Taos Toolbox 2014

That's me in the back, the Sasquatch looming over the unsuspecting vacationers.

That’s me in the back, the Sasquatch looming over the unsuspecting vacationers.

Last week I drove from Taos back to California. I arrived home Sunday evening, and had to work bright and early on Monday morning. Needless to say it was a loooong week. But! I made it to the next weekend, slept on and off for a majority of it, and now I’m back to normal. For some value of normal that works for me, anyway.

So how was it, you ask? Even if you don’t, I’ll tell you. In a word, several times over: incredible. Inspirational. Fun. Challenging. Exciting. Draining.

What a great bunch of people. Walter and Nancy were gracious, if exacting, hosts. Our group consisted of four men and nine women, a reversal of many previous classes. Also unique was the large percentage of humorous fiction submitted and written at the retreat.  With a default setting of Grim to Dark in genre fiction these days, this was a refreshing change of pace.

Time well spent, without a doubt. I achieved a decent sweet spot; my fiction was well received, but greatly benefited from feedback. I’ll be unpacking what I’ve learned for some time to come. If you have any genre writing aspirations, I can’t recommend it enough.

The only universal truth in writing is that there are no universal truths. Walter and Nancy don’t offer platitudes and plug-in formulas. They point out strengths, hone in on weaknesses and expect improvement before you leave. It’s fun and demanding all at once.

Sleep deprivation. Altitude sickness. Wildlife invasions. Trapped under a dome for two weeks with some of the brightest folks you’ll ever meet. Planning, writing, revising and then revising some more. You will experience the Quickening. You won’t recognize the writer who returns from the mountaintop, but he or she will remember you as an ancestor. You cannot help but improve. The bear gods demand it of you.

Help out Hadley Rille

Here’s a good cause for the crowdfunding inclined out there. Hadley Rille Books is an excellent small press looking to expand. They’re very open to working with new writers and their roster includes several VP alumni.  They’ve opened an Indiegogo campaign designed to support their continued growth. Aside from publishing great books they’re also offering up some great prizes, including manuscript critiques and a spot in a seaside writing retreat. The HRB authors have taken up the cause and offered quite a lot of time and effort in support. Why not show some love to those out in the trenches?

Twitter Pitchin’

Yesterday I participated in the #SFFpit Twitter Pitching Contest hosted by Dan Koboldt. Happened to be quite a bit of fun, though I wouldn’t want to do it every day. I started to feel like a day trader obsessively checking stock prices. And I did feel a bit sheepish about bombing my feed with pitches all day. But I did net a couple of nibbles from agents, and a couple more from small presses. Mission accomplished! Cheers to Mr. Koboldt, as well as the participating agents and editors. And, of course, the other awesome pitchees who retweeted with abandon.

Here are a few observations from my virgin foray into Twitter pitching (not a salacious euphemism, I swear):

1) My two most successful tweets were crafted by friends. A small group of writers banded together and traded pitches beforehand, and guess what? It helped. Believe in the power of other people to offer clarity in your own work. Someone who hasn’t been in the trenches with the manuscript sometimes has an easier time sussing out the big picture. Go figure.

2) Most responses seem to arrive in the early hours. Your mileage may vary. But it does make sense as the workday in New York ends halfway through the cycle.

3) Pitching in an elevator is one thing. Pitching in public is quite another. I remain impressed by the number of writer-types who put themselves out there under that hashtag all day. This being the internet, a few ne’er-do-wells stopped by just to pee in the pool, but the snark remained quite low.  Every aspect of writing requires an output of energy, often with little or no return on investment. To those that stuck with it, I salute you.

4) If you incorporate the word “supernatural” into your pitch, you will receive spam from some wag selling t-shirts for the Supernatural TV show.

5) If you incorporate the word “entrepreneur” into your pitch, you will be auto-targeted by multiple internet startup spambots that aggregate tech news articles. Curse you, False Favorites!

 

 

 

Away, Away

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Last week I had the privilege of heading to Philadelphia for several days with some of my favorite people… who also happen to be talented writers. Most of us met out there in the Workshop-verse– VP, Taos– and continue to support each other in our efforts to turn this wordsmithing thing into actual careers.  We ate, we drank, we played games, we ate and drank some more, and occasionally wrote and critiqued stuff. Oh, and we walked our asses off.  Which turned out to be pretty great, as Philly is an eminently walkable city. Did I mention the Karaoke? Yes, there were golden hits past and present in abundance. With lots of V-Pop thrown in for good measure. Even met some new folks to add to the circle of destruction. A very freeform event, in case that isn’t clear by now.

This trip was stressful to me on a personal level, thanks to a series of cock-ups on my part. I arrived a day earlier than intended, thanks to red-eye flight schedules and a basic non-grasp of time as a concept. My dog also freaked out on the emergency sitter I’d chosen (due to the regular sitter being unavailable, natch). Compound that with a negative cycle on the usual sine wave of writer self-confidence, and you have the recipe for a Class A Funk. Fortunately, I happened to be around a dozen-plus other people who face a lot of the same challenges. So we forgot all that and had a damned good time.

Beforehand there had been discussion of whether the event needed more structure.  As it turned out, only a handful of participants submitted writing for critiques, and we only spent one morning in Workshop Mode. I had my doubts, but came away with a deeper understanding of the value of unadulterated hangout time. Sometimes you do need a second pair of eyes to spot the flaws in your writing. And sometimes you just need to  set aside the notebook/laptop/cuneiform tablet for awhile, and commiserate with others who are in the same struggle.

Do we have to wait a whole year to do this again?

Random Access

Just finished one last edit on my latest novel and my writing self feels a bit scattered.So, in the interest of keeping dust from settling on this site again… Here, have a few random thoughts. No relevance intended by order.

–  I tried something a bit different with my editing process this time and I believe it reaped some pretty sweet rewards. I want to prepare a post on that, but am still tossing around post mortem thoughts in my head.  Hopefully I can get that posted before leaving for Philly later this week.

– Just saw X-Men: Days of Future Past. Not bad, not bad at all. It’s slightly marred by the persistent trend– in Hollywood as well as at Marvel– of centering Every. Single. X-Men story around Wolverine. Hey, I get that he’s popular. But you know what? This wasn’t his story, and his agency ended about 20-30 minutes into the film. Bitching aside, it was pretty enjoyable. The story was interesting and somewhat thoughtful, possessed less wonk than the standard superhero flick. At least Fox seemed interested in more than just keeping the characters from reverting to Marvel. Unlike with some *other* franchise I could mention. But don’t need to. Ahem.

– The Nebula Awards were handed out last week. All major writing awards went to women for the first time in eight years. Given the back-and-forth rancor over all the recent SFWA kerfuffles, this was a welcome outcome that helps restore some faith in an org that often struggles to earn the “professional” adjective. I haven’t read everything on the roster, but I do know that Ann Leckie, Nalo Hopkinson and Alette deBodard kicked some literary posterior last year.

– Just received my PIN for the Hugo Awards site, with final ballots approaching. At least I’ll get to read some books and cast some votes despite the fact that I am likely bailing on London for Taos this summer. Looking forward to it.

That’s all for now. Killswitch on.

Lost Weekend

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I’m home after a fun and enlightening weekend at Paradise Lost IV. Strangely enough, San Antonio was a bit cooler than the Bay Area. (Who visits the Texas desert to cool off? Me, apparently.)

This is my second year running at the event. Last year was important for returning to active writing– and for reconnecting with my Viable Paradise homies– but this year upped the awesomeness quota. The pro staff included Walter Jon Williams, Melinda Snodgrass and J.A. Pitts— insightful teachers and delightful humans all around. It goes without saying that it was a joy to see so many familiar faces among the participants. On top of that, I made many new friends that I look forward to seeing around the writing world.

I showed up with a sample from my new novel project, PCH Roadkill, and received both encouraging feedback and insight into where it needs work. We wrote, conducted impromptu plot breaks, ate, drank and played games. I learned, via Cards Against Humanity, that I am not a nice person. At all. But that’s what it takes to rack up the cards.

I also decided, after years of deliberation, to finally pull the trigger on Taos Toolbox for this July. The applications went out in today’s mail, so we’ll see. If I’m admitted it probably means New Mexico will replace London as my summer excursion.  Sorry, Worldcon! Given where I am in the writing process, I have little doubt that Taos will be of more use to my career.  Well, future career.

Paradise Lost remains a bright spot among annual workshops. I’ll be back for more. And we’re less than four weeks from more writing goodness in Philadelphia. Bring it on.

Image Expo

Image Expo happened yesterday in a chilly San Francisco, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. All I can say is, we’ve come a long way from the ‘dark,’ angst-ridden vanity projects of the 90s.  Image is turning out some of the best creator-owned books in the business today, and  the event provided a lot of hope for an exciting 2014. Some takeaways:

  • Kirkman and Adlard’s The Walking Dead is the number one bestselling book for the second year running. No doubt the book’s success owes more than its share to the epic ratings of the television show, but so what?  Marvel and DC have become subservient to their TV and movie products as well. It’s fantastic to see someone give the big houses a run for their money.
  • Publisher Eric Stephens delivered a keynote address packed with announcements. Lots of potential here: Matt Fraction’s Ody-C, Brandon Graham’s 8House collaborations, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Bitch Planet and the resurrection of Robert Kirkman’s Tech Jacket by Joe Keatinge.
  • Image continues to expand its storefront offering DRM-free digital comics in PDF/CBR/CBZ formats. I love seeing more publishers offer actual ownership for the cost of purchase rather than the crappy, provisional rental licenses of third party comics sellers.

The comics industry seems to be on the upswing this year, and I’m looking forward to the new output. I suppose that’s the definition of a successful event.

The long con

Whoa, where did December come from?  Here we are with a scant three weeks remaining in 2013.  Honestly not sure how this happened, but bring it on.

For my part, I’ll be holed up during the holiday tightening the screws on my latest novel, with some reading for friends and colleagues thrown in for fun. I’ll emerge from hibernation early next year with a full slate of places to go and people to see.  In fact, I’ve been firming up plans to stay busy throughout the next year. Here’s my in-progess list of confirmed travel plans for 2014:

01/09 – Image Expo, San Francisco CA

02/14-16 – Boskone 51, Boston MA

05/01-04 – Paradise Lost IV, San Antonio TX

05/15-18 – Nebula Awards Weekend

05/30 – 06/01 – Writers retreat, Philadelphia PA

08/14-18 – LonCon III, London UK (Woohoo!)

10/04-05 – Alternative Press Expo, San Francisco CA

And that’s just for starters!  There are several other cons and workshops I’d like to attend as scheduling and funding permit, once details are released. Here’s to a busy, busy 2k14!

So what will you be up to?

ICON Wrap-up

Finally home after almost a week of traveling, reading, writing, critiquing and palling around with fellow writers at ICON and Paradise Icon. Met new people, reunited with old ones, ate too much, drove all over the corn belt, dodged some tornadoes. Now I have time to sit back and reflect on the experience.

SPOILER ALERT: It was damned groovy.

Hats off to the inimitable Cath Schaff-Stump, who organized one heck of a workshop. She managed to attract a posse of neo-pro writers from coast to coast and the submissions and feedback were top notch. Critique sessions were a highlight of the trip, as was the group Rapid Fire Reading on Saturday evening. Our work and styles were diverse but complementary.   A speaker snub dented our progress not one bit, as we sat around and discussed our upcoming projects instead. I look forward to seeing more of every one of my ‘shopmates, and that’s no lie.

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ICON is a small but quite spirited convention. Cedar Rapids has an impressive SF/F community, moreso than some more populous regions. The book signing event was well attended, and we survived the late night filking next door. Even the weather proved cooperative. Normally I bring the snow with me,  but not this time! I’m definitely looking at a return trip next year.

On the return flight I read Michel Faber’s Under the Skin, as recommended by guest speaker Greg Frost. A quick and entertaining, albeit freaky, read and not for the squeamish. A thinly veiled– but clever– vegan manifesto, but I dug it. No hamburgers for me for a day or two.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Reading a friend’s draft. Finishing my own second draft. Mush.

ICON Approaches

So here we are in the thick of November. How did we get here? 2013 continues its headlong rush to the finish line, ready or not. And now I have to get my act together for a trip to Iowa this coming Wednesday. Cedar Rapids or bust!  I’ll be attending ICON 38, “Iowa’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention,” from November 15-17. Even better, I’ll also be participating in the Paradise Icon workshop at the same site. But that’s not all! I’m also part of the Rapid Fire Reading (Cue the “wrap it up” music after 1k words!) at 4:30 on Saturday. So, you know, if you’re around come say hi!  Promises to be a great time, with several of my old pals from Viable Paradise. And the rest of the con ain’t so shabby either. Ellen Datlow!  Nancy Kress!  Jim Hines!  Joe Haldeman! What more incentive does one need?

I’m also hard at work revising my latest manuscript in the hopes of getting feedback next month. ‘Tis really tightening up and I’m looking forward to getting this one in the can. Sure would be nice to devote the holidays to something new.