I got to do a bunch of cool stuff last weekend. Once of them (which encompassed all the other things) was attend ConText26, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Columbus, Oh. As you can tell by the number after it’s name, ConText has been around for a while. Geared towards writers and publishers, this is a smaller convention. There was probably around 200 people there. In this case though, smaller is better. It makes for a casual and friendly atmosphere in which to learn and network. As a “fan, non-writer”, I was in the minority. Nearly all the other attendees were writers, or involved with publishing, and interested in learning more about the craft. I’m not a writer, but I was still fascinated by everything. Beyond panels and seminars, ConText offered a Filking concert, a Flash Fiction contest, a mass autograph session, a dealer room (to buy books to be autographed!), author readings, and of course, evening parties.
The best part was that I got to spend the weekend with my friend Elizabeth. She runs Dark Cargo, and she’s my partner in crime over at Bookstore Bookblogger Connection. She showed me around Columbus’s cool Victorian neighborhoods, took me on a bookstore adventure, introduced me to the local pizza and beer scene (Pies and Pints, FTW!), and generally ensured that I would have a #bestweekendever. I met up with my friends John and Paul as well.
First panel was Liz Coley’s How To Make Your Words Shine. This was mostly about revising your drafts to get your manuscript ready for submission. Everyone knows the basic grammar rules, but she touched on more subtle writing concepts, like adding sensory and textual descriptors (use your senses other than sight!), verbal patterns that it is easy to fall into (such as using too many adverbs) and other tips. In my brain, what she was talking about was the engineering behind the artwork, the act of putting in the foundation last so the surface can glimmer with the texture you originally planned for it. She suggested using the “find/replace” function to make sure the same words or phrases aren’t used over and over again, or twice in one sentence.
On the subject of rejections, Liz referred to something Tobias Buckell had said about writing goals: “Set yourself a goal that you have control over, such as “I will get 500 rejections””. It forced him to send out lots of queries! Liz had very positive things to say about NaNoWriMo, she wrote her first manuscript of Pretty Girl 13 during NaNoWriMo, and even though it took nearly a year of revisions, that is the title that has done the best for her.
Opening Ceremonies was next, where the Convention organizers introduced their guests and made a few announcements. Opening Ceremonies is your friend, because while you may have seen a photo of these people, or heard them on a podcast, it’s helpful to know what they actually look like! it’s also helpful to know who the Convention organizers are.
Next up was dinner, which means I missed the Obsolete SF panel. Too bad, because that was one I really wanted to go to. I couldn’t even pull the “send your friend and share notes later” trick, because I was at dinner with all my friends.
and then the Flash Fiction Contest! Twelve very lucky applicants got to read their 1000 word or less story out loud in front of the judges and the audience. Authors were judged on story crafting and presentation. Each person got about 20 minutes of time, we only stayed for three stories because it was getting late. Of the stories we listened to, my stand-out favorite was a scifi alien mash-up take on the “Nigerian Prince” e-mail scam, by Evan Dicken. Definitely a new author to watch for.
By then it was nearly midnight, so time to stumble back to my hotel room.
On Saturday I got to do two of my favorite convention activities: attend panels, and attend parties. I love the panels because I get to hear professionals talk about something I’m fascinated by. Conventions feel a little like “camp for grown ups.” Daytime is all how-to’s, tutorials, academic presentations, interviews, and roundtables. It might not be ultra formal, but it is very professional. In the evening, everyone just hangs out drinking and chatting. The parties are the virtual bonfires of summer camp.
A quick note about ConText26 Panels: the panels were scheduled every 90 minutes, which gave an hour for the panelists to talk, and plenty of time for Q&A, with no rushing about to get to the next activity. Hey Context26 organizers, this was brilliant!
Jack McDevitt – How to Get Your Work Rejected – Mr. McDevitt is delightfully old fashioned* and absolutely charming. I haven’t read much from him, but now I really want to. He was giving his “rules for writing”, stories about how to work with editors, tips on writing dialog. His “rules” included getting the narrative started right away, not having too many extra characters, read your dialog outloud to make sure it sounds natural, you want it to be easy for the reader to differentiate between different characters so don’t use similar names, and have your characters be in conflict against their own instincts.
He said he’s not a fan of cliffhangers endings, but he said stalling the action can be a good thing because it drives your reader crazy, just remember to wrap everything up at the end. When working with slush readers and editors, don’t take their criticism personally, and don’t get mad about it. He closed the talk with telling people to write what they care about, get emotions into it, and make characters make difficult decisions. It’s funny, because I completely respect his “rules”. And so many of my favorite authors break them all the time, to great success. I’m pretty sure McDevitt knows that different things work for different people, and for different readers.
*old fashioned? it was very funny. At the beginning, he kept referring to protagonists and characters as “him”. I think as the hour went by he realized how many women were in the room, and began talking a little more politically correct. I thought it was adorable.
Mass Autograph Session – Because there weren’t many authors here that I’d read a lot of, I had very little to get autographed. I got my kindle scribbled on, had a bunch of authors sign a postcard for a friend who couldn’t attend. A lot of authors and publishers were selling books and anthologies at the autograph session, so I bought a few and had them signed. (you can’t always purchase books at the autograph session. this was a very happy surprise) I’m currently reading Odd Men Out by Matt Betts, so I tracked him down and said hello. Since I have an e-book of that title, he kindly added to the scribbles on my kindle.
The dealer area was small but full of high quality merchandise. few book vendors, some steampunk jewelry, some beautiful hand made Star Wars purses and tote bags, and more. All the publishers had their own tables where they were selling books. I made a beeline for the Apex Publications table and picked up The Apex Book of World SF, The Apex Book of World SF 2, and Glitter and Mayhem. Purchased at the Mass Autograph Session was the Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy, the Vampires Don’t Sparkle anthology, and SpookHouse, from Seventh Star Press. Wow, that’s a LOT of anthologies!
it’s hard to tell from the blurry photo, but the sign says “You Know Nothing”
There was so much more than happened on Saturday! and there’s another post coming up tomorrow about the panels! publishers! parties! and photos!