Tag Archives: Writers Conventions

#amwriting: sit down and write

This last weekend, I attended the 2017 PNWA Conference. I had the chance to connect with friends whom I rarely get to see in person elsewhere, and met many, many new friends.

I immersed myself into four days of seminars on writing craft, with the intention of kickstarting the rough draft of the one manuscript which has stalled for the last two months.

Let’s be clear—I always have three or four projects in various stages of completion, so I always have one novel in the first, rough draft. Usually, I have no difficulty getting my idea onto the paper but, as I have mentioned before, life sometimes throws us curve balls. When that happens, I have no trouble writing blog posts or making revisions on finished manuscripts as requested by my intrepid beta readers and editor. But it is then that completing whatever story is in the rough draft form becomes a struggle for me.

So, let’s talk about getting past that mysterious thing some people call writer’s block, the horrible nightmare that is only a temporary lull in the creative process. This is when you hear those voices mocking you, “you claim to be a writer but you haven’t written a new word in days.” (Or weeks, or months.)

First, you must understand that this is not a permanent, career killing disability. It is a fleeting, dry period where the project you want to work on is not moving forward. But other writing can and should happen!

My recommendation is to sit down and write your way through it—don’t abuse yourself over whatever project you have that is stalled. Clear your mind of those little mental voices of doom and guilt because they are the carrion birds whose songs of despair lure you along the path to failure.

Focus on writing something completely unrelated instead.

In a seminar I attended this last weekend, taught by the award-winning sci fi/fantasy author and current SFWA president, Cat Rambo, she admitted that rather than beat herself up for a momentary lapse of creativity, she works her way through the rough patches with timed stream-of-consciousness writing sessions. She does this every day and shoots for 2000 new words a day, whether they are good words or not.

The way I interpreted her comments, she does this in the NaNoWriMo style, where you set a timer and write whatever nonsense comes into your head for a certain length of time and do not stop writing for any reason whatsoever until the timer goes off.

Cat’s advice? If all you can do when you sit down for that timed writing session is to write “I can’t think of anything” repeatedly, just write that. She said (and she is right) that after a few minutes of that sort of boredom, your creative mind will rebel, your subconscious mind will take over and push you in new directions. When I do this, I usually end up with some of my best ideas embedded in those long strings of rambling words.

Those nuggets of good writing and ideas are straw I can spin into gold.

My personal advice is to not set absurdly unrealistic goals for your work. Target goals are good, but in my opinion, setting too a high wordcount for new words on your rough draft each day is a good way to set yourself up to fail, as you can’t sustain it. I find that when I am involved in NaNoWriMo, which is a different kind of writing, I can put down 2000 to 4000 words each morning–but that kind of output is not sustainable over more than just the month of November. My usual output is 1000 to 2000 new words per writing session.

Consider setting your minimum goal of writing for at least one fifteen-minute increment per day, working straight with no stopping.  Repeat the fifteen-minute sessions as many times as you like each day, if you are really fired and inspired to write.

I am a fulltime author, but even when I was holding down three part-time jobs, I still managed to write every evening. When my children were still at home, I wrote when they were doing homework, or I wrote after they went to bed. I made my time to write by choosing to only watch the TV shows that meant the most to me and ditching the rest. That meant that most evenings I had at least one hour (but sometimes two or three) of good writing time after dinner was done and the kitchen was clean.

I understand if you are emotionally invested in some TV shows, but you must choose to make time to write—choose your entertainment wisely and don’t waste what could be writing time on shows you don’t absolutely love.

So, what about multiple projects? I find that having multiple projects in the works is good for me, as switching from one to another allows me to rest my writing mind. I am fortunate, in that writing is my full-time career.  Because it is my job, I always have three or four projects going, so I do have a certain, inviolable time of the day that I will work no matter what. On Sundays, I write all the blog posts I might need for that week, both for this blog and for several other websites where I have a regular column.

I need to keep regular office hours to be productive, so the morning hours of 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. are divided like this:

6:00 to 8:00, I work on adding new words to the current rough draft.

8:00 to 9:00, if I don’t have a writing group to attend, I handle my social media stuff—a nasty but necessary task that is part of the job if you don’t have a personal PR person but hope to connect with both readers and other writers.

I don’t have a PR person.

9:00-10:00, (again if I don’t have a writing group) I take a break from writing and make a stab at cleaning my house.

10:00 – 12:00 I do revisions on other projects as my editors ask for them or I edit for clients.

I always take a break at noon and either take a walk or sit on my back porch and just watch the world go by.

In the afternoon, I make maps or do other support work that may be required for one or another of my projects, depending which is firing my mind most intensely, or if I have a client’s manuscript to edit I will go back to that.

I’m no different than any other writer—I do have times when the well of creativity runs dry. But I have the support of other authors, and I have the mental tools I need to pull me out of those rocky spots. I hope this post offers you some idea of how to jumpstart your creativity, and remember–I am always here to talk you off the ledge.

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#amwriting: Interview with Scott Driscoll

As part of my lead up to #NaNoWriMo2016 and November’s month of literary madness, I am continuing my series of guest interviews. Today, we are speaking with the always intriguing Scott Driscoll.

Scott is an award-winning writing instructor at UW Continuing and Professional Education, is a well-known journalist and editor, and is the author of Better You Go Home, a literary novel which takes the reader to Prague shortly after the Velvet Revolution. (My review can be read here.)

I have attended several seminars offered by Scott through PNWA, and have always come away feeling inspired.

CJJ: What books influenced you most as young reader?

SD: Like most children, I liked any story that fueled my imagination, such as Aesop’s Fables, Grimm Fairy Tales, and the like. Somewhere in middle school I discovered a preference for realism and actually read, and was fascinated by, Moby Dick. I distinctly remember going to class and sniffing the palms of my hands, convinced I’d somehow got ambergris, which never really washes off, on my hands. Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men also impressed me greatly at that age. I found American social realism (aka naturalism), such as anything by Drieser, dreary beyond belief.

CJJ: How did these books influence your early writing?

SD: The dreary books I was forced to read in adolescence and as a young teen led me to conclude that you had to be pedantic and stuffy to be a writer and that turned me off to writing fiction altogether. The exceptions would be Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and E. A. Poe stories. Those were exciting. What I didn’t realize until later is that I was looking for a voice that spoke to me. I really didn’t hear that voice until I encountered French existential novelists like Camus and Jean Genet (especially in The Thief’s Journal, a fictionalized memoir). Compared with potted stories like de Maupassant’s, these took me into what felt like a word wilderness, where you could easily get off trail and run into danger and I loved that feeling. I also discovered and loved Dostoevsky and Kafka. There was a darkness and urgency and psychological depth in that writing that I could not find in American authors, until, in college, I discovered the novels of Norman Mailer and Edward Abbey and now I had a voice that was raw and stories that were more about the psychological life of the characters and less about managing a plot. Not that I had anything against plot. It was the raw power of the words I needed to fall in love with first.

CJJ: You have said elsewhere that “Writing for me is about applying form to the mysteries we suffer.” Can you expand a little on this idea?

SD: I borrowed that phrase from Wright Morris. On my blog site I wrote about the first time, as an adult, I tried to write fiction. I was 21 years old, taking a break from college, living in Darwin, Australia and working warehouse and restaurant jobs to save money so I could travel on. With time on my hands, and a depressing lack of anything better to do, I essentially locked myself in my boarding house room, sat under the paddle fan, and spent several hours writing nothing. What I lacked, I realized, was not the ability to write, but knowledge of form. Without an understanding of story structure, I would churn out a stream of words that was nothing more than a verbal outpouring of my inner angst, the kind of sophomoric, I realized that day, drivel that excites only high school English teachers, who are grateful for any grammatical verbal pyrotechnics. Without an understanding of form, I could not begin to solve the mysteries I knew were locked up inside me.

CJJ: You have also said “Any story that involves a quest – and that is most stories – starts with a disturbing event known to writers and film-makers as the “inciting incident.” What is the most important thing for an author to consider when creating this event?

SD: It took me a long time to accept that any story with any kind of plot must start with a disturbance. But once you accept that, what does it really mean? A disturbance, as in, someone gets mugged, a bank gets robbed, aliens land, a shark throws a vacation resort town into chaos? If it’s just event for event’s sake, anything is possible and nothing is particularly meaningful. Rather, an inciting incident must disturb a balance that pertains in the hero’s world, and must do so by working against a deeply held value, so that the hero, we can be sure, will not shrug it off as simply bad news but rather will be forced to react in a way that will further endanger the balance in that familiar world.

Better You Go Home Scott DriscollCJJ: When did you first have the idea to write “Better You Go Home,” and how long did it take to complete it?

SD: In 1994, three and a half years after the Velvet Revolution, I went to the Czech Republic to track down family that my Czech relatives in Iowa had stopped communicating with. I found the village, the farmhouse, met some people, but had been too cheap to hire a translator and didn’t get beyond discovering that there was some unspeakable mystery, some “inciting incident,” that had created a rift in the family. In 1999, armed with better information sent to me by a cousin who’d followed my lead to that village, and armed this time with a translator, my father and I went back to this village and heard stories, and reviewed records, and I learned enough that I felt I could write a novel with this family mystery at its heart. At the time I had quit writing fiction (needing to make money) and started instead writing for magazines, and between that and teaching and being divorced and raising a child, I really didn’t have time to write a novel (but stayed up late virtually every night reading everything I could get my hands on related to the topic). A couple years later, needing to get back to fiction, I started in pretending I was writing chapters, but really just produced fluff based on my research. From the time I began writing chapters that could stick, and publication, ten years went by.  I had told my wife—we married just before the time I got serious with this novel—I’d have it done in two years. Our son likes to remind me that he was ten when it was published. I remind him that I was busy. But, really, honestly, it took so long because my early understanding of the story lacked the form that would allow me to finally tell the story. Much of my groping in the early years could have been circumvented had I discovered that form early in the process.

CJJ: Once a new work is in progress, what are the main hurdles you have to overcome in laying down the first draft?

SD: That depends. If it’s a short story, I will usually allow myself to have a crude idea based on a situation that sets forth from a known inciting incident with a disturbed character but without a known outcome, just set forth and go, knowing the real story will emerge in the re-writes anyway. With a novel, it’s worth doing more planning.  Once you have your premise, the first hurdle you have to overcome is finding a basic story structure that will naturally lead to a surprising but inevitable outcome. Then you work on your characters, that is, you start with characters in mind, but now you have to imagine how the events required by the story structure you have imagined will be causally connected to the characters’ needs and wants and fears and expressed and hidden desires. Without causal connections you just have meaningless events. Once causal connections are asserted, you encounter another hurdle. The characters begin to morph according the logical requirements of the causal connections you have asserted. Without a strong sense of the story structure, things can quickly morph into an ugly, hydra-headed monster, ie, chapters screaming to be thrown away.

CJJ: What are you working on now?

SD:  Two things. First, a collection of connected stories that show a young couple starting off careers and family and that show how that trajectory unfolds over the years. For my raw material, I am using stories published years ago, but that I felt never broke through to their bigger potential. Will I achieve that now? Let’s just say, I know a whole lot more about writing now than I did then. I only hope that I can recapture the immediacy that can easily get lost behind a command of technique. My second project, still in the planning stages, is a sci-fi time travel novel. This will be my first attempt at a popular fiction genre. I was put up to it by an editor friend. My wife was intrigued by the idea of me writing a novel that had the potential to make some money. Having handed over an 18,000 word treatise, that covers my idea for the story nearly chapter by chapter, I am now excited to get to work.

CJJ: What books can you recommend for new writers who are just beginning to learn the craft?

SD: The best book on craft, generally, is Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway, now in its ninth edition. That said, Story by Robert McKee, though written for screenplay writers, contains the best craft talks, with illustrations from films, on plot and character and scene that I have ever come across. I would definitely start with those two, then add Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham, as an enhancement to what McKee has to say. Then, they should all get their hands on What If, the third edition, edited by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. (Do not let Amazon trick you into buying the inadequate first edition.) This book is full of mini-lessons and exercises for writers who know about craft but need practice.

CJJ: Where can people find your classes and seminars this fall?

SD: In fall 2016, starting the first week of October, I am teaching one section of Literary Fiction I, the introductory course, and one section of Advanced Fiction Writing, a course intended for writers of both literary and popular fiction who’ve had experience with taking writing classes or who have extensive writing experience. Both classes are offered through the University of Washington in the Professional and Continuing Education department. If interested, folks should go to www.keeplearning.uw.edu and look for these courses, or, if they have questions, seek more details at www.pce.uw.edu. They can also email me at sdriscol@uw.edu. I also teach a summer workshop class and that is posted on my blog site. http://www.scottdriscollblogs.wordpress.com.

  • In the meantime, I am a guest editor reviewing manuscripts at the fall 2016 Write On The Sound conference and will be at the Edmonds, WA site on Saturday Oct 1 and Sunday Oct 2. On Nov. 10, I will be a guest workshop leader at the November meeting of the Skagit Valley Writer’s League, held in Mt. Vernon, WA. Those interested can peruse their web site for more information. In May, 2017, I will be a workshop leader, lecturer etc. at the Write On The River conference held in Wenatchee, WA

 

Scott, thank you so much, for being a part of this little series on the craft of writing. As always, you are a joy to talk to!


scott-driscoll1 Scott Driscoll can be found 

 

 

 

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#amwriting: working in the blender

caloricclassic red blenderOnce you have a book published, the hardest, most difficult part is trying to fit writing the next book into all the other demands on your time. I have an editing job that I work at from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. daily, I write five blog posts a week for various blogs (3 for this blog) I have several novels in the works, and I am my own publicist.

That last part is not going so well, just so you know.

For one of my writing gigs, I am a member of the staff for Edgewise Words Inn, which had been quite fun as I get to explore the creative writing side of my life. I just began a serial there, a medieval fantasy, called Bleakbourne on Heath. The first installment posted September 11th,  and the next will post  on Tuesday the 29th of September. This has been quite fun, as it is a series of short-stories (Less than 2000 words each) chronicled by Leryn, a bard. He is the observer, but is sometime drawn into the action against his better judgement. The first two episodes are a little dark, but episodes 3 & 4 have been far-fetched and quite fun to write.

I have also signed on to edit an anthology for my publishing group, Myrddin Publishing. That has been an absolute joy–the stories that are being included in this anthology are extremely high quality. And the good part of that is, I have wonderful people working with me on the production of that book, Alison DeLuca and Lee French.

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbNaNoWriMo is approaching–and I am planning to spend the month of November writing a series of short stories, some set in Bleakbourne on Heath, and several random shorts.

But, like every other working person, I also have a home to keep in some sort of order, minimal though that effort is, laundry to do, cooking (yes, even vegans cook) and I try to maintain some sort of communication with our kids and grand-kids–even if it is just stalking them on Facebook.

And lets talk about Facebook, that soul-sucking time-waster from the Netherworld. Many of the events I do are organized though Facebook, and that means I get a lot of email to sift through, while I am trying to accomplish something productive for my clients.

So-and-so, the organizer, encourages everyone involved in the ordeal to post something in a thread:

  • But if you do, you will get 200 emails from that thread alone.
  • But if you don’t, you will miss some critical piece of information.
  • But if you do, you will get 200 emails from that thread alone.

If you are careful when you select which event to get involved with in the first place, these events can raise the indie author’s visibility, and indeed, any author’s visibility. I have done many that were not good experiences, and many that helped sell books.

To that end, I, along with many of the authors I know and a lot whom I’ve never met (over 200) will be participating in the first annual Virtual Fantasy Con in November, the 1st through the 8th.

virtual fantasy con 2015

So far, at least on the participant’s end, it is being set up like a really well-run convention, so it will be interesting to see how smoothly this goes, and how much visibility we will actually gain from this. We participating authors will have the opportunity to take part in many publicity events prior to the actual convention.

The only thing I worry about is how confusing keeping up with all the email and information is. I am afraid I will accidentally not do some critical thing–which is why I am the world’s worst personal assistant for myself.

But it’s a lot of work keeping everything organized. My ‘personal assistant’ is not as good at her job as I wish she was.

Sigh.

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Epiphany, and the Writers’ Conference

PNWA 2015 My Books in the Bookstore

Epiphany.

A sudden revelation.

A moment in time where suddenly you understand the why of a certain thing. For a writer this can mean the plot suddenly unthickens and we know what we need to do!

This often happens when I am in traffic and completely unable to put said revelation into practice, but hey, we go with what we have, right?

I had several such moments of glory while in Seattle at the PNWA 2015 Writers Conference this last week. Fortunately I was able to immediately put my chicken-scratched notes into a more readable form via the little Android tablet, and these flashes of knowledge will soon be causing some positive changes in my current works-in-progress.

Over the next few months a lot of what the speakers and teachers had to say will filter through my mind and into this blog, but first I need meditate on it until I know what their insights mean to me on a practical level.

Better You Go Home Scott DriscollI attended two seminars offered by Scott Driscoll, who cuts right to the chase and explains his ideas clearly. One was on understanding your characters’ values and how the evolution of those core values fundamentally drives the story, and the other was on the inciting incident. Those two seminars dovetailed beautifully, and I had my first “I know what I need to do” moment after leaving the one on identifying and understanding the values (or ethics) your characters hold dear. If you ever get a chance to go to a seminar offered by him, I would recommend you do it.

Another speaker whose seminar really motivated me was offered by Bill Carty, on the intersection of ‘poetry and the everyday’ as a means for generating our own poems. (Yes, I have a dark side–I write poetry when no one is watching.)

I listened to my good friend, Janet Oakleyspeaking on a panel about bringing the past to life, when writing historical fiction. That too had an “ah hah!” moment.

Bharti Kirchner gave a seminar on the five essential elements of a short story, and she is an intriguing speaker. As you know, I am a strong proponent of writing short stories as exercise, to develop your writing chops, and I came away from that class knowing how to organize my thoughts so that a short story will remain short, and not accidentally turn into a novella or an epic trilogy.

Doublesight--Terry PersunI wanted to attend the seminar on using language with intention that was offered by Terry Persun and his daughter, Nicole Persun, but I had a conflict and had to choose which class served a more immediate need, so I was unable to attend it. But all is not lost–I will be purchasing the download of that seminar. I had several wonderful conversations with Terry and he will be writing a guest post for this blog, perhaps on that subject.

Instead of that, I attended a class offered by Lindsay Schopfer on identifying the sub-genres of science fiction and fantasy so that when a book is published you can best identify your intended target audience. This is absolutely critical because when you go to publish, your publishing platform will always ask you what your “BISAC code” is. BISAC is an acronym for Book Industry Subject and Category subject headings, which are a mainstay in the industry and required for participation in many databases.

The Beast Hunter, Lindsay SchopferKnowing if you are writing Epic Fantasy or High Fantasy is critical when it comes to marketing your book to the proper audience, as die-hard readers of each sub-genre have strong feelings about what constitutes their favorite genre. Thus, there are certain tropes readers of those genres will expect, so proper labeling is critical if want your target audience to read your book.

Being able to immerse myself in learning the craft is absolutely wonderful, and I look forward to this conference every year. This year William Kenower  offered the final seminar of the event. Bill is an intriguing, energetic speaker who gets his listeners involved in what he teaching. His seminar on reconnecting with your confidence was quite appropriate for me, as I sometimes  listen to my inner critic and forget the joy I have in writing.

my sisters grave robert dugoniOther people spoke, Andre Dubus III and Robert Dugoni-two men with vastly different experiences and different styles of writing, and yet both had something to say that moved me in one way or another.  J.A. Jance, Nancy Kress , Elizabeth Boyle and Kevin O’Brien were on a panel that was fun to listen to.

If you are serious about writing, I highly recommend that you seek out and attend writing conferences. A great deal of good information can be found on the internet, but there is something about the networking and actually talking shop with the other authors that fires creativity and keeps the creativity flowing through the veins.

I suggest that you actively google writers’ conferences in your area, and see if you can find one that is affordable and offers sessions by respected authors in a wide variety of genres, and who are welcoming to authors who intend to go indie as well as those who hope to be traditionally published. It will be money well-spent.

An intriguing thing happened at this conference during the book signing event. A highly respected agent (who shall remain unnamed) stopped by my table and looked over my books. He picked up Tower of Bones, and leafed through it, checking out the cover and the graphics, and also the maps. Pausing, he asked if I was indie published, and I explained I was, through a publishing group, Myrddin Publishing. He then paid me the highest compliment ever–my books were “highly professional.”

That interaction proves how important it is to put your best work out there. When you do that, you can be proud to play on that not-so-level playing field.

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Gearing up for #PNWA2015

House of Sand and Fog Andre Dubus III

I love conventions. Especially writer’s conventions, where the craft of writing is the central theme, so that is why I look forward to the PNWA convention every year. Two weeks from now, that is where I will be, along with fellow Myrddin Publishing Group editor and bff, Irene Roth Luvaul.

It is horribly expensive, but for me, it is so worth it.

This year, Andre Dubus III will be the keynote speaker. While I frequently read literary fiction, I have to say I didn’t really enjoy his book, House of Sand and Fog, although it was excellently crafted. I found it exceedingly depressing, as I did most books touted by Oprah’s Book Club, which I generally don’t find to be much of a recommendation any more. Oprah is a wonderful lady, but her tastes in literature are far different than mine.

Let’s face it–I’m an escape-reader. I read to get away from the misery of the world, so while the story is thought-provoking, and worthy of every honor it has received, I didn’t enjoy it. I prefer happy endings.

But that doesn’t really matter–I want to hear what he has to say. I don’t care for George R.R. Martin‘s work either. But I love to hear George speak, and so I am looking forward to hearing what Andre Dubus III has to say.

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL AUTHORSMy hubby took a vacation-day yesterday, giving himself a 4 day weekend to help me take my books 75 miles north to Bellevue. 3 hours each direction, inching along I-5 and I-405 in 90 degree heat–what fun!

This was so they can  be included in the PNWA July 16-19 convention’s Friday Autograph Party event. I’m pretty excited about that. My good friend, Lindsay Schopfer will also be signing books, as will 58 other authors.

I’ll be showcasing the World of Neveyah series, and Huw the Bard, so 4 books for the signing event. But all my books will be there.

Every attendee will receive an Ebook copy of Tales from the Dreamtime courtesy of Smashwords. I so wish I could give them each a copy of the audio book–Craig Allen’s narration is simply amazing.

I really enjoy the PNWA conference. A lot of people who are going the traditional route use it to pitch to agents and editors, but that doesn’t interest me. I am happy as an indie and have no plans to court a large publisher.

What I am interested in are the seminars on the craft of writing. Every year I come away from this event feeling completely inspired, and ready to write.

Friday morning Irene and I will attend the annual meeting. I do have some concerns which I have made a list of, and wish I lived closer to Seattle to be more of a volunteer. Living 75 miles away limits what I can do to help out, but I could do some virtual assisting, if there is an option for that.

Also, I will be attending seminars given by Scott Driscoll, Robert Dugoni, and Lindsay Schopfer.

creamy_wild_rice_and_mushroom_soup_recipe

creamy wild rice and mushroom soup w/coconut milk

All in all, I think it will be a fun event, and am planning my food ahead for it, as the vegan can never count on the kindness of strangers when it comes to food. The wise vegan author travels well-prepared to stay in a room with no microwave, in a hotel that is less than understanding about what constitutes a vegan meal.

I can honestly say I am NOT looking forward to the dinners, but will be well-able to provide for myself, and who needs food anyway–were gonna be talking books!

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Conventions: Hawking your books vs attending the convention

Lee French at Norwescon 2015 in NIWA Booth

Lee French at Norwescon 2015 in NIWA Booth

Going Indie means going it alone, and doing it the hard way. However–there are now small bands of indies coming together to help each other, and in the process, help themselves.

One such organization is Northwest Independent Writers Association, an organization of indie and small-press authors based in Western Oregon and Western Washington. We seem to be situated along the I-5 corridor from south of the Portland area north through the Seattle area.

This last week I attended Norwescon, carpooling the first day with fellow Myrddin Publishing Group author, Lee French. She is an awesome person, as well as a wonderful, creative author.

My book, Huw the Bard, was in the rack at the NIWA table, and I met some of the most wonderful people: Angela Korra’ti, Madison Keller, Jake Elliot, and Luna Lindsey were all there, manning the table and helping each person who stopped to find a book that fit them, regardless of if it was their own book or not–we were selling each others’ books as well as our own.

I ran into my good friend, fellow NIWA  member, Thomas Gondolfi , who was working his own booth.

Saturday night, Lee, Jake, Angela and I had dinner with fellow NIWA member, steampunk author, Jeffrey Cook.

Huw the Bard at NorwesconMy feet are killing me–today, I am not sure I will do it again, but I am glad I did this time.  My view will likely change as I begin to feel rested again.

Huw the Bard was not a good fit for that venue–they were more into fairies and steampunk, which Huw is obviously not. However, I think he would do well at a ren-fair, as the people who were interested in him were all ren-fair people.  Most likely my best books for a gaming venue will be my World of Neveyah series, as it is RPG game-based, and gaming of all varieties is what Norwescon is all about.

Standing in the booth for most of 4 days did me in, I do confess.  I also was somewhat of a 5th wheel, in that the booth was too small for the number of authors who were there and willing to contribute their time and energy to the project. There was only room for 1 chair, and so we stood. I felt a bit unnecessary, at times, which is not a good way to feel, but they very kindly tolerated me.

Angela Korra’ti has a knack for selling her books, and I tried to learn as much as I could from her. Jake Elliot and Lee French seemed to know what they were doing too–there is definitely a learning curve to pitching your book live and in person.

norwesconBeing an indie author, or being published by a small press means you are on your own as far as getting the word out about your books.  This means if you want your books seen at a convention, you have to pay for the table, buy your stock, and get the word out, because no one else will.

It also means you must spend the convention in the dealers’ room at your booth, pitching your product to strangers, rather than taking in the panels and hearing speakers like George R. R.  Martin. But I did see him in the lobby while I was getting coffee, and I saw many, many people who really love his work, far more than I do–and they stood for hours to get to see him.

I would have loved to hear George speak, but I had books of my own to hawk. I never thought I would live long enough to be able to say that.

This is where you discover that going indie means honing an elevator pitch that will sell your book in thirty seconds. That will be my next trick.

cashbox 3This is also where you discover that the Sparco cash-box you bought, and  that was not cheap, is nearly impossible to unlock, but it makes an awesome weapon if you are ever mugged on the way back to your hotel. Which I wasn’t, but I’m an author, and that’s how I think.

It’s also where you discover that your target audience was not at that convention.

Most importantly, this is where you realize that your poor old feet are  just not up to you spending 10 hours a day standing on them.

I understand there is some controversy regarding the Hugo award nominations–but I didn’t hear them announced, as I was trying to sell books. I suppose a shakeup is inevitable, and I will have to do some reading to find out for myself what the problem is, in the eyes of the reading world.  That will be interesting–accusations of blocks of special interest groups gaming the outcome and such intrigue me, and I will definitely want to get to the bottom of that!

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Norwescon 2015

NorWesCon 2015 - 1This weekend I am at Norwescon in Seattle, Washington, along with fellow Myrddin Publishing Group author, Lee French. This is where I get to do both the work and the fun stuff that goes along with being an author–AND Huw the Bard will be offered on the NIWA table!  How cool is that?

Norwescon is a gamer-scifi-fantasy addict’s paradise.  The guests of honor are George R. R. Martin (Author), Julie Dillon (Artist), Amy Mainzer (Science), and Random House (Spotlight Publisher) represented by Anne Groell and Tricia Narwani.

Plus, there will be a large number number of seminars and special events: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night each feature a DJ’d dance in the grand ballrooms, and Lazer Tag and many other games. Friday features an 18-and-over special event. And, don’t forget the Masquerade, complete with Children’s Masquerade. Holy cosplay!

Michael Tinker Pearce came by our booth on Thursday,  and I have to say I loved his work, Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman. I really enjoyed meeting him–he’s a charming man.

000510Of course, food is tricky–the vegan must provide for herself while on the road. One can only hope that the room she ordered at her hotel that is within walking distance of the event will have the kitchenette as she had requested. Otherwise she will be downstairs at the breakfast area using the microwave at all hours.

Feeding myself at these events is always a challenge, even at conventions where they claim to provide for “special” dietary needs.  How hard is it to bake a damned potato and garnish it with a little guacamole, and some veggies sauteed in olive oil?  Apparently impossible, as proven by my annual PNWA conference dietary fiasco at the Hilton. I look forward to seeing how they manage to screw up “special” needs every year. Last year I was literally the last person to be served at the banquet, and the food arrived cold and inedible–and my table mates had long since finished theirs when mine was delivered.

Being glared at by the servers for wistfully hoping to eventually see a plate of food was also to be expected–after all, “special dietary needs” are a selfish fad designed to draw attention to ones self, don’t you know.

But Norwescon will be different. It’s far less expensive to attend, less than 1/5 the cost of PNWA (indies pay their own way, you know) and they proved snacks but you aren’t tied to their menu.

The difference is this: PNWA is a writer-focused event with seminars, agent, and editors attending and presenting seminars. I’ve found the writers who give the seminars there to be really entertaining and THAT is why I attend. It is an awesome, inspiring conference that recharges me.

Julie Dillon will be speaking at Norwescon, and as a wannabe artist myself, I’m quite intrigued by her work. The covers art she does for mainstream fantasy authors is just as high a quality as that of the legendary Michael Whelan.

George R. R. Martin photoSo I get to hang out in the dealers area with my friends from NIWA, buy a new T shirt or two designed by some crazy-gifted people, and I will get to hear George R.R. Martin speak on Sunday morning. Don’t love his work, but I adore him as a man and as a speaker.

If I am really crafty, I can get my pristine, barely-been-read first edition of A Game of Thrones signed during one of George’s 3 scheduled signing events–wowsers.

During the hippie era, of which I was a late entry to, most hippies did not refer to themselves as hippies as that was really term used when our parents were complaining about us. Mostly we referred to ourselves as freaks, since the mainstream society considered our willful desire for world peace to be aberrant. But out of that culture grew some of the best scifi and fantasy authors and artists of all time.

And so I say, it’s good to be a freak in a land where freaks really know how to freak! Norwescon will be an adventure for sure!

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Hyphens, style guides, and writing conventions

adult-footie-pjsYou need a good style guide. No, I am not suggesting that you need help with your wardrobe–those footie pajamas are awesome, and are the perfect uniform for the dedicated author. What I am suggesting is that you develop consistency in your writing, and there are guides to help you with that.

English is a completely wonky language, even for those of us who grow up speaking some form of it. My dialect is that of the western United States, specifically the Pacific Northwest, near the Canadian border. As in every other part of the world, we speak informally in our homes and with friends, but in writing, we should conform to certain standardized rules, or those who speak OTHER versions of English will not be able to follow us, despite the many similarities in our dialects.

Kathleen Cali, in an article at Learn NC, says: “Conventions are the surface features of writing — mechanics, usage, and sentence formation. Conventions are a courtesy to the reader, making writing easier to read by putting it in a form that the reader expects and is comfortable with.”

Since I am a US citizen, I use American writing conventions. In the United States, many non-journalistic professional writers use The Chicago Manual of Style, and this is the manual I use.

elements of styleA classic style guide for new authors and the general public is Strunk and White’The Elements of Style. This is a popular reference among writers just beginning in the craft. I sometimes use this guide, but as I have advanced as an editor, I find myself referring to the more in-depth Chicago Manual of Style. However, either one is excellent for the US author, and for any Europeans editing for a US author in this era of the internet and the global market for editing services.

Any author or editor who tries to tell you that one particular style guide is “the only” style guide is simply voicing an opinion, and if they are obnoxious and defensive about it, ignore them. Each style guide is an excellent reference tool, and each one plays to different requirements. But all of them are for the benefit of the reader.

chicago manual of styleThe Chicago Manual of Style is one of the oldest and most comprehensive style guides available, and for me in my role as an editor, it’s an indispensable tool because it contains information that I can’t find anywhere else. While I could easily access it all via the online version, I do like having my large book at my fingertips.

As a writer I rely on a style guide because  it often feels  like every rule has an exception, and knowing what those are makes huge difference in a manuscript’s consistency and readability.

For example, sometimes we don’t know if we should hyphenate or not. Or, we are unsure when to capitalize a direction or an honorific. When this occurs, our work becomes uneven and hard to read, because it’s rife with  inconsistency, hyphenating words in one place but not another. This happens because not every set of words needs to be hyphenated, and how do you know which to decorate with that dear little dash?

There are answers to these questions, in the handy-dandy style guides we have available to us.

So how DO we employ those little morsels of madness that work their way into every corner of my manuscripts? I love them!

Unfortunately, hyphens are not toys. As I discovered when creating my world of Neveyah for the Tower of Bones series, they are the gate-way drug to writer’s hell. Take my advice and do not use a hyphen unless it serves a purpose. If a compound adjective cannot be misread or its meaning is established, a hyphen is not necessary.

  • An English-speaking country
  • A time-saving device
  • A thirty-floor building
Some compounds are created on the spot to fulfill a specific need (on-the-spot creations). Permanent compounds start out as improvised compounds, but become so widely accepted that they are included in the dictionary as permanent compounds. Examples of temporary compounds that have made the transition to permanent compounds are words like  know-it-all, heart-stopping, free-for-all, and down-at-the-heels.
shark memeContext determines whether or not to hyphenate.  Ask yourself, “How will the words be interpreted by the reader if I don’t hyphenate?” Wikipedia offers the following examples:
  • Man-eating shark (as opposed to man eating shark, which could be interpreted as a man eating the meat of a shark)
  • Wild-goose chase (as opposed to wild goose chase, which could be interpreted as a goose chase that is wild)
  • Long-term contract (as opposed to long term contract, which could be interpreted as a long contract about a term)
  • Zero-liability protection (as opposed to zero liability protection, which could be interpreted as there being no liability protection).

And finally, especially if you are writing in a fantasy genre, as you are writing your tale down and creating your world, also make a style sheet that pertains to your manuscript noting what words must be capitalized and what the proper spellings for invented places are.

Refer back to it frequently, updating it as needed. I learned this the hard way. Whether it is handwritten or a WORD document, a simple directory of compound words and phrases that are unique to the world you have created will be as invaluable to you as your copy of The Elements of Style.

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Dazed and confused

my sisters grave robert dugoniI am a a bit dazed and confused right now. I have been intensely preparing to give a seminar on writing dialogue at conference next weekend, but now the convention has been cancelled. Apparently not enough people pre registered. And I was all prepped to hear an announcement from Robert Dugoni!  Now I won’t know what it is until he tweets it. And his book, My Sister’s Grave was just named one of the top five thrillers of 2014.  I love it when an Indie goes viral!

But on the positive side, I am now free to focus on editing for clients, prepping for NaNoWriMo 2014 and several other things that demand my attention. Also, I don’t have to hope and pray I can find a vegan-friendly restaurant near the hotel (which I also cancelled.)

I had planned to talk about talking–at least about how your characters might talk, if they were talking to you in real life.

So how do we convey a sense of naturalness and avoid the pitfalls of the dreaded info dump and stilted dialogue? First, we must consider how the conversation fits into the arc of the scene.

It begins, rises to a peak, and ebbs, an integral part of the scene, propelling the story forward to the next scene. A good conversation is about something and builds toward something. J.R.R. Tolkien said dialogue has a premise or premises and moves toward a conclusion of some sort. If nothing comes of it, the dialogue is a waste of the reader’s time.

First we must identify what must be conveyed in our conversation.

  1. Who needs to know what?
  2. Why must they know it?
  3. And how many paragraphs do you intend to devote to it?

My rule of thumb is, keep the conversations short and intersperse them with scenes of actions that advance the plot. Walls of conversation don’t keep the action moving and will lose readers, so make the conversations important—and intriguing.

Author James Scott Bell says dialogue has five functions:

  1. To reveal story information
  2. To reveal character
  3. To set the tone
  4. To set the scene
  5. To reveal theme

So now that we know what must be conveyed and why, we arrive in the minefield of the manuscript. That will be the subject of my next blogpost.

The Arc of the Conversation

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Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2014

nano_14_ml_badge_300pxNational Novel Writing Month begins in just 15 days. I am the Olympia Washington municipal liaison, but this year I will not be able to attend the first two days of write-ins in my region, as I will be at Northwest Bookfest, a conference at Northwest University,  both as an attendee and as a presenter. On Sunday November 2, I will be talking about writing natural dialogue. As you know, I love to talk about the craft of writing, and can talk until the cows come home, to use a tired cliché.

However, I will be working at my word count through the evening in my hotel room–and cheering my fellow WriMos on with virtual write-ins. Beginning Monday the 3rd of November, my life will revolve around writing the rough draft of my novel, helping my friends get their rough draft written, and encouraging the young (and not so young) writers of our community to explore their storytelling abilities.

Patrick Rothfuss said in his pep talk last year, “Thou shalt not just think about writing. Seriously. That is not writing. The worst unpublished novel of all-time is better than the brilliant idea you have in your head. Why? Because the worst novel ever is written down. That means it’s a book, while your idea is just an idle fancy. My dog used to dream about chasing rabbits; she didn’t write a novel about chasing rabbits. There is a difference.”

Oly Nanos icon for fb 2That completely describes what NaNoWriMo is all about–getting that novel out of your head and on to paper. If you don’t write it, you will never see what a wonderful idea it really was–and even if it doesn’t go as well as you planned, who cares? This is about the journey, more than it is about the destination.

It will be a month of dirty dishes, dirty house, piled up laundry…oh wait, that’s normal for around here. But anyway, I will do nothing but attend as many write ins here in the local area as I can and find as many ways to encourage secret authors to get that book out of their head and on to paper as is humanly possible.

I can hardly wait to get started!

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