Author Archives: Gregory D. Little

Leave the Spock Ears at Home: World Fantasy Convention

I’d wager a guess that most of our readers are neither independently wealthy nor possessing of vast amounts of free time. I’d also venture that most of you know by now the importance of networking in your burgeoning writing career. The old phrase “It’s not always what you know, but who you know” may be a massive cliche, but there’s a reason for that: it’s true.

So we know we need to show up at conventions, meet our fellow authors and hopefully get some editors and agents interested in our manuscripts. But for the reasons I mentioned above, we can’t just go to every convention that trundles up on the calendar. What’s an aspiring writer to do? What is the convention that gives you the greatest proverbial bang for your literal buck?

For you science fiction and fantasy writers out there, I humbly submit the answer: World Fantasy Convention. I like to think of it as Worldcon’s business-focused little brother. Whereas Worldcon is a fan-oriented event also attended by professionals in the writing industry, World Fantasy is all business. You won’t find anyone wandering around in cosplay there (so as the title says, leave your Spock ears at home), just writers, editors and agents who are interested in networking. Old friends and business contacts are caught up with, new friends and business contacts are made and through it all new opportunities are generated.

World Fantasy 2012 was my first convention and it was just what I was looking for. The afternoon I arrived (the day before the convention started) I met urban fantasy author Kat Richardson in the hotel elevator, and she was kind enough to introduce me around to her circle. I chatted with Pat Rothfuss prior to his panel. At the mass signing I ran into and chatted with epic fantasy author Scott Bakker. I talked with Norm Sherman, editor of Drabblecast, Mass Effect writer and author of The Palace Job Patrick Weekes, and lest I forget, I met a certain Evan Braun, author and blogger for Fictorians, an encounter that ultimately led to the post you are reading now. Make no mistake, this is the highest density of industry professionals you are likely to find at any convention. If you are looking for a convention to maximize your opportunities for career advancement, World Fantasy Convention is where you need to be.

Now, some tips:

-This con should be all about socializing. If you aren’t in a panel, you should probably be hanging out around the hotel bar. People will congregate there day and night. Even if you aren’t a drinker, the bar is the central hub of socialization for the con. If not the bar, find the hospitality suite and if not the suite, find the dealer room.

-Make an effort to figure out where and when the various parties will be held. They are thrown by publishers, sometimes to promote a new book release, sometimes just as a social event. A lot of times they aren’t advertised, so you may need to know someone who knows, so here’s where your people skills come into play. Be a pleasant person that people enjoy spending time with, and they shouldn’t be reluctant to fill you in on the details.

-Maintain good situational awareness. Just because people are at the con in a business mindset doesn’t mean they want to talk 24/7. If you see that agent you’ve been anxious to meet off by themselves but they appear to be busy checking their email, leave them be. The last thing you want is to make a poor first impression and be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

-Likewise, pay attention in panels if you’re looking for conversational icebreakers. If you’re shy like me, finding an excuse for starting a conversation is the hardest part. If you have something to lead off with, like “I really enjoyed your urban fantasy panel today,” that can make things a lot easier.

-Convince some of your writing friends to go with you. Writers tend to be shy, so you can all psyche each other up into approaching people who might otherwise intimidate you.

-Lastly, remember to relax and try to enjoy yourself. There’s no reason you can’t have fun and do your career some good at the same time.

This year’s World Fantasy Convention is in Crystal City, VA (I know the link says Washington, D.C., but any native Virginian will scoff at that) from November 6th – 9th. If you decide to come and see me wandering around looking shell-shocked, feel free to say hi!

An Embarrassment of Riches

A lot of people assume that writing is a solitary art, but the truth is they couldn’t be more wrong. The act of writing itself may be solitary and can be blissful for that very reason, but there are always people helping the writer along, giving them the gifts they need to succeed. This month we’ve heard a lot of personal stories about the greatest gifts we’ve received as writers, and I was surprised at the amount of breadth and depth both that the posts contained. Below are links to any you may have missed, or in case you want to revisit them.

  1. A Good Mentor is a Gift from the Gods by Kristin Luna
  2. Backing by Colette Black
  3. The Friends Who Stayed by Mary Pletsch
  4. The Fan Club by Evan Braun
  5. Your Gift, Should You Choose to Accept It… by Evan Braun
  6. The Gift of a Different Path by Dylan Blacquiere
  7. The Tools You Use Can Change Everything by Clancy Metzger
  8. Mean Salvation by Ace Jordyn
  9. The Gift of Fortitude by Holly Dawn Hewlett
  10. The Gift of Scorched Earth by Gregory D. Little
  11. Blood, Sweat and Hooked on Phonics by Nathan Barra
  12. Writing Friends by Megan Grey
  13. Solitude – A Lonely Gift by Ace Jordyn
  14. The Impact of Mere Words by Gregory D. Little
  15. Feedback is a Gift by Jace Sanders
  16. One Saturday with Sean by Tristan Brand
  17. Your Book – As a Gift by Mary Pletsch
  18. Rothfuss and Praise by Matt Jones
  19. Cannot Publish in Ignorance by Frank Morin
  20. Outside, in the Office by Kevin J. Anderson

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this month’s posts as much as I did. As we close out 2013, we’ll begin 2014 with a month of posts in which we set our various writing goals for the year. I hope you’ll keep stopping by!


The Impact of Mere Words

Growing up, I was never a fan of English class. It’s not as though I didn’t have some great English teachers, because I did. It was the curriculum. I can appreciate grammar for the sake of what it brings about, but I’ll never love it for its own sake. And as for the literature side of things, for every The Count of Monte Cristo (Murder! Betrayal! Intrigue!) there were three or four nightmares along the lines of The Old Curiosity Shop (Walking! Talking! Dying of natural causes!).

It’s therefore safe to say I didn’t hold out much hope for AP English in my senior year of high school. I figured it would net me some credits that would get me out of what would probably be an even worse class in college, and that would be that for my formalized English education. Earlier in the week I talked about a crisis point where I nearly gave up writing. Today, because I apparently enjoy working in reverse chronological order, I’m going to talk about how critical my AP English teacher was to my decision to become a writer. Because while I’d learned I could enjoy writing two years prior (as detailed in this old post), she was the person who convinced me I was good at it.

I’ve never been a particularly self-confident person. It’s a problem that persists to this day. In high school I was a very good student but never top in my class, and I was content to let the truly elite students grab all the embarrassing attention that came with all that confidence and all those As. But my teacher in twelfth grade ran a different kind of English class. She postponed tests on a whim. She let us play croquet outside once the AP exam was over in the spring. She would regularly trade examples of Simpsons trivia with me. She was a lot of fun, and she enjoyed her job. When a teacher cares about what she or he is doing, it’s always obvious.

Now because the senior reading curriculum was a little more flexible we were able to tackle books that had more complex themes. I found these more complex ideas interested me. Her writing assignments held my interest and weren’t just a rush to put down on paper what I thought the teacher wanted to hear as quickly as possible. I was really analyzing the stuff I read, thinking hard about how I interpreted books like Heart of Darkness and The King Must Die.

Which brings me to another thing my teacher tended to do that would prove significant. When she’d hand back essays, she would mention aloud the one or two she thought ranked among the best in the class. Just rattle off the names to give a little public praise, always a good thing. And because I’d been going to school with the same group of kids my whole life, those names were rarely surprising. Until one day, getting near the semester break. Our teacher listed off the same one or two students who, as usual, had produced sterling essays analyzing whatever book we were reading at the time. And then she said “but Greg is really turning out to be a dark horse candidate for best writer in the class.” I’d known she liked my writing from her comments on my papers all year up to that point. But I remember being startled to hear it spoken aloud and phrased in such a fashion. Not just good, but one of the best?  I’ve never forgotten that comment.

I learned to like writing my sophomore year. But I started believing I could be good at it my senior year, thanks to Mrs. Whitten. And however good a writer I was then or have become now, I doubt I can ever fully convey my gratitude in mere words. So please keep in mind, whether you’re in the position to influence a young mind or not, how much of a positive impact your words of praise can have on a person. I know I count these particular words among my greatest gifts as a writer.


The Gift of Scorched Earth

BookToday’s post is going to cover two gifts for the price of one, both intangible and tangible.

I began my first novel manuscript in January of 1999. There were three of us then, and during our winter break from college, we set out to write the greatest epic fantasy novel known to man. I probably don’t have to tell you our plans didn’t quite pan out. But flash forward four or five years, and that book, the first thing I ever tried to write with a serious intention of publishing it, was nearly the reason I quit writing for good.

My co-authors dropped out early in the process. We enjoyed talking about our story’s awesomeness more than actually working on it together. But I’d continued plugging slowly along on the book throughout college. And by the time I was graduated and then married, I had a couple of hundred draft pages. That seems like a tiny amount to Present Day Greg, but at the time it was by far the longest thing I’d ever written. The trouble was, I’d basically stopped working on it.

I told myself I was just busy. Working at a full-time job and commuting three hours daily left me very tired by the end of each week. But that wasn’t it. In truth I no longer believed in the story I was writing. I was no longer excited by it, because there was a dissonance between the plot and the protagonist. I didn’t believe that this protagonist would be responsible for the acts of his recent past that formed the foundation of the plot.

I’d be willing to bet a lot of writers don’t consciously decide to give up writing. It just sort of happens bit by bit, day by day until they look back and realize it’s been months or years since they’ve written. The point of no return is when this thought no longer bothers them. I came pretty close to that point. A more experienced writer would have just tossed the idea and started on a new one, but that wasn’t how I looked at it. The germ for this story had been in my head for a decade. If I couldn’t even see it through, what hope did I ever have of being a writer? But the Sunk Cost Fallacy had me in its claws. For those unfamiliar, the Sunk Cost Fallacy is the human tendency to “throw good money after bad” and continue investing in something that isn’t working just because you’ve invested so much into it already.

I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but I gradually gave myself permission to scrap what needed scrapping in order to the save the story. It started with rewriting the protagonist into the antagonist, but by the end I trashed every single word of text and started over. Some of the characters’ relationships to one another and some of my original world-building concepts would survive, but every bit of the prose was fed into the furnace of reigniting my excitement for the project. It was total scorched earth, and as much as I’d dreaded the concept, it was surprisingly liberating once I’d committed myself to it.

Eventually I finished my monster of a first manuscript, An End to Gods. The final product is infinitely better than the project was originally shaping up to be. I’ve gotten much faster and trimmer as a writer since then, and the book is still too big and too Byzantine to publish as a novice writer, but I love it for all its messy complexity. My cousins even collaborated to get it printed and bound in leather for me several Christmases ago, complete with custom chapter icon artwork (Ben and Duncan, you guys still rock!) and it is still the coolest gift I’ve ever been given. It’s sitting on my shelf behind me as I type this (and in the picture at the top of this post). I don’t mind telling you I got teary-eyed when I first laid eyes on it, and I still plan on publishing it one day, however many rewrites that takes. I’ve already done it once, after all.

So there you have it. Two greatest gifts for the price of one. Kevin J. Anderson likes to use the phrase “dare to be bad (at first)” and that’s excellent advice. But if that first draft is so bad it’s discouraging you from continuing to write, it may be time to tear it down and start again.