Thursday, February 21, 2013

Radcon 2013 - Part 2

    This was a full day from 10 am to about 8 pm with only a couple of short breaks between panels. There was a lot of information and my notes aren't quite as good as I hoped. Next year I'm going to be a bit more choosy about panels and give myself more break time. "To Outline or Not To Outline" was first on the menu and an interesting mix of opinions from always, sometimes, and never. I fall into the never as I never follow them. Characters take off and do their own damn thing or I decide to tell a totally different tale. One bit of good advice that I took away from the panel was the suggestion to write an outline if you are stuck. Work out the scene and see what's going to happen or what might happen. Also, make broad outlines, broken up by events or chapters, then worry about the minutia later on. Panel two was "Where have all the heroines gone?" which mentioned Buffy and Wonder Women. Luckily, the panel didn't turn into a Buffyfest, but rather focused on real life examples that would be better and more realistic role models. "Sex, Love and Writing in a Changing World" was an interesting panel as it explored the question of alternate sexuality in fiction and what boundaries were being pushed, both in terms of characters and by authors. I took away that like in previous years, works of sci-fi and fantasy, are willing take that step forward to explore more than just the standard designations and not being bound to convention or society's reluctance to accept those differences. Character gender identification becomes both more and less important to the story. Authors are more than willing to test those boundaries, though a point was brought up as to make sure they weren't a stereotype or cliche. The answer, and really it's sort of a duh thing, is to make them people with all the normal issues and failings and strengths that any other character would have.

    After a break for food, the next panel was "Women in Horror". It was given by a Devi Snively, who teaches horror film courses and makes shorts. She discussed how horror films are given a bad rap for exploiting women, while comedies are given a pretty much free pass. As she points out, in many cases, the last person standing is a girl [smart, clever, resourceful - aka The Final Girl trope], while the men are killed off quickly and efficiently, often for being stupid. There was a strong argument against the Final Girl Trope, as it remakes the heroine into a more masculine figure. [i.e. - male privilege]. The "Mixed Genre" panel consisted of Tanya Huff, John Dalmas, and S Evan Townsend. It started out with Ms. Huff spilling her coffee and swearing, then got better. A few of interesting tidbits included: Why does anyone get paid for writing erotica? Tanya Huff brought that up and asked if they had heard of the internet. Marketing is the root of all genre designations. Her Blood Ties series was originally Dark Fantasy, but is now marketed as Paranormal Romance [It isn't]. John Dalmas wrote a detective novel, but got rejected because it wasn't "sci-fi" enough. So, he wrote a prequel and a sequel that were definitively sci-fi and sold the lot as a collection. Then resold it twice later on to different publishers. Again, marketing, which drives the genre classification on one simple rule: "How many copies can we sell?"

    "Creating Believable Characters" came next and really just hit on the same things that I had heard before. Give your characters issues. Superman is boring without Kryptonite. Batman is boring without the totally messed up background and mental issues. I've been looking at a few of my past stories with a critical eye and thinking "how can I mess with them?" and "are they interesting enough?" Characters are nothing without crisis. When everything's going fine, where's the tension? Toss them in a room, have someone pull a knife of them, and see how they react? Do they run away? Put there hands up? Use someone as a shield? Grab a chair and start beating on the person? One of the panelist, Pat MacEwen, said she uses real people then alters them to avoid being sued. I was not comfortable with that solution, as it seems to be a bit of cheat. But then again, I spent Friday night of the con people-watching in the lobby and getting ideas.

    I got to be a panelist on "Suspension of Disbelief", which I'm pretty sure was planned by two of the other people. Sort of lost in the flow of conversation, which was disappointing, but I did get to make a few points on credibility and buying into a concept. Having done mostly short stories, I've had to put out the concepts up front in only a few sentences and run with it. By other accounts, there's a certain amount of conceit or lower level of plausibility from the genre. Sci-fi and fantasy just by the virtue of the subject matter have a lower bar than say a Tom Clancy novel about a nuclear submarine captain defecting to the US. Last panel of the day was "Understanding Evil", mostly centered around the concept of sociopaths and psychopaths. It was less of a sci-fi / fantasy panel but more of a delve into the human mind and what makes up all the weirdness in out brains. What it really comes down to a few things [and giant grain of salt time]: there is a difference between a sociopath and psychopath [but if you are a sociopath, you're probably a psychopath, but not necessarily the reverse]; just because you're a sociopath doesn't mean you're a killer, just as amoral, controlling, manipulative asshole [Politicians & CEO's]; and it can't be cured. There's a few schools of thought on the numbers which range from 2% of humanity to 4-25% of the business leaders and politicians. My friend, Christine, lent me the book "The Psychopath Test" by Jon Ronson which goes into depth about The Hare Psychopathy Checklist and applying it to people in places of power. If you haven't read it, go get a copy and enjoy.

    That ended the Saturday panels and after a quick meal, we went and caught the last part of a fire-dance troupe called Ignition. They even did a routine to the song "Gangnam Style" which was pretty awesome, even if the flaming bullwhip came apart and nearly set the grass on fire. Next year I think I'll try to get a room that overlooks the courtyard.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Radcon 2013 - Part 1

    Back from Radcon 2013 and boy was it a hoot. 3 days of panels and hob-nobbing with a few pros. At the end I was tired and bleary eyed, but happy. So worth the trip and expense. Travel went off without a hitch & while there was a small snafu with the hotel room, it was a minor thing. Along the way we listened to Professor Drout give lectures on writing, which might seem boring but are endlessly fascinating in terms of information and presentation. This is a long review, so I'm going to be breaking it up into multiple posts. I'll be adding a few links that might catch people's interest. Without further ado, here's how things went.

    I had noticed on the schedule that John Dalmas was giving a talk on sci-fi at 3 pm panel. It was one of the first ones, so we got in with an hour to spare, snagged badges, tossed our bags in the room, and booked it over to the panel. It was early enough that it wasn't crowded and John decided to go off track to read from a current WIP that wasn't sci-fi. Not that we cared, since it was cool to listen to him read and give little bits of commentary about life back in the depression. For those that don't know, John is in his 80's and has some big health issues, but man, he's still got that drive to write. He didn't sell his first book until he was 45, so there's always time. Next was a "Characters with character" panel that was mediocre at best.
    After that was the "Help! I Need an Editor!" panel given by a professional editor [Andrea Howe] and a self-published author [Jason Andrew Bond] that employed an editor. I was the only one to show up at first, which was a bit disconcerting, though by the end we had a handful of people. That panel should have been standing-room-only. No writer is perfect the first time out. Revision and editing is needed on pretty much all  manuscripts. Beta readers that can go over your prose and tell you where it fails is absolutely needed. I try to be good, but I know that I'm just vomiting out words when I write and stuff happens. I noted that I have an issue with leaving out small words or changing thought in mid-stream. Andrea said that sort of information needs to be passed along to any editor that is employed so they know what to look out for. As I was the first one to show up, I got a signed copy of Mr. Bond's book. Score #1 of the weekend.
    Last panel was "The Privilege of a Lifetime". The description was this: Mythologist Joseph Campbell was quoted as saying “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” Just like many of our favorite characters in science fiction and fantasy novels, we are all potentially on our own Hero\'s Journey in life. Are you being true to yourself, making the most of your unique talents and passions? How can we encourage creativity, independent thinking, and personal empowerment in our children? What role does education play, and what can be done to prevent, as Sir Ken Robinson states, \"educating people out of their creative capacities\"? Looking back. I think this was a panel setup by one of the participants and was mostly a pitch on how crippled and stunted the current school system is. While I think it was a bit of an overstatement, I did agree with the idea the our current school system does crush creativity in the name of "practicality". From personal experience, I can attest at least that much is true and I admire the moderator's initiative to create an on-line school that personalizes education for each student.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Random writing related links

Grey Matter Press puts up interesting links [on Facebook] from time to time related to writing. Here's a couple that grabbed my attention. Some of them I knew already and others are new.

Tip #2 & #10 are the ones that hit home the closest for me. I'm always skipping words and been told by my beta-readers, more details!
Some of the links are dead, but the others make fora good read. Judy Blume [#40] & Rudyard Kipling [#43] stand out as having received particularly harsh rejections. EE Cummings [#39] got of dig at his detractors in one of his books. On the other hand, I can see what publishers might have stayed away from Vladmir Nabokov's Lolita [#31] and Richard Bach's book about seagulls [#24]. Not that I approve, but I can see why they would be gunshy. New, interesting, and potentially uncomfortable subjects should be written about, not just the stock, formulaic series. Isaac Asimov holds an interesting place for me. I find his stories to be boring. Most of the interesting stuff happens off screen. The writing is good, but when I read his Foundation series, there was no connection, no investment in the characters or what was going on. It was dry and boring.

There's still a plan to put up some prose, but in the mean time, back to banging out some words.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fire and Frost Rewrite

I promised a bit of fiction from a previous NaNo attempt. It'll still happen, but I've been busy and haven't had a chance to review the prose and decide if I like it.

Today was spent pushing through the rewrite of the novella that I wrote about 18 months ago. 3k words were cut to eliminate scenes that were only appropriate to the original call, then began the line by line scan to make it fit with the new concept. This has been an ongoing process for the last six weeks. The main character went from one origin to a totally different origin, which made the action scenes totally obsolete and the way he works magic wrong. Two additional scenes were added in, one to cover a deleted scene and the second to give a better background on character relationships. Along with my rewrites, I pushed the word count up by 2500, which tips it over the 25k mark.

Now, I'm going to let it sit and stew, then go back at it later tomorrow. In the mean time, it's off to look at calls, see if I can place any of my rejected works out there, and plot the origin story for the characters in Fire and Frost. Also, not sure on the title of the story, seems a bit cliche, but that's another point to stew over.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Rewrite Ahoy!

Back in December I wrote a handful of short stories that got sent out to various publishers. All of them were rejected for the anthologies. It was a disappointment, but not entirely unexpected, the odds are that most of your work will not get published right out of the gate. So, I have a handful of stories that are looking for homes.

Moving on from that, my current project was suppose to be an edit to a novella I did back in 2011. With the change to the main character, it's become more of a rewrite than a quick edit. I'm finding myself rewriting huge swathes of the story and focusing more on the character interaction and less on the action. The love interest has gotten a larger part in the story and I'm thinking about adding a couple more scenes with her and the MC. This is for an urban fantasy call, but I'm tempted to toss it at a romance call just to see the result if it doesn't work out on the current submission target.

This month's goals are to finish up novella, get a peer review going, and submit it before Radcon. I'll be going to Radcon in mid-February, where I've volunteered to sit on a couple of panels and do a reading of fiction on Sunday morning. I was there in 2010 and had a blast attending panels, listening to other authors talk about their experiences, and picking up tips on writing. I've got a lead on a couple of submissions, including one that's due before Radcon, so there's a bit of urgency going on for that one.

Next post is going to be a bit of fiction that I did for NaNoWriMo a couple of years back. It's been looked at a couple of times, but by no means done.