Why This Wasn’t Your One Big Chance

This is a photo from one of my very first author events, for my first book, which was an essay collection: Wyoming Trucks, True Love and the Weather Channel. I was so excited to be there, all shiny and wet behind the ears. I had a lot of ideas then about how my writing career would be – and most of them were wrong. Not because I was ignorant or idealistic (though I was), but because life takes its twists and turns.

I can say, however, that though many people told me I’d “made it,” I hadn’t – because there’s no such thing. And, though I thought my days of facing rejection and defeat were over, that wasn’t true either. On the other hand, many amazing things have happened that I could never have predicted.

I saw a meme on Instagram yesterday shared by my lovely friend Megan Mulry. It’s the Gen X reaction to the COVID-19 #stayhome initiatives.

It helped me to see this, because I’ve been feeling terribly disappointed about missing out on some events of my own – and it’s always good to realize that it’s okay to be upset. I can be both upset for myself and be concerned for people who are facing far worse trials. I was super excited about the release of THE FIERY CROWN on May 26. The first book in the trilogy, THE ORCHID THRONE, has been gaining traction with more and more people reading and recommending it. It was even a Staff Pick at Powell’s Books! Since I was planning to be in Los Angeles for SFWA’s Nebula Conference that week, I had planned for a release day party at The Ripped Bodice bookstore, then the mass autographing at the conference itself, then a jaunt for a signing at Mysterious Galaxy the following week – with maybe a little beach time in San Diego. I also have an event lined up at George RR Martin’s Jean Cocteau Cinema & Beastly Books on May 17 here in Santa Fe. Maybe those will still happen? We don’t know. But the Nebula Conference is definitely happening online.

I had shiny visions of THE FIERY CROWN really taking off. And, really, that hasn’t changed. It’s just my parties that might not happen. I truly feel for all the authors with March book releases who had everything canceled – and I’ve seen a lot of the writing community online expressing sympathy in particular to the debut authors. This is because there’s the perception that you only get to be a debut author once. Which is kind of true, but it’s also like virginity – it really depends on how you define it, extenuating circumstances matter, and really, it’s not as big of a deal as people think.

The thing is, we – and by this I mean human beings – tend to think we have One Big Chance at something. As a newbie writer, I recall being crushed by rejections from agents or editors on occasions I’d become convinced were my One Big Chance. Opportunities arrived, I seized them to the best of my ability, and they went rushing past anyway. It was tempting to give up on those occasions. After all: I’d tried and failed.

I think some of this perception comes from the tired saying “Opportunity knocks only once.” If that’s not a lot of pressure, I don’t know what is. What if you’re in the bathroom when opportunity knocks? There it goes: your one opportunity ever. Might as well die now.

It’s patently ridiculous. And it turns out, is a proverb probably adapted from Phaedrus in A.D. 8, “One lost, Jupiter himself cannot bring back opportunity.” Who knows? Maybe they had fewer opportunities to go around in those days. The opportunity population hadn’t rebounded from being eaten by dinosaurs.

Regardless, there are tons of opportunities. They present themselves all the time. Some work out; some don’t. Some we deliberately bypass because the cost is higher than we’re willing to pay at that time. Sometimes there’s a global pandemic and we have to stay home.

But if I’ve learned anything in these years since my ears dried and I’ve written something like thirty more books since that first collection, it’s that there’s no solid trajectory to success. As with all things, my success as an author – and of each new work – waxes and wanes, and greatly depends on how I define it. (Much like virginity and being a debut.) For all of you feeling like you missed your One Big Chance: you didn’t. I promise. It was one opportunity (or several) in a lifetime of them. Often the most amazing incidences are the ones you don’t see coming and couldn’t possibly have predicted or planned for.

We won’t have to #stayhome forever, and when we emerge from our sparkling isolation, we’ll be ready to party. It will be as epic. 😉

Advice for Introductions at Conferences

Spring is here, which means the start of conference season!

Well, if we *get* to have a conference season this year. Hopefully COVID-19 won’t ruin all of our plans. The SFWA Board met yesterday and we’re planning to go ahead with Nebula Conference at the end of May. We’ve talked with the hotel and put contingency plans in place, but for now we’re still on.

One thing that’s been on my mind to mention for a while is introductions at conferences. People talk about this from time to time, but I think it’s always worth revisiting. Here’s a little story I want to tell you, to explain why this topic is evergreen.

Not long ago, I was on a call with a number of people. One of them was new to the group. We’ll call her Sally. I said, “Hi, Sally! Have we met before?”

She said, “Yes, Jeffe. Like four times.”

Of course I felt bad about that. And I remembered her after that! But how do I remember her? As the person who called me out. My feeling shitty about not remembering her is now the feeling I most strongly associate with Sally.

Introductions are not an easy thing to navigate. And I freely cop to this failing of mine. Yes, it’s a failing, and I’m not getting better as I get older. I’m terrible at recognizing faces. I’m pretty good at retaining names – I’m primarily an auditory learner – and I’m likely to remember obscure facts you tell me about yourself, but I might not put your name to your face. I’m the person at the table who has no idea what the server looks like. I once mixed up Matt Dillon/Matt Damon & Ben Stiller/Ben Affleck, because Something About Mary and Good Will Hunting came out around the same time. Never mind that these people look nothing alike, nor are the movies anything alike – but look at the cadence of the names and titles.

This is how my brain files stuff. I’d say it’s annoying, except that overall it’s a pretty good filing system. I can recall a lot of information and my brain has served me well all my life. I’m a great test-taker. I’m not so great at remembering faces, or if I’ve met someone.

That’s the other thing. I meet a lot of people, especially at conferences. I hit overload pretty quickly, too, often after the first day. I can be a gregarious person, but I’m functionally an introvert. I live in the country where it’s quiet, with dirt roads and no street lights. I can go days never seeing another live person besides my husband. We don’t have many visitors, besides the birds, coyotes and bobcats – and I can’t really tell them apart either.

I know I don’t remember people well, and I’m not proud of it. But I also loathe leaving people unacknowledged. So, I err on the side of reintroducing myself. I’ll usually give my name, and ask if we’ve met before. Most people are super gracious about it if we have. What I love is if they offer me context. Something like, “Yes, we met last year at Nebula Conference and were on the burnout panel together.” Then I’ll be all “Oh, right! And you talked about how you went through x, y, z.” I just need that contextual trigger.

You know how I remember them after that? With pleasure. And I’m more likely to retain that identifier and remember them next time.

One year, when my Twelve Kingdoms series was first taking off, I went to a conference and was introducing myself, as I always do. Only that year, for the first time, when I said, “Hi, I’m Jeffe Kennedy,” the other person said, “Oh, I know.” People, this happened not once, not twice, but at least three times. Maybe more. It was a total conversation killer. I don’t know if they meant it flatteringly – or if they’d heard unkind gossip. But it was most unsettling. I can tell you this, too – some of the most famous authors I’ve met have introduced themselves. I think that route is far better than expecting everyone to Know Who You Are.

So, what’s the advice?

  1. Introduce yourself to everyone you’re not sure you know.
  2. Don’t be shamed if someone says you’ve already met.
  3. Feel free to look at name tags. That’s why we wear them.
  4. Don’t be shamed if someone calls you out for looking at their name tag.
  5. If someone you’ve met before doesn’t remember you, don’t be offended. Don’t call them out. Be gracious. Maybe offer a helpful bit of context for when you met before.
  6. If they still don’t remember you, be cool about it, because this is your opportunity to create an impression with them. Don’t make it a shitty one.

 

Remember: we go to conferences to meet each other and celebrate our shared profession. It can be awesome.

 

 

Reader Questions on THE ORCHID THRONE

Pretty pretty page proofs (with cover flats) of THE FIERY CROWN! I’m doing my final read of this book, then going straight into writing book 3: THE PROMISED QUEEN.

(For those patiently waiting on THE FATE OF THE TALA, it’s still with my copy editor. As soon as I get it back, I’ll turn it around and get it to you!)

Sometimes readers email me questions through the contact form on the website, so I’ve decided to do a periodic Mailbag feature here on the blog, because other people in the class might have the same question. 😉 Today’s questions are about THE ORCHID THRONE.  For those who didn’t see yesterday, a chance reader happened to spot THE ORCHID THRONE at Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon. They’ve been one of my favorite bookstores for a long time now – and pretty much the top priority to visit when I first went to Portland, years ago. So, seeing my book as a Staff Pick there was a real thrill!! And then the generous David D. Levine (at the behest of fellow SFWA Board Member Curtis Chen) went to Powell’s last night and snapped a pick of the shelf talker (who knew it was called that???) for me, so I could read what it said. *Blissful Sigh*

And now, on to the questions!

I’m in the middle of reading The Orchid Throne and am loving it. I have a question about how Conri was able to acquire is muscled body. As a slave for 14 – 20 years, wouldn’t he have been malnourished and therefore stunted in his growth, both in height and mass? You would have the empire feed the slaves a lot of protein, at the least. But, they wouldn’t bother, since there’s plenty more slaves from the rest of the empire, right? Wouldn’t Conri more closely resemble his father, half-starved and missing all his teeth? I know these a really picky questions, but they keep coming up in my head every time Conri’s body type is mentioned.

This is something I thought about quite a lot – and there IS a really good reason that Con, Sondra, and the others were fed decently. BUT, you find out more about it in the sequel, The Fiery Crown, and it will become important in book 3, The Promised Queen. So, I can’t tell you too much without spoilering things. The short answer is this particular group was fed well and kept in good health ostensibly to mine more vurgsten. That also left them perky enough to escape and stage a rebellion. I don’t think toothless and emaciated people would be fighting off guards and making a bid for freedom. To hint at the long answer… think about who Con is. Sondra, too, and why Ambrose joined up with them.

 

Could you give an island in our universe that corresponds to the size and shape of Calanthe? Is it, say, the size and shape of Ireland?

I can’t because this is an alternate world and, as much as possible, I try to keep away from comparisons to our world. The characters in that world don’t think of themselves in terms of how Calanthe compares to Ireland, so I don’t either. Calanthe isn’t an alternate Ireland, nor an alternate Virgin Gorda for that matter. It’s its own place, so any measurements would be in terms of that world.

 

Second, if Calanthe is the Isle of Paradise, that would suggest a tropical/semi-tropical location. Where did Tertulyn get the ice to help cool Lia

Remember that Calanthe is a island of refined pleasures, too, and part of a vast network of kingdoms even before it was acquired by the empire. There’s extensive trade and shipping, so all sorts of delicacies – including ice – can be brought in. It’s a mistake to view a world on the verge of a technological revolution as this one is as being ignorant or unable to devise solutions to simple problems like insulation. Even in our own ancient world, non-tech civilizations employed clever insulation to bring ice to the tropics.

 

Is there a map of The Orchid Throne world available, even if just a very rough first draft?

No, I don’t, Drawing maps isn’t part of my process typically, as I see the world in my head. When I have drawn maps, it’s because my editor asked for them – and in this case, she hasn’t.

 

How old is Conri?

He’s about 28, a couple years older than Lia.

 

Thanks everyone for reading! It’s really wonderful to see the excitement for this series.