Saturday, January 25, 2014

"What Type of Romance do You Write?"

Today, I tired a new experience and attended a one-day writers' workshop sponsored by the Dallas Area Romance Authors (DARA). There were approximately 75 women in the room - and me. As the only man present, I started to blog that I 'stepped outside of my comfort zone', but that would be untrue. Having worked most of my life in the healthcare industry (which is predominately female) I'm very comfortable around women. I was not "drowning in an estrogen sea" as one attendee put it. I do, however, have some observations.
  • As the only man in the room, I was an oddity. Several women cast sideways glances my direction as if I might be lost, or had mistaken the Holiday Inn ballroom for a gentlemen's club.
  • I dislike standing out. A friend of mine from DFWWW, Carolyn Williamson, was kind enough to save me a seat - right up front where my big ole broad-shouldered, former football tackle self could block the view of 99% of the ladies sitting behind me. Carolyn assured me I was not in anyone's way, but for the longest I felt conspicuous. To say I'm a back-row joe is putting it lightly. At no time in my educational career did I ever sit at the front of the classroom. I made my A's and B's from the back, thank you very much. Of course, I could have moved, but didn't because Carolyn had been so nice to think of me, and the other tables in the room were full.      
  • The most frequently asked question of me was "So, Kyle, what type of romance do you write?" I would laugh and respond "I don't, but I believe all stories should have some romantic elements."
  • When DARA advertised a 'Continental Breakfast' they didn't mean some donuts a member picked up on the way over. They were serious. We had muffins and fruit and pastries and scrambled eggs and fried potatoes and bacon and sausage and juice and coffee. These ladies know how to provide a Texas-sized-stick-to-your-ribs breakfast. Lunch was even better with a similar astonishing array of choices, plus the best cake I've eaten in a long time (I wish now I had had a second piece). And hot cookies for an afternoon snack. I was good and didn't have a cookie despite some teasing from my fellow tablemates.  
  • Romance writers know their craft. During the presentation (more on that next) we were asked to preform some quick writing exercises and to share our work with the room.* We normally had 5-10 minutes to complete the task. As writers volunteered to read their efforts, the quality they had produced in such a short time amazed me. Many were as polished as if the author had spent months wordsmithing instead of mere minutes. I've always said the Romance Writers of America offers the best educational opportunities of any professional organization.
We had gathered to learn from successful mystery author Hallie Ephron. I had read and enjoyed her books Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel and Never Tell a Lie. One of the benefits of sitting at the front table was Hallie also sat there. As such, I learned additional writing tips over both breakfast and lunch. Some of my ah-ha! moments included: 
  • Your protag, villain and suspects - basically every main character - need a secrete. Some piece of backstory (not dumped, of course) that isn't quickly answered and keeps readers turning the page. 
  • Don't let suspense go on for too long. The reader will grow numb. (I am bad about non-stop action that never gives the reader a moment to take a breath. Gotta fix that.)
  • The ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz were used as an example of an item that all major characters wanted but only one of them could have. This was a new concept I had not heard before. It adds tension to a story and should be an item from the protag's past so its even more significant. 
  • Sensory details are a good way to build tension (yeah! I believe I do these well based on feedback at DFWWW). 
  • It's okay to call writing a pain in the ass and not to claim you 'love' the process. Simply put, writing is hard work. Some days the words flow. Other days its like pulling mental teeth.
In summary, I'm glad I tried this new experience. I had an enjoyable time and learned a lot. DARA is a terrific organization full of talented writers. Hallie Ephron provided solid instruction that gave me insight into writing mysteries. As an additionally bonus, some of her advice may help me fix a few trouble areas in my WIP steampunk novel. 

What about you? Ever step outside your comfort zone and try something new? If yes, what effect did it have on your writing?      


* Did I share my writing? Not back-row Kyle. I'm happy to listen to other, braver writers read their efforts.

Friday, January 17, 2014

2014 Writers' Conferences Around Texas

My annual list of writers' conferences and other writerly events in and around Texas for 2014. These are provided as a public service only. I am not promoting any of them.

Feb 21 - 23                         ConDFW
March 29 - 30                    North Texas Two Step Writers' Conference

April 11 - 13                       Houston Writers Guild Annual Agents & Editors Conference

April 23 - 24                       NETWO's Writers' Roundup Conference

May 2 - 4                            OWFI Conference
May 3 - 4                            DFW Writers' Conference
June 6 - 7                           Arkansas Writers' Conference
June 9 - 13                         West Texas Writers' Academy 
June 27 - 29                      Writers' League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference

June 27 - 29                      ApolloCon
July 11 - 13                       LexiCon Writers Conference
July 13 - 20                      Taos Summer Writers' Conference

July 25 - 27                      ArmadilloCon

Sept 26 - 28                     FenCon 

Sept 27 - 28                     SCWBI Regional Conference 

How did I compile this list? Google.

Did I miss some events? Probably, but not intentionally.

What were my criteria? The webpage had to mention 2014 dates, even if details were limited. For example, FenCon (an event I attend regularly) did not have 2014 information available when I compiled this list, so they are missing. FenCon now has information available, so I edited the post to add them, as well as a few others I forgot.

Have I personally attended all of these events? Nope.

Have I attended some of them? Yep. I went to ConDFW and the Writers' League conference once. I've gone to the DFW Writers' Conference four times and plan to attend this year (honesty-in-blogging: I'm a member of the DFW Writers' Workshop); and I've attended FenCon five times.

The most ubiquitous icon of writers' conferences are laptops.
Every class and the hallways are full of them. When I saw
this photograph, I giggled imagining writers in the past
lugging their heavy manual typewriters to conferences.
Silly, I know, but a fun idea nonetheless.    

Are all of these conferences? Nope. I included West Texas A&M because I've heard it's money well spent; ConDFW and FenCon because they are so much fun.

Did Blogger give me fits formatting? Yes, I swear whatever software they use hates me.

If you plan to attend these, or any other writer's conferences/classes/events in 2014 tell me about them.

Friday, January 10, 2014

WARNING! Fan Boy Gushing Ahead

In my thank-goodness-this-year-is-finally-over post, I mentioned that I read less fiction in 2013, but that didn't stop me from buying new novels.

Hi, my name is Kyle and I have an addiction to books.*
I didn't realize how large the monkey on my back was until I recently did a little cleaning to prepare for income taxes (there will probably be a future post on that subject). As I surveyed my ever-growing list of to-be-read books I found:
  • One from Ace
  • One from Abaddon Books
  • Two from Tachyon
  • Two from Harper Voyager
  • NINE from Angry Robot (two of which I purchased last week)
Holy printing press, batman, I'm helping to keep Angry Robot in business - and with a good reason. Their books are consistently the best I've read in the SF&F industry. Not all of their authors are British, so I can't say there must be something special in the water in England. Instead, I'll give credit to the editorial staff at AR. They consistently purchase stories I want to read.
Am I a member of The Robot Army? No. Those are readers
who frequently post reviews online. Since I suck at writing
reviews, I never applied. However, it is good to know there
is a legion of others who help spread the word about AR. 
As I mentioned in post # 5, I met an editor from Angry Robot at WorldCon. Not that I got to speak with him much (he was too busy selling books) but I did offer my opinion of several of the works on display. With a sole exception (which I won't name here), I've thoroughly enjoyed every book I've purchased with the AR logo on it. (I admit I envision my medieval steampunk WIP as an Angry Robot title.)
What about you? Do you have a favorite publisher? If yes, why?
* Traditional paper books. I haven't made the switch to ebooks and truthfully don't see myself doing so any time in the future.     

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Thorny Lives of Debut Authors

I aspire to be traditionally published. That is not meant as a slight toward writers who self-publish. All of us have to walk our own path and I've decided mine leads toward the more traditional route of write a book/get an agent/get a book deal.
As such, I'm still in the 'write a book' phase. Morphing from mostly a writer of short stories to novels has been a challenge for me.* However, I feel I'm making good progress and I look forward to the day I can start querying agents. To help me prepare, I've been following some debut novelists and some of what I've read recently scares me a bit.
I imagine this must be how it feels to be
buried under a lot of rewrites requested
by either your agent or editor. How can
a debut author even conceive of saying
no after all the hard work to get this far? 
For J. Kathleen Cheney, 2013 was her launch year. Her many blogs posts about the constant editing and re-editing gave me great consternation. I question my ability to survive such frequent rewrites. 
Once her novel hit bookstore shelves, it sounds as if the event was not as joyous as she had hoped. I admit I cringed a little when I read her 2013 summary. (I won't even discuss the link embedded in the post. That author's journey depressed me so badly I couldn't finish reading it.)

Then, there's my good friend Arianne 'Tex' Thompson. I can confidently say I've never met a more gregarious and giving person. When she sold her first novel I was almost as excited as she was. Now that I've read her year-end post I must admit I'm more than a little saddened. 2014 should be an exciting year as she looks forward to the publication of her fist novel. Instead, it sounds as if it will be more of a burden.

I suppose I'm being na├»ve to believe life is all happiness once a writer gets past the "get an agent/get a book deal" phases. Why would I expect the process to be any easier? No matter the path taken - traditional or self-publishing - the route appears to be littered with thorns. 

Please, someone give me some good news about being a debut author. There have to be some positive points, too!  

*A fellow author at DFWWW commented recently that he wrote two novels and one short story in 2013. He said the short story gave him hell. I had to laugh since it's just the opposite for me. My brain operates in short-story mode. How to plot and pace a novel still baffles me a bit.