CONduit: Friday Synopsis

on Friday, May 28, 2010
It's surprising how fast time flies when you are having a good time. CONduit in SLC this year so far has been fantastic. For those who don't know anything about CONduit, you might want to check out their web site for more information, suffice to say it's a writing conference mixed with bits of anime, tabletop and D&D games, and other "geek-dom" type activities.

While I enjoyed the majority of the presentations, I think the most I've gotten out of the Con so far are the brief moments talking with authors one-on-one (or two-on-two). The Con is a great place to speak with these people I didn't know anything about face to face (as well as some I do know by blog-stalking), and being able to network with these individuals is great. Tomorrow, during book signings, I plan on speaking rather extensively with as many of them as possible.

The panels I attended today were as follows: Writing Moods, How to Submit your Work for Publication, Cartography, Genocide, and A Writer's Life. I'll go over each with a brief summery for those who weren't able to attend or would like to know what I got from each.

Writing Moods
Panelists: Dan Wells, Ann Sharp, Elizabeth Watters, Barbara Hambly, Larry Correia.

Larry and Dan really made this panel, but the rest of the authors also did a fantastic job. This was certainly a great panel to start the Con with, and provided great information while still being entertaining. It also helped me get to know the awesome wackiness that is Larry Corria, and just based of him being an awesome guy, I now will probably buy his book tomorrow. Way to go!

Anyway, about the presentation, it was by majority about tense moods and how to best cause tensions without overwhelming a reader, or wimping out at the last moment. The first question was concerning humor and tension, which Larry and Wells handled. Larry pointed out that most people who have dangerous jobs, like gator wrestling or working construction on tall buildings, are often the funniest people you'll ever meet. People, when put in dangerous situations, often joke as a sort of way to make the fact their mortality is on the line seem less scary. Thus, having people joke a little during scary parts makes it seem natural. Dan also went on to say that, while humor is great to help loosen the tension, one needs to be careful to not loosen it too far. If a joke is too funny or too clever, the scariness of a scene is gone. Dan also pointed out that in his books, he makes sure he can make jokes about gruesomeness of scenes, but he never jokes about the villains. Joke about him, and he's no longer a threat.

They moved on to talk about how they get in the mood to be write these scenes, and how to pace them. Larry pointed out that he chooses music that fits the scene. Dan pointed out that to keep tension working, you have to build tension without releasing it, but you can often release small portions of tension to keep it from being unbearable. For example, small bits of problems can be resolved, but keeping the main one in the background keeps the tension, which keeps a reader reading. Personally, I consider the movie The Dark Knight to be an excellent example of this. The film is extremely tense almost throughout, but it isn't completely unrelenting because of the minor victories. This keeps someone from watching it without getting exhausted by being on the edge of their seat the entre time, but still keeps them close. Dan also pointed out that Rivendell in Lord of the Rings is a great example of breaking a bit of the tension while not providing complete comfort. They are given a small break, but the overal issue of the ring is still known.

The next topic was interesting: how do you make a character who is an apathetic character, without making them completely boring? I found that I Am Not a Serial Killer is a great example of this, because the characters has a social disorder that makes him uncaring, but he is still an extremely interesting character despite his apathy. Larry pointed out that, if it's a main character, internal dialogue is a must. If it is a secondary character, their apathy through actions can be interesting enough to pull them, especially the awkwardness. Dan also noted that, even if these people are apathetic, they will still have goals of some sort, so they aren't completely detached from everything going on.

The last thing they spoke on was how changing viewpoints influences tension. They noted that, in some instances, switching viewpoints can kill tension. A scene, built around one character and their struggles, can be killed if it is switched to somebody far away. However, this can also work to one's advantage. If the scene is so tense that the reader wants to know what will happen, they'll keep on reading it until they get back to that character. Another part of this was, if you change viewpoints during a cliffhanger scene, that new viewpoint better have a heck of a hook to keep the reader interested. If that new viewpoint is boring, readers will just get frustrated. A good compromise is to switch to a viewpoint that is related to the issue, but not necessarily actually at the scene yet, or is only indirectly influencing them.

Overall, as stated before, a very fun panel, and was very helpful.

How to Submit Your Work for Publication
With Larry Correia, Eric James Stone, Robert Defendi, Brad Torgersen, Dan Willis

This panel was mostly just talking about the format you wanted a manuscript to be in if you planned on sending it off to an editor or an agent. It was also very entertaining; everybody on the panel was very excited and loved to joke around. Since it wasn't really a formulated lecture, and more like a series of facts about getting published, I'm going to write the points as such below. Keep in mind these are just the key things that stood out.

- Submit in a way that your format is transparent to an editor. Don't make your page colors or font be distracting in any way. Don't do weird formatting, even with titles or chapter headings, because if they do buy your book, the editor will change it anyway. Make sure it's clean and followes the guidelines.

- Don't worry about people stealing your stuff. An agent or editor will make more money signing you on and publishing lots of your books than just stealing your one good idea.
- If you submit a manuscript to a lot of people, it can be helpful to write the place you are submitting to on your included SASE. That way, when you get it back, you can know for sure who rejected you and for what manuscript.
- Don't use staples. They were big on this. Use one inch margins, no matter what you hear.
-When you send chapters, send your first five. Don't just pick the five best from wherever in your book.
- Agents, if you can get one, are a huge help in nearly every way. Larry pointed out how he got shafted out of international sales because he didn't know what his contract meant, and having an agent would have fixed that.
- Once your manuscript is ready for publication, pay a professional editor a few hundred bucks to have them tear it to shreds. They pointed out these aren't editors in the phone book: you want actual editors who have edited books in your genre that got published. You'll have to network a little to find them, but once you are in you are in.
- Decide when you are going to allow yourself to have your agent tell you to rewrite your work.
- Develop your audience. Larry also talked a LOT about this when we talked to him one-on-one. For a breakthrough novel, the publisher probably won't do a lot of publicity for you. In the end, it's up to you to know who your audience is, and who to send it to. You need someone to follow you. Put your stuff, be it sample chapters or whole sample books, where people can get to them.
- Short stories are WAY easier to sell compared to novels, but they also require a completely different skill-set to write. If you can write both, try publishing a few short stories before going for novels. Having those on a list of credentials can be helpful.
- Submit to the top market first, and work your way down. Don't settle for local publishers: go big from the beginning. The worst that could happen would be a rejection letter.

With Issac Stewart, L.E. Modesitt, John Brown

John Brown showed up late, but overall the information was very helpful. I'm going to focus on key points again, like I did last time, because I'm liking that style. See, I'm discovery writing my blog now. Fantastic.

- Maps are very important, because they keep you from having inconsistencies in terms of distances travelled, locations of things, and more.
- The author always has the last say on where things are and how far apart they are, but the cartographer might work with the author on how to best put things together. The two will work together, and even in some instances the author will edit the book to best make things fit.
- Mountain ranges are always wider than you think (Modesitt was huge on this). They are VERY wide, like hundreds of miles wide. Keep that in mind.
- Rivers ALWAY go from mountains to oceans. If they don't, you need a good reason explaining otherwise.
- You don't need to draw a beautiful map on the first try, or before you write your book. Use something basic, something you can use as a reference as you write. Make sure to sketch it in pencil, so you can edit and change it if necessary.
- Looking at pictures of maps can help you understand how beaches, landmasses, etc. look.
- Cities need to have a water supply.

I then asked a question to both Modesitt and Brown about the order which they draw their map compared to their story. It was interesting to see the differences in their answers.

Modesitt - Always draws the map first. He usually does the basics to start, such as high and low spots, lakes, and mountains. Once he has the general land mass, he moves on to put the cities in it. However, if the cities' locations are key to the plot, he'll often put them in first. Geography plays a key part in the politics of the cities (ex if they are mud farmers or live in a desert), which relies heavily on a map. Before he even begins writing. Modesitt has a map.

Brown - He usually has a general idea, but doesn't start drawing this map until about half way through the book. For him, part of the fun is discovery writing maps and how everything fits into place. He knows the basic details, such as terrain or building locations, but he just hasn't put it to a map yet. He points out that, in his book, invaders come from the "south," which on his original map he never puts their location (the map cuts off before getting that far down). However, when Tor got the book, they wanted a map of what was down there, and he had no idea. He then had to figure that out, and how long the distance would be when travelled by boat so they'd make it in time for the book, etc.

A few more points:
- Keep in mind that names of things change, including cities. People from one culture might call a canyon by a different name than others. Also, Brown pointed out that a city or village changing its name could be great worldbuilding. Even if it is never visited, just mentioned, that alone could add interest to a world.
- Modesitt pointed out how much he hates cities with unpronounceable names. People won't name cities things nobody can say or read.
- On that vein, people often give nicknames, or shorten the names of their cities.

I enjoyed this presentation a lot more than I thought I would, to be honest. It was very entertaining and gave me a lot of ideas on world building. Considering Lacrymosa had a map from the start, Harbinger and Where Gods and Mortals Dance had none (and still don't), and I just drew one up for Paradise Seekers about a week ago, I can safely say that I'm probably a mix between the two gentlemen mentioned on the panel.

Genocide in SciFi
With Ann Chamberlin, Eric Swedin, L.E. Modesitt, Barbra Hambly

This, sadly, was probably the least interesting panel out of all of them. I know what you are thinking: With all these great authors, and the subject being freaking genocide, what could go wrong?

Well, the problem with this panel was of no fault of the authors, but actually the audience. One person in particular kept loudly hijacking the conversations, and by the end she'd probably said more than the rest of the panelists combined. Once she started, everybody in the audience started interrupting. The conversation then changed from writing to mainly political and moral implications of genocide, which boiled down to opinions which I honestly didn't care about. It was really too bad.

I still got a few good points, however.

- Hambly pointed out that "Genocide is a really good way to let your readers know that the villain means business."
- Modesitt then added to that that it also could show that your hero means business.
- Genocide isn't just a randomly decided murdering of a culture. It's often calculated, with a strong intent behind it.
- Personalizing genocide is an option to keep in mind. When massive amounts of people get killed, we often choose to desensitize ourselves to avoid it being painful. For example, if you read a plant was destroyed, would that be more devastating than the hero's beautiful, innocent daughter being kidnapped and killed? The planet might be full of innocent daughters, but because we were distanced, it didn't have an impact. Adding personalization to genocide can make it more impactful.
- On that vein, genocide could often be considered a plot device, and the civilization destroyed considered lower than characters, even subcharacters.

After that, it pretty much went into political and moral rambling. But hey, at least I got something out of it.

A Writer's Life
w/ John Brown, Brad Torgersen, Dan Willis, Julie Wright, Nathan Shumate

This was a fun panel. Pretty much, these authors (some older, some newer) talked about how they write, and how writing has influenced their lives. I really enjoyed it just to listen too, even though most everything was personal experiences and probably didn't lead to much note taking. But here are a few fun facts.

- Many writers (in fact, all of the panel except Julie Wright) also have day jobs. It takes a while for writing to fully support you, especially with a family.
- Not finding time to write is what kills most writers. You need to find time, and if you find time, you'll make it as an author.
- It is important you are trying to get published to tell a story, not just to make money. If you are doing it for the money, you should know the road is a long one.
- Every writer has rough spots. Everybody on the panel had a part during their published novel when they thought it was completely crap, and wanted to drop it entirely. If you don't hate your book at least once, you are probably doing something wrong, or are on prozac.
- In that vein, if it isn't your first novel and you really think it sucks, you can drop it. However, if you've never finished anything and you hate what you are writing, you aren't allowed to drop it. You need to prove to yourself you can finish something, and if you quit when it gets rough, you'll never finish anything.
- If you are considering quitting writing forever (if those rejection letters are getting to you), consider "Can I live without writing?" If the answer is no, keep trying. You can't quit now.
- Ignore the rejection letter. John Brown pointed out somebody who wallpapered their bathroom of their huge expensive house they bought after getting published with rejection letters. He also mentioned an author who had over 1,500 rejection letters over her career, and she sold finally her first novel for over a million dollars.
- No matter what you do, keep submitting, even if you think it sucks. Like writing is practice, so is submitting. You can get better at submitting, so keep doing it!
- Brown talked about an "exploratory draft," or basically just he had a cool idea, and he wrote about this cool idea until he ran out of it. It could be a short story, a book, anything. He just wrote something, based on this idea.
- Brown also said something quite funny, that made a lot of sense. He said your mind is like the "faith of the farmer." A farmer "throws crap on the ground, expecting something good to eventually come out." He said this is the same as an author's writing: keep writing crap, and soon you'll have something great.

I loved this panel. Brown's "Exploratory Draft" is exactly how I write. I wrote Where Gods and Mortals Dance because I thought the title was so interesting. I wrote Paradise Seekers because I thought the title "Paradise Seeker" was cool, and needed a book to put it in. I wrote Harbinger because I wanted to write a while west fantasy where blood is magic.

A few other tidbits we picked up from authors:
- The New York Times Bestseller list is rigged. It's based on small stores in New York's sales, not overall sales. Larry Corria pointed out that his book was legions above the best sellers on, but never actually made the list despite the ones that DID make it sold thousands of less copies. This bias is why Fantasy/Scifi hardly ever show up on the list (or YA novels), while more literary fiction does (it's what sells in New York). He also noted it's determined by weekly sale peaks, so even if you sold very well consistently, you still wouldn't make it on the list.
- Larry also talked a lot about online networking, and how much you had to sell to be considered good. He actually really liked that his money paid upfront was so small: it meant he met his goal fast, so the publisher wanted to publish him again, rather than having to shoot for something huge. He also said that most publishers look for at least 5,000 sales of a book in order to consider it successful.
- Self-published novels almost always sell around 300 copies. This is because that's about all the networking an unknown person can do on their own (immediate family, neighbors, friends, etc.)
- John Brown really thinks wolves are cool.
- Larry Correia really like guns.

That's about it! I'll have an update tomorrow on what I see. I might have to break it into two days; I'm sure it'll be long. I'm also dropping my poor computer off at the Apple store tomorrow, never to be seen again (or at least for a week or so), so my life is going to get a lot rougher. Oh well, the cost of getting a new screen and a disc drive that works, I suppose.

Great Con! Can't wait for tomorrow!


Anonymous said...

Glad you and your writing group felt like the 1 PM and 5 PM panels were worthwhile. We certainly had an excellent bunch of writers for both panels, and I hope all attendees went away with information that was both valuable and thought provoking.

I have to make a small correction to the worksheet that went out at the 1 PM panel. On there is says never thank an editor? OOPS! It should say, never respond to an editor with anything other than, "Thank you!" Sorry for the faux pas.

Anonymous said...

Great post! thanks so much for sharing. I wish I could have gone Friday!

Nathan Major said...


Thanks for the addendum! That actually did throw me off; I've actually replied with "thanks for your time" emails/letters on all the rejection letters I've gotten thus far.

Also it secretly makes me feel important a real life author checked out my blog. Ego boost, away! :P


I should photocopy the sheet previously mentioned by Brad; it was very helpful and concise (and is sitting right next to me on the couch).

Anonymous said...

I've posted the worksheet as a .pdf to my web site:

Feel free to download and/or pass it around.

As for 'real life authors' who post to blogs, you'd be surprised how quickly links get passed around; though I did notice my last name is misspelled in your post. (grin)

Good luck Nathan! Read my latest blog -- someone I know who has struggled for YEARS just scored big. This is all a game of persistence.

Nathan Major said...

That's way neat, and congrats to that guy for making it. It really does seem to be just keeping on it.
And I'm fixing the misspellings of your name. :P

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