WWC 2014, Day 1: Evening keynotes

Here we are at the end of day 1 (for me–I know others partied into the wee hours). At other conferences and conventions, guest of honour keynotes are generally spread throughout the event, often at or after a meal.

The When Words Collide organizers chose to do something different.

Prior to the literary festival, there were several master classes offered by the keynote speakers, and the night before, they all delivered their presentations at a branch of the public library.

Between the extra days of leave I would have had to sacrifice, the cost of the master classes, and the expense of a longer stay, I had to opt out of the pre-conference program.

On the first night (formally speaking) of WWC, then, all of the keynote speakers were well into conference mode and had an opportunity to work out the bugs.

The keynotes were presented as a panel, with all of the speakers up on the stage, seated at tables.

Randy McCharles offered a few opening words, and then introduced the first of the speakers.

  1. Jacqueline Guest, author of 18 published novels, spoke about her adventures as aJacqueline Guest touring author. She has been all over the world, in the arctic, and had some very interesting tales to share. The old advice to writers is to write what you know. Travelling and experiencing all the world has to offer is a valuable way of gathering experience that can translate into your writing.
  2. Mark Leslie, of Kobo Writing Life, chose the subject of the mark-lesliehistory of story. From our earliest gatherings to share news around a fire, through the oral traditions of Greece and Rome, the invention of the printing press, and the advent of the novel, to today’s proliferation of traditionally published and independently published novels, novellas, short stories, anthologies, and all other manner of written storytelling, Mark spoke eloquently of the purpose and value of story in our lives. He ended his keynote with this: when words collide, magic happens.
  3. Dorothy (DJ) MacIntosh, author of the (in progress) Mesopotamian trilogy, spoke
    DJ McIntosh

    photo by Robert Rafton

    about passion and how to keep that precious flame burning. She related the experiences, hers and those of other renowned authors, with rejection, and various reactions to rejection letters. How can we keep our passion alive amidst the darkness that can assail us?

  4. Brandon Sanderson, author of—oh, I’ll just say it—a shit load of bestselling fantasy novels including the
    Photo by Nazrilof

    Photo by Nazrilof

    posthumous conclusion of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, addressed the problem of telling a compelling lie. He started with a grade school experience in which he realized that the story of Columbus and his discovery of the new world was all propaganda. In short, it was a lie, but it’s a lie that has been perpetuated over the years by quality storytelling. You could say that’s when the seed of his desire to become a professional liar was planted. He spoke of Sturgeon’s Law: that ninety percent of everything is crap. He wanted to test that hypothesis and started with Roger Ebert’s movie review site, which revealed between sixty and seventy percent good movies (two thumbs up). He then went to Rotten Tomatoes, a review site contributed to by the movie-going public. He found roughly the same results. There were exceptions, of course. He found one reviewer who didn’t like Return of the King, for example. Reviews are one of the most power tools in any author’s service. Word of mouth is what really translates into sales and a groundswell of support. The bad reviews can be damaging in all kinds of ways. We have to be able to distinguish between someone expressing a personal opinion, e.g. I didn’t like this book, and someone who’s going for the hurt, e.g. this is crap. They are two completely different judgements.

  5. Jack Whyte. I’d seen him last year at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference jack-whyteand knew the power of his presence, but, when Jack took the stage, I put my pen down and sat back. I knew I was about to be entertained. Jack basically extemporized (or, he made is sound like he was), drawing in elements of each of the previous speakers, adding colour with a touch of personal humour, and wrapping up the evening in style.

Next week: We enter day 2 with the Blending Science Fiction and Fantasy Panel.

WWC 2014, Day 1: Doctor your book with Randy McCharles

randymccharlesRandy McCharles is active in Calgary, Alberta’s writing community with a focus on speculative fiction, usually of the wickedly humorous variety, with short stories and novellas available from Edge SF&F Publishing, House of Anansi, and Reality Skimming Press. He is the recipient of several Aurora Awards (Canada’s most prestigious award for speculative fiction) and is short-listed in three categories for the upcoming 2014 Awards. In 2013, his short story Ghost-B-Gone Incorporated won the House of Anansi 7-day Ghost Story Contest. Randy’s first Tyche Books publication, Much Ado About Macbeth, will be available in August 2015.

In addition to writing, Randy chairs the award-winning When Words Collide Festival for Readers and Writers as well as organizing various reading and craft events for writers.


 

As writers, we love our literary children. We are also our own worst critics. We need to find a middle ground, an objective perspective. A peer review or critique groups can be of great value in this respect.

When we write, we see the story in our heads so clearly we may forget to put it all down on paper. We need to learn how to doctor our work.

Self-publishing is another reason. Learning to edit your work can help save costs.

The less work an editor has to do, the better. Also, cheaper. (Mel’s note: even if you think that your work is well-edited, a professional editor will always be able to identify further corrections, whether substantive, copy, or line editing. Also, many freelance editors charge by page or words, so you won’t necessarily save any money if you have 75k well-edited words, or 75k poorly edited ones. With an editor who charges by hour, you might do better.)

Theme will help you keep on track.

Then ensued much discussion regarding the relative merits of David Brin’s The Postman and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, both books and movies.

Many inexperienced writers choose the wrong place to start the story. Too soon and unimportant events won’t capture your reader’s attention. Too late and the reader won’t be engaged by your character, or you’ll find yourself explaining—telling—events that have just happened. That’s a tell-tale sign you’ve started too late.

Aim for in media res, but don’t misunderstand the technique. Too much action can confuse the reader. Give the reader a reason to care.

Try not to be “married to the line,” that is, if you think you have to start in a particular place because you’ve come up with the “perfect” line, that line may be one of the darlings you have to kill. You have to be willing to set it aside to find the true beginning of your novel.

Other issues are genre-specific. In fantasy or science fiction, you may spend too much time on worldbuilding or on backstory. Sometimes chapter one is just a distraction and your real story starts in chapter two or even three.

Some opening scenes are missing the hook, that story question that will propel the reader through the novel. New York Times Bestselling Authors (NYTBSAs) can get away with this, but not the first time author.

You may also be missing scenes. This comes from writing “in your head” too much.

Unnecessary scenes may be a sign of too much thinking on the page, on the other hand.

We talk about wearing your writer’s hat and your editor’s hat, but what’s missing from the equation is the reader’s hat.

WWC Day 1: Anthology Jam

Panelists: Ron S. Friedman, Randy McCharles, Charles V. Prepolec

RonFriedmanrandymccharlescharlesprepolec

 

 

 

 

Q: As a writer, how do you approach an anthology? How to you get in?

RM: There are two kinds of anthologies, open and closed. Open anthologies are exactly that. There will be an open submission period. Closed anthologies tend to be by invitation only and some are dedicated to a particular franchise or theme.

CP: Open anthologies are the only chance for newer writers to get published. They tend to be niche and specific. Pitching an anthology to a publisher is difficult these days. People aren’t reading them as much. You can check out the possibilities on ralan.com. Ralan’s good because it will list the rates as well as the contact information. Professional rates are like six cents a word or something like that. I think Innsmouth Free Press has an open call out for She Walks in Shadows, for Lovecraftian stories featuring a female protagonist or deity. Also check out Kickstarter (Mel’s note: I just did a quick search for anthologies and sorted by newest). It’s a way of guaging the market as well as raising funds. Some of them have open reading periods, for example, ChiZine Publications’ Fearful Symetries, which Ellen Datlow edited. Duotrope is another good place to go. It’s reasonable at $50 a year.

RM: Really, you have three options: magazine, open anthology, and collection. There’s no other way to get your short stories published.

Q: Do you write to a particular Anthology’s theme?

RM: Yes. I wrote to theme for Tesseracts: Parnassus Unbound.

CP: You can write to the market.

RF: If you write for a particular anthology and your story doesn’t make it, you can always submit it elsewhere.

RM: You write stories. Keep a “story drawer” and repurpose as required. I had five short stories that I cobbled together for Tesseracts 16. It was published in the anthology, the year’s best, and nominated for an Aurora. Sometimes it’s an issue of money vs. passion.

RF: You can also publish short fiction on Amazon. Kindle Singles.

Q: What rights go to the anthology?

CP: Usually for an anthology it’s first time print rights for about a year.

RM: Short fiction is a one time sale. There aren’t any royalties like for a novel.

RF: Rights are usually considered from date of publication, not date of sale.

RM: Anthologies love reprints because they feed back to sales for the originating anthology.

CP: Gaslight Grimoire had two stories picked up for other publications. You don’t want to be competing with yourself though. If you want to find out more about the market, you can check out The Market List, Writeaholics.net, Towse’s links to online submission guidelines.

RF: Check out the SFWA site as well.

Q: I’d recommend submission grinder.

CP: If you’re heading into this world for the first time, I’d also check things out on preditors and editors.

RM: Your goal isn’t just to sell, but you want to sell to a market that people read. Ask yourself, is this a market that people are reading? Send to the highest paying markets first. They usually have a larger readership.

RF: Bundoran Press will have an open submission period for Second Contact, September 15, 2014 to January 15, 2015.

CP: Small presses are more open to anthologies and collections. Prime Books – Sean Wallace. Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing – Brian Hades.

Q: How much material do editors request? Do you ever oversubscribe?

RM: Content or contributors may be assigned. Choose between five or six of these authors. The editor may choose. There is going to be a total word limit you have to stay within.

CP: We oversubscribe by about 30%. There will always be people who drop out or don’t follow through.

Q: Can a writer pitch an anthology?

CP: No. Editors, maybe. You could pitch a collection of your own stories, but not an anthology.


 

Tomorrow: The Next Chapter: August 2014 update.