Cometary Tales Blog Lessons of a BayCon Gofer: You Do What You Con

Lessons of a BayCon Gofer: You Do What You Con

A Sign From NASA

It’s a Sign From NASA

As of BayCon 2014, Saturday’s big event is the Variety Show (the event formerly known as Masquerade), so the halls of the Hyatt are full of costumed characters. My husband’s coming tonight, just for the Show. In the meantime, I need to cram in some of my own Con activities, beginning with a kaffeeklatsch (small-group discussion) with the artist guest of honor, Ursula Vernon. Then there’s that one panel discussion (I’m not generally keen on panels, but Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff  is on this one). And I have my eye on a session about cool Arduino projects, not to mention showing up for a presentation by some friends and acquaintances from the Bay Area Lego User Group.

Does this mean I’m not Gofering at all? Nope. Gofering is a flexible commitment. I can sign in just for the time block I expect to be free. And the Art Show happens to need an extra hand just then.

The Art Show is one of my favorite venues, always with something new to see. Plus this particular day began with that awesome-artist kaffeeklatsch. The only downside? No photography, for obvious reasons. It’s light work, helping things get organized. Sorting collections of paper, helping the Art Show leaders check that all the forms are there and all the pieces have their bid sheets and all the pieces on display are included in their records.   There’s an old computer that needs someone to keep trying to get it to boot up. And finally, I’m entrusted with the queue of members needing to be assigned their bidder numbers and to be reminded of how the bid process works. My qualifications? Being an experienced art-show bidder, and relatively fussy with paperwork.

By the time the queue was down to the occasional new arrival and my services weren’t needed, it was time for the afternoon programs I wanted to attend.

More Fun With Arduino

More Fun With Arduino

And then I had the whole evening free to spend with my husband, who used his one-day pass for the variety show,

Vader & Son with Garcia

Vader & Son with Garcia

a tour, some pictures of paparazzi,

Dot Matrix & Her Fans

Dot Matrix & Her Fans

 

 

 

 

 

 

and an introduction to boffers, where a pair of energetic youngsters thoroughly trounced us both. He drew the line at staying for the midnight reading of Eye of Argon. Being a simply horrid spouse, I sent him home alone and dropped in on a few parties after that quiet, sedate, restful hour of reading, to whit:

En Garde!

The Eye of Argon appears at midnight

 

Gofer Lesson of the Day:  Let yourself enjoy the convention, too.

 

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Success as an author?Success as an author?

Depends what you mean by “success”

One of my writing groups (the one that isn’t a critique circle) has set a blog-post prompt of “How do you measure success as an author?”
We’re supposed to introspect, come up with wise words to inspire and console others. I don’t know about y’all, but the past two years have been a low-rising roller coaster, beginning with a brief burst of elation that my first book (my “debut” if you want to get precious about it) was coming out.

WIte, red, and blue award ribbons from a fair

Only then we had a little bit of a pandemic to deal with.

And now it’s two years later.

All That Was Asked has never had a book-launch party (it slightly predates online launch parties), a signing session, a reading at a convention—none of those things. Not uncoincidentally, it hasn’t made much dough for me or for my publisher. At least the print copies are mostly print-on-demand, so no one’s staring at a warehouse full of unsold copies and calling a shredding company.

But is selling a ton of books a success? To stay sane in this business, I think you have to measure success more on the basis of what you are doing than what you have done. If you’re making oodles of money in the publishing industry, that’s mostly a matter of luck, so is that success? I’d call it good fortune. It’s very much a lottery. I’ve read absolutely stunning work in critique circles, listened to mind-blowing readings by little-known writers, and I’ve even had people tell me after a reading “wow, that was awesome!”

What makes sense is to measure how this work—writing—impacts your life. Is this what you live for? Not in a rosy-eyed, dreamy way, not “I luv writing <3” but “writing is what drags me out of everything else” and “writing is my food, drink, and sleep” and “writing is how I exist in this universe.”

What I’m doing right now is working on projects that I’ve wanted to tackle for years—no, decades—but never could due to the vicissitudes of child-rearing, day-job workload, personal upheavals, and disability.  I’m not whining. These are just facts. I chose to raise kids, and it was satisfying work (and, yes, frustrating, too, but in all the right ways). However, doing the best job possible involved more than dropping them off at our barely-adequate schools. It meant advocating for them, fighting an uncaring administrative system, volunteering, fundraising, and, as a last-resort, homeschooling. At least in the pandemic age, there are more parents out there who understand that homeschooling—at least not ideally—isn’t a romp in the garden, it’s serious work. And, like most of us, for me that was work that had to take place in parallel with earning a living.

So right now, I’m successful. Every morning (afternoon?) I wake up, and there’s writing to do.

  • This kind of writing, which is off-the-cuff, barely edited, and hurled into the interweb’s event horizon, never to be seen by human eyes.
  • Critical writing, where I’m critiquing work by fellow writers, trying to help them make their stories the best they can be. 
  • Social-media writing—mostly Twitter—where I practice being concise, kind, and thoughtful.
  • And, finally, yes, writing my own stories, the ones I’ve been wanting to read.

What I’ve been looking for—and yes, I’ve found some, but far too few—are stories led by characters who have trouble communicating, who don’t fit in, who think differently than others but find a way through life anyhow. I’m tired of hero’s-journey stories and chosen-one tales that take themselves too seriously. I don’t mind playing with the tropes. For instance, one of my WIPs has a seeming “chosen one” in it, but the whole thing is a crock, a scheme worked up by a person who’s trying to change society and is using an old myth to get buy-in. Not that the “chosen” person isn’t worthy, but there’s no magic in the process—they’re carefully selected for capability and then trained for the job.

I’m not writing to market. I admit that. So I can’t complain about sales, not too much. It may take time for people like me to find the stories I’m writing for them. That’s OK. I waited a long time. A little longer—I can deal.

Well, I’m trying to, anyhow.

In the meantime, I’m keeping on. For me, that writers learned to use remote meetings to connect for critiques, discuss craft, conduct conventions, and more has been a compensatory gain during the pandemic. It’s not a benefit of this horrible time; it’s a thing we could should have been doing all along, and only just now learned to value. When the pandemic’s over, we’ll keep connected this way. That’s a good thing, but we don’t get to pretend it’s all right that millions of people died while those of us privileged to live were fumbling our way to this belated discovery.

I’ve leveraged that new learning, because I’m an engineer and tech things come naturally to me. I’ve let myself get roped into volunteering to help others less comfortable with the technology—and that’s OK, because participating with other writers helps me connect more deeply with my writing community.  I value the friendships I’ve formed with people I’ve only met in Zoom rooms. This is not a trivial feeling—I dedicated my Monday afternoons for half this past year to help a Zoom friend whose critique circle had lost their only zoom-capable member. That meant stepping aside from one of my other critique circles, one that needed me less. I’m returning to my prior group as of this month, because my friend’s old zoom-host has returned. I’ll miss the new friends I made in her circle, even though we only ever saw each other in little boxes on our computer screens.

Am I a failure because I had to defer my writing career? Looking back through my drawer of shelved and partly-done stories, one thing is strikingly clear—I was so young, so ignorant, so clueless. Much of what I’m writing now, I couldn’t have done when I was younger. In technique, I’m much better than my younger self; some of that gain I can attribute to years of writing science and engineering reports and papers, working collaboratively with colleagues on phrasing, structure, and word choice … plus coping with deadlines. Beyond the technique, older me is able to imagine more-complex characters, see worlds with more-different people in them. Through personal experience, I know most lives—most real stories—don’t have a “call to adventure” or a “supreme ordeal.” There’s no wise mentor waiting to guide us. We have to muddle through, try to survive in an irrational universe, and deal with the fact we’ll never quite make sense of it all.

Sure, I’m still learning. You have to keep learning. It’s the key to growth in every respect. Even there, though, I’m doing better, working actively to learn more of what I need to continue improving.

In my next posting, I’ll demonstrate my success by sharing a list of what I consider to be my 2021 accomplishments not only as a writer but also as a member of the writing community.

I’ll warn you right now: it’s a longer post.

Secrets & AdventuresSecrets & Adventures

No, it's not a compass.
No, it’s not a compass.

Sometimes, you need a compass.  Sometimes, you need a more specialized instruction set.

This section of Cometary Tales follows the path of adventure, in search of the secrets and mysteries out there in the natural world.

I’ll begin by co-opting the blog page for an in-depth retelling of how I took two cameras down the Colorado River on an inflatable raft and managed not to drop either of them in the river.

Not to say my loyal retainers didn’t suffer.  The TS-4 served its duty of riding lens-first into rapids, secure only in the assurance that between a wrist strap, a neck lanyard, and a sweet orange floaty it was not likely to end up in Lake Mead.   The non-rugged ZS-7 struggled mightily with the ubiquitous sand, but soldiered on, recovering temporarily from a sand-jam to deliver a final sequence of aerial shots when the TS-4 exhausted its last milliamp-hour on the way out of the canyon.

To follow along on this journey, track Secrets of the Grand Canyon.

(Updated January 2021.)

On recent weather in OklahomaOn recent weather in Oklahoma

Though it seems I just got started on the Grand Canyon project, this day is one to set aside for thinking about tornadoes.   This afternoon, I listened on the radio to an interview with a recent immigrant from California to Moore, Oklahoma.  With tears in her voice, she spoke of how “scary, really scary” she found frequent tornadoes in her adopted home state.   When I interned at Argonne National Lab many many many years ago, a local described the tornado that had passed through the fringe of the lab a few years previously.  He said the noise of the approaching tornado made him think of a T. Rex roaring through the forest.  This was before the Jurassic Park movies had transformed T. Rex into a helpful bad-guy removing plot device.   Classic tornado image courtesy of NOAA

On the positive side, just down the road from Moore, college students at the University of Oklahoma are designing ways to use the DOD money invested in drone technology to create drones capable of collecting essential data which will vastly improve the ability to forecast tornadoes and predict their motions more accurately.  Check out their work at the Government Technology e-mag page.   To understand how important it is to gather data to analyze, consider this NOAA consolidation of data over time which suggests when and where tornadoes are most likely…you can check in on these data on NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center site, daily.

StormPredictionCenterMap_NOAA

 

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