Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why I Love Readings

I love going to readings. There's something magical about the atmosphere--just being in the room with all those people who also love books. I don't even have to know or love the book or the author to feel fed by that air. The way rock stars feed off the energy of a hyped-up crowd, I am energized by talking about books. 

When I was a college student, I attended every possible literary event within a two hour radius, for all four years. I heard some great readings. I heard Allen Ginsberg at Berea College, in a packed room, with a good friend who was a rabid fan. I heard Rita Mae Brown, Stephen Dobyns, CK Williams, and Mark Strand. (I was a poetry nerd). I heard all my own college's people, too: the student showcases, the faculty book parties. George Eklund and Michelle Boisseau were the poetry professors at Morehead then, and they were amazing. 

My friends and I would stay up late talking about the books we loved and the books we would write. We were just Kentucky kids at a state college, but we loved books and dreamed of bookish lives, with the intimate glamour afforded by readings in cramped bookstores and university parlors. I never wanted to be a rock star, but I wanted to hold a crowd with the power of my words, like these guys did.

My interest never ebbed, but my free time did. I grew up, got a "real job", had kids, got older and actually needed sleep. So, I don't get to go to as many events as I used to. 

Luckily for me, though, there's a wonderful independent book store the next town over from me. Flyleaf Books of Chapel Hill. Flyleaf brings in a LOT of interesting folks to give readings and talks. They've developed a fantastic space for it, too, with a casual feeling, but good space and a decent sound system that allows you hear well from anywhere in the room. 

Tonight I got to hear Lev Grossman reading from The Magician's Land, the third of his Magicians trilogy, a series of books that plays with a world much like C.S. Lewis's Narnia and, at the same time, a magic school. I've heard Grossman at Flyleaf before. In fact, when I heard him the first time, it got me to buy the second book, even though I'd been ambivalent about the first book. The reading made me see the book in a different light. 

These days, when I go to a reading, I'm looking at it with a different eye. Next year, I'll be giving readings of my own, maybe even at Flyleaf (they do often feature local writers). My readings won't have the numbers I saw tonight for Grossman, of course--this is my first book. No one has heard of me, or already read something else I've written. But still, I'll be at the microphone soon. That's exciting as hell!

I'm a fairly introverted person, but I'm not shy. I teach for a living, so I'm used to working a room and trying to engage a crowd. I hope those skills translate and make me charming like Grossman was tonight. He hit a good balance of self-deprecation and pride, seriousness and silliness. 

Grossman talked about how his book both grew from and diverges from the tropes of the fantasy books he has always loved. For example, he decided consciously not to have a Gandalf or Dumbledore figure, but to leave his characters foundering, forced to figure this magical world out for themselves. 

He talked about his love of fan fiction and of fan fiction's big sister, intertextual works like Wide
Sargasso Sea
and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (two of my favorite works--it was very cool that those were the examples he chose).  He seemed genuinely pleased at the idea that there was fan fiction being written from his book, which, arguably, is a kind of fan fiction for Lewis already. 

I didn't stick around for the signing line afterwards. I got what I wanted from the reading itself: another layer of connection with the writer. If I'd walked up to the table and tried to have a conversation while a line of people behind me waited to do the same, I'd go all shy anyway and fail to make an actual connection. I get the feeling I would like Grossman, if we ever got the chance to talk, though. He's in love with books, too. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

School Starts and Life Stops

I'm a twenty-first century mom. So, I have an array of tools at my fingertips for keeping my family organized, fed, groomed, educated, and entertained. I use them, and use them well (you should SEE my google calendar!), but that doesn't mean that I don't still struggle to keep all the balls I'm juggling in the air. This week in particular, I feel like I can't catch my breath. I had to go from couch to marathon without all those nice little increments on the way up.

There have been some big changes in our family life this year. The oldest started high school--in another city. The youngest took up taekwondo. The hubby had to reorganize his evening commitments. I got a book contract. It's a lot of change all at once, and we're exhausted from the adjustment.

It happens every year. School starts, and for a week or two, the rest of life just stops. I know that we'll balance all this out eventually, but right now, I'm dizzy! Here's to the middle of this week, and making it to the end!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Home from GenCon

I made my third visit to GenCon in Indianapolis last week.

I wasn't born a gamer, though I've always like games. You might say I married into it, just like other women have married into golf or sail-boating or real estate speculation, or other hobbies they never used to do when they were single. It was my husband who first introduced to me to the wider world of gaming, through GenCon 2006, the year we married. I played in the Dreamblade tourney and joined the world of gaming

This year, I was there without him. Sadly, he couldn't escape corporate deadlines this year. That was definitely lonely and strange, but I'm still happy I went.

Since I just signed a book contract with Curiosity Quills, my focus was on the Writer's Symposium, a sort of side conference within the larger gaming conference featuring writers who are there to hawk their wares in Author's Alley, and to help those of us who write (or aspire to) learn about the business and craft of the field.

The sessions are the same sorts you'd see at any writer's conference: publishing and market information, how-to sessions on various aspects of writing (action scenes, character development, etc.), networking and social media advice. Unlike a lot of other writing conferences the overall focus is on speculative fiction. After all, GenCon is a gaming convention, and the preferred reading of many gamers is "genre" fiction. The book I'll be publishing is superhero fiction, so I was definitely in the right place.

I love the Writer's Symposium. The writers involved are so generous with their time, and willing to talk with you about their work and career and share any lessons they've learned along the way. I attended some great sessions, and, even the sessions that turned out not to be exactly up my alley had something of value of in them. I love the way that it still feels small and personal, even though it draws a large number of participants.

There's amazing variety among the writers who attend, from big names in the field (the guest of honor was Jim Butcher this year), to people who have yet to publish a book, but have other experience to share. There are also people who work in the field as publishers, editors, and marketers. I find it inspiring because I can see the person who is only one step ahead of me as well as the people who have really made it to the big time. It helps me get a sense of the big picture.

So, here are some highlights of my experience at the GenCon Writer's Symposium. I attended a few sessions on Thursday and full day's worth on Friday and Saturday.

THURSDAY: Editing Your Work, with Kelly Swails, Geoffrey Girard, Howard Andrew Jones, Troy Denning and Kameron Hurley

I chose this one for the topic, and because Kameron Hurley was on the panel. The other writers were not writers I was familiar with before GenCon. I enjoyed listening to how different writers approach editing and comparing it to the way I'm doing things. My take-aways:
  • Finish stuff! You can't edit a blank page. (I know this, but it bears repeating)
  • Editing is not just proofreading (sadly, it's not that easy)
  • Learning not to take criticism personally is a big part of writing success. Sometimes your critics are right. (so true!)
  • Mentors are invaluable. Being critiqued by a professional is enlightening. (My book is with a professional editor now; keeping my fingers crossed that its more enlightening than discouraging)
  • Critiquing others will improve your own work (I know this to be true from my own critique group experience)
  • Trust to the process and keep going or you'll have a perfect beginning, but never finish
  • Each story teaches you how to write it. (I've heard that before, but definitely am learning that it's true as I try to write a fourth book that is a totally different critter than any of the first three)
  • We all come at this differently. Any approach that works for you is valid. 

FRIDAY: Creating Your Image, with Elizabeth Vaughan, Jaym Gates, David Farland, Geoffrey Girard, and Maxwell Alexander Drake.

So the funniest moment in this panel was the look on Geoffrey Girard's face when he realized that most of the other panel members were not using their real names. Like me, he's a teacher, publishing under his real name.

Since I write in two very distinct genres (literary fiction and speculative fiction), I've thought about using two names to distinguish the types of work (not that this is a problem yet: no one is asking to publish my literary fiction yet). That's what David Farland (AKA David Wolverton) has done.

Jaym Gates and Maxwell Alexander Drake were undoubtedly the most social-media-present of the panel members, and they seemed to have put the most thought and care into that public persona.

I'd been stressing a little about the idea of developing a public persona, so I liked hearing that audiences appreciate authenticity and the importance of being who you are. In a way, it's like my classroom persona, which is me, but a particular facet of me. In the classroom, for example, I *only* wear Converse sneakers on my feet. It's my thing, my schtick. It's legitimately me--I do prefer Converse sneakers--but it's exaggerated a little, made more of "a thing." For Farland, it's as simple as his choice of hat. Just a little something to identify him in the crowd. That helped me feel less nervous.

FRIDAY: Working with a Publisher, with Kelly Swails,  Jaleigh Johnson, and Larry Correia.

After watching Kelly Swails moderate other panels, I was happy to see her again here, doing a great job keeping the conversation on topic (one of my only complaints about GenCon Writer's Symposium panels: the tendency to go off on tangents). I had never heard of Jaleigh Johnson, but I'll be looking her up now, and I was pleased to see Larry Correia, about whom I had heard a lot.

All three writers had a lot to say about a variety of publishing experiences, from the self to the small to the big, and what jobs fall to the writer (besides writing) in each setting. I liked Larry's comment about publishing being like getting asked to the prom. Sure, you want to go to the prom, but that doesn't mean you have to go with the first boy who asks, especially if he asks too much of you or is an ass.

SATURDAY:  Persistence and Reality of Being a Writer, with Elizabeth Vaughan, Kameron Hurley, Toni KelnerDB Jackson, and Stephen Kelner.

This was both the most encouraging and discouraging of the sessions I attended.  The writers talked about how long it took them to feel established (for most of them, about five books), rejection, and their own journeys in publication-ville. I appreciated how forthcoming the authors were, not sugar-coating the difficulty of eking out a living as a writer. Only two panel members were full time writers with no day jobs (Toni Kelner and DB Jackson).  As I mentioned above, I went into this conference already admiring Kameron Hurley, and I was surprised to learn how little money she has made so far, especially given the list of awards she has won or been nominated for!

Quotable moment: Elizabeth Vaughan said that getting published was like having a NASCAR team descend on your book, making it the best vehicle it can be. I love picturing my team at Curiosity Quills in matching jackets with their GenCon and Samantha Bryant patches, all using their various tools on my novel. :-)

SATURDAY: Advanced Characterization and Is Your Story Ready to Sell, both with Mike Stackpole.

These were definitely the most practical sessions I attended. Stackpole used a checklist sort of approach, listing things to look for and use in your story. He's obviously spent a lot of time thinking about and developing his checklists, and they are very helpful. I also appreciated his advice about the right and wrong reasons to self-publish.

I hope Mike won't feel insulted if I say he reminded me of my father. That's a good thing! I think it was his organized and list-making approach that made me think of my dad.

Although Stackpole doesn't write the same kinds of things that I do, I still found his advice about betrayal as a plot point sound, and his list of characteristics for characters that endure interesting. I am also still thinking about what he said about incremental vs. dramatic character growth. Pacing the growth appropriately to the length of the work (single book? series? trilogy?) is not something I had considered before . . and I'll have to: I've got a sequel to write!

All in all it was a great experience. Maybe next year I can be on the other side of the panel table.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It's Still Good to Have your Mommy Spoil You Sometimes

I'm visiting my folks this week, on the way to GenCon Writer's Conference. Like a lot of daughters who became mothers, I know that my parents spoil my children (their grandchildren) tremendously and generously. Because of this, I try not to ask for much for me. It feels greedy to reach out and say "Hey! Spoil me, too!" when they already do so much for our family.

So, I'm feeling extra lucky today.

Because I need to have headshots made for my book cover, I asked Mom to take me to get my hair done. Getting my hair done in this case, is coloring and cutting. It's over $100, so it's not an expense I can take on casually on a North Carolina schoolteacher's salary. Most of the time, I don't do anything to my hair at all, though I love to have interestingly colored hair. I'm not a talented DIYer when it comes to hair, and hiring professionals is expensive!

While I hope for fame and fortune from the publication of my book, I have neither yet. But I want to feel confident and look good at the writing conference and in those pictures. She agreed. So, now I look amazing. Thanks, Mom!

She didn't stop there, though. She also bought me awesome back to school sneakers. (I always wear Converse. It's sort of my thing). 

And she still bought lunch and ice cream. 

Yep, I'm spoiled. I'll try not to be a brat though. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

#SaturdayScenes: No. 15: Marriage Poem

For #SaturdayScenes this week, I bring you a poem:

that elusive animal,
that fluttery, giddy bird—
can only truly be held
when your chosen love
chooses you. 

Strange how slight butterfly wings
so delicately built
(on trust, on faith, on love)

can make you fly.

I wrote this one on the occasion of my marriage. I'm revisiting it today as I signed my first book publishing contract yesterday and was surprised to realize how much it felt like getting married: long term commitment, legal ramifications, relationships . . . Here's to both these marriages lasting!
My other #SaturdayScenes contributions:

Week One: Elopement Day from WIP, Cold Spring
Week Two: Linda Makes a First Impression from WIP, Her Father's Daughter, sequel to Going Through the Change
Week Three: Claiming Alex, from unpublished novel His Other Mother
Week Four: Things Get Hairy for Linda, from unpublished novel Going Through the Change
Week Five: a poem: A Clear Day in Kodiak, Alaska
Week Six: a snippet from an idea barely begun, Lacrosse Zombies
Week Seven: Mathilde's Visit, from WIP, Cold Spring
Week Eight: Sherry bakes, from His Other Mother
Week Nine: I Said So, Didn't I? (a scene in dialogue)
Week Ten: Losing Faith (a poem)
Week Eleven: Shop Girl, from WIP, Cold Spring
Week Twelve: Mary Braeburn, from WIP, Her Father's Daughter
Week ThirteenPatricia is Kidnapped, from WIP, Her Father's Daughter
Week Fourteen: Flash Fiction, Em Wakes Up
Week Fifteen: Marriage Poem

Friday, August 8, 2014

I'm a Literary Marauder!

It's official: I'm a literary marauder! 

Going Through the Change, my superhero novel, will be published by Curiosity Quills in early 2015!


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

IWSG: Publishing!

Sorry to post so late today! I feel like I kind of already posted for ISWG on Monday, talking about my trepidation over my offered book contract. A couple of days later, I'm happen to report that the deal is ironed out. It's just the paper signing left to do. I'm going to have a published novel this spring!

As I told the woman I'm working with at the publisher, it's like getting married to someone you just met. Scary and exciting, all at the same time. I'm absolutely insecure, hoping and praying that I'm making the best decision for my book and myself.

I'd love to hear from others who have been down this path. How do you keep your expectations and hopes under control and stay open to the possibilities? How do you find the balance between paranoia and reasonable self-protection when making a book deal?


This posting is part of the Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. To check out other posts by writers in a variety of places in their careers, check out the participant list.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Contractions Caused by Contracts

I've been offered a contract: a publishing contract for one of my novels. It's exciting and terrifying.

So, that's all I've been doing: reading it, thinking about it, researching, seeking advice. It's my first one, or at least my first one for a book of my own.

I know for a lot of people the idea of negotiating a contract is business as usual, but it's totally new for me. As a schoolteacher, I get a contract, but there's nothing negotiable in it, not even in states with teacher unions. There is the contract. You accept it, or you refuse it. You don't negotiate it. It is what it is.

So, this is scary stuff. I read each line trying to figure out if I am being paranoid to imagine how that language could be used to make my life miserable. I worry that if I push back too hard, the offer will be withdrawn. I worry that if I accept it without pushing back, I'll be stepped on like a doormat or cheat myself out of reasonable compensation for my work.

My heart feels large in my chest with joy, and tight with trepidation. Who knew that getting what you've been hoping for was so stressful!

I have no reason to think that this publisher wants to run roughshod over me. If I did, we wouldn't be working together. But, that doesn't mean that bad things can't happen.

So (deep breath) (deep breath) (one more deep breath), I'm going deep-language diving. Wish me luck when I come back up for air!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

#SaturdayScenes: No. 14

For #SaturdayScenes this week, I bring you a piece of flash fiction I wrote a few weeks ago for an informal contest over on the the Writer's Discussion Group community on G+. +Amy Knepper posts these challenges and I always enjoy them. Hope you enjoy mine!


Em Wakes Up

It was a miracle. As Michael watched, the flatline monitor began to blip. Once. Had he imagined it? No! There it was again. A blip, and another. He ran to the hospital door, his face still wet with tears. “Nurse!”

No one came. He ran back into the room and punched the call button about fifteen times. An annoyed woman’s voice came on. “Yes?”

“She’s alive!”


“Her machine. It’s blipping. She’s alive!” He dropped the device on the bed, and grabbed Emily’s hand. It was cold and unmoving, as was her face. But the monitor continued to beep steadily, picking up speed bit by bit.

“Em? Can you hear me? Em?”

The hand in his twitched, then gripped his fingers. Michael gasped. He wasn’t imagining this. She was definitely beginning to move. Em’s grip tightened and tightened again. It was incredibly strong. Painful. Michael tried to pull his fingers away and found that he couldn’t.

“Em? Em, honey? That hurts. Em? Can you hear me?”

Emily didn’t open her eyes, but Michael could see the quick movements beneath suggesting that she was conscious or dreaming intensely. He suppressed a yelp of pain as she continued to squeeze his hand. “Help!” He yelled toward the hallway. Fumbling for the remote he pressed the call button again, but no one answered this time. He yelled into it anyway. “Somebody help! She’s breaking my fingers!”

Em let go of his hand. Michael jumped back from the bed, pulling his injured fingers against his chest, afraid to move them and find out the full extent of the damage. In one fluid movement, Emily sat straight up in the bed. She turned her head towards Michael. The movement was impossibly fast, not at all like someone who had just been unconscious and presumed dead. She moved like some kind of tiger.

The stare she turned on Michael froze something deep within him. The eyes were cold and seemed to look through him rather than at him. There was no recognition in them. Michael looked behind him quickly, praying someone had come. Someone who could help. Instead, he saw only the closed hospital door. He was sure he’d left it open.

He turned back and Em was standing right in front of him, near enough to kiss him, if she chose. He hadn’t hear her leave the bed or cross the floor. “Em?” he said one last time, his voice soft and pleading.

The woman in front of him cocked her head to one side, then smiled, revealing a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. Michael didn’t even have time to run before she was upon him. 

If you would like to check out more scenes by some really great writers, you should search under the hashtag #Saturdayscenes. The movement is the brainchild of +John Ward , who suggested that writers should share their work each Saturday.


My other #SaturdayScenes contributions:

Week One: Elopement Day from WIP, Cold Spring
Week Two: Linda Makes a First Impression from WIP, Her Father's Daughter, sequel to Going Through the Change
Week Three: Claiming Alex, from unpublished novel His Other Mother
Week Four: Things Get Hairy for Linda, from unpublished novel Going Through the Change
Week Five: a poem: A Clear Day in Kodiak, Alaska
Week Six: a snippet from an idea barely begun, Lacrosse Zombies
Week Seven: Mathilde's Visit, from WIP, Cold Spring
Week Eight: Sherry bakes, from His Other Mother
Week Nine: I Said So, Didn't I? (a scene in dialogue)
Week Ten: Losing Faith (a poem)
Week Eleven: Shop Girl, from WIP, Cold Spring
Week Twelve: Mary Braeburn, from WIP, Her Father's Daughter
Week Thirteen: Patricia is Kidnapped, from WIP, Her Father's Daughter