Write A Song in One Hour: Balticon 44

At Balitcon 44, I participated in a panel that was one of the most fun things I’ve ever been a part of at any SF or comic convention in my 25+ years of attending them. The panel was called “How to Write a Kick-Ass Song About Anything.” I went thinking it was going to be songwriters at the front of the room talking about writing songs but in fact, the brilliantly cracked minds of the organizers had something bigger in mind. Instead, people were gathered at the front of the room with instruments and they laid out the plan: We’d take 5 minutes to brainstorm a theme, 5 minutes for a chord structure, 10 minutes to write a chorus and then split up into smaller groups to write the verses.

The panel was officiated by James Durham, with Norm Sherman, Kim Fortuner and Mattie Brahen serving as the more experienced guides. I am proud to say that one of the early bits of input that steered the whole experience was mine. In response to “What will this song be about?” I threw in “Everyone seems to love the steampunk nowadays. How about something steampunkish?” As more suggestions piled up, we added ornithopters and dragons to the mix.The (metaphorical) gears engaged after that, and the panel decided it would be bluesy so we needed a reason why a dragon and an ornithopter would be down in the mouth. The group decided that the dragon had lost its flame and somewhere in there that the dragon powers the ornithopters and the loss of flame meant that the protagonist was now losing the war. This lead to the chorus “Like a toothless gear, like an empty flagon, there is nothing more pathetic than a smokeless dragon.” Rock on!

From there, we split up into two groups. I’m not sure how the other group worked, but ours had a lot of fun writing the first verse. There were definitely people in the room who were kind of watching in bemusement, but for the people who were engaged and throwing out suggestions, every single person had an idea or word or phrase that ended up in the final song. By and large, people worked together quite good. I can tell you that every point at which someone revised something I had suggested, the revision was better than the original. For example, I suggested “broken gear” in the chorus, and later on, someone else pointed out that “toothless gear” worked better with the dragon theme, which is absolutely true. I told James later on that the only thing I would have changed is to change the ground rules such that no one can ever tell anyone else “No” to any suggestion. The only possibility is to come up with alternatives that people feel are superior. It’s kind of a dick move to say “Your input isn’t good enough”, and I think it is much better with less stress to just put in something else. The mode of operation should always be to take the best suggestion on the table, and if you don’t like it then improve it .

With that said, it was all good. The two groups exchanged just enough information so that we could keep the narratives making sense. With no real coordination our group set the stage with a first verse and the other one resolved a lot of stuff. It was kind of freaky how well the two independent verses worked when we put them together. The musicians played and the room sang the song through a few times, then we performed it to record a few times and we were done. Holy moley was the whole thing fun, beginning to end. It was funny how Mattie Brahen, an old school filker and the only panelist not in our new media subscene, started out really skeptical and eventually really got into it. I talked to her in the hall afterwards and she admitted that at the beginning she was pretty sure we were all crazy. She may have been right.

I stand by my belief that this is in the top five SF con moments I’ve ever had. It demystified a lot of the creative process and showed how the songs weren’t these perfect gems that popped into being but something you work and work and work until it becomes what you want from it. The talent of the musicians and the very tight constraints helped a lot. We had 50 minutes total before we had to leave the room, so the song had to be written and recorded with no room for spinning wheels. If they ever do this again at a Balticon, I highly recommend you try to be in that room.

Ebooks From TV – My New Side Project

It’s true, I do not need Yet One More Side Project. Regardless, I have one. Talking to Paul Fischer at Balticon a few weeks ago, I was mentioning to him my ebook buying dynamic. I said that “If I see a book on Colbert or the Daily Show that interests me, I look to see if it is available for Kindle. If it is and at a decent price, I just buy it then. If not, I never think about it again.” Paul’s response was “What if you had a blog that collected all that information in one place?” Brilliant, said I. I offered Paul the right of first refusal on pursuing it since it was his idea. He passed, so I came home and set it up.

That site is Ebooks From TV. I’m trying hard to cover all the evening and late night talk shows, CSPAN Book TV weekends, and the daytime talk shows as I can. Ideally, if a book was mentioned on any of the national TV shows, you can find it in a post on Ebooks From TV. My goal is to get the post up the same day but occasionally it might be a day or two later.

If you run across a TV show where a book is mentioned and you don’t see it on the site, let me know via email at dave@ebooksfromtv.com . It could be that I’m not following that show, that the book doesn’t actually have a Kindle version available, or that it was published more than a year ago. I’ll make sure that at the very least I’m paying attention to that show, if nothing else.

Before the end of the weekend, I’ll set this up as a Kindle subscribable blog. My current understanding is that those blogs available on the Kindle must be at least $0.99 per month. I’ll put it at the very lowest price available whatever that is. If you frequently find yourself looking for books that you saw on a talk show, this might be a handy resource for you.

Special Correspondent for Technorama

I’m still barely dribbling out the con reports from my trip to Balticon and in that time since I’ve been writing them, I’ve been to a whole other con, Heroescon in Charlotte last weekend. I had a lot of fun there, did comic shopping and autograph hunting and all the things a fanboy does at a good sized comic con. This year I also did a few interviews as “special correspondent” for the Technorama podcast. Thanks to Kreg Steppe for lending me his H2 for an hour to walk around and interview a few folks and then toss it back to him for him to do the actual work of making a show from them.

Check out the episode here and let me know what you think. It was a blast to be able to do this work outside of my own shows and just cut loose. I highly recommend it to all podcasters. It really is invigorating.

My Balticon 44 (2010) Wrapup, Part 2

Part two of Balticon by strobe light.

Saturday evening: I was on a panel at 5 PM with Phil Rossi, Norm Sherman, Dan Tabor and Thomas Gideon. It was called “Art, Music and Literature in an Age of Technological Reproducibility.” We talked about creative commons licensing and the ethics of piracy and how not to freak out when people lift your creative work. It was a fine panel and I think we all acquitted ourselves just fine. Afterwards I had dinner with Gideon, Mistress Jett, Dan Tabor and MA in the PA (who knitted my bad ass Jayne hats), and Kevin Crosby. Kevin gave me an enormous amount of legal advice that I can use for my movie, not really specific answers but ways that I should be asking the questions. It was all great.

After coming back from dinner, we ran into Phil Rossi in front of the hotel. I asked if he needed any help loading in, and he said no, “… But. I could use a guitar tech to help keep these guitars in tune.” This is where it got a little weird. I found out later that Phil was under the impression I was a guitar player, which I am not. I played bass when I was younger but stopped 22 years ago. I asked if he had a tuner, and offered to do it if he couldn’t find anyone else more qualified.

I went and did some other stuff and then went back to the room a little before the show and we committed that I would do the job. It sort of became like a waking version of one of those anxiety dreams, where I’m on “stage” (really the front of a hotel ballroom) with only minimal ideas of what I’m doing. As Phil traded guitars between his acoustic and electric, I’d take them off to the side, plug them into the electronic tuner and go. I said before that I’m not a guitar player but I’m not color blind and I can read the difference between red and green LEDs. The first time I tuned Phil’s acoustic I had a true bit of stress because I could not get the B string right. I wasn’t sure how much song remained, whether this guitar was going to be used the next song or later, and how much longer it would take or even if I could ever get the damn thing right. Finally, I turned loose of it about 45 seconds before Phil was looking for it. Bullet ducked.

Overall, the whole thing was kind of like those anxiety dreams I still have to this day. Usually in them, I’m in a test that I am not prepared for or realize it is the end of a semester and I forgot to drop a class I long since stopped attending. Standing just offstage tuning guitars that I’m not exactly sure how to work is pretty similar to that. It was a good experience though. I really dig Phil’s music and was glad to be a minor part of it. Check out Phil’s stuff, for Dobbs’ sake!

My Balticon 44 (2010) Wrapup, Part 1

I have a bad habit of starting chronological convention wrapups, being too detailed and burning out before I finish. Instead, I’m going to recap this year’s Balticon anecdote by anecdote. I will feel no compunction to do it in any particular order or in any number of posts. I’ll write until I feel done and hit publish, then lather rinse and repeat.

Overview: This year definitelly felt smaller and less crowded overall. There seemed to be fewer big literary guests and a lot of groups that had hallway tables in previous years weren’t there this year. I saw a few tweets from people that seemed bummed by this year. However, from my experience of mostly participating on the new media track with some forays into broader fandom at times, I thought it was even more fun than last year. I did a few things differently. I ended up not even deploying my promotional stuff. I didn’t stress about keeping stickers and flyers stocked around the con. Instead I focused on really rocking the three panels I was on, seeing friends and having fun.

One of the rules I set for myself was to not repeat meal partners anytime during the weekend. If I were invited to dinner and I had already dined with anyone in that group, I had to pass. It worked quite well and I avoided the comfort zone of locking in with a few people and socializing only with that small group. I like it so much I think that will become my standard con MO from here on out. I also made a point of trying to talk to as many people as possible and being open to as broad a set of shenanigans as possible. That worked out pretty well for me and I’ll get to some of those anecdotes later.

Saturday night: Viv Schubert organized a “nerd prom” that was held in one of the programming rooms. I helped set up some of it after being a spontaneous guitar tech (that will be its own anecdote later.) Kevin Crosby and I ran cables and secured bits of Tee Morris‘ DJ setup at the head of the room. When things were in hand there, I went up to my room and changed in to my costume. Anyone familiar with me or this blog knows I have one and only costume to wear at SF conventions. It was my “SeƱor Muerte” costume consisting of the luchadore mask I bought in Portland OR and the tights and wrestling boots bought for me by my wife, ring ready gear mind you. When the voting came time, all the participants in the nerd prom costume contest lined up into a gauntlet or catwalk where we all walked down and back to show off our costumes. Mine was the very last name called (only the character, I didn’t know we were supposed to put real names on there.) As I walked to the head of the room, about one second before I got there I hatched a plan to do my catwalk in a combination of a stomp and a monkey walk. I did a jump at each end and returned to my place.

In one of the odder moments of an odd night, a guy who was already wearing a wrestler costume that included a kid’s prop WWE belt. This guy, who I didn’t know and never got his name, gave me that belt to become part of my costume. “I’ve got 9 more at home, you should have this.” Thank you, dude who I don’t know. I heard later he was trying to hand it to me during my walk but I hope I’m giving away no secrets if I tell you “Mexican wrestler masks are the mortal enemy of peripheral vision.” This prop belt had no fastening hardware but I remembered from setting up the room where the duct tape was, and Phillipa Ballantine was kind enough to tape it to me. I am pretty sure that I’m the only person in that room whose costume became more ornate and more complete as I attended the party.

After about 10 minutes, they announced the winners in a few categories. I had a joke about the voting being rigged ready to go when they announced “Prom King” and it was me. At that point, I knew for a fact it had to be corrupt but it was in my favor so I kept my mouth shut. I joined the Prom Queen, Helen “Cynical Woman” Madden at the front of the room. We put on our sashes, tried to put on the crown and tiara but both were already wearing headgear that precluded it so we had to do the best we could. It was a completely insane amount of fun. I wore my “Prom King” sash all the rest of that night, and all day the next day. In order to make it the maximally Andy Kaufman-esque street theater I refused to explain the origin of the sash to anyone that needed to ask. The rest of that night involved having many conversations with many people, which was a complete blast. I also got kicked out of the hotel bar, in a full luchadore outfit, for carrying in a cup to talk to people. In retrospect, I should have taken the bar manager and put him into the atomic piledriver.

That’s all I can take for tonight. Many more tales of shenanigans later.


An incident from my past was brought up at Balticon, in a story that Evo Terra regaled a group with one evening. I’ll give the Reader’s Digest condensed version.

Podcast Expo 2006, it was year two of the Ontario California conference. We were reprising our “spontaneous poolside barbecue feast” of the first year with a less spontaneous version of the same thing paid for by Dave Hamilton of Backbeat Media. Tee Morris gets some sort of spirit of Elvis in him and decides to shed his clothes and jump into the hotel pool naked as a grape. He invites me to jump in, in the most platonic and masculine way one straight guy can ask another straight guy to join him in public nudity. I decline, and my excuse is that I have a condition called flickrphallophobia, which I defined as “fear of seeing pictures of your dick posted to Flickr.” Evo Terra refused to believe that I made up that term on the spot, and I believe we placed a bet on whether Google would find it and he lost it (the second bet he lost in 30 seconds.)

I have told Tee this many many times, but my biggest regret in my 5.5 year history with the podcast medium is that I didn’t just take off my clothes and jump in. It wouldn’t have been that big a deal and I really don’t know what my problem was. Given the opportunity again, I’m opting for shenanigans. However, as the story came up again this weekend we realized that this term still isn’t in the googlosphere and Paul Fischer really wants it so. It was also suggested that the better term is “autoflickrphallophobia”, which would be the difference between fearing any wee wee photos on Flickr vs. pictures of ones own. I coined a term for that person: “redonkulopedantic.”

My Balticon Drive Playlist

Here without much comment is my Balticon road trip playlist. I”m noting specific shows if I think that episode is notably worth checking out specifically from that series.

Ride up:

Ride Back:

This is far from comprehensive on my podcast subscription list, but it’s a good representation of what a few days of listening might be. Note the mix of big media and small, old and new.