Ireland Roundup: Part III (Titancon coach tour and Howth)

Click here for Part I — Worldcon.

Click here for Part II — Titancon. 

On Sunday August 25th, Jo gave me a ride into Belfast to meet up with the group leaving on the traditional Titancon coach tour. I’d had the Giant’s Causeway on my list of ‘places I really wanted to visit someday’ (we all have one, right?), and I booked the coach tour as soon as I found out it was on the itinerary for the day. So there we were, bright and early in the morning, three bus-loads of sci fi and fantasy fans ready to take in the Northern Irish countryside on a fabulous blue-sky day.

Our first stop was, as promised, the Giant’s Causeway itself. What a beautiful spot! It absolutely lived up to its reputation. The rock formations are amazing, and even crawling with tourists (and SF/F fans) it was a wonderful experience.

Next up was the picturesque Ballintoy, an absolute gem of a place. We parked precariously on top of the cliffs and walked down a steep and winding road flanked by wild roses and some of the largest rose hips I’ve ever seen, to a tiny jewel-toned harbor surrounded by sandy, rock-protected beaches. For fans of the show, Ballintoy featured in Game of Thrones as the harbor of Pyke, in the Iron Islands.

On our way back to Belfast, we stopped briefly to take photos of the ruins of Dunluce Castle, which served as the filming location for the seat of House Greyjoy. It was a thoroughly nice day out, and I enjoyed every bit of it. Unfortunately, it also marked the end of the Northern Irish portion of my trip. The next morning, it was time to say goodbye to Jo and her lovely family, and meet up with Pol for our trip back down south.

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I parted ways with Pol once we arrived in Dublin, and found my way to the small but comfortable Central Hotel, conveniently located right in the middle of things, just below the Temple Bar district. I was pretty worn out from travel and a busy few days, so I was content to have a short walk, buy myself a take-out dinner, and chill in my hotel room for the evening.

The next day, I set out for Howth, a nearby harbor town on the commuter line from Dublin. I’d heard great things of Howth, and it didn’t disappoint! The town itself is charming, and so is the harbor, where I even managed to catch sight of a couple of harbor seals! But what I’d really gone there for was the famous cliff walk…

There are several different walks you can do in Howth. I chose the easiest, which is a 6km loop along the edge of the cliffs and back over the top to the town. The sun was shining, the day was warm, and the views were truly magnificent. To one side, the open sea. To the other, sweeping vistas of heather and gorse. Nothing to hear except the wind, birdcalls, and buzzing insects. Paradise.

I was pretty exhausted by the time my last day arrived, and to be honest I almost skipped the day trip to Howth. But I’m very, very glad I didn’t. It brought the perfect moment of peace and introspection to end my trip on a high note. I’ll always remember taking a break on a bench, surrounded by gorse bushes with the sea ahead of me, all alone, and just closing my eyes and breathing…

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A huge thanks to all the wonderful people I met on my trip, far too many to name. You were all lovely and made my time in Ireland and Northern Ireland special. I’m so happy I took a chance and did this, and I have a feeling that the memories will keep me going for a long, long time. To those who are thinking of doing something similar: go for it! I missed my family (and dog) like crazy, but it was worth it. So take a chance. You won’t regret it!

Ireland Roundup: Part II (Titancon)

Click here for Part I — Worldcon.

With Worldcon a wrap, at least for me, I was ready to take time off to wander around Dublin and get some sightseeing done. I had a theme for the day, and that theme was ‘words’. Pol and I started out together at the Dublin Writer’s Museum, and then went our separate ways. My path took me past Christ Church and St. Patrick’s cathedrals, with a pause to enjoy the architecture and St. Patrick’s Park, and then onto the gorgeous Marsh’s Library — the oldest public library in the country.

Marsh’s is well worth a visit is you’re in the area; the section open to the public is small, but the ambience is incredible! You can just imagine the scholars of the past sitting at the wooden desks pouring over the leather-bound tomes… (Go follow their lovely bookish feed on Instagram!) Next, I strolled past Dublin Castle and visited my last stop of the day: the Chester Beatty Library, a fabulous building that mixes the old and the modern beautifully. The Chester Beatty houses a collection of manuscripts, rare books, and other fascinating items from Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. I wandered back home via Temple Bar and the Ha’Penny Bridge, to pack my bags ready for Belfast the next morning.

On Tuesday August 20th, Pol and I set off for Northern Ireland, with a picturesque train ride up through the Irish countryside. In Belfast, I headed to Jo Zebedee’s house in Carrickfergus — a huge thanks to Jo and her wonderful family for hosting me for a week! Titancon began on Thursday, so on Wednesday we still had time for a little sightseeing, which began with a drive up the coast (and past the filming location for the Wall and Castle Black in Game of Thrones), stopping at the ruins of the ‘Bishop’s Palace’ in the parish where Jonathan Swift was minister. A thoroughly rainy afternoon was spent in company of fellow Chrons members Pol and Paul, visiting Carrickfergus Castle before a well-deserved pub dinner.

Thursday August 22nd was the first day of Titancon/Eurocon. I was instantly smitten! This is a much smaller con than the madness that was Dublin, and I thoroughly enjoyed the casual atmosphere, with good conversations waiting around every corner, and a small but interesting selection of panels. After the opening ceremony with Guest of Honor George R.R. Martin himself, it was time for my own panel: I was moderating Found in Translation (Juliana Spink Mills, Francesco Verso, Radoslaw Kot, Jean Bürlesk) and have been assured I did a decent job of it! Jo and I left early, without staying for the famous Titancon Literature Night, but all in all it was a great first day.

Friday, I skipped the morning programming and headed over to the Titanic Belfast museum, which was particularly interesting for the glimpse of Belfast in the early 1900s, as well as the scope of the shipping industry in the day. I made it back just in time to catch a great panel on Medbots, Tricorders, and More (Kerry Buchanan, Catherine Sharp, David Nordley, Christine Doyle), where Christine drew a parallel between space exploration and the colonial era on Earth, talking not only about a fear of being contaminated with alien diseases, but also that care will be needed not to contaminate other species/peoples with Earth diseases.

Following this, I caught a presentation on underwater archeology by Radoslaw Kot: Capital Ships Lost. My next program item was A Closer Look at Anthologies (Ellen Datlow, Kerry Buchanan, Paul Corcoran, Sarah Murray, Claude Lalumière). I found the differences in approach taken by an editor dealing with larges presses (Ellen) and small presses that depend on the KU pages-read system (Paul) particularly interesting, in terms of specific strategies used.

The last event on Friday was our DISTAFF book launch. DISTAFF is an all-women’s sci fi anthology put together by a group of us from the SFFChronicles.com forum, including Kerry Buchanan, Jo Zebedee, and myself, all present at Titancon. The anthology was officially released on August 15th (see our website and my blog post for more information), and finally we had a chance to celebrate all our hard work! We had a great turnout for the launch party, which included readings, an interview by author and editor Paul Corcoran, and lovely cupcakes and sci fi themed chocolates. A huge thanks to everyone who came and made our evening such a special one!

Saturday was the last official day of Titancon, apart from the traditional Sunday coach tour (see upcoming blog post) and feast (which I skipped). My first program item of the day was Peader Ó Guilín’s Toast Mutant Interview , followed by a panel on the Modern Use of Irish Mythology (Jo Zebedee, Ruth Frances Long, Ian McDonald), where Ruth told us that, regarding different parts of Ireland and mythology, “We come at things from different angles, but we all end up at the same point.”

Next up was a panel called YA For Everyone (Ruth Frances Long, Karen, Rain Devlin, Peader Ó Guilín), where Peader reminded us that YA isn’t just about plot-driven stories, but also stories that people think young people should read, that will educate them—issue-driven stories (drug use, disability, etc.). The panelists also brought up another matter, that of shelving issues: if YA is treated as a genre, do we need subgenres? The closing ceremony came soon after, with Toast Mutants Peader and Pat Cadigan, and Guest of Honor George R.R. Martin. Afterwards, six of us Chrons folk topped this off with our very own farewell dinner — a lovely and fitting end to the event.

More to come! The Titancon coach tour and my day out in Howth…

Click here for Part III.

Ireland Roundup: Part I (Worldcon)

From the moment Worldcon 2019 was confirmed for Dublin, I knew I wanted to go. Eurocon was taking place a week later, in Belfast, and this was the most golden of golden opportunities to get to meet some of my UK and Irish SF/F writing friends in person. I talked it over with my husband, and we decided I should take the plunge and buy the memberships to both cons.

Fast forward two years and there I was, landing in Dublin on a grey and drizzly Wednesday morning at oh-my-god-it’s-early o’clock for my first ever Worldcon. I had arranged to meet my friend Pol, who was sharing a rental house with me and a couple of others from the forum we all post on — the SFF.Chronicles.com. Pol was fresh off the ferry from England, also arriving at horrible o’clock in the morning, so we kicked off our adventure by spending the hours until we could check in by traipsing all around Dublin. Two museums and a multitude of other stops later, including Trinity College and the statue of Oscar Wilde, it was finally time to drag our exhausted and zombie-like selves to a taxi and head over to our home for the week.

The rest of the day was spent settling in, getting to know my housemates in person, and popping over lightning quick to the event venue to get our registration done. Thursday morning was Day 1 of Worldcon, and the four of us — Pol Dee, Jo Zebedee, Shellie Horst, and myself — took a taxi in the morning, excited to get started. The first panel I caught that day was Invasion and the Irish Imagination (Jo Zebedee, Peader Ó Guilín, Ruth Frances Long, Ian McDonald, Jack Fennel), a lively and thought-provoking discussion. Perhaps my favorite moment was when Jo told us, “as writers, keep asking those questions, and asking them hard.”

Later, in Sports in Science Fiction and Fantasy (Neil Williamson, Chris M. Barkley, Rick Wiber, Fonda Lee), Fonda talked about sports as a microcosm of society, and suggested that “sports are a way to reflect and reinforce some of the social conflicts and divisions.” I was particularly interested in this panel, as I’m getting ready for another revision pass of the SF sports thriller that I wrote last year. Lots of great tips!

I managed to fit in two more panels that day, Found in Translation (Rebecca Gomez Farrell, Jean Bürlesk, Umiyuri Katsuyama, Andy Dudak), and ‘Celtic’ Fantasy and Mythology (Kerry Buchanan, Kathryn Sullivan, Kristina Perez, Deirdre Thornton, David Cartwright). I also connected with some of the other SFFChronicles members who were attending Worldcon, and a few other ‘e-friends’ who I had been looking forward to meeting in person. As evening fell, we shared another taxi home to our ‘con within a con’, to chat about our day over dinner and a well-deserved glass of wine.

Friday was a day for readings, with one by Charlie Jane Anders — a delightful surprise, as I wasn’t familiar with her work — and Victoria Schwab — who is every bit as amazing in person as she is online. At the end of the day it was my turn ‘on stage’, as part of the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading. It was lovely to be part of Worldcon’s programming, and we had a nice turnout for our event.

By Friday, Worldcon was busy, busy, busy; lots of people and lots of lines everywhere for all panels and events. We were forced to strategize, paring things down to basics, attending only the things we really wanted. For me, on Saturday, this included a great panel on Gender and Sexuality in YA (Victoria Schwab, Sam Bradbury, Diana M. Pho, Rei Rosenquist, Rachel Hartman), where we were urged by Rei to “stand on the ground you stand on” and know which story is actually ours to tell. Victoria added that writers need to understand the core of their own identity first.

Other Saturday events included a reading by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and a kaffeeklatsch with Peter V. Brett, where much Demon Cycle wisdom was shared. But possibly my favorite moment of the day was going out to dinner with a mixed group of SFFChronicles members and writers from Otherworlds NI, a Northern Irish science fiction group, the brainchild of Jo Zebedee. The Otherworlders are all collectively lovely, and us Chronners were more than happy to become honorary Otherworlds adoptees. This, to me, is the highlight of these events: the friendships forged or strengthened, the conversations held, the smiles and laughter gathered.

I kicked off Sunday by attending a kaffeeklatsch with fellow Broad Universe member Randee Dawn. This was followed by a panel on Getting Published and Staying Published (E.C Ambrose, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, George Sandison, Michelle Sagara, Rachel Winterbottom), where Elaine reminded us that most writers’ careers are a rollercoaster of ups and downs instead of a linear ascension. At What is Irish Science Fiction Now? (Jo Zebedee, Val Nolan, Atlin Merrick, Sarah Maria Griffin), Sarah declared that “no one is going to talk about us if we don’t talk about ourselves. (…) It is urgent that we represent ourselves.” When the subject turned to the divide between perception of ‘literary’ vs genre fiction, Sarah delighted the audience by saying, “I do believe they’re called book shelves for a reason, and not book plinths.”

Sunday evening was the Hugo’s ceremony, which Pol and I livestreamed from the house as we were both absolutely out of energy. I had already decided to give the last day of the con — Monday — a miss in the name of Dublin tourism, but I felt that Sunday was the perfect ending to an extremely hectic but very rewarding event.

More to come! Touristing in Dublin and Belfast, Eurocon/Titancon, the Titancon coach tour, and my day out in Howth…

Click here for Part II and Part III.

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View from my bedroom window

Summer 2019 Updates

Summer! (At least for all of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere.) Life for me lately has been a busy but happy balance between visiting family, hanging out with the kids, and writing. This is what I’ve been up to, and what’s ahead for August…

June brought a visit from my mother, who flew up from Brazil to spend almost three weeks with us. We had a wonderful time exploring some of Connecticut’s parks and gardens, finishing things up with a glorious weekend in NYC.

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In July, I dove into revisions. I’m working on something new and rather scary, at least for me. It’s my first non-YA novel, my first try at working completely in a fantasy world (and not urban fantasy or portal fantasy), and also my first attempt at first person POV in novel-length work. The first half of Shiver’s story is now off with my wonderful (and hugely patient) beta readers, and to say I’m anxious is probably the understatement of the year!

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August began with a visit from my mother-in-law, also from Brazil. We’ve been busy, and have lots more fun stuff planned; one of the nice things about having friends or family to stay is the excuse to get out and about.

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Now, this is where things get truly adventurous. On August 13th I’m off to Ireland! Worldcon 2019 is in Dublin, and I’m looking forward both to exploring the city and to my first ever Worldcon. I’ll be doing a reading as part of the Broad Universe event, so if you’re there, I’ll be in the Liffey Room 3 at the CCD on Friday August 16th, from 5-5.50pm.

From the Con program: “Broad Universe is an international organization for women and female-identifying authors of science fiction, fantasy and horror, working together to promote women’s works in the genres! Our signature event, the Rapid Fire Reading, gives each author a few minutes to read from their work. It’s like a living anthology of women writers.”

On August 15th, more excitement! That’s release day for our all-female collaborative sci fi anthology, DISTAFF. I’ll have bookmarks on me in Dublin, come hunt me down. But our actual launch party will have to wait until the following weekend…

After Worldcon is over, I’m off to Belfast for Titancon (Eurocon). Here, we’ll be officially launching our anthology. Yes, there will be a proper event, all fancy-like with cupcakes and chocolates, so if you’re at Titancon, stop by on Friday 23rd, from 7-9pm in the Lisburn room.

At Titancon, I’ll also be part of the Literature Night readings on Thursday 22nd, and I’m moderating a panel: Found In Translation, discussing the business, practicalities and pitfalls of translating SF&F, with Francesco Verso (Future Fiction), Radoslaw Kot, and Jean Bürlesk (Science Fiction & Fantasy Society Luxembourg). That’s on Thursday 22nd, from 5-6pm at the Waterfront room.

I fly home on the 28th, hopefully full of the good sort of exhaustion that comes with meeting friends and making new ones, watching panels, traipsing around new cities to take in the sights, and generally getting enough inspiration to last a good few months!

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NESCBWI 19 Conference Roundup

From my conference bag…

Two weeks ago, close to seven hundred writers and illustrators — attendees, faculty, and staff — gathered in Springfield MA for the yearly regional Spring Conference of the New England SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

I missed last year’s conference, exchanging it for the Eastern PA SCBWI region’s Poconos Retreat instead (see posts here and here). I had a wonderful time in Pennsylvania, but I must admit it was nice to be back in Springfield this year! I only attended two of the three days, but going to the NESCBWI conference always feels like coming home. There are so many friendly faces — both old friends and new ones — that time zips by, and I was sad to see Saturday come to a close and end another year’s get together with my New England kid lit family.

Friday night’s ‘Fireside Chat’ with Patricia MacLachlan and Heidi Stemple

A few of my personal highlights:

  • Patricia MacLachlan’s ‘Fireside Chat’ with Heidi Stemple was a delight. I’m actually new to reading Patricia’s work — I picked up my first of her books earlier this year, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Seeing Patricia speak helped understand a little of the writer behind the pages.
  • The branding workshop with my writing pal Jessica Southwick. Jess talked about treating our author and/or illustrator selves as brands when it comes to visual presence — website, business cards, social media etc. Her workshop included a practical feedback session where she looked at our material and gave us a handy list of pros and cons. I have so much website ‘homework’ to do now!
  • Lisa Yee’s revision intensive. Lisa is so much fun to be around, and her hands-on workshop was a really good glimpse of how revision techniques can be put into practice. She guided us through a series of short writing exercises that really helped understand how we can tighten and improve our work. Thanks Lisa!
  • Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s keynote talk was both inspiring and emotional, and had many of us in the audience wiping away a discreet tear or two. Lynda is amazing, and I’m looking forward to reading her brand new book, Shouting at the Rain.
  • The volunteer dinner! Volunteering at NESCBWI is a great tradition; volunteers help out with set up, registration, at workshops, in the book signing line, and in many other capacities. If you’re new to the conference, it’s a fun way to feel like you belong while you’re finding your feet. In exchange, the NESCBWI graciously invites all volunteers to a dinner on Saturday night — delicious tacos this time. It’s always a nice moment, held in a smaller and more intimate setting than the huge ballroom meals of Saturday and Sunday lunchtime.
  • People, people, people. Too many to list: some were friends from other events, some were local to me, some were online buddies I was finally meeting in person. And some were absolutely 100% new, and that’s just the way I like it: meeting amazing kid lit folks and expanding my circle of awesome. To all of you I connected with this year — thanks for making the conference one of my absolute favorite places to be!

Yesterday evening, a group of us who are local to the Hartford CT area met up to talk about all of our own highlights from Springfield and compare notes. I’m always happy to see that I’m not the only one who leaves the conference with a big smile and a fresh batch of inspiration. I hope the NESCBWI keeps up the good work for many more years to come. And for those who live in New England and write or illustrate for children and teens: see you next spring!

Post-conference catch-up at That Book Store in Wethersfield, CT

Boskone 56 Round-up

Another year, another edition of Boskone, ‘New England’s longest running science fiction convention’. I’ll always have a soft spot for Boskone, which represents a lot of firsts for me: first SF/F con I ever went to (back in 2015, two years after moving to the USA) and first time on panels (2017) are two of them. This year I added another couple of firsts: my first time moderating a panel and my first time doing a reading.

Here are some of my Boskone 56 highlights!

  • Trying my hand at moderating. I…actually had a great time doing this. The other participants of the Agency and Free Will in Speculative Fiction panel — Gillian Daniels, Rebecca Roanhorse, Greer Gilman, and M.C. DeMarco — did a fantastic job with a pretty tricky theme, so a huge thanks to them all for playing along with my not-so-easy questions.
  • The Broad Universe group reading. Broad Universe has been organizing their Rapid Fire Readings for years now, and as a new member of the group I was delighted to give this a go. We each got an allotted six minutes to give the audience (and each other) a taste of our work, and I really enjoyed the mixture of styles and genres.
The BU reading: thanks L.J. Cohen for the photo!
  • Talking fights in the Now, That’s a Great Action Scene panel. Unfortunately our moderator Errick Nunnally only made it for the end of the panel, but Bracken MacLeod stepped in and kept S.L. Huang, Vincent O’Neil and myself busy with plenty of fun discussion points. And I got to take my HEMA longsword to show offprove a point (ha! point…) about the need for proper research.
  • Debating trilogies and series in the Middle Book Syndrome panel. Fran Wilde did an awesome job moderating this (plus, we had matching nail polish!), and Kenneth Rogers Jr., Sarah Beth Durst, Sharon Lee and myself had a great time trading tips and tricks for keeping those trilogies flowing.
Middle Book Syndrome panel; thanks to Jennie Ivins for the photo!
  • Readings! Besides the Broad Universe reading, I also caught the Unlikely Imaginarium group reading, with Elaine Isaac/E.C. Ambrose, Clarence Young/Zig Zag Claybourne, Kenneth Schneyer, C.S.E Cooney, Carlos Hernandez and Cerece Rennie Murphy. And later that same day, a reading by S.L. Huang, whose Zero Sum Game sounds awesome and has already been added to my to-read list.
There’s Clarence at the Unlikely Imaginarium reading…
  • I always try to fit in a few panels, and Laundering Your Fairy Tales with Jane Yolen, Theodora Goss, Victoria Sandbrook, Karen Heuler and Melanie Meadors was a great pick, delving into the often-dark history of popular fairy tales. Of Gods, Devils, And Tricksters was another good one, with an in-depth look at trickster figures in mythology. This one was moderated by Max Gladstone, with Rebecca Roanhoarse, Shannon Chakraborty, Jane Yolen and Dana Cameron. And I ended up going to The Great Agent Hunt, with S.L. Huang, Joshua Bilmes, Christopher Golden, Lauren Roy and Barry Goldblatt. Lots of good advice, and plenty of cautionary tales… 
  • People. All the people. New friends, old friends… Conversations everywhere: at the bar, in the hallways, at the tail end of panel sessions. This is what really makes Boskone such a great event — getting to hang out with other readers, writers, and fans for two days straight. You are all awesome and I loved spending time with you! I hope to see you next year!
A selection of postcards and bookmarks: to-read reminders!

I only stayed two days this time, instead of the full weekend, to save a little on hotel money. I was sad to leave early, but it’s for a good cause: in August I’ll be at Worldcon in Dublin and then Titancon in Belfast! I’m really excited to be trying something new, but you can bet that in 2020 I’ll be back at Boskone, my ‘home con’ and forever favorite.

Boskone 56 Schedule

It’s almost February, and that means it’s getting close to Boskone time! I absolutely love this friendly New England Con, and I’m glad to be returning. If you like science fiction and/or fantasy, and live anywhere near Boston, why not drop by to check it out?

This year brings a couple of firsts for me: my first time as a panel moderator at Boskone, and my first reading, as part of the Broad Universe group. Besides my own program items, I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and hopefully making a few new ones; watching a couple of panels (see full program here); and maybe attending a reading. Let’s see how much I can cram into the two days I’ll be there!

If you’re planning to attend, here’s my schedule:

Agency and Free Will in Speculative Fiction

Friday 15th Feb 2019, 18:00 – 18:50, Harbor III

Fantasy often makes use of prophecy. But when a protagonist is the prophesied one, how can they experience true conflict, risk — or agency? They can’t fail, right? Shouldn’t this deflate the reader’s interest? What happens when you have conflicting prophecies? And if we’re in a mechanistic universe, governed by the laws of physics, where is free will?

Juliana Spink Mills (M), Gillian Daniels, Rebecca Roanhorse, Greer Gilman, M. C. DeMarco

Broad Universe Group Reading

Friday 15th Feb 2019, 21:00 – 21:50, Griffin

Join members of Broad Universe — a nonprofit association dedicated to supporting, encouraging, and promoting female authors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror — as they read tidbits of works and works in progress. Readers will include Terri Bruce, Trisha Wooldridge, L. J. Cohen, Roberta Rogow, Juliana Spinks Mills, Joanna Weston, and others. Moderated by Elaine Isaak.

Now, That’s a Great Action Scene!

Saturday 16th Feb 2019, 11:00 – 11:50, Burroughs

Fight scenes are not all created equal. Action scenes can make or break a story: drawing readers in, or shattering the suspension of their disbelief. Let’s look at some of the best action scenes and sequences to see how it’s done right — and why some scenes are just wrong. How do you keep the energy up without confusing the readers with a flurry of movements that only martial arts enthusiasts can follow — or care to?

Errick Nunnally (M), S L Huang, Bracken MacLeod, Juliana Spink Mills, Vincent O’Neil

The Middle Book Syndrome

Saturday 16th Feb 2019, 16:00 – 16:50, Marina 4

The first book of your series was amazing: solid story; compelling characters; great reception by publisher, critics, and fans. Now, the hard part: living up to all the high expectations. Or maybe the first book had a less receptive reception, but you still need to produce that second volume? Plus there’s the rhythm problem — first book, thrilling beginnings; last book, satisfying conclusions; middle book, recaps and repetitions … How do you deal with the pressures of a multi-book contract and impatient fans?

Fran Wilde (M), Juliana Spink Mills, Kenneth Rogers Jr., Sarah Beth Durst, Sharon Lee

Poconos Retreat, Part II

(Continued from Part I)

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Our last day dawned soft and gray, drizzle misting in from the hills around us. Luckily the weather had no impact on everyone’s enthusiasm, and after another amazing breakfast (seriously, Highlights, do you not want us to ever leave?), we gathered once again in the main room in the Barn to watch the faculty talk us through some of the (anonymous) first pages and illustrations that attendees had sent in. I’m always fascinated at these events to find out just what an experienced editor will pick out of a fragment of text.

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Mealtimes at the Barn

We broke up into workshops after this, and I chose to hear agent Kira Watson talk us through scene development. We looked at the difference between ‘core’ scenes and ‘bridge’ scenes, and how to avoid the so-called ‘fluff’ scenes. Kira told us that each scene should make a difference, even if it’s a bridge scene, and not just be there to fill space. I’m looking forward to trying her flashcard exercise!

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Kira Watson talks us through scene essentials

The final keynote was given by picture book author Tara Lazar. Tara’s speech was joyous and uplifting, even when talking about personal obstacles, and was just right for sending us home all fired up to get back to creating. She both began and ended her talk by reminding us that “there is no divide”, and that authors are just people like anyone else.

We sat down for a last lunch (with a huge round of applause for chef Amanda and her staff), and then said our goodbyes to all our new (and old) friends, and then it was time to take off my name tag, grab my bags, and drive the three hours back to Connecticut.

 

Our printed schedule ended with Master Yoda’s words: “That which you seek inside you will find.” That may be true, but all of us at the 2018 Poconos Retreat found plenty in each other, too, and in the inspiring words of our weekend mentors.

 

 

High points for the weekend:

  • Location, location, location. And did I mention location?
  • Star Wars references everywhere!
  • Great faculty choices: everyone was kind, generous, and friendly, full of wisdom to share.
  • Good attendee vibes. Everywhere I turned I was met with a smile and a friendly face. I returned home with lots of nice memories, and plenty of new Twitter and Instagram contacts, too.
  • My awesome roommate, Tina Holt. I was a little worried about sharing a cabin with a stranger, but Tina was a star. #TeamCabin20
  • Okay, I won’t mention the food again, but I loved the ‘help yourself’ hot/cold drinks stations set up all over the place. And the baskets of snacks, too. (Oops, did I just mention food?)
  • The Eastern PA SCBWI crew: Kim Briggs, Alison Green Myers, Lindsay Bandy, and Virginia Manning. You all rock, thanks for organizing this tremendous weekend.

 

Poconos Retreat, Part I

(In two parts, because it was just THAT great!)

 

Ever since I met the ray of sunshine that is YA author Kim Briggs, five years ago at my first ever SCBWI conference (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), I’ve wanted to go to the annual retreat organized by her region, Eastern PA SCBWI. This year I finally made it down to Pennsylvania, and I’m so glad I did!

Around thirty or so writers and illustrators gathered with faculty and staff at the lovely Highlights Foundation center in the Poconos, for a weekend of workshops, critique sessions, good food (so much good food!), and lots and lots of creative chit chat. The theme? May The Force Be With You, of course. What else for a start date of May 4th?

The magic began on Friday evening. After appetizers, the illustrator showcase, and dinner, we were all invited to go to the podium and present our homework. Yes, homework: to prepare a short presentation of what the Force means for you and your work. A great opening for the weekend. (I’m saving mine to share in another blogpost; wait and see!)

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Wookiee Cookie from Saturday’s lunch

Saturday, after a generous breakfast in the Barn (seriously. So. Much. Food.), we were treated to an opening keynote by YA author K.M. Walton, who encouraged us to trust our goals and dreams; to know our dreams and do the work to make them happen.

Next, I headed up to the Lodge for a workshop on Plot Meets Character with Kate Prosswimmer, editor for the Sourcebooks Fire and Jabberwocky imprints. Kate went over some of the key approaches for breaking down plot and character in stories, and then suggested we chart our own novels with the tools she introduced us to.

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Plot Meets Character workshop

After lunch (more REALLY GOOD food; I was feeling thoroughly pampered by that point!), it was time for the keynote by author/illustrator Angela Dominguez. Angela talked about the difficulties of growing up bilingual — something that most people in my family can relate to! She also gave us an important reminder: that there’s a lot of waiting in publishing, and it’s okay to get frustrated.

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Keynote by Angela Dominguez

It was time for a break and a group photo, and then onto the keynote by editor and author Harold Underdown. Harold walked us through a selection of children’s books for all ages and talked about the importance of beginnings and endings: of making a promise to your reader at the start of a story, and following through on that promise at the end.

The afternoon was set aside for peer critiques (and one-on-one critiques with faculty for those who had signed up for one), but as I had been deep in revision mode when the deadline came around, I hadn’t sent anything in. Instead, I snuck off to my cabin for a bit of tea and quiet time. With so much information bouncing around in my head, it was a perfect way to unwind.

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Some much-needed downtime

Saturday evening brought nachos on the patio while the faculty signed books inside, followed by dinner and the silent auction. There were lots of amazing items to bid on, and I’m pleased that one of my bids made it to the end: a 15-page manuscript critique offered by agent Kira Watson, along with a signed ARC from her client Naomi Hughes’ upcoming release, Afterimage.

We closed the night on a high note: with s’mores on the patio by the open-air fireplace under twinkling lights. And then it was off to our cozy cabins for our last night in Writer’s Paradise.

 

Boskone 55 Round-Up

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I’m back from Boskone, aka “New England’s longest running science fiction convention.” Boskone is big enough to bring in great guests/panel participants, and yet small enough so that it still feels relatively cozy. This was my fourth time at this event — second as panelist — and probably my favorite year so far.

A few thoughts about Boskone 55:

  • Being a panelist is fun! Last year, I was terrified at my first couple of panels. This year, I knew what to expect, and managed to relax and enjoy myself. Our moderators did a great job, and conversation flowed easily. If you’ve ever thought about being on a convention or conference panel, but weren’t sure if it was for you, here’s my advice: give it a try. Cons like Boskone are happy to mix up established and beginner writers, and to give a chance to new faces and voices. Keep an eye out for calls for participation. Boskone has a nice little survey you fill out, which lets you tick all sorts of boxes and tell them what you’re comfortable talking about.
  • Kaffeklatsches are still one of my favorite things to attend. Unfortunately, this year I only managed to go to one, with agent Joshua Bilmes. Joshua answered publishing and agenting questions, and gave the table all sorts of great advice.
  • I’m also sorry I only managed to get to one reading. I love having a chance to see an author engage with their own work. Jane Yolen’s reading was a nice mix of poetry and prose, and thoroughly enjoyable.
  • Informal conversations are definitely one of the highlights of going to events like this. I caught up with old friends, got to meet a couple of online friends in person, and made some new friends. Just perfect.
  • Dogs, dogs, everywhere. The Westin was full of furry companions this year. A shout out to the Mega Floof who sat politely through panels and was a very well-behaved con-goer.
  • From the Writing For Children panel: stories don’t necessarily need a happy ending, but they need a hopeful one. Also, a great debate on what to do with those pesky parents and other responsible adults in middle grade fiction…
  • From the Feminist Fairy Tales panel: a huge list of great book recommendations!
  • From the Marketing Uphill panel, lots of ‘don’ts’: Don’t overmarket; Don’t be boring; and many more… *gulp*
  • Downtime is crucial! At my first Boskone, I exhausted myself trying to cram in as many panels, readings, and events as I could. From the next year on, I realized it’s equally as important to take breathers, chat to people, and just enjoy the con atmosphere. Or maybe take an actual break from the whole thing and go for a walk or read a book in your room for a while. My husband and kids came along to get some use out of the hotel room and pool this year, and I think being able to step away from the con every now and then for family dinner or some much-needed downtime made a key difference.

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Grabbing some family time at Boston’s Seaport

SF/F conventions and writing conferences can be a lot of fun, especially if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone and talk to people, or try new things you wouldn’t usually do. If you haven’t been to one yet, you can always start small: look for local events and meet-ups, and ease your way in. But don’t let fear hold you back! Going to cons has brought me a whole new world of writing friends, including the lovelies who became my local critique group. Who knows what it will bring you?

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Making new friends! Author and bookseller Marc Vun Kannon, who stocked my books for the con…