Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On the Road Again: Find me at ConCarolinas!

It's convention time! I'm heading out to ConCarolinas this weekend. ConCarolinas is a multi-genre multi-media convention held in Charlotte, North Carolina since 2003 or so, and pulling together a little more than 1300 area geeks and creatives to talk, play, and laugh together for a weekend.

I'm going as an author guest this year for the first time. It's been a big year for me in that way. I added Mysticon, Ravencon, and ConCarolinas to my plate. I really enjoy participating in conventions. It's a chance to connect with readers and other authors and just to indulge all my geekiest loves for a few days.

So, if you're in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, come and talk menopausal superheroes and other geeky joys with me. Or if you just want to see the fun you're missing, here's what I'll be up to. You can find my schedule and those of others guests here.

Friday 2 June @ 3:00 Writers Groups: Pros
and Cons:
Some writers swear by their writing group, some just swear. What should you look for in a writing group, and should you look for one at all?

I'll be moderating this panel discussion with Val Griswold-Ford, Chris A. Jackson, Darin Kennedy, and Margaret S. McGraw.

Friday 2 June @ 4:00 The Dreaded
Almost as bad as the query letter is the synopsis. Our authors will go through the process they follow when writing a synopsis, including differences in techniques used when writing the synopsis before the manuscript versus after the manuscript.
I'll be participating in this panel discussion with moderator Rick Gualtieri, Quincy J. Allen, David B. Coe, Jason T. Graves, and Gray Rinehart.

Friday 2 June @ 7:00 Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading: Join our authors from the Broad universe as they read from their latest works.

Broad Universe is an international, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting, encouraging, honoring, and celebrating women writers and editors in science fiction, fantasy, horror and other speculative genres. A Rapid Fire Reading is an event where you can hear several members of this organization read from their latest releases. It's a great way to get to hear from several writers in a short amount of time and find you next read! I'll be there, along with moderator Gail Z. Martin, Alexandra Christian, Melissa McArthur Gilbert, Nickie Jamison, Emily Lavin Leverett, and Margaret S. McGraw.

Saturday 3 June @ 9:00 a.m. When Does it End?: Are you writing a stand-alone, a trilogy or a multibook epic? How do you know how long your series should run?

I'll be participating in this panel discussion with moderator Joseph Brassey, AJ Hartley, Drew Hayes, Dave Schroeder, and Tiffany Trent

Saturday 3 June @ 7:00 p.m. Sexual Identity in Speculative Fiction: Have we finally reached an era when the protagontist's sexual identity has no affect on the book's readability? Or do queer characters still run the risk of marginalizing the book into a "niche" shelf?

I'll be participating in this panel discussion with moderator J.D. BlackroseQuincy J. Allen, Alexandra DuncanRick Gualtieri, and Margaret S. McGraw

Sunday 4 June @ 12:00 p.m. What Good is the Library?: With books being cheap and easily ordered online, what does that mean for libraries? Do they still have importance to today's writers and readers, or are they big brick dinosaurs?

I'll be participating in this panel discussion with moderator Gail Z. MartinAlexandra DuncanMelissa McArthur Gilbert, and Drew Meyer. 

Sunday 4 June @ 1:30 p.m. Board Games!: What
are some of the newest board/card games you should be playing?

I'll be participating in this panel discussion with moderator Jim Ryan, Jodi Black, Christopher DeLisle, Mikki Marvel,  and Puvithel

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Being the Judge

I've had the opportunity to serve as a judge in a few different kinds of contests in the past few months. I provided feedback and voted for writers to move to the next level in a pitch contest (#SonofaPitch), a contest I've now worked with twice. I read and ranked stories by young writers for a brand new fiction contest (Lune Spark). Next, I'm returning to judge a second year for the Women's Fiction Writers Association Rising Star contest for unpublished novels. 

None of these roles came with a gavel or a cool black robe with a lace collar, but they did come with the opportunity to re-connect with my passion for writing.

You see, writing is work. Hard work. Especially if you want to make a career of it. You've got to produce a lot of words, good ones, and find publishing homes for those. You have to get out there and
shake your tailfeathers trying to get people to notice, buy, and praise your work. In the midst of all that nose to the grindstone, a girl can forget that the reason we do this is because it's fun, because we are passionate about words and story. 

It's a joy to spend time with writers who are fresh to the passion. They can reignite your own fire. 

It's also good for your own word-smithing. 

I've been participating in and facilitating a writers critique group for some years now, and I value the giving of advice and feedback as highly as receiving it. Serving as a judge or critic can really help you learn to articulate what is and isn't working in a piece.

As a casual reader, I might just say, "I like this" or "I don't like this." But as a writer-who-reads, I want to understand why a story is or isn't working for me, whether or not I'll be providing feedback
for the author in question. What's pulling me out of the immersive experience of reading? Is it something I'm bringing to the experience, like exhaustion, distraction, preconceptions, or biases? Or is it something in the piece itself, like poor structure, clunky dialogue, or undeveloped characters? Is it something I can imitate or avoid in my own writing?

Doing this as a judge is the same, but amplified. The pace is more intense, and I have no relationship with the entrants, who are all strangers to me: no history to pull from or basis for trust. Yet I still need to articulate the flaws in their work in a respectful and supportive manner that helps them take their work to the next level. It's a special challenge to do this very quickly, over the space of only a few days. The turnaround time can be quick in a contest setting.

Serving as a judge really helps me look at my own craft in a new light. Participating in events like the
award-giving and talking with the other judges challenges me to define my terms and articulate my views clearly. It's an experience I recommend for any writer looking to take her game to the next level.

Besides, it's always good to spend time with other people living the life of words. They speak your language.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

May Should be Optional

May is not my favorite month. This might be a side effect of my day job (teaching middle school), but this month is always a struggle. I'm tired, overwhelmed, and fighting apathy (my own as well as my students').

In fact, I usually feel like my tail's on fire and the radio's broken, so I'm just screaming out the window: Mayday! Mayday! 

It's called May, right? May which means that are allowed to do something, but don't have to. As in "you may proceed" or "you may discard two cards." Or it has to do with permission: "come what may" or "mother may I?"

Try as I may, I can't summon a devil-may-care attitude about this. So, I declare the the entire month should be optional. What do you say? May I be excused?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

How to Be a Fabulous Panelist

As I move deeper into my writing life, I'm getting invitations to do a variety of things. It's proving to be almost as much fun as writing itself is! 

My favorite is probably participating in discussion panels. I get to indulge my vanity by acting as an expert on a topic, as well as the more altruistic side of me that wants to help others move towards their dreams AND I get to connect with other people with similar interests. 

Since I started doing this (at conventions, libraries, and literary events), I've participated in discussions about writing craft (dialogue, action, characterization, etc.), writing tools (software, storyboarding, editing programs), marketing (social media, blogging, sales), paths to publishing, time management, superheroes, concepts like honor, the importance of diversity, and so much more. 

So, if life hands you the opportunity to be on a panel, here are a few pieces of advice about how to make the most of it: 

1. A little research helps. If you know ahead of time who you are sharing panel conversation with and what the topic is, spend a little time looking into who the other people are and considering questions and topics you might raise if the conversation needs a nudge. This can also really assist you if you're introverted or don't consider yourself as good as thinking on your feet as others. You don't want to go too far and write a speech, but a few notes can be a nice support and keep long lulls from happening. 

2. Be generous. Talk kindly of anyone you mention (if you can't talk kindly about something/someone . . .maybe don't mention it at all). Give the other panelists an "in" to the conversation by throwing them a bone from time to time. If you notice someone is quiet, try to bring them in (even if you're not the moderator) by riffing off of something they said or using what you learned about them in your research. We all benefit if the conversation flows well and stays interesting for the audience. 

3. Be aware. Pay attention to the social cues your audience and fellow panelists are giving you. Are you talking too much? Interrupting or over-talking? Stay focused and "in the moment" giving your companions the courtesy of your full attention. Listen to the other panelists rather than just waiting for your turn to talk. 

4. Take care of you. Self care is especially important when you're going to be in
the public eye. I learned the hard way about accepting too many panels at a convention, then having to struggle to keep myself wakeful and positive by the last one of the day. Plan ahead by bringing layers you can add or remove for temperature comfort. Lip balm, water, and portable snacks like protein bars can be a lifesaver. Allow yourself enough time between events to rest your voice and your mind (especially important if you're more introverted). 

5. Show gratitude. Thank your panelists, audience, and organizers both on the spot and afterwards. Give some social media love by sharing pictures and tagging the other participants. Even if there are only a few audience members, you never know what ripples you've created that will feed your career and networks. Be gracious, and present yourself well even if you feel disappointed. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

#IWSG: Moving Targets are Hard to Hit!

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so time to talk about our insecurities . . .

So, what am I insecure about this month? It's really the same thing that I'm insecure about every month: getting it all done!

I see other writers out there who have multiple releases every year, and I wonder why I can't work that fast. Some of these other writers are full-timers with no day jobs, but not all of them . . .which leads me to wonder what I'm doing wrong that I've only been able to manage one book and a couple of anthology stories a year.

On the one hand, I'm proud of myself for managing that much. After all, I have a demanding day job and a family. That doesn't leave much time for slacking, and I definitely work hard to hold onto my dream of "being a writer."

What I've noticed though is that my definition of "being a writer" keeps shifting into something I'm not quite doing yet. At first, it was being published. Then, it was having a novel published. Then it was being accepted as an author guest at a con. Then, winning an award. Now, I'm aiming at being the special guest at a convention and selling enough books each month to pay my mortgage.

As I hit each milestone, I just changed the definition of "being a writer" into something I haven't yet done. I'm mean to me that way.

I keep moving the target, which keeps me feeling like I never get there.

I guess there's a good side to that, in that it keeps me striving forward, aiming higher and holding myself to a high standard.

The bad side is that it can be hard on your confidence when you forget to celebrate your accomplishments along the way.

So, yeah. I am my own worst enemy . . .and my own best friend. Does that make me my own frenemy?

If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.

This month the group asked: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story? I tend to fall down the research rabbit hole way too often. There's so much cool stuff out there! Some recent favorites: learning about fireproof materials so that my henchwoman Helen Braeburn could create some fireproof clothing for herself; learning about different methods of flight (birds, machines, balloons, etc.) so I could decide what the mechanics of flight are for my flying hero Jessica "Flygirl" Roark; and learning about discrimination and acts of violence against German-Americans during WWI to decide what might be realistic for my characters in a women's historical fiction trilogy I'm working on. Sometimes I think half the fun of writing is the reading you do to support it.