Notes from the Edge of Winter

Despite the fact that yellow leaves are still clinging to the tree outside the bathroom window, winter seems to have officially arrived in Seattle, to judge by the dusting of frozen white stuff on the ground outside. I’ve spent a large portion of Thanksgiving weekend curled up inside with a book, after spending Thanksgiving Day itself having a slightly non-traditional dinner of ham_sIMG_5226 with the girlfriend’s family. Her family lives in Poulsbo, which meant we had to get there via the Bainbridge Island ferry, and on the way we were treated to an impressive display of light and shadow among the clouds and shore.

Since then, though, it’s been a quiet weekend. I did open a new prints store for my photography, located at Redbubble, and so far I enjoy the layout and options more than the prints shop over at my primary site, Journeys in Color.

So in the holiday season, if you’re looking for interesting gifts for folks, please consider stopping by either of my prints shops. In addition to prints and posters, I also have phone, tablet and laptop cases for sale; travel and coffee mugs; greeting cards; postage stamps; and more. And feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions.

In addition to prints and merchandise, I’m also running a sale on my photography: 40% off portrait and headshot sessions that are booked before the end of the year. You can buy them for yourself or for someone else, via gift certificates. I recently took some new author photos for writer and editor Jennifer Brozek, and I’m pretty happy the results. (You can see one of the pictures we took on her front page).

I’ve also finished editing the photos from my Asia trip. I’m still deciding what to do with them, but you can see them online here, divided into galleries for each location. Some are also available as prints in the Journeys In Color print store.

Amidst the big photography push, I’ve found it hard to focus on my writing, although I did dust off the steampunk novel that I completed earlier this year and began editing it again, in preparation for sending out some agent queries. The NaNoWriMo work I’d intended to do on my 44,000-word Nepal journal didn’t manifest, again, largely because I’m focused on photography, but I’d still like to turn it into something people might read.

So that’s my November update. If entries here seem sparse, it’s mostly because I’ve been photoblogging a lot. But my “Journeys Around Seattle” project that I’ve been doing over there will also be wrapping up at the end of the year– which means it’s about time for me to have some end-of-the-year reflections, as I figure out what my agenda will be in 2015. Because to be honest, I’m really not sure at this point– an abundance of ideas, a lack of decisiveness.

I find myself in the midst of Interesting Times. Stay tuned.

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Back From Vacation… There’s a Long To-Do List

On Saturday, I returned to Seattle after six weeks in Asia. Doing any sort of trip recap would be difficult, simply because so much happened– I kept a journal during the trip, which I wrote in daily, and the raw document contains 44,137 words. I also took over 4,000 pictures. I’m sorting and processing those, now that I have access to my editing software again, but if you’d like to see some of the photos that I was able to upload as I went, here are some links to Facebook image galleries:

Trekking in Nepal
Hong Kong
24 Hours in Seoul

So much happened that it’s hard to do it any sort of justice in a short recap. But one of the reasons I travel is to try and broaden my perspective, to remind myself that the corner of the world I see and interact with every day is not the entire world. Because if you spend years fully submerged in your own little corner– not just physically but emotionally, mentally, spiritually– sometimes that little corner does start to feel like all there is.

Having spent four years in Seattle without any serious travel, I felt like I was suffering from that a bit, and I think that going to Asia, visiting the “developing world” for the first time, seeing cultures and parts of the world and ways of living with which I was almost totally unfamiliar, gave me a lot to think about it, not just in the short term but over the coming months and years.

So I will probably do a blog post or two on specific topics in the coming months. I also plan to take that 44,000 word travel journal and spend this year’s NaNoWriMo trying to make it into a readable narrative, complete with commentary and throwing some travel tips and advice as well. I do feel like I came back from Asia with a lot to say; now I just have to collect my thoughts.

In the meantime, I also need to get some business wheels churning again, so I’ll post occasionally with news on that front. Now that I’m back, and now that I’ve rested my way back to a normal sleep schedule and mostly shaken off the intestinal issues I brought back from Nepal, it’s time to get to work and see if I can make my creative aspirations start really paying off.

As usual, sometimes the hardest journeys don’t start until after you get home.

I Had A Horrific Weekend (in a good way)

Last weekend the annual World Horror Convention took place in Portland. It’s a slightly different sort of convention than ones I’ve been to in the past; it’s very small, and it was largely composed of a much different group of people than the sci-fi/fantasy cons in the area. One reason is that it was a very professional con; cosplay was not a thing there, and the focus was almost completely on the professional field of writing. So horror writers and editors came from across the country, while lots of writers who live nearby but don’t write horror stayed home.

I hadn’t realized until now just how distinct a genre horror was from science fiction and fantasy– at least, professionally speaking. There really aren’t any large publishers along the lines of Tor Books or DAW; publishers are small independent operations, and on top of that, there’s a larger focus on short stories. Horror seems to thrive as short fiction, even more so than sci-fi/fantasy.

Some of the differences can be seen in the categories of awards given out at the Bram Stoker Awards Banquet. The Bram Stoker Awards are basically the horror genre’s equivalent of the Nebula Awards, voted on by the members of the Horror Writers’ Association. Categories in the Bram Stoker Awards which are not in the Nebulas or the Hugos include Best Anthology, Best Young Adult Novel, and Best First Novel– all of which I think are superb categories, especially the latter two, which I’d love to see in the equivalent SF&F awards. (In fairness, Best Anthology is a category at the World Fantasy Awards.)

Attending the banquet required the purchase of an $50 extra ticket, but it was well worth it. I took plenty of pictures (even though, as is the norm for convention stage shows, the lighting was terrible, blinding the participants without the benefit of illuminating them for either the audience or the photographers). The food was decent, the wine at the table was free, and the company at the table was excellent.

Most excitingly, though, I had a personal interest in the Best Anthology category, given that my story Someone to Remember is the leadoff story in After Death…, which was edited by Eric J. Guignard and one of five nominees in the category. And much to my pleasure, Eric won! Which I figure means I can claim about 2% of a Bram Stoker Award.

Other highlights of the weekend included a trip with Scott Edelman and several other folks to Pok Pok, a well-known authentic Thai restaurant in Portland. That was quite good, even if the image of Scott with a fish head in his mouth, making the fish head talk, is one that may haunt my dreams for some time. Mostly, though, it was just fun to hang out with friends in Portland, meet some new folks, and celebrate Eric Guignard’s award with him.

Full gallery of photos here.

By the way, if you enjoy the photography I do at conventions or while traveling, please consider giving my Photography Facebook page a “like”, if you haven’t already. I’ll be posting a lot of galleries and photography-specific announcements there. And while I hate to be “that guy” who begs for likes or shares, I haven’t actually mentioned my Facebook page here before, and well, I’m at 99 likes! The obsessive-compulsive in me wants to hit a 3 digit number!

Another Year of Onions and Roses at Norwescon

Last weekend was Norwescon 37, and the fourth I’ve attended since moving to Seattle. Norwescon has become my “home” con, in multiple senses of the word. It’s the largest sci-fi/fantasy con in Seattle focused on literature and writing– which makes it a good home for me as a writer. But it’s also large enough to host a thriving cosplay community, which makes it a good home for me as a photographer. It’s small enough to be friendly and low-pressure, yet big enough to get some energy out of the crowd. Every year I go, the con becomes more enjoyable as I meet more people, make new friends, and feel more a part of the community.

Every year after the con is over, Norwescon solicits feedback from congoers, asking people to submit feedback in the form of “roses” (good things) and “onions” (bad things). So with that in mind, here I go. Some of these are duplicates from previous years, but if they remain prominent in my mind, well, I’m including them again.

Rose: Panels. There were a lot of good panels this time– and some more advanced and creative stuff, alongside the usual Worldbuilding 101 and ZOMG E-Books.

First Page Idol was a panel with some nice audience interaction, where you could anonymously submit your first page and the panel would judge it, which resulted in some interesting feedback. There were also some good science panels– I particularly enjoyed David Levine’s recap of his visit to NASA.

A few of the panels seemed to wander around their subject a bit, never entirely delving into what they were meant to delve into. For my money, anytime a panel can get past the uber-basic introduction that is widely known to anyone with a passing fancy in the subject, into more detailed and interesting stuff, it’s a win for me. This tends to be why I favor panels with narrowly focused and clear-defined topics, especially if they’re dependent on some unique knowledge of the panelists.

All in all, Norwescon is better than most cons at making interesting panels. In fact, the panels are popular enough that they’re frequently standing room only… the Cascade rooms are often too small for the panels they’re trying to host. I don’t know what the solution is there.

I also saw a lot of demo panels, where the panelists were actually demonstrating something and the audience was usually involved. Those were fun. Weapons and armor demos, horror makeup demos– those were my favorites, without a doubt.

Onion: Registration. Norwescon had (as far as I can tell) basically the same process in place as last year. This meant long lines as people waited to input all their information into a computer (there were about eight computers in the reg area), printed a sheet to take to the cashier, then paid and got their badge. For pre-registered folks with a sheet already printed, they could sometimes skip ahead in the line, but if you weren’t registered, or had pre-registered but didn’t have a sheet, well, then, you were stuck.

There has got to be a better system. These days, Norwescon is the only con I go to that has more than a five-minute wait to register, and from my understanding, there were points on Thursday afternoon when the line was at least an hour long. Maybe I just never see peak times at the other cons? When I was at RadCon, I did see the line back up a bit a few times as I walked by on the first day, but never to an hour long.

One difference between Norwescon and most other cons is that Norwescon prints the names on the badges right at registration, whereas most cons pre-print their badges, or use regular old paper stickers for people’s names. Norwescon’s method results in a slightly nicer badge, but it’s never exactly well executed. This year, the badges were printed well (and you could choose to have ONLY your badge name printed– props for that), but the art design of the badge was such that you could only read the left half of the badge, before the black printing blended into the darkly-colored art on the right side.

Maybe this is a case where something is being Rube Goldberg’d that doesn’t need to be? I mean, in the end, I think most people would be happy with easy registration and a readable badge.

Rose: Room parties. As usual, the room parties were awesome. On Friday night, I particularly enjoyed a party that was hosted by Evil Girlfriend Media, celebrating the launch of an anthology titled Bless Your Mechanical Heart. (Side note: Several friends of mine have stories in this anthology. But favoritism aside, I’ve read a few stories so far and am highly impressed.)

Just like last year, my favorite room party was Master Plan, which is always a blast– the mixology contest on Friday was particularly fun (speaking as a non-contestant, anyway).

Onion: Dealer’s Room. The Dealer’s Room was okay this year, however, it did seem to lack in terms of booksellers. There was only one small bookseller, from what I saw (there were a few writers’ associations and authors with booths, both inside and outside, but only one dealer that appeared to sell more than a handful of books). If an attendee wanted to buy a book by the Guest of Honor, so they could get an autograph (as was the case with a friend of mine), it appears they were S.O.L.

It seems like it would be worthwhile to ensure that there’s a dealer who can sell books by the Guests of Honor and the various writing panelists, so that interested attendees can spend their money… but that didn’t appear to be the case.

Other than that, I had no complaints about the dealer’s room. But I can haz books for sale at my sci-fi con please?

Rose: Photography. I feel like the Saturday evening photo area gets a little bit better organized each year. The layout was slightly changed from last year… the standing area was only behind one row of chairs, instead of two, which meant that the people in the second row weren’t caught in an awkward half-standing crouch, like I was last year.

The photo area is set up like an L-shape, with photographers on both sides of the L looking toward the cosplayer(s) in the middle. I was standing on the short side of the L, while all the photographers giving direction were on the long side of the L… which is okay, although I do have a large number of profile shots because the cosplayer just never turned to face the short side. There are two marks for the cosplayers to stand on, one facing each direction, but they would frequently face the long side from both marks, because that’s where the photographers talking to them were. Tip to cosplayers: for a better chance of seeing good shots, face both directions.

Despite my whining, I did enjoy the photo area– it’s a feature not seen at many other cons– and I stood there for over four hours on Saturday night taking pictures.

Speaking of pictures, you can see the full set on Flickr or on my photography Facebook page.

Thanks again to all the folks who made Norwescon awesome, especially the volunteers who put in a lot of hard work before, during, and after. See you next year!

Camping Our Way Down the Columbia River Gorge

This week, my girlfriend Lisa was on spring break from grad school, so on Sunday we packed up tent, food, and cameras and drove out the Columbia River Gorge to spend a couple days exploring, hiking, and pretty much just seeing what there was to see. Leaving Seattle, we didn’t have any particular agenda, except that we wanted to drive through the Yakima River Canyon on the way down, and we wanted to visit the Goldendale Observatory on the first night.

When we reached the canyon, we found a little place called the Umtanum Recreation Area, where we pulled over for lunch. From the parking lot, there was a bridge over the Yakima River which led to a hiking trail, so after lunch we hiked across the bridge, over some railroad tracks, and into the canyon. There wasn’t much sign of Spring yet, sadly, except for a few flowers, a bumblebee, and some trees that were just beginning to bud.

As we made our way back along the trail, we wondered if the railroad tracks were active, given that they were so easy to access– a few minutes, a freight train rumbled down the line where I’d be standing a few minutes prior. It was an impressive sight, and trains would be a recurring part of our journey: the Columbia River Gorge is an incredibly active freight corridor, with BSNF trains rumbling past several times an hour. On our second night, camped at Beacon Rock State Park, the train tracks were maybe fifty feet away up a cliffside, and the rumbles and whistles of freight trains were a constant companion through the night.

We had planned on staying at Brooks Memorial State Park on the first night, based on some recommendations in Lisa’s guidebook, but upon arrival there we found that the whole park was still closed for winter. It was a bit of a letdown, given that it was 55 degrees and sunny (and also it wasn’t even actually winter any more). But it would be another recurring theme of our journeys– parks and scenic areas closed, mostly due to budget cuts that meant the parks could only afford to stay open during peak season.

So we pushed on, and found a campsite several miles down the road at Maryhill State Park. It was a nice place– our campsite was right on the Columbia River, and we spent a fair amount of time getting pictures of the river and the gorge. There was a truck stop right across the river, which spoiled the scenery a bit– although it did make for some nice night pictures. And in the morning, we were both grateful it was there, as we availed ourselves of the opportunity for a hot breakfast after spending a restless night on the hard, cold, almost gravelly ground of our tentsite.

On the second day, we made our way down the gorge, stopping for a little hike along the Deschutes River, then lunching at a roadside overlook near The Dalles, Washington after our first two choices (both nearby parks) were, once again, closed for the season. In the afternoon, we drove out of the gorge toward Mt. Adams, exploring the area a bit and getting some great views of the mountain.

At one point, in trying to get to the Big Lava Beds from Trout Lake, we found ourselves on a snowy forest road, and eventually had to turn back, leaving the lava beds for another time. We headed back down to the gorge and camped for the night at Beacon Rock State Park– this plan was almost thwarted when the main camping area there was also Closed For Winter, but luckily there was a year-round campsite right on the river that we were able to set up camp in.

We had originally planned on climbing Beacon Rock in the morning, but after two clear and sunny days, we woke up to the sound of rain on the tent. So rather than take a mile-long trail up a slick rock into a windy, misty, sky, we headed down the road a bit to the Bonneville Dam. We got a personal tour from the guide, saw the fish ladder (including the underwater viewing area, which was pretty awesome, although it was only sparsely populated by fish– we’re already making plans to go back during the peak season).

The rest of the day was mostly occupied by getting home, although we did stop briefly at the Mt. St. Helens Visitors Center to see what there was to see (answer: not much, given the weather). There was a neat little mile-long loop over boardwalks through the nearby wetlands, which we did before heading home.

It was a fun trip, although after two nights of hard ground (Lisa didn’t have a sleeping pad, and I’d forgotten mine) interspersed by nearby nighttime trains, we were both ready for a decent night’s sleep. I’m looking forward to going back in the summer, when hopefully more places are open, and we get to see the gorge in full summer foliage.

But we did get some pretty awesome Winter and Spring photos, if I do say so myself. Click Mt. Adams to check out the full set of pics on Flickr.

Creative Vibes by Lake Quinault

Yesterday, I got home from four days at the Rainforest Resort Village on Lake Quinault, on the southwest side of the Olympic Mountains. I was there with 36 other writers, surrounded by lots of awesome creative vibes as well as some awesome scenery– the event was the Rainforest Writers Village, and the goal was to retreat to somewhere isolated with other like-minded folks to get some writing done.

For me, it definitely worked. Over the course of those four days, I wrote 22,346 words for a new novel– it’s a steampunk alt-history story, and I’m really pleased with how it went. Being in the Rainforest, able to focus on the writing for long periods of time without worrying about going to the gym or filing taxes or sorting bills or checking the Internet, was a blast– and because I had a plan, with a freshly-outlined novel ready to start, I feel like I was both more productive and more successful than the last time I went to Rainforest Writers, back in 2012. It was the most fun I’d had writing a novel since my first NaNoWriMo, back in 2009– I loved the characters, I loved the scenes, and I felt like I was playfully romping through the prose, like a puppy playing in a field, chasing zeppelins and dragons and intrigue during an alternate version of the Second Opium War.

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about this project. But that wasn’t the only good thing about Rainforest– I got to hang out with some good friends, several of whom I hadn’t seen since my last Rainforest two years ago. I also felt less socially awkward than I did back in 2012, and had more fun hanging out with new folks and meeting people. Part of the reason is that I feel more a part of the writing community than I did two years ago– and probably part of it is also the antidepressants I’m taking, and the general progress I’ve made with my depression.

But in addition to being more comfortable socially, I was also more comfortable alone– I was more than willing to go back to my room in the Inn, which had a fantastic sitting room facing the lake. There I could sit on the couch, put my feet up on the coffee table and write alone with my laptop, sometimes for an entire afternoon. I probably did two-thirds of my writing in my room, and a third in the public writing area in the Lounge, which was a nice occasional change of pace.

In addition to writing a third of a novel, I also got a lot of great photos of both the people and the scenery– after breaking my own personal record for writing fiction in one day on Thursday (about 7200 words), on Friday I went for a 4-mile hike on what turned out to be our one sunny day, taking pictures of mushrooms and waterfalls, then watching a fantastic sunset over the lake. We were also lucky enough to get some clear nights, with some of the best views of the night sky that I’ve seen in years.

The best part, though, was the people– the group meals, the conversations, the Saturday night party, sharing photos, and bouncing ideas off each other. I’m planning to head back to the Rainforest next year.

Here’s a slideshow of pics from the weekend!

Driving to Pasco: A Surprisingly Good Way to Spend a Weekend (thanks to RadCon)

Last Friday I drove over Snoqualmie Pass, where I-90 threads its way through the Cascade Mountains, in slushy rain, dodging traffic and semi-trucks and snowplows. The purpose behind this taking of my life (and my friend Keffy’s) into my hands was in the interest of getting to RadCon, a weekend-long science fiction convention in Pasco. Pasco is one-third of the Tri-Cities area of Washington, about three hours east of Seattle.

This was my first RadCon– I’d eyed it with curiosity over the past couple of years, but scheduling and general laziness meant I wasn’t able to go until this year. And I’m pleased to say it was worth the danger.

RadCon turned out to be a large costuming and gaming convention, that happened to feature a writing track. I didn’t attend any writing panels– all the topics were too basic, frankly, to interest me. Instead, I spend my days attending a few costuming and art panels. At one panel that was supposed to be about lighting a set on a budget (which I hoped might lead to some ideas for studio lighting), none of the panelists showed up, as they were busy making a movie at RadCon. But nevertheless, us audience members bravely soldiered on anyway, discussing our mutual experience (one of the audience members was a stage magician; another was a blacksmith interested in lighting for tutorial videos). It turned out to be one of my favorite panels.

At the writing events I did go to– which mostly ended up being after-hours parties in the small press room and similar things– it felt small, comfortable and intimate. I joined in a discussion with Howard Tayler, the artist Guest of Honor, and several other pros, and all in all had a good time both seeing friends and meeting new ones. A lot of the usual Seattle writing crowd wasn’t there, although a few were– but despite that, RadCon honestly felt like the friendliest con I’ve ever been to. Frequently I found myself in interesting conversations with total strangers, on topics ranging from photography, to the con experience, to life as a geek, to BDSM.

Part of the reason for that may have been how the room parties were arranged– in most cons, you can only drink inside the room parties, which are almost universally loud, cramped, and dark. RadCon, however, was able to close off an entire third-floor section to people 21 and over, which meant that people could mingle in a large, wide balcony/hallway area and could actually talk to each other without forgoing their drinks. It probably also helped that this was pretty much the only area to party– the bar was dead, and there was nowhere else to go– which meant that everyone found that their way there. Pros and fans mingled, writers and gamers and costumers mingled, cheap Jell-O shots were abundant and all in all I had a pretty awesome time.

RadCon also trended a lot younger than most science fiction cons– there were a lot of teenagers and college students there in costume, hanging out with friends. Since RadCon is pretty much the entire convention scene in the Tri-Cities area of Washington, a lot of local folks (especially younger folks) seemed to gravitate to it. RadCon seemed to be the cool place to hang out this weekend, which was kind of nice to see. I am all for having enthusiastic younger people becoming more involved in the fan scene, even if they’re primarily anime or gaming fans for right now as opposed to readers– although I suspect many of them are avid readers as well.

That’s not to say I couldn’t things to complain about. The food options are rather limited, for one. (I’m just glad the fan suite was selling pizza for $2/slice, because that’s pretty much what I lived off of… that and granola bars.) Taking pictures at the Masquerade was kind of terrible, because the lighting setup was apparently designed by someone with a deep visceral hatred of photography. Oh, and I woke up with a hangover on Sunday… although, admittedly, that last one was entirely my fault.

Luckily I shook it off in time to drive back over Snoqualmie Pass while it was still light. Despite a few dire warnings, the conditions were actually better on Sunday than they’d been on Friday.

Next year I will definitely be braving the pass to head to RadCon again.

In the meantime, here’s the slideshow of pictures from the con. I spent most of the weekend doing photography, and all in all, I’m quite happy with the results. There were lots of great costumes (thanks cosplayers!), and the weapons demo and fire show made for some very pretty pictures as well.