Not long after my change in employment earlier this year, I got in touch with GeekDad editor Ken Denmead, who generously ran a couple guest posts I wrote in April and later included me on a very cool invite list, bringing me on board as a full-fledged contributor to the site. I’m incredibly thankful, because a) It’s GeekDad, and How Freaking Awesome; b) I’ve gotten to write pieces I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to, which inspired some writing I’m proud of.
It has been tremendously neat playing a small role in the site and watching it grow, and one of my resolutions for 2010 is to write more for GeekDad than I did in 2009.
That said, I had a TON of fun with this year’s entries, and while I truly enjoyed many of my shorter blog entries, there are exactly 10 longer GeekDad pieces about which I was most excited and got the most enjoyment out of writing, so Yay for a Ready-Made End-of-Year List! (Cop out: I’m presenting them in chronological order because it’s easiest.)
1) May 6 – Hands-on and Close-up Fun: Penguicon 7.0 . That weekend in May was absolutely one of the highlights of the year, and even the decade, for me. (I did a longer, more personal and detailed post here.)
2) May 21 – Girls Against Girls – Figuring It Out With Bonnie Burton – It’s incredibly difficult to accurately describe how enjoyable this interview was, and the book’s lessons have come in handy more than once in my daughter’s middle school years.
4) June 18 – Review: Swim Ways’ R/C Cyber Ray – Well, we got to play with a nifty toy that was only fun for a little while, but I like the way the review turned out, and who knows, maybe Swim Ways has ironed out the wrinkles by now.
5) June 27 – Nature at Its Closest – With several inches of snow outside needing shoveled, summer seems a long way off. But remembering the clutches of baby robins we got to watch hatch and grow on our front porch does warm the heart. (awwww!)
6) July 9 – 10 Things Parents Should Know About Warehouse 13 – It was a good excuse to stay in and watch some SyFy channel with Kelsey, but the truth is, though we though the premiere was OK, we never watched another episode.
7) July 26 – Bubbles, Zubbles, Toys and Troubles – Although at its heart this is another toy review, I had a blast talking to inventor Tim Kehoe about his 15-year journey from the idea for colored bubbles to the final production this summer.
8) Aug. 13 – Activision’s Science Papa Will Remind You Of Mama’s Cooking – Reviewing video games means PLAYING video games, so it’s not like I was going out of my way or anything. Plus I got to write this: “To draw a 1980s toy parallel, it’s Mighty Men & Monster Maker vs. Fashion Plates all over again.”
9) Sept. 21 – 10 Things Parents Should Know About Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs – Kelsey and I had gone to see this just for fun, and I was so surprised that I liked it so much that I jumped at the chance to do the GeekDad write-up.
10) October 6 – Princesses and Mermaids: Who Needs Rescuing Again? – We were introduced to Jim C. Hines and his books at Penguicon, marking yet another reason the trip to Romulus was so memorable.
To circle back to the end of the first paragraph: c) It’s GeekDad, and How Freaking Awesome. Gobs and piles of thanks to Ken, Matt Blum and my fellow contributors and the Wired editors and everyone else I don’t know who makes GeekDad work.
And, oh yeah, there was that thing where I was thrown headfirst into my freelance writing career.
“Roller coaster” doesn’t even begin to describe this ride.
I’m lucky to have a supportive and loving wife whose full-time job provides us health insurance and a measure of stability. Lucky to have the friends and contacts and encouragment to prevent full-on panic from day one.
There are, to be sure, fantastic pluses. I cannot possibly overstate how much I love working from home, and how much I’m enjoying the variety of editing and writing projects and assignments I’ve been offered. If this was only about the work, hell yes it would be totally worth it.
But it’s not just about the work: It’s about seemingly endless uncertainty, unpredictable pay schedules, the constant search for more projects, and the wrestling with budgets and tax puzzles. It’s about finding joy in earning just enough to no longer qualify for unemployment but still wincing at a monthly bill calendar that doesn’t care whether I get paid next Tuesday or in six weeks.
Still, I remain optimistic that by the time the one-year anniversary of my job cut rolls around in late March, I will be able to look back on it as far more of a promising beginning than a harrowing ending.
That said, it has not been an easy lifestyle adjustment, and with work slowing down as 2009 closes, Jenn and I are far more budget-conscious this holiday season than we have ever been in our 13 years of marriage.
What I’m hoping for this month, then, is to get a little holiday support for “Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek – The First 30 Years.”
I have 27 copies sitting here in my office, and I would desperately love to send them all off to good homes for the holidays, so here’s the deal: Shipping for a nickel.
For $15 – that’s cover price plus five pennies – per book, I’ll sign and cover shipping for “Collect All 21!” anyplace in the U.S. (With apologies to international buyers: I’m ridiculously thankful to everyone in the seven other countries who has purchased my book, but I can’t ship overseas for less than $12 – but if you’re interested in one of these signed copies at that shipping cost, by all means get in touch!)
All you need to do is drop me an email at booth (at) fieldsedge.com – there shouldn’t be any problems at this point getting these sent out in plenty of time for the holidays.
And if I do manage to ship out all 27 of those copies, I’ll keep taking orders for signed copies at the nickel shipping rate through Dec. 24, although obviously I’ll have to place my own new order, and those won’t be mailed out in time for Christmas. (Think of it as commemorating the 32nd anniversary of Kenner’s famous Early Bird offer for Star Wars action figures in 1977.)
And hey, if you’re buying (or hoping to receive) a netbook or one of the several electronic book readers out there this year – well, “Collect All 21!” comes in a PDF format, too, which I’ll happily send your way for just $5. (I’ll admit up front that I don’t know the specifics about which readers handle PDFs best and which might require file conversion, or how that conversion will look on each reader.)
I have no illusions that my independently-sold books will ever replace a full-time salary, but I am hopeful that these sales can at least cover a bill or two, or be responsibly set aside for taxes (yet another golly-gee-this-is-fun facet of the freelancer’s life).
I’ve gotten encouragement from far-flung corners and surprising voices since updating the book in April, and I am deeply grateful and appreciative to every person who has bought it, blogged about it, reviewed it on Amazon or Goodreads or Lulu shared it with friends and family or just dropped me a note to say it sounded kind of neat.
If you’re one of those people who has purchased or recommended “Collect All 21!”, heartfelt thanks one more time from my little corner of Ohio, and if you know a Star Wars fan, or another former 1980s kid, or just a generally geeky type, I appreciate your spreading the word, whether it’s on Facebook or Twitter or your blog or wherever.
I’d walk through carbonite for every one of you.
It’s kind of an odd thing, maybe, since I enjoy a good adventure including mythical monsters and swordfights and demigods and magic, but there’s never been much fantasy on my bookshelves: The Lord of the Rings has been there since around 1976; so is The Sword of Shannara (but none of its sequels, of which I read only one); and Dragons of Autumn Twilight; and The Princess Bride. Once up on a time, you would have found the Dungeons & Dragons choose-your-own-adventuresque Pillars of Pentegarn and Mountain of Mirrors there, too. The only newer entrants in the genre are the seven Harry Potter books.
I think, though, the last fantasy I read was in January 2008 – the fourth book in Lian Hearn’s Otori saga, Harsh Cry of the Heron.
They don’t look like the kind of books I’d have stumbled onto – when I was reading Stepsister, my wife’s first chuckling reaction was “What’s up with the girls’ book?” and I can’t blame her, really, given that the cover image really doesn’t look like anything she’s seen me read before:
Now, when I started reading this, it was in large part because a) Jim was just a really nice guy when Kelsey & I met him at Penguicon, and b) I wanted to check the book’s suitability for my daughter. What happened, of course, was that I totally got sucked into the story, digging Hines’ weaving of the dark side of fairy tales into new takes on old favorites Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
While there are rescue quest at the heart of both Scheme and Madness, I thought the unfolding of the princesses’ back stories and their evolving relationships was as engaging as the main storyline in the first book.
That said, I enjoyed the sequel even more, I think, precisely because the primary tale – a meaty mix of love, powerlust, magic, warring kingdoms, and some land-and-sea battle action – really carries the day here. Not that the heroines don’t grow significantly along the way, but we get to see them much more as they are in the story’s present, if that makes sense, as opposed to hearing the tales that shaped their lives.
I also found the sequel easier to read because I already knew the characters, and as the story gained steam, I wasn’t losing track of which princess was which. (This was a problem for me toward the end of the first book, because when the action was really cranking up, I had to constantly slow myself down and make sure I understood which Hines’ character equated to which “real” fairy-tale character – which matters because of those interlocking backstories – what with three princesses and assorted stepsisters and mothers all kicking ass all over the place.) In Madness, Talia, Danielle and Snow all hold their own places from the start.
I’m glad to have crossed paths with Mr. Hines this year, and to have gotten back into the fantasy realm through his stories, and I’m looking forward to the sequels, and to sharing the series with Kelsey.
(On a semi-related note, his “20 Neil Gaiman Facts” – the literary equivalent of those Chuck Norris hyperbole lists – is one of the funnier blog bits I’ve read in a long time, and when it comes out on a T-shirt – yes, Neil’s given permission! – I’m all over it.)
You know what? Ohio’s a pretty nifty place.
Consider – thanks to the various quirks of life that bring people here (and hey, some people even stay!) – that photographer Kyle Cassidy, whose very cool “Where I Write: Fantasy & Science Fiction Authors in Their Creative Spaces” collection dropped my jaw awhile back, has just wrapped up a road trip through the state continuing that photo project.
And his notes and photos from the journey – they’re all worth reading – are a trunkful of “Damn that’s neat.” Stops across the state and visits with C.C. Finlay, Mike Resnick, Stephen Leigh, John Scalzi and Tobias Buckell, and then a swing up to Northeast Ohio for Catherynne M. Valente‘s weekend wedding. (She’s another author I discovered thanks to Penguicon – I absolutely love “A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica.”)
Of course, now that I’m all geeked up about how many nifty people are milling around these parts, it just so happens that the Buckeye Book Fair is this Saturday in Wooster – not too far from where Kelsey’s got a gymnastics meet…
Back in May, author Jim C. Hines was among the many incredibly friendly and cool people my daughter and I met at Penguicon 7.0. (Kelsey still cracks up over a disturbingly hilarious Sesame Street-related story he told during a Humor in Science Fiction panel.) I hadn’t heard of him before the convention, but after talking to him and hearing about the set-up of his book “The Stepsister Scheme,” I immediately added it to my To-Read list.
This summer, it grabbed Kelsey’s interest, too, especially when she read the first chapter one morning, since I’d left the book lying on the kitchen table. It’s good stuff: Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are reimagined as take-charge heroines, but the story goes well beyond just tweaking and spoofing the original fairy tales.
Remember the incredibly fun live performance of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog that I mentioned seeing at Penguicon in May?
Some of the stuff we brought home from Penguicon 7.0:
Two pieces of nondescript board which arrived at the convention as one piece of nondescript board. I figure I’m now appoximately one-fortieth of a level above No Belt, but still, it was pretty neat learning to put my fist through this.
“The Book of Biff Vol. 3: Fresh Toast,” and the postcard print that sold me on the cartoon from the start. It reads, “Biff realizes that it’s tricky to eat giant-squid noodles.” This also reminds me: Saturday morning (I think), Kelsey is chilling and reading the Biff collection. She turns on the TV to check the Penguicon channel, but lands first on a Care Bears cartoon. After about thirty seconds, she observes, without even cracking a smile, “You know, the Care Bears aren’t very good at problem solving.” We proceed to mock the Care Bears and this episode’s bad guy, who is either wearing giant mechanical battle armor or the new Master Chief Bear.
My registration badge. No, there aren’t any of those informative/funny/bizarre ribbons on it (check out this photo of Beaker to see what I’m talking about), but then, we were first-timers at Penguicon, and not volunteers or guests or room partiers, and we must have just happened to not attend any classes or panels where they were being given out. No big deal – though I do admit that we both loved the “Captain Hammer Threw A Car At My Head” ribbons, so bonus points to whoever distributed those.
Penguicon Program Book: Regularly folded up, rolled up, marked up and consulted.
Tobias Buckell‘s “Crystal Rain.” – I read this last year, and met him at a book signing in Columbus where I didn’t actually have a book for him to sign, so I’ve owed him one. And it’s a great read. (It’s also a signed copy, which I didn’t realize until after I bought it.) John Scalzi’s “The Ghost Brigades” is here for the same reason – I brought it with me to have signed, since it’s my favorite chapter in his Old Man’s War universe.
Daniel Pinkwater’s “The Neddiad.” – This author has been on my radar for awhile, but I haven’t gotten around to reading him yet. This paperback was in one of the boxes of free books in the lobby. (Speaking of free stuff, I can’t find the sheet of Ubuntu stickers I picked up. And I’ve only gotten to cover one tiny Windows symbol so far!)
A bookmark promoting Jim C. Hines‘ “The Stepsister Scheme,” which he signed in lieu of the book which I failed to pick up prior to the signing and which I still need to go buy because he was such a friendly and hilarious guy.
Munchkin Bites and two Munchkin bookmarks – We’ve played twice since returning home (I’m now batting .333 vs. Kelsey, having finally won a game), and while I’ve been thinking we need to pick up some big 10-sided dice for level counters instead of the poker chips we’ve been using, I just found these and will be doing some downloading later.
We didn’t take a ton of pictures, but here are a few. I’m pretty sure I like this one the best:
The fact is, I’m now indebted to Wil Wheaton.
His appearances east of the Rockies seem few and far between, so when he was announced as Guest of Honor at Penguicon 7.0, I jumped in and registered for my first overnight convention stay in four years.
Honestly, if he hadn’t been scheduled, I probably wouldn’t have gone. I’ve never been a hardcore gamer, and I’m barely a dabbler in the open source side of computing, and I’ve only relatively recently begun rediscovering science fiction writing.
And yet, had I not gone, I would have totally missed out on the past three abso-frigging-lutelydamntastic days and never even known it. Yes, Penguicon rocked so hard that even though Mr. Wheaton was unable to make it, the weekend was a massively Epic Win for me and my daughter. We’ll be going back.
So, if you don’t like gushing, stand the heck back, because I LOVED Penguicon. So much that a couple times, I wanted to cry with joy, I was having so freaking good a time. So much that if you worked or volunteered or organized or handed out food or took out garbage or had even the tiniest role in making this convention happen, you are hereby A Fantastic Person and I Heart You. Seriously, Penguicon People – bookmark this page, and if you find a blog or a forum post complaining about Not Enough This or Too Much That or This Sucked or That Blew, I want you to come back here and remember that you made at least one 38-year-old Dad and one 12-year-old Daughter Awfully Freaking Happy with your efforts this year. This was our first Penguicon, and not one person met us with rudeness or sneered at our N00bism – we were made to feel welcome from our first panel Friday afternoon – a meet-up with fellow Harry Potter fans – to our last trip through the lobby Sunday after lunch and a gaming session. (More on that later.)
It’s no easy thing, sometimes, for a dad and an almost-teenage daughter to find much common ground, but these were 48 hours of pure excellence in that department, sometimes in surprising moments. Here are a few:
When we went to the Consuite (Honestly: a con with a constant supply of free food & beverage? Who does that? Penguicon.) to see and taste our first batch of Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream – Yay for con volunteers Molly and Trevor and Phil! – another guy watching the process struck up a conversation, and that’s how we found ourselves chatting with FreeDOS creator Jim Hall, a superbly nice guy. (We met up with him again Saturday when they whipped up a batch of chocolate-chocolate-chocolate-chocolate-chocolate LN2 ice cream for his birthday. I think my eyeballs might still be vibrating from the sugar.)
Thanks to the patient and encouraging people at Aegis Consulting, I can say that I’ve seen my daughter hurl throwing knives and punch through a board with her bare hands. And it was her idea. Sure, she got a little nervous before each session, but she went through with it both times. This was even cooler than throwing knives and breaking stuff myself. (Which I did, of course.)
Friday night we had the first of a few encounters with the polite and gracious John Scalzi and Mary Robinette Kowal when their “Schmoozing 101″ panel was moved to 10 p.m. in place of a scheduled Wheaton reading. Probably because of the schedule change, there were only about a half-dozen people there, I think – some of whom came in late – and the result was a really fun and entertaining hour on how not to be all “OhMyGawdYou’reINSERTNEATOFAMOUSPERSONHERE,” and how not to come off like a stalkery stalker stalking. (Information which I hope I put to good use over the next two days, since we crossed paths several times with many of the Penguicon guests.) Mr. Scalzi was good enough to chat for a few minutes afterward, and I introduced him to Kelsey, who had brought Zoe’s Tale to finish reading over the weekend. He was very courteous, and when Kelsey and I headed back to our room, she turned to me with this amazing smile and said, “That. Was. SO. COOL.”
In fact, that was one of the neatest things about the weekend: Being a midsize con – I think I’ve seen past attendance put at 800-1000 guests – and having everything there at the hotel where everyone was staying, the odds of bumping into well-known and extremely neat people were way better than average. The scope of the convention also made for a very comfortable feel and pace. Yes, the sheer immensity of something like a Star Wars Celebration is fun, but it’s also exhausting and demanding. Even though that can be fantastic in its own way, this time around, with my daughter along, I absolutely didn’t miss those wall-to-wall crowds and frantic pace. We never wanted for things to do and see, but we also had free time to swim, to sit around and chill, to play with/debug the Chaos Machine and to wander past panel rooms just to see who was in there and what was going on.
Saturday was full of more panels, and I was happy to see Kelsey interested in them. After those first couple on Friday, she realized there was a good shot of being entertained by the guests, even if she really wasn’t into the topic itself, and she was having a ball. (We also hit another of her “must see” events: the “Trust Me, It’s Just Chemistry” demonstration by Professor X. We snagged the last few feet of floor space for the rapid-fire show of “mix-these-and-watch-this” experiments, and there was much foaming and gelling and melting and fake snot making.)
We got some free Ubuntu stickers, which she stuck at the corners of her eyes. My kid rocks.
Saturday night’s live performance of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” was incredibly fun, and frankly, as I told the guy who played the title role afterward, may have “ruined” the real video for my daughter, who had never seen it. She absolutely loved it, and I’m not sure seeing it on the TV screen (masterful as the film is), will ever be as funny to her as it was seeing it for the first time in the hands of passionate fans.
So Sunday morning, we started off by popping in to the book signing session, and here’s where another “wow-I-love-this-con” rush kicks in: I realize I’ve become a potential fan of several of these writers based on just hearing them speak or talking with them briefly, so I picked up Brian Briggs’ “The Bbook of Geek” and Daniel J. Hogan‘s Lulu-published “The Magic of Eyri.” I’d also planned to buy a copy of Jim C. Hines‘ “The Stepsister Scheme” – he had Kelsey in stitches during a panel on humor in science fiction, incidentally, and later we talked about the book for a few minutes in the lobby – but there was a quirk in scheduling, and I didn’t get to the dealer room in time, and he didn’t have any copies on hand, so it’s on my “to get” list. My daughter and I both also fell hard for Chris Hallbeck’s “Biff” cartoons, so I bought Vol. 3, “Fresh Toast” from the author’s table.
So now it’s late morning, and we hit the home stretch, and we’ve got one more box to check off Kelsey’s list: Open Soda – a crash course in making our own pop (because that’s what we call it here). She’s been looking forward to this one a LOT. About 15 minutes before I’m supposed to meet her for the presentation – she’d gone back to the room for something – I’m in the Consuite, and I see Andrew Hackard, Wil Wheaton’s editor, who’s been on a couple panels we’ve attended. I go over to say hi, and we talk for a few minutes about editing books with friends, and he becomes the 765th person to whom I say something along the lines of, “This is our first time here and we are totally blown away and loving it!” and then my phone buzzes, and I have to excuse myself because, I explain, it’s my daughter calling about Open Soda, and I need to head over. “That’s where I’m headed,” he responds, “Let’s go!”
Over the next hour, as we learn the details and process of making a fine fizzy peppermint beverage, I mention that the one thing Kelsey and I didn’t get to do was learn to play Munchkin, since we’d missed the only Beginners course of the weekend.
Then, since, you know, he’s the Munchkin Czar, Mr. Hackard says if we have time, he’ll teach us.
And that’s how we spent our last hours at Penguicon 7.0: Learning and then playing a full game of Munchkin with this incredibly generous person we’ve just met, and I’m watching him give Kelsey advice and I’m reveling in the smile on her face as she’s learning the twists and turns and sneaky fun moves – and, it should be noted, she’s totally kicking our butts under Mr. Hackard’s tutelage. “We have to get this game,” she tells me, lowering her head and looking over the top of her glasses.” In fact, not long after a particularly venomous and level-boosting turn – at which point our gaming host says with a smile, “That’s it. You get no more help from me!” – Kelsey wins. It is gorgeous and she is thrilled and I am bowled over once again at just how amazing a weekend we have had thanks to so many people who were unknown strangers just 48 hours before.
At about 2:15 p.m. Sunday, as we pulled back onto I-275, headed south, I turned to my daughter. “I just realized,” I said, “what we forgot to do.”
“What was the last thing you ate?”
Realization crosses her face. Another smile. “Breakfast.”
“It’s not a con,” I say, holding up a palm, “until you forget to eat.”
So this is my last pre-Penguicon post, and it comes with some Super Fun Bonus News!
I’ve got a pre-trip psyche-up post on Wired‘s GeekDad blog (Click! Digg! Share!) which, the sharp-eyed reader will notice, includes a tag at the bottom slightly different from my previous two guest posts: [This post was written by new GeekDad contributor John Booth]
I guess it’s OK to share that bit of news, then! Being invited on board as one of the new contributors is quite the sugar rush, and I’m really looking forward to diving in and working with the other writers and editors who launched and built the blog into such an incredibly cool site.
Now: Penguicon Ho!
How long until we hit the road for Penguicon? This long.
I’m deep in the important preparations: Laptop batteries & spares? Charged. (Yes, Jenn has been warned we’re taking the laptop with us, so she can spend the next few days adjusting to avoid separation anxiety. My wife loves an Ubuntu-equipped laptop. How awesome.) New double-As for the Flip and our digital cameras? Check. (Note to self: Clear the memory cards so we’ve got plenty of room for pictures. And don’t forget the USB cables.) Route: Mapped. (Look – we’re on here! We’re the red marker – see? We’re waving right now!) Schedule? Highlighted.
Kelsey & Me? Gearing. To. GO.
I haven’t made a full-on con road trip since Celebration III in 2005.
I considered looking into a table at the Artists Alley, but decided that since this was my first Penguicon and my daughter’s first convention, I’d rather be immersed in it and not feel like I was chained to my own little stack of Collect All 21! copies while everybody else was eating Schadenfreude Pie. Still, being amidst a crowd of do-it-yourselfers, I figure I’ll equip myself for some casual self-promotion accordingly. (There are, after all, even a few panels about this very thing!) I’m getting some Collect All 21! postcards printed up, and I’ll have a good supply of the New and Improved Edition on hand.
One of the local 501st garrisons is supposed to be there for awhile on Saturday, so I’m hoping there might be a Star Wars fan or two in that bunch.