a bit.  Today I’ll talk about attending cons as a fan, next week as a vendor, and that last week I’ll talk about the holy grail—being a guest of the con.
            Sound interesting?
            Well, good.  ‘Cause that’s how I’m doing it.
            Let’s start with the basic form of con-attendance—as a fan.

1) Be aware of my surroundings – Soldiers and police have a great term called situational awareness.  Really simply put, it means I’m being constantly aware of what’s going on around me and how it might affect me... or vice-versa.
            This ability can make me a convention ninja, no joke.
            If I’m going to wander around the con for a day, I should at least try to be aware of the other people around me.  At a crowded convention, all it takes is one person who decides to stop in the middle of a busy aisle or intersection.  I don’t want to be the person everyone’s glaring at... or deliberately slamming their shoulder into.
            Another factor here—what have I brought for bags?  We all have something at cons. I generally just have a messenger bag, but lots of folks have whatever big bag they’re handing out with passes.  I’ve even seen a couple folks wearing backpacks that are probably larger than you’d need to spend a summer backpacking in Europe. There’s nothing wrong with any of these, I just need to be aware of how much space they take up. Suddenly those random stops or turns make me a serious menace (and a major annoyance).
            Also, most cons are going to have limited dining facilities.  I really shouldn’t camp out for an extra hour after I’m done eating.  I know this is a tough one, because so many big cons—looking at you, SDCC—have very, very limited places to stop and rest.  Once I actually score a table, there’s a mad desire to hang onto it as long as possible. I just need to remember—everyone else wandering around feels exactly the same way.

2) Be respectful of everyone’s time—Most con events are timed one way or another.  Panels and autograph sessions are rarely more than an hour.  Even vendor interactions don’t last long—they’re generally trying to manage a large area and juggle numerous potential clients at once.
            If I’m spending five minutes at the microphone or in front of a line or even in front of somebody’s booth... that’s a big chunk of time. We’ve all been there when that guy gets up in front of the panel and talks for three minutes before getting to his question.  I’ve seen people argue their case for submitting book manuscripts and art samples at publisher’s booths, no matter how often the random marketing intern has to explain they’re not the person for that.  I’ve watched people stand dead center in front of a booth, talking to the vendor for ten minutes, then admit they don’t have any money.

3) Don’t be creepy—Okay, I know this is a tough one because nobody... okay, most people don’t think they’re being creepy. Just remember—not everybody likes it. No, it doesn’t matter what kind of con it is.  I just really need to be honest with myself when I engage with cosplayers, vendors, professionals, con staff. How am I coming across
            No, not in a perfect world, in this world. How are people going to react to what I’m saying or doing?  Is that woman really going to be happy I wrapped myself around her or pinched her ass? Is that vendor really going to be pleased that I stood by his booth breathing heavily for twenty minutes? Is it okay that I keep staring at that woman’s cleavage?
            Yes, a lot of these involve women—go figure!  It's kinda sad how many times this has to get brought up.  No staring, no touching, no rude comments.  If I’m trying to justify how whatever I’m about to say or do is okay... I’m probably doing something creepy.
             Seriously, don’t be creepy. 

4) Remember, everyone here is human—Yes, even that artist/writer/actor I’ve worshipped as my personal god/dess for the past five/ten/twenty years.  Some people aren’t dealing well with the crowd.   Some need to hydrate.   Some people need a drink of the other variety.  Some folks are just tired—cons can be exhausting.  Maybe they’ve answered that same question I just asked fifty times today.
            If someone seems annoyed or they get a little short with me, I should try to give them the benefit of the doubt before tweeting about what a horrible person they are.  Granted, maybe they are a horrible person—they’re out there, sure—but there’s a good chance they’re just kinda burned out.
            And let’s not also forget that... well, maybe I already messed up one or two of those first three rules.

            So there’s that.  Four simple rules that can make me a lot more popular at  a convention. Or, at the very least, not as annoying.
            Remember them at Wondercon.
            And come back in a couple days for my next pearl of writing wisdom.
            Until then, go write.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sentence DNA

            Okay, so, a few weeks back (before the amazing ten year anniversary) I said I’d blab on a bit about words.  That time has finally come.
            Be ascared. Be very ascared.
            It’s been a while, so I figured I’d bring up spelling again.  I’m sure it seems silly that I keep revisiting this topic again and again.  But there’s a reason for it.  Words are the absolute core of what we do as writers, the bare-bones building blocks.  They’re the DNA of storytelling, the atoms to my sentence molecules.
            I must have a solid, working vocabulary if I want to be a writer. No question, no excuses.  I need to know what words mean.  I have to know how to spell them.  I have to be able to tell them apart.
            That last one’s a killer.  We’ve all seen people go on about there/they’re/their and of course about its and it’s.  But I’ve seen folks mess up corporeal and corpulent. I’ve seen major websites confuse possible and posable.
            Granted, ninety-five percent of the people making these mistakes aren’t claiming to be writers.  They’re just folks trying to express their thoughts online.  This isn’t their field of specialty.  As I’ve pointed out before, I can cook, but I’m not a chef.  I can do an oil change and rotate my tires, but I’m no mechanic.  And I don’t think the folks at my garage would look down at me for not being able to tell a carburetor and a fuel pump apart on sight.
            I’d probably look down on them if they couldn’t tell the two apart.  I’d eye all their work and claims with a bit of skepticism.  Truth is, I probably wouldn’t trust them with my car anymore. It’s the kind of ignorance that calls all their work into question.
            That’s why spelling is so important for writers.  It’s one of the first benchmarks we need to pass—one of the first indicators that we know what we’re doing.  I can’t tell you how many times, as a contest reader, I would start judging a screenplay because it had two or three misspelled or misused words in the first two pages.  If I hit twenty pages and there were more than ten typos...  Well, even when I wasn’t supposed to judge on spelling, there’s simply no way that’s not going to color my thoughts when I hit another problem.
            And y’know what?  The scripts with spelling problems always had another problem. Always.
            I wasn’t alone in this, just in case you’re thinking I’m some hypercritical jerk who’s scared of newcomers taking his job or something (keep in mind, this was almost eight or nine years ago—nobody wanted my job back then).  A good number of readers—and editors and agents—are also writers.  Even when we’re not supposed to judge on spelling... we all kinda judge on spelling.
            Anybody who’s a professional in this word-making field will.
            That said... here’s a list of paired-up words.  They’re homophones or malonyms or just... well, screwups.  As always, all of these examples come from actual mistakes I’ve seen in the wild—in books, catalogs, and on various websites that try to claim a degree of professionalism.  Hell, one of these was in an article about how to be a better writer!
            Yeah, it’s just painful to think people messed up some of these...

mote vs. moot
conscious vs. conscience
defuse vs. diffuse
reign vs. rein
angle vs. angel
dual vs. duel
idle vs. idol
dyed vs. died
pique vs. peak
emulate vs. immolate
bawl vs. ball
jive vs. jibe
do vs. due
sleight vs. slight
rouge vs. rogue
marital vs. martial
hansom vs. handsome
don vs. dawn
gild vs. guild
turn style vs. turnstile

            Neat list, eh?
            Did you know what both words meant?  In every example?  Because, again, I need to know what words meanAll the words.  Not a pretty good idea, not a general sense of how it works, not pretty-sure-that’s-the-one-I’m-looking-for.  These are my basics, after all.  This is sugar vs. salt for a chef, or carburetor vs. fuel pump for a mechanic.  If I mess these up... well, I can’t be shocked when people stop treating me like a professional.
            Actually, if you don’t mind me running a bit long, I want to toss out something else here, too.  Another point I’ve mentioned before, but it still bears repeating.
            Sometimes, for storytelling reasons, maybe I want spelling mistakes in my work. Maybe it’s an epistolary story, or just a jutted-down note within the narrative, and the character in question isn’t supposed to be all that bright. Then it makes sense that they may not be good at spelling, yes?
            I need to be super-careful when I do this.  This is one of those things that can make me lose points with editors and writers.  Seriously.  I’ve seen both.
            D’you notice up above when I’d written jutted instead of jotted?  Not a huge mistake.  Understandable, even—U and O are pretty close on the keyboard.
            Which means, of course, there’s a chance that’s an actual mistake, not one I added in for narrative effect.  If I see somebody mess up they’re and their, I’m left wondering if the character’s not too bright... or the author isn’t. There’s no real way to be sure.
            Compare that to when I used ascared up top. It’s not a word you’ll find in many dictionaries, but it’s a generally accepted colloquialism. It’s also (take notes now) a spelling that would raise flags for copy editors or even the dumbest of spellcheckers. And readers. We’d immediately question how such a blatant, easily caught error made it in, and the default assumption would be that I meant for it to be.
            Y’see, Timmy, I need to be smart about deliberate mistakes in my writing. It needs to be very clear they’re deliberate—screw-ups the character made, not me.  Because if they’re not sure, most readers are going to assume it’s my mistake.  And as I mentioned above, if I make too many mistakes...
            Well, again, I can’t be shocked by how people react.
            Next time...
            This is getting tough, because I’m thinking of making Tuesday posts a semi-regular thing, but they’ll probably be a bit broader and not quite as writing-specific. So “next time” won’t actually deal with writing, but it’ll still—
            Y’know what? Just keep checking back here.  It’ll be worth it.  Hopefully.
            Until then, go write.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


            Okay, so here’s a simple tip. One you’ve probably heard before.  One you’ve probably ignored until it’s too late.
            Always carry a notebook.
            Now, I know what some of you are thinking.  A notebook.  How quaint.  How 19th century.  What a delightful little writery affectation.  I’m too young and vibrant to forget things.  I’ve trained my mind to function like a steel trap!
            You’ll forget stuff.
            Back when I was in college, I was trying to write and drifting back and forth between a werewolf detective novel and another one I’ve mentioned here called The Trinity, about rival immortals.  And I also had this idea dancing in my head.  A scene with a few snippets of dialogue.  Something about it called to me.  Tickled me.  Gnawed at me.  It was one of those things I kept playing with, spinning it different ways, trying to find just how and where it would fit in a story.  Or maybe a story that fit around it.
            So one night I was talking with a friend down at the dorm security desk and somehow ended up talking to a foreign exchange student. For, like, two hours.  There at the desk. I don’t remember much about her except she had an amazing accent,very clever (hey, we talked for two hours), and was kinda stunning in that casual way some women pull off really well.
            And about halfway through this conversation, I suddenly realized where that little scene fragment fit. Something she said flipped it around and I suddenly knew just how this would work in a story. How it would be the seed of an entire powerful, amazing book.
            But... I was having a fascinating conversation with an attractive foreign exchange student.  I didn’t want to break that off.  Besides—there was absolutely no way I’d forget an idea this good.
            Reader... I forgot it.
            To this day, my most solid memory of that night is the sheer joy of knowing I’d figured out how to perfectly use that idea.  I don’t remember how.  Or the exchange student.  But I remember how thrilled I was, knowing I’d finally get to use that idea.
            I just don’t remember how.
            Write it down.  On a notepad. On your computer. On your arm. On your phone (there’s usually a notepad app, and there are some great ones out there you can grab cheap).  Doesn’t matter if it’s an idea, an editing note, a clarification—always write it down somewhere.
            But don’t tell yourself you’ll remember it.