Writer’s Workshop: Beginnings

Ilona Andrews Magic SlaysThis past Saturday I went to a Writer’s Workshop with two of my favorite authors, who together are Ilona Andrews. This was held in San Angelo, TX. I received an invitation because for my Writer’s Guild began asking us to tell what books we are reading (and would recommend) each month. In preparation for a new book by Ilona Andrews, I re-read all of the old books one month and then read the new one the second month. The editor of the newsletter got a flyer on the Workshop and sent it to me.

The workshop was very helpful. Sometimes I think if I go to enough of these I will magically become a better writer. That hasn’t happened yet, but each one gives me new ways to think about things. I learn something every time.

What I learned at this workshop helped me figure out the problem with the ending of a novel I wrote and really like and how to resolve it. (The workshop didn’t tell me the answer or even relate to the problem, but doing the other things opened a creative stream that had been dammed up.)

Here are some of my notes from the workshop:

Plot = what story is about
Plot = what motivates character

Plot and setting define genre

Basic: Book opens with girl, opens garage door and there is a monster—that is the plot set up
What happens next –

spaceship cartoonHorror = monster is eating her parents
Sci fi = alien monster
Thriller = injured monster
Historical romance = monster = highwaymen and stable door
YA romance = boy and bully
Mystery = dead body with the monster

When writing, you are writing to readers’ expectations.
Meet the readers’ expectations.

What are you reading? You should be writing what you read.

Mindful of plot but don’t just rely on genre conventions.

Forrest Gump—plot hinges on conflict
What is Forrest’s goal? Jenny
Meets Jenny, all following years is trying to become man good enough for Jenny…
Movie is not a romance. It is a narrative of life. BUT if you strictly go by genre conventions, it is a romance. So don’t rely too much on the genre labels.

Plot as function of character
Start with character
Know who your character is. Shapes, defines, what kind of person
Character = compass to navigate through narrative

Who do you sympathize with? That’s NOT the villain.

Simple exercise:
Picture parked police car by character’s home. The character is walking home and sees car.
What is the character going to do?

Criminal = assumes he’ll be arrested and runs away
Soccer mom = she runs towards the house, thinking something is wrong; she is terrified
Cop = friend coming
warning
other cop at his house when he’s not there—suspicious,
IA, is he a dirty cop?
Werewolf = assumes the police need help or a buddy is in trouble

All with same situation, but as character changes the plot changes.

Writer has two enemies = indifference or confusion
Reader will walk away if feel stupid or are bored.
Average reader is an emotion junky.

Opposite of hate = indifference

Put emotion in.

Dirty cop = sees car, expecting IA investigation
Cop car at this point is the antagonist. Is causing our character to have problem.
May not be there because of IA. –maybe they saw the neighbor burning trash—if dirty cop has drugs in his house, he may draw his gun and shoot the other police

Dirty cop shoots police. He runs away. Would you keep reading?
Well, what did he do that was so bad that he would kill two police? You are intrigued. What would cause him to do this?
If he’s shooting 2 cops, he’s at the end of his rope.

Dirty cop the police are there because a drug dealer killed his wife and kids. Now he’s a dirty cop who is out for revenge.

Think of the character undergoing a test.
Your plot is a test of your character. Character either passes the test or fails the test.

If character is a scumbag and he gets worse and worse. Reader hates him. At the end he gets punishment.

No guarantee of good ending in our lives. Life is not fair.
We want Karma to work. We want there to be reward for good guys and punishment for bad guys.

Forrest Gump = good guy, always good guy = gets Jenny, gets son
Jenny = consistently fails, drugs and abusers = cancer and dies

External plot and internal plot
Internal is emotional, decision-making, thinking. Character response.
External is things happening to character, what the universe is doing, the environment.

Ideally, to make the most of narrative, the internal and external have to start apart and come together by the end.

woman_awardA-1Woman triangle
Clean house = professional success = happy family
Can only have 2 of these.

If you choose to do this in the narrative, where you have a plot point where a woman must choose career or love, if you do both at the same time—2 rewards and doesn’t have to choose, cheats the reader.

Military
Fast, cheap, or good. Can’t have all 3. Only 2.

Where do we start?
We start with change.

Has to be a change in the status quo. (So dream has to begin the book?)
Obvious or subtle, but must be change.

Subtle = laying in bed, tree outside window, nightingale on tree, bird stops singing…
What do you assume when the bird stops singing?

girl_happy_aObvious = girl opens garage door and there’s a monster
Comes home from work and goes through garage. Monster is the change.
Obvious is hard to do.

Typical historical romance = ARegency, pressure on daughter. Daughter needs to marry. Father died and they need money. She will have to marry. She doesn’t love him.

Mysteries = Someone is dead.
Detective sitting in office and dame comes in.

Moses kills an Egyptian. He loses prince-ness.

Noah tells God to build an ark. Noah has no choice. Never rained before. What’s he going to do? Internal conflict = is God talking to me or have I gone off rocker?

Your beginning should force your character to some kind of question.
He/she sitting pretty. Then CHANGE. Change must have consequences.
Change something for the character.

Change and commitment.
Girl in the garage. She opens door. Lo, a monster.

Shuts door and thinks, “There’s a monster in my garage AGAIN.” Intergalactic trouble shooter, but I’ve retired.

Girl opens door and sees monster. No action.
Either get inside house OR she needs to dispatch monster.
What are we asking her to do?
Monster between her and the minivan and can’t get kids.
Or brother will be dropped off and monster will eat brother.

school_research computer martinEasier to write
Girl has monster in garage. Sympathetic.

How many of you can picture garage?
Write first chapter.

OR
write chapter about anything else.

It is easier to write the garage/monster story because it has been plotted.

Don’t have to outline. Need to know character, bad guy, start of story and end of story. Those are things you need to know. Otherwise you don’t know where you are going.
If you want to drastically improve your word count, girl, open door, monster… Scene. We know what happens.

Make short plan every day before you write.

String the scenes together.

Review
Beginning—character with problem. Commits to a certain course of action. Beginning is over.
Try not to start too much in the middle of action.
A little bit of set up is not a bad thing.
Don’t confuse the reader.

This was an aside and relates to endings (which are not covered here):
Resolutions
Cinderella is good historical romance, but Fairy Godmother is God in the Machine. Resolution comes unexpectedly.

Don’t resolve unexpectedly.

Content and Form: Writing SFF in non-Western Modes

LONCON3_logoAmal El-Mohtar M—edit Goblin Fruit, journal of poetry
Aliette de Bodard—France, mother from Vietnam, destroy sff on regular basis
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz—writer from Philippines, breaking status code
JY Yang– editor of short fiction, write short forms
Nick Wood—Zambia born, South African naturalized

First question, what do you think of as distinctly Western forms and structures?

JF Yang—wondering what forms talking about
In terms of storytelling, idea of 3-4 act structure, must have a protagonist.

Nick—emphasis tends to be on individual
individualistically based mode
character development, not community or variety of stories and characters

Amal—Pacific Rim He wanted the Yaegers. Important to see them operated by teams. Every part of film is about directing team.

Wesley Grimm has a double beginning.

Questions: 3 act structure and indiv thrust—do these have something to do with each other?

JF Yang—would not say 3 act structure and individualistic style of storytelling … Can have a 3-act structure, without focusing on single character. Wonder if stories that get told in Western culture are all individualistic? Historical/cultural bias.

Nick—with compression of time in history, Western tradition focus on nuclear identity and lone identity…

Questions: In your own riding have you ever come up against Western forms as obstacle? Has it informed markets?

Rochita—sff way established, white male narrative
how to undermine the trope? change the center of the storytelling
Have somewhere else be the center.

??Will just changing the locale change the story fundamentally?
Rochita—Think in some way, yes. Change content. Mindset of story. Writing of separate language.
Need to change way look at story.

Aliette—talking about difficulties of placing writing
how to get across a lot of world building in as few worlds as possible
otherwise it is very medieval tropes, Westernized genre
dealing with Vietnamese culture, more important to be scholar than knight
knights had horrible reputation. They were the flunk outs of scholarship.
Have to describe, otherwise readers’ culture will assume primary place.

Amal—mother sacrificing herself might be described by white feminism may be read very differently, not understanding what is at stake

Nick–African lit is more community focused.
Grew up with fairy tales about communities. When moved to South Africa, that went away. Stories from South Africa had no black stories. Stories have started to flow through since apartheid.

Recommendations:
Hillborough—surviving in former white suburb of Johannesburg
Kgebtly Moele –The Book of the Dead—first narrator is suffering from AIDS, second narrator is an AIDS virus

examples from own writing or elsewhere, felt you needed to change structure of story. Are you ever explicitly challenging Western norms? Moments where after the fact, you realize something else was challenging to the readers?

Rochita—storytelling
tribal literature, grew up in mountains, storytelling told through trance, single person and a chorus—who respond/develop…
more you go back into indigenous writing/work, you come to work that is different
Working now on experimental work that draws narrative (narrative from native language), very different from how I write in English. Someone said I distance in the English-language story.
in indigenous language my work is closer.

Questions: Speaking/reading in more than one language. What you read will reflect what you write?

JF Yang—national library has Read Singapore every year. Translate it into Mandarin Chinese. Took “xx Menagerie”… I was reading the translated version. Written in simple language. But in Chinese, very dense, poetic. In Chinese, simple translation, it read like someone’s grade school composition.

Sometimes there are some things that translate well, but often not.

English style is not the same as Chinese.

Aliette—had same experience. Translated my work from English into French. Odd. For translating Vietnamese poetry, most untranslatable thing, tones in Vietnamese writing impossible to show. Language has set nuance.

Amal—in Arabic there is a pronoun for 2 people, one for 2 women and one for 2 men. Plural = 3+

You are native French speaker, but you only write in English. Do you write in French?
Aliette—Whenever I try to write in French, I hear my HS teachers reprimanding.
Would have to re-learn to write.
Very weird thing about my novel translated into French. Been speaking too much in English. I don’t have the snap instinct anymore. Translating is a different job. So very bravely did not do my own translation.

Nick—Very rusty Afrikaans, a little of 2 other languages.

??Have you ever read stories in a different story?
struggling with Afrikaans.looking for an English link. Sometimes the Afrikaans word is unique. A overlap and nuances that are hard to pin down.

Another question:
Do you think possible for Westerners to write non-Western SFF well?

Friend … editors said “couldn’t connect to the story” She finds that shocking.

Rochita—Western writer would need to decolonize. Those who come from history of empire need to throw off colonial mindset.
Problem with pushback against stories that are completely different, have someone who is subtle-y Western. Non-Western readers would say that they could identify with it.

Necessity as well for everyone to decolonize.

Don’t see non-Western modes as shiny, new.

Amal—less appropriative, more ordering of mind

Aliette—very similar, not sure what I could add
You have to … What I have seen I authors who think they have read their research… But they will still perpetuate the clichéd Asian…
That is annoying.

Of course the writers feel like they have done your job.

Have to see from within the culture, because otherwise won’t recognize what should be different.

QuestionsL
Just slipping cultural tags in, you aren’t structuring non-Western…
Western paradigm is dominant.
People who exist within that paradigm are rarely challenged. If you look at it as a paradigm,

Amal–Think of people as aggregations of stories. WE are talking about changing our own internal structures.

Nick—leave them to the imagination. Bring up fact that I was part of empire. When writing, used white characters for fear of stereotyping, etc.
Looking at it seriously. This is a partake mentality… Black characters need to be in the study too.
Have readers who help me with the cultural aspect.

Amal—give me examples of moments where you felt yourself needing to challenge in your won work

Rochita—shift when I decided to present myself as Philippine sf author
what is truly my own?
Looing for own voice outside the Western story-telling
Constantly trying to push and find
How far can you push the genre?
Seen sf as genre of possibilities.
Constantly trying to find border.
Stories think succeeded most are ones which did not get published.

JF Yang—Singapore, colonialism left 50 years ago
grew up thinking I couldn’t write about Singapore because not cool enough
partially language comes into this, English different
took me quite a while, in my 20s, late 20s, I run into issues of language. Writing in proper English. Then when I write dialogue that is Singaporian…
Doesn’t exactly fit with the prose.
Ongoing problem for me.
Want to try at some point—stabbed at it—trying to write stories in Singlish. But I don’t know if there is one with non- standard narrative structure and in Singlish.

Aliette—space fairy internet culture
can’t igure out how to edit
one character chased by soldier court, space station will be cut off by Emperor—This is not working.
My brain realized that I was working with Western story endings. I want my two main characters to discuss and decide to go with flow.
Took me about a year to get that ending written.

Nick—parts and monkeys story
hard to pin together
corrective rape in South Africa
issue was around trying to think of story that manages theme and plot arc

read stories from Zambian stories, “Heart of a Monkey” is a cross-African variation… Monkey been tricked to lose his heart. “I actually let my heart at home. Left it in the trees.” Tricks them into taking him home.
Had narrator narrate as a frame story
Would like to develop the same structure
resonance of old stories in a postapocalyptic future

Questions:
oral traditions and how they interact…
Storytelling oral = community
reader to page is individual
Mode of communication changes the content of the stories.
Does this effect your writing?

Rochita—been thinking about htat
one thing interesting is how to combine Western and Eastern sound
Eastern are also bound to certain story telling traditions
told a Philippino tale. Tried to replicate experience of chorus telling story…
Already so much of a mindset, makes harder for folks to read. Reviewers said “oral tradition” and hard to connect in my stories.
Mine things connected to self and heritage.

You inhabit your story as a writer.
When can make use of tradition, you are putting your own skin into the story.

Nick:
tradition of praise singing, call and response, oral tradition

Audience Questions

2 questions: JF Yang—how Singlish different? Mostly English. Has elements from Chinese, Malay, dialect of Chinese that was spoken by immigrants. Grammar different.
“Could you not do that?” = “Not any hard to that?”
phrases and words not being used when I was a kid are being use now
not proper English, but is what we speak regularly

For entire panel, modes that dispense with suspence?

Amal–Comics. Are about experiencing.
This One Summer.
Nothing suspenseful there.
Friendship between two girls who meet and grow up going to lake every summer and knowing each other only there.
One narrative. No hooking and suspending you.

Nick—man’s relationship with whale and with woman and the conflict between the woman and the whale
no suspense

JF Yang—entire sort of manga “slice of life”
just looking at. No main conflict.
Some people do have difficulty understanding this story. Different way of telling story.

Got story published. 2 halves of story. First was first person POV. She is connected to a building and has to work for state talking for the building.
Talked about her day. When she went home.
–didn’t understand second half of the story, but second half is a response to first half
Her life is different from how she is being used.

Amal—short story must do something
stories are like a sculpture
still stories
not about moving parts, but having eye following structure of story
nothing happened in your story

Rochita—not everyone able to accept
“Where’s the conflict?”

Amal—notion of crucial conflict is also Western.

Question
To what extent do you consider audience? Like to read, but get disconnected.

JF Yang—Do write specifically for 2 separate markets. I write for Singapore public presses. Also write stories for Western markets. Both written in English.
For local, dive straight into the story. Layer in cultural references.
For Western, treat Singapore as if it were an alien planet. You have to weave the details into an explanation.

Aliette—when I turned in draft, all critiques were lost
1.5x volume to explain cultural references
Let’s think of this as if alien culture.
–example of family relationships. Address with Vietnamese pronouns. Lots of people thought they were related. (big sister = older friend)

Rochita—must be a terribly lazy writer
Never bother to explain anything.
Maybe I am just rebellious. I am writing the story. I didn’t have to understand the story reading Western culture stories.
I am writing this story. My background is mountain Philippino. That’s how I write story. Accept it or not.

Nick—example
novella written with Nigerian
editor said to make sure names are recognizable to Western audience
southeast mountains are commonly name as Dragon’s Mountains in Afrikaans—but original term not recognizable. So used translation of Zulu “barrier of spears”

Question:
story must do something, like an automaton—Western (story with moving parts)
Describing difference in Western mind between prose and poetry.
Distinction is true.

Amal–Do any of you write poetry? do the same questions and structure apply within poetry?
“Better World Building through Poetry” panel yesterday
density of attention—switch that takes place

Aliette—wrote a short story about a scholar who is reluctantly at head of revolution
writes poetry about important points of her life
interspersed into 3rd person narrative
The poems had to be culturally relevant to her and had to sound like poetry in English. Had to get very creative.
Interestingly when translated into Chinese, they asked for the “actual Chinese poems” that were the inspiration.

Nick—struggle with poetry

JF Yang—don’t write poetry
terrified of literature
told not good enough to write literature
poetry is literary
Reading your (Amal’s) poetry makes me want to right.

Rochita—my first successful story came from an experimental form of poetry
love poetry
not always successful at writing it

Agent Hunting

LONCON3_logoPeter Newman—podcaster, debut author, taking notes at this time last year doing this—Got it all this year! Juliette XXX

Francis Knight—published with Orbit. 3 books pub. another book next year. Couple of years ago I was close to giving up. Alex Fielder.

Martin Owton—been agented for 7 years. Don’t have a deal.

Wesley Chu—Angry Robot and Tor. Debuted in May. Signed 3rd deal this year. Russell Gaylin.

Peter:
Advice—marry Emma.
Started writing years back. Joined a writing group. Practicing. Then writing furiously every day and writing lots of stuff that folks won’t ever see.
When you finish your book, you want to get it out there. I didn’t get it out there. Was told to wait a while. Come back to the book and look at it.
Maybe your first book isn’t the one you want to send to an agent. I sent my fourth book out.
Wait.
Hard to get an agent. Get gazillion submissions.
The fact that you are here is you’re in the top 25%. Your odds are a lot better.
Quite impatient. Submitted to publishers and agents at the same time. If I got a publisher, I would get an agent. … [Everyone else is saying cons.] It worked. I got an offer from a publisher. At same time had agents who were interested. I picked the agent that I wanted and
Literary Rejections online site. List all the agents that are currently accepting and the kinds of things they are interested in.
Always follow the guidelines.
Follow the instructions. It’s a test. Can you follow instructions? Are you going to be easy to work with?
Some agents stand out for some reasons.
Proactive looking at the agents’ websites, etc.
#askagent on Twitter
ask all the dumb questions

Godward_The_Old_Old_Story_1903 love romance WC pdFrancis—published romance author
Don’t need an agent in romance. Just submit. Did that. Sold five. Didn’t want to be writing romance.
Looked for agents. Sent out three queries. “fantasy noir” agent is who I was hoping for. Two weeks later got an agent. Eight weeks later I had an offer from Orbit.
That was the second or third book I started but the seventh I finished.
You can learn a lot from a smaller press—as long as it is reputable.

Wesley:
Angrila Books had a ? in March
Got 945 submissions. Asked for query and 3 chapters.
Asked for 65 fulls.
25 made it to editorials.
5 received deals.

Between 25 editorial I queried 6 agents. My agent interviewed me. Got an agent.
Two months later, got the deal.
Russ is one of top 2 agents in world—career that I want to follow. John Scalzi’s agent is Ethan Ellenberg.
Russ represents Phillip K. Dick, JK Rowling, etc…

Peter:
In the last year, I like to hear about agents “they’d be good for me.”
Not just any agent will do.

Francis:
I caused gasps of horror among writers because I have never met my agent and only talked over the phone.

DSC_2874Wesley:
Agents wear different hats and do different things.
Hand holders, they will encourage you at every single step. A lot of debuts need.
Lawyers, all about the wording of the contract.
Sharks and businessmen, those who only chase the deal.
Editorial, edit the crap out of you.
Keep that in mind. Writers are insecure people. You might not get the emotional support you want from your agent. Find the personality of the agent that works for you.

Francis:
my agent was so enthusiastic. He really liked the book.
He is good at showing enthusiastic.

Martin:
Do not fixate on a particular agent.
They might not be the person you can work with.
Took me 7 years to find an agent. Sent out 100 queries. Got 6 whole book reads.

Francis:
lots of reasons to be rejected from publishers.

Serusier's 1892 The Grammar woman writing book pub domPeter:
Don’t send to multiple agents in an agency—unless they allow it.
Will be specified in the guidelines.

How are you going to find that out?

UK agents:
Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook—general and not always up to date
WritersServices.com
LiteraryAgencyDirectory.uk
You can usually call a UK agency. You might get straight to the agent.

Standard submission:
first 3 chapters
1,000 word synopsis

Wesley:
Every US agent has website. Check guidelines. Some will want only query letter.
5-10 pages, 50 pages, 3 chapters
ALWAYS SEND THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK.

Albert Anker 1865 children writing pub domMartin:
Don’t send the prologue.

Wesley:
Don’t write a prologue.

Martin:
UK
short cover letter

Wesley:
Send queries out and follow query tracker and difference is 3 days and weeks.
Agents will farm out their reading. If you accept it, give me a summary.

Martin:
[Got rejection from Wesley Chu’s agent in 15 minutes.]

Peter:
often not what they are doing 9-5
Nearly everybody knows everybody.
Even if you get a rejection, don’t reply. Don’t write about it. Don’t Tweet it. No matter how they hurt you, don’t…
Posted all her rejections and was snarky.

People at WorkWesley:
Think it depends on a reply.
Don’t be an a**hole.
All authors know each other. We all talk.
If they send a rejection, you don’t need to reply.
If it is a personal letter, you should send a thank you. –Can I submit something else to you? (If they wrote “liked this, lost me here.”)
Depends on specific reply.
There are some where it seems like they were on the fence… I have requested a rejected rewrite/reread, I got one.

Martin:
If you got something specific, they’ve read it. That’s not their standard. Boilerplate is their standard.
Personalized rejections say something about your book, about your individual characters…
When they say, “do please think of me with your next submission,” they mean it.

Agents with mature lists don’t have that many places for new writers.
Maybe 3 a year.

One of your best options is if you spot a new agent. Editor who left publisher and went with an agency. Or newly finished intern whose an agent.

Keep an eye on the BookSeller. “So and so has joined this agency.”

Look on QueryTracker.

Coppo_di_Marcovaldo,_Inferno canto 34 c1301 mosaic Hell devil WC pdQueryLetterHell is brutal. But helpful.

who is central character?
what do they want? what are the obstacles?

what is different about your work?
focus on action of character

US
QueryShark blog
Read the whole of that. Read the whole archive.
She rips them apart.

Writing a query is a dark art, completely different from writing a novel.

Wesley:
specific art
once in industry, never have to write again

Martin:
If vague, send a query letter and first 5 pages.

Peter:
Worth paying attention.
They want an email that’s a quick hello and response.

Francis:
15% didn’t follow guidelines, so automatic rejection

9Worlds 2014 wonder woman crew-6198Wesley:
literally reading directions, but there are other things that I found invaluable.
WorldCon is one of them.
Take advantage of conventions.
WorldCon (WorldFantasy) has high

Peter:
directions, my ability to read and pay attention was very different.
Have a responsible adult check before each step.

With manuscript, wait.
Get some other people to read it and get response.

Martin:
You mess it up once.
New editor from Tor KoffeeKlatch.
Miriam Wineberg. Reps Victoria Schwab who wrote Vicious.

People at WorkWesley:
Get elevator pitch ready.
Ginjer Buchanan, editorial director of Ace.
She asked me what my book was about.
Rambled for 2 minutes.
You need solid in 45 seconds.
At the end, she said, “It’s got a nice title.”

Dealer’s Room
Editors and agents are standing behind their books.
Marcus and Gillian Langus

Koffeeklatch’s are critical.
There you can talk to them about what you are doing.
Book it and do it.
Book in with writers. How did you do it?

Wesley:
Caution strongly about approaching editors and agents with intent to pitch.
They are here to work but also hang out.
Last thing they want is to be swarmed. Don’t pitch unless asked. Introduce yourself. Be friendly on a non-professional letter. At end of conversation, ask if you can give them a card, can I query you?
Good possibility he will then ask you. “What’s your book about?” then answer it fast.
But be wary about asking.

Err on the side of caution.
You know these guys are inundated.
It is an art when you do this in person. It is about getting to know them.

Peter:
Pretty good at seeing the desperation.

questioning??Synopsis for a series:
Don’t.
“This book has series potential.”
Agent will ask… What else are you working on? What else have you got?

While you are submitting, keep writing. Write on something else.

Wesley:
Don’t write the sequel to your book.

Question:
How much query letter differ from 30-second pitch?

Peter:
after a demonic apocalypse, man with humanity’s last hope, taking it where it needs to go, with a baby and a goat

boy surrounded by question marksQuestion:
Write across genres?

Wesley:
Publishing is inherently conservative. Guidelines you want to follow.
Don’t make first book too long.
Identify a genre to be in.
Expect to have to write another book in that genre.

Question:
If publisher rejects you, agent will say I can’t take this back there.
It’s a risk.
Flip side, if you got a deal, you’ll get a choice of agents.

But when you have a deal in hand, you might receive offers from agents to negotiate that contract only. BE CAREFUL OF THAT.

With a deal in hand, the agents didn’t want to sign me.

boy surrounded by question marksQuestion:
What is process for agent?

handshake
contract—sff only specified

How quickly do they communicate back?—You want to know they’ll answer soon.
Available.

There are bad agents.

No agent is better than a bad agent. But was with a reputable agency initially.
Check the agent online.

If they want to charge you for reading your book or sell you editing services, those are scams.

student_question hand raisedQuestion:
Talking to agent.
Query + 5 pages, then full mss
What might I do to mess it up?

As long as you are polite, should be fine.

Wesley:
if trading emails, they are trying to figure out how malleable you are, …
I didn’t make big enough changes at his request, so I was rejected.
Angry Robots wanted 3 small things. I rewrote 60% of the book in a month. Make big changes in response.
If it’s really a small change, they will sign you.
If they want to see the change first, then it is significant. Need to see how it impacts whole work.

Question:
If sell in my language, is that a plus?

Wesley:
No. You might have great career in native country. May or may not write well in English.

Question:
Do I approach in a different way as a non-native speaker?

No.

green and orange booksQuestion:
Does it still help to have a portfolio of short stuff published?

Not really.

Wesley:
Agents are readers first and foremost.
A short story success does help you acquire an agent.
I know several authors who did really well in short story market and agent approached them to see novels.

Peter:
If you love writing short stories and novels, then go that route.
If you don’t love them, then don’t write short stories.

Francis:
Your novel will sell your novel.

Writer’s Workshop

9Worlds GeekFestFour exercises and time for writing were introduced as ways to get over/around writer’s block by the Tea Party, a writing group that has been in existence for 20 years (much longer, they noted, than the political party across the pond).

1. Cliche killer
This is an exercise for a group to get the creative juices flowing.
They throw a stuffed bat, beginning a cliche. The person who receives it must finish the cliche, but not with a cliched response, and then toss it on with a new cliche.
“as black as…”
“Happiness is…”
“Love means…”
“as still as…”

2. Picture round or Two pictures
They placed lots of pictures on the table. (To do this for yourself, use google images for some different things. Put in words you wouldn’t usually use. Or peruse a museum’s website.)
Take 2 images. Write about them. Either together or separately.

The two images I got were:
a chandelier from Victoria and Albert Museum
a troll climbing out of a split wooden pipe, carrying a broom and a cricket bat (maybe). The room has poles with skulls on them and a gate with a key.

3. Genre bending
Here they had you pick a stock character from one baggie and a setting from the other. You couldn’t exchange from the baggie unless you got two that went together.

I got:
eccentric wizard
steampunk Wild West

My spouse got:
sexually frustrated housewife
steampunk
(Originally he had “deal with the devil,” but the man across the table wanted to exchange.)

For this exercise, the instructions were in 20 minutes to write as much as you can.

I think I got the beginning of a milieu novel started.

My spouse wrote a wonderful short short story.

4. Complications
After 20 minutes of writing, they said, “Let’s make things worse.” You could choose a large crisis (which they printed on white paper) or a small one (on green). I took one of each. However, the large one matched the scenario I had already written into the story. So I used the smaller one, which was perfect, since at the end of the 20 minute writing, the character had bobbled a curtsey and fallen to the ground. The small complication was “twisted ankle.”

Sample small complications:
loses keys
twists an ankle
phone is ringing, but can’t find it
a chill came over the character

Sample large complications:
character is lost
smells smoke and the wooden building they are in is on fire
family member dies

They gave us another 10 minutes to write. Then asked for volunteers to share.

Victoria and Albert Museum chandelierHere’s what I didn’t share:
from the two pictures writing

In black and white the troll terrifies, carrying a broom and cricket bat.

The modern art installation at Victoria and Albert Museum boasts an airy expanse of blue-green curls. These, once upon a time, were donated to Locks of Love by a troll.

So You Want to Write Steampunk

Liesel Schwarz, Karl Burnett, John Naylor, Andrea Burnett
9Worlds GeekFestThis is a live blogging of the session.

John Naylor (Major Tinker), Karl Burnett (Arthur Foote III), and Liesel Schwarz (under her own name) have written books.

Karl Burnett
comic poetry—niche genre
short story published

Liesel Schwarz
fiction
3rd novel in trilogy, Del Ray, Random House
“mainstream published genre author”
working on PhD in creative writing

John Naylor, television historian (academic work, paleoarchaeology)
steampunk: editor of Steampunk Gazette, pub. 2 years ago, working on next
published in UK and US, about to be published in Spain and South America
“the gringo who sounds like a toff”

steampunk is not just nonfiction or novel or poetry.

9Worlds 2014 Burnetts-6243Wrote before steampunk?
Naylor
yes, academic writing, but not creative, never finished htose
change into more relaxed format

Schwarz
first short story was teenage angst
before internet and hopefully suitably buried
wrote urban fantasy, historical novel
writing a historical novel, not steampunk

Burnett
wrote really bad poetry
started numerous creative works, but never finished them

hints for developing ideas, putting the sotry down?

Schwarz
everything around you
sounds, colors, things that happen to you, whatever experiences
spills into your head and creative cauldron in your brain, messy soup
two of these will hit together and spark and you have to grab those out

steampunk_archive_icon_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d5jsav0do you plan your ideas in full?

Schwarz
No.
I do write a rough outline.
large chunks where I put in “stuff happens” or “insert explosions here”

Naylor
difficulty with non-fiction section is that it is fashionable
People think so I’ll take something else and put a cog on it and it will sell and lots of people rebadging their work as steampunk…
It’s trying to keep the purity of the idea and the steampunk lifestyle.

Burnett
fiction, with these characters, just put them in and it happens
for poetry—pick topic, write jokes, translate into rhyme, “Is this smutty enough? Is there enough innuendo?

why self-publish?
Burnett
I was published once in a book I didn’t have to pay for. It does count.
The reason I chose to self-publish is because niche. Most people who purchase have seen my performances. Very much performance based. Only a few hundred people. No point in taking it to a large publisher as they would have laughed at me and thrown me out.
For me it has worked quite well. I have not lost money. Hurray!
Currently working on a novel…

ipad steampunk case 3a ShDwhy is there a stigma to self-publishing?
Naylor
Known as vanity publishing.
A lot of vanity publishing was pretty dreadful, so it’s difficult for quality work to surface.
The situation has changed an awful lot over the last 5 years.
Large publishers are struggling with profits.
I’m going to go to self-publishing on my novels.
My audience is global.
Major authors are leaving publishers and self-publishing.

Schwarz
perception changing as we speak
traditional/legacy pub machine is slow and taking a long time to change
went to seminar where Society of Authors talked and did research—85% of self-published authors are happy they self-published, 66% have degrees
Very good self-published books. Tremendous amount of work. Professionally editing needed. (Physically impossible to edit.) Decent time and money on proper cover design. HUGE amount of work beforehand. Do your homework and make it the best you can.
publishing industry is aware of self-publishing being good now
They now use the ebooks as slush piles.
The Girl Who Came Home Titanic centennial, sold 100,000+ copies and picked up by major publisher and now a NYT best seller

Naylor
move in self-publishing to be more professional
editors will do the editing for royalties
Look for professionals all the way down the way.

out of the audience:
Rachel Aaron did a blog post on the cost of self-publishing versus regular pub
This Blog is a Ploy at blogspot.com

steampunk_word_processor_icon_microsoft_word_typewriter by_yereverluvinuncleberPublishers: What steps you go through?
Schwarz
looking around at steampunk written for women
traditionally steampunk has been a blokey kind of genre
until recently very male-oriented and dominated
not a lot to read, so I started writing
Busy working on my MA at the same time. Novel was my thesis. Had workshopping.
It is hot. Had a lot of editorial interest while I was writing it.
Got picked up by an agent didn’t understand steampunk. We parted ways. Victorian take to your bed kind of days.
Through the Romantic Novelist Association, met Carol Blake agent asked if other agent would read steampunk? Agent said yes.
Sent MSWord doc out. Agent said enjoying book a week later. He was following me on twitter. Dialed down tweets about cats. Another week agent asked to meet her in the club. Asked her if she wanted to be represented. 14 February. “happy agent-versary”
Manuscript had been polished, so he sent it out to market. All these editors were following me on twitter as well.
Ready to go to auction. Random House offered pre-emptive deal: US, UK, and Germany. Spend a lot of time and effort on cover and marketing.

How do you get from story to editor interested? Initial stage.
Schwarz
Do your homework.
Is it steampunk romance? Is it more literary? What is your beast? Recognize genre.
Do your homework. If you want to go through an agent, fine. Read their submission guidelines. Follow those.
Read publisher’s submission guidelines. Follow those.
Published authors are the persistent ones. “Too stupid to be scared.”

Naylor
guidelines often seem arbitrary and weird
Publishers and agents work to deadlines. Do your homework.
Be aware of the whole publishing scene.
Talk to every publisher you have the opportunity to meet. Don’t be intrusive.

Schwarz
Teach a masterclass on sff.
“how to write sff” published by The Guardian
bring agents in to the masterclass
Says she gets 3,500 submissions a year.
But agents work for existing clients. So read their submissions on holiday, on traveling, in the bath, own spare time is what they spend to read submissions.
They will be reading it in their over time. Those guidelines are VERY important.

Steampunkers-2276How do you deal with constructive criticism? When you are asked for changes you don’t like?

Naylor
take it in stride
main job, weeks planning, hours frantically re-doing what asked to do at end

Burnett
ignore it
Any guidance anyone can give you is good.

What if person just has different idea for the work? writing style issues?
Andrea Burnett
when I was being published, we could have the discussion with editor and I won.

Schwarz
matter of professionalism
cannot be too precious about your work
Who is it coming from?
take it as it comes

Naylor
at Teslacon, with wife costume designer, one of the couples said, “You do those British accents so well?”
Steampunk in America has lots of faux British.

They’ve stolen my idea. Someone beats you to it. How do you let it go?
Naylor
That hurts. Written a couple of screen plays and shows, including for BBC One, and we weren’t credited for those.

Does it make you guarded about who you speak to?
Naylor
Yes.

DSC_4615 - Version 2What about you’ve started, worked on, not actually your ideas, but very similar?
Burnett
wrote 40,000 words and put it aside for a bit, a TV shows that came out that was exactly like it—worked out at the same time
short story, remember

Schwarz
in screenplays fiercely competitive
but in novels and the written word, the writer’s voice is so individual
Same story in our voice is going to be a completely different story.
You have to finish your work.
Some silly manga thing has nicked my hashtag. Need it back.

Genre of steampunk. Anything that is too cliché?
Burnett
if you bring a fresh take, you can make something used a lot work well

Schwarz
I’m a rubbish poet, takes a lot of skill
adding your own angle and creativity

Naylor
Nobody says you can do high fantasy, but leave out all the swords.
Same plot lines overused.
7 or 8… Depending on count.

Schwarz
People take a tee shirt, add a cog, say, “There, now it’s steampunk.”
Don’t do that.
make it intrinsically part of your story…
one of the few genres out there that is self-aware. You can have an arch villain with a moustache going “ha, ha, ha.”

9Worlds 2014 steampunk short skirt-6233Naylor
British steampunk…
South American steampunk is also laugh at yourself.
Some Americans get it and some don’t.
Dutch and Belgians it’s new, and serious.

Burnett
Dutch and Belgian taking their steampunk post-apocalyptic.

Naylor
fashions, dated already
Japan was the last major country to get on steampunk. But it was a tangent. Only the last 2 years has had steampunk.

Elaborate on future plans.
Burnett
some more chapbooks
e-pub route
Write some more short stories about Arthur and Tillie.
Also working on novel about Reverend Jericho, adventuring missionary who has lost his faith. Tried his persona, but didn’t like it. King Solomon’s mine-esque.

Schwarz
3rd book out in US in October
stand alone historical write now
Been a bit of a slog.
Books 4 and 5 will be after that.

Naylor
Steampunk Handbook, end of 2015
Steampunk Gazette out around same time
working on screenplay on War of Worlds true to H. G. Wells—We do have an Oscar Winning actor who is British on board.

Anything you can’t leave out?
Schwarz
steam

Naylor
aether stuff, clockwork
Bottom line says steampunk is what steampunk says it is.

DSC_4871Recommendations to see how done well?
Burnett
The Difference Engine, lots of folks say important, I’m not as big a fan. Too cyberpunk. Amazing ideas. Not quite there. Very clever.
The Cryptimicron

Schwarz
Alchemy of Stone
Liz Jensen My Dirty Little Book of Stone and Time
The Wind-up Girl
Anything by China Nieville.
Gail Carriger The Parasol Protectorate is really funny.
Morgensten’s The Night Circus, is it circus punk? But good.

Burnett
It is what you as a reader enjoy.
jokes—Carriger
politics—someone else

Naylor
Toby Frost’s books are crazy and weird. Totally out there. Wonderful.
Blokey stuff—Johnson Green Pax Britannica series.
Bryan Talbott’s zopomorphic stuff with Granville

Schwarz
bones of steampunk, mining the marrow
read source works: Jules Verne, H Writer Haggert, HG Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs,
look at Victorian steampunk writers

Publishing v. self-publishing. What about screenplays?
Screenplays rise and fall on treatments: 4 pages
1- good images
2- very brief outline
3- production issues
4- meaty about it
Supply both hard and electronic copies.

Images in the post taken by Dr. Davis or created by yereverluvinuncleber from Deviant Art.

Poetry Editing Tips

9Worlds GeekFestFrom Dan Simpson, whose new poetry book was published TODAY!

• Read / perform it out loud – what sounds good? What doesn’t work so well? Especially useful for rhyming poems to check metre and if the rhyme is good or not!
• Poetry is the ‘best words in best order’. Go through line by line: is there a more accurate word you can use in descriptions? Stronger forms of language?
• What’s your strongest / most powerful / best line? Should that be put to top of the poem, or the end?
• Which poetic tools are you using (ie. simile / metaphor, rhyme etc) and why? What effect does that have on the meaning and to the listener?
• Are you being original in your phrases and images? Avoid using clichés!
• Specific images are good, vague images are not. eg: “Anger is like fire” says nothing much, but “Anger is like fire / the first hot flames of feeling hitting you in the face / then glowing softly like embers in your mind”.
• Have you said what you wanted to say by the end of the poem?
• Final edit: would you pay 50p per word of this poem.

Poetry Workshop Exercises

9Worlds GeekFestDan Simpson

Poetry writing workshop; Putting the Geek into Poetry, Poetry into Geeks

What we are doing isn’t necessarily writing where folks outside our area don’t understand our illusions.

Word game: simply words
whatever springs into your head
associating

introduce your name: what do you want from this?

Jane words flowing
Simone geekness and poetry together
Shane don’t want to read poetry
Phil gain confidence
Rayanne like poetry
Sally read poetry, don’t often write
Kat do write haven’t done any geeky things (unusual topics)
Graham writing poetry, not a lot, not learning how to write poetry bits

Dan—spoken word background
first collection coming out today
Still waiting to see it. Box delivered?

I won’t make you read it out loud. If you were school kids, I would. –Dan
“We don’t torture adults.” Shane

Exercises:
kind of stream of consciousness
getting stuff down

First
typingOpen freewrite:

Where Rockets Burn Through
take a random page and a random line
“if anyone ever asked, I would like to say, yes, somewhere out there.”

investigate: Who is the I?
What is the question?
Where is somewhere out there?
What tone of voice?

mundane and fantastical contrasting works too.

DSC_2874Next exercise
Write a character piece.

Example: with one of my own poems
What I like doing with geeky references
character piece, character you like
orange ghost from pac man—Cool poem.
looked up all the names of orange pac man—picked on ghost
tried to elicit sympathy for him

poem about being the odd man out
feeling about not fitting in
he doesn’t fit in
wrapped up in jokes, wrapped up in silliness

So, choose a character that you know from something. Write the name and where they are from.
series of prompts:
What do they do?
Outside of that, how do they act? what do they do?
Where are they from?
What do they look like?
Something they love.
Something they hate.
Tell me about an adventure they had.
How did they feel about adventure?
What would happen if they were dropped into our world? this hotel. this con.

"Life is like a box of chocolates." Forrest Gump
“Life is like a box of chocolates.” Forrest Gump

Last exercise
Extended metaphor?

poem about love, mathematical and scientific terms—example

identify subject matter: evocative words… fantasy, science fiction, comics, manga, anime, cartoons,
20 words about the subject
pick 4 words with multiple meanings

then take those and try to create a poem

Coin Opera: Fulminare’s Revenge great poetry book

Editing Q&A

9Worlds GeekFestI was late, so these are mostly notes from the Q&A.

Editor: Abigail Nathan

Editors have several copy editors looking at a doc at the same time, because you are only human and you miss things. –for FYC

editing can sound intimidating
lots can be done by the writer (after time off)
but hiring an editor can be beneficial

story doctor—How do you hold enough story in your head to see if the shape is right?
If I’ve skipped, you’ll do 3 or 4 passes on any manuscript. Think it is just instinct. If I’m questioning it, I put a check mark.

When you are writing, if you know you are fudging, mark it, so you can come back and look at it.

jarred out of the scene or the story

limited resources, but spend a bit of money, which type of editing should pay for?
I tend to advise on each manuscript. It depends where you are up to.

If you’ve really polished it, a copy edit might be enough.
It’s worth talking to the editor you are hiring.

Manuscript assessments, that I make a bit more intense.
Usually outlines story as I have understood them.
If know no $$$, Might point out things that they have done that they need to fix.

la_summary martinhow to make the work shorter?
Example: last hard copy I did for a publisher, came in huge box. When I had to send it back, 2000 pages.

The worry that someone is not going to understand your story, if they start cutting and it’s not the right cutting, stop them.

If you are hiring someone to work with, make sure they understand your genre. That will disappoint you all over.

Learning to cut is quite difficult.

Lots of technique to do daily.
Use Twitter for how to be concise. (use in 003? 106?)
Really does work.

Trust readers.
Show; don’t tell.
Most people show and tell.
Character thinks back through the scene. You don’t need that. If you’ve written the active scene right in the first place…

Readers fill in details.
We all do that.
With too much information, readers might complain. If publishers use photos and images, that can be difficult because it doesn’t seem to match what the authors described.

Worked on a 300,000 manuscript. Mostly too much back story.
Cut back. Make sure you start at the right point.

Had 5 manuscripts that started with dinosaurs, but were not all about dinosaurs at all. “You can chop these first 8 chapters.”

Don’t let them tell you how to rewrite it, but if they can tell you what didn’t work….

High School student at deskwork with short stories?
Yes. Same idea on shorter level.

Starting story in the right place. Being more concise.

Work with someone whose done short stories a lot.

Principles are same, but different level.

Lots of self-editing. Most of you self-edit. Thinking about “working on your story.”

why might an ending not be working?
lots of reasons.

Is it ending in the right place?

Have you got an epilogue?

Have you wrapped up too much? Not enough?

Often think that “great ending” and then there are two more chapters…

perspective—group disagreement—obscure and obvious? single perspective? how to resolve?

Editors are more distanced. Fall in love with manuscripts all the time. We fall hard.

But I think we have a distance. While editors are writers, you are trained not to tell your story…. It may be the other people want to hear the story they want to write.

Session on how to be a good writing reader… Fanfic session. Fantastic for learning how to write. Lot more friendly. Lots more sympathetic.

Pencilhow do you know when to stop editing?
When you start thinking that. When you aren’t making headway any more.

If you get to the point where it is a single word, a comma… put it away.

Keep away from two weeks (or 3 months) and no big plot points jumping out at you, then good.

descriptions good, dialogue good; when I put the two together, doesn’t work. How do you make the two work together?
might be that you read and write in short bursts

Weaving it together is editing yourself and cutting those words down.

Exercise: word goal. Two things that need to work together. There are 3,000 words; you’ve got to get it down to 1,500. Then figure out how to get those two cut.

Lot to do with context.

*My suggestion, exercise: Try to work those two things together like some author that you enjoy and want to emulate.

*Session in the evening open house, tomorrow night, writing exercises and feedback.
Feedback and XXX.

*Who is listening to the story? Who is listening to the dialogue and the description? Maybe figure out the speaker…

*Try swapping how you write normally around.

*Write a story that is only radio and one no dialogue.

grading collapseHow do you edit kindly?
No one believes me, but sending back a manuscript that I have marked up, I will worry about that. It doesn’t matter how wonderful the manuscript is, they only notice the negative.

I will spend hours going over the edits, trying to make it so it doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Try to make sure I am not criticizing the person.

Sometimes I say a lot and they don’t hear it.

My role is to smash dreams.

What needs to be described, time taken?
That is going to be different for every story.

Make sure your story is three dimensional, as well as making sure what story you want to tell.

Then layering. Not explaining everything that happened but make the work three dimensional. What can she see? Is the room hot or cold?

Writers get stuck with a word count. Word count is still an issue, but the length may not be a problem with digital publishing. Get the story right first.

*Used to have the same problem. Took 2 or 3 story ideas and put them all together. Jam them all into one story, even though they don’t fit, and try to write that. –It is actually one of the things that worked for me.

How do you analyze pace of story?
If I find myself thinking about dinner, washing, that’s the slow part. If I forget to mark anything, it’s working perfectly.

Watch my own reactions as I am reading through. Even… might only be a few paragraphs.

A lot of editing is the back brain picking things up.

Writing works like that.

You become more aware of instincts as a reader when you recognize that. So something has lost me, why is that?

Started off writing fanfic. First story that was important to me to get it right, I sent it to someone who was a ruthless reviewer. Spent the first 24 hours upset, but then realized she was right and rewrote the story.

We all want the love. But you have to be honest.

Treat the edits as a suggestion. That bit is highlighted, which says there is where the problem lies.

Most of the writers I work with who want to learn to write will spend time.

Some people just want to work with an editor. Take the work to a publisher and say, “Yes, I’ve worked with an editor. It’s all good.”

How do you give feedback if they’ve just rewritten a work?
Writers don’t think that editors know about fanfic.

If they’ve quite clearly copied something, point it out. “This is really similar to XXX.”

What’s the most common kind of story development problem?
Fantasy writers are in love with prologues.

Knowing who you are writing and who you are writing for.

Prologues—practical perspective, on Amazon, “Look inside” that tends to be the end matter on either end. If you put the prologue there and it has nothing to do with the story, unhappy readers.

Prologue—hook. Prologue should be something different. From perspective of characters who aren’t important till later in the book.

Usually prologues are adding backstory. Adding backstory that you don’t need.

POV. Very important.

Limited abilities and perspective. If writing from a particular character’s point of view, you can’t see what is happening to yourself. Needs to be phrased as feeling or touching, not seeing, if it is about the viewpoint character.

Don’t think love scenes work with both points of view.

Have breaks for point of view shifts. –psychology of reading. So much with a carefully placed line break.

Readers will pick up on the format. Segues and breaks. subconscious stuff.

Student Holding Stack of BooksSeries of books. Not necessarily same story. But same character in each story. How much does reader need to be referred back?
If you want them to read in order, don’t put too much in.

If you anticipate audience is jumping in, put more in.

If stories are linked, if they’ve written a story… Have difficulty deciding what to put in and how to remind them.

Most publishers like to keep editors on the same series. –but fresh eyes show that “no backstory here and needed” ….

How often say scene written from wrong character?
every edit

Soliciting editor… don’t have the beginning, the end, just the middle? Can they look at this and see issues?
Have done that for people. But need a conversation because not the same thing as the completed work.

“I’m assuming you’re going to do this.”

Don’t pay for this. It’s not polished.

Find honest friends, but not cruel ones.

Don’t waste money on editing at this level.

Poetry Section

Beyond Gilgamesh
Fen Con 10 Notes

talked about happy words, like snickerdoodle
concentrated hoards
–said poetry and information want to be free (? economic belief?)

They read poetry and played corpse (poem with one line per person). There was no discussion of genre.

power to choose to remain silent
power to not sing in pubs
Is that person Welsh?

glamour of the ordinary

piexies play
riches are but fairy gold
ethereal tunes to tease your ear

poetry = tombstone of words

angels must be solemn to stay friends with God