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!

Adulting as a Writer, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Chaos

Most people I know, particularly most writers I know, don’t enjoy adulting. I hated adulting so much I told myself I was happy with part-time service industry jobs for 10 years before I finally went to college. At the time, I thought I was going back to college so that I could get on with conforming to adulthood. By the time I graduated last summer at the age of 32, I’d realized, thanks to friends and most of all professors, that being a responsible adult does not mean a soul-crushing 9-5 job, and that my skills as a person are, actually, valuable in the “real world,” no matter what anyone outside my fields of expertise might tell me to the contrary. It has been an inspiring and revealing year for me as a young-30’s writer.

I got a degree in anthropology because I wanted to do archaeology. I got a job with a local archaeology firm before I graduated. I still work for that firm, and people still tell me there are no jobs in archaeology. When people ask if it’s full time and I say, “Not at the moment,” they often look smug, and I look smug right back, because here’s the thing: I never wanted to devote all my time and energy to one thing. The best way for me to go from loving something to being soul-crushingly bored by it is to do it all the time. Granted, archaeology has enough variety in itself that 40 hour weeks would definitely not be a problem. But I get to work in my chosen field with people I get along with, getting exercise and spending time in nature frequently as part of my job. My favorite pastime as a child was playing in dirt and finding stuff to put in my “museum” (i.e. playhouse).

The rest of my work week consists of researching and writing articles for the history website Clio, and doing freelance editing for other writers. Which makes for a nice triad of activities to keep me (1) paid and (2) interested in everything I’m doing. Physical work and research/writing for reports at Corn Island Archaeology, historic research and article writing for the Clio, and reading fiction and working through edits for my own business…it’s a good mix for me. It keeps me a little busier than I’d ever intended to be, and I work more than 40 hours a week, but I enjoy it all and I make a living! I get paid to do things I grew up doing for fun! What better way to adult??? Funny thing is, I still didn’t think of myself as a successful adult until my mother pointed this perspective out to me. (This is one of many reasons I am lucky my mom is also a writer and is awesome.)

Perhaps because I’ve learned to live in chaos and a perpetual state of having something I should be working on, I’ve rePerBastet_tallcatcently added to my agenda the role of Marketing Director for Per Bastet Publications, the house through which my own novel, The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn, is now published. Strangely, taking on more in this case has made me feel more driven to work on my own fiction, something I’ve let slide far too much this year. The more I think of what the press offers (so far, a number of excellent speculative fiction novels and collections of short stories!) the more I find myself wanting to write more stuff, wanting to actively work to share more of the ideas that bounce around in my head all the time with readers.

So, you might be wondering, what am I writing these days? I’ve got two projects in the fire at the moment, both of which I’m actively working on (most days), as my schedule allows. 1. A sequel to Erica Flynn, which I have around 20,000 words on and no title for yet. 2. A series of interconnected steampunk/cyberpunk short stories featuring Penelope and Puddingfoot in post-apocalyptic (no zombies) adventures across America (the first of which was published in the Circuits & Steam anthology). I’m working on the second story now, with a four-story plot arc lined up.

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Author Persecution? Sounds Like Free Advertising!

Last Tuesday, I did a speech for my political discourse class on extremist literary censorship.¬† In researching for it, I came across some interesting stuff – some of it depressing, naturally, but some of it encouraging.¬† The thing that really stood out to me is how often attempts to stifle dissent via literature actually strengthen writers’ abilities – instead of being allowed to point out specifics in their own societies, they have to dig deeper and find the universal.¬† They have to learn to put their theme between the lines, avoid preaching it outright, hone their ability to write with subtlety.¬† All of those skills are important to good writing, especially if¬†a writer values¬†social commentary.

The other beautiful irony of banned books and persecuted authors is the number of times that such bad publicity backfires and simply becomes free advertising.¬† Let this be a lesson to any writers who worry about being controversial….¬† I hope somebody with serious motivation decides my book is dangerously subversive and obscenely irreverent.¬† Maybe if they’re loud-mouthed enough, it’ll spark a publisher’s interest – ha!

And I really must finally get around to reading some Upton Sinclair soon, because I have a newfound fondness for him based on the fact that, when Oil was banned in Boston, he paraded through the streets reading obscene passages from the book of Genesis and from Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a protest….¬† Has to be the best protest modus operandi I’ve heard of recently.

Fancy Meals and Rewrites

My Wednesday posts have been about marketing for the past couple of months.¬† Since my own marketing is currently on hold while I punch up the first part of my book (the better to appeal to potential agents), “marketing” is, at the moment, equating to “rewriting” in my mind.

I’ve been thinking a lot about presentation – not in terms of query letters or synopsis writing this time – but in terms of sample material:¬† the first 50 pages of the book, and even more vitally, the first 5 pages.¬† Don’t get me wrong; my ego hasn’t failed me¬†entirely. ¬†I think the first 50 pages of my book is good material.¬† But from an objective point of view, if I didn’t know the rest of the book or what was coming next, I can see that it doesn’t look like the book it later¬†becomes.¬† It looks like a different kind of book entirely, and if my query letter promised something that sparked an agent’s interest, and then the opening wasn’t what they expected based on my query, it makes sense that they’d turn the book down.

It’s sort of like how gourmet meals are “all about the presentation”.¬† If you’re going to serve an Italian main course, for example, then maybe a German appetizer isn’t going to give your clientele the right impression about what’s coming next.¬† Maybe if your thing is eclectic world fusion cuisine, you should present that from the very first dish, no matter how good that Spanish tapas dish might be as a starter course.

So it is with writing.¬† The flavor doesn’t have to be identical all the way through (how boring would that be, in a 5-course¬†meal¬†or in a novel?), but it should have some consistent elements right from the start.

The Grindstone

Marketing.¬† Bleh.¬† I’m so sick of doing it right now that I really really thought about skipping my post about it for today, or cheating and posting about something more fun.

As a compromise, this is a post sort of about marketing and sort of about rewriting.¬† In the past few weeks, I’ve started to realize that the opening of the novel I’ve been sending out is really not the best representation of the style, tone, type of story, or flavor of the book, and that it also puts forth most of the narrator’s bad side right off the bat, without giving a reader much to grab onto and like about her.¬† I’d never take away her flaws – they’re a good chunk of what drives her throughout the storyline, and aren’t necessarily flaws except when she lets them get out of hand.

Why didn’t I realize this before?¬† Well, I sort of did, but I wasn’t sure how big a problem it was.¬† As the rejection letters have come rolling in, I’ve started to think, Maybe it’s a Big Problem.¬† I’ve still got a sample out to an agent, so I won’t be impulsively rewriting anything until I hear back about that, but if I get a “no” from him, I think it’s time to sit down and look at how to get the most appropriate, enticing start to this book at the start of the book.

Currently, it’s chronological – it starts with the narrator’s death scene.¬† Now, I’m thinking I should start it after she’s already dead, raise questions about how she ended up that way and so forth as part of the hook, and catch the reader up as the plot moves along.¬† The good news is, I’ll probably be able to keep the material, just reorganized, and any dead weight (no pun intended) will be easily shed in the process (since I always felt like the first part of the book was a little more bloated than I wanted it to be, and yet the pacing in the first five chapters has always felt like a whirlwind).

So there.¬† The moral of this post is:¬† Be brutally honest with yourself about the first few chapters of your book.¬† Read it as if you don’t know what comes next.¬† And don’t judge it on whether or not you would buy it.¬† Judge it on whether or not you would sell it to make your living, based on the first five pages or so, when you have five hundred other queries to get through this week.¬† Because that’s the kind of person you have to impress.

Keep Working

If you’re in the process of marketing a book, I wholeheartedly recommend that you get well into another project prior to sending out your completed manuscript.

I got lucky with timing, finishing the final draft of my novel in early October, which meant that when I participated in NaNoWriMo in November, I ended the year with one finished novel and one rough draft under my belt.¬† Once I recovered from NaNo, I started researching agents.¬† All of the times which would’ve been empty spots in my writing life (the month or two break most of us take between finishing a draft and starting the rewrites, the waiting game with the agencies, etc.) were filled up, because I could switch back and forth between tasks for one manuscript and tasks for the other.

Now that I’m well into the querying process and doing a lot of waiting and not much else for my finished novel, I’m so grateful that I have another book ready to be worked on.¬† As antsy as I am with a project to work on, I can just imagine how much worse it would be if my writing life, right now, consisted purely of sending out letters and samples and¬†then waiting for replies.

Aside from providing a welcome distraction and being an efficient use of time which would otherwise be spent chewing your own face off from the inside, having something else to work on is also a good mood booster when you get a rejection.¬† At least, it works that way for me.¬† If I work out a problem with my rough draft, write a new scene I really like, or come across something awesome when I’m fact checking my details, it takes a little of the sting out of getting a rejection.¬† Even if it’s a bad writing day and I get a rejection, I can tell myself, “But see, you’re a real, professional writer.¬† You’re already working on a new book, the way professional writers are supposed to.¬† You’re just waiting for your break, and getting work done in the meantime.¬† See how awesome you are?”

Anything that boosts your confidence and makes you feel good about yourself, that’s what you want to do while you’re marketing your book.¬† So write, write well, and write something that makes you happy.

Goals

As with most things, it’s good to have clear goals when you’re marketing your book to agents and publishers.¬† This week, I’ve been very glad that I set myself the goal of sending out 5 queries a week (one per weekday), because after getting my hopes up over an agent asking for more material, her subsequent rejection left me cynical and frustrated (despite her very nice rejection letter).

Fortunately, if I write down somewhere among my various and sundry notebooks, TO DO:¬† 5 queries per week until accepted! I will do it no matter what, as if to prove to the piece of paper that I can actually¬†do it.¬† So I’m back in the saddle again, although I did cheat the week I was waiting to hear back from her, and only sent one query out all week.

The good thing about a goal (especially an ambitious and time-consuming one, such as sending out a query every single weekday) is that you feel some sense of accomplishment from fulfilling it, even if you haven’t yet succeeded in the larger goal of getting an acceptance.¬† Plus, if you have twenty query letters out there, when you get a rejection, you know that there are 19 more chances¬†at a “yes” waiting in the wings.

Happy New Year

So, with the new year comes a new plan of action for my blog.¬† First off, more consistent posts (ha, yes, I know you’ve heard it before, but I really mean it this time – really!).¬† For serious, I’m talking Monday, Wednesday, and Friday every week.¬† Also, I’ll have specific types of posts for each day, as in:

Mondays, I’m going to post about the writing process itself, including the editorial process.¬† Wednesdays, I’ll dedicate to topics on¬†publishing and marketing.¬† Fridays, I’ll post writing exercises and brainstorming tools.

Today, I’m cheating by posting this.¬† However, I’m delving deeply into the big bad world of marketing my book now, and this Wednesday, I’ll have a few words to say about query letters and/or writing synopses for the purpose of snaring an agent.¬† Friday’s post will be about¬†different methods of conveying the¬†emotions of¬†a character, since I had an interesting conversation about that last night.