Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Shore Leave’

Remember, the Shore Leave STRANGE NEW WORLDS panel is tonight!

One last notice — I’m on the virtual Shore Leave panel discussing Star Trek: Strange New Worlds at 7 PM EDT tonight! You can register for a “seat” in the audience here, with no Zoom account required:

https://www.shore-leave.com/programming/schedule.htm

 

Categories: Star Trek Tags: ,

This year, Shore Leave comes to you!

That’s right, in the topsy-turvy Bizarro universe we now inhabit, Shore Leave, the convention named for the act of going away from where you usually are to somewhere else, is doing the opposite of that. Since none of us will be physically traveling to Hunt Valley, MD for Shore Leave 42 until (we hope) next year, we will instead be holding Shore Leave 41.5 — The Virtual Experience, using Zoom and other online means to make content available to the public.

The event will be on the weekend of July 10-12, starting this Friday, and so far we’ve got several Zoom panels lined up, as well as virtual versions of the usual filk concert and Saturday night Masquerade. The schedule is available here:

https://www.shore-leave.com/programming/schedule.htm

Since it’s a lighter schedule than usual, and they want to make room for all the guests, each “attendee” will only be doing one panel this weekend, though I gather there’s further content being tentatively planned beyond the weekend. My one panel will be right at the start on Friday at 7-8 PM EDT, a discussion of what we expect and hope for from the upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds series featuring Captain Pike. I’ll be joined on Zoom by John Jackson Miller, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Michael Jan Friedman, Dayton Ward, and Amy Imhoff.

Now, what I’m wondering is, should this event instead be called Shore Arrive?

Categories: Star Trek Tags: , ,

Shore Leave on hold

Unsurprising but sad news — the organizers of the Shore Leave convention have prudently decided to postpone Shore Leave 42 until July 9-11, 2021.

They’re not calling it a cancellation, just a postponement, since the guests are still committed and tickets already purchased can be saved for next year unless the buyers prefer a refund. But effectively it’s still the same — no Shore Leave this year.

This is sad for me, since I haven’t missed a Shore Leave since I started attending in, I think, 2005. That’s 15 consecutive years, and this breaks my streak. Although in a way, it doesn’t — I’m not actually missing the convention because it’s not being held. It’s just taking twice as long between consecutive ones.

As it happens, I never committed to come this year, because I was waiting until my finances improved, and then when COVID-19 happened I waited, just in case this happened. But hopefully by next year, things will be safer and I’ll be back along with the other guests. Although I believe we’ll need to establish a thorough nationwide testing and containment protocol first, a way to identify and isolate infected people so everyone else can resume normal lives — something that still seems quite far away under the current status quo.

For now, though, we’ll just have to stay in touch online through blogs, Facebook, and other outlets. I should have Arachne’s Crime and hopefully Arachne’s Exile coming out soon, plus there’s my Patreon page and this very blog. Some people have organized virtual conventions of sorts online, so maybe we’ll see something like that happening.

For now, though, everyone stay safe. Think about it! We get to help save the world by staying home, reading, and watching TV! What could be a more worthy mission for sci-fi nerds? 😀

Post-Shore Leave wrap-up

Well, I’m home at last, recovering from my drive home yesterday. Shore Leave this year was a mixed bag for me; the con was mostly fine, but due to various circumstances, mostly my own situation, I wasn’t able to enjoy it as fully as usual.

On Saturday evening, I had hung out with my fellow authors for our annual BBQ dinner; this year, because several of us had late panels, the ever-generous Keith R.A. DeCandido and his wife Wrenn ordered a take-out catering package for us to have at a reserved suite at the hotel, instead of driving out there en masse as usual. I kind of missed the chance to get out of the hotel and experience the ambience of the BBQ place, but we were able to have a larger group of authors, and I was able to make a second pulled-turkey BBQ sandwich to keep in my hotel room fridge for lunch the next day (which is good, since it cost more per person than I usually spend at the restaurant). I also got to have a nice conversation with the charming and multitalented Mary Fan, an author, acrobat, composer, and who knows what else.

Although I got so caught up in the conversation that I failed to realize I’d bit the inside of my lip rather hard and repeatedly while eating my sandwich. I had to bow out early, and the next morning it looked badly bruised, so out of an excess of caution, I sought out the hotel’s medical staffer just to make sure it wasn’t infected or something (it was fine). Later on, I was on two consecutive panels in the same room, so I was able to stay in my seat for both. The first was a panel on toxic masculinity and alternatives to it in fiction, with panelists including the aforementioned Mary Fan (who thought Emerald Blair looked “badass” on the Only Superhuman cover, which is a great compliment from someone who’s pretty badass herself), and the second was one on trickster figures in fiction, which I only had a tenuous reason to be on (Emerald Blair can perhaps be considered a bit of a trickster, as can Rynyan and Tsshar in the Hub series).

Ultimately I didn’t really do much beyond panels this year, since the vagaries of bad timing meant that I had a novel deadline on Monday and I had to spend most of the time holed up in my hotel room revising the draft manuscript, which had come out a bit too short and needed fleshing out. Also, for some reason, the con’s book vendor didn’t have any copies of Star Trek: TOS — The Captain’s Oath for sale, and I didn’t bring any of my own since I assumed the vendor would have them. So I wasn’t able to sell many books this year, although what with all my economizing on the trip (eating homemade meals, avoiding some but not all toll roads, driving all the way to and from my cousins’ in DC rather than staying at motels), I was able to come out nearly $47 ahead on this trip. It would’ve been over $50, but I had to buy a new power cord for my phone en route.

Oh, my phone. Ugh. In addition to the power cord problem, the GPS kept crashing on me. And I’m so reliant on GPS that I don’t know the way from the Shore Leave hotel to my cousins’ place without it. Well, I have paper Google maps printouts I could’ve used, but the GPS directed me away from the printed route due to crashes on some highway, so I tried to wing it, made the wrong turn (onto I-83 instead of I-495), and ended up hopelessly lost in the middle of Baltimore. Once I got the GPS working briefly, enough to make my way back to a familiar highway, I tried to rely on my printed map from there, but made the wrong turn again at a confusing exit and got lost a second time! Eventually, after a couple of more false starts with the GPS, I finally ended up on a local road I remembered from coming in on Thursday, just a few miles from my cousins’ house, so I no longer needed the GPS — and that’s when the GPS started working reliably!!!! GRRRRRRRRR!!! I was utterly frazzled by the time I got to Barb & Mark’s, and not great company when we went over to their friend’s for dinner as usual. (Mark suggested that the problem was that I’d enabled offline maps and it was eating up my phone’s memory. I changed the settings as he recommended, and my GPS still crashed at one point on the way home on Tuesday, but it kept working steadily as long as I shut off the phone screen and put it on standby during the long stretches between notifications. Honestly, I barely needed it once I got onto I-68W, and certainly not once I got to I-70.)

Anyway, I spent pretty much all day Monday alone at Barb & Mark’s house (aside from their dog and cats), which was perfect, since I needed both a day to recover from that horrible drive on Sunday and a quiet day to concentrate fully on finishing up the manuscript before the deadline. I managed to turn it in on time and close enough to the target word count, and significantly improved by fleshing out some supporting characters who needed it. (Sometimes it’s good to add a whole subplot in a day, weaving it into the existing storyline, since it gives it cohesiveness and keeps you in the right mindset to write it.) So I’m finally done with that (until I get editorial notes), and hopefully soon I’ll be able to tell you what it was.

Thanks to my cousins buying turkey and cheese for me, I was able to make a couple of sandwiches for the drive home on Tuesday, and to take the remaining turkey and cheese home with me as well, along with an extra ice pack in my insulated grocery bag. The drive home was by the fastest possible route, which Google Maps said would take a bit over 8 hours, but it took me something over 11 hours, which seems excessive even given all the rest areas I stopped at. But then, I was caught in rush hour traffic in both DC and Columbus and at least one similar slowdown in between, so that added somewhat to the travel time.

(Though it could’ve been worse. Since Barb disagreed with the phone GPS about the best route out of town, I went with the version on my map printout and almost made a wrong turn again when it told me to go right at the fork to stay on I-495W when the road signs said that was the left fork. At first I went left, but then I had doubts, and since the road behind me was empty, I stopped, backed up, and parked myself on the marked-off triangle of pavement between the two roads, staring at the signs, before finally deciding I’d probably been correct to go left all along, so I went left again. Fortunately, it turned out to be the right call, and the trip was mostly pretty straightforward from there. I’ve scratched out the “right” on that step on the printout and written in “left” so I won’t make that mistake again.)

So now I’m home, but I still don’t feel quite settled in. The fatigue hasn’t left me, and I have to get groceries and catch up on a lot of TV. I also have an overdue video at the library due to bad timing; I wasn’t able to watch it before going because of my manuscript, and I wasn’t able to renew it because it was reserved. So I’ll have to watch it and get it back today, just one day late.

Once I’m a bit more recovered, I’ll get on with reviewing my editor’s notes on Arachne’s Crime, which have been waiting on my computer since last week. After that, I have an original project I’ve been working on that I need to get back to. And then… we’ll see. I still have some car repairs that I wasn’t able to get done before the trip. For one thing, it seemed that the wiper fluid sprayer was fixed, but it stopped working again late in the drive home.

In the meantime, I picked up some new copies of Among the Wild Cybers at Shore Leave, replenishing my stock, so I now have five copies available as part of my autographed book sale. If you buy them, I can say I made more of a profit from my trip! And don’t forget, I have a bunch of copies of The Captain’s Oath for sale too, so you can help me make up for not being able to sell any at Shore Leave.

Shore Leave news — Announcing ARACHNE’S CRIME and ARACHNE’S EXILE!

It’s Saturday night at Shore Leave, and I’m only getting around to posting now since I’ve been busy trying to revise a manuscript by its Monday deadline (lousy timing, I know, but it can’t be helped). I can’t yet say what it’s for, but I do have other big news below.

Anyway, I had a better drive in than expected; there were thunderstorms along my path all day Thursday, but by luck, I managed to stay just behind the tail end of the storms the whole trip, with just a brief period of drizzle in Eastern Ohio and clear skies the rest of the way. I stayed at my cousins’ overnight, worked on the manuscript Friday morning, got into the hotel Friday afternoon, then stayed in my room working until the What’s New in Trek Fiction panel where I couldn’t really talk about anything except the new Star Trek Adventures games I’ve got coming up in the next month or two, theoretically. Meet the Pros was fairly quiet, but I got to talk to writer friends and that was good. Today, I was on a “Batman Turns 80” panel for no particular reason (though it was a nice talk, led by Greg Cox, who — unlike me — has actually written Batman fiction), then I was on two consecutive Star Trek Adventures panels (one about the game, one about how to write/pitch for it, which I wasn’t scheduled for but crashed anyway). Then at 6 came the eSpec Books panel run by the company’s owner/editor Danielle McPhail, and though we literally had an equal number of audience members as panelists (5 each), it was here that I got to make my big announcement.

And here it is: eSpec Books has acquired my duology Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile. I’ve talked about this project intermittently on my blog over the past few years, though not under those titles. Readers of my original work may recognize Arachne as the name of the colony starship from my first published story, “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” from the November 1998 Analog, reprinted in Among the Wild Cybers. To quote the story description from my AtWC page:

The colony ramship Arachne accidentally destroys a space habitat of the nomadic Chirrn while its crew is suspended in hibernation.  Even if the colonists can persuade the Chirrn that the disaster was an accident, will they still be held culpable for negligent mass murder?  And can they get a fair trial despite the Chirrn’s mistrust of planet-dwellers?

I always wanted to continue the story of the Arachne crew in the wake of that novelette’s outcome, so I eventually settled on the idea of doing a novel that would incorporate the original story but expand on it and continue the tale beyond it. It turned out that some of the science in the original story (concerning the feasibility of interstellar ramjets) was implausible, so I eventually decided I needed to break with my usual “Keep everything consistent” policy and do a whole new version that would replace the original story in my universe’s continuity. Once I made that choice, it freed me up to make other changes and really add depth to the story and characters. (Most of the original story’s events and dialogue are still in there, though. Consider it an inaccurate account of the same event, superseded by a much fuller and more accurate version.)

The expanded and corrected retelling of AVG is just the first half of Arachne’s Crime, though. The rest of the novel continues the tale beyond the verdict, as the crew of Arachne adjusts to their new status within the Chirrn’s civilization — which includes a number of Chirrn who did not agree with the verdict and have their own ideas about obtaining justice. Both halves let me flesh out the Chirrn’s culture, biology, and psychology much more richly than in the original story, as well as intensifying the human drama far more than in the original tale.

The events of Arachne’s Crime then build to a climax that leads into the second novel, Arachne’s Exile, which opens up the narrative to a more cosmic, epic scope, bringing in more new species and exotic environments, and really fleshing out the big-picture galactic culture and history of my primary SF universe more than anything I’ve had published to date.

The reason I have a duology all ready to go, by the way, is that it was a single really long novel for years, but I was never able to sell it at that length. Eventually I started to think about submitting it to small publishers with word-count limits per volume, which would require cutting it in two, something I resisted for a while because I saw it as one story. But eventually I realized it had been trying to be two stories all along, that there were elements resolved in the first half and others not introduced properly until the second. Cramming them together probably kept the book from feeling properly focused. Splitting the tale into two distinct phases turned out to work much better, tightening the focus of each volume. Also, since the natural breaking point was less than halfway through, I needed to expand the first book to make it a suitable length, which let me flesh out a lot of Chirrn worldbuilding I’d glossed over in my rush to part 2, as well as adding a new climax to make part 1 more of a complete book on its own. I also added new material to the start of Exile to reintroduce the characters and story threads. I’ve always felt that a story told in two or more volumes should be made of distinct parts that work somewhat independently, rather than just being one long story arbitrarily divided by length (which was why I resisted splitting Arachne until I realized it worked better as two connected stories).

The current plan is to run the Kickstarter campaign for Arachne’s Crime in the early fall, with the book hopefully coming out fairly soon thereafter. Arachne’s Exile is expected to follow sometime in 2020.

Just think… this time a year ago, I had only two original books in print, Only Superhuman and Hub Space. Now I have a third (Among the Wild Cybers) with the fourth (Crimes of the Hub) due out very, very soon. By this time next year, I’ll have six original books in print. (Which are either 3 novels and 3 collections or 4 novels and 2 collections, depending on how you count Crimes of the Hub, which is three stories collected and blended into a short fix-up novel.) Hopefully I’ll have copies of all six to show off and sell at next year’s Shore Leave!

My Shore Leave 2019 schedule

The Shore Leave schedule is now online here:

https://www.shore-leave.com/programming/schedule.htm

Here are my panels, with descriptions quoted from the convention booklet:

FRIDAY 7/12:

What’s New in Star Trek Fiction — 6 PM, Salon E/F
What are the latest plans for Star Trek publications?
John Jackson Miller, Dayton Ward, David Mack, Christopher L. Bennett, Scott Pearson
Meet the Pros — Hunt/Valley Corridor, 10 PM – midnight
The usual mass signing event for all the authors, where I assume I’ll be at the eSpec Books table for the convention debut of the Footprints in the Stars anthology. I also plan to have copies of older books to sell and sign, including Only Superhuman and some Star Trek back titles.
SATURDAY 7/13:
Batman Turns 80! — 1 PM, Salon E
2019 is Batman’s 80th anniversary. What is it about the Dark Knight that accounts for his longevity as a pop-cultural icon? And where does he go from here?
Greg Cox, Russ Colchamiro, Christopher L. Bennett, Glenn Hauman, Keith R.A. DeCandido
Star Trek Adventures RPG Discussion & Workshop — 3 PM, Tack Room
The newest Star Trek RPG is running full speed ahead! Come learn more about the game and its upcoming releases from developers and writers. Also learn about professional RPG writing processes and how to pitch adventure ideas for possible publication.
Jim Johnson, Derek Attico, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Christopher L. Bennett, Scott Pearson
Meeting eSpec Books — 6 PM, Derby Room
The publishers, editors, and authors of eSpec Books discuss their new and upcoming releases, including novels by Keith R.A. DeCandido, Christopher Bennett, and Bud Sparhawk and new volumes in their ever-popular Defending the Future and Beyond the Cradle anthology series.
Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Mike McPhail, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Christopher L. Bennett, Robert Greenberger, Dayton Ward
SUNDAY 7/14:
Toxic Masculinity and Its Alternatives in SFF — 11 AM, Derby Room
Panelists explore their own concepts of masculinity as it relates to their writing, as well as how they address toxic gender expectations and stereotypes in their stories and worldbuilding.
Kelli Fitzpatrick, Mary Fan, Amy Imhoff, Dave Galanter, Christopher L. Bennett
Meet the Tricksters — Noon, Derby Room
Trickster characters populate myth, religion, and fiction. How do tricksters influence storytelling and societies? What do they tell characters (and us) about possible ways of navigating the world?
David Mack, Jenifer Rosenberg, Christopher L. Bennett, TJ Perkins

 

As usual, be sure to check out the book vendor’s table on the lower level, where some of my books will be on sale and where you might find me and other authors doing signing stints.

 

 

The Kickstarter for my next anthology is open!

We’re at it again, folks! eSpec Books has just opened a new Kickstarter for three anthologies, including Footprints in the Stars, which features my new Troubleshooter story “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of.”

The first anthology being fundraised for is In Harm’s Way, Volume 8 of editor Mike McPhail’s military-SF anthology series Defending the Future, which has a focus on rescue and recovery missions (an idea I think is pretty cool), and contains stories by Brenda Cooper, Bud Sparhawk, David Sherman, Edward J. McFadden, Robert E. Waters, Jeff Young, James Chambers, Lisanne Norman, Robert Greenberger, Aaron Rosenberg, Christopher M. Hiles, Eric Hardenbrook, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

Footprints in the StarsOnce that book is funded, the other two anthologies will be funded as stretch goals:

Footprints in the Stars: “A traditional science fiction collection with the theme of the discovery of evidence of other life in the universe and how those discoveries impact humanity. With stories by James Chambers, Robert Greenberger, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Aaron Rosenberg, Christopher L. Bennett, Dayton Ward, Russ Colchamiro, Vincent Collins, Bryan J. Glass, Gordon Linzner, Ian Randall Strock, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.”

Devil Dancers is a single-author military-SF collection by Robert E. Waters, containing reprinted and original stories in the titular universe.

The fundraising goal for In Harm’s Way is $800. Once we reach $1900, then Footprints in the Stars will be funded, and Devil Dancers will be funded at $2800. As with last time, there are also bonus stories and other rewards for people who pledge certain amounts, which will all be spelled out at the Kickstarter page — just click on the widget up above. The Kickstarter will remain open until May 19, 2019.

I’m told that Footprints in the Stars is scheduled to make its debut at this year’s Shore Leave Convention in Baltimore from July 12-14, which I expect to be attending as usual. The eSpec folks are going to be there as well, and we’re going to have a panel and stuff.

So everybody start Kickstarting! Or… whatever.

More car woes

Even though I was feeling a little under the weather this morning, and even though we had actual rainy weather this morning, I decided to take a quick shopping trip during the lull in the rain, to visit a local store I haven’t been to in a while and need one or two things from now that I have some money again. Imagine my surprise when my car wouldn’t start. I just got a new battery a few weeks ago!! Luckily the building maintenance guys were right there, and they gave me a jump start and determined that the battery was still holding a charge; it had just been drained by something. I realized my headlights were reflecting off their truck, and when I tried to turn them off, nothing happened. Somehow, they were stuck in high-beam mode.

So I drove straight to the garage, and the guy there told me he had a lot of jobs and couldn’t get to me until Tuesday. I was just about resigned to driving back home and getting another jump start on Tuesday, but he decided to take a quick look at the problem, and in trying to force the lever on the steering column to turn off the lights, he managed to break the lever altogether. So now I had to leave it in the shop. (Is it even street legal to drive without working lights or turn signals? I guess I could’ve stuck my hand out the window and signalled turns manually the old-fashioned way.) But to his credit, the guy tried harder to find a solution and promised me he could get a new part delivered and installed by tonight.

But I wasn’t up to walking home in my condition, and it had started to rain again, and I’d forgotten my umbrella. Not to worry, though; the guy offered to arrange a ride for me, on the garage’s dime. So I’ve now taken my first ever Uber ride. There was an Uber driver just a minute or two away at the university, so I didn’t have to wait long at all. So that was handy, although it meant I had to skip my shopping trip. Hopefully I’ll be up to walking to the garage to pick the car up whenever they’re done with it.

I think there may have been a harbinger of this problem on my recent Shore Leave trip. On the way back, I was returning to my car at a rest stop when I noticed the high beams were on. It took me a while to remember how to turn them off, and when I determined it was by pulling the lever toward me, I figured I must’ve accidentally done so at some point. But maybe it happened spontaneously and was a warning sign of the problem. But because I’d had that problem before, I was extra-careful the last time I used the car to make sure the lights were off when I was done with it. But it looks like there’s a problem with the internal switch, so that didn’t make a difference after all.

It’s always the way, isn’t it? As soon as you get money, new expenses crop up. Well, I guess it’s better than having it happen before you get money.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

I’ve sold my first fantasy story!

In my last post, I mentioned waking up Saturday morning at Shore Leave to find good news in my e-mail. The good news is that I’ve finally sold my first-ever short story in the fantasy genre rather than science fiction. It’s a fairly short piece called “The Melody Lingers,” a tale of magic harnessed through music, and I’ve been trying to sell it for years, honing it through various rejections. I’d pretty much run out of markets for it until I learned that Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, edited by fellow Cincinnatian Mike Resnick, was opening to general submissions. It was too long for Mike as written, but he said he’d take another look if I trimmed it down considerably — which is ironic, because the version I submitted was expanded from the first draft. I ended up going pretty much back to the story’s original structure, although incorporating enough of the improvements I’d made along the way to make it work. It was on Saturday morning that I got the acceptance and the contract, and fortunately they accepted an electronically signed contract, so I could send it right back without needing to wait until I could get it printed out and find a post office (or, well, I guess hotels can mail things for their guests). I just got the check today, which is very fast service.

“The Melody Lingers” is set in a fantasy world called Thayara that I’ve been developing since the ’90s (probably inspired by my college friends who were heavily into fantasy) and have made occasional attempts on and off to write stories in. This particular story focuses only on one limited part of that larger world, and it isn’t the tale I’d imagined as being the introduction to Thayara, but hey, it’s a start. I can finally say I’ve written fantasy professionally. And now that I’ve sold this one, it might inspire me to put renewed effort into writing more stories in this setting — sooner or later, once more pressing responsibilities are past.

I don’t yet know the publication date, but I’ll post it once I do.

Finally, my post-Shore Leave post (on Shore Leave)

Sorry it took me so long to write this — it’s been an exhausting week. As I mentioned, I had to leave a day early and drive a fair distance out of my way to pick up some belongings for a relative who recently moved to the DC area. So I spent 6 hours driving on Wednesday. I stayed with my relative’s friends, who were nice and welcoming, but I never get any sleep on my first night in an unfamiliar place (I recently read an article about this — it has to do with the brain’s instinctive alertness to danger, so it’s not just me), so not only was the big drive to DC on Thursday really long — more than 12 hours, as it turned out, including the frequent rest breaks I needed — but I was making it on no sleep and plenty of coffee. The folks I stayed with were kind enough to let me have a travel mug full of coffee to take with me on my drive, in addition to the first cup I had that morning, so that was pretty much all that kept me functional through that really long trip. Oddly, though, even with my car packed with a significant amount of extra weight, I got the best gas mileage I’ve ever had on that part of the journey, even topping 32 MPG. (I learned the habit from my father of always writing down mileage and gallons when I fill the tank to calculate MPG.) I wonder what made it so efficient. Could the extra weight have actually improved mileage somehow by giving me a bit more traction or something? That seems counterintuitive.

(Oh, and when I accidentally stretched out my laptop’s power cord too far Wednesday night and it came unplugged, I discovered the battery is dead. Something I’ll need to take care of when I can afford to.)

The drive out wasn’t entirely smooth, though. I committed to making it in one day because I didn’t want to pay for a motel and because the forecast called for heavy rain in the DC/Baltimore area on Friday — but as it turned out, Friday was quite clear, whereas I hit a fierce, intense thunderstorm at one point on Thursday. The weather radar at the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s travel plazas didn’t show its position clearly — I’m not sure it was a live feed, since it didn’t match what was on my phone’s radar app. But then, that app didn’t seem to show where the storm actually was either. (I wish there were a way to combine it with Google Maps, get both route and weather info at the same time.) Still, as scary as it was, it was mercifully brief, and was the one period of significant rainfall I experienced on the trip.

I made it to Cousin Barb’s home near DC a little before nightfall on Thursday, though I had to wait in the car for a while until she made it home. I hoped I’d be exhausted enough to get some real sleep despite being in a relatively unfamiliar place, but it was very humid, so I got almost none, though I do remember a couple of brief dreams, so there was at least a bit of REM sleep in there. Anyway, on Friday morning, I relied on my new travel mug full of coffee to keep me going as I drove my relative’s belongings to their new place, though I spilled a fair amount of coffee on an empty bookcase and my own tote bag because I overestimated how well the mug’s lid was secured. Nothing important was damaged, though.

After spending the rest of the morning with the family, I finally headed off to the Shore Leave hotel, which was another hour’s drive. I was so worn out by this point that I don’t really remember much detail, but I did the usual thing — shower, change clothes, rest up for a while, then finally venture out into the hotel and look for friends to talk to. As usual, fellow Star Trek novelist and Only Superhuman editor Greg Cox was one of the first people I ran into, and we and some others sat in the hotel Starbucks and chatted for a while about various things. I’m pretty sure Bob Greenberger (former DC Comics editor and Trek novelist) was there too, and Trek novelist Dayton Ward showed up for a time, but I’m not sure who else was there or what we talked about.

Eventually, at 7 PM, I had my first panel, which let me show off Among the Wild Cybers for the first time. Though the panel was nominally about anthologies, i.e. collections of stories by multiple authors, single-author collections like mine were included in the discussion too, so I got to talk about such things as how we chose the story order.

The big debut of the collection was supposed to be that night at Meet the Pros, but I got bad news from the book vendor: the distributor had failed to deliver the books in time for the convention. They were slated to reach his store on Monday, which was after Shore Leave ended. This was very frustrating. I’d brought a half-dozen copies with me (albeit slightly imperfect ones, from the first print run that left out the Only Superhuman preview at the back), but I’d given two to family members and I needed to keep one for my later panels, so I only had three copies to offer him to sell on consignment. As it happened, nobody bought any at Meet the Pros anyway, though all three copies sold on Saturday. Still, Meet the Pros was busier this year than it’s been in a while — perhaps because William Shatner was a guest at the con this year so there was larger attendance — and I did a good job selling the backlist Star Trek novels I brought with me.

But my favorite memory from Meet the Pros was getting to meet Michael Okuda, the longtime illustrator and technical consultant for the Trek franchise from Star Trek IV through Enterprise, as well as the co-author of the Star Trek Chronology and Encyclopedia, a member of the team that created Star Trek Remastered, and a graphic designer for NASA. He’s kind of a Trek legend (along with his wife/collaborator Denise, also in attendance), and he’s been of great help over e-mail with a number of my books, but this was his first Shore Leave. I was pleasantly surprised when he came up to me at my Meet the Pros table in order to meet me in person at last. Turns out he’s a really friendly guy. I went to one of his and Denise’s talks later on Sunday, and they’re both really nice people, who later on insisted on taking a picture with me.

In the less fun category, one of my pens started leaking in the pocket of one of my best shirts and left a stain that just got bigger the more I tried to wipe at it. I had to spend most of Friday night hiding the stain under my jacket. The next day I changed back into the shirt I’d worn previously (I didn’t have many other options, since I packed light to make room for my relative’s stuff), only to find it had a smaller ink stain in the same place. Anybody know how to get ink stains out of cotton/polyester?

I actually got a fair night’s sleep after MtP, though not a full night’s sleep, because MtP runs to midnight and I woke up sometime after 5 AM. I remembered a trick I finally figured out last year — since the hotel mattresses are a bit too firm for me, sleeping on top of the comforter makes it soft enough to be comfortable. Although using the other half of the comforter as a blanket made me too hot, which may be why I woke up early. Anyway, when I checked my e-mail on my phone that morning, I got a nice bit of good news, which I’ll share in a later post.

I had a pretty early panel on science fact in fiction, and… I can hardly remember anything we talked about. I’m starting to think I should’ve been more diligent about keeping this blog during the convention, as much as an aid for my own sleep-deprived memory as for anyone else. I remember it being a pretty good panel, moderated by Kelli Fitzpatrick, a new writer friend I met at last year’s Shore Leave and who’s already become an integral member of the gang. After the panel, I tagged along with Kelli and sat in the audience on a panel on cultural and gender representation in fiction, moderated by author/editor Mary Fan, and with my former Trek editor Marco Palmieri on the panel as well. It was pretty interesting, and when the question was raised about the difference between cultural representation and appropriation, I had a thought that I didn’t have the opportunity to express during the Q&A but mentioned to Mary afterward: That maybe the difference is akin to the difference between symbiosis and parasitism, in that it’s about whether the entity that takes something from another also gives something back to it in turn.

At noon, I had a panel on the Star Trek Adventures game, with my editor Jim Johnson and moderator Stephen Kozeniewski. I finally got to see some of the game books in hardcopy form and see the final formatted version of some of the adventures, although Jim tells me that my first couple of adventures probably won’t be published until August or so. Since I have little prior experience with gaming, it was an informative panel for me, even though I can’t clearly remember all of it. But I remember talking about the challenge of adapting my writing style to stories where I don’t know who the main characters will be, and figuring out how to create situations that are at once generic and adaptable to any characters yet designed to encourage character development and growth — for instance, a situation that forces the characters to address a moral dilemma, or to try to convince a character of something by drawing on their personal experience and values, or the like.

It turned out that I had a third Saturday panel that I failed to mention in my schedule post, because I’d forgotten applying for it and my name didn’t seem attached to it on the copy of the schedule I got. It was a panel about Sherlock Holmes and his various adaptations, and fortunately the moderator Roberta Rogow reminded me of it the night before. I was probably the one panelist least qualified to be there, since most of the others (including Keith R.A. DeCandido and Mary Fan) had written various Holmes pastiches, whereas my only bit of Holmes-related writing is that Locus Online post I did a few years ago, plus my blog reviews of the Rathbone films and whatnot last year. But I managed to hold my own, I think.

Let’s see, after that I went down to the book vendors and spent some time catching up with David Mack, who was doing his hour in the Author Chimney, the narrow space between brick columns which is where authors spend an hour at a time signing books for passersby. Dave has grown a goatee and dyed his hair bright blue, apparently in homage to or solidarity with his old boss on Deep Space Nine, Ira Steven Behr. He also had some good insights about Star Trek: Discovery through his connections to the show’s staff, and his words encouraged me about the future of the show after its recent staff upheavals. I did my own hour in the Chimney after Dave left and sold a few more of the books I brought with me. They’d already sold out of the three copies of Among the Wild Cybers I’d provided, which was good, though it’s a shame they didn’t have more copies available.

But the highlight for us authors on Shore Leave Saturdays is the annual group visit to Andy Nelson’s BBQ for dinner and conversation. Since I was so broke, I mostly just ate food I brought from home or from the folks I stayed with en route, but Andy Nelson’s is a tradition, and fortunately I’d made enough on book sales to feel comfortable paying for it.  We managed to get the indoor dining room to ourselves for only the second time since I started going along, which was good, since it was way too hot and humid outside. My usual pulled turkey sandwich was drier than usual, but a bit of BBQ sauce helped with that, and I was given extra stewed tomatoes on the side since my first helping got partly spilled. I had some nice conversation with Keith DeCandido, his wife Wrenn, Kelli Fitzpatrick, and others, and afterward Keith and Wrenn treated me to an Italian ice at a place Wrenn spotted along the way and apparently knew from the past. I got a banana-flavor one and was pleasantly surprised to find it had real banana puree and chunks in it.

It was kind of late when we got back and I was still sleepy, so after enough time to digest my big dinner and dessert, I turned in early. This time, I got more than a full night’s sleep, managing to sleep in well past 7 AM. I mostly just puttered around in my room until it was time to check out, which I did before the Okudas’ presentation at 11. After that, just the once, I splurged on a burger and orange juice at the hotel Starbuck’s — which, interestingly, cost exactly 1 cent more than my entire dinner at Andy Nelson’s the night before. So I was well-nourished for my personal Q&A panel at 1 PM. It was surprisingly well-attended for a Sunday afternoon, and though I didn’t have any specific presentation prepared, there were plenty of questions and we kept up a good conversation about Among the Wild Cybers and my other writing. Afterward, I managed to sell most of the remaining books I had with me, even including two hardcover copies of Only Superhuman.

The remainder of the con was just hanging out in the autograph section talking to other writers. I finally made a bit more progress in the discussion of a project that I’ve been talking about with someone for several Shore Leaves now but that’s been slow to get going. I now at least know the specifics of what I should aim for, and now it’s just a question of actually bringing it about, though at this point I’m not holding my breath for it to progress rapidly. I also let a certain editor know I’d be interested in pitching to their next anthology, a project I think it would be cool to be part of. So we’ll see how that goes. Oh, and this is also when I posed for that photo with Mike & Denise Okuda. (I didn’t manage to meet any of the actor guests this year.) Before I left, I made sure to find Kelli, since she was one of the lucky few who managed to buy a copy of Among the Wild Cybers and had let me know she wanted me to sign it. I’m glad I got to sign at least one copy of the book, especially for a friend.

After that was the usual deal, spending Sunday night at Barb’s again. I considered sticking around for another day or so, but I was getting eager to get home. I gathered that a bunch of the other writers had been invited to visit the Goddard Space Flight Center with the Okudas, and I would’ve liked to be part of that, but apparently they were all booked up already and couldn’t accommodate another guest, so I had to miss out. So on Monday morning I just set out on the long drive home. Having survived the even longer drive I made on Thursday, and remembering how smoothly this return trip on the fastest possible route had gone last year, I felt pretty confident I could make the trip in one day, though I still made sure to have a full travel mug of coffee before I left. Anyway, it was an uneventful trip and I got home safely and I’m still recovering 3 days later. That was a heck of a long trip.

Still, it turned out to be a good trip. I got some significant stuff accomplished both in terms of career and family, and for once I made significantly more money than I spent, partly because I economized all I could and partly because it was a busy con and my book sales were quite good (despite the lack of Wild Cybers). Plus I got a cool new coffee mug!

Shore Leave 40 — my schedule

The Shore Leave 40 schedule is now up at the main site:

https://www.shore-leave.com/programming/schedule.htm

Here are my panels, with descriptions quoted from the convention booklet:

FRIDAY 7/6:

Anthologies – Share The Love — 7 PM, Salon E
What attracts readers to short story collections? Do you prefer themed collections, single author collections, or a Whitman’s Sampler of stories? What draws authors to write for anthologies?
Greg Cox (M), Phil Giunta, Jenifer Rosenberg, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Christopher L. Bennett, Joshua Palmatier, Richard C. White
Meet the Pros — Hunt/Valley Corridor, 10 PM – midnight
The usual mass signing event for all the authors, where Among the Wild Cybers will make its formal debut. I also plan to have copies of older books to sell and sign, including Only Superhuman and some Star Trek back titles.
SATURDAY 7/7:
Science Fact — 9 AM, Derby Room
What really cool recent technologies and scientific breakthroughs or discoveries will shape our near future reality, as well as the way we tell genre stories?
Kelli Fitzpatrick (M), Phil Giunta, Christopher L. Bennett, Glenn Hauman, Mary Louise Davie
Star Trek Adventures RPG — 12 PM, Salon E
Starfleet needs a new crew! Come hear about how you can boldly explore strange new worlds at the game table with friends.
Stephen Kozeniewski (M), Jim Johnson, Christopher L. Bennett
SUNDAY 7/8:
Christopher L. Bennett Q&A — 1 PM, Derby Room
In connection with the Shore Leave premiere of Among the Wild Cybers, the author talks about his 20-year career writing original and tie-in fiction.
So pretty much just Salon E and Derby for me, both relatively small meeting rooms. I wasn’t expecting a huge crowd for my solo panel anyway, not on a Sunday afternoon. But it’s a chance to talk about AtWC and its stories, including the new Only Superhuman prequel story “Aspiring to Be Angels.” Aside from the panels, I’ll probably do a stint or two at the book vendors’ table.

Almost there

The good news I’ve been awaiting for months is finally here — almost. I can’t say what it is yet, but paperwork has been signed, and I can say with confidence that I will soon be able to start climbing out of my current deep financial hole, probably within the next 2-3 weeks, which is just in the nick of time. The worst should be almost over.

Unfortunately, I can’t feel that much relief at the moment, since my trip to the Shore Leave Convention in Baltimore is just a couple of days away now. In fact, I’m going by a roundabout route, since I’ve agreed to run an errand for a family member who recently moved to the DC area while I’m heading that way, so the outbound part of the trip is going to be significantly longer than usual. If all goes according to plan, though, the trip won’t cost me more than the price of gas and food, and maybe a night in a motel along the way, depending on my endurance. If my book sales at the convention are good enough, I may even come out a bit ahead. But it’s cutting it really, really close, and I don’t like having to go on a trip when I have so little money to spare for emergencies (although at least my auto insurance is paid up).

Also, there were things I was hoping I’d be able to afford to buy before my trip, like new glasses and new clothes. Nothing I can’t do without, but some things that would’ve been good to have ahead of time. This is going to be my big book premiere for Among the Wild Cybers, so I can’t miss it, but I wish it were happening a few weeks later, or that my good news had come a few weeks earlier, so that I’d be in a position to relax and enjoy the trip more.

Well, I guess it’s good that what I’m worried about now is optional stuff I can’t afford rather than essential stuff I can’t afford. And I’m better off than I was a week ago, when I was on the verge of panic over whether I’d even be able to pay August’s rent if my good news were delayed any further. It’s a relief, intellectually, to have my longer-term concerns eased somewhat, but it’s hard to shake off my worries after they’ve been with me for so long. Hopefully getting to see my family, friends, and fans during this trip will help me feel better.

It’s also starting to sink in that my good news will only be a moderate improvement on my financial situation. It’s a start, and it should make me more comfortable for the rest of this year at least, but it’s a stopgap until I find other sources of income. Hopefully the royalties from Among the Wild Cybers will be significant, and there are other works I’m hoping to sell that could help too. And while the job-hunting efforts I made over the past few months never quite came to fruition, I could always try again later on.

Sometimes I look at my priorities in life and I hate it that my level of contentment and satisfaction has become so closely linked with how much money I have. I never wanted my priorities in life to be centered around money as a requirement for happiness. But the way our society is structured, it’s kind of hard not to end up thinking that way, because you can’t have much in the way of quality of life if you can’t afford to. Although, ironically, the people who have more money than they’ll ever need are somehow the ones who are most desperate to get more. And it’s because of them that the rest of us have so little.

Anyway, thanks for listening/reading, guys. Your support has kept me going through this rough time in more ways than one.

Not having a great week

The universe isn’t done screwing with me yet, it seems.

It looked like I was finally close to getting out of this financial pit I’ve been in all year, or at least making significant strides uphill. I’m waiting on something that should pay off soon, probably next month, and ease my burden a great deal. But in the meantime, it looks like the profits from the Kickstarter campaign for Among the Wild Cybers are lower than I’d hoped due to the costs of printing, shipping, etc., and I probably won’t see them right away. At the moment, I’m still very close to being out of money, biding my time and hoping I can make it through the next month or so with what little I have.

I thought it would help if I took advantage of my soon-to-be-improved fortune to apply for new credit at my banks, either a new card or a credit line increase or whatever. I was turned down before when my income was practically nonexistent, and the bankers advised me to try again when my situation improved, which it’s now just about to do. I tried applying at one bank last week, but it turned out my credit score was just a hair too low for them. I was literally off by 1 point. So I figured I’d go to my other bank and retry the things I tried there before. Hopefully one of them would pay off. If I could get more credit, I thought, it’d give me enough leeway to get some car maintenance done before I have to drive to Shore Leave.

So I went out to my car to drive over to that bank, the nearest branch of which is 5 miles away.

And I couldn’t start the car. My battery was dead.

I could get a jump start and drive to the garage pretty easily, but the new battery would run me up to a couple hundred dollars, and that’s a sizeable chunk of what I currently have left. If I’d already succeeded in getting new credit, that wouldn’t be such a problem, but I didn’t know if I would. This was the worst possible time for this to have happened. Especially knowing that, one way or another, I needed to get my car up and running within the next 20 days.

As it happens, though, a family member who recently moved to the DC/Baltimore area was willing to pay my expenses to pick up some belongings from their former home and bring them when I came to the area for Shore Leave. I realized that would be a way to pay for the new battery, since that would definitely count as a necessary expense. So I made those arrangements through my always-helpful cousin, and once I got the check in the mail, I was able to take the car in and get a new battery. Once that happened, I finally drove over to the other bank and applied for both a new credit card and a credit line extension, hoping I’d get at least one approved.

Guess what. They were both rejected, because my current debt load is too high. Which is frustrating, since I’m within a month or so of being able to start paying down that debt, but I may just need a little more help to make it until then. I know that I will be able to make good on my debt before much longer, that I just need to bridge the gap for another month or two at most, but I can’t convince the faceless decision-makers of that, because it’s all so rigid and by the numbers, so on paper I’m too great a risk. I mean, I understand the reason it’s all so strict these days — the rules were put in place to protect against fraud after the banking crisis a decade ago. So I can respect that. But it doesn’t do me any good in a situation where I could really use some wiggle room.

There’s still a chance that the big thing I’m waiting on will come through soon enough that I won’t need the additional credit cushion, but at the moment I have no idea how long it’ll take. I’d actually expected it to have happened already — I was told “very shortly” over 2 weeks ago. And I have several stories out at various magazines, so something else might pay off at any time, or it might not. I’m stuck just not knowing again, and afraid of what might happen if at least something doesn’t pay off in July. I really thought this would’ve all been wrapped up by now, but I got overconfident. Things are finally moving, but they’re still taking longer than anticipated. I just hate not knowing.

I’m wondering if, instead of applying for a bank credit card, I should just use one of those card applications that come in the mail. Maybe the approval standards would be different. But I just don’t know.

Well, at least I’ll have some books for sale at Shore Leave, copies of Only Superhuman and such. Between that and the convention stipend, maybe I’ll make at least a couple of hundred to help tide me over. Of course, my book sale is still on as always. And who knows? I could get good news from somebody or other any day now. I just hope I don’t have any other unanticipated expenses like the car battery.

Meanwhile, it’s not just the battery that unexpectedly failed me. The pull chain for my ceiling-fan light fixture in the living room broke off the other day, right after I turned it on. It broke off right at the base deep inside the fixture, so there was no way I could fix it myself. I had to wait a while for the maintenance guy to come fix it. At first I thought it was lucky that the light was on when the chain broke, since I could still use the wall switch to turn it on or off. But that meant that I couldn’t use the ceiling fan without the light also being on, and the fan is kind of necessary in hot weather, even when I don’t need the light. I might’ve preferred it if the ceiling light had been stuck in the off position, since I could’ve used my torchiere lamp to fill in. If the situation had gone on longer, I might’ve decided to unscrew the light bulb. But it turned out that it only took a couple of days to get it repaired, so it’s resolved now.

I also asked the maintenance guy to look at the spray nozzle on my kitchen sink’s hose attachment, which was sometimes sticking in the on position. Which was weird, since it was a replacement for the previous nozzle that also stuck in the on position. In trying to fix it, he got it stuck permanently in the on position, meaning all the water was coming through the spray hose instead of the faucet. He had to go out and buy a new nozzle, since he didn’t have any spares. Apparently, I’m the only tenant who still has a spray hose, since I’ve been living here so long that I’m the last one with an un-remodeled kitchen. Anyway, I thought he’d be gone for a while, so I channeled my inner MacGyver and used some long twist ties (from my drawer for spare electronics cords and such) to secure the spray hose to the faucet so I could use it as a makeshift faucet. But he came back less than half an hour later. I could’ve just waited and saved the effort. And the new spray nozzle has a different kind of lever to turn it on, so hopefully it won’t stick like the others.

Oh, one other way the universe messed with me, this time with my unwitting assistance: Yesterday when I drove to that bank 5 miles away, I turned out to get there shortly after the banker I’d been working with went to lunch. I guess I’d given her the impression on the phone that I’d be coming later in the day than I did (we didn’t make a formal appointment or anything). So I went over to the nearby library to wait it out. While there, I came upon several trade paperback volumes of Marvel’s hilarious The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl which I haven’t read yet. I tried to remember which ones I had already read and picked the two I knew I hadn’t, volumes 6 & 7 of the trade collections. Volume 5 was there too, but I got the impression I’d already read it and put it back on the shelf. But when I got home and started in on volume 6, it referred to a previous story I didn’t remember, so I went online to check, and it turned out I’d only read up to volume 4. So I went on the library website to request that volume 5 be shipped to my local branch.

Only to see that the list of volumes available for requesting included volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7.

This didn’t make sense, since I’d literally held volume 5 in my hands less than 2 hours previously. Apparently there was some catalog glitch or mislabeling or something. That meant there was no way to request it electronically, at least not from the local library. I could request a copy from another Ohio library through OhioLink, but that tends to take the better part of a week, at least. But, guys, it’s Squirrel Girl. It’s awesome. And the one place where I knew I could find it was the very branch I’d been in before. So, yes, I actually hopped in the car and drove the 5 miles back to the library to pick up volume 5. I knew exactly where I’d left it 2 hours before. And what were the odds that someone else had checked it out during those 2 hours?

Guess what. Someone else had checked it out during those 2 hours. I made that whole second 10-mile round trip for nothing.

Once I got home, I did the only thing I could and requested it through OhioLink. But that means I won’t see it until sometime next week at the earliest. Whereas I could’ve read all three volumes already and saved myself a pointless drive if I’d just checked more closely when I had the darn thing in my hand.

This is just not my week.

WILD CYBERS: Shore Leave premiere confirmed

The Shore Leave convention’s website has posted an update for the Meet the Pros mass author signing event at this year’s convention, and Among the Wild Cybers is listed as one of seven new books premiering at the event:

https://www.shore-leave.com/programming/meet-the-pros.htm#premieres

Looks like six of the seven are anthologies/collections, so I’m in good company.

Meet the Pros will be at 10 PM on Friday, July 6, the first night of the convention. I hope I’ll be signing a lot of books this year!

Yes, I’m going to Shore Leave this year

My second piece of writing news today: I can now confirm that I will be attending Shore Leave in Hunt Valley, Maryland as usual this year. The SF/fantasy convention will be held from July 6-8, 2018 at its usual venue, which is under new ownership yet again and is now called Delta Hotels Baltimore Hunt Valley.

https://www.shore-leave.com/

The plan is to debut Among the Wild Cybers at the convention, a process I’ll talk more about once I figure out just what it entails. This will be the first time I’ve debuted an original book at Shore Leave. I’m hoping there will be print copies of Hub Space available as well, but I’m not certain yet.

Hub Space cover

Oh, and there’ll be some actor guy named Shatner there too. I think I’ve seen him in one or two things…

I’m writing for the STAR TREK ADVENTURES role-playing game!

February 17, 2018 2 comments

I’m now able to announce another one of the writing projects I’ve been working on over the past few months. I’m writing campaigns/game scenarios for the Star Trek Adventures role-playing game from Modiphius Entertainment. This is a new tabletop RPG that debuted last year, with a lot of the writing being done by fellow Trek prose authors that I know from the Shore Leave convention, including Jim Johnson (who’s the line editor in charge of the writers), Dayton Ward, and Scott Pearson. So last year at Shore Leave, I asked Dayton and Scott if I could get on board, they put me in touch with Jim, and here I am.

Star Trek Adventures has several different game threads. There’s the Living Campaign, which you can sign up to join at the site, and which has ongoing storylines in the Original Series and Next Generation/Deep Space Nine/Voyager time frames, written largely by Dayton Ward and Scott Pearson. (EDIT: Rather, I’m told that Dayton & Scott created the basic outline of the Living Campaign, but other writers are doing the regular installments.) There are also a bunch of standalone adventures, which are being written by various different authors, including me, and will be available online as PDF downloads. These are self-contained “episodes” that gaming groups can play in one or two sessions, usable for just about any set of characters. They’re usually set in a specific time frame, but most can be adapted for play in different Trek eras if the players desire.  And of course, Gamemasters can buy the Core Rulebook and use it to create their own campaigns as well. Indeed, we’re encouraged to conclude our standalone campaigns with hooks for possible sequels/continuations that GMs can develop themselves.

I’ve never really gotten into any Star Trek or other role playing games in the past. There was that time a while back when a college friend worked with me on a two-person e-mail game we called Dragon Trek, where I played a Starfleet character who got transported into a Dungeons & Dragons world that she ran as the Dungeon Master. It was her attempt to ease me into gaming by combining our different interests into something we could share, and it was fun for a while, but unfortunately she got too busy with family and parenting, so we never really got past the preliminaries. But the character I created for that game was the basis for the T’Ryssa Chen character I debuted in Star Trek: The Next Generation — Greater Than the Sum about 7 years later.

Aside from that, though, I never really got into gaming, particularly Trek games, since it seemed to me that they often tended to focus far too much on combat and war scenarios, which are not my preferred thing for Star Trek to be about. What drew me to the Star Trek Adventures game is that its focus is less on fighting and more on plot and character development, emulating the structure of Trek TV episodes. Character creation is focused less on physical skills and training (since all Starfleet officers are presumed to be experts to begin with) and more on personal attributes like Control, Insight, Daring, Presence, and Reason, as well as personal values and life experience. For instance, the character creation process even includes a step where you choose a couple of important “Career Events” that give your character backstory and inform their behavior in the here and now. I found that so intriguing that I made a point of developing a campaign that would bring the characters’ backstories into play in the main story. (No, it’s not a time travel campaign.)

The goal of gameplay in STA is not merely to gather loot or gain combat experience points, but to advance character development by challenging the character’s values and achieving personal milestones depending on how those challenges are resolved. There are combat mechanics, but they’re a subset of the larger set of Conflict mechanics that focuses more heavily on Social Conflict, i.e. persuasion, reasoning, deception, negotiation, intimidation, etc. Action is presented more in terms of Tasks and Challenges to overcome, which can be anything from winning a fight to upgrading a ship’s system to making a scientific discovery to convincing a hostile alien to make peace. I think the game’s system does a very neat job of converting Star Trek‘s values and style of storytelling into game mechanics. Just in general, it seems like a pretty versatile system.

For those who are curious about such things, you can read more on the website link in the first paragraph, but the game is based on a 2d20 system, which means that it uses two 20-sided (icosahedral) dice, a staple of tabletop RPGs. It also uses a variable number of 6-sided dice (the more the better) as “Challenge Dice” for determining success in Tasks, Challenges, and Conflicts; Modiphius sells specialized dice with Starfleet delta emblems on them, but you can substitute regular 6-sided dice. I actually have a set of gaming dice including 2 d20s and a bunch of 6-sided dice, among others — it’s actually my sister’s old gaming dice pouch from high school, which she left behind when she went to college and I eventually claimed for myself. (I don’t remember whether I had her permission or not, so I might have technically swiped them, but then, my sister got most of her 6-sided dice by swiping them from the family’s board games, so it evens out.) I used them for the Dragon Trek game, but I haven’t used them since. (I even made a dice roller out of a paper towel roll, but these days it’s a pencil holder on my desk.) I thought it might be necessary to use those dice in the course of creating campaigns for the game, but as it’s turned out, I haven’t needed to. Creating a game is more a matter of following the Core Rulebook to determine what the mechanics and success parameters are for a given Task, so I just need to say what you need to roll to succeed; I don’t need to roll any dice myself. I suppose I could use the dice if I wanted to create a character by random means, but since I’m creating characters to fill specific story functions, it’s better to customize their attributes.

Even with all the help from the Rulebook, it’s been a challenge for me to adjust to a new style of writing. I’m used to coming at a story from the perspective of its main characters, to build plots that are driven by characters’ distinct personalities and objectives and values. Now, though, I have to figure out ways to tell stories in which I don’t even know who the main characters are — stories that can be adapted to any main characters and still work regardless of their personalities and choices. That’s not easy to do. One way is to focus on plot and the problems the characters have to solve, while creating room within the plot for individual character development, or alternative paths the plot can take depending on what the characters choose to do or whether they succeed or fail at a task. Another way is to focus on the personalities of the “guest stars,” the non-player characters I create, and how their values and agendas drive events and compel the Player Characters to respond. That’s kind of the way the original Star Trek and most 1960s-70s television approached things — keeping the lead characters constant from week to week and having most of the character development and growth be driven by the featured guest stars. But that’s less satisfying for me. What I’ve tried to do is to design situations that will challenge the PCs to make difficult moral choices, confront their personal issues, or try to win someone over with arguments based on their own core values, then leave them a lot of room to role-play and debate and work through it all, with their success or failure affecting what happens next in the story. It’s been quite a challenge, figuring out ways to do character-driven storytelling in the absence of specific characters. I hope I’ve managed to pull it off.

However, I have done one campaign so far that’s much more of a big action-adventure epic. I actually tried to do that one first, but it was too complex in its game mechanics, so I got stuck. I ended up writing a couple of others first, getting a handle on how the mechanics worked, and then tackled the big one. That one hasn’t gotten final approval yet, but hopefully it will soon. It should be a pretty fun one.

I’m not yet sure when my first campaigns will go on sale, but I’m told it should be within the next couple of months. I’ll let you know when they become available.

Eclipse walk

I just got back from a long walk I took to watch the eclipse, which was not total here in Cincinnati but pretty darn close (91%). I decided to walk over the University of Cincinnati campus, figuring there would be a lot of other eclipse watchers there, and I ended up watching the watchers more than the eclipse itself. I did have some NASA-approved eclipse glasses, courtesy of the folks at the Shore Leave Convention, who handed them out for free with the convention packets last month. But even with the glasses, I didn’t feel comfortable looking at the Sun more than a few times or for more than a few moments at a time. I think maybe I got a couple of glints of direct sunlight around the edges while orienting myself the first couple of times, so I learned to keep my eyes closed until I could see enough glow through my eyelids to know I was looking the right way.

Still, once you’ve seen a crescent Sun once or twice, you’ve got the general idea. It was more interesting watching the environment and the people. It didn’t get dark enough here for the crickets to chirp or the animals to think it was night or whatever. But the light level softened to a degree I’d call comfortable. Ever since I got surgery for a retinal melanoma in high school, my eyes have been extremely sensitive to sunlight. This afternoon was the first time in ages that I’ve been comfortable without sunglasses while outdoors on a clear, sunny day. I heard some people around me say it was dark, but it looked more than bright enough to me, still definitely sunny, just not glaringly so. Maybe it was darker in shaded areas, though.  And the sky did turn a dimmer shade of blue as the eclipse neared maximum.

As for the people, there were a bunch of students and faculty members milling around watching, many with eclipse glasses, others with handheld filters, quite a few with homemade cereal-box pinhole cameras, at least one with a welder’s mask. A bunch were trying to take cell phone pictures through their eclipse glasses, which didn’t seem like a particularly wise idea to me. A few minutes before maximum, I happened across a group with a telescope that was projecting an image of the Sun on a plate, which gave me a clearer image than my eclipse glasses, so that was handy. (It’s surprising how small the Sun is in your field of view when you can actually look at it. Of course, by an accident of nature, it’s the exact same apparent size as the Moon, which is why total eclipses work.) The group seemed pretty upbeat and engaged with the whole thing, although maybe that was partly since it was an excuse to get out of class. When maximum coverage was reached at 2:29 PM, a round of applause went through the crowd. In what other context would people applaud something just for blocking their view of something else?

It is impressive how close we came to totality, and yet how bright it still was even with just 9% of the Sun still visible. I guess it shows how well the eye can adjust to different light levels. Still, now I have a crick in my neck from looking up so much. And I’m probably one of several million people asking, “So now what do I do with these eclipse glasses?”

I made it home

I’m back home again now, though I’m still recovering from the trip. I had a nice visit with Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry, then turned in early so I’d be rested for an early departure Tuesday morning, though I didn’t get as much sleep as I hoped (but then, I rarely do). Cousins Barb and Mark were kind enough to pick up groceries I could use to make a turkey sandwich for the road.

I set out during morning rush hour, but the westward route I chose toward I-70 enabled me to avoid heavy traffic once I got onto the highway. My plan was to take I-70 to the PA Turnpike so that I’d only have to be on it for a little while and not have to spend as much in tolls as I did on the way out. But Google Maps wanted me to go along I-68 through the Maryland panhandle and avoid the Turnpike altogether, and when I checked my weather app and saw there was rain heading north toward the Turnpike, I decided to follow its suggestion after all. I generally avoid that route because it’s so mountainous, which can be rough in bad weather, and because it’s less trafficked, so it could be harder to find help if something went wrong. But on a clear day with the car working fine, it made for a nice, quiet drive on an uncrowded highway. I did have a bit of a scare, though, when my GPS conked out, since I didn’t have any backup printed maps of the route I was using and was in danger of getting lost. Once I found a place to stop, I was able to reboot it, and also got out my folding state maps in case I had to navigate the old-fashioned way. The GPS stopped working a couple more times along the trip, but not until after I’d gotten past the tricky part, taking the US 40 state road from I-68 up to I-70. The last time I took that route was in the middle of a snowstorm, which is why I’ve avoided it ever since, but in clear July weather it was fine. I was even able to eat most of my sandwich while driving, since the road was so empty and uneventful. That saved me some time.

In fact, I got really lucky with the weather. The forecast called for rain on and off throughout the day, but either I managed to take a route around it or it just happened to go around my route. As I headed west toward Columbus on I-70, there was a big rainstorm heading northeast toward it from Cincinnati, so I figured I’d have to deal with some rough weather on the final leg of my drive — but by the time the storm and I converged, it had mostly tuckered out and I only caught a few moments of heavy drizzle along its fringes.

So thanks to all this good luck, I was able to get home via the quickest route with minimal delays and only the occasional moments of anxiety when my GPS conked out, and when I was unsure if I could find a gas station before running out. There was a moment when it seemed the gas gauge needle was dropping alarmingly fast on a steep uphill grade, but then it went up again once I was going downhill. I realized the changing angle of the fuel in the tank was lowering and raising the bob that connects to the gauge. There was also a weird moment later on where I was backing out a parking space (while turning) and the car kept going backward when I put it into drive, and the brakes were slow to stop it. That worried me, but it seemed to work fine after that. Maybe I was just on a steeper downhill grade than I realized. Or maybe the gears just didn’t catch.

I reached home around 6:30, about 10 hours after I set out, and I even stopped in at the local Kroger for some groceries, since I’d used up the last of perishable items like milk and sandwich fixings before I left. Then I spent the evening catching up on Killjoys and Dark Matter. My DVR failed to record them for some reason, but fortunately On Demand cable has nearly everything now. I still have Orphan Black to catch up on, though. (By the way, several Dark Matter cast members were at Shore Leave, and I got to have a brief chat with Jodelle Ferland, who seemed pretty nice.)

I just finished adding up all my receipts for the trip, and it turns out that the money I spent on the trip is only about 40 dollars more than the money I made, and that’s counting the gas and the car inspection I got shortly before the trip as trip-related expenses. So I didn’t quite break even, but I came close. Who knows — if the fans who said they might buy my books later actually follow through, I might come still closer to breaking even.

The Shore has been Left

This time, I’m sitting in cousins Barb & Mark’s house about an hour’s drive from the convention hotel, taking advantage of some quiet time to recover from the past few days of conventioneering, if that’s the word. So now’s my opportunity to gather my thoughts about Shore Leave and post my recollections.

My second day of driving was much better weather-wise than the first, nice and sunny all day. The one snag I hit was financial. I didn’t get cash before I left, figuring I had enough for the trip and would get more from my convention stipend and book sales — but I didn’t take into account that the Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls had increased. It occurred to me to check the tolls on my phone browser at a rest stop just before I had to get off, and I found I didn’t have enough cash and needed to use the ATM there (complete with $2.50 service fee). Okay, maybe they would’ve taken a credit card, but I didn’t want to chance it. I belatedly realized that they have the prices printed on the tickets — I don’t know why I didn’t consider before that all those numbers on the tickets might actually convey useful information. If I’d thought of that ahead of time, I would’ve gotten off the Turnpike earlier and taken the highway through Maryland instead. I’ll probably do that going  back. I generally stick to the Turnpike despite the tolls because the other route is tricky in bad weather, with all the mountains and fog and such, and there’d been a flood warning in that area the day before. But the weather was clear on Friday, so it probably would’ve been fine.

Anyway, I made it to the hotel a bit poorer but otherwise intact, and once I checked in, I managed to find a free parking space right next to the closest entrance to my room, so I didn’t have to carry my bags very far. (I had the same parking luck at my motel the night before, although I’d unwisely asked for an upstairs room that turned out to be in back, so it was a bit more of a schlep even so.) I got in a bit late, so I only had a few hours before my first panel, but I managed to find a bunch of fellow writer guests in the bar, including Dave Mack (of course he’d be in the bar), his wife Kara, Aaron Rosenberg and his daughter, Bob Greenberger, and I think Keith DeCandido (sorry, I was tired so my memory’s fuzzy), and we sat around and listened to Dave regale us with stories about what’s going on behind the scenes in Star Trek, which are unrepeatable for two or three different reasons. Although Dave, who’s working closely with the Star Trek: Discovery producers on his tie-in novel Desperate Hours, did leave me reassured that the writing on the new show will be solid and that it won’t invalidate our vast tie-in continuity, at least not right away. It was a thrill to hear about how our friend and colleague, Voyager novelist Kirsten Beyer, is doing on the writing staff of the show. It’s awesome to see a friend achieve something like that, and it sounds like she’s already made herself indispensable. Although it’s too bad that her work out in Hollywood is keeping her too busy to attend Shore Leave this year.

My first panel was on Star Trek Literature as Science Fiction, ably moderated by Strange New Worlds author Derek Tyler Attico and including Dave Galanter and John Coffren, and we all had an interesting talk about what we think SF is and what makes ST’s brand of it distinctive. Later I had a quiet dinner in my room (finishing off the sandwich I’d bought on the road, along with a cup of hotel-room coffee) so I’d be nourished and alert enough for Meet the Pros that evening. As usual, I was seated next to my Only Superhuman editor Greg Cox, who was touting his new tie-in novels to TNT’s The Librarians and his novelization of War of the Planet of the Apes, which unfortunately was just a week away from being released so he couldn’t sell copies at Shore Leave. I was also across from Keith and his longtime girlfriend Wrenn, who recently got married at last, and they had a huge sign at their table saying “MARRIED LIFE IS PRETTY DANGED AWESOME,” no doubt pre-empting a question they knew they’d be getting asked a lot otherwise. As for myself, I signed a number of copies of The Face of the Unknown that they had for sale at the book vendor’s table, but only managed to sell three of the older books I had for sale at my own table. It was a pretty quiet evening — in fact, a pretty quiet con, in terms of guest attendance — but that just gave us writers more time to socialize and catch up with each other. It’s nice to connect with the fans, but it’s also nice when the event dies down and the writers can just wander the hall chatting with each other.

I had three panels on Saturday. First was “History for Fun and Profit,” where we talked about using history in our SF/fantasy writing — mostly involving writers of alternate history SF/F, but I talked about how my history studies helped me write about future events, first contacts, cross-cultural interactions, and so forth in my SF. After a quick lunch (a peanut butter sandwich I’d made for the trip), there was “Defending the Light Side,” which was about optimistic and/or humorous writing, refuting the attitude that such things are fluffy or insubstantial. Then I guess I just hung around with various people I ran into for a couple of hours — it’s all kind of blurred together about what conversations I had when — and I did my first hourlong stint in the “author chimney,” the narrow space between brick pillars that’s the only place the book vendors usually have for authors to sit and peddle our work. But it was a slow afternoon — most of the guests were probably in the big ballroom watching Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn give their talk. So it was mainly just a chance to sit and rest between panels. Finally, we had the “Upcoming Star Trek Books” panel with me, Dave, Dayton Ward, and Scott Pearson. We didn’t really have much in the way of new Pocket novels to discuss beyond what’s already been announced, so I thought we might have to do a Q&A about our recent books to fill the time, but Scott also talked about all the other books and comics coming out from other publishers for the rest of the year, and that ended up occupying most of the hour after all. But I got to talk some about my upcoming Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference, and how it’s the climax for the Trip Tucker/Section 31 arc I inherited when I started doing the ENT novels.

Right after that came the annual tradition of Saturday dinner at Andy Nelson’s Barbecue a few miles from the hotel. In years past, I’ve always gotten a pulled turkey sandwich with cole slaw and cornbread as sides, because it’s so unique in my experience to have cole slaw and cornbread that are actually good, indeed really good. But this year, I finally decided to try something different — still the pulled turkey, but with macaroni & cheese and stewed tomatoes as my two sides. (I considered mac & cornbread, but I figured I needed a vegetable.) Right off the bat, I accidentally dropped a piece of macaroni into the tomatoes, which proved a happy accident that I did on purpose quite a bit thereafter. I also got to talk about a bunch of stuff with a bunch of people, some work-related, some not. I learned a lot about the comics business from Glenn Hauman, who’s done some Trek writing but mainly works in comics and knows a ton of the people in the industry, so it’s hard to talk to him and not learn a lot about comics. After dinner, back in the hotel lobby, he and Richard C. White (a comics author who then moved into prose) got to talking to me about an early Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons “Dragnet as time police” spoof from 2000 AD that was a master illustration of the economy of comic-book art, and also a sort of spiritual antecedent of my Department of Temporal Investigations novels. They both found the story on their smartphones to show it to me, but there was no easy way to call up the next page, so it became a two-phone bucket brigade operation — while I read one page on one of their phones, Glenn would navigate to the next page on the other, and we’d swap phones when I was ready. There’s got to be an easier way to read a comic, but luckily it was only five pages. And it was a cool story.

Sunday morning, I got up a bit late and had an 11 AM panel, and I had to have breakfast and check out of my room before the panel, so I didn’t have time for much else that morning. But it was a fun panel, called “Where No Tale Has Gone Before” — Dave, Keith, Dayton, Scott, and myself talking about whether there were still new Star Trek stories to tell after all these decades. Answer: Yes, of course. There are always untapped areas to explore, and every new story introduces new elements that can be explored further. But it was a good talk. Afterward (and after briefly running into my cousin Scott and his son, who’d arrived at the con too late to do more than say hello), it was time for lunch. Due to my tight finances, I was just about to settle for my remaining emergency peanut butter sandwich (now several days old, but it had spent the majority of the intervening time refrigerated), but Aaron Rosenberg was kind enough to treat me to a sandwich from the hotel Starbucks — a chicken sandwich with cranberry mayonnaise, of all things. I sat and talked with him and Greg for a while, and ultimately followed Greg to a panel on genre mashups which he did along with with Keith and Roberta Rogow. I could’ve easily joined them on the panel, since Only Superhuman counts as a hard-SF/superhero mashup (in fact, Glenn Hauman coined a good pitch line for it this weekend, “Superheroes meet The Expanse“), but I welcomed the chance to be an audience member and just be quiet and listen for a while. (Although I couldn’t resist asking one question.)

I was done with panels after that, but I hung around a few hours longer to talk to people, and I did an extended stint at the book vendors’ table — but fortunately there was a larger space available this time, so Greg and I sat together again and pitched our books to passersby. We were competing with Sirtis and Dorn again, but eventually their show ended and the crowd in the hall grew, and I finally managed to sell a couple more Only Superhuman copies. Later on, I briefly got to meet Marina Sirtis and give her a copy of Orion’s Hounds, which she insisted I sign for her. I hope she likes it.

All in all, a pretty good Shore Leave. I didn’t get to accomplish as much business-related, err, business as I’d hoped, but I got to socialize a lot with old friends and new, and I learned some interesting stuff. And then it was a reasonably easy drive to my cousins’ (aside from a brief traffic jam), and for once I didn’t get lost in the maze of streets around their house (GPS isn’t always helpful here), and as usual we had dinner at their friend Charles’s, and I had a really good turkey burger with a slice of remarkably good tomato. I’ve had good luck with tomatoes this weekend. And later today, I’m going to go visit Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry at their retirement home, and tomorrow I’ll set off for home. Hopefully I can make it in one day this time.

Shore Leave 39 schedule

I’m sitting in a motel room in Western Pennsylvania right now, after driving through increasingly heavy rain throughout the day. I stopped about an hour earlier than I planned because I was fed up with the weather — and of course the rain stopped shortly after I checked into the motel. But then, I had a coupon for this motel (which I’ve stayed at before), it cost less than my other option, and my right foot felt like it was about to cramp if I didn’t rest it and get some dinner soon.

So here I am, and I see that a lot of other Shore Leave guests have posted their schedules for the con. I figure I’d better do the same. Here’s the overall, final schedule (as final as these things get, anyway):

https://www.shore-leave.com/programming/schedule.htm

And my schedule specifically (copying the panel descriptions from the pocket program because I’m tired):

FRIDAY 7/7

Star Trek Lit as Science Fiction — 7 PM, Salon A
Star Trek authors discuss how their work—and Star Trek literature in general—fits (or breaks) the mold of the science fiction genre. Do Star Trek stories draw on classic sci-fi? Do they advance the genre?
Derek Attico (M), Christopher L. Bennett, John Coffren, Dave Galanter

Meet the Pros — 10 PM to Midnight, Hunt/Valley Corridor

The usual mass signing event. As with last year, I intend to have copies of Only Superhuman and a few older Trek paperbacks for sale, and I take credit cards.

SATURDAY 7/8

History for Fun and Profit — 11 AM, Derby Lounge
Lots of SF/F stories explicitly use historical models, whether it’s the Victorian Age for steampunk or Age of Sail for original Star Trek. What pieces of the past are best for borrowing? How important is accuracy?
Jenifer Rosenberg (M), Christopher L. Bennett, Melissa Scott, Roberta Rogow, Richard C. White
Defending the Light Side — 1 PM, Chase Ballroom
In fiction, as in real life, upbeat and happy are often equated with silly fluff lacking substantial themes and intelligence. Or dismissed as childish. Those claims are often inaccurate, however.
Rigel Ailur (M), Christopher L. Bennett, Michael Critzer, Roberta Rogow, Andrew Hiller
Upcoming Star Trek Books — 5 PM, Belmont Lounge
A preview of forthcoming Star Trek novels from Simon & Schuster, with some of their authors as well as other Trek-related titles due out this fall and into 2018. (Note: It’s likely to be more a “Recent and Upcoming ST Books” panel, because there aren’t that many upcoming books currently scheduled. But the next upcoming book is my Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference, so I’ll have that to talk about.)
Scott Pearson (M), David Mack, Christopher L. Bennett, Dayton Ward
SUNDAY 7/9
Where No Tale Has Gone Before — 11 AM, Chase Ballroom
After over 50 years, how can there still be fresh stories to tell in Star Trek’s shared universe? Our panel of Trekspert storytellers discuss what they think makes for solid new Star Trek tales.
David Mack (M), Dayton Ward, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Christopher L. Bennett, Scott Pearson