Um, okay, I guess I’m nearly recovered enough from Shore Leave to finally get around to posting about it… if I can remember enough.
Let’s see, I set off relatively early on Thursday morning, since it was raining in southwest Ohio and I hoped to get past the weather as soon as I could, before the really harsh stuff caught up with me. Once more, the weather radar app on my smartphone was very helpful in tracking the storm. I did get caught in one pretty heavy downpour, but it was brief.
Oh yes, but before I did anything else, I went to the nearest Kroger gas station to use my fuel discount, and then I went to the Starbucks in the same mall to get coffee for the road. It took me a moment to spot the store, because it didn’t have its name on the sign, only its logo. I suppose that reflects how ubiquitous Starbucks has become, but it’s also a worrying sign that we’re becoming a non-literate society. (Even the New York Times crossword page has redesigned its format to be mostly pictures rather than words. I mean, a crossword page. Think about that.) Anyway, I asked the clerk (barista? I don’t know this arcane terminology yet) for some advice on picking a beverage, something mild and sweet and not bitter, and ended up going for a white mocha thingummy with whipped cream, which wasn’t bad. Still, I found I needed more of a caffeine boost on the road, so over the course of the day I had both of the iced-coffee drinks I’d bought the day before just in case. I’m starting to think that caffeine doesn’t have that much of an effect on me. But the other part of the problem was that I’m out of shape. I’ve been too busy writing lately, too sedentary, so my general endurance and energy levels are down. Driving may be a sedentary activity, but it’s a draining one. I’ll have to remember that in the future, and try to get in better shape before my next long drive. As usual, I had an essentially sleepless night in the motel where I stayed, but the coffee I had the next morning did help me stay reasonably alert for the rest of the drive. I got in to the hotel at just about 3 PM on Friday, and my room was ready promptly.
So anyway, my phone rang while I was on the road Thursday afternoon, but I couldn’t answer it while driving. When I stopped for dinner a bit later and checked my messages, I learned from my cousin Cynthia that our mutual cousin Scott, whom I’d never met, would be attending Shore Leave with his son and hoped we could get together. I was expecting him to show up at Meet the Pros on Friday if he didn’t find me sooner, but he never appeared that night. I contacted him later and found he wouldn’t be in until Sunday.
My first panel on Friday was at 5 PM, so I didn’t have time to rest much in my room, though I did shower and change and transfer stuff into my trusty but worn Shore Leave tote bag that I’ve had since my first visit over a decade ago. The panel was “Keeping it Real: Using Facts in Fiction,” and I and the other panelists, including my friend David Mack, had a pretty good discussion about incorporating real scientific and historical research into our work. After that, I tagged along with Dave and his wife Kara as they checked out the vending area, and then later we got together with a bunch of the other writers and went over to a sports bar in the mall across the way for dinner. We had an interesting conversation, and I had a pretty good chicken wrap with cheese sauce, but I had to step out early because I had an 8 PM panel. I took the second half of my wrap with me to have later, and I hurried back to the hotel on foot, expecting to be late for the panel. I managed to get there just one minute late — only to find that I was the first panelist to arrive, and that the auction scheduled for the previous hour was still going on. The panel I’d rushed to reach started over 15 minutes late, and I had enough time to wolf down the rest of my wrap. Fittingly, it was a panel on SF humor. I used it as a chance to plug Hub Space, but I didn’t have much to contribute beyond that. Fortunately, Peter David was on the panel, so I didn’t have to say much.
I stuck around briefly for the start of Marco Palmieri’s annual 9 PM panel announcing upcoming Tor books, but then I decided I needed to go back to my room and rest up a bit before Meet the Pros at 10. At MtP, I was seated between Dave Mack and a relative newcomer to the Trek line, John Jackson Miller, who’s already known for his Star Wars stuff. Of the three of us, I was the one who got the least attention, because I had the least to promote. Uncertain Logic came out months ago, and I don’t have anything new coming up for a while. I did print up a sort of flyer to promote Hub Space, just a single sheet that I had on display, but nobody took much interest. Maybe I should’ve printed up multiple cards and handed them out, but it was too much of a last-minute decision. Which is not to say that Meet the Pros was a disappointment for me. In addition to meeting my fans (and putting a face to the name of one of the regular commenters over on Tor.com), I got to catch up with some of my friends and colleagues, and talked a bit of business with one of them, which hopefully will turn out well, though I shouldn’t get my hopes up yet.
The new hotel management doesn’t continue the practice of putting preorder menus for Saturday breakfast in our rooms, so instead I just went down to the former Hunt Cafe, which is now yet another Starbucks, and got breakfast there, including another white mocha thingummy (I’m a veteran now!). I don’t remember doing much before my Sherlock Holmes panel at noon. I’m not sure I contributed much there, since the moderator, Kathleen David, wanted to focus on literary Holmes continuations and pastiches, while I was expecting something more screen-oriented. But there was some talk of screen adaptations, so I was able to contribute somewhat. Still, I made a point of seeing Ian McKellen’s Mr. Holmes beforehand, and I don’t think it would’ve made much difference if I hadn’t.
I lucked into a free lunch on Saturday, since I ran into Keith R.A. DeCandido, who brought cold cuts from New York City to provide his friends and colleagues with a less expensive alternative to the hotel restaurant and cafe. I had roast beef with mustard, and it was pretty good. Thanks, Keith!
At 2 PM was the sole Star Trek literature panel, where all of us Trek authors with books coming out in the rest of 2015-16 got together and announced our stuff, as well as the upcoming titles by the authors who weren’t in attendance. You can see the list of titles at Memory Alpha’s Upcoming productions page, including a TOS 5oth-anniversary trilogy by Greg Cox, Dave Mack, and Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, and a TNG trilogy by John Jackson Miller. My own announcements were of two upcoming projects: a 5-year-mission-era TOS novel called The Face of the Unknown, scheduled for January 2017 (released in late December, so just barely squeezing in as part of the 50th anniversary), and a second Department of Temporal Investigations novella, Time Lock, which is not yet scheduled.
After sitting in on the last half of Keith’s Stargate fiction panel from 3-4, I went to the book vendor’s table and did my hour signing autographs in the Author Chimney, the enclosed space between brick pillars where authors sit to do signings. Actually there were one or two non-Chimney spaces for writers at the table this year, but Dave Mack was already there, so I ended up in the Chimney. I actually found the enclosed space kind of comforting. After that, I participated in the annual authors’ ritual of the Saturday night mass visit to Andy Nelson’s Barbecue. I had the same thing I had last year — a pulled turkey barbecue sandwich with cole slaw and cornbread, because Nelson’s makes the only good cole slaw and cornbread I can ever remember having — but I’m thinking that maybe next year I should try something different.
While I was in the Chimney, Kara came up and told me where I could get a new Shore Leave tote bag, since my trusty old one isn’t as trusty anymore, getting kind of worn out and frayed. The vendor was closing up by the time I got there after my signing session, but I went back the next morning and got a new bag, which is fancier than the old one, with more pockets. Hopefully it’ll be useful for years to come.
Sunday morning was the usual authors’ breakfast at the hotel restaurant, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe I should’ve reconsidered that tradition and taken Kevin Dilmore’s suggestion to go out someplace less expensive for breakfast with him and his group. It used to be, back when Pocket Books had an official presence at Shore Leave, that the editor (Marco) picked up the tab for the authors, but these days we’re paying for it ourselves. Still, I’d already told the convention organizers that I’d be at the author breakfast, so I felt obligated to follow through. I had a double-sized breakfast to tide me over and to justify the expense. And I got to chat with some authors I hadn’t already talked to much, including a talk about Gilligan’s Island with Peter David. (Wherein I got to share my theory that Gilligan’s island is the last surviving piece of Captain Nemo’s Mysterious Island. That’s where the 6-foot spider in “The Pigeon” came from!)
I also touched base with cousin Scott and his son before breakfast, and then Scott showed up to watch me at the Orphan Black panel, even though he’s never seen the show. Afterward I showed Scott around the con a bit, and then we joined his son for the back half of John Barrowman’s talk, which was certainly lively — and meaningful, since Barrowman talked a lot about fighting for LGBT inclusion and acceptance, and said a lot of encouraging and affirming things to people from the audience. Afterward, at my suggestion, the three Bennetts went over to the Wegman’s in the mall for lunch — they had pizza, but I was still full from my big breakfast, so I just had a cucumber-blueberry-feta salad (yes, really!) and an iced tea — and then we went back to hang around in the corridor where the actor guests were signing autographs. I’m glad Scott was there, since I usually never get up the nerve to go talk to the actor guests, but I just tagged along with him and thereby got to have conversations with folks like Roger Cross and Jaime Murray. (It was weird getting home the next day and seeing Cross in Dark Matter on the DVR when I’d been talking to him in person just the day before.)
Once Scott and his son went on their way to see other convention stuff and said their farewells, I just hung around and talked more with whatever writer acquaintances were still around — which was serendipitous, since one colleague sounded me out on a very interesting business opportunity that I really hope will prove feasible. That was a good way to end my Shore Leave experience this year, and my mind was racing with the possibilities on the first leg of the drive home. Which is getting ahead of myself, since there are a couple of things I need to find out before I even know whether this is possible; but I always get ahead of myself with these things. Maybe that’s an occupational hazard of a science fiction writer.
I left the hotel at 4:10 PM, which I know because I’ve discovered that my phone’s Google Maps stores a record of my movements — kind of creepy but useful for reference. One reason I’d stuck around was that I’d been hoping for a chance to visit my DC-area cousins Barb and Mark, and I’d texted them to find their plans; but it turned out they wouldn’t be home until late that evening, too late to make it feasible. So I just texted my regrets and headed for home. Given my late start, I was only able to make it midway through Pennsylvania by nightfall — but I had the idea that I should try to make it back to the same motel I’d stayed at on the way out, since I’d been fairly satisfied with it and I didn’t want to take chances with an unknown commodity. Plus, fortunately, I’d picked up two different motel-coupon booklets at a rest stop on Thursday, and thus I had two coupons for the same motel. It belatedly occurred to me that driving west around sunset was a bad idea, but fortunately the sky was overcast most of the time, so I never had to contend with glare in my eyes. I made it to the motel just shortly before sunset and parked in the same space I’d parked in on Thursday night. I even ended up in a room right across the hall from my previous one, and a single digit higher in number. I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t the same room, but missing it by one is almost as good.
At the motel’s complementary breakfast, I had two cups of coffee, and toward the end of the second cup, I noticed some grains that I thought were undissolved bits of sugar. It turned out they were actually coffee grounds. The coffee pot had only just been put in place when I filled my cup, so I guess maybe the grounds hadn’t settled. I just looked into whether there’s anything bad about eating coffee grounds, and it seems the only potential problem is the acidity. I didn’t swallow many before figuring out what they were, though.
I set out fairly early, hoping to get home by mid-afternoon, but as always, it took longer than I hoped, since I needed to take a number of rest breaks. I managed to cross into Ohio just before noon, though. I stopped for lunch at a Subway in a convenience store/truck stop in Cambridge, one that had a small dining area where the TV was playing a basketball game. It slowly dawned on me that it must’ve been a replay of a classic game, since I recognized the Chicago Bulls lineup from back when my father was a fan of them — names like Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, and even Michael Jordan. Checking Wikipedia, it looks like that narrows it down to 1995-98. It was against the New York Knicks, but I can’t narrow it down any more than that. I generally couldn’t care less about basketball, but it was interesting to realize that it was a game my late father might well have watched and enjoyed when it was new.
My phone told me there was some rain coming in between Columbus and Cincinnati again, so I decided to wait it out at a rest stop east of Columbus — where I had yet another cup of coffee to stave off fatigue. I thought I’d stayed there for a significant amount of time, but my Maps timeline tells me it was only 22 minutes. Which it claims to be my last stop before reaching home, but I think I stopped briefly at another rest area on I-71, so I guess it doesn’t catch everything. (And maybe it was longer than 22 minutes at that.) Anyway, my timing was pretty bad, since it was rush hour when I got into Cincinnati. I’d just about decided to get off a few exits early and make it the rest of the way home by the surface roads (why do they call them that?? It’s not like freeways are underground or hovering in midair, usually), but the traffic started to clear off and I figured, hey, it’s not likely to crowd up again within the next three miles, right? So I stayed on the freeway. Only to spot another traffic jam — just five seconds too late to make it off onto the last exit before mine. Arrgghhh! I was stuck crawling forward for most of the last mile and a half before my exit. Really, really frustrating.
And then I got home to find a note under my door from the building manager. Turns out the downstairs storage lockers had been broken into while I was out. Fortunately I don’t keep anything valuable in there, so nothing was taken. But the combination lock I’ve had since high school was destroyed. I still have two others, from my gym locker and my shop locker, but that was my main lock! Waaaah!
I’ve spent the past couple of days recuperating and catching up on recorded shows, as well as getting groceries. At the hotel, they had “coffee pods” that were basically tea bag-like filter packets that went into the coffee maker’s funnel, but it occurred to me one could just use them like tea bags, so I took a few of them home with me for later use. I also checked the grocery store shelf yesterday and found actual coffee bags. I just tried my first one of those this morning, and it’s not very good, but at least it’s convenient. The quest for a good coffee option continues. Maybe I should just buy a small coffee maker and filters and get some good grounds from the natural foods store. They have some beans that are infused with sweet flavor and thus don’t need anything added.
So anyway, that’s my combined travel/Shore Leave/family visit post, only three days late. I had a good time this year. Although the long drive is still wearying, the weekend didn’t feel as rushed as it did when I flew last year. And I got to catch up with my friends, I got to meet another cousin, I got to talk to some actors, I got a new tote bag and some interesting meals, and I got a couple of iffy but hopefully promising work opportunities, both from conversations in the same hotel corridor (though at opposite ends of it). With luck, I’ll be able to say more about one or both of those in times to come.
I’ve been so busy writing lately that I forgot to post any updates about this weekend’s Shore Leave convention in Baltimore, which I’ll be attending as usual. This year, I’m going back to driving there, since my trip by plane last year made the whole thing feel like it raced by too fast. I like having a bit more flexibility with my comings and goings. The prospect of the long drive each way is a bit forbidding, but now that I’ve started drinking coffee, hopefully that will shore me up (no pun intended) for the effort. I’ve also spent rather a lot on car repairs, including all-new tires, brake pads, drive belt, and transmission seals, to make sure I don’t break down along the way. Well, to make sure the car doesn’t break down. The coffee is to make sure I don’t break down.
Anyway, the schedule is now up at the Shore Leave site:
The writers’ track is surprisingly light on Trek Lit-related panels this year, perhaps because Shore Leave has a more diversified list of author guests these days. Still, I managed to find five panels to be on, and here are my scheduled appearances:
Keeping it Real: Using Facts in Fiction — 5 PM, Salon A
A panel about working real science and information into science fiction is right up my alley, so I’m glad they were apparently able to find room for me at the last minute (although I’m not listed on the published pocket program, which apparently is not completely up to date on panel membership). Also slated to feature Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Kathleen David, Mary Louise Davie, Charles E. Gannon, Amy Griswold, and David Mack.
Humor in Sci-Fi — 8 PM, Hunt Ballroom
A chance for me to talk about Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy and maybe my use of humor in Only Superhuman and Star Trek. Lorraine Anderson, Russ Colchamiro, Peter David, and Daniel Morris will probably have more to talk about than I do, though. Be sure to stick around Hunt afterward for Marco Palmieri’s annual “What’s New in Tor Books” panel, followed by:
Meet the Pros — 10 PM, Hunt/Valley Corridor
The annual 2-hour mass signing event where all the author guests will be available to autograph whatever you bring or buy.
All Roads Lead to Holmes — Noon, Salon A
Writers being fannish, as we talk about all the various incarnations of Sherlock Holmes out there today. My only writerish qualification for a Holmes panel is that one essay I wrote, but I am a longtime fan. The other Irregulars include Kathleen David, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Robert Greenberger, and Melissa Scott.
What’s Coming from Star Trek — 2 PM, Chase Ballroom
That is, what’s coming in Star Trek literature from Pocket. This (or Meet the Pros) is the place to come if you want to hear about Rise of the Federation, since it’s pretty much the only panel this year that’s specifically about Trek Lit, including all the guests with upcoming Trek books: myself, Kirsten Beyer, Peter David, Kevin Dilmore, Dave Galanter, David Mack, John Jackson Miller, and Dayton Ward.
Orphan Black Season 3 — 11 AM, Salon F
My only morning panel this year — nice. I have no connection to Orphan Black except as a fan, but I’ll be there, along with Kirsten Beyer, Marco Palmieri, Susanna Reilly, and Jennifer Rosenberg.
Beyond that, I’ll be wandering around and will try to do my stint in the Author Chimney at the book table, which is traditionally located on the lower level between the escalators and the Hunt/Valley corridor.
I’m pleased to announce that I recently sold another novelette to Analog Science Fiction and Fact. It’s called “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad,” and though the Agatha Christie nod is intentional, the primary reference is to a different kind of railroad… well, you’ll see. But yes, this is a murder mystery, my second after “No Dominion” — although that was more a police procedural, while this is a proper whodunit with clues hidden in plain sight. But not everything is as it seems, and there are a couple of pretty major surprises.
“Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” is also my first Analog story in 15 years that isn’t set in the Hub universe. In fact, it’s going back to my main original universe, the one my first two Analog stories occupied. It takes place in the same colonized Solar System setting as Only Superhuman but about 15 years earlier, and it connects indirectly to the backstory of one of that novel’s major characters. (That’s because I wrote an earlier version of this story years ago and cannibalized it for ideas when fleshing out that character’s past.) A hint: The story involves the nature of artificial intelligence and the ethics of AI rights.
No word yet on the publication date, but I’ll let you all know once I find out.
The Cincinnati Library Comic Con was today. I don’t have a picture of myself from there this time, and maybe that’s just as well, because I was kind of frazzled. The day didn’t start out well. First, I lost track of time and had to rush through lunch and hurry out to my car. Then I found that my car wouldn’t start — the battery must’ve died. The one other person in the lot didn’t know anything about jumpstarting cars, and in retrospect, that was just as well, since even if I’d made it downtown, I would’ve probably needed another jumpstart to get back home again. Anyway, I hurried down to the bus stop, lugging my bag of books to sell, and just barely made it in time to catch the bus. I made it in time — early, in fact — but it wasn’t an auspicious beginning.
For a while, too, it seemed like I wasn’t going to sell many books. As I said in my earlier post, I decided to focus on my superhero stuff this year based on what sold last year, bringing mainly copies of Only Superhuman and my last few leftover copies of my two Marvel novels, and as an afterthought I brought a few Trek novels: a couple of copies each of Ex Machina, The Buried Age, and Greater Than the Sum. But somehow, for the first hour or so, it was only the Trek novels that people were interested in buying. Perhaps it’s because I brought TOS and TNG books this time instead of the more unfamiliar stuff like DTI and Rise of the Federation. Anyway, after a while, I was afraid I wouldn’t move any of the OS hardcovers and would end up making substantially less money than I did last year. Fortunately, things picked up right near the end and I finally sold a couple of the OS hardcovers, as well as four of the five Marvel books. I made nearly as much as I did last year — though that new car battery is probably going to eat up all of it and then some.
Still, I wonder why I had more trouble getting people interested in OS this year. I suspect it’s because I wasn’t pitching it as well. The problems with my car and racing for the bus threw me off and tired me out, and I didn’t do that great a job talking it up. So even though I managed to come out of the day okay, I feel I could’ve done better.
Also, when one person asked me to write down my website address for them, I wasn’t thinking clearly and I put an “@” before “wordpress.com” instead of a period. I hope they figure out what it’s supposed to be.
The weirdest question I got from a convention guest today was when someone asked me if The Hunger Games had anything to do with Star Trek. I have no idea what led to that question. (The only connection I’ve been able to find is that Robert Knepper is in Mockingjay and was also in TNG: “Haven” and VGR: “Dragon’s Teeth.” Although you could get a degrees-of-separation thing with Jennifer Lawrence and Sir Patrick Stewart both being in X-Men: Days of Future Past, or Philip Seymour Hoffman and Simon Pegg both being in Mission: Impossible III.) I did have a couple of more constructive conversations with people interested in writing and wanting to learn about the process. Hopefully I was coherent enough to be helpful.
Thanks to LeeAnn and the library staff for their invitation to the event and their support while I was there!
I got my latest royalty statement for Only Superhuman today, and since the last few have been less than satisfying, I didn’t have much hope that this one would be any different. I’d been edging slowly closer toward the point where the royalties would exceed my advance, but I was starting to doubt if I’d ever actually get there. So imagine my thrilled surprise when I opened the envelope and discovered there was a check enclosed! Not a huge check, but a check! I made it! For the first time in my life, one of my novels has earned out its advance. It’s not as big a success as I was hoping for — I still think I would’ve reached this point sooner if there had been more copies of the mass-market paperback published and put on shelves in the first place, so that readers could find it — and it’s not an achievement that’s going to put me on the map any more than I was before, but it is a goal reached and surpassed, however modestly. And it’s a career first. That’s something to be proud of. Plus, it means that any further sales of the book will earn me more money, at least in small amounts. It’s still available in every edition except MMPB.
(The check was well-timed, too. Not only is it a bit of extra money at a time when I could use some, but it came within 24 hours of two other unrelated checks, so I only needed to take one trip to the bank to deposit all three.)
Emerald Blair herself is head over heels about the news:
Okay, it’s the same pose she’s been in since 2012, but she really means it this time!
Once again, I’ll be signing books at the Cincinnati Library Comic Con on Saturday, May 16. Here’s my post on last year’s event. I did much better selling Only Superhuman and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder there than any of my Star Trek stuff, so this year I think I’m going to focus mainly on my superhero stuff. I still have a good supply of Only Superhuman hardcovers (which moved pretty well last year), and I’ve got a very few copies remaining of Drowned in Thunder and X-Men: Watchers on the Walls that I’ve been holding on to “just in case” for long enough that it’s probably time I did something with them. (And I’ll probably bring a few Trek books too.) So anyone who’s in the Cincinnati area and wants signed copies of those books — with a portion of the sale price to be donated to the library, so it’s for a good cause — should be at the Main Library on 800 Vine Street in downtown Cincinnati between noon and 5 PM on May 16. Here are directions and parking info.
I’m pleased to announce that Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy has just gone on sale! That’s right, one advantage of e-publishing is that it takes hardly any time at all to get a finished book out to the public. Here’s the cover and blurb:
The Hub is the most important place in the galaxy — the single point through which all interstellar travel must pass. Yet no one in the galaxy understands how it works. David LaMacchia, an unimportant man from an unimportant planet called Earth, is determined to change that. He’s got no qualifications and no skills. His only friends are a cynical, sharp-tongued space pilot named Nashira Wing and a smugly philanthropic alien named Rynyan, and they both think he’s crazy. On top of that, the powers that profit from the Hub might just be trying to kill him. Still… that won’t stop David from trying to prove that humanity can make a difference to the greater galaxy.
Now the tales of the Hub from the pages of Analog are collected for the first time in one volume, newly revised and expanded! Includes “The Hub of the Matter,” “Home is Where the Hub Is,” and “Make Hub, Not War,” plus exclusive bonus material!
Considering that the cover is assembled from stock images, I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. It evokes the character dynamic of Vladimir Bondar’s art from the Russian edition of “The Hub of the Matter,” while coming closer to how I envisioned David and Nashira’s appearance. Too bad there wasn’t any stock art of a leonine humanoid alien with a feathery mane.
Hub Space is priced at $3.99 US and can be purchased from the following vendors: