Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Conventional Wisdom: Mysticon 2018

Can you feel it? There's a wave of excitement in the air, a mixture of anticipation and nostalgia which can only come from spending a weekend talking with new friends about old loves. In other words, it's convention time!

I'll be heading to Roanoke, Virginia this weekend as an author guest for Mysticon. It's my second time attending this convention, and I'm thrilled to have been invited back. I had a wonderful time last year. I'm taking my sister with me again, which always increases the fun, so I'm expecting to enjoy myself immensely. 

So, here's what I'll be up to. 

Author Reading: I'll kick things off with an author reading at 4:00 on Friday. I haven't chosen for certain what I'll read just yet, but you can expect some favorite scenes from The Menopausal Superhero series and maybe a sneak peak into my new project, a young adult dystopian romance, working title Thursday's Children. Either way, I'll probably be able to convince my sister to film it, so that my friends and readers who can't make it to the Virginia can catch it on my Facebook page or my YouTube channel

Here's a piece from a reading at ConGregate last summer to give you a taste: 

Writing Up Close and Personal: Panel Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Luckily, I'm not a party-girl, because my first panel on Saturday is early by convention standards. We'll be discussing point of view choices and the advantages and disadvantages of each one. My fellow panelists include Crymsyn Hart, Melissa McArthur, Pamela K. Kinney, Peter Prellwitz, and Travis Sivart.

Let's Take Flight: Panel Saturday at 11:00 a.m. Now this should be fun! Jim Gaines, Darin Kennedy, Erin Ashley, Jason T. GravesTravis Sivart, and me (of course) will spend some time waxing eloquent about the myriad methods of flight in fiction, from rocket packs to umbrellas, capes, and balloons.

Women Rocking Hollywood: Panel Saturday at 1:00 p.m. The success of Wonder Woman, a woman directed, woman-led blockbuster movie that got both critical acclaim and box office results, has us hungry for more. Along with Erin Ashley, Alex Matsuo, Ginger Snaps, Mariah Johnson, and Bob Flack, I'll be exploring what's on the horizon and what our hopes are for the field.

Signing Table: Signing Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Here's my chance to possibly sell a few books and talk with a few readers. I'll have all three of my novels and several of the anthologies including my work available, as well as the sign up for my author newsletter and some freebie bookmarks.

Broad Universe RFR: Reading Saturday, 8:00 p.m. Broad Universe is an
organization devoted to support the work of women in science fiction. I've been a member for a few years now and one of my favorite parts is participating in the RFR or Rapid-Fire-Readings at conventions. Any Broads who attend this con will be invited to read briefly from their work. It's a great opportunity to sample the work of several authors all at once.

The Last Racebenders/Genderbenders:  Panel Sunday 10:00 a.m. This panel discussion will explore the ways that changing the traditional gender or race of a character impacts and changes a story. Amanda J McGeeDarin Kennedy, Alex Matsuo, and Peter Prellwitz, will join me for what promises to be a lively discussion.

Other than all this paneling and reading and signing, I'll also be shopping, eating, gaming, and going to other people's events. Mysticon scored some pretty exciting guests this year, so maybe I'll even do a little fangirling myself.

Watch out Virginia! Here I come!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sick Day

I'm home sick today. And, yes, I'm actually sick.

I've been sicker, but I'm definitely not well enough to handle 150 middle school children today, so home for a day of rest it is.

Here's hoping it helps enough to give me the wherewithal to handle my very busy Friday-Saturday-Sunday.

Like many the modern woman, I demand a lot of myself. I work a demanding full time job, handle at least half of the business of the home, and still maintain a writing life.

So, what don't I do? Well, self-care. I don't rest enough. I don't always eat well or take proper care of my body.

So eventually my body is forced to give me a smack-down and make me slow down for a moment. And that's what she's doing today.

This whole me-body-mind divide concept is kind of funny, because it's all me, of course. But I do
tend to feel like there are warring forces vying for control of my time, and that they're all within me. My body wants me to fuel it properly with rest, food, and exercise. My mind wants to explore pursuits that absorb it. My metaphorical heart wants "quality time" with those I love.

It's all balance, and when it skews too far in one direction or another, sickness can be the re-set button.

So today, I am taking it slow. Drinking tea, lying still in the dark, reading, and remembering to breathe.

Next time, I'll try to do that BEFORE it makes me sick.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

IWSG: Genre Love

It's the first Wednesday of the month, which means it's time for IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group). This month's question is- What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

The co-hosts for the February 7 posting of the IWSG are Stephen Tremp, Pat Garcia, Angela Wooldridge, Victoria Marie Lees, and Madeline Mora-Summonte! 

Be sure to check them out after you see what I have to say.

Mostly, I write superhero fiction. My series is the Menopausal Superhero series, which folds in some women's fiction and comedy, but is still, in many ways, a traditional superhero story.

I get so much joy out of writing these books that it's difficult to pick a favorite part, but I'll give it a go.

First there's the imagination. All writing requires imagination, but there's a special kind of freedom when the limits of reality are removed and you can imagine people doing things that aren't actually possible, like flying, or throwing fire, or transforming into a lizard creature. It can be a very omnipotent feeling, knowing that the only limits your characters have are the ones you have created for them.

Second, I enjoy the exaggeration and drama. There are quiet, personal character interactions in my stories, but there are also scenery chewing monologues by maniacal villains and the occasional opportunity to throw a bus at someone.

I live my life with a good amount of restraint (you have to keep your filters on when you teach middle school), so it's great fun to cut loose and explode on the page through my characters. After all, part of the fun of writing (at least for me) is getting to experience things you don't get to do in real life through your creations.

So, that's the pull of superhero fiction for me. How about you? For whatever you prefer to read or write, what's about it pulls at you?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Dangers of Sticking Your Neck Out: Reluctant Heroes

The DIYMFA book club question #8 asks about what kinds of stories you're drawn to. What kind of conflict or power play is at work in your current work-in-progress? Do you see certain types of narratives come up again and again in your writing?

Earlier in my writing life, I might have denied that I tended to dwell on any particular types of stories or themes, but I've come to realize that coming back to a certain kind of narrative doesn't mean that I'm a poor or unimaginative writer, but rather that I am not done processing that yet.

Christopher Booker, author of The Seven Basic Plots, lists them thusly:
  • “overcoming the monster” plot (Beowulf, War of the Worlds)
  • “rags to riches” (Cinderella, Jane Eyre)
  • “the quest” (Illiad, The Lord of the Rings
  • “voyage and return” (Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland)
  • “rebirth” (Sleeping Beauty, A Christmas Carol)
  • “comedy” (ends in marriage)
  • “tragedy” (ends in death)
Those aren't a bad place to start, though I might name some of them differently and love stories that combine two or three of these. But choosing a favorite, hmmmm… 

One of my favorite types of characters, both to read and to write, is the reluctant hero, especially if they are a battle-weary sort, determined not to care this time because it's just a recipe for pain. Characters like Logan aka Wolverine or Rick of Casablanca

She's harder to find in female characters. We've got some badass women out there, but they are usually either angry and vengeful or long-suffering and stubborn. 

Of the seven plots above, I think my reluctant hero stories tend to fall into rebirth in that our hero is made to care again (which might involve a quest, or a rags-to-riches change of circumstances, or a a voyage, or overcoming a monster--internal or external).  

My own reluctant hero is Patricia O'Neill of the Menopausal Superhero series. When she first got her powers, she said, "I’m not Peter Parker. I don’t buy the whole ‘great power comes with great responsibility’ racket. I didn’t ask for this, and I don’t owe anyone anything.”

But who was the first of my heroes to actually save someone? You guessed it.

So, what does it mean that I'm drawn to these reluctant hero types? Maybe I am one myself, or maybe I'm the BFF who inspires others to greatness (not a bad thing, given that my day job is teaching). Maybe sometimes, when the going gets rough, I also want to just withdraw and let the world blow itself up without me, but I still care too much to actually walk away. Obviously, my subconscious hasn't worked this one out yet, so I guess I'll be writing a few more reluctant heroes before I'm done. 

Luckily, that's a lot of fun!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Why I Love the BFF

The DIYMFA book club question #7 asks about favorite supporting character archetypes: villain, love interest, BFF, mentor, and fool.

I can think of supporting characters that have won me in every one of these categories, but my favorite?

I think it's the BFF, although I'm not sure I'd name them that. She enters the story as support for the Main Character: a friend, a colleague, something like that. She doesn't seem like she'll be all that important, but it turns out that she has hidden skills and depths, that she understands what the Main Character needs even better than the lead understands herself. She might be dismissed as merely the sidekick, but, often, she is more a hero than the hero.

Where would Frodo Baggins have ended up without Samwise Gamgee? Buffy Summers without Willow Rosenberg? Mary Tyler Moore without Rhoda?

When it's done well, these characters surprise you, without coming out of left field. The writer has laid the groundwork, given the relationship time to build, dropped hints about the skill and insight of the sidekick. And then: POW! Right in the feels!

My own character of this sort is Suzie Grayson. She enters my Menopausal Superhero series as an intern to Patricia O'Neill. You know? The Lizard Woman of Springfield?

Patricia O'Neill as drawn by Charles C. Dowd
Patricia doesn't need anyone. At least that's what she likes to think. So, it's a real surprise to her when this young woman she described as a "twerp" and "little twit" becomes her greatest ally. Hopefully, my readers will get #allthefeels when the big moment comes, just as I did writing it.

(BTW: Suzie has a *great* side-story (if I do say so myself) in this anthology: "Underestimated")

Sunday, January 21, 2018

When Resistance Isn't All Good

I'm a stubborn gal. Ask anyone who knows me. So, I resist a lot of things; especially anything that comes with a hard sell. Sometimes that's good. Skepticism and further research has saved me from some very stupid mistakes. Sometimes that's bad, and I take a long time to admit a piece of advice or criticism was spot on and should be followed.

The DIYMFA book club question #6 asks about the role of resistance in our writing lives.

In my writing life, this has perhaps been a snobbery problem. That whole "literary" writing thing.

My first medium for writing was poetry (starting at about age 6), but I also loved to read comic books. I loved to read trashy fun as a teenager (VC Andrews, anyone?), but also read a lot of classic literature (Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, To Kill a Mockingbird). I imagined supporting my family from my stories someday like Jo March of Little Women, but ignored the fact that she did so writing low-brow, fun adventures stories.

So, I had this divide in my soul when it came to reading and writing. Part of me thought that I had to be "literary" to be respectable, that the stuff I did for fun couldn't also be art. I don't remember anyone telling me that, but it was there in my mind all the same making the walls of the box I tried to write within.

This was maybe made worse by taking creative writing classes as part of my bachelor's degree. At my state college in Kentucky, I studied poetry and short story writing with some fantastic teachers, and I really believe that their advice improved my craft…but the assumption was that I would be writing *serious* *deep* *thought-provoking* stuff that feels at home in the Ivory Tower instead of *fun* *dramatic* *exploratory* stuff you might more likely find in the Dark Tower.

So, I spent a lot of years resisting some of the call of my own heart because I thought that wasn't what a "real writer" would do.

Luckily, I fell in with a broad minded crowd in my late thirties. Some of the people in my critique group were NOT writing literary fiction, and they were having SO MUCH FUN! And, when we discussed their work, we were still serious about it. There was still a lot of discussion of craft and the beauty of a line, and building to an important moment: all those things I considered "literary."

I suffered through the crafting of my first novel (it's a women's issues kind of novel, that I may or may not ever revisit to make it publishable) and I learned a lot by writing it, but it wasn't fun. I promised myself, as a reward for finishing it, that I would be allowed to write something fun.

I took this little thought I had about what might happen is the people who got superpowers weren't unattached children with no responsibilities but women around my own age with families, careers, and responsibilities. And it became Going Through the Change, the first in the Menopausal Superhero series, which now includes 3 novels, a set of short stories, and several short stories included in other anthologies.

And you know what? I still feel literary. I still get a rush from creating a beautiful, moving experience for a reader. Even though my women are flying and wielding fire and other unrealistic things, they are also going through experiences that are universal like aging, managing careers, dealing with conflicts in families and marriages, and making friends. It's all there. It's still art.

And I wonder why I resisted so long.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

YMMV: Writing Advice

Creative process is as individual as fingerprints. Even people who use the same tool or structure don't do it the same way, not exactly. The DIYMFA book club question #5 is about best practices that didn't work for you. 

As I've learned how my own process worked, I've tried a lot of different things. Some worked for me, some didn't. 

Discipline: Most of the writing pundits out there seem to agree that you have to have discipline to be a successful writer. To some extent, I agree. For the first 30 or so years that I wrote, I was a hobbyist who wrote when inspiration struck only. So, I finished very little in all that time. Some poems, some essays, but none of my larger projects ever came to fruition. I'd lose interest before I got to the end. 

So, I tried on a variety of advice:
  • Write first thing while your brain is fresh
  • Write at the same time every day
  • Write in the same setting every day
  • Keep your butt in the chair until you've written X number of words
Mostly, I found that this advice didn't fit in with the rest of my life. I suck in the morning, especially the very early morning which is when I would have to get up if I were the write "first" before getting ready for school (teaching, my day job, starts hella-stupid early). If I wanted to have friends and family, I had to be well rested. 

Trying to write at the same time in the same setting every day is supposed to have a kind of Pavlovian effect, making words come to you because you've trained yourself to expect them at that time and in that setting. Didn't work for me at all. I've actually found that, if I'm stuck, a change (of setting or time or tools used) can get me unstuck faster than anything). Plus, if I wanted friends or family, I couldn't keep refusing every invitation that conflicted with my scheduled writing time. 

And that "butt in chair" one. Dang it. I hate that as much as the "just stay in bed when you can't sleep" one. It works much better for me to get up and be active, letting my subconscious puzzle things over without me for a bit. A load of laundry or a walk with the dog and the blood would flow to my brain and let me get some words down, without the frustration of torturing myself for hours first. 

Now, that's not to say that I didn't develop any discipline. Something that DID work for me was committing to writing every day a minimum of 250 words. I've written about that more extensively here. 250 words isn't a lot, but it does add up to a novel's worth of words over about a year if you do it every day. And even when I'm sick, exhausted, or not in the mood, I can struggle out that much. 

Process: Everyone has ideas about how you should get your words down on the page and what you should do with them afterwards. They have recommendations about when to let other people see it, when to let yourself go back and make changes, etc. Mostly, the advice is good hearted, hoping to help you get to "the end" and not get hung up on perfecting the first three chapters (or first six lines, or first sketch) for the rest of your life. But, people do get awfully dogmatic about this part. 

Stuff I've been told and tried:
  • It doesn't matter how crappy your first draft is. Write a vomit draft and trust to the revision process to fix it. 
  • You have to learn to outline. You wouldn't leave on a trip without writing a map first, would you?
  • Never go backwards until you've gotten all the way to the end. 
  • Don't let anyone read your work until it's done, it'll poison your vision.
None of that works for me at all. I write chapter by chapter, and I begin each day's writing session by reviewing what I wrote the day before and revising it. Sometimes that's MAJOR, like scrap it and begin again. Sometimes, it's line by line tweaking. Sometimes, writing means that I get an inspiration that changes something in an earlier chapter. I go back right then and add notes and sometimes even fully make the revisions. 

I'm not an outliner, at least not usually. I am becoming a bit of a plantser (half pantser, half plotter) in that I sit down with a little spark of an idea and follow it as far as it will go, then sort of work out notes for what can happen in the next part. I guess, it's a piecemeal sort of outlining that has me stopping to sketch out the book a few chapters at a time. I usually don't know how my book will end until I've gotten more than halfway there. 

I have a critique group that sees my work every six weeks in a variety of stages of completion. I've been with them for nine years. I've taken them "finished" drafts to help polish, but I've also taken them messy first drafts so we could hash out together how the story might move forward. Their feedback is invaluable to me, and save me a lot of floundering around as they are often better at pinpointing what kind of problem is holding back my story than I am because they are a step less invested and more objective, and they have a lot of experience trying to do this, too. 

So, I've got a process and it works for me. Will it work for you? Hell if I know. But, if you don't have a process that works for you, you can do worse than trying on structures and tools that work for other people. Even now that I've written six novels and seen three of them through to publication, I'm leaving room for growth, for figuring something out that will streamline or improve my process and product. It's a lifelong learning process and that's part of what makes it awesome.