Morgan’s Convention Recap For Balticon 53

After 4 days and over 24 hours of panels, events, and parties, I’m home from Balticon.

I may have overdone it a touch, even though this clearly wasn’t my first time. But! I definitely followed my own rules and didn’t miss more than 1 shower, 1 meal, or one-half of a night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, when you’re going all out like this, it can make you more vulnerable to a thing called “con crud”. Usually, an unpleasant cold, but can be quite dangerous for people with compromised immune systems. I know it stinks, especially after having waited all year and paid your fees but if you’re sick, stay home. Or wear a mask and haul around hand sanitizer.

In the coming months, I’ll be sharing my notes from the panels that I can. Some panels make for poor posts, and I don’t blog workshops or lectures as those belong to a certain person or are focused more for participants. But, here’s the high-level overview of the ridiculousity that I got up to over Memorial Day Weekend.

Friday:

I was off to a late start getting to Balticon, including a car fire blocking 2 lanes during errands, before I even managed to head out. I’ve been listening to Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Brightness Long Ago, narrated by Simon Vance — both of whom I was on a voice acting panel with last November. I hadn’t listened to an audiobook in nearly 10 years, but thanks to an extra two hours of traffic, I made significant progress. It definitely kept the traffic from aggravating me.

Once at the hotel, I determined that my roommate’s assessment of “I think I put your name on the room” was mistaken. So, I left my bags with the concierge and went to registration. 10 minutes later, we were well into the 4 o’clock hour, so that helped lower the 65-panels-in-35-time-slots that I’d been eyeing, down to 63 panels in 34 time slots.

I checked out the dealers room, then hit my first panel of 5 for the night. In the midst of those panels, I got my room situation sorted out (“missing” another panel slot).

After a couple panels, I ran into my roommate/dad and he invited me to join him and few friends of his for dinner. By the time we all gathered and seated, there were only 15 minutes before a friend of mine was having a reading. So? I hit the buffet and asked for my check by the time everyone had gotten drinks and were placing their orders.

All-in-all on Friday, I attended “Logistics and Tactics: Writing Campaigns”, “CSI: Fantasy Edition”, an author reading with Doc Coleman, Jamaila Brinkley, and Mike Ventrella, “Writing Motivation for Doomsday Cults”, and a filk tribute to Mars and the Opportunity Rover.

Saturday

My morning started off with “But I’m Not A YA Author: Women in Speculative Fiction”, “How To Be A Good Moderator” (for that eventual day when I’m a longed-for panelist), and “Principles of Roman Hairstyling” Having loved Janet Stephen’s Youtube channel, I was excited to watch her presentation live.

I kept a bit busier on Saturday. My lunch break was carrots, humas, and pita in my room during a reluctant, but necessary break.

Next up were “Practicing Your Pitch”, “Dynamic Voice Acting”, “Improving Your Pitch”, and “Investigating Mysteries: Out-of-the-box thinking that solved strange cases” (by a hoax investigator).

I’d suggested to my dinner compatriots that we ORDER chinese, rather than go out, since so many wanted to be back in time for the Masquerade (or panels, in my case). We ended up letting the organizer know what our orders were at the meet up time, and then they insisted on walking over and ordering the food in person. Um, calling, then walking over could have saved 10 minutes! Ahhh, not everyone is a wiz with logistics, like I am. After a somewhat scattered dinner, I helped carry the cake and snacks up to the room for the DC 2021 party I’d help host later.

I did make it to a reading, featuring Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Keith DeCandido, and Ben Rovik, with a choose-your-own-adventure story, that was directed by audience acclaim. I, and the rest of the audience greatly enjoyed all the readings.

Outside of the convention that evening, there was a bit of concern, where two groups of Baltimore teens apparently crashed? I heard several things, from flash mob that was heavily monitored, to Prom kids hitting other teen clusters and clashing? I do know people were being arrested, and that the hotel closed off the doors on that side of the building, trying to keep us away from the disturbance. :/

Safely inside, I headed off to my rooms to help host the DC WorldCon 2021 “bid party”.

I showed up to the room party just as it started and slipped into my dragon costume. The party was snacks and drinks and letting people sign up for early memberships, if they were interested. And cake!

As no one is running against DC and it would be local for most attendees of Balticon, we had no detractors that I’m aware of.

Sunday

I woke early, with some thoughts on my roommate’s pitch I’d heard the day before in one of the pitch workshops. (You might have noticed that I’m addicted to rewriting queries…) Scribbling frantically on my notepad, I waved a roommate on into the shower, then realized my 1st intended panel was at 10, not 11! And my shoes were in the bathroom! I pulled my hair back, tossed on a dress, and got there just after the intro for the “Architecture and World building Workshop”. After that let out, I headed back to the room to get more properly bathed and dressed. As a button-eyed-doll.

Podcasting 101 was near my room, and I got drawn in, even though the panel was half-done by then…

Morgan, in a red dress, covered by a white apron, dark glasses, with white button eyes. Her brown hair is in pigtails, with yarn hair-falls

My afternoon was, surprise, surprise, full of panels. I hit “Advancing the Story Without Traumatizing Your Characters”, “YouTube Survival Guide”, the artist Guest of Honor’s slide show, discussing his collaboration with the late, great Ursula LeGuin. Then, to make sure I learn to do better “Consent Violation and Bystander Interventions”. After that, with the hope of figuring out the real difference, I attended “Coming-of-Age vs YA”. “Improving Your Readings” was a solid panel (but I thought it was going to be a workshop), and I enjoyed a story hour at the “Myths and Folktales of the Igbo people”.

I may have overdone it. There wasn’t really a lunch break, or even a bio break in there. I darted outside to find quick food. There was a cop car parked on the corner sidewalk with two young officers. I asked where the Subway was. They pointed around the corner, where it lay in plain sight. And one of the officers asked if my costume was from Coraline and smiled when I said “yes”.

The Subway had no line! I did spot another pair of cops patrolling on the backside of the hotel when I returned. Clearly, trying to avoid another evening like Saturday’s.

I scurried back into the hotel and managed to stay for most of the first half of the eBook’s massive launch party event in the Con Suite. (Although, they had food, so maybe I should have scrounged. But, my sub was mostly healthy, so we’ll dub it a decent call.) I got to hear a reading, and joined a few people at their table so I could sit. Excellent conversations! But, of course, I ducked out before the raffle, because there were MORE panels!

Next up was “Sex, Sexuality, and Worldbuilding”. Excellent moderation kept it useful for writing instead of falling down the very easily found rabbit holes. And then, “This Kaiju Life LIVE!” a hilarious podcast about government bureaucracy, with a Dilbert-esque main character and tons of crazy shenanigans.

Then? It was time for the DC 2021 party REDUX, because we had food and drink leftovers to spare. I was in and out a bit. But, got complimented on my vlog by one of the guests, which made my night. Clean-up was smooth.

Monday

Holy bleep, Morgan! There’s MORE?

Not that much.

I woke up in time for “The Future of Podcasting” (when my sniffles started to show up), packed and wandered. Then hit “Mythology, Philosophy, and Video Games” — which was a discussion, not a panel. Because I hadn’t been on the room reservation, I hadn’t gotten my parking validated, so I took care of that and dropped off my bags. I’d intended to hit some more panels, but by then, I was starting to fade. So, I reluctantly skipped “The Good Place as Dystopian Fiction” and headed out.

Morgan, hair pulled back, in a blue t-shirt with white letters: "Writing is my JAM!"

I was blessed with a smooth drive home — 2 hours shorter than the drive up — I finished my audio book 5 minutes after getting home. After messaging my thanks on the Baltimore Science Fiction Society‘s facebook page, my sinus pressure turned into a headache and the cold hit in full force. I’d gotten home just in time. And it was time to nap.


All-in-all? Another excellent convention. Far too many great panels — especially at the same times and/or at meal-times!

Looking forward to overdoing it again, next year.


Have you ever attended a convention? How did YOU fill your time?

Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll be starting on sharing these panel notes next week.

Yes, You Can Be a Writer –Even Without A Visual Imagination

Not everyone has a visual imagination.

Apparently, there are many of you out there who can ‘see’ the story in your heads like you’re watching a movie.

Not me.

I know I’ve addressed this before, but until I started writing and talking to other writers, I’d always thought that was figurative. Not literally what was happening in other people’s heads.

I think my imagination is more story-board, sketches, and background plotting. Just like much of my writing is in my main character’s head, much of my imagination is… well… in these almost famous words

“I read and I know things.”

-(not quite) Hermoine Granger

It’s hard for me to describe my imagination to you visual people. I like to say that my imagination is more “conceptual.” Even in my dreams.

When dreaming (or novel plotting) I don’t SEE the color green, I just know that the wall is green. If a person in my dreams is walking out the door — I can know where they’re going and why and how they’re feeling… But, the figure is more of an outline sketch. Not quite a shadow.

I read ridiculously fast — some of it is probably skimming, but I spent several summers playing with a ‘learn to speed read’ kit my grandmother had. I read for the plot, I dive through dialogue.

If I hit dense description? It slows me waaaaaay down.

Game of Thrones, anything with complicated battle scenes, very lyrical and densely described worlds. My brain just doesn’t process those at the same rate.

Luckily for me, this doesn’t mean I can’t picture images in my head, but it takes a lot of focus. And I’m still not 100 percent sure it’s not me reading the image’s “legend” to know what color goes where. (All of this is probably a minor form of the condition: aphantasia.)


Today, I ran across a friendly blogger who took it as a matter-of-course that writers can visualize plots like movies. And I had to correct him, despite agreeing with the rest of his post.

He replied, accepting that not all writers were that visual. But, he went on to say that he was, because he plays D&D and writes fantasy.

Worn stop sign, in front of trees, a solid white wall half hiding a brick building.
Photo by Mwabonje on Pexels.com

Uh. Hard stop there.

Oh, honey.

I create worlds and cultures and windswept plains. I build trade routes, and religions, and nations. And I play D&D every month.

Not having a visual imagination doesn’t keep my imagination grounded, by any means.


But, occasionally I need a crutch. When I need to describe a person or place, I’ll google image search until I find something that feels right for my world or my characters. I mean, isn’t that what Pinterest is for?


Do you have a visual imagination? Let me know!

If not, how does your imagination manifest itself for you?

Dealing With The Emotional Roller-Coaster of Being A Writer

Being a writer, especially one with internet access, can be a complete roller-coaster of emotions.

Of course, we knew before we begin dreaming of writing that book reviews could be the height of joy or the depths of crushing blows. But, it used to be that you’d only see the professional reviews and could ignore them if you wanted.

Nowadays, it would be better (and less distracting) if writers only knew what people thought of their writing when they had the energy and focus to go look, and prepare to improve their craft.

NOT distracting them from what they’re in the middle of.

NOT when they’ve had a rough day of writing and feel like maybe they should throw the towel in.

NOT when life is dragging them down, and the internet’s nasty review is ready to kick them when they’re already down.

But, when you’re a writer, there’s so many other things that can bring you up and crash you down.

In the past week? I’ve been all over the place. Often on the same day.

My most recent roller-coaster of emotions

UPS:

Last week? I entered an overnight flash fiction contest — and WON! Well, I won a free book and bragging rights, but it’s still something.

DOWNS:

Then I got home to find heavy feedback from my mentor.

When I reread the passage? I couldn’t believe I’d sent that to her. I’d remembered the passage having been edited and being dark — yes. But, a rather different flavor of dark.

I dragged my feet getting back to those edits.

BOTH:

The next day, a dear writer friend, with a story pitch that harkens to one of my favorite moves, announced that she’d been offered representation by an agent.

She’s worked hard, reworked her novel, and dealt with some setbacks. I was so proud and excited for her.

But?

I was also jealous and frustrated to be stuck in revisions. Again.

Writing Requires Resilience, Persistence, and
Perseverance

Resilience

the capacity to recover from set-backs. Like facing that scene and editing it into something I can be proud of and eager to show my mentor.

Like recognizing my jealousy and longing to be at the same stage as my friend whose most recent query netted her an agent. And accepting the fact that I want to make my novel better before I enter the query trenches again.

Persistence

firm continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty. I keep writing and putting my work out there.

For that flash-fiction contest? It’s usually posted on Fridays, and open for submissions on Saturdays, for 24 hours. So many times, I’ve created an entry, and then forgotten to post it. But, I still keep my eye on it, and still draft up entries on Fridays.

For my writing? After reading my writing and recoiling in horror, I let that settle in me for a bit. After a day or so, I cracked open that manuscript to see what I could do. And revised it, until I was something I was happy to share with my mentor.

But you know what? I think I can do better. I’m going to edit that chapter again.

And for querying friend? I’m so proud of her and I can’t wait to be in her shoes again. I know I’ll be ready to put myself back out there, when my time comes.

Perseverance

persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

My win? It took a bit to get there.

I tried to post from my phone, but it wouldn’t let me. I tried again hours later, and still nothing. I borrowed a friend’s ipad, logged into an incognito window, and finally managed to get my 100 word entry entered.

Several finalists were announced, and the judge asked for input. No one voted for mine. A couple people wanted me to explain in.

Despite the lack of votes and assurance, I found comfort in making it to the finals, and despite all odds? I WON!

As for my writing. I’m going to keep at it. Querying when I can, polishing the rest until it’s something no one can resist — and they start begging for more.

And for my writing friends? I’m going to be there to celebrate their wins, share their writing with the world, and lend an ear whenever stress or setbacks send them reeling.


What sort of emotional roller-coasters have you been on lately?

Do you ever worry you won’t be able to handle it, when your writing gets popular? 😉

6 Things I’ve Learned By Attending Book Launches

This week, I managed to go to the book launch of “Struggling With Serendipity“, a memoir from a blogger I’ve been following for 3 years.

In the past, I’ve made it to book launches at conventions (The Perils of Prague and TV Gods) and I volunteered at the book launch of The Cursed Child (mostly because I missed the original Harry Potter launch parties and wanted to see what one might have looked like).

I’ve attended book signings — for authors AND web comic artists. And while lower key, these have some overlap.

Some were book signings with a reading first, some were book signings with actors and performances, some were open room parties with snacks and a credit card machine if you wanted to buy, and some were fun and games with the books off to the side, waiting for you to feel obliged to at least check out the reason for the event.

No two launch parties have been the same, but there are usually some overlaps.

1 – You Need To Advertise

If people don’t know it’s happening, they can’t come.

2 – Pick A Good Location

Pick a location that will appeal to your audience (and a good time of day)

  • If the story is based in your hometown, you’re going to have some local appeal there.
  • If your fanbase is full of people who love conventions, have your book launch at a convention.
  • If your book is for kids, have it at a kid-based festival, where they’re already going. Or at a school book fair.

3 – Be Prepared To Extrovert

If you can’t do it all yourself, bring backup. You want to be able to welcome people in, or call bypassers over (in a friendly, but not aggressive manner. Especially in a dealers’ room, you don’t want to tick off your neighbors).

You want to put out a warm and welcoming atmosphere that makes people comfortable asking the question, “so, what’s your book about?”

And?

You’ve got to be able to answer that, in one sentence or less, in such a way that more-people-than-not will want to know more.

4 – Do Something

You can’t just show up with a book, at a book launch, and expect to sell. Otherwise, you might as well just be a seller. What makes this a LAUNCH?

You can have free snacks or cake! You can have swag (magnets, bookmarks, etc).

You can have a raffle for a free copy!

You’re probably going to want to read an excerpt from your novel. Have a section — preferably near the beginning if it’s a novel — that requires minimal explanation. Best are scenes with dialogue, world building, and maybe even some action.

If you’re selling your book, be sure to offer to sign it! Maybe even personalize it. [If there’s a huge crowd, have paper for people to write their names on, so you can spell them right].

5 – Bring Your Friends and Family

Some of you might have the mistaken impression that your friends and family aren’t ‘real’ fans, they’re obligatory fans, and that you have to have strangers there to endorse you.

LIES!

People are busybodies and herd animals. If we hear someone else being excited about something, we’ll probably take a look.

I’ve seen book signings, down around the corner from the actual event, where fans had trouble finding them. If you’re sitting quietly at a table, people might not realize something’s going on.

If I had nightmares, I’d have them about book signings where no one shows up.

So? Bring your own party!

Either you have company while you’re stuck at a table. Or you have enthusiastic fans who can talk you up and run for drinks, pens, and your backup box of books.

Let your friends and family fete you! But if it’s open to the public, make sure you’re welcoming, without a cliquish vibe.

6 – Bring Your Own Supplies

Make sure you have everything you need!

  • A box of your own books (small or large, you should at least have some on you)
    • Even if your book launch is at a bookstore, sometimes the shipment doesn’t come in. Sometimes, they sell out. Having backup helps keep things less stressful for everyone.
  • Quick drying pens (or markers — whichever you prefer). With backup ones, in case one dies.
  • Business cards

Next? Things that can make a book launch go better

  • Swag – bookmarks, postcards, pens, magnets, whatever
  • A banner and/or table cloth
  • A candy bowl (for guests) — they usually feel obligated to at least HEAR your pitch if they snag a chocolate
  • Your own drink and snack — talking is thirsty work.

Plus, if you’re doing your own sales:

  • A decent amount of change for the standard ATM $20
  • A credit card reader
  • A spare battery pack for your phone

As you should know, I’ve never actually held my own book launch, I’ve just been taking notes from those I’ve made it out to.

I like to attend the book launches for people I know or read. I want to encourage them! And… I want some good karma saved up for when it’s my turn.


If you’ve attended — or HELD! — a book launch, let me know!

What do you like?

What do you hate at book launches?

What Type of Writing Mentor Do You Need?

Writing is often thought of as a solitary activity.

But?

It doesn’t have to be!

There are a lot of writing communities out there: online, writer groups, critique groups, and more!

And sometimes? If you have the opportunity to reach out to someone at the next stage of their writing, you can find a mentor.

Not all mentors are created the same, and not all mentors are right for you.

What to look for in a mentor

1 – They Write In Your Genre

Before anything else, you need a mentor that knows your genre. Managing expectations is key. Yes, you want novels that have twists and turns. Yes, you can have novels that push the boundaries.

But. You should still write with a reader in mind, even if that reader is you.

A picture book is going to look different than a cozy mystery is going to be different than an epic fantasy. If your mentor doesn’t write in your genre, they might miss you overdoing a trope, or get confused with why there are dragons.

2 – What Writing Strength Compliments Yours?

Writers typically have a particular strength.

3 Main Writing Strengths:

  1. World Building – these writers build worlds that are complex. Fully three-dimensional immersive worlds that fascinate, without breaking the readers sense of disbelief.
  2. Plot – these writers have intriguing plots that carry you along for the ride. You just have to find out what happens next.
  3. Character building – these writers create characters that you just can’t leave.

If you’re comfortable with your world building, you’re likely going to want a mentor who is strong in plotting or character building. You’re going to want someone who can bring your other aspects up to the level of your greatest strength.

3 – What Writing Style Complements Yours?

Besides looking at your strengths, you also have to be aware of your writing style.

3 Main Writing Styles

  1. Sensory – these writers create meals you can taste, outfits you can feel exactly where they itch, songs you can sing. This often compliments a world-builder, but not always. The biggest thing these writers need to look out for is losing sight of the plot and having the reader lose the plot. These writers often need to trim words.
  2. Screen play – these are the writers that show every stage direction, but don’t give you motivation or thoughts. These can have great action sequences, but can give the reader trouble connecting to the characters. These writers often need to fill in detail and round out their world.
  3. Lost In Thought – these writers let you into the main character’s head (1st person or close 3rd point-of-view). They share the character’s thoughts, feelings, observations and rationalizations. But, sometimes the characters aren’t that observant and you miss sensory detail and action. These writers often need to both trim down the thoughts, and add in sensory and action.

Just like with writing strength, finding a mentor with a style that compliments yours can help fill in the aspects that you don’t focus on.

4 – What writing stage are you in?

You want a mentor who is ready to help you with the writing stage that you’re in. One that is comfortable with whatever stage you need to get through next.

We already know there are tons of writing stages and we all have our unique strengths and weaknesses.

Writing Stages:

  1. Writing — looking for someone to bounce ideas off of
  2. Revision — looking for someone who can recognize plot holes, pacing issues, and unneeded tangents.
  3. Editing — looking for someone who in attentive to phrasing, word flow, and dialogue. Who can notice inconsistencies in voice and tense.
  4. Querying — looking for someone who’s queried in the last 10 years: they’ll know the market, the trends, and the process better than someone who pre-dates the predominance of email queries.
  5. Publishing — looking for someone who’s been published the way you’re being published. Indie, small press, and trad(itional) publishing all have different benefits and detriments, so you’ll want someone who can guide you through whichever publishing route you ended up going.
  6. Marketing — looking for someone who knows what works, and what doesn’t work in your specific market — both genre and publishing-style-wise. Different markets work differently.

Some can mentor you through all stages, whereas others are more comfortable with particular aspects of the process.

Beware: Things To Watch Out For

All that said, even mentors that compliment you well might not be right for you. Here are some things to watch out for:

  1. Mentors who don’t get your story, even after explanations. They won’t be able to offer usable feedback.
  2. Mentors who are not responsive. This one’s self-explanatory.
  3. Mentors whose feedback doesn’t bring out the best in you. For some? Some ignore soft feedback, some find sharp criticism either makes them want to give up or dig in their heels and justify themself.
  4. Mentors who love everything or hate everything. There’s always stuff you can improve, but if they hate everything, it can be hard to figure out where to focus your attention.
  5. Mentors who are abusive. If you leave conversations from them feeling personally attacked and beaten down, if they’re assholes to you or others — you do not owe them. You can end a mentorship relationship at any time. CAVEAT: The writing community is small. If you’re worried about repercussions, break off a relationship in whatever way makes you feel most safe. You can politely thank them for their time and tell them that you want to go in a different direction, or that you need a break from your writing. Or? You can tell them where they can shove it.

Where To Find a Mentor

There are lots of places to look for a mentor, but many organizations offer mentorship opportunities.

  1. Twitter contests — such as #PitchWars, #WriteMentor, and more.
  2. Professional organizations – the writing society for your genre. (Google knows the way).
  3. Local Writing Clubs
  4. Online Communities
  5. Teachers – Take some writing classes and see if you find a teacher you work well with (or even fellow classmate).

Do you have a mentor? Where did you find them?

Have you ever had to ‘fire’ a mentor? I’d appreciate hearing about other warning signs but understand discretion.