Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Groove, and BEA (Day Two)

You know what's happened to me the last week or so?

I've gotten my groove back.

Seriously. It's a while, a painful while. I just wrapped up my introductory year of teaching at Cal State. Kinda crimped my writing production when I was teaching. Not saying it's not a worthy profession and that my job isn't a rather primo one; but still - it turns me into a part-time writer. That's just the truth. Before that I had to deal with a move from Colorado to California, and before that I taught a demanding year at Colorado College.

Throughout all this, I kept chipping away at Acacia: The Other Lands, but chipping away isn't the way I prefer to write. I like to be up to my ears in my material. I want ideas bobbing against me all day. I want to be composing scenes in the dentist's chair, rearranging chapters at SaveMart. I want to be stunned by plot points revealed as I'm flipping eggs. When writing is going well for me it's a pretty all-encompassing thing that becomes a part of everything I do. It has not been that for the last two years. I still got work done, but...

Not like I have the last week! I'm free, with nothing to do for a little while but write. (Well, and be a husband and father, with all that entails - but you know what I mean.) I know my window of time is short before other commitments start interfering, but it's so, so wonderful to realize that I can get that full-time writer buzz back! It's here. I'm in it. I'm a writer again, and the words they are lining up.

And to some degree that's why I've neglected my Day Two BEA post. It's no big deal. Not that much happened, but I've been distracted. I will now take a few moments out and tell you what happened, should you be interested to know... (Oh, and I know! I don't have any original photos. That's cause I'm lame and don't want to carry a camera around - or feel silly asking to take photos. Instead, I cull from the internet...)

Day Two was Scalzi day. Yep. I'll admit it. My day was shaped around arranging to hang out with John Scalzi. (Didn't have that much else to do anyway, but this would still have been a highlight even if I did.) We met up for coffee and had a good long chat. (Some of you may be wondering who picked up the tab. Answer: man of class... uh, Scalzi. Waved away my pathetic attempt at bill shuffling and took charge. Impressively done. Now, do bear in mind that I have my own internal calculator for such things. I know now, and will not forget, that I owe John a drink of some sort. I can reciprocate, see? I'll settle up at Denvention, I hope.)

Paranoyd said he was curious about my "take" on Scalzi. I'd say it's this: He's a great guy. He's personable and funny, seems generous with his time and gracious in dealing with fans. He speaks his mind in the same engaging way he does on Whatever. (By the way, today is his thirteenth wedding anniversary. If you haven't already, go over to Whatever and say, "Ahh...") He claims that he can dance, although I did not witness this and can't confirm it. But another thing you notice about him is a sense of confidence. He knows who he is, what he does well, what people think of him, and he seems to rather like the way things have played out for him. (Tell me if I'm wrong, John.) I mean that in a completely positive sense, by the way. It's a good way to be, and I wish it on more people.

I'd also mention how nice it is to feel a sense of camaraderie with fellow writers. It's not quite the same vibe in the Big L "literary" world. Things are pricklier. But I've just had a great time recently connecting with writers like John, and like Tobias Buckell, Mary Robinette Kowal, Patrick Rothfuss and plenty more. I may be wrong, but so far it feels like this is a group of young writers that wants to encourage, support and just hang out with other writers. That may seem like nothing other than what you'd expect, but believe me writers in general can be a strange bunch. Who would've thought the world of fantasy and sci-fi would introduce me to so many people that actually seem... like pretty decent and (ironically) down to earth human beings (with quirks, admittedly).

While still with John I had a celeb author sighting: Neal Stephenson. Only from the back, though. I was sitting with Scalzi and he said, looking beyond me, "Oh, there's Neal Stephenson." Then he qualified that spotting by saying Mr. Stephenson appeared to have no interest in being approached by random people. He had a serious face on - as well as a rather sharp suit and, if I remember correctly, a completely shaved head. He'd been somewhere and was now going somewhere else and deserved to be left alone. Honestly, I get that completely. (I, on the other hand, walked through the same area with a smiley, open face that said, "Come on. Approach me. I know somebody here recognizes me. Just admit it..." But Neal is clearly past that.) I'm a fan of his, and I love it that he has a new book coming out.

So, does the fact that I saw Neal Stephenson but didn't even speak to him merit reporting? Not in and of itself. But I don't mind mentioning it as part of the over all vibe of the entire BEA scene. The place was just chock full of authors and celebs. They were all around, and knowing that tends to make ones eyes a little manic, jumping around, wondering who is who. Wondering if you'll recognize your favorite famous author when you see them in person (bearing in mind that some author photos are Biblically old or wonderfully flattering - which makes author ID potentially tricky).

After coffee Scalzi and me went over to the Tor booth to hang out a bit more. Cool sitting behind the Tor lines, watching passerby wondering who I was and how I managed to be on the other side of the barrier. Who I was (if they'd asked me) was kind of a goof. I must of been tired from the day before, because I didn't actually make the best use of my Tor booth time, see the following examples...

Cory Doctorow. I have to admit that I got a little weird with Cory. He's exploding just now, has a wonderful new book (according to the likes of Neil Gaiman), Little Brother, and is very much in demand and successful on tons of fronts. Scalzi introduced me to him at the booth. Thing is we were sitting there talking for a while and he asked me what my book was about. I said... "Oh, I don't know." He said, "No, tell me. It's been out a year, right? You must know how to pitch it by now." I shrugged and smiled and... didn't answer. He said, "You really don't want to tell me, do you?" I then directed him to John, saying, "Ask him. He's read it." But John was being devoured by some fan or another and couldn't really be consulted. So, end of story is that Cory left with no idea of who I am as a writer, probably convinced that I'm an amateur that never really lived in Scotland for five years, or anything else that I claimed...

In which case, you might ask me, "Why didn't you just tell him what Acacia was about?"

My answer... I was kinda hungover.

Uh... Other than that, I have - and still do - think it hard to explain 600 page books in sound bites. It's not really possible. When it's done it's marketing palaver. I'm not at all suggesting that Cory was asking for my pitch. I am saying that I'd seen/heard so much pitch madness that I hated the notion of pitching him. Anyway, I was in a mood.

I was still in this strange mood when Brandon Sanderson came by. I saw him standing there. I could read his badge... but I didn't say hi. Weirdness. I wish I had. I wish I'd said, "Brandon, dude... What's up? How you doing? You've got tons of cool things happening all at once! Okay, tell me true, is it a good thing to be finishing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series? I'm just saying - lots of folks think that's a dream job, but... it could also be a burden of unusual size." But I didn't speak, and then the moment passed...

When I left the booth I did the thing I said I wasn't gonna do. (Well, no, not the thing. Just one of the things...) I grabbed several of the Christopher Paolini Brisingr tote bags and began the harvest! Oh, there were books to be grabbed. There were lines to stand in. There were authors I'd never heard of to shake hands with. I circled and circled, and - despite the apparent physical activity - I got heavier with every lap. It was book weight, though. That doesn't count. By the time I was near to leaving I made sure to turn my name badge around and hobbled out covert-like. Good thing I'd packed light on the way there.

Oh, and on a random note... It needs to be said that Tim Holman, the Publishing Director for Orbit Books, is a good bloke. I just want that on the record.

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17 Comments:

Blogger paranoyd said...

Yeah, that was pretty much my take on Scalzi, too. And while he slightly snubbed me at the signing I went to for The Android's Dream, it wasn't his fault, as someone caught his attention while he was signing my books and then I just kinda ... walked away. Oh well.

I met Cory twice. Once at a signing, and once at Comic Con. He was very cool both times, taking time out to really speak with me at Comic Con. He asked me about my writing, and I spoke to him about a book of his I read. He actually said I made a very astute observation about it, which was fantastic.

Anyway, I'm almost done with Crystal Rain, so I'll be reading Acacia shortly. I really am looking forward to it. After Acacia, I'm reading The Name of the Wind. And I'm writing a book. (Not at your pace - more of a "glacial" thing.)

You should list some of the books you picked up that look promising. No matter how big my "Stack" gets, there's always room at the bottom.

1:12 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

You know, the funny thing about BEA book-grabs is that once you get home a high percentage of the books don't look that interesting anymore. It's the lure of free stuff that makes them shiny and new. Once at home, though... well, they look like what they are: totally random selections that may be of little or not interest to me. I've already pressed a few on unexpecting friends and acquaintances.

I was happy to get a copy of Jim Crace's The Pesthouse. I'll probably give it a try sometime soon.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Patrick S. McGinnity said...

The contrast between the "literary" world and the "genres" is fascinating, isn't it? I grew up a fantasy geek (although I read a lot of classic literature as well) and after a period of denying that part of myself, I am proud to say that I am one again. I went to grad school for creative writing, and now I teach it (along with composition) at a state university.

When I applied to MFA programs, I was advised (wisely, I grudgingly realize) to avoid submitting genre work as a sample. And indeed, once I had made it past the multi-headed guard dog at the gate, it was with trepidation that I began submitting fantasy for workshops. I actually began two mimetic novels out of desperation before finally breaking down and getting my geek on. To my surprise, the instructors were, overall, open to genre work. There were exceptions, of course, and several of my fellow students were quite put-off by the fact that one of "us" got through the screening process. One instructor, a fresh MFA graduate from New York with a pair of books to his credit, actually scheduled a meeting with me in which he suggested that I try "writing something realistic," because, he said "you're a really good writer." Apparently he was concerned that I would squander my talents by writing fantasy.

I understand why literature and writing professors don't tend to give genre writing a chance, because frankly, there is a lot of crap out there. But it is equally true that lots of what is marketed as "literary" fiction is pretty awful as well.

I don't have my first novel done yet, so I can't actually speak to the feeling of community among fantasy writers, but it is something that shows up even on the level of the pure reader (one who doesn't aspire to be a writer as well). When readers of fantasy (or any genre) meet, what tends to happen is a comparing of reading lists for similarities of taste, followed by an exchange of recommendations. The important thing to note is the lack of pretension--we are not competing, but sharing what we love. Readers who favour canonical literature often seem to have different intentions in such an exchange. It becomes (for some, not all) a sort of (pardon the image) mutual butt sniffing to decide who is dominant. I know this is a gross (the pun actually was unintended) generalization, but there it is.

Anyway, I just wanted to say how cool it is to read about it from an author who has only recently "joined the club." And I'm glad to hear you are back in the groove, both because I know how sweet it is when it flows like that, and because I really enjoyed Acacia and am looking forward to reading your next book. Peace.

11:38 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hi Patrick,

Thanks for that lengthy response! I don't have an equally lengthy response back to it. Just picture me nodding...

Glad you like Acacia, too. Thanks for that.

-David.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Christ on a bike, man, we really did drag you over to the dark side.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Incubus Jax said...

"My answer... I was kinda hungover."

Best line ever! Bless you sir! I'm using that one next time I miss a deadline a work.

Okay, not really, but it would be fun.

You've got to learn to me more of a jerk though... when someone wants to know what your book is about and you don't want to tell just say "It's about... Acacia." And then glass over like you've just stumbled onto some kind of epiphany. It works. Sorta.

Anyway. I'm excited about new Paolini, I just hope it's not as slow as Eldest is it's going to be that long again. ;)

4:17 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Mr. Bagley,

Have I really changed that much?...

Jax,

I might try your advice. Thing is, I'd have to pick the moment. See, I could say, "It's about... Acacia," and then glass over - as you suggest - only to have the other person respond, "What? Like... about the trees? It's a book about trees?"

6:45 PM  
Blogger Incubus Jax said...

The trees comment made me literally laugh out loud. I think some people in my office are catching on that I'm not really doing and work, but then it's 4:47 (PST) on a Friday and if they're working it's because their idiots.

But I see your point. Trees, the whole book is about trees? hahaha

My response would be to keep the glassy look, wait a heartbeat, look your interviewer right in the eye and say: "Yeah... it is." and then bring the glass over back and look down and slightly to their left, like its a rebirth or something. ;)

Cheers!

7:47 PM  
Blogger Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Nah, you were always cool. And I don't say that about just anybody.

8:43 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Good to know.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

'Course, I'm about as uncool as they come, so you'll have to take that for what it's worth.

4:28 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Ah... there is that to consider...

5:40 PM  
Blogger paranoyd said...

If you are going for that "Trees ... it's about trees" thing, you could always continue that with "It is a post-modern look at Seuss' The Lorax. He SPEAKS for the trees, you know. Because they can't speak for themselves. They have no mouths, you see. No mouths ... imagine that."

And THAT'S when you do the glassy stare and walk away with an epiphany.

4:35 AM  
Blogger Incubus Jax said...

Nice. I'm totally using that next time I recommend Acacia to a friend and they ask what it's about. Perfect.

6:08 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Friends, you're supposed to be helping me sell books, here. Not sure about this approach...

1:56 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Bear said...

I can testify that Scalzi can in fact dance.

Rather well.

I think it was at Penguicon that we both ripped our trousers on the dance floor....

7:56 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Elizabeth,

Oh my... I'll have to get details in person, I think...

2:48 PM  

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