A Secret Vacation from Social Media

I’m baaack…
If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, that’s a good thing. Because I worked hard to make it seem like I was here even though I wasn’t.
I’ve taken time off the blog before—a week every now and again for vacation, the holidays, or whenever real life gets too crazy.
But when I found out I’d be joining my husband for a three-week trip to Germany and Spain, I was left with a tough choice. Either let the blog go dark for an obscenely long time or work harder than I’d like to keep the blog up-to-date.
I chose the later option while I spent the majority of this past month in Europe. And here’s how.

Get Organized

I was lucky in that I had advance notice of our travel dates. So I created a list of priorities that I wanted to accomplish before leaving town. Everything from reaching certain milestones on my various projects, ensuring all my critiquing obligations were met, and preparing blog posts in advance.
Knowing what I needed to run when was hugely beneficial. In my early blogging days, I always had a blog post or two ready to go in case I needed it. However, that fell off as my writing obligations increased. But it was good to remember just how smoothly things could go with the right preparations in place.

Get Tech

The post scheduling feature on Blogger (also available on WordPress) also helped tremendously. Although we were told we’d have internet access at the hotels we were staying at over the course of our trip, who knew how that would work out in actuality (Spain had the worst internet b-t-dubs). That combined with the time difference and the fact that I would be more focused on having a fantastic time in Europe instead of micromanaging my social media, it made sense to have my posts ready to go in advance.
The other tool in my arsenal? Tweet Deck. Some of you are already familiar with it, I’m sure, but I just started using it this Spring, and it’s “schedule tweets” feature was hugely helpful in creating the illusion I was still around in the digital ether. Took the spontaneity out of my tweet stream, yes, but it was a big help keeping my Twitter profile active.

Get Help

But in the end, I didn’t do it alone. When I found out I’d be gone, I solicited help from a few of my writerly friends. I staggered their interviews between regular posts, which lessened the burden on me to create new content.
In case you missed them, be sure you check out the interviews with some great fellow writers I have the utmost respect for:

I was happy I could keep the social media machine rolling while I was away, even though it required a lot of work. What techniques or shortcuts do you rely on to stay on top of your social media obligations?
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Interview with Fran Wilde

Today, please welcome SF/F writer Fran Wilde to the blog!

I met Fran at Taos Toolbox and was impressed by her ability to fuse lyrical writing with genre fiction. She became a full SFWA member in July 2012 and scored an agent (!) in May 2013, and I’ve asked her here to share a bit more about herself and her writing journey.

Please tell us about your journey from when you first decided you wanted to be a writer through now.
Are there children in the room? Best ask them to leave, this gets messy…
I was a writer the moment I realized you could make words stick around by writing them down.
Mine is a storytelling family (some relatives use circular breathing so they can’t be interrupted; others tell fantastic yarns that end with ‘Whelp. So that happened.’). I grew up listening to their stories – some of which changed each time they were told. When I wrote my stories down, they stayed put. I liked that.
And more than anything, I was a reader. I got my own library card as soon as possible, and I was on a first-name basis with the local indie bookstore owners. I read everything I could, especially if it had spaceships, universe-sized intrigues, computers, fantastic creatures, strange people, or, better, all of the above.  Some of what I read wasn’t viewed as appropriate reading for me – I got told that a lot. I read it and loved it anyway.
Two years after I completed my MFA, I set aside the manuscript I was working on in order to focus on three things that paid the bills: teaching, copywriting (mostly for engineers and tech), and programming. While I wrote during that time, I didn’t send anything out, and I didn’t have a community of writers, save for a few dear friends who kept reminding me who I was. Finally, one day I snapped and wrote half a story – and the next day I wrote some more, and soon I was back on a regular writing schedule. And this time around, I gave myself full permission to write what I wanted to write.
No big shock, then, that my new stories had space in them. And programming, and engineering. And poetry. And strange creatures. I found a resource online –the SFF Online Writing Workshop – and critiqued there for a while before dropping a story in to see what would happen.  That led to finding my first crit buddies – several of whom I still exchange work with.  Five months later, I went to Viable Paradise and Jim MacDonald and the instructors at the Martha’s Vineyard workshop told me I wasn’t really a short story writer. They dared me to try to write a novel in 90 days. And I met more of my community. That was fantastic.
A similar thing happened at Taos – where I met you! And I’m a better writer for it all.
You have both a Masters in information architecture and interaction design and an MFA in poetry, which are very different fields. How does this background inform your writing?
Programming and poetry share more in common than you might think. I’d love to see a poem written in regular expressions that actually compiles into something.  I love the places where the two meet: interactive narratives, using hypertext and gorgeous graphics. I love graphic novels too.  And I’m very aware of sensory stuff – particularly the sounds words make – sometimes too much so. I get caught up in nets of sound.

What piece of writing advice has been key to bettering your craft? 
Easy is the enemy. Keep writing, every day. Put that amazing draft away for six weeks, then look at it again, with a critical eye.
I had the good fortune of reading the amazing novel that got you agented. Please share a bit about the book and what you’re working on now.
Bone Arrow is a science-fantasy YA novel that demanded to be written. I love building worlds, and this one’s a lot of fun, and strange, too. Think Cirque du Soleil meets the Codex Seraphinianus. But what I love best is the characters – because once I gave them the space, they ran with it. I had all these things planned out for them and instead, they did their own things, a lot of which completely surprised me.
Right now, I’m working on a second generation story set in the same world, with different characters. There’s a related short story coming out in the Impossible Futuresanthology in August, called “A Moment of Gravity, Circumscribed”.
And I’m working on a novella set in a different universe, and revisions to my first novel, Moonmaker, which is more tech-driven.  I usually keep a lot of projects going so that if one slows down or I need to stick it in a drawer, I can pick up another.
What is important for a beginning or intermediate writer to understand about writing for publication?
Ah. This is the hard part. Rejection isn’t personal. It feels personal. It can feel like you’ve been judged as not worthy – like you’re not really a writer when you get that “unfortunately”.  But writing for publication is all about ‘Right time, right editor, right story.” Pro writers get rejections too. The key is to send that story back out – and to keep sending it out. I need to do that with a few stories, actually. [Bad writer: no biscuit.]
Another good idea is to volunteer to read slush for a magazine in your genre. Keep an eye on your favorites via Twitter and Facebook. Editors sometimes post requests for new slush readers there.  Once you see the scope of a typical slush pile, you’ll realize it’s not personal. And hopefully that will help you start to feel more confident about your writing and your submissions as well.
Thanks so much, Fran!
Thank you Lauren! It’s always great to talk with you!
You can find Fran on Twitter [@fran_wilde] and stay up-to-date with her writing through her blog: http://franwilde.wordpress.com/
                       

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Interview with Lori M. Lee

Today I’m happy to bring you an interview with my critique partner Lori M. Lee. 
In December of 2011, she signed with Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary, and her book deal (!) with Skyscape was recently announced. She blogs about the writing life at http://lorimlee.blogspot.com/

Thanks for stopping by today, Lori! For the uninitiated, could you give us a brief overview of your writing journey up until now?
Thanks for having me, Lauren 🙂 It’s been almost four years since I began my first manuscript-with-intent-to-query/publish in 2009. It was a NaNoWriMo, and I spent a year editing and rewriting it based on feedback from my amazing CPs (like you! :D) before querying. While querying that project, I began working on Gates of Thread and Stone. This story so much fun to write, and I was extremely fortunate to receive an offer of representation in November of 2011 after only a few weeks of querying. But the work definitely didn’t end there. A major revision and a year later, I finally got that yes from an editor!
What is something that surprised you about being an agented writer? Many aspiring writers put so much emphasis on getting an agent without necessarily thinking about what happens after reaching that milestone.
This is sort of dumb (and a good example of how my brain works… or doesn’t, in this case), but when I began my next project, I had brief moments of panic when I thought about writing the query. Then, at some point, it struck me—I don’t have to write a query. My agent doesn’t require one. The query was always such a stress-filled requisite of writing a new manuscript-with-intent-to-find-an-agent that it didn’t immediately occur to me I didn’t need one b/c I already had an agent. And believe me, when that realization hit, it felt AWESOME.

I’ve gotten the impression from other writers in the blogosphere that being on submission is kind of like Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. What can you say about your time on submission and how you coped for other writers going through the same process?
Being on submission had even greater ups and downs than querying. When an editor loved the book, but it got shot down in acquisitions, that hurt a million times more than an agent rejection because I was so, so close. Being on sub was exciting and terrifying, but also emotionally draining. I coped with everything first by working on something new and then inadvertently by getting pregnant lol. With my mind focused on a new world and new characters (and the impending baby), I had less time to worry about what was happening with the book on submission.
The Gates of Thread and Stone will be published by Skyscape (Amazon Children’s Publishing) in 2014, and it is the first book in a series. Tell us about the book.
Going with what was revealed in the deal announcement (since I don’t know how much more I can talk about yet), Gates is about a girl who stays carefully under the radar to keep her ability—to manipulate the threads of time—a secret. But when her brother disappears, she has to risk getting caught up in a revolution in order to save him.
What was your biggest challenge writing this book?
This particularly book came really easily to me, which is not typical. The world building was probably the biggest challenge because world building, in itself, is fairly intricate, but the plot and the characters were very clear in my mind.
What excites you most about this next stage of your career?
Reader feedback. Good or bad, I can’t wait to hear what readers think. It’s definitely scary, and I’ll probably fumble through it all, but I’m looking forward to it.

Finally, what is the single best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
Work on your next book while you’re waiting for query responses. Write while you’re on submission. Write while you’re waiting for feedback from CPs or your agent or your editor. Having that shiny new idea to focus on really does make the waiting more bearable, and the bonus is if that ms doesn’t work out, you’ve got your next one ready to go.
Thanks so much Lori!

Be sure you check out her blog (http://lorimlee.blogspot.com/) and follow her on twitter (@lorimlee).

Lori’s always been an incredibly supportive writer, and I’m so happy she’ll be able to share her stories with the world!

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Interview with Catherine Schaff-Stump

Today I’d like to introduce you to Catherine Schaff-Stump, one of my fellow writers from the Taos Toolbox workshop I attended last summer.

 Catherine is a fantastic speculative fiction writer who tends to write for younger ages. She interviewed every member of our workshop class (which you can find here) and now it’s time to return the favor.

1.     When did you know you wanted to be a writer? 

My older brother is an artist, so I knew that couldn’t be my thing, because then I would be a copy cat. One year, he painted a beautiful bird on a block of wood for my mother for mother’s day, and I whipped out a small (and somewhat maudlin, I’m pretty sure!) poem which he calligraphied underneath the bird. My mother gave me a great deal of praise, and that’s when I knew that this was something unique that I could do. So I began to write stories.

2.     How would you describe your writing? 

I do two kinds of things: kind of a madcap middle grade kind of thing (like in Hulk Hercules) and kind of a darker, gothic kind of thing. I’m a Gemini, right? There’s a fundamental dichotomy in my character.

3.     How much research do you do for your work? 

A LOT. I’m a former graduate student, so I’m not proud. I like to research and try to get things closer to what they might be like. Even when I’m making something up, I like to do some real world research as a basis for beginning.

4.     What are you working on right now? 

I have finally begun the first of five books about a family of demon binders, so right now I’m writing about two fairly quixotic sisters and their struggle for power and romance. There is at least one nice guy in the book. Awful things will happen to everyone. Somehow I find that satisfying. 😛

5.     How did you come to apply for Taos Toolbox? 

I’d been to Viable Paradise, and that gave me some faith in my ability to make it in the writing game, but I thought I need to push myself further than that to make it professionally. I’d been engaging in writer education—reading a lot, going to a couple of seminars, and attending writer education sessions at cons. Many of my friends had been to Taos, and thought it would be a good next step for me. So, I applied, and the rest is history.

6.     What advice would you give to someone attending their first writing workshop? 

Get used to criticism. Listen and be gracious. Realize that someone else’s opinion may have insight for you, but you must also trust your instincts. Try to treat your critique group as a team, and you may have a great group of friends later. Lend a hand. Give good crit.  And remember, if you’re just there for someone to tell you that your writing is great, you’re in the wrong place, and you’ve wasted a whole lot of money. Be ready to learn.

7.     What is your writing goal for 10 years down the line? 

In ten years, 2023, I will be (da-dum!) 58.  My hope would be to be retired from my full time job as a college professor. I would like to then be a full-time writer living on my retirement income in Florida. It would be awesome if I even had published one or two novels already.  I would still be half of one of the greatest romances of the 20th/21stcentury. This sounds pretty idyllic.

8.     Many of your projects have series potential. Why do you think that is? 

Because my brain keeps asking what if.  For example, the first Klarion character started as a support character in another story, and he told me about his family. And then I said, what were your parents like, and then your grandparents? And where did the curse come from?  And what do all the cosmological forces get out of all of this? And…on and on. Just the other day, someone asked me a question about Carlo’s granddad as I was sharing the book, and I thought crap. More what if.
I’ve never been a writer who’s lacked material. I’ve always lacked time.

9.     What do you think is an important quality writers need to have if they are going to succeed in this field? 

Just one? Persistence. Through the good times and the bad. Through the rejections and the apathy of sometimes not wanting to write. Through the silent periods of agents and editors. Slog on, little writer, slog on. The only way out is through.
I would also recommend a thick skin; the recognition that you will sometimes be saddened and depressed by constant rejection, and that’s okay; and a great support group of friends and family that believe in your writing when you are not equipped to do so.
Remember, it’s not you. It’s not them. It’s the right story in the right hands at the right time. Keep writing until that happens.

10.  Where can readers find more of your work?

I am mostly in print these days. My middle-grade novel Hulk Hercules: Professional Wrestler is available widely on line. You can find two of my short stories, Turtle of the Earth and Mark Twain’s Daughter in Cucurbital 2 and 3 respectively, and those are available through Paper Golem press. If you’re very lucky, you might find a copy of the electronic Needles and Bones which contains Sister Night, Sister Moon from Drollerie Press, although that is now out of “print.”

Happy Writing!

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Interview with the Editor of The Memory Eater Anthology

Today, I’m pleased to bring you an interview with Matthew Hance, editor as well as contributor to The Memory Eater anthology.

The Memory Eater is an upcoming anthology consisting of 27 uniquely illustrated, mind-bending stories based on a device with the ability to locate and destroy any memory in the human mind. Embark on a journey through the emotional, to the humorous, to the bleak and to the beautiful. Find out where the Memory Eater originated and how it’s used in the future. How removing pieces from one’s past often creates an unavoidable puzzle. But most importantly, follow those who decide to gamble with their minds…to create one hole in order to fill another.

I met Matthew after he accepted my story “Souvenirs From Another Life” for the anthology, and was impressed with his orchestration of the project from start to finish. So I thought this interview would be a good opportunity to learn more about how the anthology came about, how it came together, and how you’ll be able to get a hold of it.

Let’s get started.

I understand the idea behind The Memory Eater was a short story you wrote. Please tell us a bit about the story and your decision to turn it into an anthology.

I wrote my Memory Eater story for the Writers of the Future contest, and in it, the main character is a customer service representative for a memory removal company. It’s funny to look back on now and see why I wrote it—because I was working as a customer service representative, and I was also shopping around another story of mine which followed a character who lost his entire memory.

Anyway, while writing my contest entry, the main character kept taking calls from people wanting to remove all these different things, and that’s when I realized the endless amount of possibilities with this device. My first thought was to turn the idea into a collection of short stories, and it only seemed fitting to invite others to join.

Being a part of several writing groups and a handful of anthologies as a contributor, I decided it would be fun to be on the other end of things—to put out the call for submissions. Plus I really believed the idea would bring something new and fresh to the market, and that with my background and current job, I could pull it all together.

One of the things I found interesting about The Memory Eater is that you didn’t want bios included with any of the submissions (putting the emphasis on story, not previous credits). Could you talk a little bit about why you chose to handle things this way?

I mainly wanted authors to focus on their stories. I believe my only stipulation was to send stories in the body of an email. For me, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been published a million times over—I’m not interested in assembling authors with big followings or connections. I’m about quality, and if your story is good, what else matters? Formatting can be changed, and there’s an abundance of fresh, undiscovered talent out there to be had.

What role has social media played in the development of this project, considering your robust twitter presence (@TheMemoryEater) and blog (http://anthologies2011.blogspot.com/) capturing this project’s milestones?

Social media is imperative, and it’s the reason this project is alive. Right from the beginning, I used message boards and forums to advertise the call for submissions. My most important role has always been to spread the word. If I went back and added up all the views my postings received, I bet it would be well over 40,000. On a budget of about zero, that free advertising was priceless. It was a ton of hard work, but it didn’t set me back.

The same holds true with Twitter. When I found out what Twitter was (about a month into the project), I felt like I hit the jackpot. I followed people who mentioned writing in their profiles and hoped my picture of the pink bird eating a man’s brain and short description of The Memory Eater was enough to get them to visit my blog. I believed the idea was interesting enough that the more people I reached, the more submissions I would eventually get. All I had to do was get the ball rolling, or boulder in this case.

What were some of the things that surprised you the most about the story selection process? Any suggestions for writers out there based on your experience with The Memory Eater’s slush pile?

The selection process was really tough, because it boils down to making decisions. It’s always hard with so many options to settle on just one, but I picked my favorites and then allowed the tone of those few to guide my decision-making on the rest.

As a fellow writer, it was even tougher to send out rejection letters, especially for stories which almost made the cut.

One bit of advice I have for others is to not only be professional, but also be yourself. Even though I didn’t have bios in front of me, I could envision the authors through their emails and how they formatted their stories. So in a way, I was able to foreshadow what kind of narrative the stories were going to have before reading the actual stories. Even though I read every story, when you go higher up the chain and submit to bigger publishers, I have a feeling many are eliminated on the spot due to the volume they receive.

You’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of preparing The Memory Eater for publication. What were some of the things that surprised you about the editorial process?

How easy it was. Seriously. After I selected the stories, I printed them all off and read them on breaks while walking around the building. I bet people thought I was weird power-walking up and down the halls with a red pen bending a stack of papers in my hand. After two rounds of edits, I sent the changes over to the authors. After the fact, I felt like I went a bit overboard with the red markings, but everyone took it amazingly well. There were a few authors I worked with and met in the middle, but all in all, that was the editing process. It helped to have a system and to do it fast. I’m always about flow, so doing the edits all at once really helped the overall quality of the book.

What were some of the factors that led to your decision to create a Kickstarter fund for The Memory Eater anthology? What are the advantages of going this route?

One of the authors actually pointed me in the Kickstarter direction. He had been on several successful projects and really gave me all the information I needed to know about it.

I chose Kickstarter because of control. With the handful of publishers I was close to making a deal with (I actually had one contract in hand, ready to sign), I would have given up a lot of control, and the entire reason I started The Memory Eater was to output my vision of a quality book. At the end of the day, I simply couldn’t abandon that goal.

The main advantage of Kickstarter is those who will ultimately be purchasing the book are the judges. You cut out any middlemen guessing whether or not they can turn a profit on your blood, sweat and tears, and go directly to your audience. By going right for the audience, you don’t need to front the money needed for the project, because if it’s good enough, your audience will act as your middlemen.

What were some of the takeaways you’ve had from this process – from anthology idea to (nearly) finished product? And, are you going to do it again?

I will definitely do it again! I’m already thinking The Memory Eater 2. I also have a bunch of ideas floating around in this head of mine.

Even though this whole process has been more work than I ever imagined, I got to meet a ton of great people who share the same enthusiasm as I do. That alone is a success.

Takeaways… You truly get out what you put in. Anyone can self-publish a quality book—you just have to do your homework. Don’t settle. Realize that there are going to be times where you stop believing in yourself, but it will eventually pass, and you will come back stronger.

I’d like to thank you for having me by and asking me about my process. I’m really excited to share the finished book with everyone!

Thanks so much, Matthew!

To learn more about The Memory Eater anthology, please take a look at the blog or donate to preorder the anthology through the project’s Kickstarter page.

A story sampler, including excerpts from both Matthew’s and my stories in the anthology, is also available here.

Also check out another interview with Matthew to learn more about him and his writing.

And fellow author DL Thurston has another great post about the anthology and the role Kickstarter plays in the new publishing landscape.

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