Conference Boost

I went to the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators fall conference this weekend. As always they put on a fabulous weekend with top notch speakers. However, like a lot of writing conferences, the talks tend to be for first time writers anxious to find out about the industry because they always make up the majority of the audience. Nowadays I go mainly to connect with friends and possibly do some networking. Maybe I’ll pick up some industry information, but generally it’s more social than anything else. I do get an adrenaline boost from being around so many creative people and that can help me through the dark winter months of rejection letters and looking for illustration/design work in this economy. But this past weekend I went with high expectations because Will Terry was one of the speakers. I’ve enjoyed his blog and I admire his work so I was looking forward to hearing what he had to say about digital illustration, and the ebook and app market. My expectations were met and then some. Will Terry is a really funny guy, and a wonderful teacher. I wish I lived in Utah so I could take his classes—and believe me, that’s the only reason I would want to live in Utah for I’m at home in Colorado—it feeds my spirit with its crystal blue sky and snow-capped mountaintops. But back to Will. Like all good teachers he makes you look at your world and work in a different, more exciting way. He also reminded me of some basic things that I’ve become too...

Why I like Science Ficiton

I came late to science fiction. I’ve always loved fantasy and have read it since childhood. But science fiction scared me. I’m not technically minded. I inherited my dad’s genes when it comes to anything mechanical. I remember my mother coming up to me once, absolutely terrified. She said, “Quick. Go into the garage and distract your father. He’s got the hood up on the car and I’m afraid he’ll touch something and break the engine.” My dad was known to cut himself when he changed a light bulb. You get the picture. I was afraid that if I tried science fiction, I wouldn’t understand it. So, not wanting to feel stupid, I never bothered reading it. That all changed with Star Wars. Thank you George Lucas for opening my eyes. Since I’m a visual person, it took a movie to do it. When I saw Star Wars I realized science fiction wasn’t just tech. It was adventure, and love, and sacrifice, and feelings. It was characters striving against the odds. It was life and death and everything that makes a good story. I was hooked. I dipped my toe into the genre and quickly discovered there are a number of subcategories. There is hard science fiction which has more emphasis on technology and science; soft science fiction which puts the emphasis on characters and less on science; and social science fiction which focuses more on societal changes. Within those broad categories there are further breakdowns like dystopian, steampunk, military, time travel, alternate history, space opera, and superheroes—to name a few. I’m more drawn to stories that focus on...

Secrets of an Outliner

I promised last week to reveal my secrets on how I outline. This is my process, refined over years (decades, gulp) of writing. It’s what works for me. If you are still struggling to find what works for you, then give it a try. If you are already happy with your process, then read my blog for fun and enjoy another writer’s method of giving birth. (Bring on the spinal for writer’s block!) First, let me put your fears at rest. I don’t use the structured outline form we all learned in grade school with Roman numerals and letters. And since I have a pathological fear of index cards spawned from giving school reports, I don’t use them either. (Why do all my neuroses stem from school?)  I believe in a free-form, organic outline—able to stretch and morph into different shapes while I figure out what I want to do. Basically I just make notes about a story idea until I have enough to start writing. Sounds pretty simple, but it’s actually a lot of work—efficient work, maximizing time work, but still work. Story ideas come from different things. Sometimes an article might spark an idea—adopted teen searches for biological parents. You can play the what if game with that. What if he finds out his father was a rapist? Serial killer? Or a prominent politician running for a high political office? Sometimes an idea comes from an image like a photograph or a dream. I once dreamed of a kid astride a bicycle watching a building burn. I knew  in my heart that he was going to be...

Are You an Innie or an Outie?

I believe there are two types of writers. Innies hold the story inside, letting it dribble out bit by bit with no idea of where it is going (aka pantsers because they write by the seat of their pants). Outies outline the story before they begin and know exactly where they are going (aka as outliners for obvious reasons). I started off as an innie. I think most writers do because usually we don’t have a clue on how to write a book. We have an idea and a desire. Eventually we  give in to it and set pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to see what happens—to find out if we have what it takes to tell a story. A compelling story. A story that people can’t put down, that editors beg to publish, and agents fight one another to represent. (I have to have a big imagination. I write science fiction.) I wrote my first novel as an innie, never knowing what was going to happen next. It all finally came together in a climax, however there was a lot of wandering through the story before I got there. I realized early on that if I didn’t want to spend most of my writing time rewriting it would be much quicker if I knew what my plot was before I started. Writing time is premium time for me. I don’t have a lot of it so I needed to maximize what I had. I’ve noticed that people who are committed innies love to rewrite. For them the first draft is a time of discovery. They write to...