Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Exploration (or: How I Got Published, Part 10)

If you’re writing in the science fiction/fantasy genre, then conferences, conventions, and symposiums (hereafter referred to simply as “cons,” because I don’t want to write all that out) are a must.* I’ve been going for about eight years, and I love it. At first, they were my way of exploring the genre—expanding what I knew, and how I wrote. While they still serve that function, they also help me in other ways, now , namely networking, getting my name out there, and meeting new people.

Basically, cons are important. Let me get right down to it and tell you why you should be attending them:
  • To meet people! Other authors, agents, editors, reviewers, and—most importantly—fans (current or potential). Much of this counts as networking, which I’ll talk more about next week, but a great deal of it is just making friends (which is really what good networking comes down to anyway, I think). I’ve met many people at cons, a fair number of whom have become good friends. These people might be able to help my writing career someday, and they might not, but the truth is that’s not what’s important. (Contrary to what I though when I first attended cons—I thought I should only find and associate with people who could further my career, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I wasted a lot of time at cons, psyched myself out of meeting a lot of cool people, and I generated more than a few awkward moments because of this mentality.) So go forth and meet folks—turns out they’re actually pretty cool.
  • To learn things! Most cons offer a plethora of panels and presentations on just about anything you can imagine, from the craft of writing to Battlestar Galactica to how to find/speak to agents and editors (and how not to, incidentally, which might be even more important) and more.
  • To see how professionals act at cons! If you’re an aspiring author, you’re also an aspiring participant on panels, readings, and signings. Get used to that, it’s an important part of the business—and a fun part, too! By watching professionals speak on panels, read their work, and interact with fans (and with other pros, for that matter), you can get an idea of how to act now. Ain’t nothing wrong with acting like a professional now, by the way—it’ll just make you more prepared for things down the road when you get invited to participate in cons.**
  • To get out of your own head! Writing is a solitary thing, and I actually think that’s a big reason why many of us choose to pursue it. But no one is an island, and just because I’m an introvert doesn’t mean that I can survive on my own—I can’t. I need people, I need interaction, and at cons I can interact with my people. It’s a good thing.

If you’re an aspiring writer, you probably already know how important they are. So let’s get practical. Here are some tips on how to attend cons:
  • Be nice—to everyone. Whether you’re interacting with a pro (another author, an agent, an editor, etc.), a fan, or someone in between, kindness is the best strategy. If we can find a way to do this simply because it’s something we want to do, that’s ideal. But, if you need real motivation, just consider the fact that literally anyone you meet at cons could one day be a pro, and could one day have a say in your career. If you were kind to them when they were a wide-eyed fan, they’ll remember it. If you weren’t, well, they’ll remember that too, if you get my meaning.
  • Go with someone, or in a group, if possible. I didn’t do this, and I regret it. I wish I’d had the gumption to be a bit more outgoing at those early conventions, to ask folks I knew and friends I had if they’d be willing to share the cost of a hotel room or go talk to agents together or something. I didn’t, and I think things might’ve been a bit easier—or at least a bit more fun—if I had. If you don’t have friends that go to cons (I didn’t really, at least not at first), don’t panic. As I’ve said before, you can make friends there. Be nice, reach out to others. It’s scary, but it’s rewarding.
  • Soak up the panels and presentations. There’s a lot of information to be had, and I still try to absorb as much of it as I can. However, don’t focus too much on the panels. I did that in the beginning because I felt awkward walking alone outside of them. Panels were safe to me, so I filled my schedule from dawn to dusk. I learned a lot, but I think my time would’ve been better spent—and happier—if I’d focused more on connecting with other people.
  • Along those lines, TALK TO PEOPLE. Whether it’s in hallways between panels, in the dealer’s room, and especially at the bar in the evenings. If a group invites you out to a meal with them, go ahead and skip that “Networking” panel (or whatever) that you were going to attend and go to lunch with them! Doing is better than thinking about doing 100% of the time. (That said, don’t invite yourself to go along with a group to lunch—if you get an invite, be gracious and happy about it. If you don’t, no worries—you will.)
  • Be as professional as possible. You don’t have to a suit or anything, or even business casual for that matter—I usually wear Buffy t-shirts and a jacket of some kind (because they usually keep temps low at these cons)—but you should look nice. (Of course, that might have different connotations depending on your personal style, and that’s okay—cons are a wonderful place to be exactly who you are. Although I will say, if you’re trying to network, it might be a good idea to hold off on the cosplay, as fun as that can be.) Shower daily and wear deodorant (you don’t think I’d have to say this, but trust me, I do). Brush your teeth. Carry mints around. First impressions are a big deal; be conscious of yours.
  • Take advantage of free/cheap opportunities. There are a lot of them at cons, mostly in the forms of kaffeeklatsches, workshops, pitch sessions, and of course panels. Free things are the best—if you can get into a conversation with an author and ten other people (a kaffeeklatsch), go for it! But you find an opportunity to have your work critiqued by a couple pros and it costs twenty bucks or so, I suggest you take it. I did that a few years ago, and it was more than worth it—one of the pros who critiqued my work even gave me a shout out (sort of) in one of the panels she was on! It was awesome, and a great opportunity to meet other writers.***
  • Don’t be a pitching robot. It isn’t cool to go around to everyone you meet and immediately pitch your book or whatever. Chill out! Almost everyone will eventually ask why you’re there, anyway. Let it come up naturally. (There is some exception to this when talking to agents and editors—there isn’t always time to get to know someone—but that’s a subject for another post.)
  • After you’ve attended a few cons, think about attending one or two outside your genre. I’ve attended AWP and the Symposium on Books for Young Readers. While neither experience was particularly my cup of tea, it was helpful to see how things worked outside of my own genre.
  • Have fun! That’s what cons are for—they’re for people who love all things SF/F to come together, talk about what they love, and get to know one another. Soak it up, enjoy it, and be a part of the experience.

More and more, I’m learning to let go and really focus on that last thing, and it’s been fantastic. Cons are, by nature, inclusive. I've attended a fair number of them by now, and I intend to explore a whole lot more. Come be a part of it!



* I kind of think they’re important in pretty much any genre, too—but, of course, being a fantasy writer, I’ll talk about what I know :-).

** A caveat, here: not all professionals are worth emulating. Most of them certainly are, but some aren’t. Please be aware of who is treating others with kindness and courtesy—not only respecting people’s time and space, but their ideas and opinions as well—and who isn’t. Try to be like the former group of people.


*** Another caveat: don’t get ripped off. Like I said, if this kind of thing costs you twenty bucks or so, go for it! You might as well try it, and if it’s a good experience, wonderful, if not, you at least know it isn’t worth it. But if things start getting pricey, don’t feel bad about not jumping at those opportunities. They aren’t necessary, trust me.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

THE BABADOOK and Why Horror is Important

I watched The Babadook recently, and it was wonderful. (And it’s on Netflix, so you should totes go check it out, post haste!) It also got me thinking about some things. [Be ye warned: SPOILERS FOLLOW.]


Fear: The Great Leveler

First: The Babadook is the best kind of Horror. It’s psychological, not slasher or gorified trash. I’m not a fan of the pornographic style of Horror that uses images for the explicit purpose of eliciting a physical reaction from me.* Rather, the Horror that makes me think, that tells a good story—that’s what I’m in to.

The Babadook is psychological. It’s terrifying. But it also tells a great story with good characters, and I think it’s more about grief than anything else; the main character, a young mother named Amelia, lost her husband seven years ago, but she tells herself and others that she has moved on—in the repeated, scripted way that only people who have obviously not moved on can.

What a horrifying thing to lose a spouse. What a terrible, haunting monster that kind of grief must be. But here’s a truth: that stuff happens. It happens to a lot of people. It might happen to me; it might happen to you. That’s life, and as unfathomably wonderful as life can be, it is nevertheless fraught with horror.

Hence my appreciation of the genre. Certain types of Horror can be cathartic. They help us deal with emotions and trauma we’ve experienced, or might experience down the road. Our own personal horrors are ineffable**—we are all uniquely broken, and suffer unique trauma. No matter how many words we put on a page, no matter how much we talk about what has happened (if we indeed find the courage required to do such a thing), no one can truly understand exactly what we have experienced. And that’s why Horror, as a genre, is important. It gives us a shared experience; it helps us feel less alone.

Unity Through Metaphor

Horror, and storytelling in general, accomplish this chiefly through metaphor. But don’t take my word for it; read it from someone smarter than me:

Metaphors…allow us to communicate about events, fears, and emotions that may not yet be understood fully by members of a society. Thus, metaphor serves as a way to discuss topics for which we do not yet have a language, or for which our vocabulary cannot reach in a one-dimensional way….metaphor creates layered dimensions of understanding by which the speaker and the listener can better communicate and through which a level of emotional or philosophical understanding can be reached that would not be possible with a straight description of the situation or feeling.

…metaphor has the ability to say the unsayable, thus haunting us with the idea that the metaphor and the reality may not really be that far apart. (“High School Is Hell: Metaphor Made Literal in Buffy the Vampire Slayer” by Tracy Little)

Metaphor provides a vehicle through which ineffability can be (somewhat) bridled.  As I’ve mentioned, metaphor is one of the main reasons I loved the BtVS TV series so much. Seeing the myriad metaphors on Buffy helped me to understand—and, in some cases, confront—struggles of my own.

Horror—good Horror—uses metaphor to allow us as readers/watchers/consumers to participate in this catharsis of shared experience. Fear is the great Leveler, and metaphor its scythe…and that’s actually kind of a great thing. Let me explain.

Grief and The Babadook

I loved The Babadook for many reasons—it terrifies on the visual, visceral, and psychological levels, it works as a story, it presents solid characters—but most of all because it’s one of the best examples of horror as catharsis that I’ve seen in quite some time. Mr. Babadook—the monster in the film—is a metaphor for the main character’s grief. That’s really all Mr. Babadook is, when you boil him down to his most concentrated state. If you don’t believe me, check out these lines from the children’s book that herald the monster’s arrival in the film (this is not the complete poem, just selections that were most applicable):

If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look,
You can’t get rid of the Babadook.

We can’t get rid of grief; we see reminders of it everywhere. It stays with us, at least on some level, forever.

…you’ll know that he’s around
You’ll see him if you look…

Grief, unprocessed, follows us around. We may not even notice it unless we really choose to see.

See him in your room at night,
And you won’t sleep a wink.

We may be able to white-knuckle our way through the day, but when we’re alone, at night, we can no longer deny it. Grief keeps us up, wondering, questioning, fearing.

I’ll wager with you, I’ll make you a bet.
The more you deny, the stronger I’ll get.
You start to CHANGE when I get in,
The Babadook growing, right under your skin.

Unchecked, unmonitored, un-dealt-with, grief changes us—and not for the better.

(That’s just analyzing a few lines of the poem, by the way; the way Mr. Babadook assaults Amelia and her son, even the way he’s presented on a visual level, scream grief. Re-watch the film and you’ll see what I mean.)

Amelia, terrified both by what Mr. Babadook is doing to her and what he signifies, denies his existence. But, just as the poem promises, the more she denies, the stronger the Babadook becomes, until he finally takes over Amelia completely and she becomes the monster. Only the love of her son, his willingness to protect her, and her ultimate acceptance of her husband’s death save her.

That in and of itself would make a phenomenal film, but The Babadook’s ending truly brought it home for me. Amelia and her son do not kill the Babadook; they do not even succeed in banishing it. The ending reveals that the Babadook still lives in their basement. In a curious final sequence, Amelia and her son gather worms from their garden, and Amelia descends alone into the basement to feed them to the Babadook. (When her son asks if he will ever get to see it, Amelia responds: “One day. When you’re bigger.”) The monster, obviously unsettled, towers menacingly over Amelia in the basement. But Amelia actually comforts the thing, using soft, soothing sounds, until the Babadook takes the worms and retreats to a dark basement corner. Amelia then returns to the light of day outside, and her son.

“How was it?” he asks.

“It was quiet today,” Amelia says, with a soft, peaceful smile.

And there it is. Amelia has not only confronted her grief, but she is learning to deal with it—to live with it—on a daily basis. And she is happier for it.

Do you see what I mean when I say horror is important?

I believe that each and every one of us will experience hopelessness, despair, and genuine terror in our lives, if we haven’t already. Disaster, abuse, heartbreak, horror, addiction, death. We are all broken. But no matter how deep our damage, the best thing it can do for us is help us see how unendingly beautiful life can be.

And, at least in my opinion, horror can help that along.***



* This seems as good a time as any to say that I certainly don’t enjoy, let alone appreciate, all forms and sub-genres of Horror. Some sub-genres offer little to no value, and others can be actively harmful. The Horror to which I’m referring in this essay has a purpose, has meaning, and while it explores dark places, it only makes the light that much more beautiful.


** “Ineffable” is one of my favorite words. It means, basically, that something is beyond description, too great or extreme to be harnessed by language.

*** Quoth Stephen King: "Here is the final truth of horror movies: They do not love death, as some have suggested; they love life. They do not celebrate deformity but by dwelling on deformity, they sing of health and energy. By showing us th emissaries of the damned, they help us to rediscover the smaller (but never petty) joys of our own lives. ... Omega, the horror film sings in those children's voices. Here is the end. Yet the ultimate subtext that underlies all good horror films is, But not yet. Not this time. Because in the final sense, the horror movie is the celebration of those who feel they can examine death because it does not yet live in their own hearts." (Danse Macabre)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Updated CONduit Schedule

Hey everyone! Conduit XXV starts tomorrow and I'm totes going to be there! I posted my schedule a couple days ago, but it looks like it's been updated. So, without further ado, here's what I'll be doing over the next three days...

Fri 22 May 2:00 PM (Snow): Shot Through the Heart: Writing Romance
Yeah. I'm on a romance panel. If there was ever a thing more lulzy, I haven't heard about it. But it is what it is, and I'm going to crush it ya'll! Here's Conduit's blurb for the panel:

A good romance makes our spirits soar and our hearts sing. A bad romance on the other hand... eh.…Creating a good love story is an art form. Join us and learn how to create a couple, how to make the audience love them, how to make them right for each other, how to make us believe they would fall in love, and how to make us desperately want them to fall in love.

Sat 23 May 11:00 AM (Snow): The Heroine's Journey
I'm particularly excited about this one--it's a panel I proposed, based largely on what I've been studying about the Hero's Journey and the Virgin's Promise recently. While Campbell's monomyth (another name for the Hero's Journey) has certainly revolutionized how we view and analyze story, it's been good for me to broaden that view a bit and include more perspectives in that analysis. This panel (I think, I don't know who's moderating it so you never know) will address whether the Hero's Journey is outdated or not, what value we can find in tweaking it (if any), and what alternatives exist. Conduit's blurb:


Campbell’s Monomyth has proved a very effective way of viewing and analyzing story. But does it lack a more feminine approach? Are there alternatives to the Hero’s Journey that provide a more holistic view, or is THJ all-inclusive as-is?

Sat 23 May 3:00 PM (Arches): Magnificent Bastards, Glorious Scoundrels, and Resplendent Rascals: A superb case of villainy!
This is also a new one to which I was added only recently--but I'm pumped. Villains make the world go 'round. Here's what Conduit says about it:

What makes a great villain? What are those qualities that makes the best villains? Is it better to have a sympathetic villain, or do people prefer the irredeemable monster? How do you make a character people love to hate? 

Sat 23 May 4:00 PM (Arches): The Lovecraft Panel
As far as I know this will be a pretty typical Lovecraftian panel, talking about elder gods, Cthulhu, and Necronomicons galore! I've been a Lovecraft fan for a number of years, now, so I'm excited to chat about his work. Conduit's blurb:

Every convention needs a good panel exploring the world of H.P. Lovecraft, our gang of Cthulhu chasers leads the way.

Sun 24 May 1:00 PM (Arches): A Touch of the Macabre
I'm not entirely sure what this panel will be about, but I think it has something to do with horror, dark fantasy, and the line between the two (if one exists at all). This will be a fun one, I think, as my stuff is usually in the dark fantasy realm, but I've also dabbled in horror. And, based on a few things I've seen and studied lately, I'm more invested in good horror than ever before. I'm excited to share some of the insights I've had. Conduit's blurb:

What makes a horror story? Where does the line from “Just a Fantasy” become “A Nightmare.” Neil Gaiman and others regularly straddle this line, how do they do it, and why do we like it?

So that's my schedj. If you're in the area, you should check out Conduit! And if you're already going, you should check out one of my panels! And, as always, look for me throughout the con! Introduce yourself, we can be pals, etc. :-D

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Headshots! Part Deux

Sometime last year I posted some potential headshots that I sent to my agent for agent-y things. Well, I finally went and got some real ones taken, and the results are looking might fine. Here's a sampling:

Because I like nature! And I'm outdoors-y! And I wear scarves & leather!
Because I can be mildly smoldering! Also, because I love castles!
Because castles! again, but because I can be down to earth and relatable, too!
Because I can be jolly! And did I mention castles?
Because I just straight up murdered a person and didn't quite finish cleaning their blood off the door behind me!
Because I can look vulnerable and sexy (because sexy is sitting on the filthy stairs of a fake castle these days)!
Anyway, I'm happy about these. Who knows, you may even see one of them in a book one day O.o.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Expectations (or: How I Got Published, Part 9)

I’m a perfectionist.

To be clear, I actually don’t think perfectionism is that great of a personal quality. Hard work, tenacity, time management—now those are attributes worth having, especially if you’re an artist/writer. But perfectionism, well…it just makes things tedious.

But the worst thing about perfectionism, I think, is that it makes me want to make my stories perfect (whodathunk?) before I let anyone else see them. And let’s be honest, folks, that just ain’t possible. So what do I do when the unstoppable force of reality meets the immovable object of my perfectionism? Well, it’s easy.

I tell my perfectionism to GET OUT THE WAY.

Perfectionism manifests itself the most when I start thinking about showing my work to others—especially an agent or an editor. “I just need to change that setting element first,” I tell myself, or “Not until I revise this character arc.” And, in my defense, those things may need fixing, and fixing them is good. Fixing all I can before I start circulating my work is important. But there comes a point where the effort to fix something—or the effort needed to find something else to fix—exceeds the anxiety of submitting a flawed manuscript.

And that’s the thing: a manuscript is going to be flawed, no matter how much work I put into it. I had to realize that my manuscript was never going to be perfect. Published manuscripts aren’t even perfect, for crying out loud. Typos slip through, the passive voice and adverbs somehow seem to meddle their way into things, continuity errors pop up every once in a while. That’s just the truth of things.

So for me to think that I’d have a perfect manuscript before I even sent it out to professionals (i.e. agents and editors) was an impossibility. Fortunately, I had a few smart people tell me this while I was revising, and when Duskfall was finally ready enough for me to query people, it was still far from perfect. But it was a good manuscript. It was as good as I could have made it at that time. If I had taken a few more months—a few more years—tried some other revision methods, read more about the writing process, etc. etc., would I have been able to make it even better? Probably. But diminishing returns applies here, too. There’s a certain point where I see diminishing returns from the effort I’m putting into a manuscript, and an important part of self-discovery as a writer was learning where those diminishing returns began, and when to quit and just send out the damn thing.

Manage your expectations. Learn to let go. Put the hard work in. Be tenacious. Manage your time. Before you’ll know it, you’ll have a ready—not finished—manuscript.

And ready is the more important thing.

Monday, May 18, 2015

RESIDUE by Steve Diamond

Steve Diamond and I have been friends since we took Brandon Sanderson's creative writing class back in '08. It's been awesome hanging out with him at cons and seeing him get nominated for a couple Hugo Awards for his book review site, Elitist Book Reviews.

You know what's even more awesome than that, though? I'll tell you what: his first book, Residue, came out a couple weeks ago! Here's the blurb:

RESIDUE follows 17-year-old Jack Bishop after his father is abducted and a monster is let loose in his small town. As he looks for his father, he begins to notice that he can see the psychic residue left behind by monsters and murder victims. Along with the mind-reading Alexandra (Alex) Courtney, Jack uses his growing ESP abilities to stop the deaths in the town, and find out why his father was taken.

Sick cover, right?
But you know what's even MORE AWESOME than a good friend debuting his first novel? I'll tell you what: reading that novel and realizing it is really freaking good.

If you're into YA thrillers, supernatural horror, shooting freaky monsters with guns, or all of the above, then you should definitely check out Residue by Steve Diamond.




Friday, May 15, 2015

A Gorgeous Day of Rain

Woke up to rain this morning, and I couldn't be happier about it.


I don't know why but when it's raining outside there's nothing I'd rather do than write.* (If you ever figure out why that is, let me know. Actually, on second thought, don't. The mystery is better.)


So, if you'll excuse me, I've got some writing to do :-).



* I do love to do other things when it’s raining, though, including but not limited to
  • taking a shower
  • reading a novel
  • going for a run
…basically in that order. But writing trumps all in the rain.