Category Archives: The Written Word

Blog posts about writing… y’know, the reason we’re all here in the first place.

Random Thoughts on a Sunday Morning

From Becca’s writing prompt at the Fall (Winter?) MUG Retreat.

Yoga With My Wife

I switched off the ringer, grateful, but she’d said it in the sand of her voice—maybe holiday lights in the crowded Westfield mall got off the phone. I could see the pain in her black shoulder length hair, red lips. Some dinner, and I called Jenny back. Only polite, hot wind in our hair; desert air that smells our legs past our sex and guts and lungs—Jenny’s shrill barks as she adjusts the blankets that fit snugly around my skin.

Rabbits piled in a cage, stacked like logs without language, they say—and so memory does not begin until hair comes spilling around faces.

So she texted me, which I ignored. Vanayasas are hay bales piled; smell of straw and clean, safe gravel from approaching cars turning into parking lots, you see. Denise was very upset that I talked, she could hear cars passing on highways nearby; examples of the floorboards under our feet, climbing up as if they don’t know each other. Can’t talk to me like that laughter on our lips.

I tend to believe the former. Not that I can remember the pumpkin patch in the crib next to mine. I remember a woman, in white, vines broken and crisp, and heart, until it melded with the sound in our—Cathy moving on? What news?

Hot army shoulders, skin cracking—soft touch of gray hair peeking through, dirty. Lots of worms coming up with it, going with Jenny.

After you learn to talk.

Glorious.

Cathy in jeans and blue fleece, rushing—cold room; blanket draped over my lap, comfort, safety not contained in a house grimy and crunchy in my mouth, thick stringy starch burning rosemary, and it gets in your lungs and makes sirens pass.

Her voice smooth and low, the gentle touch of her fingers.

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The Doldrums

The word ‘doldrums’ is a nautical term, referring to a stretch of sea where the weather is extraordinarily calm. Sailing ships would become trapped in these areas, waiting for the hint of a breeze to come up so they could travel on.

In writing, the doldrums is a stretch of time where you just don’t have the motivation to write. I’m in that state now, and have been for some time. This is not the so-called “writer’s block” (which I refuse to acknowledge is a real thing: there’s always something else to write); I’ve got a couple of short stories and several novellas with solid ideas in my head, and I’ve been rolling over dialog and narration in my mind. This is my normal process: I think about a story for a bit before I sit down to put it on the page, revising it in my head.

I’m just not motivated to put anything on the page. I’ve opened my editor a couple of times, stared at blank pages, written treatments. But then I wander off and do something else. There’s a lot on my plate outside of writing right now, and I just can’t seem to get in the groove to actually write anything.

So what’s a writer to do? Well, if you read my last post, you’d know exactly.

Read.

Reading is, of course, why we write in the first place. We love the written word. Most–if not all–of us have a nice stack of books we’ve been dying to get through. So I’m reading, voraciously; two books in the last three days. I’m chewing through my reading list, and it’s slowly recharging my batteries. I’m reading all kinds of stuff, too, not just in my favorite genre of speculative fiction but also crime, adventure, a travelogue, all kinds of stuff, drowning myself in words and styles and ideas.

And pretty soon, I’m sure, there will be a breeze from the south-southwest, blowing me gently back into the trade lanes of my writer’s mind.

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Filed under The Writer's Life, The Written Word

MFA vs NYC

There are more MFA Creative Writing programs in the US now than there have ever been before. This little tidbit is one of many things I learned from reading MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, a collection of essays inspired by the original “MFA vs NYC” essay by Chad Harbach (author of The Art of Fielding), in which he suggested that American literature falls into the dichotomy of university programs and New York publishing.

MFA vs NYC

When my aunt suggested this book to me, at the suggestion of her book group facilitator, I thought all my questions would be answered. Here I would finally discover if MFA programs really are worth it, or if they’re a method of brainwashing designed to churn out the same types of writers, and I would learn “the truth” (as if such a thing exists) about the world of publishing in New York. I enjoyed the book and did learn a few things, but of course my questions were not really answered. This book reinforced something I’ve seen again and again in the writing world: it’s all so subjective.

The people involved in MFA programs support them, of course, and the people shunned by them, well, shun them. As for “the writer’s life” in New York, it’s no different from anywhere else: writing doesn’t usually pay much, if at all, and somehow you’ve got to figure out how to make a living.

I will say the book was wonderful for not feeling alone—ah yes, all writers face the same issues I’m facing now at some point or other—and it reinforced the idea that I should simply keep doing what I’m doing, since the writers who make it do so more on perseverance than anything else. Perhaps one day I’ll sell lots of books, and perhaps one day I’ll teach at an MFA program, and perhaps I will always have a “day job.” One of my favorite things about reading this book was the chance to feel like some of my favorite authors were chatting with me. I got to “be with” them through their opinions in a different way from what it feels like reading their fiction.

Chad Harbach sums the book up, and possibly the writing world in general, best in his intro: “…a writer can be ruined by school…She can be ruined by the publishing industry…She can be ruined by her poverty, or her parents. Or she can find her way.” Thank you, sir. I certainly hope I’m one of the latter.

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Don’t Write What You Know

If you haven’t read Robert Boswell’s, THE HALF-KNOWN WORLD, do yourself a favor a go pick it up right now.

No really. Go!

Got it? Great. Now we can have a real discussion.

One of my favorite lines in Boswell’s story is this: “By refusing to fully know the world, I hope to discover unusual formations in the landscape, and strange desires in the characters.”

Invariably, our stories are shaped by our lives. There is no way around that because our perceptions of the real world affect the way we build our fictitious ones. BUT, as writers we need to be careful about limiting our character growth by attaching too much real world value to who they are. The same goes for story and dialogue.

Characters are to a writer, what children are to their parents. They are born of us, guided by us, and when they come of age we are required to let them go. Giving characters the freedom to be wrong, is half of what makes them intricate, fascinating, true-to-life, people that readers connect to, engage with, and ultimately come to love.

For me, one of the most challenging aspects of writing involves the creation of character flaws. As a perfect human being myself, it’s hard for me to relate to people who don’t have lots of money, super white teeth, perfect hair, and a job so fun that it makes Disneyland look like Alcatraz (when it was still functioning). I kid, I kid, but in all honesty, who wants to get into the mind of  a narcissistic, self-righteous, schizophrenic billionaire who half the time runs Google and the other half of the time murders people out of impulse, and then have to stick by him for six or seven years while his story unfolds? Not me. However; I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to read that story. Faults in our characters bring them life, they take two-dimensional ideas and formulate three-dimensional quirky people. Anthony C. Lanni wrote a post recently on how to create engaging characters so check it out if you need more ideas.

As for plot, I can’t tell you the number of times an editor has said to me (and I have said to others), “This doesn’t seem real,” only to be given the response, “But it happened to me!”

Sigh. There is no easy way to say this, except, “It doesn’t matter.” Coincidences work in real life, but they fall flat in fiction. Just because something really happened to you in real life, does not mean that it gets to happen in your story (unless you’re writing a memoir, in which case, I apologize for the terrible things that have occurred in your life.)

Creating realistic characters does not mean pulling every interesting scene from your own life and tossing them into a three-act structure. Just because you one day, tripped on your rollerblade, tumbled down forty steps, landed in the middle of a bike lane, were hit by two bicyclists and caused a thirty bike pile up doesn’t mean you can place this scenario into a dramatic World War II story about a girl running from the Nazi’s and have it work.

Pull ideas from the world around you, write them down on notecards, pin them to your walls, use them to motivate you or inspire character ideas, but don’t let them limit who your characters will become. Don’t write what you know, let what you know inform your ideas, and then give your characters the freedom to be whoever they want.

Then, when you’ve conjured up a unique character/plot write it down and paste it to your wall next to your computer so that when you start writing you are reminded of who your characters are and stay true to them as characters separate from the writer.

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Getting readers engaged with your characters, part I

At the 2014 Rainforest Writer’s Retreat, I was lucky enough to meet Diana Pharaoh Francis. In addition to just generally being a great addition to the retreat, Diana gave us two informative presentations about writing. One of these was about engaging characters, and I thought I’d share some of the things I learned. Buckle up–I’m about to lay a lot of information on you!

Getting a reader engaged with your characters is of paramount importance. Without an emotional connection, the reader is likely to put the story down. It doesn’t matter how clever or exciting the plot might be; people want to identify with the characters, whether it be loving them/wanting to be them, hating them, or a combination of the two.

Let’s start with some examples of likeable qualities we can give our characters. I’m sure you can think of even more.

  • Redemption: If the character doesn’t ever show any redeeming qualities or hints that they’re going to improve, you’ll lose them. Going out of their way to help someone is an endearing quality.
  • Justification: Give them a good reason to do what they’re doing. Something that the character believes in will hook the reader, for instance. Don’t info dump, though. Slow reveal, dribble bits of it here and there, so the reader’s always looking for more.
  • Make sure your character shows likeable qualities; but only part of the time. (All the time is too much). The bad stuff, the character needs to own it.
  • Competence is a big one. We like watching people who are good at what they do. Consider James Bond: he’s a violent psychopath who doesn’t particularly respect women, trashes nearly every piece of equipment he’s given, and kills indiscriminately. But he’s really good at what he does, and we love him for it.
  • Have your character do things readers can identify with. Let readers live out their fantasies through the character, things they would never do in real life. Think vigilantes, etc.
  • Make them someone who smiles through the pain. Despite angst, they keep going, no whining.
  • They should make attempts to be good every once in a while. This doesn’t mean they’re just generally ‘good guys’… I’m talking about actual conscious choice to do something abnormally ‘good’. This is that little thing Taylor likes to call “Save the Cat”.
  • The character should recognize their own failings on some level; maybe not enough to change, but maybe enough to wish they could change.

So now you have a bunch of ideas about what qualities your likable characters might have. Think about them, and take a week or so to put them together with some of your characters. Next time, I’ll tell you about some unlikeable qualities, and how to get them across to your readers.

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Filed under Moderately Uncategorized Gabbing, The Written Word

Ready Player One

Last year, for my brother’s birthday, I gave him a book I’d heard good things about but never read: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. A few weeks ago he discovered I’d never read it, and rushed it into my hands.Ready Player One

“You gotta read this,” he said. “It’s awesome.”

I have to agree, and for more than one reason.

Ready Player One is set in a dystopian future of our own Earth. National economies and even governments are in a state of severe decay; poverty, disease, hunger, and other maladies wrack the planet. The only escape from the misery of real life is something called “OASIS”, a virtual reality game that contains thousands of worlds, space travel, a functioning economy (that translates into actual money in the real world)… and a fantastic puzzle.

The hero, Wade, is a teenager caught up in the puzzle. The man who created OASIS has recently passed away, and left his fabulous fortune to the first person who can decipher the insanely difficult puzzle he left behind. The OASIS’ inventor grew up in the 80’s, and all his clues and challenges revolve around movies, TV and games from that time period.

Naturally, having grown up in the 80’s myself, I not only identified with the many pop culture references but was really caught up in the puzzles and story. Cline does a very good job of describing the source and meaning of each reference, though, and does not spend an overly long time delving into the intricacies of each one. Younger readers or people with no experience in that thing will still understand what it is and enjoy the challenge. How many people even remember, much less played, the D&D module ‘Tomb of Horrors’? I did, and enjoyed that part of the book. Those who didn’t will still derive pleasure from reading about Wade’s experiences.

This is Cline’s first published novel, and I think that shows. There’s a certain shallowness to the characterizations, a simplicity to the prose and story that bespokes a first time writer. I didn’t find it distracting, or problematic in any way. I think the book would probably have fallen into the ‘Young Adult’ or even ‘New Adult’ categories if it hadn’t been so securely seated in Science Fiction, but that just means it ends up being a fast, easy read. Cline keeps the tension and action moving from one chapter to the next, and the pages fly by so quickly that I was loathe to put the book down.

I’d definitely recommend picking up a copy, not only for the enjoyment of the book, but to see how Cline has written it, how he’s made it so easy to digest despite being filled with ideas and references that might be completely foreign to the reader. As I write this I realize that in a lot of ways he’s made it the same sort of bubblegum pop that much of the entertainment in the 80’s was characterized by. I leave it to you to decide whether that was intentional or not.

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Crutches To Avoid When Approaching “The Image”

“Show, don’t tell.”

We’ve all heard this critique at one point or another, and I’m willing to bet that we’ve all said it even more times. This workshop note is one that, while helpful in pointing out where a scene or character description could be more evocative, also tends to leave us writers puzzled.

Whether it’s in poetry, a novel, or the graffiti of a bathroom stall, the image is the foundation of compelling writing that pulls a reader along. Long gone are the days where writers could get away with opening lines like, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Nowadays, readers want an image right off the bat, be it a galactic space station rotating in the open black of space or a thin fishing dock bouncing off the wake of a passing boat.

As writers, it’s easier for us to understand what lies beneath our own imagery, because of how close it is to us. Perhaps that’s why it’s so shattering to hear those three words: “Show, don’t tell.” But fear not. Here are a few suggestions of what to look for when you return to those images that you know are lacking in physicality:

Avoid “like,” “as,” and any other form of simile.

This can be a tough one. Very often I’ll go through a first draft feeling confident that all the little image bombs I’ve dropped on the page are so subtle–only to discover the next morning that there was line after line of blatant simile. And while similes are all well and good, they must be earned. Once you’ve eliminated those words from your repertoire (or at least heavily scrutinized each and every use of them), try to evoke the same response from your reader in another way.

  • SIDE NOTE: Try to avoid using ‘as’ to transition from one moment of action into the next. This is especially important for action writing, as it looks lazy and doesn’t do much for the reader in terms of figuring out your scene spatially. For example, if you write, “Steven broke the jaw of the clown as Jenny bolted with his shoes,” I don’t see how Steven’s moving, where Jenny has gone to, or even where they are. Pacing is important to action, but it must come with a solid dose of imagery.

Kill those adverbs–KILL THEM.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that 9 times out of 10, an adverb can be either eliminated or replaced. Steven didn’t swiftly break that clown’s jaw, he broke it with a swift, upward thrust of the heel of his palm.

In my own experience, adverbs are nothing more than a placeholder we toss into a first draft so that we know what we want to tease out of there when we return to it. Again, adverbs sometimes work, but they almost always have to be well earned.

Do a sense check.

I can swear to you up and down that I know we have 5 senses. But if you only had some of my first drafts to go off, you might think that sight is where it ends. I’ve learned how important it is to comb back through a revision with all of my senses working their way in to my imagery.

I find this particular suggestion to be a treacherous slope, though, because it almost sounds counter intuitive. Unlike a painting or a photograph, we have the opportunity to immerse the reader in an image. Don’t be afraid to let your reader smell the rotten breeze that ekes out from the fruit drawer in the fridge or hear the rending crash of two steel swords against one another.

Show and Tell

What I’ve just shared with you is, by and large, lessons that have been impressed upon me in studying poetry. In fact, one major advantage of poetry is the way that it reveres the image. This allows me to approach the marble slab of imagery with a finer chisel and hammer, but it is also very easy to become over indulgent this way.

So remember that the best writers practice balance in all things. A brass kettle that’s screaming on the stove doesn’t always have to be a symbol of imminent danger. Sometimes it is nothing more than a container of boiling water and tea leaves, and that’s pretty darn cool too.

How do you approach imagery? Do you focus on established scenes first and then insert imagery later? Or do you begin with an image and work out from there? How do you decide to include the physical details that you do in your writing? And what makes you decide to keep the ones you do and toss the ones you don’t?

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Rethinking Revision

Last week, Anthony said that creating vivid characters has been a weak spot for him in the past. Continuing with the theme of self-criticism, today I’ll be talking about…

REVISION.

A tale of two rewrites.

Rewrite #1.

rewrite twit

I have a story about a guy named Equivan and his grandfather, whose name is also Equivan. Equivan lives in Fate Year, while Equivan lives in Bull Year. Even better, Equivan’s grandmother and Equivan’s wife, Kentar, is immortal, so Kentar regularly talks with both Equivan and Equivan in both Fate Year and Bull Year.

Still with me?

Fortunately one of the magazines I submitted this story to was kind enough to point my mistake out: there’s no way for the reader to tell the difference between two concurrent storylines. And what the hell even is a Bull Year and a Fate Year, anyway?

They requested a rewrite.

It’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand, not getting an email that says “Your story has much to be desired and we’re not sure why anybody would want to publish this” is like Christmas/Hanukah/Winter Solstice come early. On the other hand… Rewrites were in my future.

Rewrite #2.

rewrite twit2

In 2011, I began a self-termed “scifantastic” novel with the seed of an idea: A kitten playing with a ball of string.

Stay with me. See, the string was a metaphor for the gods’ power, and the kitten was a metaphor for meddling mortals, thus creating magic. And so a spunky kitten named “Mew,” a companion of a hero/android named Boris, continued to sneak around with the crew.

By the time the first draft was done, Mew had done nothing of any importance.

Mew had to go.

Revision: Two Lessons

I used to dig my heels in when it came to rewrites: “But this is the way the story is! It’s done! Just accept it!” And maybe I’d change a word here or there, but I believed in the sanctity of my original piece and gods help me if I was going to sully it by changing things.

But revision is called revision for a reason. I’m in the process of learning to embrace rewrites: it’s a chance for me to change how I think about the chapter or story. What if is a good place to start, not only for a first draft but also when digging in to rewrite.

What if Equivan is dealing with the repercussions of his father’s reign, not his grandfather’s? It would make it much more immediate for the character’s memory (who doesn’t love some good daddy issues?). Plus there’s the added bonus of not having two characters named the exact. same. thing.

And what if instead of naming the years they’re living in (and needlessly complicating the plot line), I write the past as if it’s a fairy tale, and I write the present storyline in a more modern voice?

What if opens me up to new characters.

What if lets me delete a whole scene and start on it from scratch without getting massive anxiety.

It’s a mindset of play, rather than a mindset of work. Revision should be just as creative as the first draft is.

Cut. Cut. Cut.

Less is more.

Again.

Less = more.

The more you can say with less space, the more brilliant you become. My favorite feline Mew wasn’t the only character who got cut out of that first scifantastic draft. There was a boy who only existed so he could get killed later on. There were unicorns. There were Amazon women. There was an entirely new species of aliens.

I gave some of their lines to other, more important characters. In some places I cut out scenes entirely. And do you know what? The story did not fall apart.

There is a kind of therapeutic release with getting rid of old junk. Donating to shelters, thrift stores, or just tossing stuff out opens up your closets for better stuff. You can be mobile and flexible. You can move without worrying about that junk weighing you down.

The same thing works with words. Cutting out 20,000 words from that first novel draft was like a breath of fresh air, freeing me from the mental weight holding me down (and actual physical weight in the printed draft). I had less characters to juggle and my vision was clearer.

The MUGsters’ critiques really help with noticing scenes that could be tightened up, things that could be tossed out. So the next time you have a big revision ahead of you, keep two things in mind: can you play with it to make it better, and do you need it? You’ll end up with a leaner, meaner manuscript – until, of course, the next rewrite.

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If you’ve got character…

Character.

For some of us–well, maybe just me, but I can hardly believe I’m alone in this–the idea of creating a rich, intricate character that appeals to the reader, pulls at their heart-strings, makes the reader root for/against, love and hate, talk to like a real person, want to become friends with (or just become), well, it’s pretty intimidating. I mean, how does one do that, exactly?

Yeah, I don’t exactly know the answer to that. The characters I have that are like that are created more-or-less by accident. Character building is perhaps my weakest skill, so I’m going to talk about the things I do to try to overcome that weakness.

I was inspired to write by early 20th century pulp fiction. Action heroes like Conan and John Carter are what I patterned my writing on as a teen/early adult (hey, what do you want, I’m a boy). These stories are long on setting and action, but the characters–even the main characters–are mostly objectified, cardboard cutouts. Multidimensionality is not a strong suit.

And, as a result, my earliest characters were pretty one-dimensional. The earliest versions of my favorite characters to write, the warrior Regnar and his friend, the wizard Belan, were completely flat: Regnar was strong and jolly, and Belan was smart and somber, and neither ever changed.

Over time, of course, I’ve improved. Now there is an arc to both their characters. Those old qualities are still there, but there’s a reason for them. They have goals, aspirations, trauma; they react to that trauma, heal, etc. So how did I get there?

Last October, at the MUG Writing Retreat, I talked about 5 questions I ask myself about my characters. I’m going to repeat those here.

  1. What does (s)he want? This should include both:
    • physical (i.e. to escape the clutches of the 100-foot tall octopus-headed monster)
    • emotional (i.e. to resolve their long-standing mommy/daddy issues and find love)
  2. How does (s)he get it?
    • What steps is the character willing to take to achieve their goals, and how does that change over the course of the story?
    • What will they do at the end that they would have considered impossible at the beginning?
  3. What is the inciting incident, i.e., the event that sets them on their journey?
  4. What is the character climax, i.e., the moment when they have to face their demons and conquer them?
  5. How is everything resolved? What is the character like *after* the climax?

This is a great place to start with character building (though note that, like me, you might end up doing this after the character’s already been on the page for several chapters), but it’s by no means an end. There are dozens of other questions you can ask about your characters, like “what is their favorite color?” or “why do they like cheese enchiladas?”.

What other qualities does your character have, maybe not important to the plot of the story in any way, that flesh them out more fully? For shorter stories, this probably won’t come out, and may be a wasted effort. For a novella or novel, though, such things are very important. A simple, throwaway line about liking cheese enchiladas because the character’s parents would take the family to a Mexican restaurant whenever an older sibling was successful at school or sports gives the reader insight into the character.

The next thing you can do to establish a character is give them a vivid situation to react to right at the beginning, when you first meet them. First impressions are always important, and you can do almost anything with a character once you’ve got the reader hooked with a visceral reaction. If it’s a hero character, this is often a ‘save the cat’ moment; for a villain, a ‘kill the cat’ moment is just as important.

Take, for example, the opening scenes of the movie ‘Payback’, starring Mel Gibson. Gibson is playing Porter, a criminal that was betrayed by his wife and friend. In the opening of the movie, we see Porter return to town, steal money from a homeless panhandler, pick a passerby’s pocket, and spend the day buying suits and jewelry until the man’s credit cards are cancelled. This is a bad man, we’re told. The next thing he does is go find his wife and attempt to save her from her heroin addiction; a ‘save the cat’ moment. Ok, so he’s a bad man, but he’s not all bad. He has redeeming qualities, and it’s this hope for redemption that has the audience rooting for him.

The last thing I try to remember is to be flexible. Your character concept may change as you write. I initially envisioned my character Iandoli as a sadistic, amoral woman who was sexually excited by violence. I dropped the sadism and sexual element later, replacing it with an internal conflict over right and wrong; I don’t expect many of my readers to be sexual sadists, but I do expect nearly all of them to be able to relate to her struggle to do what she thinks is right; and as the book progresses, that changes.

So, whether you start with building a character and letting that direct the plot as you put them in situations, or whether you build the plot and plug characters into it, you have to remember that the reader wants to love the person they’re reading about as much as the story they’re involved in. Know what your character’s path is, know details about them that flesh them out and make them believable, and make them relateable, and you’ll have your reader hooked.

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Writer’s Digest Conference West

This past weekend Taylor and I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference West (heretofore referred to as the WDCW, because typing out the entire thing each time, or even cut-and-paste, is quite frankly too much work for a Monday morning). The WDCW is a three-day long series of lectures, Q&A, writing boot camps, and – most appealing of all – two massive pitch sessions where authors with books to sell can sit down with literary agents for three minutes and pitch their work.

Taylor and I signed up as writing partners, allowing each of us the opportunity to attend one of the pitch sessions, and access to everything except the boot camps (which cost a bit extra). My book isn’t ready to pitch yet, being only in draft 1.5 or so–but Taylor’s book Linked is, and so I gave her my pitch session. That worked out really well for both of us: I got to go to a lecture session I really wanted to see, and Taylor got to pitch to double the number of agents that most people did.

I’m going to talk about my experience first, mostly because I’m more qualified to do so. The talk I went to was called “Amazon for Authors“, and was presented by Jon Fine (Twitter @jpfine), Amazon’s director of Author and Publisher Relations. I’ve been considering self-publishing the “Wizard and Warrior” stories ever since I had a conversation with Mark Teppo about it last March, and Jon definitely pushed me over the edge. Among the many products Amazon now offers to writers who want to self-publish: CreateSpace, Amazon Author pages, Kindle Direct Publishing, and ACX, a tool that helps writers and voice performers connect to create audio versions of the writer’s books. 

The other panel I attended during the pitch sessions was called “Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction“, presented by Philip Athens. Athens spent many years working at Wizards of the Coast, the company that makes Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, as their senior managing editor. His talk was very short, less than 45 minutes of a 1.5 hour session – which meant he had lots of time to answer questions from the audience. He spoke about worldbuilding, keeping the imaginary worlds of your stories ‘realistic’, and fielded questions on diverse topics ranging from how to handle technical and foreign language in a story to why is fantasy so much more popular in modern culture than science fiction. Very interesting, not least because Mr. Athens is an engaging and humorous speaker.

OK, enough about me: I could go on and on about all the panels I went to (and probably will, on my own blog). Let’s talk about Taylor, shall we? Taylor and I went to a session on Friday night called “Pitch Perfect“, presented by Chuck Sambuchino, one of Writer’s Digest’s editors and an author in his own right. He really nailed down what to do in a pitch to an agent, going over it point-by-point. Taylor and I talked about her pitch afterwards, where it was strong and where it needed work, and after we went home she stayed up and worked on it for some time.

And–as you may have guessed from knowing Taylor–she went in and nailed it. Eleven of the twelve agents she spoke to gave her their card and asked her to send them more information, and the twelfth one only did not because she doesn’t deal with the genre Linked is in. Instead, that agent sent Taylor to one of her co-workers at the same agency, and Taylor successfully pitched to that other agent. Along the way, Taylor got some great feedback about her story, a couple of comments that have made her ask some serious questions about her book, and a lot of new energy surrounding getting her book published.

Having both of us there gave us another opportunity. In several of the time slots, we each wanted to go to more than one session, and by dividing our forces and taking notes we’re going to be able to share twice as much information as we normally would have. There were other sessions where we both went to the same lecture, which also worked out well; in every case we both enjoyed and got a lot out of the sessions.

One last thing I’d like to share. While Taylor was standing in line for the second pitch session, I went upstairs and got myself a burger at the bar in the hotel. I sat down next to a couple of people who were eating nearby, and the woman next to me introduced me to the other man – a gentleman named Dan. In a matter of moments I realized it was Dan Simmons, the author of one of my favorite science fiction series, the Hyperion Cantos. I tried like hell to keep my cool and we chatted for about half an hour about writing conferences and conventions, his history as a writer, and Harlan Ellison (who was the inciting factor in getting Dan’s career as an author started). Mr. Simmons was the keynote speaker at the convention, and I found much to my surprise that he referenced our conversation during his speech later that afternoon. I nearly swooned–but then, hero worship is like that.

I’m left feeling charged up and creatively inspired by the entire weekend. Ideas and breakthroughs about my stories have been swirling around in my head, screaming and pounding on the inner walls of my mind. I have to go let them out, but before I do I want to say thanks to Taylor, whose idea it was to go to this conference. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you, Taylor, I hope you get as much out of WDCW as I did, and more (like a book deal!).

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