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!

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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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5 Tips For Reading Your Own Work

As you might know, I do some voice acting for the Folk Tale Audio Drama Anansi Storytime where I’ve been everything from a narrator, to (many) Goddesses, to a turtle. Plus, as a writer, looking for an agent, I’m dreaming of that day when people show up to listen to me read my own work (as terrifying as that is).

So, when I see panels on ‘reading your own work’ at conventions, I like to show up and see what else I can pick up. (See here)

Usually, they’re workshops. This year, at Balticon, the session was more of a panel, with a round or so of audience participation at the end. But I learned a LOT of things specific to reading your own work that I didn’t already know.

Here are my top 5 tips for reading from your own manuscript at an author reading.

Girl, hugging her knees, sitting at the edge of a cliff with mountains in the background.

Photo by Pete Johnson on Pexels.com

1. Pick a scene with action, dialogue, and stop on a cliff-hanger

I’d always imagined that you needed to start your reading at the beginning of the book, otherwise you’d surely confuse the readers!

In truth – no matter how your novel actually starts though, when you’re reading for an audience, you want something active that isn’t too full of introspective!

Although, you still want the scene to focus on the main (or one of the main) protagonists.

Girl smiling at herself in the mirror. Orange blouse, brown hair.

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

2. Rehearse

So often, writers (and audiences) believe that since you wrote it, you should know your novel forwards and backward.

But, even if you aren’t a writer, can you remember a joke you made 3 months ago? With the exact wording? Probably not.

I promise it isn’t the marker of a ‘fake’ writer or someone who’s ‘not meant to do this’. Most authors practice.

After several read-throughs, you’ll get to know how many pages will typically take you to the 1-minute mark, the 5-minute mark, or the 20-minute mark, whichever length of reading you’re preparing for.

Make sure to give yourself a little extra script if you need to be sure to fill the time. Nerves and a live audience make most people speed up, no matter how much they’ve practiced.

Feel free to give an intro and talk about the book and yourself and the story — not telling the backstory — but selling yourself and the novel! You don’t have to just read your story during a reading.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

3. Print it out and mark it up

A lot of authors print that scene out in the big font, so they don’t lose their place and mark it all up.

Put in pauses, when you raise your pitch, and when you lower your volume.

Highlight the different characters’ dialogue in different colors!

Whatever you need to make the reading more exciting to listen to.

4. Be EXPRESSIVE!

Use multiple voices! (Those ones you just highlighted in different colors)

Use over-exaggerated faces! (If you commit, so will your audience.)

E-nun-ci-ate! Make sure that you don’t turn your story into a mumble.

5 Bic pens fanned out. Green, black, pink, blue, and red.

All of my Bic editing pens. I meant to color code but haven’t really been doing that. Just using different colors for different things.

5. Don’t be afraid to EDIT THE SCENE

Wait. What?

I was stunned and yet it seemed so obvious when they mentioned this tip. I’d always imagined half the audience having the scenes memorized and ready to ding you if you misspoke a single sentence. But that’s not who you’re reading to!

This audience wants you to succeed. They showed up ready to be entertained and to have the experience of the words being spoken by the writer. To have something fresh and new!

If you’ve ever been to a concert, which is more exciting? A set playlist where everything is by the books and they wait exactly 90 seconds of applause before coming out for the ‘surprise encore’.  Or a band with a huge song list, picking and choosing which song they feel like tonight, with a more organic feel?

The audience is there for your take on it: the sound of foreshadowing in your voice, the excitement of the scene, the wrinkled nose in a character’s disgust at kiwi (what can I say, some characters have no taste!).

So make it easy for them to love your reading.

Cut the dialogue tags — especially if you’re using voices.

Do you have asides and mentions of side plots that aren’t relevant for this scene? CUT THEM!

Do you head-jump a lot and don’t have a full reading’s worth from one character’s point-of-view? Clip them together!

Make the scene as stand-alone as you can — except for that cliffhanger ending and leave ’em with your number buy links.


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These notes were taken from the #Balticon52 panel “Reading Your Own Work”. The panelists were Dave Robison, Starla Huchton, Valerie J. Mikles, Steven Howell Wilson, and moderated by Erin Kazmark.

 

If there’s a topic you’d love for me to talk about, feel free to comment below or email me at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com

A Starter’s Guide For Fiction Writers Trying To “Establish A Social Media Presence” Part 6

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Bonus  | Part 6

Part 6: Videos – YouTube+

Note: I know I’m talking about YouTube, just days after the San Bruno attacks. My heart goes out to those affected by the attacks.

I’ve talked about a LOT of social media forms. You might have wondered what could POSSIBLY be next?

Google+ or LinkedIn (Nah, although, I do cross-post my blog over there, for people who prefer those social media forms, they don’t seem active enough)

Goodreads? No, although, I’m there and in a few book clubs.I mostly use it to keep a presence, and stay accountable for my book-reading goals.

I’m pretty sure you’re all thinking “Um, Morgan, I think you’ve gone seriously overboard on this social media thing…” and you’re COMPLETELY right.

Today, though? Today, I’m going to be talking about VIDEOS. Both at Youtube and in other social media forms.


 

YouTube

YouTube is second only to Netflicks in using up bandwidth on the internet. It’s huge.

What’s more? Videos go viral all the time. New ones, old ones, quirky ones, it’s hard to know what’s going to be popular.

So, how do you get that to work for you as a writer?

I have a YouTube channel [Subscribe Here!] and, as I say in my episodes, it’s “my online blog, in video format.” So, if you’d rather listen to me ramble while doing other things, you totally can.

How To Start A YouTube Channel

A video channel should be approached like a website.

  • Pick a theme and stick with it
  • Pick an update schedule and stick with it
  • Pick a format and stick with it

(noticing a trend here?)

Step One – Check out the other Writer Vloggers

See what else is out there, see what other writers are doing, see if there’s a niche you can fill or a format you prefer for getting the information.

It’s hard to establish quality content if you don’t know what sort of options there are and what formats appeal to you.

Here’s a list of the top 15 from The Write Life.

Step Two – Set-up To Film A Vlog

Necessary equipment:

  • camera
  • microphone
  • a youtube account
  • preferably some WiFi to upload this thing, cause videos are large

Beyond that, all I use is a Logitech HD 1080p USB camera and 2 umbrella lights – all birthday presents from family – pictured above. Oh, and MS Paint.

Equipment to up your game:

  • umbrella lights
  • a webcam that isn’t built into your computer
  • a quiet space
  • video editing software
  • a microphone (maybe with pop filters!)
  • interesting-yet-not-distracting background (clean up trash, dirty clothes)
  • makeup – maybe even some if you’re not femme presenting. Minimalist suggestions are:
    • foundation to even out skin tone and get rid of shine
    • mascara to make the eyes pop
    • a touch of lip color, to define lips

Step Three – Filming

If you’re using a phone, TURN IT SIDEWAYS. No, really. Please.

I made that mistake my first time and now, for eternity, (or until I rerecord it) I’ll have those stupid black bars to my left and right–or worse, that double-image, zoomed in blur beside me.

  • 5-12 minutes is a standard video length. People have short attention spans.
    • If you have more, cut it into 2 parts! (Or more!)
  • Keep to the same format
  • Look the camera in the eye when you can try not to look like you’re reading your blog post. *looks around innocently*

I like to do 2-5 takes and just roll with the last take. I’m planning on experimenting with video editing software after I move at the end of the month.

A lot of the quality vloggers you see will have done several takes and will clip them together. BUT. They’ll change the camera angle between takes, so you get the feel of ‘time passing’ or something. It’s a format that seems to be popular, plus, it allows you the ability to cut out any dead-air time.

Step Four – Post-Processing

The easiest bit of post-processing I do is take a couple trial photos before I start my video.

Trial pictures let me

  • checks the lighting
  • check the umbrellas aren’t in the camera
  • check I don’t have food on my shirt
  • And? Allows me a couple photos to add my Vlog title to.

I literally open them in MSPaint, Impact size 48 or whatever the title on one side of me, and roll.

Yes, YouTube will give you freeze frames as the preview image, but usually, they’re the most awkward poses I’ve ever seen. Luckily, there’s a handy-dandy “upload preview” button so you can toss your new image in there.

This is when you’d cut together all those different takes from step 3. Maybe add some background music if you like that feel. Maybe just an intro bar or two of notes.

youtubeUploadButton

Step 5 – Uploading To YouTube

youtubeScheduleWhen I upload my videos, I make sure to click the drop-down and select ‘Schedule’. Once you start uploading, you can’t switch and the default goes live as soon as you hit publish.

I don’t want my videos to upload the second I’m done prepping them, I want them to post in the mornings, not somewhere between 10:30pm and 1am the night before the blog post goes live.

This is where you can add that title-added preview image.

Things I like to do with my videos:

  • Schedule them
  • Add preview image with my title on it
  • Add Tags
  • Add the video to my playlist, so people can subscribe to that [like here!]
    • You can have different playlists on the same channel
      • book reviews
      • writer tips
      • guitar playing
      • life updates
      • etc
  • Type up a short twitter-worthy shout-out to draw people in (with hashtags)
  • Give links to my other social media and the original blog post in the ‘about’ field

Things I’ve been testing recently.

  • I found the ‘default settings’ for uploads last week, where you can pre-load all your tags, all your repeated ‘about’ information, etc, so you don’t have to remember what tags you used last week.
  • How do you find out what tags you should use?
    • check out a popular vlogger who shares a lot of the same subject matter
    • in your browser settings, have ‘developer options’ turned on
    • hit F12 to view the page’s source code
    • hit ‘ctrl-F’ to open up search
    • type “tags”
    • copy-paste the list after the word [ make sure it seems to be a list of usable tags, the word may be in the source code more than once. If it’s not what you’re looking for, hit enter to move to the next entry.]

SnapChat and Instagram and Facebook

I’ve already talked about Instagram, but why is SnapChat even on this list?

For those who don’t know, SnapChat lets people message each other and the message immediately is deleted after they view it. It warns you if the other person screen-shots the message.

So, how does this grow your social media presence?

I personally don’t do it, and it may be more useful for artists, but you can upload STORIES. These are images, text, or VIDEOS that are shown to anyone OR everyone on your list–and they stay visible for a day.

If you have a following, uploading a ‘story’ or two a day can be a good way to interact and form a more personal feeling connection.

Instagram also allows stories to be shared and these are promoted posts.

And Facebook? Facebook LOVES videos. Unlike blog links, or worse PATREON links, Facebook doesn’t try to hide these as much.


YouTube and Facebook Live Video

These intimidate me, but they are growing in popularity and are given priority viewing on Facebook. If you find a time that’s good for a lot of your followers (plus, it can be viewed after the fact), it’s a great way to re-engage with your followers and be given priority viewing on both social media sites.

If you’re brave enough.


Putting yourself out there, creating content, and recording your image, voice, and thoughts for all of posterity is intimidating.

Every week, I strive to do a little better (or at least not worse) than the week before.


And that’s it.

The introduction to social media types. ALL OF THEM. (Or at least a good, wide-spectrum of them.)

If there’s any I skipped that you’d like me to talk about, feel free to ask in the comments.

If there are any tips you’d like to share, feel free to reach out!

Vlog – Reading Aloud

I like going to panels on ‘reading my own work’, dreaming about the day when I’m asked to give a book reading of my own.

Here are some tips from a workshop I attended at WorldCon75 entitled “Reading Your Own Work.”