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…… 😉

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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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 Interview: Jack Wallen’s Suicide Station Kindle Scout Campaign

Would you like to experience the godlike powers of a publisher, to choose whether to make an author’s heart sing or crush an author’s hopes and dreams? Well, Amazon’s Kindle Scout publishing lets you, the reader, do just that! My client and fellow author of genre-bending fiction, Jack Wallen, has submitted his novel Suicide Station to Kindle Scout, and you have until April 7th (if my math is correct) to read the preview excerpt and nominate the book, if you so choose, to be published. Oh, and nominators get a free e-copy if it goes to publication! “What kind of book is Suicide Station?” I hear you ask. Well, I’ve read it (and edited it) and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I can promise you it’s not quite your average romance! Here’s the blurb:

PROJECT_COVER_IMAGE_1._SX800_A romance with a twist of Grim Reaper.
The world of stand up comedy was too much for Foster Donovan. Leaving a note behind for his wife, he wrapped a noose around his neck, and changed his life by embracing death.Turns out, the after life was nothing like he’d expected. Those who’ve taken their own lives find themselves temporary residents of Suicide Station, where they receive counseling, friendship, and (for Foster) the prospect of love. Suicide Station is a paranormal romance with a twist even the Grim Reaper wouldn’t see coming.”
And now, without further ado, I give you an interview with the author himself, Jack Wallen!

 

SM: Suicide Station is pretty different than your other work. What sparked the idea for this book?

JW: Believe it or not, it was a nightmare that sparked the idea. I dreamed that I’d died and, in the dying, realized the worst part about it was that I’d never get to spend another second with my lovely wife. That led me to wonder what happens to love when we pass on. Not knowing if there is an “afterlife” or not, I decided to answer all the questions the nightmare brought up. There’s no better way for a writer to answer the big questions than to write about it. In the end, I realized that death was not the end of love.

SM: You’re a very versatile writer, with quite a few genres/subgenres under your belt. Was there anything about writing this book, branching out into paranormal romance, that was challenging for you? Or was the story just “there” and the genre was secondary?

JW: To me, genre is always secondary to telling a good story. If you consider reality, you’ll find the horrific in romance and romance in the horrific. I’ve always found books that set aside the multi-dimensionality of reality to be rather 2 dimensional. With regards to romance, it’s not all about steaming passion, abs, long legs, glistening skin, and the soft moans of seduction.

Pant, pant.

If we’re going to escape, let’s really escape from reality and twist the narrative to better match the landscape of our dreams…not our wishes. Dreams can be gritty, dirty, even ugly. That’s life.

To answer the other part of this question…this story really wrote itself. I think the imagery that so quickly developed (as I wrote) helped this story to flow out of me with incredible ease.

SM: Do you think you’ll write a sequel, or other books set in Suicide Station?

JW: Initially this was going to be a one-off. But shortly after I dove into that other-worldly realm of the Suicide Station, I knew this had to continue. This book barely scratches the surface of possibility for what I’ve created and I’ve no intention of letting it die. I thoroughly enjoyed creating this world as well as the characters within. I want to explore and develop the relationship between Foster and Candy and (especially) visit some of the other Stations.

SM: How did you go about setting up the world and the rules and workings of the afterlife?

JW: One of the best parts about being a writer of fiction is that we can toss aside the constructs of reality and forge our own worlds. Before going into this, I knew one thing and one thing only – that Foster Donovan would have to go through counseling in order to move on to his “Forever Station”. That was the original intent. I had no idea this would turn into a love story. The second I started writing this book, in my mind it quickly evolved into a sort of Tim Burton-esque world where anything was possible. So…I allowed anything to be possible.

I’ve always found it unfair that we writers expect readers to suspend their disbelief, when often we’re hesitant to do the same while writing. I pretty much suspended every ounce of disbelief I had for this one.

SM: As a book set in a sort of purgatory for suicide victims, this could have been a very depressing read, yet it’s actually very hopeful, sweet, and funny. How did you maintain the balance between tastefully addressing depression and suicide and keeping the book upbeat and romantic?

JW: Confession time. I’m a helpless romantic at heart. I truly believe in the human heart and the power of connection.

Suicide has such a stigma attached to it. For some, the challenges of existing are simply too much to bear. There’s always help to be had; and I highly recommend anyone flirting with suicidal thoughts to reach out for help. But being that helpless romantic, what I really wanted to address was that the power of love reaches beyond the veil of death. When we pass, people will remember us fondly; they’ll tell stories about us, smile and weep for the loss. To me, that is the afterlife…those memories. There’s a sweetness in that. I can pass from this mortal coil knowing my wife and my friends will smile when they think of me, that I will continue to bring them some form of joy.

So to me, it wasn’t so much about the act of ending one’s life, but of moving beyond that and dealing with whatever might come next. And underneath it all, it’s about knowing your own truth and that things can always work out.

SM: What was the most fun about writing this book?

JW: The interplay between Foster and Candy was so much fun. Considering what I usually write, I don’t often get the chance to make with the flirtations. This is one of the reasons why I also enjoy writing my steampunk series…because underlying all that heady stuff, there’s a sweetness to power it along.

Also, in this book, I found David David to be so much fun to play with. Not being a stoner, it was pleasure to dive into that skin and see how far I could take it.

SM: What’s next for Suicide Station?

JW: I have entered the book into the Kindle Scout program. Kindle Scout is a new program, started by Amazon, that puts the weight of Amazon promotions behind those books they’ve accepted for publication. What this means is that readers can go visit the Suicide Station campaign page, read the sample, and (if they think the book is worthy) nominate the book. Amazon takes into consideration how many nominations a book gets, how much traffic is directed to the book campaign, as well as the quality of the book and the ability of the author to promote the book.

Should Suicide Station win a contract, everyone that nominated the book will get a free ebook copy! Win-win!

SM: How can we find out more?

JW: I’ll be releasing blogs and videos so you can keep up with the progress of my Suicide Station campaign. Find out more on my website.

 

Now, go forth and READ!

Progress for Erica

It’s definitely past time to do an update here!  Happily, I have news to post.  My novel, The Life and Death (But Mostly the Death) of Erica Flynn, has changed hands – but is now back on track to publication thanks to Three Fates Press.  I signed the contract last week, and by this time next year, the book will be released!  I’m excited to be moving forward with it, and excited to be working with my new publisher, too.  I’ll add news here as things progress, of course, and attempt to get back to updating on a regular basis, also.

School is keeping me busy this semester (what’s new?) and with NaNoWriMo coming up, I’m increasingly jealous of everyone I know who is managing to find the time to participate.  I’m writing roughly 7,500 words per week of essays, which adds up to 30,000 words in one month – can I count THAT toward NaNoWriMo???!  I want to write the draft of my Erica Flynn spinoff (same Underworld, different dead people), but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, I have to concentrate on schoolwork.  Blah! 

In the meantime, however, I can probably manage to use Thanksgiving Break and the first part of Winter Break to write a steampunk story for an anthology for Three Fates Press, which I’m also looking forward to.  I mean, what’s more fun than writing about a sociopathic automaton?

Best News Ever!

Yesterday, I signed a publishing contract for The Life & Death (But Mostly the Death) of Erica Flynn!  I’m happy to say that I’ll be published through Hydra Publications.  I feel this is sufficient incentive for me to start keeping up better with updates to this blog.  🙂  Now that I’m in school full-time and doing work-study at the archaeology lab, I have far less time to write than I used to, let alone blog about writing – but it’s time to make time, I think.

And I do, actually, have some good ideas for a sequel to Erica Flynn, as well as another novel – or maybe it’s the same novel, and I just haven’t figured that out yet.  I hope it is, because it would make for quite the ride if I can work all the elements together!

All I can say in addition to this is, there’s nothing better than finally getting to say the sentence, “My book is getting published!”

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.

Snail Mail Sample Material

At the end of last week, I got a request from another agent for additional material – this time, a significant sample:  30 pages.  Sweet!  I’m beginning to have confidence in my query letter and the blurb version of my synopsis (as I mentioned here a couple weeks ago, I have a few versions of it, including a book jacket length/style summary).

Since he requested hard copy, I got my materials together and scurried for the Post Office.  What do you need to get together when you send something off, through the strange and archaic system of sticky little pictures and paper pouches that is snail mail, to an agent or publisher who has requested a partial?  Well, naturally, you need to send them what they asked for – x# of pages, double-spaced, well-written, spell-checked, clean and unblemished, in a standard 12 point font, with standard margins, with page numbers and your name in the header (or footer) of the pages (starting with the second page).  In this case, I was also asked for a full synopsis, so I sent my 3-pager (2-3 pages is a standard length for a full synopsis).  And you need a basic cover letter so they know what the heck they’re looking at – these folks look at a lot of material from a lot of people, so a reminder that this is something they asked to look at doesn’t go amiss.  Dear whoever, enclosed is the 30-page partial and synopsis, as requested, of my novel, Title, kind of thing.  In this agent’s case, the submission guidelines for the query didn’t want any information about the author (not even publication credits), but he asked about those in his request, so I put a little bio into my cover letter (including the fact that my only previous publications are short stories in local anthologies).  It really isn’t the worst thing in the publishing world to be a debut author – it would be way worse simply to be a bad writer, or an unprofessional one.

Anyway, once all that stuff is put together in a neat little stack of paper and costly printer ink, head to the post office and purchase your envelope and your SASE – Self Addressed, Stamped Envelope – which the agent/publisher will send your material back in (hopefully with helpful notes if they reject it, or with an acceptance letter).  Send that puppy off and hope for the best.

I know this is kind of basic stuff, but if I hadn’t grown up around writers, I don’t know that it would seem very basic to me – there’s a hell of a lot to the processes of the publishing world, and it differs from short story length work to novel length work, from publisher to publisher, agent to agent, agent to publisher, etc.  So in case there’s anyone reading this blog who’s not sure what to expect when they finish their novel and start trying to get it into the world at large, here’s one piece of the puzzle that is getting published.

Wish me luck!  🙂

Love This Book

My quest for an agent continues.  This morning, I got my first request for additional material, which is awesome.  Will it lead to anything?  That remains to be seen, but any aspiring author should allow themselves some excitement and celebration in response to the little victories – an agent taking an interest based on my query letter and synopsis means, at least, that my query letter must be decent and my synopsis doesn’t need a rehaul.  I’m not making a bad or boring first impression.

For a debut novel, a request for additional material is a good sign that I’m doing my research right and presenting my work well.  Even if the agent turns me down after reading my first chapter, at least I’ve gotten a little nod that I’m marketing correctly, and the challenge, then, is to find an agent who wants what I’ve got to offer.

It’s important to remember, when marketing, that it’s a very different thing to be a good writer than to be a good seller of your writing, and not to get down about your writing just because you get rejected a few dozen times – particularly with novels.  Short stories are somewhat different, because the story is your selling point and the editors (or at least their assistants) are reading your work, not your query, as the basis for judgement.  A few dozen rejections of a short story means it may be time to look it over and polish it up some more.

With a novel, though, you’re counting on your query and possibly your synopsis to hook your audience (at this stage, an agent).  I think the most important component of writing a query, for me, has been confidence in the work.  It would be incredibly hard for me to have written a query letter if I wasn’t happy with – wasn’t excited about – the book I’m presenting.  But I do, honestly, deep down in the cockles of my heart, love my book.  I had a great time writing it, and I honestly believe it’s something that many other people will have a great time reading.  I see a lot of potential for it.

And this hasn’t been the case with novels I’ve written before (yes, I have some serious Fails), which is why I never tried to get them published.  My point here is, write a book you love, rewrite it until you’re happy with it and really really believe in it, and querying will just be a matter of conveying your own excitement to someone else, the way you would recommend any good book.  It will also take the sting out of the majority of your rejections, because you will know that this poor agent just passed up his/her big chance at your awesome novel.

Yes.  Once you have been brutally honest with yourself during the rewriting process (and gotten other people to be brutally honest about it, too), then you get to be egotistical and love the holy living crap out of your book.  You’ll have to, if you’re going to stay motivated in the face of rejection.

7 Ways to Deal With Receiving a Rejection

  1. Send your query or story out again to someone else.  Immediately.  Before you even feel an emotional reaction.
  2. Talk to another writer or your critique group.  Most of the time, writers are really excited for their fellow wordsmiths’ attempts at publication and are highly supportive and encouraging in the “low” times.  They may even suggest additional markets or resources, or help you pinpoint issues with your query letter itself.
  3. Do something nice for yourself.  After all, you put yourself out there – and you’ll keep putting yourself out there, right?  Right??? – so reward your own efforts.  Buy yourself dinner or a book or a movie (hold off on the good Scotch until you get an acceptance.  Alcohol is a depressant, after all.)
  4. Remind yourself that better writers than you have been rejected.  They stuck with it and got published, and so will you.
  5. Write back (but don’t send it).  Say the publisher/agent wrote, “Sorry, I’m just not sure what to do with this piece.  It just isn’t quite what I’m looking for.”  Okay, so you can’t really respond and make a big joke out of the guy who wrote this to you, but you can pretend you’re writing back.  “Dear sir, what you can do with this piece is PUBLISH it.  I have to tell you how to do your job now?  Okay, but I want extra royalties for that.”  Again, don’t actually send something like that to anyone.  Ever.  They won’t find it funny.
  6. If you’ve sent the piece/query out to, say 25 places, and haven’t had any luck yet, it may be time to look it over and consider reworking it.  You don’t want to rewrite everything every time you get a rejection, but at least look it over after a big chunk of “no”s and see if anything pops out at you that could be done better.
  7. Think of every rejection as one step closer to the time someone says, “YES!  I want your story!”  Above all, don’t let it get you down when you get turned down.  It happens to everyone (well, almost everyone – but we know about those people who get accepted their first try, right?  Deals with the devil never pay off in the end…!)  Rejections are to writers what sandworms are to the dead people in Beetlejuice – everyone hates ’em, but you have to deal with ’em if you want to get out into the world.  Learn how to use them to defeat Beetlejuice get published.