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Friday, May 22, 2015

Myths about the Writing Life (ConCarolinas 2014 Writing Panel Notes)

Myths About the Writing Life
Tamsin L. Silver, Misty Massey, Claudette Marco, Jim Bernheimer, A.J. Hartley, Roy Mauritsen, James R. Tuck
Moderator: Faith Hunter

Myths of the writer’s life (read aloud)
1. My solid gold hummer doesn’t spit money
2. Royalty checks are big
3. People always want to write your books
4. No revisions
5. No day job
6. You need a big publisher
7. Once you write in one genre you can only write in that genre
8. All you need is an agent
9. A book deal equals fame
10. You need to write chapters in linear sequence
11. A great-selling novel equals an automatic movie deal
12. Just about getting your first book out, and it’s all gravy after book 1
13. Publicity and marketing people at your publishers ensure your book gets read
14. Book sales are counted in hundreds of thousands

Myth: Publicity and marketing people at your publisher ensure your book gets read.
AJ: People assume that if you’re with a major publisher that marketing budgets are divided equally between authors. The person with the higher advance gets the higher budget. Unless you’re one of a very small percentage within that house, there is virtually no publicity or support.
TS: Her publisher told her promotion was her job, and didn’t help after a year, so she pulled her book.
RM: Went for a smaller press because he wanted more control.
MM: Not only did the PR people not do anything, they weren’t clear on what she should do.
FH: PR is the lowest position in publishing. New authors are often taken care of by inexperienced PR staff. Best to get a PR firm to help you learn. Online ads and referrals are best. If you don’t know how to do your own PR then you lose out.
JB: (mostly self published) Marketing time will eat into your writing time if you’re not careful. Be prepared to part with money to get noticed.
CM: (self published) Successful at conventions. Blog tours didn’t help much. Being at conventions, especially speaking on panels, helped her make connections.
AJ: Twitter blew up when Richard Armitage read his Hamlet book. Made it hard to keep up, have a dayjob, and write.

Myth: You need a big publisher to sell your work.
TS: Self-published, at book 5, and someone who works at Vampire loved her books and asked her to write a new online vampire show, so began work on Skye of the Damned, learned how to produce a show, and as  a result the cross promotion led to more book sales. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. If you don’t know it, you can learn it.
FH: The learning curve never stops.
MM: Releasing a book of short stories on her own featuring Mad Kestrel because there has been a long gap in releasing books 1 and 2.
CM: All the marketing is on you if you are self-published. Used CreateSpace as publishing venue so that she could put more money into editing, cover art, etc.
JB: You don’t even need the brick and mortar stores, either. Self-publishing – Create Space, Lightning Source. Create Space is more print on demand. Lightning Source will send you the bill for returned books put in brick and mortar stores.
RM: Brick and mortar stores are fighting, competing with other books. Prefers to take books to convention regardless of small press or large. Works in graphic design and now designs covers for other writers. Likes having more control with a smaller press.
FH: Brick and mortar stores are going away is what we’re hearing. But?
AJ: There’s a myth going around that b and m stores are going away. It’s hard to make a real living without a big pub and books in physical stores. Doesn’t have the skills or time for publicity and marketing his books, so he wants the big press to promote him. It comes down to what you want to achieve. Grocery money? Being out there, sharing stories? Self pub. Consistently 50K a year or more, very difficult to do that as a self-published author. Traditional publishing is not dying. Some of those who self pub should not be putting their work out. The initial myth that you need a traditional pub to get your book out is not true. The new myth that we can also load up to Amazon and make a fortune is also untrue.
FH: The myth that you can quit your dayjob is also untrue. She just quit her dayjob, decades in. Hit bestseller list, hired a PR firm, and the firm let her down, didn’t get much attention from publisher until they noticed her books stayed on the extended list. Hired her own PR firm.
AJ: The NYT list is calculated based on numbers of copies shipped from warehouses to stores, while the USA Today list is based on number of sales. Also, Booklist and many others have their own lists.
FH: Making the bestseller list did not translate to more PR when she hit the bestseller list the first time, but then eventually did.

Audience Question: What’s more important, print and e-book sales or hardcover?
FH: Mass markets don’t make much per book. Print and e-book sales
JB: Has been self-publishing, and the most he’s ever made in one year is 22K. Nice supplemental money is great, but don’t quit your dayjob.
FH: But until you hit a bestseller list, you’ll be lucky to make even 20K in traditional publishing. The first book selling for a million to a pub is very rare.
JT: There’s no money in publishing. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Don’t do this for the money, do it for yourself.
AJ: Those who make the most money are hybrids, selling out of print backlist via self-publishing, and also selling traditional work.
FH: Publishers aren’t letting go of the print rights like they used to. An agent helps to keep it. If you go for a traditional press, have an agent.
JT: If you don’t have an agent, demand things out of your contract. Have a lawyer look after it. A contract lawyer can help too.

Myth: Once you get that first book published, you’re set.
FH: This is more for the traditionally-published folk, but how hard is it if you haven’t been traditionally published to keep publishing?
CM: It is difficult, and conventions take money, but does get the satisfaction of putting book out there and interest in writing to work. Tried to find an agent, and some were interested, but eventually it didn’t work out. Liked finding her own editor, connecting that with story, finding own cover artist, etc. Not much money, but she has the satisfaction of living out her dream.
FH: Even for traditionally published it can take a lot. Hotel rooms at a con, meals, flights, etc, are not typically comped.
MM: Eight years after Mad Kestrel, finally got invited to a con that comped a hotel room.
RM: Being able to share a story, create something, that’s the satisfying aspect for him.
FH: We all do this because we love to do this.
TS: I can’t not write. As an artist, this is extremely fulfilling. Remembers that she is not writing for anyone but herself.  It’s always better to write for you, not for the people around her
FH: It sucks having to write something just to pay the bills.
AJ: there is a downside to quitting your dayjob. You become a slave to the market. There’s a freedom to knowing that the sales of your next novel don’t determine whether you get to keep your house.
MM: Most people do not have the discipline to treat it as a job in your own home. Most people are writing in their home and when you’re in your home the brain is telling you to do all the things, the chores, the laundry, and Facebook, etc. You have to be super disciplined to not have a day job and write in your home.
Me: Three times I’ve taken a week off just to focus on writing, and three times the week has been filled.
FH: There are no benefits for those who quit their dayjobs.

Myth: You’ll be able to write at conventions.
JT: I’m too busy drinking with friends.
TS: I go out to eat and drink with friends.
JB: Maybe a bit but cons are an opportunity pit.
AJ: Used to bring his laptop. *snort*
RM: Cons are an opportunity to not write, to make connections.
TS: It’s important to talk about writing, so you have so much more energy when you get back to that
FH: The networking that happens at cons happens at the bar. You can do this even as a recovering alcoholic.

Audience Question: How do you write at home without social media?
FH: Rewards herself: she can only check FB after she finishes every page, if she wants.
JT: No internet in his office. Researches things later. “Research” turns into time spent on FB.
CM: Sets goals, takes breaks.
TS: Easy to sit and write.

Audience Question: Advice on finding cover artist if you’ve self-publised a book?
RM: You can find a lot of great artists through Deviant Art.
JT: If you buy a sketch from a cover artist, you can’t use it for a book cover. There’s a big contract involved first.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Stealing the Spotlight: When Sidekicks Take Over (ConCarolinas 2014 Writing Panel Notes)

Stealing the Spotlight: When Sidekicks Take Over
Chris A. Jackson, James R. Tuck, Michael G. Williams, Thomas Monaghan
Moderator: Edward McKeown
Thoughts about sidekicks:
- TM: Side characters that become pivotal, going from a name drop to a character that orchestrates the story’s end; it’s surprising how the small characters can change the story
- EM: The person who changes the most is often the secondary character (e.g. Spock from Star Trek, Watson)
- CJ: You can have more than one protagonist!
- MW: The moment the secondary character starts to take over: When they start behaving like the main characters of their own stories.
- TM: We’re more risky with our secondary and tertiary characters and we get to explore more of their dark side, and that makes them lively and brings them to the forefront.
- CJ: Also, if they’re secondary characters, they can more easily be killed, which adds tension.
- TM: The characters can take you for a ride. Backstory can be added for colour, then revisited as a critical issue later in the story.
- JT: It’s easy to overdo secondary characters.
- CJ: But you can add depth to the character without overwhelming.
- JT: Then it’s not backstory, it’s what’s happened in the past that has made that character become the person they are.
- CJ: It can be hard when the side story enrichens the story, but at the cost of way too much wordcount.
- EM: Secondary characters can go on to other adventures that are fairly incredible.
- MW: Secondary characters can be waiting to be used, in their own stories.
- TM: One incredible example is Vir from Babylon 5, going from a buffoon to the emperor of the Centauri republic.
- EM: Delenn also moved the entire series.
- JT: By the end of Buffy, everyone else is more important than her. She doesn’t change much.
- EM: Spike’s change on Buffy.
- CJ: Sec characters enrich the story. Take that. Ride that pony all the way to the barn. Just be aware of word count.
- MW: If a character entertains him, then he’ll go with it because he’s enjoying it.
- Audience comment: Monroe on Grimm, Regina from Once Upon a Time.

Audience Question: Spike’s arc was supposed to be static in the second season. What do you do when a character gets such overwhelming support that you keep him on?
- EM: That’s called Conan Doyle syndrome.
- TM: The characters tell him when he’s done.
- CJ: If his fanbase will pay him for more of that sec character, then he’ll write it, if that story is worthy of telling.
- TM: That’s the secret: the story has to be worth telling.
- CJ: Has a respect for his fans: he wouldn’t tell it if they didn’t think it was worth telling.
- MW: When a few say they want more, he doesn’t put much stock in it, but when lots say they do, then he puts way more.

Other examples and discussion:
- CJ: Characters who keep getting their asses kicked and still win.
- TM: That’s what tertiary and secondary characters are for.
- JT: Works for Dresden because the effects carry over into the next book. Bad writing is when the hero/protagonist is completely unaffected in the next book.
- Audience comment: Hannibal Lecter – was originally a side character in Manhunter.
- MW: People willing to completely say their motivations out loud.
- JT: I normally have filters, but they go way down. (And boy do they come off at the con.)
- TM: A villain doing what is necessary, what he sees as necessary for his people, but is he genuinely evil, or just going to extreme measures to have a positive outcome?
- EM: Are the rebels always the good guys?
- JT: Lex Luthor sees Superman if anything goes wrong, if Superman decided to take over the world he could. Black Panther and Dr. Doom are the same but one is good and one is evil.
- MW: Sometimes the hero and villain are each other’s heroes and villains.  
- JT: All of the Firefly crew is their own protagonist.
- CJ: Fallible protagonist: Any time Mal screws up is when the side characters can step in
- MW: Each character in Firefly stands out and it works.
- MW: When a side character goes off and comes back changed or even damaged, and it affects a later story.
- EM: There’s a synergy – some characters who don’t seem to exist without the hero, the whole is greater than the parts (Kirk/Spock/McCoy, Sherlock/Watson, etc)
- TM: Characters pair up, work together as a team, and it helps develop them further. This helps to advance the story better.
- EM: When the main POV character teamed with extraordinary character, and the extraordinary character is more than main character, and the POV character is more normal.
- TM: Like the Dr. Who companion. Gives him a chance to explain, not just for the companion but for the audience.
- TM: Often the side character comes up with solutions to problems.

Audience Question: Are secondary/tertiary characters the ones making the world, or does the protagonist make the world?
- TM, CJ: Both
- JT: Secondary characters can show parts of the world to broaden the world and bring more perspective without going into too much detail.
- MW: In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, DS9 is a station, so there are a lot of walk-ons, which help make the world.

Audience Question: How do you prevent characters from other races/species from being token?
- EM: To some extent these characters are tokens. They are what they do. You could put in some characteristics that
- TM: Try to provide other characters from that same race, to give alternative views. Helps you paint a broader picture from both sides.
- CJ: Tertiary characters *are* setting. Keep them as real as you can without letting them take the story places you don’t want them to go. No one cares what colour the carpet is unless someone’s bleeding on it. No one cares about backstory unless it affects the story.
- TM: If they’re just that once
- EM: Cultures are easier to stereotype.
- JT: Write well. But also, these characters are not in their culture so they will react differently to what’s going on because it’s not where they’re form.
- MW: Cheesy trick: Have someone treat them like a token and see how they react.

Are sidekicks and main characters sometimes impossible without each other?
- EM: Xena and Gabrielle – better characters together than on their own.
- MW: Quark and Odo from Deep Space Nine. DS9 is the messy show.
- TM: Londo and Jakar in Babylon 5. Jakar’s journey through the show.
- JT: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Black Widow’s movie just as much as Cap’s.

Audience Question: Ever had a beta reader or editor ask you to add or take away from a secondary character?
- CJ: Just kills the character who needs to go, has them die gloriously.
- EM: If they’re not worth the words, then demote the tertiary character who was secondary back to tertiary.

TM: What’s been your most disturbing experience with a character?
- (For him, flinching with a villain that revolted him. Had to kill that villain, go through the experience of killing him off, to be able to deal with him, the brothel breeding system the villain was involved in, and the dark things that happen that the society condones)
- EM: No one should extrapolate from writing to writer. But you have to identify with the bad guy to write the bad guy.
- CJ: Having to put yourself in the bad guy’s head. It’s clear what he’s doing and why he’s doing, but the means to the end that he has envisioned, getting into his head is hard but it needed to happen.
- MW: One villain had power to delete people from existence, and made for an unreliable narrator

- JT: When a side character goes off after the bad guy and gets hurt.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Stuff, revisited

So I haven't been as forthcoming with notes as I'd hoped this month. I have good reason. About two weeks ago, I received some news that the Stuff I've been dealing with is pretty much done with.

Which is a good thing, right?

Of course it is, but there's also a factor I've come to understand over the years: sometimes, when something so stressful, so life-affecting, finally goes away, its absence can take some adjustment. There is a grieving process, even when the news is good.

The other night a dear friend and writing comerade-in-arms told me something that I hadn't expected, even if I was aware on some levels of its deep truth: "It was badly affecting you." Hearing that from a person I deeply trusted, who I knew could understand Stuff's impact on my life and my writing, was powerful. I mean, sure, Don Rocko has been a wonderful, supportive husband (and I maintain that marriage is the ability to put up with each other's bullshit, and that we all have it, and in this past year and a half, I've certainly had a lot). But hearing it from a fellow writer and query-warrior, someone else who witnessed firsthand the impact Stuff was having on my life, was meaningful in a vital way.

And now it's over. And I am happy to move forward.

Next stop: ConCarolinas, which happens in two weeks! I hope to have more notes from last year to share on Monday.

And then maybe I can start to catch up?

Well ... baby steps. As much as I love sharing my notes, actually putting words on the page is *slightly* more important. #SorryNotSorry

Happy Friday, everyone!

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Art of the Sex Scene (ConCarolinas 2014 Writing Panel Notes)

Hello again! As promised in Wednesday's notes, here's what I took away from what was lovingly called "the sex panel". Once again, a different take from what you can find under this tag in the archives. What else can I say? Enjoy! ;)

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The Art of the Sex Scene
Tyffani Clark Kemp, Susan H. Roddey, Alexandra Christian, Crymsyn Hart, Marcia Colette, Tamsin L. Silver, James R. Tuck
Moderator: Emily Lavin Leverett
When you chose to write under a pseudonym, if you did, why?
EL: Edited under a pseudonym because of professional commitments.
TS: Chose a penname because of father’s religious affiliations,
CH: Hart is real, Crymsyn is not, used to work at a place where she might have been fired
AC: Teaching second grade when she started
SR: Writes under 2 names because writes wildly different things. Never intended to write romance. Not hiding anything.
TC: Wanted to publish each genre as a different name because of friends who would have wanted her to write good girl
AC: Why would we have sex if we weren’t supposed to enjoy it? Jesus needs love too.
JT: Working on a Christian erotica in his spare time, called Come to Jesus.
EL: The point is, a lot of it was about our jobs. It’s okay to write something where people get their heads chopped off but it’s not okay to show sex. In this insecure job market people don’t want to risk unemployment.

Audience question: What about copyright issues and theft?
JT: The second you create it, you own the copyright. Frauds and ripoffs will only happen when you’re successful, so don’t worry about it right now.
CH: There was a situation where one person was lifting whole passages from old Harlequin romances, but only after several novels, and it was a reader who picked it up. She’ll probably never write again.

Audience question: Are erotica writers more geared towards finding an agent, or less?
EL: The things erotic writers sell the best are shorts, which usually aren’t represented.
AC: Publishing is so not trad right now; agents don’t want to pick up anyone unless they’re guaranteed to make sales, and lots of smaller presses don’t require an agent.
EL: Even bigger ones don’t want an agent.
JT: Write short, write quick, submit to as many as possible, and once you have a platform and some fans, self publish (from then on). Erotica is where the money is.
AC: And your genre is also important if you’re going to go that route. What’s selling right now are BDSM, male/male.

EL: Men are sexy. Several men are several sexy.
TS: Apparently women not regularly reading regular romance not being comfortable with their sexuality.
JT: Like men watching girl on girl porn.
EL: Edited a lot of m/m, and a lot of them were gay love stories.
SR: The type of women reading this are not outwardly comfortable with their sexuality or admit they’re sexual creatures.
AC: Participate in your own sex fantasies.
Audience comment: m/m Yaoi manga has been popular for years in Japan.

Audience question:  What has changed with women’s roles in erotica, and them taking the stereotypical passive roles?
EL: It can be anything these days.
SR: Depends on the subject, and on who’s writing. Sometimes you can pick up that they’re extremely misogynistic and extremely angry. Occasionally it’s a man you’ve stuck boobs on.
AC: Traditionally in erotica the female roles have been a lot more empowered than they are in traditional romance. A lot of the new wave involves the women being fascinated by the idea of being dominated. A curiosity. We may be trending back that way.
EL: One of the fascinations with 50 Shades is that women are working and taking care of the house, and like the idea of a guy coming in and and saying they’lll take care of everything. It’s a pleasant fantasy.

Audience question: Recently read an article which said that sex lives are disrupted by men trying to make love to their wives to make porn. Are you conscious of realistic sex vs. porn sex when you write?
CH: Make the body parts match up.
EL: And unless you’re writing weird sci-fi the dick can only be in one place at once. But experiencing sex via the written word is different from experiencing it visually.
AC: Issue with the concept that erotic writers and erotic romance writers are writing instruction manuals. A lot of people are taking fantasy in books and porn on television too seriously. Sex is supposed to be about fun, and fun is not always possible in the real world.
JT: When you write a sex scene and you try for reality you realize that reality is messy.
TC: Wants to read something different, steamy, not something she can do in the bedroom.
EL: Awkward sex scenes can be sweet and can even be effective if done right.

Audience question: Do you need experience to write it?
JT: You need research partners.
EL: Or you need the BDSM handbook.
TS: Read books on it, get to know it, look up things on the internet like you probably do already, read books by writers writing great erotica. Emulate what you see. Write stuff, get feedback. Just as you would with any other writng.
MC: Critique groups will give you great feedback.
CH: You can buy the mannequin dolls you can pose. It helps if you’re writing a 4-5 person ménage.
AC: As with anything, readaing in your genre, reading good things, is important. You don’t need a ton of experience. But it does help to have a little bit. Also, watch some porn.
SR: Yes, watch porn. If you don’t have a lot of experience, it helps to have experience of hwo things work and what goes where and what it looks like so that you can make it look okay on paper.
JT: Watching porn is great, but as a male writer if you’re going to watch porn, you have to take porn with a grain of salt, because those ladies in the more extreme porn are not human.
EL: Don’t write “She was so excited when he came and she didn’t.”
AC: Thomas Roche writes incredible erotica. Also, Ellora’s cave is pushing their for men line.
TC: Was a virgin 4-5 months before she started writing her erotica, so you don’t need to be super experienced but you do need to know the basics.
Audience comment: Has toured a BDSM club and sex toy stores.

Audience question: What is the most difficult thing about writing sex?
CH: Making the sex not boring after 80 books. Will cut and paste, then change it because you can only have so many insert tab-A into slot-B.
SR: Sometimes when writing an erotic romance, you can dim the lights and close the door.
JT: You don’t have to constantly one-up yourself. Hopefully sex doesn’t become routine but you do learn what becomes comfortable and enjoyable. There’s a temptation to starting off Vanilla and making it more creative or escalating it. That’s not necessary.
TS: Keeps in mind: How does the sex move the story along? When does someone realize there’s more than just sex. Emotions are important as well. It’s a way to keep it fresh.
AC: Humor is how she keeps it fresh. Sex is supposed to be fun. If it’s not, you shouldn’t be doing it or reading it.
MC: Likes to change up the scene. Change where the sex takes place, to make the sex interesting.
SR: You do it because you can.

Note from the authors: This is very binary. M/M, F/F, M/F – but one thing to keep in mind is that you can’t forget there are things people consider non-normative. There are spaces in erotica where these non-normative voices can be explored. Which is really important in the SF/F community.
AC: Trans is the up-and-coming term.
SR: “Gender fluid”, too.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Romance in Fantasy: How Much is Too Much? (ConCarolinas 2014 Writing Panel Notes)

Hey everyone! So I'm back with more notes. Emerald City Comic-Con was amazing, and I can't wait to share the notes I brought back from that trip. But, owing to my less than spectacular summer and fall, I still have everything I learned at last year's ConCarolinas! So, with that in mind, let's have a gander at the first topic ...

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Romance in Fantasy – How Much is Too Much?

Chris A. Jackson, James R. Tuck, Tamsin L. Silver, C.L. Wilson, Susan H. Roddey, Marcia Colette, Alexandra Christian, Crymsyn Hart
Moderator: Janine Spendlove

So, How Much is Too Much (if you’re writing a straight up fantasy novel)?
JT: Love between two people is what makes this whole world happen. If you don’t have love, if your character doesn’t have a connection with another character, then the story doesn’t feel right. Even platonic love.
CJ: RPG fiction is steering away from it, and the fiction suffers.

Romance writers – do you set out to write a romance novel, or does it just happen?
AC: It just happens. She never set out to write a romance novel. Always about the story first. And the stories always seem to have a relationship in them. That’s the kind of story she wants to tell. She writes the story she sets out to read. The interaction between the characters is the part she likes best.
SR: It’s not about writing a romance novel, it’s about writing a story. If the romance happens, that’s how the story was going to naturally progress.
MC: One thing she likes most about the characters is the whole journey. When they set out, you don’t see something happening, then there’s always this sexual tension that builds. She goes with the tension, even if it doesn’t explode until page 200.
Audience comment: The hero becomes worthy of the relationship, worthy of the heroine falling in love with.
AC: It’s okay for her to save him on occasion.
JT: It’s happening in the Deacon Chalk series. Made a conscious decision to write a character that’s completely broken. A girl he meets is the one who saves him.
CL: Sets out to write romance in every single book. Both the fantasy and the romance elements are equally important to the storyline. The woman has to earn her happy ending as well. Both have personal emotional and external issues that together they overcome and they cement a solid lasting relationship. There’s always an external plot but the romance plot drives the action forward and ideally contributes to resolving the external problems as well.

Without Naming Specific Stories, What Are Pet Peeves of Yours?
JS: That rescuing the princess is presented as a reward. It promotes an undercurrent of misogyny.
SR: Finding a book that has so much promise and looks interesting but then the story can’t decide where it wants to go, and you lose sight of the world or the romance because it can’t make up its mind. Especially a romance novels with fantasy elements.
AC: Men with boobs. Loves to read urban fantasy with a good romance. But she’s sick of the urban fantasy stereotype that she has to either be a whiny waif, or a bitchy tomboy who would basically be a guy but has a female name.
JT: Women are strong. They’re vessels of life. If men had babies there would be no people in the world. So the trope of superstrong feminine characters in fantasy doesn’t need to happen. Women are strong enough already. They are stronger in different ways.
JS: Women in the army bring diverse things to the table.
CJ: The idea that the character is incomplete without a relationship. You are a human being without a relationship. A relationship is something else. The relationship doesn’t complete you.
JT: Hates the fated love, “we have to be together”. Likes it when they have to choose, they have to earn it. Not love at first sight. If love at first sight happens it should fuck up their lives completely.
MC: Using the love triangle as the main source of conflict. If you can’t come up with a better storyline than that, just don’t write the book.
JS: Man-Made-Boy made it work out, but that’s an exception.
Audience comment: When they’re in the midst of danger and they stop for a sex scene. Or there’s so much sex in the book that they don’t manage to accomplish anything.
AC: Erotica and erotic romance is not pornography. Pornography is about the sex. Erotica and erotic romance is about the story. More artistic. About the relationship.
CW: In romance, the relationship helps them grow. In erotica, the sex is the catalyst for change.

What about inter-species romance? (E.g. humans and dragons)
CJ: The idea that non-humans are people isn’t much explored, and he enjoyed bursting that bubble.
JS: Falling in love in interspecies isn’t hard, but how do you tackle intimacy?
CJ: Magic to help make it work.
SR: The problem is whether or not they can classify it as bestiality if you have a human having sex with an animal or similar creature, an act that is illegal in most states in the US. Is it illegal for a human to have a relationship with the animal when the animal is not in human form?
Audience: If Amazon finds out a shapeshifter has sex with a human in their non-human form they can pull it.

Audience question/comment: Unhappy with the trope of “when a woman is raped but they fall in love with their rapist and that (somehow) makes it okay”.
JT: That story happens more than we’d like it to.
JS: We’re becoming more culturally aware of that. That’s what matters.
CJ: Know your market, know your readers.
SR: If the relationship is the product of the environment in which you set your story, that may justify it more. Technically, what we do today would be considered different or obscene in a different world, no matter how bad.

Audience question: What about falling out of love?
JS: Not fun to write, but it’s interesting and fascinating to understand why those two people are no longer together. Every relationship you ever have is a failed relationship until your last one.
CW: Tries to appeal to romance, so often it’s the villain causing the split, but eventually strives for a happy ending.
JT: When you step out of genre you can do a really good job of it. E.g. the movie Closer.

When writing so many intimate scenes, how do you keep it fresh?
CH: Has a tendency to go way outside the box, dives into space yetis and shapeshifting aliens and bigfoots.
CJ: Writing an intimate scene that isn’t physically possible is just as hard as writing a fight scene like that.
MC: When the toys are in the room. Puts people in different places, different situations, keep it fresh.
TS: Also, keeping it fun. When working on it, characters became friends and to keep it interesting but keep the lighthearted playfulness helps.
CW: It isn’t about the sex. It’s about the emotional state of the hero and heroine at that moment. There is more happening
JT: When you write a sex scene, you have to ask yourself what the point is. Why? The purpose and the feel has to have meaning of some sort to be relevant to the story.
CJ: Not so much about self gratification as it is about enjoying the other person’s gratification.
ST: If writing a book with explicit sex and lots of scenes, you don’t have to write out every single act. It’s okay to fade to black, move onto something different see what you want to see.

Note: after that last question, the authors all emphasized an important fact:


Check back Friday for that.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Looking Past the Target Audience (ECCC 2014 Writing Panel Notes)

And here we are, just under the wire. I saved the best for last; this panel on avoiding dated tropes, othering, and how to approach writing diverse characters in one's work was lively and intense. There's a lot of great info here. This actively extends the conversation touched on in other posts, such as Everything We Know is Sexist: Now What? and Writing Diversity. A discussion that should never end.

No, I don't normally wait a full year to post all of my notes from a convention, but I'm glad I finally have the opportunity to get these posted. Don Rocko and I are driving down to ECCC 2015 later today. In the meantime, enjoy what I learned at this awesome panel!

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Looking Past the Target Audience

Rachel Edidin, Regina Buenaobra, Cheryl Lynn Eaton, G. Willow Wilson, Andy Khouri, Sfe M., Scotty Iseri

What this Panel is About
- Brief history: This panel started a year ago because of the lack of intersectional diversity
- This is not Diversity 101. This is much more.
- Intersectionality: What it means to look at diversity from an intersectional angle

RB: Intersectionality assumes that we all live at the intersection of different identities, we’re a mix – power dynamics and struggles with various identities, not just one single identity

RE: When someone is described as from a mixed race background, assumption that it’s “White and (something).”

Panels often address one subject – the women’s panel, the queer panel, etc.

There are still a lot of stereotypes

Diversity in media and representation of characters – what does it mean to see yourselves in media? What do you look for? What do you latch onto when you find it?

CLE: Depends on age of person. When younger, visual representation was important, but as she got older wanted to find meaningful stories, creators of colour, women telling stories.

AK – Looks for intersectional characters. Lots of characters are delineated. White guy from Kansas, black guy from Africa. Willow’s Miss Marvel is Islamic American, dealing with tension that is rarely represented.

This not just about allegorical representation, but otherness, because people grow up thinking allegory is enough. Often the “different” character is used as cautionary tale. Healthy character stories, people living fulfilling lives, are never told.

AK: Example: Queer villain trope in fantasy

RE: There’s a consistent trend of queering and effeminization of male villains, even female villains – this is about moving beyond that.

RE: Geek culture – default definitions of not what a geek is, but what they look like, what their identity is, how they identify and react with that culture. What are your interactions and challenges?

SI: There have been growing pains – geek culture is now mainstream culture, cons are big, whereas as a tribe we’ve been historically downtrodden and pushed aside. But the fake nerd girl bullying is a reaction to all these new people in our party.

AK: Geek culture used to be defined as your interest in fringe tings, but now everyone has to share their experience of being into something few people used to be interested in.

CLE: By being part of a minority, it can be frustrating when you fall into different groups and those groups cut you out because of certain parts of you (coloured, female, etc).

Mandarin short on Thor 2 video: Mandarin goes to jail, and the assumption is that he is LGBT.

GWW: The impression is that when you’re in a fringe group, there’s an assumption it’s okay to other different groups. Even you’re part of a minority, it’s okay to make fun of everyone. There’s the assumption that you will find no allies in some groups. Someone even more on the outside than you are is still okay to make fun of. And then allies you could have had feel they don’t belong. There’s an unconscious need to keep the people you see as beneath you down.

CLE: It’s cute when you do it with Star Trek vs. Star Wars identities, but with these other identities, it hurts.

RE: If you ever hear someone call Big Bang Theory “nerd blackface”, tell them to go to hell. This is something you see in feminist communities, too. In one group, women who were gamers, comics fans, and yet heterosexual felt that because they were girls they had to make it clear that they were super straight. When we talk about women in comics we don’t mean “Women like you”. So, how do you change the landscape of the industry, the community?

SI – Looking for women writers for tv show, to maintain that balance in the room, but looking at narrative tropes of sci fi, not wanting to do star wars where bad guys are eerily foreign yet slightly familiar, looking to make a show with a good balance of creative talent, diverse, but anti the usual stabs at ethnicity (token character, etc) – imagine a world beyond that where they don’t have to do the Xmas ep.

CLE: Don’t have to do the Xmas episode when you have those people in the group to begin with. It’s normal, it’s natural. It’s up to the people in charge of building the community, the hiring, to make this a reality.

GWW: And as much as we talk about how important it is to have representation on the creative side, but also we need them on the editorial and executive side, because they are the gatekeepers. The conversation needs to also be, who’s on the other side of the table.

RE: Statistically, people hire other people of their own backgrounds because we’re humans and tribal and look for people like us, people we feel “safe” around. Left to our own devices, there are a lot of decent people perpetuating stereotypes.

RB: Questioning things is important. Example: ArenaNet – has 2 canon queer storylines, a pansexual race, looks for things that may speak to a different audience.

AK: There are benefits to hiring a diverse audience. The nature of the Internet mitigates a hiring bias. Not just people writing about their Xmas, but coming from different backgrounds influences the way you experience the world and the stuff you want to talk about. Maybe not to do with their personal identityy, but what they’ve discovered based on their journey.

CLE: Don’t just say “let’s have a diverse group for diverse experiences” – don’t come away assuming you can write about your culture. Your experience as your identity can write these things, but remember that the filter you were raised with will colour your story. But don’t think you can’t write about a culture because you haven’t experienced that culture directly.

SI: Having a wide variety of experiences affects us overall.

RE: We all bring our defaults and filters, they impact everything, small ways you interact with the world. Who’s doing it right, and what are they doing we can emulate?

AK: We are.

GWW: Ms. Marvel (young Muslim female superhero) – She didn’t think it would work, but she’s happy that Marvel sought it out. It’s stunning, but it’s a choice. At the end of the day, you want as many people interested as possible, but it’s rare to actually see thinking like that. And it’s not a model minority book, either; it’s a story about a girl in Jersey.

SI: Archie comics has done a good job. All characters of Riverdale are American high USA and that’s all normal, even the gay and black characters.

RE: Don’t ask why a character so demographically scattered, ask why aren’t they. With fiction, you can create that.

AK: Show Lost – a very diverse cast, each with their own backstory they bring to the present adventure.

AK: If you build it, they will come.

RE: ECCC tries to program to the audience they want to have, not based on what people who came last year liked. They’ve deliberately created space for diversity. Last of Us: main character is scruffy middle age dude. DLC and book - Naughty Dog deliberately wanted a story that people who bought the game didn’t necessarily want to see, a perspective they wouldn’t necessarily stumble on – intense teenage girl friendship, with the girls romantically involved, and this story made an interracial lesbian teenage couple the central characters. Using that is really cool and smart.

Question: What are good practices for privileged authors who want to include minorities, identities they don’t have?

RB: Ask people of those identity to read your work, review them. More than one.

CLE: Have friends of these various. The wider your world is, the wider your writing is going to be.

GWW: One also has to be psychologically diligent about the difference btw being an ally and being a savior – don’t put your idea of what success looks like into the mouths of these characters. Don’t just go with your own default narrative. An ally listens. Change your identity to allow someone else’s perspective into your life.

AK: Writing this stuff requires living and having experiences, learning about and getting to know people. Don’t just reblog what’s already out there. Go beyond what your understanding of what life is about.

SI: When asked if “is this offensive”, think, is this person going to get more of “okay” or “well, actually” – responsibility to educate rather than just being offended. Question whether it’s your story to tell. IF someone’s already out there writing that story, then give them the privilege and platform to pass it on to that person.

CLE: Mentoring also helps – allow those folks to mentor you.

Tweet other questions to @raebeta; tumblr extends conversation. This topic is waaay to big for one hour, one panel, seven people; so check out

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Writing for Young Adults (ECCC 2014 Writing Panel Notes)

I know, *another* panel on writing YA. Yet every single one I've attended seems to tackle the subject in a different way. Here's what the authors at ECCC 2014 had to say.

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Writing for Young Adults
Ellen Guon Beeman, Lisa Mantchev
Moderator: Ren Cummins

How would you define the differences that distinguish YA fiction from all the other genres?

EGB: It's like Pixar said. About how storytelling is approached. Write the stories you want to tell, then take out bits not suitable for a young audience. Emotionally resonant stories that have strong impact and serious issues, then make sure they’re appropriate for a younger audience.

LM: Enjoyed YA when growing up, and didn’t sit down thinking, “This is a YA novel and needs to be X, Y, Z”. The character determines the story. Different imprints deal with diff stuff. Range of what’s considered acceptable. Various editors have certain preferences. Tell the story your characters are bringing you and they will decide where it’s slotted.

How has having children influenced, tailored or changed your perceptions in writing stories?

EGB: Part of it was edgy and not intended for younger readers, but having daughters – thought, “I can write stuff they can’t read, or I can write stuff for them.” So she writes for them.

LM: Wrote a lot of short fiction, then wrote a novel with a small child. Want to expose kids to certain ideas but have them ask questions. Writing the novels when she was small she didn’t think about it. But now as she’s older she thinks about the books that are out there on the market, and what’s missing. As a parent she brings that into her writing. You find you write edgier as your children get older, and will also write for your core audience aging to keep them as readers. Pushes herself out of comfort zones.

Can you gently nudge your tone, age the books up with your characters and readers? (i.e. Rowling did it brilliantly over 7 books)

LM: When you get to a certain age, everything is typically darker, more important. It naturally edges up over multiple books. The character looks back and sees everything that’s happened.

EGM: Something to be said for providing parents with age-appropriate, too.

There seems to be a requisite that protagonists have to be in the same age range as main character. Do you believe that’s a requirement?

LM: Doesn’t happen as often in YA, as they’re specifically going after readers looking for a certain experience in target parameters, targeted age range is because the readers are looking for someone that’s like them.

EGB: Baen books doesn’t do kids books, so the characters are typically older.

LM: Not every agent handles every genre, but also certain agents represent specific age ranges.

EGB: Wrote a very dark story, then translated it down to childrens' books.

LM: Amazon is getting into publishing, acquiring books and putting them out in hardcover; hopefully they will promote the heck out of it

LM: Really do write the story you love and needs to be told, and throw yourself into it, with the understanding that the more passion you put into it, the better end product it is going to be. This is especially true for YA because those books are the refuges, the places to escape when things are bad. There’s a responsibility when it’s being targeted at YA. Your books may be read by someone who needs those words.

LM: Have a teenager read what you’ve written to get their feedback. The voice and cadence. Soak in dialogue. Also, don’t date it with references.

LM: Teenagers have the most disposable income.

How have you found collaborating with other writers?

EGB: When you reach the “I hate this book” stage of the writing process, writing collaboratively is really fun, and the energy is great, too.

LM: It also helps the voice. Google Docs can be fun to collaborate with as well.

Audience Question: What about writing characters older than readers?

You want your characters to be a few years older than your target audience. Lots of people reading it, still read it. Another reason why the New Adult.

Audience Question: When writing other genders, other sexualities, affect the telling of the story, and who will publish it?

LM: Depends on the publisher. If the story is good, it will find a home.

EGB: Readability matters.

Audience Question: How far is too far with romance?

LM: Again, depends on the publisher. There are lots of YA books that include and describe sexual content, and lots that only hint at it. There is some concern about blowback from libraries, school libraries, parents, so it narrows the margin about what concerns each publisher may have. They’re less concerned about the content than what it provokes.

EGB: Has to be plot-important, integral to the story. Every plot element needs to be integral to the story.

LM: Put it in there and wait for someone to tell you about it, if it’s an issue. Won’t stop a publisher from acquiring a book that they love. Put it in there, they’ll tell you how much they want you to dial it back, then it’s up to you to decide how much you’re okay with.

Audience Question: Is there a relationship between the story’s reading audience and protagonists being too young or too old? Usually it seems to makes more sense to go older with a character’s age than the age of the readers.

LM: Sometimes the story calls for the character to start younger and age older. As a kid you don’t want to read about younger characters, but as an older reader, everything goes. 17 is usually a good age.

EGB: The age of the character is often pegged by the story being told. Starts with the story she wants to write then decides the age category.

LM: Also, in a large cast, the best friend is often a year younger or older.

EGB: The love interests are, too.

Audience Question: Do you have any advice for encouraging young writers? What would you tell them?

LM: There are internet resources – tons of online resources. Try NaNoWriMo, but don’t wait for November. January is a fantastic month. But for a novelist, every month is NaNo. It teaches them to meet deadlines and expectations. For the ones who want to keep going, there are workshops taught by writers. Let them find critique groups, too, as peer editing and review is educational and you learn how to deal with it. And if you learn how to say something doesn’t work in someone else’s work, you learn to see your own errors.

EGB: Critique group format: 1-1.5K per session, the writer reads it out loud, everyone takes notes. Always start with something positive. Sandwiching good-bad-good isn’t required, but can be helpful, too.