Virtual RoberCon – Day 2

I am attending RoberCon this weekend. Saturday went really well and I had an excellent time with the workshops. Today’s events were all panel format, so instead of the presenter and audience having a discussion, it was more like a webinar.

The first panel of the day was Writing For Middle Grade / YA Readers: They’re Not Just Small Adults. It’s actually the panel that brought me to RoberCon as a participant. Our moderator was Paul Smith, an indie middle grade science fiction writer and author of the The Jason and the Draconauts Series. Panelists included: Kathryn Sullivan, an award-winning, small press, middle grade fantasy writer and author of The Crystal Throne; J.R.H. Lawless, a small press adult science fiction humor and middle grade writer, and author of The General Buzz series; and me (indie author). We had an excellent conversation about how writing for younger people differs from writing for adults and how that has changed over time.

My next panel was Engage!: Captain Picard Blazes New Trail in ‘Star Trek’ Universe, and I was in the audience. There was a nice variety of perspectives on this show. Overall the feelings were pretty positive and the discussion ranged over the entire Star Trek universe, looking at the strengths and weaknesses. I enjoyed Picard, but felt some elements were rushed in a way that didn’t work, and that the writers were incredibly wasteful with their characters.

Next panel was Excellent!: ‘Bill & Ted’ Return for One More Encore, which started with a delightful Dr. Pants song in honor of Bill & Ted (alas, it does not yet appear available on the site, but we can hope). The panelists covered historical behind-the-scenes elements I wasn’t familiar with (the time machine was originally the Wyld Stallyns van, but that was scrapped due to Back to the Future; and the original film was nearly dumped to cable when the production company went bankrupt shortly after principal shooting completed). The changes in the music landscape in the 80s and 90s were discussed in great detail, looking at the move from metal to alternative. In general everyone was pretty pleased with the characterization of Billie and Thea.

There were two other panels I’d initially planned to attend, but I was a bit fried by this point and elected to go on a 12 mile bike ride since the weather was allowing it. All in all, I had a great RoberCon experience. People were inclusive and engaging. I would be willing to attend again, though if it’s in person next year, we’ll have to see if we have the finances for travel.

Virtual RoberCon – Day 1

I am attending RoberCon this weekend.

It’s my first virtual convention and my first time attending this event that supports the Roberson Museum and Science Center’s education and outreach programs. For the most part I stick to conventions in the Midwest because I can afford the trip (and can often minimize hotel use. So I guess this is a bright side of the pandemic. I’m Schrödinger’s author, both at home and attending a convention in Binghamton, New York at the same time.

I attended three events Saturday, all of them were more workshop than panel. The first two were on characters and character development and the last was on writing a novel in a short time frame. As a character writer, a lot of the character motivation and goal elements were not new to me, but it would have been useful to someone who struggles with this side of writing. There’s always more to learn and improvements to make, and talking with other writers or hearing about their process can improve your own.

The first workshop, Painless Novel Writing: Set Goals for Your Characters, was hosted by Jennifer D. Bokal, and we looked a lot at character motivation and goals. She wrapped up with an excellent tip about how we, as writers, should view our completed pieces. Our stories are consumable products, not offspring. Think of them as orange juice, not your babies. It makes the rejections and negative reviews less harsh.

The second workshop, Who Are These People?: Putting Character in Your Characters, was hosted by Paul Smith. We explored the use of role playing character sheets, specifically the Fate Core System, for creating a quick look at a character. This method was pretty quick and resulted in a succinct summary of your character, but didn’t include much on back story and motivation. This model could be used to quickly build a world. For people who will spend hours constructing a character before starting to write, the restricted nature of this may be very helpful. Combining these two models may work well for quickly assembling characters while ensuring the primary characters have enough depth.

My final workshop, Sprint to the Finish: Completing a Novel in a Short Time Frame, was hosted by Valerie Valdes. She covered all the big picture life stuff you need to prepare, how to work through the trouble that inevitably crops up, and tips for using writing sprints to charge through a novel at rapid pace. Most of what I write these days is done during timed sprints, and both A Familiar Story books were produced this way. My approach was a bit haphazard, especially on the second book, so it was helpful to get her “clean the house and tell your friends and family, see ya!” advice.

Workshops and panels are running 45 minutes, with follow up discussion in Discord, which is working very smoothly. I’m getting all the word nerd elements of being at a convention without having to travel or spend stupid amounts money on slow mediocre hotel food. While I’m not really getting to know folks they way I would with in person networking and socializing, this is definitely a good way to manage the experience during a pandemic.

Welcome to S.N.Arly on the Web

If you’re new to my page, welcome! I hope you find something of interest here. If you’re a return visitor, welcome back, I recently overhauled this site to make it easier to navigate (including visible tags to help you find more similar content).

I’m a long-time reader and writer of speculative fiction, the umbrella term that includes fantasy, science fiction and horror. The strongest influences in my formative years were Anne McCaffrey and Stephen King.

I write both young adult and adult flavored fiction. I also enjoy writing about the creative process, writing life, and independent publishing. You can find novel excerpts, complete short stories and writing exercises, and essays on writing topics and resources in the navigation.

Speed Writing #17 – Fandom Mashup

“Gryffindor,” Mikhail said firmly.  “Neville Longbottom level.”

“Airbender,” Evie countered, a smug smile on her lips.

“What?” Mikhail asked, an eyebrow raised in confusion.  “Did you just jump fandoms on me?”

“Ashitaka is clearly an airbender,” she replied.  He was one of the few people she could have this type of argument with.  “He’s all about peace and freedom.  He’s practically a reincarnation of Aang.”  She paused for a moment, her eyes going to the ceiling.  “Though I’m not sure how that would work, since Aang’s already a reincarnation.  So maybe we could call him alternate reality Aang.”

“Nuh uh.”  Mikhail shook his head.  “I see him as more fire nation.”

“Fire what now?”

He laughed, rocking back on her couch to put his feet up on the ottoman.  “His mission was nearly impossible, but had the drive to accomplish it.  Totally a firebender trait.”  He shrugged.  “Though I would entertain an argument for earth.”

“He’d be water before either of those,” she insisted.  “He’s got the adaptability down.  How else could he leave his isolated village and manage to both cure his curse and save the forest?”

“If he’d been a waterbender, the loss of his community would have been too much of a blow for him.”  He pushed his hair back, though it wasn’t really hanging into his face.  “And I’d only agree to earth because of his persistence and strength.”

She let a puff of air out of the side of her mouth, suggesting disgust, though the way her eyes crinkled at the edges suggested amusement.  “He doesn’t have the temper of a firebender.  If he did, he would have conquered Irontown to force his plans.  He always asked.  He gave others a choice in their response.  He tried to see where they were coming from.”  She ticked her points off on her fingers. “Why else would he take a turn on the bellows and spend all that time with the people of Irontown?”

“Because he was devious,” he suggested.

“Mikhail!”  She gasped in mock outrage.  “I’m appalled.  Simply appalled.”

He laughed again.

“The forest spirit wouldn’t have helped him if he’d been a scheming snake oil salesman,” she said indignantly, pulling her feet up under her.  “He pushed for peaceful resolution and discussion.  Shave what’s left of his hair and dress him in orange; he’s an airbender.”

“Gryffendor,” he retorted.

“Airbender!”

“I’m starving,” he said calmly.

She giggled at the non-sequitur.  “Yeah, me too.”

He nodded once, decisively.  “Fine.  I’ll concede that Ashitaka is an airbender, and you can take me to dinner.”

She stared at him a moment, then swallowed.  “Okay.  Where you wanna go?”  Was this a friendly dinner or a date?  They’d been friends for months, and she was interested in a more romantic relationship.  One that came with kisses and cuddles; Mikhail seemed like he’d be good at both. 

“There’s an Indian place over on Johnson,” he suggested.  “I’ve heard it’s nice.”

She grinned.  “Perfect.”  She’d been there once, and the low lighting would definitely make it feel more like a date.  She stood up and grabbed her purse off her desk.  “Get your shoes on earth boy.  I’m taking you to dinner.”


Prompt: We started arguing about which Hogwarts house this one character would be in and we completely lost track of time, and now you’re demanding I take you to dinner.  Is this a date?

Name Resources

Updated on May 19, 2020
Here are some resources for choosing and creating names for your characters.   Reminder, Asia and Africa are land masses, not countries, and there are significant differences in culture and naming across these land masses.

Baby Name Wizard
Lists of popular names around the world.  I’ve linked to the international list, so you can find all of them instead of the American default list.  These are popular names now, so less useful for historical or less common names. Allows filtering for boys or girls, but not both at one time, and doesn’t list gender neutral names.

Baby Names
A standard American baby name repository.  It’s a little too cutesy for me, and I really have no interest in celebrity baby news, but it’s still a potentially useful resource.  If picking a Native American name, see the Wrong Names resource below so you can avoid names incorrectly attributed to these cultures.

Behind the Name
A database of names from around the world. Includes any meanings that go along with each name, and variations on names. Has some filtering for male, female, and unisex names.  You can now search by meaning, pattern, and number of syllables in the advanced filters. While the database has moved beyond just European names, some lists don’t show up in the master list, and you may need to search. For example, Bengali and Indonesian surnames have their own lists that don’t appear in the master list.

Chinese Surnames
Wikipedia lists common surnames in mainland China (and which provinces are most common places to find the names), Taiwan, and in the Chinese diaspora.

Fantasy Name Generator 
Very simple name generator with some basic filters.

Fantasy Name Generators
This site features over 1200 name generators (real names, fantasy names, place names, pop culture names) and many description generators. While likely built with gamers in mind, it can be equally valuable to writers.

Filipino Surnames
Wikipedia lists the most common family names in the Philippines according to a genealogical research project in 2014.

Indian Surnames
Indian family names are most often derived from religion, occupation, region, and caste.

Korean Family Names
Wikipedia lists the most common family names in the Philippines according to a genealogical research project in 2014.

Medieval Names Archive
Impressively thorough lists of names based on church and city records, so it’s great if you’re going for authenticity.  It is delightfully NOT Eurocentric, which is unusual for most websites on this time period.

Mithril & Mages 
This is a fantasy writer and role player’s playground that includes name generators for a variety of needs, utilities for role playing, and even a few generators using modern data (businesses, city blocks, college majors, criminal history, wound and disease prevalence). 

Modern Mongolian Clans
This Wikipedia list includes the subset of the clans and the clan names within those subsets. There are also links to Mongolian rulers, states, and medieval tribal names, as well as the history of naming conventions in Mongolia and how they have changed over time. Surnames are a relatively new convention

Nameberry
This is a large name database and name generator. I’m not sure why sites like this specify that they are for “baby names,” since babies quickly grow to toddlers and teens and eventually adults, but if you’re able to ignore the baby pictures, this can be a useful site. You can search for names by origin, nationality, gender and starting letter. There’s a list of names that are not gender specific, which is nice to see. While this has some Hawaiian, Russian, Latinx and African names, the list tends to be pretty heavily European, completely lacking any Asian content.

Native Languages Wrong Names
Just as important as picking an accurate name, it’s critical to avoid names that are just plain wrong if you’re going for an accurate representation of an ethnic group.  Apparently there are a fair number of names that are inaccurately attributed to Native Americans.  This list will help you avoid some of those.

Pakistani Family Names
Wikipedia lists common family names coming from Arab naming conventions, tribal names, and ancestral names.

Seventh Sanctum
This site provides random generators to help name characters, design settings, and inspire people’s creativity.  Generators include character types, equipment, names, magic, organizations, settings, and superheroes.  Click Generator Types at the top of the page.

Syrian and Sephardic Jewish Surnames
Surnames collected from several Syrian Jewish databases in one place, including origins (when known) and definitions.

US Social Security Administration
You can find popular names by state, decade, or year for the United States.



Check out my other research and resources for writers posts here.

It Sounds Familiar – Now Out Everywhere

It Sounds Familiar is now available at all the usual places (it took about a month this time).

Here’s the updated list of where you can find it.

Now that we’re working on improving my life balance in our stay at home situation, I hope to plan some readings or something to give folks a taste of both Something Familiar and It Sounds Familiar.

It Sounds Familiar – Slowly Hitting Distribution

It Sounds Familiar’s distribution has been slower than usual, but that’s to be expected.

Here’s the updated list of where you can find it.

Still waiting on Barnes and Noble for both Nook and trade paperback.

It Sounds Familiar – Expanding Availability

It Sounds Familiar’s distribution is finally cascading out to more retailers.

Where can you find it?

A Familiar Story – the Series

The digital and trade paperback editions of It Sounds Familiar are starting to become available across additional platforms. This is the second book in the A Familiar Story series.

Two paperback books (Something Familiar and It Sounds Familiar) on a wooden table, separated by a green and blue glass orb.

The first book, Something Familiar, a story about a witch looking for a familiar and a shape-shifter who has run away from home. You can read the first few chapters for free over at Curious Fictions, if you want to try before you buy.

The second book, It Sounds Familiar, picks up with our witch and familiar pair coping with the biases they face in a society that is widely opposed to shape-shifters.

Update From Quarantine

Look what arrived in the mail yesterday!

The book It Sounds Familiar on a brown wooden table.

It Sounds Familiar is now available as a paperback and ebook at Lulu, and as an ebook at the Apple iBookstore. It should be hitting Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Rakuten/Kobo in the near future.

Paperback is looking a bit delayed as businesses and distribution chain components need to close to keep their staff safe. This is a necessary thing, and we can wait it out with our digital media in the meantime.

While we have no known COVID-19 exposures at our house, my daughter and I are both at high risk for complications, so we’re effectively quarantined (or perhaps reverse quarantined) for the foreseeable future. It’s all a bit surreal, but we’re getting by.

As a result of a teachers’ strike followed by school closures, I’ve been homeschooling my son for a bit over three weeks and my daughter for two and a half. Now that we’ve adjusted a bit, and distance learning picks up next Monday, I’m hoping to get my writing time back.