Author Archives: Jo Schneider

About Jo Schneider

Jo Schneider grew up in Utah and Colorado, and finds mountains helpful in telling which direction she is going. One of Jo's goals is to travel to all seven continents—five down and two to go. Another goal was to become a Jedi Knight, but when that didn't work out, Jo started studying Shaolin Kempo. She now has a black belt, and she keeps going back for more. An intervention may be in order. Being a geek at heart, Jo has always been drawn to science fiction and fantasy. She writes both and hopes to introduce readers to worlds that wow them and characters they can cheer for. Jo lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her adorkable husband, Jon, who is very useful for science and computer information as well as getting items off of top shelves.

What Does It Take To Perform Under Fire?

I’ve been involved in the Martial Arts for over ten years. I have a black belt, and if I hadn’t become a writer on top of my day job I would be a second degree. But I got distracted by writing, and that’s that.

Belt tests are some of my least favorite parts of the martial arts. I love class. I love my lessons. I love punching and kicking and knife techniques and sparring and sometimes I pretend to love forms. But belt tests are a different animal.

In short, the instructors—who are usually cool people—turn into demons that are there to push you until you’re teetering on the edge of your endurance and sanity. I can do techniques all day long, but make me run around the building or scale a wall and I go to pieces. Other people lose it if they have to do defense techniques quickly, or spar more than one person. (Most people don’t do well with that, by the way.) Whatever it is, the instructors will find it. And then, once you’re barely standing and thinking about quitting, they ask you to do a form. Or spar. Or defend yourself from them.

On some level it’s awesome. Especially after you’re at the end looking back. There’s nothing like knowing that you did every single Defense Maneuver you have flawlessly against guys taller and stronger than you. Or that you didn’t get stabbed when they brought the fake knives out.

But in the middle of it, there isn’t time to think, and if you do think, it’s usually about how much some part of your body hurts. Sometimes that includes your brain.

I’m short and round and don’t look much like a black belt, but when I’m in practice, I’m pretty darn good.

And that’s the key to passing a test. Being in practice. Because if you’re in practice, then when a fist is coming straight for your face, no matter how tired you are, you will do something. It might even be the right thing. Either way, you won’t get hit, and the next moment the other guy will be on the ground and you’ll think, “Hey, that really works. Oh crap, there’s another guy coming.”

I feel like this relates to writing. Lately I’ve been extremely busy, and my writing has been suffering. It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve thought about the fact that I’m out of practice. I work part time and write part time, but I haven’t been consistently writing. I work on marketing or editing or blogging or putting together a newsletter or a giveaway. I pour words onto the page when there is a deadline looming, but not every day. I’m out of practice. Which is silly, because I know how important it is to write each day, and yet I’m not doing it.

So that’s my suggestion. Write each day, even if it is just 200 or 500 words. Write something. Stay in practice. Get a list of writing prompts off the web if you don’t have any ideas on what to write about or you don’t want to work on your current work in process. That way, when the pressure comes, and it will come, you can crack your knuckles and go for it.

You’ll Never Know Until You Try It

The first time a member of my writing group told me about Nanowrimo, I thought they were joking. Then I thought they were insane. 50,000 words? That alone was daunting, but in a month? 30 days? Just under 1700 words a day? I don’t think I’d ever even used the word count feature in the old Microsoft Word. (This was back before the counter automatically came up in the bottom corner.)

I told my friend she was crazy and that I wasn’t doing it.

 

But it niggled at the back of my mind for a couple of weeks. Surely I could write a novel. I’d read enough epic fantasy stories that I could cobble one together. Right? Just go through the cliché’s like a checklist of groceries. Thief? Check. Rouge? Check. Prince? Check. Wizard? Check. Grouchy old guy? Check. Impossible quest? Check. Witty banter? Check. Riding horses? Check. Er, I mean. No. I’m not doing it!

I resisted. I didn’t plan. I ignored the little voice in my head…until three days before November.

I remember it clearly. I was in the doctor’s office. Waiting. I had a pen and paper and I pulled it out and wrote down a single line. My plot. I already had characters I could steal from a stupid story that a couple of friends and I made up. And they didn’t need backgrounds, because I would give them amnesia at the beginning of the story! But not normal amnesia, this is a curse, and they have to figure out who they are, but if they get to close to the truth, their heads will explode.

 

It was so bad I thought it just might work.

However, on the way home from the doctor’s office, I stopped by Barnes and Nobel and got the book, “No Plot? No Problem.” I read through it in the few days I had before November 1st. I psyched myself up, shoved my inner editor out onto the back porch for the month and started writing.

It was amazing. I found out that I could type 1700 words in forty five minutes. I totally used the mental list of clichés. I woke up on more than one morning more excited about what my characters were going to do that day than I was about anything else.

I hit 50,000 words three days early.

The experience really empowered me. I hadn’t planned. I hadn’t agonized. I didn’t even have a thumb drive to save the file on until after I’d started. And yet, at the end of twenty seven days, I had a novel. Sort of. It wasn’t finished, and it wasn’t good, but it was there.

It took me two more Nanowrimos to finish that first story, and since then I think I’ve done it five more times. None of them will ever see the light of day. Sometimes I do a detailed outline, and other times I have an idea in mind and I start to write.

If outlining works for you, do it. If it doesn’t, Nano is a great time to explore a story you’ve been thinking about. If you don’t think you can do it, think again. Toss that inner editor out for the month and start writing. If the story gets boring, find a cliché and use it. Ninja robot monkeys. Flying carpets. Self-braiding nose hairs. Skip whole sections and go to the part you want to write. Don’t stress about it, just do it.

 

 

 

 

Back-Up FTW

 

Cons are an interesting phenomenon. The vendor area is made up of too-skinny aisles that somehow funnel thousands of nerds through them on an hourly basis. Rows and rows of six foot tables or ten foot square booths line the sides, each with their own unique wares-art, crafts, scrolls, swords, costumes, novels- to draw the masses toward them. Sometime in the middle of day two the smell sets in, and then on day three it goes away, because you’ve become part of it. The vendor hall is noisy and claustrophobic, and getting people’s attention with books is often a challenge.

I live near Salt Lake City, and have done the Salt Lake Comic Con half a dozen times as an author. I started out sharing a table or a booth with other authors. Sometimes sponsored, sometimes not. The out of pocket cost wasn’t much when we were sponsored, so making my money back wasn’t a big deal. I was there to have fun and meet potential readers.

I remember one year, there was a couple sitting across from the four-author-table I was a part of. It was just the two of them. They looked fresh and excited, surrounded by piles and piles of what had to be his first published work. The one sign they had said that the book was $20.

Just a note: most readers don’t go to a con to pay MORE for a book than they would on Amazon.

The guys at my table and myself tried to be friendly. Talk to our neighbors. Greet people going by. Ask them what they like to read. Offer them a free bookmark. It’s simple but it helps draw people over to the table. One of our guys would even grab a copy of his book, turn it around and hand it to people to read. This also helped sales.

The couple across the way started out smiling, but after an hour or so, with only a few people stopping and none stayed to talk, the smiles waned, and the looks of desperation began. The wild eyes, searching the passing crowd, looking for anyone who glanced their way. Or even mostly glanced their way.

I don’t think I saw more than three or four people that stopped all day.

The next day, the price for the book had been lowered to $15. Better. Not great, but better. However, it didn’t help. While we plugged along, selling a book or so an hour, they got more and more desperate. I saw them with their heads together, talking. They started to send nasty looks into the passing crowd, as if the people were to blame for their lack of success.

By the end of day two, they walked away with their shoulders slumped and their eyes down. The next morning the price of the book was $10. Halfway through the day it went to $7. Then, during the last hour, 2 for $5.

I’m not sure they sold a single book. The four authors at our table probably totaled 45 books. So not great, but since someone had sponsored us, it wasn’t a big loss for any of us.

I’ve never seen that couple come back. And who can blame them? They had a horrible experience.

But what made it a horrible experience?

Let me tell you, after four or five times sharing space, how I did the first time I went on my own. I got a six foot table and paid extra to be on the main walkway as well as on a corner. The corner was for ease of getting in and out more than anything else, because on a table you don’t get an end cap or anything.

By this point I knew I was horrible at pimping my own books, so I called for backup. My sister-in-law is a huge fan of my books, as well as a huge geek. So is my brother-in-law. So I got them vendor badges (generally less expensive than the regular passes) and they agreed to help me sell books. They aren’t afraid to talk to people, and they didn’t hesitate to chat with anyone who walked by. They would ask people if they liked to read and if so what. At that point they would grab one of my books that resonated with what the victim-potential reader-had said and tell them about it.

I brought 150 books with me and we sold 125 of them. Not the greatest showing ever at a con, but much better than I’d ever done before. And basically, I sat behind the table, looked pretty and signed books. I tried my hand at drawing people over, and got better at it, but my minions did most of the work. I made a tidy profit, and that was that.

A few weeks later, I took them to a nice dinner and we talked about selling even more books the next time.

I’ve learned that you get out of a conference what you put into it. If you’re willing to get out there and sell your books, then you will sell a lot more books than if you simply sit behind your table and watch the crowds go by. Maybe your covers or your posters or your decorations will draw people over. Or maybe enough people know your name to drop by, but until then, be prepared to work your butt off. And if people aren’t responding to you, bring in back up. Bribe them. It’s worth it.

Ups and Downs and How to Use Them

Picture this: (Because I saw it on Facebook a few days ago, and now can’t find it.)

Two short, wooden tracks for marbles. One starts high and flattens out, the other looks like a roller coaster with up and down bumps spaced perfectly apart. A marble is released at the beginning of each track. The first performs as predicted, the marble rolls down and to the end, losing momentum as it goes. The second surprises me. The marble goes down, hits the bottom of the hill and goes back up. Once up, it thunders back down, only to go up again. While it loses some momentum going up, the down hills keep it going. And, it makes it to the end before marble #1.

I feel like this is the perfect analogy for the momentum of my own creativity.

I always start out excited, barreling down the hill with all of the purpose in the world with the wind whipping through my hair and sunshine on my face. This can go on for a day or a week or a month, but eventually, the “something” occurs. It can be plot problems, it can be life problems, it can be family problems, it can be day job problems…the list goes on and on.

At this point I have to dig in. My momentum has waned, and the only thing to do is pull out the good old hard work. Sometimes it takes wading through plot problems for a week before I can get going again. Sometimes it takes ignoring the book for a while. Sometimes it takes forcing myself to sit in my office chair and write for an hour, even if it is total crap. Sometimes it takes doing every chore in the house so I don’t have an excuse to mess around anymore. Sometimes it takes all four and then some.

During this I usually feel things getting easier again. I crest the top of the hill, panting because going uphill is hard, and stupid, and look around. Before me I see my path and I am once again excited. I step off and it all starts over.

Back to my analogy. Not only does the roller coaster marble end up with more momentum, it actually goes farther than the other one. And, it gets there faster.

So if you’re feeling a little bi-polar about your creative process, remember that not everyone is the same, and maybe you’re a roller coaster creator, like me. Or maybe the long, slow burn process is your game. Either way, figure out how your process works and then figure out how you can make it work for you.