Category Archives: Living Deliberately

Superstars Week, Day 3: Confessions of Repeat Offenders

Hello, intrepid readers, this is Leigh, and I’d like to welcome you back to the Fictorian Era’s Superstars Week! For the last two days you’ve gotten an idea of what you can gain by attending the Superstars Writing Seminars, but today, Nancy, Clancy, and I will be telling you why we felt the need to go back for more. Yes, all three of us are Repeat Offenders, having attended both previous seminars.

So, why return to a seminar you’ve already attended?

For me, there were a number of reasons, but today, I’m going to talk about how, by returning to the Superstars Writing Seminar, you’re not just revisiting something you’ve seen before. The seminar is dedicated wholly to learning the writer’s place in the publishing industry. And let’s face it, people, that place is changing fast. This seminar is a true insiders look at what any writer looking to make a career publishing can expect, and the options available to get there.

As an example, in the first Superstars seminar, we had the core five authors, Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, Brandon Sanderson, and David Farland. Across the board, they said that traditional publishing was the way to go. Then, Amazon unveiled their e-publishing program. Self-publishing wasn’t the pariah it previously was. The next seminar dedicated an hour to self-publishing and e-books. As part of that panel, Moses Siregar, a previous Superstar attendee, had a heated discussion with Eric Flint over e-publishing, and David was heavily leaning toward self- publishing. Since then, David’s written a post on this very site stating that he believes self-publishing to be the future of the industry, and this year, Superstars has brought in Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, two vocal authors on indie publishing issues. Clearly things have changed, and Superstars is keeping pace.

Yet, as with any seminar, there are portions that are repeated every year, but as Clancy will tell you, even that can be a good thing.

* * *

Clancy here. And here’s why I’m a repeat offender: I signed up for my second Superstars seminar unsure if I would hear much that I hadn’t learned the year before. But I wanted to meet Sherrilyn Kenyon (a guest speaker) and see my alumni buddies, so I decided to go. Color me surprised me when I learned as much, if not more, as I did the first time. During the year between the two events, I had changed. Where I was with my writing and my career had also changed, and I was hearing different things even though much of the content was similar. My mindset tuned into completely different points made.

I wanted to give you an example, but I can’t think of one. I know… challenged. Anyway – I remember sitting there during a presentation that I’d heard before and thinking to myself, I know they discussed this last year, but I was hearing the content through a different filter and what caught my attention were not the same things that did the year prior. I wish I had an excellent example to share. Just know that it was a profound ‘a-ha’ like realization. So, I wish I could go again this year because I know I would, yet again, learn more and different things than I have already.

Read on to see why Nancy is right and the contacts and friends I have made during both seminars are still with me, still in contact, and are still impacting my life in ways I will forever be grateful for.

* * *

Nancy Greene, on the issue of “Contacts and Kismet”: We attend conferences to make contacts including the conference speakers, vendors, and participants. I confess to being a Repeat Offender at Superstars Writing Seminars for all the reasons you’ve heard about over the last few days and for the people I meet.

Approximately 20-30 attendees at the 2011 Superstars were Repeat Offenders. I’d guess the number is about the same for April’s session. The Superstars crowd isn’t cliquey. We go out enmasse. The “we” is the Repeat Offenders, one or more of the speakers, and anyone we can convince to join us. Dinner and late night drinks at the hotel bar are similar affairs. Because we’re a social group, there’s a lot of extra time with the speakers, which is something that often doesn’t happen at other conferences. The social aspect’s a great way to forge long-term friendships. After all, we’re all writers, and can help each other after the conference ends.

I’ve written about the benefits of writers helping writers before in the Benefits of Holding Hands on this blog. Because of Superstars and the friends made there, the Fictorians have:

(1) Participated in this blog (all members are Superstars attendees),
(2) Received weekly encouragement and accountability checks,
(3) Received advice and critiques from some of the presenters,
(4) Edited or beta read novels written by the presenters,
(5) Assisted other Fictorians in getting short-stories published,
(6) Been introduced to other fabulous connections, including agents and publishers, and
(7) Advertised or promoted the other writers on the site.
The list contains the things I can think of off the top of my head. There’s more.

The writing industry is small. The way to “break-in” is to have a great product, and an even better network. We might have made the contacts and achieved the same results without Superstars, but the process would’ve probably been years longer.

Kismit happens.

But you have to ensure you’ve done your work and made the contacts you need to be “in the right place at the right time.” Superstars is an excellent place to make those contacts, and it’s why I’m a Repeat Offender.

So, if you’re a Repeat Offender, feel free to let us know why you keep going back to Superstars. And everyone should stick around for tomorrow and Friday for a two part interview with two of the founders of this fantastic seminar, David Farland and Kevin J. Anderson. See you in April.

My Alien Being

I’m sitting on the beach in Essouira, Morocco. No bikinis dot the Sahara-red sand. There’s just kids playing soccer, tourists declining barkers carrying silver trays of delicate sweets rebaked in the afternoon sun and camels carrying giddy riders through sea side dunes. Surf’s high – so high the pulsing ocean is blood red with a ribbon of frothing foam and the sea monster’s mouth snaps shut on the shore. A shard of light spears roiling storm clouds. Awestruck, I gape, ignoring the stinging sand in my eyes and the salty spray turning my hair prematurely white. I want to fall to my knees in reverence knowing that if I wasn’t a child of science, this moment would be my moment of truth because I’ve seen the Angel. From this point forward, my writing would no longer be of fantasy but of prophecy and revelation.

Walking through the Medina, with store keepers cooing enticements of shared tea or special deals for pretty women or special Berber massages, I’m reminded that I’m not simply the observer, I’m the alien being observed. No matter how modestly I’m dressed, how respectful I’m being, I’m still a foreigner in a country where I don’t speak the main language. And I love it. I laugh at the offers, banter with the best all the while noting my reactions and theirs. But then I’ve had enough. Enough of the smells of sweet spices teasing my nostrils which have just been assaulted by heaps of raw fish. Enough of chickens squawking while docile rabbits nibble grass in the butcher’s stall. Enough of brightly colored linens carefully displayed, leather goods spilling into the street, metal workers hammering out bowls. Enough of watching the ebb and flow of tourists pushing, vendors enticing and arms desperately flailing about to secure a good deal.

Alienness overload. That’s what this is.

Somewhere deep inside, we all try to understand the alien within ourselves otherwise, we wouldn’t be writing fantasy. But writing is a safe way to practice the alien experience vicariously through the new worlds we’ve built, through plot twists and every character’s angst. Sometimes it’s too safe and our writing suffers for it. When we’re too familiar with something, we lose the rawness of wonder. We need to remember that rawness, that excitement and fear when our character enters a new world. We can’t let our familiarity overshadow the character’s experience.

That’s why I like to travel to countries where I don’t understand the language and the customs are totally new. It’s raw. It’s exciting. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. But always, it reminds me that my characters have their own points of view about the world they’re experiencing. I know that when something so familiar to others is so new to me. It’s safe but it isn’t. It’s fun but it’s scary. It’s awesome and it’s overwhelming. Those feelings are what I must hold on to because my characters can never be as comfortable as I am about the new world I’ve created for them.

I am their interpreter. Bringing their experiences to life on the page. Finding that raw edge, the vulnerability that makes them spin out of control or struggle for control in the alien landscape. I challenge them by committing the cultural faux pas which forces them to take desperate actions to survive.

Understanding the alien within never gets any easier – it only gets more exciting. Our need for belonging and security heightens our awareness yet when those needs are our memories of alienness drift away. So I travel the roads unknown taking care to note the alien nature, the creeping comfort of familiarity and to translate that to the written word. Somewhere in those gems of observations are not only the feelings my characters will have, but the sparks of ingenuity for inspiring deeper, richer worlds where angel swords pierce the heart, sea monsters snatch unwitting victims from the shore and someone falls in love with the alien.

Creative Discipline

Creative discipline – that’s an oxymoron for every writer! Creativity conjures images of free flowing thoughts; unfettered imagination spilling effortlessly onto pages and pages. The brilliance of remembered grade school grammar coupled with the adult’s ability to focus childhood imagination – that is every writer’s ability. Turn the tap on when you need it. Shut it off when life interferes. Always the stories will get written.

Or so my family and friends think.

Creativity requires time, space and yes, discipline. My writing got its kick start when I went back to university in my thirties for a degree in Food Science. That coupled with the first degree in English, I can spot an error in any recipe or food safety plan for slaughtering chickens! But, it was those nasty chemistry classes with all their formulas, all those reactions, which gave me the big Aha! and allowed me to write.

Observe. Note. Analyse. Explain. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Isn’t that what most articles on writing ask us to do? What is the character’s reaction to a given situation or action? If they act, what is everyone else’s reaction? What is the character’s ensuing reaction? Like in chemistry class, writers ask the question, What happens when I mix this with that? Explosions? That’s a good thing. A fizzle? Need better chemistry.

What if? is the magical question that blows worlds apart, creating compelling scenarios, challenging protagonists and readers to explore beyond their comfort zones. What if I as a writer don’t answer the phone or check emails regularly? What if I ignore the house work? Put off the laundry? Make a quick something instead of a feast for dinner? Just as for my protagonist, What If? also throws me out of my comfort zone. Yet, I’ve discovered that when I play by What If’s rules, I don’t starve. The laundry eventually gets done. People rarely need an immediate response. And, most importantly, my characters and worlds flourish because my discipline affords them the time to.

So yes, I’ve discovered that creativity needs discipline to flourish. Disciplined blocks of time and discipline to brainstorm What If? Turn the creative tap on and let it stay on. Otherwise, thoughts get lost, diluted or stale. Thoughts need discipline to be created and to appear on the page.

Now when you’re revising or editing, that’s a different discipline and a different blog!

Just remember, we write because words are our air, the page our playground, and our imagination feeds our spirit.

The Lonely Writer …

There is a misconception that writing is a solitary activity. Insofar as the first steps of the process are concerned, it is. The initial draft and the rewrites can only be done by the writer. But check out the thank you or acknowledgement pages of any published book. It lists writing groups, friends, family, editors, research contacts, mentors – in short, it’s a community of support and resources which helped the author create a publishable book.

Support systems are integral to our success. They inspire us. They challenge us to perfection. They nourish our thirst for knowledge on craft and genre. They help us understand the business of writing – how to get the first contract, who to approach and how. And it’s a blessing when that support system is found within your writing group.

Every good writing group has members who help each other, by giving advice on craft and genre. But, most importantly, we need to be with like-minded people – those who understand the writing life – the joys and successes or the struggles and crazy times. These are the people who celebrate with us when the first draft is complete. They share our angst as we rewrite and perfect our work. They commiserate with us through the rejections. They party with us when the manuscript is sold and finds a home in bookstores.

I love the writing groups I belong to. One is this group which founded The Fictorian Era. Although we span three countries, we set weekly goals, support each other through highs and lows, beta read for one another and discuss issues for emerging authors. A local group, Mystery Writers Ink, provides awesome speakers and resources on matters of crime and craft. And, the third group, Imaginative Fictions Writers, is a critiquing and professional development group many of whose members have spearheaded the When Words Collide, a multi genre popular fiction conference for readers and writers.

The support we receive, we must give back. That is the nature of the writing life. We are there for each other. So, look at the writing group you belong to. Does it feed you? Does it inspire you? Then, ask yourself, how can I give back to it? Writing groups function because of dedicated volunteers. But, those volunteers can only do so much without jeopardising their own writing. The old adage, many hands make light work, seems trite, but it’s true. If we all do a little, we all get a lot back.

Just remember, successful authors have a community of support around them ….

Check out:

http://www.whenwordscollide.org/

http://www.mysterywritersink.com/

http://www.writtenword.org/ifwa/