This weekend I had a great time at Lunacon in Rye Brook, NY, Fri-Sun, where I was promoting my novel. But it didn’t start that way! I started the four-hour drive at 9:30AM Friday, figuring I’d get there around 1:30PM, and lounge around my hotel room until my first panel at 4PM. But nothing went right on the drive – but I’ll get to that shortly.
Some Lunacon highlights:
- My autograph session. Here’s a picture! (Smaller version is above.) On the left you can see the huge poster of the cover of my novel. On the right is a flyer for it, next to a box of chocolates I gave out. In between were my five science fiction & fantasy books – three novels and two short story anthologies.
- I blogged about my schedule on Friday. I was on six panels, plus a reading and the autograph session. The panels were:
- “The Opening Page” – I spoke about how you, in a short story, you should hook the reader in the first 100 words; in a novel, the first page.
- “Tag-Team Literary Improv” – we took turns continuing a story, each speaking for a minute or so, and then “tagging” another on the panel. In one of my segments I had the unnamed president of the United States pull off his skin, revealing that he was in fact a giant alien worm!
- “The Biggest Mistake New Writers Make” – I spoke at length about the importance of hooking the reader early on, similar to what I’d said in “The Opening Page” panel. I pointed out the three stages of development here: Beginners, who often spend ten pages setting up the situation, developing the characters, describing the setting, etc., without getting to the story. In the second stage they learn to start with the story, and do all that other stuff at the same time. And then there’s the advanced stage (I pointed at Robert J. Sawyer, who was on the panel), where the writer has a reputation, and so can get away with more meandering at the start – which often leads to a better story, just a slower start.
- “Who Put This Message in My Fiction?” – I spoke about various novels that have messages without banging your head on it, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Towing Jehovah” by James Marrow. The key is to have the characters literally live through message situations, so the reader sees it from their point of view – the racism in “Mockingbird,” problems with religion in “Jehovah.” Hopefully, in my novel “Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions,” rather than preach about the problems of a two-party electoral system, I had the reader experience it through the adventures of characters running a campaign in it.
- “Q&A About Writers Groups” – I went over my experiences at the many I’ve been to – Odyssey, TNEO, Taos Toolbox, Orson Scott Card (I refrained from certain commentary about that…), Critters.org, Codexwriters.org, as well as local groups, including meetup.com.
- “Round Robin Writing Workshop” – this was for kids ages 13-21, but alas, none showed up.
- Sharing a panel and going to dinner Saturday night with Robert J. Sawyer, the dean of Canadian SF, a Hugo and Nebula winner, and author of the new Quantum Night (which I’d read the week before, days after it came out). The panel was “The Biggest Mistake New Writers Make.” I also shared panels with Hildy Silverman (editor of Space and Time, which has published three of my stories), who also joined us for dinner on Saturday. I was also on a panel with Gordon van Gelder, long-time past editor of The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I could probably name all my fellow panelists, as they were all illustrious writers and editors!
- Hot tub on Friday and Saturday night! I read on my kindle both times for an hour – I’m reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63, which is excellent so far, but very long.
- Reading – I read the first chapter of Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, and the openings to chapters 2 and 3. I also gave out chocolate.
Now, about that drive to Lunacon . . . let’s start with the obvious – I’m not that experienced in long-distance driving, and I really don’t like driving at all. I’d much, Much, MUCH rather be a billionaire with a full-time chauffeur. Normally when I travel up and down the east coast it’s in my other profession, professional table tennis coach, where my students (or their parents) do the driving to tournaments, while I just do the coaching.
In preparation for this mammoth journey, I tested my Moto D smart phone GPS on Thursday, using the quarter-mile ride to the dentist (with three turns) as a test. It worked beautifully! (Alas, I had to have a fractured filling replaced.) It also worked on the way back. So I figured it would work on the way to Lunacon. Hah!
I didn’t bother with it the first hour. As I approached Baltimore on I-95 I turned it on – and it wouldn’t work. I pulled over and spent some time trying to get it to work, but it kept saying it couldn’t connect. I finally gave up on it and decided I’d have to wing it. I had basic directions, which basically said take I-95 nearly the whole way (how hard could that be?), and then turn west on I-287, and a few turns after that I’d be there.
Unfortunately, I never got the memo that to stay on I-95, you actually have to take the NJ Turnpike. In past trips as a passenger I remember being on it, but hadn’t really paid attention. So when I saw signs for the Turnpike, I ignored them and focused on staying on I-95. Eventually it sort of ended, and I had no idea what was going on. How could I take I-95 to I-287 if I-95 suddenly ended? I remembered the NJ Turnpike signs, and decided to try that. So I turned back, got on the Turnpike – and soon there were signs that it was both the Turnpike and I-95!!! Or something like that.
I stopped for a quick lunch at a McDonalds drive-through at a rest stop. Another Hah! There were two cars ahead. The first went through quickly. The second was a van. The woman driving began to quiz the person on the speaker about everything on the menu – salads, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, etc. Then she finally ordered a salad. As I impatiently waited, the speaker said, “Will that be all?” Then I heard the single worst word you can ever hear in this situation – “No.” She turned back and began quizzing a kid in the van, who then tried to order. The speaker said he couldn’t hear what the kid was saying, and so the kid climbed forward, and began debating what to have. This took some time. He finally gave his order. Again the speaker said, “Will that be all?” And again, that dreaded word – “No!”
I’ll give you the short version. There were eight kids in the car, and they each climbed forward and gave their order, one at a time. None were prepared. It took over 15 minutes for them to order. Dear Lady in the Car: When you have eight kids in a car, and nobody knows what they want, go inside!!!
With all these delays, I hit the dreaded NY traffic, and soon it was bumper to bumper. I began to realize I might not make my first panel at 4PM. Then it became almost certain. Finally, at about ten minutes to four, with me being about 20 minutes away, the traffic let up – and I took off, hoping to be just a little late. Is it really wrong to do 70mph on a highway? That’s what nearly everyone does! And yet, 30 seconds after the traffic let up, I was pulled over for speeding! Yep, I got an $88 ticket. I think it’s my first in over 20 years.
I made it to the first panel at 4:25 PM, and gave a good (but very condensed) version of the above, including waving the speeding ticket around. (I should have taken up a collection…).
I later figured out I my smart phone had reached its “data limit,” due to some kids using it to download and play games. I fixed the problem, and was able to use it to return home on Sunday night.
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