Meeting Joe Haldeman at Balticon 47

I had the great fortune to meet with Joe Haldeman, one of the science fiction field’s top authors, at Balticon 47, where he was the Guest of Honor. He’s won most of the top awards in the Sci-Fi field, including multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) have designated him a Grand Master, and he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2012.

David Keener with Joe Haldeman at Balticon 47I’ve been reading his books since his first Sci-Fi novel, The Forever War, was published in the 70’s. It’s possibly his best novel, and certainly one of the most respected novels in the field, leveraging Haldeman’s wartime experiences in Vietnam to create a cutting indictment of war as seen through a science fiction lens. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, as well as the Locus award.

He’s continued to write great books throughout his career, as well as earning awards for his shorter fiction. Some stand-outs for me include his Nebula-winning novel, Camouflage, which very pleasingly combines a scientist’s quest for knowledge with the activities of two different aliens hidden in human guises for centuries, and tosses in a love story for good measure. I also liked his Worlds trilogy, which probably never received the recognition it was due thanks to the demise of its original publisher and delays in releasing the follow-on volumes.

One of the joys of Haldeman’s work is that he’s constantly pushing his limits and trying new things. At his worst, his stories are enjoyable. At his best, when all of the chances he takes pay off, his stories are riveting and unique. In a field where authors often try to cater to the lowest common denominator, he really does stand out.

Now, how did I meet him? Well, he and wife, Gay, were asked if they’d meet with some of the Balticon volunteers — basically, for a special event where the volunteers got a little extra face time with the Guest of Honor. But they directed Joe and Gay to the wrong room. Specifically, it was 10:00 PM, and we’d just wrapped up a session called “Beyond Medieval Fantasy,” hosted by Jim Stratton. There were no more sessions scheduled in that room after us, so about six of us were still discussing things…when Joe and Gay walked in.

We all had a great time talking to them. Joe and his wife were gracious and interesting. We joked that “The volunteers’ loss was our gain.” Our extended discussion lasted for more than 30 minutes. During a break in the conversation, I asked Joe if he’d stand with me for a photo, and he readily agreed. One of my fellow attendees was kind enough to snap the photo for me. This was definitely the highlight of the convention for me.

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Sharing the Stage with Ric Edelman

Ric Edelman at Brambleton ToastmastersI was one of the organizers who brought Ric Edelman to speak at an Open House sponsored by both of the Toastmasters clubs to which I belong, Brambleton Toastmasters and Ashburn Toastmasters. Like a lot of celebrities, he had some minimum requirements that had to be met, i.e. – he wanted us to have an audience of at least 50 people. We managed to pull in 61 attendees (out of 73 RSVP’s), so we were all pretty pleased with the event, especially for an evening talk during the regular work week.

For those who aren’t familiar with Ric Edelman, he’s a nationally ranked financial analyst, a New York Times best-selling writer, the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, a frequent television guest, and he’s been a professional public speaker for more than 25 years. His most famous books are The Truth About Money and The Lies About Money.

He did a great job. We’d told him in advance that the audience was going to be a mixed, including causal visitors as well as Toastmasters members. This meant that the audience was different from his usual audience — they’d be interested not just in financial advice, but also in public speaking tips. He confirmed this himself by polling the audience, and then proceeded to tailor his talk on-the-fly to cater to both interests.

For example, he talked about life insurance in response to a question from the audience. Then, after answering the question, he picked apart his response to illustrate the techniques he’d used to try to make the topic of life insurance as interesting as possible — he’d contrasted Batman and Fred Flintstone to illustrate how different people might have different life insurance needs, and different factors to take into consideration.

After he spoke for an hour and twenty minutes, we had 15-minute break. Attendees lined up to get autographs and photos. After the break, I got to come on stage as his “follow-up act” to introduce the audience to Toastmasters. No pressure, or anything. I was only following a super-popular, highly experienced professional speaker. Actually, it went pretty well. The text of my speech will be available online in a week or so.

David Keener at Brambleton ToastmastersOverall, it felt great to organize an event like this, and to have it be so well received by the audience. Ric Edelman was professional and friendly, not at all the sort of “prima donna” that one often expects from celebrities. And my own speech went over well, so I was pleased with that, too.

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Akismet: Preventing Comment Spam

Tools for Writers: Akismet Plugin - for Preventing Comment SpamI’ve been getting so much comment spam on my WordPress blog that I needed do something to resolve the problem. I was, quite frankly, spending way too much time reviewing comments (and getting increasingly irritated every time I had to do so), and not doing some of the things that I wanted to be doing. When I went to Scotland for vacation this past December, I accumulated more than 2500 comment spam messages. Buried in that batch were some real comments that I wanted to approve for inclusion on the site, so I actually had to scan through all of them.

My solution for this problem is the Akismet plugin. You download the plugin, activate it and then get an API key from Akismet. Once you’ve added the API key to your configuration, Akismet tests each incoming comment and filters out most, if not all spam, into your spam folder.

It’s been awesome.

I recommend the Akismet plugin to anybody who operates a blog. By now, this should include all writers, whether traditionally published or self-published.

The most popular plugin version of Akismet is for WordPress, but they support around 20 different blogging platforms, so you should be able to integrate Akismet into most viable blogging tools. The service is free for personal use, but they do request a modest amount of money if you’re using it professionally or on behalf of a business. They even allow you to set the price that you pay based on the value you feel you’re getting from the tool.

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Balticon 47 SF Convention

Balticon Science Fiction ConventionI’ll be going to the Balticon 47 science fiction convention next weekend. It’s being held in Hunt Valley, MD, which is close enough for me to drive in each day. I’ll be there for about half of Saturday and all day on Sunday.

I’m looking forward to it. Balticon was the first science fiction convention I ever went to, back in 1983. That was Balticon 17, I believe. In all this time, I think I’ve only been to three of them, and it’s been years since I last attended one of their conventions.

This time is a little different, though. As far as I’m concerned, I’m going as a professional. Now, I don’t have any officially published works yet (although I have some free short stories online), so my resume as a writer is sketchy at best (at least my resume as a public speaker is considerably better), and I’m not on any panels. But, that doesn’t matter to me. I’ll be at the convention to learn, to meet people, network, and promote myself. I particularly want to meet contacts in the Baltimore and Washington DC areas who are writers, editors, publishers, promoters, etc.

At the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon for short, I managed to get pictures of myself with Neil Gaiman and Hugh Howey. I’d like to manage some photos like that at Balticon as well. These are always great for the blog, and I still get kind of a thrill out them myself, both getting the photos and meeting the authors.

Now, for my dilemma. I’ve prepared a new short story called “Goodbye, My Darling.” I’ll be premiering a 5 – 7 minute speech based upon this short story at Ashburn Toastmasters on this coming Wednesday. At Balticon, there are several “Open Readings” scheduled, in which writers sign up to do a reading of up to 10 minutes. I’ve got a story memorized, and modified to be a public speech, that I can deliver in 7 minutes. Do I have the guts to actually present this story at Balticon?

Complicating matters slightly, I’ve also got a non-SF-related speech on Tuesday, in front of a crowd of 5 – 70 people (I get to follow the main event, New York Times best-selling writer, Ric Edelman). So, if I present at the convention, it will be my third speech of the week.

Realistically, I expect the Balticon audience to be friendly and enthusiastic. It’s also likely that some of the readings will be pretty dry, since interpretive reading is actually a fairly difficult endeavor. Ideally, I’d like to come on stage with a dynamic, well-paced and well-practiced speech after several of those dry readings. My inclination is “Full speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes.”

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Movie Moments

How many of you have ever heard the term “movie moments” before?

Well, a movie moment is when something happens in real life that’s just so perfect that it seems like a scene in a movie. Like it’s just so perfect that it could only have been envisioned by some brilliant screenwriter.

Let me give you an example.

When I was 17, my family lived next to a church. The church’s parking lot ran up to the side of our property, and there was a standard 4-foot-tall chain link fence between our side yard and the lot.

On weekends, I often parked in the church lot to avoid stacking our driveway with cars. One day, I parked there, but I was accompanied by my best friend, Cody, and my younger brother, Steve.

When I got out, I decided to show off by hurdling over the fence. Perfect form. Up, leg out, snap the foot down, carry over. I was on the track team at school, and my specialty was hurdling.

Cody laughs, and says, “I can do that.” He gets a running start and just jumps as high as he can, arms windmilling as he clears the fence. He comes down close to the fence, splashing as he lands because the grass near the fence is wet from recent rain.

Then my brother decides to do the same thing as Cody, only his left foot dips down and catches on the fence as he leaps over it. He does a complete face plant as he splashes onto the grass. Cody and I were laughing at him for the next 30 minutes…

Folks, that’s a movie moment. I’d like to share several of my favorite movie moments with you, and then I’ll explain why they’re so important to me.

Once upon a time, I was in the Boy Scouts. One summer, I attended a week-long camp, and my Dad was drafted as a volunteer to help. We had all sorts of cool classes to go to, archery, tying knots, etc.

As I came back to our camp site from one of these classes, one of our youngest scouts came rushing up to me, and then he threw a water balloon at me from point-blank range.

I was drenched, and it was hilarious. But I didn’t have any water balloons to throw myself. Etiquette required that I make him pay for his transgression. Plus, as a more senior member of the Scouts, I needed to let him know there’d be consequences if he tried it again. So I thumped him.

Open hand shove to the chest, not too hard, just to let him know that he’d been tagged. But he was off-balance, and fell backwards onto his butt.

His eyes got really wide. He leaped up like a jack-in-the-box, and ran across the clearing to my Dad, wailing, “Your son hit me!”

My dad looked down at him and said, “Well, I told you that you could throw a water balloon at him. I didn’t say he wouldn’t hit you.”

In another movie moment…

I was dating a girl who lived in Arlington. It was my birthday, and she was picking me up at the Ballston Metro. She’d already told me that she had my birthday present with her, and that it was really breakable.

When she saw me, she came rushing down the escalator. Unfortunately, she tripped about two thirds of the way down, and launched into a perfect swan dive.

So there she is, flying through the air from 15 feet up. And there’s my highly breakable birthday present, flying out of her grasp.

And thus, the terrible, terrible dilemma. Do I catch my present? Or the girl?

We’ll leave her there for now, hanging in mid-air.

I’d like to tell you one more story, but this one has several movie moments within it.

Once upon a time, when I was in fifth grade, I was sitting outside the principal’s office with my mother, waiting to find out if I was going to be suspended.

You ask, of course, what could a goodie two-shoes like me do that could have gotten me suspended? Especially as a fifth grader.

Well, the night before, there was a championship basketball match held at my school. I was the star player in a very close game. By end of the match, people were chanting my name, and cheering my team on.

It was glorious.

Afterwards, the parents were gabbing, and us kids were just shooting hoops for fun. An eighth grader, who was there because his brother was on the team, started making fun of me, being really mean, as if my success had offended him in some way.

He capped off his little campaign of abuse by stealing my basketball and throwing it out the back door of the gym. This is the first movie moment. It was pouring. And the school was at the top of a long,
gradually sloping hill.

That ball rolled past the kindergarten. It rolled through the playground without hitting a single piece of equipment. It rolled into the field beyond, then over the baseball field. It continued into the outfield where it reached the edge of a vast puddle of water that occupied the rest of the school property.

And then, carried by wind and what little momentum remained, it floated into the middle of that vast expanse of water.

Now, it occurred to me that I was being bullied. And if you know anything about me, you’ll know that I don’t take well to this. In fact, even as a fifth grader, I had already determined that the best defense against bullies was the rapid infliction of a vast amount of pain.

I’m sure you can guess what happened next. In one corner, me, at 5-4, weighing in at 90 pounds, all skin and bones and wearing funky sports glasses. On the other side, an eighth grader, three years older, 5-8 and 150 pounds. Now cue the Rocky music, as the fifth grader beats the stuffing out of the bully.

It took five adults to pull me off him.

And that’s how I found myself waiting to meet the prinicpal.

So, I’m sitting in the waiting room of the principal’s office with my mother, and my basketball coach
comes out of an inner office. He sees us, rushes over, and says excitedly, “I’m so proud of your son! What a great fight! He’s got an awesome right hook. I didn’t think he had it in him!” In his exuberance, he even gives my mother a big bear hug before he rushes off to his next appointment.

I was floored. I felt like I’d fallen into some parallel dimension, or something.

A little later, the prinicpal called us in. He stared at me for about ten minutes, and I felt like he was scanning my very soul. It was actually probably only five seconds or so, and then he says, “I’ve
checked with everybody involved. I’m just bringing you in as a formality, because it’s expected in a situation like this. You were clearly provoked. But, young man, don’t you make a habit of fighting in my school. I don’t want to see you in my office again.”

That was it. No suspension.

So, why are these movie moments so important to me? Consider this.

My little brother in a moment of total humiliation. I’m sure those of you with little brothers can appreciate this.

My father, in a moment of complete and utter coolness, with the perfect comback.

My parents, my coach, and my principal teaching me that it’s OK to get into a fight, if you pick the right fight. That’s a great life lesson.

I challenge you to look for the movie moments in your life. They could be as simple as a daughter walking down the aisle in her wedding dress, or a baby’s first steps.

Keep those memories alive. Tell stories about them. In the end, they are what life is all about. They’ll give you comfort when you’re old, and they may even become family heirlooms, kept alive and retold by future generations in your family.

Oh, and the girl from the escalator? I caught her. [Holding up my hand and pointing to my wedding ring]

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Video: Crossing the Chasm

My newest video, “Crossing the Chasm,” is now available online. It’s a bent and twisted fable, with a certain amount of humor. It was recorded on January 30, 2013 at a restaurant (Bertucci’s, if you’re that curious). Here’s the official description:

Crossing the Chasm: A mighty warrior on a treasure-seeking quest encounters an unexpected ordeal in which his physical skills, weapons and magical artifacts are useless. What, then, is a warrior to do?

Please let me know what you think of the video. I had a lot of fun writing, and then performing, this humorous fable.

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