What I Learned at ConGregate

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being a guest at ConGregate, one of the nicest small science fiction and fantasy conventions I’ve ever attended. I had a great time, as usual — testament to the great folks who put it all together!


I should be singing, not just sitting around in the cantina! (Photo by Donna Smith Parker.)

And, just like at LibertyCon earlier, I learned a few things at ConGregate:

  • It feels great to hear people report that they enjoy Stephanie Minervino’s performance narrating the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook — and even better when I can watch their eyes light up as I tell them that she’s my daughter, performing under her married name!
  • It feels pretty good to find out people are saying good things about your work even when you’re not around to hear them. (In this case, a friend was recommending the aforementioned lunar colony novel on the strength of its portrayal of a wheelchair-bound character.)
  • I may be on to something with respect to the novel I’m writing now. I read the first chapter of it, to generally complimentary reactions (though I don’t recall anyone at a reading ever being critical), but when I explained the general idea behind the story about half the room gasped and said, “Ooohhh.” I’ll take that as a good sign.
  • Recent research shows that centripetally induced gravity as low as 0.3g may be high enough to overcome some of the difficulties that people encounter in space (e.g., calcium loss, inner ear problems). Some earlier research took 0.8g as the minimum required, but when it comes to building any future rotating habitats 0.3g would be more attainable in the short term. (Hey, it shouldn’t be any surprise that I’m interested in learning about space stuff!)
  • I really need to learn to play Jonah Knight’s song, “King of Nebraska.” Someone asked if I could play it during my set in the “ConGregate Cantina,” and I had to disappoint them. So, that’s one thing added to the “to do” list.
  • Loaning my guitar out to friends is one thing. Getting it back from them the next day is sometimes harder than anticipated.
  • Finally, just as at LibertyCon: Even though I criticize my own music and writing quite a bit, and generally find them lacking compared to my friends, folks genuinely seem to appreciate what I do. That feels pretty good.

The convention was not without its hiccups, but the ConGregate staff handled everything with good humor and general excellence! I’m very pleased that they let me participate, and I hope they’ll let me come back again!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Some Things I Learned at LibertyCon

Over the last weekend in June, I was honored to be part of another LibertyCon — a most excellent science fiction and fantasy convention. I had a marvelous time with a fantastic group of people!


After another epic round of Terraforming Mars. I didn’t win, but I had a great time! (L-R: Rich Groller, Karl Gallagher, yours truly, Steve Jackson, Norman Johnson. Photo by C.S. Ferguson.)

And this year I learned a few things, too:

  • Terraforming Mars is my new favorite game. I was invited to play as part of the convention programming, as seen above — how cool is that? — and ended up playing three complete games. Even though I didn’t win any of them, the game is structured in such a way that I was so interested and focused on what I was trying to accomplish that I had tremendous fun with no regard to the outcome. (And, yes, since then I’ve bought my own copy of Terraforming Mars and look forward to introducing it to my family, with hopes of putting it into our regular game rotation!)
  • My children know me very well: They were correct when they predicted that I would not enjoy playing Cards Against Humanity. I don’t have the right sense of humor for that game. C’est la vie.
  • Marie Curie (a/k/a Madam Curie) is credited with saving a million lives during the First World War. She brought x-ray equipment to the field that enabled surgeons to find and remove shrapnel, and also used a radium-based method to sterilize wounds. (This historical tidbit courtesy of Jim Beall.)
  • If I could write quickly to a specific market niche, I would make a lot more money at this writing thing. But, I just write the stories I want to write — and would like to read — and I haven’t mustered the will or mastered the ability to crank out chapter after chapter in workmanlike fashion. (This observation probably applies to music as well.) So much the worse for me.
  • I would very much like to produce a new CD. At the past few conventions, folks have asked when I might come out with new music and have seemed to like my newest songs. However, since I’ve only made back a fraction of the money I spent on the first two CDs, and don’t have a ready supply of cash to pay the production expenses, I think a new CD will have to remain TBD — as in, “to be done.”
  • The entry requirement for participation in Sigma, the science fiction think tank, does not specifically include a doctoral degree. All this time, I thought only PhDs were invited to be part of the group. I don’t reckon I’d have very much to contribute, as my technical credentials and publishing history are both sketchy, but it would be pretty nifty! They get involved in some interesting projects.
  • As much as I criticize my own music and writing and find them lacking, other people seem genuinely to appreciate what I have to offer. That feels pretty good.

Once again as in years past, the whole LibertyCon staff did an amazing job (especially considering the series of difficulties they overcame!) and put on a wonderful convention. Next year’s event is already sold out (and did so in record time), so here’s looking forward to LibertyCon 33!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

We Will Congregate at ConGregate

Here we go, NC folks! The ConGregate science fiction and fantasy convention runs Friday through Sunday in High Point, with all the usual festivities! It’s a small but extremely well-run convention, full of fun and friendly people — plus me! 😂

Here’s what I have going on:

Friday:

  • 1:00 p.m. — “Science Fiction Writer’s Showcase”
  • 3:00 p.m. — Open Filk
  • 4:00 p.m. — Solo Concert!
  • 8:00 p.m. — Reading

Saturday:

  • 11:00 a.m. — Open Filk
  • 1:30 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Slide Show & Prize Patrol
  • 4:00 p.m. — More Music (in the “Cantina”)
  • 6:00 p.m. — Open Filk
  • 9:00 p.m. — Panel, “How Much Science Should a Science Fiction Writer Know?”

Sunday:

  • 9:00 a.m. — Prayer & Praise Service
  • Noon — Open Filk
  • 1:00 p.m. — Round Robin Music Fest

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to the Research Triangle Writers Coffeehouse on Sunday, but a friend volunteered to moderate that session so it will go on as scheduled!

Here’s looking forward to a lot of fun with my fannish friends!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Ground Control to LibertyCon …

Ground Control to LibertyCon …
Take your bourbon shots
And put your Jayne hats on …

It’s that time of year again! The fannish family reunion known as LibertyCon starts today!

LibertyCon Illustration by Todd Lockwood
(Illustration by Todd Lockwood, from the year I was the LibertyCon MC.)

I’ll be busy right out of the gate, and tonight is packed:

Friday:

  • 1 p.m. — Author’s & Artist’s Alley — come by and chat!
  • 4 p.m. — Autograph Session — again, come by and chat!
  • 5 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies — at which I will sing, so beware
  • 6 p.m. — CONCERT (or, “LibertyConcert”) — at which I will sing more, almost certainly including “LibertyCon Oddity” (quoted above)
  • 8 p.m. (until 10:30) — Terraforming Mars — playing the game in front of an audience
  • 11 p.m. — Open Filk — at which I will sing even more, and hopefully other folks will, too!

Saturday:

  • Noon — Banquet — always a fun time!
  • 2 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show
  • 4 p.m. — Panel, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Writing Advice” — and remember what free advice is worth …
  • 11 p.m. — Nerd Music Free-for-all — like Open Filking, but nerdier? (is that even possible?)

Sunday:

  • 10 a.m. — Kaffeeklatsch — which for me involves something other than coffee
  • 1 p.m. — Reading — with my friend David B. Coe!

I played my first game of Terraforming Mars last night, and had a lot of fun, so the convention’s already started well for me! If the rest of the weekend goes as well, it’ll be a fine time. Let’s make it so!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Another Snippet from My LOST SIGNALS Story

Late last week I announced that Lost Signals of the Terran Republic, an anthology set in Charles E. Gannon’s “Caine Riordan” universe, is available for preorder right now. In that post, I included the opening of my story, “Botwright.”

Today’s snippet pays homage to Isaac Asimov and his “Laws of Robotics” against robots harming human beings. In the scene, our misfit robot maintainer — a/k/a “botwright” — Lloyd Cramer and his friend Eric Moorefield have just been attacked by the asteroid mining foreman who murdered a young lady. In the melee, Cramer sent out a distress call to the “Semi-Autonomous Multifunctional Miner/Mechanic” (or, SAM) robots he takes care of — and which take care of him.

We pick up the action …

A SAM’s foremost port ventral arm grabbed the mining foreman by the head, then the robot pirouetted as a few of its other limbs grabbed on. Still using two limbs against grab bars, it pressed the foreman into the nearest bulkhead as if it were trying to mate with him. Ashworth struggled against it but found no purchase, and the machine … so effectively covered his face that Ashworth could not even cry out for mercy.

… Moorefield’s eyes narrowed, and he spoke in a low, almost menacing tone. “You teach that bot to do that?”

Cramer shrugged, forgetting for a moment that he wasn’t well-grounded. He grabbed a handhold and said, “I told it to protect me.”

“Didn’t think that was possible.”

Cramer looked down into the lower corner of the shop. “Not allowed … not the same as not possible.”

“True enough,” Moorefield said. “But what would Asimov say?”

Cramer shrugged again, but held himself in place. Now was not the time to debate the difference between artificial intelligence and artificial knowledge. “The laws of robotics are written by the programmers.”

What will happen next? We’ll have to see.


Pretty spiffy cover, eh?

If you want to read more — and in particular if you want to get all the stories by a tremendous group of authors — you can preorder the anthology either as a Kindle e-book or a trade paperback. Order today!

I hope you like all the stories!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Preorder the LOST SIGNALS Anthology Now!

If you like far-ranging science fiction stories set in a remarkably solid universe of adventure and alien encounters, I highly recommend the “Caine Riordan” series by Charles E. Gannon — and not just because I had a part to play in its inception … and show up as a character in some of the novels! 😃

Welcome to the Terran Republic of the Twenty-Second Century. Just as humanity finally reaches out to the stars, it is challenged by several “exosapient” species whose motivations are as unusual as their physical forms. Troubleshooters like Caine Riordan — as well as commandos, crewmen, and correspondents — contend with both humans and aliens during the exploration, statecraft, and warfare that churn and change our post-contact world.

The best place to begin with the series as a whole is at the beginning, with the Nebula Award-nominated and Compton Crook Award-winning Fire With Fire, available on Amazon or directly from Baen Books in the Baen Free Library.

But if you’re looking for shorter fiction, there’s now an anthology of all-original stories set in the Caine Riordan universe, ready for preorder: Lost Signals of the Terran Republic.

And I have a story in it!

… no world is defined solely by the main characters who occupy center-stage. Lost Signals digs deep into the lives and struggles of those beyond the spotlight. Twenty new voices tell twenty gripping stories that blur the line between fact and fiction in the Consolidated Terran Republic, where high-stakes war and intrigue has played out over four national bestsellers.


Pretty spiffy cover, eh?

Because it’s one of the “earliest” stories chronologically, my entry — entitled “Botwright,” as in the person who builds and maintains robots … like a “shipwright” or a “wheelwright,” but with robots — comes right after a new story by Charles Gannon himself. My story puts you on an asteroid mining outpost with a socially awkward mechanic who witnesses a murder through the “eyes” of one of the robots he works on.

Mine is a quiet tale, and I tried hard to put you in the head of the main character and give you a realistic sense of his predicament. Here’s the opening:

“Uncle Lloyd! Are you in there?”

Lloyd Cramer grinned. Kelly wasn’t really his niece; she had started calling him “uncle” back on the Moon almost five years ago. And even though his smile felt distorted, awkward, on his face, Cramer would always smile for her, even when she interrupted him.

Kelianna “Kelly” Forester sailed into his workshop, trailed her fingers along the hatch to bleed off speed, somersaulted, and came to rest against an equipment locker. She was so graceful that Cramer felt clumsy just sitting on his perch.

“Yes, I’m in here,” he said. He slipped the wrench he had been using into its slot on his vest.

“I knew, anyway,” Kelly said. Her hair fluttered under a multicolored headband. “I checked your prox.”

Cramer chanced a look down at Folco. The bot’s limbs were paralyzed since he’d used its motive power supplies in other machines, but Cramer noted with satisfaction that its camera telltale was on. It had registered Kelly’s proximity implant signal, just as they all did. Or were
supposed to. “If you knew, then why did you ask?”

Kelly laughed, a bright melody that filled the space, and she pushed off the locker.

“Mind the clothesline,” Cramer said.

Kelly grabbed the cable-and-alligator-clip rig he had strung across his workshop, and came to rest beside him. She reached up and flicked one of the Mylar streamers that she had made him add for sake of visibility: the slender wire was almost invisible. “You know me,” she said, “I’m always careful.” She waited a moment for him to reply, but he had nothing to add. She was the mine’s safety director; of course she would be careful.

She shimmied a little closer along the clothesline. “Uncle Lloyd, I need a favor….”

I was very pleased to be invited and included in the anthology — with a ton of authors much more talented than I am! — and now that the book is in production I’m glad to let you know that you can preorder it now on Kindle or in paperback. I hope you do, and that you like all the stories!

And if you know any other science fiction fans, I’d appreciate it if you’d send them the link to the book (or just to this blog post) to let them know. Happy reading!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Winners, We Have (Audiobook) Winners!

Announcing the results of our final drawing to give away copies of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook!

Yesterday I pulled names out of the hat myself (having had family members to do it the first two days). Being the third drawing, I picked three winners:

  • Jill Berticus, who teaches English in Japan;
  • Rachel Brune, author, Army Reservist, and Jersey girl currently living in California; and
  • Scott Huggins, “Very Nearly Award-Winning” author of Racine, Wisconsin.

And to cap off the entire giveaway effort, I decided to award one additional prize to the person who had shared the news the most: that award went to Navy veteran J.J. Dunaway, accountant by day and reader, writer, and geek by night!


Look, they’re audiobooks! 😂

I’m very pleased with how the giveaway went, and if you didn’t win this time, be on the lookout for future contests and giveaways! Meanwhile, I hope you’ll check out the audiobook at Audible or on Amazon . (You can also read a review of it at The Audiobook Blog.)

Congratulations, one and all!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Thus Quoth the Raven: RavenCon!

This weekend I’ll be at the RavenCon science fiction and fantasy convention in Williamsburg, Virginia. RavenCon is a terrific convention, run by a great group of people, and I’ve enjoyed attending and serving as a guest at it for many years.

This year, in addition to a number of panels, I get to play two concerts! Here’s what I have going on, if you’re curious:

Friday:

  • 5 pm — Guests Meet and Greet
  • 7 pm — Opening Ceremony
  • 8 pm — Panel, “Music and Art Influences in SFF Stories & Novels” (Moderator)
  • 10 pm — Open Filk

Saturday:

  • 10 am — Concert: Gray Sings Silly Songs! (one of which might be “Tauntauns to Glory”)
  • 11 am — Reading
  • 1 pm — Panel, “Purple Prose” (Moderator)
  • 4:30 pm — Baen Books Traveling Slide Show & Prize Patrol
  • 10 pm — Open Filk

Sunday:

I hope to debut a new serious song (that I just finished last week!) in my Sunday morning concert, and I may also debut a work-in-progress silly song during one of the open filking sessions. Should be fun, all around!

Safe travels to everyone who’s headed anywhere, and especially to all my fannish friends coming to the con!

___
Related Items of Interest:
Enter to win one of several free downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook by signing up for my newsletter at this link — and check out the audio sample on the Audible site or at Amazon
– Listen to both of my albums for free at Bandcamp — Distorted Vision, and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe — or, if you prefer, buy them there or at Gray’s Online Store

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Hear Ye, Hear Ye — We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Chip Brazell — a workforce analyst from Cherokee County, Georgia — our first winner of an Audible download of Walking on the Sea of Clouds!


It’s an audio book — get it?

We have more drawings planned for between now and Tax Day! If you’re not registered, you can enter by signing up for my newsletter using this special link.

And if your name is already in the hat, you can improve your chances each time you share that link (or the Audible link, or the Amazon link) and tag Gray in your post. (We have to know about it, after all.)

So, once more for good measure: Congratulations, Chip! Hope you enjoy listening to the story.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Writers, What’s Your Main Character’s Tendency?

A few weeks ago I posted about Gretchen Rubin’s “Four Tendencies” model,* and specifically how it revealed a mistake I made in my book on education** — not an error of fact, but an error of omission due to my own failure of imagination.

Since then I’ve been thinking about the Four Tendencies as they might apply to characterization in fiction.

To recap, Ms. Rubin identified four categories into which we sift ourselves according to how we respond to expectations — both our own, inner expectations, and the expectations we perceive that others have for us. Some of us readily meet expectations, and others of us resist expectations, generally as follows:

  • Upholders: Meet both outer and inner expectations
  • Obligers: Meet outer expectations, but resist inner expectations
  • Questioners: Resist outer expectations, but meet inner expectations
  • Rebels: Resist both outer and inner expectations

Like many such schemes, this one has its strengths and weaknesses (e.g., I wish she had explored in more depth the areas where the tendencies overlap), but I find that it has some excellent insights into our choices and behaviors. As statistician George Box said, “All models are wrong. Some models are useful,” and the Four Tendencies is a quite useful model.

So how can this model apply to writing fictional characters?

Writer's Block I
(Image: “Writer’s Block I,” by Drew Coffman, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I think anything that helps us understand that mysterious thing called “human nature” is useful in creating characters who readers will find interesting and believable, let alone relatable and sympathetic. And understanding the Four Tendencies has the potential to make a big difference in writing characters who have clear motivations and consistent reactions to the expectations of the other characters around them.

When I think about the main characters in Walking on the Sea of Clouds (now available in audiobook***), for instance, I think Stormie Pastorelli fits the pattern of an Upholder. She’s driven to succeed, and to help the lunar colony survive and thrive, with a strong “by-the-book” approach and a heavy insistence on living up to her high expectations of herself. I think her husband Frank, on the other hand, is an Obliger: he is ready and willing to do things that other people expect of him, even sometimes at the expense of his own well-being.

Of the other main characters in the novel, Barbara Richards is probably also an Obliger, and that makes her struggle about whether to stay at the lunar colony realistic. (It makes sense to me for two of the main characters to have that tendency, since Ms. Rubin points out that Obligers form the most prevalent tendency in society; honestly, I don’t think society would function if Obligers weren’t the largest group.) I think Barbara’s husband Van, though, is primarily a Questioner — perhaps with a bit of Rebel thrown in.

If you’ve read Walking on the Sea of Clouds, what do you think? Does that assessment sound right to you? How do you think I did in keeping their characteristic tendencies consistent?

If you’re a writer, do you think the Four Tendencies might help you better understand the personalities of your main characters, in order to keep their characterizations consistent? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

As for me, I’m working on a fantasy novel these days, and I’m keeping the Four Tendencies in mind as I try to figure out my characters’ motivations and their feelings about the expectations placed on them. I hope I’ll be able to make them seem realistic! But that, in the end, will be decided by the readers.

___
*Full (and somewhat unwieldy) title: The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).
**Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It (a fairly unwieldy title of my own).
***Reminder for anyone who missed the announcement: I’m running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook. Sign up at this link!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather