Rob’s Update: The Elephant and Castle

Week of 23-30 July

Greetings all

I’m writing this at the Elephant and Castle pub in Grove City, PA. This is my normal place to visit the night before Pennsic. It’s got decent food, wifi, tables with outlets, and good beer on tap. Oh, and it has a dozen or so hotel rooms attached to it.

This place rocks.

Anyway, I will work and relax before heading over to Pennsic tomorrow. Hopefully, by tomorrow evening, my tent will be set up, though I won’t completely nest until Saturday, maybe Sunday.

I talk more about my Pennsic plans in this blog post. Suffice it to say it’ll be two weeks of working all day and singing all evening. I might drink a beer or two.

Speaking of blog posts, my Random Musings after my birthday was one of my favorite posts. If you haven’t read it, it’s here.

I’ve teased that I’ve been writing a short story for a while. It’s in the final crafting phase now. I’ll talk more about it soon.

Other than that, my life has been focused on moving. We’ve found some great houses and will probably put in a bid next week. Exciting stuff. Obviously, I’ll talk about all of the house shopping stuff in a blog post, but I want to wait until a contract has been accepted.

Yes, I’m superstitious about announcing stuff until I know things for sure, why do you ask, Two Dogs?

Speaking of announcing stuff, they have Victory’s HopDevil IPA, one of my favorites here at the Elephant and Castle…

Quote of the Week

Of course this week’s quote had to be about elephants.

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.

– Groucho Marx

News and Works in Progress

  • Major progress on a short story
  • Plotting for Brief Is My Flame

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

I’ve spotlighted her before, but Cedar Sanderson and her husband Sanford Begley let me crash at their place last night. I had a delightful evening sitting and chatting on a dark porch drinking Tullamore Dew with cool people. She is a writer, artist, and photographer and you can find her stuff at http://www.cedarwrites.com/.

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

Currently Available Works

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Pennsic Plans

I leave for Pennsic on Wednesday. Yes it’s a bit early, but if I take my time on long trips I can also stop for writing.

This will be the third Pennsic (along with a Gulf and a half) that I will sell my books at Calontir Trim. Many thanks to Andrixos for giving me the space.

At this point, we kind of have an idea how things will be arranged and how things will go. I will have a table just big enough for my wooden display box and my laptop. I set my phone up as a wifi hotspot (as I’m doing right now at Brewbaker’s) and basically have full functionality.

I then spend from about 10am to 5pm in the shop, selling to whomever comes in, and writing when they’re not there. I got a huge chunk of Where Now the Rider written there last year, and I hope to get a ton of progress on Brief Is My Flame done this year.

This year will be a little funky, however, as I leave on Friday morning to go to Pittsburgh for a Confluence (http://parsec-sff.org/confluence/), coming back on Sunday night. I’ll be doing a full convention description and AAR while I’m sitting in Drix’s booth, actually.

In many ways, this is one of my most enjoyable and productive times. I’m sure it will seem odd to most of you who work a 9-5 kind of job, but having a designated time and place to go to work for a couple of weeks is actually quite enjoyable for me. I’ll freely admit I don’t want a permanent 9-5 schedule, but for stretches like this, it can be brilliant.

Plus, after working, I get to relax a bit and then enjoy some of the Pennsic fun with my friends. Pennsic may never be solely a vacation for me ever again, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have fun.

With that, I should do some writing. I know I owe you a full update, by the way, and I will do a combined two week one tomorrow.

Have a great day, everyone.

 

Random Musings of the Day

Today is 17 July, 2017.

I had a great birthday yesterday. My mom came up to Omaha, and she, Giulia, and I roamed around open houses. We all love house shopping, but I’ll admit I’m ready to find one and get a move on.

In 1453, the Battle of Castillon concluded, thereby ending the Hundred Years War, which of course lasted longer than 100 years (116 to be exact).

It’s hard to overstate how momentous that time was for all of Europe, especially since it includes the Black Death and the Fall of Constantinople (on 29 May).

One my personal favorite thoughts of the Hundred Years War is the time when I was walking through Monmouth Castle, which is where Henry V is born. I doubt I’m the first visitor to walk around the remains, which are not all that extensive, and recite the St. Crispin’s Day Speech loud enough to hear it echo off the stone.

I will also say I did *not* chip off a piece of the castle wall to bring a piece home. Nope, didn’t chip off a chunk.

However, I am geeky enough that if I ever go to Istanbul I’m likely to sing Istanbul, Not Constantinople as I walk through Hagia Sophia and the Imperial Palace area. And if I make too much noise, well, it’ll be nobody’s business but the Turks.

Back to yesterday. I really enjoy going through the Wikipedia daily pages where they list interesting events, birthdays, death days, and such things for each day.

Is it hubris to wonder if some day the 16 July entry will have my birthday on it? Probably, but I still do it.

There are some fun and interesting things that happened on 16 July, besides me entering this world. Joe DiMaggio hit safely in his 56th game in 1941. What’s really fun from my perspective is that streak started on 15 May, 1941. My mom was born on, you guessed it, 15 May, 1941. How cool is that?

On my first birthday, 16 July 1969, the Apollo 11 mission lifted off from Cape Kennedy. It landed on the moon on 20 July. My dad’s father, also named Robert Howell (but called Bob), was born on 20 July. How cool is that?

In 1862, David Farragut is promoted to rear admiral, becoming the first ever admiral in the US Navy. Of course, he’s famous in part for the “Damn the torpedoes” quote, which he uttered in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Currently, the USS Alabama, BB-60, is moored in Mobile Bay. When I was about six or so, my grandfather (the aforementioned Bob), took me to see it around my birthday. I have loved warships ever since. How cool is that?

As a Dallas Cowboys fan, I find it fun that Jimmy Johnson, former coach of the Cowboys, was born on 16 July in 1943. I loved watching him pound opponents game after game with Emmitt Smith, who is one of my favorite players ever. Obviously, he was great for the Cowboys, but he was born on 15 May, 1969, which was both a great and terrible date. On the one hand, he and mom shared a birthday. On the other, he was the first athlete who I consciously noted was younger than me.

But Emmitt was not my favorite running back of the time. That would be Barry Sanders, who was born on 16 July 1968 in Wichita, KS. I watched him play in high school because, shockingly enough, we were in the same class, though I went to East and he went to North. Still, how cool is that?

I suppose I should write instead of simply letting my mind wander, so I’ll just stop here. Have a great day.

 

Rob’s Update: Empire of the Clouds

Week of 9-16 July

Greetings all

I treated myself to the Iron Maiden concert this past weekend. I put up a longer review on my blog, but for those who prefer the the TL:DR version, I loved it.

I’ve been focusing on a short story that has to go out the door by the end of the month. I will talk more about it when the draft is done, but I’m getting excited about it and its successors.

I’ve been throwing a few words here and there at Brief Is My Flame, mostly in the nature of plotting and ideas and less in terms of finished prose. Basically, by the time Pennsic comes around I need to have much of it laid out in my head, or even outlined on a page, which will make me much more productive. If I basically know what I’m writing about, the words come. If not, then I fight them. Shockingly, planning helps, even if those plans don’t survive meeting characters.

By the time Pennsic comes around, most of my house packing will be done. Things are progressing, though not as fast as I’d like in some areas. Still, I’m looking forward to getting settled at some point in the fall.

Quote of the Week

It has to be an Iron Maiden quote, right? So let’s do something from a song they didn’t do this weekend, Empire of the Clouds, which describes the R101 tragedy. More died in it than in the Hindenberg, but it’s far less remembered.

Here lie their dreams as I stand in the sun
On the ground where they built, and the engines did run
To the moon and the stars, now what have we done?
Oh, the dreamers may die, but the dreams live on
– Iron Maiden, Empire of the Clouds

News and Works in Progress

  • Short story for an anthology
  • Brief Is My Flame

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

I traded my books for Gray Rinehart’s CDs at LibertyCon and had a chance to listen to them on the way back. Very fun, which is to be expected when Dr. Demento plays your music.  Here’s his website: http://graymanwrites.com/

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

Currently Available Works

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Review: Iron Maiden Book of Souls Tour and Album

Sunday night, I saw Iron Maiden’s Book of Souls concert, with the Swedish band Ghost opening for them. Here’s my review.

I should get this out of the way. I’ve been an Iron Maiden fan since junior high. I was the only kid who liked Rime of the Ancient Mariner in English class, because of Iron Maiden’s song about the poem. Also, I happen to think that Book of Souls may be their best work. It’s powerful stuff.

I say all this so you can understand my bias here.

There are Maiden fans who think it blasphemy that Book of Souls is their best work. Most of these would look at either The Number of the Beast or Powerslave, and I can see their point. Both are excellent albums, with great songs throughout that have stood the test of time.

This last is important to me. I liked Iron Maiden in junior high. Over the last four decades, that liking has turned into love as I’ve seen more and more the depth of that music over the years. Many are the bands or songs who I initially liked, but now don’t really care if I ever hear again. Nirvana is one of those.

In any case, Book of Souls is an incredibly good album. It will not produce radio hits like The Trooper or Run to the Hills, but that’s irrelevant. Iron Maiden consists of six musicians who took music seriously when they were young, have fought a bunch of battles, including among themselves, and have come out the other side with great skill and a tremendous understanding of each other.

The songs on Book of Souls are closer to symphonic music than to 80s metal. No song is shorter than 4:59, three are longer than 10 minutes, including Empire of the Clouds at 18:01. It is a perfectly Iron Maiden thing to do that they released Empire of the Clouds as one of the two singles. They really don’t care about the “radio” way of doing things as opposed to the music.

The iconoclast in me loves that.

Anyway, Empire of the Clouds tells the tale of the R101 airship incident in 1930. More people were killed in its crash than the Hindenberg, actually. It’s a great song of dreaming big, the risks that entails, death, and bravery. It’s 18 minutes of swirling music that dreams big and risks boredom, but sails on through.

The other 10 minute plus songs, The Red and the Black and The Book of Souls are also songs that could be too long, but instead are simply opportunities for the musicians to push themselves. The closest things to “radio” songs are The Speed of Light and If Eternity Should Fail, are actually too good, too complex, though shorter, to do well on the radio.

Obviously, I could go on about how much I love Book of Souls, but let’s talk about the concert. First, one of the things about Iron Maiden that I’ve appreciated for some time is their confidence. I’ve seen a lot of bands choose a mediocre opening act lest that act outshine the headliner.

Maiden doesn’t have that problem. They chose Ghost, which is a very good band in its own right, with a large following of their own. They may not be megastars in heavy metal like Maiden, but they are not chopped liver.

And Ghost was excellent. I’d heard some of their stuff before, but I didn’t realize quite how good they really were. They create a cool, slow atmosphere while hammering the music. Great combination. They’re not the hardest metal out there, but they put on a great show. I loved the interplay between guitarists before Cirice.

When watching Iron Maiden in concert one is immediately struck by the energy of Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer. He’s almost 59. He’s survived cancer. Yet he bounces around the stage and pours it all out. By the end of the show, he is drenched in sweat. He’s talked in interviews many times how much a performer owes to an audience, and by the end of an Iron Maiden show, there’s no doubt he lives up to his own expectations.

Maiden has three guitarists, which is not unique, but is uncommon. The disadvantage is that there’s a lot of redundancy in sound. The advantage is there’s a lot of redundancy in sound. By that I mean that one guitarist can carry the song along while allowing the other two to add to it. For Maiden, what this means is that Adrian Smith does a lot of the carrying along, freeing Janick Gers to be a wild showman doing tricks with his guitar while playing and Dave Murray to add intricate and rousing riffs. Smith gets his own chance to show off at times, too, as they all take turns carrying the song along, but Gers and Murray are the most obvious beneficiaries.

The rhythm section is one of the best around. Not on Rush’s level, but then who is? Nicko McBrain, the drummer, is very good, and Steve Harris, the bassist, is the master of Iron Maiden. It’s been his baby all along, with everyone else coming and going at various times.

This may not be Iron Maiden’s only lineup in its history, but this is the iconic lineup. And it shows with the quality of music since they came back together in the late 90s. They are better than ever.

They are also known for interesting sets, and this did not disappoint. The best aspect was the raised area all around the main performance area that allowed Dickinson to bounce around. Did I mention he’s an energetic performer?

Not surprisingly, with a library of 16 studio albums, there were songs I would have liked to hear. Hallowed Be Thy Name is my personal favorite Maiden song and that wasn’t on this tour. Run to the Hills is one of the most commercially successful songs they have and that was not played, which I didn’t mind actually. However, I would love to hear Empire of the Clouds live. I think Maiden would make an amazing production of it, but it is a long song and would take the place of two or three others, so I understand why they didn’t.

It would be a cool thing, though, if Maiden did a one-time Fathom Events thing where they played Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Empire of the Clouds, and other long-form songs. Then they could release a DVD. I’d buy that.

Anyway, they did play The Red and the Black, which is 13 minutes or so, so it isn’t like they looked for the shortest songs. 6 of the 12 songs in the main part of the concert were off Book of Souls, though the encore was entirely from earlier stuff (The Number of the Beast, Blood Brothers, and Wasted Years). If Eternity Should Fail is a great song to lead off an album and a concert.

I went to the concert with my sweetie. She’s not a Maiden fan, so she mostly enjoyed the show because I enjoyed the show.

So she enjoyed it a lot.

Even if you’re not a big Iron Maiden fan, they put on a good show. Go see them some time, you’ll be impressed.

 

 

LibertyCon AAR

I started this on July 4th, a perfect time to celebrate LibertyCon XXX. And celebrate we must. LibertyCon is the best-run science fiction and fantasy convention out there and I had a great time.

I arrived at the Chattanooga Choo Choo fairly early on Thursday, having broken the trip up in multiple sections thanks to friends who have offered me crash space. I knew I was going to push myself pretty hard during the weekend, so I did my best to ensure I was as fresh as possible after the drive.

The big event of the weekend for me was on Saturday, where I had a joint release party for Where Now the Rider and For a Fistful of Credits, the new Four Horsemen Universe Anthology. Thursday evening I did some pre-planning and moving of stuff around to figure out the best arrangement of beverages and food.

After I got pretty much all I could do done,  I went to ConSuite, which was not technically open but was still the gathering place. There I hung out with a few people and listened to Sarah Hoyt do a reading from a book that shall remain nameless. They say that traumatic events can cause selective amnesia. It was awful. All I can say is that it wasn’t written by anyone at the con. Oh, I can say one other thing. We laughed a lot.

Most of Friday was spent organizing stuff. I decided on the layout in the room and arranged things as best I could. I also went to the Opening Ceremonies and got reacquainted with old friends. I didn’t have panels on Friday, so mostly I lounged around during the afternoon.

My main thing on Friday was my stint on Author’s Alley from 8pm to 11pm. Basically, I moved all my books and set up in front of the rooms where panels were being held. I sold a few, while meeting a number of potential readers. It’s a lot of work, but it needs to be done, and in the long run it’s worth it.

After that I was tired but had enough energy to enjoy some room parties and hang out with some friends. I especially enjoyed hanging out by the pool with Aaron Mays, Jonny Minion, and a couple of others.

As I was getting a beer from my cooler, I ran into Sarah, Dan, and Robert Hoyt. It turns out that Roberts around the world like IPAs, so I got him one and we stood around chatting. It was my first time actually having a chance to chat with Sarah. Her at LibertyCon is like me at Pennsic, only with a much smaller site and a correspondingly higher chance to find another conversation.

Saturday was a really long day. At 11am I was part of a panel discussing various ways to get your plot unstuck and overcoming writer’s block. There are a ton of possible ways to do this, but it all boils down to finding what works for you. Whether it’s changing the environment, taking a shower, driving around, or something else, it’s the kind of thing that varies for everyone.

At 2pm was a panel I was very much excited to join: The Middle Ages as Inspiration for Epic and High Fantasy. Thanks to my grad school work, I anticipated I’d have lots to say, and I did. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and hope to do it again. I could have gone on for a while.

I then had several hours before my reading with Dave Schroeder at 6pm. There were a couple of very interesting panels to attend, but I chose wisely and took a bit of a nap, arranged my books and display for the party, and got as much prep done as possible.

I did not have time to create a 20-minute long reading from Where Now the Rider, so my reading at 6pm on Saturday was one from I Am a Wondrous Thing that I have done before. It’s a scene where Irina is convinced to give up the title of Velikomat and the immediate aftermath of her stepping down. It’s an emotional one for me, and I always cry when I read it. It’s a powerful section, and I get a pretty good response from those that listen. Dave read a bit from his new fantasy series, the Congruent Apprentice, which sounds interesting but which I’ve not yet read, and a small bit from his Xenotech Rising series, which I have read some of and really like.

The Four Horsemen Universe is a series of stories about humans discovering that interstellar mercenaries are their best export good. It’s a large sandbox created by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey and many fantastic mil-sf authors are joining in. I am looking forward to reading these stories, just as much as I’ve enjoyed the novels in the universe. Oh, and I just might be working on a short story for the next anthology.

However, this party was to celebrate the release of their first anthology, as well as my newest book. The writers of the anthology brought all the food and I brought nearly all the beverages. As usual, I am coming home with about the same amount as I took out, but at least we didn’t run out of alcohol. Many thanks to Kacey Ezell, one of the contributors to the anthology, who also contributed her cooler to help organize the drinks.

Which is a good thing because we were packed. It was a great party and I sold a goodly number of books, as well as added to my mailing list. Basically, we went four solid hours with guests.

Around 12:30, the crowd dissipated, and with the help of Aaron and a few others we transported the leftovers over to the ConSuite and shut the party down. I was toast. So toast that it took a while for me to relax enough to get to sleep.

I was still tired Sunday, but I had expected that. I started the day at the Kaffeeklatsch. I had a great conversation with the Science Guest of Honor, Dr. Elisa Quintana and Dr. Tom Barclay, who is also a scientist. They study exoplanets and we discussed the most efficient ways we can get humans in space. Well, I asked questions and they taught me stuff, which was wonderful from my perspective.

Immediately after that was my turn at the signature table, where I joined Gray Rinehart and Charity Ayres. The signature table can be packed if a David Weber, David Drake, or John Ringo is sitting there, but for us was fairly quiet. I think we all sold a book or two, with signatures, but mostly the three of us had a great conversation.

One of the joys of LibertyCon is comparing notes with other professionals, because there is such a high percentage of professionals to fans. LibertyCon caps its attendance at 750, and over 150 attendees are professional writers, artists, scientists, or something else relevant. Also, I would bet that a large number of the remainder are people like me at my first LibertyCon, those who want to become professionals. It’s a great chance for us all to learn, and over the years I’ve learned a ton.

Anyway, my last panel of the weekend was Cooking Out of this World. This panel went off the rails. At least we were funny, but we were all a little tired and we strayed from the topic early and often. Todd McCaffrey did ask one interesting question that we talked about a bit but not enough, and that’s what are the environmental factors that will affect the way things taste in space? Obviously, things taste differently on airplanes, which is something airlines are already dealing with, but will be an issue for interplanetary and interstellar travel.

The last session of LibertyCon is the Bitch at Brandy session. Brandy Spraker is the chairman of the con, and she does a fantastic job. The closing ceremonies each year are a chance for people to suggest things that could be improved. Once everyone has had their chance to make comments, good and bad, about the con, she officially closes the con. They take these suggestions seriously, too, and I have seen some implemented in the four years I’ve gone.

Much of the rest of Sunday involved me finishing cleaning up after the party and doing most of my packing. I have learned that I want to stay  overnight on Sunday and leave Monday morning, but I basically pack everything but Monday’s clothes and shower stuff.

I got that done in time to join about 35 of us at a Brazilian steakhouse. I had the fortune of sitting next to a few people I knew, but had never really talked with, including Miriam Ringo, the wife of one of the best mil-sf writers around, John Ringo. What a fun and generous person she is. She had a bracelet on that I admired and thought Giulia would also like. Miriam immediately removed it and handed to me as a gift. By this point were about 3 minutes into our conversation. I was stunned by her generosity then, and still find it amazing and admirable now. Then we had a long and wonderful conversation.

Actually, everyone at dinner had a great time. It has been decided that this will be a LibertyCon Sunday evening tradition.

Following dinner was something that is already a LibertyCon tradition, the Dead Dog party. Basically, those who stay on Sunday evening eat drink as much of the leftovers as possible and play games or hang out.

Again, I had some incredible good fortune. Steve Jackson, of Steve Jackson Games, the inventor of Munchkin and a bunch of other great games, was playtesting some games and I got to join in. Steve is a wonderful and fun guy, and the rest of us had a blast tossing out ideas and picking them apart.

Getting to toss out suggestions on games, even bad ones, to a legend like Steve Jackson is definitely a highlight for me.

Around 12:30, we called it a night, and therefore the end of the con. I went to bed and left for a fairly smooth drive back. The only real excitement was seeing a collision about a half-mile ahead of me in the oncoming lane. The truck driver did a great job and controlled his 18-wheeler in the median so our lane never had to worry.

As I’ve mentioned, LibertyCon is a different beast from other cons. I will be going back there every year, though there’s some question as to when and where the next one will be.

For the four years I’ve attended, it has been at the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, but the hotel has sold off about 80% of its rooms to make apartments / condos. Basically, while the convention space is fine, there are only rooms for about 20% of the con goers. This means many are off in the Marriott, which is not far but still puts a crimp in the con experience. Part of the fun of cons is going to room parties which are elsewhere in the hotel. Have fun, drink a few beverages, and then trundle to your room. No travel logistics to speak of. Even free shuttle buses are not a great solution, though of course those were provided.

In short, the Choo Choo simply cannot work anymore. Unfortunately, convention sites are notoriously difficult to find at times, and Brandy and her folks are casting about for a solution. I heard a rumor that a new convention hotel is getting built in Chattanooga, but will not be fully ready by summer 2018. I’m not sure if that’s true, but while they aren’t at all sure of time and place next year, or even if they might take a year off, they all seemed confident that things would be fine by 2019.

Whatever they come up with, I’ll be back.