Imaginarium Convention 2016

Imaginarium Convention in Louisville has been my favorite event of the year since it began three years ago, and every year it gets better! It’s the best-run, most organized, yet most relaxed, friendly, and welcoming writer’s convention I’ve ever attended, and on top of that, it’s fun and accessible to not-just-writers, too, since it offers gaming, a film festival, live entertainment, and a free vendor hall in addition to its excellent array of panels and workshops on everything from poetry to documentary film writing to speculative fiction to music. I literally can’t say enough good things about Imaginarium. It’s not just the folks who run it (who are awesome), but the whole atmosphere that makes it magic. Everyone involved, from the staff to the panelists to the attendees, is generous with their time, knowledge, and attentiveness. Truly a special thing in today’s world.

Marian Allen's award

Marian Allen, with Kerosene Kerry’s award

This year was also special because Per Bastet Publishing, which I am now marketing director for and which is one of the event’s sponsors, came away with two awards! One went to Marian Allen (who happens to be my mother) for doing a fabulous job promoting the event. The second, the Sizemore Award for small press excellence, went to the house.

T. Harris with Sizemore Award

T. Lee Harris with Per Bastet’s Sizemore Award!

Coming away from this year’s Imaginarium, I have so many happy takeaways. There’s the momentum of inspiration and ideas from all the great discussions and conversations. There’s the hilarity of cutting up with other writers (especially when we’re supposed to be acting all professional). There’s the happiness of catching up with people I haven’t seen since last year and the happiness of meeting new people I look forward to catching up with next time. There’s the excitement of the great pitches the press got from authors who want to work with us. And great-sounding projects authors might send my way for editing (shout out to Jack Wallen, the best client evarrrrr! for all the recommendations!) I keep asking if we can have more than one of these things a year, but for some reason the staff who work their butts off to make the weekend run smoothly for the rest of us keep looking at me like I’ve grown wings out of my ears when I say it…… ūüėČ

Per Bastet with Jason Sizemore

Per Bastet with Jason Sizemore, award namesake and super-nice guy! Third day of the convention = complete exhaustion, but we’re happy on the inside, I assure you!

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Week 2 of NaNoWriMo

After my fabulously victorious first week of National Novel Writing Month, during which I went from 10,000 words to 18,000 words, week 2 has been a struggle. There’s nothing unusual about week 2 being tough, especially since Real Life Happened and caused a hiccup in my new rhythm. But that’s okay, because – after only ONE WEEK, one little tiny week! – I’ve seen a big change in my mindset about writing. As in, I feel weird on they days I don’t write anything. As in, I think about my story in the shower, in the car, while I’m eating lunch, before I fall asleep, as soon as I wake up. As in, I’m getting my writer groove back. And that’s my prime directive this month, so hooray!!

Here’s the day-by-day low-down for week 2:

Day 7: After I posted about how I was starting to lose steam last week, I took a break from the manuscript. During my break, I realized what I wanted to do next, and wrote another 475 words.

Day 8: I took the day off intentionally to try and gain some perspective. Hung out with my brilliant partner-in-crime, cover artist, and may-as-well-be-husband (Zakary Kendall) and had fun discussing weird metaphysical and philosophical aspects of the manuscript. Very inspiring!

Erica Flynn cover by Zakary Kendall

Cover art for The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn. Oil on canvas, Zakary Kendall

Day 9: Real Life Happened. Only wrote about 200 words, but that’s something!

Day 10: 1,500 words, and had fun doing it.

Days 11 & 12: Real Life Ctd. No writing happened.

Day 13: Now officially behind on NaNo word count for the month. However, it was a productive day. I cleaned up my desk area (gasp!), hauled out multicolorful things (i.e., crayons, sharpies, etc.) and paper and arranged them neatly in the middle of the living room floor, and wrote out questions I want/need to explore in my manuscript – about the protagonists, antagonist, plot, world, conflicts, and turning points – as well as some helpful exercises from Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction, which is an awesome book and every writer should own it and Donald Maass isn’t paying me to say that, I promise. Now I have a bunch of questions and prompts in multicolored sharpie taped up above my desk, and a crap-ton of art supplies and paper ranging from index cards to welcome-mat-sized conveniently located in the middle of the living room floor. Because shiny colors make me happy, and help me write, okay?!?!!!

hellonekoDay 14: 3,000 words. Whenever I felt stuck, I doodled for a while, answered one of my note card questions, or researched something and jotted down notes about it. At around 2,000 words, I took a couple hours’ break – dinner, 1960s Dark Shadows episodes, and chinchilla playtime. And then came back and wrote another 1,000…which brings me almost back up to the overall official word count goal for NaNo – and more importantly, moved my book forward!

 

Day 15: Geared up and ready to rock! …As soon as I finish this coffee.

Things I’ve remembered this week: 1. It’s not that hard to find enough time to write 250-500 words in a day. 2. Taking a break is sometimes more productive than working. 3. One type of creativity usually boosts another, which makes a nice little positive feedback loop. 4. You do not have to write everything in order. If you’re trying to get the story to move on to the next point, but you’re not sure how to do it, and you’re not that interested in the part you’re trying to write, chances are the reader won’t be either. You’re not experiencing writer’s block – you’re experiencing writer’s instinct! Run with it! Run with it to the next bit you think is going to be so cool you can’t wait to get there. 5. First drafts are for fun. Rewrites are for making everything tie together coherently.

Imaginarium 2015

Last weekend, I attended Louisville’s second annual Imaginarium Convention for creative writers (and readers). I went last year, too, and have had a blast both times. Great programming, great networking, and great company. Plus, it’s held in the same hotel where the long-gone Rivercon Science Fiction Convention used to be held, which means it brings back great memories for me of attending my very first convention with my mom, 23 years ago. I’ve decided that I need a reversible hat to wear next year, with editor on one side and writer on the other, so people will know from which point of view I’m speaking.

This year, I was on 5 panels: one about the role of an editor; one about the writer-editor relationship (and how the editor is, in fact, your friend, even if they put enough red on your manuscript that it would never make it past Hollywood censorship); one about choosing and pulling off either a lone hero tale or a heroic group story (which, ironically, had neither a lone hero for a speaker nor a heroic group of speakers, but yet a third narrative choice: a dynamic duo of speakers); a panel about steampunk (which was lots of fun, and in which we discussed various other ‘punks, too, such as deiselpunk, clockpunk, etc.); and a panel about plotting, and how different writers do it (or don’t). So now you know the kinds of things writers sit around and talk about in secret.

I also attended a couple of panels as an audience member – one about balancing a day job and a writing schedule (because it ain’t easy getting back into a routine after four years away from creative writing), one about writing non-human characters (because the sequel to Erica Flynn includes some), and one about writing the zombie apocalypse (because two of my editing clients do). There were a bunch more I *wanted* to attend, but they were at the same times as the panels I was speaking on. These included, but weren’t limited to, panels on historical writing, unconventional fantasy, and comic books. As you can see, there’s a pretty good variety of topics at Imaginarium, which is one of the reasons I love it! Plus, they had a dragon this year. I mean, how can I not love it?

If I could change one thing about Imaginarium, it would be to add a tea/coffee room for the convention, so there would be a hangout spot to just shoot the shit with other writers. Because writers, myself included, love nothing better than to shoot the shit over caffeinated beverages!

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Mom, the dragon, and me

Writing Troubles

I don’t know how many other writers have this problem, but if I can’t visualize a scene, it’s like banging my head into a brick wall to get through it. I’ve hit that point in my current work in progress. I have a solid opening to the novel, and I know where I want to go with it. I have clear ideas about the themes, tone, characters, motifs, plot, and many of the settings. Now, usually, I just go from the last section I’ve written and see if things start to connect up. Usually, once I start writing, I start being able to picture the events unfolding, and it all goes fine. So what happens when, like now, the scene doesn’t start playing out on its own?

It’s not exactly writer’s block. I can write what the character is thinking just fine. It just isn’t going anywhere. Here are some steps I generally take to move forward:

  • Keep writing what the character is thinking – I can always trim it to a “scraps” file if it isn’t necessary to the book – until something clicks.
  • Work on the setting. Where is the scene taking place? Did I pick that setting for a reason, or was it just the first thing I thought of? If the former, then why is that setting important? What about that setting helps move the scene forward? Is there something the character notices in the setting that causes a reaction or a realization? If I picked the setting because it was just the first idea I had, then (a) Was there actually a purpose to the setting that I didn’t realize? and (b) if not, is brainstorm at least three alternative settings and try them out. For example, did I pick a coffee shop because that seemed like a “normal” setting? Do I even want a “normal” setting for this scene? What if I picked a library’s room for rare and antique volumes, an abandoned train station, or the alligator house at a zoo?
  • Work on the details. Going off the previous idea, if I want to picture a setting, I need to think about the details if they aren’t coming automatically. Usually the first place I start is making sure I have at least one detail per sense – sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. And touch doesn’t have to be texture. It could be air pressure, humidity, temperature.
  • Find something external that inspires you. For me, music is often the key to getting my brain going. If I hear a song that fits the story or the character, everything can just click into place at once. Some of my favorite scenes from Erica Flynn came about entirely as the result of daydreaming while listening to music. Something I like to do these days is look around Pinterest for inspiration. Between the architecture, nature, art, and travel pins, there’s usually something that strikes me and gives me something to start with.
  • Writing exercises. There are plenty of writing exercises to get you going when you don’t have a story yet, but there are also plenty out there to help you once you’ve got a story going – and even for the revision process – and are having trouble getting it where you want it. My personal go-to when I’m struggling is Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction, which is chock-full of advice, examples, and exercises for character, plot, setting, tension, bad guys, good guys, and everything in between.
  • Back up. Instead of trying to force a scene that’s lying there like a miserable blob on the page, consider that it might not be working because you’re trying to do something wrong for the story. Are you ignoring a character’s reservations about something? If so, back up and use those reservations to create inner conflict – that’s prime stuff! Are you trying too hard to make something happen that doesn’t need to happen? Are you trying to put in a scene that isn’t necessary, that’s just padding in the end? Are you writing yourself into a corner? Sometimes you subconsciously know better, and it’s worth listening to the signals. For example, I just realized that I’m totally ignoring the fact that, even though my character has motivation to do something she’s been asked to do, she currently has no reason to be in a hurry about it. *facepalm* Maybe that’s why I’m stuck, d’ya think?
  • Talk to someone. Another writer, a friend who likes to read, a friend who hates reading but likes good movies….anyone you trust to give a damn if you need to vent about your writing frustrations. Sometimes, like anything in life, you’ll find the answer in talking about it. Sometimes, other people ask good questions and have good suggestions. And sometimes, you end up with a great brainstorming session.
  • Chill out and do something else for a while. It may not look or feel like you’re writing to anyone else, but some of your best work as a writer happens when you’re not typing or scribbling things in a notebook. Daydream for a while. Cook. Draw. Color. Go to work. Get groceries. Take a shower. Take the dog for a walk. Go to the park. Call your mom. Go out with friends. Sleep on it. Your brain will still work on your story. The best part of your brain – your subconscious – is always working on your story. Just make sure you sit down at that computer or scribble in that notebook again tomorrow.

Well, since blogging about my frustrations seems to have pinpointed a trouble spot, I think I’ll go do something else for a while and then try sitting back down at the laptop again later!

What Archaeology and Fiction Writing Have in Common

For anyone curious about why my two biggest interests are so “different” from one another…here’s why they’re not:

  1. All knowledge is useful knowledge. Taking interest in a wide variety of subjects gives you that much more material to work with when it comes to writing – you can get rich, specific detail and a broad spectrum of characters and settings just by being curious…and you never know what will pop up that might give you an idea. In archaeology, you never know what might come in handy, either. Obviously, you need a smattering of history and geology of the area you’re working in, but then there are things like being aware of what plant species are native, which were introduced and when and for what purpose (for example, Vinca minor – graveyard ivy – isn’t native to Kentucky, doesn’t spread much on its own, and was a common graveyard planting in the 19th century); things like the fact that tanneries used human urine as a chemical component of processing leather (and therefore might be located near a lavatory in a historic building); things like what parts of an animal have the highest caloric value…you get the idea.¬†Anything might turn out to be useful.
  2. Everything is writing / Everything is archaeology.¬† This is kind of along the lines of the previous. Anything you know about, hear about, learn about, can potentially be applied to fiction writing, and the same goes for archaeology. When you think about it, since archaeology is essentially the study of the human past, then any human behavior, and any natural phenomenon or environment that humans have ever had a relationship to, well…that pretty much covers everything. When it comes to writing, everything you observe, think about, act upon, receive responses from, and interact with is story potential.
  3. Getting into a point of view. Unless you’re writing a fictionalized autobiography, fiction requires you to step out of your own worldview and into the worldview of somebody (or more than one somebody) else. Any branch of anthropology, including archaeology, requires the same thing…except you’re doing your best to step into the worldview of real people, living or dead (depending on what you’re working on).
  4. Beginning, Middle, and End (and sometimes Epilogue). Obviously, a story has to have a beginning, middle, and end – even if it’s a flash fiction story, something happens, something changes, someone’s mind opens or closes or shifts. In archaeology, we have Phase 1 projects (surveys, which might be done with ground penetrating radar or electromagnetometry or by walking the site or by shovel testing), Phase 2 projects (“Hey! We found stuff in Phase 1 and someone is willing to pay for us to find out more!!”) where you dig test units in areas that promise evidence of features or artifacts, and Phase 3 projects (when you excavate a site in detail). Not every site gets to Phase 2, and not all Phase 2 projects go on to a Phase 3. It depends on money, the site’s potential for adding to our knowledge of history/prehistory, and why the site was being excavated to begin with (Who funded it? Did they fund it voluntarily, or for compliance with the law before their development could move forward? How fast do they want the archaeologists out of their hair?) Or you could view the beginning, middle, and end of archaeology this way: Excavation, artifact processing, and report writing. Because those three steps happen on any project, at any level (unless you’re a lousy archaeologist). The epilogue, in that case, could be seen as public presentations, or in some cases the establishment of a historical center or local museum on site.¬†
  5. Drinking, Swearing, and Nerding Out. All three of these activities are near and dear to both archaeologists and writers. At least, 90% of all the archaeologists and writers I know. Preferably, do all three at the same time while in the company of other writers/archaeologists after a day of slaving away at the computer/with the trowel.

Back to the Blog

Hello, blog. I remember you from before my school-induced hiatus! Now that I’ve finished my degree, it’s time to dive back into the writing world with gusto. While I often felt uncomfortable with going for so long without writing fiction, I have to say that, now that classes are over (until/whenever grad school happens) I find myself with more story ideas than I’ve had at one time in years. My sneaky writer-brain has never, it seems, stopped working, even though I’ve mostly only been aware of my student-brain over the last four years. While student-brain was constructing research papers and analyses, writer-brain was hiding in the basement with a chemistry set and a maniacal laugh, getting weirder and weirder the longer it stayed down there in isolation with its experiments. At least, that’s how I explain to myself why I had a dream last week that I was a blue, antennaed, inter-dimensional spy working as a bus-boy at an airport in Russia, with some weird little girl singing a haunting tune following me around everywhere.

So what am I doing with myself now that I’ve graduated? Answer: (a) working as an archaeology field technician, (b) freelance editing, (c) starting to pick up the threads of a couple of writing projects (including a sequel to Erica Flynn), and (d) staring happily in to space, daydreaming, and listening to music, because I didn’t have time to do that for most of the last year.

Return from ConGlomeration

I spent the weekend blissfully away from the traffic associated with Thunder Over Louisville, at ConGlomeration Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention.¬† I’ve been going to conventions and writer’s workshops since I was fairly wee (9 years old on), but this is the first time I’ve attended such an event as a published novelist.¬† It’s been awesome to get to share my book with other people, but I have to say, there’s something about walking in to the Con scene with a book to show for myself that finally clicked a switch in my head that I’m a really real, for real, actual author, actually.¬† Maybe because writers at conventions and workshops were, aside from my mom and myself, the first people to take my writing seriously.¬† And I’ve been on panels before to talk about writing, even been a guest speaker for creative writing classes now and then, but having a stack of print books in front of me with my name on them¬† – that’s different.¬† And it feels great!

I was one speaker on a panel about Mythology & Folklore, which is a natural fit for The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn, since (twisted, quantum-physics style) Greek Underworld mythology is a huge component of the book.  Since my follow-up Underworld novel will explore some Eastern mythology and folklore, it was fun to get to talk about some of that, too.  I also did a reading from Erica Flynn (Chapter 17: Bad God! No Biscuit! and Chapter 18: The Deadest Little Town This Side of the Styx).

Even with low attendance due to sharing the weekend and the city of Louisville with the largest fireworks show in the nation, I feel pretty good about this weekend’s book sales, the folks I met and talked to, and the shop talk with other authors, artists, and readers.¬† As always after these kinds of events, my brain feels chock-full of fresh ideas, excitement about my projects, and inspiration to take¬† on new projects and ideas.¬† Having brand-new books to read and love doesn’t hurt, either, and getting to spend time catching up with fellow 3 Fates Press authors T Lee Harris and Marian Allen (aka Mom) is always a blast

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This lady’s costume was awesome – but she was flamenco dancing so fast for her performance that every photo I took was blurred!

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http://www.thealleytheater.org/ – The Alley Theater crew performing “The Cliffnotes of Insanity” – The Princess Bride in 30 Minutes or Less! Hi-freaking-larious, the highlight of the convention!

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Steampunked Smartcar! ‚̧

Happy Mother’s Day!

People have been asking me what it’s like to have a writer for a mom for as long as I can remember.¬† I always liked making up stories, but Mom has been my unfailing encourager and supporter throughout my writing life – my first editor, the first person I bounce new ideas off of.¬† Mom wrote my stories down when I was too young to write myself (patiently taking time out of her own writing schedule for my extremely frequent interruptions).¬† She typed my stories on request until I was about eight, when she taught me how to type.¬† She gave me my first computer so I could work on my first book when I was ten.¬† She took me to writer’s workshops, science fiction conventions, and weekly Southern Indiana Writers Group meetings, introduced me to other writers, editors, and publishers.¬† We were our own little writer’s workshop while I was growing up, and still are, in a lot of ways.¬† If either of us is stuck, we know the other will happily brainstorm with us over the phone.

Having an instant writing buddy in your mother is something you appreciate all the more when you’re around other writers later on, when you realize that most writers have to actively seek out other people who understand the process, the love, the frustration, the mindset that you can and will use anything as material, the sparks of inspiration, the terror of a blank page….¬† Writers are a little bit (or, in some cases, a lot) crazy, and it can be lonely when you’re the only one around.¬† I consider myself extremely lucky to have always had someone around who gets it – who has as much fun as I do brainstorming story ideas, coming up with writing exercises and story challenges, explaining imaginary alternate endings to movies that could have been good (if we had written the script)….¬† So the answer is, having a writer for a mom is awesome.¬† Thank you, Mom – for everything, but especially for your friendship and encouragement.

Confessions of a Busy Writer

There is a sneaking worry that every writer who can’t afford to be a full-time Writer gets when other life pursuits take the front seat for an extended period of time….¬† Am I still a writer if I’m not writing?¬† Every once in a while, since I started back to school, this thought creeps into my head – even now that I have a publishing contract – and not updating my blog for months at a time is one result of that.

But my answer to this doubt is, Yes, I am still a writer, because I am still building up ideas and plots, and I will still put them together and down on paper.¬† Also, there is a part of my brain that is now hard-wired to store away odd bits of information from every source (classes included) for the construction of storylines and weird characters.¬† I’ve mentioned here before that I have plans for a follow-up to The Life and Death (But Mostly the Death) of Erica Flynn.¬† The ideas all clicked into place for the new novel while I was in my Introduction to Eastern Religions class.¬† Since, like Erica Flynn, my new main character will also experience death as a major turning point rather than an end, I’m sure the realities of death that I’ve learned about in my two courses on Skeletal Forensics (and at the lab looking over actual skeletons and burial records) are going to affect the way I portray death in the new novel.

The thing is, I think it’s expected of writers (and we writers do it to ourselves) to define themselves not only primarily, but almost exclusively as Writers (or authors, if we’re lucky!)¬† Or maybe it’s just me – because I know that my own satisfaction with myself as a person has consistently hinged on whether or not I was working on a book.¬† When I wasn’t writing, I felt bad about my life and myself, and when I was writing, I felt pretty positive and self-assured.¬† Writing is what I enjoy most and what I feel I’m best at, where I’m most in my element (possible exception:¬† tromping around the woods).¬† But in branching out and putting my life focus on other things (study, a career, opportunities related to study and career) I’m tremendously excited about the possibilities not only for my other pursuits, but also for the possibilities this opens up for my writing!¬† It has to be on the back burner for the moment, coming in third on my priorities after school and survival (yes, school comes before survival on my list,) but it’s going to be so much the better for all the new experiences I’ll have to draw from.

Enough spilling my guts.¬† Next blog:¬† Weird Stuff I’ve Learned at School.¬† Stay tuned!

What Day is This? Saturday? Tuesday? Wednesday.

Having successfully completed another semester of school, and not having posted anything on my blog in that entire semester, on this first day of my summer break, it seems like a good idea to update.

My writing life has felt very much on hold for the past four months, but when I think about it, I did make some progress.  I got 5 rejections from agents for my Erica Flynn novel (3 of those in the same day, which is a first for me).  I converted my 50,000-word rough draft from NaNoWriMo 2010  into a reasonable working outline.

Now that I have all summer free (well, free aside from my job and my assistance in the archaeology lab on campus) my brain is turning to questions about new project options.  Should I finish outlining the unwritten 2/3 of the events of my NaNo 2010 project?  Should I draft something new?  And if I draft something new, which of my new ideas should I work on Рor how can I combine all of them into one cohesive novel?  Should I outline first, and then write a draft of a new book?  Or should I wing it, NaNo style, but spread it out over 3 months instead of just one?

It popped into my head this morning that it would be sort of fun to do a complete outline of a book every day for a week, no holds barred on going over the top with the plot or being silly about it.¬† As a rule, I get a lot more out of nonsense than I do¬†over-planning and being too serious with my work.¬† It might be a good way to loosen up and shake some inspiration loose!¬† Maybe I’ll do one tomorrow and my next post will be about how it turns out.