The 4th Pocono Writers Conference

It seems like just yesterday that I organized the first Pocono Writers Conference, and now we will soon have the 4th.

This year’s conference will be held on January 21, 2017, at the Hughes Library in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.  Admission is free — however, as I write this, we are full!

But there is an exception.

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Besides their regular lecture, each of the panelists will have a critique where you can send them a writing sample in advance by email and they will go over it with you there at the Conference. This is only $20. Come on, where else can you get a good critique from  established writers (including a New York Times bestselling author) as well as a New York literary agent? If you sign up for at least one of the critiques, we will find a space for you to attend the rest of the Conference.

Here’s the schedule:

9:00: Introductions

9:15: TEE MORRIS: The Physics of Fighting: Swords, Sidearms, and All-Too-Common Slip-Ups: Hollywood does two things for writers: They make fight scenes look incredibly cool, and make a writer’s job to capture that kind of excitement increasingly difficult. How do you get it right?

10:30: ALIA HANNA HABIB: Know Your Genre: Knowing the language of publishers’ book categories is essential in pitching your book to agents and editors. This workshop will teach you how to market your book by properly categorizing its genre and potential readers.

11:45: MEGAN HART: Point of View: Getting Inside the Right Character’s Head and Staying There. Figure out how to write in first or third person and which character needs to be telling the story by diving deep into point of view.

12:45: Lunch

1:45: PHILIPPA BALLANTINE: World Building: The basics of creating a world that lives and breathes around your characters, and how to use our world to inspire you

3:00: MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Biggest Mistakes Made by New Authors: A short presentation of things to look out for

3:15: Panel Discussion and Question and Answer session with all panelists

Click here to read bios of all the participants and to sign up for the Conference. Don’t wait, because there are a limited number of critique spaces available and once they’re all filled, you won’t be able to attend.

The Writers Conference is sponsored by the Pocono Liars Club.

 

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The Mummy of Barnsley

Hey! Want to hear me read one of my stories for free?

The Mummy of Barnsley” takes place in the world of Philippa Ballentine and Tee Morris‘ “Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences” steampunk novels. They asked me to contribute a story to their “archives” podcast and as I am big fan of those books, I could not refuse. Plus they paid me.Diamond-Conspiracy_small

Here’s the story blurb: “Agent Ernest Throckmorton is called to Barnsley to investigate reports of a mummy terrifying the town. Throckmorton soon finds himself thrown together with an all too eager assistant desperate to be part of the Ministry, as they hunt down the meaning of the mummy’s ominous threat. All shall pay for the desecration of the tomb!”

I had a lot of fun writing this and hopefully, you will have a lot of fun listening to it. Try not to laugh when I attempt British accents.

I have had requests from people to get my books into audio, so here’s the next best thing. The entire story runs about 30 minutes and you can listen to it from your computer or download it for later. And then leave a comment to let Pip and Tee know you liked it!

Here’s the link. 

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.

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(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

Interview with Philippa Ballantine

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing author Philippa Ballantine today! New Zealand born fantasy writer and podcaster Philippa (Pip) Ballantine is the author of the “Books of the Order” and the “Shifted World” series. She is also the co-author with her husband Tee Morris of the “Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences” novels. avatar_hatHer awards include an Airship, a Parsec, the Steampunk Chronicle Reader’s Choice, and a Sir Julius Vogel. She currently resides in Manassas, Virginia with her husband, daughter, and a furry clowder of cats. Her web page is here and her twitter page is here!

Philippa, you have two new books coming out shortly. Let’s talk about HARBINGER first, which is the fourth in the “Book of the Order” series. Tell us about this.

PHILIPPA BALLANTINE: HARBINGER is the culmination of the previous three books, and I am actually rather sad to be leaving the world. Sorcha, Merrick and Raed have all been driven to literally the ends of the world. They discover that the Circle of Stars Order have plans to break the gap between the Otherside and the realm of humanity. Without their runes, Sorcha and her Deacons must take dangerous step to save their world, and all the time the Rossin, the great pard, is planning his own escape.

VENTRELLA: Then, a few weeks later, KINDRED AND WINGS, the second book in the “Shifted World” series is released. What is this series about?

BALLANTINE: The Shifted World series is all about chaos, and how people deal with it. In a world that cannot be trusted, with people warring amongst themselves, the endgame is coming quickly. The dragon Wahirangi and Finn the storyteller search for answers, while Talyn must decide her role in the world; destroyer or savior. Secrets will be revealed, time travelled through, and dragons will battle.

VENTRELLA: With your husband Tee Morris, you’ve also created the successful steampunk series “Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences”. harbingerHow did that creative process begin?

BALLANTINE: It actually began with a creative idea from Tee that was supposed to be set in current days. Then I wanted to experiment with a podcast for pay, so I suggested with do a prequel novel set in Victorian times. There was early interest from our agent in the series as novels, so the podcast idea morphed in that direction. It was a strange and delightfully circuitous path to publication!

VENTRELLA: How do you two split the writing on this? What’s your process? (Tee gave me his version a while ago when I interviewed him; I want to see how you saw the collaboration.)

BALLANTINE: We do a lot of brain storming of where we want to go, and sketch out a series of scenes. Tee does the Wellington scenes, I do Eliza’s, and we put our hands up for the other characters. Then once it is written, we swap and edit each other. We’ve got a pretty good grasp now, after three books, on how we do these things. It was tricky at first though!

VENTRELLA: The next Peculiar Occurrences book is scheduled to be out in the fall – that’s three in one year. You’ve been busy! How do you do it?

BALLANTINE: Lots and lots of marking calendars, and sharing them with Tee. I’ve also got better at prioritizing which projects come before others.

VENTRELLA: What is it about steampunk that interests you?

BALLANTINE: I love the creativity of the genre, and the heady mix of history. I’ve messed around with history before, but steampunk gives that freedom wings. Also the aesthetics are beautiful, and airships are just plain cool.

VENTRELLA: What makes your steampunk novels stand out among the others?

BALLANTINE: Tee and I have fun with our steampunk, but I think the real difference about our steampunk is the scope of the world view. Kindred and Wings_finalWe’ve not only done novels, but also short stories and podcasts, which have taken our readers and listeners all over the globe. Also, people seem to love our characters.

VENTRELLA: Why did you decide to move from New Zealand? (And given our politics here, do you regret the move?)

BALLANTINE: I moved from New Zealand to marry Tee, and I don’t regret it. One day we’ll probably move back to live, but right now with the writing I have the chance to go to New York to meet publishers, and the convention circuit in America provides a lot more opportunities to meet readers.

VENTRELLA: Speaking of conventions (where we’ve met numerous times), … do you find that is important for authors to do? What are the benefits of doing so?

BALLANTINE: I don’t know what the Return on Investment would be in monetary terms, but in terms of meeting fellow writers, and readers, it really can’t be measured. Writing is a solitary profession in most cases, and those kind of interactions are really needed. Tee and I have met readers who have cos-played our characters, people who have jumped up and down with delight (which I am still stunned about), and made innumerable contacts with other writers. There has to be a balance however, because you also have to write, but I would encourage new writers to try out at least a small local con.

VENTRELLA: What is it about science fiction and fantasy that attracts you?

BALLANTINE: The sheer scope of it. The speculative fiction genre imposes no limits on the imagination, and that is something that no other genre can offer. If you can imagine it, you can write it. From dragons to airships, from cyber-intelligences to minds of clockwork, all are possible.

VENTRELLA: The publishing industry is in tremendous flux right now. Editors and agents are so uncertain they are not taking risks on new authors, and small publishing houses are jumping in to fill the void. Given this, what sort of advice would you give an un-agented author with a manuscript? (Purely hypothetical, mind you …)

BALLANTINE: There are good agents out there. Laurie McLean of Foreword Literary is my agent, but also my partner in this business. dawnsearlylightI know that I wouldn’t have gotten where I am today without her assistance and guidance.

So I think if you can find an agent like her that wants to be a true partner, then you should go that route. However, if you cannot, then a small publishing house is a great way to start, you can learn so much about editing, marketing, and the process of putting a book together.

If that route doesn’t work, then I don’t think self-publishing is a bad idea at all. The only caveat I would add is make sure you produce the best professional product possible. Hire editors and cover artists. If you take short cuts, don’t expect to get results.

VENTRELLA: Do you think the SFWA and other organizations will eventually have to consider small publishing houses and self-publishing?

BALLANTINE: I was actually on a panel recently where I heard that it is not beyond the realms of possibility that SFWA might go that way. It’s just a matter of working out how they decide on membership levels. Like the publishing industry trade organizations need to be flexible and move with the changing landscape.

VENTRELLA: What book have you read recently that you loved?

BALLANTINE: I was lucky enough to get a chance to blurb A STUDY IN SILKS by Emma Jane Holloway. It’s not coming out until September this year, but is worth the wait!

philippa

Interview with Author Tee Morris

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing Tee Morris today. Tee grew up very near me in Richmond, Virginia yet we never met until a few years ago at a convention. His web page is TeeMorris.com.

Let’s start by discussing your latest book, which will be first in a series –- PHOENIX RISING: A MINISTRY OF PECULIAR OCCURENCES NOVEL. How did you decide to collaborate with Pip Ballentine?

TEE MORRIS: It was a bit of arm-twisting on Pip’s part. I had a bad experience with co-writing, and my co-author really put me in a precarious position that completely ruined our friendship and professional relationship. So I was quite gun-shy. Pip eventually talked me into a compromise: we would write a podcast-for-pay idea. Unexpectedly, someone contacted Pip’s agent on this “steampunk idea” she was working on, I was then picked up by Pip’s agent, we changed focus and then we got to work on what would become PHOENIX RISING.

I still can’t believe we put this puppy together and are now, presently, closing in on the sequel’s climax.

VENTRELLA: Was there a conscious decision to write a steampunk novel because of current interests in steampunk for business reasons?

MORRIS: Actually, no. Steampunk was a conscious choice, but it was because we wanted to write it.

I first discovered “steampunk” back in 2006 and found it fascinating. I wanted to write something in it, but I didn’t want it to be a knock-off of what I had already read and seen. There’s a lot of cool things to explore in steampunk, and the more I delve into it the cooler it gets. There are authors who are riding the steampunk train to capitalize on its rapidly-growing popularity, but Pip and I wanted to do something we were sincerely drawn to, and steampunk really appealed to us.

VENTRELLA: How much should a writer consider the market when deciding what to write?

MORRIS: The writer should look at what is selling when they want to begin pitching to agents and editors. However, you really should consider how good of a product you are going to produce if you simply write to what’s hot. I’ve seen authors do that, and the writing comes across as trite. If your heart isn’t into it, the reader will assuredly pick up on that. At present, I won’t write a werewolf-vampire-Buffe-Blake urban fantasy because I have nothing new to offer to that market. If I tried, it would probably insult readers of the genre and do a lot of damage to my career.

Sure, look at the market, but don’t try to force a story to happen. That can backfire and really damage a career.

VENTRELLA: How did your collaboration work?

MORRIS: Believe it or not, writing across hemispheres was very productive. Whenever I slept, Pip wrote; and when Pip was asleep, I was writing. Literally we got in 24 hours of non-stop writing. This is one reason why, with Pip working on relocating to the Americas, our word count has taken a hit.

The downside was that we had small windows of time when we could discuss the book. We couldn’t bounce off ideas when we had them, and discussing problematic moments were…well, problematic as we could only do that for a small window of time between hemispheres. Still we managed, and we now have a pretty solid workflow at home.

VENTRELLA: How did you interest Harper? Did you have an agent first? Was the novel completed and then submitted or did they accept a proposal?

MORRIS: The Harper Voyage deal is all due to Laurie McLean, our Super-Agent. What happened was Pip’s write-up in Locus Magazine took an interested party to her website. When they saw she was working on this steampunk property with me, they immediately asked “When could we see it?” So I signed on with Larsen-Pomeda Agency and then we got cracking. The “interest” didn’t really kick in until someone made an offer. Literally, within 24 hours, there was a bidding war (from people who had initially passed on it), and then the wildcard — Harper Voyager — stepped in and said “We want it. Badly.”

The rest is future-history.

VENTRELLA: How are you promoting this book?

MORRIS: Pip learned a lot of new promotion tactics when working with ACE and GEIST. Between our previous experiences with Dragon Moon Press, we’re simply incorporating years of what has (and hasn’t) worked, and creating a plan:

1. The “Tales from the Archives” Podcast. This is the first volume in what could be a continuing series of short stories set in the world of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. We’ve been having a blast with this, watching really talented authors like Valerie Griswold-Ford, Nathan Lowell, O.M. Grey, P.C. Haring, and many others produce original steampunk of various moods. We’re only a few episodes in, and people are really enjoying these works.

2. The Book Trailer.

People have really mixed opinions about book trailers and whether or not they sell books, but I argue that it really does depend on the book trailer. This one was particularly ambitious as we were creating original footage as opposed to working with stock footage as I did with Pip’s Geist trailer (which I edited together). We have been getting a terrific response from it with over 1000 views on YouTube and over 500 shares on Facebook in just over a week. It’s also a great way to get the word out about the book. How will it equate in sales? We don’t know, but it is helping in letting people know what the book is, or at least what the mood of our book is.

3. The Ministry Blog and Podcast Tour. As you see here with your blog, Michael, and others online, Pip and I started writing guest columns and interviews not only with podcasts (which really worked well for us back in August 2008 when we hosted “Double Trouble” online) but with blogs as well. Pip found that work with bloggers — book reviewers, authors, and others — cast our net a little wider than the podosphere. We’re reaching new people who show a little more faith and trust in their book blogs than they do in the mainstream media book critics. (Something we find very telling.)

4. Ministry May-hem. The month of May is when we start with the push of live appearances. It begins on April 30 (Not quite May, but close enough) with a stop at Borderlands in San Francisco. Then on May 7th we return to Staunton, VA (where we filmed the Ministry trailer) at BookWorks, and we will be wearing our steampunk best. May 11 we head up to Harrisburg, PA for a Watch the Skies meeting. Again, we’ll be in our steampunk best. Then May 20-22 is the Steampunk World’s Fair in Sommerset, NJ. We close the May-hem with Balticon May 27-30.

June … we’re going to have a wee rest.

5. Buttons, stickers, bookmarks, and postcards. You can never go wrong with freebies.

Pip and I have learned over the years that the key months of promotion should be the month before a release (keeping it fresh in people’s minds), and then two months after the book’s release (as it has that “new book” smell). If after June the book hasn’t “caught on” it probably won’t. You can still promote and still pimp, but it’s “old news” after that.

For Pip, though, she’s got SPECTYR (the sequel to GEIST) coming at the end of June, so there will be some serious gear shifting during the May-hem. Rather appropriate, now that I think about it.

VENTRELLA: This is your first novel with a major publisher (if I am not mistaken). What differences have you found between Harper and Dragon Moon? (And why do so many small publishers have “Dragon” in their name? My publisher is Double Dragon. Maybe they should merge and become Double Dragon Moon.)

MORRIS: Apart from the advance (which is a mixed blessing in itself), the distribution (which is a blessing no matter how you look at it) and the layout of the book (which I did for myself quite often because I liked that), there is still a “team” feel about working indie and working corporate. I have noticed with Harper Voyager that our publicist is also working hard to get our names and book out there to critics and media outlets, both traditional and new. Having that kind of support in publicity has been very nice! Dragon Moon and I did a lot of great things together, but distribution was always a challenge. I grew as a writer, and they gave me my first opportunity. A lot of terrific things happened to me because of it.

Harper Voyager is not my first orbit around the Moon, but it is definitely my “small step” and “giant leap” into what I hope will be my writing career.

VENTRELLA: You travel to many conventions to promote your books. Do you advise aspiring authors to attend these things? What do you get out of these conventions yourself?

MORRIS: Something else that I have learned in my years as a writer is really, really listen to what other authors have to say. (Both good and bad, when it comes to advice.) Perhaps one of the most important nuggets of know-how I got was from Hugo/Nebula/Aurora/insert-SF-writing-award-here winning author Robert J Sawyer:

“When you get an advance, don’t spend it. That advance is your marketing and advertising budget.”

I was traveling without an advance as my budget, and pushed myself several of thousands of dollars into debt. Even when I was writing books like PODCASTING FOR DUMMIES and ALL A TWITTER, I was already so deep in the red. People across the country had my books in hand, sure, but I was broke. Part of the problem was poor financial planning. When I got out of that debt, I plan events very differently now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love going to these conventions. I love talking shop, meeting other authors, and talking to other fans, not just about what I write, but about other geeky things like Firefly, Eureka, and steampunk. I dig that. But as I mentioned on my blog, these conventions are not cheap. I get invited to a lot of cons, but unless some of these costs are offset, I can’t go. In my early days/years, I would never make claims to have cons offset my costs. However, I have to make it a point of asking now as it’s just not that easy for me financially. I think cons are great for authors, provided you are smart about which cons you are going to attend; and more importantly, what you can afford.

VENTRELLA: How has the publishing industry changed since you entered it?

MORRIS: Well, there’s the e-book market for starters. The whole e-book movement has really been fascinating to watch. I think with the development of the ePub format, the elegance of iBook and the Kindle, and the affordability of digital books in comparison to hardbounds, the e-book is coming into its own. The publishing industry is now being forced to adapt, and I think many publishers are on top of it.

I’m also noticing over the year a growing animosity between writers and publishers, more of it coming from writer. There’s a mentality of “Us vs. Them” which rings hollow when I hear writers say “We understand it’s a business.” I’ve always regarded my career as a business, and I can only hope that I’m still writing when my child is in college. Harper Voyager have asked a lot from Pip and myself, but we are all working together to make the best book possible. If the book is a hit, it’s a win from everyone involved. That’s why I’m a little put off by that argument.

Something I have noticed, too, is that misconception of “writers just writing and letting someone else handle promotion as that is someone else’s job” is finally dying out. Even older authors have recognized the power and potential in podcasting, blogging, and social networking. Writers have needed to become Swiss Army Knives, wearing many hats and building up neck muscles in order to support them all. We have to look beyond “the end” and work with our publisher and the public to make our upcoming titles meet their potential.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest misconception beginning writers have about the craft?

MORRIS: The biggest misconception (apart from the one mentioned in the previous question) is the editor is out to “ruin” your work. Only bad editors tell you something like “Change it, or else.” An editor’s job is to make your good book a great book, and in this process help you become a better writer. Again, it’s a team effort. And when you do have a point of contention, you have to defend your choice with facts and resources backing up your facts. Simply saying “because it is cool” doesn’t cut it. I am thankful for every editor I’ve had, and I am a better, smarter writer because of them.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake you see beginning writers make?

MORRIS: Superiority complexes. I’ve seen this in both writers with big and indie houses and it sickens me. A byline doesn’t make you any better a person. You just come across to people as a right jerk …with a byline. Maybe fans would “look away” once upon a time, but that kind of behavior can affect your sales. It can also make you a real leper amongst your peers. And even with books, awards, and movie deals (if you are really blessed) behind you, try and keep your head on straight. This ride can end at the drop of a bowler hat. I know that. So, I do what I can to be the best person (who just happens to have a byline) I can be.

VENTRELLA: What’s your next project?

MORRIS: My next project is a steampunk reboot of MOREVI. I love the story and I love the characters of MOREVI; but as it is, MOREVI is not ready for the mainstream press. It needs a rewrite. It needs a new direction. And it needs, for the love of God, to lose the elves. Those were my co-author’s touch, and I’ve hated them since the original printing.

I don’t have a problem with elves. They’re like Vulcans with better tailors. I just felt like they were not a good fit with MOREVI, and I think a complete reboot with Rafe taking to the skies and the region be China. (Still kicking around ideas, you know.) It would be something like Battlestar Galactica, only without so much gender bending.

me&tee

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