Monday, April 28, 2008

2008 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA

Thanks to everyone who's been asking about the mac. I can happily say that Apple was exceptional in their service and replaced the misbehaving mac with a new unit. A unit that could connect to our network properly on the first go and has been running super smoothly.

I would have posted earlier, but this weekend was a little hectic. It was Rachel O's birthday on Saturday, and Sunday we went to the Los Angeles Times' Festival of Books. It's considered to be the country's largest celebration of the written word—last year over 140,000 people passed through the UCLA campus. Not bad for a city most consider to be a literary wasteland. (There was a book club called 'No One Reads in LA.' Seriously.)

Rachel and I were given a ride to the campus by David, a very kind guy and fellow member of the Mid-Wilshire Writer's group, where Rachel went to attend a panel on Horror and Sci Fi. David and I went to an on-campus coffee/cafeteria place, where we ran into Allene, a mentor who attends group meetings.

After parting ways with David, Rachel and I met up with our friend Liz so we could attend the magic realism panel. If you've ever wondered "what could an in person writing group possibly do for me?" The answer is, at the bare minimum, it helps foster social contact outside of your crazy writer brain. Sometimes it's nice to talk to "real" people, too. *g*

The magic realism panel was interesting. The panel members were engaging and thoughtful, and they didn't take themselves too seriously, which is always the mark of a good panel.

Liz and I attended a contemporary fiction YA panel afterwards, and it was the highlight of the day for me. Jay Asher has sold me completely on THIRTEEN REASONS WHY without me ever having read the book. It was an amazing treat to get to hear him and Robin Benway read from his debut novel. (I completely understand why Melissa Marr keeps blogging about the book.)

We also went to a 'graphic novel' panel...which was a bit of a dud. Perhaps the heat had something to do with it, but we left early and headed home.

So... photos!

My last trip to the UCLA campus was probably ten years ago, and all I saw was the bookstore. It's a massive campus, with truly beautiful brick buildings and lots of leafy green. (This is good, it makes the bricks look redder and the leaves look greener.) Established in 1912—oh, sorry, didn't mean to go off on a building squee. The white tents are booths. It was very hot out. (Yes, I did wear sunscreen. SPF 45. Still have a flip-flop tan line.)

Here's where we all sat to have some lunch. I took this to give you an idea of the sheer mass of people that were there.

Those two photos were taken about 30 seconds apart.... and mostly as a reaction to "OMG, snow cones?!" The direction signs are temporary for the Festival—normally there's no directional signs. (I guess this helps develop life skills somehow.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bad Mac. No Biscuit.

Another one for the "This is why I write speculative fiction" file...

Having been waiting and carefully budgeting for the past six months, I went last night to purchase a Macbook. While I was buying it, the mac fellow informed me that the creator of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey was named "Dr. Chandra."

...yes, because my email address would be a reference to a classic sci fi film and not, say, my first name (which was on my credit card used to pay for the macbook.) To be fair, I tried to engage, but I don't really know that much about 2001. All I could offer was that there had also been a Dr. Chandra in Heroes. (Had the guy made a comment about the Doctor, I would have been able to hold my own in the discussion.)

Anyhoo, home I go with my shiny new toy—I mean, business investment to increase productivity through mobility. I'm arranging dock icons and adjusting the user settings when the track pad stops responding. I wait. It returns—it just appears the computer had to think about whether or not to let me type something. A few minutes later—the trackpad stops responding again. As does the keyboard.

I reboot and decide to wait to register the computer for Apple Care in case it does the trackpad thing again. Adjusting the track-speed to see if that was the problem, I'm in the process of choosing a screen saver and setting up the wallpaper I want to use when the trackpad stops responding. The keyboard freezes. Two minutes pass with no change.

A second reboot and I begin removing the personalization from the machine and trying to find the place to remove our network password. The computer is clearly non-functional and this is going to be an ongoing issue if I keep it. As I finish doing this—yes, you guessed it: trackpad and keyboard stop responding, the computer freezes.

Behold, what I have taken to calling HAL—the Very Bad Mac:

HAL is possessed by the evil ghost of a dead Dell. It's the only way I can explain why a beautiful, well-constructed Mac would freeze and turn non-responsive THREE TIMES within two hours of its first power-up.

Needless to say, the Very Bad Mac will be returning to the Grove to be exchanged for a Very Nice Mac.

(That's right. The Doctor chastising Chandra's naughty Mac. See how I tie that all together for you in visuals?)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A note for those of us under 30: If someone older than you says "come here, I want to know if you can hear this" and their browser is open to Mosquito Ring Tones cover your ears and run! I completely understand why the English police are using to combat youth loitering. The tone registers in your uppermost hearing range, so it's not even like a sound so much as it is a sharp, stabbing in your brain.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Blogging with a Purpose

[This was prepared as a presentation/article for the Mid-Wilshire Writers group regarding blogging as a promotional tool. This is, of course, just my opinion which makes it as valid as anything else you'd find online.]

Why have a blog?

Many writers have difficulty finding encouragement and emotional support, but online allows access to countless others. Writers can form friendships, network for future business, and have access to publishing authors, agents and editors who can provide accurate and current information about the process and the industry.

A blog can have many purposes, but we are going to discuss the concept of an "author blog" or using the blog as a promotional tool for you and your writing.

An author blog differs from a personal blog in a number of ways. Author blogs can be an introduction of you and your writing to not just readers but possible employers. The process that led to the contract for my novel-for-hire project was initiated when an editor found my writing blog, Dreaming in Red, and emailed me.

Why have an Author Blog?

It familiarizes your readers and possible new readers with your "author self." Remember your blog-persona is not necessarily you. It is the you that you are willing to share with readers.

The reason that we make this distinction is, once you become a public figure, people will want information about you. Your readers will want to interact and learn about you, your process, your next book, etc. It's up to you to take control of what information they are permitted to have.

A general rule of thumb I've seen repeated by both agents and editors is to remember to never post on your blog something you wouldn't say to a complete stranger—because that's what a blog is. It's a glimpse into your life that you are offering to the millions of strangers surfing the internet.

So let's talk about what a professional author blog isn't, because that's easier to define:

1) It is not your personal diary.
2) It is not where you insult or tear down other authors, agents who rejected your query, or editors that you disagree with.

I cannot stress enough how small the publishing industry is. Especially within a genre. Agents talk to one another. Editors talk to one another. Authors talk to one another. So play nice. If you want to vent or rant, please do it in a space that isn't accessible to the public or is an anonymous place that isn't connected to you.

Remember, your future employers and customers are looking at your blog as representation of you. If you wish to be treated as a professional, you have to present yourself as one. That doesn't mean you need to be "detached" or "unfriendly," just that you behave in a manner that is respectful of yourself, your profession, and your peers.

Some things to keep in mind

Consistency: If you want to be found, you have to keep your online identity consistent. You shouldn't be J. Smith on livejournal and Jane S. on Blogspot and Jane Smith on Facebook and HotKinkyBabe34 on myspace if you want that livejournal, blogger, facebook and myspace account to be recognizable to your fans who are googling "Jane Smith."

Writing samples: It's a good idea to provide short pieces of your writing as samples of your skill—but be aware anything you put on your blog should be considered off-limits for selling. Many print publications see a blog as enacting your North American First Printing Rights.

While you want to offer extras and fun things to your readers, you don't want to damage your ability to sell. You also don’t want to post anything that is in violation of the possible non-disclosure clause of your publishing contract. Most authors can only post excerpts of their novels, share cover images, and talk about upcoming books after they obtain permission from their publisher.

The easiest way around this is to create blog-only content—and to remember that every entry is a writing sample. If you're going to talk about mundane day-to-day life, you're best to do it in an engaging, interesting-to-read way that will keep a reader coming back for more.

You want to try to blog every day—or at least every day Monday through Friday. If you can’t do that, try to get at least 3–4 entries a week. The exception to this is if you establish to your readers that you aren't able to blog every day. Vicki Pettersson and Marjorie M Liu, for example, often "disappear" because they've gone into seclusion to finish a project. Other authors like Rachel Vincent and Neil Gaiman blog nearly every day.

That's why developing an idea of what your blog content is going to be will help you. You could do book reviews, or discuss aspects of craft, grammar, plotting, querying—anything you think will be a benefit to your readers. Keep them interested, and they'll keep coming back. Marie Brennan offers reading recommendations and shares book reviews on research material she's using. Melissa Marr has "Sentence Sunday," which allows interaction and encouragement between her blog readers.

Look for help, too. Many authors interview fellow authors, or guestblog, or belong to multiple-author blogs like The Debutante Ball and The Midnight Hour or communities like Fangs Fey Fang.

Another really effective way to get and keep blog visitors is to hold contests. People like to win stuff. The key is getting that giveaway to promote your book. Now, you won't always have a book to giveaway, but if you played nice and made those writer friends, you can always give away one of their books. That gets double the promotion—your name on their blog, their name on yours. Rachel Vincent, for example, has a contest a month and she's averaged between 100–130 entries on her more recent ones.

For some of you this is all information that will have more relevance in the future, but something every writer should consider is the most important about a blog—like working to become published—is that it is secondary to your need to write. Always make your writing the most important thing.

After all, writing is like breathing, if you stop doing it for too long, you'll pass out.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Things Get Finished

Yes, it has been over a week since I blogged, but if there's one thing I've learned about this writing business it's that when you're busy, you're really busy. As in "my brain can't take writing on a blog or really even reading other people's blogs."

There's a single-minded focus that settles in during revisions or that push to finish a draft. It has a whip and spurs and it cares not when you last blogged or checked your friends blogs or had a shower. It is a cruel, cruel rider.

It is also what ensures that Things Get Finished. This past week I prepared and submitted a rough draft to my editor, as well as prepared and submitted a revised draft (with information on two proposed follow-up books) to my agent. I also gained a dangerous addiction to the Pieces of Flair application on Facebook, which has led to a self-enforced Facebook vacation.

It's been odd, over the past couple days, to not have an impending deadline any more. Why, I can write whatever I want again. How odd is that? The notion being that having these projects out of my hands frees up the time to make serious progress on the project that piqued my agent's interest. That's the thing about the business of writing, even when you aren't working on a contracted item, you still need to be thinking about what you're going to write next.

Exciting, really.

Well, except for when you realize most of your thoughts have moved onto random scenes in what would have to be a second or third book when you're trying to plot the first book. Then it becomes a bit "whoa, hold up, brain, we haven't finished this trip yet!"

Let's see, I'll be connecting with a friend from college this week—yay! On the weekend, it's the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books aka The UCLA Book Fair. It's, from my understanding, the LA bibliophile event—and, according to the website, "the country's largest celebration of the written word."

I'll be attending 6 panels. Two on comics/graphic novels, two on young adult writing, one on magic realism, and one on world-building. More specific schedule to come on Friday possibly. Yes, Christina, I will take notes for you.

This Saturday (the 26th) is also Rachel O's birthday. Good thing I met that April 28th deadline early, because it would have been mad to be attempting to prepare a draft on top of everything else this week.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I've described before that I find finishing a first draft to be like reaching a summit just in time to watch the sunset. Morning will come, and there will be more work to do—there's always a way to make writing better—but for that moment, you get to sit back and enjoy the view.

Completing that second draft is like seeing the sun come up again. I feel ready to send the piece out for my CP to read.

Metaphorically, of course, this suggests I revise during the dark. (It would explain the tpyos.)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

My quest for Utada Hikaru's Heart Station ended with success today. iTunes had it for sale, which saved me about $35 (plus shipping) had I ordered the physical album. Plus, I found a site with lyrics—some of which are even translated. Thank you, Hikki fandom!

Friday, April 04, 2008

It starts with the ghost of a voice

There is something haunting my brain, that I can only sense when I think around it. It's like a candle with the wick half-buried in wax. If you get too close, even your breath can put it out, but if you're patient—if you shelter it from the wind and wait, it may catch and burst into a strong flame.

It doesn't whisper. It mouths the words, and since it's too shy to let me look upon its face, I only get bits and pieces of its message.

I thought it was a short story—or the inkling of one, and that if I paid it no heed, it would go bother someone else so I could get back to working on manuscripts. Not that I don't like short stories, I just find it difficult to work on more than two things at once, and my dance card is full-up for April.

It did go away, for a few weeks, but when my brain was tired from revising and needed a quiet rest, the little whatsit came back. Apparently it couldn't find a home with anyone else, and it made friends with a concept that I'd thought of dusting off. They tell me if I write a little outline for them, they could wait until the timing was better. Since they're being so polite, and it's such a change from the loudly articulated demands of my present characters, I feel obligated to at least give these quiet little ones a chance.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Well, I haven't been blogging for the simple reason that I don't have much to blog about. I feel like I spent the past 4, 4 1/2 days underground. I thought, oh, I'll just look at this file with comments from my agent. Just to see what these minor revisions she's discussing are. So I looked at it on Friday night, spent the next four days lost in my manuscript, enjoying every delicious moment of the revisions.

Either I have a terrible illness that makes me incapable of just putting the manuscript aside or it really is a good story—meaning my CP and I aren't completely delusional to think it will be on the shelves one day.

It could be a combination of both possibilities.

I'm grateful to get work with a set of characters who feel like old friends I haven't seen in a few months. (To know they're characters I created? Wow, that's—an incredible feeling.) Each time I visit them, I remember how much fun we have together. How cracktastic their company is. This manuscript—its world, its story, its thematic intentions—makes my heart happy.

I would like it, more than I can express, if it made other people's hearts that happy.

In fact, if it did not make your heart happy, I would check to see if you were really a heartless, and if you were, I would have to defeat you with the keyblade keychain I use as a Christmas tree decoration. I'm not bothered by you being a heartless, because they burst into healing potions for my friends and munnies for me.

It's a win-win situation.

...I have no idea what that was about, except to possibly serve as a warning to new writers that revising over 100K in four days is not good for you. I don't recommend it.

My guilty post-revisions confession is I forgot the manuscript is funny. When my agent referred to it as entertaining, I had no idea what the hell she was on about. I thought she was trying to find something nice to say and thought "entertaining" sounded better than "not what I expected."

Now, I think maybe she meant "entertaining" as in "this made me laugh." In the good way of the manuscript intending for a reader to be laughing at that point, and not the loving mockery I make of things like Kingdom Hearts 2.