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.

Letters

The following is a lyric essay I wrote in my penultimate semester of college, written for an advanced nonfiction writing class.  It is a found-form essay, using the form of a series of letters to personal heroes (three of whom are fictional) to allow for self-exploration.

slushpile“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.”
-Joss Whedon

Dear Batman (or may I call you Bruce?),
I felt like I had to write to you. You are an inspiration to me, and I don’t know who else talk to about this.
It’s not really fair for me to write to you, since I know you are busy in your quest to preserve the spirit of Gotham, and I am writing you, knowing so much about you while you know nothing about me. I don’t even live anywhere near Gotham.
I suppose I warrant a little introduction. I am a college student aspiring to be a novelist. I have just one more semester to finish school.
That sounds so flat in comparison to a person like you– a brilliant, successful billionaire businessman who has dedicated his life to combating crime in the depressed, corrupt city of Gotham. You are part warrior, part detective, part inventor. You are brilliant and dangerous. I’m nothing like you.
And yet, I feel like I know you: the nuances of your character, your powerful sense of morality. I know many of your back-stories, how the keys to any of them is that your parents were killed on the street in front of you, and your fear of bats. Each version of you has been prepared in different ways, going through different struggles to get started. Sometimes you take on apprentices, an assortment of individuals who go by the names of Robin or Batgirl or invent new names when those roles are filled. I know about your failures, your successes. I know your long list of enemies by name.
The part I can’t get out of my head, though, is the death of your parents.
I have nothing in my life that compares to that. I have not undergone any great tragedy beyond the death of one of my best friends when I was fifteen, but he was ravaged by cancer, and part of me felt relieved when he died and escaped his pain. It was tragic, but it didn’t reshape my life.
Is it bad that I kind of want it to? I want to be able to make something beautiful out of his death, something tangible. More than just memories, I want to be able to crystallize the moment I found out he had died and pour it into a book, a story, a poem. That moment when I stood in the office of my high school, my mother hugging me tight then leading me to the car, while I stared blankly, wanting so badly for it to feel real enough that I could cry. Instead I just cried with dry eyes for hours, alone in my room. I want that day to really mean something to me, to shape my writing, and to have an effect on those who read what I write.
A common adage used for writers is “write what you know.” I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase. Well, I don’t personally know the things I want to write about. I want to create something fascinating and deep and meaningful. Beautiful. Emotive. My interactions with the depths of human emotion have been brief and would not seem profound to anybody but myself. The writers around me have almost all known some sort of great suffering– parents have died, disease has attacked their bodies. They can draw on their experiences to create beautiful works of literature. How can I believe I can do that? I couldn’t even produce tears when Garrett died. I laughed during his funeral, so how deeply have I felt pain, sorrow, or grief?
Part of your goal as Batman is to inspire people, right? Well, how can you be my inspiration? I cannot do what you can. I do not have vast funds, combat training, scientific intellect, or the motivation to do what you do. I don’t want to be like you: your life is hard and riddled with sorrows and pain. Plus, you want to inspire people to stand up to corruption and crime, and those really aren’t big issues where I live. No, I just want to be able to draw something from your struggles that allows me to create something really worth reading. Worth writing.
I don’t have a person I really consider to be my mentor, at least not for my writing. I don’t have a person I can turn to who is a voice of experience and reason in creative pursuits. Nobody who will respond.
I don’t know what I’m trying to achieve, writing to you about all this. You can’t be a mentor to me. You’re fictional. You’re inconsistent. You can’t answer me. For heaven’s sake, you depend on my creativity to exist. The closest I can even come to interacting with you is to write a comic book manuscript about you (which is, in fact, one of my dreams). You can be whatever I want you to be, but that somehow seems to make you less worthwhile to look up to. That makes you too flawed, or too perfect.
Plus, how can something that doesn’t really exist provide inspiration?
And what does that say about my fiction?
-N. J. Darkish

Dear Harry Potter,
You’re one of my heroes. You were an inspiration to me, especially all through my childhood. Your adventures always drew me in ways that made me feel like I was living them along with you, an unsaid friend who helped you alongside Ron and Hermione.
You were always so brave. Self-sacrificing. Willing to do anything for the sake of good. You stood up against hellish creatures and people. I used to actually shudder when I imagined the clammy flesh of a Dementor. They scared me in ways I couldn’t describe, and yet you were still resolute against them, using your stag Patronus to fight them back, keeping me and your numberless other friends safe.
And Voldemort and his Death Eaters– their darkness knew no bounds, but you were always there to drive them back with your personal light (and a lot of helpful spells, I might add). You always kept going on, even when you were injured, even when things were really hard. Even when Dumbledore, your friend and mentor, was killed. You never stopped, so it felt like I never stopped standing up to evil.
But here’s the frustrating part of all of that: I don’t live in a world where magic is real. I can never go to a place like Hogwarts. I can never learn a single spell. I will never see an elf, dragon, or phoenix. I will never ride a broom. I won’t receive a badass lightning bolt scar. I can’t even train an owl to deliver my mail.
Even more, I am never going to have to face problems like you had to face. The real world may have a lot of evil in it, but very few men come anywhere close to Lord Voldemort. Real evil men are far more complicated than he was, with have at least a few redeeming qualities. And I will never have to come in contact with any of those men. No, I am going to live my life in relatively boring ways. My big problems are almost certainly going to be financial or health-related. The possibility of laying in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm really doesn’t hold a candle to destroying Horcruxes or dueling a dark lord with powerful magic. Though it still is scary as hell.
So, you taught me all this bravery, but for what? What can I do with it? Go hunt down a terrorist? You’ve got to be kidding me. I guess I could write about my fears, but once again, they’re just everyday fears, so how could they be interesting? Sure, I’m terrified to have history of cancer in both sides of my family. I am afraid that my writing will be rejected– by editors, readers, and myself. Heck, I’m afraid I won’t be able to find a job in this crappy economy.
I don’t know if it would mean anything to write about those things. I want to create a world as wonderful and complicated as the one you live in, but how can I do that without falling flat, without any real magic to draw from?
Or is life magical enough? Is love? I’ve fallen in love, I married my high school sweetheart (like you did). I have friends that I can trust with anything, who would fight by my side, maybe even die for me (like you do). I have had helped change people’s lives (like you have).
–I’m not sure if those wonderful things really count as magic. So, inspirational character of my childhood, why didn’t you inspire me to do something that I know is useful, like learn another language or how to sew?
-N. J. Darkish

Dear Ender Wiggin,
I hope this letter finds you well when you come into existence in the future and somehow come across this letter. I just wanted to let you know I appreciate what you will do for Earth by defeating the Formics, and I appreciate what you will do to allow other intelligent life to exist in the galaxy.
That was a fairly confusing jumble of statements, made more difficult by the fact that you are supposed to exist around a hundred, then upwards of a thousand (because of space travel) of years into the future. To speak simply, I am a big fan and feel like you have helped me to become a better person.
Your genius has long interested me. I felt a sense of kinship toward you as, at the time I first read of your future exploits, I was in junior high, in all advanced classes and several years ahead of my peers in the subject of math. I felt like I was quite a bit smarter than others and it felt good to see the calculating, nerdy kid and his friends be the ones who come out ahead. You will be chosen to quickly advance to Command School, skipping years of training, and even there you will succeeded. As I read about that, I felt like I was just like you. I wasn’t just in the higher math classes– I was almost always at the top of my class, and I had my three best friends there by my side.
You will be given the simulation game in Command School in which you lead the simulated International Fleet to defeat the enemy Formics, just to learn that you will have, against your knowledge, actually given instructions to real soldiers who killed real alien foes. You won’t cheer when you find out what happened– instead you will sorrow over what you have done, mourning for the dead, even though so many were foreign and dangerous. It was refreshing to finally have someone in fiction to look up to who hated violence, who dealt with problems with words and ideas rather than with a sword, gun, or lightsaber. You will leave the world, find the final remaining Formic egg, and then turn to writing to spread your ideas while all your friends will use armies to spread their causes on earth. You will write as the Speaker of the Dead, and your words will change for the better how the entire world perceived an alien species.
I’m not even anywhere close to as intelligent as you, regardless of how I identified with you when I was younger. I was foolish and didn’t realize that I really was just a little ahead of the curve, but soon would become just another college student, quite book smart, which really can only play a small role in whatever success I have in my life.
I will never be able to use words anywhere near the level of impact that you will have. You will be a world-changer. I am just a simple man. I’m a writer, I hold words as having great value, but I am aware that I never will have the opportunity to change lives like you have, nor do I really want to. It’s great to see that words can make such a difference, but I just want to write fiction.
Is writing fiction really enough to make a difference? I’m not even sure if it is enough in my own life, much less in the lives of others. I know some of my loved ones appreciate what I do, but that is hardly earth-shaking. I can write difficult issues into my stories, I can use symbolism, but what does that really accomplish? It seems like the only writers who really change the world are ones who write religious texts (which I will never do) or ones, like you, who only exist in fictional worlds where people are more willing to read and think and change.
Thanks, I guess, for the inspiration.
-N. J. Darkish

Dear Stephen King,
I am one of the Constant Readers that you mention in your forwards and afterwords and your non-fiction books. I have read, by my calculation, all but nine of your books, which, as you know, is no small accomplishment, with your, at the time of my writing, upwards of 60 published novels and collections. I love your writing and have drawn inspiration from what you have written and from your life.
A few years ago I read your most significant non-fiction book, On Writing. From your stories and advice I was able to see a man who had lived what I have long dreamed. Since I was very young, as far back as I can remember, I have loved telling stories, and when I was in sixth grade I decided that I was going to become a novelist, and I’ve never varied from that course. It was very refreshing to see one so successful also starting to write from a very young age.
When I read about the publication of your first novel, Carrie, I felt thrilled for you. I was ecstatic when I read about how its paperback rights sold for so much. I imagined myself in a similar situation: trying to scrape by financially, living in humble circumstances with my sweetheart, trying frantically to get published to help pay for rent, but finally making my break. Your early successes felt like something that I could achieve.
My adoration for you was furthered as I tried to follow the writing advice that you included in On Writing and I discovered that much of it worked for me and my methods of writing. Soon I began to create a number of short stories that I felt proud of (in fact, overly so, as I foolishly tried to get one published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, obviously unsuccessfully). I took a great deal of pleasure as I began to do some of the things that I saw in your writing that I hadn’t seen anywhere else, like subtly connecting stories and books in unusual ways, suggesting interesting connections that are not consistent or major enough to create series, but rather create your own multi-layered universe. Soon my stories began to connect, and few things brought me greater pleasure in writing.
So, you have influenced me a great deal, and have done so in ways directly connected to my dream. But I have begun to realize that inspiration only does so much. I can daydream about being rich and successful, creating complex masterpieces in a few months of writing, like you. I can imagine reaching toward the tops of bestseller lists, I can dream of book signings and becoming a household name, like you. But I am finding that most of the inspiration I have drawn from you has meant so much time spent dreaming of a successful future that I haven’t written half as much as I should have. And is a successful future really important at all? Sure, it would be nice not having to worry about paying the bills, but I don’t think that I really need to be successful to be happy.
I mean, are you happy? What does all your fame and fortune really do for you? Should I even be looking to you as a hero?
Either way, I should be revising a novel right now, or scribbling down fresh ideas in a notebook. I should be submitting polished stories, poems, and essays to magazines. The problem is, I don’t have anything that is good enough to be published yet.
And now I’m just wasting time writing to you.
-N. J. Darkish

Obligatory introductions

faeAs per tradition, I feel I should introduce myself.  I am Nathaniel J. Darkish, an aspiring writer who is  yet to be published.  I recently completed a bachelor’s degree at Utah State University, majoring in English, emphasizing in creative writing.

My biggest interest is in writing horror fiction, and I have a horror novel in the works (currently in major revision– second draft).  It is Dark Art and is available for reading (as is most of my writing) on my deviantART account (see my link to check it all out).  I am also working on a fantasy novel (very slowly, I’m focusing mostly on Dark Art) and a number of short stories.

The purpose of this blog is twofold– one, to chronicle my experiences as a writer trying to complete something worthwhile and get my work published, and two, to share my thoughts on things like literature that I love (especially horror lit).

I hope you find a home here.

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