At the Feet of Masters: The Writing Track at JordanCon 2011 (Part 3 of 3)

Wherein I shall conclude the elucidation of the mysteries revealed unto me whilst attending the Writing Track at JordanCon 2011Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Today’s post will conclude with my thoughts on the last two panels, including the marquee “JordanCon’s Got Talent”, and I’ll wrap up with my main take-away lesson from this whole experience.

Rewriting History

This was the panel that was probably of least interest to me – primarily because I write very little alternate history.  It was still an enjoyable panel – with a fun discussion about whether or not it’s okay to write historically real people in such a way as to portray them very differently than what we understand to be the historical truth of those people.  Can you, for instance, write a story in which Abraham Lincoln is a lying bastard?  Is that any worse than writing a story in which Abraham Lincoln is a Vampire Hunter?  If so, why?

We never really answered the question definitively.  But it was an enjoyable aside.  I sort of came away from this part thinking of alternate histories as “fan fiction for real-world history”…

For my part, I did ask a question in this panel: this time in reference to my story, “PFTETD”.  When I had my first rewritten draft out to readers (all two of them) in early 2010, the feedback I got was strangely consistent: the readers were intrigued by the world I had created.  The world was, basically, real world modern-day but with a certain fantastical element inserted, which element has been with humanity for all of its history.  Sort of the basic premise of half of urban fantasy.  (Although, I don’t consider it an urban fantasy – there’s no “urban” to it, as it takes place in a rural setting – so I call it “contemporary fantasy” instead, meaning it takes place in a contemporary setting.  At least Wikipedia recognizes that as the genre in which Urban Fantasy is contained, but I rarely see reference to it out in the wild.)  What my readers wanted was to see more of this world, and learn more about how this fantastical element has changed the course of human history, making this world simultaneously familiar and different.

Except, the problem was, this was meant to be a short story that had already ballooned to novelette length. Continue reading

At the Feet of Masters: The Writing Track at JordanCon 2011 (Part 2 of 3)

Wherein I shall continue to elucidate the mysteries revealed unto me whilst attending the Writing Track at JordanCon 2011Part 1 here.  Part 3 forthcoming.

Today I’m going to continue sharing my experiences and thoughts on the various Writing Track panels I attended.  I attended all of them, though some of them I was a little late to, for various reasons.  Saturday had already been off to a great start, but then I was ambushed by Lunch Time.

Keeping a Long Series Fresh

Jana Oliver headlined the next panel, after Saturday’s lunch, to which I was late.  She advocated keeping a “story bible” to keep all the details and events straight when working on a long series – “because otherwise you will forget important details”.  This was something I was already doing, thankfully.  I have a story bible for “Project SOA”, and I’ve recently started working on one for “Book of M”.  What goes in the story bible: a bit of everything.  Descriptions of the character both physical and internal, notes about the history of the world, geography, the plot outline – you name it, I’ll put an entry for it in the project bible.  Right now the bible for “Book of M” is in its nascency, with only a handful of unfinished entries.  I’ve mentioned my project bible before, I believe, and I won’t go into too much detail about it for now.

The purpose of the bible, as she explained it, was to help keep everything straight.  But  you could also keep new notes and bits of inspiration there as you happen upon them, to help you inject some of that much-needed freshness. Continue reading

At the Feet of Masters: The Writing Track at JordanCon 2011 (Part 1 of 3)

Wherein I share and elucidate the mysteries revealed unto me whilst attending the Writing Track at JordanCon 2011.

The main panelists for the writing track were Guest of Honor David B. Coe, Eugie Foster, Jana Oliver, and Brandon Sanderson.  (The details of who taught what are in my blow-by-blow account linked above.)  Attending the writing track was definitely valuable for me, as an aspiring fantasy author.  But what was surprising, in some ways, was how little I learned about the craft of writing as compared to what else I learned by attending these panels. 

Which is not to say I didn’t learn quite a lot about writing during these panels.  I suppose I was expecting to learn more about the craft.  But what I did learn, I believe, will be enough to push me up another level – or so I hope.  But let me save the big, revelatory take-aways for the end, and let’s start with an account of what I learned along the way.  Which is a long account, so expect this to go on for several posts – this is considerably more detailed and thorough than my pictorial blow-by-blow.

Writing for Younger Readers

The first bit of craft advice I learned when I ducked into the Writing for Young Readers panel a little late.  The panelists agreed that you should write your protagonist at an age one or two years older than your target audience – specifically when targeting younger readers.  This is because younger readers are aspirational – they are interested in what people older than they are think and do.  However, the older YA readers tend to read more and more like adults, so the lines get blurred considerably.  They also pointed out that mushy stuff like romance: kids totally go in for that, whatever you may think.  Yes, even the boys.  Continue reading

A Writer’s Christmas

Image of The Towers of Midnight

My Shiney new copy of the latest in the Wheel of Time series

Last year after Christmas, I talked about all the wonderful books I got as gifts for Christmas.  Last time I managed to do this within a few days of Christmas… but I was on a blog-free binge for the holidays this year.  Still, I wanted to talk about some of the things I got this year, because they’re very exciting!

Unfortunately, of the four books I got as gifts last year, I only had sufficient free time to read one of them.  And this year, I only got one novel to read for Christmas.  But it’s a doozy.
Get this: Dear Wife knew that The Towers of Midnight, the latest in the ongoing Wheel of Time saga, a book series of which I’ve been a great fan, was coming out a month or two before Christmas.  So I wouldn’t have been surprised to get this book for Christmas – especially considering I’d utterly failed to provide my wife with a viable wish list, this was one of the few things I knew she’d be aware of. 

But that’s not the half of it.  Somehow, Dear Wife was also aware that although the author, Brandon Sanderson, would not be visiting our own neck of the woods any time soon, he would in fact be stopping on book tour near her old stomping ground, where her parents still live.  And so, my Dear, blessed, wonderful Wife somehow convinces her father to stand in line at a bookstore near him for something on the order of two hours to get a copy of this book signed.

And thus it was signed.  To me.  With a message wishing me good luck with my writing.  And I have photographic evidence.  Behold: 

Signed & Personalized Copy of Towers of Midnight

It's signed to me. 🙂

It reads “For Stephen – Keep writing!  You can do it!”  Now, I know that Mr. Sanderson doesn’t know me from Adam, but still, the sentiment was very cool.  And even if Sanderson doesn’t really know me enought to care whether I succeed or fail at writing, the signed book is in its way a wondeful way to motivate me to keep working towards that goal.  

Additional Signatures in my copy of The Towers of Midnight

Harriet and the Mystery Signer, also starring My Thumb!

But wait!  There’s more!  It’s also signed by Harriet McDougal, the widow and editor of series author Robert Jordan, and still a third signature by who I am told is Robert Jordan’s daughter (but I’ve been unable to independently confirm this; in fact my attempts to verify it suggest rather that this signature may belong to Melissa Craib the founder of the Wheel of Time fan community called Tar Valon.net).  A cool gift?  You bet!

Of course, I immediately abandonned other books I’d been slowly working through in my little spare time to dive into this new shiney – knowing, as I did, that with the start of the new (and final) semester coming my reading time would drop to virtually zero very soon.

But Dear Wife wasn’t done with me, yet.  She also knows well that I carry around with me, nearly everywhere that I go, a small notebook in which I record ideas and thougts for stories as the occur to me.  I’ve filled several of these over the years, and the current edition is a spiral-bound Mead Five-Star notebook that’s about a third full.  Apparently, Dear Wife believes that my thoughts are worth more than mere spiral-binding, because her next gift was a fabulous-looking hand-tooled leather-bound journal book featuring an image of the Tree of Life embossed on the cover.  What’s more, this fabulous leather-binding is interchangeable: once the notebook is filled, I can purchase replacement notebooks to slip into the leather cover.  Very soon… I’ll be taking my notes in real style.  As you can see, this thing is a real beauty.

My new, embossed cover leather-bound journal featuring an image of the Tree of Life

Now that's a stylish-looking Notebook!

I’m still contemplating how I want to use this, actually.  My current notebook, as I said, is only a third full.  But I really want to start using this awesome notebook.  Still… I don’t want to leave off in my current notebook with so many pages empty.  That’s not an efficient use of space.  So I’ve toyed with the idea of starting something tangential in this book – like perhaps a narrated history of the world of my long-gestating novel.  Or… I’ll just wait until I fill my current notebook and then make the switch.  I’m just not sure yet.

I also got a couple more book-and-writing related gifts from family that I thought I’d share: one is The Writer’s Digest Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy, a book that’s kind of a mash-up of Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy and Terry Brooks’ The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference – at least if the Amazon description is to be believed.  I perused the table of contents, and it looks to be a rather interesting guidebook.  Many of the suggestions and details are things I’d already thought a lot about (being afflicted, as I am, with Worldbuilder’s disease) but there were some ideas in there that I hadn’t considered noted in the table of contents that I’ll have to peruse more carefully.  Regardless, this is a handsome book that I look forward to delving into (after I get more time to read and write, again, after graduation).  It looks pretty useful, and fun to read, besides.

Finally, I also got another writing book, The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans.  Content-wise, there’s a lot of overlap with the Writer’s Digest guide book.  But this book also includes two features that make it useful in its own right, I think.  The first is a section on the business-side of writing fantasy and science fiction for a living.  It’s not a long section (and probably therefore not a deep section) but I hope to find some useful advice for an aspiring speculative fiction author there.  The second is a short story by R. A. Salvatore, of Drizzt fame.  This story’s not a Drizzt story (I’ve sneaked enough of a peak to know that), and it’s included as an example of something a little more “non-traditional” in the fantasy and science-fiction genres.  Which is kind of a good idea; they say the best way to learn how to write great fantasy and science fiction is to read great fantasy and science fiction.

So, all in all, a very productive, and very writerly Christmas for me.  There’s something in the wind for 2011… I can feel it.

How about you… did Santa bring you any wonderful books to read or anything fun and supportive of your writing?