Saturday, July 28, 2007


Chris here, on the road, posting on Steve's account because I forgot my password.

I have now experienced a tiny fraction of the amazing thing called Comic-con. I ache from walking several miles. I know I saw very little of what was available. I still can't wrap my brain around the enormity and complexity of what I did manage to see.

And we went on a "slow" day!

Of course, the entire process was complicated by the simple fact that we are staying about 70 miles from the San Diego Convention Center. We drove about 90 minutes Thursday morning to Qualcomm Stadium, parked the car, caught the trolley for a 25 minute ride to the Convention Center, then walked the block or so to the Center. It is "across the street" from the trolley stop, but the "steet" is about eight lanes wide. We were fortunate enough to find the professional registration entrance line, where check-in was swift and relatively painless, thanks to the bar code confirmation that had been e-mailed to us.

Then we headed for the Exhibit Hall, literal acres of floor space, packed with vendor and exhibitor booths. It seemed like every major purveyor of pop culture was represented, and many minor ones.

We were accompanied by our son, and two-year-old granddaughter - due to a re-scheduled final exam, our daughter-in-law didn't get to go. A stroller is a fabulous way to corral the baby, and haul stuff, but it's a real pain to navigate in the crowd. You spend most of your time trying to avoid running over the feet of the people crowding around you, cutting in front of you, or crossing your path without looking. There were some areas we simply couldn't get to because the crowds were too thick to allow us through.

Did I mention we went on a "slow" day?

We saw the art show, which was a mixed bag, as are most art shows. Zoe loved the six-foot-tall, welded steel sculptures. She took one look, grinned, and said "monster." Then she said, "Mine." Her dad inspected the bid ticket, and told her she would have to choose between the monster and a college education. Unfortunately, dad and her grandparents out-voted her, and the monster did not accompany us on the trolley home.

One little bit of marketing we tried was to order buttons for the freebie table. The 750 or so that we took in Thursday morning disappeared in a flash, and I did spot one occasionally in the crowd. They are a simple black-and-white "EVIL IS NOT MY NATURE. EVIL IS JUST MY DAY JOB" with the Website for Steve's Web cartoon blog Minions at Work. Given that last year's attendance was in the neighborhood if 123,000, that 750 is a drop in the bucket. But it will be interesting to see if it drives any traffic to the Website.

We were pleasantly surprised at the food available in the Convention Center. It wasn't cheap (we didn't expect it to be), but the hot dogs ($4) were good quality, and large enough to provide a reasonable lunch. The other surprise was that there are apparently no restrictions on carrying in your own food, unlike many venues. And the line to buy said hot dogs was only 12 minutes long. I know this because one of the boys sharing our table (table space and chairs are at a premium), when asked how long the line was, answered, "Twelve minutes. I timed it." Make of that what you will. :-)

One of the strangest things in a crowd of that size - and, did I mention, we went on a "slow" day? - is running into people you know. Scott Edelman, fellow SF writer, editor, and all around good guy - took our picture, just to prove we were there. We also saw a couple old friends, and our daughter's ex-boyfriend (they're on good terms, no Jerry Springer fodder here), as well as several editors we know.

We left the Center about 5, to have a drink with the folks from Paradox Entertainment, the people behind the World of Conan. Steve wrote a trilogy for them a couple years ago, and they were kind enough to include us in their party. We had a wonderful time, and would have stayed longer, but we'd abandoned Zoe and her dad, so we left after a delightful 90 minutes. I have to say, Leigh and Frederick were absolutely delightful, Josh and Tom were super, and fellow writer (and Scribe nominee) Matt Forbeck is simply amazing! The Amazing Mr. Forbeck is in the same category as I am for Sunday's awards, and I have to admit to mixed feelings. I want to win, sure, but I want him to win, too. He's really that nice!

After the Paradox party, we retrieved the over-stimulated two-year-old (isn't that just a scary phrase?) and joined the mass exodus to the trolley. The ride back to the car was hot, crowded, and seemed to last forever. But we finally got back to the stadium, reclaimed the car, and headed home. Zoe was asleep in about five minutes, and I wished I could join her. It was one very long day, filled with more input than I have been able to process so far.

And, did I mention, we went on a "slow" day?

We're going back to Sunday, for the awards ceremony, and my moment of fame as a panelist at the biggest pop-culture convention of the year. Then Monday morning we head home to Oregon, and back to our regularly-scheduled lives.

I think I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Things That Make Me Happy

Several months ago, I posted about making a reputation, and getting into anthologies. Since then, I was invited to submit stories for a couple anthos, and I am happy to report that "To The Top" will appear in WITCH HIGH, and "Cupid's Crib" sold to ENCHANTMENT PLACE. Both books are edited by a very savvy woman named Denise Little, who is a true delight to work with - and who, of course, has exquisite taste, having bought both my stories.

It makes me happy to make a sale, and it gives me some outside validation, which a writer needs now and then. Face it, we sit alone in a room and make stuff up. Weeks - or months, or years - later, it appears in print, and you occasionally get feedback from a reader. But for the most part, you work completely alone, and a writer is most definitely NOT the best judge of her own work. In fact, you're usually the worst judge of your work. Which makes outside validation a very nice thing, indeed.

Which brings me to the other thing that made me happy recently. Just yesterday, in fact. This spring, I was a preliminary judge for the Rita, the RWA award for romance fiction. I received a box of several books, in a variety of categories, which I read and scored.

Among those books was ADIOS TO MY OLD LIFE, by Barbara Ferrer, writing as Caridad Ferrer, from MTV Books. I was planning to buy the book, so it was a nice surprise in my box. What's more, while I thought I'd like it, it made me happy to find that I LOVED it. Fast forward to the announcements of the finalists, and there's ADIOS, on the short list as Best Contemporary Single Title! That made me very happy.

Now, my happy feelings came from knowing that other people shared my opinion of ADIOS, a form of outside validation; the reassurance that I understood what made a "good" book.

The best part, though, came with the announcement, last night, of this year's Rita winners. And (if you haven't guessed by now) ADIOS won the Rita! It made me happy to know that my opinion was validated, but that wasn't the most important thing. For me, the best part was knowing that a book I loved, a writer whose work I admired, and who I felt truly deserved the recognition, got the award.

And if you haven't read this book yet, go get it. Now!



Congratulations, Barbara!! A well-deserved award, and a fabulous book. I'll be looking for your next one.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

No Joy?

Writing, like life, comes complete with "issues." Some large, some small. Some good, some bad. The one thing they have in common is that they disrupt your schedule, confuse your brain, and generally make you turn things upside down and look at the seamy underbelly of what you're doing.
So, when a friend commented that she had "lost the joy" in writing, I found myself pondering the implications of that statement.
Somewhere along the line, if you want to make writing your career, it becomes A Job. Now, if you want to make a living at writing, this is a good thing. Writing is your job, and you have to be disciplined and dedicated, and willing to devote the time and attention any career deserves.
But there is something else buried in the subconscious of many of us, probably the residue of a blue-collar work ethic, that says "Job" is not equal to "Joy."
For many of us, no one ever said, "Find something you love, and do it for the rest of your life." Instead, they told us to find something we were good at, something stable, with a good future. What you're good at, though, isn't always something you truly love.
Of course, the current Dilbert strips illustrate the downside of "do what you love," what with the guy who wants to be a billionaire, but doesn't want to actually do anything for it, and similar characters. But, if you go from the premise that you need to produce income to put food on the table, working at something you truly love is the optimum solution.
But we can take something we love, turn it into A Job, and suddenly our brains tell us that it is Work, it's drudgery, it's what we have to do, not what we want to do. And that's when the joy goes away.
There are a lot of business aspects to a writing career. You are essentially running a small - or not so small - business, with all the record-keeping, marketing, promotion, financial management, and long-term planning that every business needs to succeed. Those things are necessary if you are going to be successful at your business.
But I think we do ourselves a disservice when we let those things intrude into our basic attitude toward writing; when we make writing A Job, and allow those voices in our head to tell us it can't be fun, because it is Work.
It's a difficult problem, and one that requires a writer to develop two personalities - the writer, and the businessman. I know many writers who don't consider business issues when they write. They don't try to fit their work into a particular niche, or force a story to a specific length, or deliberately censor their themes and vocabulary. But in general, they talk about those considerations stifling their creativity.
For me, joy is a different animal. Joy comes in the rush you get when you create a scene, put dialog in the mouths of your characters, choreograph a tricky bit of action, or evoke a strong emotion just with your words. Joy is the pleasure that comes from bringing the pictures in your brain to life on the page.
I am working on keeping that joy in my writing. I don't always succeed, but when I do, I think the results are stronger and truer, and ultimately more successful.

I hope you can all find your joy.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Why YA?

With the announcement of the IAMTW nomination, and the fact that Strategic Reserve was entered in the YA category, I have been getting a lot of questions about the YA genre.

I chose to enter Strategic Reserve in the YA category, because I felt that was where its main appeal was. ALIAS seemed to be very strong with the young female audience, and the books appealed to that audience. The fans whose blogs and Webpages I read were primarily young women. It just seemed the right place for it.

I don't claim to know all the answers, and would love to have other people chime in here, especially if you think I get something wrong. I would also love to have the recommendations of others about what books/writers are good in YA.
Recommended writers, in no particular order:

Meg Cabot - Princess Diaries/The Mediator series, and a bunch of others. I don't think this woman sleeps!
Chris Crutcher - WHALE TALK is one of the finest books I have ever read
Francine Pascal - Sweet Valley High and spin-offs, Fearless, Fearless: FBI
Anthony Horowitz - the Alex Rider books, very British, kind of James Bond Junior
James Patterson - Maximum Ride books
Carl Hiaasen - HOOT and FLUSH - haven't read the Peter Pan books he did with Ridley Pearson, but I'd bet they're fun!
Niki Burnham - Spin Control Royally Jacked
Nancy Krulik - Love & Sk8
Scott Westerfield - The Uglies Trilogy
In looking over the list, I find that these are all very different writers. Which brings me to my first point.

In YA, you can write ANYTHING! Mystery, sf, fantasy, contemporary, funny, dark, sweet, racy, historical, romantic, adventure - YA books cover the spectrum.

YA covers every genre, and every tone. There are definite age categories: early readers, children's, middle grades, young adult. For now I am just lumping them all together, because otherwise I could spend a week just trying to sort out the sub-categories.

WHALE TALK (mentioned above) has some serious, heavy themes and action. PRINCESS DIARIES is sweet and funny. Naylor's ALICE books are very sweet, and intended for younger (probably 9-12) readers. There are inspirational books in YA, just as there are in romance and mainstream.

Ethnic books are good. ADIOS TO MY OLD LIFE is a great read. I was planning to buy it, then got it in my Rita nominees, and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are Latina/Latino books, African-American, Asian - and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Oh, and OPAL METHA was an Indian (as in India) protagonist. (Never mind the whole plagiarism thing. Point is, a book with an Indian girl as the protagonist was sold, and was slated for major publisher support, which means they expected it to do well.)

There are a zillion publishers of YA out there, and series seems to be the name of the game. If you are interested in YA, you should sample a little of everything. Again, off the top of my head

Alex Rider (STORMBREAKER is the first)
Princess Diaries
All-American Girl
Gossip Girls
The Clique
The 310 series
Fearless FBI
American Girl (multiple series in different time periods)
A few years ago, there was a line of ALIAS books that were straight YA (the ones I wrote were adult novels, but they had a wide YA appeal). A lot of other tie-ins have that same appeal to the YA audience: Buffy, Angel, Trek, etc. And then there are the "house name" books like the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. To tell the truth, I haven't actually checked, but I think those are still being produced.

This is a huge topic, and may take several posts, but I also recommend looking at the Websites and MySpace pages, and see what's out there. You may be very surprised! I also highly reading Agent Kristen Nelson's blog, Pub Rants ( She represents several YA writers, and her blog is interesting and informative about a lot of areas, not just YA.

OK. Enough for now. I have stories to write!

It's a YA Thing!

First, a bit of very cool news! Strategic Reserve, the ALIAS tie-in that came out last spring, has been short-listed as best YA tie-in novel by the IAMTW. That's the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, a professional group of tie-in writers. The awards will be presented at the San Diego ComicCon in July, which gives me a total excuse to go to the con. Of course, there's the little matter of having to get to San Diego, and all that, but hey!

I have more to say about that YA part, but first, here's the complete list of nominees. I am thrilled to be in the company of such accomplished master of the craft, and delighted that my book is among the nominees.

More information about IAMTW, and the Scribe Awards, can be found at



SLAINE: THE EXILE by Steven Savile
TOXIC AVENGER: THE NOVEL by Lloyd Kaufman & Adam Jahnke
ULTRAVIOLET by Yvonne Navarro


STARGATE ATLANTIS: EXOGENESIS by Sonny Whitelaw & Elizabeth Christensen



SNAKES ON A PLANE by Christa Faust
THE PINK PANTHER by Max Allan Collins






Friday, February 23, 2007

You Are Not Alone

Another topic, and the one that’s on my mind today, is comparisons. Comparing your story, your goals, your accomplishments to those of anyone else can put you in the pit of despair faster than almost anything – whether it’s at work, at home, in your family, at school – anywhere in your life. But for a writer, these comparisons can be the death of your creative voice and energy. They can literally suck the life out of your writing and stop you completely. They can kill your career at any point along your path.

No matter how hard we try, we can’t always stop the comparisons. We look at what’s going on around us, at what our friends are accomplishing, and, most especially, at what the people who aren’t our friends are doing. Writer X sold to Big Name Publisher. Writer Y landed a New York agent. Writer Z got invited into an anthology.

And I didn’t. What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t the editor call me instead of them? Was it something I said? Something I didn’t say? What makes them better than me?

Guess what? It’s none of the above. One writer’s career has nothing to do with another’s career. Just as no two writer’s stories are the same, no two writer’s careers are the same. We each have a path to follow, and no two careers are the same.

I have talked to a lot of writers, and I’ve found out that we all have those moments. From the writer with a couple short stories, looking at their friend with a novel contract, to the multi-published best-seller looking at a J.K Rowling or Clive Cussler, we all do it, and we’re all wrong.

I wish I could tell you all that we get over it, that we can find a way to control this behavior. But I can't. Sometimes I think I have it under control, then I find myself spiraling into one of those "she's so much better than me" stupidities, or "he got a request and I didn't." Even when I know better.

Part of it, I think, is the nature of the job. Like I've talked about before, we sit alone at a computer and make stuff up. Including stupid comparisons.

But, if it's any consolation, we're not alone. I promise.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Don't Be A Pinhead

I spent a weekend in February at the Radcon science fiction convention, a great SF gathering in Pasco, Washington. In fact, I stole the title for this blog from their #1 rule of convention behavior. We discovered Radcon last year, had a great time, and were pleased to be invited back this year. It’s a great convention, and well worth the trip out to the middle of Washington.

Disclaimer: there will be grammar glitches throughout this rant, since using “they” and “them” for individuals is awkward. But I am trying to avoid “him” and “her” in order to protect the innocent and guilty alike.

My husband (writer J. Steven York) and I have been attending conventions for more than 20 years – a number that I find utterly amazing. It seems hard to believe that our first “con” was that long ago, in Seattle back in the early 1980s, and to consider the number of cons we have attended since.

Since that first Norwescon, we have attended as many as five or six conventions and conferences a year, and as few as one or two. Finances, deadlines, day jobs, kids, all dictate how much time and money we can put into these trips. And as we get older, the preparation, travel and recovery take a little longer, too, though I hate to admit it.

But I had an unusual experience this weekend, and it got me to thinking. Although I’ve been doing this for years, I got to watch a very talented friend go through their first con, and make some mistakes. We all make mistakes in unfamiliar circumstances, and their mistakes were different from my first-timer missteps, but the vantage point of 20+ years experience allowed me to see some of the reasons these mistakes happened.

It wasn’t just ignorance, though that’s part of it. It’s the mixed signals you get at a convention. There are many flavors of cons/seminars/workshops, and you may not know whether you’re getting Chocolate Ripple, or Raspberry Sherbet, or maybe even Spumoni. Each one delicious, each one appropriate to its own time and place, and each one incompatible with the others.

So, I’ve been thinking about what marks the difference among these various styles of gathering, and what the rules are for each. I hope some people will disagree with me, or point out where I am dead wrong, but I think this is a discussion we ought to have. And just maybe I can save someone from a mistake of their own.

Since it’s what’s at the front of my mind, I want to talk about fan conventions first.

The first writer gathering I ever attended as an adult, was a Norwescon. It was a largish (2,000?) science fiction convention, held in an airport hotel in Seattle. There were real writers in attendance, yes, but there were also thousands of fans, some in costumes (or mostly out of said costumes), an open bar in the hospitality suite, and a general air of “anything goes.”

Over the years, conventions have tightened up a little. There are no longer open bars in hospitality, although there is frequently beer, and more potent potables at the many private room parties. “Nudity is not a costume” is another rule that has come into being. There are tracks of age-appropriate programming for kids, many of whom are the offspring of people who were teens at those first conventions I attended. But there is still an attitude of “almost anything goes,” an acceptance of behavior that only vaguely resembles normalcy, and the feeling that you are in a little cocoon of fun and frivolity where most of the rules are suspended.

And it is that atmosphere that gets writers into trouble. If we, as the attending pro writers (and artists, and editors, and game designers, and so on), buy into the permissiveness and acceptance, if we suspend our rules of behavior, if we party a little too much, we are hurting ourselves and our reputations. Unfortunately, even though it feels like anything is acceptable, it isn’t. If you’re a writer, you’re at work, not at play.

Sure, you can have a drink at a party, or a beer in hospitality. But if you get falling-down drunk, people will remember. There is someone who will forever be remembered as having been found passed out in their own vomit in a public restroom. Not the way you want to be remembered.

You can hook-up with someone. One-night stands are a fact of convention life, many of them fueled by the above-mentioned potables. But be discreet. There is someone else who will always be remembered as blatantly hooking up with star-struck fans, while their spouse fumed; and another someone who told horror stories of the stalker-style behavior of a one-night stand. And there are always the gropers who, encouraged by the alcohol and atmosphere, think they have a right to grab anyone and anything that gets close.

And the costumes! Nothing says “don’t take me seriously” more than an over-exposed cleavage, fur jockstrap, or Darth Vader helmet. They have their place, and are certainly appropriate if you’re a professional costumer/armorer/FX wizard (there was one of those at Radcon, a truly amazing talent, and on him it looks real good), but for a writer, not so much. You don’t have to wear a suit and tie, or carry a briefcase – in fact, you’ll stand out if you do – but generally speaking you have to dress appropriately. There are writers and editors who have an image – loud ties, or Hawaiian shirts – but it’s a look, not a costume. Trust me, you better know the difference, and you better be able to dial it back if it isn’t working for you.

Conventions are a tiny, tiny community. While you are in the hotel, it’s like being in a very small town, with nosy, gossipy neighbors. People you meet may be long-time friends with other people, and you may not know it. Watch who you bad-mouth! Many years ago, I had one convention committee member sit down and kevetch about two other committee members – both of whom were dear friends of mine. The kevetch-er didn’t know what my relationship was with the kevetch-ees, and I will always remember them as the person who was so nasty about my friends. We are cordial, and I never brought it up, but we will never be good friends, and they will never know why.

And just like a small town, someone is always watching you. What you might think is a private misstep, an unobserved mistake, will be seen. Unless you’re by yourself, behind a closed and locked door, with no one else in the room, always assume you are being watched. Not because you have a stalker (thought that’s possible, refer back to one-night stands), but simply because this is a place where we all know each other, and we’re in a very small space 24/7. Someone will see you.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something, and that you’ll remind me of it. But consider this the beginning of an on-going discussion of conventions, conferences, workshops, seminars, and all the other Baskin-Robbins array of gatherings that are out there. Knowing when you’re ordering Tutti Fruiti might just save you some heartaches and embarrassment.

And to my friend who started this train of thought: Don’t give up. One silly mistake does not tank your career. You’ll get over it, as long as you learn from it and move on. And you’re too damned brilliant to give up now.