Monday, July 30, 2007

PNWA Part 2 –The Bad

This year my main complaint is that this conference has grown too big for the convention center we use.

For the last three years that I have been to this conference, it’s been held at the Hilton by Seatac airport. The last two years, it’s been a little tight, but manageable. This year though, man, what a difference a year makes. For anyone who has attended writers conferences, you know that one of the major thrusts of the conference is the agent and editor meetings.* Seeing that these appointments happen throughout the time of the conference, this means people have to leave classes early or come in late in order to make their appointments. Now, when the class in mostly empty, you barely notice, but when the room is darn near standing room only, it gets loud. In one of my classes, a person came or went every two minutes or so. Needless to say, I learned to sit in the front of the room, so I could hear everything being said and not be too distracted by the door opening and closing.

I must stress that I am not the least bit upset with the people for coming and going; they had agents to meet with and those meetings are only five minutes, so no sense in doing nothing for the hour and half that the classes run when you could be attending one. My complaint is: we need to move to a space that is more accommodating for the increased interest in the conference (better parking would be good, too).

The only other thing I can think of is something my husband brought up today. It would be great to see more community building activities at conferences. He pointed out that most of the time we were there people were either dealing with pitching their book or sitting in a classroom being lectured at by a presenter. This, though, is on people like me. I didn’t go volunteer to help set up writer roundtables, so I only have myself to blame. Speaking of which, I will be writing PNWA today to try to get of the conference committee, so I can arrange for activities that encourage writers to network and talk about their experiences. On that note, if anyone can make suggestions to me about good community building activities that could occur within the confines of a writers conference, please leave me a comment, and I’ll add it to my letter to the PNWA board.

*For those new to all of this, those are appointments that attendees have with various industry agents and editors. During the time of your meetings, you can pitch your book directly to an agent and/or editor.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

PNWA Conference Part 1 – The Good

I am going to chat about the conference in three parts: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I have to say that I am continually impressed with PNWA for managing to pull together some top-notch presenters. This year I took classes from:

  • Louise Marley (awesome science fiction writer from these parts).
  • Alice B. Acheson (publicist)
  • Scott Driscoll (writer)
  • Rick Mofina (writer; he was an excellent presenter)
  • Kat McKean (agent)
  • Ginger Clark (agent)
  • James F. David (writer)
  • Kat Richardson (local writer of urban fantasy)

I put Ms. Marley at the top because I really believe that any writer would benefit from a class with her. She was teaching a class about pacing and point of view, and I was concerned that it would be too basic to be interesting. Instead, she really made a lot of things make sense to me that have been eluding me for awhile now. Ms. Marley has a lot to offer to everyone; I even saw a well-published author there taking notes.

My next favorite presenter was Rick Mofina. He is a thriller writer and a journalist. If you write thrillers, or have thriller aspects to your stories, this guy is a whiz at breaking down what elements need to be present in your story. He also has tons of interesting war stories from his years working the cops and crime beat for a major Canadian newspaper.

Alice Acheson was a surprise treat. I went to her class about marketing because I know that as my book moves past the agent stage (here’s hoping that the agency sells it soon), I want to be a big part of promoting my book. Ms. Acheson was wonderful. First, she handed out a timeline that shows the process from the acceptance of the manuscript at the publishers to the book being on the shelves. She talked a lot about when you need to push and how you can help your in-house publicist (who probably has a 100 clients) promote your book. Awesome!

They rest of the presenters were excellent. I am truly happy with what I learned at the conference.

Three cheers for more tools in the bucket!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Editor's Diary

“Day 241: My captors continue to torment me with bizarre guidelines and conflicted editors. They receive lavish pay in my presence while I am forced to subsist on minimal benefits, no days off, and, of course, the vendor. The only thing that keeps me going is the hope of eventual escape … that, and the satisfaction I get from occasionally forcing logic into the workplace. I fear I may be going insane”

Friday, July 6, 2007

Was he really evil? Reification

This fallacy, one I hear so frequently in arguments—especially Lincoln-Douglass debate style—as to make me want to shake my head and throw in the towel. Let me offer you all a quick definition, and then I will move on to discuss its role in literature and the problem it presents in making a plot valid (does the plot makes logical sense?).

Reification is the logic fallacy where an abstraction is treated as a concrete, real, physical, and discrete entity. To rephrase, it is the error of treating something as a "real thing" that is not real. For example, let us look quickly at the concept of ultimate truth. Where is it? Who owns it? What about freedom, liberty, good, bad, right, wrong?

*Now let me quickly note before I get swooped down on for this, let me say that reification can be acceptable in literature when it is used as a metaphor. To use it in a logical argument, however, is a fallacy.*

So what the problem here? Well, let’s examine the concept of evil in speculative fiction. If you are going to say that evil exists in your writing, you have to prove it. Some of your characters could believe that, say, vampires are evil and say as much, but if you want me to really believe that as an axiom, tell me where the evil is in the body. The thing is, you could have a vampire story in which the vampires never kill anyone. It could be just a biological need to drink blood, but it doesn’t have to be human, and they don’t have to kill to get it; they could just “sip” on something for a bit. Thus, you’ll need to prove to me that they are evil if you going to use it as an axiom.

In the show, Buffy, for instance, vampires are demons in human suits. They prove demons are evil; they are totally bent on killing all humans and retaking this realm for their own. Ok, I buy it; they’re evil. To expand, if two life forms are wholly incompatible to the point of needing to destroy each other so the other may exist, fine. If a race of creatures landed on earth and needed to change the atmosphere so that their nitrogen-breathing race could live here, and well, that does away with us, and it’s an irreconcilable problem that easily lends itself to the concept of this race as “evil.”

I am not claiming that I need to know exactly what part of the brain is enlarged to make a man “evil” (although that would make an excellent story; the discovery of the homicide gene and how society would deal with it), but I want to know that this is backed up by something real.

When does it drive me crazy? When the author of a book has one of the characters explain that they cannot work with character X, because they are evil and everyone is just fine with that as a reason despite the fact that if character X were brought in, the heroes would then have the subject-matter expert they needed to solve the problem. As a reader, character x seems like a totally fine person, if a bit odd, and I mostly feel like the author didn’t want to have to come up with a good reason to omit that character from the situation.

“But sir, if we just talk to Igor, we can get that information,” said Walt, the loyal right-hand man.

“No, Walt, we won’t lower ourselves to work with people like him; he’s a mercenary,” responded Dick, the terribly heroic boss.

“If we don’t, it could take days to track down the information,” said Walt.

“Well, that’s the path we must tread then as honorable men,” said Dick.

Oh please! Give me a good reason like:

“If we go to Igor, he’ll know that we are looking into the theft of the Golden Almond, and he’ll try for it himself.”


“Igor buys and sells information. If we buy the information about who last had the map to the Golden Almond, then he’ll sell that information to the next sot who wants to know who’s looking into the map. That could include our thief!”

See, not so hard to justify why the characters were precluded from an activity without having to treat evil as a concrete thing. You know, show us why instead of just telling us why.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The seemingly apparent quirk of writers

Ok, later today I will be writing another entry in my logic series (at the request of the Written Wyrdd). In the meantime, I want to quickly look at writers’ quirks, or at least their writing quirks.

My writing quirk is pretty amusing to me, as it really highlights a part of my personality that I both love and, well, less love. I’m sure my quirk is not amusing to my editor friends or my agent. I, apparently, love the works “thus” and “therefore.” One of beta readers for my first novel pointed it out to me, as in, he highlighted how many times I used the words in a given chapter. It was bad. Think a dozen or more.

This all brings me to yesterday when I was talking to an editor friend of mine (she edits non-fiction books for a publisher in these parts) and her reaction was:

“So you really like to summarize your thoughts and bring them to a logical conclusion.”

I’d never really thought of it that way, but, uh, yeah, exactly. My need to makes sense of things, summarize them, and fit them into their boxes had reared its well groomed head again. I really had to laugh.

I chatted more with said editor about some of my fellow writers, and told her about one of the quirks of my husband’s writing. In his writing, he uses the word “seem” often and by often, I mean once or twice a page. As a note, he knows this and finds it funny, too. Every time I saw it in his writing, I would underline it, as to bring attention to it. To me, “seem” is a weak word.

The place “seemed” to be filled with disreputable sorts.

She “seemed” to be angry.

ARG! It all seems so weak! ;-) I say go for it; tell us how it is or show us how it is.

The place was filled with people more concerned with brandishing their weapons than their personal hygiene.

The place was teeming with the kind of people who would love to take a cop, any cop, down a notch or two.

She was spitting mad.

She turned red, turned away, and turned to him. I don’t think she appreciated my response.

I could keep on with this, but I’ll spare all of you. So my editor friend, who was totally on my side on the matter, really nailed it for why ambiguous wording can be very problematic to your writing. For her, when an author leaves the reality open of the novel with a “seem,” he/she is implying there might be a plot twist based on this moment. For example:

The wind “seems” to be carrying the sent of smoke.

In this case, my friend, would be waiting to find out what the actual scent was. Because in a plot nothing happens without reason (that’s left for stories), readers read a lot into the way we structure our sentences, the exact wording, the rules the world, etc. How many times have you argued that a character could still be alive due to one word in the death scene? I can think of at least one case for me (Sirius Black, BTW, is alive; I know it!).

There you go. Quirks!