Saturday, May 31, 2014

Con Report: ConCarolinas 2014, Friday (Day 1)

I’ve become part of a group that meets each year at ConCarolinas, and this is becoming one of the highlights of my annual convention circuit. Last year, many of us agreed to arrive on Thursday (“the new Friday”) to enjoy a relaxed dinner and evening together before the non-stop panels and hall conversations and dealers’ room browsing and more panels and costume gawking and more hall conversations that make up ConCarolinas.

An additional benefit to driving and arriving on Thursday was a lovely relaxed morning, up through lunchtime and into the early afternoon. It felt like a real vacation, not the super-rushed experience of most cons. I could get used to this!

I was surprised, actually, to realize that programming began before the opening ceremonies at 4pm. I had planned to get a little work-work done after lunch and before setting it aside for the weekend. There were a couple of writers’ panels I would have like to see, but it’s never possible to do it all.

I headed down to the convention space about 3pm and said hello to a lot of familiar faces, mostly along the authors row in front of the main “Lakeshore” programming rooms. I was delighted to see Faith Hunter, author of the Jane Yellowrock and Rogue Mage series; Tamsin Silver, A.J. Hartley and Stuart Jaffre, whom I’ve come to know and admire through the community; David B. Coe, one of the first fantasy authors I ever befriended; and John Hartness, author of the hilarious Bubba the Monster Hunter series. John and Emily Leverett co-edited last year’s Big Bad anthology, and although I wouldn’t have thought it my usual fare, hearing them talk about the incredible stories they worked with has made me enthusiastic to read it. So I bought the hardcover and had both of them sign it, as well as a handful of contributing authors who are also guests here this weekend.

So began the initial rounds of hall conversations. I made my way to Danny Birt’s first concert of the weekend—always a treat, including his homage to National Pi Day (March 14th, or 3.14), to the tune of “American Pie”.

My next panel was the media track’s “Rise of the Strong Princess”—they were specifically focused on film, and talked about the evolution of Disney princesses, as well as Leia’s role in Star Wars, and other “I don’t need a hero to rescue me” characters. Maybe I wasn’t in full con mode yet, because I didn’t find this panel as engaging as I had thought it would be. Towards the end of the panel, the lights mysteriously went off, and that was my cue to duck out to the Buffy Sing Along…

This screening the musical episode, “Once more with Feeling” of Buffy’s 6th season, was acted out in front of the screen by the talented cast of the Pineapple Shaped Lamps comedy troupe. Audience singing was encouraged, so I belted out “Going Through the Motions”, “I’ve Got a Theory”, “I’ll Never Tell,” “Under Your Spell,” and “Rest in Peace”.

Then it was time to head out to one of the few steampunk panels, featuring the inimitable John Hartness. John and Tonia Brown led a lively audience discussion on favorite examples of steampunk in TV and film, as well as literature. They helped to define the genre for several audience members who were curious but didn’t really know what steampunk *is*. And they satisfactorily answered the question “Is Steampunk Dead?” with a resounding “No!”

One favorite recommendation that’s new to me was The Windup Girl, a “biopunk” science fiction novel, by Paolo Bacigalupi. John called it “polarizing”—in his observation, people either love it or hate it. Firefly was described as “future steampunk”, and John Carter of Mars was given a nod, which I thought was interesting given that Burroughs was writing at end of the Industrial Revolution (which broadly defines the era of steampunk). Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Nikola Tesla were described as the first authors of the genre. One audience member made a surprising reference to one of my favorite books, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, published in 1888. I’m not sure I would describe it as steampunk, per se, but always a treat to think about and discuss this delightful story.

One funny side note to this panel. During a conversation about the amount of research that is appropriate for a story, John related Joe Haldeman on a panel, where an audience member was quizzing him about the depth of research for one of his books. Haldeman finally threw up his hands and said, “It’s just a story!” And as authors, it’s ultimately *our* story to do with as we will.

The last panel I attended today was Romance in Fantasy, a full row of panelists talking to a packed room. I’m currently debating how much romance (and sex) to include in a couple of my stories, so I was very interested in this premise. I came in a bit late (hall conversations and and and…), in the middle of panelists describing their “pet peeves” in romance stories: sex as a reward for the hero for saving the heroine; fated love, or love at first sight; love triangles; sex in the middle of an adventure/danger scene; rape fantasy.

Interesting recommendations for Man Made Boy, by Jon Skovron, and another story I missed the title, about shapeshifting dragons who are partners as both men and dragons. Discussion on bestiality, and what crosses the line (and who draws that line). Strong discussion on rape fantasy. Good discussion about the differences between romance, erotica, and porn, which boil down to the development of character and story vs pure sex. Interesting comments about writing breakups, and a quote to the effect of “Every relationship is a failure until your last one”… Other strong recommendations included the movie Closer, featuring four very intimate and difficult relationships; and Harry Turtledove’s story about a German tanker and a Russian pilot.

The discussion ended with a great question for tomorrow  night’s “Writing A Sex Scene” panel: “When you’re writing a lot of sex scenes, how do you ‘keep it fresh’?” Keep it fun, playful, and lighthearted. Switch up situations and locations, not just sexual positions. There are so many different *kinds* of sex: hot, angry, tender, bittersweet, callous, satisfying, unsatisfying, unexpected, out of the ordinary… Remember to ask yourself, “What’s the f***ing point?”

Feeling a little tired, I was actually thinking of heading up to my room for an early night, when I ran into a couple of friends I had been planning to see tomorrow. We settled at the bar for a couple of beers and long, fun, rambling conversation. The very best part of any con!

And now, a good night’s sleep, with no alarm. We’ll see if I’m motivated enough to get up for “Breakfast and Books” in the morning…

Time writing
~1 hour, including a little research

May word count

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Prompt: Misjudged by appearance, Part 2

Shelly ignored the watching foreman as she stroked this digger’s teeth and lip. When it started to rumble, she picked up the saddle reign and ran her hand down tot he bolts buried in the digger’s neck. She would no more ride a digger without checking the animal and gear than she would step onto a shuttle that hadn’t been properly inspected. Another test.

Finally, she popped a piece of dark rich chocolate into her mouth and tucked her foot into the stirrup, pushing herself up and swinging her other leg over the digger’s back and into the saddle.

The foreman squinted up at her. “What’s the chocolate for? Never saw that.”

Shelly grinned down at him. “I like chocolate.” She shrugged. He laughed aloud and stepped back to the fence.

Shelly didn’t ride with reins. If she had to use them, she had already lost. She rubbed her left leg back and forth against the digger’s side until she found the open rib bone. Tucking her ankle under it, she nudged with her foot. The digger snorted and turned to the right. Shelly found the right side rib and repeated her maneuver. It only took a handful of times for the digger to understand what she wanted, and she had him walking in a line near the fence, around the paddock. She headed for the open pit and turned the digger in to find a bare spot on the ground next to it.

Leaning forward, Shelly spread her fingers wide n either side of thedigger’s neck and slid them down in a swift cutting motion. She lifted her hands away and slapped them high up on the digger’s neck, sliding them down again. The digger lifted his head and roared. Shelly flattened against his back and held on to the saddle ropes.

The digger opened his mouth wide and plunged down, slmming into the dirt with a bone wrenching blow. His teeth sank through the hard, dry soil, and he pulled a biteful for the first time. He reared his head up again and roared in ecstasy, then plowed down again and again, dredging up huge mouthfuls of dirt with each blow to the ground.

Shelly kept a close watch on his progress, nudging him from side to side with her feet on his open ribs. Finally, she began to sweep her arms up, rather than down, until the digger stood silent and sweaty by the square pit he had dug.

The foreman clapped loud, slow handclaps as he approached them. “You’re your Daddy’s girl, all right. Impressive riding.  Clean him up and come back tomorrow. I’ll keep you busy.”

Before Shelly could thank him, he whirled on his boot heel and jogged toward another digger and rider. She watched for a moment and shook her head. The rider was an idiot. She had her work cut out for her.


Sting, “St Agnes and the Burning Train”

Time writing
~60 minutes

May word count

Prompt: Misjudged by appearance, Part 1

The foreman eyed Shelly up and down with a dubious frown. She kept her hand in her pockets and her mouth shut. She needed the work. He just needed a moment to adjust to the idea of a woman handling a digger. She was used to it.

“You’re Cyrus’s girl, huh? He was a good man. Best rider I ever knew. Shame what happened to him.”

Shelly ducked her head. She didn’t talk about her Daddy. Ever.

“Are you sure you know how to handle this thing?”

Shelly didn’t feel the need to answer that directly. She just gave the foreman a level look and turned to the digger shuffling behind him. It was a full-grown male, twice as large as one of the old elephants. Shelly untucked her hands and held them wide by her face, slowly waving them to get the digger’s attention. He shifted his head and whuffed in her direction, blowing dust over her worn black boots.

She started a rumble deep in her chest, and the foreman grinned, stepping back to let her approach the digger. Testing her. She ignored him, focused on the big male. Still waving her hands to make her face look larger, and direct his attention to her eyes, she slowly stepped forward, stopping a few feet in front of the beast. His ears twitched in greeting, and he lowered his head, his mouthful of jagged teeth swinging close to her.

Suddenly Shelley was two years old again, her Daddy holding her tight as she buried her face in his neck. The digger musk combined with his own skin and soap until she couldn’t tell them apart. Daddy and Digger smelled the same to her.

“Diggers teach us not to judge by appearance,” Daddy said, his deep voice rumbling beneath her. “People are terrified of them, but they are the most gentle souls I’ve ever known.” He started his rumble, sort of like a cat purr, and Shelly felt him lift his free hand to pet the digger facing them. She felt its hot breath on her skin, in her mouth.

Turning her head to the side, Shelly squinted her eyes open to see the giant digger. She reached out her little hand next to Daddy’s and ran her fingers over the jagged teeth crowding out of the digger’s mouth. “He’s rumbling, Daddy!”

“He likes you.”

“I like him too.” Shelly sat up in Daddy’s arm, turning so she could reach her hand up under the digger’s lip like Daddy was doing. The digger rumbled, and Daddy rumbled, and Shelly tried to rumble, too.

By the time she was four, she could rumble deeper and louder than most riders. She rode in front of Daddy on the broad saddle, and he taught her everything he knew about riding diggers. By the time she was six, Daddy would have let her ride alone if their foreman would have let her. By the time she was eight, Daddy was gone. They said it was a digger, but Shelly never believed it.

Sting, “St Agnes and the Burning Train”

Time writing
~60 minutes

May word count

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Prompt: Where do the abandoned go?

Before today’s prompt writing, a quick update on the Blog Hop for Sucker Literary, Vol 3.  Here’s the path of the blog hop so far:

Kacey Vanderkarr  => Justine Manzano  => Sonja Thomas  => Vanessa MacLellan  => Blanca Florido  => RebeccaGomez Farrell  => me => … and I invited Rebekkah Niles, one of my talented writing group members. Rebekkah’s post is here -- check it out!

And now, a great visual prompt:

Thanks to Mircea T─âtuc, cc-nc-nd-4.0 for his beautiful and 
evocative photo of the Czestochowa Train Depot in Poland!

Jimmy crept under the orange cars on Track 5, looking for snail shells to add to his collection. His ears rang with the high-pitched whine of a new train, and he rolled out from under the cars and jumped up, sprinting toward the depot. Pulling out his bell, he held it high and rang it as loud as he could, shouting, “Incoming! Incoming! New train!”

He kept clear of the tracks—sometimes the new trains were still electrified when they arrived. Until he saw which track it was on, he knew better than to risk any of them.

Huffing with the run, he waved to Karly as she climbed down the caboose on Track 1-8. He still thought it was funny that the engine was on Track 1, but the train stretched across tracks, and the caboose was on 8. The train was still intact, and too big for them to move without power, so it stayed. Karly liked to read up on top. She said she liked to see the birds fly overhead swooping in and out of the depot. As if there were anything to see out there.

“Come on, Karly! Let’s get there first!” He urged her to climb down faster, and considered whether he should run ahead of her anyway. First to reach the new train got squatter’s rights. Depending on who was on it when it came in, of course.

“Which track is it coming in on, Jimmy?” Karly had no sense for the trains.

Jimmy could always feel them. He stood still and closed his eyes, calming his excitement so he could feel the energy buzz in the air. His eyes opened and he grinned. “Track 6, come on!”

Karly jumped down from the side ladder and ran toward him. Linking hands, they raced to the depot station just in time to see the new train roll out of the darkened station door…straight toward the 1-8. They froze, and Karly cried out, “Mama’s inside!”

Jimmy gripped her hand. “Don’t worry. It’s okay. You’ll see…”

They watched the train roll closer, slowing imperceptibly as it hit the old, ravaged tracks and the thick grass. Karly gasped as it neared the 1-8, then they heard the rusty old switch groan and slide, carrying the new arrival from its collision course with the 1-8 to its right. Where there was no track.

Jimmy whistled. “That’s new,” he shouted, jumping up with excitement. “Let’s go!”

Karly narrowed her eyes, watching the train wheeze to a stop. “What are we going to call it?” She mused. “The Zero?”

“Who cares?” Jimmy shouted, racing ahead of her. “Let’s go see if there are any kids on it!”

Karly smiled at the thought. There hadn’t been any new children in the depot in a really, really long time. It would be nice to have someone new to play with.


I have some ideas about these trains coming in. Maybe from different times, different places. What brings them here? Can the people leave? Do they age? What do they do in the meantime? I think I’d like to come back to this one…

Dogs in House

Guitar Adagios

Time writing
45 minutes

May word count

Monday, May 26, 2014

Stargazing: Camelopardalid Meteor Shower

Did you go out to look for the Camelopardalid Meteor Shower Friday night? 

I did, but it didn’t look like this:
Photo credit: Bill Longo, Sudbury, Canada 
(from Bob King’s 5/24 post on UniverseToday)

It wasn’t a huge display, but very satisfying stargazing overall. Meteor tally: I saw 3 truly impressive meteors, half a dozen other nice ones, and 2-3 dozen flashes, many of which left me asking, “Was that a meteor, or an eye floater?” Under the circumstances, I’ll go with meteor.

I went with a friend down to Jordan Lake in Chatham County, NC. We arrived about 2:00am and stayed till 4:00am. Perched at the water’s edge on a boat ramp into the lake, we had a good north-facing exposure, with reasonably clear views to the east and west as well.

Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) was very clear in the sky, as was Polaris, the North Star. The rest of Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper) wasn’t as bright. Likewise, the Milky Way was the faintest smudge across the sky to the northeast. I’m not very good at identifying constellations, even with my iphone app, “Sky Guide”. The stars were much more visible than from my home base, but nothing like the brilliant sky over the dark beach on Hilton Head at Thanksgiving, nor in Bimini many years ago. There's still a significant amount of light pollution in the night sky.

One of the most spectacular meteors I saw was a large, bright trail straight down the middle of the Big Dipper, shortly after we got setup and began to adjust to night vision. What a great start! I was ready for a show. It was slow but fairly steady, about one “good” meteor every ten minutes for so for the first hour and a half. Not much the last half hour, but that’s partly because I was falling asleep! As we were packing up to go, my companion saw a final spectacular meteor streak across the still-dark sky.
 Photo credit: NASA

By the time I got home, the sky was already lightening to that beautiful smoky blue that comes before dawn. I saw that sky often in college, leaving the computer, photo, and ceramic studios. But it’s a rare day now that I get to sleep till lunchtime to make up for such late hours!

So while the Camelopardalids didn't put on a great show, it was very satisfying, and felt like a good adventure. I'm looking forward to the Perseids and Leonids later this year, and hopefully Stargazing will be something I can report on a little more often here.

Dogs in House
Houdini, Maize, Malachi

Rachel Portman, Chocolat soundtrack

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Prompt: Sometimes you can’t hide the pain, Part 3

Garduth felt his heart skip a beat, and his fingers tightened around hers. If he’d been home, he would have snapped his fingers and tapped them on his chest in memory of the Honoured Ones. His eyes widened, and he blurted, “But that means—”

She looked directly at him with a steady gaze for the first time. Her eyes were dark brown with flecks of gold. Her lashes were tinged with blue, echoed around her delicate, arched lips. He’d never studied her face so clearly before.

“My parents both petrified before I was born. I was pulled from my mother’s body before she died and spent three months in a glass uterus. But even the Tandemkopf could not purify my blood. I have the Binahl Virus. My body is turning to stone.”

She pulled up her dress, and he looked down at her legs, wrapped in elaborate braces. But under the metal wire and gears, he could see her skin, mottled blue like granite. Without thinking, he reached out and touched her knee with his finger, tracing her patella, hard and smooth beneath his touch. He suddenly realized how inappropriately intimate this might be and snatched his hand away.

He smoothed her dress down over her legs, never releasing her hand from his fingers. Turning to face her again, he brushed away a tear from her cheek.

“But how have you lived? You said both your parents died.”

“I’m not just a researcher here, Garduth. I’m one of Tandemkopf’s greatest experiments. They’ve slowed the pace of the virus, but they still cannot eradicate it entirely. And I fear even if they do, it will be too late for me. “

By all the ghods. She was turning to stone. Garduth shuddered, but when she tried to pull her fingers free, he would not let go.

“Sheria, why did you say you were sorry?”

She looked away again. “I’m sorry I was too weak to hide my pain from you any longer.”

“You’re one of the strongest people I’ve ever known, Sheria. One of the hardest working people here. No one knows what you’re going through. But now I do. You don’t have to go through it alone.”


Note: Oh, I would really like them to find a way to save Sheria!

Dogs in House

Earl Klugh, Hand Picked

Time writing
~80 minutes

May word count