Monday, July 23, 2012

Writing craft: Waiting to let the penny drop

One of the trickiest things in fiction is finding just the right moment for a plot twist or other good bit of information to make itself known. Give things away too early, and you can lose the element of surprise, or deny your readers a really good sucker punch. Delay things too long, and it becomes obvious that you're delaying, and the reader will resent you.

Waiting to let the penny drop is a good technique, and it can be used for comedic and dramatic purposes. It's a little easier to do with comedy, for if the laugh is good enough the audience will be more than willing to accept any delays revealing the twist. For an example, here's Monty Python's "The Pope and Michelangelo" sketch*:

Now, logically the Pope would be more upset by the three Christs than anything else. But it's funnier for the three Christs to be revealed after we've heard about the Jell-o, kangaroo, and twenty-eight disciples. It doesn't make sense, but no one cares because the comedic effect is so good.

It's a bit trickier with drama, but it can be done. A stellar example is Ray Bradbury's short story "The Aqueduct." I'm unable to find an online version of it, but do yourself a favor and go read it right now. I'll wait.

You're back? Good. Wasn't that a doozy? Though it's a very short story, it does so many things so well. First of all, that revelation. The first time I read the story, I actually screeched, something I rarely do. I hadn't seen it coming, and the implications of that revelation are so terrible that I was truly sucker punched. Furthermore, when you go back and re-read the story, it's clear that Bradbury did not cheat when writing that story. You might think he did, but go back and read it again. Pay close attention to the word choices. He does not cheat. Furthermore, he drops that penny and trusts his reader to know what that penny means.

How do you know when it's time to let the penny drop? Use your instincts on the first draft or two, then let your first readers tell you. If they laugh, or screech as the case may be, you've done it right.

* Yes, I am well aware that Leonardo Da Vinci painted "The Last Supper."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Watch this now: Trailer Park Heroes

Not ready to let go of Comic-Con yet? Then watch this 3-part video put on by the Nerd Machine crowd: Trailer Park Heroes.

Comic-Con 2012 Day 4: Last dance at the Nerd Prom

For the last day of the con, we more or less slept in (trust me, after getting up at 6 one day and 5 the next, sleeping in til 7 feels great).

This just sums up Comic-Con very nicely, methinks.

Then we got up, packed our bags (which included no small amount of pushing and shoving things into my luggage) and headed downstairs to check out. After leaving most of our stuff with the bell captain, we headed over to the Nerd HQ panel.

On our way to the Nerd HQ panel, we saw Jabba on his sail barge.

Nerd HQ is the second annual series of panels put on by Zachary Levi and Nerd Machine. These "Conversations for a Cause" let you join an intimate (for Comic-con) group to see various people. As I mentioned on the Day 0 entry, we had bought tickets for Friday's Nathan Fillion panel, but due to a system overload and crash we had been charged for tickets after they'd been sold out. Thankfull the fine folks at Nerd Machine and the ever-awesome and ruggedly handsome Mr. Fillion agreed to another panel, on Sunday at 10 a.m.

We arrived around 9:20, and let me say how nice it was to not have to line up for hours and hours. The Nerd HQ folks didn't even bother checking our tickets, presumably because this panel was only even mentioned to the "overflow" crowd from the original one. At any rate, we were soon in seats 197 and 198, and soon Zachary Levi came out to introduce Nathan Fillion. (Poor Zachary - his voice kept giving out on him and he admitted he was running on adrenaline and Red Bull at this point.)

Fillion hit the stage and was his usual funny and charming self, alternating between answering questions from the guests and auctioning off various items that ranged from Justice League DVDs to a package of Sharpie markers to a Razr type scooter (proceeds went to Operation Smile, the same charity that all Conversations for a Cause donations go to). I didn't get to ask a question (I'd planned to ask who his favorite character from A Song of Ice and Fire is) and didn't bid (because I have more sense than money), but the panel was worth every cent of the $20 cost, and made all the more fun because Fillion's Castle co-star Molly Quinn showed up to say hi and be adorable.

Nathan Fillion at the Nerd HQ. Sorry for the poor photo quality.

More of Nathan at Nerd HQ. Hope to have some less blurry pix soon.

Nathan Fillion and Molly Quinn at Nerd HQ.

After the panel, Karen and I went over to the convention center for one last round of shopping. Our plan was to meet at 1:15 for the Max Brooks (author of World War Z) panel, but I wandered up there about 12:45 because I was tired, and lucky I did so. The line was surprisingly substantial, so I called Karen and we got into line. We made it in, and I'm glad we did because the panel was lots of fun. Brooks was very engaging and hilarious, keeping us all laughing as he talked about the World War Z movie (he has nothing to do with it) and the new audiobook set for release in Spring 2013. In a nice bit of geek crossover and synchronicity, Brooks revealed that one of the readers for the new audiobook will be Nathan Fillion, and talked a bit about Nathan's reading and his process for getting into character. I'm not a fan of audiobooks generally, but even without Fillion's participation I'd probably get this, as the setup of the book (an oral history) lends itself very well to the audiobook format, and it sounds like Brooks is getting some very good people on board.

Clones on the vendor floor.

Willy Wonka's coat on display.

Prop Wonka bars on display.

The prop Everlasting Gobstopper. My inner six-year-old is totally geeking out over this.

One last dip into the vendor floor, and then Karen and I called it quits and headed across the street to Lou and Mickey's for a celebratory late lunch/early dinner. She had a burger, I had fish and chips, and we both had complicated alcoholic beverages. It was a lovely meal.

My complicated drink at Lou and Mickey's

Karen and her complicated drink at Lou and Mickey's.

After cappucinos we walked back to the hotel, where we grabbed the bags and hailed a cab, then schlepped our stuff onto the train - thank God for business class! The general boarding line was hideous!

Then it was goodbye San Diego and goodbye Comic-con. On the train ride home I finished the book I'd brought with me (Heat Rises by Richard Castle). From Union Station we hopped the Gold Line and made it home safe to Pasadena, where my husband picked us up and took us home.

Some random thoughts and observations:

  • Comic-Con is getting way too huge. I'm no veteran - my first year was '08 - but it has gotten a lot more crowded and unwieldy. This was obviously true in the line situation, and also in the vendor floor, which was much more crowded than I remember it being. Something has got to give.

  • Despite all this, the people were reasonably cheerful and polite. The lone sour note for me was a vendor on Sunday who, when I asked if a book was available on Amazon, said I shouldn't support the "evil empire." Well! I said nothing much at the time, but in true l'esprit de l'escalier fashion I'd like to say, "That evil empire is the reason I'm now a published author, bitch."

  • I'm pretty sure I saw director John Landis walking about the vendor floor.

  • Best costume: Mrs. Darth Vader. She had the Vader helmet, along with a Betty Draper-type Fifties dress and apron, that also looked like a Vader outfit. Very nice.

  • Best T-shirt: A red one with "Shawarma" in the Avengers font.

  • There seem to be fewer cosplayers this year. I thought this was my imagination, but my friend Jeremy said he noticed this, too. We're not sure of the reasons.

  • This was the first time I'd spent much time in downtown San Diego, what with our hotel being 7 blocks from the Convention Center. It was fun! We never really needed the shuttle, and we got to eat at some really nifty restaurants. (Still dreaming about that pizza we had...)

  • I felt like this year we had a good range of experiences. Smaller panels, a good focus on books, big things like Firefly and Django, cruising the vendor floor, and the fabulous off-site Nerd HQ. Of course, there are always things you miss out on (such as James Marsters at the Buffy panel, not that I'm upset about this). But you do what you can, hope for the best, and have as good a time as possible.

Can't wait for next year!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Comic-Con 2012 Day 3: Phantom of the Comic-Con

Day 3 of the con dawned way too bright and early, as we got up at 5, hoping to get into the Hall H line by 6 so we could catch the Django Unchained panel. We met up with Mary and Jeremy and began the long wait.

Jeremy, Karen, me, and Mary have fun while waiting for Hall H.

I admit I was pretty pessimistic at the start, as the line wound down and around and out to the marina. However, around 8 a.m. the line was "compressed" as people who'd been lined up in ones-and-twos were herded into a more orderly fashion. This brought us all the way up to the grassy tented area where we waited some more. We ended up getting into the panel with room to spare (much nicer than the awful suspense of the previous day's line!).

The Django Unchained panel featured Quentin Tarantino of course, who was his usual nerdy, spazzy, babbling self. He was joined by cast members Jamie Foxx, Don Johnson, Walter Goggins, Christoph Waltz (sigh), and Kerry Washington. An 8-minute "sizzle reel" with clips that have not been seen in any of the trailers was shown to much enthusiastic applause, and Tarantino revealed that there's just one week of shooting left. The cast was close-mouthed about much of the plot and characterization, which suits me fine, as I want the movie to be a nice gift for me this Christmas.

Quentin Tarantino at the Django Unchained panel.

Christoph Waltz at the Django Unchained panel.

Don Johnson, saying his Django Unchained accent was based on Foghorn Leghorn.

Kerry Washington at the Django Unchained panel.

After the panel we said goodbye to Mary and Jeremy, who were staying in Hall H for the day. Karen went to join some other friends, and I headed over to the Django Unchained promotion area to score a free poster. Then I grabbed some lunch, and went to the hotel to change into my much-improved (thanks to a new cape) Phantom of the Paradise costume.

The Phantom of the Paradise visits San Diego.

Cosplaying the Phantom of the Paradise is a bit like self-publishing my book. There isn't a huge amount of recognition, but what I did get was very appreciative. One man dressed as Captain Hammer got his picture taken with me and told me it was the highlight of his day. Those who appreciate my costume seem to be 75% middle-aged men, 25% goth chicks.

While still garbed as the Phantom I went to the autograph area. Sandahl Bergman, who appeared in All That Jazz and Conan the Barbarian, both awesome movies, was signing. (I will tactfully ignore her less-than-stellar turn in Red Sonja). Sandahl looks fantastic and was very outgoing and sweet, spending lots of time with each person and not minding my weird appearance. I got a still from All That Jazz signed by her, and another still signed for my friend Gerry, who couldn't make it to con this year.

After that I met up with Karen and friends JJ, John, Alan, and Kent. We hung out for a bit, then I went to make one last round of parading around in my costume before heading back to the hotel for a much-needed shower (the costume makes you sweat buckets). Then Karen, JJ, John and I had dinner (some rather mediocre Mexican) and then it was back to the hotel for some packing, planning, and our last night at the Westgate.

Tomorrow: Oh Captain, my Captain

Friday, July 13, 2012

Comic-Con 2012 Day 2: Can't take the sky from me

We got up bright and early to get in line for the Firefly reunion panel. Just barely early enough. The line ended up being massive, and we were all the way outside the convention center down by the marina. Then it was "hurry up and wait" as it was still a couple hours before the first panel even started. We had snacks and books and cool people nearby us in line, so we waited.

While we waited, I took pictures of some of the costumed attendees.

King Renly Baratheon, about to get offed by Melisandre's shadow monster

Kaylee ready to go to the ball.

Doctor Who as you've never seen him before.

His and hers Halo cosplayers.

A more conventional Doctor Who.

As much as I tried to maintain a Zen state of mind and accept that we might not get in, things were looking pretty grim. The first panel, for Community, let out but hardly anyone exited. Things were a little better for the next panel, Legend of Korra. It was clear that most of the people in Ballroom 20 were there for the Firefly reunion. Things were really looking grim when we were very close to the entrance of the Ballroom, but the Con employees were asking for people to come in allotments of 5, or even 2. I think this was the point when my leg started jittering uncontrollably, which Karen noticed but was kind enough not to comment on.

But wonder of wonders! We got in! And the panel was wonderful. On hand were Joss Whedon, Jose Molina, Tim Minear, Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Summer Glau, Sean Maher, and Adam Baldwin. It was wonderful to see the creators and cast together, share memories of the show, and appreciate the considerable respect and affection they have for each other and their appreciation of our fandom.

UPDATE: Karen's photos turned out better than mine did, so here's a few!

Nathan Fillion, happy to be there.

Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion, happy to be there.

Joss Whedon, Summer Glau, Sean Maher, and Adam Baldwin at the Firefly panel.

Alan Tudyk, Nathan Fillion, Joss Whedon, and Summer Glau at the Firefly panel.

Afterward, we had planned to see if we could get into the Game of Thrones panel but from what we'd seen of the line we knew there was no way in hell we'd get in. So we skipped that, ate some lunch, and then hit the vendor floor. I bought a few things for friends and family that I won't describe here as I don't want to spoil the surprises. For myself I got:

  • A bootleg DVD of the bizarre horror film Possession (NOT an adaptation of the A. S. Byatt novel - this has Isabelle Adjani losing her shit and having sex with an octopus creature).
  • A poster of Westeros.
  • A plush Blue Meanie from Yellow Submarine.
  • The book Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery, which I remember from my childhood. The bookseller, William Wu of William Wu Books, even knocked 5 bucks off the price for helping me reclaim a childhood memory.

I also snapped a few pictures of costumed attendees.

Princess Leia in disguise to rescue Han Solo from Jabba's Palace.

A Tusken Raider out and about on the vendor floor.

After shopping Karen and I headed up 4th street and had dinner at Sammy's Woodfired Pizza. She had the vegetarian pizza (which she describes as "damn good" with caramelized vegetables). I had the brie and truffle oil pizza, which was utter bliss for my taste buds. (We've found that a good dinner at Con makes up for living off power bars and whatnot during the day.)

Then it was back to the hotel for some much-needed relaxation. We're both pretty stiff from sitting on cement so much, and also ooching our way through the vendor floor crowds.

Tomorrow: Another early rising, this time for Django Unchained. And then: COSTUME!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Comic-Con 2012 Day 1: New writer discovered, an icon remembered, and bad movies mocked

We got up bright and early this morning and headed over to the Convention Center. Amazingly enough, the line to get badges was not a royal boondoggle, and we were able to get our badges with little difficulty. Unfortunately, we were so early that we had to line up and wait in the Sails Pavilion to wait for the vendor room to open. Ah, waiting in line - always such fun.

A nifty sign in the Sails Pavilion.

At any rate, the doors opened eventually and we made our way to the vendor room. I think that Karen was really blown away by the sheer size of the room and the number of the vendors. We walked the perimeter to get a feel for the place, and I saw a number of things I want to get (that hopefully won't be a big pain to haul home).

A Jawa on the vendor floor.

At a book vendor I got Christopher Walken A to Z: The Man, The Movies, The Legend, and saved $7 off the cover price too! At the Harper Collins booth I picked up Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury (we were heading to a panel for this later in the afternoon). While I was there I heard that Joe Hill would be doing a signing, so I threw in a copy of 20th Century Ghosts and had him sign that for me.

Then it was upstairs to a panel Karen wanted to see, a sci-fi writer named N. K. Jemisin. Haven't heard of her before, but she did a reading and her work sounds pretty interesting. After a lunch break we headed over to the Shadow Show panel, which featured Joe Hill and Margaret Atwood (still cannot believe that Margaret Atwood was at Comic-Con!). The panel was a wonderful tribute to Ray Bradbury, and probably the highlight of the day.

Yours truly and author Joe Hill.

After the panel we went over to an exhibition of all the Batmobiles, and then met up with my friends Mary and Jeremy. We had a bite to eat and compared what we'd done and what we plan to do (there are plans to all get together for the Django Unchained panel on Saturday). Then Karen and I went over to the Indigo Ballroom to get in line for Rifftrax.

My favorite of the Batmobiles on display.

The Rifftrax panel was a hoot, as the guys did their riffing on a horrible safety short from the 1970s, and then asked fans to submit their own ideas for bad movies. (My favorite suggestion was the one that was a remake of Twilight, but with all the characters getting eaten by Claymation dinosaurs.)

Some killjoys outside the con.

By now the horrible headache I'd been plagued with all day went away, and I actually had an appetite again. So we went for dinner to The Field, an Irish pub, where Karen had bangers and mash and I had a boxy with Irish bacon. It all hit the spot. Then, back to the Westgate.

Tomorrow's plan: FIREFLY REUNION! And hopefully the Game of Thrones panel.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Comic-Con 2012 Day 0: There IS joy in Mudville

My friend Karen and I took the Gold Line from Pasadena to Union Station, and from there caught the Amtrak to San Diego. This not only was remarkably hassle-free, but I had never been to Union Station before and it was a treat to see how lovely it is. If you don't believe me, here are some photos.

A lovely fountain outside the station.

Inside Union Station

The train ride was extremely uneventful, and once at the San Diego station we got a cab (whose driver obviously learned his trade in some Third World country where traffic laws are more "guidelines" or "helpful suggestions." At any rate, we made it to the Westgate Hotel in one piece.

The Westgate is a lovely place, sort of old fashioned but I am not complaining. Hey, they have free Wi-Fi and that's all we need.

The lobby of the Westgate Hotel.

The not-so-lovely view from our room (it's the City Administration Building).

Once we got checked in Karen and I made a trip to Ralph's for some food and snack items, and then over to Baja Fresh for dinner.

As for the title of this blog post, here's what it's referring to. Last Friday I had tried to get tickets for the Nerd HQ panel with Nathan Fillion. I thought I had succeeded, but it turned out that demand for all the Nerd HQ panels was so heavy that the system was overwhelmed and my tickets had been sold to me even though there were none left. Nerd HQ said they would try to see if Fillion would do another panel, at which we would be guaranteed a seat, and when I checked my email at the hotel, we got the happy news that the panel was not only a go, but was for a time when I hadn't anything else planned (I was nervous it would be scheduled during the Django Unchained panel, in which case I would have had to make a very hard decision). Hooray!

Tomorrow we'll be off to get our badges, check out the Ray Bradbury tribute panel, do some sight-seeing around the vendor floor, and hopefully catch Rifftrax Live. Should be fun!

Off to Comic-Con

Check back for nightly updates!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My book was mentioned...

As a "Book to read in the bathtub" in the Modern Senior blog. What's best is that I'm mentioned alongside Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Robert McCammon. I like it!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The music I had in mind

For those of you who haven't read my novel The Day After Yesterday, the protagonist is a musician. At one point in the book he composes an album, titled Winter Roses.

Several people have asked what the album sounds like. I confess that while I'm able to write novels, any sort of songwriting skills elude me. I was able to come up with song titles for this fictional album, a few lines of lyrics, and some details about the songs (which ones are instrumental, which ones are uptempo, etc.). But beyond that, you'll have to use your imagination.

The closest approximation I can make to the general tone and sound of the fictional album is this song by The Civil Wars. (My protagonist is a pianist, so the album has a lot of piano on it.)

Here's "The Violet Hour" by The Civil Wars. Their whole album is great, by all means pick it up.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Comic-Con approaches! Do the dance of joy!

Yes, in just a little over a week I'll be invading San Diego to let my nerd flag fly at Comic-Con. This will be my fifth year (my first time was in 2008, as a present to myself for my 40th birthday), and I'm really looking forward to it.

Among the panels I'm hoping to catch are a tribute to Ray Bradbury, a Firefly reunion, a Game of Thrones panel, the new Quentin Tarantino movie Django Unchained, and more.

It will be my friend Karen's first time, and for any of you other first-timers out there, I have some tips.

  • Remember that Comic-Con is big. Really big. The vendor floor alone is huge, and there are so many panels and signings and other things that there is no way you can do everything. Relax, focus on the things you absolutely MUST do, and try to maintain Zen.
  • Keep your tank fueled. The food at the con is expensive and nasty (your best option in the convention center is the Starbucks, which has not-bad caprese sandwiches). If time allows, explore some of the eating options in the Gaslamp area, and be sure to bring snacks with you. This is an imperative if you're camping out for a panel and won't be able to get lunch. Maintaining proper blood sugar levels will keep you from getting headachy and grouchy, and also from losing all control and screaming, "BUT I'M NOT LIKE ALL THESE OTHERS I LOVE YOU!!!" at your favorite celebrity crush.
  • Bring a book. You will have downtime, most often if you're waiting in line or camping out in a room waiting for your panel. Bring a book, preferably one that can do double duty and you can get it signed at the con. I'm bringing the Heat Rises book.
  • Shower. I shouldn't have to mention this, but...
  • Be considerate. Don't push and shove. Don't attack people in your zeal to get some free goodie. If you see a famous person on the vendor floor and they look like they're trying to just shop like any other person or get to where they need to be, don't hound them.
  • Take a moment to look and listen. People-watching and eavesdropping are half the fun of the con. Observe all the like-minded nerds and marvel that you are among your own kind. Listen to what people are saying. I still smile thinking of the woman I overheard a couple years ago, who said: "You know why I love Comic-Con? Mark Hamill hugged me! I will never wash my body again!" And who knows, maybe you'll make a friend.
  • Have fun. And do the dance of joy!