Happy Where the Hell are My Pants Day, everyone!

So, today’s the day I haul my carcass out of bed and go back to work to find out what kind of mess is waiting for me. For those of you who are playing along at home, a co-worker quit while I was gone, so they’ve been down a couple of people.

Back into the routine. I’m awake, and writing a blog post that should have been done, yesterday, and writing down details of my morning–when I got up, what I ate (caffeine), an assortment of vitamin pills I’d probably forget if I didn’t write them down, and of course, writing progress.

I am still typing all those bits and scraps of paper that were waiting for me before my little vacation-ish thingy. Must remember to do that as I go. (Pause for laughter.)

Nothing quite like getting away for a while to remind you how much you don’t want to go back.

Someday, I will live in a town where there are more options.

Honest.

IWSG: Comparing Myself to Others

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
The awesome co-hosts for the May 3 posting of the IWSG are Nancy Gideon, Tamara Narayan, Liesbet @ Roaming About, Michelle Wallace, and Feather Stone!
Back at the insecurities question… Well, I just got back from my first writers’ conference, so I’m still processing a lot of information. So, I think–right this second–the thought that’s fluttering through my head is the amount of time involved in getting to the point that I can actually sell a book.
On the one hand–and objectively, I think–I believe that I’m getting close. I know I’m getting better.
On the other hand, it’s been a long, long time.  I’m insanely impatient, right now. Well, anyhoo… you know that one over-achieving classmate we’re all damned to endure? The one who straddles six or seven of your pet insecurities? Or, maybe that’s just me. Mine happens to live at the busy intersection of More Successful and Give Up and Write Sasquatch Porn. With regular stops from the Gonna Die Alone and Obscure Trolley Line. (And I’d really be breaking out the Valium if they were a writer.)
Yup. I ran into one of Over Achieving Classmate’s fans… or at least someone who brought them up often enough to grate on my nerves. I should have a sign to hold up.
The weird part is that I’m actually not all that much older than fan girl. (I Googled.) She just made me feel–uhm, decrepit.
At a distance, Classmate is my ticking success-clock. Tick-tock, tick-tock. How long until I run out of steam, and break down without ever reaching my goal?

May 3 Question: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

Right now, I’m writing (very, very soft) science fiction, which means that I don’t need to know that the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066 (in our timeline, anyway), or exactly what George Washington’s false teeth were made of. (eww.) Now and then, I wind up looking for more details on this or that, (or having the mind-bogglingly obvious pointed out to me) but more often than not, I pull information in mostly so that I can twist it, and then throw it into outer space.
Oh, wait… you’re talking about how to keep someone alive in a near-vacuum long enough that they can be eaten by giant space bugs, aren’t you? Well… yeah. There’s that.

The Really Long Conference Post

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Random Assortment of Mountains, As Seen From Gas Station on the Way out of Town. Look: It snowed!

So, Pike’s Peak…

Let me be honest. I did not feel good the entire time I was in Colorado Springs. Thin air, altitude, kreb’s cycle… maybe I even caught actual germs… whatever it was, I was at less than my conference-going best.

I spent a couple of hours in classes really more intended for thriller writers, both of which were taught by the really fun–if somewhat morbid–forensic anthropologist and writer, M.R. Rutter. I have no idea what I’m going to do with the information, but since my own anthropology professor was a parasitologist, (think tapeworms and fossilized people poop) I figure the field as a whole owes me a few murders. These were absolutely the highlight of the weekend.

I also took a few craft classes, which–for the most part–seemed to be live recitations of things I (mostly) already knew, but which were said in a much more authoritative voice than the ones in my head.

I think–in general–I would do more of the information-sessions and fewer of the how-to sessions, if I had it to do over again. I’m not saying the craft sessions weren’t good, but in terms of bang for your buck, I think you could get a lot of the information out of books while sitting at home in your pajamas.

I like pajamas.

Well… I like the comfy clothes I sleep in. I may have been eight the last time I owned pajamas.

I am not social when I don’t feel good, and I think my outcome was probably affected by that. I met a few people from Holly’s website, and a few others, and did my best to be social, but… it did not result in stacks of business cards, or even more than a few people I feel like I know better than I did going in. Of course, that also means that no one gets to curse me as the person who gave them bubonic altitude sickness, or remember me as the queen bitch of the universe, either.

So, I met a few agents. Probably more than a few, if you count the ones who don’t represent anything close to what I write. Sat in on a questions and answers session with them (in which most of the attendees had the same deer-in-the-headlights look I did, and the moderator asked most of the questions.) Had lunch at the same table with one. (I may have infected them with bubonic altitude sickness.) I did not throw up on any of them, and in all honesty, I didn’t do anything memorable enough that I believe any of them will have any faint idea who I am in a week or two.

So, success!

There were, of course, pitch sessions (I picked up a non-industry type stalker at pitch-a-palooza once), and pitch appointments, and pitch-themed barf bags in the back of the chairs. So, if that’s your thing, Pike’s Peak would definitely be a good conference for you. It is also–the director notes, loudly–one of the few conferences where the faculty is required to actually eat with the attendees, so there are more casual opportunities to get to talk to them.

We could talk about the food… but the truth is, it wasn’t good. I was expecting more, and about half the time, I might have been better off with a drive-through cheeseburger. By the end of the conference, the lime-vinaigrette that kept appearing, meal after meal was a little tedious. Apparently, about half the conference cost is food, and they need to hit a certain food-sales benchmark to get the hotel space.

No comment, there.

The acoustics in the dining room were not great. Actually, they were can’t hear the person next to you awful. (Plus or minus the fact that my ears were a little clogged, it was still noisy.)

So, the big question would have to be, would I go back?

Yeah. I’d actually like to do this again, sometime when I’m feeling better, and when I have the time and money to do it right. (And preferably when I have someone else I know with me.) I’d like to see some of the upcoming profiling seminars. I also really appreciate the fact that the publishing glitterati are being forced to eat with me. Or… well, whatever the hell sounds diplomatic there.

I’ll point out here that–generally–my vacations do not repeat. I’m not someone who goes to the same place and eats the same food year after year. (Actually, lately… my vacations do not happen. This was the first one in a few years.)

A-to-Z Challenge: Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway

Just in case you missed it, I’m headed to the Pike’s Peak Writers’ conference in a little over a week. So, my mind is already out in Colorado, and look at this, I’ve found a railway just for you to look at.

Remember that hiking path that ends in a parking lot out in California? Well, this is the slightly more historically face-palm version, with trains. Pike’s Peak is named after a man called Zebulon Pike (Imagine having to scream “Zebulon” in bed! His poor wife.) Zebulon never made it to the summit, but they named the mountain after him, and at some point, they named this particular railway after the mountain.

Guess where the railway goes?

Yup. Straight to the summit. Six to Eight times a day.

Poor Zebby.

So, on to the details everybody’s been waiting for. The Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway runs 8.9 miles, between Manitou Springs, and the summit of Pike’s Peak. It is a standard gauge railroad with tracks 4 feet 8 and a half inches wide (as the Great Architect of the Universe intended.) (because narrow gauge is creepy.) It is a cog railway, which means that it has a third track with little teeth, to pull the train up steep places (like, say, a mountain.)

The older engines are on display at Manitou Springs and several museums through Colorado, and some of the historic (but still conveniently functional) engines and cars are dragged out and actually used from time to time.

I’d tell you how perfect and beautiful the scenery is, but I already said it was in Colorado.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.

Safety, Common Sense, and Selling Books

So, you already know I was on a mini-vacay last week. I needed that. The stress of stress would have eaten me alive, if I hadn’t gotten out. Nothing quite like grabbing a friend, ditching real life, and hitting a neighboring state.

And, as it turns out, there was another writer in the motel.

It wasn’t me that ran into her.

“There’s one of your people in the elevator.”

My people, by the way, can mean anything from my close friends to whole groups of people I happen to belong to. And, let’s be honest, my mind shot straight to dancers, because they’re easier to pick out of a crowd, and because I actually do know dancers in KC.

My friend was a little wigged out, though, so my mind skipped from dancers to band members, and maybe a few specific individuals she might be able to recognize as “my” people. Mutual acquaintance type “my” people.

I asked.

“One of your book people.”

Okay. So, I’m lost. How could she possibly know that someone she met on an elevator was a book person? I mean, we’re pretty mellow, compared to some of my acquaintances.

Turns out the woman had gone all Bookseller of Prey on her.

She was pretty shaken, after an elevator pitch that had gone from small talk, to buy my book, to let’s-trade-room-numbers-you’re-my-new-bestie all in the course of three floors. I don’t blame her. My head was spinning, just thinking about it.

But, I was also thinking about the other woman. Was she someone I do know? Someone I will know in the future?

I’m not sure freaking out strangers on an elevator (in a motel!) is the best way of selling books. The thing about an elevator pitch is… well, at the other end of the elevator, your target winds up in an office, full of his or her trusted co-workers. You aren’t necessarily alone in the elevator, either.

And I’m pretty sure that inviting strangers back to your hotel room to get the books that you don’t have with you isn’t the safest idea, either. Remember that old joke your granny used to tell? The one where she slapped a guy because he invited her up to his room to see his etchings? (And it turned out there really were etchings?)

I don’t really care what risks you choose to take in bookselling… but make sure they are a choice. Make sure they’re a sensible choice, and make sure they’re an effective choice.

This one happens to be an unnecessary and ineffective risk. You’re taking all the risks your mother warned you about in luring strangers back to your motel room–I won’t get into those–and you’re also scaring off your risk conscious customers.

Most women–and probably most men, too– are NOT going to go knocking on motel room doors to buy a book.

Get a tote bag and carry a couple of books with you. That way, you aren’t taking a risk, and you’re not asking your customers to take that risk, either.

IWSG: The A-to-Z Blogging Challenge

It’s time for another edition of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, founded by Ninja Captain, Alex J. Cavanaugh.

The awesome co-hosts today are Christopher D. Votey, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Fundy Blue, and Chrys Fey!

April 5 Question: Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?

Last year was my first year doing the A-to-Z Challenge, and it was the first time that I had managed to blog on any kind of a regular basis. 2016 was a hell of a year for me, and blogging gave it structure, and a “thing to do” because “that’s what we do” that I desperately needed. Maybe you know what I mean. That moment when nothing else holds, and… there you go. A thing to do.

In a more general sense, last year’s A-to-Z Challenge was just the kick in the pants I needed to get started.  I’d done some blogging, mostly just storytelling for some friends from other writers’ sites, and my routine was spotty, at best. I was going to blog a novel (which turned out to be both a good thing, and a bad thing, and an unmitigated disaster) but, as it turns out, getting things ready to post–really, edited, didn’t misspell anything, didn’t use the same word six times ready–meant I only posted a couple of times–if that–per month.

I managed to post every day last April–or close to it–and I started to see traffic. And wow, was there a lot of it! Well, I thought there was, anyway. It was something. I don’t know if I handled it as well as I could have. To be honest, I was mostly in shock that people were reading my blog, at all.

The month of April was the best one I’d had at that point (although I’ve passed it a couple of times since then.) I had views and comments, and gained followers, and yes… I’m doing it again, this year.

My insecurity of the month: Getting ready to go to the writers’ conference: the clothes, the travel, the reservations… and most of all that damn revision. I’m so insecure right now, I forgot to be Insecure. Time for me to track down the next must-have scene in my revision and either write it or revise it. See you all next month.

A-to-Z Challenge: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and Building Characters

For those of you who don’t know, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the most recent version being 5) is the great holy hand grenade of the psi-chiatric profession. In its most recent incarnation, it’s a riot-worthy brick of a book, suitable for hurling through plate glass windows and beating unarmed civilians.

Over the years, the DSM has grown from basically a pamphlet focused on a few major disorders to the fine, equal-opportunity diagnostic tool that it is today. And seriously, folks, with a code for caffeine withdrawl, we have a diagnosis for everybody. Stick around after the show and get yours.

I happen to own a copy of version 4 (left behind by an old friend who was studying social work) and it also has some nifty applications in Character development.

It doesn’t have slots for magical abilities, like a Warcraft character sheet, but it is pretty straight forward, and much more fun in fiction than in real life, where you have to write “Caffeine withdrawl” over and over and over… (I have a cure for that, by the way.)

There are 5 axes in the current version. Number five is level of function, ranging from “Respected psychiatrist” all the way down to “Bit someone’s ear off this morning.” If your character is Hannibal Lecter, this will require advanced math. In fiction, it just doesn’t deserve a square of it’s own.

So, divide a piece of paper into 4 quadrants.

Square number 1–Axis I if you want to get all fancy–is what’s going on, right now that needs (but will not get, because that’s the story problem) immediate attention. The DSM lists several examples, but they’re all relatively boring. This is fiction, so we’ll say “Brain invaded by sentient parasites from Mars.” Much more interesting than the day-to-day stuff, isn’t it?

Square number 2–is all the permanent stuff that’s going to impact the response to square number One. Personality disorders, developmental disorders… Not every character get a square number two. But if your character was a somewhat slow janitor who has parasites that can do theoretical physics, that’s here.

Square Number 3–oh, goody. Medical disorders. So, if the sentient parasites go unnoticed for a while because your character has already been diagnosed with brain cancer, this is the square where they run amuck.

Square Number 4–is all the other stuff that just makes the whole thing more difficult. Wife trying to get pregnant? Right here. Spaceship hurtling toward an exploding red giant? Yup. Crew trying to kill you because you have alien worms in your head? Here. Unless that’s all in your head, too, in which case, back to square #2.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.

Here’s to Discipline… And Coffee.

I have a day off from the A-to-Z Challenge, and I’m sitting back and thinking what a good B word would be. I’m not really ahead enough to have my short story for the StoryTime Blog Hop written, or any of the letters for the time I’m in Colorado. I’ll have to get on that. You know… right along with working out the draft of my novel and the day job and the… and the…

I can’t really be sure if I’m going to make it all the way to the end of the Challenge, this year. There are a lot of things going on, and the priority at the moment has to be getting that novel revised.

I’m developing quite a backlog of handwritten pages that need to be typed into my revision.

I hate typing.

But handwriting is good for me. It keeps everything in line, and coherent, and typing it in is a little bit of a mini-revision in itself, so I’ll keep going this way. The handwritten chunks are a lot smoother than the pieces that were mostly typed.

If I stayed ahead of the typing, it wouldn’t be so bad.

Back to work, then.

The Same Thing Twice

I started writing another missing scene for my revision, yesterday. It was… well, pretty damn similar to the scene I wrote the day before. Not identical, but very, very close. Close enough that I wound up stopping to write a blog post about Deja Vu, voice, and the difference between parallels and repetitions.

So, I guess we’ll find out just how much of this I understand, and how much I can make myself understand.

My characters are psychic–or something like that. There are details–and in both scenes, the psychic bond is being broken. One scene is a death, and in the second, a character has voluntarily given up that connection. Her sacrifice will be permanent.

The lead up to the bond being broken is okay. It’s different; the circumstances are different. But then… well, as I’m writing the break, itself, I happen to have the distinct feeling that I’m writing something basically identical to the last one I wrote.

Feeling? No. I know. It’s the same.

I’m trying to figure out what’s broken that makes the two scenes so similar. They really shouldn’t be the same thing twice, but somehow… well, they are. And until I figure out how they should be different, I can’t fix it.

I think I’ll work on something else, today.

Doing My Homework

I’m still working my way through that revision list, one scene at a time, and the good news is that–in the theory–it could actually be finished by the 27th of April. I have fewer than twenty scenes left… that’s about one scene every two days… it’s not even particularly faster than I’ve been going.

That’s optimism, of course. It is faster, but it’s not impossibly faster.

I don’t usually write like this–I’m not sure I could, if it were a first draft–but it does give me a solid sense of “Here’s the Finish Line.”

I’ve been focusing on one of the subplots, at least in part because it has more scenes that are completely missing from the manuscript. I may be reaching the end of “missing” and moving on to the horribly broken and damaged things that I’m still at least a little attached to. I hope that’s less time consuming, but it might wind up being more.

We’ll see if I can manage something that’s vaguely in the right word count range this time. I haven’t used up all my ‘safe’ index cards yet, so right now, I’m worried about being too short. In a couple weeks, I’ll be worried about being too long. I promise.