Monday, July 30, 2012

ArmadilloCon After Report

So now, it's all over.  I'm still not recovered yet, so some of this may be incoherent.

  • Friday we first had the Writers' Workshop, which went very well.  From the response I saw amongst the students, it was a good experience for them.  My group of students, in fact, handled the critique session with a lot of grace and professionalism.  I was teaching with Jeremy Lassen from Night Shade Books, who was a great teacher, and Robert Jackson Bennett, who impressed me a lot with his insight.  
  • Robert had some of the best comments in the large panel section of the workshop, where he compared writing (especially writing a novel) to building a house in the dark from the inside-out.  And the purpose of good critique is to essentially have someone look at one you've done and say, "Hey, man, you put a toilet in the kitchen"-- because you didn't even realize that was a toilet.  It's an odd metaphor, but I think it's apt.
  • I have to say-- one thing I always said when I was in theatre-- half the secret to success is getting the right people, on stage and behind the scenes.  So much of our success is because Stina Leicht did exactly that. She assembled a ridiculously good group of teachers, and brought in volunteers Beth Bugbee and Mandy Lancaster to keep everything running smoother than we could hope for. 
  • Katy Stauber organized our critique group, the Bat City Novelocracy, to have dinner at The County Line with Jeremy Lassen.  Meat and beer and great conversation with new and old friends. 
  • Saturday I returned with my son in tow.  I had two panels and a reading.  The first panel was on SF/F Mysteries, which was a lot of fun and very insightful for me.  Martha Wells, especially, always gives good panel-- I've thought so ever since I started going to ArmadilloCon- so it was a pleasure and honor to share the table with her for that one.  Even if the moderator did bust on us for whispering about Babylon 5.  Then I had "SF and Fantasy and Live Theatre".  That was fun, because any panel with Mark Finn is going to be.
  • I had my reading after Stina had hers (and her book in progress is going to be fabulous if the section she read from is any indication), which was a tough act to follow.  I did my best, reading the opening of Maradaine Constabulary, and on the whole I was pleased with the results.  The crowd reacted well, several people came up to me afterwards telling me they would buy it when it came out.  
  • Then the Bat City Novelocracy gathered in the bar for a late-night critique session of Abby's latest work-in-progress.  That went well into the wee hours of Leigh and Vidya and I throwing brainstorming ideas at Abby before we all crashed.  
  • You know how I mentioned how I had my son in tow?  Yeah.  Let me tell you, he won ArmadilloCon.  Hands down.  He was astounding. He had his art portfolio, which everyone praised.  John Picacio even took time out of his schedule to give him a fair amount of critique and advice.  And he was going to up to everyone and chatting them up.  He did fantastic.  I was amazed and impressed.
  • Sunday was a bit of a haze of weary.  I had two more panels: Importance of Workshops and FutureSex.  FutureSex was especially strange and odd, especially since Mark Finn was present for that one as well.  I'm pretty sure we fell completely away from FutureSex in terms of SF/F literature, and went entirely into the actual future ramifications of robot/holodeck sex and the sexual political ramifications of aliens coming to Earth.
I'm sure there's plenty I missed here.  Like I said, still recovering. 

There's no ArmadilloCon next year, as WorldCon 2013 is in San Antonio.  Looking forward to that.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Scrambling Together on my End

ArmadilloCon starts tomorrow, so I'm under the hammer getting myself ready.  So, since my brain is already approaching a tapioca-like state, here are some of the other panels which I think might be fun to attend, not including readings.  More coherent blog posts next week.

Fr2000T The Still Changing Definition of Urban Fantasy
Fri 8:00 PM-9:00 PM Trinity
A. Bishop, J. Blaschke, C. Neill, N. Holzner*, S. Leicht, A. Marmell
This subgenre label has been around for decades -- but would War for the Oaks or other classic works even fit in today's category? What does it mean, and what does it include and exclude? How is it changing, and how is it likely to change in the future? 
Fr2200T Writing a Strong Female Protagonist
Fri 10:00 PM-11:00 PM Trinity
M. Bracken, R. Frater, K. Kimbriel, J. Moyer, C. Neill, P. Sarath*
The challenges of writing a tough-yet-relatable heroine. 
Sa1000SB Story Ideas I Hope to Never See Again
Sat 10:00 AM-11:00 AM Sabine
M. Bey*, M. Dimond, B. Hale, A. Marmell
Been there, read that, don't want another t-shirt 
Sa1600SB Learning from Others' Mistakes: Writing Errors to Avoid
Sat 4:00 PM-5:00 PM Sabine
J. Blaschke*, J. Cheney, U. Fung, S. Lynch, J. Moyer, W. Spencer
You don't have to make every writing error personally. How do you use others' failures as a way to improve your own work? 
Sa1700SB Building a Fictional Society from the Ground Up
Sat 5:00 PM-6:00 PM Sabine
A. Bishop, A. Downum, A. Goldsmith, J. Mandala, J. Reisman*, M. Wells
A discussion of worldbuilding in sf/f.
Sa2000SB Tips and Tricks to Write More Gooder
Sat 8:00 PM-9:00 PM Sabine
S. Brust*, A. Downum, G. Faust, S. Lynch, C. Richerson, S. White
The craft and process of writing, and how to bring out your best.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Finalized ArmadilloCon Schedule

And now it's all official.  And, as I expected, I have some more things on my plate then what I posted last week:

Sa1400SB SF/F Mysteries
Sat 2:00 PM-3:00 PM Sabine
S. Cupp, M. Maresca, R. Rogers, P. Sarath*, M. Wells
A discussion of good examples of this mixed subgenre and the special challenges of writing it. 
I asked to be on this one, since Maradaine Constabulary fits right into this.  It is something I'm very interested.  As is one of my Big Influence books, Caves of Steel. Should be fun.
Sa2130SM Reading
Sat 9:30 PM-10:00 PM San Marcos
Marshall Ryan Maresca
It's official!  I'll be dusting off my actorly chops and reading from Maradaine Constabulary.  You will want to come and hear.  It'll be fun, and there will be a free pony given away.*  Plus  Campbell Nominee Stina Leicht is right before me, and you know you want to hear her.  Because she's awesome.  Right?  Right.

Now I just have to figure out what else I'll want to go to.  What looks like fun to you all?
*- The pony is a lie. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Preliminary ArmadilloCon Schedule

I have my schedule, which is, of course, subject to change.  As with any large, live event with a lot of moving parts, things are subject to change.  A rule of thumb I live by is you're never 100% sure something is going to happen the way it's supposed to happen until it's actually happening.

So what do I have?

Sa1800T Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Live Theater:
Sat 6:00 PM-7:00 PM Trinity
M. Finn*, L. Gorinsky, T. Mallory, M. Maresca, J. Neulander,
The history and challenges of live productions (theater and radio), for either SF or fantasy. Our panel discusses of radio productions and stage recreations, fan & semi-pro theater at conventions, SF&F movies that crossed to or from stage, and the special challenges of live theater for the genre. 
Right in my wheelhouse!  Awesome.  Plus Jason Neulander will be there.  He's not typically at ArmadilloCon, since he's more a theatre guy-- just a good chunk of his theatre is SF/F.  His company has gotten a good degree of notice for Intergalactic Nemesis-- which started as a radio play and has expanded into much more.  There is even an Intergalactic Nemesis panel following this one.  But this is the panel I'm looking forward to the most.
Su1300SB Workshopping to Success
Sun 1:00 PM-2:00 PM Sabine
M. Dimond, K. Jewell, S. Leicht*, M. Maresca, N. Moore, J. Reisman
What the ArmadilloCon / Clarion / Clarion West / Odyssey did for me (as a student or a teacher)
So I'm on this one, clearly, to talk about the ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop.  Which is good, because I'm probably its biggest advocate.  
Su1400T Future Sex: The Shape of Things to Come
Sun 2:00 PM-3:00 PM Trinity
C. Brown, M. Maresca, R. Klaw, J. Nevins, P. Roberts*
As humans reshape their society, their bodies, their culture, how will the most intimate of activities change? 
Ooh,  Cybersex?  Alien sex?  Cyberaliensex?  All right.  
I may have another one added, we'll see.  Plus, I have requested a reading slot.  Those aren't assigned yet, but if I have one, I will most likely be reading from Maradaine Constabulary.  And that will be fun.  I promise.  You should come to that.  Really.  You.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Recognizing our Blind Spots

Every writer has their blind spots.  Weak points in their writing born from their style, their biases, their personal preferences. 

For me, I know exactly what my big one is: physical description of characters.

Now, I don't have a big problem with Big Salient Details.  Height, body type, skin color.  If someone has an attribute that makes them stand out from the crowd, it's going to get mentioned. 

But for the more mundane aspects of description, I hit a wall.  I know part of it is, for me, it feels very artificial.  Making note of a character's eye color or hair-- especially multiple times-- always creaks when I read it.  Perhaps it's because in the Early Days of the Internet, I read plenty of Bad Fanfic*, and that stuff is LOADED with Physical Detail Minutiae.  I can't even begin to tell you how many pieces I've read-- fanfic or not-- where after the first few thousand words I still wouldn't have any clue what the plot or conflict of the story was going to be... but I knew EVERYONE'S hair and eye color. 

The inverse is also true when I'm reading.  Frankly, if I read something and never really get a strong physical description of the protagonist or minor characters-- I really don't notice.  It doesn't stand out to me as something I'm lacking. 

So: I have awareness of my blind spot.  The question is, can I use that awareness?  Can I push past the artificial feeling the physical descriptions give me, and give a strong sense of character appearances? 

That's the challenge that's on my mind right now.


*- And never wrote any. No, not me.  If you find any, it totally was that other Marshall Ryan Maresca.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sitting at the Grown-up Table

Two weeks from tomorrow ArmadilloCon kicks off*, starting with the Writers' Workshop.  I'm really excited.  This is my second year on the teachers' side of things for the Workshop, and even having done it before, I'm rather nervous about it.

When it comes down to it, part of that stems from Imposter Syndrome.  My status as a "professional writer" sometimes feels Pinocchio-like: I have an agent, but I don't have books on shelves yet.  So I don't get to be a "real boy".  At least, not while sitting up there with these people.

However, I tell myself, "These feelings will go away once I have an actual book on shelves", I sometimes think that won't be true.  After all, I told myself before, "These feelings will go away once I have an agent". 

Part of it, I think is, I have a strange habit of still feeling like a kid sitting at the grown-up table, especially in situations like this.  It doesn't make much sense, given that I'm nearly 40-- and hell, some of the people on that panel are younger than me-- but on some level I still have a self-image of the clueless 23-year-old.  The one who drove to Austin with a car full of possessions and a complete lack of plan of what he was going to do with himself.**

Now, when it comes to being a Writing Professional, I know part of that feeling comes from getting serious about Writing relatively late in the game.  I would say it wasn't until 2007.  Before that, I was mostly just saying I intended to Be A Writer, and despite some playwriting success, it was far more talking about What I Would Write rather than actual writing.  So here I am-- almost 40, and not quite there yet. 

But I am at the Grown-Up Table, so that's something.

*- This is what I'm going to be talking about for a the next few weeks.  So just be prepared. 
**- Given that, I think I did all right.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Writing with Clarity: Harder than it looks

The other day I read an article about the difference between "literary" fiction and "commercial" fiction.  The main gist of it was how there was a school of thought-- from the "literary" side of things-- that "good" writing would make the reader work for it.  That a proper literary book (or possibly, a proper book period) was one in which the reader was going to have to roll up their sleeves and dig their way through it.  But it'll be worth it, because the writing itself-- the craft of it-- is so exquisite that it doesn't even matter if you don't know what's going on.

I'm exaggerating for effect, but I'm less of a fan of the literary-- or rather, the "literary" style.  I'm a fan of clean prose, with style that's smooth, dynamic and well-paced.  I like to think that's what I do (though you can be the judge), though perhaps leaning towards the more pulpy side.  Tell me a story well, with writing that impresses me by not trying to impress me, and I'm pretty happy.

But that does mean beating out certain bad-writing lessons one learns.  Lord knows what I wrote in high school and college was attempting to wow and amaze with the cleverness of my prose.  (When I wasn't, say, blatantly copying Hitchhiker's Guide or something.) However, on some level, that literary style was strongly encouraged by my teachers.  And, to an extent, that's got to be shoved to the side in favor of clean writing.

I'm not a fan of reaching for the dictionary in the process of writing.  Or the thesaurus.  That was one lesson I learned after a while: if I'm digging for a synonym purely for the sake of synonym, I'm probably doing something wrong.  Because for one, it's likely I'm muddying something up instead of staying clear-- avoiding word repetition no matter what just because my 7th grade English teacher said I should.  For another, my attempt to come up with a clever sounding synonym might just plain be the wrong word

And that's never clever writing.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Filing off the serial numbers

There's been plenty of conversation about Fifty Shades of Grey, the mega-selling book that had its origins in Twilight fanfic.  Now, I'm not going to knock on Fifty Shades here.  I haven't read it, and I probably won't, because it's not my kind of thing.  However, I don't begrudge its existence or its success.  It's really great as far as I'm concerned: in publishing, a rising tide raises all boats.

Because, here's the thing: on some level, we all start out writing fanfic.  Now, it might not be a conscious choice of, "I'm going to write Star Trek, except place it on a sailing ship of a fantasy world", or, "I'm going to write Heinlein-esque space opera, but with less incesty group sex".    But those influences can be really obvious.  When I wrote the trunked Fifty Year War, I had been reading plenty of David Weber, and those fingerprints are ALL OVER the manuscript*. 

However, sooner or later we get deft enough at filing off the serial numbers, or melding our influences into a distinct voice, and suddenly we have something fresh and unique. I think every writer has that moment.  Most of us don't have our original source as well documented as Fifty Shades-- which used its fanfic origins as a marketing tactic-- but most of us know what they are.

Though that is something that should be noted about Fifty Shades: no one should be looking at it as a viable marketing strategy.  It's lightning in a bottle.  You can't plan on catching it.

*- As in, lots of meetings where groups of politicians and military advisers sit around a table and talk about what's happening.  Yeah. FYW is trunked away for a reason.