Monday, October 22, 2012

Mile Hi Con Highlights - Day 1

Well hello, and Happy Monday!

First, my presentation went well.  I wasn't very nervous, which I found to be true at Author Fest once I got up in front of everyone, too.  Funny that I worry more before that date, but not actually when I'm in front and presenting.  There was a good showing and great questions!  We didn't get through everything, but it was more important that the attendees understand what we had already gone over than that I got through every little thing I'd been asked to talk about.

Friday, I took my kids and my nephew to Seven Falls, a set of waterfalls in Cheyenne Canyon, so I'm looking forward to sharing those photos on Wednesday.  I headed up to my first day of Mile Hi Con later that afternoon, having walked up an insane number of steps, then hiked up the side of a canyon.  In other words, I was already exhausted, but happily so, and excited.

When I walked in, I was completely out of my element.  I had to ask directions to the Con at the front desk (it was on the 2nd floor).  I went up the stairs only to wander around amongst all the tables with no idea where I was supposed to check in.  It took asking two different people (who were each very nice and helpful) before I got to the correct desk and got my groovy badge and program.  I had fun gawking at all the various types of costumes those moving around me had on.  I saw Star Trek costumes of all different types, steampunk outfits, furries, elves, Dresden (!), etc.

Happily, I was joined by a friend, and she showed me where to go from there.  The first program we attended was "Writing the Holy Trilogy," featuring the always fabulous Carol Berg, Warren Hammond, Catherine Cooke Montrose, the sweet and supportive Jeanne Stein, and Peter J. Wacks.  They discussed a little about the difference between a series and a trilogy (a series tends to be like a set of TV episodes, where it's the same characters, but there is a stand alone tale in each book, while a trilogy is usually a story arc that takes three books to tell the tale).  Some had the entire trilogy planned out from the beginning, but others stated that wasn't necessary, and that you could take the story piece by piece.

Someone in the audience asked whether book length mattered, whether each book in a trilogy should be long.  Otherwise, the implication was that shorter books in a trilogy should maybe just be combined into big book.  The overall perception of the panel was that novel length didn't matter, and that it depended on how the writer wanted to break down their story.  An interesting tidbit: Carol Berg tends to have a natural word count of 175,000 or so words in a book, while Jeanne Stein averages more like 75-80,000 words.  And both are okay.

It was discussed that publishers have classically (in recent years) preferred shorter novels so as to fit them better on shelves and save ink and paper costs, but e-books are changing that.  Now, length doesn't matter.

They each passed along some tricks of the trade.

Wacks: If things stall out during writing, injure or kill a character.
Berg: Jots down notes, timeline, glossary or terms, magic of the world, etc.  Rarely starts with a full world, but has an idea of aspects of it (Carol is known around these parts as an expert at world building).
Hammond: He sketches out some notes, like a flow chart.  Basically, where the story begins and ends, and a couple of plot points.  Starts from there.
Stein: Her books usually start with an idea, which she gets from TV, the news, eavesdropping, anything.  She sketches out her protagonist first and how they will be involved with the story idea.
Montrose: Thinks of the worlds first, sketches them, fulling imagines them.  Eventually, a character wanders through, and she goes from there.  Tolkien is a major inspiration for her.

A useful audience question and the responses: Is it a mistake to finish all the books in your trilogy before the first one has been picked up by a publishing house?  It was overall agreed that it was actually good to have the trilogy done.  Writing under deadline is hard, and can cramp your creativity.  Yes, you will likely have to go back and edit it, but it's worth it to have the entire story done for yourself, if for no one else.

Someone pointed out that it would be an issue to have the first book picked up, but not the next ones in the trilogy, to which Carol Berg said that's not true anymore.  The ease of self-publishing means that you could put out the rest of your trilogy on your own if there was an audience for your first book.  We have that ability now.

Final points from the panel:
Wacks: Finds he has the best luck with building the roles first.  However, you should find the way that works best for you and stick with it.
Stein: Build your story any way you want, but stick to the rules you create.  She also said to write.  Don't say you WANT to write.  Write.
Hammond: "In writing, the tortoise wins."  The person that grabs 15 minutes here or there, but continues grabbing those moments, is the one that typically gets finished and gets published.  Finish, then sell.  Don't write to sell.
Montrose: Get feedback.  Learn to share your work.
Berg: Don't sett out to write a trilogy.  Don't think it has to be three and make it that way.  Set out to write a good story, one you enjoy and want to write.  Write what you would enjoy reading.  Also, don't over-constrain your world.  As in, don't figure out every single little rule and bit of makeup of that world, or you may write yourself into a corner in future books.  Part of the fun in writing an ongoing trilogy or series is to keep developing that world, and leaving it open allows you to do that.

That was a phenomenal panel, in case you couldn't tell from my "brief" summary.  We next went to "CJ Henderson Presents 'Abuse an Author'."  The authors we got to abuse--ask questions of on any theme--were Stephen Graham Jones, Mario Acevedo, Melinda Snodgrass, James Van Pelt and the moderator, CJ Henderson.  There were some interesting questions asked (ex: "Which of the worlds you've created would you want to live in and not want to live in?" "What book do you wish you'd written?" "Can you still be surprised by your work?").

We grabbed a bite to eat (all I'd had since my big hike was half a peanut butter sandwich and some water).  Pretty sure I should be humiliated by the pure vacuuming of food I did, but I was too hungry to care.  I had ketchup all over my fingers and even (yes, I'm admitting this) found some on my shirt later.  That's how hungry I was.  In my defense, I'd burned five billion calories earlier that day, with just a cereal bar and half sandwich standing between health and wasting away, and it was 8:30pm by the time I got any food.  Thank goodness the hotel bar was open and serving food!

The third thing we attended was "Hipster Readings...with Bongos," a reading with a little extra bongo flavor.  While one guy played the bongos (not sure of his name), the following authors read from their work: Mario Acevedo, Betsy Dornbusch, Jason Heller, Stephen Graham Jones, j.a. kazimer, and Cherie Priest.  I must say, I'm not a big fan of sitting and listening to someone read (I prefer to read on my own), but this was enjoyable, kept me engaged and was  a fun way to spend an hour.  Also, it made me want to buy books by every single reader (of course, I already have books from three of them...).

The last thing we attended before I hopped in my car to head back home and get some final work done on my presentation was "The Love & Sex Lives of the Victorians," billed as a pajama panel.  There were a couple folks there in their pajamas, as well as one fella' who passed out partway through it.  Yep, he was in the front row and fell asleep.  Despite that fact, it was a fascinating panel.  They knew their stuff about sex, sensuality and women's rights/privileges in that era.  I do love history, and the history of sexuality is full of interesting and unexpected information, such as the barriers crossed in Victorian porn that we'd consider foul and disturbing now, despite thinking they were so uptight.  How about the belief that keeping your wife pregnant every other year would save a man from his own sins in wanting to have sex all the time (because, after all, we all know women don't like sex when pregnant...whoops).  Is it true what they say about the true reason for the popularity of fainting couches?  I'm going to let you look that one up on your own.

I'll hit on Saturday's highlights in a separate post.

What do you think of the panels?  Anything of interest to you?


  1. Glad your presentation went well!
    Good to know shorter works, as all three of my books fall between 75,000-80,000 words.

  2. That's awesome that your panel went well. I wish I could have seen it.

    I love Seven Falls. One of my favorite 'relaxation/getaway' spots.

    Also, I absolutely agree that you should finish a trilogy before the first one's picked up. I'd rather have too much work to offer someone than not enough. Besides, if given the choice between sitting on my hands waiting for an agent to reply, and writing, I'll choose writing! Some of those guys take as much as 6 months to reply. I can write an entire novel in that time.

  3. happy to hear all went well with the presentation

  4. Oh, it sounds great! I have written a trilogy, so I watched the 'wisdom out there' and think it is AGENTS who say just see if the first sells first. Writers need a more coherent plan and I think the readers can tell, too. I know my first changed a lot after I'd gotten to the end of the 3rd. None of them are ready to sell yet, but it really wouldn't have worked to just sell that first--I would have been stuck--unable to finish coherently--if I couldn't go back and change the first.

    I am starting a bigger project in November though--planned as 7 books--each a contained story, but an underlying big one... we'll see how that goes.

  5. I'm beginning to believe that CO is the new NY.

  6. You were there? Aw, damn it. I kept an eye out for you, but must've walked right by. I'm glad the presentation went well.

  7. Thanks for all your notes! Someday I may make it to a con, but it hasn't happened yet.


  8. That was a great literary tour de force, Shannon. Congrats on the presentation and I must confess I would have loved to accompany you and hopefully to produce some extra motivation. Kisses.

  9. glad it went well!! thanks for the notes! i used to want to be a writer.. maybe someday i shall again! :) if i make it into my 100's like i'm hoping i will have plenty of time! :D it sounds like quite an event.. great notes!! i love hearing the processes involved in writing- it is so fascinating that there really are as many methods as there are writers! it sounds fun & inventive!

    we're going to have to go up to seven falls again. i haven't done the fun touristy stuff since i was a kid & i think Michael would love it.. plus all the stairs might actually tire him out a little! ;D

    i'm going to go look up the fainting couches. hope i'm not sorry i did!! :D

  10. hm. all i could find was that fainting couches were often used by corseted women because the corsets restrict lung function so they were more likely to faint! another lovely folly of fashion!

  11. Alex, I liked that there can be such a disparity in word counts, with either being fine. I tend toward the shorter end of it, too (which is funny, because I often struggle to keep my short stories short enough).

    Bryan (& Brandon), thanks! It definitely made me think (the trilogy thing). I'm working on something that is at least a duology, and my goal was to get it ready to start querying soon. I'd been questioning whether I should hold off until I finish the story so I'd know where exactly I wanted to take it. I mean, what if I discover something in the second book that I want to add to the first? So, yeah, I'm seriously considering getting that done first.

    Becca, thanks!

    Hart, THAT (possibly wanting to change things in the first) is exactly what I'm worried about! There was a guy on the panel who had something like 21 books in the series, and he had planned them ALL out in advance.

    Andrew, nah, but I wonder if Denver isn't one of the bigger cities in the "center" of the country that can draw a crowd?

    Julie, I somehow managed to never see you except for the Bongo reading. We must have gone to drastically different workshops, and I wasn't able to make the fairy tale one.

    Debbie, it was very different for me from PPWCon, but interesting. I was nervous as can be heading in. Definitely an interesting character study, and much cheaper than a full-out writer's conference. I'd recommend trying it once if you're ever able.

    Petronela, I would have appreciated it!

    Beth, I'm pretty sure it tired the kids out fantastically! Fainting couches. Hrm, I will have to tell you in person. The "rumor" was that they were used for women to be serviced...ahem. Kept the crazies away. As Michael gets older, hopefully you can attend some writers events with me. There are tons of free ones.