Today, I’m reflecting on my past experiences as I get ready for another FanX.
My first FanX was an experiment. It was only me and my family and friends helping out. I was NOBODY – a fledgling author with one book and a BIG award. I coughed up the money (YIKES!) for a booth without any special discount beyond being a repeat vendor. (I think they were nervous it would suck.) Along with my book VIVATERA, and a short story in an anthology, I was eves away from my second book CONJECTRIX, being published. I met my editor for the first time – Lissa – and I was placed on the end RIGHT in front of Patrick Stewart’s and Karen Gillan’s line. It was hard, HARD work. I filled it with other Xchyler’s (my publisher) books, those who could participate, and did my best at selling them.
Last year, we collaborated as Xchyler authors, plus having our sponsor Kelly Olsen, in a booth together. We were generating some buzz at other conventions. Still hard work, but completely worth it. I got the chance to grow in friendship with some of these amazing people. The experience also set me in a new direction as an editor.
This year for FanX, I’m helping other authors get the chance to let their books shine by hosting a booth for Local Fantasy Authors. With both FanX and Salt Lake Comic Con, I have established relationships and respect within the community, something I feel very humble and honored to have. I get to participate again as a panelist and special guest at this convention. The idea still blows me away. But with that, I can help others make their mark in the community. Attending these conventions can be expensive, but the exposure is VITAL. And WOW I’ve got a great crew with me for this con.
I’m incredibly impressed with the talent in our little booth. We have Amazon top sellers and award-winning talent, among some stunning new fiction. If you are in Salt Lake City attending FanX, we are in booth 721. If you don’t get the chance, check out the links and look at these wonderful authors.
FanX is so much fun – hard work, but so worth it. I can’t wait to be an author again.
the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
I think out of all the words that I have ever encountered (that being a LOT) Serendipity is a special word that I have always admired. I remember reading the little Serendipity picture books like Morgan and Me, Bangalee, and The Muffin Muncher (all my favorites as a kid), so I grew a subconscious association with the word that, to me, embodied magic and imagination.
In this quick definition, it doesn’t express the feeling of Serendipity. Many times a person doesn’t know that a moment is serendipitous, only on reflection can it be seen. This is very true in my personal experience with this strange cosmic event called “Serendipity.” Though, as it was happening, there was a certain feeling pulling me along, alerting me of how special this was. I wouldn’t call it fate or kismet, that makes it imply that I didn’t have a choice. But in this case, I clearly did have a choice, and this is how my choice led me here…
Ben Ireland, fellow Xchyler author and Moments In Millennia contributor, had just moved to Utah. He had contacted me back in December about getting more involved in events here. I was the right person to contact about that, I have my fingers in all sorts of pies. Truth: Xchyler is much like a family, so adding another member was very exciting, plus I felt a strange kind of kinship with him after working on MIM. And me, being very active in the writing community here, felt a specific need to befriend him, a need I did not understand at the time. I invited him to LTUE, and got him to take part of the large author signing event.
I had been very busy, as I said, and hadn’t noticed him come in and set up at a table close by. I was rather struck by my great fortune being positioned directly across from Brandon Sanderson. It took me a good while to notice that he was sitting kitty-corner from my seat. I could only see the back of his head, but I knew it was him. I grew very nervous – people online can be very different in person, but I couldn’t just sit there. I got up, casually went over, and tapped him on the back. He was excited to see me and glad I was there. We immediately hit it off and my friend Mike from the media team nabbed a picture.
My 12 year old daughter and I had a casual lunch with him the next day during the conference, where he asked her, nearly in passing, if she would be interested in reading a YA fantasy he had been developing. I was curious about it, but he didn’t say much, just that he wanted her opinion. He sent it to me, and I in turn sent it to my girl.
Development of Events
My daughter is rather flaky. I love the guts out of her, but she starts things then gets distracted by squirrels. She read about 50 pages before she started doing something else. I was curious about the story, but I had so many other things to do, like finishing writing a few books, one being the final book in my series. I couldn’t justify time in reading it. And at this point, Ben had not asked me to read it.
About a good seven weeks later, Ben and I met up yet again in the Xchyler Booth at FanX, a geek convention in Salt Lake City. He kept mentioning this YA story. And here I was, a YA fantasy author. I knew he was dying to talk about it. So, I simply asked him to tell me about Billy Blacksmith…
…and the flood opened and he shared with me so much. He was so excited to talk with another author who understood creation and world building. I mean, Ben completely lit up. I tried to catch everything as he filled my ears with this world of Billy Blacksmith, all while walking the wide convention floor eating overly priced chocolate ice cream.
This is what I caught:
Billy is a big kid, out of shape, lover of cupcakes, amazing at baseball
Has ultra cool friends, Greyson Ash and Ash-lea Gray, very cool
He has demonblood
But it wasn’t until…
Giant demonic spiders and a little girl that this giant spider had to protect
…did I wonder how complex this story really was.
And then he killed it by saying that part was actually in the second book. But, after everything, and me as a YA fantasy author, he really wanted my opinion. Now, know I have a hard time reading books from my friends. I don’t want my author friendships to become delicate if I don’t like it, you know? But, there was something, I’d nearly call it a magic charm, calling me to read this story. I started reading and told myself that I would try and keep my personal friendship out, remove my writer self, and just enjoy the story.
By chapter three I had a problem – I really liked the story. It surprised me. It was funny, funny, funny. The characters were super engaging, especially poor, larger-than-life Billy. But, my stupid author brain would not shut up. The story had great potential, but I could tell it was more complex than what Ben had original told me. A boy that swings a bat really well did not scratch the surface.
So, lucky as I am, I went to the author with questions. And there Ben blew my mind with a creative
world constructed of three realms: Humans, Demons, and Angels, and the wars that befell them. About the different demonic races and classes, about a different kind of hero story, filling me with mystery and admiration, the kind that makes me wish I had created it. This manuscript screamed at me, and it wasn’t even mine.
And then I read a chapter called, “The Demon Who Loved a Maid and Saved Mankind,” and I feel in love with the story. It talked about the sweet beginnings and love story that started everything. I couldn’t help myself. This was good – really good, but there were problems that I could see and Ben couldn’t. Ben writes thrillers, not YA fantasy. YA sometimes needs a gentler hand, or something that appeals to that age. And YA is something I write and I knew I could help. This is what Ben wanted when he first talked to me, someone within the writing world to believe in Billy–and I, in some strange cosmic serendipitous way, was there.
In A Happy or Beneficial Way
At this point I warned Ben, “I can’t shut off my writer brain, so if I see something that could be improved, can I add a comment?” He was so excited that I offered, he said “Yes, please.” And thus, started a back and forth writing process that soon developed a trusting friendship and partnership as author and editor.
That’s right… Editor. New hat, but I like how it fits.
Over the past months working on this, I’ve learn how important it is to have creative people. Though ideas may be different, artistic types, and especially writers, speak the same language of art. It was this language of writing, world building, and creative storytelling that spoke to me. Writers need writers to speak to, bounce off ideas, learn from, and share with. We all have loved ones who believe in us and in our abilities, but having other creative minds believe in it too is validation that you are doing something right, something worth while. The imaginative beauty of this project wrapped around me, and instead of simply encouraging the idea, I got involved, because I believed in it and desperately wanted it to succeed.
I love writing. I love storytelling. I love making a difference. I love being a small part of Billy Blacksmith.
Serendipity only works when you act on it.
Billy Blacksmith: The Demonslayer
Billy has spent his whole life keeping his head down in school and trying to survive the endless parade of foster homes. When a three hundred pound spider emerges from under his bed intent on drinking his blood, Billy discovers he is the main player in an ancient war between demons and humans. With his best friends Ash-lea and Greyson, and a reformed demon as his ally, Billy prepares to face an invasion of demonic spiders and the General that leads them.
I originally posted this back in 2011, that’s before I was published, people.
I have since revisited and revised my original philosophy, but it’s still how I approach a project.
NaNoWriMo… Here I go!!!
It’s now November (well, almost nearly) and I am participating in National Novel Writing Month again. This will be my third (in 2011 – it’s now 2016, so insert sixth)year doing it. The goal, as always, is to reach 50,000 words. And it is not about having a perfect product, it’s about getting the story out of you.
If I give advice, which I don’t ever like to do, since what might work for me may not work the same for another, my advice is get the story out. People who want to write many times get stuck on the little details and rewrite… and rewrite… Truth is you could rewrite forever and never feel satisfied. Many published books are published simply because the author finished them.
UPDATE: This is still true – I don’t like to give advice. 🙂 The guidance (what a better word) I tell people, in the kindest way I can… Finish the EFFING story, PLEASE! Ending a story sometimes (most of the time) alters the original idea. Did you know that? It totally does. And a story doesn’t always end as you had thought it would when you started it. So, just write. Keep going. Don’t stop. Hardly look back! Just finish and kiss your manuscript when you’re done.
As I see it, there are three stages in writing – Bones, Muscle, and Skin. (Still true)
The Bones of a story comes out when you complete a manuscript, but is never perfect. Bones are only the framework of what can be accomplished. If you are worried and missing details, I wouldn’t. If they are in your head at one moment, they return, I promise.
UPDATE: A very simple way of saying “You have a lot of work ahead of you.” Many look at the bones as the outline. Don’t. I suggest always outlining, but leave room to run and create. As much as I love being a Pantser, I don’t like meandering in the forest. I do need to understand the full story and an outline does this. But, first time writers, know that a finished manuscript is ONLY bones, it’s not ready for the world. 50k words is a great accomplishment. Be Proud. But, your 50k from NaNo is ONLY bones. It is a very fulfilling feeling to finish a manuscript, and YES, you should be excited, but it still needs work. Send it to your best friend, your mom, your sister, but not to agents. No no no. Not yet.
Need Some Muscles
The Muscle is the second pass – gives your work strength and a strong bond to characters, situations, and gives you better clarity and understanding of, not only the reality of the story, but also background, or what’s to come.
UPDATE: What a long, strange sentence… Okay, this is what I MEANT to say. Your writing needs strength. You now have clarity of the story and know where it needs more. I say, get a little artsy – write the overly glorious details surrounding each situation. Color in the scenery with description. Explore the dialogue and add in the conversation. Don’t be afraid to be fanciful here. Strengthen what works and see what doesn’t. No one wants a flabby muscle, tighten it up. Fill in near the hinges, so your story will be able to move on its own. There will be a time when it will need to live without you, so this is your opportunity to help it grow stronger. Is that better?
Slap Me Some Skin
And finally, the Skin. The skin, of course, is the beautiful package. It is where the story begins to live on its own. The Characters could make decisions and stand on their own without you; the world turns, the plants grow – you believe it and then others will believe it too.
UPDATE: How beautiful. But it doesn’t tell you anything. Skin is the beautiful smooth, tight manuscript. This is your THIRD time looking at this, so it’s time to be critical. Sentence structure, word choice, commas, em-dashes… ellipsis. 🙂 Look at the blemishes and clean them up. Read it out loud – YES! Read it out loud! Your brain likes to fill in the details, it’s been trained to do so. By reading it out loud, the blemishes show up. It’s a fantastic way to understand if what you are attempting works. The Skin needs be to clean, scrubbed, and polished. Don’t be afraid to take a razor to it either. After the sting it will look really nice (and smell great). You need this creation to look its best. Because at this point, there is not much left to do with it. You could always go in there and fix and rewrite, but your best is there already. You know your creation very well. You’ve done your best with what you can at this point. This is when you can brave the world to take a peek and see if they like it: agents, beta readers, your grandma.
You are giving birth in a sense, to this child and soon it will walk away from you. So don’t stop writing, give your ideas a chance to live. NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity for that. Give that idea you have been kicking around some bones and see what happens.
UPDATE: I think the world can tell that I had a little one around at this time. Let’s not say giving birth (ick!), but the creation is there – like Frankenstein’s monster. Your book will eventually go on without you. You are the perpetual machine, but it will find it’s own audience. THEY will all have something in common, and THEY will Snapchat and Tweet and Facebook Group and Gif, and THEY will nearly forget about you, until THEY tag you on Twitter and ask “Where the hell is book 3?” (available Nov. 4th everyone!) Saying all this – there has to be an end at some point. You, as the mad scientist, will need to move on to something else. If it’s book two of the series or something completely different, it’s time for your brain to get active in creating again, something new and sparkly. It has different things to create then rewrite the same story.
What I’ve learned as an author – it’s not about one book, it’s about ALL the books. I’m creating a BRAND. And if people like one, they will look to see what else I’ve done. So, once the skin is on (and completely nude) set it out and see if someone can get it some clothes. (Or dress it yourself, if you like.) Don’t be afraid to share it. It’s time to let your creation live!
NaNoWriMo is a great place to start your skeleton. I’m starting something COMPLETELY new this year with a contemporary romance. If that doesn’t go over well, which it might fail in epic fashion, I’ve still got my winterscape dystopian that I’m very excited about too.
Wish me luck!
UPDATE: Wish me luck!
If any of you are thinking about doing NaNoWriMo, search for me – cani-jo and see how we do.
Last year at Salt Lake Comic Con 2015, I had the privilege of attending a panel with some talented authors like Terry Brooks, Jim Butcher, R.A. Salvatore and James Owens. And I was so excited to hear, with my own ears, what one of my writing influences, me being a small time author, had to say… that’s right… Terry Brooks!!!
But seeing Terry is cool, but what about these other authors? I knew of them, and I really liked what they had to say during the panel. I walked back on the con floor and saw the signing line wrap all the way down the aisle for this Jim Butcher guy. Of course, I’d HEARD of Harry Dresden, but figured it’s a guy read. Right? Probably a “Richard Castle” type of read that really doesn’t interest a fantasy girl like me.
A year past – A FULL YEAR – a very busy, hard year of writing, editing, and growing as an author. Finally, the moment I turned in the FINAL edit of my FINAL book in my fantasy series, I thought it was time to start reading again. But, oh, what a dry spell. I feel like I haven’t read in ages. The pile of books had grown so high I felt overwhelmed with where to start.
This is when friends and recommendations come in. An author friend of mine, Ben Ireland, listed Harry Dresden as one of his biggest influences. I knew this already, so when I asked him if he had recommendations for something to read, he nearly screamed, “READ HARRY DRESDEN!”
Okay, universe, I guess I should have listened last year, when my curiosity piqued. So, I went into this blind, not really knowing anything about the stories, only with recommendations and word of mouth.
My answer to the universe, “I wish I would have read this sooner.”
“My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. I’m a wizard. I work out of an office in midtown Chicago. As far as I know, I’m the only openly practicing professional wizard in the country. You can find me in the yellow pages, under “Wizards.” Believe it or not, I’m the only one there. My ad looks like this:
HARRY DRESDEN — WIZARD
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment
I must fall for wizards, because Harry Dresden is as bad-ass wizard as you can get. I’ve grown up with Potter, but I’m an adult now and I’m so glad I found Dresden.
Fiction for me needs to have elements of the fantastical. Take Harry Dresden – unabashed wizard, barely scraping by on solving unexplained cases for the Chicago Police. Me, a fan of Castle and Limitless, caught on rather quickly to the story’s energy and format. Intrigued by the supernatural quality and charmed by Dresden himself, I slowly found I was falling in love with this book. It’s witty, smart, visual, laugh out-loud funny, and an all-around great read.
But the thing I picked up the most, and this is the writer in me, is the wordplay in which Butcher used to explain the world and its characters. His eyes were the green of well-worn dollar bills. This line struck me, a clever wordplay and simple description that completely encapsulating everything I needed to know about this baddie. The language was fresh and easy, and the magic wrapped around me, sweeping me away in this fun nod to a detective noir.
Some of my favorite quotes:
“Tequila?” I asked him, skeptically. “Are you sure on that one? I thought the base for a love potion was supposed to be champagne.” “Champagne, tequila, what’s the difference, so long as it’ll lower her inhibitions?” Bob said. “Uh. I’m thinking it’s going to get us a, um, sleazier result.”
Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean there isn’t an invisible demon about to eat your face.
Santa is a much bigger and more powerful faery than Toot, and I don’t know his true name anyway. You’d never see me trying to nab Saint Nick in a magic circle even if I did. I don’t think anyone has stones that big.
This book is fun. Plain and simple. It was the little things that delighted me. The sweats and the cowboy boots, the situational comedy with the love potion and the demon and Harry not wearing a stitch, the beloved Toot Toot the fairy, and my favorite – naughty, inappropriate Bob the skull. This book did not pretend to be anything other than a good time. And, though I tend to lean toward YA, it was refreshing to read something Adult, something with legs and arms and confidence, something without angst, and to say this, something with a little spice.
Now I understand the line that wrapped around the aisle at Comic Con. I wished I would have paid more attention to Butcher’s advice.
Before you all start crying for me, don’t. Rejection happens a LOT as a writer. And it’s something you truly never get over. Artists tend to be protective of their creations, and it takes a lot of bravery to release it – every single time. So, to be knocked down and kicked in the stomach repeatedly starts to ware on the spirit.
But, there is a point when you need to come to grips with the rejections you get. Each one you can learn from, so there is a process of improvement, but sometimes, it has nothing to do with your writing, and everything to do with personal preference.
I submitted to an open submission in January. In March, they requested the entire manuscript. Then June 1st, I received their polite rejection and how it doesn’t fit with their current readership.
In my current case, it comes down to genre. And let’s be specific. . . VAMPIRES.
People hear Vampire and automatically turn away. “I don’t read Vampire fiction.” “I’m not into Twilight.” “Vampires. Why are you writing about vampires? That’s ten years ago.” I get rejections from agents strictly because of this. So, I researched who would want vampire fiction. And you know what I heard back? “This is not a vampire story. This is a story that happens to be about a vampire.”
Yep. All true. And I won’t lie, I’m not a vampire reader either. So, why did I write a story about a vampire? Well, sit down and let me tell you a story about me, and also, introduce you to Oliver Brixby.
Stories have origins from someplace. Right? That’s why I always carry a notebook, because I never know when I’ll be inspired. I got the idea of Oliver when, in my day job at the time, a co-worker got splashed in the mouth with platelets.
What in the world kind of job is this? Well, I have spent the last several years working IN a Blood Bank. Who better qualified to write vampire fiction then a vampire.
“Oh, are you a nurse?” No. I work in a laboratory.
“Do you draw blood?” Nope, that’s a phlebotomist.
The short of it, I prepare blood for the nurses and doctors to transfuse. It’s not like the medical dramas that you see stream. Blood is a tricky and highly regulated substance. I understand the mechanics that go into saving a live. It’s really a rewarding and unusual job.
So, going back to my friend and being splashed. Platelets are the white cells that swim in plasma that initiate clotting (oh no, big words). The bag of platelets had ripped during transport and somehow (still don’t know how) splashed him. We all gagged at the thought. But he smiled and said, “Actually, it wasn’t so bad. It tasted like condensed milk.” And me being a total smarty pants commented, “Oh, if vampires only knew.” We giggle at the thought of high society vamps with swirling platelets in their champagne flutes (because they need to be continually moving, eh? Blood Bankers, anyone?) And this single idea led me to Oliver Brixby, the world’s worst vampire.
Socrates once stated,
“No human condition is ever permanent.”
I never comprehended these words. I figured he talked about death or about the improvement of one’s self, but now, I consider an alternative, he actually knew something the rest of us didn’t.
My love for the philosophies of life, which I’ve studied over my epigrammatic college career, led me to a new conclusion, “Socrates must have known about vampires.”
I began writing Vampire-ish 5 or so years ago. The idea of a hypochondriac getting bit by a vampire and learning how to deal with his everyday existence, when squeamish at the sight of blood, absolutely delighted me. I thought for sure it would get picked up. During that time my fantasy series DID get picked up and has since sent me head first into a writer’s life. I remembered Oliver every so often, and sent him off to see if he could do anything good in the world, but as I stated before, no one was interested in vampire fiction.
On June 1st, after another disappointing rejection, something inside me snapped. Several things collided at the same time, my third in the Everstar series had been sent to the editor, as well as a new collaboration with a talented writer, so I really didn’t have time to focus on Ollie and his band of NY vamps. But, I couldn’t leave my disappointment alone. This story needed to be out. Every time I talked about it, people would say, “Oh, I’d totally read that.” So, then the thought came to me even stronger than before – why wait? Oliver’s story needs to be read. And the best publisher is me.
I quickly contacted some of my self-published friends about what I needed to do – cover artists, ISBNs, formatters, marketing. By noon, I had already talked to someone about a cover (Ampersands Book Covers), I had set up a self-publishing profile, I had figured out my marketing strategy, a possible formatter lined up, and I felt encouraged by other writers around me that I was doing the right thing. This was really going to happen. But, now…. I had to actually READ it and see if it was as funny as I remember.
I hadn’t touched this thing in years, so I really needed to do some serious editing. I laughed out loud at some of the things that happen. It plays out in moments, like a situational comedy. And what a tremendous joy I felt when I read THE END. Oliver is coming, and I couldn’t be happier.
Vampire-ish: A Hypochondriac’s Tale will be released at the 8th Annual Northwest Book Festival in Portland, Oregon July 30th. You will find it on Amazon and coming to Salt Lake Comic Con Sept. 1. If anyone is willing to do a book review on Amazon or Goodreads, or even a blogpost – fill out the form below. ARCs will be available shortly.
The world needs to know Oliver Brixby. He needs to know you. And I’m ready to share him with you.