#MeToo

This week at the SFF Seven is a topic of our choice – whatever is on our minds. So, I’ve decided to tell a story I haven’t publicly told before. There’s been a lot of conversation in publishing this last month about sexual harassment in the industry, largely springing from this article in the School Library Journal and the followup survey by Anne Ursu. This is my #MeToo story. 

Reading Until Dawn Scavenger Hunt

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I’ll be at the Reading Until Dawn Con in October. To start the fun early there’s a scavenger hunt where you can win some really awesome prizes:

One of the main goals of Reading Until Dawn Con is to give our readers a chance to get silly and have fun with our authors. We’ve got a full schedule of games planned for October… but we thought it would be great to get the party started a little early. That’s right… some of us Featured Authors and Bloggers are getting a head start on the fun times and hosting a SCAVENGER HUNT! Authors and bloggers will be posting their logo/game graphics from August 17th through the 21st, and Reading Until Dawn Con will accept entry emails through August 25th. Since the Scavenger Hunt IS a game, there has to be a prize, right?? One grand prize winner will win DINNER WITH OUR EMCEE, DARYNDA JONES at Reading Until Dawn Con!! That’s right, just you and Darynda, chilling out and chatting over a meal, our treat. We’ll also have four runner up winners, who’ll each receive special book and swag packs from a few of the Featured Authors. So… who’s ready to start playing?? If you haven’t registered for Reading Until Dawn Con, now’s the time to get that done, so you’re ready to enter to win a meal with Darynda! Good luck, everyone… and happy hunting!

Scavenger Hunt Details:

There are twenty (20) logo/game graphics hidden on 20 of the feature author and bloggers websites. A schedule is posted at Reading Until Dawn Con, so you can see who will have their graphic up on which dates. All you have to do to play, is check out the website and/or blog posts of each of the authors or bloggers on their scheduled date. Keep track of who has which graphic, then once you have all 20, just email your list, along with the name/address you used when you registered for Reading Until Dawn Con, to ReadingUntilDawnCon @gmail.com 

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Are you registered for Reading Until Dawn Con this October in Denver, Colorado? If not, why not?! Join us for fun, games, snacks and possibly pants-optional dancing.

REGISTRATION is now open! Come party with the authors who keep you up all night.

Be sure to keep up with all things Reading Until Dawn, by following it via your own personal social media drug of choice: Facebook |Twitter | Google+ | Up All Night Reading Challenge | Pinterest | Tumblr | RSVP at the Facebook Event.

Local Reader/Writer Cons to Attend!

NegotiationLast week, to celebrate the release of THE TALON OF THE HAWK, I also released a prequel story to the series, NEGOTIATION, and set it to free. You can still download it free for a couple more days!

Our topic in the Bordello this week is Three Reader or Writer Cons/Events Near You (that you’d recommend). Love that Calendar Queen KAK tacked on “that we recommend.” I’ve bitched about cons I hated before, so it’s good to focus on the love.

Also, I’m going one step further and suggesting four!

Meeting My Heroes and Fighting the Bitchee

BuDtaRTIcAA18InThis last weekend I attended Bubonicon for the first time. It’s a local, fan-run convention for sci-fi and fantasy. Apparently they started out46 years ago with six people and had worked their way up to something like 800 this year. They treated me very well and I’m glad I went.

The SFF community, however, is very different than the romance one. Having been at RWA the week before, I found the contrast marked. Never I found a more supportive, generous and non-competitive community than the romance writers. So much so, that I’d forgotten that not all writers are like this. Don’t get me wrong – the Bubonicon staff and fans were amazing. Some of the featured writers were, too. More of them were than weren’t. I got to sit and have a drink with SFWA president Steven Gould (author of Jumper) and his wife, Laura J Mixon, who also writes as MJ Locke. They made time to introduce me to their daughters and are really wonderful people. I hadn’t known Laura or her work before, but we were on a panel together and she’s so smart and amazing.

A couple of authors, however, were less generous and pulled serious attitude on me. I’m sorry to say they were older women, more established than I in fantasy writing and full of teh bitchee. One, sadly, is a writer I’ve been reading for a long time and I now regret having a bad experience with. They very much reminded me of being in grad school and the way the older women scientists singled me out. One, for example, gave my essay a C and my male classmate an A. I looked at his, to see what I missed. Not finding it, I asked her. She said that she graded me more stringently because women had to work harder to succeed in science. Seriously. She said this with a straight face.

That, however, was the 80s and I’d really thought we’d put that shit behind us.

*Deep Cleansing Breath*

 The best part of the weekend, however, was meeting and listening to Stephen R. Donaldson, pictured above. I’ve always had a mixed relationship with his books. I hated the Thomas Covenant books (and I’m not alone in that, I know – possibly the most unlikable hero ever), but I loved the Mordant’s Need books. Even hating Thomas Covenant, I read anyway, recognizing the brilliance of the writing and storytelling. Those books were tremendously formative for me, especially finding in Mordant’s Need a heroine like Terisa at a time when the dense fantasies all seemed to feature male protagonists. I’d had no idea Stephen lives in Albuquerque and I was thrilled at the prospect of hearing what he had to say (on ending an epic series – right up my alley) and I was also nervous. As with above, sometimes meeting heroes can be more disappointing than anything.

You guys – he was amazing. So thoughtful. So genuine and not full of ego. I sat with writing buddy Darynda Jones, who is deep into her Charley Davidson series and was also blown away by what he had to say. I’m going to be a tease because I was so rapt that I didn’t take notes and I can’t quite reconstruct what hit me so profoundly. Except that he talked about how finishing a series left him hollow and in this state where he couldn’t even celebrate because he felt so removed from the world.

Exactly how I’ve felt. Remarkable for me to feel both that sense of connection with one of my writing heroes and that I might be doing things “right.”

I’m hoping to invite him to visit our local chapter and speak there. If he does, I promise to take notes this time!

Vegas Baby!

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So far there are two entries in the Rogue’s Pawn Giveaway, and this is my favorite. Of course, the other is only slightly less brilliant:

BSs8eNjCUAA33cLYou’ll note that both of these are from Carien at Pearls Cast Before a McPig, so she stands to win Monday’s Cover Reveal drawing unless the rest of you plan to get busy this weekend! I know you all are thinking about it, cuz you’ve told me so. Make those fun ideas into reality! I totally want to see the Rogue Prawn interpretations.

Tomorrow I’ll be featured on the Dear Author blog for their August Extravaganza. Nice way to say goodbye to August. ~waves nostagically~ Stop by if you can!

Also, if you’re looking for a great local writers and readers conference this fall, check out Fiction Writing in the Digital Age, taking place in Las Vegas this October. Among others, my Kensington editor, Peter Senftleben, and my agent, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, will be there. I’ll be giving what should be a very fun cross-genre workshop:

More than Wham, Bam, Thank-You M’am – Wooing the Female Reader

Over and over, statistics show that more women are reading fiction than men, particularly on e-Readers. With the overwhelming success of works like Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight, it bears examining just what female readers are looking for – and what they’re buying. This workshop will examine how romance can be used to both attract readers and illuminate characterization. Sexual attraction can both entice and ratchet up the overall tension of any plot. Jeffe Kennedy, award-winning author of numerous series of erotic romance and fantasy, will walk participants through examples from literature and movies, to illustrate what women really want from a story.

Small conferences like this are great for meeting the industry folks in a more informal way. And besides, Vegas Baby! You’ll also see on the schedule that there are a couple of signings, so if you’re in the area, stop by and say hello!

Why Your Protagonist Should Never Be YOU – and Other Advice

cholla blossom crop

 The cholla have started to bloom and their intense pink is startling against the sere desert landscape. This plant was backlit by the setting sun and I wanted to capture the way it glowed in the light. I got about halfway there, I think.

So, I have a story to tell you all today with two take-home messages.

Recently at a conference, I was having drinks with a couple of friends, when an aspiring writer sat down with us. Though she and I knew each other glancingly, she was good friends with the other two gals. So, she proceeded to catch them up on her efforts towards publication. She reported that the agent she’d been going back and forth with and just rejected her latest submission. She was understandably upset and frustrated.

Lord knows, we’ve all been there.

She went on to say that one of the agent’s issues was that the heroine wasn’t likable. And the writer said, “but my heroine is me, so there’s nothing I can do about that.”

 Okay – some of you may be rolling your eyes at this point, but I had a lot of sympathy for her in this, because I’ve been there. In face, A LOT of us have been there. It’s surprisingly (to me) common for the protagonist of a writer’s first novel to be avatar of the writer herself. (I don’t really know if the guys do this, too, but I’ve heard it over and over from the women.) Worse, we all thought at the time that this was a great idea.

In other words, it’s a classic newbie mistake.

While it’s not horrible in itself to use yourself as a foundation for a protagonist – it’s an extension of “write what you know” – the crucial problem is exactly what’s going on here. When your heroine is YOU, then you don’t have perspective on how she appears on the page. If someone – especially and industry professional – says they’re concerned that your character is unsympathetic, you have to be able to look at the characterization and make the needed adjustments. The moment you decide that this character is you, then that advice becomes a personal insult. As if somehow YOU are unlikable.

And this is really not the case.

(Okay, maybe it is, but that’s beside the point.)

When you portray a character in a story, it’s impossible to say everything about that person. A human being is a complex assortment of characteristics. Even after many years, we don’t know everything about each other. Anyone who’s been in a 20+ year marriage/partnership can raise your hand now. When we write, we CHOOSE certain things to define our characters. A particular gesture. A haunting moment from their past. A certain quirk about public transportation. The skilled writer finds these key characteristics to create the person in the reader’s mind. Once the reader understands that person, they sympathize.

This is a primary goal for the writer. The reader has to be on board with the protagonist. Even with a  difficult or unreliable narrator – I’m thinking of Amazing Amy in Gone Girl, for example – the book works because we get her thought process. The first part of the book establishes our sympathy with her.

With ourselves as the protagonist, there are at least two problems with accurate characterization. First, very few, if any, of us can see ourselves objectively enough to create an accurate image. Second, we see ourselves from the inside-out, which doesn’t allow for a clear picture of the outside-in.

Maybe those are the same things.

Still, the first take-home message is: don’t make your heroine your avatar. Even if you start there – as most of us do – then change her up. You might have to give her characteristics that are the opposite of you, just to create that distance.

So, there we were, listening to this gal vent and I finally said I had a couple of pieces of advice for her, if she wanted them. She nodded, but became immediately distracted. She ended up not hearing my advice at all, which was fine. The first piece was what I’ve told you all here – and it’s entirely possible she wasn’t ready to hear it.

The second piece of advice concerned the agent she was wanting work with, which is something I’d never put in any form of writing. The only time I’d ever offer someone that kind of input is in a situation like that – among friends, with plausible deniability.

This is one reason to go to conferences or other real life events – because people will tell you things in person that they wouldn’t be caught dead committing to the public record.

Now, I know I’m not a Fancee Writer. I have no illusions there. I don’t have books on the big bestseller lists (yet!) and I’m low on the totem pole. However, I am ON the totem pole. I have a few years of experience as a published author in the industry. I know a lot of things I didn’t when I started out. So, that’s my second take-home message: if someone like me offers you advice, it’s worth listening to. You don’t have to take it. In fact, it’s better not to take any advice without proper scrutiny. But give it a listen. Especially that in-person, twixt-thee-and-me bar conversation. You’ll learn things there you’ll never learn anywhere else.

And here’s a bonus piece of advice, should you care to consider it, 😉 if you find me at a conference or other event, I will likely give you unvarnished, honest advice of the sort I’d never put online. I’m happy to do that because other writers did it for me. We’re all in this boat together.

Grab an oar and climb on board!

Have a great weekend, everyone.