SpoCon Report by Ann Wilkes

This con report was originally published on Ann Wilkes’ blog

Spocon Con report

Spocon Day one, Friday, July 31

I arrived at the con early enough to hit the dealers’ room before opening ceremonies. I ran into Maggie Bonham (M H Bonham) before opening ceremonies and invited her to read with me at the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading in the morning. All the local Broads had other plans or were getting ready for WorldCon.

Last year, opening ceremonies was very entertaining, with Timothy Zahn and filking by Char MacKay. Of course, the bat flying around the auditorium was a nice touch, although no one could take credit for that but the bat.

This year was … different. I should probably stop right there before I slam the poor con com. But now you’re curious, aren’t you? Well, when Dennis Gagaoin said that we were about to reap the benefits of the con com’s months of fighting, that was clearly not a good sign. I’m not sure if the program they had originally planned fell through because someone bailed or they never truly spent time organizing the opening ceremonies. What followed was a lot of people standing up and pinch-hitting. It would have been better to just have one person apologize for the lack of any formal opening ceremonies and say, we have a great weekend planned for you filled with this, this and this. Now go have fun. But no one asked me. Luckily, I live two states away so I can’t be tempted to sort them out.

Having taken two planes to get there, and having to read at 9AM, I begged off of further con fun for the evening.

Day two, Saturday, August 1

Only one person showed up at the 9AM reading, so the readers outnumbered the listeners. I read from a story that is set in Chelan, WA and begins with a tragedy that really happened there in the 40s. Our audience of one cried. Maggie read from her new novel, Lachlei. We traded books, so I get to read the rest. 🙂

I stayed with my writing buddy, Sue Bolich, who lives near Spokane. (Way better than the dorm experience of last year , don’t get me started.) I had met Andrea Howe of Blue Falcon Editing last year. It wasn’t long before the four of us were the four musketeers for the remainder of the weekend, beginning with a panel Saturday morning. When we weren’t paneling, we were eating, talking and laughing our heads off.

My schedule of panels, as I said before, was a perfect fit for me. And my co-panelists were all marvelous, informative, polite and entertaining. My-Twit-Book, Sci-Fi and You Are you kidding me? What do I spend more time doing than writing? The artist guest of honor, John Picacio was on the panel and brought some pointed Twitter questions. I wasn’t much help with those since I’m still ignoring the (bird) call to tweet. We did have a lively discussion about posting or tweeting etiquette and how to silence people who fill up our walls or phones with a constant barrage. I met John in the green room (which moved not just once, as it did last year, but twice!). He was asking about the table tents and if his was there. I didn’t recognize him and said, “It would help if you told me your name.” He’s apparently forgiven me.

My next panel was in the same room ten minutes later. Another subject near and dear to my heart (and my writing): grammar. Andrea sat next to me on this one and after she made a Princess Bride and Firefly reference in asides to me, I knew: friends for life. Maggie, Sue and I had made lunch plans already. I invited Andrea and our little band of geeky, literary lasses was born.

I shared a signing with Patty Briggs. Her line was none-stop, a dozen people deep for the whole hour. I didn’t get a chance to speak with her, but she has obviously made an impression on a good number of people. I hope I can get to know her at a future con. I signed one copy of Awesome Lavratt.

Day 3, Sunday, 8/2

Sunday was yet another 9AM appearance. Good thing there was no drinking , or at least none that we bothered to find. The panel was on Worldbuilding. What could I possibly say sitting next to L E Modesitt, SpoCon’s writer guest of honor? Sue, Maggie and I still managed to look half-way intelligent. I picked up a couple of good book recommendations along the way: Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, both by Jared Diamond, and A History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat.

Three of the four musketeers (minus Andrea) had a nice conversation with Lee (Modesitt) in the hall after the panel. Very personable guy. And he redefines dapper. Mark Ferrari asked him how many vests he owns. His reply was something over 80! I had interesting chats with Mark in the (first) green room about publishing and writing. And I lugged Mark’s hefty tome, The Book of Joby, up to Washington just to get his autograph.

Mark and I were on a panel last year in which we created a story for the audience on the spot. What fun! He read Awesome Lavratt during the con and praised my sense of humor during the panel , bless him! We’ve been pen pals ever since. He was the artist guest of honor at SpoCon last year.

Something new this year was a charity thing where people bought little matchboxes with slips of paper in them for a buck. The slips of paper had a name of a guest or pro and a greeting. They had to find the person and offer the greeting. Then they got a donated item from that person’s goody bag. It was a nice idea, but will need some fine tuning for next year. I especially enjoyed signing one of my books (out of the goody bag) for an eleven-year-old girl.

My con report is rather limited. I didn’t attend the masquerade, I don’t game and I had to catch the flight back before the closing ceremonies. Still worse, thanks to the TSA (They searched my husband’s luggage and it poofed.), I had no camera for the trip. I should have picked up a disposable. Anyway, I took one picture with my phone and had a passerby take another. They looked great when I peered at them at the time. Apparently, not so much…

L to R: Sue, Maggie, Andrea

Ann in HatSmallerAnn Wilkes’ stories have appeared in magazines and print anthologies. Awesome Lavratt (2009, Unlimited Publishing) is a tongue-in-cheek space opera with mind control, passion and adventure. If her alien worlds don’t hook you, her sense of humor will. Visit www.annwilkes.com, for a full bio, her blog and links to online stories.

DS Sale #2–The Utility of Love

untitledMore good news, I received another acceptance this morning from J.W. Schnarr who is editing the Shadows of the Emerald City anthology, a Wizard of Oz horror anthology. When I heard the theme, I knew I HAD to submit, and I’m glad I did.

The story is titled “The Utility of Love”, and it’s a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, but the Tin Man is 2 stories tall and… isn’t such a nice guy.

A few stats in case people are interested:
Time since I started writing fiction: 2 years, 6 months
Time since I started writing short stories: 1 year, 2 months
Short story #: 19
Total responses before this sale: 128
Total rejections since last sale: —2
Time since last sale: —7 days
Total rejections of this story before this sale: 0
Total responses from Pseudopod before this sale: 0

Two new anthologies open for submissions

I caught wind of two new anthologies that look promising.

The Way of the Wizard, edited by J. J. Adams, will be an anthology full of stories about wizards. JJA has put together some neat anthologies in the past and this one looks to be just as interesting.

Match-that-Artwork Contest is an interesting contest. Submissions should be based on one of the supplied pieces of artwork. There are hundreds of images to choose from so there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to find something original to write. Submissions will be judged not only on the quality of the piece but also how well it matches the artwork.

Check the links for pay and submission guidelines.

http://www.johnjosephadams.com/?p=1760

David Sale #1: The Disconnected to Pseudopod

PseudobanI have some exciting news today–my first sale! Yay!
Pseudopod has decided to buy my story The Disconnected to publish as a podcast. It will be available for free download on their site. I’ll post a link when it’s available.

One nice thing about this sale is that it is audio rights ONLY. That means that I can still try to sell first printing rights to a professional print market.

A few stats in case people are interested:
Time since I started writing fiction: 2 years, 5 months
Time since I started writing short stories: 1 year, 1 month
Total rejections before this sale: 124
Total rejections since last sale: —(I’ll fill this in for future sales)
Time since last sale: —(I’ll fill this in for future sales)
Total rejections of this story before this sale: 8
Total responses from Pseudopod before this sale: 1

Found in Translation: Juliette Wade

JulietteHeadshotJuliette Wade is a writer of speculative fiction whose story Let the Word Take Me was published in the July/August 2008 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.Ă‚ Her second published story, Cold Words, will also appear in Analog, in the October issue, on newsstands at the time of this interview.

Her stories are unique in that they draw heavily on her background in anthropology and linguistics.Ă‚ So many science fiction stories avoid the topic of linguistics entirely, either by ignoring it, or by hand-waving with gadgets like universal translators.Ă‚ Juliette’s two Analog stories are centered around establishing communications with alien cultures.

Besides her successful fiction career, she also maintains a blog focused on discussions of linguistics and anthropology of both the real world and fictional locations.Ă‚ Her blog is particularly interesting because she makes it so interactive.Ă‚ You can raise questions there and she also periodically runs worldbuilding workshops, about which I’ve heard very good things.Ă‚ Check out her blog at www.talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com

Juliette, thanks for agreeing to this interview.

David Steffen: In your own words, could you tell us a little bit about Cold Words to pique our interest?

Juliette Wade: The thing I love most about Cold Words is that it takes what seems like a pretty simple spaceport deal and turns it into something really exciting by putting it in the point of view of a 6’4” drug-addicted wolflike alien with ulterior motives. Ă‚Boy, did that add stakes and complications!

David: Cold Words is told from the point of view of a character who is not human.Ă‚ What particular challenges did this provide?Ă‚ Any advice for writers who would like to write from a non-human point of view?

Juliette: Creating Rulii and his voice was the biggest single investment of time and effort that went into the creation of the story. Ă‚I actually started with the characteristics of his language, picked a species that would match well with status language issues, then designed the sounds and structure of his language. Ă‚After that I figured out how I was going to reflect the structure of his language in English, and developed the prose. Ă‚The step that followed was figuring out what kinds of metaphors he would use to describe his life, and the details of how he would live in the environment of his planet. Ă‚I kept finding new places, like architecture, where the Aurrel species and their environment would require unique details. Ă‚My advice to writers who want to write from a non-human point of view is to be systematic, and make sure you’re grounded in what the character knows based on his or her environment and experience, so you can use only those things to express the character’s judgment of people and events. Ă‚Otherwise the human viewpoint will start to intrude.

David:Ă‚ You managed to get your very first fiction publication in Analog–which is on the top of many speculative writers’ “wish list”.Ă‚ Can you tell us a little bit about how this transpired?Ă‚ How long had you been writing before this sale?

Juliette: The Analog connection was very fortuitous, really the result of networking. Ă‚I’d met Deborah J. Ross when we shared a panel at BayCon in Spring 2007, and having heard about my interest in Linguistics, she introduced me to Sheila Finch, author of The Guild of Xenolinguists, at Westercon a month later. Ă‚Sheila was the one who told me that Analog’s editor, Dr. Stanley Schmidt, enjoyed stories about linguistics. Ă‚Because of Analog’s known interest in hard science fiction, I’d never before considered sending anything to them, but after her recommendation I gave it a try. Ă‚And it worked!

David: What was your first reaction when you first heard of the story’s acceptance?Ă‚ How did you celebrate?

Juliette: I got the letter as I was running out the door to take my kids to gym, and could barely drive. Ă‚When I opened it I found the first words were “I like ‘Let the Word Take Me’.” Ă‚My heart was pounding. Ă‚It was actually a conditional acceptance, because Dr. Schmidt wanted me to change some of the harder science aspects of the story, like whether the gecko aliens could stick to walls (they were too large to do so, according to the laws of physics). Ă‚I knew this was my chance, so I changed those aspects of the story and sent it back. Ă‚I agonized until I got confirmation that the story would be published. Ă‚Then I did a happy dance!

David: How did your reaction to the second sale differ from the first?

Juliette: I was thrilled, actually, because this time it wasn’t a conditional acceptance, and Dr. Schmidt said very nice things about the story. Ă‚Also, on some level, I was really relieved because I could now be sure the first acceptance hadn’t been a fluke. Ă‚ Ă‚The first one was an idea I’d had for a long time and it happened to land, but Cold Words I designed expressly for Analog.

David: Has being published in Analog helped her with other pro markets? Sales? Personal rejections?

Juliette: I couldn’t say. Ă‚I don’t think so; I’d been getting personal rejections for some time before the Analog sale. Ă‚Also, since I designed Cold Words for them, I never sent it anywhere else. Ă‚My other current stories are fantasy, so I don’t really think there’s much cross-influence.

David: Can you explain a little bit about how your world-building workshops work?Ă‚ Who is eligible to join?Ă‚ How do people join?

Juliette: Sure! Ă‚The workshops are pretty informal and unscheduled. Ă‚When I think I’ll have time to hold one, I post a poll on the blog asking for expressions of interest, and if I get enough, I schedule one. Ă‚I get people to submit 500-word excerpts from the start of a story, and I pick five participants based on how helpful I think I can be to them. Ă‚Anyone can submit – there’s no requirement that the story be *about* linguistics or anthropology issues – but because of my interests I particularly enjoy working with people who care about the worlds they’re building and take interest in strengthening those aspects of their stories. Ă‚In the last few months I’ve been too busy to propose a workshop, but I hope to have time for a third one later this year.

David: If we found intelligent extraterrestrial life, how difficult do you think it would be to establish communication?Ă‚ Would it even be possible?

Juliette: In fact, I think it would be extremely difficult and maybe impossible, particularly if we were trying to accomplish it at a distance with no context of alien physiology or environment. Ă‚There are Earthly scripts we still can’t decipher, and we certainly have difficulty with the more complex communications systems of animals on Earth, like dolphins and whales, for example. Ă‚Languages are fitted to the transmission and reception systems possessed by their speakers, and we could find some things out there that would be beyond our ability to perceive, much less decipher.

David: With your background in linguistics, do you have trouble enjoying SF stories that avoid the issue of language barriers?

Juliette: Actually, no, though I always enjoy the ones that try to take language on. Ă‚The classic solutions, universal translators or language-deciphering AI’s, are so prevalent that I generally consider them to be an element of premise, i.e. I just have to accept that the method works, somehow. Ă‚That’s not too difficult to ignore, and then I can get onto enjoying what the story is really about.

David: Do you write novels, as well as short stories?Ă‚ If yes, do you prefer to write one or the other?Ă‚ Which comes easier to you?

Juliette: Yes, I write novels. Ă‚I started writing them first, in fact, but I enjoy writing both. Ă‚I found that starting to write short stories really helped me grasp some of the larger structural aspects of directing a story, so they’ve helped my novels a lot, indirectly.

David: What’s your favorite way to spend your time, besides reading and writing?

Juliette: Being with my family. Ă‚Going out to the children’s museum, or ice skating with them, or just reading books, maybe helping my kids learn to use the computer. Ă‚Also, talking with my husband is one of my favorite things to do. Ă‚Sometimes we discuss my writing, and other times his work or events in the world.

David: If you could give only one piece of advice to aspiring writers trying to secure their first fiction sale, what would it be?

Juliette: Be dogged, both in improving your writing and in finding ways to connect to the community of writers. Ă‚If you believe in it, just keep going.

David: More specifically, since you’ve had repeated sales to Analog, what is your advice to writers who wish to break into that particular market?

Juliette: It’s hard to say. Ă‚I was lucky, in some sense, that linguistics is what I do and Dr. Schmidt happens to like it. Ă‚But I do have two pieces of advice: Ă‚don’t *not* submit just because you think Analog is a hard market to break into. Ă‚Let the editor decide if your story is appropriate for them. Ă‚The other is, keep in mind that Analog stories are very principled. Ă‚Follow the guidelines as far as making science (linguistic or otherwise) integral to your plot, and be maniacal about keeping scientific grounding and consistency. Ă‚This is not to say that you need to explain all the relevant science, just that it needs to serve as a rock-solid foundation for the story to succeed.

David: What was the last book you read?

Juliette: Ship of Dreams, a pirate historical romance written by my friend, Elaine LeClaire. Ă‚Actually the first romance novel I’ve ever read, so it was fun and a change of pace. Ă‚Very well written, too, with terrific historical detail – I heartily recommend her work.

David: Your favorite book?

Juliette: Hands down, my favorite book is The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. Ă‚It was the inspiration for my writing philosophy.

David: Who is your favorite author?

Juliette: In science fiction, Ursula K. LeGuin, for the depth and realism of her worlds and their people. Ă‚In fantasy, I’d say Patricia McKillip, for her sense of story and her poetic use of language.

David: What was the last movie you saw?

Juliette: In the theater, it would have to be WALL-E. Ă‚A bleak vision of the future, but a wonderful story – and a testament to how effective body language can be in communication.

David: What is your favorite movie?

Juliette: I’m not sure. Ă‚The Lord of the Rings series is certainly high on my list.

David: Are you currently working on any writing that you’d like to give a sneak peek at?

Juliette: I’m designing a new story for Analog, tentatively titled “At Cross Purposes,” where some human terraformers run into trouble with spacefaring aliens who have an unusual view of technology. Ă‚Almost finished with a novel of linguistic fantasy, “Through This Gate,” involving a magic book that contains a world literally made from the delusional writings of a Japanese madwoman who has lived inside it since the 11th century.

David: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions, Juliette.Ă‚ I look forward to picking up a copy of Analog to see your new story in print.

Also, thank you to Brad R. Torgerson for his contributions to this interview.

Onward and upward: Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo
Cat Rambo

My guest today is Cat Rambo, fantasy and science fiction writer and editor of Fantasy Magazine, a market recognized as being professional by SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Check out her website at http://www.kittywumpus.net and check out Fantasy Magazine’s website at http://www.fantasy-magazine.com

David Steffen: Cat, thanks for coming. I really appreciate you taking the time for this interview.

Cat, what plots or types of stories are you tired of seeing?

Cat Rambo: I am tired of seeing retold fairy tales that don’t do anything new with the fairy tale, where they just kind of say, okay I’m going to retell Cinderella but it’s going to be a shopping sale at the mall and don’t do anything new with that.

I have a great fondness for sword and sorcery. I grew up reading sword and sorcery. I read Fritz Lieber and C.L. Moore and a lot of Michael Moorcock, but I think there again you have to do something new for me to be interested. I get a lot of stories that are sort of Conan the Barbarian revisited but they’re not as good as Robert E. Howard. Unless you are as good as Robert E. Howard it’s probably best for writers to steer their way away from that.

David: Do you prefer certain subgenres of fantasy such as urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, high fantasy, etc?

Cat: I love urban fantasy. Paradoxically enough, given how much of it is out there, I don’t get a lot of good urban fantasy. I like stories that tend to work on more than one level. We have, for example, a story that was very popular with our readers last year, Elena Gleason’s Erased, which I was just looking at again. That story on one level is about someone’s boyfriend who is invisible and what do you do when you’re confronted with an invisible boyfriend. But on the other hand, at a deeper level, it’s about what do you do in a relationship when the other person is vanishing. So I like the stories that work on more than one level. The stories where you go away and you find yourself thinking about later and think “Oh, yeah, okay, it works like this too.”

David: Are there any big changes on the horizon for Fantasy Magazine?

Cat: Oh, onward and upward for Fantasy Magazine. We have a web comic that will be appearing soon. We have been reorganizing and getting a lot of people in to drive individual areas like TV or books, and comics. So there’s going to be a lot. We’re hoping to up the amount of content to put out something interesting at least two or three times a day.

David: Can you elaborate about the web comic?

Cat: It’s a fantasy comic based on a setting that will be familiar to a lot of our readers, which is inside a fantasy role-playing game.

David: Are there any features coming up in Fantasy Magazine that you’re particularly looking forward to?

Cat: Right now we’re running a series called “Game-mastering NPCs”. The first of the five part series was just posted last week, talking about the importance of NPCs (non-player characters) to a roleplaying game campaign. Also, I’m particularly looking forward to some articles by Genevieve Valentine.

David: Which were you first, a writer or an editor?

Cat: First and foremost, always a writer.

David: Do you think that being an editor has changed the way you write?

Cat: Not really. It’s one more thing nibbling at my writing time. I think every writer experiences that in some form or another.

David: Has being an editor provided you with extra skills that have been useful as a writer?

Cat: Yes. One thing about reading slush is that it gives you greater confidence in your own writing. It has really driven home the importance of making the first paragraphs of a story draw the reader in.

David: Has the economic crisis impacted the magazine at all?

Cat: Not really. Previously we hadn’t been drawing in as much advertising revenue as we could have. We’re making an effort to do better in that respect, so we may actually be doing better now than before.

David: SFWA added Fantasy Magazine to their list of professional markets earlier this year. Has this sparked any change in submissions, either quantity or quality?

Cat: Yes, in both respects. We’re getting 500-600 submissions a month now, as well as seeing submissions from some pro writers we hadn’t seen before. It’s been a good thing we have the new online submission process, which speeds things up significantly.

David: I have noticed in my submissions a large reduction in turnaround time since the new online submissions system was set up. How exactly does that system make things faster?

Cat: We were just using Gmail before, so every couple weeks we had to check the junk folder just to make sure that things weren’t getting lost there. And there was stuff bouncing every once in a while. Someone’s spam filter would eat our stuff. So it just makes it a lot easier to track what’s going on and you’ve got a system also where we can see which slushreader is reading and who is slacking and go prod them. *laughs*

David: What are your personal pet peeves when reading stories?

Cat: Personal pet peeves? In terms of the stories or in terms of the way they’re presented?

David: Like little grammar mistakes that you see too often, things like that.

Cat: Oh, “its” and “it’s” drives me nuts. I taught composition a few times and I always tell students that is the one error that will get under my skin. Its/it’s and they’re/their/there. Nowadays we have spellchecker, so there’s really no excuse for having too many actual misspellings but we still see alot of the it’s/its.

David: How about other things that bother you. For instance, some editors really dislike reading stories that begin with the character waking up.

Cat: I don’t like the beginnings that start out with kind of two heads talking in space where there’s no sense of location and you don’t know what’s going on. I don’t like beginnings that aren’t well-grounded and give us a sense of the story world.

I don’t like the endings, not so much the beginnings, where someone wakes up as the endings and is “Oh my God it was all a dream.” And it’s like “Oh, come on!”

David: It sort of makes you wonder “Why did I spend my time reading this?”

Cat: That’s it, it insults the reader: “Ha ha I tricked you and you wasted all your time.” I don’t like stories that take the “I’m cleverer than you approach” to the reader.

David: I’ve heard that some editors like a little humor, but so many people have different views on what’s funny. How do you judge a humorous piece in submission to Fantasy or do you generally steer clear of humor pieces?

Cat: I like humor. I love a good funny story. I love, for example, the Terry Pratchett books which I think are just wonderful, or the Jasper Ford Tuesday Next stories. I like humorous pieces that don’t depend on cliches. If it’s a joke that’s been told before, I’ve heard it before, so I don’t really want those. Good humor is very hard to write and it’s far too scarce in the submission pile.

David: What was the last book you read?

Cat: It was a really cool Japanese murder-myster that Ann Vandermeer turned me onto. I just did a workshop with her and she recommended it. It’s titled “Out”, written by Natsuo Kirino.

David: Your favorite book?

Cat: I will go with a classic and say Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur which is one of my desert island books.

David: Who is your favorite author?

Cat: I will be slightly pretentious and say James Joyce because I do love what James Joyce does with language.

David: What was the last movie you saw?

Cat: We went and saw The Hangover which I thought was a lot of fun. We love Zach Galifianakis. We’d seen him in a documentary called the Comedians of Comedy and he was so hysterical in that.

David: I saw that last week as well. There are a few moments in that movie that are sure to be nominated for the MTV Movie Awards’ WTF award.

Cat: *laughs*. It just had so many moments like that where you were just like “Oh my god where are they going to go with this”

I kind of want to go so Land of the Lost simply because I loved it when I was a kid. I like Will Ferrell but I”m just not sure the combination is going to work. I like Will Ferrell. I have liked him in a great many things, and then I have seen him in many things where I’ve said “Well okay that’s not as interesting as it could be.”

David: What is your favorite movie?

Cat: I really love the Wizard of Oz.

David: I just wrote a story specifically for a Wizard of Oz horror anthology called Shadows of the Emerald City.

Cat: Oh cool, what a neat idea. I had just been reading John Kessel’s The Baum Plan for Financial Independence. Which I think kind of pokes gentle fun at the economics of Oz which is kind of a funny way to do it.

Who’s putting out the horror anthology?

David: Horror writer JW Schnarr: http://jwschnarr.webs.com/submissions.htm

David: Do you have any upcoming publications that you’d like to tell us about?

Cat: Indeed I do. I have a collection coming out with Paper Golem Press. The title is “Eyes like Sky and Coal and Moonlight.”

David: That’s a catchy title.

Cat Rambo: That’s the title story.

David: Is it a collection of reprinted stories or all-new writing?

Cat: I think It’s about half and half, there is about 50 percent new stuff, and a couple Strange Horizons stories, and the Weird
Tales stories. Kind of the best stuff that’s appeared in publication. I’m really happy about that, because somethings appears in small magazines then sort of vanishes like a leaf on the wind. It’s nice to get a chance to put stories I’m really pleased with out in front of folks.

David: If you could give only one piece of advice to aspiring writers trying to get published, what would it be?

Cat: Be persistent. More than anything else you have to cultivate the hide of a rhinoceros, put your head down and keep plugging away.

David: Do you have any works in progress you’d like to tell us about?

Cat: I am finishing up a young adult novel called Phat Fairy. It is my reaction in some ways to reading the Twilight series.

David: What did you think of the Twilight series?

Cat: I thought that they were decently written but I thought they were just an appalling message for young women. You have this utterly passive heroine whose main motivation is nailing her man. I really didn’t think they were a good message for young women at all. I have a goddaughter who will at some point be reading YA fiction, so I wanted to make sure there was at least one book out there with a healthier message. Though I am not trying to write a message-driven book either.

David: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions, Cat, and letting us get a glimpse into Cat’s world of writing and editing. Also, thanks to Frank Dutkiewicz, Brad Torgerson, and Gary Cuba for your contributions to this interview.

Stay tuned for more interviews! I’ve got a full schedule, at two interviews a month, lined up through mid-October!

Great writing websites…

<This has previously been printed on my personal blog:
http://www.anthonysullivan.net/?p=317>

As an aspiring writer I find the internet to be an extremely valuable tool as well as a colossal drain on my writing time. There are fantastic resources available to new writers that quite frankly I would not have survived without. On the other hand, even these great resources can be an excuse not to write. I’ve listed the links to each website or tool that I have used in my short journey as a writer. I hope you find them useful but I caution you to only use what you need at the moment.

No matter how much you read about writing, nothing can replace the value of putting words to the page and nothing you read on the internet will improve your writing more than simply practicing the craft of writing. So use these resources but use them when you can’t be writing.

Blogs

Writer blogs are a dime a dozen and the quality and experience ranges from the unknown aspirant right up to the prolific professional. There is something to take from each of the blogs I have listed. Gain inspiration from the unknown pups and gain motivation from the old dogs.

Dean Wesley Smith is a prolific writer who has written and edited dozens of novels. He also has donated an inordinate amount of his time and efforts to shepherding new writers along the path to success.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is another great writer who has given a great deal back to the aspirant community. She blogs about her own writing along with tips on writing and marketing. In particular, check out here Freelancer’s Survival Guide posts.

David Farland is another outstanding author. His Runelord books are one of my favorite epic fantasy series of all time. His blog is mostly fan service but he offers a great semi-daily email with writing and marketing tips for new writers call the Kick in the Pants. Check it out!

Diabolical Plots is a great website by an aspirant writer who is just started to poke his head through the professionally published ceiling. David Steffen has writing advice and tips as well as movie reviews and interviews of major players in the genre fiction industry.

Brad R. Torgersen is another aspirant who I believe is on the verge of making the jump to pro writer. His blog details his journey, successes and failures, as he strives to make that elusive first sale.

Marketing Tools

Ask any long time pro and they will tell you that writing the stories is only half the fight to becoming a great writer. Some might say it isn’t even half. You also must know how to get your stories/novels in front of the right person so it can be purchased. There are a few online tools that are extremely valuable for any writer who is about to send out their manuscript.

Ralan.com is another useful site for finding markets. There is a lot of additional content here as well that might be useful as you begin to learn your craft. Careful though, it’s easy to get lost in this one.

Workshops

For many of us there simply isn’t a good local writers group to find peers who can help you on your way. Starting a writers group can be a tough task and will likely only serve to suck even more life from your personal writing time. Not to mention the fact that these small groups are often looked down upon by pros as more of a hindrance than a springboard to success. So we turn online to large writers groups that hopefully don’t suffer from too much drama.

Hatrack River Writers Workshop was started by Orson Scott Card but he is not directly affiliated with the group. You will never see him on the board, at least I haven’t. Instead it is run by the mysterious Shy who must be obeyed. Some know her has Kathleen Dalton Woodbury. This is a great bunch of aspiring writers who will welcome you with open arms. Participation isn’t directly monitored so you can come and go as you please. But like anything worth doing, you will only get out what you put in.

Whoever started Online Writers Workshop must not have had much imagination left the day they came up with the name for this website but what they did have was the forethought to put together a good set of rules to make an online writers workshop hum. OWW is a great workshop for new writers. There are strict participation requirements but they should be easy to manage for any serious writer.

Critters Workshop is an entirely automated writer’s workshop. Every week the system mails out a new set of stories to all of the members and they are then critiqued and posted to the site. Like OWW there are participation requirements but also like OWW they should be no problem for anyone who is truly interested in improving their prose.

There is no doubt hundreds of good writing websites out there and I’m sure I have left out several of the best. Please feel free to add your suggestions via the comments.

Princess of Prose: Alethea Kontis

Alethea Kontis
Alethea Kontis

My guest today is New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis. She co-wrote the Dark Hunter Companion with fellow New York Times bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon. Her short fiction has appeared in multiple professional publications, such as Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Realms of Fantasy. Not only that, but she’s published a children’s book titled AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First, with a sequel upcoming. Besides her fiction, her essays can be seen at several professional magazines and have been collected in book form, the first volume of which is called Beauty & Dynamite.

Check out her website at http://www.aletheakontis.com

David Steffen: I’m sure you answer this question all the time, but I have to ask: your name is so unique. Is there a story behind it?

Alethea Kontis: “Alethea” is the Greek word for “truth.” As all Greeks know, words have power. My name is as much of a curse as it is a blessing, especially when my grandmother continually reminds me to lie to her friends about my age. (Sorry, Nana!)

My mother discovered the name as the family settled down to watch “Kung-Fu” on March 15, 1973 — my older brother’s 9th birthday. (West is currently a 4th-degree black belt in Taekwondo.) In that particular episode, Jodie Foster played a precocious girl named Alethea Patricia Ingram.

I discovered the details of this event only a few years ago…after I had already been a buyer at Ingram Book Company for over six years. Oh, yes. Words have power, my friend.

David: You’ve written so many essays, and I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve read. They flow so naturally that they’re effortless to read, yet at the same time are very focused on each particular topic. Do essay ideas just slap you across the face, demanding to be written or does it take a more concerted effort? How does essay-writing compare to fiction-writing?

Alethea: I was raised in a family of storytellers. And when I say that, I mean that we put most voice actors and stand-up comedians to shame. You only have as much time as everyone plans on sitting around the dinner table, and you only have the floor for as long as your voice carries over everyone else’s…so whatever you choose to impart to the group, it better be GOOD. Every time I sit down to write an essay, I imagine myself around that table. As long as I have the floor I’ve got to have a great beginning, I’ve got to keep my audience engaged, and I can’t take forever to get to the point.

Someone asked me once if one needed a diverse and interesting background to be a writer. I think everyone has a diverse and interesting background; writers just exploit theirs. Everyone has stories to tell; you step in them like puddles every single day. For whatever reason I seem to have this abnormally remarkable life — these are just the stories I step in.

David: Do you prefer to write by yourself or with another writer (like the Dark Hunter Companion). What sort of unique challenges or benefits arise when working together?

Alethea: The Dark-Hunter Companion is the only collaboration I’ve done to date. Sherri and I had a unique arrangement with the Companion that could have been as much a disaster as it was a triumph. I started out with a stack of novels, a notebook, a glorified outline, and an anticipated word count. I re-read the whole series (many for the 3rd or 4th time), took notes, and then wrote the entire encyclopedia as if I was just another smart-mouthed character in the Dark-Hunter universe. I handed the manuscript over to Sherri, who then pulled out some spoilers, put in some teasers, and altered a few things that could only be altered by She Who Keeps Entire Worlds in her Head.

When I got the manuscript back for copyedits, our writing style blended so perfectly I honestly couldn’t tell where my words left off and hers began. Everyone was pleased with the end result — the fans most of all. It was a fascinating experience.

David: What do you think has been the most significant event to advance your career?

Alethea: My life suddenly flashes before my eyes: My parents telling me I couldn’t major in English. My English teacher telling me no child would want to read my fairy tales. My friend Gail telling me to just write my picture book idea “so you can read it.” Orson Scott Card telling me to just write the novel. Tom Piccirilli taking me to task when he found out I hadn’t submitted a finished manuscript. Kevin J. Anderson slapping me in the face when I denigrated my own writing.

If I had to pick only one event, it would be the Baen dinner in the fall of 2003, where David Drake found out I lived only a couple of miles from Andre Norton and ordered me to go visit her. “She has no idea what she means to this industry,” he told me, and he was right. My correspondence and friendship with Miss Andre is something I’ll treasure forever.

David: What is your favorite thing about writing?

Alethea: Making my mother cry.

When I wrote stories as a kid, making my mother cry was a mark of excellence — I knew then that I had something powerful. My mother was always my first reader and (“get a real job” major aside) my biggest advocate — up to and including calling a particular university and bullying them to accept my application essay despite the fact that I was a few hundred words over the limit. (I was accepted to said particular university, but ultimately could not afford to attend.)

While at Boot Camp in 2003, I called Mom from the campus of UNCG and yelled into the phone, “ORSON SCOTT CARD SAID I’M A GREAT WRITER!!!” I could not have offended her more. There was silence on the other end, and then a very cold, “Alethea, we’ve been telling you that for years. So now you’re going to believe some guy just because he’s some big fat best-seller?” It was then that I officially realized my mother hadn’t actually been spoon-feeding me a load of crap, as most mothers are wont to do.

She forgave me. Six years later, she’s still my first reader. And she still tells me every time I make her cry.

David: Do you have a particular writing process you go through for every story, from story conception to drafting?

Alethea: Because I was raised a storyteller, I’m what they call an “Athena writer” — the stories all but spring fully-formed from my head. I mentally work through my plot points and dialogue and edit as I write. The words need to be in order, and they need to be the right words.

As a result, when writing fiction I average only about 500 words an hour and only a few thousand a day at my most productive. But I rarely go back and rewrite, and my first drafts are very, very clean drafts.

David: If you could only give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Alethea: Do the thing that scares you.

David: What’s the last book you read? Your favorite book? Your favorite author?

The last book I read (all the way through): The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, by Leanna Renee Hieber. (For the record, I loved it.) Favorite book and author — ha! I could no sooner choose a favorite star in the sky.

David: What was the last movie you saw?

Alethea: Last movie I saw: UP. I think I only cried more after seeing Big Fish.

David: I know you’re very active on the convention circuit. What upcoming convention appearances do you have planned?

Alethea: I’ve just finished six weeks of the heaviest schedule I’ve ever had (including Penguicon, Mo*Con, Hypericon, and BEA). The rest of 2009 is fairly light — I’ll be at Necon in July and, of course, Dragon*Con on Labor Day weekend.

David: What do you like best about conventions? Do you suffer from stage fright–if so, how do you get up there in front of all those people?

Alethea: I’m a raging introvert, but I have no problem with stage fright. My Aunt Ernestine (actress Ernestine Mercer) taught me how to say “TA-DA!” when I was a baby — a feat I had turned into a lucrative acting career by he time I was eight. I was on stage all through high school…which trickled down to only helping out on student films in college…and then after I graduated, the hermit took over and I slipped into borderline agoraphobia.

All it took was one panic attack in the grocery store for me to say, “NONE OF THIS NONSENSE, PLEASE!” From that point on, I concentrated on consciously participating in a healthy amount of social activity and pulling myself back out of my shell. I am definitely not the mealy-mouthed frump I was five years ago. Five years from now, people will have to put on sunglasses just to look at me.

David: Any convention stories to share? Strange people you’ve met?

Alethea: Ha! Plenty. There are…um…more than ten in Beauty & Dynamite alone. My very first convention was Dragon*Con in 1996. From the minute I showed up on the front steps, it felt like I had come home. And all those misfits I’ve met? They’re all as close as family now. I love every single one of them. Some of them even dubbed me their Princess, an honor I have accepted with all the appropriate grace and aplomb. I now have a collection of tiaras…but that I blame on Jill Conner Browne.

David: Do you have any newly published stories or soon-to-be-published stories that we should watch out for? If so, what can you tell us about them?

Alethea: This year, keep an eye out for “The Giant and the Unicorn” in Shimmer Magazine’s steampunk Clockwork Jungle issue. I’ve got “The Witch of Black Mountain” coming out in Apex’s Harlan County Horrors anthology and “The God of Last Moments” in Maurice Broaddus’s Mo*Con anthology. I’m also working on a piece for Doug Warrick and Kyle Johnson’s Nick Cave anthology…which I really need to get home and finish. And, as always, keep watching the blog for the next humorous installment in the Adventures of Lee.

David: Any exciting works-in-progress in the pipeline right now? What can you tell us about them? Can you give us any sneak peeks at any of them to pique our interest.

Alethea: I’ve just finished the unabridged, novel version of “Sunday”, my fairytale novelette that appeared in Realms of Fantasy in October 2006. If you’d like a sneak peek, the story is available on the Anthology Builder website.

David: I’m keeping a running “wish list” of guests for interviews. Is
there anyone in the speculative fiction industry you would love to see
interviewed?

Alethea: Ha! I’ve been interviewing folks for the Ingram Genre Chicks column for over five years now, so every time I think of the answer to that question, I just hunt down the prospective victim and interview them. Neil Gaiman? Charles Vess? Anne McCaffrey? Easy-peasy. What I love best are the interviews that surprise me. I go back and re-read Naomi Neale’s (aka Vance Briceland) or Joe Hill’s answers whenever I need a pick-me-up. Heck, Edmund Shubert’s still makes me laugh so hard I cry. I know I’ll never look at penguins the same way again.

Good times.

David: Alethea, thanks for taking the time to answer all my questions. It’s been fun. I’ve been meaning to make it to some cons this year. If I end up making it to Dragon*Con I’ll be sure to look you up on the event list. I would love to meet you in person!

Interesting advice…

<This has previously been printed on my personal blog: http://www.anthonysullivan.net/?p=157>

When I first started this writing thing I often read that it was a lonely craft. So many people wrote about how they felt like no one really wanted them to succeed and that if they did succeed, no one would notice. I thought this was interesting but dispatched it as not my problem. Well it has become my problem. Maybe it’s just me but I feel that more and more, no one around me really cares about my writing. It is frustrating.

Sam Hidaka over at JBU linked to an interesting, albeit old, blog post by Nancy Fulda.

Lately I’ve felt my writing is worse than it was when I started. I’ve noticed boring characters, plot holes and questionable prose more and more frequently, so much so that I’ve been somewhat lax in my eagerness to write. I’ve still knocked out a short story per week but my zeal has been somewhat tarnished. There is no worse feeling than busting your tail to get better at something and finding evidence that you are doing just the opposite.

Nancy seems to think that this is actually a good thing. Read her blog post to learn how she thinks that as we improve at something we may feel like we are getting worse because we are learning to better recognize the mistakes that we make. Nancy has an interesting blog with lots of helpful bits of information and inspiration.

Now I just have to work on recognizing how to fix those mistakes that I can see so readily now.