Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The World That Was: World Steam Expo Convention Report, Part 2

As you may recall, when last we left our intrepid adventurer, he was face-down in a pillow after spending a fine day signing books, suffering stage-induced amnesia and meeting many awesome folk on the first night of the World Steam Expo.

As things turned out, Saturday was kind of a day off for me, because all of my panels were scheduled for Sunday and Monday. After getting a nice breakfast in my room (a service I would continue to make good use of for the rest of the weekend), I headed downstairs to take in the sights and see what the convention had to offer. The Aegis Swordsmanship Academy had taken over an event room and converted it into an incredible little field camp, where they were offering an assortment of fascinating and fun seminars. My favorites were the Nerf boarding action, the knife-fighting ring and the lockpick seminar. I wanted to participate in the Nerf battles, but apparently it was BYOG (Bring Your Own Gun), and I hadn't planned ahead, curse the luck.

After taking a look at the Aegis room, I wandered into the dealers' area and gawked at all the beautiful wares on sale. I found the lovely and charming Sal Palland of Off the Beaten Path Bookstore and Cafe, and worked out a time to come by her table to sign books after the author panel on Sunday. The next stop was the Marquis ballroom, where lessons were being taught in waltz, swing dance and tango. The classes looked like a lot of fun, but alas, I had no partner to dance with. So I continued my walkabout, peeking in various panels, then went and got my laptop from the room and settled in the green room to work some more on the chapter I'd be reading. Many revisions and additions later, I packed up and headed downstairs to catch author and friend Gail Carriger's seminar on Gothic Victorian literary roots of steampunk. Being a Victorian lit. major in college, the seminar sounded really interesting, and Gail did not disappoint. We chatted for a bit afterwards, sharing our impressions of the convention and talking a bit of shop before she had to dash off to dinner with a publisher. Such is the life of a New York Times bestselling author.

Me, I headed back to the hotel bar for dinner and people-watching, preparing myself for the main event of the evening: the Midnight Carnival. The carnival was a six-hour spectacle of music, comedy, magic, burlesque and acrobatics, featuring every performer at the convention. At various points during the evening I got to enjoy The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for NothingFrenchy and the Punk, and the fabulous magic act of Pop Haydn. Roaming between the ballroom and the bar I crossed paths with Gail again, and got to meet the great Howard Taylor, of Schlock Mercenary fame. Howard and Gail headed off to various and sundry shenanigans with the Aegis crew, and I returned to the Carnival. My plans for an early night disappeared in a rowdy haze of Irish drinking songs and roaring toasts with The Bawdy Boys. A fun time was had by all, and it was deep into the wee hours of the morning by the time I headed back to my room.

I made a point of sleeping in on Sunday, and ordering a pot of coffee with breakfast. Then I spent a final few hours tinkering with the chapter before packing up and heading downstairs to my first panel. I'm not gonna lie; I was nervous as hell. It was a solo panel, I wasn't a steampunk author (at least, not yet), and no one at the convention had likely ever heard of me. And to top it all off, I would be reading my very own work to an audience for the first time ever. Provided, of course, that there was an audience at all. I was fully prepared to find myself presiding over an empty room when 2:30 finally rolled around.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried. I didn't pack in the crowd like Gail did in the same room the day before, but I had nine or ten wonderful folks who were interested in writing, and I had a lot of fun answering questions on everything from getting published to getting stomped on by horses during the filming of Full Metal Jousting. We had such a fine time chatting that I almost ran out of time before the reading, and had to plop down quickly and present the chapter during the last fifteen minutes of the panel. I'm happy to say that everyone seemed to like what they heard, and even laughed at the appropriate places. For someone like me, who's made a career from other people's worlds and characters, being able to entertain an audience with something I made from whole cloth was amazing. I left the panel excited and energized to finish the book, which will be ready later this summer. (More on that in future blog posts.)

After the panel I dashed upstairs to drop my laptop bag off, drink a little more coffee (because that’s exactly what I needed to help calm down), and then returned to the very same room for the steampunk author’s panel. Joining me on the panel were the great Jay Lake, the ever-lovely and elegant Miss Gail, fiction and non-fiction author G. D. Falksen, and newly-minted steampunk author John R. White. The panel was moderated by my pal Arica, and we had a lively time answering questions and talking about the vagaries of writing and the writing life.

Before I knew it, the panel was over. Still riding high on the success of my reading (and the ginormous cup of coffee I'd been carrying around), I bounded over to Sal's table in the dealer's room to sign books. To my immense surprise, she had sold all but one of the big Darkblade omnibus editions she'd brought to the convention, and I had a nice little line of folks to chat with. Gail was there signing as well (her line was just the tiniest bit longer than mine), and since we had dinner plans, I hung about and helped sell books (once a bookseller, always a bookseller) until it was time to close down for the evening.

Freed from our obligations for the day, Gail and I headed upstairs to catch dinner at the hotel's Italian restaurant... only to find it unaccountably closed. So, once again, it was back to the hotel bar (the waitresses knew me by name at this point). We had a fine meal, and talked... and talked... and talked. It's very rare that I get to sit down with a fellow writer and talk about the strange life we lead. We nattered on about books, and agents, and publishers, and the other writers we knew... Eventually we got up and strolled around the convention, chattering like magpies, until finally coming to rest in the lobby and letting the rest of the con swirl around us. Jay came by at one point, accompanied by his entourage, and John sat down for a bit to ask me some questions about game writing. A steady stream of fans stopped to take pictures with Gail. It was grand.

Eventually, Gail decided it was time to retire for the night. I, still completely keyed up by the events of the day, went wandering about and stumbled, once again, on The Bawdy Boys. Drawn in by the sounds of "South Australia" (one of my favorites), I danced and sang and roared along with the rest until sometime past ohmygod o'clock. It was a fine end to a thoroughly amazing day.

A few (and I mean a few) hours later, I was up and at it again. Breakfast and coffee manage to return some semblance of humanity in time for my last panel of the convention. Fortunately, it was about writing strong villains, which was something I knew a thing or two about. Gail joined me on the panel, which was surprisingly well-attended, and the audience asked us a lot of fun and thought-provoking questions. 

Once the panel was finished, so too was the convention. There was nothing left to do but head back to the room, zip up my bags, and await my ride to the airport. Since the convention booked the travel for all the guests, there were a surprisingly large number of us flying out at the same time, which made for a lot of double-takes in the security line. By happy chance I ran into Gail again on the other side of security, and we sat and chatted for a while until her flight was called. Mere moments later I passed the League of Steam heading for their gate, and had the chance to say goodbye before my own flight was called. 

And so came to an end one of the best convention weekends I can recall in many, many years. I want to thank the staff of the World Steam Expo, Sal from Off the Beaten Path, my fellow guests, and of course the convention attendees for a truly wonderful time. If you're a steampunk fan, believe me, you don't want to miss out on this convention!

Friday, June 8, 2012

The World That Was: World Steam Expo Convention Report, Part 1

I'm back! Well, okay, technically I've been back from World Steam Expo for more than a week. It's taken me this long to write my convention report because the instant I got home, I discovered that the Sekrit Project had been suddenly shifted into overdrive, and what I thought I had six weeks to finish now had to be done in two. So there hasn't been much time for anything around the ancestral abode except pacing, swearing, and bouts of furious, sekrit work.

But that's mostly behind me now! I can finally share my impressions about the convention. In short, I had a fantastic time. The convention was lively and interesting, the staff was delightful, and I got to meet some truly wonderful people.

In truth, the extended weekend got off to a hectic start. I flew back from Raleigh on Wednesday, thinking I'd have a whole day to switch mental gears, unpack, do laundry, pack again, and then be ready to head out on Friday. It was a good plan, a fine plan - and then I went to check on my flight itinerary and discovered that, no, my plane was leaving for Detroit on Thursday.

I won't lie. Panic ensued. Then unpacking, laundry, more packing, and then the umpty-dozen other things that had to get seen to before I could disappear from home for another five days. I'd originally toyed with the idea of trying to put together a Steampunk outfit to walk around in, but there just wasn't time, and frankly, if I wasn't going to be able to do the costume right, I wasn't going to do it at all. This proved to be a wise choice, because the costumes on display at the convention were amazing. I was better off in t-shirts and jeans than trying to keep up with such a crowd of stunningly fashionable folk.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The flight to Detroit went well, and after some minor shenanigans on my part I managed to link up with my ride to the hotel. More shenanigans ensued as we tried to navigate the twisty ways around all the highway work between airport and hotel, but my intrepid driver got us through the maze without incident. Getting in a day early was actually kind of nice, because it gave me time to get settled in, meet the staff and find my way around the hotel without feeling rushed. After getting settled into my room, I took my laptop downstairs to the bar, ordered dinner, and watched a steady stream of early convention goers and a few fellow guests trickle into the hotel. I also put in some work on the chapter I was planning to read at my panel on Sunday. Before I knew it, midnight had come round, and it was time to amble off to bed.

The following day I was back down in the lobby at noon to meet convention staffer and good friend Arica, who whisked me from the hotel and over to the local Games Workshop store, where I was warmly welcomed by the manager, Michael Bell, and a few of the local gamers. I spent a couple of hours at the store, chatting with folks who came by on their lunch hours to get books signed. Everyone was absolutely great, and before I knew it, Arica and I had to hop back in the car and get back to the hotel in time for opening ceremonies.

Now, I've been to a lot of conventions in my time, and I've been a guest at quite a few, but I've never been part of opening ceremonies before. I had no idea what to expect. Presumably, I thought, there would be introductions of one sort or another, a bit of applause, and then hooray! Convention time! Whoo!

But, no. This was a big affair inside the main ballroom, with a stage, and professional lighting, and follow spots, and a sound system, and… I found myself backstage with many of the other guests (League of Steam! Steam Powered Giraffe! Abney Park!), and we were brought out one by one to introduce ourselves and tell the crowd about what we’d be up to that weekend.

Not a problem, I thought. It’s not like I’m a stranger to the stage. I rehearse in my head all the things I want to say, sprinkle it with a few jokes, and I’m ready to go!

And then my name’s called. I bound on stage, those hot lights hit me in the face and I forget every damn thing I intended to say. Genius. I think I managed to improv something halfway informative and entertaining; it was one of those surreal moments of embarrassment where I could sense that my mouth was moving, and sounds were coming out, but they weren’t being vetted by my brain for approval. Thankfully, the crowd was good-natured, and let me go without pelting me with the odd toothy gear or bit of rotted fruit.

As the convention began in earnest, I returned once again to the hotel bar for dinner and a bit of relaxation (read: Scotch). Arica and her husband Trevor, both dressed to the nines, stopped by, and we chatted until the bar wound down and it was time for me to crawl back to my bed.

Thus ends part the first of the convention report! If you’re still awake at this point, tune in Sunday for the riveting conclusion!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Panel schedule for World Steam Expo

So, as I mentioned in the previous post, I'll be attending the World Steam Expo in Dearborn, Michigan this weekend! The very fine and lovely staff have even scheduled me for a number of panels on Sunday and Monday. If you happen to be at the convention, here's where to find me:

Author Hour: "Mike Lee: An Hour with the Master of Mayhem"(Stanley Steamer room, 2:30-3:30PM): Master of Mayhem? Me? No. I'm more of a dabbler, really. But come and sit with me, and we'll chat about writing novels and working on video games, share pictures of our dogs, that sort of thing. I may even read a bit from my current work-in-progress, a cathode-punk adventure currently titled Rocket X-13. Note: in the program listing, it says I'm a costume designer, which I'm not, and that I've written for film, which I haven't. Although, if you really want me to talk about those things, I'm sure I can make something up.

Author's Forum (Desoto room, 4:00-5:00PM): I'll be joining Jay Lake, Gail Carriger and G. D. Falksen in a lively discussion about writing for the Steampunk genre. Does this not sound like fun? Of course it does!

Wit and Wickedness: An Author's Guide to Writing Villains (Marquis Ballroom, 11:30-12:30PM): I shall be joining the exceedingly splendid Gail Carriger to share advice on writing about villains. Why they picked me for this panel, I cannot possibly imagine.

When not holding forth in a panel, I'll be ambling around the convention, taking in the sights, or sampling the scotch in the hotel bar (aka, the Writer's Natural Habitat). Come say hi!

In the meantime, I'm off to Raleigh for a few days to start work on... something I can't talk about yet. It's a small but interesting project, and teams me up with some of my favorite people, so all in all this is shaping up to be an awesome week! I hope yours is awesome as well.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Upcoming Appearances

It's mid-May; how the heck did that happen? I can't believe the year is nearly half-gone, and there's so much left to do. Makes me wish I was eight again. When you're a kid, a single day could last for ages, especially if it was close to Christmas or summer vacation. Kind of gives a whole new meaning to an event horizon, come to think of it. Someone should write a story about that.

But the headlong rush of May signifies two things: first, that I'll be a year older in just a couple of weeks, and second, that convention season is almost upon us. Which concerns me the most? The conventions, naturally.

This year's schedule is looking to be a busy one. As of this moment, I'll be attending (*counts fingers*) six conventions, between now and the end of October:

World Steam Expo (May 25-28, Dearborn, MI): I'll be a guest at World Steam Expo next week, among such luminaries as Gail Carriger and Jay Lake. This will be my first Steampunk convention, and I can't wait to go - even if I'll be woefully under-dressed.

HeroesCon (June 22-24, Charlotte, NC): I'll be an attending professional at HeroesCon, hanging out at Janet's table in the exhibitor hall and holding her legions of adoring fans at bay.

San Diego Comic Con (July 12-15, San Diego, CA): Once again, I'll be an attending professional, helping Janet at her small press booth. If I fail to make it back from this one, tell my dog I loved him. Also tell him to stop digging up the backyard looking for moles. I mean, seriously. It's like a moonscape back there.

Dragon*Con (August 31-September 3), Atlanta, GA): I will be returning as a guest to Dragon*Con this year, and helping Janet at her table. The convention might not do me in, but Doc Whoopee's famous room parties might. I can think of worse ways to die.

Baltimore Comic Con (September 8-9, Baltimore, MD): That's right; the weekend after Dragon*Con, I'll be at Baltimore Comic Con as an attending professional zombie, or a zombie professional, or something. Maybe we'll have a contest to decide. I don't know.

New York Comic Con (October 11-14, NYC): This one is tentative right now, but in theory I'll be there as an attending professional, assisting Janet (see a pattern, here?) and maybe taking in a Broadway show. There will definitely be tea at Alice's Tea Cup, of that I am sure.

The astute Warhammer fans reading have already no doubt surmised that I will not be attending Games Day in Chicago this year. Sorry, guys. Maybe next year.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Where I'm Going, Where I've Been

Hello, and welcome to Clockwork Rockets, my own little corner of the blogosphere. I'll be using this page to keep folks posted on upcoming book and game releases, author appearances, my works in progress, and observations on writing and the writing life, such as it is. I'll be updating the blog at least once a week; hopefully more, but I don't want to commit to that just yet. Convention season is upon us, which means Janet and I will be on the road quite a bit this year, so things are bound to get a bit hectic.

So, what have I been up to lately? Ironically, not much. After finishing Nagash Immortal, the final volume in the epic Time of Legends series about the Warhammer world's greatest (and most evil) necromancer, I realized that I'd pretty well run out of steam. By that point - June of last year - I'd been writing professionally for fourteen and a half years, more or less non-stop. I'd worked on two dozen or so role-playing projects, a half-dozen video games, and written short stories, novellas, and ten big novels. In other words, I was wrung out. I needed a little time off to recharge. So I had a long chat with my editor, the very great and patient Nick Kyme, and he encouraged me to have a good lie down, read some books, and generally do anything but write for a few months, until the words started to flow again.

I took his advice. I started sleeping eight hours a night again. I stopped living on pots of coffee. I read some good books, and I read some hilariously bad books. I played a few video games (Red Dead Redemption, Bioshock 2 and Modern Warfare 3. Then I got Skyrim for Christmas and it ate what was left of my soul.) I spent a couple of months in Jackson, Mississippi working on a TV show for the History Channel.

Slowly but surely, the wheels started to turn again. When last I talked to Nick, he told me to put together a wish list of projects I'd like to work on for Black Library. By January, I'd come up with five or six ideas, some conceived as stand-alone novels, some as series, and I let Nick choose the one he liked best. I'll start on the book in mid to late May. It's a Warhammer 40K novel, and it's about one of my favorite Space Marine chapters. That's about all I can say for now. Watch this space for teasers in the months to come.

There are other projects afoot as well, that I look forward to sharing in the near future. I've just about finished work on an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) for Ubisoft that ties into the soon-to-be-released Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. It's been an awesome, challenging (and at times hair-raising) project, and I'm excited to see how the game plays out (hint: there will be amazing prizes for the winner).

I'll also be publishing my first e-book this summer. More on that later as well. Stay tuned!