World Fantasy Con, Writers Workshops, and NaNoWriMo. Oh, my!

Your friendly, neighborhood writer-blogger-vlogger-voice actress has been BUSY!

Two weekends ago, I attended a writers’ workshop put on by my local writer’s group, Write By The Rails. Unfortunately, I had to miss the end of it.

Why? You might ask.

To hit my regional NaNoWriMo kickoff party!

Then, this past week, my day job was busy enough that I managed to take Friday off without having to burn any leave… to attend my first World Fantasy Con — including my panel debut!

And, of course, that doesn’t include finishing up OctPoWriMo, Halloween, keeping up with my blog and vlog, and a little thing called NaNoWriMo!

It’s been a little frantic here at Morgan’s lair.

As always, I’ll be sharing my panel notes, (although, some were more recommended reading lists) but first, I’m going to be sharing my experiences with you.

The writing workshop

It was a cool, rainy fall morning when I parked on the street in front of the full church parking lot, and prayed I’d read the parking regulations correctly. I asked a gentleman, walking across the parking lot if I was in the right place, and he confirmed.

I followed the sidewalk to the side door and found myself in the foyer of the church where the workshop was taking place. Once I’d hung my jacket and gotten my nametag from the table in the hall, I corrected my nameplate and found a seat at the large circular table toward the middle of the room. After a quick introduction to my fellow tablemates, I pulled out my notepad and settled in.

As always, the Write By The Rails crowd was enthusiastic, supportive, and welcoming.

The first panel was on marketing and took a local view. Most of the tips were more useful for non-fiction and novels set in the local area, but there was information about getting coverage for book launches and more.

We took a short break to look at all the books for sale by local authors. Manassas has a decent selection of local novels. Even most of the self-published books are high quality and make me proud to be associated with them.

Next up was a panel on memoirs. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be open to writing a memoir, but it was fascinating to hear the thought process that goes into it, how it differs from a biography, and the process for finding the theme that pulls the memoir together.

Finally, the topic nearest and dearest to my heart. Fiction novelists. The panelists were skilled, knowledgeable, and wrote in my genre.

Altogether, there were four panels: marketing, memoirs, novel writing, and poetry, I missed the last one. As always, I took copious notes on all — except that last one. Despite my OctPoWriMo inspired interest in poetry, I’d already committed to attending my regional NaNoWriMo kickoff party.

The NaNoWriMo kickoff party

NaNoWriMoI’d seriously joined NaNoWriMo in 2013, but didn’t attend my first in-person event until after I’d started this blog. This was my 3rd kickoff party.

I like going and meeting my local writing community. The circles overlap, but by no means encompasses those who are in the other local groups, and that weekend, I was determined to find my inner extrovert. (outer extrovert?)

I drove through the rain and made it to the library’s basement parking deck 10 minutes before kickoff time. I headed up the stairs, finding a conference room right where I remembered it from last year. The first room you get to at the top of the stairs. I held my breath, hoping it was in the same place.

Peeking in, I spotted the chairs in a circle, and the tables set up for food and drink offerings. With a sigh of relief, I headed in and signed up, adding my genre and motivation to the group display board as requested. Got my raffle ticket (and skipped putting my name on it, cause it was numbered) and goodie bag, and went about introducing myself to those near my chair (carefully selected to be right next to the snack table.)

Once we got going, everyone was asked to introduce themselves, share their NaNoWriMo forum name, years writing, and talk about this year’s project. When they got to me, my regional liaisons introduced me as our resident blogger. So I knew what I had to do.

“Hi, my name is Morgan Hazelwood. You can find me on the forums as morganHazelwood. And since I’m our resident blogger, you can find my blog over on morganHazelwood.com.”

“Folks. That’s! How you do branding,” our liaison laughed.

So, when we got to the raffle (a table full of items, in which our raffle only indicated the order of picking something off the table), I got a lot of grief for being basically the only person who DIDN’T put their name on their table.

I re-met people from previous years, chatted with first-timers, and never-finisheders. And I hope to see most of them, if not in person, then on the new-to-our-region discord chat rooms.

Plus, I ate way too many snacks, I couldn’t even finish my amazingly decadent peanut butter cupcake.

OctPoWriMo

Exploring poetry in all its forms.

               OctPoWriMo              31 Poems in 31 days

Until OctPoWriMo, my main experience with poetry was class assignments and teenage flirtations with boys and paganism.

I think my biggest surprise was how quickly I could turn a theme into a poem that I didn’t hate. I don’t think I spent more than 15 minutes on anything except my sonnet (not counting typos while inking them.)

Overall, I think I would do poetry again. Either for a themed contest or anthology or as a writing exercise to get the words flowing. Perhaps, to keep up with writing when stuck in the editing doldrums and feel like being creative.

(If you missed them, here’s week 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.)

Blog/Vlog

Clearly, I was still vlogging and blogging the last two weeks, with those poetry roundups, some author spotlights, and of course, my weekly blog and vlog posts.

Last week’s blog and vlog were done after spending 6-8pm handing out candy while debugging code for my day job.  Then, I finished drafting and editing my post, set up my camera, and went to work. After my second take, I found out that the audio wasn’t what I like, but I tried both my plug-in camera and my built-in laptop one. With midnight coming quickly and a long day at work ahead of me, I went ahead and posted what I could. Then did a round of packing for World Fantasy Con and snuck in 110 words right after midnight.

I’ve been working on making my non-panel write-up blog posts more personalized, while still having useful tips that can help other writers. (Let me know how I’m doing.)

Since people’s interest peak’s the week after an event like a writers’ workshop or a convention, I’m torn between blogging my NaNoWriMo stuff and my panel write-ups. So. Expect a mix.

My NaNoWriMo progress thus far

NaNoWriMo kicked off on a 12 hour work day, with a 2-hour drive for me to check into a convention. With work keeping me as late as it did, though, the drive was cut to about an hour twenty, but I spent a bit too long in the ConSuite saying hi and settling in.

I ended the first day with 660 words, a thousand shy of the target. On day 2, I found the NaNoWriMo room at WorldFantasy, settled in, and squeaked out exactly 1,667 words. It was a great space and something I hope to find in more conventions — during NaNoWriMo or not. The only thing I would have added is extension cords and maybe an additional power strip or two. At a different event, allowing artists with their sketchbooks or quiet reading in the space might also work.

Day 3, my writing break was cut short 250 words shy of the target because I had to go to a panel — my debut as an actual panelist. After all the panels I’ve written up, this is the first one I’ve participated in. Day 4, between getting home, a nap, and visiting with my brother(sushi + binge-watching season 1 of The Good Place), I finally managed to get my daily target of words in just before midnight but was lagging almost a day for the month.

Fortunately, I’d taken Monday off work, and narrowed the gap in a long and distracted writing afternoon. My word target is amazing, it can expand to take however long I have to reach. Tuesday, I finally caught up and am now keeping on track!

nanoWeek1_2018

World Fantasy Con!

The Baltimore Renaissance Hotel

Since Balticon is my ‘home convention’ and where I met many of those who convinced me to attend World Fantasy, I’m very familiar with the space. It’s a bit expensive to stay there, and parking is ridiculous…

But the first convention I worked was at the Gaylord National in National Harbor, Md. After that hotel, there are very few places that would give me sticker shock. And the Renaissance’s layout has nothing on the Gaylord, where only 2 elevators even reach the convention center.

Coming in the night before was worth it to me to miss the expected traffic and allowed me to settle in before the crowds got there. Although, “crowd” is a relative term. Balticon is noticeably larger, even when it’s not the 50th anniversary.

Working The Con

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Morgan, wearing a Charles Babbage (and Ada Lovelace on the back) locket, eating squash soup, root veggies, and rice.

In the past, I’ve worked in guest relations for an anime convention. Liaisoning with the invited panelists and speakers, making sure their transportation and sleeping arrangements are made, their table (should they want one) is set up, that they’re fed and hydrated, and that they make it to those panels. That job is 24-7, from the day before the convention, sometimes until the day after it ends.

This time? I’d signed up to staff the ConSuite.

For those who don’t know. The ConSuite is a thing that exists at most fan-run conventions. Typically, it’s a hotel suite with snacks to tide one over and a place to hang out and chat with your friends past midnight that isn’t trying to sell you stuff.

At World Fantasy? They kicked it up a notch with slow cooker oatmeal in the mornings, full sandwich spreads, hot dinners, and leftovers from all the receptions. Not to mention, the expected snacks and candies.

Plus? As a new staff member, whose schedule didn’t permit me to help load or unload the supplies, they’d scheduled me 7pm-11:30pm on Friday and Saturday only. That left my days free for panels, and my evening free for parties and BarCon (i.e. The hotel bar, where writers/agents/etc hang out and network). I did end up missing the mass book signing and the art gallery receptions, which were far more of an event than I’m used to from less formal conventions, but I wouldn’t have traded my shift for any other.

Networking and New Friends

I’d been introduced to one of the ConChairs (organizers and coordinators) of World Fantasy back in May, when I ended up helping him co-host the DC 2021 bid party for WorldCon (they want to host it, currently, no one is campaigning against them). (As opposed to World Fantasy Con). He invited me in as ConSuite staff, made sure to introduce me to new people everytime I ran into him, and helped me raid the ConSuite after-hours for a post-daylight-saving-time-rollback-snack.

I ended up staying up past 2 am both Friday and Saturday nights, talking with people and having some quality conversations.

In the ConSuite, I met a ton of people–some new people, some vaguely remembered from cons past, and some fondly remembered. I chatted with them, shared my business card and Anansi’s business card, and found several more writers, bloggers, and artists I need to follow.

I’m now a member of Broad Universe. An inclusive network to support women writers of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. As part of their more real-world support methods, they get tables at conventions that members can use for free (well, working a shift or 3) and they organize group readings.

I even networked on the elevator ride out of the con, Sunday afternoon. The gentleman emailed me links to the novel and non-fiction that he’s written on Monday. I’m working on my own follow-ups — emailing notes to thank people for their conversations and recommendations — especially those I’d love to chat with again.

World Fantasy Convention, Washington, D.C., November 1 - 4, 2018

My Debut Panel

At 5pm on Saturday, I made my debut as a panelist. I’d suggested several writing topics — beta reading, editing, querying, even social media. Instead, they realized I’d listed ‘voice actor’ on my list of qualifications. I’m a voice actor for Anansi Storytime, a folktale audio drama podcast, and, of course, I have my no-edits lazy vlog.

Thus, I found myself on Talking The Talk: Audiobooks from Fantasy Works. The panel was moderated by the award-winning Guy Gavriel Kay. My fellow panelists were Simon Vance, of literally over a thousand audiobooks, and Jessica Albert, from the small press EWC Press in Canada, where she manages the casting and creation of their audiobooks.

Guy Kay took his job as a moderator seriously and reached out to us a week before the convention, showing he’d clearly researched us all. He eagerly offered to pivot to include my experiences and discuss the differences in podcasting versus audiobooks, plus the difference between managing a voice project and being the voice for it.

The night before, I organized my notes as if I were about to vlog, and made sure to get all the equipment and process details from Anansi’s producer, in case that came up. I kept my notebook on my lap throughout the panel but never opened it. No one else was looking at notes, except Guy Kay, confirming the questions he was asking.

In person, he was no less gentlemanly and thorough, taking time to cater each question to address our particular specialties. I managed to provide a few answers I’m proud of.

At one point, though, I’d answered a question, I *knew* I’d answered the question, but the exact wording of it had escaped me, such that, when the time came, I couldn’t summarize my thoughts. I had to turn to Guy Kay and say, “I’m sorry, I got lost. What was the question again?”

As soon as I got back to my room, after the panel, I realized exactly what I *should* have said. And will say if I have this issue in the future. “Does that answer your question?”

A friend I’d met a few Balticons ago was there and took my picture for me before the panel. Then, he shared his favorable impressions in a quick post-mortem afterward. (Thank you!)

morganFirstPanel

(And I found a round-up on twitter.)

Overall, I feel my performance was pretty solid, and that I could have really shone on the topics I blog about. I think I’ll sign-up to panel again.


And that’s it. That’s what I’ve been up to for the past two ridiculous weeks.

What have you been up to?

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Waiting For Rejection…Or Selection!

As Writers, We Spend A Lot of Time Waiting

Tomorrow, after weeks and weeks, the mentees for PitchWars 2018 will be announced. I didn’t enter this year, but I have many friends who did. (Best of luck!)

Meanwhile, in the next week or so, I’ll find out if my panel submissions from last month, for World Fantasy Con, appealed to the schedule coordination team.

And sometime, in the short term future, I’ll hear back from the agent who requested my full (manuscript) a couple months ago.

You know? As a writer, I’ve pretty much always got at least one project going, or at least projects I could be working on. Even when I’m not in the middle of one story, I’m either planning my next story, editing my old ones, or beta-reading for my critique partners. So, you’d think with all this activity, I wouldn’t notice how much time I spend waiting.

Half in terror, half in hope. Will I be found worthy?

And, the strange part is, I’m a little bit scared either way.

It makes sense to fear rejection.

Rejection hurts.

Your work, that you’ve poured your hopes and dreams into for months or years has been measured, weighed, and found wanting.

It’s easy to blame:

  • your query
  • your writing
  • your plotting
  • your incorrect read on the actual tastes of the mentor/agent/Editor/etc you submitted to
  • or — you know — maybe it’s just the market

It can feel like you’re never going to find someone to believe in you–who can actually take you to that next level, careerwise.

For those panels I submitted? There are famous authors, professional editors of publishing houses, and quality agents on their panels.

  • What makes me feel that I’m qualified to talk as if I were an actual professional?
  • I didn’t know who to submit with me
    • maybe they won’t put my panel suggestions on the schedule because they don’t know who else to put on the panel
    • they’d rather not have a ‘panel’ turn into a lecture/Q&A session with a no name.

For those of you querying agents, I know your fears.

  • Silence
  • Form rejection letters
  • Requests from agents that leave the industry before responding
  • Rejected R&Rs (revise and resubmit letters)

But. There’s another side to our fears.

What If I *Am* Selected?

For those of you PitchWars hopefuls — the ones still clinging to hope — I know your fears.

  • What if you ARE selected and you can’t measure up?
  • Why you, when you see so many other talented writers that didn’t get selected?
  • What if you work as hard as you can, do everything you’re asked, and the agents still ignore you?

The mentor saw something in you, saw something they knew how to fix in your manuscript, and either way, your story will improve and you’ll have learned so much!

If you get an agent, I know those fears, too.

  • What if the agent can’t find a publisher?
  • What if you’ve chosen a bad agent who neglects you?
  • What if your agent doesn’t ‘get’ your story and tries to change it into something else?
  • What if your agent leaves the industry and you’re dumped back into the cold-query piles?

And for me? With those panels potentially at the end of the month?

  • What if I get up there and talk over all the experienced panelists?
    • (I know me. I wish I’d be tongue-tied, but I tend to babble when nervous)
  • What if I *am* the only panelist?
  • What if I can’t gather my thoughts and sound like a fool?
  • What if there are belligerent panelists who antagonize me?

It’s easy to make lists of fears. But eventually, most of them boil down to one thing, and one thing only:

Facing Impostor Syndrome

Getting to the next stage in our writing careers is a great recipe for Impostor Syndrome. And the only way past that is to fake-it-til-you-make-it.

Prepare as hard as you can, do your homework, and try your best.

And in the meantime, finish editing that thing you were working on.


Thanks for reading and wish me luck!

I’m wishing all of you the BEST of luck, with your PitchWars or agent or publisher queries and submissions.

P.S. Let me know I’m not alone in these fears, that I’m not just projecting my fears on the rest of you.

7 Tips For Writing Better Villains

Write The Villain Your Story Deserves

As I’ve discussed before, there’s a difference between an antagonist and a villain. Your story doesn’t need a villain, but if you’re going to have one, you should have a memorable one.

  • Prince Humperdink/Count Rugen
  • The Joker
  • Voldemort
  • Emperor Palpatine

These are the names and the stories that stick with us. And sometimes? We love them anyway.

But how does one create a memorable villain, worthy of one’s story? Here are some tips.

#1 – Avoid under-developed villains

Remember, villains have their own lives, outside of thwarting your protagonist. They need to be 3-dimensional characters with motivations that make sense — even if you disagree with their decisions.

#2 – If you must use a cliche, add a twist

The childhood trauma, the revenge on the government/mob/whatever, the delusion that they’re doing good…make sure you’re not following the formula too closely.

#3 – Make Sure Your Villain Isn’t Underpowered

The protagonist has to work for their win, you don’t want to just hand it to them. There has to be credible belief that the villain might win. Readers appreciate (while they’re cursing you) the anticipation and anxiety they experience during a narrow win, much better than the easily thwarted villain.

#4 – Flawed Villains

Villains are only human. (Most of them) Typically, it’s their own personal flaw that leads to the protagonist’s ability to win the day–or at least a stalemate. Pride is traditional, but something has to get them to lose control of themselves and/or the situation.

NOTE: The flip side to this is that the protagonist should win by CONQUERING their own personal flaw. Maybe not permanently, but facing it and accepting it during the story’s climax.

#5 – Villain Doesn’t Need To Mean Evil

Bad guys don’t have to be evil to oppose the protagonist. Was Mr. Smith evil (at least at first)? They just need to have conflicting goals. The teacher who’s trying to get the class to behave, the parents who just want what’s best for their children, the dedicated priestess of Cthulu who just wants the ancient ones to devour humanity… Oh, wait. Ignore that last one.

In one recent movie that I won’t name for fear of spoilers, the protagonist ends up agreeing with the villain’s argument–albeit, not their methods. Just because you’re the bad guy, doesn’t mean you aren’t right.

#6 – The Villain doesn’t have to be there in person

Often, your protagonist doesn’t even know who they’re up against when they start out on their journey. They just keep running into impediments and/or conflicts without finding the source.

And if they do figure out who’s to blame? Often, it starts with just a little whisper. A rumor.

Voldemort. Fisk. The Serpent Queen.

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#7 – The Villain can be representational

Sometimes, the villain isn’t a distant bad guy. Sometimes, the true bad guy is an organization. And, be it the government, the mob, or some other sort of societal aim, you can use an agent of said organization to embody the villain for your protagonists.

The Operative in Firefly, Ms. Coulter in The Golden Compass, they’re both stand-ins for the true enemy.

 

And there you have it. 7 tips for writing better villains!


***

Good protagonists deserve great villains.

Who’s your favorite villain?

5 Writing Tips for Making Fantasy Feel ‘Real’

If you ask a group of writers how they approach a part of their writing process, you’re going to get as many answers as there are writers–and sometimes more.

Today I’m reviewing a discussion by a group of writers on how to make fantasy feel real.

No matter if you prefer:

  • to write a story based on reality — with just enough fantastic elements to make your story work
  • to create your world from the ground up
  • to mix it up a bit

and no matter if:

  • you’re a pantser with no magic system
  • a world builder who adds the characters later
  • a white rabbit chaser til the end of the plot, when you look back and realize everything happens in ‘white rooms’ (before you edit…)
  • or your approach changes from world to world

these tips for writing fantasy worlds should work to help you draw your readers in, without invoking their sense of disbelief!


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Top 5 Writing Tips For Making Fantasy Feel Real

  1. Keep it internally consistent
    • The effort used to invoke the magic and the scope of the magic should match from spell to spell, no matter the scale.
  2. Look at economics
    • If magic gives someone an ability, someone else will come up with a way to:
      • counter it
      • sell it
      • steal it
  3. Make sure your character’s motivations make sense
    • Both for them,
    • AND for the world they live in
      • Different norms and cultural expectations exist in different times, places, social classes, and worlds
  4. Avoid Anachronisms
    • You don’t want to mentally throw people out of your story
      • Check the weaponry in that time AND place
      • Stew takes four hours to cook
      • EVEN if you’re right, if most people don’t think that happened in your technological period or location, they’ll be pulled out of the story
      • NOTE: Ignore this tip for diversity. People in the dominant culture tend to paint everything in their history with a brush to match themselves. The real world isn’t usually that segmented.
  5. If you can’t be true to a period, write around the edges
    • There are always the fringes of society, where the ‘norms’ break down
    • If your character doesn’t fit in, there’s usually SOMEWHERE they can go
      • If they’re willing to pay the price

***

How much are you willing to give to enthrall your readers with your world?

 

These notes are from the Balticon 52 panel, “Making Fantasy Feel Realistic”. The panelists were Leah Cypress, Lisa Hawkridge, Brenda Clough, and Jean Marie Ward.

Do you have any favorite tips for making fantasy seem real that I missed? Feel free to comment!

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