Implementing Your Conference

By Katriena Knights

Author’s Note: Several people are posting their reviews of the recent Colorado Gold conference. I decided to do something different rather than just post, “Colorado Gold was Awesome!!!1!1!!!1.” So instead I’m going to talk about ways to use all the great ideas you get at conferences without overwhelming yourself with change.

Writer’s conferences are a great way to network with other writers, learn more about your craft, and find out what’s working for whom in the world of promotion and sales. A serious writer should probably attend at least one or two a year to keep on top of the latest trends in the industry and to bump elbows with other writers who are undoubtedly experiencing the same struggles and frustrations. You can learn a ton at a good conference–sometimes enough to kick your career or the quality of your writing up to that next level.

Conferences can also be overwhelming, though. You come home filled to bursting with great ideas, but when you start trying to implement them, it’s just too much. Adding that great promotional idea takes away too much time from the manuscript you’re trying to finish, or the kick in the pants you just got about the book you’ve had on the back burner diverts your attention so you can’t focus on the manuscript you’ve got under deadline.

So how do you reconcile these conflicting needs? The best way is to break down what you’ve learned and figure out how to ease into the new routines. This way you can take advantage of what you’ve learned without derailing everything you’ve already built. Here are some ways to accomplish this:

  1. Organize your notes. Look through the notes and materials you brought home from the conference. Sort out the things that got you really fired up—the ones you want to start doing immediately. Set other ideas to the side for future reference.
  2. Figure out what’s relevant. Which of these ideas address an immediate concern? Is there a promotional tool you think will prod your sales up if you use it consistently? Is there a brainstorming idea that looks like it could get you out of the writer’s block you’ve been battling on your WIP? Put those on the top of the pile.
  3. Prioritize. Figure out what makes the most sense to try right away, and what would probably fit into your routine if you leave it for a bit later. For example, if you’ve already committed to a project that has to start immediately after the conference, don’t try to start a new writing or promotional routine that will eat all the time you have for that commitment. You might even put everything aside for a few days to get other work out of the way or to let your ideas marinate.
  4. Implement one thing at a time. Don’t try to change your entire routine in a day. Ease into the new approaches. If the promotional guru you heard at the conference presented a complex posting schedule for your social media, try bumping up your posts gradually on one platform at a time rather than tackling the full schedule from day one. That way you’ll have a new routine in place right away and can build toward the final goal.
  5. Keep building. Once you feel comfortable with the new routine, add to it. Whether your goal is writing more words or posting more promo, keep moving forward incrementally. Go from a post a day to two posts a day. Go from 250 words a day to 500. If you keep moving forward, you’ll end up where you want to be, even if it takes a little longer than you’d like.
  6. Weed things out. Just because a particular method works for one writer doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. If something isn’t comfortable or doesn’t produce the results you’re after, ditch it. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong or that you’ve given up. It just means that particular approach didn’t work for you. Never be afraid to do this. Trying to struggle through a routine that you find tedious is rarely going to get you the results you want.

Working through what you’ve learned at a writers’ conference and getting those tidbits to work for you is a challenge, but in the long run it can be the best way to give your career a kick in the pants. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but don’t be afraid to take it slowly, either.

Snip, Snip, Snip. Oh, the pain! Cutting your manuscript.

By Robin D. Owens

But that was the best line. The funniest. The most heartfelt and tender. And the whole scene must be cut.

I write long – that is, for a 100K word novel contract, I usually hit 103K, and have been known to go up to, ah, I think 120K. That means, for a hardcopy book, more paper, more expense for my publisher, and/or smaller print (wince). I once signed on for a short story, 16K words max, and mine came in at 17.5. I got it down to 15,900, but other people had come in long and I was cut from the anthology. (I later put the words back in and the story was published in my only collection, Hearts and Swords, which also ran hideously long and should have been 3 stories instead of 4, but I said 4 for the back cover copy, and…).

Or, and I’ve heard this (lately), “the pacing is too slow, cut words from the front of the book.” Snip, snip, snip and 3,000 are gone, scenes I loved.

Or, “This is a novella, not one of your regular books, the hero and heroine need to meet sooner…”

I’ve gotten really good at cutting. The easiest way is to tighten the book until it squeaks. No, “the ghost dog jumped into the bed of the truck.” Nope. “Enzo jumped into the truck bed.”

First, check chapters. If I really have to cut, any chapter that has less than thirteen lines on the last page gets tightened.

Look at every paragraph in your manuscript and check for those that have one word at the end, and see if you can reword and tighten. And, yes, this takes time. And, yes, sometimes the answer is “No, I can’t tighten this.” For me, the answer is “no” about five percent of the time.

That’s the technical part. What about the emotional part?

When I was writing my second fantasy romance, since I hadn’t sold the first fantasy romance, I cut all the romance and changed the story to a straight fantasy. I was about half way through the story when my first fantasy romance sold. So all the additional world building and strictly fantasy scenes I put in Had To Go. Talk about painful.

What I finally decided to do was put “cut scenes” up on my (old) website, particularly for that book. That eased my emotional pain considerably. The scenes weren’t totally lost forever, never to see the light of day.

This has continued to serve me well. My fans know that I write long, and I have “cut scenes” for almost every story. On Facebook and my blog I’ve instituted “Celta Thursday” for the readers who like that particular series the most (a Celtic pagan society set on another planet colonized by Earth people with psi powers). Sometimes I put up maps, of the world, or of an interior room. Sometimes I put up images of the characters. But most often I compare the rough draft of a manuscript with the final copy edits and pull out cut scenes.

DON’T DELETE THOSE SCENES YOU CUT, ALWAYS SAVE THEM. (All right, if they are worth saving. I do have a “learning how to write book” that will never be seen.)

You will have people who like your stories. You will want to give extras to them because they say wonderful things about your writing. Save your cuts, and tell yourself you’ll put them somewhere else to be admired, that funny line, that whole lovely thread or subplot… This will help you get through the snip, snip, snip.

And, trust me, baby, eventually it does get easier . . . mostly.

The First Rule of #PubLaw: Don’t Be a Jerk

By Susan Spann

One of the lessons I seem to repeat most often in my #PubLaw posts has (on the surface) little to do with law. In fact, I repeat it so often that I’m officially calling it #PubLaw Rule #1:

Don’t be a Jerk.

It’s a slightly more “SFW” version of the gaming community’s popular Wheaton’s Law (Google it…research is good for the soul.) and no less applicable in publishing … or anywhere else in life, for that matter.

Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to keep your cool when dreams are on the line, especially when negotiations, contracts, reviews, or sales don’t go your way. And at some point in your career, all of those things will go against you.

Today, we’re taking a look at some ways to prevent yourself from being “that author” … the one who ends up on the bad behavior lists.

1. Don’t Let the “Submit” Button Go Down on Your Anger. Business moves much faster–and more publicly–in the digital age. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter give us instantaneous access to other authors, readers … and everyone else on the planet with a computer and a few extra minutes to kill. Unfortunately, that also makes it faster and easier for authors to make angry public statements which feel justified in the moment but which, upon reflection, were unnecessarily hostile or ill-advised. The best rule is never blog or use social media when angry. If you must write something, write it offline and give it 24 hours to “settle” before you post. Review it only after the initial anger passes…and see whether you still believe the comments are justified and constructive.

2. Don’t Kick Sleeping Dogs, and Don’t Respond to Bad Reviews. Some people won’t like your book. Some people will actually hate it. Some people will say, in public, that your book should be burned as a service to humanity, to prevent an innocent reader from accidentally stumbling across it in a used bookstore (yes, that’s a real review, which a friend of mine received). DO NOT RESPOND TO BAD REVIEWS. Period. End of story. Even a troll has a right to an opinion, and no single review will make or break a novel. What can break a novel–and a novelist– however, is a reputation for arguing with readers and reviewers in public. Let the reviewer have his or her opinion. You’re free to disagree–but do it in private.

3. Compliment and Support Other Authors. Rising tides float all ships, and getting people interested in reading helps all authors. Read a good book? Tweet or Facebook or write a review–and don’t expect repayment in return. Authors who give to others acquire a good reputation; those who never read, never give a compliment except in exchange for “equal value,” and never share their own love for books are missing a great opportunity. Nice people do nice things. Be nice. It comes back around to you.

4. Try to See Negotiations, and Other Publishing Situations, From the Other Person’s Point of View (Not Just Your Own). The more you practice seeing situations from someone else’s side, the better you’ll be at spotting creative solutions, not only in negotiations but in  all aspects of your publishing career.

5. Kill Your … Emotions (Once You Reach the Business Side). Emotion increases myopia, so do your best to remove the emotion from the negotiating and publishing process. Pour your feelings into your writing … let your passion flow on the page. But when you reach “The End” remember: writing is an emotional process, but business belongs to the logical brain.

These aren’t the only ways to keep yourself from becoming “that author” in public…but they’re a start. Publishing might seem large, but the business itself is surprisingly small, and reputations follow us much longer than we imagine in those early days of a writing career.

The more positive you are, the more attractive others will find you … a rule that applies as much in publishing as it does in the rest of life.

Got more tips for keeping things on the positive side? Hop into the comments and share! 

Susan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

You Have the Power

By Kerry Schafer

Okay, writers, time for a show of hands: who among you has ever engaged in a pity party related to your writing career (or lack thereof)?

My hand definitely goes up. I’ve just dusted myself off after a particularly difficult little stretch where it seemed that everything was going wrong. And not just for me – for a lot of great writer friends out there.

The writing business is a tough one. It eats unwary writers for breakfast and smears the leavings over computer screens and scraps of paper for the wind to blow away. A writer’s world is full of politics and trolls, reviews and rejections, market trends and genre crashes, not to mention the self doubt and despair involved in trying to transform that brilliant but elusive idea into reasonably coherent prose.

So what is a writer to do?

Well, keep on writing, obviously. But here are a few other tips that I find helpful in keeping a firm hold on my own personal writer power.

If You’re Going to Have a Pity Party, Go Big. Hey, it’s inevitable that you’re going to crash at some point, and there’s no shame in the occasional meltdown. No matter how optimistic you are by nature, you can only take so many hits before a little self pity catches up with you. One too many rejections, one too many bad reviews, one too many days of beating your head against a wall with a manuscript determined to prove that I SUCK AS A WRITER  writing is really hard work.

If this should happen to you, I say let’s make it a real party. Bring in ice cream and chips. Chocolate. Alcohol. Invite friends. Weep big fat tears of failure and despair. Rage. Rant. Eat and drink things that provide an illusion of comfort. Just be sure to keep the misery offline and out of the public eye.

Also, set a time limit, say maybe 8 pm to midnight on Tuesday night. Parties that last too long suck and turn into something ugly. When the clock strikes twelve you know what to do. Clean up the mess. Dry your eyes. Let go of the anger. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and go on.

Remember, You are Here by Choice. That’s right. If you’re involved in this crazy rat race, then it’s because you chose to be here. Nobody is holding a gun to your head to make you write (unless, maybe, you’re a character in a Stephen King story). If you don’t like it, if you think the rules aren’t fair and the heartbreak too frequent, you are always welcome to pack up your computer and your stories and betake yourself elsewhere. If you choose to stay, do it with your eyes wide open. Acknowledge the reality. Sometimes great writers are passed over. Nice guys and gals may not win. Books that you consider not nearly as good as yours might make bestseller status while your work of art languishes, unloved and unappreciated.

If you continue to choose to be here, suck it up. Write anyway.

Take Responsibility. This is your writing career. Nobody else wants it as much as you do. Sure, maybe your significant other is supportive and wants you to be successful. They also want you to clean the house and make dinner and be available for sex and childcare and possibly even random conversation. And your agent? She’s got a lot to gain from your success, it’s true, but let’s face it. There are millions of writers out there, clamoring at the gates. If you decide not to play anymore she might miss you, but she’ll find another author to take your place.

Focus Your Energy Where You Have Control.

You don’t have control over whether an agent or editor accepts or rejects your book.

You do have control over writing the best damn book you can and taking the time to craft a great query or pitch.

You don’t have control over whether or not readers go crazy for something you write.

You do have control over writing a damn good book and learning some marketing strategies.

See the trend here? Nothing happens unless you write. And that means working on craft and structure and plotting and making every book better than the one before.

If you’ve already written a damn good book (and this has been confirmed by honest beta readers and editors and not just people who love you) maybe it’s time to self publish. Or try a kickstarter.

You, my friend, are not powerless. In fact, all of the power is yours. Claim it, wield it. Don’t let people walk all over you or make you believe that you are somehow not as worthy as some other writer. Only YOU can tell your stories. Only YOU can write the world through your eyes. So pick yourself up. Brush off the cake crumbs and the chocolate smears.

And get yourself back to the page where you belong.

 

Guest Post by Chris Pitchford: Dream jobs. Sometimes it’s not enough to have just one

By Chris Pitchford

Benny had two of my all-time favorite jobs. He was a writer and he commanded a space station. Actually, he was a character played by Avery Brooks in one of my favorite television shows. In one memorable episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Benny’s original writing was attacked by hostile indifference. The publisher pulped an entire run, destroying the magazine’s complete monthly edition, rather than let a story featuring a prominent person of color see the light of day. Benny’s remaining options were few. When it was suggested that he publish his story himself, he said, “More people would read it if I wrote it in chalk on the sidewalk!”

That idea has stayed with me ever since, and I’ve misquoted it regularly. So why am I self-publishing my new novel, The Agility of Clouds? (“The what of what?” my mother might have said—our memories will surely differ on this account. “Clouds can’t be agile…” She is one of my toughest critics. Naturally, I dedicated the work to her. I suspect this pleases her yet simultaneously drives her nuts). The Agility of Clouds is part Jane Austen, part James Bond; but more than that, it is a story of a woman who questions what it means to be a woman and what it means to be flawed but moral. As I am none of those things, I had plenty of questions to work with.

But when it comes to the question regarding whether to self-publish, the answer is much different today than it was in the nineties when DS9 originally aired. And that decade had more in common with the Golden Age of Science Fiction when the story was set than today. (As a self-published author, I can truthfully attest that more people have read my novel, Sonata: A Fantasy in One Movement, than read what my kids and I wrote on my sidewalk). While the market for short genre fiction is still strong, it’s not nearly the same today as it was seventy years ago. Being published in periodicals was how some of my favorite authors of the last century, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury among others, cut their teeth as professional writers. Unfortunately, being a novelist means that my work isn’t well suited to periodicals. I love reading Analog, Locus, Strange Horizons and others. But the self-contained book is the definitive text for me, so what could I do?

Traditional publishing then and now is going strong. According to John DeNardo (SF Signal) http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/author/john/, over 300 titles are scheduled to be published on genre-related topics in the month of August alone. It is apparently a very crowded field. So crowded, tossing one’s novel over a virtual transom in hopes of it landing upon a suitable editor’s desk is surely the height of fantasy. Also, successfully pitching one’s work to hungry but savvy agents is also a dream come true for only a few. Did I mention how crowded the field is? And the demands of publishing all those titles mean that control passes largely from the creator to the producer. Like Benny, an author can do all that a creative type can but the final say is ultimately in someone else’s hands.

The alternative, being self-published, is almost a misnomer, as many, many people can still be very much involved. Getting early feedback from readers was critical—but also inspiring—for the work on The Agility of Clouds. Littleton Writers and RMFW were almost as tough and as supportive as ‘me own mudder.’ Once the novel was written, getting a real, honest-to-goodness, hard-as-tacks editor was next on the list. And Karen Conlin of grammargeddon.com was just the independent wordsmith with a background in fantasy (having worked at TSR, once the home of Dungeons and Dragons) that this project needed. Also, a brilliant illustrator was one of the early readers who inspired me, and so my main character, Seramis Helleborine, took visual form under the pen of Marjorie Schott, http://www.facebook.com/WaterstriderDesign.

I’m not getting any younger (thankfully, as I never want to see the inside of a Junior High classroom as a detainee ever again), so it turns out to be a good thing that self-publishing is much quicker than traditional publishing. But a publisher can’t rush some things. And a publisher also has to make decisions using vastly different criteria. As a writer, I wanted to see the cover of the book sport a fully realized airship, an eighteenth-century caravel soaring through the skies. But as a publisher, I looked at what covers of books that sold looked like and saw that main characters were featured more often than the gee-whiz cool things. Gone are the days of the DAW edition of The Gods of Mars by ERB featuring two almost indistinct warriors battling upon a flying ship on the cover. Fortunately, working with an illustrator and a cover artist meant that I could do both. The cover presentation would be designed to sell books (and somehow be legible at postage-stamp sizes on Amazon), and the content would cater to the dreams and hopes I’ve had since I was a child for action/fantasy with a strong female lead character.

Speaking of Amazon (and selling books in the same sentence—coincidence? I think not), their options for self-publishing allow for a great deal of freedom and control. From CreateSpace to Kindle Direct Publishing, the publishing options start at free so the price is right for someone just starting out. Benny would have rather enjoyed the empowerment, I think. Of course, while it remains doubtful that I will have the opportunity to share with Benny the two dream jobs of writer and space station commander, at least one of those jobs is possible with the addition of adding one more to my curriculum vitae: that of self-publisher.

http://chrispitchford.com

Becoming an Old Timer

I am now an old-timer.

I realized this last weekend, at the Colorado Gold conference, and the new-found awareness of the role is a bit daunting.

Twenty years ago, I attended my first RMFW conference. I was new to RMFW, having joined earlier in the year after hearing a published member’s presentation on how supportive the organization was. I was a new writer and it seemed just the sort of thing I needed to launch my career, which I was (erroneously) convinced was going to rocket.

Back then, I was still a long way from realizing my potential as a writer and from emerging from my shell of introversion. I knew exactly two people at that conference. I hugged walls, stayed in corners, and observed. I was both eager for someone to talk to me and scared to death that I would have to respond if someone did.

I watched those who were long-term members and active volunteers with their lengths of ribbons and easy conversations. I heard about new contracts and bought stacks of signed books from my idols. I sat in awe as speakers stepped up to the lectern and award winners crossed the podium. I dreamed of one day doing the same.

Over the years, I grew in craft. I was more selective in the workshops I chose because I finally knew the basics. I also began to emerge from my shell. I knew more people each year and looked forward to visiting with them. Yet, there were many long-time members I lacked the courage to approach. I still marveled at long rows of ribbons and those who won awards. I pitched nervously every year and wondered when I would find a publisher.

Several things happened to change all that. My writing became better…I knew I was getting closer to publication and wasn’t so nervous about whether or not I belonged in RMFW. I had a great support network within my critique groups and I began to identify myself as a writer not as someone who wrote. About the same time I contracted my first book, I experienced some pretty devastating life events but emerged stronger as my writing family reached out to me and I discovered strength I didn’t know I had. A move to the Denver metro area allowed me to attend more writing events and to volunteer.

All of a sudden, there was no doubt that I belonged. I took on more responsibility and sported more ribbons each year. Today, the ribbons no longer seem to matter. I’ve published and signed books and presented workshops and won awards and crossed that podium and spoken to the entire Colorado Gold group. I haven’t stood against the wall for years and nobody puts this baby in a corner (which doesn’t necessarily mean I am any less introverted—I just refuse to be defined as in introvert).

Still, I saw myself only as a seasoned writer. I didn’t put myself in the same league as the idols I’ve had all these years. I still don’t.

But…this year…there was a difference.

This year, as RMFW president, I spoke to first time attendees in an official capacity. Their reactions stunned me. Approximately one-hundred fifty people saw me as an expert. They eyed my ribbons with amazement. They approached me and said, “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but….” They were afraid to sit at my table during meals and treated me with deference. They all seemed to know my name…I was “the president.”

It felt odd, being looked up to that way—the way I used to look up to others. After all, I’m just a writer who volunteers.

That’s when it hit me.

I have become an old-timer.

There are still many who have been members of RMFW longer than I have. There are myriads of more experienced, more well-known, better writers than I am. They remain my idols and I don’t pretend to claim equality with them. But my role has changed.

I have responsibilities.

I am now a leader in RMFW and my duties include making sure the new members and fledgling writers find all that I have discovered within this organization. I hope I was able to at least make a start toward doing so.

Me…an old timer? Gee whiz!

Twenty Years of Conference Memories

by Karen Duvall

I had such a blast at the Colorado Gold Conference last weekend. It brought back memories of the very first Gold I attended in 1994. Twenty years. Damn, I feel old. I think I’ve only ever missed one conference in all these years and that’s because I moved to Oregon and the airfare would have killed me. I’m still in Oregon, and airfare is still a killer, but I make sure to save my pennies so that I never miss it again.

I recall my decision to attend the 1994 conference after hearing about it from a writer friend’s wife who was also a writer. She raved about RMFW and the conference, and since I’d only recently completed my first full-length manuscript, I thought it would be a great opportunity to find a publisher.

Okay, you can stop laughing now. I can hear you all the way from here.

I didn’t know much about what a conference entailed so I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know there would be workshops and published authors there, and I’d only recently heard about a special group of publishing professionals called literary agents. What a wonderful concept. I’m in!

As for publishers, I don’t think I met an editor that first year. I was too intimidated. Especially after I heard one of them speak. I’m pretty sure it was Michael Stedman of Walker that put the fear into me, but I could be wrong. It was a long time ago.

When I found out an agent had the power to get a writer’s work in front of an editor I thought, “Sign me up!” So I got in line for a pitch appointment with one. In those days you didn’t have to preregister to pitch to an agent or editor. So after hearing about this amazing chance to chat with an honest-to-god agent, I signed up to pitch to a literary agent named Grace Morgan. Once I sat down in front of this professional business woman who never cracked a smile, I lost my ability to speak. Seriously. I’d never had such a bad case of dry mouth in all my life. After a few awkward moments of silence and watching me on the verge of apoplexy, she patted my hand and said, “Honey, it’s okay. I won’t bite.” I wasn’t so sure about that, but her reassurance helped. I still choked. Even so, Ms. Morgan requested pages and I was beside myself with joy.

I also met some wonderful writers that weekend, writers I’d continue a strong friendship with for the next twenty years. I met my longtime friends and conference roommates, Shannon Baker and Karen Lin, at that first conference. We’ve shared our personal lives as well as our writing woes and triumphs, our wins and losses, and supported each other throughout our writers’ journey. We never would have met if not for RMFW and the Colorado Gold.

My first awards banquet was an eye-opening experience. I’d never before felt such a strong sense of community. I was privileged to see Rick Hanson himself read the simile winners and watched Alice Kober hand out the valuable prizes. I was awed by all the talented winners of that year’s writing contest. I didn’t personally know the winner of the Jasmine Award, but I teared up with everyone else when she walked up to the podium to accept her plaque (ten years later I accepted my own). I knew then that this organization would change my life, and it has.

When I returned home on Sunday after the 1994 conference, I tried to keep that experience alive by going through all the materials I’d brought home with me. So much information! It was overwhelming, but also exhilarating. My journey had finally begun because now I had the tools I needed to really get started. That folder of paper had ripped corners and coffee stains, highlighter marks and pen scribbles, and it reminded me of the Velveteen Rabbit because those papers were so loved.

The following year I signed with my first literary agent (not Grace Morgan). I was a finalist in the writing contest in 1999. I got my first publishing contract in 2000. I joined a critique group (go Alphas!), served on the board as PAL rep, volunteered for contest and for conference, presented workshops, started the anthology project, and though I’m now 1200 miles away from Denver, I still stay involved with conference and RMFW as much as I possibly can.

Last weekend I found myself reflecting on my first conference and all the memorable moments in between. It’s been one incredible journey that hasn’t ended, and I hope it never will. For those of you who attended conference for the first time, I hope your experience was as amazing as my first conference was, and that you’ll come back next year. And I hope you get involved with RMFW because this fabulous group of supportive writers will stand behind you every step of the way. You have my word.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series and plans to publish her new urban fantasy novel, Demon Fare, before the end of 2014.

 

Lesson Two: Where to start? Point of View, Setting and World Building

By Jeanne C. Stein

The topics we’re going to cover today involve some basics of storytelling. In fact to some of you, this may be nothing but review. Especially if you were lucky enough to attend last weekend’s conference. It’s the first one in the seventeen years I’ve been a member of RMFW that I had to miss. I’m going through withdrawals. Anyway, if so, skip it and come back next month when we’re going to tackle some “rules” of genre writing.

The first consideration of any work is determining whose story we’re going to tell. Point of view. Whether you plan to use multiple POV’s or one, establishing our protagonist and antagonist are crucial to good story telling.

First, then, what is POV and what are the different kinds? Let’s review the most popular briefly:

1. First person – the one telling the story. Told in one perspective, the narrator’s, as he or she experiences it.

I saw the boy the same time he saw me.

2. Third person – the one telling the story is a witness; may or may not be not involved directly in the story.

She saw the boy at the same time he saw her.

3. Limited omniscient – the “God” point of view. Everything is revealed through a non-participant in the story. Allows you to relay events happening to more than one character in the story, but feels more detached.

She was looking at the boy and at the same time he was looking at her.

There are others, Second person for example, but it is a difficult one to pull off and not used as frequently.

You looked at the boy at the same time he looked at you.

There are many resources available if you need more examples or clarification. If you decide to write in more than one POV, for instance, first and third, there are some factors you must consider to keep the narrative from being jumpy. You can change perspective via chapter changes or drop downs. You can keep POV shifts uniform, that is first person, third person, first person, third person. The thing to keep away from is head-jumping or shifting from one POV to another in the same paragraph or page. That is extremely difficult to pull off and often is very distracting to the reader. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Can you think of an author who pulls this off smoothly? Nora Roberts springs to mind but she’s had years (decades) of practice.

Once we’ve decided how we’re going to tell the story, we cast our characters.

What defines a compelling, interesting protagonist? She should be multi-dimensional, meaning she has inner conflicts as well as outer problems. She should be believable and consistent throughout the story. That is not to say that she cannot grow from the beginning of the book to the end. She must grow in order to make her sympathetic—we want the reader to be cheering her on, after all. To that end, she must have clear motives and goals. As for physical description, some writers are very specific in describing physical characteristics, others, not so.

Whether you want to describe your character down to the mole on her rear or paint her in broader brush stokes is a matter of personal style. Devoting four pages of your first chapter, though, to a minute blow by blow of your heroine staring at herself in the mirror is a good way to lose your readers before you’ve had a chance to hook them. We’ll discuss this more in Lesson 5.

What about the antagonist? The same rules apply when introducing the villain(s) in your story. No matter how horrific his (or her) actions, it’s important to remember that the villain has a reason for doing the things he does. He has clear motives and goals that while they may be in direct conflict to our heroine’s, are as real and compelling to him as her own. Cartoon villains aren’t interesting to a reader, just as a one-dimensional heroine isn’t interesting. The most successful, suspenseful stories are those that keep the reader guessing until the very end. And the highest complement is a reader who says, “I never saw that coming.”

One caveat, however: springing a villain on the reader that we haven’t met anywhere in the story before the end is cheating. As is the “evil twin” ploy. You can hide clues, conceal the villain, create mistaken assumptions to confuse our readers. But don’t cheat. The answer must be buried in the story somewhere.

Some writers devote a great deal of time to defining their characters, writing detailed biographies that cover everything from IQ to their childhood pets. If that appeals to you, by all means do it. Horoscope signs, Tarot Cards, Myers-Briggs personality tests, Enneagram Types—use whatever you want to flesh out your characters. What you mustn’t do is include every detail of the results in your narrative. Better to show personality traits in the reactions of your protag to story events than tell us why she’s reacting a certain way.

Of course, some writers start with a story and construct the setting and characters around it. Nothing wrong with that approach. Whether we decide to use a real city (or rural setting) or to make one up, anchoring our readers in things they recognize is the first step to getting them to accept the things they don’t, especially in a genre like Urban Fantasy.

An example of this is Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. We watch Rosemary decorate her New York apartment, make curtains, set up a nursery. It’s so real, we fully accept that in the apartment down the hall, a powerful coven of witches has enlisted her own egocentric husband in a conspiracy against her.

Some writers use real places, others find it easier to create a fictional locale, still others use a combination of the two. It makes no difference. How you describe your setting, how authentic you make it feel, is the important thing. If you are going to use a real place, familiarize yourself with it. You can take certain liberties (I turned the streets in Mission Beach around a little so Anna’s cottage would face the ocean) but if you say a highway runs north/south and it really runs east/west, someone will notice. And they’ll call you on it. Readers pay attention to detail. This is where Google Earth and Google Maps come in handy. Except when done intentionally, there really isn’t an excuse for getting a point of geography wrong. Literally, the whole world is at your fingertips via the web.

Obviously, you have to be careful about the way you use real businesses or people. Calling the real-life mayor of your town by name and then branding him an ax-murderer or pedophile will likely get you in trouble.

So once you’ve decided where you want to set your story, the next decision is to define the paranormal aspects of the place. This is the crux of world building in genres like UF and it’s great fun. How do you want to populate your universe? Is magic universal? Or are humans unaware of the otherworldly creatures in your story? Do you want to use vampires or werewolves or shapeshifters or any of the more exotic paranormal creatures—fairies or angels or demons?

Don’t be afraid to tweak the mythology either. You can change any “rule” you want as long as you explain it to the reader. If it’s logical to your story, the reader will accept it. Just remember: once you set your rules, stick to them. If your protagonist has to hide his real nature from the world at large, it adds another layer of conflict to the story—particularly if exposure would mean becoming the target of bigotry and fear.

Think about the story you want to tell—define your protagonist and antagonist, set the world, populate it.

We’ll end this lesson with another interviewee: Anton Strout is the popular author of the Simon Candrous series and the new Spellmason Chronicles. His novels are perfect examples of UF. See if you recognize why.

1. You are often included in lists of Urban Fantasy Authors. How do you feel about the tag and do you like it? Why or why not?

I like the tag, personally. I know some writers hate to be pigeonholed, but writing is a business and there’s simply no escaping categorization. And hey! There’s some good company in my category- Butcher, Hamilton, you- and Urban Fantasy sounds like so much better a category name than Buffy/Ghostbusters Fan Fiction!

2. What makes your books fit in the UF genre?

My series takes place mostly in and around Manhattan, which is about as urban as you get. And my main character works for the Department of Extraordinary Affairs’ Other Division, which is an underfunded agency dealing with paranormal activities. These are folks trying to get through their workday, somewhat normal people dealing with fantastical things happening all around them that the average New Yorker tends to block out or not pay attention to. So my writing is a mix of city life and the paranormal that lands me smack dab in the middle of UF.

3. Did you set out to write UF?

No. I set out to write a story about this average guy named Simon, but over time, I realized I wanted to tell a ghost story/mystery set in New York City. I wanted to write the type of things I like to read… or watch. I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan. I love his mix of the fantastical and the humorous and when I write, I strive towards that type of balance in my own work. I was also a huge fan of Douglas Adams and his humor and I didn’t really know many humorous urban fantasy authors were out there, but I knew I wanted to be one once I looked at the first draft of Dead To Me and said “Oh, that’s what I was trying to do.”

4. Why do you think UF is so popular with readers?

I think there are several reasons. I think readers like stories about familiar fairy tale monsters set in places they can identify with, such as the modern world. There’s built in accessibility. Also, I moved to New York because there was a romantic notion to it all, and mixing the spooky in with that really appealed to me. When I set a scene, I try to think what the average reader knows about New York. I can skip describing a location for three pages, simply by mentioning a scene outside the Empire State Building. Even if the reader’s never been, they still have seen it in movies or on TV or in other books. That gives me more time to spend giving them the payoff from character development and dialogue. Perhaps it’s a bit of a shortcut, but I think it just makes sense for the writer using the modern world.

You can check at www.antonstrout.com or the League of Reluctant Adults for future release dates.

* * * *

Set in New York, the protagonist a bureaucrat employed by an agency that deals with the paranormal—Urban Fantasy—genre.

Next time we’ll look at how you write for a genre audience.

Back Off, Man – I’m a Scientist!

Rogue's ParadiseBy Jeffe Kennedy

This is release week for Rogue’s Paradise, the third book in my Covenant of Thorns trilogy. The first book, Rogue’s Pawn, came out just over two years ago, in July of 2012. It was the first novel I wrote and first published – which took a long time, as the genre of Fantasy Romance wasn’t as well known when I first started shopping it. So, this feels like the end of a long adventure for me.

Or, maybe more accurate, a lovely stopping-off point to catch my breath and enjoy the view.

As the last two years have passed, the series has slowly gained readers, largely by word of mouth, which has been interesting to observe. One thing that struck me over time was the consistent misinterpretation people made.

I’d describe the book – or series – as being about “a scientist is trapped in Faerie.” If their eyes didn’t glaze over or roll, I’d go on to explain about the magic, the struggle to gain power and control, the bargain to bear a firstborn child for Rogue, a fae lord. At this point, far more people than I imagined would furrow their brows and say “firstborn child? How can he have a baby?”

See, they heard “scientist” and thought “male.”

It was funny to me, because it had never once occurred to me that people would have that problem. To me, the books were obviously heroine-centric – written in 1st person POV – so when I described the plot in terms of what happened to my scientist, I figured people would know that was my heroine. I might have made the implicit assumption, too, that of course people would recognize that my scientist was a woman because I, myself, am a female scientist.

Alas, no.

Still, it’s been instructive. And a great adventure.

If you’re interested in checking out the trilogy, you can enter to win any of the books over at one of my other group blogs, Here Be Magic.