Category Archives: conventions

Capclave 2013, Saturday

I look forward to each October because it means Capclave is just around the corner. Capclave is my local science fiction convention, and it is the annual science fiction convention of the Washington, D.C. area. The convention is generally a small, extremely-well run affair, run by a group of some of the hardest working people you’ll find anywhere.

Capclave is a little bigger than usual this year (well, twice as big at least) because of the author Guest of Honor, a scribbler with the Tolkienesque name of George R. R. Martin. Now, you might be familiar with George from his Game of Thrones series on H.B.O., but George has been part of the science fiction and fandom community since the 1960 and his achievements go far behind Game of Thrones.

The convention started on Friday but I couldn’t make it up here on Friday. I arrived yesterday at about 7:30 am, which gave me and Bud Sparhawk enough time to make sure we were all set for the 90 minute talk on technology we were giving at 9 am was all ready. It was.

My first “panel” was the joint-talk with Bud on “Online Writing Tools” and I think it went over well. We had a 100+ slide presentation and a decent-sized audience for a 9 am panel (I think we had 30 people or so). Good question and answer session, too. For those interested, our entire presentation can be found online as a Google Presentation.

I had a short break after that panel and I made a quick pass through the dealer’s room, where I ran into an editor, who told me that she was buying an article I’d sent her for the magazine. That was a nice was to start the convention!

Next, I dashed off to a panel on Writers and Fandom. Pamela Kinney moderated the panel, which included Hildy Silverman, Catherine Asaro, and Laura Anne Gilman. That was a fun panel because the panelists were basically talking about how we became fans, how we went from being fans to being pros, and how we interact with fans today. Big audience for that one and some good questions from the audience as well.

Right after that, I was part of a panel that I was, by far, the least qualified panelist. The panel was on “Space Wars” and the moderator was Christopher Weuve. On the panel was Chuck Gannon, Ed Lerner, Catherine Asaro, and Jenine Spendlove. When panelists were introducing themselves, they all had some background (technical or otherwise) in combat of various kinds. For example, Jenine is a Marine and a C130 pilot! When it came time for me to introduce myself, I said something like this:

Continue reading Capclave 2013, Saturday

Where You Can Find Me At Capclave This Weekend

I believe this is more or less my official programming schedule for Capclave this weekend. Please note that while I’ll be there all day Saturday and Sunday, I won’t be there on Friday. I should arrive around 7:30 am on Saturday. If you are on the fence about going, I saw go! It’s a lot of fun, they have great programming (as they always do). And the guest of honor is a New York Giants and Jets fan. But I can’t remember his name.

Saturday

  • 9:00 am: Online Writing Tools (Ends at: 10:25 am)
    Panelists: Jamie Todd Rubin (M), Bud Sparhawk
    Bud Sparhawk and Jamie Todd Rubin guide you through the use of some of the most helpful tools available today.
  • 11:00 am: Writers and Fandom (Ends at: 11:55 am)
    Panelists: Catherine AsaroLaura Anne GilmanPamela K. Kinney (M), Jamie Todd RubinHildy Silverman
    Some authors were fans before they wrote, others came to the convention scene after getting their start. How does that affect fan interaction? Does it make a difference in how authors view conventions?
  • 12:00 pm: Space Wars (Ends at: 12:55 pm)
    Panelists: Catherine AsaroEdward M. LernerJamie Todd RubinJanine SpendloveChristopher Weuve (M)
    How would it be waged and why? Why would you want to go to war with a planet that takes 30 years to get to? What books have the best space wars?
  • 4:00 pm: The Worlds of Clifford Simak (Ends at: 4:55 pm)
    Panelists: Jamie Todd Rubin (M), Darrell SchweitzerAlex ShvartsmanMichael Swanwick
    50 years ago Simak won a Hugo for Way Station. He also wrote City and the Hugo and Nebula winning “Grotto of the Dancing Deer.” Yet today, few younger fans have read his work which is available only in the small press and “public domain” compilations. What happened? What makes his stories so timeless? What do you think is his best work and how can it be revived for today’s audiences?

Sunday

  • 10:00 am: Hand Waving or Sci-fantasy? (Ends at: 10:55 am)
    Panelists: David BartellD. Douglas FratzInge HeyerJamie Todd RubinLawrence M. Schoen (M)
    Many classic Science Fiction authors didn’t spend a lot of time describing the technology or science of their futures. Things worked, but if you look more closely, they may not make sense. Today authors still use this technique. Is this a legitimate form of science fiction or lazy writing? Have the standard furniture of sf — the FTL drive and time machine — become so common the author does not need to explain them, just use them for a story? Do all the details and the scientific equations get in the way?
  • 2:00 pm: Low Tech Writers (Ends at: 2:55 pm)
    Panelists: Dina LeacockJamie Todd Rubin (M), Michael SwanwickHoward Waldrop
    Harlan Ellison uses a typewriter, a manual typewriter. Asimov refused to fly. And our special guest Howard Waldrop doesn’t use email. Why might some writers about the future refuse to use technology? How does this influence their fiction? What would happen to society if more people followed their example and opted out?
  • 3:00 pm: Anything You Say May End Up In My Novel (Ends at: 3:55 pm)
    Panelists: Charles E. GannonLaura Anne Gilman (M), Annette KlauseJamie Todd RubinJim Stratton
    How do writers mine their own lives? Are they always on duty, ready to steal what they see and hear? What changes do you make to real life in your fiction (assuming you don’t normally hang out with elves and aliens)?

And those who wish to point out the irony that I am giving a talk on Online Writing Tools and moderating a panel on Low Tech Writers, well, I’ve kind of already noticed that. It should be interesting.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there. If you are looking for me, but can’t find me, give me a shout on Twitter.

My Preliminary Capclave Programming Schedule

The good folks who run Capclave have once again graciously included me in the programming for this year, which is wonderful. Capclave is my local convention and I get to see a lot of local writer/editor/artist/fan friends there. For those who have never heard of Capclave, it is described on its website as follows:

Capclave is a small relaxed literary convention with a program that usually focuses on the short fiction form. Our Guests of Honor and other notable authors, editors, artists, and fans of the short fiction form will explore the creation and enjoyment of short fantasy and science fiction genre stories.

The author guest of honor this year is a rabid New York Jets and Giants fan. He’s also written a few books and edited and co-edited a few more. You may have heard of him. His name is George R. R. Martin.

The convention goes from Friday, October 11 through Sunday, October 13. I’ll be there Saturday and Sunday and here is the programming I’ll be on, if you are interested in stopping by and checking it out:

Saturday, October 12

  • 9:00 – 10:25 am: Online Writing Tools (Jamie Todd Rubin and Bud Sparhawk).  Bud Sparhawk and Jamie Todd Rubin guide you through the use of some of the most helpful tools available today.
  • 11:00 – 11:55 am: Writers and Fandom (Catherine AsaroLaura Anne GilmanBob GreenbergerPamela K. Kinney (M), Jamie Todd RubinHildy Silverman). Some authors were fans before they wrote, others came to the convention scene after getting their start. How does that affect fan interaction? Does it make a difference in how authors view conventions?
  • 12:00 – 12:55 pm: Space Wars (Catherine AsaroEdward M. LernerJamie Todd RubinJanine SpendloveChristopher Weuve (M)). How would it be waged and why? Why would you want to go to war with a planet that takes 30 years to get to? What books have the best space wars?
  • 4:00 – 4:55 pm: The Worlds of Clifford D. Simak (Jamie Todd Rubin (M), Darrell SchweitzerAlex Shvartsman). 50 years ago Simak won a Hugo for Way Station. He also wrote City and the Hugo and Nebula winning “Grotto of the Dancing Deer.” Yet today, few younger fans have read his work which is available only in the small press and “public domain” compilations. What happened? What makes his stories so timeless? What do you think is his best work and how can it be revived for today’s audiences?

Sunday, October 13

  • 10:00 – 10:55 am: Handwaving or Sci-Fantasy. (David BartellD. Douglas FratzInge HeyerJamie Todd RubinLawrence M. Schoen (M)). Many classic Science Fiction authors didn’t spend a lot of time describing the technology or science of their futures. Things worked, but if you look more closely, they may not make sense. Today authors still use this technique. Is this a legitimate form of science fiction or lazy writing? Have the standard furniture of sf — the FTL drive and time machine — become so common the author does not need to explain them, just use them for a story? Do all the details and the scientific equations get in the way?
  • 2:00 – 2:55 pm: Low Tech Writers. (Dina LeacockJamie Todd Rubin (M), Howard Waldrop). Harlan Ellison uses a typewriter, a manual typewriter. Asimov refused to fly. And our special guest Howard Waldrop doesn’t use email. Why might some writers about the future refuse to use technology? How does this influence their fiction? What would happen to society if more people followed their example and opted out?
  • 3:00 – 3:55 pm: Anything You Say May End Up In My Novel (Charles E. GannonLaura Anne Gilman (M), Annette KlauseJamie Todd RubinJim Stratton). How do writers mine their own lives? Are they always on duty, ready to steal what they see and hear? What changes do you make to real life in your fiction (assuming you don’t normally hang out with elves and aliens)?

It is possible that I will also have a reading scheduled. (I was scheduled for a Friday evening reading, but since I won’t be there until Saturday…) If I end up getting one scheduled I’ll let you know.

Capclave is a fun, friendly convention, run by good people and focused on short fiction. If you are in the area and are looking for something fun on the weekend of October 11-13, stop by and say hello.

Some Post-Worldcon Thoughts

So, Worldcon is over and it was a lot of fun. I got home Tuesday afternoon, about 24 hours later than I was supposed to and I have been catching up ever since, but things are finally starting to calm down. A few post-Worldcon thoughts:

1. Sleep. Last night I managed to get almost 8 hours of sleep, the first time since before Worldcon. I think I’ve pretty much caught up on the sleep I didn’t get at Worldcon. For those curious as to how much sleep I did get at Worldcon, here it is, Thursday through Monday, courtesy of my FitBit Flex. (All times are Eastern, and Worldcon was in the Central time zone.)

 

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Monday

I was supposed to be home on Monday but my flight was cancelled and I spent the night at my friend Rich and Tricia’s house–I slept pretty well, all things considered.

I have now pretty much caught up on sleep. I’ve also discovered that as I get older, multiple consecutive nights of 4 or 5 hours of sleep can be pretty rough on me.

2. Hugo awards. There has been a lot of Tuesday-morning quarterbacking of the Hugos which is to be expected, I suppose, but some of it has been pretty mean-spirited, which is too bad, and which sheds a poor light all around. I watched the awards from the bar this year, and the biggest cheer in the bar seemed to come when Dr. Stanley Schmidt won the Hugo award for Best Editor, Short Form. I jumped up, screaming myself when that award was announced. I am so happy for Stan, who I was fortunate enough to sell stories to and work with before he retired from Analog last year.

And my friends at SF Signal won the Hugo award for Best Fanzine for the second time in a row. I am so happy for John and Patrick and J.P. and all of the contributors to SF Signal.

I was particularly pleased to see Ken Liu get the Best Short Story Hugo for “Mono No Aware.”

The toughest part about the Hugo awards for me these days is that I have quite a few friends who are nominated. I wish they could all win.

I would like to congratulate all of the Hugo winners as well as all of the Hugo nominees. You should all be proud of your accomplishments.

Continue reading Some Post-Worldcon Thoughts

LoneStarCon, Friday and Saturday, Days 2 & 3

So I am having so much fun here in San Antonio that I didn’t manage to get a post up yesterday detailing just how much fun I am having. If I were to try and write a narrative of everything I’ve done over the last two days, it would take me hours to write this post and I just don’t have hours. In fact, today, Sunday, is my busy day. So I’m going to provide a bulleted list1 with some commentary and remind you that you can also see some photos (a meager few at this point) over on Flickr.

Friday, August 30

  • Woke up at 6:30 am and walked up to CVS to find some Red Bull. My phone said the CVS opened at 7 am, but it turned out it didn’t open until 8 am. I found caffeine elsewhere2.
  • Wrote in the lobby for an hour or so, while talking with Bud Sparhawk, who sat at the table with me. Actually, there are four of us who get down here at around the same time every morning. I think we are the hardest working writers at Worldcon.
  • After Bud headed to breakfast, Saladin Ahmed took his place, making him one of the hardest working writers at Worldcon as well.
  • Did the Day 1 blogging.
  • Caught up with Jay Werkheiser and Lisa Montoya and then headed off to a panel on SIGMA, which is a science fiction think-tank. The panel was very interesting and panelists included Arlan Andrews, Bud Sparhawk, Chuck Gannon, Catherine Asaro and Marianne Dyson.
  • I received my Analog Mafia button from Arlan Andrews, which was very, very cool. I think I may have received the last button he had on him.
  • Headed to lunch with Trevor Quachri and Jay. We maintained our tradition of managing to walk in the direction where there are no restaurants. We wandered around aimlessly until we finally found a great Mexican restaurant on the river walk. We had a terrific lunch, stuffed avocado, which was amazing, good maragaritas, and of course, outstanding company.
  • Afterward, Jay and I wandered about the convention center until Jay suggested he was ready for a beer, at which point we headed to The Bar. While there, we were joined by a small-press editor, Chester Hoster, and we swapped stories about our kids.
  • I once again ran into Fran Wilde, but this time, Cards Against Humanity was not involved. We established, however, that I am not me, or at least, I am not who she thought I was, which makes perfect sense, but you had to be there.
  • Back over at the convention center, I saw James Seals and Kate Baker once again.
  • At this point, I decided a nap was in order and I headed back up to my room to rest for a little while. I didn’t actually sleep, but it was good just to lay down for a little while and take a break.
  • Jay, Lisa and I headed to the Saltgrass Steakhouse for dinner and I had one of the best steaks I’ve had in my entire life. Yum!
  • After dinner I headed back to my room, relaxed for a little while, showered, and then headed to the Analog/Asimov’s party and the TOR party.
  • Finally managed to get Bryan Thomas Schmidt connected with Trevor while at the parties. Talked with a ton of people. Met the two graduate students, Megan and Mackenzie (if memory serves me correctly) that run the AboutSF program at the University of Kansas.
  • Spoke to Stan Schmidt about how retirement has been treating him so far.
  • Ended up calling it a night at about 1:30 am.

Continue reading LoneStarCon, Friday and Saturday, Days 2 & 3

  1. I do keep a running list of things I do and people I meet each day in Evernote, in roughly chronological order and that helps a lot for posts like these, as well as post-convention follow-ups.
  2. I don’t drink coffee. I’ve never even tried it.

LoneStarCon, Thursday: Day 1

I arrived at LoneStarCon 3, the 71st World Science Fiction Convention, yesterday. I always get a little anxious on travel days. It seems nearly everyone has at least one travel horror story, and while I have generally been lucky, I still worry a little. Each stage of travel is like a small gauntlet, and when I pass it, I feel increasingly relieved: get to airport, get checked in, get on board the plane, plane departs on time, etc.

Yesterday, I needn’t have worried. Arriving in San Antonio had to be one of the most efficient arrivals I’ve ever experienced. The plane touched down at about 11 am. We were at the gate at 11:05. By 11:15 I’d picked up my baggage, and by 11:30 I was checked in  at the hotel. It was remarkable! I’m staying at the Marriott Rivercenter and I’ve got a room with a fantastic view of San Antonio.

(For reasons of efficiency, I am posting the pictures I’m taking at Worldcon to Flickr. If you want to see the photos, go there.)

The convention is spread over two hotels on the Riverwalk: the Marriot Rivercenter and the Marriot Riverwalk. The convention center is next to the latter, and that is where the bulk of the programming is located. However, most of the parties are in the Riverwalk, as is the SFWA Suite, which is convenient for me. Still, given the locations of the hotels and convention center, I still managed to easily hit 15,000 steps on by FitBit.

Almost at once, I ran into Bill Lawhorn, walking between hotels in the 100 F heat. I checked in at registration and wandered the cavernous dealer’s room where I ran into Steven  Silver and chatted with him for a while. After my initial circuit of the dealer’s room, I headed back to the hotel and sat in the lobby charging my phone. While sitting there, I saw Patrick Hester. I’d been waiting to meet with some SFWA officials to talk about a volunteer opportunity, but they were stuck in meetings. So I accompanied Patrick back to the convention center. Of course, as soon as I arrived there I heard from the SFWA officials and had to head back to the Rivercenter to meet with them. It was a quick meeting.

I met Patrick over by Angry Robot books, and then we wandered. Almost at once, I ran into Liz Argall, with whom I attended Launchpad last month, and who was volunteering at the Locus booth. I introduced Patrick and we chatted for a while. Liz had handouts for her comic, Things Without Arms and Legs, which is an awesome web comic. If you’ve never seen it, you should definitely check it out. Patrick had to dash off to interview someone and I continued to wander.

No sooner had I turned around, I ran into Trevor Quachri and chatted with him for a little while. He has been editor of Analog for a year now, a time which seems to have gone by incredibly fast. (I feel like Chicon was last week.) After we parted ways I wandered some more, talking to Lawrence Schoen for a little while. Then I began winding my way out of the dealer’s room, but I ran into Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber.

“Your hair looks different,” Silverberg said. He was right. I’d gotten it cut extra short. And it was probably grayer than the last time I’d seen him.

Continue reading LoneStarCon, Thursday: Day 1

Worldcon Logistics

Tomorrow morning I head to San Antonio, Texas, for the 71st World Science Fiction Convention, LoneStarCon3. I’ve already posted a rough schedule. Here I wanted to mention some logistics for folks who are either trying to find me there, or folks who are living vicariously following along from home.

Arrival at Worldcon

If all goes smoothly, I arrive in San Antonio around 11:40 CDT tomorrow. Factoring in the usual airport obstacle course, I hope to be at the hotel by 1 pm.

I am staying at the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter, which I believe is the hotel with all of the bars and night events but not the one with the actual programming. I could be wrong.

Blogging Worldcon

I do my best to blog about the conventions that I attend, as much for myself as for friends and readers who can’t make it but want to know what it is like. I’ll do the same this time. I expect to write one post per day related to the convention. Look for that post the morning of the following day. For example, look for the post about Thursday early Friday morning.

I’ll also be tweeting from Worldcon and if you are interested in following along and don’t already follow me on Twitter, you can find me at @jamietr. Look for the #LoneStarCon hashtag.

Writing at Worldcon

Folks following along with my writing might be wondering if I might break my streak while at Worldcon. My answer is: not if I can help it. To recap:

  • I have written fiction for 180 out of the last 182 days
  • My best consecutive streak so far is 140 days.
  • That streak ended back in July.
  • As of today, the streak is back up to 37 consecutive days.
  • This evening, I passed 75,000 words on the novel
  • I hope to come home from Worldcon with at least 80,000 words.

I plan to do my writing before blogging each morning. Yes, that means getting up early, but the truth is, I don’t sleep in, even when I am up until 2 am. I still find myself awake at 6 am the next morning, so it really isn’t much of a burden. And it feels good to get the writing done early when I will be distracted by other things throughout the day.

Interviews

I’m being interviewed a couple of times at Worldcon, and this is something new for me. One interview is as part of a group of writers, the other is a one-on-one. When those interviews are available, I’ll let you know.

Book signing

I’m not on official programming, but I will be pre-signing some copies of Beyond the Sun, the anthology that my story, “Flipping the Switch” appears in. Other authors with stories in the anthology will also be signing the books. If you will be at Worldcon and want signed copies of Beyond the Sun, you can look for them in the dealer’s room at the Book Universe booth. (If you grab a copy not signed by me and you want me to sign it, just find me, I’m happy to do it.)

Getting in touch with me

If you are at Worldcon and are trying to get in touch with me here are the best ways to do it, in order of preference:

  • Text me (if you have my number)
  • Tweet me (@jamietr)
  • Email me (jamie [at] jamietoddrubin dot com)
  • Call me (if you have my number)

When I’m not available

Here are a few times that I know for certain I won’t be available. If you are trying to find me, don’t expect to find me during these times:

  • Friday, 1-2 pm
  • Saturday, 10am – 2pm
  • Sunday, 9 – 11 am, 2:30 – 3:30 pm, 6-7 pm

The above times are commitments I’ve already made. Beyond that, I’m around.

Departing Worldcon

I fly home late afternoon on Monday, September 2, but most of Monday is pretty much blocked out so that I can catch up with a good friend of mine. So if you are trying to catch up with me, best try doing it before Monday morning.

I look forward to seeing everyone in San Antonio. Be sure to stop and say hello!

Where You Can Find Me at WorldCon in San Antonio

I‘t kind of hard to believe that Worldcon is only 10 days away. I feel like I’m just getting back from Worldcon in Chicago. I will be at Worldcon in San Antonio, LoneStarCon 3, the 71st World Science Fiction Convention and here are the details and where/how you can find me.

I’m supposed to get into town just before noon on Thursday, August 29. Assuming no signifiant delays, I hope to be at the hotel and checking in by 1 pm.

I’m not doing any official programming this year because I want to be able to hang out with my friends, and don’t want to have to dash off in the midst of an interesting discussion in order to sit on a panel. That said, I do have some obligations, mostly surrounding breakfasts and lunches. I’m also involved in 2 interviews while I am there.

Beyond that, I’ll be around. I have no idea what panels I want to wander into or what readings I want to go see. If you are looking for me, the best way to find me is to ping me on Twitter.  Here is where I know I’ll be as of today1:

  • Friday, 1pm: Lunch with a friend
  • Saturday, 10am: SFWA Business Meeting
  • Saturday, noon: Lunch with a friend
  • Sunday, 9am: Group breakfast
  • Sunday, 1pm: Scalzi book signing
  • Sunday, 2:30pm: Interview
  • Monday, 10am: Brunch with friends

There’s another interview nestled in there somewhere but an exact date/time hasn’t been scheduled yet.

I’ll be in town until mid-afternoon on Monday.

I’m looking forward to the convention and especially to seeing all of my friends there, old and new. Be sure to say hello if you see me.

  1. Subject to change, of course

The Amazing Friends I Made at Launch Pad

I was pretty excited when I got into the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop this year. As I have written, it was an incredible experience. I collapsed an entire Astronomy 101 course into 6 days, and it was done in a framework and context for science fiction writers. The work that Mike Brotherton, Christian Ready and Andria Schwortz put into the lectures and materials was Herculean in and of itself. Their teaching and guidance was invaluable.

But there was another side to Launch Pad, the more personal side. Quite a few of the attendees of Launch Pad this year were previous attendees of Clarion. For me, however, Launch Pad was the first time I was thrust into a program with other writers in which you did everything together. You took classes together, ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together, you slept in the dorms. You went to the bar, or the movies. It was compressed and that very compression led to friendships that formed quickly. So let me take a moment to talk about the new friends I made at Launch Pad, and just how amazing they are. I’ve probably made some mistakes and misremembered things, but these are my new friends. Let me introduce you. They are listed below alphabetically by first name.

Andy Romine

Andy Romine
Photo by Andy Romine

Andy (@inkgorilla on Twitter) works in visual effects when he is not writing. He can speak at length on the subject, and in an engaging manner. (He worked on Babylon 5!) Indeed, on our drive up the mountain to WIRO, Andy distracted us from the terror of the winding, curving road and the sheer drops to one side, by telling us stories from the visual effects world.

He also writes great fiction. I read his story, “The Parting Glass” (Lightspeed, December 2011) and it was excellent, reminiscent of the stuff I used to read in Science Fiction Age in the mid-1990s. It was great getting to hang out with Andy. He is one of those people who is naturally friendly and after 10 minutes, you feel like you’ve known him for 10 years. It’s just too bad he lives on the opposite coast.

Anna Leahy and Douglas Dechow

Photo taken by Christian Ready
Photo taken by Christian Ready

Douglas Dechow (@dougdechow on Twitter) and Anna Leahy were one of two couples attending Launch Pad this year. They, along with Jeri Smith-Ready were among the only other baseball fans in the batch. They are science writers, and Anna is also a poet and editor. They are also just about the coolest people you’ll meet. We hung out in O’Dwyer’s one evening, talking about beer, and baseball, and Markov chains. Some LISP might have been discussed as well. They seem to have interviewed just about every single important person in the U.S. space program and they have some great stories to tell. Some of these, they tell at their joint blog, Lofty Ambitions, which you should be certain to check out and add to your feed.

Brenda Clough

LP Final Breakfast

I somehow missed getting my picture taken with Brenda, but she is right smack in the middle of his panorama shot I took on our last breakfast together at Launch Pad. I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone with such an effervescent personality as Brenda. She was constantly bubbling with ideas and is a fascinating person to listen to. She also knits and led a group of Launch Pad attendees to a knitting store in downtown Laramie at one point during the week.

Brenda is a novelist and has had novels published by TOR, DAW, and other outlets. She seems to be written about ten novels at once, which impressed me beyond measure, as I am incapable of writing more than one short story at a time. Brenda would hang out with us in the lounge some evenings to chat and was always great fun to be around.

Brenda was one of four people to take a fall during our hike. I think it was my fault. She had turned around to talk to me when she tripped backward of the rock and did a kind of judo roll, getting up dusty, but unharmed.

Caren Gussoff

Caren Gussoff

Caren (@spitkitten on Twitter) is one of those people who is just fun to hang out with. She can liven up every crowd, and tells fantastic (and sometimes, hilarious) stories. In lectures, she was often the one asking smart questions, that always seemed to me be to tied back to whatever it was she was writing in some meaningful way. She was another of the crowd who would sometimes hang out in the lounge late into the night, talking shop or telling war stories. It was great!

Chaz Brenchley

Chaz Brenchley

Chaz (@chazbrenchley on Twitter) might very well be the most experience writer in our group at Launch Pad. I’m not exactly sure how many novels he’s written, but the number exceeds A Lot. He has also written something like 500 short stories. Or, in Launch Pad-speak, 5 x 102. Of course, Chaz has probably been writing longer than anyone else in our group. His first novel was published in 1977, at which time, I gleefully pointed out to him, I was 5 years old.

Chaz was one of the morning cohort, which usually included myself and Doug Farren (and occasionally Brenda) who would be up early and at the student union by 7 am, writing. He was also my frequent companion at O’Dwyer’s. I think the photo I took above is possibly one of the only Launch Pad photos of Chaz where he hasn’t managed to hide in the background.

Chaz was one of four people who took a spill while we went hiking. They say the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and I think Chaz proved the sentiment with great fanfare. Don’t believe me. Let Chaz describe it himself.

Continue reading The Amazing Friends I Made at Launch Pad

Launch Pad Days 6 and 7

A Picturesque Saturday Morning

Saturday mornings are quiet on the University of Wyoming, Laramie campus. I actually slept in a bit, after staying up late chatting with folks in the lounge. I had a text from Chaz Brenchley telling me that the student union was closed and that he would be heading over to the Turtle Rock cafe to get his writing done. I lazed around a bit longer and finally headed over in the direction of the Turtle Rock cafe at around 7:30 am.

Laramie Morning

The streets were empty. Even the sidewalks were empty. On my walk to the cafe, I saw exactly 1 person, an early-morning jogger. But it was gorgeous out. Not too warm, and that blue sky that goes on forever in this part of the country. The picture above gives only a partial glimpse of what it was like.

Chaz and Doug had already found a table and were writing away. There wasn’t much room at their table, so I chose a different one to do my work, ordered a bagel and set about my blogging and other writing for the day. Later, more people showed up and we ended up joining tables and chatting before heading off to lectures.

Cosmology

Saturday’s lectures were among the most dense and most interesting lectures of the week. We started where we left off on Friday, talking about the galactic center and then gradually moving further and further out, to other galaxies, taking up Hubble’s Law, galactic clusters, gravitational lensing, interacting galaxies, active galaxies and Seyfert galaxies. And we didn’t stop there. We moved onto other related topics like cosmic jets and radio lobes, and quasars and their spectra. And all of this was crammed into a marathon 2-hour session, which we did without a break. My brain was humming when we finally set off to the cafeteria for lunch.

After lunch, we jumped into another marathon session on cosmology, this one covering Hubble’s Law in a little more detail. We talked about the expanding universe (and what that means), the age of the universe, and how we are able to look back at the early universe. We discussed the cosmological principle, the shape and geometry of the universe, and general relativity. From there, we moved into discussions of the deceleration of the universe, model universes, dark matter, baryonic dark matter, the cosmological constant, and the cosmic microwave background.

(Deep breath!)

We wrapped up the final day of lectures with a fascinating discussion of cosmological themes in science fiction. Finally, we took our post-test to see how much we improved from when we first arrived at Launch Pad.

Sweet Melissa’s

A group of people that included Christian and Jeri, Andy, Jenn, Douglas and Anna, Brenda and myself went back to downtown Laramie for dinner on Saturday evening. We went to Sweet Melissa’s, where the other gang went the previous night. We had a leisurely dinner there, and I tried their margarita, which was good, surprisingly strong, and quite inexpensive. A few people went to the local bookstore and picked up various things. Then it was time to party.

Continue reading Launch Pad Days 6 and 7

Launch Pad Days 4 and 5 (Catching Up)

I did not get a chance to blog yesterday. I gave fiction-writing priority because I’d finally broken my 140-day writing streak the day before and I wanted to get right back on the horse. So what follows is two days worth of Launch Pad covering Thursday and Friday. Hold on to your hats and glasses, kids, this here is the wildest ride in the wilderness.

A Walk in the Woods

By Thursday morning, Chaz Brenchley, Doug Farren and I had cleared established our routine. We’d gather by the elevators at 7 am and head over to the student union to write for a few hours. On Thursday, Brenda Clough joined us. Chaz, Doug, and I sat at our regular table and Brenda took a table behind us so she could spread out her things. I spent that writing session blogging and did not get a chance to write fiction. It turned out to be my only opportunity of the day, and so after 140 consecutive days of writing, my streak came to an end. Behind us, as we wrote, Brenda kept laughing aloud. She continued to do this for pretty much the entire time we were there. Apparently, she was re-reading one of her older novels in preparation of putting it online, and found it to be very funny.

Around 9:45, we all gathered by the vans. We lathered up with sunscreen and bug spray and then caravanned over to Vedauwoo recreation area for a hike around Turtle Rock.

Slip Slidin’ Away

There is, apparently, a long-standing tradition here at Launch Pad, of having to visit the emergency room at least once per workshop. My understanding is that last year, no visits were required, and I am happy to report that as if this writing (Saturday morning) no visits have been necessary in our group. But that is not to say that there weren’t a few missteps.

The Vedauwoo recreation center is up in the hills above Laramie, at an altitude of maybe 8,000 feet or so. It was beautiful and the weather gods sent us gorgeous weather. I took a bunch of pictures, most of which you can find over on Flickr. Here is one panorama shot to give you a flavor of the place:

Hike

During the course of the 2+ hour hike, we had four minor slips. It began with Jenn Brissett, who slipped on a path coming down from the parking lot, before we really even got started. Then, not long after we were underway, Brenda went down. She had turned to talk to me and tripped over a rock. She was unhurt, but I felt guilty, as I had been the one she’d turned to talk to. Some time later, walking down a small dip in the trail, Jeri slipped and skidded down the path. She was okay. Perhaps the most dramatic fall of the day came toward the end of the hike. Chaz tripped on a rock or root and face-planted. All six-plus feet of this tall, English writer went sprawling face-first into the ground. His camera followed him. He ended up scratching his nose, but otherwise, both he and his camera were unharmed.

After the hike, we returned to the picnic area and wolfed down the sack lunches that were packed for us. Then it was time to head back to campus for the day’s lectures. The afternoon’s lectures went into great detail on the death and end states of stars. (My notes are extensive.) After this, we were visited by an astronomer who studies interstellar dust and gave us a quick, but detailed lecture on dust and what you can learn from the dust floating about in the galaxy.

An Impromptu Lecture

After dinner on Thursday, I had agreed to give an impromptu lecture on using Evernote. I went back to the dorm after dinner, and began putting together some hastily constructed slides. Kelly called and I got to see the kids via FaceTime. It was so good to see them. But I couldn’t get detailed slides done in the short time. So I winged it.

Those who wanted to attend, five or six people, I think, met back at our main classroom at 6:30 and I proceeded to discuss, demonstrate, and lecture on Evernote for the next 90 minutes or so. I think it went over pretty well. It was the first time I’d ever given an impromptu lecture on Evernote, but I think I managed to cover all of the important bases.

 

Baseball, Beer, and Science Fiction

Thursday evening, Doug Dechow and Anna Leahy arranged for folks to meet at O’Dwyers for beer. Chaz and I got to the bar just past 8 pm. Doug and Anna were already there and I discovered they were baseball fans, so we chatted about baseball, as well as some computer science topics and even super-nerdy things like Markov chains. All the while, drinking beer, of course.

Eventually, Andy, Liz, and Caren also joined us and the conversation grew and evolved. I think we finally left the bar at around 11 pm. It had been a long day, but another fun one, reminding me on countless occasions how lucky I was to be able to attend Launch Pad.

Asleep at Breakfast

I have been trying to make the most of each day while I am here. Lectures and other activities usually don’t start until 10 am, and I have been getting up early in order to take advantage of the downtime. I have typically been getting barely 5 hours of sleep each night. It all caught up to me Thursday night. I was up Friday morning at about 6:15, and went with Chaz, Doug and Brenda to the student union to write. I didn’t blog because I was determined to get fiction writing done and not get derailed simply because my streak had come to an end. And I did write, adding about 1,000 words to my story. But I was tired, sluggish, and the caffeine just did not seem to be working.

Jay O’Connell had joined us and at about 8:45, he and I walked over to Turtle Rock cafe to meet some of the others for breakfast. We sat outside on the patio, basking in the warm, morning sun. Eventually, Andy, Jenn, Jennifer, and Liz joined us. I’d had a muffin earlier and so I didn’t order any food. I listened to the conversation around me and before I knew it, I’d fallen asleep in the wicker chair in which I sat out on the patio, with the voices of my new friends chittering on around me. I did not sleep long, twenty minutes, maybe thirty. But I did sleep, and since I rarely (if ever) crash in the midst of a gathering, I think it illustrates just how worn out I was. It might also have been the altitude. Jeri skipped the morning lectures because she wasn’t feeling well, also the affects of the altitude.

Smiling at Saturn

We had another full day of lectures, beginning at 10 am with black holes, a fascinating topic and also a favorite of science fiction writers. Mike covered black holes in detail and it was a great lecture. Next, Andria gave an interesting lecture on science ethics, which included stories about some of the personalities behind sciences biggest discoveries. After that we headed to the cafeteria for lunch. They offered lasagna today and it was some of the best dorm food I’ve had since getting here.

After lunch, Mike gave his second talk on science fiction-specific topics. This time he covered interstellar travel, and once again, it was a fascinating and useful topic for science fiction writers. We took a break after this lecture to run outside and get a group photo. We set it up so that we were facing Saturn in the eastern sky. On the other side of Saturn, the Cassini probe was photographing the ringed planet with Earth in the background, so we all waved to Saturn:

Launchpad Group

 

We enlisted a student who was innocently walking by to take the photo. I didn’t get his name, otherwise, I’d give proper credit.

With the photo taken, we headed back in for our final lecture of the day, given by a computer scientist and amateur astronomer. The lecture was on amateur astronomy and the process of doing amateur astronomy, including what you needed and how long it took to get up to speed. It was very interesting. I never realized how important to the science amateur astronomer were. It is one of the few sciences in which amateurs can make significant contributions.

The Oldest Bar in Wyoming

We decided to jump ship Friday evening and go out to dinner, instead of eating in the cafeteria. We broke into two groups, the vegetarians and the carnivores. We all went into downtown Laramie, the former going to a place called Sweet Melissa’s, and the latter going to a place called Altitude. I was in the carnivore group, along with Doug Farren, Jay, Mike, Brenda, Chaz, and Jennifer.

Altitude is also a micro-brewery and so we got to try some good beer with our food. I ended up ordering a bacon-wrapped tenderloin in a red wine reduction, and it was fantastic! While our counterparts at Sweet Melissa’s talked Dyson Spheres, we chatted about more mundane things, like our kids and potty training.

After dinner, Mike took us to a local called the Buckhorn. Regular patrons claimed that this was the oldest bar in all of Wyoming. Inside it was dark paneled wood with moose heads hanging everywhere. We ordered some shots, and then also had a local shot. I can’t remember what the latter was called, but it was sweet and fruity.

We finally made our way back to the dorm, and then a bunch of us including Liz, Andy, Chaz, Caren and I chatted until 11:30 or so.

Today is the last day of Launch Pad and it is, of course, bittersweet. I’ve made some great new friends here and I’ve learned so much. But I miss Kelly, the Little Man and the Little Miss, and I’m looking forward to seeing them tomorrow evening when I arrive home.

 

Launchpad Day 3: At the Top of the World

The first two days of Launchpad have been long days and nights. I’ve been doing my best to take advantage of the time, so despite the fact that I was pretty tired, I was still up at about 5:20 am. I spend the first hour of the day writing up my Launchpad Day 2 blog post. Then I showered, and started in on the fiction writing. At 7 am, I once again headed over to the student commons with Chaz Brenchley and Doug Farren, and spent the next hour or so writing. I managed about 600 words of fiction, making it my 140th consecutive day of writing. Here are two-thirds of the writers at work (the other third is busy taking pictures):

Writers at work

I headed back to the dorm at 8:15 to meet the gang for breakfast. We once again walked over to the Turtle Rock cafe. The weather was just about perfect and we once again sat outside, eating our breakfasts and talking. It was wonderful. And not just the weather. There is a camaraderie that is growing within the group. Writing is a lonely business and is a wonderful just to be able to talk to other writers about writing, because you are talking to people who know. They’ve been through the same things you have and have complete empathy. And you can learn a lot from them, too.

Lectures started at 10 today, and as it turned out, today was a kind of brass tacks day for science fiction writers. We began the day learning about exoplanets, which meant starting the day with binary stars. Binary stars rotate around a common center of gravity and can occlude one another when seen from earth. This occlusion is one way in which exoplanets are discovered (it’s called the “transit method”). Getting exoplanets right is a very practical matter for science fiction writers because we often write stories set on worlds that are not within the solar system. There was a time when we had no idea if such planets even existed. We now know different (there are over 3,000!) and it’s useful to have real information about them.

After a short break, we went downstairs for a lab on planet hunting. We learned to read the data from the light output of stars and so we went to this lab room which had computers for all of us, and set about using a website called planethunters.org, a citizen science project, to attempt to classify stars and identify possible occlusions. This was a lot of fun, to say nothing of practical. And, as it so happened, one of our group, Doug Dechow, discovered a star that had a very regular occlusion–and it further turned out that he was the first to identify them. So who knows, maybe Launchpad 2013 will have discovered another exoplanet.

When that lab was over–no one really wanted for it to be over because it was too much fun–it was lunchtime and we headed to the cafeteria.

LP Lunch

After the lecture we had a break and then headed over to another building for a demonstration of astonomical image processing by astronomer Chip Kobulnicky. The room we were in had computers for each of us to use. The computers had software for image processing, as well as some images from both Hubble and the University of Wyoming. The photos were taken in several different filters and the software is used to combine and manipulate the results.

Chip is an animated guy and you can tell from his enthusiasm just how much he loves astronomy. Chip explained how the CCD cameras that take pictures of stars work. The cameras in our phones are the same type of camera and work in the same way. The way the camera functions affect the quality of the images, and Chip explained the “noise” that can creep into the photos. We looked at raw images from the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as images taken here at the university. Chip then showed us how to use the software to combine images taken in different filters, and how to adjust them in different ways to get the maximum amount of information out of them. After playing around with the images, here is the results I got:

Image processing

The image processing class gave us a real sense of how astronomy is done. We also got to see raw images, with all of their flaws included. It is amazing how much cleanup work takes place on some of these images to produce the posters of amazing Hubble views of the universe.

Continue reading Launchpad Day 3: At the Top of the World