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Saturday, the actual convention actually began for us, although there had been programming on Friday which we pretty well missed, what with one thing and another.

The hotel had a dynamite breakfast buffet but guess what? We only got two tickets per day. Five people, two days, four tickets. Our friend Dave Creek, who had his own room, also had two tickets per day. One person, two days, four tickets. Since he’s a stand-up guy, he gave us his extra tickets. Since SOME of us slept in, we had enough to cover us. I’m sure the literary world is happy to hear that.

Saturday, we participated in a panel called “Yeah, I’m A Geek, and Your Point Is?” There were lit geeks and tech geeks, computer geeks, history geeks– The upshot seemed to be that anyone who is passionate about anything, so passionate that he/she wants to share that passion with everyone, whether everyone wants to share or not, is a geek. There are just some forms of geekiness that society accepts and applauds (mostly sports and celebrity obsessions) and some not so much. To raise a happy child into a happy adult, be open to his/her particular geekiness, and don’t try to impose your own.

From noon to 2pm, we participated in a mass autograph session. Most of the attending authors were there, ready to sign their work. Not all of them, because there were panels, readings, workshops and gaming going on concurrently, not to mention lunch, and not all authors were there, and relatively few fans. At a small, friendly con like this one, where everyone mingles all weekend, there’s really no pressure to hit the autograph session in order to get your favorite author’s signature.

Two members went to the session on using fortune telling cards to brainstorm stories, something some of us have used for years. The session was informative, nevertheless, which is why it’s a good idea to take advantage of presentations telling you about things you “already know”–a fresh take on a familiar subject can open doors and windows in your mind and make everything you already know new and invigorated. Later that night, we found a couple of free online tarot reading sites and had a character ask, “Why am I not as cool as the villain in my book?” One of us thought the answer was, “Because your author won’t let you be,” but the character’s author thought the answer was, “Because you aren’t.” Or something. It was late.

RinaldoBack to the conference: In the dealer’s room, I spotted a lot of gorgeous and colorful body art. Then I spotted the artist, a young woman named Ellen Gamber, daughter of publisher Dan Gamber and author/editor Jackie Gamber. Ellen was giving people Sharpie pen “tattoos”, and I fulfilled my dream of having a rose tattoo covering my vaccination scar without going through any pain or bleeding or scabbing or infection risk. Sadly, the art rubbed off on my shirt before I got home.

Some of us were on a panel called “Why Write About Freedom?” One panelist said it for all of us when he said, “Lest we forget.” We write about freedom because freedom is a basic human drive, and we need to keep being reminded that it isn’t free and it isn’t easily held. The balance between liberty and security is one, the panel and audience agreed, that has to be constantly monitored both socially and in our individual lives. The panel had a wide range of participants, from a Libertarian to a Labor Union proponent. Lively.

Attended a panel called “Can You Love Your Characters?” Consensus was that you must love them–even the unlovable ones–or you’ll write flat characters; you mustn’t love them TOO much…or you’ll write flat characters. The “wicked” ones have to have important virtues and the “good” ones have to have important flaws. A personal note: It seems to be easier as a writer to give villains endearing characteristics than it is to give “the good guy” serious flaws.

Back in the room, we were out of towels (five women, two nights, four towels), so one of our number went to the desk and requested more. She had no sooner returned than Housekeeping brought a stack of towels that seemed to say, “Take some showers. Please.” The phone rang. The desk wanted to be sure the towels had arrived. We were like, “Are they having trouble with Housekeeping embezzling towels, or what?” “Yes, the towels arrived.” “Was there anything you need?” “…Um, two blankets.” “Certainly, right away. Will two be enough?” “…Yes, two will be enough.” Then we were like, “Did they run out and buy more? Did somebody check out? Are these infected with chicken pox or diphtheria?” But we slept well and we slept warm. Turn off the light. Click

SUNDAY
We had back-to-back panels on “Writers Groups and Workshops” and “How To Publish Your Group’s Anthology”. Neither was well-attended, since check-out was at 11, but the people who were there REALLY wanted to know about the subjects. Writers Groups: If you can’t find one, start one. Starting one is good, because you can make up the rules you want and tell any members you attract, “These are the rules.” A critique group should work to make each member’s work do what that member wants his/her work to do. If all the stories from that group sound alike, the group isn’t working correctly. A workshop should know what it’s purpose is, state its purpose to people who might want to attend, then do its best to deliver. The publishing panel brought out the importance of shopping around for publisher and publishing packages. It also underlined the frustration of trying to find the right price point for selling a self-published anthology: Price it too high, and no one will buy it; price it too low, and bookstores that require a 40%-50% commission for selling the books eat all the profits and bite into the production cost.

And so ended the conference. Lovely time. Looking forward to next year.

Next stop: Indianapolis Author’s Fair on September 26.

MA
writing prompt: What kind of tattoo would you get, or would you like to get next?

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I am home, and I am tired. Or, as one of my fellow junior high band members used to say, “Ah’m tahrd. Ah’m rill tahrd.”

Had a good time. Details another day. Well, some details. What happens in Columbus stays in Columbus, unless one is James Thurber, in which case what happens in Columbus gets published in The New Yorker magazine.

More another day. Time to cra…zzzzzzzzz….

MA

writing prompt: A man wakes up and sees a unicorn in his garden.

X-rays finally came back, and I am only bruised. Much rejoicing, especially by Charlie, who wasn’t looking forward to running Mom and me around town this afternoon.

It’s time to plan what events I’m going to attend this year. Mom and I usually go to Magna cum Murder in October, but this year the director of Magna, Kathryn Kennison, is Fan Guest of Honor at Bouchercon, which will be in Indianapolis, so no Magna. Mom says she doesn’t want to go to Bouchercon, and it’s a little pricey for me, too. I’ve been told I could get a cheaper hotel away from the conference hotel and attend events outside the official conference ones that don’t require conference membership. If fellow Southern Indiana Writers members will go with me, I might do that.

SIW went to Context Science Fiction Convention last year, and might go again this year. It was VERY enjoyable and useful, and a mix-up over comping gained me a free membership, so I would like to go to that.

There’s another convention in, I think, Cincinnati–I think it’s Millennnicon–that we were talking about going to.

Green River Writers always has great writers retreats that I love to go to and haven’t been to in a couple of years….

The problem is lack of funds. My mother always pays for me to go to a couple of these professional things, and it is important as well as fun, but there’s only so much cash to go around, and much less cash now than formerly. We didn’t lose anything in the market crunch because we don’t have enough to invest, but everything seems tighter, doesn’t it?

Guess the answer is to get off my duff–rather, to get ON my duff–and write and submit and repeat until sufficiently funded. Work–Gosh, what a concept!

MA

Writing prompt: Everybody who has a job has a choice of professional organizations and conventions and retreats they could attend. Use a search engine to make a list of five professional organizations or email lists or newsletters or publications or conventions your main character could subscribe to or attend.

We arrived on Friday and went to the interview with the Dead Body Guy, which was a total hoot (more details were posted last weekend).

T. Lee Harris was then on a panel called WRITING MODERN VAMPIRES with Tanya Huff and Mark Evans. Seems like there was somebody else on there, too, but those are the only ones listed in the program book. (For those who have never been to a science fiction convention, who is on the panel — and what the panel is once it starts — does not always correspond exactly to what is announced. Stuff happens.) Some thought vampires should be inhuman monsters, and that humanizing vampires has … er … taken the bite out of the horror. Others thought that is is precisely the dilemma of being a human with an inhuman hunger that IS horrible. So that was that panel. Interesting.

Southern Indiana Writers had a reading after that, but we were placed next door to a raucous wine and cheese party open to the public, so guess where everybody went? Not to hear people reading stories, that’s for sure! Still, we had a good time sitting around talking story.

We went back to the room and drank some Mango Blush Wine that tasted like wombat piss–which is only a metaphor, none of us being willing to admit having ever had wombat piss.

And so to bed.

On Saturday, we went to a panel called GREAT MOVIE SOUNDTRACKS, which was rather pointless but enjoyable. We learned that some excellent music has always been written for soundtracks (in this case, specifically sf/fantasy/horror movies), which you seldom remember hearing because the best soundtracks are mostly unobtrusive.

After that, Glenda Mills and Marian Allen <waves> were on a panel called GENRE LABELS with Deena Fisher, Gary Frank, S. Andrew Swan, Nick Mamatas and Tracy Chowdhury. We talked about how genre labels (mystery, horror, romance) are being blurred more and more. There were panels on forensics and sex in literature at this convention, as well as science and fantasy. I suppose I should say “as well as OTHER forms of science and fantasy….”

Next, we went to a panel on WORKING WITH SMALL PUBLISHERS which was MOST interesting. After I have time to hit some web sites, I’ll post some URLs. Small publishers are still somewhat disrespected by the majors, but they put out some fabulous work. This is small presses, not self-publish presses, which also may put out some good-looking product but do no editorial oversight and little if any promotion. Some small presses are moving into the “medium press”, and it’s all exciting. They usually work with a Print On Demand business model, meaning that they don’t have to invest nearly as much as an offset press publisher, and so can take more risks. They aren’t afraid to produce a small book or a large book by an unknown author. Great panel.

We went to a panel on writers groups given by the Indiana Horror Writers, including Sara Larson. The consensus is that some groups are good for some people and some groups are bad for some people. Enjoyable, and I think it was useful for people who are thinking about joining or starting a group.

In the evening, Marian Allen <waves> was on REGIONAL F/H/SF with Mark Evans and Phoebe Wray. We talked about using regional details to ground your character or action, about really USING the details rather than using them for showing off how much you know or how well you’ve researched. We pointed out that even fantasy and science fiction take place SOMEWHERE–it takes place in a specific place or series of specific places, even if the place is imaginary. All politics is local, and all fiction is regional.

Sara Larson invited everybody to a birthday party for a member of the IHW, and we went. Nobody else was there, so we got to talk to Sara and her husband. Sara and I “know” each other through the Indiana Writers Connection, a Yahoo Group email list. We also ran into Mary from the Cincinnati Writers’ Project. T. Lee Harris has produced their new anthology for them, and she’s done a dynamite job, as always! We had chocolate cake at the party, which is always good.

Back in the room, we passed on the wombat piss and drank chablis instead.

And so to bed.

On Sunday, T. Lee Harris was on a panel on STRONG WOMEN CHARACTERS with eleventy-seven other writers. At the same time, Glenda Mills and Marian Allen <waves> were on SELF-EDITING with John Dalmas and Fran Friel. Dalmas suggested proofreading by printing out your story and shuffling the pages so you read the narrative out of order and don’t get so caught up in the story you miss errors. Friel suggested changing the font from the one you usually use, again in order to SEE the letters and words and not see what you MEANT to type. Very useful.

Checkout and home. As I said yesterday, I got home to a dead refrigerator and an irritated husband, but I got to take a shower. I took showers over the weekend, but I had forgotten my razor and didn’t remember I had forgotten it until I got ready to shave under my arms. By the time I got home, I felt like I was smuggling kittens.

All in all, it was a great convention. Everybody was courteous and helpful: the staff, the panelists, the other attendees. Nobody grandstanding or showboating or deluding themselves into ego trips nobody else was taking with them. We intend to go in 2009. Two thumbs up.

MA

Writing exercise: Imagine a convention with two or more of your characters attending. Imagine they’re on a panel together. What would it be, and how would they interact?

We’re up and ready for our last day at Context. Well, two of us are up. The third is still snoozing away, possibly because she gets a queen bed to herself. An additional benefit of eating chocolate chip cookies in bed, which just doesn’t seem fair. Not going to mention her name, but the last thing I said to her last night before we fell asleep was, “You are more drunkerer than I am.” I’m happy to say none of us snores–much.

Oops–there goes her cell phone. She’s up now.

We have panels today at 10, then we’ll probably head home.

Con report maybe tomorrow.

MA

writing exercise: You’re two hundred miles from home and your grown kid calls on your cell phone for some trivial reason. What’s the reason, how do you react? Same for various characters.

We did a “reading” of our books last night, but we were next door to a wine and cheese party–a raucous one–so guess how many people came to our reading? Five, during the course of the hour, and four of them were looking for the party and only stayed long enough to find out they were in the wrong room. The other one was Dave, who dropped in after half our time was over in order to show support.

Prior to that, we went to an interview with The Dead Body Guy, who was so funny and entertaining. He signed pictures of himself and his wife bought two of our books. Trucker Dave, who is making a name for himself playing a zombie, signed his business card for my 16-yr-old grandson, who is so into zombies just now. Yeah, a science fiction convention is a weird and wonderful place.

We have some panels to do today, and one tomorrow. Now, we’re getting ready to go foraging for coffee.

MA

writing exercise: Don’t get stuck on giving your characters traditional occupations. What kind of story could come out of a character who has chosen to create or fill a niche people don’t usually think about? What kind of stories could a guy who works in a recycling center get involved in? The lady who oversees the breakfast bar in a motel?

We’re checked in here. We stopped by a couple of used book stores on the way. I got another copy of TITUS GROAN by Mervyn Peak. I had the whole trilogy, but I loaned TITUS to somebody else and nobody will admit it. Can’t find it, so I rebought it. Got a John Sayles collection including his hysterically funny “At the Anarchist’s Convention”, which Jerry Stiller read so beautifully on NPR. Got Jasper Fford’s SOMETHING ROTTEN, the latest in his Thursday Next series. Fantastic writer. A true maniac. I like that in a writer.

Here are my fellow writers, T. Lee Harris, Glenda Mills and Dave Creek. We brought our own food and we’re having a feast.

So now we’re ready to go wander around, meet people, and see what’s what. T has a panel at 9–Writing the Modern Vampire–and we three Southern Indiana Writers have a reading at 10. We’ll be reading from our books that are printed through Lulu.com.

See you!

MA

writing exercise: You go to a convention and just happen to run into somebody you’ve been longing to meet. Does it work out, or is it a disaster?

Getting ready to go to Context for the weekend. Got to dress, pack, meet, carpool…. Happy birfday to me!

I’m taking my laptop and my camera, so I might be able to indulge myself by posting while I’m there.

MA

writing exercise: You go on a business trip on your birthday and get an unexpected present.

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Here is where I ramble on about whatever happens to fall through my mind. I also have a professional site, where I post about my books, stories, news and appearances. Every month, I post a “Hot Flash” there–a story or prose poem of about 50 words. I hope you enjoy your visit. –Marian Allen

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