Where You Can Find Me at Bubonicon 2014

I’m very excited to be a part of my local convention, Bubonicon, in Albuquerque, New Mexico this year. New Mexico has an amazing group of speculative writers writing across many different sub-genres of the field, and they’ll all be in one place! If you find yourself in the Land of Enchantment for the first weekend of August, be sure to check it out.

Bubonicon46

Here’s where you’ll find me:

Friday: ASPIRING WRITERS 201: KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES – RESEARCH
To be successful in SF, a writer must keep up with the technology, the competition and the field. Why are those all so necessary? How do the panelists do that? How does one balance the writing needs with mundane life? What happens if a writer doesn’t keep up? Are the panelists worried about being left behind?

Why I’m excited: Because I get to geek out about research and how my time in grad school and academia shaped the writer I am today!

Saturday: WRITING THE CHANGE: ANTHOLOGY DISCUSSION
An anthology based on SM Stirling’s “Change” series will be released in 2015. Contributors to the anthology (including me!) talk about their stories, what inspired them, what part Stirling played in their creations, the rules to playing in one person’s sandbox without contradicting each other, etc.

Why I’m excited: I get to talk all about my forthcoming story in the anthology along with both the editor and some of the other contributors—a unique opportunity to see how other authors tackled their stories for the anthology.

Sunday: HIGH SCHOOL IS HELL: YA DYSTOPIAS
Why are dystopian futures so popular in the YA market? Are they analogies for how teenaged youths feel about high school? What are some of the good YA dystopian works beyond The Hunger Games and Divergent? Is this sub-genre just a fad or is it here to stay? What might replace it? What’s being done that’s new and different? Has the dystopian theme become a crutch for writers and publishers?

Why I’m excited: Well, it’s no secret that at least half of my published short stories are YA in nature. I’m a big fan of speculative fiction for young adults and look forward to hearing my fellow panelists’ take on the genre.

So mark your calendars and be sure to say hi!

Bubonicon 46
The Albuquerque Marriott Uptown
2101 Louisiana Blvd NE (Louisiana & I-40)
Albuquerque, NM 87110

Guests of Honor: John G. Hemry and Cherie Priest
Toastmaster: Steven Gould
Guest Artist: Darla Hallmark

http://bubonicon.com/

 

How to Survive Your First Worldcon Part Two

Over Labor Day weekend, I attended my first Worldcon in San Antonio, Texas. I had no idea what to expect, and I’ve decided to share what I’ve learned so you’ll be better prepared if you plan to attend an event like this in the future.
Be sure to also check out Part One.

6. Stay in the Conference Hotel

It can cost more money to get a room at the conference hotel, but by staying there you quadruple the opportunities of meeting people. For this con, since I was traveling with my non-con attending husband, we decided to stay in the non-party hotel so he’d get a break from the convention atmosphere. Big mistake.

Our hotel was right next door, so logistically, it wasn’t a big deal. But looking at it in terms of elevator rides, morning coffee lines for the lobby Starbucks, drinks at the hotel bar or dinner in the restaurant—these are all opportunities to see and be seen. And serendipity may smile on you and put you in the path of someone who can help your career.

You know the old adage that publishing is a numbers game? Cons are no exception. Position yourself to best advantage, even if that means putting up with hotel room that backs to a con suite.

7. Panels Are Not Your Primary Objective

This might sound counter-intuitive, but bear with me. I spent my first day at the convention scouring the program and identifying what panels I wanted to see. And that first day, I went from panel to panel like a good little attendee.

There are two problems with this approach. One, you will not be able to maintain this level of focus for ten hours of programming each of the five days. Two, if you are attending panels, you’re learning, but most likely not networking. Granted you could approach panelists at the end of a presentation and if you’re lucky be able to introduce yourself. Or perhaps you find yourself sitting next to someone important. It can happen.

But you should be flexible enough so that if someone, especially if they’re higher up on the writing ladder, says let’s skip the next session and chat/get drinks/food/whatever….that’s what you should do. No matter what panel you planned to see at that time.

8. Be Prepared but Be Prepared to Leave Empty-Handed

We’ve al heard those magical stories of authors who attended a conference and came home with a book deal. And if that happens to you, more power to you.

But for the rest of us, you never know what could happen. You could have pitching opportunities and flub them or maybe no one will give you the chance to talk about your work. That’s okay, because you have to take the long-term view and know that slow and steady wins the race.

Knowing that lightning probably won’t strike though is no excuse not to be prepared to talk about your book (or whatever else you have going on). Think elevator pitch and practice it so you don’t sound like an idiot (I wish I practiced more).

Even if you don’t talk to an agent or an editor, your fellow writers may ask. You have to view these moments as opportunities to gain an advocate of your work if they like what they hear. They could be indifferent or unimpressed by your story pitch—but they’ll still recognize the fact that you are treating yourself and your story professionally.

9. Take Time for Yourself

This is important. Give yourself a break every now and then to recharge. There will be plenty of opportunities to hang out with other writers and meet new people.

 

But you have to be the best possible version of yourself to make genuine connections. Everyone will be operating on fewer Z’s, and some people might be hung over or have spiking blood sugar. But it’s on you to maintain your body and your well being.

***

That’s it. That’s all I got. Hopefully it will be enough to give you a kick start for your next convention. Happy writing!

How to Survive Your First Worldcon, Part One

Over Labor Day weekend, I attended my first Worldcon in San Antonio, Texas. I decided to go for a lot of reasons, but I think the most important one was to slowly increase my visibility in the field by networking with my writing colleagues.

The view from my hotel balcony.

I had no idea what to expect, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned so you’ll be better prepared if you plan to attend an event like this in the future.

1. Never Take Off Your Nametag

This could be my own issue, but I’ve never been a fan of nametags. Whether it was the first day of school, my work as a waitress back in the day, or attending work conferences, my initial impulse was always to whip off the tag as soon as possible.

Do not do this. The whole point of conventions is to meet like-minded people, right? But unless you already know someone’s a writer, it can be tough to spot one out in the wild. At a convention, if you see a nametag, you can be reasonably sure they’re a serious SFF fan or writer or both, whether you are crossing the street between the hotel and the conference space, hunkering down in the hotel lobby for the free internet, or getting a drink or a bite to eat in the hotel lounge. So this is one of the few times where it’s okay to let your freak flag fly.

The nametag also makes introductions easier and seeing a printed name (as opposed to just hearing it) can reinforce retention.

That said….

2. Be Prepared to Reintroduce Yourself A Lot

You will be meeting a lot of people. And just as you will have difficulty keeping everyone straight, the people you meet will also have trouble putting the name to the face. If they don’t remember you, don’t take it personally. Be gracious, and if the opportunity presents itself, remind them that you met them the night before at a party or last year at another event or that you share a TOC together… whatever it is that will help jog their memory and put you into context.

 

You want them to remember your face, your name, and something pleasant about you—not how you gave them a hard time for not remembering who you are from a 15-second introduction. That just makes them feel guilty, and they will then avoid you to avoid experiencing that negative emotion again.

3. Dress to Impress

I’m not talking business casual. Personal hygiene is important to handle (especially in Texas in August). As Mary Robinette Kowal said in a panel on schmoozing, you want to be the best possible version of yourself—whatever that means to you.

For me, that meant wearing clothes that had a consistent feel, styling my hair in a similar way, and wearing the same necklace and bracelet combo across the days at the convention so that people would recognize me, even if they didn’t know my name. Think of it as professional branding.

4. Ribbons Ribbons Everywhere

As this was my first con, I didn’t realize there were special “ribbons” you could affix to your nametag. These little pieces of fabric were issued to people who had pub’d in certain magazines or talked to certain con personnel or supported a particular author or whatever. I later found out there was even a ribbon for attending your first Worldcon. Many people (though not everyone) had them. I even saw one kid walking around the convention hall with so many ribbons they dragged along after him.

As with the nametags, the ribbons provide quick visual reinforcement in identifying people in your “tribe” and often served as a source of small talk. Now, I’m not saying I was ignored because I didn’t have any ribbons—I wasn’t. But it did reinforce my newbie status because I had no idea how they worked.

The exception of course were the bright green ribbons identifying the panelists and invited guests to the convention. Which leads me to….

5. Pay Attention to the Social Hierarchy

At the con, I was pretty insignificant compared to the writers further along in their careers and the editors and agents that were there. And the ribbons often reinforced this.

Unlike other cons, there were no pitch appointments offered. The only way to get an agent or editor’s attention was to either get introduced by someone they respected or small talk your way into their hearts.

Both are hard to do and are extremely dependent on luck, your social abilities, and the kindness of your colleagues.

People can sense desperation. If someone powerful has a bad opinion of you, it could haunt you the rest of your career. So don’t be that person who stalks the important people all over the con or the person who turns into a squeeing mess the second you get to talk to your writing hero, dream agent, or whathaveyou.

Instead, be sure to act courteously, and if at all possible be interesting. You may not get an opportunity to talk about you or your work, and that’s okay. Take the long view. You want to leave people with a favorable impression no matter what because who knows what could happen the next time you meet them.

Stay tuned for Part Two next week!

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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The Pros of Professional Development

While the blogosphere is a fantastic resource—rife with informative posts on craft, publishing, and other aspects of the writing life—it can get overwhelming and, at times, repetitive. Not that repetition can’t be helpful in crystallizing some aspects of craft. But too much, and my brain starts saying I’ve heard this before and I tune out.
When that happens, the act of learning, of actively improving, becomes passive. For this writer, that means I start to feel complacent. Not a good place to be.
I had been feeling this way recently—after all it’s been just under a year since I attended Taos Toolbox—so when I saw my local SCBWI chapter was hosting a NY agent for an all-day workshop, I signed up, hoping to be reinvigorated.
I was nervous as I always am when owning my writer persona in an unfamiliar environment with (gasp!) strangers. For the morning session, the agent presented an overview of essential craft elements for children’s books. Then the afternoon was all about the business side of things. It was a very informative session, and unfortunately I signed a waiver that doesn’t let me get any more specific than that.
The workshop would haven been tremendously helpful for me a year or three ago. As it was, I’d say didn’t learn anything “new.” Instead, I learned the relative importance this agent placed on different aspects of craft and business. Much of the content I had been exposed to before, though not as systematically all at once. Hand in hand with the workshop, I paid for an optional critique that didn’t uncover any fatal deficiencies in my writing. So at this point you may be wondering what I actually got out of a wasted Saturday and a c-note.

1. It’s Worth Checking In Sometimes

It is entirely possible to reach a point with your craft where you simply don’t need all the handholding you once did to stay productive. The writing is going well, you’re in the zone, this one’s going to sell, and so on. And that’s all great. But when you’re holed up in your cave, sometimes you can lose sight of what your writing really needs.
By attending a workshop like I did or engaging in some form of professional development to put you and your work out there, you have the opportunity to evaluate your writing through someone else’s eyes. On the business side of things, the publishing world is changing so rapidly every day, you can’t afford to not pay attention to opportunities to help put all the changes into perspective.

2. Don’t Underestimate the Value of Knowing You’re On the Right Track

You remember that critique I got? It let me know my opening for a new project was on the right track. That is invaluable. Looking back at where I was with past projects and knowing they wouldn’t have received this kind of feedback at this stage, shows just how much I’ve improved. Doesn’t mean it’s perfect, doesn’t mean there aren’t things I can do to strengthen my story. But it’s now a question of calibration, not wholesale revision. And that’s a huge difference (and a huge confidence boost).

3. Professional Organizations Provide Superior Opportunities

Now, this assertion is grounded in my personal experience. I’ve tried a lot of different things, including:
Local, grassroots style writing groups like those you find through Meetup.com or your local alt-weekly. You can find some good individuals, but too often the group includes people who don’t know what they’re doing or have a different focus (say self-publishing when you have your eye on the Big 6).
Classes at the local community college or university. Again, you might find some serious individuals, but many of these people are just testing the waters and haven’t screwed up the courage to take the plunge. The teachers at this level can also be suspect in their ability to teach or inspire. Note, I am not talking about MFA programs and the like.
Regionally-focused writing organizations. The ones near you may be different, but the one closest to me serves as a catch-all for writers not represented by other organizations. Mine has a lot of writers writing memoir and literary fiction, and their classes and workshops cater to hobbyists and beginners.
Residential workshops like Taos Toolbox. Expensive, but being surrounded by a dedicated group of peers, and being instructed by individuals who have lived through publishing’s ups and downs is priceless.
Local chapters of national writers groups like RWA or SCBWI. These organizations are far more likely to have classes and workshops for the intermediate and seasoned writer.
I can say with absolute certainty that you get folks who are a lot more serious about learning their craft at organizations and workshops with a targeted focus like genre. Not one of the thirty people in the workshop I attended had stars in their eyes that they’d be the next JK Rowling. Everyone was aware of the years of hard work and the smart choices it takes to succeed in publishing.
Now, I’ve held off joining any of the membership organizations. Partly because it’s another cost in a field with too little money for writers as it is. Partly because I was a little too in love with the idea of the “lone writer” for a long time. And partly because I felt I had to “prove” myself in a genre before I could presume to join an organization dedicated to it. Imposter syndrome, much?
But now? I’m in a place where I’m reasonably confident in my abilities as a writer. I’m also very cognizant of what I don’t know as I contemplate what’s next for me. That’s where the support of a national organization becomes invaluable. I’m still debating which one is best for my career long term, but I can no longer ignore the benefits they can provide.

What about you? Have you had a recent professional development experience? How did it go?

Happy writing!
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