World Horror Convention/Stoker Awards Weekend 2013

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I attended the World Horror Convention/Bram Stoker Awards Weekend 2013 this past week in New Orleans, Louisiana, aka the Crescent City, aka the Big Easy, and I wrote the convention recaps on my book review blog in three parts, which you can find by clicking on the following links:

WHC2013 Day 1
WHC2013 Day 2
WHC2013 Day 3

The above posts focus on the panel recaps and the convention itself, but having dreamed of visiting New Orleans for many years (the city has a reputation for being hugely inspirational for writers from Tennessee Williams to Anne Rice), I was glad to have been able to make this come to fruition at long last. New Orleans is a place that I felt an intimate connection to even before I visited, because it has inspired me in a way that few other cities have managed to. Since reading Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice as a youngster, I found myself hypnotized by the descriptions of the places, the flavour that Rice drenched over the book. It’s something hard to shake. And the images from the film adaptation provided me with even more fuel. New Orleans is made of the stuff of dreams.

As a writer, I relished the opportunity to do “on the ground” research and even though the research I have been doing for years into the history of Louisiana, the architecture, the food–everything–was fairly comprehensive, and although both Google Street View and YouTube can be an indispensable tools, nothing compares to the experience of physically being in a place. One of the most significant places I needed to research for my current WIP, which is another rewrite of Novel #3, features bayous and swamps. Although I’d done as much research as I could and worked hard on the descriptions, there’s things that we notice when we’re physically present somewhere that we normally wouldn’t. For instance, one can get a good handle on sight and sound imagery from photos, videos, etc, but not smell imagery, which is the most vivid. And I got a good whiff of some of the most intense and unusual scents of a swamp, which was hugely educational.

The French Quarter, of course, isn’t without its charm, and I took in a few ghost tours, as well as a Cemetery/Voodoo tour, which were all great experiences. Although the voodoo spoken of on the tour I went on was very much an “on the surface” type of approach that was more of a Spark Notes version, I learned that there are some fairly significant differences between Louisiana and New Orleans Voodoo versus Haitian and West African Vodou, which is more the tradition that my research has pointed me to.

One thing that everyone reacts to is also the heat, which was definitely very intense for this little Canadian. Don’t get me wrong–Eastern Canada definitely has heat waves and it gets muggy, humid, and just generally gross here, as well, but the heat found in the Southern US is of an altogether different breed.

This was a very significant trip for me in many ways, and definitely fuelled me to keep going on my WIP. As well, I picked up quite a few books on Louisiana folklore, which I’m hugely interested in, including Gumbo Ya-Ya, Louisiana Folk Tales, and Louisiana Indian Tales to name a few.

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Why are Immortal Characters So Immature Sometimes?

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Fantasy author Rachel Aaron recently posted this entertaining and insightful blog piece about immortals in genre fiction, especially the male characters, who are quite often said to be thousands of years old yet they seem to be immature and act like the thirty-something that the model on the cover depicts.

It continues to amaze me that paranormal romance and urban fantasy authors don’t see anything wrong with depicting a guy or group of guys who are supposed to be five thousand years old and all they do is go to night clubs and hang out with each other, living in “Frat Houses of the Damned” as Smart Bitches have called them, until one of the guys meets “the woman of his dreams” who “show him what he’s been missing” all this time. It kind of begs the question, what have they been doing until the present day? Like Rachel, I, too, wish the authors of some of these books would put more thought into, as Rachel says, “why is this dude still going clubbing/living alone with no hobbies at 3000 years old?”

I think perhaps more authors need to question the notion of how a creature who’s been alive and kicking around for thousands of years would find anything in common with a (usually) mortal woman who’s only been around for 20 to 30 tops (or worse, a teenage girl), and I often wish that readers would get more insights into a male character’s background and history, but that’s often not the case. More importantly, it’s difficult for many authors to convey, with authenticity, characters who are that old and it’s sometimes just a “taken for granted” thing that they know their way around the twenty-first century world without much explanation as to how they’ve adapted. The comment section of the blog post is definitely worth a gander, as well, and as one reader pointed out, Anne Rice stands out as one example of an author who has managed to lend a wonderful sense of timelessness to her immortal vampires.

But I digress. It’s a very entertaining post, and Rachel raises many good points that I often find myself wondering with some of the more popular paranormal romance series that feature several immortal characters who perhaps don’t come across as developed as they should.

Although I’ve not heard of the anime she mentions, Scrapped Princess, it seems interesting and like it might be worth checking out 🙂

Ad Astra 2013

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I’ve been going to the Ad Astra fan convention for quite a few years now, and every time I go back there’s something even better than the last time. This year’s guests of honour were Jim Butcher, Stephen Hunt, Ben Bova, and Scott Caple (unfortunately Shannon K. Butcher couldn’t make it) and also on-hand were a number of past GoHs including Kelley Armstrong, Julie Czerneda, Ed Greenwood, Guy Gavriel Kay, Lesley Livingston, Robert J. Sawyer, and many more.

There’s always something to do each day of Ad Astra and the programming is always excellent. This year was no exception. I started off with a panel called “The Book is only the Beginning” which featured Gregory A. Wilson, Brett A. Savory and Samantha Beiko from ChiZine, Marie Bilodeau, and urban fantasy author Linda Poitevin, of whom I’m a huge fan. It was essentially focusing on what happens next when a writer has finished a book.

The best thing about the panel was the diversity of panelist backgrounds with both the independent small press contingent as well as traditional Big Six (soon-to-be-five) point of views and experiences being discussed. Some highlights included mentions of Dos and Donts, such as not pitching to a publisher when they’re in the bathroom, which is a pretty big one but still some people seem to be repeating it; another good one was to realize that authors aren’t J.D. Salinger-esque figures who can just come out of their cave every so often, give their manuscript to a publisher, and say “Okay, now you promote it while I go and work on the next book.” Publishers and authors should have partnerships. Even those signed with The Big Six must take promotions largely into their own hands to ensure their success. Brett and Samantha stressed the importance of having an active and up-to-date online presence, which there are many ways to achieve, and that publishers are ultimately looking for more information on an author when they’re considering a manuscript by that person, and not having a website or any online profiles can definitely work against an author.

Next up was the “Defining Horror” panel moderated by Suzanne Church and featuring panelists Michael Matheson, Matt Moore, and Rio Youers, which was an interesting look at attempts to define horror and what it means to fans, and ultimately, horror is very personal, because there are things that can terrify one person or writer to death and not be of such consequence to another person, so horror can be subjective in that way. There was also some discussion of horror tropes, some cliches that are best avoided, why certain works of horror have been effective, as well as universal themes that scare us all, including death. The audience contributed some interesting points to the discussion, which made it an interesting panel overall, and although Ad Astra usually has a small Horror contingent, it’s always nice to see some of the programming devoted to it along with the sci-fi and fantasy discussions that go on at the convention.

Following that was “You Must Finish” featuring Erik Buchanan (moderator), Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Mike Rimar, Derek Kunsken, and Karina Summer-Smith, which was a discussion of why some writers have so much difficulty finishing projects, and why we get stuck, and what we can do to counter-act these problems in our own writing. This was a genuinely entertaining panel with many funny moments as some of the panelists had a great banter and moderator Erik Buchanan’s dry wit went over very well with the audience members. Discussions of plotters versus pantsers came up, giving advantages and disadvantages to both, as well as some talk of the “don’t look back” method whereby writers should power through writing a manuscript and not look back until they’re done, that is to say, don’t rewrite as you’re writing the manuscript. One of the panelists mentioned that there are some writers who are able to rewrite as they’re writing their manuscripts and that although it’s great that this works for them, this system doesn’t work for everyone. The most important thing is to go ahead, surround oneself with words of encouragement from other writers, particularly if participating in NanoWrimo or similar writing events, and to find a system that works for you. Some writers can get incredibly ‘boxed in’ and limited and feel trapped by outlines, and it’s always something that should be paid attention to when a book starts to deviate from the written outline, because perhaps that’s a sign that it’s too rigid.

There was also some discussion of the fact that not everyone can write 2,000 words a day and that writers do definitely set “too high” goals sometimes, which is definitely something I think we can all say we have been guilty of at some point or another, and that instead of beating ourselves up for only getting to 200 words one day that we should embrace the fact that we have made progress instead of lashing out at ourselves for not making as much progress as we said we would.

I also had the pleasure of attending the “Demons, Werewolves, and Necromancers” panel moderated by Douglas Smith, and featuring perhaps the most popular GoH at the con, fantasy author Jim Butcher, as well as Timothy Carter, Timothy Liebe, and Andrew Pyper. This was one of the most fascinating panels to listen to and it was a packed house with standing-room-only for good reason. Some very interesting questions were asked including how not to make protagonists–or villains–come across as perfect, flawless and thus unsympathetic Mary Stu/Gary Stu types, as well as a particular motivation given to a villain from each of the writers that they considered to be the most interesting thing they’d done. I was glad to see Pyper in particular, author of the recent supernatural thriller The Demonologist as he’s more known for his contemporary real-world thrillers, and although he’s not known for being a genre fiction writer, and is new to the supernatural, he made very interesting contributions to the discussions and it was nice to see the diversity of panelists represented not just on this panel but overall, as well.

As well, I was fortunate enough to get my copies of Sins of the Angels and Sins of the Son signed by Linda Poitevin, which was fantastic, and I’m so happy I had the chance to meet her as she’s one of my favourite urban fantasy novelists and it’s amazing to see more Canadian UF novelists emerging in the field, which gives me hope for my own novels (someday…;-)). It was a great way to cap off a great afternoon, and if you haven’t been to Ad Astra before, I would wholeheartedly recommend that you do attend, because there’s something for everyone, and it’s a great combination of a fan convention with cosplay and dances, but also many amazing, useful, and insightful panels for aspiring and established writers as well as genre fans and readers alike.

Does Setting Writing Goals Really Work?

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It’s that magical time again, writers. It’s the beginning of another year full of hopes, dreams, promises, and so much more, and already January is almost at an end. I’ve seen posts from most of the writers I know and follow to the tune of “Goals for 2013” or something indicating what they hope to achieve this year with their writing. Commonly it’s about finishing that WIP, or simply writing more this year, or it’s on the business side with social media and marketing goals.

We all do it. We come up with this list of New Year’s Writer Resolutions that we aspire to follow, and posting it to our writer blogs gives us a sense of accountability. We’ve put it out there in the world, and theoretically, others will hold us to our Writerly Resolutions.

But does writing out our Writerly Resolutions for the year help us get more writing done?

Rather than pontificate about how I never used to have to set writing goals when I was a fledgling writer in high school, or about how my writing just used to “flow” and my well never seemed to run dry, and cursing the high heavens for this ungodly writer’s dry spell that has affected me for the better part of a few years, I find myself wondering if setting these goals at the beginning of each year works.

I find myself wondering if I would get more done if I didn’t take the time to put down my goals. Would I get less done? Would I get the same amount done as I would without a goal list?

“Of course you have to have a list of goals,” you might say. “How will you be able to measure how much you accomplished at the end of the year? How will you be able to keep track of all the projects you want to work on?”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a compulsive organizational freak. Not to the extent that I colour code binders or have a cross-referenced filing system, but I’m pretty strict when it comes to organizational methods and enforcing them for myself. I’m the first one who will tell you that setting goals and priorities is the best thing that a person can do to keep their tasks in order and to get things done.

But one could also argue that all of this organization and planning is just a form of procrastination. And we all know that writers have no trouble finding more and more ways to procrastinate. Surfing the net, Twitter/Facebook, online and video gaming, TVs and movie, getting drunk at bars, etc.—the list goes on.

“I’ll get to it tomorrow,” we promise ourselves. And the next day we say the same thing, and get perhaps a page or so done, and phone it in. And somehow, months pass by and then November comes along and we think, “NanoWrimo will be the perfect kick in the pants I need to get writing done!” And some writers really do! I don’t know how, but they make it work. Others make a valiant effort, but don’t quite get to the 80,000-word mark.

Another way we set ourselves up for disaster is by planning goals that are too lofty, goals that are unrealistic, or that we choose to think we “must” accomplish in an unfeasible timeline that just doesn’t work. Life happens. New commitments crop up. Things change. Schedules morph. Everything gets messy and/or messed up.

Sometimes, we just can’t connect to the writing well. It dries up. I seem to have forgotten that like our body’s muscles, we need to exercise our writing muscles to keep the engine going full steam ahead. I fear that I turned the writing switch off in my head one too many times to make room for other things in my life, and now my writing well has disappeared.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back. I feel like I’m grappling with a snickering demon who has hidden it from me, and I don’t know how to find it again.
Maybe I need to enlist in the help of an angel to send its ass back to Hell 😉

demon from hell cartoon

For this year, I have set my goals, managed my expectations a little bit, and am doing some breathing exercises to calm down 😉

Some of these other writers have written wonderful posts on “dry spells” and what they’ve done to overcome them, including:

So, I want to know from other writers—do you feel like setting goals helps you? Do you even set goals? If you don’t set goals, do you still get as much done as you would had you set goals?