Imagination, Daydreams, and ‘the Betterment of the World’

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

Today is L. Frank Baum’s birthday (15 May 1856 – 6 May 1919), and it won’t surprise anyone familiar with his novel The Wizard of Oz to find that he had something to say about imagination. In 1917, in the introduction to The Lost Princess of Oz, he wrote (emphasis added):

Some of my youthful readers are developing wonderful imaginations. This pleases me. Imagination has brought mankind through the Dark Ages to its present state of civilization. Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity. Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine, and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that dreams — day dreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain machinery whizzing — are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization.


(Image: “Daydreams,” by Thomas Couture, from Wikimedia Commons.)

If you didn’t know, Baum’s imagination wasn’t limited to the Oz novels (of which he wrote over a dozen). He wrote over fifty novels in total, including additional fantasy novels, plus short stories, poems, scripts, and other things. And if we follow his example, and that of other creative people we admire, we won’t limit our imaginations nearly as much as we usually do.

I hope this week you can let yourself daydream a little! See what you can imagine, and what you can create, to make your part of the world a little better.

Have a great week!

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What’s Going on in Williamsburg?

RavenCon, baby!

Yes, this weekend I’ll be at the RavenCon science fiction and fantasy convention in Williamsburg, Virginia.

I have a few events to keep me busy:

Friday:

  • 5:25 p.m. — Reading (Room 4)
  • 7 p.m. — Opening Ceremony (Large Auditorium)
  • 10 p.m. — Panel: “The Dystopia is Already Here…” (Room E)

Saturday:

  • 4:30 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show (Room 8)
  • 6 p.m. — Panel Moderator: “As You Know, Bob…: The Fine Art of Exposition” (Room G)
  • 10 p.m. — Panel Moderator: “How to Read Aloud” (Room G )

Sunday:

  • 10 a.m. — Panel: “Should J.J. Abrams be Beaten with Hammers…” (Room E)

The only open filking session is on Sunday morning from 10-12 a.m., so that’s a little odd, but maybe I’ll be able to find a quiet corner and play some tunes. Regardless, it should be fun — hope to see you there!

___
Related Items of Interest:
– Speaking of filk, watch the music video of Tauntauns to Glory
– Also speaking of filk, listen free to both of my albums, Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe
– Speaking of reading aloud, watch my Public Speaking Tip: The Value of Inflection
– Speaking of nothing in particular, visit my Online Store

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New Schedule for MystiCon

The MystiCon science fiction and fantasy convention starts the day after tomorrow, but I’ve had a new event added to my schedule:

Friday:

  • 5 p.m. in Dogwood 1 — “Where No TV Show Has Gone Before” panel
  • 10 p.m. in Dogwood 1 — The “Eye of Argon” dramatic presentation

Saturday:

  • 10 a.m. in the Main Hallway — signing copies of Distorted Vision, Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, etc.
  • 11 a.m. in Room 533 — “Face to Face Slushpile” workshop
  • 2 p.m. in Ballroom C — Baen Books Traveling Road Show
  • 7 p.m. in Room 533 — reading, maybe singing …
  • NEW! 8:30 p.m. in Dogwood 1 — “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”

Sunday:

  • 9 a.m. in the Vista Room — Non-Denominational Service

If you’re at the convention, I hope I get to see you!

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It’s No Mystery, But It Will Be MystiCon

Next weekend (24-6 February) I’ll be in Roanoke, Virginia, for the MystiCon science fiction and fantasy convention. This year one of our most highly-esteemed authors, David Weber, is the Literary Guest of Honor!

If you’re at the convention, here’s where you’ll find me:

Friday:

  • 5 p.m. in Dogwood 1 — “Where No TV Show Has Gone Before,” a panel that has something to do with, as one Big Bang Theory character has it, some “Star War Trek thing”
  • 10 p.m. in Dogwood 1 — “The Eye of Argon,” a dramatic presentation of an infamous fantasy story

Saturday:

  • 10 a.m. in the Main Hallway — signing (and selling!) copies of Distorted Vision, Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, and possibly other things
  • 11 a.m. in Room 533 — “Face to Face Slushpile,” a workshop that folks liked so much last time that they put it back on the schedule again … we’ll see if I make anyone cry this year
  • 2 p.m. in Ballroom C — Baen Books Traveling Road Show, where we show folks what’s coming out in the near future and give away some free books!
  • 7 p.m. in Room 533 — reading something, and maybe singing … who knows?

Sunday:

  • 9 a.m. in the Vista Room — Non-Denominational Service

MystiCon is a nice little convention, and always a lot of fun — hope to see you there!

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illogiCon: SF&F in the Research Triangle


(Professor Schrodington, the illogiCon mascot.)

The illogiCon science fiction and fantasy convention starts tomorrow! I’m going — are you? If so, stop in and see me …

Friday:

  • 7 p.m. in the Cameron Room — Nerd Music Unplugged, with Madison “Metricula” Roberts
  • 9 p.m. in the Smith Room — “Hell Week” Panel, a look at the Space Shuttle disasters
  • 10 p.m. in the Crescent Room — Drop-in Music and Filk Circle

Saturday:

  • 11 a.m. in the Cameron Room — “Famous First Words” Panel, a look at story & novel beginnings
  • 12 p.m. in the Cameron Room — “Famous Last Words” Panel, a look at story & novel endings
  • 1 p.m. in the Crescent Room — Reading … possibly something from my forthcoming novel?
  • 2 p.m. in the Reynolds Room — Baen Books Traveling Road Show
  • 4 p.m. in the Smith Room — “Live Action Slush” Panel, in which we consider the story openings of brave volunteers
  • (Tentative) 10 p.m. in the Crescent Room — Open Filk

illogiCon includes a number of unique events, including the illogiCon Brewmaster Competition, which has a “Steampunk” theme for 2017. I’m honored that they chose my tune, “Another Romulan Ale,” as the competition’s theme song!

Hope to see you there!

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Two Friends on Patreon: Lee and Mikey

Would you like to be a patron of the arts for as little as a dollar a month? You can!

Several friends of mine have a presence on “Patreon,” an online resource that connects you with creative people doing their artistic things. Usually they promise to produce certain things on a regular basis — maybe a drawing or painting, maybe a song or a music video, it’s all up to them depending on their art — and you as their patron get first access to what they do and often “insider” specials as well!

Dollar Heart

(Image: “Dollar Heart,” by Chris Palmer, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

Anyway, two of my friends you might want to support are Alethea Kontis and Mikey Mason.

Alethea Kontis is primarily known as an author of fantasy novels and two well-received children’s books in which the letters of the alphabet rearrange themselves. “Princess Alethea” often produces humorous “Fairy Tale Rants” on video, and her latest novel is Trix and the Faerie Queen. Alethea’s Patreon is set up for monthly donations as low as $1 per month, though higher levels earn additional bonus videos and such.

Mikey Mason is primarily known as the “Comedy Rock Star,” or on the science fiction and fantasy circuit as the “Comedy Rock Geek.” Perhaps his most famous song is “She Don’t Like Firefly,” though his more recent “The Secret Origins of the Robot Holidays” has been played frequently on The Dr. Demento Show. Mikey’s Patreon is set up a little differently, as his patrons pledge per song or music video; however, you can become Mikey’s patron for as little as $1 for each new song or video he produces.

Both Lee and Mikey have had some unexpected expenses recently, so your patronage — either recurring, through Patreon, or on a one-time basis by buying a book or CD — would mean a lot to their being able to continue writing their stories and songs.

___
For more information:
– You can find Alethea online at http://aletheakontis.com/
– You can find Mikey online at http://www.mikeymason.com/

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Dragon Con Approacheth!

Over Labor Day weekend I’ll be in Atlanta, Georgia, with 70 or 80 thousand of my closest friends at the Dragon Con science fiction and fantasy convention. The Author Guest of Honor is Jim Butcher, the Artist GOH is Stephan Martiniere, and many of my friends are also guests, attending professionals and performers at the convention.

I’m giving a solo concert (4:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon — add it to your schedule now) and participating in a number of other events. If you’re there, I hope I get to see you!

Here’s a rundown of all my events:

Friday

  • 4:00 p.m. — Art Show “Concert-that’s-not-a-concert” — playing and singing for the art patrons
  • 7:00 p.m. — Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow — I’ll be narrating a live-action “fairytale rant” version of “The Little Mermaid,” and performing one of my filk songs — hosted by Alethea Kontis, with Leanna Renee Hieber, Mari Mancusi, E.C. Meyers, and special musical guest S.J. Tucker — always a fun time!

Saturday

  • 2:30 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show and Prize Patrol — with a whole cadre of Baen authors!
  • 4:00 p.m. — Panel, “Short or Long? How Do You Know?” — on short stories versus novels, with Sharon Ahern, Jaym Gates, Mike Resnick, Anne Sowards, Fran Wilde, and Timothy Zahn

Sunday

  • 10:00 a.m. — “Ecumenifilk” — I’m hosting a session of music focused on spiritual themes
  • 11:30 a.m. — Baen Books information and author signing booth, in association with The Missing Volume bookstore — I’ll be stationed there (Booth 1301 in Americas Mart Building 2) until 2:00 p.m.
  • 2:30 p.m. — Decisions, decisions … attend the first-ever Dragon Awards, or the Doubleclicks’ concert? Anyone have a Time Turner I can borrow?
  • 4:00 p.m. — Dragon Con Filk Music Track Solo Concert — come hear songs from my albums Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, as well as several new songs

Monday

  • 1:00 p.m. — Another turn at the Baen Books information and author signing booth, this time until 4:00 p.m.

At off hours, you might find me attending concerts by my musical friends, chatting with Baen Barflies in Barfly Central, hanging out in the bar with my writerly friends — or quite probably wandering around looking dazed. Be sure to stop and say hello if you get the chance!

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Monday Morning Insight: Failure and Greatness

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

Today is Herman Melville’s birthday (1 August 1819 – 28 September 1891), so let’s unpack a Melville quote:

It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great. Failure is the true test of greatness.

Most of us fail at something or other before we find something we do well, and most of us will not achieve “greatness” no matter how often we fail and try again.

And “better” in this case is definitely a value judgment.

Since Melville was a writer let’s examine this quote as it relates to the literary world, where it is plainly possible to “succeed in imitation.” We have plenty of writers who have found great success presenting essentially the same stories as someone else, and no shortage of others who continue to do so in search of their own success. The authors bring something of their own viewpoints and voices to the stories, but the common term is “filing off the serial numbers” to make it a bit less obvious that our fantasy story is essentially a repackaging of Tolkien or Rowling, or our science fiction story is a direct descendent of Heinlein or Bujold or Niven or some other famous author.

It’s not too surprising that this is the case. Authors continue to produce Tolkien-esque fantasy stories because the audience has yet to tire of them. From military science fiction to urban fantasy, space adventure to steampunk, the audience yearns for more — so much that authors who have not been able to break in with publishing companies have found their own fans through self-publishing. And if their fans feel they receive good value for their entertainment dollars, then that’s all that matters; after all, if being original means starving, then succeeding by being imitative isn’t all that bad. (We might even disagree with Melville and say that really is better.)

Yet success is not guaranteed, even when imitating examples of success.

Authors and publishers often do not know what story will resonate with a large audience, but that is especially true when it comes to more original stories — ones that are difficult to categorize into existing genre niches. Some works are so original that they define entire new subgenres, but they still have to be good enough (for whatever the audience considers “good”) beyond just being original in order to attract an audience.

But Melville refers to greatness, and I like to work backward from there. The authors we consider “great,” even if they were not pathfinders of their genres, produced work that hums with originality in some respect: depth of detail that puts us firmly in the setting and the story; emotional power that elicits deep sympathy for the characters; pacing and action that set our hearts to racing; all these and more elevate their work from entertaining to spectacular. Did the authors we consider “great” risk failure, or even endure failure, on the way to creating their monumental stories? I think they did, particularly when those stories were fresh and original compared to other things being produced at the time.

Failure

Are you striving for anything great? (Image: “Failure” by Andrea Small, from Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

It may be, however, that they were not trying for greatness. Indeed, it may not be wise to strive for greatness when striving for success is hard enough. Greatness will be determined by history, by whether our stories continue to resonate down through time — but that doesn’t help us very much in the here and now.

Here and now, every writer risks failure with every story they start. It seems safe to say that writing a story that lasts, that impacts generations, involves taking more risk than writing a story very much like another. And even when taking only moderate risks some writers will fail more often, or more spectacularly, than others — but that’s true of every human endeavor.

What about you? How have you failed, and what have you learned from your failures? Don’t let it hinder you too much; remember, Melville considered failure the true test of greatness.

Keep striving!

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Music and More at ConGregate

This weekend is the ConGregate science fiction and fantasy convention in High Point, North Carolina. The Author Guest of Honor is Steven Barnes, the Artist GOH is Lindsey Look, the Special Writer Guest is my friend A.J. Hartley, and the Special Musical Guests are the incomparable Valentine Wolfe.

Even though I’m not the Master of Ceremonies at this convention, and don’t have any readings or panel discussions on my schedule, I’m going to be fairly busy — and doing a lot of music!

Friday

  • 5:30 p.m. — Concert
  • 10:30 p.m. — “Campfire Songs” — a fannish singalong!

Saturday

  • 2:00 p.m. — “Songs and S’mores” — kid-friendly songs and yes, I understand actual s’mores will be served
  • 4:00 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show and Prize Patrol — see what new releases Baen has coming out, and possibly score a free book!
  • 8:00 p.m. — “Confronting the Publishing Gatekeeper” Workshop — known at other conventions as “Face-to-Face with the Slushmaster General”
  • 9:30 p.m. — “Camp ConGregate: the Final Jam” — a musical roundtable “from filk to gothic and everything in between”

Sunday

  • 9:00 a.m. — Nondenominational Prayer (and Praise) Service
  • 11:00 a.m. — Filking Workshop

I was pleased to be part of the first ConGregate two years ago, and it’s gotten better every year. I expect the trend to continue, and I’ll do my best to help ConGregate be its best!

Hope to see you there!

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Mastering the Ceremonies at LibertyCon

I’m on the road again today, this time to the 29th annual LibertyCon science fiction and fantasy convention! The Author Guest of Honor is Jonathan Maberry, the Artist GOH is Todd Lockwood, the Science GOH is Dr. Ben Davis, and the Special GOH is artist Melissa Gay.

If it’s not obvious from the title, I’m the Master of Ceremonies for this convention. Here’s what I’ll be doing:

Friday

  • 1:00 p.m. — Face to Face Critiques from the Slushmaster General
  • 4:00 p.m. — Reading
  • 5:00 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies
  • 9:00 p.m. — Concert

Saturday

  • 10:00 a.m. — Autograph Session (with GOH Jonathan Maberry and Chuck Gannon)
  • 12:00 noon — Horror-themed Luncheon Banquet and Guest of Honor Speeches
  • 2:00 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show and Prize Patrol
  • 10:00 p.m. — Filk Sing!

Sunday

  • 10:00 a.m. — Kaffeeklatsch
  • 2:00 p.m. — Panel, “Changes in the World of Publishing”

My two big ceremonies to master are, of course, the Opening Ceremonies today and the Luncheon tomorrow. I will make the rounds of some other panels and events, though, and expect to make an appearance at the Closing Ceremonies on Sunday as well!

Let’s have some fun!

___
Shameless plug: I brought many copies of Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe that I’d love to get rid of, plus a few other goodies as well. Flag me down if you want something!

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