Aug 11

Fan Art

To those who know me it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Kingdom of Loathing.  Well, it’s time for their annual Fan Art Calendar showdown and I’ve thrown my hat into the ring again.  I do this knowing my chances of winning are fairly slim since my medium is black and white and the calendar is in color, but I enjoy doing the pictures and it’s a good opportunity to keep the pen hand from getting too rusty.  If any intrepid KOL artist happens to be reading this and wants to take a crack at adding some color, I’d love to see the final result.

This year I decided to do three characters who are grouped in the Knob Goblin Laboratory’s Menagerie Level 3…the Spectral Jellyfish, the Portly Abomination, and the Booze Giant.  Here they are sharing a round of drinks together, something I imagine they do what with being roomed with the Booze Giant:

Good luck to all the entries!

 

Jul 17

Readeryawn

As ‘cons go, this one was pretty sleepy and during the (admittedly short) time I spent there, this seemed to be the general consensus of the people I spoke with (one more blunt critic termed it a ‘lame sandwich with a side of lame sauce’).  Maybe I was spoiled by Norwescon and Balticon.  Probably I was, since this was the first ‘con I attended where I didn’t have anything to actually do other than just, you know, attend the ‘con.  Still, it was very small and the panels I checked out were decidedly meh.  The book market they had set up was probably the most interesting thing about it (that and getting a chance to visit with up-and-comer reservist-turned-writer Myke Cole who is, to put it mildly, a hoot).  I would say it’s worth swinging by and checking out if you happen to live in the area, but I wouldn’t recommend buying a plane ticket for it.  Your mileage may vary.

I did pick up a copy of Machine of Death while I was there, which I’d been meaning to do because I love the idea of it.  The first few stories have been interesting.  When I bought it, I had one of those moments I very often seem to have whenever I mingle with the public, in which I appear for cosmic reasons to be out-of-sync with the rest of my species.  If you’ve ever been to one of these things, you know that in the little book market area there are many booksellers all squished in together with sometimes vague markers indicating where one ends and the next begins.  I picked up my copy of MoD and headed over to the bookseller I thought was associated with the rack where I had picked up the book (spoiler alert: she wasn’t) where I waited in a short line so I could speak to her.  When it was my turn I presented the book to her and we began making what I thought was polite ‘transaction conversation’.  I told her where I’d first heard of the book, about their open submissions of M0D2, etc.  We spoke for a full minute before I then attempted to actually pay for the book, whereupon she informed me she did not sell that book.  Essentially, this woman (and knowing what I know now I have to give her credit for this) managed to maintain a perfect smile and demeanor while this apparent nut job waded out of the crowd because he couldn’t wait to show her some random book he had picked up and tell her everything she never wanted to know about it.  Needless to say she eventually pointed me over to her right where the actual bookseller was sitting.

 

Jul 15

Surrounded by Internet Lilies

Writing The Burn Zone is turning out to be an interesting learning experience for me. In the revivors series the city it took place in felt overpopulated, and while The Burn Zone takes place in a different ‘world’ I’m expanding on that trend for this book largely because I think the world will actually be overpopulated by the time my near (but not too near) future comes to pass. The two settings are actually quite different, but I’m keeping a few other trends as well (communications related largely) because I believe they too one day exist.  The topic of overpopulation is somewhat controversial (though I don’t completely get why) but that’s not why I picked it as my backdrop.  I picked it because like the communications explosion it’s what’s happening now and will continue to happen.

Communications I am familiar with, but the nuts and bolts of extreme overpopulation I’m not as familiar with…or at least I wasn’t.  I understood it as a broad concept, knew (some of) its dangers and generally saw it as an unfortunate reckoning we are going to one day face.  The topic always makes me think about a training class I once took about communications, where the topic was bandwidth.  The instructor was talking about increased demands on existing bandwidth and, given the speed at which demand increases, at what point are you ‘in trouble’?  He used the example of a pond (representing your existing bandwidth) and demand as water lilies that reproduced at a certain rate.  Converting the graph data into ‘internet lilies’ for my non-mathematical brain aside, the bottom line was ‘you have to start thinking about this stuff sooner than you think’.  The pond still looks relatively clear when the problem has begun to get out of control.

Of course there are always options – with data, you ‘increase bandwidth’ by increasing pipe size, better managing traffic flow, etc.  The same could be said for our planet.  The ‘carrying capacity’ of our planet is finite, and will require rejiggering if we want to start pushing its boundaries.  It doesn’t seem like a problem right now, at least not here, but the lily allegory showed that at the surface of the pond can seem pretty open not too long before the next reproduction cycle covers it completely.  The Burn Zone isn’t so much about ‘how do you deal with that’ as it is a story that takes place in a world that has already dealt with it as best they could.

Research-wise, fortunately, many very smart people have thought about (and debated) pretty much every aspect of this topic you could think of and so detailed information is widely available.  Food and water supply problems get the most ink because, you know, the whole needing to eat and drink thing, but they’re really just two of a long list of potential issues.  Suffice it to say that constructing a viable dystopia around these concepts is (for better or worse) quite easy.  It actually feels a bit weird having so much fun writing it.

Still, I find some of the most interesting fuel for writing this kind of fiction comes from the gray area in the middle of debates like these.  One side says ‘The Earth will not support these numbers’ and the other side says ‘Yes, it will’.  I’m of the opinion that ‘I guess we’ll find out’, and, given that humans are pretty resilient and crafty, I think I fall on the border of the ‘Yes, it will’ camp – but the question becomes ‘What will that world be like?’.  That is where the story lies.

 

 

Jul 14

Pimping Ain’t Easy

Seriously, it’s really hard.  When you work a full time job on top of writing, it’s hard to find the time and energy to pimp at peak efficiency, but if you want to ever get noticed by anyone ever, pimp you must.

My most recent pimping attempt was to post sample chapters of my revivors trilogy on Smashwords (the first chapter of each).  I worried that in spite of the fact the chapters are available for viewing on my site that I would get stopped by my publisher, but in the end I was actually pimp-blocked by Smashwords themselves who stated ‘Smashwords is for finished works only, and not partial works or works in progress’.  That seems a bit silly to me given some of the stuff up there, but it’s their outfit and I’ll abide by their rules.

This is actually a bit annoying to me – since it is unlikely at this point that my dream of an eventual fourth revivors book (to follow Calliope specifically and take place between State of Decay and The Silent Army) will ever see the light of day at least through traditional publishing routes, I thought I might release it over time as a serial to try and drum up support for the original series.  I thought Smashwords would make a good venue for that, but I should have read the fine print first (okay, the FAQ).

That leaves Amazon, but Amazon’s pricing model is a little more strict and while I thought I might make single chapters available for free on Smashwords, I would bundle them for sale on Amazon.  Ninety-nine cents feels like too much to me for a single chapter of something.

Of course, with a new contract for two books and the aforementioned full time job, it may be a moot point for the time being.  It’s hard enough finding time to sleep, let along pimp.

 

Jun 21

The Burn Zone

I really enjoyed writing the Revivors series, but there is a special joy that comes with breaking ground on a completely new tale.  The Burn Zone is that tale.

This afternoon I verified with my editor at Roc that The Burn Zone is a go.  The contract will (I believe) include one other book and then we will kind of take it from there (this is actually quite common from what I understand…it will either sink or swim after two entries).  I will be writing under a thinly disguised pen name for this series, the reasons for which I will address in a later post, but for now just know that when I or others refer to ‘James K Decker’ they (or I) am in fact referring to my new alter ego.

The Burn Zone takes place in a completely new world…still on Earth, but in a slightly farther flung future and very different from the Revivors series.  It follows the character of Xiao-Xing (nicknamed ‘Ort’) who you’ll get to meet in 2012.  I think you’re going to like her, and the wild ride she ends up on.

I’ll provide additional (and better) teasers as we get closer to publication.

Stay tuned…

May 31

Balticon Impressions

I really just can’t say enough about my experience at Balticon.  From start to finish it was a fun, educational experience and I am so glad that I went.

Granted, having won the Compton Crook Award for State of Decay I was one of the Guests of Honor, and as such they took really great care of me.  A huge shout out to Adrienne Reynolds who not only kept track of me while keeping about a zillion other irons in the fire, but she and her husband schooled me in the ways of the business more than literally anyone else has to date.  She, with the help of one of her nimble runners Galia (a very sweet and perky pink-haired girl) made sure that I never had to wonder where I was supposed to go next, how I was supposed to get there, or what exactly I was supposed to do once I got there.  By taking those stresses off the table for me, they ensured that the whole experience was fun, valuable and informative.  Both me and my wife are very grateful to everyone who pitched in on our behalf.

On to the ‘con itself.  The ceremony for the Compton Crook Award was very nice – I received a nice plaque, and a (very) nice check.  Last year’s winner Paolo Bacigalupi (for The Windup Girl) helped present the award and was very kind and encouraging.  Paolo is, I quickly discovered, quite a character…he is also a really nice guy and lent his social skills at the GoH dinner and in general to help draw me out a little as I tend to be on the other side of the spectrum, and somewhat introverted.  This was appreciated.  After picking up a copy for him to sign, I’ve begun The Windup Girl and it absolutely is as good as they say (seriously, this book won just about every award there was to win) – if you haven’t read it yet, you really should.

I sat in on a few panels, something I hadn’t done at the last ‘con.  This go around I left it wide open and let them place me wherever a spot was open but next time I think I’ll be more strategic, now that I know what exactly I’m dealing with, but this was a great opportunity to test the waters and realize that they can be a lot of fun.  I sat on one with Paolo, and met a rather intense guy named Myke Cole at another – Myke is a reservist who has served three tours in Iraq, and I think you (like me) are going to want to read his debut novel Control Point when it is released in 2012 as it meshes military and magic.  It should be very interesting to see the fantasy element layered over his real-life military experience.

I think my favorite moment though was not a planned one.  I’d been scheduled for a reading that no one showed up to except someone who had showed up to record for a podcast, and so Adrienne ended up setting up a quieter sit down the following day where we could just do a 30 minute recording.  After we ditched the reading, we ended up in one of the hotel hallways where ‘con tables were set up and (along with her husband) ended up having a nice long conversation about everything from The Banana Splits (and how one of them might qualify as a Steampunk Furrie…it’s a Paolo thing, don’t ask) to how to treat the business of writing.  Writing strikes me as a weird kind of ‘sink-or-swim’ business…it’s kind of a mystery before you manage to get that first contract, and it kind of stays that way even after.  All of the juicy knowledge seems to be tribal, something that gets passed on through conversations like the one I experienced that night.  I was actually glad no one had showed up for the reading.  The recording the next day went well, and while I’ve forgotten the relevant names at the moment (my apologies for that, I was a little wiped by that point) there should be a follow-up interview where we can all get better acquainted.

In the end one of the most telling things was that I left Balticon with no pictures, even though I’d meant to take them.  I was too busy doing other things while I was there.  Norwescon was a hoot, but Balticon felt more like a business trip – a fun, informative business trip that was over before I knew it and left me wanting more.  I realized how rarely I get to talk to other writers, and it was really great to get to talk shop with people who understood where I was coming from and who had a lot of the same writing experiences.

As the winner of the Compton Crook Award, tradition dictates I return to Balticon next year as a Guest of Honor to pass the award to the next winner.  They didn’t have to ask me twice.

 

May 26

State of Decay Wins the Compton Crook Award

It was announced this morning – my debut novel State of Decay has officially won the 2011 Compton Crook Award!  So, I will be flying to Baltimore tomorrow not just to attend Balticon, but also to accept the award and I couldn’t be more excited.  The folks running the con have been absolutely fantastic about getting me setup and keeping me in the loop in spite of my inherent disorganization.  They really do run a rather slick operation.

I am especially glad to have won the Compton Crook because (as I understand it) while I may be eligible for other awards in the future, each author only gets one shot at this one – it’s for best first novel of the year, and State of Decay was and will always be my first.

The second reason I’m looking forward to this may be a slightly more obscure one but apparently as part of being named the winner, I’ll in turn be presenting an award for Balticon’s Young Authors contest.  Back when I was a young lad in elementary school, I used to compete in a Young Authors competition and I remember really enjoying that…it was one of the first things that took writing outside something I did for myself, family and teachers and it will be great to lend any support I can to the endeavor.

They’ll also be auctioning off (among other items) a book signed and illustrated by me at an auction to support RIF.  Here’s a look at what you can win, and the money goes to a great cause:

I’ll be on at least one panel at the con, and they are setting up both readings and signings so I hope to see some of you there.

May 24

Los Rayos-X!

WARNING: Post contains graphic X-Ray images almost too horrible to imagine!

I am apparently getting to that age where little things begin to ‘go wrong’.  A meddlesome pain in my left ear is not, I have finally decided, being caused by nefarious ear imps harvesting wax with which to fuel their tiny machines of war…but if not imps then what?

Setting aside my intense dislike of being prodded by cold, sterile medical equipment I decided I’d better get it checked out before it got worse.  The doctor asked me to describe the pain and I told her it was akin to the feeling one might experience if a minuscule imp or goblin were using a tiny scudding blade to scrape wax from the tympanic membrane.  She stuck a cold, sterile implement into my ear, whereupon she emphatically stated that she was 98% sure that wasn’t the cause.  In fact, the ear looked fine.

We began to toss around other possibilities ranging from a tooth problem (which will seem more likely to you once I unnecessarily show you the facial x-ray I’m about to show you) to TMJ, which stands for ‘TempoMandibular Joint disorder.  I asked why it wasn’t TMJD and she didn’t know.  What she did know was that it would take an x-ray to determine this for sure.

So, I headed down to the lab to have my face bathed in hard x-rays.  They draped a lead apron over my nether regions just in case, and as the particles of radiation began to penetrate my skull I wondered if stray x-rays were what caused XY chromosomes to become XXY (I’ve since learned probably not – thanks Wikipedia!).  At any rate, once the pictures were taken I asked if I could have copies and they obliged me.  Ever wondered what the inside of my face looked like?  Behold!

My head is tilted in the picture, I don’t actually have a second, smaller set of jaws like the creature from Alien.  As you can also see, I receive regular secret CIA transmissions via my many fillings (you can also make out my one poor little wisdom tooth who was too shy to make an appearance with the others)   Does this x-ray indicate I have TMJ?  I don’t know.  Does it indicate I could bite a full-sized apple in half if I had to?  Probably.

There’s a TMI joke buried somewhere in this post, but I can’t find it.

 

 

May 23

Allow Me To Introduce…

…my new Agent Extraordinaire, Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown LTD!

For the record, my previous agent not only landed me my first deal but is also a highly professional and ethical guy; this is just a tough business and I felt that I could maximize my chances of survival in it with a larger New York based agency.  To that end, I made an amicable break from my previous agency and ultimately found what feels like a very good fit with Ginger (who I actually was introduced to by fellow PKD Award nominee Jon Armstrong).

The reason behind the timing of all this is basically that I had wrapped up the Revivors series and am looking to begin another.  Rather than try and make some sort of move mid-stream, it seemed like a natural break point.  Ginger is shopping my current series now, and I’ll give a few more clues as to what the project is when and if it finds a home.  Okay it’s going to be bigger, and exist in a broader world than Revivors, but that’s your last hint for now.

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the Revivors series so far, and most of it has been very encouraging.  I’ve been asked what’s next and my answer to that question is that while I can’t say for certain until a contract is signed, I can say that with Ginger’s help I hope there will be a lot more to come…

May 02

Giveaway!

I’ve got a very special giveaway going on over at SF Signal right now.  I’m giving away one bundle of all three Revivors books, each one signed, with the cover page hand illustrated by me.  Here’s what the prize looks like:

 

Swing by and enter, and tell your friends!  Giveaway rules are outlined over at SF Signal – the contest is open until May 21, and is open to anyone, anywhere in the world.

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