Saturday, November 29, 2008

Advice From Editors: Conflicted?

Just wanted to let people know that my new post is up over at the editor co-op blog, The Blood-Red Pencil. Conflicting Advice: Emerging Authors Want To Know! is about what to do when an editor's advice conflicts with your own ideas about how a story should go, or what to do when different editors disagree about a story's construction.

And don't forget to check out Mayra Calvani's interview from yesterday. A great travel story, suggestions for writing book reviews, and advice on how to juggle several genres all rolled into one!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Interview with Mayra Calvani on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Mayra Calvani, book reviewer and author of the recently released The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing (and many other books!).

You're currently on a blog book tour for your book The Slippery art of Book Reviewing. How is that going for you? Any tips for others interested in blog book tours? Where was your last stop, and where are you headed next?

First of all, thanks for hosting me on my virtual book tour, Emma. It’s great to be a guest on your blog. My blog tour is going well. It’s been very busy! One thing I would advise anyone considering a virtual book tour is to drop everything else in order to focus on answering interviews, writing guest posts, promoting the tour and interacting with people who leave comments under the posts. All this can be very time consuming! And to think I was considering doing Nanowrimo at the same time. I had to drop Nano on the fifth day of November. It was simply too hard to do both at the same time.

Yesterday's tour stop was at Joyce Anthony's blog. Tomorrow's will be at Broad Universe.

I've reviewed a few books on my blog to date, and it seemed pretty easy. I mean, I've written things such as "I liked this book because it was a fun story about a cool girl going on a grand adventure." Okay, so I admit I'm a novice, and maybe there's more to it than that. Am I at least headed in the right direction? What are the basics that I need to know?

You’re certainly in the right direction, Emma! But there’s a difference between simply giving an opinion about a book (which is also fine, by the way!) and writing a book review—though a book review is ultimately a person’s opinion. A review goes a bit further in that it analyses the author’s writing and style.

A good book review, whether short or long, is a well-written, honest, thoughtful evaluation of a book, one that points out the good and the ugly. If negative, a good review must also be tactful. I usually, though not always, follow a simple formula for a review, something I learned from Alex Moore, Book Review Editor of ForeWord Magazine: An interesting lead or quote; a short summary of the plot (without ever giving away spoilers or the ending); an evaluation supported by examples or quotes; and a recommendation (or not). A review is written for the reader/consumer in mind, and must help them decide whether or not the book is worth their time and money. It goes without saying that a good review should be free of spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. Finally, a good review should engage the reader, should hold the reader’s interest and attention.

Do you have a tip from your book that you can share here? Or maybe half a tip? You know, to get people hooked?

Whenever possible, try to specify the intended readership. Some books are specialized and appeal to only one group of people. Even if the book has some poor qualities, it might still be of interest to some readers. For example, a mediocre novel about the life of a violin player may be of interest to violinists and musicians, something worth mentioning at the end of a non-enthusiastic review.

Another tip: If you read all kinds of books, then review all kinds of books, but if you mostly read books in one genre, then it’s more sensible to only review books in that genre. If you hate fantasy, for instance, then there’s no point in reviewing fantasy books. Your reviews will have more insight, more “meat” when you’re familiar with other authors and books in that particular genre. Your awareness of trends and the current market will allow you to compare the book to others in the same field. Likewise, if you have read many books by one particular author, reviewing a new book by this author will let you place his new work within his other body of work, which is always a good touch in a review.

You've had a few fiction books published. What made you decide to do a non-fiction book? Was it for money? Fame? Intellectual curiosity? Something else?

I know people who have been following my tour will find this answer repetitive… Actually, I came up with the idea to write this book in the middle of the night. I woke up and heard a ‘voice’: You must write a book on how to write book reviews. From that moment on, I was incredibly motivated and didn’t stop until the book was written. Inviting Anne K. Edwards to co-author the book with me was a great idea. We worked superbly together and we able to complement our ideas in order to achieve a more complete final work. What I missed, she brought up, and vice versa. I was also motivated by the idea of writing a nonfiction book and by the fact that there wasn’t any other book available on the subject. But I had never considered doing this until that night.

Within the realm of fiction, you've dabbled in an impressive array of genres. What inspired you to do this? Do you worry that you might get "branded" as a certain type of author, and have trouble promoting all your different works? For example, the children's/Dark romance is an interesting combination. I ask because this is a personal worry of mine!

I know writing both horror and children’s books is an interesting combination, and that it’s then difficult to ‘brand’ myself as a writer—especially since I use my real name for both genres. But I don’t really care about branding. I care about inspiration and writing. I like the freedom to write what I like. Many things inspire me and I just follow that. So it isn’t a conscious decision. I write what I enjoy writing, as simple as that. And I can switch from my horror-writing mode to my children’s-writing mode in a second. No problem at all. I feel totally comfortable in both genres. In a way, it’s soothing and stimulating for the mind, to be able to delve in different genres.

You've traveled a lot, and lived in many places. Did your traveling affect your decision to become a writer? Has it affected your writing? Do you have any fun travel stories to tell?

I’ve lived in Puerto Rico, the US, Turkey and Belgium and I’ve traveled to many parts of Europe and the Middle East. Yes, traveling and seeing different cultures have influenced my writing enormously. Turkey, especially. My horror novel, Dark Lullaby, is set in Turkey and deals with Turkish myths and folklore.

I do have a fun story to tell! When I first went to live in Turkey I was a newly wed and didn’t know anything about cooking. One night we had guests so I decided to make, among other things, a lentil soup. I assumed the lentils were clean and simply ‘dumped’ them directly from the plastic container into the pan. Later, after I served the meal and we were sitting at the table, my guests started to ‘choke’ on little stones that were in the soup. The lentils were mixed with stones! None of the stones ended up in my bowl—they all ended in the guests’ bowls! Unlike in the US, where grains like rice and beans are filtered and cleaned before packing, in Turkey it is the cook who has to do the filtering! My sister-in-law was so kind that, to protect me, she blamed herself. And I, the coward, kept my mouth shut. Oh well, I was only twenty one back then. :-)

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor or publisher who's doing great things right now, and why?

I know this is self-serving, since this is my children’s book publisher I’m talking about… but Lynda Burch, owner and publisher of Guardian Angel Publishing, has gone out of her way to make the company succeed and we’re getting more attention than ever, especially among the homeschooling networks . We have a wonderful team of talented authors and illustrators and the books have been selling astonishingly well for such a small company. I’m very proud to be one of her authors.

About the Author

Check out Mayra Calvani's website, her reviewer blog and her children's book blog for more information.

© Emma Larkins and Mayra Calvani

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Storytime: Trippin' on Thanksgiving Joy

Ned strained to flap his wings in the enclosed space. Tiny white feathers went flying every which way. His eyes darted back and forth furiously as he spoke to his fellow captive, Chuck.

"Okay, so are you all ready? Are you ready? He's there, I see him, he's coming towards me in a great shining ball of fiery light. Get ready now, we'll only have one chance at this, ready, set..."

"Ned, there's no one there."

"What? But the farmer - I see him right there, heading straight towards me... each one of his sixteen arms waving an axe. You're telling me you don't see that?"

"Ned, get a grip! You've got to chill, man. We're still in the truck."

"Okay, okay, gotta chill, got it. I'll take your word for it, Chuck. Help me around so I can get some air. The walls are closing in, man, the walls are closing in."

Chuck fought through the wings, wattles, and grossly over-sized bodies to get Ned to a part of the cage facing the outside. Wind rushed in as they flashed past hills, trees, and rivers. Eventually, the pick-up truck slowed, then came to an abrupt halt. Ned stared out through the wire mesh. His face became calm and thoughtful as he looked up at something that Chuck couldn't see from his position.

"I see it, man. I finally understand..."

"Stop talking crazy. It's time, Ned. Time for our plan. The truck's stopped, and I think they're getting ready to unload. Remember what you said - the farmer lets us out, and we go for the eyes. If we can't reach the eyes, we go for the jugular. If we can't reach that, we go for the knees. Peck, peck, peck and run."

Ned shook his head.

"I can't. I know now what I have to do."

The cages started flying open, doors worked by unseen hands transferring the turkeys into their new, and final, home.

The door to Chuck and Ned's cage opened with a protesting creak. Instead of jumping out, as he had planned so long ago on that gorgeous summer night lit by three and a half blue moons, Ned simply submitted. Chuck froze in horror, and was himself dragged out of the cage before he could put up a fight. The last thing he saw as he was taken away to certain doom was a large billboard. On the billboard, a family of bright-faced, laughing children and adults, cousins, aunts and uncles, cats and dogs huddled around a perfectly roasted and stuffed golden bird. In the background, a family member opened the door to invite a scruffy-looking neighbor to the feast.

"Bring joy to your holidays with Farmer Joe's finest free-run, homegrown, organic turkeys. Best in the business," read the sign.

Chuck shook his head mournfully.

"Poor Ned. He might have tripped one too many times off those funny things that the neighbor boy dropped, but he always had the biggest heart. He'd sacrifice his own life just to bring joy to someone else. Not even death can take away the beauty of that odd but noble bird."


Thanks to Mike Cane for his unique suggestions that inspired this story.

Did you like my tale? Want to read more lovely Turkey-Day inspired fare? Hop over to Marvin Wilson's blog to find links to his other victims - I mean, participants.

And to the wonderful people who offered suggestions, here is your challenge, should you choose to accept it: write a Christmas story on your blog! As you can see here, it doesn't have to be at all traditional, or even sensical to work. Gayle, perhaps something about a homicidal Christmas ornament? Mike, with all of your ideas, I'm sure you could work something in. And Larry, you must have a wealth of political tales involving former presidents and the Holiday Spirit! Of course, if any of you wish, you can choose a holiday more suited to your beliefs and tastes. And I'm sure Marvin will let us all know more about this dastardly cycle of holiday stories he's stared.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

And the Results for the Thanksgiving Story sre...

The hippie-tripping self-sacrificing turkey! Thanks to Mike Cane, Gayle Carline, and Larry Hodges for your suggestions, and thanks to everyone who commented and/or voted!

The story will be posted on Thursday (Turkey Day!), along with a link to Marvin's site so that you can all go and check out the other stories. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Fictional Twist on Traditional Turkey Day and Community Fridays Guest

Marvin over at Free Spirit is offering me and several others a challenge. Way back in the middle of October, Marvin held a contest on his site to select characters for a Halloween story. Then he tricked some of us who entered the contest into continuing the holiday tradition by writing Thanksgiving stories. However, it's been my task to figure out the format and the inspiration for the story.

So I sent out a friendly little request into the interwebs, and this is what I got back:

Mike Cane, political and technology blogger, had a few very interesting ideas, ranging from hippie tripping, self-sacrificing turkey cannibals to shape-changing aliens stuck in turkey form to Thanksgiving being a cover story for the secret war between turkeys and chickens.

Gayle Carline, author and writing blogger, suggested a fantasy story about "a small town [being] terrorized by a serial killer, who turns out to be a turkey with an axe (to grind)," or alternately a real-to-life tale "of cooking all day, having family members show up 3 hours late to dinner (and they've already eaten), and at one point, walking into the kitchen to discover the cat straddling the turkey, gnawing the breast."

Larry Hodges, an expert on political history who's currently working on a novel about the election in 2100, couldn't help but put a political swing on the Thanksgiving story. His version includes Former President Andrew Jackson, thousands of Indian ghosts, and a beheading.

All of these leave me thinking one thing: what's so bad about Thanksgiving? Does everyone really have such bad memories that all they can think about the holiday involves madness and mayhem?

Now comes your part: which story do you want me to write? Leave me a comment, and let me know! Then come by on Thursday to read the story, and stop by Marvin's blog to check out the rest of the Thanksgiving tales.

And don't forget to return for Community Fridays. This week's guest is Mayra Calvani, author of the newly released The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Interview with Edmund Schubert on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Edmund Schubert, an editor of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show and author of the recently released Dreaming Creek.

You recently had your first novel, Dreaming Creek, published. Could you tell us a little about it? If I were to ask you for one reason that I should buy this book over any other, what would you say?

Dreaming Creekis a bit of a mutt. I would say it’s primarily a mystery/suspense novel, where solving the current mystery also results in solving an older one. But the action is driven by a Twilight Zone kind of twist, without which none of the present-day action would have occurred. There is also humor (I think humor and drama are the perfect foils for each other), as well as some relationship issues. My two main protagonists are a couple, and they are tested both individually and as a couple.

The main reason I would cite as to why you should read this book is that I have a great pair of legs. I’m talking traffic-stopping legs here. Seriously, if you ever saw me in a miniskirt, you would say, Oh my God, I have to buy his book!

Before your first novel was published, you sold more than thirty short stories. What are the similarities and differences between writing short stories and writing books? Is it difficult switching between them? Or do you only write one style at a time?

I think the biggest difference between writing short stories and writing a novel is their scope. A true short story (under 7,000 words) has to be really focused -- almost laser-like, if I may coin a new and clever way to describe it -- and I think it’s best to stick with one (or two at the most) point-of-view characters, and deal with one or two central events. A novel, on the other hand, has a lot more room for exploring a world and several of the characters who inhabit it. It ought to have multiple plot threads that eventually tie back together, and the author can show more of the backstory.

As to their similarities, I think the most obvious similarity is the need that both have for strong characters. Whether you are writing short or long, having interesting, believable, motivated characters is vital the success of the story.

While I was writing Dreaming Creek I would often get an idea for a story and set the novel aside to write the short story. Once the short was done, it sometimes took me a little while to get back into ‘novel mode,’ but generally speaking, switching back forth was not a problem for me.

What inspires you about the genres of science fiction and fantasy? The existing stories, the creative potential, the community? Something else?

I think the creative potential is definitely the primary thing that draws me to speculative fiction. I read a lot outside of the genre, but when it comes time to write I can’t seem to help incorporating some fantastical element into my stories. Part of the reason is simply because there are enough mysteries and romances and thrillers and whatever other genre of stories you want to cite to be found in real life that making another one up isn’t usually as appealing to me (I say ‘usually’ because I have published about a half dozen of mystery short stories). But with spec fic, there are no limits and no boundaries, and I find that immensely appealing.

I generally don’t write fantasy stories about elves or dragons, nor do I generally write about far-flung futures filled with space ships and ray guns -- and even when I do, the point of the story is still to get at the heart of an individual character. To what degree I succeed or fail at that I will leave to the reader to decide, but as the writer that is always my goal.

The kinds of stories I find myself most interested in writing are stories that remind some folks of the old Twilight Zone episodes. Take ordinary people, put them in an extraordinary situation, shake vigorously, and see what happens. To me that’s just more fun, and the stories that have received the best are usually the ones I had the most fun writing.

What catches your eye first when you're looking for a new author to publish in InterGalactic Medicine Show? An unusual character, an interesting plot, or perhaps a new way of using language? Or none of the above?

In the end I’m looking for two main things. The first is readability; there are a lot of people who have interesting ideas and interesting characters, but not all of them have the writing skills to make their prose so smooth that I forget I’m reading. I want to get lost in a story, and anything that jars me out of the world they’ve created is a problem. The other thing I’m looking for is the same thing you hear from editors all the time: that perfect combination of compelling characters doing compelling things in compelling situations and settings. Blah blah blah…

Frankly, the more work I do on the editing side of the equation, the more convinced I become that good stories are not about any one, big ‘ah-ha-this-is it’ kind of moment; they’re about a million little things all coming together just right. That’s why it’s so hard to quantify. The problem is that while the big picture is not that hard to see –great writing, great characters, and compelling situations -- the big picture is actually a jigsaw puzzle, made up of hundreds of unique but interlocking pieces that all have to fit together. That’s hard to describe, and even harder to do well.

Do you have any tips for an emerging author just starting on the path to publication? Either things you've learned from the editor side, or things you've learned from the author side?

1) Write, write, write
2) Read, read, read.
3) Write, write, write.
4) Lather, rinse, repeat.

I read an excellent story by you, called “Fourth and Goal From The Forty-Eight” I only have one question: is the 48 yard line the one close to the goal, or the one far away? (I admit, I'm a bit of a dunce when it comes to football!)

Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

I’m hardly an expert on football myself; when Fourth and Goal From The Forty-Eight was first published I got an email form a reader who pointed out that under current NFL rules, the scenario I portrayed at the end of the game in the story isn't possible. He suggested I change the team from an NFL team to a college team, because it was possible under college rules. I didn't change the team (the Washington Redskins), mainly because I am a Giants fan and don't like the Redskins; I wanted to make the ‘Skins the losing team in this story and what's the point in being a writer if you can indiscriminately punish teams you don't like...?

However, to answer your actual question (what a novel concept), there are two 48-yard lines. There are two versions of every yard line except the 50, which is right smack in the middle of the field. The yard lines are usually referred to as the Giants’ 48 or the Redskins’ 48 (or whichever teams are playing) depending on which goal the ball is closer to -- the Giants’ ‘goal’ being the one they are defending, and vice versa.

For the record, I had to re-read the story because it’s been a very long time since I wrote it, but it turns out that the 48-yard line referred to in this story is the Redskins 48, because there is a line in the story that mentions the ‘Skins having to go 52 yards to get the touchdown.

I picked “Fourth and Goal From The Forty-Eight" as the title because, 1) while it is technically possible that a team could find themselves in that situation, it is just about the most improbable scenario you’ll encounter on a football field, and 2) I liked the sound of the alliteration; it just rolled nicely off the tongue.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor, publisher etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?

Two writers who I would say are worth watching are James Maxey and Eric James Stone.

James’ name may be familiar to some folks because he’s got three novels out now (Nobody Gets the Girl, Bitterwood, and Dragonforge: A Novel of the Dragon Age), as well as having multiple short stories in anthologies, Asimov’s and InterGalactic Medicine Show. In fact, I would say that James’ story in issue 7 of IGMS (“Silent As Dust”) may be one of the best stories we’ve ever published and deserves to be in several of the Year’s Best anthologies for 2008. He’s got a great writing style and a great sense of ‘story.’ Those two things are not commonly found in one package, but James has them both in spades.

The other writer I would be negligent in not pointing out is Eric James Stone. Eric is a Writer’s of the Future winner, has sold several short stories to Analog, several anthologies, and has sold so many stories to IGMS that some people half-jokingly say we should change the full name of the magazine from Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show to Eric James Stone’s InterGalactic Medicine Show. Eric is working on a novel right now that sounds so interesting that I told him back at DragonCon (last August) that if he needed an early reader to make comments that I would gladly do so, and to be completely honest I primarily made that offer so I wouldn’t have to wait until it was published before I could read it.

About the Author

Visit Edmund Schubert's website and his blog for more information. And don't forget to stop by InterGalactic Medicine Show, where Issue 10 has just been released!

© Emma Larkins and Edmund Schubert

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Recap of Community Fridays To Date

Today's post is a recap of the most recent Community Fridays interviews. This week will be the third straight month of Community Fridays posts. Yep, it really has been that long! All the authors, agents, editors, publishers etc. interviewed here have provided excellent information about writing, getting published, and everything that comes with the territory. Check out a few if you have a moment to spare!

Karen Syed, and CEO of Echelon Press, LLC., shares her wisdom about transitioning from author to editor and authors taking charge of their destiny through smart marketing techniques.

Learn more about improving your writing skills and how to be an effective part of the writing community with Jason Sanford, editor of storySouth and author.

Laurie Paulsen is in the beginning stages of her writer's journey. She talks about how technology affects the modern writer, and how working in a bookstore helped her learn more about the writing industry.

Author of the recently released The Ride, Jane Kennedy Sutton gives a fresh look at taking a book through the submissions process. Learn about volunteering in the publishing industry and how travel affects writing.

What better way to learn more about the book industry than from the readers themselves? Avid reader Katrina Larkins provides insight into the world of those who buy and read books.

Tomato Girl author Jayne Pupek started out getting published in literary and poetry magazines. Find out why this is a good first step for authors, and which writing/reader communities Jayne recommends.

Helen Ginger is a freelance editor, book consultant, writer, teacher, editor, speaker, and former mermaid. Among other things, she gives good advice regarding book consultants and public speaking.

Where to start with Elvira Woodruff's list of publications? Fearless, Small Beauties, The Ravenmaster's Secret, George Washington's Socks, the list goes on and on. Not only that, but she knows her stuff when it comes to in-depth research and surviving sticky situations involving librarians.

Andy Ross, a non-fiction literary agent, lists eleven benefits an agent can provide to an author. Not only that, his past ownership of a bookstore gives him new perspective on the writing industry.

Maryann Miller's multiple roles as author, scriptwriter, reviewer, and editorial consultant make her a wealth of knowledge. Read thoughts on how reviewers decide which books to review, and how scriptwriting is different from other types of fiction.

Get a dose of spookiness all year round! Christine Verstraete and the delightful characters in her Searching for a Starry Night stop by to educate and entertain.

Larry Hodges wastes no time in flooding your mind with useful tidbits regarding writing workshops, science fiction and fantasy magazines, and formatting a cover letter. Not to mention he's a former table tennis coach to the stars!

And most recently, here are eight tips for having a successful convention by Tomorrow's Memories author Danielle Ackley-McPhail, along with rogue marketing techniques and how to end up speaking on a panel at a conference.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Completion of the First Draft of My First Novel, The Hidden Land of Gre

First, the stats:

The Hidden Land of Gre is a story about a girl and boy who go on a great adventure to save a dying race from an ancient curse.

Final length 71,467 words.
Start date: February 2008.
End date: November 2008.

Wow. I'm overwhelmed and speechless. I've just finished the first draft of my first novel.

I can't say that I've ever stuck with a big project like this (outside of "work," that is) long enough to see it through. It's an achievement, something to be proud of, and I think that everyone should take some time out to recognize their personal milestones. It's too easy to say "Phew, that's off my list, what's next?" But on the other hand, if I've learned one thing from all the wonderful people I've met over my last few months of learning the writer's ropes, it's that my work has only just begun!

Here are my next steps:
  • Format the novel, probably in Adobe InDesign, and print a copy or two on Lulu. It was actually my boyfriend's suggestion, and I think it's a good one. The novel still has a long way to go, but it will be fun to have a rough draft copy for posterity!

  • Let the novel sit. Most authors I've talked to have suggested this step. Despite the fact that it's been ten months since I've read some parts, I think it still needs to "gel."
  • Work on my "character bibles." My understanding is that these are documents used to get to know your characters better. I think my characters have changed and coalesced over time, so this will help when I get to the rewriting stage.

  • I'm toying with the idea of writing the next book in the series before rewriting the first book. I know the rewrites will be a pain, editing tends to be harder for me than writing. Perhaps I could do both at the same time?

  • And then, of course, rewrites, read-throughs, and edits for the foreseeable future!

Before all that, I suppose I should take some time out to celebrate... Thought it feels like a celebration just to know that I've actually done what I set out to do. Then again, watching a bit of Puppy Cam and eating chocolate is a pretty sweet, easily accessible reward!

Last but not least, I'd like to offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone on Twitter and elsewhere who've offered their congratulations. And of course, thanks to all those who've buoyed me through my writer's journey!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Report: Week of November 17th Odds and Ends

Here are some of the fun/informative things that are coming up for the next couple of weeks. Time to get excited!

On the next Community Friday, November 21, I will interview Edmund R. Schubert, author of the newly released Dreaming Creek and an editor of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Issue 10 of Intergalactic Medicine Show has just been released, so I'm really lucky to get a chance to talk with Edmund. Stop by if you get a chance!

For those interested in science fiction and fantasy conventions in the mid-atlantic/northeast, Philcon will be next weekend (November 21-23) in Cherry Hill, NJ. Yeah, this year it's in New Jersey, for those who might be confused: Philcon actually stands for "Philadelphia Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy." I won't be able to make this one, but it's a large conference that comes highly recommended. Several authors (and great sources of information!), including Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Larry Hodges, and Jonathan Maberry will be in attendance. Good times should be had by all.

Other than that, I will be attending the Washington Science Fiction Association meeting and (possibly) the Darkover convention in Baltimore, as mentioned in last Wednesday's post.

Finally, I've had an assignment to write a Thanksgiving story, to get people in the spirit of the holiday. So I'm going to be working on that. Will it involve a contest? Reader suggestions? Me making up something completely random? Time will tell.

As always, let me know if I missed anything!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Interview with Danielle Ackley-McPhail on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Danielle Ackley-McPhail, author and purveyor of promotional awesomeness.

You're about to release your newest novel, Tomorrow's Memories, sequel to Yesterday's Dreams, and you're an expert when it comes to creative marketing techniques. For example, at Capclave you distributed giant Pixie Stix® to promote a book about fairies. What ideas do you have for the book launch? (Unless they're secret, of course!)

The biggest plan we have is the raffle prize, which in this case will be a full-sized replica claymore donated by Griffon's Claw Armoury. The reason for the prize is that in Celtic mythology there were four artifacts the Sidhe or the Tuatha de Danaan brought to Ireland from their home land: From the city Murias, the great Cauldron of the Dagda, or caldron of plenty. From Gorias, the Spear of Lugh, from Findias, the Sword of Nuada, which always struck true and fatally; and from Falias the Lia Fail or "Stone of Destiny." In the novel, the sword plays a key part in the climatic ending, so our prize is a sword. If anyone is interested in the novel, they can click here, and if they would like to know more about the launch party, and how they might win that sword, they can visit this site.

While we're at it, would you like to tell us a little about the book?

Yesterday's Dreams and its sequel, Tomorrow's Memories are the beginning of my Eternal Cycle series, urban fantasy novels based on Irish Mythology. I am mostly Irish, but I never really knew what that meant. Most of my family history was lost in a fire and my heritage was never really passed on to me. Because of this I was always curious. The music and the legends always moved me and the brogue... anyway, I was frustrated that most of the fantasy books I picked up never really explored the Irish mythology. Mostly they just took the concept of the Sidhe, combined it with a few Gaelic words, and then made up the rest. I know it's fiction, but I like fiction that uses a foundation of what is established in the real world to add depth. I decided to write my own and in the research came across the goddess Carman and her three sons. There are so many variations that I won't mention the names, but basically they terrorized Ireland until they were finally destroyed by the Sidhe. I used that as the foundation of my story, introducing one son in the first book, returned as a possessing spirit, and then a second in Tomorrow's Memories. Each novel builds on the last, starting in New York and ending up in Ireland and Tir na nOg.20 I haven't done much work on the third book, too many other projects, but now that book two is coming out I have to get cracking!

Where do you get marketing ideas? Do you observe other people? Do you read about the subject? Do the ideas just pop into your head?

Most of my marketing ideas come from my own imagination, others do come from hearing what others I know have done. Basically, I try and think of things that apply to the subject matter of the current book, thus the prize of a violin for the Yesterday's Dreams launch and an autographed set of military-style patches as a prize for the anthology Breach the Hull, a military science fiction collection. The patches are also offered for sale, which helps to promote the books, particularly if a reader has enjoyed a particular author's story. As give-aways I always have Pixie Stix® on hand because of my anthology series, Bad-Ass Faeries... Pixie Stix® for Bad-Ass Faeries. Another thing you can do is use something that comes your way, even if it is meant for something else. We were given a bunch of pins promoting the movie Beowulf, now when we have a Bad-Ass Faeries event we give out the pins saying "The studio says B is for Beowulf, we say it's for Bad-Ass." For Breach the Hull we had another idea, that we didn't follow up on, but I still really like... we toyed with the idea of having custom dog-tags made up to distribute.

You describe yourself as an anthologist, which is a term I haven't heard before, 'someone who puts together an anthology.' Does that mean you solicit submissions, edit manuscripts, select cover art, publish the book, or some or all of the above? How does one get to be an anthologist?

Actually, I don't remember using the term, but I have heard others use it in reference to me. The description is apt, though. It isn't the normal way things are done, but in small press, particularly very small press, things can often be informal. I have taken four books through the process from idea conception to preparing the final files. Sometimes all the steps you have outlined above, sometimes only part of them. I have never published anything myself, I've always made arrangements with existing publishers when I have an idea. Mostly this is possible because of the connections I have made at various conventions, though I have been approached by publishers based on the reputation built upon what I have already done. I believe another term that exists to describe what I do is 'packager'. Someone who takes care of the details of a project for a publisher and then hands over the files at the end.

You're a convention and conference veteran, a frequent attendee as well as a panelist. What are your suggestions for a newbie just starting to attend these events?

1) Economize where you can: share rooms, bring food, don't go wild in the dealer's room.

2) If you want to be an author, go to the pro panels about writing and the business, participate from the audience if you are comfortable speaking and have something to add.

3) Meet the professionals, strike up conversations with them... it is important to make friends, not just contacts.

4) Look for opportunities you hear about at panels or in discussions and follow up on them.

5) Add your name to the mailing lists/news groups, they are opportunities to build on the friendships you started at the convention.

6) Volunteer for programming, even if you don't have any publishing credits, you have stuff to add, but be sure to prepare, at least in your head, if not with notes

7) Be respectful and professional.

8) Bathe... regularly ;)

About the panels - how are the selections made for who sits on them at a conference? Do you mention your interest, or does someone contact you about it? How do you prepare for being on open-ended panels like the ones they had at Capclave?

My first convention I attended as a guest was thanks to my publisher, as it was in the town where they were based. I didn't much know what I was doing, but I was fortunate that it was a very small, forgiving con and I never had trouble speaking in front of people. I also met people there that gave me advice on promoting myself at conventions. Most conventions you simple email the person in charge of programming and express an interest of being a participant. Mostly, that is all it takes.

Each convention has its own method of assigning panels. Some give you a list of panels, you tell them which you want to be on, they compare everyone's responses and time constraints and then attempt to populate the panels according to those constraints without double booking... sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Other conventions ask your general interests and then put you on the panels according to their own decisions without telling you the actual topics. This can get dicey as an interest in a general topic doesn't mean a person will have any interest or knowledge about a specific topic that would fall under that heading. You are given, in theory, your schedule in advance so you can prepare. For myself, I have been doing this long enough that I get an idea of what I want to talk about in my head and think it through a bit, but then generally respond to what the other panelists bring up. If I can, and it's pertinent, I try and come up with a few examples if the topic calls for it. Some people work up a complete outline and a variety of questions they want to bring up, but I'm more comfortable going with the flow. I've worked in publishing so long, and I am an avid reader that I can generally hold a worthwhile conversation on most topics in that range on the fly.

What's it like to be in the dealer room of a conference or convention, selling your own books and anthologies? What suggestions do you have for people who want to do this?

This can be difficult. I don't really recommend it to anyone that is not extremely extroverted. I also don't recommend it if you only have one or two books. The best way to get started doing this, if you have an interest in it, though, is to pair up with someone else that you know (not good to do this with strangers) and that way you have several people to handle the table, as well as more to offer. Dealer's rooms can be grueling from the other side of the table. Long periods of wishing someone would stop to talk, followed by frantic moments of trying to take care of everyone at once AND keep track of all the necessary details.

Personally, I feel that when I sit down I don't sell because it puts a layer of distance between you and the customer an area of separation. You're talking up at them and not engaging one to one, that means I stand for upward of eight hours at a standard con... very rough. You have to engage the customer, draw them in. Chat, make them laugh. Show energy and enthusiasm, but without drawing them away from someone else's table. That's very important.There is a unity among dealers that you will very quickly find yourself on the wrong side of if it is felt that you are poaching another vendor's sales by drawing the customers away. If they stop at your table, or pass it in a general sense, or you see them looking at your stuff, make a connection, try and point out what you have before you. If you can make them laugh, you put them at ease. You relax, they relax, then you can start pointing out to them the finer points of your book... a brief idea of what it is about, what genre it is, any awards it has or has been nominated for, basically any relevant fact that might make it more appealing to them. From time to time, I've even offered to read them a portion. Basically... you have to be comfortable putting yourself out there, confident in your work, and enjoy talking to people. If you believe in yourself and your work, the customer picks up on that and you make them curious, make them want to know what makes you so confident.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor or publisher who's doing great things right now, and why?

Hmmm... I would have to say Jonathan Maberry. He is relatively new in the fiction industry, but he has made such strides in building his career. He knows what he wants and goes for it; he works every angle he sees and has the vision to propose some very timely projects to the proper people and get them signed. He is a business man, a deal maker, and an author all in one...a truly stunning sight to see him in action.

Now... a bit of advice not covered in the above. For any author or writer aspiring to be an author, professional organizations can be a vital tool. Find those relevant to your interests and join, they are excellent for networking, finding opportunities, and benefiting from the experience of those already established in the field. I belong to several organizations, including the Garden State Horror Writers, EPIC, and Broad Universe. All of them have been extremely valuable.

About the Author
Danielle Ackley-McPhail is the author of Yesterday's Dreams and Tomorrow's Memories. She is also the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries Series. See her website for more information.

Update: Tomorrow's Memories is now available on Amazon!

© Emma Larkins and Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Better Late Than Never! Upcoming Guest and Events

Okay, I know it's late, but it's still technically Wednesday! I'm in the middle of a big chunk of business travel, so I'll keep this short and sweet. Of course, Marvin over at Free Spirit would say that a writer NEVER keeps it short and sweet, but Mavin's not hear right now. Mwahaha.

My guest this week for Community Fridays will be Danielle Ackley-McPhail, marketing genius and author of the recently released book Tomorrow's Memories. If you get a chance, stop by for some great info, and say hello to Danielle!

Friday, November 21 there will be a meeting of the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA) in Greenbelt, MD. They sponsored the terrific Capcalve conference I attended recently (here's a link to next year's Capclave, if you want to plan way, way ahead!) From what I hear, the meeting coming up is pretty informal, and pretty fun. Check out the website for more info.

And of course, two weeks from now is Darkover, a.k.a. the Darkover Grand Council Meeting XXXI in Timonium, MD. Tamora Pierce, one of my favorite fantasy authors of all time, will be one of the presenters, so I'm super psyched. Only $50 for a weekend-long convention, which is not too shabby. I hope I'll be able to make it, as it's a bit of a busy time for me. At least to the Saturday events. We shall see!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Six Book Things Tag

Okay, I'm in Indianapolis traveling for business, and I have to get up early, so I think I'll go back and do one of the memes. I've been tagged a couple of times recently, one by author Morgan Mandel and one by author Chris Redding (if I missed you, let me know, and I'll include you!) I've done the regular six things, so this is going to be six book things you didn't know about me.

Here's how this works: I list six book-related things about myself, then I tag six people, and they do the same! If they want, of course.

1.) I was an avid reader as a child. My earliest reading memories were of reading Grimm's Fairytales and Little House on the Prairie at six years old. I know, quite a combination, right?

2.) I actually enjoyed reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky when it was assigned reading.

3.) This might sound weird, but I love the smell of books. That's one of my favorite parts of walking into a large library, the smell of pages upon thousands of pages of knowledge and new worlds.

4.) I love children's books. I'll often read them when I find them lying around doctor's offices, bookstores, friend's houses. There is no shame in losing yourself in Dr. Seuss or Roger Hargreaves (author of the Mr. Men and Little Misses series).

5.) When I was younger, I didn't stay up all night watching late-night movies or partying with friends. No, I stayed up all night reading books. I still remember the sensation of getting so lost in a book that I'd barely notice the sky starting to lighten.

6.) This is actually a repeat of something I read at Heather's Age 30+: A Lifetime of Books blog. Like Heather, I pronounce words incorrectly because I've only read them, never said them. For example, I truly, honestly have pronounced pseudonym "p-swedo-nim." Yes, NOW I know the p is supposed to be silent!

To make this interesting, and because my blog buddies will probably not be happy for more tags, I will switch this over to Twitter Tag. Here are my tagees:

@janesutton, author of newly released book The Ride - Jane's Blog
@holly_tucker, author and college professor - Holly's Blog
@AccomplishWoman, author, photographer, economist, etc! - Accomplished Woman's Blog
@jacquelynsylvan, author of Surviving Serendipity - Jacquelyn's Blog
@vbright, writer and thrifty grandma - Veronica's Blog
@fuzzyredrobe, writer with 25 years experience - Cindy's Blog

And if you'd rather do another meme, that's fine with me too!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Interview with Larry Hodges on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Larry Hodges, author and semi-retired table-tennis coach.

You're working on your first novel, a science fiction story about politics in the future. At Capclave, you mentioned that you already had an agent lined up. How did you manage this? Many people have difficulties finding an agent even after their novels are finished!

Technically, the agent isn't lined up, but he's asked me to send him the novel as soon as it is done (first draft will be done by December). I went to the six-week Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2006, where I met Canadian SF writer Robert Sawyer (Hugo, Nebula and John Campbell award winner), the writer in residence for a week. He became familiar with my work and recommended me to the agent. So it helps going to workshops and conventions, and meeting people. However, first you must make sure your work is up to snuff, and (usually) make some short story sales. Here's a great article on finding a good agent by Chuck Rothman. However, before signing with any agent you might want to check them out at Writer Beware.

Your list of science fiction and fantasy sales (sales of short stories) reads somewhat like a Who's Who of the SFF magazine industry. Can you tell us a bit about submitting stories to magazines? How is it different from submitting novel manuscripts? Can you provide some pointers about which magazines seem to be interested in which kind of story?

I've sold 23 short science fiction or fantasy stories (most in the past year), although I haven't yet been in many of the really big ones - still working on that! (Here's my science fiction page). I keep track of my submissions and sales on a simple Word document. It's important to keep close track - if you lose track, you'll have great difficulty in getting back on track. I currently have 26 stories on the market, 23 sales, and 12 stories that I no longer am submitting (plus about 40 from long ago). I can tell you the submission history of every one of them in seconds, including every market it went to and when, and when and what the response was.

For most submissions, I have a standard cover letter. You do need to read the guidelines for each market as many tell you specifically what they want in the cover letter, as well as how the manuscript should be formatted. Always use standard manuscript formatting, unless told otherwise. This is covered, along with lots of other stuff you should read, in the SFWA Writing Page. Here are the three parts to my cover letter:

Paragraph one is the intro: "Enclosed [or Attached] is my story, "[The Greatest Story Ever Written]." It was workshopped at [Critters/Odyssey/Tao's Toolbox/other].

Paragraph two is the bio paragraph. Here's mine: "I'm an active member of SFWA with 23 sales, including recent ones to Weird Tales, Abyss & Apex, and On the Brighter Side. I'm a graduate of the six-week 2006 Odyssey Writing Workshop, the 2007 Orson Scott Card Literary Boot Camp, and the two-week 2008 Taos Toolbox Writing Workshop. In the world of non-fiction, I have three books and over 1100 published articles in 79 different publications."

Paragraph three reads, "Enclosed is a SASE. Manuscript is disposable. If you would like me to email the text, let me know. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you." [If it's an email submission, then "I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you." is all that goes here.]

There's a huge market out there for short stories. However, very few pay well, and those that do are extremely difficult to get into. The major ones often receive 500 or so manuscripts per issue, and can only publish 3-4, if that. (Other slots are reserved for "name" writers.) Even the low-paying ones typically only print at most 10% of what they receive, usually far less. That's why the "real money" is in novels - except they don't pay that well either, until you develop a "name."

If you want to sell short stories, don't fall for the trap of writing a single story, and hoping it sells. Keep writing!!! As noted, I have *26 stories on the market; I'd have more if I hadn't sold 23! Keep writing them, and keep sending them out. However, don't rush them; typically, after writing a story and spending time rewriting it, put it aside for a time, and look at it again a few weeks later, and if possible get others to critique it. Eventually you can do them in almost factory mode, with stories in various stages of progress. All of my stories go through the following stages: outline, writing, rewriting, proofing, critiquing, second rewriting, second proofing, and submission.

(*I'm about to unleash #27, so I'll have an even 50 sold or on the market.)

There are a number of online sites that give info on the SF/fantasy/horror markets; my favorite is, which gives info and links to the guidelines of just about every market. I generally browse over them nearly every day. If you are serious about being a SF/fantasy/horror writer, I strongly suggest spending some time reading over the guidelines for the many markets listed, starting with "Semi- & Pro Markets," then "Paying Markets," then "Anthology Markets." Then you might consider the "4theLuv Markets" and "Contests," and if applicable, "Humor Markets," or others that might fit.

The higher-paying markets, recognized by SFWA as "pro" markets, are listed at the SFWA website. Generally you should start by sending your stories to these. Typically it can take years for a story to go through all the markets; some markets get back to you in a week, but the more typical one is about two months. I have one submission I'm still waiting on from January! There's also a couple from June, but most of them are split roughly evenly from July to present. I've sold stories on their first submission; I sold one story on its 19th submission. I have one story that's now at its 29th market, dating back to July of 2005. (It's a good story, gosh darn it!)

From talking to editors and writers at conventions and workshops, and of course from reading the guidelines, you begin to get a feel for what type of story each magazine tends to like. You learn that F&SF tends toward more "literary" stories, while Baen's is more action-oriented. Realms is a bit literary, doesn't do much humor. Analog is more hard SF (it has to be a good story in the usual respects, with technology or science of some sort central to it), with a liking for linguistic angles and some humor. Weird Tales likes, well, weird stuff. Fantasy Magazine tends to have a mostly female audience, and so likes women protagonists (but not always). The overlap between the markets is large, so the main thing to do is make sure not to send a fantasy story to a strictly SF market, and vice versa. Send horror to those that want it, such as Cemetery Dance, Brutarian and Chizine, and not to SF & fantasy markets, unless they say they want horror as well.

I'm sure people will be interested to know that you spent years as a successful table-tennis coach, which turns out to be a surprisingly lucrative profession. People often talk about leaving a 'desk job' for the glory of a writing career, but you left a decidedly un-desk job. What made you decide to do this? Did your experiences as a table-tennis coach help you get to where you are today in your writing career?

I was a table tennis player, coach and writer for 32 years. In 2003, at age 43, I became the youngest person ever voted into the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame as a contributor (primarily for my coaching and writing, though as a player I've won numerous national and state titles). USATT has been around since 1933, and has 77 players and 41 contributors in their Hall. I've coached Olympic athletes (yes, table tennis is in the Olympics), and during the 1990s coached more gold medal winners at the Junior Olympics and Junior Nationals than all other coaches in the U.S. I also chaired the USATT Coaching Committee for four years and was named the USOC Table Tennis Developmental Coach of the Year in 2002. Plus I've had over 1000 articles and three books on table tennis. (What is a table tennis article? Coaching articles, player profiles, tournament write-ups, equipment reviews, etc. I even wrote a few table tennis fiction stories, such as "Death of a Backhand," where my backhand and forehand were characters.) Here's my table tennis page.

However, after 32 years, I became frustrated by the lack of development of the sport by the sport's leaders. Meanwhile, I was beginning to write SF and fantasy again. In the late 1980s, I was the manager, director and/or coach for table tennis at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for four years. Training took place in the mornings and late afternoons. Since I was free in between, I began to write stories. After two years of rejections they began to sell, including four to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, the top fantasy market at the time, sort of the precursor to Realms of Fantasy. By 1991, I'd sold eight stories. However, after I was hired to edit USA Table Tennis Magazine (the national magazine for table tennis, 8000 circulation), I focused on table tennis, and didn't write any fiction (other than a few table tennis fiction stories) for 13 years. Then, in 2004, I saw a note about a SF class taught at The Writer's Center in Silver Spring, MD, taught by SFWA member Brenda Clough. I signed up, and I've been writing SF & fantasy ever since.

Around March this year, I decided to take a sabbatical from table tennis so I could focus on writing one or two novels. I'm currently living on savings (table tennis coaching pays surprisingly well!) and a few writing sales until I finish my novel, "Campaign 2100." Sometime after it's done (and possibly one other book), I'll have to return to making money, either in table tennis or possibly as a free-lance writer/editor. I'm not sure which yet. (I have twelve years as editor of USA Table Tennis Magazine and all the published articles and books, so there must be something out there I might qualify for that might be interesting - hopefully in SF & fantasy. Any offers?)

Here's a rather strange claim to fame. I'm fairly certain I'm the top science fiction writer in USATT (8000 ranked players), and I know I'm the top table tennis player in SFWA (1400 members). Any challengers? (Oh please . . . bring large sums of money!)

You've attended a good number of writer's workshops of the several-weeks-long variety. I've never been to one, so can you give me some details? How long do these tend to be? How intensive are they? Are food and lodging generally included in the price? What are the benefits you've seen from attending?

I went to the six-week Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2006. It was an incredible experience, very intense, and impossible to describe, so I'll now briefly describe it. Basically, you spent mornings and afternoon in classes or critiquing other classmates work (or listening to their critiques), and nights writing and reading/critiquing stories from others. It's an intensive workshop, not for the faint-of-heart. But if you are serious about writing SF/fantasy/horror, I strongly urge you to go to Odyssey or one of the Clarions writing workshops. Here are links to write-ups by other graduates of their experiences there. (If you are looking to get published, see the list of publications by graduates.)

If you absolutely, positively can't get off six weeks, there is also Tao's Toolbox (two weeks), Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp (one week), Center for the Study of Science Fiction Workshops (varying lengths) and Viable Paradise (one week). There are also online workshops where others critique your work, and vice versa; I was active with Critters for years, and strongly recommend it. There's also Seton Hill University's "Writing Popular Fiction" Master's Program, which I've heard a lot of good things about. It's an MFA program that takes two years, most of it done at home.

You never know what you will learn at these workshops. I learned all sorts of writing stuff from Jeanne Cavelos, the Odyssey director/instructor. From Robert J. Sawyer, the writer in residence for a week, I learned to write with a theme. Previous to that, I'd come up with a story idea, then characters, and then I'd write the story. Now I start with a theme, and from that come up with a story idea, characters, etc. Without a theme, a great story is basically great fluff. There's a place for fluff - mindless entertainment - but it's not memorable.

One of the things that allowed you to take these workshops was leaving your day job behind. I imagine this took a lot of careful plotting and planning. How did you manage to do this? Would you encourage others who want a career in fiction writing to follow your lead? Do you have any advice for would-be job-quitters?

At the time I went to Odyssey in 2006, I was editor of USA Table Tennis Magazine (a near-fulltime job), and coaching full-time. To get time off, I did one issue of the bi-monthly magazine early, scheduled the next one late, and hired someone to do some work on it while I was gone. During my stay at Odyssey, I only had to spend a few nights on magazine work. As to my table tennis coaching, it was put on hold while I was away - so there are a lot of table tennis players out there who will never be as good as they could have been. :)

A workshop like Odyssey, if you are a serious writer, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you'll never forget. Talk to your boss (or husband/wife), bribe them, blackmail them, and try to get the time off. You won't regret it. (Though once there, you'll curse my name during those late-night working hours. I'll be laughing at you in spirit.)

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor or publisher who's doing great things right now, and why?

It's hard to limit it to one. I'm going to mention three.

Jeanne Cavelos is the force behind Odyssey. While Clarion brings in different instructors each week for six weeks, Jeanne is there all six weeks of Odyssey, and so gets to know all the writers, their strengths and weaknesses, and so you get better and better feedback from her. She's probably done more for SF/fantasy/horror writing than anyone else this past decade or so.

I'd also like to mention Walter Jon Williams, who started up Tao's Toolbox, a two-week workshop in New Mexico. He always brings in a second writer to assist. This year it was Kelly Link; last year it was Connie Willis. I attended it this past summer, and it was another memorable experience.

Finally, there's John Scalzi and his "Whatever" blog. The key thing there is his "Big Ideas" feature, where he regularly features novels with a big central idea to it. I'm looking forward to submitting the idea for my novel, once it's ready. (The big idea in "Campaign 2100"? The theme is moderation in politics, as portrayed in a third-party challenge in the election of 2100 for president of Earth.)

Thanks for the choosing me for this interview!

© Emma Larkins and Larry Hodges

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Resources Round-Up for Emerging Authors and Friday's Guest

Here's a round-up of some of the good sites and posts I've come across recently. Hope you find something useful!

Also, don't forget to stop back in for Community Fridays. This week's guest is Larry Hodges, author extraordinaire and ex table-tennis coach.

Is your likelihood of getting published truly infinitesimal? Well, it depends. This article about publication by Victoria Strauss over at Writer Beware Blogs! lays out some good points. One thing that emerging authors don't always take into consideration when submitting manuscripts is whether their writing (or even just the query letter!) is really good enough to compete with the best, harsh as it may sound. Writer Beware Blogs! is also a great resource for keeping track of scams in the writing and publishing industry, such as shady agents and questionable contests. Victoria is a good resource in and of herself, if you get the lucky chance to meet her at a convention or conference!

Here are two great resource posts by author and editor Edmund Schubert over at the Side-Show Freaks blog. This post lists a bunch of basic definitions for writers, for words such as 'byline,' 'niche,' and 'SASE.' And did you know that you should include your name, phone number, email address, and snail mail address on any submission, even if it's an email/online submission? This post gives a quick run-down of submission basics.

For those emerging authors in or near the Baltimore area, the Baltimore Writers' Conference is this weekend, on November 8. I just realized I will be here on Saturday, and I won't be going to the Random House Book Fair sponsored by the Carroll County Community College in Westminster, MD, which has just been moved to March 2009. Good thing I checked! So I might go after all... although the $95 price tag is a big of a deterrent. We shall see.

Finally, a quick update on my revising and editing class with Jeffrey Roth. Class is going well. Jeffrey is engaging and knowledgeable about his subject. Kind of makes my brain want to explode, but it will all be worth it when my writing improves.

Update: My newest Emerging Authors Want To Know! post is up over at the Blood-Red Pencil Blog. This one talks about what it's like to be a published author AND a professional editor at the same time. Hope you enjoy!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tolkien's Questions

I've spent most of my life insatiably questioning everything I come across. If I'm even vaguely uncertain about something, I'll ask about it. Turns out asking questions can come in handy when writing a story as well. I'm going to use Tolkien in today's example because, well, he's awesome.

I can't say I know Tolkien's exact writing style, but I know that he worked out his worlds in great detail, so I imagine he knew before he wrote his story at least some of what was going to happen. Hobbit gets a ring, Fellowship goes on a great quest. Okay, but then in order to make it interesting, he had to create obstacles that didn't look like they could be easily solved. And how else to find the best obstacles than to ask a bunch of questions?

So Tolkien decides the characters have to go through Moria. They come to the end of the road, and they're going to go into the mountain. So they could just go through, or they could have some trouble. It's a great place for trouble, so why not toss some in?

Here's where the questions come in. Start by choosing one direction the story could go in, then ask questions until you either reach an impasse, or you find a way through.

What if they simply can't find their way into Moria? Well, that would mean that they had to find another way to continue on their journey. And Gandalf has already decided there is no other way. So what then? Well, they'd have to go back. Backtracking doesn't make for a very interesting story, so that's no good.

What if there's a key just lying by the door? That seems kind of silly. Gandalf looks under the welcome mat in front of the Doors and finds the key? And why would they just leave a key out here, anyway. That doesn't seem like a very safe practice with all the nasties about.

What if one of the characters turns out to have a key? Tolkien could do that, but he'd have to write the key in earlier. Who would have the key? Where would they have gotten it from? Again, they'll know they have the key, and it won't be much of a challenge.

What if Gandalf blows the door down? Well, Tolkien has his reasons to not make the wizard frequently display god-like powers. For one, it would make the mission seem easy, and thus remove a lot of interest from the story.

What if they have to say a key word? How would they find out the right word? Well, they could have to try and figure it out. Tolkien has already established the use of riddles in Middle Earth, so he could make it into a riddle. Gandal is good at riddles. What happens while Gandalf's trying to think of the answer? How about getting them into more trouble?

Asking questions is a good way to stir up some trouble and get to a deeper understanding of your worlds. Think about all the things we know about the 'real world,' from how stoplights work to what the major religions are to how to order a sandwich in a fast food restaurant. Your characters should know their own worlds that well, and the only way to learn about a world is by asking questions.