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…

 

 

 

Boskone 55 Schedule

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I’m really excited to have been invited to Boskone 55 as a program participant. This will be my fourth year at “New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention”, and my second taking part in panels. Boskone runs from February 16th to 18th in Boston, MA, so if you’re in the area, stop by. Not only is this a really friendly con, but it has great guests, panel themes, author readings and kaffeeklatsch opportunities. This year, there’s even a Regency Dance! Check out the Boskone 55 website for the full event schedule.

Here’s my own schedule:

Stories Before the Apocalypse

16 Feb 2018, Friday 14:00 – 15:00, Marina 4

We’re familiar with post-apocalyptic futures, from Max’s desert hellscape to Katniss’s dystopic districts. But what about right before the cataclysm — as doom and destruction loom large? How do people live? How do relationships change as we shift into survival mode? Let’s share our few existing “must-read” favorites, and discuss stories we’d like to see.

James Patrick Kelly (M), Juliana Spink Mills,  Julie C. Day, Alan Gordon, John Chu

 

Curse Your Inevitable Romantic Subplot!

16 Feb 2018, Friday 16:00 – 17:00, Burroughs

Just when things are getting good, somebody has to go and fall in love. Are romantic subplots required? And what makes them work or fail in the larger storyline?

Heather Albano (M), Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, J. Kathleen Cheney, Kevin McLaughlin, Juliana Spink Mills

 

It’s Not Always About Sex

17 Feb 2018, Saturday 12:00 – 13:00, Harbor III

Speculative fiction is filled with friendships that turn into romantic entanglements. Is that all there is? Can’t our characters just have friends, of whatever gender, without hookups and/or heartbreaks? How about we rescue the world from the odd apocalypse or alien invasion, and forget about the sex for a change?

Darlene Marshall (M), Tamora Pierce, Juliana Spink Mills, E.J. Stevens, Steven Popkes

 

NESCBWI 17: Expand & Diversify Your Portfolio

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This past weekend, April 21-23, some 700 kid lit authors, illustrators, and industry professionals got together in Springfield, Massachusetts, for the yearly Spring Conference of the New England region of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), which this year was named Expand & Diversify Your Portfolio.

This was my second time at this event, and it has definitely established itself as one of my favorite places to be. Not just because of the interesting panels, workshops, and keynote presentations, but because it tends to be a friendly, laid-back sort of thing, where everyone chats to everyone else, and new friends are made all the time. There is always lots of catching up to do with writer buddies I usually only see on social media, and time flies by all too quickly!

So, what were my highlights for 2017? To start with, this was my first time at a SCBWI event as a published author. I loved seeing Heart Blade up on the big screen with all the other attendee’s work, and it was great spotting it in the con bookstore.

This year, I attended several workshops on social media and marketing. Jess Keating encouraged us to brainstorm our platform with adjectives and images to get a feel for ourselves, and for the tone we want to set on social media. She urged us to think about who we are, rather than who we think we should be, and to remember: ‘you are the expert at being you’. Anika Denise suggested that an author platform is a stage where you connect with your audience, and reminded us that author platforms aren’t built in a day, nor should building them eclipse putting time and effort into the actual writing. For those who were unsure what to blog or tweet about, she suggested mining your book’s content for underlying themes you can dig into. Allison Moore showed us examples off her own Twitter feed, and reminded us (as did everyone lecturing about social media) that promoting your own book has to be something done in small and sporadic doses. To top it all off, Jen Malone gave us great tips on public speaking, and told us that “speakers who are real, honest and can share their passion have the greatest impact on their audience.”

One of my favorite workshops this year was Dana Meachen Rau on injecting characters with emotion, something I find my plot-focused brain often struggles with. She reminded us that plot elements are great, but without emotion, who cares? The plot provides the external story arc, but emotion provides the internal story arc, and becomes the engine that moves your character forward. When a reader reads a book, they go on the same emotional journey as the character, and it is this shared experience that makes a story unforgettable.

For a fun learning experience, Friday night brought Pitchapalooza, the now-traditional event hosted by The Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. Names were drawn, and contenders got to pitch their story for a minute, on the clock. Then a panel of agents and editors critiqued each attempt, explaining in a positive manner what worked, and what didn’t.

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The crowd at Pitchapalooza

There were three amazing keynote talks, by authors Barry Lyga and Jane Yolen, and author/illustrator Melissa Sweet, who had the prettiest PowerPoint presentation I’ve ever seen. Jane urged us to “listen to the work, not the fears”, a sentiment I think all writers can relate to on the dark days. On the writing the rainbow panel, Kevin Lewis reminded the audience that we should always endeavor to create environments in our work that ‘are as diverse as the world we live in.’

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Jane Yolen inspires us over breakfast

I headed home on Sunday happy and exhausted, bearing pages and pages of notes, a pile of business cards and bookmarks from people I want to keep in touch with, and a ton of fresh inspiration to give my work a much-needed boost. Thank you to all the hard-working volunteers at the NESCBWI for putting together a great event, and see you next year!

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Relaxing on Sunday evening with peppermint tea and Melissa Sweet’s biography of E.B. White

Spring 2017 Updates

Connecticut finally has its Spring on. Tiny baby leaves have tiptoed over the treetops like a green mist, and forsythia is blazing in glorious yellow splendor. The sun is shining. I have daffodils in the garden, and Easter chocolate is on sale everywhere you look.

 

So, what’s new in my world?

I’ve finished Book 2 in the Blade Hunt Chronicles, Night Blade. Now the manuscript is off being looked at by eyes other than my own. Until I get all the revision notes back, I can’t do anything else on that front. I’ve already outlined a lot of what will happen in Book 3, Star Blade, and I’m really excited about it, but I’m holding off getting a start on writing that one until I know if I have any substantial changes to make in Night Blade that might affect my Book 3 plot.

What’s in Book 2? No spoilers, but I can tell you there’s a heist, and Rose may have bitten off more than she can handle. Del gets to wear a ballgown. And you all get to meet my lovely new character, Ben Kelley. He’s a witch and, well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

I’m trying to get my head back into a stalled sci fantasy YA while I wait for Night Blade revision notes, but it can be hard switching worlds and projects, and to be honest it’s been slow going. I’m looking forward to this weekend, where I and some 700 or so New England kid lit authors and illustrators will gather at the NESCBWI Spring Conference for workshops, panels, and lots of great conversation about books and writing. I always go home revved up and inspired after these events, so this should be just the kick I need to get back into my rhythm again. Follow the #NESCBWI17 hashtag on twitter this weekend for lots of kid lit pearls of wisdom tweeted by event participants.

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New bookmarks, ready for NESCBWI 17

The Pixel Project’s Read for Pixels fundraiser is almost over. The donation page will be open until April 29th, though the main event has ended. I contributed three Heart Blade paperbacks with character art postcards to this, which were bundled together with 1st Edition hardcovers from bestselling YA Fantasy authors Kimberly Derting (The Taking) and Alyson Noel (Unrivalled). I was very happy to hear from the organization that all three bundles were snapped up.

You can find my mini interview on the Pixel Project blog.

What else… Heart Blade had a sale! (Yay!) The sale is over… (Boo!). But you can still find the Kindle version at a very reasonable U$ 3.99 on Amazon. *waves cheerleader pompoms* For those interested in a paperback, I’m planning a giveaway on Goodreads in May, so keep an eye out here and on GR itself.

And last (but not least), today I received a lovely letter from blogger Marguerite Gibson with two beautiful handmade book plates that I’ve promised to sign and send back. It’s always wonderful to hear from readers, whether on social media, or in reviews, or by snail mail, like Marguerite from Australia. Gives me warm and fuzzy writer feels!

Happy Spring to all. May your words be plentiful, your flowers beautiful, your mornings sunny and bright…and may your leftover Easter chocolate last many, MANY days.

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Boskone 54

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Last weekend I made what has become my yearly pilgrimage to Boskone. For those who have never heard of it (and if you live in New England, you’ve definitely been missing out!), Boskone is a great science fiction and fantasy convention that leans heavily toward SF/F writers and readers. The con always has a fabulous line-up of guest speakers, and the panels are varied and interesting. The overall vibe is relaxed and friendly.

This year, I didn’t manage to go to any of the kaffeeklatsches*, one of my absolute favorite things to do at Boskone. I also went to fewer panels than I usually attend, for one simple reason: this time, I was one of the panelists myself.

So, what was the view like from the other side?

Terrifying, on the first day! By the second day, however, I’d got the hang of it. I relaxed, and really enjoyed the discussion. It helps that I had fantastic co-panelists and moderators, of course. Thanks to Boskone for inviting me! I had a great time. (Check out a list of the panels I was on here.)

Some of my Boskone 54 highlights include the panel on Skullduggery and Dastardly Deeds, hilariously moderated by Scott Lynch, and the panel on Guest of Honor Brandon Sanderson’s career. It’s always encouraging to hear great writers like Sanderson talk about the beginning of their careers…

Every year I try to catch a reading, and this time I went to a great one by Lynch – a short story that will appear in the Book of Swords anthology, out in October.

However, one of the best things to do at Boskone can’t be found on the official schedule. And that’s – quite simply – conversation. I love getting a chance to chat to SF/F fans, writers, and other industry folks. It ends up being one of the high points of the con, every single time.

So here I am, two days after returning home, sitting in the middle of a pile of notes, papers, and bookmarks from this year’s Boskone, and all I can think of is: Boskone 55? Bring it on.

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Worldbuilding in Urban Fantasy

L to R: (not shown: Margaret Ronald), Robert B. Finegold M.D., myself, Adam Stemple, Leigh Perry (Moderator) – photo courtesy of Robert.

*For those who have never been to one, a kaffeeklatsch is an informal round table with someone like an author. I’ve been to several memorable ones, like the one with Myke Cole at my very first Boskone, or the one with Ginjer Buchanan that ended up being a friendly tête-à-tête after a blizzard chased most of the con goers away.

Boskone 54 Schedule

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From February 17-19 I’ll be at Boskone, in Boston, MA, for New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention. This will be my third year at Boskone, but my first as a panel participant. Boskone is a friendly con with great panel themes – I’ve been to panels on everything from writing fight scenes to pirates in fiction!

Check out the Boskone website for 2017 speakers and a list of panels, readings, kaffeeklatsches, and other activities. There’s still time to register.

My own schedule:

When Villains Defy Expectation in Young Adult Literature

Friday 16:00 – 17:00, Harbor II (Westin)

In YA fiction, the bad guys used to be easy to spot. However, in a world with many shades of gray, villains just aren’t as easy to identify. The handlebar mustaches — gone; the dark trench coats — left on their hangers; the goon squads — seem like bunches of ordinary guys. What does the revamped “villain” archetype mean for our young heroes? How does it affect the story and the other characters? How might this more nuanced sense of good/bad play out as young adult fiction continues to evolve?

Tui Sutherland (M), Ken Altabef, Christine Taylor-Butler, Juliana Spink Mills, Michael Stearns

 

The Year in Young Adult and Children’s Fiction

Friday 17:00 – 18:00, Harbor II (Westin)

Last year was another great one for young adult and children’s fiction. While the explosion of new authors in these genres may be stabilizing, the number of well-written, top-shelf stories continues to soar! Join our panelists for a lively discussion about what you absolutely must read from 2016 — and what we’re looking forward to as 2017 continues.

Maryelizabeth Yturralde (M), Christine Taylor-Butler, Emma Caywood, Juliana Spink Mills, Bruce Coville

 

Indie Pub Your Backlist

Saturday 10:00 – 11:00, Marina 2 (Westin)

Do you have old stories that were published ages ago, now lingering in drawers, gathering dust — not getting read? Independent publishers can be a great resource for letting your stories see the light of day again, and drumming up interest from new readers. We’ll discuss ideas on revitalizing your backlist and finding indie publishers for your unpublished early gems.

Joshua Bilmes (M), Walter Jon Williams, Richard Shealy, Juliana Spink Mills, Craig Shaw Gardner

 

Worldbuilding in Urban Fantasy

Saturday 17:00 – 18:00, Marina 2 (Westin)

An inconsistent or poorly described worldscape can furnish a confusing story, or challenge a reader’s ability to suspend disbelief, even when you’re dealing with a world that is “just like ours.” Is creating an urban fantasy world as simple as adding magic to a place like Chicago or New York City? Or is there more to it? Hear from writers who have created fully realized urban fantasy worlds that their readers can almost see, touch, and smell.

Leigh Perry (M), Margaret Ronald, Adam Stemple, Juliana Spink Mills, Robert B. Finegold M.D.

AvonCon 2016

It seems like everywhere you turn these days there’s a new comic, literary, or gaming convention. Many of these are fan-driven events, seeking to bring together a community of genre lovers from places near and far. AvonCon, however, puts a capital C in the word community.

Organized by the public library of the town of Avon, Connecticut, AvonCon holds its second yearly event on Saturday, April 16th. The brainchild of Reference and Adult Services Manager Tina Panik and Teen Librarian Marisa Hicking, the one-day convention is free and open to all ages. There is something for everyone, from the youngest child to the seasoned con-lover, with events ranging from illustration workshops to cosplay competitions.

What makes AvonCon so special? To answer that, we first have to take a good look at the library itself. The Avon Public Library hosts a wide variety of community events. These include preschool Mother Goose sessions, book clubs and a writing group. And of course, the hugely popular teen room which the town’s middle school and high school students can frequent after class for homework, board-and-video gaming, computer use, and even karaoke. The library’s community room is used by everyone, from the Girl Scouts to Little League Baseball coaches. It truly is a cornerstone for the town.

An event like AvonCon is a wonderful opportunity to cement the library’s involvement with the local community. But don’t just take it from me: I’ve invited the Con’s two main organizers to share their thoughts on conventions, comics and, of course, AvonCon itself.

Juliana: Tina and Marisa, thank you so much for joining me. Tell me, where did the idea for AvonCon come from? Why adopt the convention format?

Two years ago, 3 of our staff attended NYCC (New York Comic Con). On the train ride home we realized we could create a mini-convention at our library. Mirroring the convention format allows us to offer multiple programs simultaneously. Our event is free, which makes it unique amongst comic conventions. 

Juliana: What were the results from last year’s first ever AvonCon? What feedback did you receive from attendees? 

In addition to our regulars, AvonCon has attracted a completely new audience for the library. Our biggest request from last year to this year was to offer food for a longer period. This year we will have a local food truck, Toasted, on site all day. For those with a sweet tooth, we will have Dolce Vita Gelato on site as well.

Juliana: I know Marisa has a very enthusiastic teen group that frequents the library. Has the local community been involved in helping set up the convention?

Most of the preparation has been done by our awesome team of librarians. Our library Teen Advisory Board (TAB) helped paint and create a Tardis out of a large refrigerator box, as well as assemble the Iron Cosplay boxes. They were sad when they couldn’t create the costumes out of pillowcases on the spot!

Tina has also created F.A.N. (Family of Avon Nerds) a multigenerational group of science fiction, comic, and Pop Culture fans. They suggested creating a schedule by tracks-and we’ve done it. A couple of the teens from F.A.N. were part of the TAB Tardis group. 

Juliana: You have a treat for comic lovers this year – your special guest is cartoonist and comics theorist Scott McCloud. Why Scott? What do you hope Scott’s keynote lecture will bring to local graphic novel and cartoon fans?

Our focus this year is deconstructing the graphic novel. When Tina and I were brainstorming what to do and who to get, we knew we wanted an expert in the industry. Scott was our first choice. He literally wrote the book on understanding comics, called UNDERSTANDING COMICS; it was written in a graphic novel format. His visit is made possible by a grant from CT Humanities.

We want Scott McCloud to blend art, story, and technology together in his presentation. Scott McCloud has given this presentation throughout the country and he keeps adding new materials. It is a fast paced and visually engaging presentation. We hope to appeal to longtime fans of his work, those interested in graphic novels, and attract new fans. Scott McCloud has graciously agreed to answer any and all audience questions for as long as they keep asking.

Juliana: What was your favorite part of AvonCon 2015? 

Tina: I enjoyed watching people interact away from their phones. Strangers were starting conversations with each other about costumes, Pop Culture, and their favorite superheroes.

Marisa: I enjoyed the Draw Off on the center floor of the Children’s Department, hosted by Matt Ryan of Free Lunch Comics. The energy was fantastic! Mostly children and teens competed, though all ages looked on. It was friendly and competitive. I lost to Tim the Children’s Specialist attempting to draw Pikachu surfboarding. I also enjoyed hosting the Iron Cosplay event: teens got a mystery box full of pillowcases, Duct tape, paint samples and an inspiration superhero costume to recreate. Some were more successful than others, but everyone had fun.

Juliana: I know you already have a list of ideas for next year. Are there any you can share with us?

We are considering adding live music and the inclusion of other fandoms, like Downton Abbey. We’d also like to add a program centered around books.

Juliana: Thank you both for taking time to tell us a little about AvonCon 2016. Good luck with the event! I’m looking forward to it.

AvonCon takes place in Avon, Connecticut on April 16th, 2016. For more information and the full schedule of events, go to www.avonctlibrary.info.

You can find information on Scott McCloud and his work at his website, www.scottmccloud.com.

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