Friday, May 25, 2012

DFWCON 3: The Alliance

You know, I can distinctly remember reading about film and TV writers being forced to work through committee and even sometimes getting kicked off of their own projects, and thinking, "Man, I'm so glad I'm only doing books - everything belongs to me and I can do it all by myself."

Isn't ignorance adorable?  It's like looking at embarrassing naked baby pictures of your brain.

I mean, I always knew that there were agents and publishers and marketing gurus, all of whom you have to play ball with if you want to see your hardback on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, but I thought that the actual writing, the content of the book, was all me.  And a conference is cake by comparison, right?

So you might be able to imagine my slowly-mushrooming surprise as I realized that I'd had help from a veritable Justice League of awesome people *just to go to writer-prom*.  The list of superheroes included:

Ensemble, whose supernatural powers of wardrobe selection transformed me into a decent-looking human being

Photo-Finish, who wields business cards like shuriken and designs them too

Frankly Speaking and the Betazoids, who tirelessly heard, read, and critiqued not only my proto-pitch (often multiple times), but the manuscript from whence it came

and the Light of My Life, who heroically held the fort at home all weekend so that I could go off gallivanting.

And it was magical, marvelous, fantastic and enlightening, but having all those people behind me for this new and decidedly extroverted experience kinda made me realize how much I've already been relying on them for the long slog leading up to it: somebody to read my stuff and give me deep feedback on it, somebody to harass me about when the next chapter will be done, somebody who lets me harass *them* about arcane research questions, somebody who helped me through life and school and unemployment so that I could stay fixated on the dream.  Someday I aim to be somebody, but I would be NOBODY without my posse.

So the third and final Great Revelation from this weekend is this: if you're doing it all by yourself, you're probably doing it wrong.

Completely bulletproof - and machine washable, darling. That's a new feature.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

DFWCON 2: Lessons

I wussed out of the workshop meet tonight.  I feel dirty, like skipping class to go write the paper.

Anyway, so the marvelous Ms. Vickie Motter has already written a great series about what to do for writers' conferences, the first entry of which is --> here <--  I couldn't top that if I tried, but here while it's still fresh in mind are a few things that I learned this weekend.

Smart Moves

1.  Brutal, unrelenting cheerfulness.  It was easier than I'd expected (cuz I was genuinely having a blast), but it was amazing what a people-magnet the rainbowsparkle attitude turned out to be.

2.  Commentable features.  For me it was my name on the tag (I swear I got a thrill every time somebody hollered "TEX!!!")  For this one fellow I met, it was his immaculate formal suit-jacket, tie, and BRIGHT neon yellow pants.  My hypothesis is that people are more willing to take the plunge and strike up a conversation if you offer them an easy open (such as "good GOD man, your britches are showing up on Google Earth!")  This is probably also good for jogging an agent's memory when you shoot out an e-mail months later.  "Remember me?  I was the one cosplaying Boba Fett..."

3.  Business cards.  You probably already knew that, so bonus tip: if they're just for your writer-life, maybe have a little thumbnail photo of yourself on there, so people can whip it out weeks or months later and say "oh, right!  He's the one writing an 800-page memoir from his cat's point of view."

4.  Agent homework.  No lie, I got insane mileage out of whipping out my shoddily-printed papers and making battle-strategies with other writers who didn't know who they should pitch to.  What really clinched this was having pulled and printed information not found on the agents' websites - such as, for example, this fantastic list of things Agent Sarah LaPolla absolutely does NOT want to hear about even one more time.  When you save somebody $39 and brutal disappointment, you've basically just minted a new friend.

Pointers for Next Time

1.  More agent homework, for exactly the above reason - I only had coverage for the ones in my genre, and really wish I'd taken the time for all of them.  Plus, you never know who knows whom, or who you might end up stuck in an elevator with.

2.  More pitch practice.  Not so much with my core schpiel, but with integrating it with that particular agent's interests.  I fell absolutely flat on my face with one of them, and could have prevented that if I'd really prepped the whole thing instead of trying to hamfistedly mash the two parts together.

3.  Notes RIGHT after I talk to a fabulous new person.  I collected all these super-rad business cards and scribbled contact info, but neglected to write down what we'd talked about.  Now I can't remember which of these two ladies is the Mad Men fan who writes Don/Roger slash-fic, and that's not a thing you want to get mixed up about.

4.  Questions prepared ahead of time!  I did have a couple of generic good ones stashed up my sleeve, but it sucked to walk out of a truly awesome class and only think of a first-rate mission-critical question 20 minutes after the fact.

So there you go, future-me: take these lessons to heart and go forth to ArmadilloCon armed with experience, wisdom, and a surplus of breath mints.  Godspeed.

--So that's the secret?  Hickeys and bananas?
--No, I said she'll GO bananas.

Monday, May 21, 2012

DFWCON 1: New Neighbors

This is me, still awash in the post-coital glow from the DFW Writer's Conference.  I could fall asleep and stay there for three days easily, but instead, let me take a deep drag and write down a few of the essentials.

Point #1: The conference was AMAZING.  Knock-down, drag-out, tricycle-kid-from-the-Incredibles AWESOME.  It's the only writer's conference I've been to, but now I'm dreadfully afraid that I might have been ruined for all others.  It's kind of hard to picture how any other con could be as fun, informative, well-organized, and fantastically-attended as this one.  That is a pretty good problem to have.

Point #2: Writer-types, hie thee forth to one of these things.  It will almost-certainly be inferior to this one (see above), but more than any of the particular features, one of the best - healthiest - parts of this weekend was the meeting and greeting and going and doing.  This what we do is a lonely gig, and I had not at all realized how badly I needed to get out of my own head, and give the ol' Ouroboros something new to chew on.

Point #3: I said on Twitter that this is basically Hogwarts Disneyland Woodstock carnival-prom, for book nerds.  Let me zero in for a sec on the school part of that.

The thing is, when you are in grade school, or even in college, you are constantly being exposed to new ideas and new people.  Your classes and teachers and the kid who sits next to you in 3rd period all change from semester to semester, and although you can choose your lunch-buddies and who you invite to your birthday party, a great deal of the mixing is outside your control.  That constant social influx tends to end with adulthood.  Most of us end up with fairly stable sets of people in our lives: co-workers, friends, immediate family, whatever.  One of the things I've most enjoyed about the DFW Writer's Workshop, which was multiplied about a hundredfold at the conference, is that although you can still cultivate favorite friends, you are ALSO routinely shunted into groups of brand-new folks, who have brand-new perspectives and interests that you would have otherwise missed out on.  (And unlike those four-foot-tall larval felons in grade school, these ones here aren't after your lunch money or your self-esteem.)

What I mean to say is this: we of the pennish persuasion tend to get real focused on generating new stuff - new stories and characters and whatever.  And unless you have small children or food allergies, it's easy to forget that output correlates directly to intake.  Do yourself a favor, then, and see what you can do to increase your intake not only of books and ideas and Internet-content, but of fellow carbon-based life-forms - especially those outside your genre or Twitter feed or advertising demographic - and all the exotically-flavored brain-juices they bring.

Oh, hi Trolley.  Is it time to go back to reality now?

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Avengers: What Was Missing

My mom is pretty rad.  I don't say that because she wanted us to take her out to see The Avengers for Mothers Day, but it's definitely a contributing factor.

So anyway, my social mediaverse has been dripping with Avengers-flavored orgasmic juices basically for weeks now, and of course hype is a spoiler of a different kind: if enough people tell you that it's the most awesome thing EVER, you're bound to be disappointed when you finally get there.  The fact that I STILL enjoyed the dickens out of this movie surprised me.

Here as my belated effort to catch up to the rest of the world, then, are

Five Things Missing From The Avengers (spoilers included)

1.  Romance.  Or maybe better to say 'giant protracted romantic subplot.'  I'm not dogging on romance in general, but in this movie, the given purpose is to stop Loki from screwing planet Earth, and I appreciate keeping the focus there.  Yeah, there's some hints about there being some kind of a something between Natasha and whatsisname, but that's the extent of it: hints.  Then we're back to kicking ass.  Isn't it wonderful?

2.  Angst.  Maybe this is the great side-benefit of sticking six superheroes together and forcing them to share the screen: there's not enough time for any one of them to take 20 minutes and an overwrought monologue to mope about whatever.  Everybody got a minute and a couple (excellent) lines of dialogue to get poignant.  Then we're back to kicking ass. 

3.  Poor Decision-Making.  Sure, everybody's got their own personalities and prejudices, which makes for some decidedly less-rational behavior, but at no point does the plot hinge on somebody doing something holler-at-the-screen ridiculous.  Iron Man doesn't go diva and quit the team in a huff.  Thor doesn't blow the mission trying to 'redeem' his brother.  These people are adults, pretty consistently making smart decisions to advance a shared goal, and that is unbelievably refreshing.

4.  Fight-Scene Filler.  Let's be honest: long straight-up fight sequences are boring.  Spending ten minutes watching Wolverine fight the spiky-nails chick, or Captain Jack and Norrington duking it out on top of some ridiculously convoluted hamster-wheel bullshit, is boring.  Because all you're doing is waiting to see which one wins, and you already know that even if the good guy loses, he's not going to die.  The Avengers has its share of long action sequences, but it's much less like watching a CG version of Super Punch-Out, and much more akin to extreme eye-candy speed-chess: the outcome of each encounter changes the whole board, and keeps your brain engaged even while your eyeballs are juicing. 

5.  "Strong Female Characters."  I knew this wouldn't be a problem with Joss ("the Boss") Whedon, but it still warrants a mention.  There is some kind of insidious rule that a "kick-ass" heroine must be a rude, domineering, abrasive, nigh-unbearable shrew who strangles innocent bystanders with her ovaries.  And gets naked at some point.  It was so nice to see a lady character who was genuinely kind and polite and kept her (admittedly skin-tight) clothes on all throughout, and STILL kicked major ass.  Aspiring writers of the world, please, for the love of God, take note.

You know, I'm glad that the studio dumped $220 million into this thing: it allowed for a bunch of truly top-tier actors, amazing setpieces and special effects, and some first-rate marketing.  I just hope that when the movie gurus look at The Avengers' eleventy-billion dollars in revenue and set out to emulate its success, they will realize that the secret formula isn't "expensive eye-candy and lots of it."  Good writing is cheap by comparison, and yet incredibly valuable.  It's nice to see that rewarded.

Clench up, Legolas.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cue Training Montage

Oh, man.  Well, the unrelenting shitblizzard that affords me an income is actually starting to relent, and not a minute too soon: the DFW Writer's Conference kicks off in a mere 17 days, and I am going to need every ONE of them to get myself together.

Things to do over the next two weeks:

--write, practice, and perfect a pitch (holy crap*)
--roll out some business cards
--pick brains of veteran attendees, take copious notes
--learn how to dress for success competent adulthood

*this is easily the least-important and yet most-intimidating part; I hope I'm scheduled to go early, so I can get it done with and then kick back and enjoy all the remainder.

I tell you what: this whole project scares the dickens out of me, and no lie.  But after the months of nebulous hithering-and-thithering with feedback, revisions, and critiques, it's kind of nice to be able to drive a dart into the wall calendar and say "THIS is happening on THIS day."  I'll plan on that not happening again until that hypothetical moment when my hypothetical publisher sets a hypothetical release date.  Until then...!

Go ahead and sleep on the power couch. Your training begins tomorrow, at the crack of noon.