Archive for the 'Carrie’s Posts' Category

Monday, July 30th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Kitty Steals the Show is out Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is book day!  Tomorrow is book day!  Kitty Steals the Show will finally be out!  For those following developments in e-books, I do believe this one is included in Tor’s new policy of releasing all e-books DRM free.  By all reports, this has been a very popular move.

I’m taking part in a blog tour with many interviews and giveaways and such, starting last week and continuing for the next couple of weeks, so keep your eyes open for that.  Now for some publishing logistics neepery.

I’m so happy that this book is finally out in the world.  It’s been a long time coming.  Here’s what happened:  Initially I turned this book in December 2010.  That’s right, it’s been pretty much done for a year and a half.  Revisions and copyedits were done about a year ago.  So why did it take so long to get released?  A quirk of scheduling.  The contract for this and the previous two Kitty novels stipulated that I turn them in every six months — December 2009, June 2010, and December 2010.  For whatever reason, Tor decided to release them once a year rather than every six months — summer 2010, 2011, and 2012.  A once a year schedule makes sense, and that’s fine.  But you can imagine how it’s been for me over the last year, every time someone’s asked me, “Why does it take you so long to write the next book?  Why do we have to wait so long for the next book?” or some variation thereof.  All I can say is, “Hey, the book’s finished, this is just how the schedule works.”  To be fair, I think this actually is the longest I’ve gone between book releases since I started publishing novels.  When readers say it feels like it’s been a long time since the last one, I know what they’re talking about.

The happy ending to the story is when I signed the contract for the next four books last summer, I said I wanted ten months to write each book instead of just six, and Tor agreed.  If the books are going to be released on a once-a-year schedule, there’s no reason I shouldn’t have an extra few months to write them, and it’s made a big difference in keeping my life a little less stressful.

And after tomorrow, I’ll only be two books ahead of my readers, instead of three.  Easier to keep from giving away spoilers that way.

I’m currently in Alabama for a family reunion, and I’ll get to celebrate the new book with a signing tomorrow at the Books-a-Million in Oxford.  Maybe someone not from my family will join us…

Monday, July 23rd, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Experience and Hope

It’s been a rough couple of months for my home state of Colorado.  Last month, two of the state’s worst, most destructive wildfires in its history happened — at the same time.  And now the mass shooting in Aurora.  It’s been a lot of heartbreak and feeling helpless and wanting to make things better for people, but knowing there’s absolutely nothing I can do to assuage the grief after someone’s lost their home in a fire or a loved one in an act of terrible violence.  We offer condolences and make donations.  Try to build our community.

My writer self becomes conflicted during these times.  I feel like a horrible scavenger, because I can’t stop myself from picking apart what’s happening, from observing my own reactions, my friends’ reactions, details from the event itself, and filing them away in the part of my brain labeled “maybe I can use this in a story.”  It’s reflexive at this point, and so mercenary.  But it also feels necessary.  These details may never become part of a story, but if the story does come along, at least the details I have will be real and true.  It’s not journalistic — I’m not recording or reporting facts.  I’m a fiction writer, and it’s about recreating experiences, and the best way to do that is through details.  So I continue to observe and collect.

The other thing my writer self does is empathize.  It’s a natural part of developing character — you put yourself in the scene, you imagine what it’s like to be in that situation, you imagine what people are going through — both the perpetrator and the victims.  I want to understand, so I play the scenes over in my mind from all points of view, again and again.  And again, it feels mercenary and exploitative.  I get more emotionally involved than is probably good for me, and it certainly doesn’t help the situation at all.

As a fiction writer, I don’t think it’s fair or useful for me to write directly about these events, and I don’t want to.  But I still want to gather the experiences, file them away, and let them ripen.  If I ever write about something like this, maybe I can make it feel more true by paying attention, by being respectful now.  I want to acknowledge the tragedies, sympathize, help when I can, and respect the experiences of the people directly involved.  And I hug my friends and tell my family I love them.  Try to keep hope and remember the good times.

Monday, July 16th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
“Snapshot” of My Desk at the Moment

You’ve probably been able to infer from all of our posts over the years that being a working writer involves a lot of, well, work.  But “work” is abstract.  “I’m busy,” we all say.  “You know — work.”  Work meaning the thing that most of our lives are focused on that is necessary to put food on our table and booties on our feet.  For the working writer, what does “work” look like on a day to day, week to week basis?

Here’s a glimpse of what I’ve got on my front burners right now — the work of a full-time writer in concrete rather than abstract terms.

  • I just finished the rough draft of the twelfth Kitty novel.  I have a couple of things to clean up, then I’ll send it to my editor at the end of the month.  So it’s still technically sitting on my desk.
  • I’m now working on the sequel to my superhero novel, After the Golden Age.  I’m about 30,000 words in and trucking along, so I’m pouring a lot of wordage into it for the moment.
  • I’m in the middle of writing a new short story in my Harry and Marlowe steampunk series.  I put it aside to work on the new novel, but I really need to pick it up again and finish it. I probably will when the novel hits a snag.
  • In two weeks, the next Kitty novel, Kitty Steals the Show, will be out.  Promotion is taking up quite a bit of time right now.  My publisher set up a blog tour, so I’m spending an hour or so a day on interviews, guest posts, and updating my own online outlets. (Like this thing.)  I also have a handful of signings/appearances I need to prepare for.  I’m avoiding looking at the book’s Amazon page.  (No, really…)
  • Correspondence:  “Catch up on e-mail” is almost always on my to-do list.  Sending updated biographies to editors, responding to requests for short story reprints, answering random questions, following up on various leads, etc.  (This is the kind of thing that ends up aggravating me, because it really only takes a few minutes a day, but I end up putting it off and avoiding it, which makes it much more stressful than it really needs to be.)
  • I have three short story rough drafts that need fairly heavy revision.  I might end up taking these with my when I travel to Alabama for a family reunion in a couple of weeks.  So I’m not really working on these, but I’m thinking of them.  One story is promised to an anthology, due in January, so I’ve got time.
  • I’m in the very early stages of thinking about/outlining a short story I’ve promised to another anthology, also due in January.  I know what the story is about and I have a rough outline, but because it’s going to be a historical piece set in World War II, I have some research to do first.  I’ve got the books out, but I haven’t read them yet.  I’ll keep thinking about this and reading the research until I get a critical mass of “story stuff” in my head that’s ready to pour out.

This doesn’t include all the projects on my back burners, like the stories I want to write and the YA space opera that’s half finished and so on and so on…   Really, this is a pretty average work load for me.  It’s not too bad — I don’t have any galleys or copyedits waiting to be reviewed at the moment.  I have maybe more rough drafts than usual needing attention, which gets frustrating.  The book promotion is the only overwhelming thing I’m doing right now, and it’ll be over in about a month.  By then, my late summer/fall convention season will begin.  So if it’s not one thing, it’s another, which is pretty normal in the writing life.  And really, I love that I always have something work on.  Work = never boring.

Monday, July 9th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
The Convention-Going Writer

Our theme this week:  What conventions and/or conferences do we attend regularly, and why?

I’m not convinced that attending conventions — genre-related or otherwise — or writing conferences is absolutely necessary for conducting a professional writing career.  It might help, but it’s possible to have a career without leaving your house, and there are writers who do so.  That said. . .

I like going to conventions because they’re fun.  Sure, I learn stuff and do lots of networking, and since I started publishing novels I reach a lot of readers at cons.  But really, it’s all about the fun.  My professional reasons for going and what I get out of them have changed.  When I started in the late nineties, I was trying to break into the field, going to panel discussions and gleaning whatever gems of wisdom I could, meeting other young writers in the same place I was, trying to get a feel for the publishing world.  Later, when I’d started selling stories and was about to sell my novels, I went to hang out with my friends (the ones I’d met at the very same conventions) and network with editors, looking for that secret handshake.  Now, some 14 books into my career, I go for promotional reasons, to woo new readers, to meet with my editors and agent.  And to hang out with my friends.

I go to a few different kinds of cons, with different agendas:

Literary Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions

Since I started out in the science fiction and fantasy reading community, most of the conventions I go to are science fiction and fantasy oriented.  This has worked out great for me, because over the last twelve years or so of regularly attending these conventions I’ve been able to build an audience and reach a lot of new readers by appearing on panels and doing readings.  Conventions are also the place where I’ve met lots of other up-and-coming SF&F writers, people who are now some of my best friends.  Secret advice:  these cons are some of the best places to get serious face time with authors.  George R.R. Martin is well known for encouraging fans to come see him at science fiction conventions, where they’re more likely to be able to actually sit down and have a conversation with him, rather than the thirty seconds of interaction they get at a book signing.

The ones I try to hit every year:

MileHi Con, Denver’s local SF&F convention.

Bubonicon, Albuquerque’s local SF&F convention.

The World Science Fiction Convention, aka Worldcon.  The location changes, and I’ll sometimes go to this one just for an excuse to travel.  I’ve made it most years, lately, and always have an exhausting wonderful time.  This is the convention that awards the Hugo.

The World Fantasy Convention.  I don’t get to this one as often as I would like, but if you write science fiction and fantasy this is, absolutely, the best place you can go for networking opportunities.  Geared toward industry professionals, most of the attendees are, in fact, professionals —  editors, authors, artists, agents, everyone — and in this setting they’re approachable.  (Also, your membership fee gets you a goodie bag full of books. WIN.)  Like Worldcon, the location changes every year.

Media/Pop Culture Conventions

Over the last five or six years I’ve attended one or two media/pop culture oriented conventions a year.  Not only are these great big geek-out parties, they tend to attract a different audience that the more literary SF&F conventions.  More potential readers to reach!  These are the conventions that feature lots of costumes and make the news.

StarFest, Denver’s local media-focused SF&F convention.  I attend this almost exclusively for reader outreach and publicity — and it works.  When my first novel came out, my publisher gave the convention 500 copies to hand out as freebies.  I still get people coming to me telling me how they started reading the series because of that freebie.  I come here, do readings and panels, am accessible to fans, have a grand old time — and thereby sell books.

Denver Comic Con.  This just happened a few weeks ago, for the very first time, and since it had double the expected attendance, I’m sure this will become one of the “must go” cons of the regional promotional circuit.

San Diego Comic Con.  The big one.  The granddaddy and crown jewel of them all.  125,000 (more or less) potential readers.  (And it’s happening this week!  And I’m not there!  Boo!)  My publisher also gave away copies of my first book here, in 2005, and again in 2007, when I was actually there to sign them.  I credit this con with giving my career a big boost.  I don’t attend every year — it’s a drain of energy and resources, dealing with a con of this size.  But boy, it’s like geek Mecca.  Everyone with an interest should make the pilgrimage at least once.  My plan moving forward is to attend every two or three years.

Dragon*Con.  More fan driven than the commercially driven San Diego Comic Con, this is another all-encompassing geek fest that has to be seen to be believed.  I’ve only been once — it often falls on the same weekend as Worldcon — but I’m itching to get back, because I reached a huge and enthusiastic group of readers here that I hadn’t seen anywhere else.  Next time I go, I’m definitely bringing costumes.  This is the only convention I’ve ever been to where I felt out of place not wearing a costume.  At least on Saturday night at the bar.

Writers Conferences

I actually just attended my first dedicated writers conference this past April — the Pikes Peak Writers Conference — as an instructor.  I’ve lived in Colorado since 1995, so it’s kind of hilarious that I’d never attended this one at all, even as a newbie writer.  Why not?  I spent a lot of those years living paycheck to paycheck, and the conference fee is a bit steep.  It just never occurred to me to try find a way to attend.  I was making progress, and getting lots of good writing advice from authors at MileHi Con.  Oh, and it’s usually the same weekend as StarFest.  I’m thinking of working out a plan where I attend PPWC one day and StarFest one day.  Because my life isn’t crazy enough already, obviously!

On top of all these, I’ll go to one or two regional conventions as a one-off, because I’m in the area or I’ve been invited as a guest of the con.  There’s also the World Horror Convention, which I’ve been to a couple of times but not recently, New York Comic Con, and a whole slew of mystery and romance focused conventions that are on my radar that I could conceivably attend.  Not to mention the huge publishing industry conferences like BEA and ALA.  But I’m trying to cut back, travel less, so I can stay home and write more.  But these are all just so much fun, it’s hard to say no.

Monday, July 2nd, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
If Not Writing, What?

I’m still drawing on some questions I solicited on my Facebook page awhile back.  This comes from Gregg Chamberlain, and it’s one I get asked a lot in blog interviews:  If I wasn’t a writer, what would I be doing?  Would I have some other creative outlet?

What I usually say:  What would I be if I wasn’t a writer?  Institutionalized.

Seriously.  Like a lot of writers, I feel like if I couldn’t write, or didn’t write, I’d go crazy.  Completely bonkers.   Even taking a step back and considering the question seriously, it’s still tough to answer because I can’t imagine what else I’d be doing.  I’ve spent so much of my life on stories and writing, that a huge chunk of my current identity would be totally different.  I’m a writer because around the time I graduated from college, I decided there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do with my life, my career, my time.  It took about twelve years after that to be able to write full time, but I did it because I didn’t give myself much of a choice.  I don’t want to consider what other career I might have gone into besides writing, because it would change my life too much, and I like my life the way it is.

The question of what other creative outlet I might be doing if I didn’t write is a little less traumatic to consider, because I’ve always had lots of creative outlets.  Art, sewing, theater, music.  Looking back, I think I could have made a career at any of them — if I had chosen to put as much time into any one of them as I put into my writing.  Writing won out because it’s easy to do any time, any place.  A pen and paper, that’s it.  Art and music have steeper learning curves, I think, and the rewards aren’t as immediate.  Theater usually needs  collaborators.  I sometimes think in an alternate universe, I did follow one of those other paths, and in that universe I’m wondering what would have happened if I’d become a writer.

I’ve been on a couple of panels over the last couple of years about other creative outlets writers have.  Lots of writers knit, make jewelry, play in bands, and so on.  I do find I really love making things with my hands after days and days of working mostly with my brain.  But I don’t consider trying any of my crafty hobbies professionally.

How about you?  If you didn’t write, would you be doing something else?  Do you have creative outlets in addition to writing?

Monday, June 25th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Saying No, Redux

I’ve mentioned that one of my ongoing goals is to practice saying no.  I need to not take on too much work, and I can’t commit to every invitation — for a guest blog, an anthology, an appearance, etc. — that comes to me.  I’m getting better about saying no.  I know about how many short stories I can promise in a year and still be happy, and I’ve been able to stick to that for the last year or so.  I’m still figuring out how many events in a year is sane, and what kind of events I’m comfortable doing.  I think this is going to be an evolving process, pretty much forever.

Part of my problem is that, in effect, my eyes are bigger than my stomach.  The invitations and projects and conventions and so on always sound like so much fun.  I’m ambitious and I want to do it all.  But I’ve learned that I simply, physically can’t.  What seems like a great idea now will turn into that one deadline that tips my life into stress-out chaos six months from now.  I really can’t go to a convention every weekend and still maintain an actual life at home.  Not without some kind of teleportation device.  And you know what?  That’s okay.  This may be the hardest part of learning this lesson, after spending so much of my early writing career hustling for opportunities and networking my head off:  Saying no is not going to wreck my career.  On the contrary, saying yes to everything might very well wreck my career, if I start missing deadlines and getting so stressed out that I can’t write effectively.  In fact, I think my career will be better served in the long run by saying yes selectively, and saying no a lot more often.

A couple of weeks ago, some other writers posted on their blogs about the great challenge of saying “no.”  Jim C. Hines writes about boundaries in general, the social difficulties of saying no — and how we’re often trained to feel guilty for saying no, for various reasons.  Cat Shaffer writes about setting boundaries as a professional freelancer — how freelancers can be under particular pressure to make their schedules and boundaries infinitely flexible, and how establishing strict boundaries will make both you and your work better.  Both posts are well worth reading, for advice and for validation — it’s not just me who’s going through this.

This is my lesson learned:  I need to pay attention to my boundaries, and then — most importantly — stick to them.  Both me and my career will benefit.

Monday, June 18th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
The First Basic Question

Here’s a tough question I get sometimes, one that I had to figure out how to really articulate clearly a couple of weeks ago when I taught a workshop for a roomful of teenagers:  How do you get started?  Not with outlining or telling a story or learning about craft or trying to get published.  I mean when someone wants to be a writer but has yet to put down words and isn’t sure where to start with even that very first step.  (I’ve been writing since I was eight.  This isn’t an issue I’ve had to deal with for awhile, so I really had to think about it.)

I wonder, sometimes, if writing can seem like such an arcane activity that some people need permission to start.  Or need to get over the hurdle and into believing that yes, anyone who is literate can write.  When someone asks, “I want to write but I don’t know how to start,” what can I tell them?  I’ve come up with a few ideas of how to get people there.

Brainstorming.  Write down ideas, and don’t worry about making them sentences, or making the words pretty.  Make a list if you have to.  You want to write, you’ve got ideas — write them down in whatever form you can.  The point is just to get words on a page, the first words that come into your mind.

Journaling.  Start small:  go outside, go to a park, go to the mall.  Bring a notepad and pen.  Sit quietly, just watching and listening.  Then, write what you see.  Time it, at first — spend ten minutes writing everything:  the people you see, the noises you hear, the kinds of activity going on around you.  Describe the trees, the clouds, the sky.  Again, this doesn’t even have to be prose.  Just make a list.  Describe as much as you can, in as much detail as you can.  This is why the timer helps — you have to force yourself to keep writing, and I can’t isn’t an excuse.  (I still keep a travel journal, which helps me get down my newest experiences and sights into concrete form.)

Personal Journaling.  Keep a diary of your day’s activities, and get in the habit of doing this for a few minutes every day.  Again, focus on details, senses, feelings.  Practice getting that storm of thoughts in your brain onto the page, a little bit at a time.

All these activities kickstart the practice of getting thoughts from your brain onto paper, and the more you do this the easier it will get.  No one will read any of this, it’s all for you, so like I said, don’t worry at all.  Just practice making marks on a page or typing words on the screen.  I think you’ll find that if you do this every day, it gets easier.  If you start by setting a timer and forcing yourself to write for five or ten minutes, you’ll get to a point where the timer bell goes off, and you’re still writing.  That ten minutes will turn into twenty, then a half an hour, and beyond.  Writing takes practice.  It’s a muscle you have to develop.  You might start with lists, but soon your thoughts will start flowing, one sentence into the next.

You may not even realize it when those random thoughts, lists, and ideas start flowing into a continuous narrative.  And the stories that have been living in your brain will start to find their way to the page.