Surviving a Con

Every conference or convention is individual. This means there are different rules and tactics you, as an attendee, can use for success. You also might have different goals than another person attending the same event.

I, for example, am almost always going to a con trying to make connections that will further my writing career. At this early point in my career, mostly I go to conventions in order to meet other writers, literary agents, and publishers. I also hope to meet readers, of course, though I’m still getting my feet under me on the marketing front. Depending on who you are trying to meet, you may undertake different activities or go to different conventions. For example, I regularly attend the World Fantasy Convention, which this year will be held in Columbus, Ohio. WFC is predominantly an industry convention, so most of the attendees are writers, agents, and publishers. The best way to meet the people you want to meet at this convention is often to hang out in the bar or go to panels. However, if the goal is to meet readers and sell books, I would be more likely to head to a fan-oriented convention such as DragonCon. There an author might get a table or be on a panel (as opposed to attending one) in order to attract readers.

Obviously there is some overlap between conventions and the kinds of things you can accomplish at each of them, but its important to be clear about what your best chances are for accomplishing your goals at a given event.

Regardless of which kind of convention you are going to, there are some things I always try to do in order to be prepared and have the best experience.

  1. Pace yourself. I am an introvert who really likes people some days. That means that it’s really easy for me to overextend, especially at big events where a lot of strange people are crammed into a tiny space. Big conventions like DragonCon are essentially tiny cities that pop up overnight inside a series of hotels. You might never see the sun, but you won’t get bored. It’s best to not push yourself too hard and know your limits.
  2. Go with a friend. If you can, try to make sure you know someone at the convention you are going to. It is hard to constantly be wandering around looking to meet new people. But don’t get bogged down in your existing relationships either – you’re there to meet people, after all, so it’s important to put yourself out there occasionally. I sometimes go to conventions with my boyfriend. He gets to tour a strange city while I’m in panels, and sometimes gets invited to the parties with me afterward to help me break the ice as my personal extrovert and conversation starter. Plus it’s nice to have someone to talk about ideas with after the fact, part of that whole INFJ processing method.
  3. Bring a tote. You need a comfortable bag of some kind that you can pack all your stuff in. Stuff you might put in your tote includes: water, for hydration; emergency snacks; a notebook; pens and other writing materials; business cards; promotional materials; and anything you’re trying to sell. So it needs to be a pretty comfortable bag, as it is going to be heavy. At WFC, they also give you a giant bag of free books (squee!) which is awesome, but you are either going to need to find a place to stow that quickly or carry it around all day so that is something to keep in mind when selecting your bag. No one wants two heavy bags, one on each shoulder. Other conventions don’t give out decent bags at all. In either case, be prepared to carry some weight.
  4. Make sure you eat. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I sometimes forget to eat when I am stressed or really engaged in some exciting thing, so make sure that you take the time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You’re going to be going full speed for several days and then probably jumping right back into your work week. Not to mention that if you’re going to be hanging out in the bar drinking, you’re going to need some food to absorb that alcohol. Which leads me to the last thing.
  5. Don’t get drunk. Buzzed is fine. But if you are acting a fool, it’s not going to make you any friends. And alcohol on an empty stomach is a guaranteed way to vomit on someone’s shoes.

Let me know about your convention-survival tips and tricks! And have fun!

 

 

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MystiCon

I attended MystiCon this weekend for the first time!

Technically, it was my second time registering for this event. The first time was last year, but because of school deadlines and such I couldn’t make it that weekend and ended up bowing out to work on papers. This was my first smaller, local fantasy convention, and it was definitely an interesting experience. I didn’t realize there was such a vibrant social group of local authors in my area! If you are one of those people interested in one day becoming a writer, I can’t recommend this kind of con enough. I learned a lot about what other authors of all stripes are doing in the area, especially in helping one another with marketing opportunities. Did you know that since last year, local authors have been coming together for what is called the Roanoke Author Invasion, a giant bookfair/signing event for regional authors of all kinds? I didn’t, but thank goodness I do now.

That was just one of the great things I learned about in the two days that I was able to attend MystiCon. I can’t wait for next year, when I will be applying to attend as an author and get a slot at one of the signing tables.

On the fan side, this year’s MystiCon was pretty big because the guest of honor was none other than George R.R. Martin himself. I am not going to lie, I was totally in line at 9:00 am Saturday morning for his 11:00 am event. He read two chapters of Winds of Winter that I hadn’t seen released elsewhere yet, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There were no pictures allowed, but I sat right on the front row. He talked a lot about the burdens of fame, and how he wished he had become famous when he had more energy and could keep up with the demands of this new phase of his career.

Really, that brings me to what was, for me, the theme of the conference. What I kept hearing over and over was “Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.” This is something that keeps coming up in my life recently. I was inspired to see that most of the writers at this conference were also juggling day jobs, like me, and making that work. They spoke about how a writing career builds itself slowly, and no one is an overnight success. Even authors already living off their work said the same thing. One author, Liz Long, had a panel on marketing for writers, and she emphasized that pretty emphatically by talking about her own career. Liz has six books out, and a seventh on the way, all self-published. She told us that, as a self-published author, one couldn’t expect to make money back on the first or even second book. Any extra income should be reinvested in the next book, if the author did earn out. That was really important information that I wish I had heard when I was a younger author. Too often, it seems, self-publishing is talked up as a silver bullet approach to a writing career, as opposed to an alternate path that has just as many pitfalls as traditional publishing.

In any case, I have a lot to think about and work on in the wake of this conference. I’ll leave you, then, with the only picture I have (I know, that’s a bit of a fail) for you to enjoy. Behold, the Woman-King of Westeros.

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Burnout

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There’s this thing that happens sometimes when you push yourself too hard or aren’t being honest with yourself. It’s called burnout. It may also be called writer’s block. Take your pick.

I prefer the first term, because to my mind this is an overall issue. Writing and writing well is dependent on the balance of your entire life. It doesn’t occur in isolation. You don’t have a separate reservoir of writing energy that remains untapped no matter what other activities you get up to. The opportunity cost inherent in living each and every day remains no matter how much you really want to finish that book. Sometimes especially if you really want to finish that book.

Today, I sat down at my computer and wrote around 150 words. That was it. 150 words towards my end goal of 100,000. Meaning that if I wrote 150 words every day, I’d still have like 600 days of writing left. Which is two years. Two years of writing. It’s less than that because I’m already down to 75,000 word to go, but still. That still is like 1.5 years. I’m supposed to be doing about twice that. Hell, maybe three times that.

To be honest I have been over writing this book since I started. Don’t misunderstand. I want to write the book. But my passion for the world is not quite there. I am not quite in the place I need to be to write this book, mentally, emotionally, what have you. That said, I am WRITING THE DAMN THING. I have the whole damn book outlined and mapped out, I have made it this far, and I am going to freaking GO FOR IT.

Suitably, I have recently received some great advice on the subject.

You may or may not listen to Writing Excuses, a podcast run by Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal, as well as Dan Wells and Howard Tayler. I’m pretty sure these people write full-time. I had a wonderful epoch of my life that lasted about three months or so where I was writing full-time. I finished a whole book in three months. There have also been a few blessed breaks in my time as a college student during which I could crank out half of a manuscript or so. But having a full-time day job is a hard sell for a writer, especially when I use all the same skills in my day job that I do for writing fiction. It often means that, by the time I get home or get to a place where I could write, my brain is as crispy as an overdone piece of toast. This is burnout. This is the place I live right now. The Writing Excuses team did a whole piece on this. It is called Newton’s Laws of Writing. You should totally check it out, but I will sum it up below.

Writing has momentum.

See, I’ve proven this fact with this post! Here I have already written 500 words! Really, though, the theory here is that once you start, it is hard to stop. The greatest threat to the writer is long absences from the page. Even if you only write for 10 minutes, only scrape out a sentence or a paragraph, the thing that keeps you going is to return to the page, again and again.

So, with that said….

…here I go.

Vacation in the Mountains

I spent the past week on vacation in the mountains of North Carolina, soaking in a hot tub, playing in the snow, and generally revitalizing. It was so nice to be away from my day job and able to focus one hundred percent of my effort on enjoying life. Of course, I got some great writing done.

There was a project I stopped working on a few years back that has always been really dear to my heart. I call it the Mermaid Book (that is not the title but it’s as good a name as any) and spending so many days floating weightless in the scalding water under the blowing snow definitely brought it to mind. I can’t say that I have as great a connection to water as I’m sure many other people do, but I’ve always found the ocean fascinating and writing a story set at least partially in its depths is something that I still want to do. So while I did write a lot this week, not all of my word count went towards the WIP. I spent a lot of time sketching out a new novel idea, one that uses a lot of the elements of the Mermaid Book and re-imagines it into something that I like better. Who knows, it may be my next project!

I also wrote a few scenes for the third book in the Creation Saga, which also doesn’t count towards the DoM text’s word count. Basically I was struck by a lot of inspiration over my days of leisure! It was fun to meander between projects in my downtime and brainstorm new ideas.

Of course, back to the daily grind today, despite the foot of snow we received Friday. Here are some pictures to keep you entertained!

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A New Year

Happy New Year! (Belated, I know.) I’m spending the day getting settled back into work, where things move apace. This weekend, I got edits back from my lovely beta-readers, shot off some fireworks, ate lots of good food, and went on a hike. It was a good way to unwind from the tension of holiday deadlines. Here’s a picture from the mountains!

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Anyway, I also managed to get a little bit of writing done for the first time in two weeks, so I was pretty excited about that. With all the chaos of yuletide, I was pretty distracted on the whole writing end of things. I managed a tentative outline of the current work-in-progress, DoM, around the time of my last blogpost. I’ve written a couple of scenes since, but mostly in notebooks. But around the 20th or so everything got crazy with family in town and explosions of work during the dayjob. It was chaos.

Happily, chaos is over, sort of, and we can go back to the routine now. Which is the point of the post. It’s time to set my goals for the new year.

First, a recap. In 2015, I didn’t accomplish a whole lot in the way of writing goals, mostly because I was busy graduating from graduate school. I did finish Storm and Thorn, a novella project I had been working on whose title may yet change (and which may yet become a single, standalone novel. It is very much a work in progress in that regard, but I’m letting it rest for now). I wrote a few short stories, and spent a good amount of time editing The Zombie Book, another project which is a completed novel that has gone through a couple of rounds of edits at this point. Lastly, I finally started the sequel to Mother of Creation, currently going by DoM since I’m not ready for the title reveal as yet. I’ve managed to write about 24,000 words on that so far since September, averaging me about 1,400 words per week, a little lower than my goal of 2,000 per week. So I have been productive, despite life’s upheavals, if not as productive as I may have hoped.

With that in mind, here are my writing goals for 2016.

  1. Finish the first draft of DoM. I figure that if I can bring my wordcount back up to 2,000/week, it will take me approximately 33 weeks to finish the draft (assuming 100,000 words, give or take a few). That still leaves me on track to finish by August, so August is the goal!
  2. Be more proactive in marketing. I’ve learned a lot about new or better marketing ideas in the past months. This blog, hopefully someday to be a website in truth, actually came about because of my goal to be proactive in marketing, so rolling that into the new year seems a natural decision.
  3. Hire someone to fix this website. This pretty much speaks for itself.
  4. Query The Zombie Book. Still have to incorporate edits, but the goal for this book is potentially to go along a traditional publishing route. Which means we need an agent! Querying will ensue.
  5. Attend a conference or two. I’m already planning on attending the local MystiCon, and I am hopeful that I can also make it to World Fantasy Convention in Columbus this year. We shall see.

There are some other things I hope to accomplish this year, of course, but I think it’s important to keep lists small. In any rate, this gives you an idea of my coming projects. What are your resolutions?

Favorite Books of 2015

Now that we are into December, I wanted to blog about some of my favorite books of 2015. What we read really does affect our ability to write and write well – though sometimes reading can be a distraction from writing. It often is for me. That said, I feel most inspired to write after reading a really wonderful story or a story that had a really good idea but was poorly executed. Those two experiences are a bit opposite, I know. A really good story inspires for the obvious reasons. Faith is restored, and you want to go out and wrangle your newest work into something to compete with that title, with the way it made you feel. I think a lot of writers and readers feel this way, the desire to press forward into newer, more brilliant worlds. It can be done, and you want to be the one to do it next.

The bad stories – I say bad stories, but that’s not quite what I mean – inspire me to do better. There are two kinds of bad stories, to clarify. The first kind is your traditional story that just doesn’t do anything for you. These are few and far between for me, mostly because I’m pretty choosy about what I will crack open these days. I don’t give myself the chance to be exposed. But a few slip through, occasionally, and I find myself yawning or irritated. The book may be good for someone else, but it’s not good for me. That’s a really bad story, one that doesn’t really leave me with anything. I usually close the book and it goes to gather dust somewhere. Like I said, we should assume that most stories I open up are probably not this kind.

Bad story type number two is actually my favorite writing inspiration, because I am the most productive after. This is a story that has some really cool ideas – cool enough that I hang on despite poor execution or other aspects which irritate me. It has something that hooks me, I can see the potential, but it just doesn’t quite stick the landing. Sometimes, it actually crashes and burns utterly. If I really liked that hook, though, I read through it avidly, deconstruct it, and take out the things I like. I spend days afterwards day-dreaming alternate plots and endings, firming up characters or settings. Sometimes, those plots make it into my current Work In Progress. Sometimes they go into a notebook for future novels. To paraphrase Picasso, a good artist steals.

In any case, you wont find any bad stories in this list, either Type I or Type II. The good stories below range from the fun to the deep and dark, but I enjoyed them all immensely. Disclaimer: not all of them came out in 2015 and they are not in any particular order. To that end, here are my top ten!

Ancillary Justice/Ancillary Sword/Ancillary Mercy – Ann Leckie

I list these two books together because I’m pretty sure I read Ancillary Justice this year as well. It was one of my library books so I’m not 100% sure, because I read so much that sometimes it’s hard to keep track. In either case, this is probably one of my favorite series I’ve read in a while in terms of making me think. Ancillary Mercy came out in October and I haven’t gotten to read it yet, but I can’t wait to get around to it. Read this book if you like fascinating futuristic societies that explore issues of equality and redefine gender expectations.

The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin

Jemisin is a rising author right now, adding some much needed diversity to the epic fantasy genre. I am in love with the world of The Fifth Season, for all that it’s a pretty cruel and terrible one. Essun is a fascinatingly complex character, which doesn’t hurt. Read this book if you like totally original fantasy settings, contemplations on slavery and racism, and awesome telekinetic powers.

Dune – Frank Herbert

Yes, this is an oldie, but I hadn’t ever gotten around to reading it before this summer. My partner actually downloaded this book on Audible – notable because he actually doesn’t like SFF that much – and was totally entranced. If you’re looking for an audiobook, this is a great one. The story itself is good, the setting is brilliant, the writing style of course masterful. I was a little sad that our human nature was defined so narrowly in terms of gender constructs, but for the times I feel like Dune was pretty groundbreaking, and it didn’t totally lack for rounded, interesting female characters. Read this if you are trying to brush up on your classics, love strong setting and characterization in your stories, and are looking for a really good audiobook.

Of Sorrow and Such – Angela Slatter

This is actually a novela. And it is amazing. It’s a bit of your typical witch story, in the sense that there are some women born into power who are then hunted or cast out from their society. That’s totally okay, in this case. Slatter’s writing is tight, her characters are fascinating, and her setting is solid. Read this if you like tales of witches, lyrical prose, and morally gray heroines.

Maplecroft – Cherie Priest

This novel is written almost entirely in the form of letters, diary entries, and newspaper clippings. A retelling of the Lizzie Borden story set in the U.S. in the 1800s, the book combines Lovecraftian horror with subtle steampunk science and action. I always enjoy Priest’s work because of the amount of research she obviously puts into building her setting. Read this if you like steampunk, scary sea monsters that may be demonic in nature, or have an interest in U.S. based alternate history.

Karen Memory – Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear is one of my heroes. Her Edda of Burdens, specifically All the Windwracked Stars, is one of my favorite books. Karen Memory is a total change in pace from that book, though, and from her well-known Eternal Sky Trilogy. If you are looking for those things, look to her other works. This book is a rollicking steampunk adventure that has all of the best elements of the genre. It also offers a refreshing representation of women who do sex work/did sex work in the time period. Read this if you like steampunk, diverse characters of all stripes, and unlikely heroes. Also, there is a giant robotic kraken.

Tales of the Raksura, Volumes I & II

I had to include these books, but since they are part of a series they go together as one item. This is cheating a little bit, but eh, you’ll survive. The Raksura books contain one of my all-time favorite characters, Moon, an orphaned shape-shifter who turns into an awesome flying lizard-dude. Moon is the best. That is all I can say. These two short story collections include some extra scenes in his life both pre- and post-series. Read this is you like Raksura, Martha Wells, original worlds full of strange creatures, and gender-bending.

Silence – Michelle Sagara

I’ve read a lot of Michelle Sagara’s work, as Michelle West and Michelle Sagara West. I’m really looking forward to Cast in Honor when I get around to reading it. She has an interesting, very intuitive take on her magic systems, and her characters are always powerful and compassionate. In fact, their power comes from their compassion. Reading them is a healing experience, which may seem strange to say but is the best I can describe it, and I cry during almost every book. Silence was no exception. Read this if you love people, intriguing theories on the afterlife, and spoiled rottweilers.

Seanan McGuire’s October Daye Series and InCryptid Series

If I was cheating before I’m definitely cheating now. Including the October Daye series in here, since I started it years ago, is maybe not fair. However, I have read the last seven of them within the past few months after a long hiatus. This series started off slow for me, but once I hit the third book I was off running. And when I finished up to the current release of Red Rose Chain I couldn’t deal with the lack of new books, so I went looking around at Seanan’s other work and found Discount Armageddon, which is an absolutely delightful, fast-paced urban fantasy with strong romance themes. Read Seanan’s books if you like things that go bump in the night, Shakespeare, and women who kick ass.

Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels Series

Last but not least, I discovered this series and consumed it this year. I call my Kindle the Devourer of Books. The name is not wrong. I knocked the entire Kate Daniels series out this summer in a matter of weeks. One of my favorite things about these books besides the unique post-apocalyptic overtones is the fact that the antagonist of the series is such an interesting lady. Kate took me a little to get used to, but her tension with her biological father and the hostility of her environment kept me engaged. I wouldn’t say the writing of this series is as strong as some of the other books on here, but the imagination and fast-paced action totally pull me in. Plus who doesn’t like a girl with a sword? Read this if you like fascinating apocalypses, mythological gods and beasts, and lots of slicing and dicing.

Writing a sequel

Some of you may know that I began writing the sequel to Mother of Creation in August. If you follow my Twitter, you know that I am a little over 20,000 words in and that, between my full-time job, the things in life that keep me sane like friends and family and reading, and all the other obligations of adulthood, I have been making somewhat halting progress. My word count will lunge forward one week, and then plod the next two. This is, I’m sure, normal.

(At least, I tell myself it is normal. If it isn’t then there isn’t much I can do about it, in any case.)

Writing the sequel has been an interesting challenge for a lot of reasons. I wrote Mother of Creation four years ago. While I have certainly continued editing and working through the text since then, I have changed as a person since I wrote the first book. My relationship with the characters has also changed. That said, I have a pretty clear idea of the overall plot of the Creation Saga. The devil is, as they say, in the details. Getting from point A to point B is a bit like driving down a mountain road drunk. You know where you’re going and how to get there, but you’re not sure how much control you have over the vehicle, and you might wreck and die. Also, the brakes are failing.

When writing the first book, I didn’t have these panicky feelings of “oh I’m going to fuck this up.” Part of that is because it’s hard to hit my stride with this book. And that is because, over the course of the four years that I have been working my way back around to the Creation Saga, I have written several very vivid scenes from all over the timeline for this second installment. Like I said, my views on the characters and their responses have changed a little bit in the interim, and whenever I hit one of these scenes I have to stop, backtrack, and figure out a few things. Does the scene still fit? Usually, this is a yes, but it might need some heavy chopping or a change in POV or some tweaking in language to make it to conform to previous chapters I’ve written more recently.

I know this challenge is making me a better writer. I’m certainly not worried about finishing this book, and I’m confident it will be a great one. But in the interim, writing this is a little more like pulling teeth than usual.

But hey, I’m like a fifth of the way through.