My Ravencon 2016 Schedule

Ravencon is a fun little convention that keeps growing — It used to be in my hometown of Richmond but this year, they are moving it to Williamsburg, right next to Busch Gardens where I spent many days riding roller coasters when I was younger…RavenConBanner

Anyway, the main guests this year are Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, but you can also find many other great writers. editors and agents, including many I’ve interviewed here on the blog:  Larry Hodges, Mike Kabongo, Gail Z. Martin,  Peter Prellwitz, Bud Sparhawk, and Allen Wold! We’re also doing a tribute to my old college friend Bud Webster.

The convention is the weekend of April 29th.

Here’s where you can find me:

MARKETING AND BRANDING FOR AUTHORS (Friday 6 pm): Many old-school authors have stories about books that were rejected because the publisher didn’t know how to market them. In the Createspace world we live in, marketing has become the author’s responsibility. The panelists discuss tips and strategies on promoting your writing to a potential audience, and on how building the right identity can attract readers to your work. Panelists: Baine Kelly, Gail Z. Martin, Alex Matsuo, Michael A. Ventrella (M)

RAVENCON OPENING CEREMONIES (Friday 7 pm): We welcome attendees and guests to RavenCon 11 and present last year’s RavenConnie. Plus a performance by Jonah Knight.

BUD WEBSTER TRIBUTE (Friday 10 pm) Bud Webster was an author, a literary historian, a book dealer, and so much more. He was also a dear friend to many of us here at RavenCon. Join us as we share our favorite Bud stories. Panelists: Michael D. Pederson (M), Michael A. Ventrella, Allen L. Wold

THE EYE OF ARGON (Friday 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? Panelists: Gail Z. Martin, Peter Prellwitz, Gray Rinehart, Michael A. Ventrella (M)

LAW AND SOCIETY IN SCI-FI (Saturday 11 am): How do the law and social structure fit into Sci-Fi? Should you regulate the tech in your SF universe? What fundamental differences in law are there between SF and other genres? Panelists: Richard Groller, Stephen J. Simmons (M), Michael A. Ventrella

ALTERNATE HISTORY (Saturday 9 pm): Why is this genre so fascinating, and how does it relate to the rest of speculative fiction? What special challenges does it pose for the writer—and reader? Panelists: Kate Paulk, J. Matthew Saunders, Michael A. Ventrella (M), Steve White

READING: MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA READS BUD WEBSTER (Sunday 11 am): Michael A. Ventrella reads one of Bud Webster’s classic stories

Interview with Lucas Mangum

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing Lucas Mangum today. Lucas and I met years ago when we both took a writing course from NY Times Bestselling author Jonathan Maberry. I am very pleased to see where he is today! Lucas Mangum used to live in the Philly area but has relocated to Austin. He enjoys wrestling, cats, wrestling with cats, and drinking craft beer while crafting weird stories. Follow him on Twitter @LMangumFiction and talk books and horror movies, or visit his website heremy face

Lucas! Tell us about the plot of FLESH AND FIRE.

LUCAS MANGUM: FLESH AND FIRE is exactly the kind of book I’ve always wanted to write. It’s a little bit supernatural horror, a little bit romance, a little bit dark fantasy. The story follows Todd, who, thirty years ago, left the love of his life to die, for the life he thought he wanted. Now, in the midst of a midlife crisis, he is haunted by her memory. When Chloe escapes Hell in search of the peaceful rest that has eluded her, a demon named Samael is on her trail and she needs Todd’s help. While on the run Todd and Chloe face demons real and personal, soul-threatening danger, and their long-buried feelings for each other.

VENTRELLA: What is the Doubledown Series about?

MANGUM: I am so glad you asked that, because it’s not a series in the sense that the stories are connected at all. The Doubledown Series is inspired by the old Ace Doubles series, where two books are released together as one. The cool part about this series is that Journalstone, the publisher, will pair a veteran writer with an up and comer. FLESH AND FIRE is packaged with DARK OF NIGHT, a brand new zombie adventure by Jonathan Maberry and Rachael Lavin.

VENTRELLA: All genres have formulas in some manner – readers expect certain things when they read a mystery or a romance. What do readers expect in a horror novel?

MANGUM: That’s a tough question, because horror has a lot of subgenres. I guess the ultimate goal of a horror novel is to unsettle or stir up dread in the reader (Douglas E. Winter said, “Horror isn’t a genre, but an emotion), but depending on the subgenre, the reader will get there differently. Extreme horror tends to rely on gory descriptions to inspire that dread. Survival horror achieves dread by emphasizing isolation and images of collapsed society. Psychological horror explores the darker areas of the human mind. And so on.

VENTRELLA: What was the best lesson you learned from Jonathan Maberry?

MANGUM: You were probably there when I learned it. I think starting out, you know, the idea of writing a book can be very overwhelming. Jonathan told us, on that first day of that novel class, about focusing on how many words you can realistically do in a day and just kind of take things from there. That writing a book is like anything in life, in that it takes a daily commitment, may seem overly simplistic, but for me, it was exactly what I needed to hear at the time. I did finish that novel, but I never shopped it, because it was a first novel in every sense of the term. I’m sure we all have those buried on our hard drives. I ended up writing the first draft of FLESH AND FIRE in three weeks, not long after the sixth draft of that initial piece.

VENTRELLA: What are some of your upcoming projects?

MANGUM: I’m currently working on a sequel of sorts to FLESH AND FIRE, called BLOOD AND BRIMSTONE. Front_Cover_Image_Flesh_and_FireWithout going too much into spoilers, it follows the kids of FLESH AND FIRE’s protagonist as they try to make sense of what happened in the first book. I’ve also got a balls to the wall supernatural horror novel called, WE ARE THE ACCUSED, that I’m excited about. It has some of the most intense scenes I’ve ever written, I think.

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?

MANGUM: As a reader (and all writers better be readers too), I like characters who are down-to-earth, even average, but have moments in which they perform larger than life feats because they have something they care about, and that something is either threatened or somehow out of reach. I think that’s both interesting to read about and believable.

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

MANGUM: My process is finicky. If I accidentally outline too much, and end up knowing everything about the story, I get so bored, I can’t bring myself to actually write the story. If I don’t outline at all, I’m apt to write myself into a corner around the end of the first act or so. What I’ve found works best for me is knowing the big moments, and by that I mean the turning points, so that I end up with not so much an outline as a series of goals for the characters to be aiming for. Sometimes those goals change during the first draft as journeys can have detours, but I like to at least know where I want to go, and then I worry about the means of transportation later. It allows me to be spontaneous, but not directionless.

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

MANGUM: Oh, definitely. While my outlines for novels tend to be vague, I am more likely to do a detailed outline of a short story, because there is just less space to work in, and you need to nail down what you want to say a lot quicker, whereas with a novel, you can afford to let the piece wander a bit (provided that where you wander is compelling).

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

MANGUM: Nowadays, I have no problem with it. I think if you’re the kind of person who likes to have control of your book from its inception to its publication, you should go for it. It’s so much cheaper than it used to be. That said, you should still be willing to fork over some money. Make sure your cover is professional. Make sure your book is edited (and not just by your buddy from English class, but a real editor). If your goal is to sell books, you have to be prepared to spend more time marketing than writing your next piece, unless you can afford to hire someone, which, if you’re writing, you probably can’t. And just because you’re indie, you should still be going to cons and meeting people. You should still be doing events. You should still be publicizing yourself on social media and blogs. If you have the personality where you can take it all on, go for it. I know that I, personally, am not that guy. I’m always thinking two, sometimes three books ahead, and while I’m perfectly fine marketing myself, I would much rather be writing. Even when I go to cons, I’ll spend most of the day in my room reading or writing and only really come out for the parties. Everyone knows that’s where all the real networking is done anyway.

Long story short, I have the utmost respect for anyone who can self-publish and still produce a professional product, but me, I don’t know anything about book design, don’t trust myself to see everything a professional editor won’t, and would much rather be writing than marketing, so self-publishing is definitely not for me.

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

MANGUM: If you don’t have an agent, and you want one, know the agent to who you are pitching your project. Visit their website, read the stuff they’ve represented, and try to meet them if you can. The same applies if you want to forgo an agent and go directly to a publisher. Know your audience. You, hopefully, wouldn’t make dick jokes in front of your mother-in-law, so you shouldn’t pitch your 140,000 word epic fantasy to someone who reps literary fiction.

Reminds me of another bit of advice I got from Jonathan: not everyone will want to read your book, and that’s okay. Your audience isn’t everybody. That’s not realistic. Find out who reads stuff that’s similar to what you do and talk to them. Yeah, I know, you’re unique and your book is unlike anything ever written. I know that feeling. Best case scenario is to let that sentiment go. If you can’t, find something about your story that helps you place it. Hell, I was worried FLESH AND FIRE, a horror novel with a strong romantic element, was unmarketable, but it sold, so I’m someone out there wants to read it.

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

MANGUM: Don’t quit your day job, because writing seldom provides a steady paycheck, and never offers health insurance.

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

MANGUM: Stanley Kubrick. That man’s mind never ceases to amaze me. I discover different things in his films every time I watch them.

Interview with Larry Hodges

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA:  I’m pleased to be interviewing author Larry Hodges today. His web page is here. Larry, tell us about your latest work!

LARRY HODGES: My new novel, CAMPAIGN 2100: GAME OF SCORPIONS (from World Weaver Press), dramatizes and satirizes politics in a new sub-genre, campaign science fiction. larry1_smThe novel covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, when the world has adopted the American two-party electoral system. A father decides to buck the system and run for president of Earth, taking on his own daughter with a third-party moderate challenge – with an incredulous alien ambassador along for the ride.

Presidential politics has dominated the news for years, and few stories are more compelling than a bare-knuckle, fight-to-the-finish political campaign. And yet, where are the SF stories that cover this? CAMPAIGN 2100 is West Wing in the 22nd Century. The underlying theme of the novel is moderation in politics; some will read it as a Moderate Manifesto.

VENTRELLA: How did you go about finding a publisher?

HODGES: One of the toughest decisions for a new author is whether to try and get an agent, or go directly to publishers. I decided to try both, and sent numerous queries. For agents, I mostly used http://www.agentquery.com. For publishers, I mostly used http://www.ralan.com. It took three years – three years of checking email every three minutes – but then, one day, I received a note from a publisher that they really liked the novel – only . . . [and there followed a list of things that they’d like to see rewritten]. I did the rewrite. With the publisher’s blessing, I also had the novel critiqued at The Never-Ending Odyssey (an annual writer’s workshop for graduates of Odyssey), and did more rewriting from that. I sent the rewrite to the publisher, and from there on I checked email every three seconds for many months. And then came the response, which I printed out and put on my bulletin board: “I’m pleased to offer you publication with World Weaver Press for the novel CAMPAIGN 2100: GAME OF SCORPIONS…”

VENTRELLA: How did you first become interested in writing?

HODGES: I’ve been reading science fiction & fantasy since elementary school. It was inevitable that at some point I’d start writing it. My first story was “The Snowflake,” written circa seventh grade, which featured a guy read about a snowflake warning in the newspaper, and rants about how stupid that is, that they meant a snow warning. Then he sees the same snowflake warning on the TV, on the radio, from friends, and he keeps sarcastically correcting them. It ends with a giant snowflake falling onto and demolishing his house.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t science fiction that turned me into a professional writer – it was table tennis. Yes, ping-pong. In high school, when I wasn’t reading SF, I was training in this Olympic sport, and became first a top player, and then a top coach. (I’m in the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame.)SpiritofPong-cover-med I began writing coaching articles, and then books on table tennis. I was hired as director and a coach for table tennis at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and between training sessions, I began to write SF. I now have over 1600 published articles and eleven books – seven table tennis, five SF/fantasy, which adds up to twelve since one is a table tennis fantasy novel.

VENTRELLA: How do you make your protagonist a believable character?

HODGES: CAMPAIGN 2100 really has four main characters – an ensemble cast. I decided that each would get their own introductory chapter. Each had to have some major issue to deal with that affected the plot, while developing them as memorable characters.

• Toby, the de facto “main character” (since he’s the one running for president of Earth), is introduced in chapter one, which is five years before the rest of the novel. President Corbin Dubois is being sworn in as the new president of Earth – and Toby ran his campaign, assisted by daughter Lara. Only he now realizes he’s made a terrible mistake, thinking, What have I done? He’s supposed to stay on as Corbin’s political director, but decides to resign. Corbin blackmails him, threatening his daughter if he leaves, and Toby ends up staying – but leaves us with the cliffhanging thought, What can I do to fix this? His character is developed as he faces a huge conflict – his desire to fix his mistake in making Dubois president, while not destroying his daughter’s future. The novel really takes off when he finally goes to war with his own daughter! He is a gold mine of conflict – inner conflict over his past support of Dubois, his battle with his daughter, and various campaign issues; and external conflict as he runs for president against Dubois.

• Twenty-two, the alien ambassador, is introduced as she’s diving into Earth’s atmosphere on her way to landing at the seat of world government. She’s excited, wondering about this new world and its politics as she naively converses with her overly adoring ship’s computer. We learn a terrible secret about her, which the reader knows but no one in the story will learn of until the very end. And then we see the alien point of view during first contact – and how both sides react when it turns into a disaster.

• Bruce, who also helped Toby run the Dubois campaign (but quit early on when he realized it was a mistake), is a professional table tennis player. He’s introduced as he’s playing for the U.S. championship. His great intelligence and sarcasm is highlighted throughout, with him simultaneously carrying on four conversations (with his opponent, the umpire, people in the crowd, and his thought computer), and then, right when he’s about to win . . . he makes a big decision. He’s such a flamboyant character that he’s easy to write, but he can be irritating, and so it’s a high-wire act making sure he goes the Han Solo rather than the Jar Jar Binks route.

• Feodora, the tiny Russian general who is running for president, is built up in advance by hints about her almost super-hero status. When she’s introduced, she’s stuck in bureaucratic meetings, representing Russian in talks with China, Japan, Korea, and others. Her character is built up via the contrast between her somewhat whimsical and sarcastic comments there, and her contrasting thoughts. Campaign 2100 Front Final-sm(She’s practically a superhero, and so throughout the novel she is showcased doing over-the-top things.) We get a flashback history lesson on how she shot and killed the Russian lead general, took command of Russian troops, and led them to a surprising victory. Feodora originally wasn’t intended to be a major character, but when she first appeared halfway through the book in the first draft, she pretty much took over, dominating the story whenever she appeared. At the behest of critiquers, I rewrote the story so she could appear sooner. I also had to send her on various journeys to get her off the stage so the other characters could get attention!

VENTRELLA: Which of your characters was the hardest to write and why?

HODGES: The toughest was probably Toby, simply because I had to be careful that he wasn’t overshadowed by the interesting and flamboyant Twenty-two, Bruce, and Feodora. He was the heart of the story, as he struggled with his inner demons over his guilt in making Dubois president and taking on his own daughter, and his desire to make up for this by running for president. The other three were very easy to write, once I had their characters down – the naïve goody-goody with a secret alien; the brilliant in-your-face sarcastic Bruce; and the over-the-top almost superhero and yet soft-spoken Russian general Feodora. One key thing about writing all four of them is that I considered them all different facets of myself (or facets I wanted to be), and so would just become that part of me when I wrote that character.

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?

HODGES: It’s a balancing act, but for the type of story I was writing, I needed larger than life characters, such as Feodora and Bruce. But they were balanced off by the far more believable Toby, who comes off as a more regular guy in an extraordinary and highly public position.

VENTRELLA: What makes your fiction unique? In other words, what is it about your stories that makes them stand out against all the other similar stories out there?

HODGES: I thought long and hard about what I wanted to write about, balancing my strengths and interests versus what readers might want to read. I think all new writers need to do this. I decided that I wanted to write at least three different novels, each one unique – and then I’d decide which of these sub-genres to focus on:

A political satire – CAMPAIGN 2100: GAME OF SCORPIONS. What was unique about this that it created a whole new SF subgenre – campaign science fiction. I asked myself the simple question (also noted above): “Presidential politics has dominated the news for years. Few stories are more compelling than a bare-knuckle, fight-to-the-finish political campaign. And yet, where are the SF stories that cover this?”

A humorous fantasy – SORCERORS IN SPACE. What was unique about this? It was potentially a new series that covered historical events but replaced the main characters with sorcerers. In this case, the novel covered the U.S.–Soviet space race of the 1960s, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts/cosmonauts. Maybe I could be the next Terry Pratchett!

A table tennis fantasy – THE SPIRIT OF PONG. What was unique about this? Well . . . how many table tennis fantasy novels are there?

VENTRELLA:  Hey, come on. My novel BLOODSUCKERS: A VAMPIRE RUNS FOR PRESIDENT is also “campaign science fiction.”  (INSERT SMILEY FACE)

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

HODGES: This is another thing that new writers struggle with. When I first decided to write Campaign 2100, I spent a huge amount of time outlining it in great detail. Sorcerer-in-Space-cover-medThis is now some top writers operate, such as Connie Willis, who is famous for doing detailed outlines of every chapter – and then writing the novel out of sequence, writing whichever chapter she feels like writing that day. And she’s won more major awards than any other SF writing – eleven Hugos and seven Nebulas. The other extreme would be a writer like Stephen King, who only has a vague idea what he’s writing about when he starts, and often writes a huge amount before he figures out what the story is about. Another example might be Isaac Asimov, who often started with a general idea of what the story would be, and with an ending, and then wrote to that end.

So I tried the Willis method, and began to write. But it didn’t work for me. I kept coming up with creative ideas that I had to ignore, since I had already outlined what was supposed to happen, and if I changed things, then subsequent chapters wouldn’t work. And so I tried to squelch my own creativity! The result for me was rather drab writing, and it was also pretty boring to write. I finally put aside the detailed notes, and instead did a very general outline of each chapter, about one or two sentences each, and went from there – along with an ending I wanted to work toward. Often chapters would go in directions I hadn’t foreseen, and I’d just go with it – but always I’d manage to bring it back on course toward the planned ending. This method worked for me, and I’ve since adopted this.

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

HODGES: Some people mistakenly think this means write what you know now. What it means to me is two things: 1) write about stuff you know and enjoy, because you can write well about things you know, and if you enjoy it, the writing is fun; 2) research the stuff you don’t know, either because you need it in the story, or because you want to learn about something and then write about it. I’m an amateur presidential historian – I can name all 44 presidents, their term of office, and all sorts of trivia on them. I know a lot about presidential politics, and so when I wrote Campaign 2100, I knew what I was writing about – other than that thing that it was 84 years in the future, and took place in settings all over the world that I knew nothing about, with all sorts of unexpected topics coming up. And so I became an expert on such diverse topics as Tanzania; the South China Sea; Antarctica; blue whales and narwhals; wheat production; submarine bases; Brodmann Area 10, which is the moral judgment center in the brain; the United Nations; and the Hindu caste system.

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

HODGES: That’s a tricky subject, as it’s so easy to fall into the “As you know, Bob” syndrome, since that’s the easiest way to let the reader know what the characters already know. For Campaign 2100, it was a serious problem, in that readers needed to learn about the history – our future – as well as the political system. And so I had First Contact, bringing in the alien ambassador Twenty-two. Readers learn about Earth’s history (our future) and the political world of 2100 at the same time as the alien – and if I wrote it well, then readers will be as incredulous as Twenty-two!

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give to a starting writer that you wish someone had given to you?

HODGES: Learn the rules guidelines for writing before breaking them. There are few rules, just guidelines that range from strongly recommended to general ones, and you should understand them all – and then, when you have reason to, break them mercilessly. It’s okay to explore breaking these rules, but always have a specific reason for doing so, or your work will likely come off as amateurish. Writing is both art and craft, and you need to do both.

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

HODGES: I mostly read science fiction & fantasy and history. My favorite authors for many years were the three most famous grandmasters – Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein. I read their complete works by the time I finished middle school. I periodically go back and reread some of their works; last year I reread the Foundation series from Asimov. In recent years my favorite writers have been Robert J. Sawyer and Jack McDevitt. Sawyer consistently brings us thought-provoking SF on a wide range of topics, such as his recent QUANTUM NIGHT. I read much of McDevitt, but my favorites are the Alex Benedict series, where we have a guy who researches ancient relics – but the relics are things from our future! Very interesting stuff. And yet, I’ve been debating whether to broaden my reading to some of the classics. I was on a panel with Sawyer at the recent Lunacon SF convention, and he recommended just that. After reading QUANTUM NIGHT, I’m now 60% through Stephen King’s 11/23/63, which is fascinating.

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

HODGES: I wrote 17,000 words of the sequel to Campaign 2100 (which was 124,000 words long), but I’ve put it on hold to see how the first volume sells. If it does well, expect more futuristic campaign politics as our moderate extremists move into space, running the campaigns (or running for office themselves) in local star groups! I’ve also outlined sequels to Sorcerers in Space and The Spirit of Pong, and also have plans for several other potential novels.

Lunacon Masquerade

I had a great time hosting the costume masquerade competition at the Lunacon convention recently. Have a look!

My Lunacon 2016 schedule

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Robert Sawyer is the one on the right

I will be at Lunacon this weekend, one of the oldest science fiction conventions in the country. The Guest of Honor is Robert Sawyer, and I’m anxious to meet him in person having having interviewed him here on the blog and talked to him on Facebook many times.

My schedule is very full (like I like it) and I’m honored that they have asked me to be the host of the Masquerade competition. Should be fun!

Promoting Your Book (Friday 6 pm): What works when promoting a book? Do book-signings really help a new author? Are bookmarks and/or postcards effective at garnering attention? What internet presence works or is a time-waster/PITA. Does a blog help or hurt an author? Does an author have to have a website? How do you find good reviewers? What tactics do NOT work? What methods might work for an established author that wouldn’t work for a beginner? Can you do it all yourself?  With Frederick Doot, C.E. Lawrence, and Paul Levinson.

The Eye of Argon (Friday 11 pm): The worst fantasy story gets a reading and the audience is invited to join in and see how far they can get before they crack up laughing. With Daniel Kimmel and Ian Randal Strock

Promoting Yourself in a Positive Way (Saturday 1 pm): Self-Promotion is an important part of building a career. Done poorly, it can do more harm than good. We will discuss items of self promotion to include book signings, postcards, bookmarks, a blog, website etc.. Do they help or hurt?  With Daniel Kimmel and David Walton

Censorship v. Free Speech (Saturday 2 pm): The arguments, the petitions, the points of view. With Marilyn Brahen, Gordon Van Gelder, and Kate Paulk  

The Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make (Saturday 5 pm): From poor openings to uninteresting characters to cliched plots, this panel will discuss the most common storytelling mistakes seen from new authors. This will also discuss promotional and business mistakes. With Gary Frank, Gordon Van Gelder, Larry Hodges, Robert J. Sawyer, and Hildy Silverman 

The Masquerade (Saturday 7 pm): Come and cheer on the best of the costumes as they march across the stage for your entertainment. (I’m the host!)

Interview with NY Times Bestselling author Heidi McLaughlin

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am pleased to be interviewing Heidi McLaughlin today.  Heidi is a bestselling author now living in Vermont with her family. A movie based on her bestseller FOREVER MY GIRL is currently in production. She’s also got a great story in my “Alternate Sherlocks” anthology coming out soon!Heidi Mc

First, tell us all about your latest book.

HEIDI McLAUGHLIN: My most recent release is called BLIND REALITY, which is Big Brother meets Married at First Sight, a fun little romantic comedy that is very reality-television based. If you’re not a reality TV fan, this book isn’t for you.

VENTRELLA: Romance continues to sell, but it goes through trends like all fiction. What is popular now?

McLAUGHLIN: Probably stuff I don’t write! Everyone loves the Alpha male, the down and dirty smut and shock factor. I like to keep everything mainstream and fun.

VENTRELLA: Do you find yourself writing what is popular or do you just write what you want and hope people will like it?

McLAUGHLIN: I write what I want to write. If I have an idea and I can make it work, I’m running with it. Life is no fun when you’re thinking like everyone else. I want to set the trend, not follow.

VENTRELLA: Do you feel there is a limitation with romance in that it pretty much has to have a happy ending? Or am I mistaken in that?

McLAUGHLIN: No, you’re very on point. In BLIND REALITY, it’s a cliffhanger, albeit it minor one, and people flipped out. Funny enough, when I’ve been asked about it and asked in return why they felt that way, the reader was able to answer their own question. Compared to some enormously huge bestselling novels, my cliffhanger is a blip and barely noticeable. Unfortunately, readers don’t see it that way and I’ve paid the price.

VENTRELLA: Perhaps more than other genres, romance has to have tremendously believable characters.  Do you agree? How do you accomplish that?

McLAUGHLIN: I absolutely agree. When people read romance the way to feel like they’re the character being wooed or falling in love. They want to live in the happily ever after and avoid reality of a dirty kitchen, loads of laundry, etc… For me, modeling my characters after people I know or have encountered makes them believable. Every character I write I want the reader to feel like they know them, that they live next door or went to high school with them.6873690_orig

VENTRELLA: What’s the difference between romance and erotica?

McLAUGHLIN: Well that’s a loaded question (excuse the pun). Erotica is heavy behind the doors taboo stuff that you don’t discuss at the dinner table with Grandma sitting across from you even though Gram has probably read a good old fashioned Harlequin in her day. Romance is the light-hearted can’t-wait-to-tell-you-about-my-day happy stuff… most of the time.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion of FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY?

McLAUGHLIN: E.L. James hit the market when women needed something new to sink their teeth into. Erika is a marketing genius.

VENTRELLA: Have you ever had to censor yourself where you think you may have gone too far?

McLAUGHLIN: No, I’m fairly tame and am often told I need more detail with certain scenes.

VENTRELLA: Why do you think more men aren’t reading romance?

McLAUGHLIN: I have a contingent of male readers and my husband has even read JR Ward! I think some men are just afraid of what those pages hold.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest misconception people have about romance novels (and romance novel writers)?

McLAUGHLIN: That writing is a hobby, or we’re just writing porn.

VENTRELLA: How did you first become interested in writing?

McLAUGHLIN: When I was little I was an only child for the longest time and my playmates were my aunts and uncles who were older. I had to create worlds to entertain myself when they weren’t around and my grandma always told me to write them down.1003461

VENTRELLA: How much of writing is innate? 

McLAUGHLIN: Writing is a craft. you have to learn, process and repeat. No one is “good” out of the gate.

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

McLAUGHLIN: I’ve never outlined. I take notes, and write. I’m a chapter by chapter and never out of order. If I have a scene in mind I’ll write it down and save it, but chances are I never come back to it.

VENTRELLA: Do you find yourself creating a plot first, a character first, or a setting first? 

McLAUGHLIN: Lately, it’s been the plot first. I hate naming my characters so I tend to do that last. But show me an image, song, or something on the news and I can give you something to work with.

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

McLAUGHLIN: To me that means – don’t think outside the box. I’m glad I didn’t listen because I write a Navy SEAL series that I absolutely love, but I’m not in the Navy, nor have I even been though BUD/s. If we only wrote what we knew, we’d be boring.

VENTRELLA: What criticism of your work do you disagree with the most?

McLAUGHLIN: When people tell me how I should’ve ended a story, or assume they know my characters better than I do.

VENTRELLA: How did you get started?  What was your first story or book published?

McLAUGHL3312058IN: I wrote a manuscript (my 3rd actually) and shared it with my friend who encouraged me to publish. My first story was FOREVER MY GIRL, which is slated to start production for the big screen this year.

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?

McLAUGHLIN: Short stories are fun, like the one we’re doing, but serial novels tend to make the reader wait too long for the conclusion. I do prefer a novel though.

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

McLAUGHLIN: For me, yes, especially, when you’re limited on a word count.

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

McLAUGHLIN: Every press is important, but you can get lost with the big ones and just become a number. As with anything small, you’re always on their mind.

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

McLAUGHLIN: Believe in yourself and the process. It does work. My first MS I queried 45 agents all to be told no, so I published and hit USA the next week and half those agents came back to work with me.

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

McLAUGHLIN: That social media doesn’t sell books.8811796

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

McLAUGHLIN: Never give up.

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give to a starting writer that you wish someone had given to you?

McLAUGHLIN: Do not trust everyone you come in contact with, and do not share your story with you FB bestie. Keep your work close to your heart and invest in your craft.

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

McLAUGHLIN: I love paranormal romance, but also contemporary. However, Nelson DeMille is my favorite author.

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

McLAUGHLIN: Right now I’m finishing up SAVE ME, which will come out April 5th – it’s a Navy SEAL novel, and I’ll be writing my manuscripts BLOW (Virtuous Paradox 1) and LEFT FIELD (The Boys of Summer 2).

 

My Albacon 2016 Schedule

What a crazy two weeks. Last weekend we were down in Roanoke for Mysticon and this weekend, we’re off to Albany for Albacon. Albacon is special because my wife Heidi Hooper is the Artist Guest of Honor!albacon16 flyer v3-page-001

Albacon is also special because on Friday, they start very early and have what is basically a writer’s conference. It’s like a convention and a conference all in one. I am hosting some of these sessions, and I look forward to meeting some new writers there.

Here’s my schedule:

The Biggest Mistakes Made by Beginning Authors (Friday 9 am):  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 Llalania Ghose, Jim Rudnick, and David Weber

Tooting Your Own Horn with Social Media (Friday 2 pm): Self-promotion is an important part of building a career. Poorly executed, it can do more harm than good. Our panelists will discuss what works and doesn’t work. With Debi Chowdhury, Kate Laity, and Keith Willis

Ice Cream Social (Friday 8 pm): What better way to meet the Guests of Honor and other participants than in a big party, complete with ice cream and all the fixings?

The Greatest Animated Films of All Time (Friday 10 pm): A debate over the list of best animated feature films. Will our panel agree or will the discussion break out in fisticuffs?  With Susan Hanniford Crowley, J.A. Fludd, Herb Kauderer, and Dawn McKechnie 

Reading (Saturday 3:30 pm):  I’ll be reading from “Bloodsuckers” and, depending on time, perhaps a bit of a preview of some upcoming works.

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 James Cambias, Andre Lieven, Ryk Spoor, and Ian Randal Strock

Making Politics Work in Fiction (Sunday 11 am): 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 Ian Randal Strock and David Weber

 

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