The Year of Living Authorly: Post 3 Conventions–Atmosphere

February 17, 2017 0

Welcome to the third post of the year of Living Authorly. Ironically, the rest of the Unreliable Narrators are at Boskone this weekend, and I am staying home to FINISH MY SEQUEL to The Vessel of Ra. Yes, this weekend, the 3rd draft is over, and I will send it off to the tender ministrations (?) of my readers for a couple of months. Also this weekend, a lot of professorial work. Can I have a booyah?

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Right. Conventions. Right. Okay. I have been going to Science Fiction/ Fantasy/ Comics/ Gaming/ Animation conventions on and off since I was 19, which was a veeeerrrrryyyy long time ago. My reasons for going? Same reasons I’m doing this podcast, man. I’m a geek. A nerd. A fan. Formerly a costumer. I actually like the darned things! I was never faced with the author decision of not going to conventions, because, well, I’ve always gone to conventions. My problem was almost the opposite of many authors. How did I get people to stop thinking of me the way they’d always thought of me, as a fan, and think of me as an author? Or, as I became older and spent some time as a Secret Master of Fandom (Mindbridge Board President for countless year, me), how did I make the transformation to industry professional?

I have so much to say about conventions for professionals that I’ll be breaking this into several posts:

Atmosphere

Panels

Image

Cost to Attend

Promotion and Touring

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Is the fan convention experience right for you? Just like the post I did on social media, a lot depends on you. Do you mind interacting with people when they are potentially socially awkward (as in, my peeps who like something so much they squee)? How much of  an introvert are you? How much do you enjoy what the convention is celebrating? Do you like meeting and chatting with strangers? All of these are reasons to consider whether a convention is right for you or not.

Remember there are many different kinds of conventions: all the way from the small and personal (100 or so like 4th Street) to ridiculously record breaking and huge (San Diego Comics Con with 110K and counting). They come in all kinds of flavors as well, like the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts and Wiscon (both part academic con coupled with fiction and intelligent discussion. Vanilla Bean.) or Convergence (everything all at once, big, with lots of costuming and celebrations of fannish life. Ice Cream Parlor Kitchen Sink Sundae with extra Jelly Beans and Gummy Worms on top.) or D23 (Celebrates all things Disney for fans of all things Disney. Going this summer for the first time as a fan only, not a writer. I’ll get back to you, but I figure chocolate-coated Mickey ice cream bar on a stick.)

The first thing you’ll want to figure out is if the actual convention is what you’re looking for in terms of enjoyment and comfort. I usually use these criteria when I think about trying out a convention I’m not familiar with.

  1. Do the panels at the con interest me as an attendee? As a potential participant?
  2. What is the convention about? Do I have interest in this particular kind of gathering as a fan?
  3. Am I able to interact with people who would make me comfortable (are my author buddies going? are the fans attending likely to be interested in areas I am interested in? Am I interested in the guests?)

What you will notice is I don’t ask the question: Is my reading audience at this convention? I should totally get in the habit of asking that question, and it will probably influence cons I go to in the future, because I now have a book to support. However, the questions above are the most important to me, because if I’m not enjoying myself, I will not come across as a person whose work you might be interested in when you find out about my writing. A lot having an online presence, I don’t want my convention self to come across as forced or inauthentic, or be solely focused on my books.

Therefore, personally, I am likely to go to cons that have an academic component (see notes above about spending weekend as a professor), or have a writing track (yeah. That makes sense.), or discuss social issues or the kinds of fandoms I like, or just make me feel happy about being a fan (liking many things geeky got me into cons, after all.) There are conventions for so many kinds of fandom. Some cons appear to be one thing, but have surprising features. For example, I have been curious for a while about GenCon’s awesome writing workshop, and that’s a gaming convention, so always check out all the offerings of conventions you’re considering, even ones that seem on the surface like they’re not your type of con.

Every year, you can pretty much count on me being at Wiscon (Feminist SF Convention in Madison, and very close to me. Also a trip with 3 amazing friends, so bonus), Icon (my home base con that I used to help run. Now I run a writing workshop there during the con), Convergence (a con my husband and I do together, and one I geek out a lot at, plus can hang with author friends and be on panels). I do try to make a couple of other events a year. This year, I’m going to Minicon. I’ve never been, but Jim Hines, who I admire a lot and is a good author friend and now sensei is guesting, so I’ll be trying it out. Also, I’m returning to C2E2, a comics con in Chicago, because the guy who played the Punisher is going to be there, as is the voice of Kaos from Skylanders, and I am going just as a fan, but may snag potential podcasting interviews with folks I admire. In the past, I have hit Worldcon, San Diego Comics Con, 4th Street Fantasy (this one is a gem among cons for writers), Capricon, and my god, I’m just grocery listing now, but you get the idea. I’ve been going to cons for 33 years, and yeah, that’s a lot of cons.

There are so many types and flavors of conventions for you as a writer, of various degrees of proximity, I cannot help but encourage you to get online and ask people where they go and what they like. Go with a like-minded friend at first, if you can, so you can have an introvert buffer. You’ll play hit and miss until you find the venues that make you comfortable.

Next week over at Writer Tamago Post 4: Conventions–Being on Panels

Productivity at Any Cost?

February 1, 2017 0

This month I wrote 2200 words, most of it on the revision train. I had expected to finish The Pawn of Isis and send it out to beta readers today. But…my mother died. Very quickly, of cancer. There were hospital visits, and then funeral arrangements, and apartment clearing, and grief, then grief with illness. Right now, I think I’m beginning to get back on my feet.  Ask me if I could write through any of that. I clocked 1.5 hours of sheer escape. And that’s it. Desperation writing, which I could not find more time to do.

There are those writers who will tell you that you must write every day, or else you are not serious. Well. I think that advice really, really needs to change. I am a serious writer. Hey, I am the turtle of writing. Slow and steady, in pre-planned time chunks, never a sprinter, always a plodder, moving forward in the way each book demands. I have a full-time job. Relationships I value. I am not a procrastinator. And yet, I don’t write every day.

Some days, I can’t write. Maybe work was too demanding. Maybe I’m tired or sick. Maybe the unexpected has occurred. As a matter of fact, many, many writers have full-time jobs and other obligations. I begin to think that most of us do these days. We value insurance, we value retirements. We value human contact. And a stable income that comes at reasonable intervals

I am not dissing full-time writers. I am saying that my career plan is very different. And even if my career plan weren’t, I suspect most writers would have a hard time finding voice with the month I’ve had. Many of us are having trouble with the current climate of our country.

I believe we need to be gentle and forgiving with ourselves. I could berate myself for my not reaching my goal, but I just can’t see it right now. I’m not a machine. We are not machines. We are human beings, artists, who feel deeply, else we would not be writers, artists, creators. And we live in extraordinary times. Sometimes the times inflict the extraordinary upon us.

Write when you can. Write when it gives you joy. Don’t make it a chore or a goal you didn’t reach. And when you can write, appreciate the gift of time, the gift of motivation, the gift of creativity. Right now, that’s what gives me light and hope.

The Year of Living Authorly: Post 2 Online Presence

January 17, 2017 0

Some of you might know that this year my novel The Vessel of Ra comes out from Curiosity Quills Press, and I am getting ready to gear up to promote that book. Over at my website, I’ve posted entry one of this ongoing series The Year of Living Authorly.

Until recently, my primary activity as an author has been to craft stories to the best of my abilities and get rejected. I had rejection down to a science. 🙂 However, the rejections started getting more acceptance-like, and then they actually turned into acceptances, and then I had a book accepted and an agent took me and bam! I am in new territory.

So this series is to educate me about being a publishing author and I thought you might enjoy being taken along for the ride. I thought tonight, since I’m kicking off my part of this series on Unreliable Narrators, that I should talk about online presence. I do know a little bit about that, although I am no guru. We hope to have a guru on the show in February.

Clearly, I am online. As in right now. Where can you find me online? Twitter (@cathschaffstump). Facebook (both an author and a personal page). My own website. Here. I am given advice about where I should be. For example, I am publishing a YA book, so I should be on Tumbler, maybe. Or Pinterest. Or Snapchat.

The truth of the matter is online can in fact take away huge chunks of time in your life. But at the same time, maybe some online is good. Not the buy my book barrage that some people think is useful, but rather the hey, I’m talking about interesting things, or I’m a person. Maybe if you like hanging out with me a little by my book. Or, even more honestly, this is me. Buy my book or not.

I like being online. I debated whether to start being on LiveJournal (remember LiveJournal? My blog hooks up to it still.) back in 2002, thinking that it would consume all the time I should use writing. And, it can do that. But I like writing essays and reviews for their own sake, so it’s not hard for me to find things to talk about.  When I’m drafting, I like to live tweet my action and word count on Twitter. Facebook is more for authorly announcements, although these days my personal space is largely political (who’s isn’t right now?)

The point you should take from the previous paragraph is this: first of all, writing is number one. If you’re spending more time writing online, maybe you are a different kind of writer, but if you want to write short stories or novels, no amount of time you spend on line will magically make that happen. Yeah. You know this already. Secondly, if you don’t like being online, you probably shouldn’t do it, or you should find a way to do it that is the least painful you can. Sort of like finding the workout that is best for you kind of thing.

Now, let’s talk a little about this podcast. Unreliable Narrators is a different kind of endeavor. Certainly, it can be a publicity platform for the four of us, but it is not only about that. We felt the need to put something fun that we enjoyed into the world. In the writerverse, sometimes no can get you down. So this was another creative endeavor used to rejuvenate us. Don’t be afraid to get out there online in a different format you want to try. There’s youtube, podcasting, all sorts of things you can do. Again, make sure you’re having a good time.

Also realize that if you do have readers, they will want you to put things out. I have lost a lot of my readers recently for my blog, because I spend more time writing. You can count on me writing an article a week here and an article a week there, plus link posts to all the awesome on Unreliable Narrators when I’m not posting an article at my blog Writer Tamago. If your blog goes silent, that’s clearly a sign doing the whole online thing for you is not a blog.  Try a variety of experiments. Find what works for you.

Is being online a requirement? I’d say if you can be, yes, if you’re suited to it and you find a way to do it that’s fun for you. It’s certainly one of the ways to put yourself out there. We’ll talk about more of them a little later on. And this kind of online is about you. There’s also online that can be about what you’re writing. I have some ideas about that, but I should save that for a different post.

Next up–going to Cons!

Review: A Monster Calls

January 9, 2017 0

This weekend Bryon and I went to see A Monster Calls, which is based on the novel by Patrick Ness. I have not read the novel, but am interested in doing so. This is a hard film. This is not a film for children, for anyone who has experienced cancer personally or through a loved one unless you have some distance from the event. It’s also not a film for someone who might be losing a parent soon.

The film was harder on Bryon than me. His 90-year-old mother has Alzheimer’s, and while she is usually in good spirits, we lose a little bit more of her as time goes on. The other day, she had forgotten one of Bryon’s favorite childhood stories. That was hard for him.

In A Monster Calls, the protagonist Conor is about 12. His mother is undergoing treatment for cancer, and in his pain, he summons a monster. The monster decides he will tell Conor three stories, and at the end of stories, Conor will tell the monster the truth about the recurrent nightmare he is having. Conor will do just about anything to avoid telling the truth of that nightmare.

As the film peels back its layers, we learn about a variety of truths–Conor’s relationship with both his parents and his grandmother, the truth behind the bullying Conor experiences at school, and deep down, what his mother’s cancer is doing to Conor. At the same time, the monster tells Conor his stories and makes Conor question the simplicity of a child’s world compared to the complexity that has become Conor’s life.

The special effects in this film are beautifully rendered. Louis MacDougal, playing Conor, heads up a great cast which also includes Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, and Toby Kebbell. It’s worth seeing once for sure, although I’m not sure I can watch it more than once. Bryon assures me he cannot.

Most likely the only Academy Award nomination this film might see, if it sees one at all, is for special effects, which is too bad, because MacDougal carries this film with all the prestige of an adult actor at his finest.

Comics Review: Tonoharu

December 11, 2016 0

On the show, we’ve given a lot of love to Marvel Comics, and I can assure you, the Unreliable Narrators could do a very similar show on DC as well. It’s the independent comics that are a little harder to give love to. We have our faves (Mouseguard, Hellboy), but which indies you read are often a matter of personal taste.

Last night I drove home through an Iowa snowstorm after a full day of battening down the hatches for a creative snowy Sunday at home. I didn’t feel like digging into the writing or the huge epic fantasy I was reading, so instead I grabbed the volumes of Tonoharu that my comics guy, Ken, had tracked down for me.

Tonoharu may not pique everyone’s interest. It certainly picqued mine. The story is about two Americans serving as teaching assistants in English (think JET) in a small rural town. The art is in small squares, and is a simple, gray-washed style of moment pictures. In the prologue, Dan talks about whether or not he will renew for a year. For most of the story, we follow his predecessor, also named Dan, through his troubled, isolated year in Tonoharu.

Lars Martinson, the author, emphasizes in the support material, that the story paints a very grim view of living in Japan, and he goes on to wax poetic about how vital and life changing living in a whole different culture for a long time can be. I have to agree. While I have not lived for a year in Japan, my relationship with Japan has totaled 5 trips and probably about half a year in the country if you add it all up. My longest stay, as a student of Japanese in the summer of 1998, really helped me relate to Tonoharu. Dan is very much a fish out of water, although you can see that he would be just as uncomfortable in the US. His successor is much more like me, and figures out how to make it work in a compromise of the two cultures he’s negotiating.

The characters in the story seem real to me, because I have met so many of them. I have my own admirable sensei who is a fantastic person. I know my own shy students, strange expats who impose their culture upon the country, guys who are just there to sleep with Asian women. They all exist, and I found it eerie the way these characters might typify the expat experience in Japan.

I love Japan. Like any multi-cultural interaction, we find each other complicated and we have stereotypes about each other. We find enlightenment when we are surprised, we find isolation when we can’t understand. Tonoharu is a quiet comic, but if you’ve ever lived somewhere else for a while, you will find it a rewarding read. This will probably be one of my recommendations for the year as we close out 2016.

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

November 25, 2016 0

It has been said films which are set in the 20’s do not do well at the box office, and I understand this is true of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which had, according to Warner Brothers, a somewhat disappointing opening weekend. If you are looking for all Harry Potter, all the time, of course you aren’t going to want to see this movie. It’s set in the US, and in a different time period. The central figure in the film is Newt Scamander, whom many of you might know as the author of the textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find from the Potter series.

Turns out Newt is the Jane Goodall of the magical world. Newt has a mission–to help his fellow wizards realize the magical creatures they share the world with are not as dangerous as the ban in the US would make them appear. Well, let’s be realistic. They’re dangerous like all animals are dangerous, but Newt is a trained professional and unnaturalist, if you like. Newt’s a quirky, captivating character, very interesting and single-minded, so the film must be supported by some other emotional layers. Unfortunately, the female lead, an ex-female Auror, Tina Goldstein, is kind of lackluster and dull.

However, it is in the supporting characters where one finds the real emotional meat of the film. One Jacob Kowalski, a non-mag (Muggle to those of you in the know) ends up involved in the plot and seems like he will be the butt of jokes, but turns out to be a stalwart friend and yes, a romantic lead. Tina’s sister, Queenie, is a mage who reads minds, and is a charming, sweet woman. The chemistry between Queenie and Jacob is all the more poignant because Jacob is not allowed to remember his interactions with wizards at the end, a strange unnatural American law, as Newt points out to Tina.

The other emotional plot involves the manipulation of an orphan named Creedence, who has been adopted by the  anti-Wizard organizer of Second Salem. Creedence is manipulated by Mr. Graves, a wizard high in the Magical Congress of the United States, who thinks he is the way to a dangerous young wizard who has a powerful, evil occulus. I can’t reveal much here without revealing a lot of spoilers, but this plot also has emotional depth, and also reveals Tina at her best.

If you want to see more of the Potterverse, as in not more Harry Potter, but more of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, this is a great way to go. Costumes are wonderful. Special effects are great. Newt is winning. Queenie and Jacob are fantastic. Go check it out and give it the love it deserves.

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