Return of the Return of the Superstars

My plan had been to return home today from the Superstars Writing Seminar, but the thick fog surrounding the Colorado Springs airport had other ideas. Instead I find myself at the Radisson near the airport, forced to spend the evening reading and writing.

I know, I know. A whole orchestra of the world’s smallest violins are playing for me right now.

So, this was my third time at Superstars, a seminar dedicated to the business side of publishing. There are plenty of seminars focusing on craft, but I believe this is the only one that talks purely about business. What’s really cool is that, despite the fact that the last seminar was only nine months ago, nearly half the content was brand new. Publishing is changing that quickly, as  the e-book and self-publishing explosion have forced the entire industry to adapt. I got to hear all about it from established authors, professional editors, and even some successful indie authors.

Some highlights:

VIP Dinner. The idea here is each table consists of five attendees and one panelist. I sat at Kevin J. Anderson’s table this year, and was treated to nearly four hours of talk about publishing, writing, television, dining, and pretty much every other topic under the sun. Kevin’s been in the industry for decades and knows just about everyone. The fact that he’s still so gracious about his time with newbies like me is amazing.  The rest of the group at the table was fantastic too. Hard to beat a night of great food and great company.

Pitching: I decided to practice pitching The Wildfire Crown. I gave Dave Farland the written version and editor Lisa Mangum from Shadow Mountain the oral version. Dave really liked it, Lisa was more skeptical, but they both gave me great feedback and suggested some other approaches that I’m looking forward to trying. One of the key lessons I’ve picked up from all this seminars is that your brilliant novel won’t impress anyone if you can’t give them a reason to start reading it. Hopefully with all this advice I’ll be able to come up with a killer blurb that will sell me a couple million copies (or, you know, more than one at least).

Kobo. Mark Lefebvre from Kobo came back a second time as a guest speaker and raffled off a Kobo Aura HD. Using my tremendous skill at manipulating entropy and randomness, I managed to win the drawing and decided to up the awesomeness-ante by having James Owen draw a dragon on the back (an idea I shamelessly stole from another attendee). The result:

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This post doesn’t even scratch the surface of how cool the seminar is. I had dozens of great conversations and have made new friends.

For any writers reading this blog who want to make a career out of novels, I firmly believe this is the best money you can spend. Check out their website here!

 

 

 

 

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Superstars 2013

Two weeks ago I was in Colorado Springs, attending the Superstars Writing Seminar. This was my second time attending. I had been looking forward to this trip for a long time – last year’s seminar had been a revelation for me. Among other things, it convinced me to start this blog.

The only way I can describe the experience of attending of Superstars is it’s like your brain being lit on fire. Spending three days in the company of sixty people who all share my passion for writing is remarkably inspiring. Between talks covering every aspect of publishing you can imagine,  I reconnected with old friends and made some new ones.

The second evening of the seminar was the VIP dinner – an opportunity to spend a couple hours with one of the authors at a table with a few other attendees.  Last year, I was at Brandon Sanderson’s table and was treated to a huge amount of information on publishing, editors, and a bunch of stuff that can’t be repeated in public 🙂

This year I ate with James Owen. James astounded me with his talk last year and it was just as good this year. He’s monumentally inspiring; his ability to eloquently describe his approach to things and how he’s overcome a lot of adversity is remarkable. At the end of the dinner he had us all sign a dollar bill and informed us that was good for a stay at the guest room in his personal workshop in Arizona, should we ever want to work in a project in a place designed to foster creativity. I know I’ll be taking him up on that offer as soon as I can.

Tracy Hickman, who wrote the famous Dragonlance novels in the 90s with Margeret Weis, was there, replacing David Farland who had to miss the seminar. Tracy was a remarkable speaker – his answer to the question ‘what writing means to him’ had the room in tears – but more importantly, he was an incredibly nice man. He offered to critique our novel pitches; I managed to stammer out mine and got some great feedback (better yet, he though I did a good job!).

I think the thing that stuck with me most was a quote from Tracy’s talk.  “Why do we write?” He asked. “We write to inspire.” That really resonated with me, because it’s what I hope my writing will do, one day. I know other people’s writing has inspired me; to wonder and to dream, to learn and to read, to write; to be a better person. The heroes in stories might be imaginary but the lessons they teach are not.

If you’re someone who’s serious about writing and wants it to be a career someday, you should go to Superstars next year. They’ll be announcing the dates soon. I know I’ll be there.

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City of Lights

I had the pleasure of spending a week in Paris with my best friend, Sean, and some other friends. It was more of a business trip for Sean – he was casting a StarCraft II tournament called Iron Squid. The goal was to see the tournament, do some sight-seeing, and eat a lot of great food, and I’m pleased to say we succeeded admirably at all three.

1/22

As some of you may know, I’m tall – 6′ 5 – and planes these days seem built for people a standard deviation below average. Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to an 11 hour plane ride, especially given that Air France wouldn’t pre-assign us seats.

Loading the plane was itself an experience. We were flying direct from LAX, and the assigned terminal was at the edge of the airport. There were no planes there – from the terminal they loaded us into busses, which took us to a building in the middle of nowhere whose sole purpose was to load the massive Airbus 380.

The best part? The plane wasn’t even half full. We had four people to two three seat rows in front of each other. There was plenty of room to stretch out, use my laptop, even nap. I read the first half of A Memory of Light, had some great conversation, got in 2000 words of writing, and frankly had about the best time I’ve ever had on an airplane.

1/23

Thanks to the miracle of time zones, we found ourselves in Paris on the afternoon of the 23rd and took a taxi to our hotel, the Concorde La Fayette. The hotel was this super tall building right in downtown, part of the Palais du Congres and gave easy access to the number one metro line. Hoping to begin combatting jet lag immediately, we resolved to stay up as late as possible and set out exploring.

Paris in January, as it turns out, gets rather cold. There was actually snow on the ground when we arrived, and I believe the temperature that day was in the high 30s. This made the walk a bit more of an adventure than the others in my group might have preferred. I, being a hearty Mainer, actually enjoyed the temperature.

After lunch at a local French café (with incredible bread!), we headed to Notre Dame. What an awesome (in the most literal sense of the word) building. The layers of architecture, the way the different styles are built on top of each other, the absolutely astonishing stained glass windows, the gargoyles, and the immense size – it’s crazy to think that this was built centuries ago, without access to the technology we have today.

From Notre Dame the plan was to take the tower tour, but the wait was long and it was cold, so we eventually gave up and wondered to hot chocolate at Angelina’s, known for the best hot chocolate in the city. I can’t say I’ve tried enough to compare, but it was likely the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

1/24

Sean had business stuff going on all day, so a smaller group of us made our way to the Louvre. There we spent a couple hours wandering around, checking out the Mona Lisa (far less impressive in person), and the Egyptian exhibits.

The coolest exhibit we saw was Napoleon’s Apartments – an entire wing set up to mimic the style of the French emperor’s living quarters. Think rich red carpets, ornate furniture, lots of gold and silver, and elaborate chandeliers. Gorgeous, like stepping into an old-fashioned palace.

1/25

Not much happened Friday – we had a nice dinner with some of the people hosting Iron Squid at a fondue restaurant. I can’t eat much cheese, so I had to settle with dipping filet mignon in a pot of hot oil, a real travesty 🙂

1/26

The day of the tournament. I came early with Sean and got a backstage pass, so I could hang around in the lounge. I met some of the other commentators and staff.

The theatre itself was huge – around 4000 seats, and they’d all been sold. I’ve been to a number of StarCraft tournaments, and they’ve been fun and well-produced. But nothing at the level of this; with a live orchestra playing while the players were introduced.

This video gives a good sense of how it was all set-up. I felt like I was watching a show in Vegas. Incredible.

1/27

We went to see the Sacre Coeur, which sits on the tallest hill in Paris, and walked around a bunch. Lunch was at a really cute restaurant that served absolutely immense portion sizes. The Sacre Coeur was gorgeous,  as was the view of the city looking down the hill. Would have loved to see it at night.

1/28

My favorite day from a culinary perspective. We went to a restaurant in the Jewish distract called L’As Du Fallafel, which is pretty much what it sounds like – Mediterranean fare, with their namesake, shawarma, and so on.

What’s so special about it?

It’s absolutely incredibly unbelievably good. I don’t even like falafel! This was like the best thing I’ve ever had! Huge amounts of food – the shawarma was great, the falafel was unreal, the hummus was great, the sides were great, even the lemonade was great. I don’t care if it’s not French – if you’re in Paris, go here. You will not regret it.

After, we walked around and the brilliant idea to do tea came up, so we found a tea shop – and much like the Falafel restaurant, it was incredible. They had this menu with about 300 different types of teas, plus desserts. I got a black tea called Fall in Love, advertised as having vanilla and floral notes, that was on par with the best tea I’ve ever had, and made me wonder again why my own tea sucks so much.

1/29

We went to Blizzard Europe in Versailles and signed an NDA. It was a really cool day – I’ll be sure to blog about it when I can 🙂

1/30

We flew home! Unlike the flight to Paris, this one sucked – we were in the middle of the middle, the flight was full, and Sean wasn’t there. Still, I managed to sleep for about a third of it, which made it bearable – and I finished A Memory of Light, so I can’t complain too much.

It was a great and unique trip – I’d like to go again and do more touristy things, but the mix of business dinners / engagements and sight-seeing was engaging, plus I made some new friends. I came back home energized (at least, after the jet lag faded) and motivated, and managed to knock off my second draft of The Wildfire Crown last week, with progress already being made on the third. Very excited to see how it’s coming together, and can’t wait to start to share it with people.

For this post’s video, another fine effort by the Avalanches, and a really lovely example of the music video as a story-telling medium.

Transitions

2012 was an incredible year for me.

I went to writing seminars and workshops for the first time. I started to produce the first writing I’d consider in the neighborhood of publishable. I did an awesome webshow with my friend Sean. I switched from QA to tech writing at work. Internally, I improved my self-confidence and tried to push myself to new heights. All things I hope to continue in the coming year.

2013’s shaping up to be pretty awesome as well. I’ve been searching for a new apartment for the past few months, in hopes of finding a place that will let me get an awesome big dog. Thanks to Palo Alto realty prices, that’s been rather depressing. I found one place last month that would have been perfect. Turned out, around thirty other people thought it’d be perfect as well, and I didn’t get it.

This past Saturday, I had an appointment to see two apartments over in Menlo Park. It was a long walk to the first one. I was already tired from getting up at 6 am to meet an old college friend. The guy was ten minutes late to a 10:30 appointment, which was stressing me out because I also had an 11:00 appointment and I really hate being late. The guy finally pulls up and gets out. We shake hands and he and asks me if I liked the Michigan weather. I told him I’d just spent the holiday in Michigan and liked it just fine. He laughs and shows me the apartment, which takes about two minutes. It looks good to me – plus, he’s okay with cats and the big dog. I tell him I want it and ask him for a rental application.

He says he can tell I’m a trustworthy guy, and I can have it if I want.

Thirty minutes later, I have a signed lease, a new set of keys, and he’s driving me around Menlo Park, showing me the best places to eat, before stopping at his son’s restaurant and giving me a gift certificate. Sometimes, things just work out.

Writing wise, I’ve got a busy year planned already. I’ll be attending Superstars again in May. This time, it’s in Colorado Springs, and I’ve extended the trip to meet with my parents beforehand to do some sightseeing. In November, I’ll be doing the Writer’s Mastery workshop with David Farland. It’s hard to even describe how much I learned in those two last year, and I look forward to a reprisal this year.

My current project, The Wildfire Crown had a bit of a set-back this holiday, when I realized a number of key plot elements weren’t cooperating. Dealing with those issues has turned out to be a far more painful process than I would like, and puts me a few months behind schedule. Still, better to find out these problems now, than, say, after I’ve sent the manuscript to a dream agent. I’ll blog about the issues at some point – I think there are some good lessons to be learned.

I’m headed to Paris in a couple weeks with my friend Sean and some others. I’ve been once, for a brief stay, about six years ago. Looking forward to getting to know the city a bit better this time.

I hope to get back on track with blogging, I know I fell a bit behind. Thank you all for reading, commentating, encouraging, and critiquing – I appreciate it so much. It’s been a wonderful experience and I hope it continues through another year.

 

For 2013’s first video, I move away from music to bring you Simon’s Cat, a must-watch for cat-lovers of all kinds 🙂

 

 

 

Thanksgiving

I spent Thanksgiving in Oregon. My friend Aaron from grad school and his wife hosted for the seventh time in a row; I’ve been to five of them. It was great fun seeing everyone again. We had a core group of friends who all started the same year. That group has started to splinter; a few are still finishing their Ph.D’s, but one’s in Virginia, another in Arizona.

This was the last year in Oregon; Aaron’s graduating in the spring and will move to wherever the job search takes him. There’s a very good chance I’ll never go there again. Although I don’t particularly yearn for the state, there’s always a touch of melancholy when you visit someplace for the last time. Still, I expect the tradition will continue wherever Aaron winds up.

The trip reminded me how treasured close friends are; I’ve been able to maintain a couple of my closest friendships despite being in different states. It’s not easy; relationships tend to fade with distance. It takes a concentrated effort to communicate. But it’s worth it, and even more wonderful when a friendship grows closer despite the distance. That’s what happened with Sean and I. I don’t get to talk to Aaron quite as much but when we do it’s easy to remember why we’re such good friends; he’s wonderfully open-minded, supportive, and encouraging. We spoke about politics (on which we disagree rather significantly), I gave him a tough critique of his cover letter, and then we moved onto some tough personal issues, all without a hint of drama or frustration.

On the writing side of things, I’m making reasonable progress on the second draft of The Wildfire Crown and am about a third of the way through. I’ve also put some more time in a short story called Luck and a Fast Horse; I finished a first draft of it last month, with the intent of submitting to the Writers of the future contest at the end of the year. Unfortunately, the first draft turned out kind of flat; not a train-wreck, but nothing I wanted anyone to read, either. I spent a few weeks trying to figure out what I wanted out of the story and changed a number of things. Over the weekend I’ve started a re-write, and feel like there’s some real promise. Not sure I’ll have anything by the end of this year, but when it’s done I think it’ll be a great story.

 

I’ll leave you with one of the most awesome music videos of all time. Enjoy 🙂

Great Food and Company

I just got back from a fantastic week in Los Angeles with my best friend, Sean – hence the lack of a blog update yesterday.

Friday night he took me to my first Korean BBQ experience at Hae Jang Chon, an apparently well-known spot as evidenced by the substantial wait. For those who don’t know, Korean BBQ means you get a bunch of little dishes (I think we got six complimentary appetizers) and a wok on your table. You order meat; they bring it out to you  and you cook it yourself. You can order a lot of meat – we did rounds of beef brisket, bulgogi, and pork belly. It’s as awesome as it sounds.

We followed dinner with the film Loopers. I hadn’t heard much about it, except that it had some actors I liked and was getting good reviews and involved some kind of time travel, so I went in without many expectations. I was blown away. In a year where it seems like every movie is a re-make or a sequel, Loopers defies a lot of traditions with a strange (but compelling) structure, a dark, unexpected storyline, and a number of cool ideas. The acting’s great, the writing’s great, and there are some really sweet scenes that I don’t want to spoil. The time-travel aspect is not without issues, which comes to no surprise, but I found them easy enough to ignore and just enjoy the ride.

Saturday was spent at a gaming story, playing in the Return to Ravnica pre-release event – a Magic: The Gathering tournament. I’d been very much anticipating the set, and despite the insane heat and crowded playing conditions, still had fun.  Having not had much of a chance to get food, we ended the day by gorging ourselves at a pub-style restaurant called the Village Idiot, which had about the best french-fries I’ve ever tasted and a pretty cool S’more style desert involving dark chocolate pudding.

Sunday involved donuts and a lot of hanging out before going to the airport and waiting on a delayed flight that took me to a delayed bus that sat in traffic for far too long. Fortunately, I had the newest Jack Reacher book (wow does Lee Child know how to pace!) to keep me company, and didn’t get too worked up over it.

Saturday in particular I ended up feeling about as happy as I’ve ever felt in my entire life, and it occurred to me that such moments should come more frequently than they do. Certainly it’s not something we have total control with, but I believe more and more we have a heck of a lot of say in how we feel. A lot of what I’ve been doing this year, not just with my writing but my life in general, has been to gain greater control over my emotions. They weren’t out of control before, but just like anything else, it seems like things like being happy more, avoiding stress, not letting negativity get to you, can all be improved. I think I’ve been pretty successful at that, and I hope to see more moments like this weekend in the not-too-distant future.

James Owen, who I’ve talked about before ,  has continued to inspire this type of thinking. He gave one of the most inspirational talks I’ve ever seen at Superstars in Vegas. That’d be awesome enough if it was a one-time thing, but I can now say after following him on Facebook in the months since, that’s just how he is. He posts wonderful, inspiring, powerful messages not just every week, but every day. Sometimes multiple times a day. And not just the same thing, either – sometimes it’s a little thought, sometimes it’s an anecdote, sometimes an analogy. He reminds me that you can always elevate yourself higher than you currently stand, and that doing so is a choice we can make every day.

The Wheel Turns

In 1984, the same year I was born, Robert Jordan started a fantasy series called the Wheel of Time. The first book, The Eye of the World, was published in 1990, when I was six.

I started reading them sometime in 1998, when I was 14. My mom had purchased the first seven books in soft-cover, but never gotten around to reading them. These were thick, massive volumes, all in the neighborhood of a thousand pages. Once I got into the first one, I was hooked. Jordon wove his stories like a grand tapestry, with detail and scope like nothing I’d ever read. Whereas most books offer a brief window into a few character’s lives, the length of the Wheel of Time allowed Jordon to show a full panorama. He showed me a new world full of color and life. I read right through classes at school till I’d finished the seven we owned, then ran out and bought the recently released eighth.

When the next book came out, a couple years later, I reread the entire series. Did the same thing for the tenth book. The Wheel of Time felt like a fixture in my life, at that point, as if the characters were old friends.

In 2006, Robert Jordan announced he’d been diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis, a rare blood disease. It came with it a median life expectancy of four years, but he intended to beat it and finish the final book of the series.

In 2007, a year and a half after that announcement, Jordan died. I was 23, in my first year of grad school.

I remember being ashamed of my response. A man had died, and all I could think about was, what’s going to happen to the Wheel of Time?

But shameful or not, that thought was echoed by many fans, and it spoke to the power the series had. Robert Jordan had created something so powerful, that had touched so many people, that leaving it incomplete would be a tragedy.

Jordan’s wife and longtime editor, Harriet McDougal, agreed, because a few months after Jordan’s death, she asked Brandon Sanderson, an up-and-coming fantasy author, to finish Jordan’s work. That was the start of my own writing journey.

It’s 2012, I’m 28, and just last week Brandon Sanderson announced he’d finished the final draft of the final volume, A Memory of Light. He wrote a wonderful blog post about that experience here.

The writing of the Wheel of Time has been an endeavor that’s spanned the entirety of my life. It’s affected me in profound, measurable ways.

When I was younger, it inspired me to dream of my own epic worlds. When I was older, it inspired me to try to write them.

In each Wheel of Time book, the first chapter always starts the same:

“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend.”

Next January, when the book is released, I’ll read the final page and for me and millions of others, the series will be over. But the memories will endure.

The Wheel of Time will be over, but the legend will just be beginning.