Boskone 53, February 19-21 2016
Boskone is a long-running New England Science Fiction and Fantasy convention that skews more to the literary side, even though it also has events centered on movies, board gaming, etc. Last year was my first time at Boskone, and I was so smitten I’d bought this year’s membership before the con even ended. Boskone is big enough to bring in great authors, and small enough to be a friendly sort of place. To me, newbie convention-goer that I am, it’s perfect.
Here’s a very brief overview of some of the panels I attended, just in case you were wondering about what goes on at event like this. I’m not including all panels or kaffeklatsches, or even mentioning readings; this is more of a taster. And by the way, sometimes the best things are the ones you least expect. The pirate panel was a personal favorite! So find a convention near you, and maybe take a chance on something unexpected. It’s worth it.
(Also, next year’s Guest of Honor is Brandon Sanderson, so if my rambling notes don’t entice you to take a look at Boskone, maybe that will!)
*The following information is a summary of notes I took during panels. They represent only a portion of what was shared by panelists, and are subject to my own interpretation while writing them down at the event.*
Things I wish a pro had told me
Peader Ó Guillin, Walter Jon Williams, Christopher Golden, Charles Stross
Writing a first draft is like walking a tightrope. If you stop halfway to look back, you’ll get frozen with fear.
Writing a full-length novel is like marriage or a relationship – initially there’s that first flush of love, but then eventually you have to settle into the relationship to figure out where it is going. Also, you have to find a way to make the non-exciting bits exciting to write; if you’re not excited to write them, no one will be excited to read them.
After the 1st book, books often sell on outline and first chapters. Sometimes the sale takes so long you’ve cooled on the idea and have to recover the spark.
Kaffeeklatsche with Neil Clarke
Clarkesworld believes very firmly in open slush submission. They have only commissioned stories on rare occasions, for anniversary editions, and even then from regular contributors. The magazine does have ‘regulars’, but they submit through the slush pile like everyone else.
The magazine has gained an industry rep for publishing things that push the boundaries in style and subject matter. Magazines tend to be more cutting edge; they can afford to take a risk on a story. A novel can’t. If one story gets bad feedback, it quickly gets buried/forgotten by the next issue. A novel that tanks can seriously hurt the publisher.
Both magazines and writers need to treat writing as business. They need to be able to thrive, not survive.
Young Love and First Kiss Fiction
Darlene Marshall, Esther Friesner, Django Wexler, James Patrick Kelly, Michael Stearns
Why does first love endure so much in fiction?
A lot of these books are a roadmap. When you’re a preteen or teen, the grown-up world is all around you but you don’t necessarily understand it, or how to get from point A to point B.
First love/kiss is a naturally dramatic device you can include in a plot. Having that first love/kiss brings an intensity that adult fiction doesn’t allow. Part of the attraction for adults reading YA is recapturing the feeling that anything is possible. That life is a fresh page. These novels bring this freshness; romance without the emotional baggage of failed relationships and a divorce.
But there are differences between young protagonists written for adults (Ender’s Game) and for teens: intensity of feeling. And YA doesn’t need a happy ending, but it does need a dramatic ending.
Branding and Social Media
Jeanne Cavelos, Melanie Meadors, Jordan Hamessley, Laurie Mann, Wesley Chu
The main thing about social media is it can’t just be about you. Social media is there to build community. Fans want to know they have something in common with you.
What are you offering that’s distinct and unique? That’s your brand. As an author, you want to prove yourself an expert: on yourself, on your field… Focus on yourself as a piece of a bigger picture and where you fit in. Create a professional persona for yourself. What you tweet or share on social media is only a fraction of who you are, but it’s your persona. What makes you distinct will attract people.
Sell yourself, don’t sell your books. Nothing turns off readers and buyers more than ‘buy my book’. If someone likes what you have to say, they’ll gravitate toward your book.
Talking about writing is interesting, and other writers will follow you for that, but you want readers to follow you, too. Find other things to talk about to build connections.
Tailor your social media accounts. You don’t have to feel that every platform needs you in every way. Pick the one(s) that feels best for you. Don’t do what you don’t want to do. For instance, don’t blog if it’s not your thing. Do what you’re good at. Only have accounts where you’re active. And it’s also important to know where your target audience hangs out.
Part of branding is creating a consistent look and feel across all your platforms. Publishers will give you your font, your art, etc. to use across your platforms, and you can use that to make postcards, bookmarks etc.
Be careful with negativity. Have the discourse – it’s important – but be aware. And really own it, if you’re going to be mad about something or someone. Anything that happens on the internet lasts a long time. You don’t know who you’re going to be working with down the line. Be careful with your opinions. You never know what’s going to go viral. Something you think everyone will like gets ignored, and then a throwaway statement you don’t necessarily want repeated goes viral.
It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me
Edie Stern, Leigh Perry, Darlene Marshall
People have always been fascinated by pirates. Transgression. Also, people who left merchant ships for pirate ships were stepping up in life. Pirates ate better, were paid better, and got disability pay. Also, they had a democracy of sorts. They often voted on who would be captain. Crews were integrated.
Life expectancy on merchant ships was horrible. To free room for cargo, living quarters were cramped, and food and supplies (for bad weather, for instance) were cut back on. There were rarely doctors aboard. A sailor who became disabled was simply abandoned on shore. So pirate life was much better.
People more likely to be taken captive by pirates: carpenters and surgeons.
The difference between pirate and privateer was a piece of paper*. Privateers were legitimate, pirates were not. Privateers had been given permission by a government to operate, often functioning as a navy of sorts. There are two sides to the coin: pirate/patriot. It all depends on who’s doing the name-calling.
* The ‘Issuance of Letters of Marque and Reprisal’ was something a legitimate government could do at the time.
Robert Louis Stevenson invented a lot of the pirate myths and tropes that still endure. In real life, there was no walking the plank, and one-handed pirates didn’t have hooks, just wooden replacements. The tattoos, however, were real and used for identification. The gold jewelry was real too, a way of carrying your wealth with you so that if you died you had enough on you for a decent burial.
The worst insult in the Royal and early American navy was to call someone a marine. The original marines were in charge of onboard discipline so sailors hated them. They were the officers’ line of defense, so this antipathy was encouraged by the officers to keep the marines from siding with the sailors against them.
Why the parrot? A good-sized parrot on your shoulder gave you height leverage. A well-trained parrot could see above a crowd and give you advance warning of enemies.
Fight vs. Flight
Wesley Chu, Flourish Klink, Errick Nunnally, Tom Easton.
“An action scene is a conversation with fists” (Wesley Chu). At the end of the day, the scene should have a result, a character placement, an impact on the characters. In movies, fights are often fillers. Fillers don’t work in writing. So when writing a scene you want to think about what it leads to – the result, where the characters are, what they’re feeling.
Writing: you’re either looking at the scene broadly or going for the close look and details. Only get into the specifics if you know what you’re talking about. Long, detailed fight scenes are extraordinarily boring. Unless you’re using it to show damage, mental fatigue, etc. it’s just filler.
Things happen a lot faster in fight than you think, and are over a lot faster too. And then you have to think about cost of combat: when there is contact between two things there is damage.
Don’t underestimate flight. Indiana Jones, for instant, is a character who doesn’t mind turning and running. A lot of great characters aren’t fighters. Dick Francis’ characters are often on the receiving end, not the dealing out end.
However, the flight option can be tricky when writing female protagonists. Because even though it’s the logical option, even for a trained fighter, since women are often outside their weight class, it can send the wrong message in fiction. But the truth is, even for the trained fighter, aggression and size will win over skill anytime. In real life, any woman knows that the first thing is to run the heck away.
Knife fights: The thing about knife fights/disarms is that you’re going to get cut. In real life, when you look at emergency rooms, you’re going to see that people with knife injuries die a lot. “A knife fight is not a casual thing under any circumstance” (Flourish Klink). People underestimate knives in fantasy.
Likewise, sword fights are short, unless you’re well-armored. But is realism the best thing for entertainment? Probably not. No one is going to complain about embellishment. However, fear of death should be a key motivator. Think about tunnel vision in combat. There’s a huge difference between a controlled environment like a lesson, and something that’s actually happening.
You also have to consider your setting. How does the cold affect your weapons? Or being punched? How does having wet clothes affect your movement?
If there’s no tension, it’s not action, it’s just movement. A definition of an action scene is that there must be tension.
Dealing with Rejection
James Patrick Kelly, Barry Goldblatt, Bob Kuhn, Kenneth Schneyer, Darlene Marshall.
The rejection is not you, personally. If the same kind of rejection is coming over and over again, it might be time to have a good hard look at your submission. But don’t hate yourself, or the rejection.
Make a submission list. If you get a rejection, send it right back out to the next on the list. Don’t let a story sit and gather self-doubt.
“Do your due diligence before you start sending things out” (Darlene Marshall). Research what people want before submitting. Sometimes what you’ve got is really good. It’s fine the way it is. But it may not fit the current market. So you have to understand yourself AND you have to understand the market.
“When you swim in the sea of rejection, just let it roll off your back” (Jim Kelly)
Bob Devney, Tom Easton, Esther Friesner, Leigh Perry, Erin Underwood.
Anthology comes from the Greek for a collection of flowers, a garland. For a long time it meant a poetry collection.
Anthologies all pay in different ways. Sometimes it’s a flat fee. Sometimes it’s an advance and royalties.
Anthologies keep short fiction alive. Short stories do a job of invigorating fiction as a whole.
Story placement: the importance of a strong leading story, a strong finale, and a strong middle. If the last story can be a wrap-up one that embodies what the anthology was about, even better. Also, don’t follow a banjo act with another banjo act. Space out similar style or genre stories. There has to be a flow between stories, or else readers who read in order will complain it feels choppy.