The 2nd Pocono Writers’ Conference

The 2nd Pocono Writers Conference is scheduled for January 11, 2015. We have some wonderful guest authors who will be making presentations and answering questions. Our Main Guest is novelist and screenwriter Chuck Wendig, who has written many advice books for authors.

PoconoWriters2015-page-001

(Click on the poster for a bigger version.  Then print it out and post it everywhere!)

Last year, we did a day-long panel discussion over a number of topics. This year, each author will give an hour long presentation and at the end of the day we will have all of them together for a question-and-answer period.

I will be the host and emcee but will participate in the final question-and-answer period.

We’re discussing among ourselves what the topics will be but are abiding by the Pocono Writers Group’s desire to concentrate on writing skills as opposed to the kind of issues that come up after the work is done (such as getting an agent, whether to self-publish, and so on). The Q&A section will address anything though.

Registration is free but space is limited. You can reserve by calling the library at 570-421-0800 x 316 or by emailing reference@monroepl.org

This will be held at the Hughes Public Library in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, about 80 miles from New York city, just over the border from New Jersey. It will start around 9 am and run till 5 or so. Lunch is not provided but there are plenty of places nearby, you can bring a lunch, and the library may be selling sandwiches.

To learn more about our guests, check out their web pages:

Chuck Wendig
Tee Morris
Dennis Tafoya
Kathryn Craft
Michael A. Ventrella

My turn to be interviewed

What makes a believable fantasy world? And is humor necessary for good fiction? I discuss these topics in my latest interview … please check it out!

http://www.leonawisoker.com/interview-with-the-lawyer/

Talent is an Asset

Maybe you shouldn’t be a writer after all.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing their dream, but not everyone can be successful in the world of art (and yes, writing is a creative art). snoopy-writing

I’ve thought about this a lot (especially when I look at my own work and get depressed). In one previous blog I wrote about how you need talent, hard work, and connections to be successful. You don’t need them in equal amounts — if you have great connections, you don’t need as much talent, for instance (which is the only way to explain the success of some writers, musicians, and actors).

But assuming you’re an average person who wasn’t born into a well-connected family, talent is pretty much a necessity. And by “talent” I mean that creative spark that gives your work uniqueness and originality.

There are just too many creative people out there who, well, aren’t very creative.

Come on, you know it’s true. They may have all the skills but there’s still something missing.

In the past few years, as I have attended writer’s conferences and readings and so on, it’s becoming clearer. There are so many aspiring writers who know their grammar rules and understand the concept of what makes a good story who just don’t have that extra something that makes a story real. And yes, during my moments of self-doubt, I worry that I belong to that group.

I don’t know how to teach talent. I sometimes think that is something you are just born with.

When I was in High School, I wrote a musical comedy that our drama club put on. It was a silly western called “But I’m Allergic to Horses.” I got my musician friends to play for us, and I also recruited some of the students from the music department to help. There was one girl who played piano who, if you put the music in front of her, could play it without a mistake — something that always impresses me. I never learned how to read music other than the very basics. When we practiced the songs, I would give her the chords and ask her to improvise, and she was absolutely lost. She had no creative skills at all, despite her mastery of the piano in all other respects.

And there are some writers like that. They write much better than I ever could, but their stories lack originality, surprise, excitement. They have the technical part of writing down pat, but their work is predictable and boring.

Obviously, what you need is mastery of both the technical part of writing and the creative part.

But at least one of those, you can learn.

Interview with Bud Webster

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing long-time friend Bud Webster today. Like previous interviewee Mark Waid, Bud was part of my old Dungeons and Dragons crew in college (Bud played a mercenary dwarf whose catchphrase was “When do we get paid?”) Bud We both worked at Peaches Records where we spent much of the day making bad jokes and entertaining the customers. We also took at least one class together that I remember — Animated Films (or something like that).

BUD WEBSTER: History of Animation, taught by the inestimable Steve Segal.

VENTRELLA: Yes indeed, thanks. Bud, as a voracious reader, you became quite the archivist? Anthologist? Expert? I’m not sure what word to use – how did that come to be?

WEBSTER: “Anthopologist” is the word I coined. It happened the same way it did when I was collecting rocks, magic tricks and records. The true geek can’t shut up about his/her geekery, we’re compelled by our passionate interests to blather on about it to anyone who’ll listen (or even pretend to). I was lucky enough to have found outlets that spanned a greater audience than just a roomful at a party; first, I did some exploration in my own fanzine, Log of the Starship Aniara (later just Aniara) back in the early to mid ‘70s, then a few pieces in other ‘zines. None of that, of course, was for money, and was mostly just about books in general. I did, for instance, a long piece for Aniara in which I detailed the holdings of a special collection at the University of Virginia that originally belonged to an alum who was seriously into HPL. It wasn’t until 2001, though, that I actually did anything I consider serious with my heavy interest in anthologies. That’s when Peter Enfantino invited me to contribute something on the subject to bare*bones, the ‘zine he co-edited/published with John Scoleri. I did a fairly lengthy examination of Fred Pohl’s Star Science Fiction series for Ballantine, and had the chance to interview Fred (via mail, since he wasn’t doing e-mail at the time). He was very cooperative, happy to answer all my questions, and he continued to read the columns as they appeared elsewhere, sending me the occasional correction when they were needed. That column was reprinted in ’02 in David Hartwell’s New York Review of Science Fiction and that was the beginning of my writing about this stuff for actual, y’know, money.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about the SFWA Estates project.

WEBSTER: Well, SFWA had been tracking estates for years when I was asked to take it over in ’07, but it was catch-as-catch-can and some of the information they had was either outdated or inaccurate. I was on the verge of leaving SFWA after several events had transpired, and then-president Russell Davis and former president Michael Capobianco offered me the position of Estates Liaison not to placate me but to give me a legitimate reason to stay on and be productive. 1256I had already been able to track down a few estates through the network of email lists I was on, so it was right up my alley. It appealed to my sense of history, and it fit in with my interest in keeping classic sf and fantasy alive.

VENTRELLA: Have you had much difficulty in locating anyone?

WEBSTER: If you only knew. I have names on the list that I haven’t been able to track down since the Project was handed to me. Some of them are almost certainly legitimately orphaned – Frank Belknap Long and his wife left behind no family so his only “heir” is the State of New York – but others … Well, how easy is it going to be to find the heirs of George H. Smith?

VENTRELLA: Which writer do you think just hasn’t received the attention her or she should have (and why)?

WEBSTER: How much space do you have? Seriously, there are dozens of authors whose work has been forgotten or unfairly ignored, not all of them old guys from the pulp days. Terry Carr, a fine writer as well as a prolific anthologist; Tom Reamy; Alfred Bester, who wrote two of the best novels sf has ever seen; Avram Davidson, Robert Sheckley and Richard Matheson, all of whom wrote brilliant short fiction; Cordwainer Smith, James Tiptree (aka Alice Sheldon) and R. A. Lafferty, whose work transcends any and all genre limitations… The list can go on for a long time. It’s the big reason I began writing the Past Masters columns.

VENTRELLA: Does one need to be an expert on classic SF to enjoy your essays?

WEBSTER: I’d like to think not. I don’t write them exclusively for fellow geeks, although they enjoy them too. I’m more concerned with piquing the interest of the average reader, with urging them to look for old paperbacks online or in used bookshops than I am in trading minutiae with my colleagues. I get as much pleasure from a note from a stranger telling me that they can’t wait to track down a copy of San Diego Lightfoot Sue as I do from a fellow historian saying, “Hey, I didn’t know that!”

VENTRELLA: Your fiction has received great reviews and awards as well, but you haven’t written that much of it. Do you plan to do more?

WEBSTER: Absolutely. I’ve recently placed stories with Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show (“Fantasiestűck in A Major – A Flight of the Imagination in Three Movements” in #40) and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (“Farewell Blues” upcoming in the January/February 2015 issue), and there are a couple more I’ve just sent out. 51LV1Irkn+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I have plans to do at least one more Bubba Pritchert story, too. Let’s face it – writing is hard work and for some of us, non-fiction is not only a little easier but can pay better and faster. I pitch it, the editor greenlights it, I turn it in and get paid. I still have to throw fiction in over the transom like everybody else, and there’s no real guarantee. I still get rejections.

VENTRELLA: Speaking of science fiction, you had a role in the film “Futuropolis” (I missed my chance to do a cameo in it by being sick that day and I still regret it). I expected that film to become a cult favorite, something shown regularly at SF conventions, but it isn’t. Why do you think that it never caught on?

WEBSTER: Mostly because it hasn’t been available except as a video cassette. I’ve been trying to get Steve Segal and Phil Trumbo (the creators) to do a DVD, and they do think it’s a good idea; Phil mentioned recently that he’s even done a “Making Of” segment that would really add to the interest level. Maybe if we poke them enough…?

VENTRELLA: Let’s talk about fiction in general. What kinds of characters are you sick of reading about?

WEBSTER: Badly conceived and delineated ones. As long as a character can really walk and talk to me, I don’t care if it’s a sparkly vampire.

VENTRELLA: Do you think readers want to read about “believable” characters or do they really want characters that are “larger than life” in some way?

WEBSTER: Why can’t they be both? Yeah, readers have to be able to identify with and believe in characters, but there’s no real reason why there can’t be a little exaggeration as well. Bubba, for example, is an autodidact who knows what “autodidact” means; he’s down-home but intelligent. His persona tends to be a little loud and jokey, but I’ve tried to give him depth and seriousness as well.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing process? Do you outline heavily or just jump right in, for instance?

WEBSTER: Alfred Bester, one of my idols, couldn’t begin until he’d created a detailed outline. I tried it once; the story never got written because I’d scratched the itch too thoroughly with the outline. I’ve found that I need to keep a relatively comprehensive chronology as I go along, but I don’t outline beyond that.

VENTRELLA: Do you find yourself creating a plot first, a character first, or a setting first? What gets your story idea going?

WEBSTER: Depends. Sometimes I write to, sometimes I write from. Sometimes I have a specific idea, other times it’s an overall concept. I have had stories change as I wrote them, more than once. “Christus Destitutus”, for example, was originally envisioned as a satire, the sort of wry observation that Damon Knight and others used to write for Galaxy or F&SF. It turned into a dark and angry commentary on my own religious upbringing, something I honestly did not expect. I still find the story disturbing, in fact.

As a rule, though, I rarely start the actual process of writing until most of the story is clear in my mind. A lot of the time I even have the last lines right there in front of me. The-Joy-of-Booking Other times, well, it’s very different. I was doing research online one morning for my wife when I decided, just for kicks, to Google a small town not far from Richmond called Frog Level. Turns out there are two small towns in Richmond by that name, and that was the genesis of “Frog Level ≇ Frog Level”. That story wrote itself in four days, with very little rewriting.

VENTRELLA: Since we are on panels together at conventions all the time, I assume you think they’re worthwhile. Why do you find these to be a useful activity?

WEBSTER: Good question. Part of it is that in many cases, verbalizing helps me firm up my thoughts and make them workable. The exchange of ideas between the other panelists (as well as intelligent and well thought-out questions/comments from the audience) can lead me to reconsider my own opinions in a very real and constructive way. Plus I get to show off my vocabulary.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on self-publishing?

WEBSTER: I’ve never had a problem with it in general, I’ve even done it myself. And there was a time when there were honest vanity presses who offered their services to people who wanted to self-publish family genealogies, poetry collections, regimental histories and the like. They made no promises of promotion, distribution, or best-sellerdom though; all they did was deliver a case or two of printed and bound books that the author was responsible for thereafter.

Is someone with a checkbook who Kinkos their own book and shows up at a convention demanding table space and signings and their own panel(s) a colleague of mine? Not necessarily, no. Anyone with a thick enough stack of credit cards can throw something together and run through their local copy shop, it takes a lot more than that. There are plenty of those who have proven to me that they are a colleague both through their own hard work as a writer, editor and publisher and though their obvious skills at promotion and willingness to go the literal extra mile to travel on their own dimes to conventions, festivals, conferences and bookshops all over the place for the possibility of a couple of dozen more sales. Why? Because that’s what it takes to market your own books, and that’s what it takes for me to take them (as well as the current conception of self-publishing) seriously – hard work.

VENTRELLA: In this market, with the publishing industry changing daily, how important is the small press?

WEBSTER: It is absolutely vital. It’s always been important, especially back in the days of Gnome Press and Arkham House, but now with the majors being inundated with more and more crap that they have to wade through to get to the Good Stuff, the small presses make it possible for a new author to reach an audience larger than they could reach on their own. If the press has a good, solid rep, it adds a cachet to the author and makes it more likely that sales will be even better: “Hey, there’s a new book out from HomminaNomicon Press! I really liked the last two, so I’ll try this one.”

VENTRELLA: What sort of advice would you give an un-agented author with a manuscript?

WEBSTER: Don’t go the “easy” route first. Find agents and/or publishers who are willing to look at new work by new writers, put together a proposal, a solid three-hots-and-a-cot (first three chapters and a synopsis), and get ‘em in the mail. AFF JUl-AUG 2007 FINAL RG.eps Be very careful, though – there are predatory “agents” out there who are dedicated to ripping you off and will sweet-talk you into believing that the Sun sets in the East if you let them. Go to the Predators and Editors website and look through the list of agents and see what their records show. There’s nothing easy about writing, no aspect that doesn’t require careful research, attention to details (especially with contracts) and hard, hard work.

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give to a starting writer?

WEBSTER: Bust your behind to get it as right as you can, pay attention, and let your work speak for itself. If you can find a good writers’ group in your area, check them out to see if you’re a good fit. They can be enormously helpful, but again, be careful; some groups can be deliberately harsh, even cruel, and there’s no quicker way to be discouraged. Critiques should be honest and firm, but never mean. Do not look for shortcuts, because there really aren’t any.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

WEBSTER: Boy, you really don’t want short answers, do you? Let’s see … Bester, Ellison, Heinlein, Effinger, Doyle, Simak, Russell, Niven, Niven and Pournelle, Pournelle, Pratchett, King, Haldeman, Sanders, Silverberg, Pohl, Gaiman, Davidson, Clarke, Bradbury, any Conklin anthology, Cordwainer and Doc Smith, McKenna, Bond, Leiber; how many more do you want? Oh yeah, there’s this guy named Ventura or Ventiller or something, but he writes like a sissy.

VENTRELLA: Hmph. What projects are you working on now? What can we expect next from you?

WEBSTER: I’m putting together my first fiction collection, including stories and poetry. It’s going to have most of what I’ve done over the years except the Bubba stories; they’ll have their own book with new material tying them together. Some of the stories are pretty old – going back more than 20 years. I’m hoping it will be out by the end of 2015.

VENTRELLA: With a time machine and a universal translator, who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?

WEBSTER: In no particular order: Nelson Bond, Einstein, Buzz Aldrin, Frank Zappa, Pierre Boulez, Steve Allen, Igor Stravinsky, John Lee Hooker, Arthur Conan Doyle, Tom Lehrer, John W. Campbell, Charlie Chaplin, J. R. R. Tolkien, August Derleth, William Gaines, Mel Blanc. And my wife, or course. Have to be a big table, though.

I doubt I’d say a word, but I would video the whole damn thing and live off the revenue from the books I’d write about it for the rest of my life.

My Capclave 2014 Schedule

Capclave is a fine little literary SF convention held near Washington DC, which this year will be on the October 10th weekend. The Guest of Honor is Hugo- and Nebula-award winning author Paolo Bacigalupi! I’m anxious to meet him (as I really liked his novel THE WINDUP GIRL). Also in attendance will be Holly Black, Genevieve Valentine, Catherine Asaro, James Morrow, and many more (including me!)small_dodo_transparent

Here are some pictures from last year’s convention.

Here’s my current schedule (subject to change):

So You Want to be a Writer (Friday 4 pm): We did it before and we’ll do it again! Authors discuss how they became a writer, and why you should(n’t) Writers share their experiences and offer advice to those interested in becoming a professional writer. Pay it forward. With panelists Brenda W. Clough, Dina Leacock, Will McIntosh, Michael A. Ventrella, and Allen Wold

The Greatest Animated Films (Friday 6 pm): A debate over a list of the greatest animated films. Can we agree on a top ten list for the best or will the panel erupt into fisticuffs? With panelists Jim Freund, Larry Hodges, James Maxey, Sherin Nicole, and Michael A. Ventrella

War on Science? (Friday 7 pm): Some of America’s leaders don’t believe in global warming, want creationism taught in schools, and others want to ban human cloning or restrict genetic modified foods. Why this distrust of science? Is it growing? Are political leaders trying to appeal to the ignorant or do they really believe this? And what is the danger to the planet? With panelists Inge Heyer, Walter H. Hunt, Michael A. Ventrella, and Christopher Weuve

Meet the YA authors (Friday 9 pm): Last year’s meet and greet YA authors in a casual setting was such an awesome party that we decided to do it again this year! With Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Paolo Bacigalupi, Holly Black, Annette Klause, L. Jagi Lamplighter, Diana Peterfreund, Jon Skovron, Janine Spendlove, and Michael A. Ventrella

Mass Signing (Saturday 7:30 pm): The Saturday evening mass autographing session! With Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Sarah Avery, Paolo Bacigalupi, Holly Black, Marilyn “Mattie” Brahen, Neil Clarke, Tom Doyle, Andy Duncan, Scott Edelman, Jim Freund, Charles E. Gannon, Max Gladstone, David G. Hartwell, Alma Katsu, Pamela K. Kinney, Barbara Krasnoff, Dina Leacock, James Maxey, Will McIntosh, Mike McPhail, Sunny Moraine, James Morrow, Sarah Pinsker, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Lawrence M. Schoen, Darrell Schweitzer, Alex Shvartsman, Jon Skovron, Alan Smale, Bud Sparhawk, Janine Spendlove, Genevieve Valentine, Michael A. Ventrella, and Lawrence Watt-Evans

Awards Reception and Presentation (Saturday 8:30 pm): The WSFA Small Press Award winner will be announced. The Guest of Honor Gifts will also be presented.

The Eye of Argon (Saturday 11:00 pm): Our panelists read the worst fantasy story ever written, mistakes and all, and if they laugh or read it incorrectly, they are forced to act out the story. Just try not to fall over laughing! At some point, volunteers from the audience can participate and discover firsthand the author’s contentious relationship with spelling, capitalization and punctuation. With panelists Walter H. Hunt, Sarah Pinsker, Ian Randal Strock, Michael A. Ventrella, and Jean Marie Ward

Reading (Ventrella) (Sunday 1:00 pm): I’ll be reading an excerpt from BLOODSUCKERS and maybe a few other things.

Social Media Promotion (Without being Obnoxious)

If you’re an author, you have to use social media to promote your books. Publishers expect it and your readers expect it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But it can be done horribly. There are some authors I am friends with on Facebook whose every post boils down to “buy my books.”

So, after listening to much advice from other authors on this subject, here’s what I try to do (and not always successfully):

Be an interesting person with interesting posts. When using Facebook and Twitter, have something to say, even if it’s just sharing a funny cartoon or a joke you heard. writingMake people want to read what you post. Don’t be negative and angry all the time.

Try to get people to respond. I try to post things with questions, so that people talk to you. And then you can talk back. Sometimes I admittedly ask questions that have answers somewhere on the web. “Anyone know how to keep my phone from cutting off the end of the music?” I don’t make these questions up — I really do want to know the answers. But I’d rather have a conversation about it and get opinions from people than just google it and see what people I don’t know think.

You know this is true: the more you talk online with someone, the more you feel that you know them, even if you’ve never met. And the more they know you, the more they remember you and the more they may say, “Hey, that book by my friend may be interesting.”

Don’t be bland or fake. I don’t shy away from controversy. With my political blog and posts on Facebook, I clearly take positions on controversial issues, and sometimes may be scaring away potential readers. But I’m honest about who I am. I am not creating a false persona. My books may challenge you, too.

Now, admittedly, I would be doing the things listed above even if I wasn’t promoting books. But apparently some authors are shy and don’t like doing this sort of thing — but you have to. Here’s the key — you have to not think about this as self-promotion. Just be an interesting person online.

But even then, you still have to literally promote yourself:

Mention the books when you need to! If you have something new to report, report it! Some of your friends on Facebook are indeed your readers, and they’d sincerely like to know when you have a new book or short story available, or if you’ve just been interviewed. There’s nothing wrong with mentioning these things, so long as you don’t overdo it.

Don’t guilt trip. I hate reading posts from friends who try to shame people into buying their books. It’s even worse than those memes that basically say, “Is anyone reading this? Do I have any friends? Please respond with just a ‘hello’ — that’s all I ask for my miserable existence.” No one is going to buy a book because you make them feel guilty for not buying it. And if they do, they probably won’t then read it.

Promote all books.  Talk up your friends’ books!  Interview them on a blog and tell everyone. Talk about books you’ve just read.  Mention seminars and conventions you’ve been to. Get people interested in reading and books in general.  That’s what this is all about, after all.

And remember: Writers are not in competition. Someone else’s success doesn’t mean your failure.

So be a “friend.” Make people want to read books by their friends.

And after all that, one more piece of advice:

Don’t take it personally if people don’t buy your book. All of this advice won’t make a bit of difference if your Facebook friends aren’t interested in your book. You could be the greatest writer ever, a wonderful friend on Facebook, and a very entertaining person but if you’re writing romance novels about women running away from castles, I’m probably not going to read your book because that doesn’t interest me. I know I have friends who aren’t the slightest bit interested in the kind of books I write. So don’t take it personally!

My Turn to be Interviewed (Sort of)

How to react when you find a bug in your salad on your anniversary at Red Lobster!

Hugo and Nebula Award nominated author Lawrence Schoen had me as a guest on his blog this week. The blog is called “Eating Authors” — instead of just interviewing authors about writing, he asks them to talk about their most memorable meal. I am honored to be invited to join the big names on this blog (Mike Resnick! Joe Haldeman! Harry Turtledove! Jonathan Maberry! C.J. Cheryh!)

Anyway, I write about a meal my wife and I had a few years ago. It’s not your usual interview. Check it out (and laugh, hopefully!)…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 149 other followers