Writing 101 Advice from Geek*Kon 2015

Quere Baby Deadpool Pole Dancing Avatar

Geek*Kon 2015 was a mixture of seeing old friends and making new ones. I did have a great time and these fans are doing everything they can to put on a great show. I was thrilled to see folks like Emma Bull, Greg Weisman, Christopher Jones, Will Shetterly, and Alex Bledsoe speak to up-and-coming writers, fans, and all around great people.

Rather than give a recap of every panel and anime-related item I purchased (*coughs* Jiji rocks!), I’d like to highlight some of the wonderful advice given during my Writing 101 panel. The panel consisted of Alex Bledsoe, Will Shetterly, Emma Bull and myself. Here are some of the nuggets of advice given during the panel that I hope inspires you to write your heart out. Please note that I made every attempt to attribute said advice correctly, and some of the comments are sub-attributed to Steven Brust. Rather than rehash many of the tidbits I’ve mentioned here on my blog, today’s spotlight is on the other authors and their words of wisdom.

  • Point-of-view (P.O.V.) solves everything. Brust/Bull
  • Story starts with your P.O.V. character. Shetterly
  • Deal with the precipitating event as the first part of your story. Bledsoe
  • What serves the story is what you don’t tell. Shetterly
  • With respect to critiques and feedback from readers, “Worry about reader problems vs. reader solutions.” Shetterly
  • I write first drafts to create a skeleton. Bledsoe
  • With respect to revisions: “I pace around my house, reading the manuscript aloud.” Bledsoe
  • Figure out what drafts are supposed to do. e.g. They can be systematic or intuitive. Bull
  • Make the story more specific during revisions. Shetterly
  • What really matters, is the story itself. Shetterly
  • It’s better to write a bad first draft, than no draft at all. Shetterly

We also talked about info dumps and the Dread PrologueTM, and how many of the info dumps can be avoided by choosing the right character when selecting which character is telling the story. We also mentioned how it’s okay to suck (you’ve no doubt heard me say that before), and how the senses are crucial to add in layers of worldbuilding. For example, Bledsoe mentioned that a sense of smell can really make a big difference.

I hope today’s wrap-up inspires you to write, write, write! And remember, you’ll never internalize or finish what you start unless you sit down and simply…write. GOOD LUCK!

    Mood: Luxuriating in this damp, windy weather.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Mostly managed!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH.
    In My Ears: Tron Legacy soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Kingdom Rush
    Book Last Read: For research, not pleasure. Ergo…
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Frozen. Because in my house, it’s a horror movie.
    Latest Artistic Project: Sewing project that turned out to be a pescatarian oni. Don’t ask! Am planning Halloween-related crafts, however.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. A new one coming soon! SOON I SAY!

My Geek*Kon Schedule

Geek Kon

I’ll be a guest at Geek*Kon this weekend. Here’s my fabulous schedule! You’ll hear more about my upcoming book, The Gorramn Shiniest Language Guide and Dictionary in the ‘Verse, and other stories in the pipe.

Friday, August 21
7:00 to 7:50 – Spooky Scary Awesome Action
8:00 to 10:00 – Gaming with the Guests

Saturday, August 22
1:00 to 1:50 – The Shiniest Things in the Gorramn ‘Verse
3:00 to 3:50 – Fiction Writing 101 – Mendota
5:00 to 5:50 – Vampires in Fiction – Green Bay/Milwaukee

Sunday, August 23
1:30 to 2:50 – Build-a-World Game Show

Whispers in the Wind

Gromit Reading Avatar

I’ve had a number of people tell me over the past couple of months that I seem different, more relaxed and chill. This is true for a large number of reasons, some of which are diet-related, and others due to the fact that I’ve gotten closure on a number of long, drawn out situations that had been going on for a number of years. You’ll forgive me if I don’t expound on that last, but one of my coping mechanisms to having a public profile is that I need a buffer between me and Ye Olde Internet, so I tend not to post about the overly personal. Also: onions have layers. And, I’m related to Shrek in some fashion. I can pretty much guarantee it.

There are some things on my mind I do want to quickly address and share with you, so let me get right to it. Shanna Germain had mentioned on Twitter and Facebook that we should start proposing panels to cope with online harassment and negativity. I remember, many years ago, someone told me that Neil Gaiman had talked about professional PR training. (Like with many things in the sphere of the big “G”, I can’t confirm that as I don’t know him personally and didn’t find the exact quote, but I felt it was worth posting the original comment anyway, as it’s great advice.) I’ve been on the hunt for PR training ever since that time, and they don’t offer this service in my area. Panels, on the other hand, are a fantastic and welcome substitute for specific issues related to this topic. Having these conversations, I feel, is something that can help both new and established professionals who have a public persona and often find it difficult to cope with the eroding line between fan and creator, troll and victim. Many of my coping mechanisms are related to anchors that I do behind-the-scenes, so if you’re hoping for some things you can do in terms of sanity checks, let me know and I’ll draw up a post about it.

The second thing is that I’ve come to terms with the fact that, as I mentioned a few years ago now, I’m not the person to blog about contemporary topics or online kerfuffles. I’ve since come to terms with the fact that this is decidedly the case, as I do not feel a) qualified or b) able to keep up with the ever-changing nuances of particular issues. In addition to the time investment, I’ve realized that reading about these sorts of things does the one thing that I cannot allow — it impacts my work. When I was attending RWA meetings on a regular basis a while back, I remember Christine Merrill talking about how important it was to Protect The Work. I could see how Life, The Universe, and EverythingTM can get in the way of the work to some degree, but I didn’t grok that what’s happening online is a big part of that as well. For me, words are music. (It’s one of the reasons why I can mimic voices fairly well on the written page.) When I’m online, I hear dissonance. I hear vocal gymnastics and fireworks. I rarely hear the soft lullaby or the chirping of crickets during twilight. It’s always loud on the internet, and I need the exact opposite of that when I’m creating. I need that breathing room to stretch out and be safely free to roam.

There are, however, people that are doing amazing work and I’m going to try to shine the spotlight on them more often. My friend Emily Care Boss is one of those people. She was doing things in game design ten years ago that are just now starting to become more important. You can read more about her perspective on Gaming As Women and in this interview with Emily, here. The second person I want to mention today is Alethea Kontis. (Her name is pronounced Ah-Lee-Thee-Ah.) She’s recently put out a new collection called Tales of Arilland. Check it out!

That’s all I have time for today, since I just got back from CONvergence. I had a fantastic time, and there’s a lot of great things that came out of this show. Additionally, I had two firsts for my Build-a-World game show. (Three, if you count it was the last panel of the show!) First, some of the participants were so inspired that they now want to write in the world they created. Second, one of the participants, Martha Wells, did this fantastic write up about Build-a-World. Thanks to Martha, Catherine, Tex, Carrie, Paul, and John for participating, and to all the audience members who came out. It was a blast, and I’m happy to answer that “Yes!” There’s more on the horizon. Can’t wait to share all the news!

    Mood: This is my Chill Face
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Managed!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Convention recovery.
    In My Ears: Crappy rendition of Nothing Else Matters. Hey, you asked…
    Game Last Played: Ashamed to admit I have a new addiction. Kingdom Rush
    Book Last Read: [Research-Related]
    Movie Last Viewed: Ascension from SyFy
    Latest Artistic Project: Coloring!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. A new one coming soon!

Back from Context 27

I owe you two or three posts today, but you’re only going to get the one. The first one was a bit more on the pre-order for Things Don’t Go Smooth and the second was this week’s list of squees. (A third was going to be on how I write long form works, but hey… there’s only so much time in the day.) Instead, I turn to my summary on what happened at Context 27–because it’s fresh in my mind.

Having been to more science fiction and fantasy conventions now, I feel that there’s a marked difference between shows and what you can expect from them depending upon what you want to get out of the convention. I talked about this before, but I feel it’s important to note that yes, I do have a touch of social anxiety when it comes to meeting new people. I am terrible with first impressions, partly because I have a very big personality that I realize can/has steamrolled over others, but also because I’m sensitive to the mood of the room or I’m trying to be respectful of what the person I’m talking to is there to do. As I told one of my friends, I see the threads connecting folk, and I never want to feel like I’m imposing. This changes with time, yes, because as I get to make more friends who are comfortable around me it gets easier. (Which I think is true of anyone, really.) BUT, it’s also equally important that I have something to “do.” A media or gaming convention? No problem. But SF&F cons tend to have a slower pace due to their focus, which means I have to get “creative” with my time and make the most out of it while I’m there. Yes, absolutely, I can write or read, but that’s something I can do at home.

Context fits into my sweet spot because (though the hotel was probably designed by Loki) there were definitely Things To Do and it had a tight focus. I went in a day early to decompress and not be rushed; meandered over to this lovely place called Pies and Pints where I stamped “approved” on their pulled pork nachos and blueberry cider. Everyone in the general area was extremely friendly and happy to divulge their life’s story, from the Nigerian shuttle driver to the local pottery artist to the budding songwriter. It was lovely. For Day Two, registration began, I got to meet guests-of-honor Jonathan Maberry and Betsy Mitchell who were both fabulous. Then, I had a fun panel about the future of magazines with Brady Allen, crashed my friend Maurice Broaddus‘s workshop on Building Your Brand, had dinner with the amazingly talented Lucy Snyder and a heap of others, and started to get excited. As folks trickled in, I knew the guitars would too–courtesy of Lawrence Connolly, John Hornor Jacobs, and Geoffrey Girard. So we spent later Friday night in an impromptu jam, and it was a-w-e-s-o-m-e. I hope that this’ll become a regular thing, as there are loads of great musicians floating around!

Saturday was The Big Day with more panels, a signing, a reading with Janet Harriett, my Build-a-World game show, and parties. The most feedback I received about my panels was for the Writing for Media Tie-Ins with Tim Waggoner and Laura Resnick and the Build-a-World gameshow–which was a total hit! Congrats to John Hornor Jacobs, Ferrett Steinmetz, and Addie J King (e.g. Team Things Could Get Ugly) for their hair-raising six-point win over Team Responsible and Sober! Huzzah! Also on Saturday were shenanigans at the various parties. But, since what happens at Context stays at Context…

Sunday I slept in a touch, got to make my good-byes, and scrambled for the way home. Now, I am SURE I am missing something. Positive, even. (I’m also certain I am missing more someones, too… DARN IT ALL and HUGE apologies in advance!) But here’s the thing: the reason why I feel that this show is a good one to attend, is simply that there’s a strong emphasis on craft. If that’s the type of convention you want to attend? Then mark your calendar for next year’s show!

Thanks again to Steven Saus for inviting me!

Mo*Con and Writing the Other

Galactic Starry Space

Mo*Con is a gathering of writers and fans in Indianapolis that’s put together by my friend Maurice Broaddus. This year’s theme was writing the other. I had a wonderful time and was anxious to have the discussion about writing the other, because it directly impacts my original work. You see, this has always been important to me for many reasons, and I’ve struggled with the conversations that have been happening on the internet. There’s a lot of anger, hurt feelings, and strong opinions that come from many different perspectives in circulation, and few solutions. There are people who believe that I (meaning writers who share a similar background to myself), can’t and shouldn’t write characters who hail from different ethnic heritages or cultures. There are folks who think that I should step back, and just let a person of color write the story I want to write, and take a safer route.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments against writing the other. Too many. It’s forced me to freeze up on occasion, because what if I get it wrong. What if I piss somebody off. What if… And that anxiety that I have comes from a very personal, very challenging set of experiences that I have with the subject in general. Experiences that spur me to write about all different kinds of people, to spend the time on research and reading, to read and continue reading unique perspectives in storytelling, to pore through lots and lots of history books. Though all that may be true? None of that means anything because the most important thing — in fact the ONLY THING — that matters is how the other is reflected in the stories I write. All the research in the world doesn’t mean crap unless I’m applying that and, in the absence of telling stories, that’s what I do. Obsess and research and obsess some more.

What Mo*Con did for me, was to say: “Yes, write the other. But be considerate.” Okay, I’m pretty sure I have the considerate part down. “And, that includes thinking about your audience.” That little gem, which came from Chesya Burke, really nailed it for me. Who your audience is explains a LOT about the response. It isn’t just a story, mind, it’s a story that different people will identify with. This is what the internet has done. It’s highlighted that not all readers hail from the same demographic. If I am writing, and I picture my audience is mostly readers like myself, then I don’t have to worry necessarily about how an Italian-American woman will respond to a Jamaican character. I do, however, need to worry about how a Jamaican reader might react to seeing a character like her in my stories. To figure that out, it’s as simple as finding beta readers who can read those stories and tell me what I did right or wrong.

Avoiding stereotypes, to me, is just common sense because that’s the least I can do. But the idea that I shouldn’t write other and diverse characters because I don’t share someone’s cultural background is ludicrous. I am not afraid to write the other. I am afraid, however, to get it wrong — and guess what? I will. I will screw that up, just like I’ll screw something else up in my stories. Maybe I get a fact wrong or a translation or a character description. I’m not writing to be perfect, mind, I can never be that. Never. And I’m okay with that, really. I just don’t want to deeply offend anyone, but at the same time I’m not going out of my way to piss people off.

Having positive, supportive people around me does help, too, which is another reason I am deeply grateful for the Mo*Con experience. If anything, that’s quite possibly the most important thing to take away from this. It’s having the right people around me, to support my efforts and my writing, to not be so negative or dismissive. The internet can be a wondrous thing, but especially when it comes to topics like this? Comments (from both strangers and people you know) can introduce insecurity and more reasons not to write — and I think there’s quite enough of those, thank you. Instead, I seek reasons to say “YES!” starting with one story (and one reader) at a time.

    Mood: Blargh.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Um… Well, there was that one.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Snoring.
    In My Ears: Noise-cancelling headphones are glorious.
    Game Last Played: Ninjas versus Zombies
    Book Last Read: A book I put down. It suxx0red.
    Movie Last Viewed: Nine
    Latest Artistic Project: Art classes. SON OF A BISCUIT! That reminds me…
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Mortal Remains
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, short stories, and novels.
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