This blogpost has some context, some not-so-humble-bragging, and a response to current events in the literary community. You have been warned.
WorldCon, the annual celebration of science-fiction and fantasy works, where all full members select and vote on the best works of the year, was supposed to be in New Zealand this year.
This, being 2020, CoNZealand was held virtually.
Thanks to many of their staffers helping out with Virtual Balticon, I wanted to return the favor. I offered to do a few moderation shifts on Discord and up to 4 hours a week of other work.
And then the training staff reached out — most of whom I had worked with at Balticon.
I ended up having over 34 hours of check-ins and training sessions, not counting showing up early, not counting staying late to debug issues.
I created a virtual tour because I knew from the past that the different technologies are confusing and intimidating at first. I, and another staffer, ran these twice a day, until the last day of the con.
This “new normal” might be temporary, but we’re not going back to the old ways of doing things. I’ve talked with staffers of various conventions about the tech, about the challenges, and I have a few predictions.
While hosting a fully in-person and virtual convention simultaneously may be beyond the staffing and budget reach of most conventions, I expect there to be some overlap.
Depending on the size convention, I expect at least one room set up for virtual panelists. I expect a chat app that people are on, maybe even upvoting questions during live panels. I expect, at first, the in-person attendance to be light, although the parties may be epic. I expect mask fashion to be the newest huge-geek-trend. I expect lots of hand sanitization and handwashing. And? If we’re lucky? More people paying attention to their health and less con-crud — i.e. the standard cold-or-worse many con-goers get when they’re attending in-person conventions.
But for now? For last week? It was all virtual.
I’d intended to teach beforehand and then attend panels, but when the zoom host schedule came out, so filled with holes, I couldn’t not step up. I trained 14 zoom hosts during the first 3 days of the con and did my best to support them as they went out into the field. Between supporting them, monitoring discord, and my own zoom room hosting, I was basically on duty 10 hours a day from Tuesday through Saturday.
That being said, I did make it to two events. I made it to a workshop I’d signed up for before the zoom host schedule even dropped, and I managed to watch the first two hours of the Hugo awards.
There’s been a LOT said about the Hugos and its Toastmaster, who’d been tasked with providing Hugo context to a lot of newcomers.
He also gave us a great, heaping scoop of the fandom that had been and whose shoulders we stand upon. Of the old guard.
I mourn the stories that were never shared because their writer wasn’t given the support, the market, the time away from paying bills or caring for family. The ones shut out because the market said they “just didn’t connect” with a story that was simply outside of their experiences.
I listened to our toastmaster’s stories and watched his hat changes. I watched as the internet boiled in rage that he couldn’t take 5 minutes to google a name pronunciation. I know where that rage comes from. But me? I think of the dad in Pleasantville, whose complacency with a world made for him is rocked when other people’s happiness starts to matter. These didn’t use to be the rules, but now the world has progressed beyond him.
And I watched the winners. In all their diversity, in all their talent, in all their JOY.
Winners so far out from the old guard, that they’ve probably got whiplash.
Now I like the idea of the sf community having its own awards. I like the idea of them being more accessible, not just pay-to-play.
But right now? The Hugo’s are still a big deal and, if we stop looking at who’s handing out these awards and look at what the community if voting for, if we look at who’s winning these awards? The sf community already has a foot into the future. And we don’t look like we’re turning back any time soon.
Every summer, the science-fiction and fantasy community gathers, anywhere in the world. This year? The site was supposed to be New Zealand — going where no WorldCon has gone before.
While the slogan still works, I didn’t get to go see Hobbiton, or fly for a day and a half. Instead, I get to meet and visit with all those fans online.
As the WorldCon staff helped out that Virtual Balticon I worked on Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to pay them back for their help.
I got in a bit over my head.
I’ve been helping train the panelists with zoom, I created a Virtual Tour demo that I’ve been running daily during the convention, and since the day the convention started (at least in my timezone), I’ve trained up over 10 new zoom hosts to help with staffing.
And of course, keeping an eye on the Discord and helping where I can. There were a lot of issues logging in, so helping people get started was a Herculean task that the staff deserves a whole bag of cookies for helping everyone they could through that rather messy process.
Not to mention, before I got on staff, I’d signed up to be a panelist. For the first day of the convention, I was on two panels: What To Expect When You’re Ready To Query and How To Establish a Social Media Presence.
Only one thing — in honor of the convention hosts, everything’s in New Zealand time!
So, that first panel with 3 other lovely panelists was at 9pm EDT, with a rather frazzled Morgan moderating, and I think it went quite well. My next panel? Was at 23:00 NZT — or 7am! I don’t get up that early for WORK.
So, I went to bed shortly after midnight, and eventually wound down enough to sleep, then rolled out of bed when my alarm went off.
Only to find that all of my other panelists had had to withdraw. So? It ended up being a 30-minute monologue before I opened to questions. This was a panel I had proposed, and I think we all know I can talk for a while. Thus, I opened up my outline from my A Starter’s Guide To Establishing a Social Media Presence (For Fiction Writers). While I know I’m far from an expert, I can definitely get you started. And? It seemed to be very well received, with some great questions.
Then, I went back to bed.
Today’s been busy, but fewer fires.
How’s your week been going? How’s your writing going?
As January firmly establishes itself, I’m finally ready to talk about what 2020 is going to look like for me.
Last year was intended to be a year of reading, revision, and reflection.
Thusly, I listed my goals:
As I shared last week, I did great on everything on that list — except my revisions and querying — you know, the parts of the list that actually get me closer to publication. Does anyone else see the problem here?
This year? This year my focus is on revisions and querying/submitting.
As always, I like to set SMART goals –
Specific – you’ll see numbers and dates!
Measurable – you’ll still see numbers and dates
Achievable – I set goals for things I have influence over. I’m aiming for an agent, getting something published, but unless I self-pub, I have no control over that.
Relevant – I’m keeping my exercise goals and healthy eating off this post. These are all about my writing, the relevance should be clear.
Time-sensitive – Obviously, these are intended to be completed in 2020, but some items may have specific dates associated.
So? Let’s take last year’s list and put it in a new priority order.
Last year’s goal of revising 3 full manuscripts was… ambitious. I clearly was thinking more about what it takes for me to edit (clean up a draft) than about what it takes to get feedback from others, integrate it, and polish the draft till it comes out in my voice.
The manuscript I had ready for querying last year is in the middle of revisions with my wonderful mentor. But? The mentorship officially ended last April, and, although she generously volunteered to keep at it with me, she has paying work that, of course, comes first. So? We’re working through my novel 30 pages at a time.
My hope is to have the revisions done by the end of May, when I hit Balticon. But, life happens. So, what can I do to speed up the process on my end? Make sure that the next 30 page chunk is as ready to go as I can make it before I get feedback from the previous section.
I’m cutting a secondary character’s role in the last 3rd of the journey, and changing the nature of the last leg of the journey quite a bit, so I already know a large part of the plotting changes. Plus, my mentor keeps reminding me to add visuals. As I’ve said before, I worry about what’s in the character’s head and the action. I forget people want to see the world itself. So, that’s my revision priority.
But, of course, there’s going to be some downtime.
To fill that in, I’ve been nudging my alpha reader who has my middle-grade contemporary fantasy (the school play story) and should hear back in the next week or so.
Also? Last year also included writing some short stories and some poetry. Between revising my middle-grade story and getting those shorts and poetry ready for publication, I’ve got a lot to work on.
2. Querying & Submitting
If you haven’t tried to get your work published before, this item might seem confusing. What’s the difference?
Querying is a intro-letter and first chapter or so that you send to a literary agent. Once you have an agent, they often make you do revisions, before submitting your work to a publishing house.
Why do you need an agent? There are many publishing houses that do not accept unagented work. Agents understand what your contract should look like and what is negotiable. Plus? The agent’s job is to know the market — and thus know what your book needs in order to best sell it — and to whom. Typically, you query 5-10 agents at a time.
Submitting a manuscript/short story/poem is what you can do to any editor/publisher who is open to it: publishers (who are open to unagented work), literary magazines, anthologies, etc.
When you’re sending a cover letter and your story to the place that will actually print/publish the piece, it’s called a submission. Typically, submissions are exclusive (unless the guidelines state otherwise), so you have to wait to hear back before you can send to another publisher.
This year, for my short stories and poetry, I’m going to try to get at least 5 stories ready for publication and submit them to at least 10 markets. At least half of those submissions should be before July, just to make sure I don’t forget to put myself out there.
With you, I’m finding an audience and, I hope, creating a community. You are the people whose queries I help polish as you look for an agent, whose books I add to my massive to-read pile, the people I feature in my Author Spotlights. Blogging puts me out there, keeps me accountable, and gives me a way to give back to the community.
Plus? I haven’t missed a week on my blog since February of 2016 (although, I have done reruns) nor a vlog-post since I started vlogging on June 27, 2017. So? I’d hate to break my posting streak! Thus, I’ll continue putting out a new blog/vlog every Thursday with writing tips or writerly musings.
I’m already off to a great start with this, but when I have them lined up, I’ll also be sharing Author Spotlights or Query Corners on Tuesdays.
I’m thinking of adding some Authortube videos of my massive to-read pile, or maybe an occasional brief weekly check-in since those were popular during NaNo. I just need to find a time that works every week for those, so I can schedule them in advance and make them interactive.
I did great on this one last year, but I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth. I had a lot of travel, and managed to hit 41 books, but there’s no guarantee this year will as generous. I even managed to read a decent amount of physical books — but a lot of those were new or re-reads. Not as many from my to-read pile as I’d like to admit.
So? I’m keeping my goal from last year of reading 26 books – a little more than two a month. This time? At least 10 of them should be physical and ALREADY on my bookshelf.
So far? I finished a short story collection I bought over the holidays AND read a book that’s been with me since before I moved. Not a bad start!
Yet again, writing is so far down my list!
I can hear your thoughts, your concerns. What’s wrong, Morgan? I thought this was your writing blog. Why isn’t this more writing focused? Do you want to be a blogger/vlogger more than a writer?
Well, first? Rewriting IS writing, and revisions are tops on my list. The goal is publication and I’ve got 4 manuscripts, 21+ short stories, and 30+ poems just waiting for a home.
More writing right now just means a larger backlog of things to be polished.
But! Never fear, I will be doing OctPoWriMo again — writing a poem a day for all of October. And then NaNoWriMo — writing 50,000 words in November. If I’m really stumped in November, I’ll rebel and revise either 5 shorts or a full manuscript. But, knowing me, I’ll probably make new words.
6. Beta Readers
I’ll be reaching out to beta readers as I wrap up my revisions on my middle grade novel, hopefully before August. Last year’s goals of having revisions of two different manuscripts done by May AND July were unrealistic.
As always, I like to keep my beta reader pool to no more than 8 readers, typically from different backgrounds. I usually give them separate copies, so that their feedback won’t influence each other.
I’m considering joining a local critique group and feel that short stories work much better in those venues than a full manuscript. Especially since I’m more interested in feedback on my pacing and characterization than the chapter itself. I guess it’s arrogance, but I think I know where my problem points lay.
On the flip-side, I’m now a contributing editor to The Oddville Press, an online literary magazine of odd, but not really fantastical tales. I’m also a regular beta-reader for my dad (who’s retired from a day job and enjoys filling my inbox). Not to mention, I have a few critique partners, and writer friends who have been known to reach out for feedback. I will try not to commit to more than 3 full length betas this year.
Actually, maybe I should have changed the name of this goal. This should be all the in-person writing goals. I aim to attend 6+ open mic nights, 4+ monthly writer meetings, try a critique group, and 3 NaNoWriMo events (kickoff, 1 write in, and the all-nighter till 11pm). Plus? Two+ conventions.
I intend to hit Balticon again (May) and — if everything works out — WorldCon (August) in New Zealand (!!). I submitted to be a panelist at Balticon again… and this time was accepted! And? I think they approved the panels I suggested (topics from this blog that I feel I can talk competently on, and that my unpublished perspective won’t be a detriment to my authority on the subject).
How do I know they approved them? They recruited me to be on their Programming team! (Apparently, after attending nearly 30 panels a year for the last 5 years, they suspected I might have opinions about what makes a good panel and who are the good panelists.) So, that’s another time commitment.
What does being on panels net me? Why do I want to do this?
First, it’s a greater reach for my blog and vlog. Plus, a larger audience when I do get published. Hopefully, a way to make more friends and supporters. Plus, a chance to talk about all the stuff I obsess over on my blog and on my vlog in person with actual people.
But how does attending conventions count as a writing goal? Isn’t it just fun?Or part of your social media addiction?
Well, if you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably noticed that over half the content is actually write ups from notes at convention panels! I attend the panels, for those who can’t (or don’t). Also? My sister teases me that I act like a teacher, trying to get her recertification credits, all in one weekend.
And? Well, I talked about it in my post on attending conventions, but, of course, there’s the networking aspect. The science-fiction and fantasy conventions I prefer are full of readers, writers, and even some publishers and agents!
As is becoming my trend, the first part of my year will be focused on revisions, the middle on conventions, and the end on writing. Plus, I’ll be reading and blogging and vlogging throughout the year.
Except December. I’m not a writer in December — everyone needs a chance to breath.
We’ll have to wait until next January to see if I had 2020 foresight.
Some people work with partners. And some people like to work with their romantic partner. But whether you’re romantically involved or not, there’s techniques that could work for you.
At WorldCon2019, Heidi Goody led the working couples of Peter Morwood and Diane Duane, plus Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner in discussing how to maintain working and romantic relationships — with the same person.
Maintain Separate Offices
In rural Ireland, Duane’s office is the living room and Morwood’s is the second bedroom.
When they’re working on a project together, they stay in their room and don’t talk. When it’s time to fraternize or collaborate, they meet in the kitchen.
In New York City, Sherman and Kushner mostly write separately — by hand — in their studies on opposite sides of the apartment. (They left Boston because they were “tired of being the most colorful couple in the room.”) They like to take long walks and discuss character building, writing theory, or whatever they’re working on.
Both couples find it hard to stop talking shop, but Sherman and Kushner find it helps to have other passions.
Duane and Morwood’s biggest interruptions are the neighbor’s loud sheep. Known to the neighbors as “The Trekkie’s”, they’re considered boring because they don’t raise sheep or horses.
How Their Writing Partnerships Began
On Morwood and Duane’s honeymoon, her book was late, so they wrote it together. It helps that Duane is a big outliner, especially for screen. As she says, screen writing is very formulaic.
For Sherman and Kushner, a year or so after they moved in together, they learned to negotiate through writing. But for them, it is the ‘Spirit of Fun!’ Like playing Barbies together.
Sharing Drafts and Blending Portions
Some people consider their drafts sacred, others see theirs as horrible piles of —
Duane never shows her rough draft to another human soul. The next draft though is fine.
Morwood doesn’t count how many drafts he goes through. As he says, “I’m a professional.”
Sherman and Kushner typically have interweaving plotlines, with Kushner woking on the more social scenes, while Sherman works on the academic ones (when they started collaborating, she had just graduated and had scores to settle.)
When writing each other’s characters, the other keeps the veto power. They do their best to keep personal ego out of the story — only really argueing over semicolons.
When it comes time to edit, Sherman reads aloud to Kushner, her bits and the printouts. Although, Sherman is stronger on description, while Kushner does dialogue, when they revise drafts, they overwrite each other. By 5 drafts in it’s fully blended.
Morwood and Duane work together similarly. Plus, they’re pretty good literary mimics. One usually has veto power. Duane is best at plotting and screen writing. Morwood has veto power on fight scenes and tactics.
Just remember when collaborating, there are competing needs for validation, love, and “listen to MY story.”
Music to Collaborate to?
Duane stopped listening to music — it interfered with her dialogue. But movies work fine for her as background.
Kushner used to listen to music, although it couldn’t be in English or had to be something she knew inside and out. Now, she writes at home in silence.
Morwood listens to tons of things, but turns off his Audible when writing dialogue. He likes to have Dragon Naturally Speaking play back his dialogue to him.
Sherman and Duane both like to write in cafes, with that background chatter, gathering faces for characters. If Sherman can’t have that, she needs complete silence.
When deadlines are piling up, Duane will go to a friend’s flat in the middle of no-where-Switzerland for weeks, while Kushner will head off to a friend’s house. The change of location helps with productivity. No chores — or partner — around to distract.
Collaboration can be a tricky beast. Have you worked on a collaborative work? What techniques worked best for you?
Have you worked with a romantic partner? Did it strain your relationship?
Some books are straight up romances, some have no romantic dealings at all, but for everything in between, they’ve probably got a romantic sub-plot (or two) simmering in the background.
At WorldCon2019, PRK, Kate Johnson, Darlene Marshall, and Elliot Kay shared their tips for creating a successful romantic subplot.
The Rules Of Romance
Romance might get a bad rap in some circles, but romance is what keeps publishing in business, and it’s the mother of all genres when you look at sales.
Romance novels come in all stripes and colors, but they have two things that unify them:
The love story is central to the plot – i.e. the plot doesn’t work without the romance
An optimistic ending – these days, it doesn’t have to be happily ever after, but it needs to be happy-for-now, or at least romantically satisfying
The typical plot of a Romance novel is predictable
The romantic partners come together
Something separates them
They come together again
There’s a black moment when we think all is lost
Then, there’s the optimistic/happy ending!
We know the plot of a romance novel, what makes them enjoyable is the journey.
There are certain tropes that some people love to see over and over again. While other tropes are things that have been done to death — or are only enjoyable when there’s a fresh twist.
Our panelists shared a few of their favorites
Enemies to lovers/Friends to lovers – i.e. Shards of Honor by Lois Bujold
Alpha male – but easy to over do
Flipping gendered expectations
Note: This includes romances that aren’t heterosexual, or cis-gendered, or have more than two partners. – i.e. Starless by Jacqueline Carey, and KJ Charles’s work.
Both main characters are out to get the same things,\ and keep bumping into each other.
When the love interest redeems THEMSELVES, after seeing their flaws reflected back at them. i.e. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre
And least favorites:
No communication. The romance just happens!
This leads to readers forming unhealthy expectations about their relationships!
Also! If the plot hinges on a misunderstanding that could be fixed with 3 minutes of conversation (that would be normal to do in this situation), it’s a bad plot.
They’re only mean because they likes you
She’s here to redeem HIM
Killing her to provide motivation for the main character to grow
Writing Good Chemistry!
They didn’t give us too many tips. Just: if it’s fun for you (as a writer) and it works emotionally for you… it should be fine!
Chemistry can be sexual and/or romantic. In real life, asexual (Ace) people sometimes are interested in romance, even when they’re not interested in the X-rated stuff. So, characters can be written to reflect reality.
Communication and consent are key! When both characters are eager to take the next step, the relationship should blossom.
Claire O’Dell’s Janet Watson Chronicles
JD Robb’s In Death series
Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens
Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart A Doorway
The Romantic Subplot Doesn’t Have To Work Out
Even in romance novels, there can be secondary romances that don’t work out.
Short term relationships
Breakups, where it just didn’t work
Chick-lit has tons of this. You’ll see the main character with tons of bad — or at least not right for her — partners.
Speaking of other genres, these days, it can be tricky to tell if you’re reading a romance or not — especially when you wade into the urban fantasy and paranormal romance corner. Kate Johnson shared her secret trick for determining, just by the cover, which is which. The paranormal romance has a topless guy on the cover, while the urban fantasy has a tattooed chick on the cover.
When she told us that, I closed my eyes and pictured the books on my shelves, and burst out laughing. She’s got it right.
If you want to write more diverse characters, read #ownvoices works, research, talk to people who can share their lived experiences (don’t make assumptions), and pay sensitivity readers!
Write the book you want to write, your tropes will dictate the marketing.