Sunday, September 27, 2015

FenCon Recap: Beating Back the Brain-Hamster

Okay, so this one's a little bit out of the blue. I didn't post about FenCon last week, because I wasn't even sure I would go. I didn't make it onto programming this year, which isn't the end of the world, but stings when it's one of two conventions in your own hometown (and one that's had you as a guest before.)

Yeah, I know. It's just one con, and it's not like I haven't had my share of airtime this year. I wasn't crying myself to sleep. It's just one of those irrational things that feeds the evil brain-hamster - you know, the one that runs on its squeaky little wheel of insecurities, and every squeak-squeak-squeak is another you suck, you suck, you suck.

Despite vast plastic piles of evidence to the contrary!
Well, that little bastard was only going to get louder if I sat at home, so I went to the con to drown him out. (Hamsters, being solitary, skittish, nocturnal creatures, flee in the presence of other humans. Or at least mine do.)

And man, I am so glad I did. It was so much fun to remember what conventions were like before I turned them into tax-deductible platform-building calculated marketing maneuvers. It was great to just open up the program book and see what I felt like doing - to sit back and enjoy a panel, a reading, a dealers-room stroll - to see my friends again and shoot the breeze.

Then I started to feel guilty, because I'd spent money and writing-time to be there, and I shouldn't just go to amuse myself. A local con is a valuable opportunity, and I should try to make it worthwhile for my team - among others, my agent, my publisher, and good ol' Willie Siros there in the dealers room, who lugged copies of my books all the way from Austin to sell them here. (This is the great thing about having a team, by the way: you can't blow off the people who've invested in you, no matter how fervently the hamster assures you of the foolishness and futility of your efforts.)

Basically this.

So I screwed up my nerve, mustered up my cute, and moseyed into ops to ask ever-so-sweetly if they'd had any last-minute cancellations who needed a wonder-fabulous last-second replacement.

And oh, the delight! Oh, the enthusiasm! Those beautiful people could not have been kinder or more gracious. Robyn and Meredith and Julie loaded me up with a full slate of panels and a fancy-fresh name-card and sent me straight out to play. Can anyone ask for a greater posse than the FenCon crew? I would submit that they cannot!

And somewhere in the middle of all that was an absolutely beautiful wedding up in Olympia, a little overnight sojourn in the Portland airport (planned, that is - so much better than the other kind!), and a rocket-fueled return for the end of the convention.

DID YOU KNOW that small airports are creepy as hell at 2AM? True story!

And now that I'm back home in the stillness and the quiet, the brain-hamster is running that wheel again, trying to tell me that everything I did was haphazard and self-serving and mostly-fruitless, that instead of choosing one thing to do well this weekend (go as a fan, go as a pro, skip the con altogether and go to the wedding), I ended up doing three things badly. If I hadn't asked for programming, I could have gone to my friend Shawn's first-ever reading (among other things!) If I hadn't skipped town on Saturday, I could have probably sold more books, and definitely seen more people. If I hadn't tried to work the con in around the wedding, I could have stayed for the whole nine yards - the rehearsal dinner, the after-party, around-town adventures with the fam the day after.

And if the happy couple hadn't plied us with pies, I wouldn't have had to... well, let's move on.

But when I look at it objectively, I got to enjoy a wonderful lunch with my friend Jeannette, two readings, five panels, a dead-dog drinking session, my first-ever airport sleepover adventure, 250 miles of quality car-time with my mom, and a once-in-a-lifetime barnstormer of a wedding party. Even the hamster has to admit that that's a pretty good haul.

Anyway, but enough about him. Life is good, people are wonderful, and it's time for me to buckle back down and finish this book. Big love to everybody who's folded me in to the fun (and who's been waiting eagerly to do that very thing!): you are heavenly people-grease for a chronically squeaky wheel, and the silence is delightful.

And one day we will die and our ashes will fly
From the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see

Monday, September 21, 2015

10 Things I Learned About Writing From Vegas

Well, look: I've had more adventures this year than even I can keep track of. Some of them you don't even know about!

But since I'm stuck at home being responsible this week, let's revisit the Vegas wedding I attended back in March (courtesy of my un-bachelored buddy James and his fabulous bride-wife Katie!).  Here are ten things Sin City taught me about the delicate craft of writing!

1. Don't worry about asking for feedback on your work. Your audience will let you know which parts they like.


2. You gotta sell the sizzle - but it helps if there's some steak.


3. Taste is subjective.


4. Lie stupendously.

Taken at The Writers Block - Vegas' best indie bookstore!

5. Great writing is about seeing the world from a new perspective.


6. A little shameless pandering never hurt anyone...

7. ...but stick to your principles, whatever they may be.

Did I mention that The Writers Block doubles as an artificial bird sanctuary?

8. Go for crossover appeal.

9. Your audience is looking for an experience. Give it to them.

10. Subtext is everything.

I know, right? Doesn't it make you want to give your life the finger and go fun yourself to death?

Well, for those of us who have to settle for living vicariously, Jamie Wyman has it covered - her Etudes in C# series is busting out with a third book! Gods and satyrs and mayhem abound in Cat Sharp's not-so-glamorous Las Vegas lifestyle - and that's before we get into the technomage club scene. (NGL, you guys - my inner fishman got a little too excited when I got to the condo-wrecking shark-monsters.)

If that sounds like your kind of fun, start with Wild Card and then sally forth to help us Kickstart the rest of the series - we might be stuck here in real life, but by gum, we can read like shameless hedonists!

“Marius, where are my pants?”
His grin widened. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Monday, September 7, 2015

One Year Out: On Fame, Fear, and the End of Debut-dom

So about a month ago, I had a real Twilight Zone moment. See, my mom tagged me in one of those time-hop things on Facebook -

- and my first thought was, "holy mackerel - has it been a year already?"

My second thought was, "oh my cheese - has it only been a YEAR?"

But lo, it was so: Sixes launched in the US on July 24th 2014, which means I've officially been doing the published-author thing for over a year now.

Now, a whole belated month-and-a-half after the fact, I'm sitting at home in my clean, quiet little me-space, and I finally have time to think about what that means. Or rather, what's appropriate to say about it.

Y'know, I was having an email conversation with my great buddy Merlin a few months back (a terrific writer you haven't heard of yet, because he is almost-literally working in the salt mines while he composes his magnum opus.) We were discussing how the ups and downs get harder to talk about once you start formally putting yourself out there - because you need to cultivate a professional image, and also because nobody wants to hear a bunch of first-world problems (especially from somebody who's achieved something most of the rest of us would give our eyeteeth for). But he added something I hadn't thought about before, with a phrase I will probably remember for the rest of forever. He said,
I think people have a romanticized idea of what it is to write a book, to tell a story that needs telling.  And that idea gets sold again and again because that's the only way to keep people doing this difficult thing, right?  So, if folks published a book and then told everyone they knew 'It was just the hardest, saddest, most wonderful but exhausting thing I've ever done' then someone else that had a story to tell might think twice.  
And man, that's it. That right there. I'm overjoyed to have had the opportunity to put my work out into the world this way. I'm so, so grateful to everyone who's invested in me. I am also frequently sad, ruinously tired, and absolutely terrified of failure. Actually, it's fair to say that I spend most of my time feeling like I'm failing.

But the thing is, when you accomplish something, that accomplishment is defined just as much by what it isn't.  We see every newborn baby as a potential president or cancer-curing scientist - but that's because they're literally 8 pounds of raw human potential. They haven't had the chance to TRY, much less fail. We fill graduates' heads with grand sweeping commencement speeches about infinite possibility and unlimited opportunities - but that's because the little darlings haven't gotten out into the world and DONE anything yet. And whatever they do, no matter how valid and important and fulfilling it is, they have to give up a hundred thousand other possible futures to do it. Every decision narrows the field of future decisions. Every choice is limiting.

And that's a hard, scary thing. That's why we have the quarter-life crisis. That's why so many of us spend our freshman adult years in angst and insecurity. I felt it then, and I'm feeling it all over again now. My first book didn't set the world on fire. It didn't win any awards. I didn't generate a whole bunch of buzz or get featured on NPR or score a blurb from Stephen King. Those possibilities are gone.  I've mourned them more than I probably should.

Most of that is probably just the inevitable death of an immature dream. Hell, I can remember finishing my first novel at 17, and fantasizing about what it was going to be like to be a published author too young to drink champagne at her own launch party.  As the kids say, "LOL."

But here's what I've noticed. The other authors in my cohort, the ones who just seem to be busting out all over the place? They might be putting out their first novels, but they have been pillars of their communities for YEARS. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a short-story juggernaut, not to mention a hell of an editor in her own right. Beth Cato is the most prolific human being I've ever met - the adult version of that one kid who was in every extracurricular activity known to man and still found time to volunteer at the homeless shelter and earn a perfect 4.3 GPA. Julie Murphy basically runs her own e-church - preaching the gospel of body acceptance and self-love, giving and taking heartfelt and frequently hilarious confessions, making time to have passionate, relevant conversations with everybody who darkens her door.  You might not have heard of these people, but their posters are plastered all over my bedroom walls. They are my rival-frenemy-secret-crush-golden-shining-idols - and as badly as I want what they have, I simply haven't matched what they've done. I haven't even come close.

I haven't put out a whole passel of short stories. Hell, I haven't put out one. I haven't edited anything or taken any freelance writing gigs, and my online presence is the digital equivalent of me sitting in my living room with the lights off and the shades drawn and then wondering why I'm not getting invited to parties. And the one place where I basically am Celebrity Rockstar Author Jesus? Is DFWcon - where I've been pouring in volunteer hours and workshop face-time for three straight years. Is anyone else sensing a pattern here?

So... I guess what I'm saying is, this is the year I found out that the magical buzz-fairy is not going to sweep down and bless me with a box of instant-fame potato flakes. I am not writing accessible fiction for a well-established audience. I am not (yet!) a well-known person. I do not have the marketing heft of a Big-5 publisher throwing hella dollars to promote me. Those three things together mean that if there is an easy elevator to the top, I can't count on it. I am going to need to join 99.9% of the entire rest of the world in taking the stairs.

I'm up for it. I still feel like I'm failing. I'm absolutely terrified of going out of print, of being a confirmed dud that nobody will want to do business with. (Seriously, y'all: if you've read my stuff, please please please help me out with an Amazon / Goodreads review. It doesn't need to be Shakespeare. It doesn't need to glow. Short of buying 50,000 copies of my books and lobbing them through people's windows, this is the single best thing you can do to help me not sail my failboat all the way to remainder-land.) But I can do more than I've done so far, and the game isn't over yet. 

And speaking of which... you guys.

Thank you for this.

I may not have shown up on the New York Times, but my man Merlin put me front-and-center on the company shipping newsletter. Don't tell him it made me cry.
And for this.

Yes, that is one very well-loved spine.
Yes, those are marker tabs and page notes.
Yes, this is ego-pornography for authors - and my Uncle Sanford is Hugh Hefner.
And this.

Look at you. Look at you, you goddamn beautiful disasters!
And this.
FAN ART, people. Actual, honest-to-god fan art. This is not a drill!
And this, and this, and this, and this. (I print these out and love them until they're kleenex. You know that, right?)

Oh my god, and THIS.
Because you haven't truly made it as a writer until Frank has named MapleStory characters after your fictional friends.
Seriously, guys. Thank you so much for everything you've done to help launch me out into the world. I have no idea whether I can actually fly or whether I'm just 'falling with style', but you are absolutely the reason I haven't already splatted on the pavement. And let me tell you: even when it feels like the ground is rushing up to meet you, the view from up here is still pretty damn glorious.

...but if I go cold, I won't get sold

I'll get put in the back, in the discount rack
Like another can of beans