Writers Conferences and Other Issues

My apologies for the late post! The whole of last weekend got away from me – then I intended to post yesterday and I just realized: it’s Thursday. Geesh.

In surreal news totally unrelated to anything I normally discuss here: Davy Jones is no more. I always loved watching the Monkees reruns as a teen and have most of their music in some way or another. I even got to see them in concert once. Rest In Peace, Davy.

And in other news: I may try to go to the Dallas/Fort Worth Writers Conference this year. Is anyone else going? The literary agent guest list looks like my spreadsheet of wish list agents, so that’s a huge deal. Also, this is the conference that started the Agent Gong Show. You know, where someone reads anonymous query letters to the agents and you as the author get to find out where the agent would stop reading your query. They’re also going to do Agent First Pages Gong Show. One Agent. One Page. One Gong. LOL It’s an expensive conference – much more than I normally pay, so that makes me flinch. I’ll also have to fly and there’s the cost of room/board and questions as to job stability. All these things have to be weighed. Sigh.

So what about you? When was your last conference? Will you go again?

Fear Is the Mindkiller

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past
I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain

I feel like saying “Amen” to this. Yes, I’m admitting two things in this post: 1. I’m a Dune fan and by that, I mean I’ve read the first book in the series and have to be one of the few people on the planet who enjoys the movie despite its flaws.
2. I am afraid.

Not of admitting that I like the Dune movie, though that may bring down derision on my head. No, I’m afraid of many things, actually.

I’m afraid that my writing will never take off the way I want it to.

I’m afraid that, if that is so, I will never be able to work full-time as a writer, which I want so badly it hurts. I’m afraid of the consequences of jumping into such a situation: losing my home, losing my change-adverse daughter’s school, etc. I’m afraid of losing the respect of my friends and family for causing these chain reactions.

Yet I heard the most magnificent message from God yesterday. (Yes, I am a practicing Christian despite the Buddha image on the screen. That’s simply there to provide setting for the Asian theme, though I am NOT a militant Christian and have no problems with other beliefs.) God asked me why I’m so fearful. Don’t I believe in him? Yes, I do. But I also know He put His followers through trials and such trials are not something I desire.

Yes, I know, beyond all question, that God will take care of me and my family in the coming days. He promises such care if we face our afflictions “even unto death.” It’s the “even unto” part that worries me. The part where I lose my family’s and friends’ respect because of my actions.

So what about you? What are you afraid of?

Emma Straub’s How To Be an Indie Bookseller’s Dream

Emma Straub has worked for independent booksellers for three years and in a recent Wall Street Journal article brings home some hard cold facts on what to do at your authorial appearances:

1. Try not to read your material, or at least not much of it. What? This is your chance to share with the world! Yes, you might have hours to fill, depending on what you’ve been allowed to schedule, but if people wanted their first impression of your book to be that of someone reading it aloud, they’d buy or rent the audio book. So unless your book is hysterically funny or you have it memorized and are prepared to act out scenes, keep reading time limited to 10 to 30 minutes. And if you’re going to read aloud for thirty minutes, have it be your most exciting scene ever or you’ll look up at the end to a slumber party. One neat idea I’ve heard for reading from your work without spoon feeding the audience something you want them to buy is to read a scene you’ve cut. Remember all those beautiful darlings? Find the very best, polish them and read them. Then you can have a question and answer as to why you cut them.

2. Fill up the rest of your time talking about things related to your book. For instance, I will probably discuss history, martial arts, research and possibly computer game and movie versions of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, since that’s what my book is based on. I hope to also do some talks demonstrating self defense simply because it’s an active, audience-participation-based thing to do and has value to them. I have one friend who comes to her talks dressed in the period costume she made. She talks about the wool industry and how it changed the English countryside and how that shaped the making of her book. Her talks are informative and interesting and bring out details in the book you wouldn’t otherwise catch.

3. Come prepared to be outlandishly helpful to the booksellers. These are the people you want on your side, suggesting your book. Bring treats (if possible, ones related to your topic) and share with the booksellers and the crowd. (I plan on bringing Chinese sweets mentioned in one of my scenes.) Write down the booksellers’ names, complete with correct spellings and send them individualized Thank You notes after the event. If possible, remind them of a specific thing you’re thankful to each person for. Yes, I’m terrible at Thank You notes, too.

4. After you’ve sent your Thank You notes, do NOT forget about these places, though they be across the country. No. You tweet them. You friend/like redirect buyers to them. You continue to care about them and send all those new friends in the city (where you met and made friends, right?) to the bookstore with gift certificates.

So even if you’re unprepared for publication right now, think about how you might promote yourself and drive business to your friends, the local indies. What are you planning to do? Whatever it is, just remember, keep your audience involved or you might as well bring out the pillows and blankets.

2012 Sandy Writers’ Conference

Many of you know I placed second in the Sandy Writers’ Contest two years ago. (That’s me in the photo, I’m the one in the middle with the red shirt.) I also had a fabulous learning experience at the Crested Butte Writers Conference, which sponsors the contest. I wanted to let you know, I received word from the contest administrator that 1. There are only six more days for you to enter this year and 2. There are few entries in almost every category!

This contest is so worth your while. It doesn’t cost much for the opportunity to have professional and semi-professional judges critique your material. Of course, if you get to the final round, you will have an agent or editor read it and, if you go to the conference, you can pitch to that agent or editor.

The 2012 Sandy Final Judges are:
Romance – Sue Grimshaw, Editor at Large & Category Specialist for Ballantine & Bantam Dell
Mainstream Adult Fiction – Kevan Lyon, Agent at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Suspense / Thriller / Mystery – Kat Brzozowski, Assistant Editor at Thomas Dunne Books
Fantasy / Science Fiction – James Frenkel, Editor at Tor / Forge
Children’s & YA – Mary Kole, Agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency

So will you enter?

An Interview With Author Guido Henkel

Today I was privileged to conduct an interview with Guido Henke, autor of the Jason Dark Ghost Hunter series and “The Curse of Kali.” Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview, Mr. Henkel.

I love the supernatural element in these books and even more, the unusual, non-European elements you utilize. I’m assuming that you used the popular, well known setting of Victorian/Holmesian England to help ground your readers, but what compelled you to introduce the foreign supernatural elements?

As I am writing my stories, I always try to find interesting angles to familiar themes. Sometimes I end up giving the monsters abilities that are often overlooked, sometimes I simply pick a setting that is different from what you’d expect, and sometimes I will just make things up for the fun of it.

The hopping vampires in “Curse of Kali,” and even more prominently in “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” are a result of that approach. I didn’t want to write yet another vampire story. I had covered that territory with “Theater of Vampires” and felt that if I do vampires they needed to be unexpected. I am a big fan of the whole Fantasia/Wuxia movie genre out of Hong Kong, and while I was looking for a good angle on vampires, theJiang Shi – or hopping vampires – came to my mind. Clearly they were exotic enough to create a very different vampire story.

So, ultimately, it is really my desire to get away from overused stereotypes and clichés. While I love to use a gothic mood and atmosphere, and will often fall back on familiar imagery in the settings to evoke these emotions in the reader, when it comes to the bad guys and the stories themselves, I try to stay away from the off-the-shelf recipes.

Speaking as someone who gets easily tired by the “off-the-shelf recipes,” I appreciate your approach. Do you plan on taking Jason Dark and Siu Lin to other locations?

I have thought about making them travel and having an adventure play on an island with Voodoo and all that. I have also thought of sending them to Hong Kong so that Siu Lin could go back to her home country for a visit. The problem for me is that traveling these distances during the Victorian time period took ages. It wasn’t a matter of sitting in an airplane and getting off a few hours later on the other side of the world. Traveling to China took months in those days. The problem that I encounter as a storyteller is that I have to accommodate for these long time lapses on the one hand while also explaining why my characters would even go through the painful tribulations of such a travel and how they could even afford to do these trips. How can they just up and leave for six months?

Still, the idea is very intriguing, of course, and I have no doubt it will be a plot device I will use in the future. For the time being I limit myself to the British Isles.

I definitely understand the time constraints required by traveling in historical fiction. I’m a comic book reader among other things and found myself wondering if D.C.’s character of Jason Blood had anything to do with the creation of Jason Dark. (Just curious, but would love to know the story if there is a connection.)

No, it had no impact at all. As a matter of fact, I am not at all familiar with Jason Blood. I am not a comic book reader – with the exception of Asterix, Lucky Luke and TinTin books. So, no, that character was no influence.

What was an influence was the German dime novel character “John Sinclair,” however. It is a series that I grew up with and devoured as a child, and it sort of spawned the idea of me creating my own dime novel horror series. As an homage to that series I named my character Jason Dark in reference to the pen name of the author who has been writing the John Sinclair series for the past thirty-some years.

I had not heard of this series, so I guess both of us have new reading material to find now. LOL I know you’re a video game designer and I assume there’s some cross-pollination that goes on between your books and your games. How do you see the two working together, either now or in
the future?

I think there’s always cross pollination when someone works in a variety of creative areas. I am also a musician and it all washes together in one way or another. I always have had ideas for stories while developing games and vice versa. While I am writing I often think, “Hey, this would make a good game.” I make mental notes of it, naturally, but most of the time it is more something in the back of my head that unconsciously affects what I’m doing.

In the end it always comes down to the same thing. One day I will have an idea and it will set my mind aflame. When that happens I usually can’t let go of it. It will follow me for days and it simply will not go away. That is the moment I realize that this is the project I will have to do next because I won’t be able to get excited about anything else. It truly comes out of a passion.

Yes, it’s practically impossible to keep your attention narrowed for the necessary length of time without passion to help you focus. How do you divide your time between these two task masters?

I usually don’t. I practically stopped making games the day I started writing “Demon’s Night,” the first of my Jason Dark supernatural mysteries. I was a little bored with doing games and wanted to try something new. I loved the experience and ever since, my books have been my main focus that I have devoted all my efforts to.

Every time I think about games these days, it is more in terms of something I could use to further the reach of the Jason Dark books. Like some kind of a promotional tool, almost. But to be honest, I can’t get excited about games all that much these days. The games industry has changed so much over the years, and not for the better, so that I have very little inclination to become active in it at this point.

I can’t even get excited about the major games that are being released these days. To me they are virtually all repetitive dribble, the same old unimaginative, testosterone-fueled, sophomoric stuff we did 25 years ago. The difference is that I’ve gotten a lot older and I really do not care all that much for the themes or the visual presentations of today’s games. Most of the time I just shake my head and wonder what they’ve been thinking when they made the game. There are only so many first-person shooters one can play… or at least that’s how I feel, especially when they all look, sound and feel the exact same for the past ten years.

I can certainly understand burnout. I think most of us can. So far, I see you’ve had Jason face off against vampires, mummies, ghosts, demonic forces, and a wide variety of undead. I loved the hopping vampires from China in The Curse of Kali. What other unusual, non-European supernatural enemies might we find Jason fighting?

I wish I could tell you. Really, but I don’t even know. The Jason Dark mysteries are not planned ahead, really, as a series. I finish one story, set it aside and then ask myself, What am I going to write about next?

At that stage I will dig through ideas – I keep a Writer’s Journal and constantly jot down ideas and tidbits – and see what stands out. Sometimes one of those ideas will get me excited, but more often, in fact, something completely different will pop into my head and I will start fleshing it out.

It is highly unpredictable. Sometimes I’ll hear a line of lyrics from a song and it will spawn an image in my head, and I instantly have a key scene for a story in my mind. Sometimes it is something someone says. You know, just a few words, that lead me to a different association and leads me down a line of thoughts that ends up with some exciting idea. Occasionally, it is a book or a movie.

The other day I was in Vegas and one of the slot machine themes triggered a story idea. Sadly it is a vampire story and I don’t want to do another vampire book just yet, but nonetheless, it was a really exciting story with an interesting angle, I think. So it shows you how just about anything can serve as an inspiration for me.

I have just finished “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” recently and right now I am in the process of trying to find another story idea that really gets me going. I haven’t really found one yet, but I know, it could happen anytime. Who knows, maybe tonight, while I lie awake, trying to go to sleep, something may spark my imagination. If that idea should happen to revolve around some obscure Peruvian myth, all the better. If it revolves around hopping vampires, cool. I am really game for anything, as long as I find a way to rationally explain how these events could take place in Jason Dark’s universe.

The wonderful thing about London is the British Museum – they have so many artifacts from all over the word, any one of which might suddenly come to life…. Hee hee. When I read “Curse of Kali” I noticed that the hopping vampires served more as bookends to the story than actual parts of the story. Can you tell me more about that?

I knew that I wanted to bring Fu Man Chu back in some fashion. He appeared in “From a Watery Grave” already and I had set it up in such a way that it was clear he would want revenge eventually. In “Curse of Kali” I am finally setting those wheels into motion. However, I did not want to jump right into it and thought it would be nice to foreshadow his reappearance, build some anticipation before delivering a story that focuses completely on the conflict between the ghost hunters and Fu Man Chu. So I wrote the hopping vampire scenes in “Curse of Kali.”
As I mentioned earlier, however, I do not plan the series ahead a whole lot, and one of the interesting side effects of that was that I had absolutely no idea what to do in terms of a story for Fu Man Chu’s revenge. All I knew was that I wanted to call the book “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” because I felt it was an exceedingly cool title.

So after finishing “Curse of Kali” I was completely clueless how to go about writing “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” and for months I just could not make heads or tails of it. I had painted myself in a corner. Finally, around Halloween, I had this idea how to make it all work, and the pieces fell into place. It set my imagination ablaze. I sat down and wrote the story, and interestingly enough, it was the fastest I had ever written a Jason Dark story, and to top it off, it also turned out to be the longest one to date.

(Clapping my hands in anticipation.) Is it available yet?

“Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” is currently undergoing the final edits and it should become available by the end of January.

Thanks again, Mr. Henkel. “Kali” was a great fun read and I look forward to reading your other books. You can find more about the Jason Dark series at either the website: www.jasondarkseries.com, or the blog: www.guidohenkel.com.

A somewhat belated Happy New Years to everyone! Gong Xi Fa Cai!