Category Archives: Conferences

A Tantalizing Opening

You know how you meet someone and then you can’t remember their name later? And you keep meaning to ask, but eventually it’s too late and you’re too embarrassed to admit that you can’t remember? That’s how I feel about this blog. I got distracted and stopped posting and when I finally remembered that I HAD a blog, I realized that to start posting again meant admitting that I’d stopped in the first place. So I’m sucking it up and admitting it. Here goes:

Sorry, I got really distracted… But it was for good reasons, I promise. Reasons like a new novel. And a 4th birthday (I got carried away with the fairy theme). And my daughter’s daycare getting shut down unexpectedly. Lame. I feel especially bad about my timing as I had joined a blogfest thing and completely chumped out on it.

I went to this great conference, I got all these ideas, I decided to scrap my (mostly) completed manuscript (that I got critiqued and actually pitched and everything), and I spent a ton of time researching and fleshing out this idea for an urban fantasy that I am so, so, SO pleased with. The planets have totally aligned with this idea and I just can’t stop thinking about it. Unfortunately, with my eldest daughter NOT in school two days a week and some major teething going on with the baby, I haven’t had as much time to write as I’d like. On either my project OR the blog (obviously).

So here’s a random topic that is marginally related to both my new project and to the RMFW conference. Sara Megibow from Nelson Literary Agency said that she wants to see the genre within the first few paragraphs of a novel. And I though, dang. That’s tough, especially for an urban fantasy where I want to introduce the creepy stuff slowly. I’m working on it, though – I’m trying some intimations of creepy in preparation for the actual creepy. But as I was thinking about this problem, I finally got to have a date with my husband.

You see, I have these two little kids and no baby sitters. But my mom came to visit for the aforementioned birthday party and my husband and I took the opportunity to go see a movie. Now, I know many writers are rabidly opposed to using movies as models for novels, but I feel like structure is structure. I think there’s something to be learned from any artistic genre – movies, tv, music, art, whatever. They’re all trying to communicate a story, right?

So anyway, we finally got to see “Cowboys and Aliens”, which I found delightful. And that opening scene was so perfectly aligned with Megibow’s discussion of the first pages of a novel, which I’d been thinking about anyway – a perfect storm of circumstances. I’m pretty sure the opening was in the trailer, so hopefully I’m not spoiling anything here:

The camera pans across a western landscape, complete with dusty scrub and towering orange mesas (sets location). A man sits up suddenly, dressed in grubby 19th century western clothes – complete with bloody patches (inciting incident – sets time period, characterization, and intimates the circumstances). He looks around, confused, noticing a big, weird looking metal cuff on his wrist (sets sci-fi genre – obviously there’s something more than a western going on here). Then he sees a photo of a woman in the dirt next to him and you can tell that he doesn’t know who she is. Then he kicks the butt of three mounted, armed ruffians (intriguing action). This is, what? The first minute of the movie? Amazing.

Now, I understand that you can’t convey information this quickly in a novel. It takes a lot longer to create this kind of setting in writing than in a visual medium. But still, dang. I was so impressed at how quickly the movie established everything you could want in the opening of a story – everything Sara Megibow wanted, in fact. Genre, inciting incident, setting, time frame, character, mystery, action… Again, amazing.

So the take away is about details. The judicious allocation of pertinent details can immediately submerge your reader in your world – details can establish your character, your motivations, your setting, etc. Not too many or there’s overload and tedium and slow pacing. Not too few or your reader has no connection or investment. But just enough and just the right details can set everything up while still leaving the mystery intact. Tantalizing. That’s what you want, right? Tantalizing while still building expectations for your reader.

I like the word tantalizing. It’s underutilized. And doubly appropriate when talking about Daniel Craig.

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What one agent looks for in the first 30 pages…

One of the sessions I attended at the RMFW conference was on the first 30 pages of a manuscript. It was led by Sara Megibow from Nelson Literary Agency. I thought it was very interesting – in addition to being very entertaining. She basically just talked for 2 hours but it was such an engaging presentation. She had four main things NOT to do and one thing TO do – based on the understanding that she represents genre fiction and that she isn’t looking for the exceptions. These were her rules and she said that if you didn’t want to follow those rules that was fine – but she wasn’t the agent for you.

DON’T fight the formula. She says the formula exists for a reason – becasue that’s what sells. It’s what a reader is expecting and so you need to meet that expectation. To find the formula for your genre, she recommended reading books in that genre – how novel!

DON’T hide the inciting incident. She wanted it within the first few pages.

DON’T info dump. Duh.

DON’T hide the genre. She said she wanted to guess the genre within the first few paragraphs. Whew – that seems tough, especially for a genre like urban fantasy where you’re starting in the (mostly) real world. But I guess she meant that you should set a tone early on.

These “don’t”s don’t mention the obvious things like writing correctly and following the submission guidelines. Her point was that these four points are things that will prevent her form having an interest in the project. She then gave lots of examples of books that fulfilled these criteria – and a few that didn’t and why it was OK. Then she answered lots of questions that centered around the idea that the questioner’s project was so awesome that they should be able to defy these rules with impunity.

The only DO rule she had was to have “effortless” writing. This one was a lot harder to quantify, of course, but I know all of us can think of books that match that adjective. How to achieve it is something else, though.

Anyway, that was the jist of it. It was neat hearing an agent talk about her process – and I really enjoyed listening to her. She had a ton of energy. I think that was my last session of the conference and it was a great note on which to end.

I’ll try to make some notes about he other good sessions the next time I take a break from research – don’t you love it when a project works so well you can’t stop working?

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RIP WIP

Whew! I’ve been so busy working since I got back from the conference that I totally forgot to update here – I also missed the first writing challenge for the Platform Builder’s Campaign so I hope any visitors from that will forgive me.

So the RMFW conference was totally awesome. As with all such conferences, some sessions were better than others but I got a ton of inspiration/ideas/confirmations/exposure and I’m feeling re-invigorated and ready to work. But there was one unexpected ramification: I have decided to scrap my current project.

I’ve been working on this project for three years or so. I took two years off in the middle and when I came back to it, I just didn’t love it any more. I still think it’s a cool story and, with some of the plot revisions I’ve been working on over the last several months, I think it could still be a viable project. But I have to admit that my characters are just a touch boring. It’s not that they aren’t three-dimensional… they just aren’t that cool. You know those characters that are vibrant and sexy and you just can’t wait to read more about them? My characters aren’t like that. I really liked them when I first wrote the book but they just haven’t stayed with me like I wanted. So I am going to shelve it and start on the urban fantasy that has been nagging at me for the last month. It’s based on Russian folk lore and I found some serendipitous history that turned my cool idea into a bad-ass world-concept that I just can’t get over. I love it so very, very much. But I have so much research to do…

When I wrote my first book it was based on science and politics that I already had in my head. I went back after the fact and fixed/added in details, of course, but it didn’t stop my writing. My research was primarily after-market. But this project is different. I just don’t know that much about Russia. Or russian-american settlement. Or US Geography. Or Russian geography. Or… I studied russian for four years in college so I know enough to get started with research but I need so much background information before I can start. And it’s a testament to how excited I am that I’ve spend four days doing fairly boring statistical research without getting discouraged or loosing steam. I’ve got a really neat historical context for my family, I’ve got basic character sketches done for everyone, I’ve got a basic premise for my antagonist (she is going to be SO cool!), I’ve got an outline for a modified medieval marriage ceremony, and I just decided on a location for my family estate (dang, that took forever). So I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot, but I have so much more to do!

I promise I’ll write up some reflections on the better sessions I took at the conference (an agent session on the first 30 pages; designing deliberate secondary plots, characters, and villains; publishing research for profit; building a brand/website; and writing a pitch). It’ll help me crystalize my impressions, anyway, but I need to loose my new-idea-high first.

I will say that I had a group critique session that went really well – I got a lot out of critiquing the other five projects and listening to the editor who was running the session, but I got very few criticisms. There was only one small suggestion from the editor and, while two people in the group had criticisms, everyone else disagreed with them. So that was nice! Even though I’ve decided to shelve that project, it’s reassuring to have such positive feedback. It means that my writing, itself, is on the right track. I also had a pitch with a New York agent (who was the most adorable person) and, while she did agree to look at my first two chapters, she seemed far more excited about my russian project. I just need to get a move on with writing it! She actually told me I was a tease for telling her such a great idea without having a book for her to read! So, a good weekend for my ego. And I feel so good to have finally admitted that I don’t want to finish the thriller. I’ve been fighting with myself for months – thinking that I just didn’t want to do the re-write because it was hard or it wasn’t as exciting as a shiny new project… but I feel really good about switching projects. It’s better for me and, conveniently, it’s better for the market right now. And much as I love the process of writing, I also want to sell a book. Shocking, right?.

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Getting ready for my conference!

So I leave tomorrow night for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Conference. I am super excited – although I am overwhelmed at how much I still need to get done! I have to get some physical materials ready and pack, but more than anything I need to get ready for my in-laws to be here without me for 4 days. And they’ll be taking care of both my children for 2 of those days and the baby chose this week to get off her schedule. So I have to work on naps and make a metric ton of baby food. And the house is a mess! Ah, the life of a writer, right?

So I was looking through the conference schedule yesterday and there are just so many great sessions… and they all run over each other. I actually had to break down and make a color-coded schedule in Excel to see which sessions I could do without conflict and which ones overlapped and by how much (they’re also all different lengths). Conveniently, I should be getting a jump drive with all the session handouts already on it (to save paper) so I won’t have to sneak in to get handouts and then sneak out to go to another session. I hate doing that – it makes me feel dirty.

But I have tough decisions. For Example, Bernard Cornwell (who is the whole reason I’m going to this conference) is giving a three hour talk on Saturday, but it conflicts with two other great sounding sessions – one on making your story more complex with subplots and secondary characters and one on turning your book research into publishable articles. And that’s only one example. I guess I should be glad there are so many cool sessions, but seriously.

One thing I’m really hoping for is to get inspired to choose a genre for my next project. I’m still totally undecided between historical fiction and urban fantasy… and the more I think about it, the more undecided I am. I’m hoping to get a sense of the market right now and also how to go about starting each genre and maybe I’ll get some little tidbit that will catapult me in one direction or another. I’ll be done with my revision at some point in the next few months and I want to start on my next project while I’m querying.

So, anyone else going to this conference?

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My Inability to Concentrate Strikes Again

I am a little bit into my re-write and so, of course, I’m thinking about my next project. I have two exciting ideas and I just can’t decide which one to do first. My conundrum is two fold: which idea do I WANT to do more and which idea is a better choice for the long term.

The big problem is that the ideas are in totally different genres and neither genre is the same as my current project. And I keep reading the very logical advice that a new author should stick to a single genre so that whatever marketing they do for one book can be re-used for subsequent books. This really does make a lot of sense – building a readership and all. But I really like both genres… and I really LOVE both ideas…

So I’m stymied. So far the scales are slightly tipped towards the historical fiction as I think it has more obvious series potential. But that’s really the only inequality between the two. I think I’m marginally more excited about the other idea (urban fantasy) but I’m vacillating. I’m hoping that the conference I’m going to in September, which has sessions on both genres, will help me make up my mind. My own personal interest being mostly equal, I suspect that marketability will be a big part of my decision, but I don’t know which genre is selling better right now.

If I can pick a project and have some success with it, I can always come back to the other idea later. But which one should I start with? Argh!

So, out of curiosity, which one sounds better to you?

Option 1: Historical Fiction (14th c. England) involving a foiled assassination attempt on Edward III. There will be a heraldic tournament, a northern noble who is trying to save his people from bankruptcy, famine, and being overrun by the Scottish by knocking off the King. So, a sympathetic antagonist, torn loyalty in a feudal system, an epic ladscape, etc

Option 2: Urban fantasy. A mob city run by five chinese families. An outside group tries to take over by knocking the families off using Daoist sorcery and an army of ghosts.

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Conferences

I have been planning to attend the Southwest California Writer’s Conference at the end of September but yesterday I found one I think I like better – the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Conference. I’m really torn about it because the RMFW one is an awkward date for me but after careful deliberation I decided to do that one instead. Here’s the breakdown:

SCWC Pros: 

– The Advanced Submissions: you can send the first pages of your manuscript and your query letter in advance to the agent/editor/writer of your choice and they will evaluate it and you get 15 minutes to spend with them discussing. Each session is an extra $50. I did this two years ago when I went and it was definitely helpful.

– Read & Critique Workshops: they have structured R&C sessions that are arbitrated and you go and read the first 10 pages or so of your thing and get feedback. And you listen to the other people do the same thing. They have them during the day but also at night so there are lots of opportunities to get feedback and listen to other writers. I didn’t do this last time because, after meeting with the two agents I realized that I needed to re-work my first 10 pages. Also, I am not a night person and I wanted to take other classes during the daytime sessions. Also, I’m a wimp and I was scared to read my story out loud for people. Lame, I know.

– Timing: it’s a far more convenient weekend.

SCWC Cons:

– It costs more.

– It’s geared towards all writing so there will be fewer sessions directed at fiction writing. And the full schedule isn’t available yet, either.

– I don’t know who any of the quest speakers are. I’m sure they are all lovely people and gifted, successful writers, but still.

RMFW Pros:

– It’s just for fiction writers, so every session is geared towards some aspect of fiction writing and publishing. And as I went through  the schedule of sessions I will be hard pressed to narrow it down. And they have several genre specific classes that are applicable not just to my current project, but to the next two ideas I plan to work on.

– The keynote speaker is Bernard Cornwell. He is, like, a total hero of mine. When I started thinking about my next project, I decided that I could actually make a platform for historical fiction thanks to my hobby. And when I think of historical fiction I think of Bernard Cornwell. He writes so vividly and with such wonderful detail. And I want to be just like him when I grow up.

– They also have a Read & Critique session, but it’s with an actual agent. It’s like the SCWC R&Q session combined with the Advanced Submission. You pick the agent you want and send them your stuff and they critique it with you and 7 other writers during a 3 hour session. I was a little unsure of this when I first read it as it’s a group setting and the other one is one-on-one, but the more I thought about it the more I liked it. It will force me to do a group critique (which I need to do) and I’ll get to listen to the other people’s writing and critiques, too. And it costs less.

– They are having a neat group short story critique in the bar one night. A bunch of the agents/presenters will be there and I guess they’ll read a published short story and everyone in attendance will discuss it over drinks. How fun does that sound? I love literary analysis and what an education – to see how an agent or editor evaluates a story!

RMFW Cons:

– It’s a weekend that I already had plans. Important plans that involved my whole family. So I’ll be missing a family visit and my husband won’t get to participate in something he’s been really looking forward to for months.

 

So the balance is in favor of the RMFW conference. Luckily my husband is really supportive of my writing and is trying his best not to be disappointed at missing his thing. I’m really, really excited. I paid my money today and I just have to make my hotel and travel arrangements!

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