My Ravencon 2014 schedule

On the weekend of April 25th, I’ll be a guest at Ravencon, a small but fun convention in Richmond, Virginia. RavenConBannerThe Guest of Honor this year is Elizabeth Bear. There’s also a costume competition and my artist wife Heidi Hooper is a judge. It’s always a lot of fun to visit my hometown, even if I hardly get to see any of it since I’m in a hotel all weekend.

Anyway, here are the panels where you can find me (and more may be added):

Anthology Don’ts (Friday 4 pm): There are always rules for submitting in anthologies … length, subject matter, etc. Our panelists discuss the common errors they see (or have been guilty of) in anthology submissions. With John Betancourt, Jim Stratton, and Tera Fulbright.

Opening Ceremonies (Friday 7 pm): Guests are introduced to the audience!

Reading (Friday 9 pm): I’ll be reading excerpts from my books and short stories and talking with readers.

The Eye of Argon (Friday midnight): The worst science fiction story ever written gets a reading by our brave panel as they compete to go the longest without tripping over a misspelled word or laughing uncontrollably. Audience members are also encouraged to take a chance. Can you keep a straight face, especially when the panel begins acting out the story? With Philippa Ballantine, Gail Martin, and KT Pinto.

New Releases from Perseid Press (Saturday 11 am): Perseid Press publishes, among other things, the “Heroes in Hell” series. Come and visit Perseid authors and find out about their latest release “Dreamers in Hell.” With Rich Groller.

Young Adult Literature (Saturday 3 pm): What makes a Young Adult novel these days? Is it just the age of the protagonist or is there something else? What books should be considered Young Adult that are not, and which are that shouldn’t be? With Bill Blume, Betty Cross, and Lana Krumwiede.

Allen Wold’s Writing Workshop (Saturday 8 pm): Participants do a small writing exercise, which is then evaluated by the panel, discussing where they have done well and where they can improve. With KT Pinto, Allen Wold, and Darcy Wold.

The Greatest Animated Films of All Time (Saturday 11 pm): The panelists will debate what the greatest animated films are of all time in an attempt to come up with a Top Ten List. Weapons must be checked at the door. With Chris Impink and Patrick Vanner

Interview with NY Times Bestselling Author A. J. Hartley

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am pleased to be interviewing NY Times Bestselling Author A.J. Hartley today! A.J. is the international bestselling author of a dozen novels including the mystery/thrillers such as THE MASK OF ATREUS, young adult fantasies like ACT OF WILL, and children’s fantasies like DARWEN ARKWRIGHT AND THE PEREGRINE PACT (which won SIBA’s best YA novel of 2012). Hartley With David Hewson he has written two adaptations of Shakespeare plays as Game of Thrones-esque epic thrillers, the first of which was MACBETH, A NOVEL (audio edition voiced by Alan Cumming), and HAMLET, PRINCE OF DARKNESS. When he’s not writing, A. J. is UNC Charlotte’s Robinson Professor of Shakespeare.

A.J., I just finished reading ACT OF WILL and enjoyed it tremendously! Like my own ARCH ENEMIES, it is a first-person high fantasy story with a punnish title about a cowardly young entertainer with a sarcastic voice who gets thrown into an adventure against his will — so you can see why it appeals to me. (The stories otherwise have nothing in common plot-wise.) What inspired you to write ACT OF WILL?

A.J. HARTLEY: I grew up reading high fantasy—Tolkien, Le Guin, Lewis, and the like — and loved it all, but as my reading tastes expanded, I started to crave fantasy which was rooted in some version of reality and didn’t take itself too seriously. I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett because I think he proves that fantasy with a comic edge needn’t be “light” and can be as serious as more obviously ponderous works. I like that. I’ve always been a devotee of writing which is fun, outrageously populist, deliberately and self-consciously “genre” but still rich and complex and layered. Like Shakespeare, a master genre writer if ever there was one. ACT OF WILL grew out of many of these impulses: high fantasy with an attitude and a strong sense of character voice, swords and sorcery with a little Salinger thrown in.

VENTRELLA: It seems to have gone through a number of different printings with different publishers. Can you share that story with us?

HARTLEY: From the first time I submitted the manuscript, I ran into the familiar problem of publishers saying something like “we love it, but we don’t know what it is.” In other words, it was considered a hybrid in terms of genre. They didn’t know what shelf to put it on. It took me twenty years to sell it. Literally. By then the market had evolved so that smart-mouth heroes and a pointed absence of dwarves and elves were no longer considered antithetical to fantasy.

Even so, when the book came out from Tor, people weren’t sure how to market it. The original hardback cover (which I actually really liked) didn’t look like a fantasy novel at all, and it certainly didn’t suggest its young adult protagonist. Both novels (ACT OF WILL was followed by WILL POWER) were very well reviewed (the second book made Kirkus Top ten for the year –- and Kirkus are notoriously hard to please!) but they didn’t really sell. ActofWill

When they went into paperback, Tor went with more conventional fantasy style covers, but that didn’t solve the problem. Simply put, people who read them liked them, but not enough people read them. They eventually went out of print and I self-published them with the current, more aggressively YA covers. Interestingly, these covers (stylishly designed by a wonderful designer called Asha Hossain) have really touched a chord with readers and book sellers. They play up the drama of the stories, rather than the slightly tongue in cheek tone, but they fit the books very well indeed.

VENTRELLA: ACT OF WILL takes place in a sort of alternate middle ages, in that there are some things that are definitely relatable to the real medieval world (the way women were treated, men playing female parts in plays, etc.) yet without using any real places (and of course, adding some magic to it). How did you decide what to use and what not to use? In other words, how did you go about developing the world?

HARTLEY: To be honest, Michael, I didn’t. I just made it up as I went along, doing remarkably little of the kind of systematic world building I would do now. The world of the books is an odd mixture of my historical work as a Shakespearean, my travels all over the world (there are moments which — at least to me — evoke India, for example, where I had been right before the final version came into focus), and the voice is clearly modern, without being so contemporary that it would date quickly. What the world contains and doesn’t was determined by the story and the character, particularly the voice of the character.

VENTRELLA: What makes a novel Young Adult? When writing one, how do you change your style (if at all)?

HARTLEY: Most importantly, it’s about the age of the protagonist, and therefore about confronting adulthood in all its aspects. Beyond that, a young adult novel can do anything you might do in an adult novel. YA is defined by the age of the readership rather than by genre, of course, which means that there’s a lot of different kinds of stories within the bracket. Some are virtually indistinguishable from a middle grades novel, while others push the envelope as far as possible in matters of sex, violence, subject matter and vocabulary. So long as you are consistent and clear from the outset as to what you are writing, you can do pretty much what you want. For me, style has less to do with age group as it is to do with the sub genre or style of the story and I never consciously self-censer or simplify.

VENTRELLA: What are your upcoming projects?

HARTLEY: My next publication will be the HAMLET, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (co-written with David Hewson) performed by Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield in the Hobbit movies) which comes out May 20th. I think that will get a lot of attention. hamlet-cover-300x300 After that, I’m not sure. I’m mid stream on a couple of YA projects, but they aren’t done yet.

VENTRELLA: Of which of your fiction books are you most proud and why?

HARTLEY: This will sound like a dodge, but it’s not. I’m always proud of my work when I first finish it and wouldn’t want it published if I wasn’t, so each project tends to have a special place in my head/heart. Each book has something about it I’m proud of. In ACT OF WILL, it’s voice. In WILL POWER it’s about pulling off a socio-political critique of the genre from within.

VENTRELLA: What should someone read first if they want to get to know your work?

HARTLEY: Depends what they like. If they like YA or adult fantasy, ACT OF WILL. For something a little more Harry Potter-esque, I’d recommend DARWEN ARKWRIGHT AND THE PEREGRINE PACT. For historically rooted thrillers, MASK OF ATREUS. For Shakespeare fans, the Macbeth or Hamlet.

VENTRELLA: I see from your CV that you were studying for your doctorate at Boston University around the same time I was graduating from law school and being a public defender there. Maybe we even rode the T together from Brighton. Why did you leave?

HARTLEY: I left after completing my Ph.D and getting my first academic job in Georgia.

VENTRELLA: Much of your work is scholarly. How have you found your styles compare when writing fiction and nonfiction?

HARTLEY: Apples and oranges. There may be a little bleed over in terms of ideas which inform both, but academic writing is an entirely different beast, from writing fiction. Scholarly books are much slower to produce for me, much cagier, much more research-driven and hyper aware of what other people have said. I can do the first draft of a novel in two months. My performance history of Julius Caesar took me almost six years.

VENTRELLA: I’ve always wanted to ask a Shakespeare expert this: Of the hundreds of Shakespeare movies that have been released, which one(s) is/are your favorite(s)? And which just made you scream at how terrible they were?

HARTLEY: I can usually find something of value in most half-way competent films or stagings because I’m looking to be shown something new from a production, not a “correct” interpretation of the play, which I don’t believe exists. We do theatre/film to generate a new art object which grows out of the (necessarily partial) play text, not to somehow broadcast the original in some kind of unmediated way. DarwenArkwrightmedium That’s aid, I do, of course, have preferences. Of recent efforts, I like the Loncraine Richard III with Ian McKellan as an early twentieth century fascist, Branaugh’s Henry V, the Goold Macbeth with Patrick Stewart as a Stalinist tyrant, the filmed stage version of Greg Doran’s Hamlet starring David Tennant, and Joss Whedon’s wonderfully intimate Much Ado.

VENTRELLA: How do you deal with the conspiracy nuts who claim Shakespeare never wrote his plays?

HARTLEY: Impatiently.

VENTRELLA: Shakespeare is often cited by authors who point out that what makes a good story is not originality, but the way the story is told. Do you agree?

HARTLEY: Well, it’s sort of a false binary, isn’t it? Shakespeare didn’t generally originate plots, but the stories have his unmistakable stamp which goes beyond sentence-level utterance. I think he proves that a gifted author can own and refresh a story people thought they knew

VENTRELLA: How much of writing is innate? In other words, do you believe there are just some people who are born storytellers but simply need to learn technique? Or can anyone become a good writer?

HARTLEY: Hmmm… I believe that writing is generally a fairly self-selecting process, in that you need to love stories and words and work to be good at it, but I see plenty of writing from people who have been at it a while which isn’t that good, so no, I don’t believe anyone can do it. There’s a lot you can learn—from classes, from studying other people’s work, and from just doing it—and I think that most people can achieve a basic competence in getting a story down coherently. But writing really well, with power and subtlety, with an eye for character and an ear for voice? No. I don’t think that can simply be learned by anyone.

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?

HARTLEY: I think that’s a genre question. Most people who read thrillers and fantasy novels want big drama and larger than life characters which take them out of their conventional reality. For people who read realist literary fiction, generally that’s not true. I like something in between the two.

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

HARTLEY: I outline briefly and loosely — 10-15 pages that sets up the story, main characters, world, key scenes. The book, however, is in the details. Execution is all. atradus But the outline helps me to start with a clear sense of what the book is going to be so that I don’t wander for fifty pages trying to figure out what the story is, what drives it. You need a special gift for self-denying and brutal editing to write without an outline, I think, and most writers don’t have it. It can take me months, even years, to see what a book needs in terms of cutting. Outlines help get me there faster.

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

HARTLEY: Varies from book to book. ACT OF WILL, for instance, began with character voice. Plot came later. MASK OF ATREUS began with two intersecting plot ideas. DARWEN began with a way of reinventing the cross-over-into-a-fantasy-world I first encountered in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. WILL POWER came from an idea about what I found frustrating about some conventional fantasy…

VENTRELLA: Writers are told to “write what you know.” What does this mean to you?

HARTLEY: Usually, it means, write what you value, what you want to read, what you care about. Then it means, make sure you know what you need to pull it off.

VENTRELLA: What do you do to avoid “info dumps”?

HARTLEY: Cut them out and then find ways to reveal the information in another way! Unhelpful, I know. I think it helps to think of how movies handle the problem, usually visually.

VENTRELLA: Do you think it is important to start by trying to sell short stories or should a beginning author jump right in with a novel?

HARTLEY: I’ve never been a short story writer. I’ve done a few recently, but I think it’s a very different skill from writing novels, and for the most part I don’t they necessarily transfer that helpfully. If you want to be a novelist, write novels.

VENTRELLA: Do you think short stories are harder to write than novels?

For me they are, to do them well as genre fiction. They are, paradoxically, easier to pull off as literary fiction, I think, because they don’t have to have the pesky necessity of plot and event. Most genre short stories read—to me—like unfinished novels or, worse, mere episodes.

VENTRELLA: What advice do you have to people trying to find an agent?

HARTLEY: Write a really good book. Tears-of-the-Jaguar-cover-199x300

VENTRELLA: How do you promote your work?

HARTLEY: Badly. Minimally. Irritably.

VENTRELLA: We’ve met at a few science fiction conventions. Do you find attending these to be a useful activity?

HARTLEY: I do, and find them useful to a point. They can help you answer real questions about the craft and the business, but their real value is in making you feel part of a community. Writing can be very isolating, and it is good to know other people are in the same boat. And sometimes they can produce connections which are directly useful. BUT, some people treat the discourse around writing as a substitute for writing itself. It’s not. Never will be.

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

HARTLEY: It can be a very useful tool for people who already have a fan base, or for people who just want to make their work available but aren’t looking to make a lot of money off it. Some people do make money, of course, but I don’t think they are representative and for many the riches some self-pub promoters tout will never materialize. I also think self-publishing requires a degree of self-promotion most people are not good at, and which takes time away from the development and production of their actual craft: writing. Self-publishing can be a nice extra string to your bow, or a way to find an outlet as you work, but I would still recommend traditional publishing to most writers. Sometimes—not always, of course—but perhaps more often than we usually admit, rejection from publishers is indicative of the fact that the work isn’t ready. Publishing it in any form can do you more harm than good in the long term. I wrote lots of books that were rejected before I had one accepted, and I thank the stars that I didn’t opt to self-publish them. I might not have been able to see it at the time, but I can now. They weren’t ready. They weren’t good enough.

Guidelines are there for a reason

At a recent convention panel I was on called “Editor’s Complaints,” there was unanimity about the biggest problem: Following the Guidelines.

Every editor, publisher, or agent has a preference as to what kinds of submissions they will accept and in what format they want it submitted. These submission guidelines will be posted on their web pages. They are not hard to find.

Why then do writers ignore them?

Read the guidelines! They are not there as polite suggestions. They are requirements.

For my TALES OF FORTANNIS anthologies, I post my guidelines on this blog and send them to whoever emails me asking about submitting. And still I get stories that do not fit the genre and are formatted in such a way that I cannot read them. baby_w-glasses I’ve even received stories that have no contact information, so I do not know how to accept the story even if I wanted to. (No, I do not feel like searching through all my emails to figure out where it came from. Once I’ve downloaded it, that’s as far as I go.)

What’s worse are people who don’t even try to determine whether the submission is the right fit. I know science fiction editors who have received mystery stories, children’s books, and even nonfiction. How hard is it to figure out whether the magazine you are sending your story to publishes your kind of story?

It gets you nowhere. You’ve wasted both your time and the editor’s time, and that won’t get you far in the publishing world.

Read the submission guidelines. Read the magazine or previous editions of the anthology if you can so you will get a better idea of what the editor wants. Do your research before you waste everyone’s time.

Does this sound unreasonable to you? Tough. Editors are busy people and we don’t have time to deal with those who cannot follow simple instructions. It tells us that you are not professional and may be difficult to work with when we send you the editorial changes we want.

Remember, although you are a writer and an artist, publishing is a business. You need to treat this with all the respect you would give a job application.

Monkeying Around (for a good cause)

Fellow writer C.J. Henderson needs our help to pay his medical expenses for his cancer treatments, and you can not only help, but get some great stories in return.

There is a kickstarter program going on now that will get you a great new collection of stories, and if enough money is raised, the collection will be increased to include more authors (including me!)

CJ goofs off with me and Peter Prellwitz at Ravencon last year

CJ goofs off with me and Peter Prellwitz at Ravencon last year

Here is the list of authors already in the book: Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Maggie Allen, Jack Dann, Ed Greenwood, Joe Haldeman, Nancy and Belle Holder, Tanya Huff, Gail Martin, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jean Rabe, Mike Resnik, Hildy Silverman, Janine Spendlove, Michael A. Stackpole, Anton Strout, Kelly Swails, Robert E. Vardeman, Elizabeth A. Vaughan, Bryan Young, Jean Marie Ward, Gene Wolfe, and Timothy Zahn. And, of course, CJ Henderson.

If enough money is raised, the following authors can be added:

Aaron Rosenberg, Alan M. Clark, Allan Gilbreath, Alma Alexander, Tera Fulbright, Cynthia Ward, Davey Beauchamp, Dylan Birtolo, James Chambers, Jeff Young, Jennifer Brozek, John Hartness, Maxwell Alexander Drake, John L. French, Jonathan Maberry, Keith DeCandido, KT Pinto, Misty Massey, Patrick Thomas, Peter Prellwitz, Sheryl Nantus, Stuart Jaffe, David B. Coe, Vicki Steger, Mike McPhail, and me!

So click here to read about what you can get if you donate.

(Please note how well restrained I am being about how terrible it is that in the greatest, richest country on earth we have to beg to help people pay medical bills. You can read my rants about health care on my political blog, though.)

My 2014 Lunacon Schedule

Lunacon is one of the oldest literary science fiction conventions in the United States. The 2014 convention is the weekend of March 14th, and I will once again be one of the guest panelists! The Guest of Honor this year is Ryk E. Spoor who just read my upcoming novel BLOODSUCKERS and gave me a wonderful blurb for the cover! logo_lunacon

Here’s my schedule:

The Biggest Mistakes New Authors Make (Friday 5:30 pm): From poor openings to uninteresting characters to cliched plots, this panel will discuss the most common storytelling mistakes seen from new authors. With Ken Altabef, April Grey, Mercurio Rivera, Ryk Spoor, and Ian Randal Strock.

Meet the Pros (Friday 8:00 pm): A time when you can hang out with all the guests and have a drink or two.

Rules? Rules? There are no Rules! (Friday 10:00 pm): When writing fiction, if it works, it works. Our panel debates whether authors need to know “rules” that they can then break if they are good enough, or if this only constrains creativity. With Keith R. A. DeCandido, Michael F. Flynn, William Freedom, and Kate Paulk.

Introduction to LARP (Saturday 10:00 am): What exactly is a LARP? What kinds are there? How can I find one? These questions and more will be answered in this panel introducing the wide world of Live Action Role Play. With Devon Oratz.

New Writer Workshop (Saturday 11:00 am): If you have never been to a writers workshop, if you have never (or rarely) participated in a writer’s group, if you’ve never been published, this is a good workshop to start your Lunacon experience. With Sarah Avery.

The Future of Privacy (Saturday 1:00 pm): Our concepts of privacy are changing daily and mostly due to technology. What will the future hold? With Ellen Asher, Seth Breidbart, and Matthew Kressel.

If I Am Ever The … (Saturday 5:00 pm): If I Am Ever the (Evil Overlord, the Hero, the Sidekick, the Love Interest, The Galactic Emperor…) Pick a “character type.” The moderator will state a scenario, and you answer in the character, of what you would do… With Susan de Guardiola, Esther Friesner, Chuck Rothman, and Ryk Spoor.

The Eye of Argon (Saturday 11:00 pm): Our brave 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! With Keith R.A. DeCandido, Daniel Kimmel, and Ryk Spoor.

Reading (Sunday 10 am): I’ll be reading from my latest work for anyone who shows up. Plus there will be cookies.

Interview with author Leah Cypess

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Leah Cypess is a writer of Young Adult fantasy who I’ve met at various conventions and am thrilled to be interviewing today. She used to be an attorney living in New York City, and is now a writer living in Boston. Leah Cypess author photo 1 She much prefers her current situation. When she is not writing or chasing her kids around (or doing both simultaneously), she enjoys reading, biking, hiking, and drawing.

Let’s start by discussing your latest release, DEATH SWORN. Tell us about the story!

LEAH CYPESS: To quote Kirkus: “A teenage sorceress without magic attempts to solve a murder in a cave full of killers. What could possibly go wrong?”

DEATH SWORN is the tale of a sorceress, Ileni, who was raised to believe she would be the next leader of her people — until her powers began to fade. Now she has been sent to be magic tutor to a cave of assassins, as part of a forced tribute. The last two tutors before her both died under mysterious circumstances, and presumably she is next … unless she can figure out what happened to them and how to keep it from happening to her. But she will soon discover that those murders are part of a much larger plot, and ultimately she will have to make a decision that could change the world.

VENTRELLA: This is not a sequel to your previous works. What made you decide to move on?

CYPESS: I started writing DEATH SWORN before I got an offer to publish MISTWOOD. I couldn’t write a sequel to MISTWOOD or NIGHTSPELL because I didn’t know if either of them would ever get published.

VENTRELLA: It seems that these days, all it takes for a book to be considered “Young Adult” is to have a young protagonist. Do you agree?

CYPESS: Pretty much, yes. DeathSworn HC CContrary to the opinions of many, there are almost no content or style restrictions in young adult, and more than half of its readers are actually adults.

VENTRELLA: Do you hold back anything when writing YA?

CYPESS: Nope. First, like I said, there’s no need to hold anything back; and second, since I started writing DEATH SWORN thinking I was writing an adult novel — because at the time, I wasn’t that familiar with how the YA genre had evolved.

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

CYPESS: I mostly read speculative fiction YA, since that’s my favorite genre in general! As for favorite authors, I have many, but to pull a few out of the bucket: Sarah Rees Brennan, Anna Jarzab, Leila Sales, and Megan Whalen Turner.

VENTRELLA: What do you think separates your books from all the other fantasy novels out there?

CYPESS: I don’t think of fantasy books as being generic, any more than I think of realistic literature as being generic. In fact, I think they can be more original because not only do you have a unique character and a unique plot, you also get to make a unique world!

VENTRELLA: What led you to write MISTWOOD? What inspired you?

CYPESS: I had an imagine in my mind of a shapeshifter hiding in a forest, being hunted by men on horseback. I started writing without having any idea where the story was going. In fact, I thought it was a short story, though about an hour later I realized this was going to be a novel.

VENTRELLA: Did your publisher ask for a sequel or was there already one in the works?

CYPESS: MISTWOOD doesn’t have a sequel, no matter what Goodreads says. :) Mistwood hc cNIGHTSPELL is a “companion novel” to MISTWOOD — it’s a unique story with new main characters, though it does take place in the same world and have a few cross-over minor characters.

VENTRELLA: How are you promoting your works, and have you found anything that seems to be more successful?

CYPESS: I do promote my books, both online and through bookstore visits. I have no way to judge what’s successful and what’s not, though. I do the things I enjoy or at least am comfortable with.

VENTRELLA: You’ve attended science fiction conventions — do you think these are worthy expenditures of time and money in order to promote your work?

CYPESS: If you’re going just for promotion, then no — dollar for dollar and hour for hour, I don’t think it’s worth it. (At least not as a young adult author.) If you enjoy them, though, you do get the benefit of some promotional value as well.

VENTRELLA: Do you plan on attending more?

CYPESS: I do, though I’m considering holding off until my kids are older and childcare isn’t such a hassle. Of course, I’ve said that in the past and then reneged…

VENTRELLA: When I speak about writing with other authors, I find that I tend to be very organized with my outlines, and I know exactly where I want to go and what information needs to be placed where before I even start writing. Is this a lawyer thing? Do you do that, too?

CYPESS: See above re how I wrote MISTWOOD. ;) I am a terribly disorganized writer. At some point, my manuscript resembles a jigsaw puzzle with me trying to fit all the scenes together in a way that makes sense. So, I suspect it’s not a lawyer thing, though you’d probably be better off polling lawyers who are still practicing.

VENTRELLA: Do you think a particular style is better or is there no right way to do it?

CYPESS: I think the best style varies by writer, and sometimes even by project. To quote A.J. Liebling, “The only way to write is well and how you do it is your own damn business.”Nightspell hc c

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

CYPESS: Get it critiqued (more than once!), revise it (more than once!), then write a killer query and start sending it to agents. And while you’re doing that, write a new manuscript.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever got?

CYPESS: When the manuscript is done, read it out loud.

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

CYPESS: Right now, I am hard at work on the sequel to Death Sworn! And it’s scheduled for March 2015, so that’s definitely what’s next.

VENTRELLA: And finally – what is it about lawyers that make us want to write science fiction and fantasy? There seems to be so many of us…

CYPESS: On my first day of law school, the dean said, “You’re all here because you got good grades, but you don’t like math and you can’t stand the sight of blood.” That’s not entirely true, of course, but I think law does tend to attract many people who don’t have a strong ambition to enter another profession … which means it’s going to attract a number of people who really, deep down, want to be writers. (But not the poverty-stricken kind.)

Thank you for interviewing me!

My 2014 Mysticon Schedule

This weekend (February 21 – 23, 2014) I will be a programming guest at Mysticon in Roanoke, Virginia.

They’ve asked me to be a guest before, but I’ve generally said no because it is so far away! However, this year I gave in.

I’ve only been to Roanoke once before. When I was in college, a bunch of us drove there from Richmond to see a concert with Elvis Costello and Squeeze.

I figured more people would read this if I had a picture of Q here

I figured more people would read this if I had a picture of Q here

I’m sure it’s changed a bit in the last 35 years or so…

Anyway, Mysticon looks to be fun. The main guest is John DeLancie, who played “Q” on all those Star Trek shows. Also in attendance will be many of my friends, including some I have interviewed here on this blog: Keith R.A. DeCandido, Gail Z. Martin, KT Pinto, Peter Prellwitz, Tony Ruggiero and Allen Wold.

And if you’re a fan of my Fortannis anthologies, you’ll find some of those authors as well (namely Davey Beauchamp, Danny Birt and Tera Fulbright, as well a few who will be in the forthcoming collection A BARD DAY’S KNIGHT — Angela Pritchett and the aforementioned KT Pinto).

Anyway, if you’re there, be sure to say hi! I’ll be on a bunch of panels and my artist wife Heidi Hooper will be judging the Masquerade competition and hosting some art panels as well.

Here’s my schedule:

The Biggest Mistakes Made by Beginning Authors (Friday 4 pm): We’ll discuss not only writing mistakes but also promotional mistakes.  How writers have screwed themselves over and killed their chances of making it in the publishing world doing easily preventable things! With Tony Daniel, A.J. Hartley, Jonny Lupsha, and Gail Z. Martin.

Who is Behind that Curtain? (Friday 5 pm): The use of different points of view can reveal or obscure elements of your story from the audience. Do certain points of view only work with certain types of stories? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each form? With Stuart Jaffe, Gail Z. Martin, and Patrick Thomas.MystiCon

If You Spell “Cheif” Like That One More Time!! (Saturday 11 am): Our guest editors offer tips on how to avoid their reject pile and provide insight into some of their pet peeves when reading a submitted manuscript. With Anita Allen, Laura Haywood-Cory, and Michael M. Jones

Dancing Neck to Neck: Romancing the Vampire (Saturday 6 pm): Explore the evolution of the blood sucking undead from foul, fearsome creature prowling the Carpathians to debonair, bodice ripping object of modern desire. With Alexandra Christian, Kenneth Hite, and KT Pinto

I Am the Game Master, You Are My Pawns: Game Mastering Basics (Saturday 7 pm): How do you keep players engaged in a game? How do you manage different kinds of role-players and types of play? What about interruptions like roommates and smartphones? Share your secret techniques and best practices for running role-playing games (and other moderated games) that keep players coming back for more.  With Brandon Blackmoor, Kenneth Hite, John Jones, Greg Porter, and John Watts

The Eye of Argon (Saturday 11 pm): The worst science fiction story ever written gets a reading by our brave panel as they compete to go the longest without tripping over a misspelled word or laughing uncontrollably. Audience members are also encouraged to take a chance. Can you keep a straight face, especially when the panel begins acting out the story? With Keith DeCandido, Gail Z. Martin, KT Pinto and Peter Prellwitz.

Making Politics Work in Fiction (Saturday midnight): Real world political narratives are filled with cultural revolutions, passionate speeches about social change, war, and intricate, Machievellian plots. How can you portray them convincingly in your story? From noble houses in fantasy worlds to galaxy-spanning empires in SF, how do you make them believable and engaging without burying your reader in the intricacies of your setting’s political theory? With Brandon Blackmoor, Tom Kratman, Peter Prellwitz, and Leona Wisoker

Tooting Your Own Horn (Sunday noon): Done properly, self-promotion is an important part of building a career. Poorly executed, self-promotion can do more harm than good. Our panelists will discuss what works and doesn’t work along with these common questions: Do book-signings really help a small author? Are bookmarks and/or postcards effective at garnering attention? Does a blog help or hurt an author? Does an author have to have a website? With Tally Johnson, Gail Z. Martin, Michael Pederson, and Gray Rinehart.

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