Hey Look! A Blog Post! And a Song! And Me on a Stage in Chicago! WUT?

Hello interwebs, are you out there? I am still here. DESPITE THE ODDS, I’M STILL STANDING! *somebody queue the Elton John*

Right now I am listening to Peggy Sue and considering all of the things that have happened so far in 2016. A lot has been going on in Reggie-land. There has been a unbelievable mix of amazing and terrible things here this year. There has been a lot to process, I’m still not sure it has all registered which is a long way of saying that if I have been silent in this space for too long, there are Reasons. Yes, that capital r is intentional. For purposes of this post, I shall set aside the terrible for the moment and focus on the amazing.

It might be a bit late, but can we talk about the Nebula Awards from May of 2016? BECAUSE I WAS THERE AND IT WAS AWESOME. There have been more timely write-ups of the event than the one you will find here. I can’t even begin to tell you how incredible it was to be there. The SFF community is a vibrant, welcoming place and I was lucky to be able to attend. The conversations alone were well worth the trip to Chicago. It was a once in a lifetime experience. This is literally true as it was the SFWA’s 50th anniversary.

In honor of that, Henry Lien, aka Emperor Stardust, composed and performed an anthem. I am honored to be able to say I helped, a little. And yes, it does mean that for a few glowing seconds of my life, I shared a stage with some of SFF’s luminaries, and John Hodgman. Yes. THAT John Hodgman.

There is videographic evidence of this help which can be viewed here.

And, for purposes of more visual fun, here is a gratuitous still shot:

Nebulas2016dance

 

 

I am perhaps most proud of the fact that I managed NOT to pee my pants.

I think that’s a good note with which to end this post. A pee-free pair of pants is always a good thing. Right?

 

Misadventures in Blog Neglect

Well, hello there blogosphere.

It has been a while.

A lot longer than I thought.

So, I have been out in the world, doing things, being social, writing novels and working all of the jobs. And it is the season of Cookiegeddon, during which I bake a whole mountain range of cookies from scratch. It is both glorious and frightening.

The frightening part is when I just sort of make up recipes. The glorious part is when they work.

Hello, Cherry Chocolate Chip deliciousness…

Behold! COOKIES
Behold! COOKIES

Cookiegeddon is not over. I have more work to do. The mountain range of cookies remains incomplete until there is shortbread, snicker doodles, and something I haven’t tried to do yet. (I haven’t decided. I am procrastinating.)

Speaking of things that need to bake, I also have a handful of novels that require more ingredients before they are ready to be put in the oven. Which means I’ve got more work to do.

I’ll be back here when I have more news-type news to report.

 

 

 

…So here’s something kick-ass that happened…

13 Morbid Tales by Devon Miller HAS BEEN RELEASED INTO THE WILD!

The officially official release date is meant to be October 1, but for all intents and purposes it is available.

You might be asking why I’m bouncing around like a kid with a serious sugar buzz. Mostly I am just really excited for my friend. And, uh, I edited it. Which is also cool.

She also put my name on the cover which is a huge honor. I am proud to be tangentially a part of this collection, and excited to say, CONGRATULATIONS, DEVON!

WOOO!

13MorbidCover

 

Misadventures in the Writing Life: Random Updates and Writer-talk

So, I had a vacation from ye olde daye job recently during which I, of course, overbooked myself. I also had an awesome time and I have to admit it was really painful to go back to work after spending most of my week with other writer/book folk.

I went to my first writer’s retreat, an event organized and hosted by Penn Jersey Women Writers. It was, to use an overused word, awesome. I fear I may now be addicted to these sorts of events, but you know, time and money factor in and after some figuring, I realized I won’t be able to attend something like this again until spring. (Which maybe accounts for some of the difficulty in returning to ye olde daye job.)

One of the most important aspects of attending an event like this is hang time with other folks who are going through the same, or similar things, that you are as a writer. Most of the time I am sitting on my mountain working on stuff alone, and sometimes this is great, but other times it helps to be reminded that I’m not alone, that there are other folks struggling with the same things in regards to the art, or who have struggled with the same thing, came out the other side and who now have wisdom to impart. Perhaps that’s just a really long way of saying that attending events by and for writers reminds you (okay, me) that you are connected to something beyond yourself. Plus, there is always more to learn. Writer-brain likes learning.

The first speaker at the conference, Megan Hart, was really energetic at an early hour, which, for me was perfect after a long, early morning drive to the event. She spoke about productivity, which reminds me of this article that’s been floating around writerly internet this past week.

So, here’s the thing. I am committed to writing four books a year. Of course, when I say that, what it means is that I am writing four first drafts in a year, it does not mean that I am also publishing four books a year. It goes, first draft, let it sit while I work on the next thing, then I finish the next thing and circle back to the first thing for first round edits. Then the first thing goes out for feedback. Then I work on the third thing and circle back to the second thing and so on. That’s just how I do it. A publishing schedule is a totally separate animal from the actual act of writing. I think what pokes me the most about the article is that it appears to conflate the two things. Anything more I could say about this has already been said by Chuck Wendig’s post responding the article. I’m with him. There are so many different ways to approach this thing that we do, and no one person has the answers. While essays like that Huffo-po piece certainly provide food for thought, and stuff to consider, nothing anyone tells you about writing is gospel. Some advice will work well for you, some of it will be useless. Take what works and throw out the rest.

So, back to vacation. I got to visit my old stomping grounds and dropped off copies of Aliens in the Soda Machine and Other Strange Tales at Webster’s Bookstore in State College, PA and Café Lemont in Lemont. You know what that means, right? IT MEANS I DRANK ALL OF THE COFFEE IN THE LAND!

WHEEEEEEE!!!

Of course, here’s where what happened to my time also gets a little bit hazy…

MMMM CAFFEINE….

 

 

Misadventures in the Writing Life: In Which Kayne Milhomme Answers Some Q’s

Kayne Milhomme is a historical mystery author who is part of the same critique group that I occasionally yammer on about in this corner of the internet, though we’ve never met in person. His debut novel, Grace and Disgrace, promises intrigue and adventure in a hunt for the Templar Diamond. He’s graciously agreed to answer a bunch of questions about his journey here.

YAY!

Without further preamble, here’s the interview!

1) What draws you to the historical mystery genre?

I suppose there is a ‘double’ draw when it comes to the historical mystery genre, because both history and mystery are compelling genres for me.

History: I believe that history holds all kinds of hidden gems when it comes to storytelling. They say truth is stranger than fiction, and that makes for some good content. Not only in terms of entertainment, but in terms of gaining a frame of reference and perspective for certain events and ways of life that existed before our time. To be immersed in the past can be a very meaningful experience for a reader, and the same is true for me as a writer. So in short, history is a great device for building a story from components that are not only entertaining, but relevant to the study of who we are, and how we became that.

Mystery: This is a more straightforward answer. I love to embed my stories with puzzles, riddles, misdirection—even when I am writing in other genres, I cannot help adding twists and turns into the story. When I write mystery, those are expected—which makes the challenge of writing them even more fun.

Putting the two together truly creates something that is greater than the sum of its parts—historical mysteries are alive with the elegance, the brutality, and enigmatic nature of the past, and that’s a perfect atmosphere to set a well-crafted mystery in.

2) You’ve spoken about having been an agented writer, and then choosing to self-publish. What kind of adjustments did you have to make in order to do so? What would you say to other authors in similar situations who are considering the same?

As a debut author, the main adjustment was accepting the fact that my novel would not be picked up by a major publisher without an agent. It was basically losing a credible connection to the traditional publishing world, and accepting the fact that I would be tackling the problem in a different way than I had originally planned. I also had to adjust my schedule to allow for time to market the novel, which shouldered its way into writing time. These were all challenging adjustments to make, especially for a debut (i.e. unknown) author.

But there are so many tools available to the self-publisher, and a wonderful indie community that is very supportive—the experience has been invaluable.

It’s hard to give advice on this topic, because each author-agent situation is different, and a decision to self-publish is based on many factors. Mine was based on the fact that my agent represented the first version of my novel, and that version was not picked up by the major publishing houses. When I completed my second version (which is much better, by the way!), my agent believed I would have a better chance getting the manuscript with a new agent rather than having her resend the manuscript around again. That was the point when I knew I was going to take matters into my own hands and really try to understand the industry, and get experience on the marketing and publishing side. But that choice was based on my circumstances, which is why the only advice I would give is for authors, whether agented or not, to get to know the industry. Yes, as writers we should be focused on writing—but I don’t think we should ignore the fact that it is not only an art, but also a business.

3) When did you first know you wanted to be a fiction writer?

Very early on—I’d say the first tangible proof was in the third grade when I wrote a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ type short story for a class assignment. This particular story had the reader navigating a sailboat on a mysterious scientific mission in the deep ocean when a massive gale strikes, and depending on the reader’s choices, ending in several unpleasant manners: under a crashing wave, in a fatal confrontation with a sea monster, or landing on a deserted island, to name a few. I loved writing the story, creating the scenes, introducing the tension and the danger. I read it over and over, even though it was only a dozen pages, imagining stories within the story. It was certainly my favorite assignment all year. And I continued from there, simply writing stories whenever I got the chance—and of course reading voraciously. Lots and lots of reading!

4) What do you think is the main role of a fiction writer?

That’s a great question, and one I have never truly pondered before. I can really only speak for myself, and use that as a representative answer that may hold some truth for other fiction writers. For me, the goal is to produce an entertaining and meaningful experience for the reader that stimulates both an emotional response and leads to critical thinking.

5) As a first time author/publisher what surprises you the most? What was harder or easier than you expected? What is the biggest challenge, or the greatest joy you’ve experienced so far?

The amount of work to market a book. Even though it should not have surprised me (I had been warned), it did.

To be fair, I had just completed writing, editing, revising, reviewing, revising, reviewing, editing, revising, editing, setting aside, revising, editing, and publishing the novel (maybe not in that exact order), and (justifiably so, Ibelieve) felt as if I had completed a herculean task. As such, I thought it was going to be downhill from there.

But it wasn’t. Marketing is an entirely different kind of challenge to writing (for me, at least), and to someone who is not versed in the intricacies of how to market, the amount of time and commitment necessary to get the novel exposure was certainly a surprise. It felt like completing a marathon, and then discovering that the marathon was just a warm up.

All of that said, it has been an amazing experience. It is a tremendous feeling to get responses from readers (whether in person, email, or in a review on Amazon) about my writing, which makes it worth it and more.

Connecting with readers is a unique and very special experience, and is what it is all about for me. The fact that my writing has reached readers and that they have responded the way they have has been by far my greatest joy.

6) Would you describe yourself as a plot-driven writer or a character-driven writer?

The characters are what speak to me, and in essence, truly write the book. As soon as I become intimate with them, I feel as if it is no longer ‘me’ writing the book, but the characters sharing their experiences through me and my typewriter (ok, laptop—that just didn’t sound as elegant). In that way, it is almost as if I am the first reader of the novel, rather than the writer. However, even with that rich character-driven experience, the plot is a critical element. Without it, I can have a grand old time with the characters as they write their experiences through me, but at the end of the day, all I’ve done is captured ‘a day in the life’ without any true purpose. The conflict, the suspense, the tension, the mystery, the big reveals—all of those elements require plotting for me to get it just right. Therefore, I create the setting and the important plot points ahead of time, and then allow the characters to take me along the journey. I would liken it to a hike through the hillside without a path, but with certain necessary waypoints along the way—perhaps the winding river in the valley below, and then onto the thicket in the distance. The characters choose how to get there and therefore create the experience of the journey, but there are preordained destination points along the way that act as their beacons, assuring they stay on track.

7) When in various stages of draft how important is peer to peer feedback to your process? What advice would you give to anyone thinking about joining a critique group for the first time?

Peer to peer feedback is absolutely essential. I cannot stress how important it is to collect comments during the writing process. I may be somewhat unique in the fact that I seek out feedback both during the ‘live’ creation of the novel—each chapter gets an external review as I write—and then the completed manuscript  (and revisions thereof) gets reviewed in turn.

My advice regarding critique groups would be foremost—join one! Second, find a group that is passionate about participating in the craft (and not getting together just to chat about the craft), and who can give objective, truthful feedback in a constructive manner. Pats on the back may be nice for a boost once and while, but if it’s not a true reflection of the writing, the critique is not worthwhile. Also, when being critiqued, I recommend refraining from responding with justifications or explanations to constructive criticism—you won’t have a chance to do that with your readers, so why do it with your reviewers? That said, open discussion and probing about a reader’s comments for a fuller understanding is fine—just don’t be defensive about it. Also, when you are acting in the role of reviewer, be honest and respectful to the author.

8) Once you’ve started writing a project, what keeps you motivated to finish?

The story itself. Once a story has formed in the early chapters and taken a life of its own, I become captivated by it—even if it’s no good. At a fundamental level, I need to know what’s going to happen next—I literally need to answer the questions posed by my own imagination. Yes, as the author I have (or should have) a roadmap of where the story is headed ahead of time (the outline of the plot), but in actuality I can’t be sure that the roadmap is exactly how everything will ultimately go; and even if the roadmap is followed, the journey is a complete mystery until I experience it. That mystery, and the excitement of experiencing how it is revealed, is what keeps me motivated. And to heighten the focus every so slightly, it is truly the characters themselves that I get attached to, so when I say that I become captivated by the story once it has taken on a life of its own, I mean their story—the characters themselves.

9) When writing Grace and Disgrace what was the most fun you had writing a scene? What was the hardest part to get right?

It’s hard to choose just one scene! In general, my favorite scenes to write were the character-driven scenes, which are the ones that explore the multiple layers and dimensions of the characters, as opposed to those that move the plot forward. That said, there were scenes focused on certain plot points that were also very enjoyable to write, especially those where certain clues or events critical to the mystery were introduced or solved. But to choose one scene that was truly the most fun to write—I’ll have to say it was the scene where Tuohay got his first experience riding in a new contraption known as an “automobile”. You’ll have to read it the novel to find out why!

10) Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how do you handle it? If not, why not?

Not really. That doesn’t mean that I don’t experience the writing doldrums, though. But my interpretation of those experiences is more akin to what a runner may endure on a day-to-day basis while training for a marathon: some training days are better than others, and the reason behind that is sometimes clear, and other times a mystery. But the bottom line is that practice makes perfect, and in a craft such as writing, no matter how accomplished a writer may be, writing is always practice—even the finished product. So I simply keep at it.