Category Archives: My checkered past

Thirty years of D&D

This may come as an absolute lack of shock to most of you, but growing up, I was not very cool.

As proof, allow me to present exhibit A.

Cool-Pat-with-Shades-786164

That’s me on my birthday. And if the Aerobie, sunglasses, and sleeveless shirt weren’t enough of a clue for you, I’ll just mention that this was somewhere in the early 80′s.

So. Me: Not particularly cool. Really rather impressively not cool.

Now don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t miserable. I wasn’t one of the popular kids, but then again most people aren’t. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I had a few. Besides, I lived out in the country, so it wasn’t like the neighborhood kids pelted me with stones or anything. There were no neighborhood kids for the most part. No neighbors. Just me and lots of books.

What’s more, I had the best pair of parents imaginable. Parents who, when I asked for a bullwhip for my birthday, actually bought me one.

And, as you can see if you embiggen the above picture, they also bought me a copy of the green D&D box set.

*     *     *

I first found out about D&D in the fifth grade. I saw some kids playing at school one day when it was crappy out and we were having recess inside.

I’d never heard of it before. It looked like a lot of fun. I asked the kids if I could play with them.

“No,” they said.

It wasn’t a hesitant no, either. It was a genuine, “No, we are certain we do not want you to play with us.” Whether or not they intended to, I was left with the distinct impression that I wasn’t cool enough to play D&D with.

Keep in mind that this was in the early 1980′s. Geek wasn’t chic back then. There was no internet. There weren’t huge comic conventions. There was no PAX.

These days everyone plays WOW and reads Harry Potter and Watches X-Men movies. Geek is mainstream now.

Back then? Not so much. Back then, you were picked on for reading fantasy novels. Or reading comics. Or rolling dice and pretending to be a wizard. Geeks were really far down the social pecking order.

Those people, those geeks, were the folks that didn’t particularly want to hang out with me.

So I arranged to get the D&D red box. And I read it all. And I made a character. And I played D&D with myself.

(It occurs to me just now that this might have been one of the first steps toward being a writer. Being an author is kinda like playing D&D with yourself.)

Later I got the other boxes. Usually as Christmas presents….

BECMI_DnD_boxes2

(I never knew about the Immortal Rules until just now….)

My parents didn’t really know what it was all about. Despite that, they were understanding. My mom was a hippie, so when I asked her to make me a cloak, she didn’t think much of it. She’d made cloaks for people before. The main difference was that the people she made cloaks for back in the 60′s had at least a distant possibility of having sex.

Then I found this at the Madison public library.

DMG

It wasn’t this actual book. It didn’t have this cover, either. Because of damage, or perhaps as a nod to Christian sensibilities, the library had re-covered the book.

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. This book was different. It was weighty. It was serious. It was full of  charts and tables. Let’s say you were adventuring in a swamp. And you wanted to know how likely you were to catch a disease. Well, there were rules for that.

I am all-the-way serious:

DMGDiseaseTable

There’s something to be learned from this table. Honestly, part of the reason I live in Wisconsin is because of the -1% modifier for cool weather.

Toward at the end of one of the books was Appendix N – Inspirational and Educational Reading. That was where Gygax listed books that had shaped his views on fantasy. Books he thought other people would benefit from reading.

I found a nice scan of it online:

Appendix-N

(Click to embiggen, if you’re curious.)

You’ve got some great names on there. Tolkien. Zelazny. Saberhagen. Norton. Looking it over now, I realize I still haven’t read half of these, and I feel like I should.

Back then, it was really interesting to see this list of books. But I was just a kid. I didn’t seek out books so much as I just devoured anything that was available at the library or the Waldenbooks at the mall.

Eventually I found some people to play D&D with. I played it all through high-school with several different people, most consistently with my two best friends, Steve and Ryan.

When I graduated from high-school, rather than have a graduation party, I asked my parents if I could go up to our cabin in the north woods with Steve and Ryan. They agreed, and for a week, we did very little but play D&D.

By that time, 2nd edition was out. That’s the edition I played the most of. The one I know inside and out.

I played in college too. That’s how I made my first friends here in Stevens Point. Most notably Endo, who introduced me to other friends. That was how I met my first girlfriend and other people I still know and love to this day. Though I don’t get to see them nearly as much as I’d like.

This year, as some of you might know, 5th edition came out.

PH

I got to know this edition pretty well because I had to make a new version of Viari that I could play with Acquisitions Incorporated.

The book is beautiful. The new system is flexible but easy to use. Elegant and smooth in a way I couldn’t have appreciated ten years ago. Using it, I was able to make a thief that could hold his own in combat and survive jumping off an airship onto a dragon.

But I’m not here to sing the praises of 5th edition. I’m here because of what shows up in the back of this 5th edition player’s handbook.

Appendix E: Inspirational Reading….

PHReadingPage

There’s more books than before, you’ll notice. That’s only appropriate. The genre’s grown a lot since Gygax wrote his list back in 1979.

There’s still some of the familiar names on here, as there should be. Zelazny is still brilliant. So is Tolkien. And what’s that? Oh my stars and garters, there’s more than one woman on the list! Which is good, because these days a list that misses LeGuin and McKillip isn’t worth shit in my opinion.

We’ve got some new folks on there too. My friends and colleagues. Jemisin and Sanderson. Lynch, and Bear and Saladin.

And this.

PHReadingPage 2

I’m there. I’m in the book. In a small way, I’m *part* of D&D.

It’s hard to get my head around that fact. Words fail me, and I honestly don’t know what to say. Except that it’s wonderful, and flattering and so, so strange. My life has become so strange these last few years.

I think this must be what it feels like to be cool.

DnD_recommended2Be good to each other everyone,

pat

Also posted in Achievement Unlocked!, gaming, musings | By Pat44 Responses

Stretch Goals 2013 – $25k and $50k

Worldbuilders-Logo_Web_Smaller

 This is a Worldbuilders blog.

This year’s fundraiser has taken off amazingly fast, breaking all the records we’ve had in the past.

For example, this year we raised more money in our first week than we did in the entire first year we ran worldbuilders, back in 2008.

Needless to say, this gives me a big warm fuzzy.

Another perk is that we’re hitting our stretch goals faster than ever before. So today we’re going to share a few of those:

  • $25,000 – Peter V. Brett shaves Myke Cole’s head.

This year, we wanted to make more of our stretch goals more whimsical and fun. And as you can see just from the title, Myke Cole and Peter V. Brett started us off on the right foot.

Here’s the thing. When Myke sent in his idea, I laughed my ass off and said it sounded great….

… but I had no idea they were planning to use a straight razor.

The first I heard about it was on Twitter:

Twitter convo

And this is true. Any of you who have read my blog for any amount of time know I regularly make bad decisions in the pursuit of science, mischief, or entertainment. My attempts to distil coffee, for example. Or the time I accidentally burned a pentagram onto the carpet of the house I was renting….

Anyway, the point is, I’m the person you should be talking *out* of doing something, I’m not used to it being the other way around.

But back when I used to shave, I shaved with a straight razor. I have a few very pale, slender scars from those days that I could show you if not for the beard. It’s *hard* shaving with a straight razor, and if Peter was going to try for the first time ever on Myke….

I caved. I called Peter on the phone.

But he didn’t pick up. And I knew why. This had obviously already gone terribly wrong. Peter couldn’t pick up because he had to use both of his hands to stanch the blood that was even now gushing from Myke’s head.

I left a truly incomprehensible voicemail message that was broken up with bouts of panicked/hysterical laughter. Imagine what the Joker would sound like if he drunk dialed Batman. My voicemail was like that.

Peter called me back about three minutes later. The conversation went roughly like this.

Me: Are you guys seriously using a straight razor?

Peter: Oh yeah. I went out and bought one just for this.

Myke: [In the background. Laughing.] Pat! Is that you? Send help!

Me: So you’ve really never used one before?

Peter: I watched a five minute video.

Myke: [In the background] You watched thirty seconds of a video.

Peter: I skipped some the boring bits. It seems pretty simple. You just go against the grain of the hair….

Myke: [In the background] I think he’s been drinking.

In the end, all I could do was beg them to be careful. Partly because they were in New York and I was in Wisconsin, but also because they obviously really wanted to do this.

And also because I can’t start being the voice of reason at this point in my life. It’s just too late for me.

So:

My pleading

They kept posting up pictures through the whole process, while I did the twitter equivalent of watching with my hands in front of my face, peeking between my fingers….

Ward head

And honestly, I wouldn’t have stopped them if I could. Because they’re my kind of crazy.

Friar_Myke4

No_Sense_Crying

Ooopsie

They took video of the whole thing, but it’s going to take a while to splice it all together in a pleasing way. Rest assured that as soon as it’s ready, we’ll share it around.

(Suggestions for the soundtrack should go into the comments.)

  • $50,000 – Paul and Storm Lyrically Mock Patrick Rothfuss

As many of you know, I did a couple shows with the fabulous lyrical duo Paul and Storm early in November. In our brief stint on the road, I like to think we bonded a little. Over the long hours on the road, we learned and shared and grew closer together.

We also discussed the following song….

I’m going to let it speak for itself. The tune might sound familiar, but trust me it’s a different version than the one you’ve heard before.

Suffice to say that when I heard it, I laughed my ass off.

If you know about Paul and Storm, I’m guessing you’ve already heard about their awesome Kickstarter project that’s ending in just a couple days. But you might not know that I’m writing up a short anecdote about our time on the road for inclusion in their PaulandStormonomicon stretch goal.

If you *don’t* know about Paul and Storm, and you got a chuckle out of the song up above, you might want to check them out. And if you’re looking for a good place to start, might I casually suggest their amazingly innuendo-laden-yet-playful 5th album: Ball Pit?

More stretch goals are coming folks. We have some *amazing* stuff lined up.

So stay tuned, and thanks for spreading the word…

*     *     *

Want to learn more about Worldbuilders? You can check out our shiny new website here. Or you can get all the details about this year’s fundraiser on my blog.

There are a bunch of cool auctions up right now, as well, some of which haven’t even been blogged about yet.  If you want to get in early, be sure to check the Worldbuilders eBay page.

Also posted in Acts of Whimsy, Beautiful Games, music, Worldbuilders 2013 | By Pat20 Responses

My Terrible Surprise – The Dreaded High School Novel

A couple days ago, Mary Robinette Kowal asked if I’d care to donate an act of whimsy to a fundraiser she was planning to Sequence Jay Lake’s Cancer.

I said I’d be happy to, and she put me in as their $17,500 goal, tucked between Scalzi and Gaiman like the ham in a coolness sandwich.

I had a couple ideas for what I could do, but wasn’t sure what would sound best, so I told Mary to put me down for “A terrible surprise.”

I figured I’d have at least a week or two before I had to come up with anything. Plenty of time for me to wrap up my own fundraiser, finish a story I have due, and do my amazingly good Kermit the Frog impression singing Rainbow Connection.

Or maybe I’d dig out my Dr Horrible lab coat and engage in a little mad science on my webcam…

Then Mary launched her fundraiser raised more than 20,000 in a single day.

Which was cool. Don’t get me wrong. But it meant I owed them something whimsical NOW.

Unfortunately, I have a bit of a cold right now, so singing is out. And all my glassware is boxed up in the basement. So I decided I’d post up a poem I wrote twenty years ago when I’d first started reading Terry Pratchett. It was called “A Wizard’s Staff has a Knob on the End.”

Despite the fact that I wrote it ages ago, and I can still remember the first few lines:

Oh wizard’s staffs are long and hard and known throughout the land.
A sight to heed, and fear indeed, is a wizard, staff in hand.
 

It’s everything you’d expect, a long, metrical double entendre. Fanfic I wrote before I knew what fanfic was….

Here’s the problem. I can’t find it. Not in my computer files, and not in the hoarder-esque boxes of old writing I keep squirreled away. Not anywhere.

But I did find something else. A piece of the novel I wrote in high-school.

While it isn’t terribly whimsical in and of itself, I’ll post it up here in a whimsical way, laying open my secret shame for everyone to see.

For you youngsters out there, this is what a dot matrix printout looks like. It’s the closest thing to a cuneiform tablet you’ll ever see.

I started this novel when I was 15-16. It’s the characters are D&D characters created by me and my friends.

This is the start of chapter 4. Don’t worry about being brought into the middle of things. So far the novel has consisted of two flashbacks and a dream sequence. The only action has been our three intrepid adventurers (A barbarian, a dwarf, and a Cat-Man samurai) have moved from one bar to another and  been given a quest by a monk named Dron.

Brace yourselves….

*     *     *

     Lambernath, the all seeing, stood wiping his clean oak bar with his clean, white, linen cloth. As his hand continued it’s unceasing movement it’s owner watched the four figures at the bar and silently gave thanks that there was more to be seeing lately.

     His eyes slowly passed over them all in turn, first the self proclaimed monk, Dron, who had sat waiting at his bar for nearly a week for a band of adventurers to respond to the leaflets that he had posted all over the town. Lambernath knew how anxious he was for help after the many long hours slowly sipping wine in the Cask. Lambernath had known when the trio of adventurers came in that the monk would do everything he could to sign them up.

     Still polishing, Lambernath looked over the dwarf sitting next to Dron. He seemed to be the stereotypical dwarf, his beard was more jet than silver and bristled out from his face and hung down to his waist. His commonplace chain mail hauberk hung to his knees and hooded his head, nothing surprising, as a matter of fact he had seldom seen an adventuring dwarf clad in anything else. His weapons though smaller than the battle axes that so many dwarves preferred were axes nonetheless. His ruddy complexion, fondness of ale, long pointed nose, the swagger and boisterous manner all perfectly dwarven. ‘If I saw him in a room full of mercenaries I wouldn’t notice him at all.’ All of these things viewed together make what a dwarf is expected to be, but it was too perfect and thus suspect.

     Lambernath shook his head as if to clear it, and chastised himself for thinking too much. “Just a dwarf,” he though, “they’ve never been much for originality anyway.”

     Following in dwarven tradition, instead of hammering out the details of the deal Deverax preceded to get hammered.

     Dismissing the dwarf from his mind, the magic user turned his attention to the two oddly matched friends that sat, huddled together. One was dressed in simple leathers, unremarkable except for their size. Occasionally they creaked as Kahn’s muscles bulged when he gestured to emphasize something he was saying. Lambernath strained to hear what they were talking about, but their speech was nonsense, unlike any of the half dozen languages he was fluent in, or another dozen that he could recognize.

     The other’s garb was foreign, and though the eyes of Lambernath the all seeing had beheld many things, they had never seen anything like what the black cloth mask and half cloak hid. His curiosity piqued, he brought to memory every reference to human/animal crossbreeding he could. But nothing matched up. The magic required to make a mating between two different species would be enormous. And the result would probably be much more animal than human. Lycanthropy seemed out too, the change from human to animal was quick and at both human and animal stages the lycanthrope was virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.

     After a long moment of deep thought on the subject Lambernath gave it up as another one of the many things that he would probably never know.
The three seemed to be well prepared on the physical side of the adventure, But it was always a good plan to have a cleric or a mage along on an adventure. Or, if you could manage it, both. This group had neither, and aside from the obvious magical benefits that come with a wizardly companion, it was good to have someone along to do the heavy thinking. Fighters never were much good at that.

     “Admit it.” Lambernath said to himself, “You want to go with them, you’ve tried the life of an innkeeper and it bores you!” But another part of him wanted to stay where he was, where it was safe. This part had been stung by the dwarf’s remarks about mages. Meant to goad Dron, the bars had hit home with Lambernath instead. Finally he decided on a course of action, he would make his availability known and wait to see what happened. But they would have to ask him, his wounded pride demanded that much.

     Lambernath turned to the dwarf, obviously the leader of the group. His mind working out the perfect thing to say to him. Something that would suggest his availability without making it seem as if they couldn’t handle the adventure themselves (even though they couldn’t) , something that wouldn’t make it seem as if he really wanted to go (even though he did), and most importantly something to appear to the dwarf’s rough nature. In the second that this took, Lambernath turned to Deverax to find that the dwarf was staring intently at him. Cool and calculating, the dwarf’s icy blue eyes showed no hint of the ale that Lambernath had seen him consume.

     Lambernath started to wonder how long the dwarf had been watching him while he had been watching the dwarf’s friends. The carefully thought out words lay forgotten and unused, indeed useless under that gaze.

     They’ll do just fine without me, Lambernath though. He dropped his eyes to the hand that still polished the bar. He stopped the hand and turned his back on the bar. When he spoke his voice was oddly subdued.

     “More ale, anyone?”

*     *     *

Ahhh…. The terrible commas. The recurrent it’s ~ its mistakes. The obsessive internal monologue. The over-description. The cloying reek of cliche….

Best of all, you should know that Lambernath wasn’t a main character in the book. He wasn’t even a secondary character. He was just the innkeeper. The next day everyone left the inn and you never saw him again. He had no business being a POV character.

Simply said, it’s a train wreck.

Here’s the thing. Am I glad I wrote this book? Were the hundreds of hours I spent slaving away at it worthwhile?

Absolutely.

The whole purpose of your early writing is to make mistakes so you can get them out of your system. That’s what first novels are for.

You can see a few good ideas in there, desperately struggling to raise their heads out of the morass of mistake. I was trying to build mystery. (The cat man was actually a Kensai with a magical curse in his past.) I was trying (and failing) to figure out what a plot was.

And I was trying to show that while the dwarf *looked* cliche, there was something more to him that just a stereotype. It was my first fumbling attempt to twist a genre trope into something fresh and new. Not that I knew what the word “trope” meant back then….

And of course, you can see that Lambernath contains the seeds of a very, very early proto-Kvothe.

 (Photo Courtesy of Deviantart.)

If I hadn’t written that terrible book. If I hadn’t made the pointless decision to have the characters move from one bar to another. If I hadn’t foolishly switched POV to focus on a character that was utterly useless to the story, I might never have written Kvothe. Which pretty much means The Name of the Wind wouldn’t exist.

Anyway, I hope y’all have found this at least slightly amusing. Thanks so much for helping out Jay.

*     *     *

And if any of y’all are still feeling altruistic, you could always check out my fundraiser: Worldbuilders. We’re giving away thousands of books to encourage people to donate to charity.

You can click here if you’re interested in the details.

Also posted in Dr. Horrible, fanfic, Fuck Cancer, Stories about stories., the craft of writing | By Pat24 Responses

Why I Love My Editor….

Back in January, I mentioned on the blog that I thought my editor really deserved a Hugo nomination.

Imagine my delight when the list of Hugo nominees for 2012 came out, and there she was on the short list of nominees: Betsy Wollheim.

Weeks later, I was surprised to discover that in the 30+ years Betsy has been an editor, this is the first time she’s ever made it onto the shortlist.

It was more than a little startling to me. I mean, Betsy is Editor-in-Chief at DAW, one of the few publishers I knew about before I gave a damn about getting published. She’s never been nominated?

I think part of the reason she’s been overlooked is that while DAW is a great publisher, it’s not one of the hulking monoliths in the business. In fact, DAW is one of the very, very rare publishers that’s still privately owned. Betsy’s dad started it back in 1971. The “W” in DAW stands for Wollheim.

The other part of the reason I think Betsy’s never been nominated is that she’s not a big self-promoter.

I get that. Being from the Midwest, I’m not a big fan of self-promotion myself.

Now before people get their knickers in a twist and go pointing out that I have at times been a big old self-promoting whore, let me clarify.

Yes. I do promotion. Doing promotion is, unfortunately, a big part of being a published author.

So yeah. I do signings. I do readings. I run the blog. I go to conventions, sit on panels, and talk about writing.

But, generally speaking, that’s about as far as I’m comfortable going. I make myself visible in the hope that if someone finds me interesting, then they’ll be tempted to pick up one of my books.

What I *don’t* do is run around trying to sell people my book. Neither do I try to convince people that I’m awesome. I try to *be* awesome, and hope that people will notice.

Maybe that’s a fine line, but I’m more than willing to draw it in the sand.

Similarly, Betsy does promotion. Of course she does. It’s even *more* part of her job than it is mine. She promotes books. She promotes her authors. She promotes DAW.

But, generally speaking, she doesn’t promote herself.

So I’m going to put in a good word for her.

And I’m going to do it the same way I do everything, by telling a little story…

*     *     *

Back in the late summer of 2007, I was teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown and I didn’t even know it.

On the surface, things were great. The Name of the Wind was getting really amazing review. Sales were good. Foreign countries were buying the translation rights. I had grown-up money for the first time in my life, and I used it to buy a house with my girlfriend.

In fact, things were so great, that I didn’t realize what a mess I was.

I’d been doing every bit of promotion that came my way. All sorts of conventions. Every interview somebody asked me to do. Readings and signings all over the place.

And whenever people asked about book two, I told them the same thing: that I already had a good solid draft, and that it would be out in a year.

This is in 2007, mind you.

When I finally sat down to work on the book, I realized the draft was *much * rougher than I remembered. The truth was, I’d been focusing all my energy on Name of the Wind for years while book two just sat their gathering dust. It was pretty shabby when I took a close look at it.

So I realized I had a lot of work to do. I quit my job teaching. I quit teaching fencing at the YMCA. I quit advising the College Feminists.

I kinda quit everything except for writing.

Aside from the roughness of the draft, my other problem was the fact that I’d never written to a deadline before. I was going from 14 years of being a hobby writer, straight into being a bestseller, and it was a huge mental adjustment. I was also a bit of an emotional wreck because my mom had died just a few months before the book came out.

And I’m not just saying that. I remember one night when I was writing frantically, I felt a pain in my chest and a numbness in my left arm.

My first thought was kinda surprised:  “I’m having a heart attack.”

My second thought was one of relief: “If I have a heart attack, nobody can blame me if the book is late.”

Seriously. That was my immediate thought. Not, “Oh shit, I’m gonna die!” Not, “I should call 911.” Not even, “Oh man, I’m never going to be able to cross ‘catgirl threeway’ off my bucket list.”

(In my opinion, it would be a shame if I never got to use this pic in a blog)

Anyway, my point is that when you’re *glad* to have a heart attack, something’s going wrong in your head.

I don’t tell Betsy about any of this, of course. Because I’m a newbie and I’m scared to death that I’m going to ruin my big chance with my for-real publisher. So I keep telling her everything is fine, and she keeps asking to see the draft of book two.

But I put her off again and again. Another month. Another two weeks. Four more days….

Eventually she says she *needs* it. Seriously. Now.

So I send it to her. It’s a mess. The beginning 100 pages are just a tangle.

Just to make it clear how different it was from the finished version:

1. The manuscript I gave Betsy was 150,000 words shorter than the eventual print version of the book.

2. Vashet didn’t exist. At all.  Bredon didn’t exist. At all.

3. There was no Adem hand talk. No tak. No ring rituals in Severen.

4. There are whole chapters that were nothing more than this:

Chapter 31: [need title]

(Something happens with Ambrose here.)

That’s how bad parts of it were.

So anyway, I send it off to Betsy, nervous as hell. She calls me a couple days later, real concern in her voice, and says, “Pat, this is really rough….”

I say, “Yeah. I know. But I can do it. I can put in the hours.”

Betsy says, “It’s going to be a *lot* of work. There are some real problems in here. Some parts are really skimpy.”

I say, “Yeah. I’m making good progress though. I’ve got my new workspace set up and everything.”

She says, “Book two has to be really solid, you know. People have high expectations. It’s really going to determine the course of your career.”

I say, “I promised book two would be out in a year. I just need to knuckle down and write hard for the next five months. No breaks. I can do it.”

She says, “That’s not really how your process works though. You’re a reviser. You like to get feedback from your readers and tinker with things. There won’t be any time for that if you’re still drafting the book now….”

I say, “I promised though. And I’ve scheduled it out. I’ve been writing 14 hours a day, and so long as I can keep that up….”

She says, “I really don’t think you can make this book as good as it needs to be.”

I say, “I can. I know I can do it.”

She says, “I’m pulling the book out of the production schedule.”

I’m stunned into silence, just standing there in my kitchen. I suddenly feel… good. Like someone had been standing on my chest and they just got off. “You can do that?” I asked her.

“Yeah,” she says, “I’m pulling it. You can’t disappoint people with the second book.”

I say, “Oh thank god.”

*     *     *

I’m paraphrasing a bit, of course.

After that she gave me the space I needed to figure out what the hell I was doing. Time to get my head together. When I gave her the much better draft of the book, she argued with me about some of the bad choices I’d made, and we hammered them out together.

In a nutshell, she saved my career. Probably saved my relationship and my mental health, too.

Needless to say, I think the world of her. She’s an editor that really cares about her authors.

Last year in April, she had her first #1 New York Times Bestseller. (Me)

Last year in October, one of her authors won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. (Nnedi Okorafor.)

And now, after 30 years in the business, she’s just had her first Hugo nomination.

Betsy has my vote. And if you’re eligible, I’m sure she’d like to have yours too.

She’d never say so herself, though. That’s why I’m saying it for her.

Later Space Cowboys….

pat

 

 

Also posted in awards, my terrible wrath, the man behind the curtain, things I shouldn't talk about | By Pat37 Responses

Future Readings and Conventions Past….

So a long time ago, just a couple weeks after my first book came out, I received my first-ever professional convention invite. The convention was called Fantasy Matters, and it was there that I first met Neil Gaiman.

Fast forward to now, the same people that ran the Fantasy Matters convention just started up their own website, and they asked me if I’d write something to help with the launch. So I wrote a little something that talked about attending their convention back in the day. It was one of the very first that I attended as a professional writer, and meeting Neil Gaiman at that point in my life had a bit of an impact on me.

Here’s a link, if you’re interested in reading it…

In other news, I’m going to be doing a reading, Q&A, and signing up in Rhinelander on the 27th.

This should be a fun event for a couple reasons:

1) It should be cozy. (By which I mean there will probably be less than 400 people there.) That means I’ll have more time to hang out and personalize books for people.

2) Since the second book has been out for a couple months now, I can finally answer questions about it during the Q&A, and maybe read a piece of it, too. I couldn’t do that during my tour for fear of spoilers.

3) We’ve got a nice venue in an auditorium. So everyone can have a seat, even if we get 150 people or so. It’s flattering when so many people show up to an event that it’s standing room only, but I feel bad for the people that get stuck standing behind shelves or sitting on the floor.

4) I’ll have access to a projector, which means I might be able to show y’all some things I don’t normally get to share with people….

Here’s a link to the facebook event, if you’d like more details.

pat

Also posted in appearances, meeting famous people, Neil Gaiman | By Pat36 Responses

House on the Rock Part 1: Deadlines and Ducks

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays.

When I was young, I dressed up and went trick-or-treating in my Grampa’s neighborhood because we lived out in the country.

Me, my sister Jamie (the witch), and two of our cousins.

When I was in highschool, I toilet papered people’s houses. (Mostly friends’ houses, honestly. It was a sign of affection.)

When I was in college, I started throwing parties. In fact, I think the first party ever threw was a Halloween party back in 1993. The theme was “Come as your favorite god.” I dressed as Pan, and later that night, downtown with my friends, I got into the only fight of my life dressed in nothing but a leather vest, horns, and a pair of furry tights.

Later in my life, after I had sold my book but before I was published, I went to the Penguin Halloween party dressed as a garden gnome. (Penguin the publisher. It was not a party for actual penguins.)

Note: this was before Anton Strout put on his costume.

I had a smashingly good time. It was the first time I met most of the folks I still work with to this day. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to start our professional relationships off on the right foot.

I mention these things to give you a frame of reference.  Halloween is one of my favorite Holidays.

Earlier this year, my lovely assistant Valerie brought some cool news to my attention. Neil Gaiman was having an event at House on the Rock over Halloween weekend. I was thrilled. I bought tickets for me, Sarah and Oot, my sister, as well as Valerie and several friends.

True, it meant I would have to miss the World Fantasy Convention again. And that’s a convention that, as as professional, I should really make an effort to attend. But this was all the coolness of Halloween, plus Neil Gaiman, PLUS House on the Rock. It was like some sort of mythic trifecta. On top of it all, the event was close enough for me to drive to.

How could I not go?

*     *     *

By the time Friday the 29th rolls around I am a complete mess. I’ve been revising The Wise Man’s Fear for months. Endless revision. Sometimes for fourteen hours at a stretch. My deadline looms over me, and the thought of having to finally let go of the book forever is absolutely terrifying.

At this point I know that planning on going to the House on the Rock was a huge mistake. I have to turn in the book on Nov 1st, and they’re going to use that version to print the Advance Reading Copies of the book. It’s not the final draft of the book, but it’s the version major reviewers and bookbuyers will read. This is a big deal.

Everyone says it will be good for me to get away for the weekend. I need a vacation. I’ve earned it. Etc. But the truth is, if I stayed home, I know I could get another 30 hours of work done on the book.

But I have to go. Sarah will be disappointed if I don’t. I’m meeting friends there, one of them I haven’t seen in more than a year. I’m part of a group costume. I’m moderating a panel on Saturday. I have to go.

We’re late leaving for House on the Rock. It’s my fault, I spent all night revising and didn’t pack. Since I only got four hours of sleep, Sarah offers to drive, and I ride in the back next to Oot. It’s nice, because I don’t get to spend as much time with him as I like. The two and a half hours in the car is more time than I’ve spent with him in the last three days combined.

Oot and I hang out on the ride down to Spring Green. I make up little songs for him. We both play with his feet. He can say “duck” now, so that gives us something to talk about.

Eventually he falls asleep, and I’m thinking of doing the same when the Magellan starts giving us bullshit directions. I don’t handle it well, and I’m bitchy at Sarah and her co-pilot Joyce. They deal with my bullshit with remarkable aplomb.

We make it to House on the Rock with time to spare. There’s some confusion with the tickets, but the House on the Rock people are cool and it all gets worked out.

I meet a couple of friends. I meet my sister. She’s one of my favorite people, and I don’t get to see her nearly as often as I’d like. Hanging out with her helps me settle my shit down a little. We share Oot back and forth, taking turns holding him. The three of us talk about ducks.

7:00 rolls around. The beginning of the festivities. Neil Gaiman is doing a reading and Q&A in a big tent next to the visitor’s center. We take places in the back, partly because I’m a lurker, and partly so that if Oot gets scrawbly we can take him out the back exit before he bothers folks.

Gaiman is charming as always. Gentle and funny and well-spoken. I’ve never heard him otherwise. Oot does get a little noisy. Not fussy, he just likes to talk and doesn’t understand that sometimes he just has to shush. He gets that from me. Sarah takes him out of the tent for a bit. Then she comes back and I grab Oot so she can listen to Gaiman for a while.

Oot and I go into the visitor center so he can take off his coat and walk around. He’s a pretty good walker now, and doesn’t fall very much at all.

Sarah comes in and checks on us ten minutes later. I appreciate that. Sometimes Oot gets unhappy, and nothing can make it better but mom. But right now he’s pretty content, and I’m having a good time too. As I’ve said, I haven’t spent much time with him lately. So I send Sarah back to listen to Gaiman. I’ve heard him speak a couple times before, but she hasn’t.

Oot and I explore a the visitor center. There’s a little wooden bridge that goes over a stream, and it’s really exciting to him. Unfortunately, he’s not too steady on the going up or the coming down. But that’s what makes it exciting for him, I think. I hold his hand and he goes up and down. Up and down.

I’ve brought along a wooden spoon and we play with it. There’s a lot you can do with a wooden spoon. Not only does it go in your mouth, which is fun, but you can bang it on things. You can also poke things with the spoon.

Sarah comes back to check on us. I give her the thumbs up and make a shooing motion. She goes back to listen to Gaiman.

Oot makes it clear that he is determined to explore the trashcan. It is on the floor, and therefore part of his domain. He will not be thwarted in his desire so long as he remains on the floor.

So I pick him up and we walk around for a bit. He can say words other than than “duck.” He can also say, “that.” To the untrained ear, these might sound the same, but I can tell the difference between “duck” “dog” “that” and “dad” though I doubt any linguist in the world could do the same.

So I carry him around and he points at things. When he points, he says, “that.” I’m not entirely sure what he means when he says this, though I have theories. Sometimes I think he’s curious about something he sees, so I tell him what it’s called. Sometimes I think he wants to touch it, so we go touch it.

But most of the time, I think he’s just enjoying being able to communicate. It has to be hard for babies. For so many months all they have is one way to express themselves. They can cry. They have one note, and they have to use it for everything: hunger, discomfort, frustration, boredom, loneliness.

Later on they learn more notes. They can laugh to express joy. They can grunt or suck or grab to express desire. But that’s it. Still very limited.

But now Oot can point and say, “that.” This is a big deal. This is levels beyond what he could do a few months ago. This is abstract.  He’s not just feeling something, he’s actively focusing his attention. He’s apprehending. This isn’t just expression, it’s communication.

What he’s really doing, I think, is saying, “Look. I can see a thing. I’m aware of it, and I want you to know that I’m aware of it.”

At this point in his life, this is the closest he can come to telling me a story.

This is a big deal. So we walk around looking at things. There’s a plant with a bright flower all yellow and red. There’s a wooden bench. There’s a wall. He points at them. He says, “that.”

I nod and point, too. “That,” I agree.

I put him back in his coat,  and together we go back to the tent. We listen to the very end of Neil’s Q&A. People laugh. People applaud. Oot claps too. He smiles. He doesn’t really understand what the applause is for. He’s not clapping for anything. When he claps, he’s saying, “I know something good has happened, and I’m a part of it. We’re all happy.”

And he’s right.

Part two [soon]

Also posted in babies, musings, Neil Gaiman, Oot, the longest fucking blog ever | By Pat54 Responses

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The blog has been a little overwhelmed lately with the Heifer Fundraiser. And while that’s a good thing, I thought I’d take a day’s break and post up something funny. Expect more news and prizes in a day or so….

This is a column I wrote for the College Survival Guide. I thought I’d re-post it now because it seems timely for several reasons….

I wrote this back when I was going to grad school in Washington State. When the end of that semester rolled around, I was overwhelmed. I ended up staying in Washington four extra days so I could finish a paper, and that meant that I missed my family Christmas. I felt awful about it. I still do.

But what’s funny is that my sister cut the column out of the Pointer (the college paper that originally printed the Survival Guide) and took it home for Christmas. Then, when everyone was gathered at home on Christmas eve, Jamie read the column for the family.

General agreement was that it was just as good as having me there. Probably even better in a lot of ways.

*****

Dear Pat,

Well. I see in the Pointer that if we have something to piss and moan about, we are supposed to let you know. So here we go.

The other day I was walking past the University Center. I was cold, but I knew I had to get to the next building for my next class. I was tired, but I knew I had to keep going and make it through the day. I was hungry, but I knew I would have to wait until I got home because I had no money.

While I was approaching the UC building (dreaming about what kind of food I wish I could go and buy) I hear a bell ringing and thought to myself, “No way, they don’t have a Salvation Army guy here at the college.” But sure enough, I got a little closer and I saw that friendly old guy waving his bell in front of his cute little collection pole.

I couldn’t help but glare at him in the way that said “I hate you” and I did, at that moment, hate that man, whoever he was. I glared at him the whole time until I was passed him. I made damn sure he saw me glaring too, I don’t care what he thought.

I am broke. Isn’t everyone here at the college????

I am a full time college student (who happens to live alone) and I work close to 40 hours per week at some cheesy restaurant trying to pay my bills and get an education. Rent, car payment, bills, you know what I mean. No matter what, I never can get ahead enough to even feel like I can treat myself to a nice hot meal.

All the money we students are spending here at college, not to mention the (expensive) parking meters, and yet the college has enough balls to set up a collection for more money. I don’t even have enough money to support myself. You stand here wanting us to help out the less fortunate when we are the less fortunate. We have nothing.

Well. If ya like my piss and moan story-that’s great. I feel confident that you know what I mean here and I hope you help in writing something up on this in your paper, maybe the bell guy would then go away.

Marie

Well Marie, I had a strong response to your letter. Actually, I had two responses, each of them utterly irreconcilable with the other. Luckily, due to an end-of-the-semester psychotic break, I have two fully formed personalities willing to give their opinions on the matter.

Nice Pat’s Response

I know for a fact that the Salvation Army guy isn’t a new thing. I used to see him there in front of the UC every year, and I’ll admit my reaction was somewhat similar to yours. I felt put-upon.

As my dad always said, you can’t get blood from a stone, or pity from a freshman during finals week. Why were they trying to milk me when I was already dry?

Truth is, even well-intentioned college students are usually strapped for cash, especially at the end of the semester. Because of that I always felt the bell ringer could have been put to better use somewhere else. In the mall. Outside Wal-Mart. On the square at bar-time. Onstage, next to that big pole at the New Yorker….

[editor's note: The New Yorker is a local strip club. Or at least, that's what I've heard.]


(This column’s illustration from the anthology)
Evil Pat’s Response

Marie, it’s not that you’re poor. It’s that you’ve has been trained to drool when the bell rings. What do I mean by that? I mean this: You’ve bought into the system, and the system has made you its bitch. Sure I feel sorry for you, but the fact remains that it’s your own damn fault.

I understand that you work 40 hours a week in addition to school. Fine, but don’t expect pity from me just because you follow some outmoded protestant work ethic.

“But I need the money!” I hear you cry.

Bullshit. You think you need the money. The truth is you spend your money on non-essential items. Just like everyone else who’s been inculcated into the three-step easy-bake American dream.

1) Work hard to get money.
2) Use money to buy things.
3) Use things to achieve happiness.

“But I don’t have things! I’m barely making it from bill to bill!”

Bullshit. I know that you’re living in some manner of extravagance because as an undergrad I made on average of 6000 dollars a year. And with that colossal sum I paid my tuition, had my share of hot meals, bought presents for my girlfriend, and still had enough to drop a couple of bucks in the bellringer’s bucket come Christmas time.

How did I achieve this miracle? Well, I never had a car for one thing. I survived nearly a decade in Stevens Point without one, walking to my various jobs and carrying my groceries home.

I never had the luxury of living alone either. Well….that’s not really true. For a year I lived in a one-room apartment with a bathroom down the hallway. It cost me $140 per month, everything included. My friends called it ‘The Pit.’ I stayed there because it was cheap, and that freed up my money for other things, like nudie magazines, leather pants, and grain alcohol.

Here is the unvarnished truth. If you’re poor and in college, you’re not really poor. You’re just indulging in certain luxuries beyond your means. However, there are people in the country that are genuinely poor. People who don’t have cars, or even nasty little one-room ‘pit’ apartments.

Most importantly, those people don’t have a support network of friends and family who are willing to help them out if something bad happens. What those people do have is The Salvation Army. They buy toys for poor-kids and shut-ins for chrissake. You can’t find any fault with an organization like that.

So pony up, pig-licker, and give some jingle to the bucketman.

*****

Years later, I know more than when I wrote this column, and because of that I can, actually find fault with an organization like th
e Salvation Army because I know they actively discriminate against gays. It’s sad, but I just can’t feel good about cheering them on anymore.

To an extent, any charity is better than no charity. But I believe that smart charity is the best charity of all….

More soon,

pat

Also posted in BJ Hiorns Art, College Survival Guide, Fanmail Q + A | By Pat19 Responses
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