Westercon

The first weekend of July marked what was a wonderful, career-building experience as a writer: Westercon.  As you can probably tell from the last three letters of its name, Westercon is a convention, specifically for writers and artists of sci-fi and fantasy.  Because of the endlessly strange stigma attached to the word “horror” in the publishing world, my writing falls under the sci-fi/fantasy umbrella, so it was only natural that when I caught wind of this convention I bought a membership.  I had been eager to go to my first writing convention for some time.

I showed up at the convention sign-in booth early on Thursday July 3rd and chatted with another writer in line who writes under the name Thomas Fawkes (he told me about some of his fantasy projects and it sounds really cool, you should check him out).  Being of similar interest and experience, we decided to become con buddies for the day.  Adorned with our name badges we set forth.

The first Westercon event we attended was the release party of Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology.  As I’ve mentioned before I am an avid listener of the Writing Excuses podcast.  It honestly as been a bigger help to my writing than the sum of instruction I received relative to my creative writing degree.  I’ve said this before, but it warrants repeating: if you are an aspiring writer of genre fiction that is serious about your craft, then you need to listen to the podcast.  It has improved my approach to writing.  Anyway, Shadows Beneath

The Writing Excuses Team

The Writing Excuses Team

is an anthology with a story from each of the podcast’s main contributors: Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler.  Varying from most anthologies, this book has their stories up front and the deconstruction of the writing process of the stories (early drafts, notes, line edits, brainstorming, outlining, et cetera) in the back.  So this book serves as almost a textbook of the writing process– or just a good collection of short stories by great writers.  At the release party the Writing Excuses team all spoke briefly, then copies of the book were sold (of course I purchased one), food was eaten, signatures signed.  As I’ve posted before, I had met Brandon Sanderson previously at a signing, but I got him to sign my copy of The Way of Kings and chatted with him about Shardblades at the party.  I had brief interactions with Howard and Mary (primarily because I am not so familiar with their work) and then moved on to Dan Wells, who is one of m

Yes, Dan Wells is wearing a wizard's hat and cloak

Yes, Dan Wells is wearing a wizard’s hat and cloak

y personal heroes.  After all, the man has fulfilled what I want to accomplish– to make a living as a horror writer while being active LDS, religiously.  We chatted several times throughout the con (as shall be chronicled throughout this post), but the first interaction was quite funny as, after I told him a little about myself, he joked about being one of a tiny handful of Mormons who write horror.

After the party there was a two-hour recording session of Writing Excuses, which was great to be there for.  There was a Q&A episode, which I asked a question at (about creating frightening, unique creatures), which I will hold as bragging material with my writer friends when that podcast airs.

Most of the rest of day one was spent perusing booths at FantasyCon across the street (my Westercon badge got me

The FantasyCon dragon

The FantasyCon dragon

in for free), though I did jump back over for what ended up being one of the most productive things I did at the convention.  It was a class put on by Mary Robinette Kowal, Sandra Tayler, and the chairman of Westercon.  It was Schmoozing

101, intended to give some tips as to how to most productively interact with pros at conventions.  In a post soon to come I’ll give you a transcription and summary of this from my notes– it was very valuable.

I ended my first night for a guest of honor panel for Dan Wells in which he talked about his upcoming second John Cleaver trilogy (I love the first books– delightful supernatural horror), read from a book about cloning that he’s currently negotiating with Tor (I’m excited for it), and answered some audience questions.  The Q&A was very helpful to me because somebody asked where Dan goes to for his research on mental illness (something that has played a significant role in his books) and he recommended the self-help section books on mental illness intended for the loved ones of those afflicted.  I have been doing research on mental illness for Dark Art (the protagonist has severe PTSD) and until that suggestion, I had been wading through medical jargon and military transcripts.  Gathering the books he recommended has vastly improved my research.  Beside that, the best moment of that panel was when Dan, while discussing music he listens to in order to get him in the writing mode, mentioned She Wants Revenge and asked if anybody had any idea who he was talking about.  I alone raised my hand, to which he joked, “Of course, only the only other horror writer in the room knows that band.”

Day two began with more Dan Wells as I attended his release party for Next of Kin, his new John Cleaver novella.  It was cool to hang out, get a copy, get it signed, and eat pizza Dan bought for the event.  Then, another round of Writing Excuses recordings, during which I met my writing compadre (we critique each others’ stuff), J.A. Trevor, in person.  After that we hung out for a while in the dealer’s room where I bought a Cthulhu fish for my car (because what horror writer doesn’t want a dark Lovecraftian deity on their car?).  Later that day I attended a horror panel.  My attendance to that probably made Mr. Wells believe that I was stalking him.  Promise, his events just had the most appeal to me as a writer.  Really hope I didn’t seem creepy.

Me with Dan.  Be jealous.

Me with Dan. Be jealous.

Finally, day three of the con.  Bright and early, I headed in to a workshop that I had paid and submitted for in advance that was done by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury, who moderates Orson Scott Card’s writer’s workshop on his site Hatrack River, and LDS writer Dave Butler.  They read “Charlestonian Monsters” and gave me some terrific feedback.  Their reaction was very positive to the quality of writing, which brought me great pride, and the majority of their concerns were around making the piece more cohesive in terms of theme and tone.

After that I went to FantasyCon, where I went to one episode worth of another Writing Excuses recording session.  I ducked out early for a panel with Simon Pegg, which was hilarious and awesome.

After that, I attended my final Westercon panel– one on worldbuilding that was led by Brandon Sanderson.  Considering how intricate and wonderful the worlds of his creation are, the fact that it was awesome really goes without saying.  During and after that panel I chatted with another aspiring writer, Aaron Hoskins, who I met during Dan’s guest of honor panel.  We became friends and it was cool to see how our exchange was mutually beneficial– I had more writing experience to share while he has attended more cons that I have.

So, in summary, Westercon was a blast.  I learned a lot, interacted with professionals and had a ton of fun.  So, writers, get out to a writing con!  It was worth far more than its cost.

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My (Very) Brief Stint as a Ghostwriter

calvin-hobbes-writers-block

For a good while I was really interested in finding a job that involved creative writing to be my day job when I’m not working on my novel. I love writing, I reasoned, so it only made sense that more writing can only be good.

It turns out that may not be the case for me.  I certainly have every hope to be able to quit my day job to work on novels full time, but working on projects that are not my own doesn’t seem to work very well for me.

So, here’s the story:  A couple months ago, I got an email from the Utah workforce services website.  I had used the site a few months prior to try to find a job (my wife and I moved at the end of the year).  Part of it involved inputting desired fields, so naturally I put in writing.  Move the clock forward, and I’m reading an email stating that there is a creative writing job that had just been put onto the site.  I put off checking it out for a few days, feeling quite content with my new job (a credit union teller), but curiosity won out.

The job was for a company that hires writers for a variety of book projects.  The company then owns the rights to the books and tries to sell them to publishers.  The posting specifically mentioned fantasy, mystery, and sci-fi projects, so I thought the job might be right up my alley.  After emailing back and forth for about a week (making sure, for example, that I wouldn’t be doing something like signing over the rights to my own writing projects) I got an interview set up.  At that interview I was told that the company had openings for writers of a few projects, but only one of those projects was fiction.  The rest were for a nonfiction project dealing related to business, drawing lessons from a wide variety of people or things depending on the project.  My interviewer told me that, if I was willing, that I could be hired on for one of those books and then could be moved to a fiction project when another opened up.  The pay was by page, and the nonfiction project paid a little more per page than the fiction projects, so I told him that should be fine– fiction definitely was more up my alley, but I thought that writing for money would make me content to matter what I was working on.  Plus, the company was expecting a minimum of 10 hours of work a week, which I thought would work out fine with my job and my own writing.

I wish that were true.  About a week later I was sent a project, partially complete, that I was to finish over the next few months.  I set to work, but the topic– lessons from the richest men in history– didn’t interest me, and in spite of my best efforts, the level of research I had to do on each individual I had to write about resulted in my production rate being far too small.  I was ideally supposed to be producing around 3 pages an hour, but I was realistically doing only half that.  That meant low pay for a lot of mentally strenuous work.  I quickly felt frustrated with the project and that frustration spilled over to my other creative projects.  Simply, by the end of my time spent writing I either didn’t have time to work on Dark Art or just was too burned out to do so.

Also, I was sad that with how the writing job was setup I had no real part in the business side of publication.  The material I was producing could very well get published in a year, or ten years, or never– and I wouldn’t hear anything about it unless I stumbled upon it at a bookstore while passing through a section I don’t peruse.  I took the job hoping to get a better feel for what I’ll be dealing with when my novel is complete and publishable, but that wasn’t going to happen.  I also hoped to gain some connections in the industry, but once again I just emailed my material to one person, who made sure it got edited and that I got paid, so networking was out, too.

I lasted one pay period– two weeks– and was glad to get out.  It was a good experience in terms of learning what ghostwriting can be and learning that it is not for me.  I suppose I’ll be working something less exciting than writing until I can find a way to go full time as a novelist…

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