Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Healing & the Thoughts Inspired by CNSC Writers' Panel and Networking Event

I usually post a blog entry after getting inspired after work, sitting down, tapping away an entry then putting it up. I followed that process a couple weeks ago after my bike accident. Not since then have I really had much inspiration to get down and write. Plenty of chores got in the way, but I think wrist pain had a lot to do with it. My wrist feels a bit better now so hopefully I'll get back on the horse to write more often.

To get on topic, though, I went to the Chicago Nerd Social Club Writers' Panel and Networking Event at Open Books Ltd. Authors on the panel included:

I showed up late and stayed a little longer than a hour. Other commitments made me leave early. The premises of all the works sound like worthwhile reads. When I find some time, I'll have to give them shots.

Prompted by moderator, Jeff Smith, the panelists provided thoughts on

  • Creative process
  • World building
  • Creating and filling out characters
  • Plotting
  • Where to get inspiration
  • Importance of themese
  • Seeking and taking criticism
I even got to provide some input on a couple topics. I also tried to inspire a fellow audience member to balance the entertainment of others and the expression of ideas they think are cool.

Suffice to say, I didn't get much new for the panel. Not the panelists or the moderator's fault. I'm deep in the middle of my own process and have much of my own work figured out. I've gotten lots of criticism on what I've written and have plenty of ideas of refashioning what I've already written.

If it came down to it and money wasn't a worry, I could probably sit down and write for days on end. I've got the characters, much of the world and the plotting figured out.

I even got on my own case in my head while at the panel. I've got the ideas, I should just sit down and belt it out. My big hang up: I want to understand the psychological phenomena involved in utopianism before I get really into writing the fiction.

I've got my head all wrapped up around my project, and I want to get that done. It fascinates me more now. And when I finish my novel, I want to know what I'm talking about if I get published, do panels like this or do interviews somewhere else.

Even after saying all that, part of me says I should just sit down and get it written. Sigh. . .fear of missing out on life and plenty of excuses, I guess. I also like the security of paying expenses (don't feel confident that I'd deliver if I got funds from Kickstarter). Bad time management and bad life balance, I guess.


Tuesday, May 07, 2013

I Love Johnny Sprockets

I got into a bike-on-bike collision this morning.

Should have been prepared for it five minutes earlier. I had tempted fate. Thought about how riding my bike everyday to work would make me sooooo healthy and all that. I stopped congratulating myself when I remembered that riding a bike could be risky: a crazy, fatal uncontrollable accident could happen at any moment.

Of course, I had an accident five minutes later.

Below is a map of the intersection where the accident occurred:

View Larger Map

Imagine me coming from the southwest corner heading north on the Lakefront Trail. I'm having a grand old time, taking in the nice weather, feeling the wind in my face, finally waking up from the morning slog. All the usual, pleasant, quiet before the storm stuff.

I notice some guy on a street bike speeding down from the northwest on W Belmont Harbor Drive. He takes as sharp a right turn as he can to head southwest down the Lakefront Trail. The guy probably can't turn that sharp, though, or he'll flip the bike or something.

Looking back I can rationalize the course of events that way.

At the time, my sense of causality both slowed down and skipped a couple frames at the same time. My mind saw what unfolded in front of me and refused to accept it. What idiot would be crossing into my lane and head straight toward me? It failed to make sense, so I put my trust into this guy. He must know what he's doing and must be going fast enough to avoid collision. Why else would he try to cross the path if he didn't know he could do it?

He was an idiot. He had no idea what he was doing. He took the right onto the path too fast and had completely lost control.

I didn't make all those connections until the very last moment. I entered avoid the idiot mode. I tried turning left as best I could. It wasn't enough. Of course, my instincts didn't let me turn that sharp. If I did, I would flip or wipe out on the pavement.

Through all the slo-mo frame skipping, I realized the futility of avoidance. I entered the next stage: loss control. Keeping injury to a minimum, that is. I had just ran my front wheel into this guy's back wheel then had jumped off my bike, after all. It's funny how we have thoughts about consequences before being conscious of the cause sometimes. I think a part of my mind had chuckled at this observation while my repitilian mind had focused on preventing major wounds by crashing into the grass.

No major wounds that I know of. I have my left wrist wrapped up in a bandage right now, but I had anger surging through me, the fear of being late to work, worry about hospital bills and possible bike repairs. Money's tight right now. . .and what?! My handlebars were in a super weird angle!

I became determined to get the guy's number. After cursing him out a little, I told him he would give me his name and number. . .after I turned on my phone. I assume I gave him a steely glare and curled my lip (the lip thing is what I do when I'm angry, apparently).

My phone always takes a little time to boot up. The guy asked me if I had a pen and paper. I told him no. He would just have to wait and wait he did.

All that settled, I made my way to work. The handlebars at their odd angle took a little getting used to, but I got it down. Amazing how our minds and bodies can compensate for distortions in reality that don't cause injury.

The adrenaline started wearing out. I popped a couple Ibuprofen at work. Wrist hasn't swollen at all. Pain isn't all that bad. Keeping it wrapped and elevated should probably do the trick in a couple weeks.

This accident makes for my third bike accident in Chicago (Michi didn't appreciate me smacking into a car a couple days before we got married. . .again, just got banged up is all). If I'm not in the emergency room by now, I just need some R&R.

I worried more about the cost of fixing the handlebars than dealing with my wrist. Even if I have to get x-rays and stuff, health insurance will handle it well enough until I get the dumb ass other guy to pay for stuff. I would have to pay 100% out of pocket to repair my bike until I get reimbursed. . .and reimbursement isn't guaranteed. Along with being an idiot, the guy could be a jerk, too.

Imagine how relieved I felt when one of the register people up front at Johnny Sprockets diagnosed the problem, fixed it in five minutes then didn't charge me a cent. I even asked if it cost anything. The guy just said nope.

I don't know if it has anything to do with being a regular for repairs there. Could just be that they're awesome for things that take minimal effort.

Doesn't matter. They're awesome. I love Johnny Sprockets and don't hesitate to tell anyone to go there for their bike needs. If you have bike needs, go. They just might help you feel like there's still good in the world after a crappy day of worry and pain from a dumb bike accident that you had little chance of avoiding.

And oh yeah, don't be an idiot when you making tight turns on your bike. Slow down and take your time.


Sunday, May 05, 2013

C2E2: Part 1 of My Response, including a John Scalzi panel and the changing forms science fiction media

My response has turned out longer than expected. I’ve broken it up into a couple entries. More will come after this one.

C2E2 ranks up there as one of the most strenuous activities I do in the year. Sounds sad, but really, stumbling around for 24+ hours in a weekend, trying to avoid people and trampling them, gets taxing for mind and body.

Didn't help that allergies muddled my mind, either. Social and cognitive activity didn't work well. This response won't have much for concrete events. I will focus more on my reactions and thoughts that bubbled up in the process.

This attendance makes for my third trip to the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (C2E2). It has occurred four times in the last four years. We skipped the second one when I vacationed in Costa Rica. A tough decision, seriously, but glad I went to Costa Rica.

C2E2 has provided a great experience every year. Any general complaints I may have come from me not falling into the primary demographic. I don't get into merchandise much, don't read too many comics and don't connect so much with visual art. By nature, I don't get into permanent, materialistic things or visual mediums. Comics, I admit some prejudice in my youth and haven't found time since to explore them.

The stands had A LOT of Doctor Who merch, though. I mean, A LOT, as in about a football field’s worth of stands. Talk about oversaturation of a market. I wonder how much individual stands sold. Many other stands had a lot of similar stuff. Does the market really have that level of demand?

This remark comes from half of a couple that purchased sandblasted steins with a Dalek and a Cyberman on them. They came from a stand that had a wide variety of geek graphicked steins and mugs, though. I’m also the type of guy who spend hours at a time researching Doctor Who canon for no good reason.

My interest lies more in tabletop board and role playing gaming, TV, cultural production and literature. I find myself lacking in the latter category, even. I have more familiarity with the "golden age" of science fiction than any other. These other categories have their own cons. I should go to one of those.

I could have also partook in the gaming room run by the Chicago Game Lovers. With so much to do and people to see at C2E2, though, breaking from the familiar didn't feel appealing. Getting involved in a game then having to run off to get in a line for a panel didn't strike me as fun.

C2E2 organizers did a great job with the floor this year. They got the most gigantic room yet. A lot more stands could squeeze in. Having the dungeon bathrooms in the middle proved a godsend (especially since no one else found them, no line!). Artist alley didn't get squeezed all the way in the back, even though I didn't find it until the next day (again, gigantic!).

The floor felt well organized. Stands settled into themed neighborhoods (e.g. merchandise, comics, Artist Alley, celebrities, etc.). If managed my time better, it would have been perfect.

I only found one game stand: Chicagoland Games/The Dice Dojo. If there were more, I blame myself. I didn't have the clarity of mind to take in everything and manage my time better. Like with the gaming room, though, getting in line for the panels proved a pesky detriment.

Organization of the panels makes for the biggest shortcoming this year. Michi cited a statistic that the panel audience this year equaled the people roaming the floor. (Michi - formerly, The_Wife. . .now won't hesitate to use her name since her name has become something of brand.) Panels have elevated C2E2 above other fan/comic/pop culture conventions I've attended. This statistic goes to show that other fans have a similar opinion, if not the same.

I made the misfounded complaint that few of the panels looked interesting. Looking at the schedule now, it overwhelmed me while at the convention. This year I didn't prep by studying the schedule beforehand or use my computer to schedule and decide between conflicts. Fault on me there.

At worst, few of the panel titles jumped out at me and the schedule grid just had so much on it. I don't know how much of that has to do with me failing to prep before going. Having so many panels shows their success.

Titles failing to grab attention could contribute to making things look a little bland. At the same time, I'm not the prime demographic for these cons (even though past years had panel names that stood out). Maybe their titles attracted the attention of other people attending.

Long lines and small rooms for panels made for big disruption. I already mentioned that I didn’t partake in some activities because I didn’t want them disrupted by having to run for a panel.

The first year of C2E2, nothing to worry about rooms filling up or long lines. I had faced more trouble finding panel rooms in the labyrinth of McCormick Place. Getting in and finding a good seat had proven little difficulty.

Michi and some others tried to get into the Fierce Females of Television panel without luck. They got in line too late. Apparently the organizers had divided rooms in half for most panels. Doing so helps provide many panels and a variety of topics. Having to turn people away at the door or disrupting other activities sucks, though. Talk about huge opportunity cost to sit in on a panel.

Of course, C2E2 is still young and learning. I have to give them credit for trying to increase the variety of panel topics. I also think the increased industry and celebrity presence caused disruption. Typically those panels should get prime attention since they draw people to the con.

Panels with less assumed drawing power in the past have done a lot to build the C2E2’s reputation for great panels and contributed much to this year’s equal attendance for panels and floor. A difficult balance to strike, but I think giving more credence to topic-oriented and less-assumed audience drawing can go a long way.

Less panels with bigger rooms also might help. After all, anything that doesn’t make the schedule can get scheduled for the following year.

Has it become obvious that I didn't attend too many panels. I only went to three:
I had some personal connection or interest in them all:
  • FUTURISTIC FRIGHT, I read John Scalzi's blog on a regular basis
  • Peter Davison portrays my Classic Doctor Who
  • Exorcising the Spectre of the Fake Geek Girl, Michi put it together

For FUTURISTIC FRIGHT, John Scalzi and Alex Hughes had a fairly free form discussion about
  • Imagining the future
  • Their own imaginings and story ideas
  • Navigating the publishing industry to market their imaginations
  • Some of the parodies we all make about
    • Red Shirts of a landing crew
    • Reversing polarities to save the day
    • Varied reactions to Tolkien’s writing (or dramatizing his world building)

A moderator helped to start the conversations by asking some questions. Scalzi, Hughes and the moderator all had good presence. They had a pretty good rapport with audience. I don't have the best recall of topics other than ideas and the development of technology make for an interesting interaction.

I regret that I don’t remember much about Alex Hughes. She made a great remark, though, about how to deal with an author having an idea that scientists and engineers are developing. Make your story better than reality, she said.

Michi bought Hughes’s first book, Clean. Michi liked it a lot and plans on reading the sequels. I plan on giving it a shot, too. Being the first time I heard of Hughes, my brain hadn’t calibrated that much for emotional investment at the panel.

Scalzi provided a lecture on the evolution of the form taken by science fiction media. In the beginning, science fiction came as small pulp magazines in the supermarket.

The industry somewhere along the line decided to consolidate the wholesale distribution channel from a lot down to two or three. Book stores came into the picture, especially big stores like Barnes & Noble. They asked for science fiction to come in the form of a book with page counts between 120 to 300 or so as we have become used to.

Now we find ourselves in the electronic Internet age. Many other medias have gone through chaos: music, movie and TV. The story of Internet music distribution has all but been finished by the acceptance of iTunes and other means. We see the stories of movie and TV unfolding in the news every day with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Youtube and Bit Torrent.

The evolution of electronic distributing stories, fiction and poetry doesn't make it into the news that much, though. Scalzi has jumped to the front of experimenting with this realm. He wrote The Human Division. It’s a series of related but not directly connected episodes all released separately, about a week apart from each other. TOR will collect it into an individual volume and release it soon.

Episodic short-form fiction makes or an expensive undertaking in the time of paper. Especially if the industry pushes to have it in book form of 120 to 300 pages. Episodic short-form issued electronically makes for a less expensive of an undertaking.

I bet this approach has other advantages, too. I can't think of it all. Releasing something new on a regular, shorter basis keeps a brand on the mind of consumers. Infrequent releases of something longer form may not stay in the public’s mind as long. In this day and age when there's so much going on, publishing something often like The Human Division will keep Scalzi on peoples' radars.

I have no illusions that one paradigm is better than another, just better suited for a situation. History and anthropology show us that humanity organizes technology to adapt to their environments, whether that be natural or socially human created. Human adaptation creates feedback loops that have gotten us where we are now and will get us to where we go in the future.

I respect Scalzi and everyone else who can keep up with all this change. Albeit they have more of an immediate necessity than I do at the moment. They get their everyday livelihood by keeping abreast of these things and staying ahead of everyone else.

My fear comes from feeling behind. Right now, I'm just working on developing material to market and distribute. Whereas Scalzi and others have an interesting interplay of how their ideas interact with distribution. . .I'm somewhat stuck in an old paradigm, the novel. I'm hoping to make enough of a splash with a novel that I can write another one because people want another one.

It's great to see people thriving in this environment and willing to share their knowledge about it. Despite all that, it's kinda scary and intimidating to a beginner. I just hope to figure out how to navigate all this someday. . ..

More forthcoming. . ..