Sunday, October 30, 2005

A vacation is a fragile thing

At some point today, I realized that I was no longer on vacation. We're in Portland, OR, and had decided to run a few shopping errands impossible to do in our small-town home. Traffic was terrible, the parking spaces were all too small, and we were lost and never exactly found what we were looking for, despite hours of driving around.

Suddenly, all the fun had been sucked out of life. Bleh. Tomorrow we return home, and I am slightly bummed. I'll know better next time.

Good news though. Just got an email from an editor that a story of mine is being bought for an upcoming anthology. I don't know the name of the anthology off the top of my head, but it's inspired by the Evil Overlord List, I wrote the story of a guy assigned to repair the heating and air-conditioning system for an Evil Overlord, and what he finds in those overly-large ducts...

Meanwhile, a creepy little self-portrait of Chris and I standing in the entry-hall of the Flavel House in Astoria. There are mirrors hung across from each other on the walls, and they create a nifty infinity effect.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Kindergarten Herbie

Here's Herbie in front of the Kintergarten Cop school, and strange crossover if there ever was one. This is located only a few blocks from the "Goonies House," but to be honest, I don't know the movie well enough to know which of the houses it was.

We had a great time in Astoria, and plan to go back. Perhaps we'll make an intentional round of the movie locations. I just spotted the list on-line, and discovered that we did to go a couple of Goonies locations today, quite by accident, the old County Jail, and the Flavel House (a huge Victorian built by a sea captain), which we toured this morning. I'll post some cool shots of the Flavel house later.

I'm still catching up on Astoria here, but right now, we're in the western suburbs of Portland, about to make the rounds of some of the large chain bookstores to sign stock. Will stay here until Sunday I think.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Signed stock today at the Seaside Fred Meyers. Both Scion of the Serpent and Heritic of Set in stock. Then went to the waterfront. Lots of galleries, including Ernst & Ernst, which had some wonderful space art by Frank Hetick.
My favorite piece was this one, a new angle on popular subject, Saturn. Unfortunately, the web doesn't do it justice, but have a look anyway.

Tomorrow, we hope to visit the Captain George Flavel House. Don't be suprised if some fictional version of this house shows up in some future novel.

By the way. more Astoria movies I didn't know about, Free Willy and the Ring 2.


You knew they made Goonies here, right?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Goonie Getaway

For probably a year and a half now, I've been promising Chris a get-away. ANY kind of get-away.

Deadlines, misadventure and disaster have gotten in the way. I've canceled out repeatatedly, and Chris has gone on a couple trips without me. Well, this morning I turned in the (hopefully) last rewrite on MechWarrior Dark Age, Trial by Chaos, and we jumped in Herbie and got the heck out of the figurative Dodge.

Somehow we ended up in Astoria, Oregon. I'm not sure how we picked Astoria. It was not too far, not too close, not someplace we've spent time in before, and some place that looked vaguely interesting. So far, it's great.

The Elliott Hotel is a restored downtown hotel, and we've got a gorgeous suite here. There's a rooftop garden with a view of the famous (more on this later) bridge, and a nice wine bar in the basement. Two bookstores within a block, and what seems to be half-a-dozen good places to eat. What more do you need?

Astoria is best known to the outside world for its appearance in various movies, most infamously, the Steven Spielberg movie, Goonies. But the Governator was here to do Kindergarten Cop, and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 did some shooting here. My favorite Astoria film, though, is Short Circuit, where robot Johnny Five was chased across the bridge and skydived to safety.

It's unfortunate that's all people know about Astoria through. It's a nice little town, and we're having a great time just based on its own merits.

Oh, cool moment of the day. We stopped in at a Fred Meyer department store in Tillimook to see if they had my new book, Heretic of Set, which is officially out today. I didn't see the book in the sf/fantasy section, but a jobber was there putting out books. I flagged her down to ask if she'd done the science fiction section.

"No," she said, "but I have these." I looked down, and she had six copies of Heretic in her hand! We had a nice conversation, and I think it was as cool for her as it was for me. I signed the books before leaving the store. Of course we'll be hitting stores in the Astoria area, and on the way home, we'll head back through Portland and Salem, hitting bookstores and signing stock as we go.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Given that between us Chris and I have three web pages and two blogs, none of which have easy-to-remember URLs, we decided that we needed a easy access-point on the web, one that could go on business card, Herbie's licence plate frame *, etc. So here it is:

There isn't much there at the moment other than some introductory text and links back to our blogs, but you might want to bookmark it anyway, as it will serve as the hub of our little web of -- well -- web. Impressive bunch of book covers there too, if I say so myself.

* Yes, Herbie's new licence plate will be "NEW LUV," given that he's a "Love Bug" and unlike the original Herbie, a new Beetle. Given that Chris writes (along with lots of other stuff) romance, this is appropriate. To this, we plan to add a licence plate frame that says, "Love to Read?" and then "" Herbie gets so much attention everywhere he goes, we might as well put those eyeballs to work for us.

Herbie Trivia Fact: The real Herbie's license plate number is California OFP 857.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Lost Outpost

I got some fan-email the other day on a project I did a long time ago, a computer game from Sierra called "Outpost 2." The fan said some nice things, and asked why I didn't have anything about the game on my websites.

Well, it certainly isn't because I'm ashamed of the project. In fact, I remember it very fondly for a number of reasons.

Frankly, it's great that, after all these years, I still get fan-mail off Outpost 2. It was a great experience for me, I learned a lot about writing in the process, made some money, got a free trip to WorldCon, and I'm pretty pleased with how it all turned out. On top of that, some people actually took notice of my work and liked it. It is, in fact, my "lost" first published novel! So, by (somewhat) popular demand, let's revisit Outpost 2.

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for Eugene, Oregon, circa 1996 or so...

Outpost 2 wasn't my first contact with the game company Dynamix (by then a division of Sierra On-line). I'd first done freelance work for them shortly after moving to Eugene. Nothing exciting. I wrote internal documentation for several of the game development tools they were using at the time. I did several manuals, and was told with great enthusiasm that there would be plenty more work for me.

Then the phone didn't ring. I sat around, decided I'd screwed it up in some way, and felt sorry for myself. I really didn't have a great load of confidence in my abilities in those days. In retrospect, I think it likely had more to do with the Sierra take-over than me. Jeff Tunnell, who brought me into Dynamix, had been moved from his seat in charge of Dynamix into his own off-site production house. I don't know what the politics of this were, but there had to be some. Possibly I was just lost in the shuffle (I certainly didn't make myself hard to miss in those days), or possibly I was "tainted" by contact with the "old regime." These things happen in business. In any case, I didn't expect to work for them again.

Then, some time later, after Dynamix had moved from its old offices in downtown Eugene to a new "high-tech" park near the University of Oregon, I heard they were looking for a writer with science-fiction background to do some work on a strategy game. I stuck my foot in the door, and soon found myself working on a project, a turn-based strategy game called "Missionforce Cyberstorm."

Let me just say that, despite the lame title, Missionforce Cyberstorm was a great game. As I said, it was turn-based strategy, based on a hex grid. You fielded a team of giant robots called "Hercs," piloted by "meat" androids called "Bioderms." You may recognize this as an offshoot of the first-person robot simulator "StarSiege/EarthSiege" franchise, ironically a poor-man's version of the "BattleTech/MechWarrior" franchise that I'm writing novels for now.

The interface was clever, attractive, and easy to use. By the standards of the time, the graphics and sounds were pretty good, and it had an excellent sound-track. It was one of the first games to offer network/internet multiplayer (something I sadly never got to try). At times, it was actually boxed with TWO fully functional CD-ROMs, so you could give one to a friend for network play, and that play was great fun.

In terms of anything word-based though, starting with the name, it sucked. A lot of the terminology and naming just seemed to be somebody jamming words together because they sounded "kewl." As such, I was brought in at the last-minute to overhaul some of the on-line help (also an innovation at the time) and text support files. My most visible contributions to the game are the Bioderm profiles, in which I attempted to do a little world-building and give the game a believable context. I think it made things a little bit better, but I'll state right-out that the reasons this game was good had little to do with me.

I hoped the phone would ring again soon, as at that point the EarthSiege franchise was an ongoing thing, but it didn't. I can't feel too bad, as some of that work went to my friend Dave Bischoff, an accomplished sf writer with over 50 books to his credit. (Dave later farmed out some of this work to me when he got busy, and so I have some uncredited contributions in StarSiege, a game that, to this day, I've never seen or played!)

Finally though, I heard they were looking for a "real" hard science-fiction writer for a project. And again, I put my foot in the door. I didn't have a lot of publication credits at this point, but I'd sold to Analog magazine, by God, so my hard-sf credentials were solid if not massive.

I'd heard of the original Outpost, a popular space colony simulation game from several years earlier. Imagine a crude (in terms of technology and execution) yet sophisticated (in terms of scientific detail and accuracy) version of SimCity set on another planet, and you have Outpost.

But attempts to create a sequel had hit the rocks. At one time, both late-astronomer Carl Sagan and sf-writer Gentry Lee were attached the project, but despite pouring a lot of money down a hole, a marketable product never emerged.

In desperation, the whole project was purged and started from a clean slate. The mandate was that absolute scientific accuracy was not the object -- good gameplay was. Warcraft was the hot new game at the time, so it became a real-time strategy/combat game in that mold. Brought in to head the project were Patrick Cook and Alan McPheeters, two guys who were (I think, for-sure Patrick, anyway) at that point best known for successful sports games. (One of my most vivid memories of my first visit to Patrick's office was his foam-rubber "cheese-head" hat!)

Also enter, little old me. After Sagan and Lee, I had some big shoes to fill. But I was eager, a team-player, and ready to go. Somehow, I got the job.

This is running on much longer than I planned, so I'll break this now and continue later with another installment of the story. Stay tuned.

The Heretic is coming! a bookstore near you. My local independent bookstore called last week, asking me to come and sign copies of "Heretic of Set," the second book in my "Age of Conan" trilogy. Experience has shown this means that the distributors have them, but it will likely be at least a week or two (longer in some cases) before Amazon and major chain book stores get them.

There's a lesson for you. If you're really eager to get a new book by a favorite author, you may do better to order it through a good, local, indie bookstore than waiting for it to show up at a major chain. (Not all indies are good, and not all good book stores are indie, I know that, but that's why you need to get out there, find a good one, and develop a relationship.) You get your book quicker, and support diversity in booksellers too.

Hey, that reminds me: it's not too early to order that "Scion of the Serpent" book too! :)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Assorted Small News

Just got my rewrite notes for the upcoming MechWarrior Dark Age novel, Trial by Chaos. I've barely had a chance to look at them, but it doesn't look bad. I may be busy for a while until I get it turned around. Publication date on this one is rushing up.

My wife, Chris, has turned in a proposal for a second Alias novel. Fingers crossed.

There's been some discussion of my Age of Conan novels on the forums at the official Conan site, so I decided to jump in with both feet. Check it out.

I should be appearing at the Orycon science fiction convention, Portland, OR, early November. Though I'm currently trying to get the attention of someone in programming, as they've put me on ONE panel. Is it about writing, Conan, MechWarrior, or anything like that? It's on STRESS! Actually, it sounds like it could be an interesting panel, but since I'm doing only one convention this year, I'd like to have a little bigger presence. Hopefully I can at least get in on Chris' signing so people can get the new Conan books signed.