Monthly Archives: June 2015

My First Book Fair: Drop D.E.D.

On Saturday June 20th I attended the Hockessin Book Fair near my home in Delaware, for the first time as a vendor. I have tried, and failed, several times to describe what kind of line-crossing step this was for me. No words, you either do it or you stay on the sidelines. And I made the right decision.

Yes, I sold some books. More than I expected, no question.

But that only pleased me (very much). The gift beyond price was the evidence of support I received from everyone there.


Probably 90% of that line I mentioned is crossed before the event starts. You have to decide you’re going, you have to flog it on your platform, you have to assure fans and friends that it will be worth their while. I was a head-case for two weeks, I was in fact D.E.D. (Doubting Every Decision) I made. Mention it three times on FB? Or should it be only twice? I leaned toward emphasizing how cool the event was going to be (the large number of authors and artists who had signed up, the ice cream, the extra events): I knew this because I had come as a lurker the previous (first) year. Still had butterflies as I looked at my wares and thought about hawking them, but I was confident if people came they’d like being there.

HBF1The day before, I packed up my world. Yep, the Lands of Hope in a box: just add imagination. This was a funny moment for me. Remember, my lovely wife did crafts fairs for years when we were just starting out– and what a long, hard run of work that was– so I had a notion about the details you needed to remember.

But I found I could not just make a list of what to bring.

I had to tell myself a story! I wrote it out on paper:

Will comes to his tableHBF3

He sets out the cloth

He assembles the sign-hanger…

And while I make lousy lists, I tell a pretty good story! I think my booth, while modest, showed its own tale well and folks liked it (many said so directly, even other vendors).

I saw REALLY cool things at other booths, a couple of which formed “duh” moments for me complete with V-8 head-slap. Digital picture frames with slide shows and

Artsy, get it? He's taking a picture, and I'm...
Artsy, get it? He’s taking a picture, and I’m…

trailers? I gave my lovely wife one years ago and we’ve never used it. And most sellers had a big edge in the area of non-book LOOT. Buttons and magnets I’d seen before: book cards are always popular and several folks took mine. But some authors go the whole nine yards. How about Liz DeJesus, who writes in the popular alternate-fairy-tale sub-genre, with gorgeous silver Fairy Tale Survival Kits! I have to do some serious thinking around that idea.

So– see the prep as part of your tale, and keep rewriting it.

The Pep-Talk

Just before the doors opened, they lined us all up to hear from Mark Bowden. Mark’s the real thing that the rest of us are dreaming about. You can win an award for your writing, maybe call yourself a mid-lister, that’s all fine. Two of Mark’s books (Blackhawk Down and Killing bin Laden) have been made into movies. And this comes AFTER a career writing for the local paper in Philadelphia. So, yeah, legit. We listened.

HBF8Mark said several things that were as meaningful and impressive as I expected. He said writing can go from something you do, maybe to a living, but then to a way of life (not the same thing). Yes, that; I have increasingly come to think of everything as a tale; I want to describe, to find just the right word, to arrange my memory into story-lines. And as Mark also said, this is not really natural! We live in a flood of ideas, we don’t follow a single train of thought for an hour at a time, not usually. I had never considered that before, though I think maybe as an avid reader of things like epic fantasy, it’s more of a habit with me than others. Before Mark spoke (and it was seriously three minutes, maybe four), I tended to dismiss his presence “ah, bigwig, he writes about the Alleged Real World, no use to me”, but I was humbled by his manner and the intelligence he offered (which applied just as well to the artists among us).

So– don’t skip the headliner if they give you a chance.

The (Main) Event

The fair went very well, and almost too quickly. The DED-storm rampaged in my head for the first couple hours. The two fellas selling history books to my left, they’re going hard sell (calling out to folks as they approach); am I being too passive? The lady to my right, with the inspiring story of work in a hospice, she gets into long conversations with customers, am I doing it wrong? Should I listen in!

Fortunately, with some experience from Dorie’s craft fairs, I could laugh at myself

Let me tell you a story...
Let me tell you a story…

about most of these details. But it takes a toll: I was hungry long before lunch and deliberately had not brought anything large or soft to eat because I was mortified about being caught with a mouthful of sandwich when someone asked me The Question.

I am telling you people, you can lose weight just from playing the Eye-Contact Game. You and strolling customers take turns looking: at the display, at the other person, at your shoes, but not each other at the same time. You know she’s looking and you nod, but keep looking away. She does the same, so you both say hello to empty air. ONLY if she stops, then spends time reading, then picks up a book and asks a question, only then do you engage.

And they asked The Question I’d been dreading for months.

“So, what’s this one about?”

The Question

Seriously? Judgement’s Tale is 200k words, and it’s in two covers right now, and it has a sequel. Am I lying just by opening my yap? This one paralyzed me. I prayed about it. And just as the first customer asked me The Question– honestly, at the last second– I think a good answer came to me.

“This is that classic tale where the orphan youth needs to save the world.”

Created with Nokia Refocus From there I added details in different directions: no one accepts him, he’s very driven, the bad guys are getting ready to take over and he doesn’t know it.  I got myself and all my stupid DED out of the way and just let my admiration for Solemn Judgement shine. I have no doubt they got the message.

And several chose to buy into it, quite literally.

So– drop the DED and just love your work with people around, same as you do when you’re writing.

The Children of Hope are Everywhere

I am simply overwhelmed at the supportive response I got from family and friends at the fair.

  • A college classmate drove over an hour and brought a friend
  • An entire family of artists showed up
  • My lovely wife and miracle daughter were there, and I think a bit impressed, and of course happy for me
  • A high school buddy I hadn’t seen since Reagan was president drove three hours from Virginia and almost cleaned out my stock.

HBF9Everyone bought the combo! Yeah, I have Judgement’s Tale in two covers now which makes a cheaper opening investment for folks who aren’t sure. But the people who decided to buy wanted the whole thing. I was humbled and inspired. The thought that readers out there may soon be perusing my chronicle (in PAPER, mind you, turning actual-factual pages and maybe chuckling, or going back to check something earlier, or dog-earing the spot)… I will never be good enough to describe how that feels. But thank you to good friends, whom I now count among the Children of Hope. You are not alone, and the number keeps growing. I will keep bearing witness to everything I’ve seen, in between my so-called real life. And I feel energized to get back to that happy chore at once.

So– make the contact, flush the DED and MEET people.

Remember why you started, get out of the writing shell. Notice all those who came out with you and want the same thing. Feel good about that camaraderie. You are no more in competition with them for customers than you are with the readers for air to breathe.

Thanks to the book fair, I remembered again why I love to chronicle the Lands of Hope. Ar Aralte!

State of the Lands: Chess

It’s a whole world out there…

Here’s another installment of the series that compares life in the Lands of Hope to that in the Alleged Real World. This time I wanted to explore something I’d seen in a positive light (not like Gardening, which still makes my skin crawl); something I knew well and could share thoughts about.

I’ve seen striking similarities between the two worlds before, in my thirty-plus chess1years of chronicling the Lands. There are certain clues, especially in Judgement’s Tale, to make me suspect some kind of physical connection. But you could have knocked me over with a feather, when I saw that they played chess.

Almost exactly the same as we do.

Games People Play

My father, whose intellect I greatly revered, taught me chess when I was six years old. He beat me every SINGLE game, probably ten games a week, for eight years. I learned openings (from his massive, annotated book, the MCO if you’re a fan), chess2studied mid-game praxis, gambits, theory. This was the late 60s and early 70s; we followed the news about Fisher and Spassky (a man got paid $150,000 to win a match, unthinkable sum of money!). Who could have dreamed there would be talk of cheating, at a chess match?

The day I honestly beat Dad, he suggested I come along to play in tournaments. Imagine the scene: thirty or forty pairs of players at long cafeteria tables, sitting still in a dense haze of cigarette smoke and the only sound that of three dozen ticking timer-clocks. I sometimes took ten minutes to make a single move– but not often, I was too impatient to play well. My opponents, the ones who beat me, took fifteen. I sometimes felt my concentration on the board was a beam of solid chessclockenergy; the table seemed lighter, the smell of the smoke was natural. I did not hunger on the weekend of a chess tournament. I mean, I ate enormous sandwiches plus as much candy and soda as I wanted. Yet I would lose seven pounds in two days, from the sheer nervous energy.

For me, the idea of thinking hard, seeing a situation well, being logical, tapping into my soul’s reason– those were all synonymous with learning and playing chess. I suppose it did not surprise me as much, then, to see that other thinking folks also played such games. But not Shogi, as they do in Japan, or Go from China, or Jetan, the variant of chess they play on John Carter’s Mars, or any variation of Draughts, or hop-board as they do in Donaldson’s Mirrors of Mordant. The Children of Hope play honest-to-God chess.

Chess in the Lands

chess3The game in its basic form came over with Conar in the Second Age. During the Third Age, other heroes added rules which spread widely (some familiar, others not). Wizards and leaders in the northern lands play often, and sometimes settle the right to judge a case between competing magistrates. In the southern empire it’s even more widely played, even at country fairs and annual tournaments: all noble children must at least know how to move the pieces or they risk embarrassment.

The differences are very minor– pawns are warriors, bishops are preachers, castling is called investing (a move invented by either Ekhotelh or Aballe). The rule allowing warriors to capture when passed, evidently, was contributed by the Hopelord of Elves Ma-Eldar, governing the chosen moment. Khoirah, before he became the Traitor, innovated a seldom-used rule allowing a warrior reaching the eighth rank to become something other than a queen.

One key rule shows you how the Lands are different from the Alleged Real World.

chesskingKing’s Immunity

A rarely-invoked rule allows a player once a game to declare that his king has special protection for a limited time, in just the same way that heroes lend aid to devotees who pray to them in battle. Once invoked, the player’s king can neither be placed in check nor captured for that turn, including his opponent’s move. In this way, the king can even capture a heavily-protected piece, provided he has a space to escape to on the following turn. I’ve only seen a few games where the rule has been invoked, usually by the weaker player trying to stave off defeat. But it makes a total hash of the usual method of predicting the next moves. I’ve never seen it, but supposedly if two kings become adjacent because one has declared immunity, the other can do the same and capture him! What a mess. But that’s the life they’re living in the Lands– devotion to one’s hero has this very real consequence, even for those who have never prayed for aid.

But… Cheating, Seriously?

Um, what could Bobby need to touch wayyy over there?
Um, what could Bobby need to touch wayyy over there?

If you weren’t alive during the Fisher-Spassky match, it would be an education for you to read up. Most people believe that Fisher was “crazy like a fox”, acting the spoiled brat amateur but really running a serious psychological assault on his Soviet opponent (remember, no one outside the USSR had won the world championship since WW II). Fisher complained about the TV cameras, about noise from the audience, he claimed the white squares were a sixteenth of an inch larger than the black ones… imagine trying to concentrate on the moves when someone has put THAT idea in your head. He brought tins of sardines to the board to eat (you know, holding each one up over his head to drop them in his mouth!). He refused to show up, he gave his opponent a two-game lead, then won three of the next four. The Soviets accused Fisher of using electronic devices, or smearing poison on Spassky’s chair. You thought chess wasn’t a contact sport? Fisher beat Spassky up; a strappado would have been more merciful.

Point is– chess is about pure thought, and reason, logic. WHO are you cheating? chessmirrorBut we live with this whole sub-culture about seeking an edge, because there’s a huge difference between honor and reputation isn’t there? Plenty of folks would rather win than improve their mind: but of course even figuring out how to cheat is a way of sharpening your thoughts! Just not in a healthy direction. In the Lands of Hope, there’s no chess community, no opening books, no reports of tournaments, no great reputation to be won by winning. Players who win achieve honor, and I’m pleased to see that complaints of cheating are rare. That’s the way I remember the sport, hours of honest competition and plenty of players who had better minds than I did. But also some days when I played way over my head. Or maybe a hero helped me…

Still… there’s something very attractive (and funny) about the idea of cheating at unerhandedchesschess. I’ll never forget this quick and hilarious read, and I recommend it– to players in either world!

I went on, to wargames and strategy classics and eventually to the one with figurines and dice. But chess remains the place where my mind was its sharpest, with honor still out there to be won.