Pictures from BALTICON

During my book launch at BALTICON, friend and writer Kelly Harmon took some pictures of Steven R. Southard, my alter ego.

SteveReadingSteve2At the book launch of “Ripper’s Ring,” I described the story, passed around my 3D-printed version of the Ring of Gyges, and read an excerpt from the story.

It was the first time I had conducted a book launch at a con, and I learned some things about how to do it better next time.

My thanks to Kelly Harmon for taking the pictures. It’s much appreciated by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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What a Great Time at BALTICON!

Although I’ve attended the major science fiction and fantasy convention in Baltimore for many years, this year marked the first time I spoke as a participant. It’s been a wonderful experience!

b49_banner_1First, I spoke on a panel called “Being Out in Fandom.” It was about the issues faced by the LGBTQ community as fans at cons. My thanks to fellow panelists Stephanie “Flashcat” Burke and Hugh J. O’Donnell, and to moderator Jennifer R. Povey for helping me through that unfamiliar territory. I think I learned more than the audience!

I felt more conversant about being on the panel called “Engineers Can’t Write—Some Known Counter-Examples.” I had suggested that idea to the BALTICON staff, after all! I greatly enjoyed the experience with the other panelists Karen Burnham, Gary Ehrlich, and Walt Boyes. Jack Clemmons did a superb job as the moderator.

The next panel was part of the weekend-long tribute to the late C.J Henderson, who was the con’s Ghost of Honor. It was titled “Do You Want Pulp With That?” and we talked about what pulp fiction is, and Henderson’s forays into that realm. It was the first panel I’d ever moderated. I’m grateful to panelists John L. French, Michael Black, and Michael Underwood for keeping things interesting and informative for the audience (and for me).

On Sunday morning, I was honored to be in a reading session with Melissa Scott and Ada Palmer. (Despite the ‘ladies first’ adage, I should have gone first. I see that now.) After they read wonderful excerpts from upcoming works, I read a passage from “A Clouded Affair” in the anthology Avast, Ye Airships!

That afternoon, I sat at an autograph table with Jack McDevitt. Yes, the Jack McDevitt, winner of the Nebula Award, and recent winner of the Heinlein Award. He was wonderful to talk to, and a few of the fans who’d lined up for his autograph spent some time at my end of the table.

We had a packed session for a panel I moderated called “Bars, Inns, and Taverns: Fiction and Reality.” Panelists Katie Bryski, Ada Palmer, John Skylar, and Nathan Lowell kept it fun and instructive. BALTICON’s Guest of Honor, Jo Walton (Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell Award winner!), also attended and shared her knowledge of the history of English pubs.

Among those who attended the launching of my story “Ripper’s Ring” were friends Kelly A. Harmon and Trisha Wooldridge. I thank them both.

Late Sunday night, I moderated a panel called “Knowing That I Know That You Know: Xanatos Gambits and Chessmasters.” The only panelist was Grig Larson, who was both funny and knowledgeable about this rather arcane topic.

On Monday I moderated the “Long YA, Short YA” panel discussing the explosion in long novels for young adults. Panelist Michael Underwood and Compton Crook Award Winner Alexandra Duncan kept the audience engaged.

Lastly, I moderated one more panel on “Tropes in Young Adult SF/F.” The lone panelist, Alexandra Duncan, was marvelous in this one too. I’m learning how to be a panel moderator, and it’s nice when a skilled and expert panelist makes up for any shortcomings in the moderator, (like when he runs out of questions).

All in all, a spectacular weekend! My sincere thanks go to the BALTICON programming coordinators for giving me a chance. I’m grateful, as well, to all the more experienced authors I met who told me, and showed by example, how to have a successful convention.

This BALTICON will linger long and fondly in the memory of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Join Me at BALTICON this Weekend

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All right, Poseidon’s Scribe fans, here’s an opportunity for you. I’ll be speaking, and generally causing trouble, at BALTICON this weekend. BALTICON is the major science fiction and fantasy convention near Baltimore, Maryland.

Here’s my schedule (subject to change):

Date Time Topic
Friday 10:00 PM Being Out in Fandom
Saturday 10:00 AM Engineers Can’t Write? Some Known Counter-Examples
Saturday 1:00 PM Do You Want Pulp with That?
Sunday 11:00 AM Readings
Sunday 4:00 PM Autograph session
Sunday 8:00 PM Bars, Inns, and Taverns: Fiction and Reality
Sunday 9:15 PM Book Launch: Ripper’s Ring
Sunday 10:00 PM Knowing That I Know That You Know: Xanatos Gambits and Chessmasters
Monday 12:00 PM Long YA, Short YA
Monday 1:00 PM Tropes In Young Adult SF/F

For some of the panels I’m the moderator and for others a panelist. After years of sitting in the audience at these events, now I’ll be one of the authors doing the yakking. A new experience for me.

Stop by, say hi, and listen to the wit and wisdom of—

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Caffeine, the Writer’s Fuel?

There’s something about caffeine and writing. In particular, coffee and writing. Here, I brewed some for you. I’ll write, you read, and we’ll figure this out together. Do you take yours black, or with cream and sugar?

I’ve blogged before about alcohol and illegal drugs, and whether they improve writing. Today we explore caffeine, whether ingested via coffee, tea, or soft drinks.

Coffee and writingCaffeine is a psychoactive drug that affects the mental state of most people, but it’s legal and unregulated almost everywhere. I was surprised to discover it doesn’t so much perk you up as mask your drowsiness. Everyone’s different, though, and it affects people in various ways.

There are some great blog posts about various writers’ experiences with caffeine, mainly coffee. Before doing any searching, I had an image of writers chugging down java late at night, trying to finish a story and submit it before the midnight deadline.

Instead, most of those who discussed the use of coffee wrote about having some in the morning, the early afternoon, or whenever they started getting tired. Even non-writers can relate to the use of coffee as a means of fighting fatigue.

More interesting to me were those who claimed an actual benefit in their writing. Shanan, who drank about six or seven cups a day, reported she felt more confident, more willing to take writing risks, better able to turn off her inner critic. She said coffee made her more prolific and less liable to get distracted while churning out a first draft.

Similarly, Ellis Shuman claimed coffee stimulated his creativity. Maybe his particular muse could be summoned by the smell of a cup of joe.

Author Sarah Potter gave up coffee and found these results: more drowsiness, but less jitters, no insomnia, less frequent trips to bathroom, less anger over trivial things.

As for me, I began drinking coffee while in the Navy many years ago. I recalled my dad saying how people drank it black during World War II because sugar was rationed, so I associated black coffee with patriotism, and drank it black.

When I left the Navy and got an office job, I drank between six and ten cups a day. By my mid-thirties, I sometimes got severe headaches, and I eventually figured out those were the days when I’d had a lot less coffee. I didn’t want to be so dependent, so I backed off to one or two cups of coffee in the morning, and a caffeinated soft drink with lunch.

Does coffee affect my writing? I don’t think so. During the week, I write while commuting and at night. On weekends I write in the early morning (as I am now) and throughout the day when I can spare time. Other than early morning on the weekends, I rarely have coffee or any drink (and never food) while writing. I haven’t seen a difference in quality or quantity of my prose from coffee.

Your experience might be different, though. Coffee just might be the additive you need, your equivalent of Popeye’s spinach, the liquid fuel that powers your rise to the top of the bestseller list.

Well, my cup’s empty. Can you use a refill? It’s fresh-brewed by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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To Know Your Grammar is to Love Her, Part II

Millions of you loyal readers will recall the first time I blogged about grammar. This time I’m tackling the issue from a different perspective.

GrammarIn my previous post on the subject, I focused on the obscure and easily forgotten terms people associate with grammar, and how some think they can’t write because they don’t remember all those definitions from English class.

Today I’ll explore some basics of grammar that might be keeping you from succeeding as a writer, prevent you from grasping that brass ring. No strange words this time (well, maybe one).

I came upon this blog post by Allison VanNest that discusses five common grammar mistakes beginning writers make. Well worth reading! Experienced editors would likely agree with Allison about her top five list, based on manuscripts they receive.

  • Misuse of Commas: I like Ms. VanNest’s take on this one. Commas are supposed to signal pauses. That’s why I’m an advocate of the Serial (or Oxford) Comma. However, I’ll bow to the wishes of an editor who’s willing to accept my stories!
  • Incorrect Capitalization: I’m surprised this one made the list of the top five grammar mistakes, but I guess it is a problem.
  • Misspellings: It’s very true what Allison writes about this, including the fact that spell checkers can lead you astray. (I’ve long loved the funny poem about spell checkers.)
  • Wordiness: We’re all prone to this. As you edit, make each word and phrase defend itself, earn its place in your story.
  • Missing Determiners: There’s that one (possibly) strange word I mentioned. Don’t leave out “a,” “an,” and “the” when they’re needed for clarity.

You may be thinking, “So what if my story has a misspelled word, or I’ve got a comma out of place? Why is that so important?”

Here’s why: If you send your manuscript to an editor, your bad grammar tells the editor you don’t know the language very well. Your bad grammar makes the editor more likely to reject your story even if it is otherwise compelling. Moreover, the editor is more likely to reject your future submissions out of hand.

If you decide to skip the editor and self-publish instead, you’re disappointing and then frustrating the reader, your ultimate customer. Not only will your reader cast your book aside in disgust, he or she will not buy your other stories and may leave an unfavorable review, thus turning off other potential readers.

My intent today was to comment on the content of Ms. VanNest’s blog post. That site is promoting a grammar-checker software product called Grammarly. I have not yet tried that program, so have no reason to criticize or endorse it. Many word processors include grammar-checkers, but you might find single-use software such as Grammarly to be superior.

Ensure your writing avoids the top five grammar mistakes before you submit it for publication. Make them part of your editing process as you rewrite your drafts. Before you know it, you’ll have more stories published and a higher income from your writing, than—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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The Basset Hound in Ripper’s Ring

There’s a basset hound in my upcoming story “Ripper’s Ring.” Let me tell you about him.

His name is Diogenes, and I’ve described him as having a copper-and-black mottled coat, a white blaze down his snout, and a white-tipped tail. He’s a pet, owned by my one of the story’s main characters, Detective Wellington Thales Bentbow.

Bvdb-bassethound1Diogenes is not quite like the hound pictured here, but you get the general idea of their characteristic wrinkled, sagging skin and drooping ears, giving them a perpetually depressed countenance.

I chose a basset for my story for a couple of reasons. From the time my wife was growing up until a few years after I met her, her family kept pet Basset Hounds, owning as many as three at a time. They remain one of her favorite animals.

Second, I discovered Basset Hounds possess a sense of smell for tracking that’s the second keenest of all dog breeds, behind only the bloodhound. That makes this breed a good dog for a detective to own.

Especially a detective like Wellington Bentbow, who is philosophical by nature, a loner, and probably a bit wrinkly and gloomy himself. He’s come to regret purchasing Diogenes, though, because the hound much prefers sleeping to any sort of detective work.

Bentbow chose the name Diogenes for his pet because of the ancient Greek philosopher. Diogenes of Sinope has become associated with dogs. In addition, Diogenes would wander around in the daytime holding a lamp before him. When asked why, he said he was looking for an honest man. (How he planned to detect honesty using a lamp was, I believe, part of his little joke.) But this idea of tracking down a particular man also played into the choice of name for my basset hound character.

In a future post I’ll blog about the uses of pets in fiction, but for now I’ll say there’s a danger involved when you introduce familiar pets in your stories. In particular, dogs and cats are endearing to readers and it’s so tempting to provide details about the animal’s cute behavior and personality, they can steal the show if you’re not careful. I had to fight to keep Diogenes a minor character, because he could have taken over the story.

RippersRing72dpi“Ripper’s Ring” takes place in London in 1888, and basset-type hounds were then new to England, having only recently been imported from France. The modern Basset Hound (capitalized) didn’t become a standardized breed until after the time of my story, so strictly speaking, Diogenes would be categorized as a basset-type hound.

You can read all about Diogenes in my story, “Ripper’s Ring,” due to launch on Monday, May 4th. If you own a Basset Hound that matches my description of Diogenes, I’ll be happy to post a picture of it, if you’ve taken the picture and give permission for posting it by leaving a comment for—

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