Reading Now: Chuck Wendig

chuck_wendig_blackbirdsI normally post when I start reading a book. Sometimes, I do the post a day or three after I actually start. That was a mistake this time. I figured I’d have plenty of time to put up a post regarding Chuck Wendig‘s novel, Blackbirds.

I was wrong.

It took me all of three days to tear through the first novel about Miaram Black. I read on my lunch breaks, a little after work, and some during times when I should have been working on side projects. The book was not short by any measure. It weighs in at 384 pages, so I really busted my average pages per day on this one!

Here’s why:

Miriam is an endlessly fascinating character. Hell, all of the characters are so rich and deep and personal and raw and distinct that it’s impossible to get confused as to who is doing/saying what. The book itself is raw (definitely rated ‘R’), but in a somehow deeply insightful manner. I’m so incredibly happy I picked up this book. I’m also immensely overjoyed that there are two more books in this series. I’m already a decent amount through Mockingbird as I type this, and the story of this horribly broken young woman continues to fascinate me. I’m eager to find out what kind of pure Hell Chuck has in store for Miriam.

chuck_wendig_mockingbirdI’ll let you know what I think of Mockingbird when I get it done. It might not go as fast as Blackbirds… but it might! I just don’t know at this moment.

Thanks for writing these stories, Chuck!

PS: When I realized the book was written in present tense (a fairly quick realization), and that he scene/time jumps all over the place (took me a while to get this), I didn’t care. Normally, just one of these factors in a book will destroy my enjoyment of it and I’ll put it down. With two of them going on… I didn’t care. These two approaches at telling Miriam’s story worked so incredibly well. Again, I just didn’t care that I disliked these two technical bits. The story and characters hammered through my soul, psyche, and mind to the point that I was drawn along the fun house ride regardless of if I wanted to or not.

Five More Tips for Making a Conference Great

I’ve been thinking about my first post that contained five tips for making the most of a conference. I jotted down a few notes on adding five more tips, and I wanted to share them with you here.

1) Practice Your Pitch

If you’re going to be pitching your book to an agent or editor, then you need to know it inside and out. Depending on the conference, you only have a few minutes to “sell” the idea of your book to the person sitting on the other side of the table. They will have questions. You will have questions. Leave some time for those queries to flow across the table. As an example, my pitch takes roughly 70 seconds. That’s only a little over a minute, and I wrap it up by asking them what else they want to know about the book. Don’t get nervous about answering the questions. You’ve written the book. You know the book. It’s come from your soul, so you probably know it better than you own child. The questions are usually easy to answer. I’ve had a few people ask me if their manuscript needs to be completed before they pitch. I used to answer, “Yes, always,” but I’ve come to soften that stance a little. If you can finish the novel in a high quality manner in a professional period of time, then you can be close to done, but not quite done. If you can polish things off within a few weeks of the end of the conference, great. If you can send a full manuscript their way within a day or three of the agent/editor asking for it, all the better! Here are some resources from Linda Rohrbough and Delve Writing that may help. Check out the Delve Writing link sooner rather than later. It’s a class that happens very soon. What happens if you get a “Send It!” from the agent/editor? Well, I’ll cover that in the next day or two as it’s a large topic. It’s something you should be prepared for, so keep an eye out for that future post.

2) Plan Your Schedule

As soon as you can get your hands on the schedule of classes, look it over. Make plans. Combine the scant information in the schedule (the font can only get so small, and the boxes are only so large) with the expanded information in the conference program. Get the information online if you can. If not, get to the registration desk early. There will be lines. Plan on that. Once you’re through registration and have your hands on things, find a quiet corner to scour the schedule. Have a two different colored highlighters handy. Use one color (I usually use yellow) for the primary thing you want to go to. Use the other color (blue, for me) as a backup session in the same time slot. If you get to the primary and find all the seats taken or the doors already closed due to fire safety measures, hustles to your second pick. Near the end of the current session, quietly pull out your highlighter marked schedule and find out where your next #1 session is going to be. This will help guarantee that you’ll be one of the first in and will be able to pick a prime seat.

3) Don’t Bring Your Manuscript With You

There’s no need to have a copy of your manuscript with you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a copy on a thumb drive or a perfect-bound copy you had made at the local copy store. People interested in your novel will want you to contact them via their already established methods. Agents/Editors at a conference already have enough crap to haul back to their home. Many of them are from out of state and will be flying home. They don’t want to haul more paper back with them. “But a PDF on their laptop won’t make it heavier!” Yeah. I know. But that inadvertent virus on your thumb drive can destroy everything on their laptop. You don’t mean to do it. You might be the most cautious computer person in the world, but they don’t know that. They can’t risk their laptop (which is probably tied to their livelihood) when they already have an established manner for you to get your novel to them. Just bring a notebook and jot down how they want you to send it and follow the instructions.

4) Get A Room!

While looking at the published schedule, you might notice that things end between seven and nine in the evening. You think to yourself, “Self. I can just drive home after things and come back in the morning. Ah, the joys of sleeping in my own bed.” What you may not realize is that there are unofficial, after-hours events going on. Some of it happens at the public bar. Some of it happens in other attendees’ rooms/suites. Some of it may happen in a semi-official (or completely official) “con suite” where drinking, talking, networking, and other socializing goes on. These after-hours events can go until two, three, even four, in the morning. Wanna lose some vital sleep while driving home and back again? I think not. Getting a room for the night is a vital way to snag another hour or two of sleep that night. When you’re only getting three-to-five hours a night, losing two hours (or so) can be a direct path to coming down with ConCrud. No one wants that.

5) Attend BarCon

As I’ve said above, there are some after-hours events. Go. To. Them. Hang at the bar. Chill out (if invited) in someone’s suite where the party (and, sometimes, absinthe fountain) is at. While you’re in sessions, you’re learning. Your brain is being filled, but that social animal in you is being ignored. There’s hardly any time between the sessions to truly socialize and network. Meals are a great time to meet people, but you’re at a table with (at most) nine other people. You need to expand the chain of people you know (and that know you!) more than those nine people. Hitting BarCon is the way to go. The most powerful words to get someone’s time and rapt attention at a conference are, “Can I buy you a drink?” It’s not a cheesy pick up line. It’s a ice-breaker. It’s a door-opener. Maybe that door that opens is the one that will lead to a great leap forward in your writing career. You never know!

The Other Side of Fear

other_side_of_fearI friend of mine posted this image with a quote from Jack Canfield. For those of you that are somehow unable to read the quote, it goes, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I used to be afraid of almost everything important. I’m not talking about phobias or fears of “scary” things like snakes, spiders, scorpions, graves, darkness, heights or things like that.

I’m talking about fear of companionship, friendship, family, success, and giving over my heart to other people for them to do with as they wish. This fear paralyzed every relationship I had before they even started. The people I grew up with (mom, dad, grandparents, cousins, etc.) were already established in my heart. I had very little fear of them, but there was some. It was all on me, not them. They rarely gave me reason to be afraid, but I found reasons within myself to not want to be close to them. I couldn’t bring myself to trust them. Again, it was all on me.

Sometime in my sophomore year of high school, I met a wonderful girl a year ahead of me in high school. Her mother was our french teacher, and we shared that class together. She was always a friend to me. Early on in our relationship, I kept her at a distance. By this time in my life, my ability to do this was well-honed and sharp as a razor. I could easily cut someone out of my life without them even knowing what happened. Katie disarmed me with her kindness and warmth. My razor fell by the wayside and rusted so quickly, I didn’t realize it had done so. She brought me out of the iron casing I’d wrapped myself in. I was free of my protective, and restrictive, armor. I was vulnerable in the cold wastelands of high school.

This was not an overnight process. It wasn’t until I was near the end of my junior year (well over 20 months after Katie and I first met) that I peeked out the shell and found that happiness could be had. Sure, there was a chance to be hurt, but I had to take that risk. With it being the end of my junior year, I realized Katie was about to leave to go to college since she was about to graduate. Without her there to hold my hand in friendship and drag me through the painful birthing processes as I escaped the constriction of my armor, I felt lost.

I wanted to crawl back into my armor.

Then a girl I’d met through Katie called me out of the blue during summer vacation. She continued where Katie left off with kindness and friendly love. It wasn’t until years, perhaps decades, later that the glimmer of an idea popped into my head: Did Katie arrange to “hand me off” to Heather because they both knew I needed it? To this day, I’m not sure, but I like to think their secret conspiracy was for my betterment.

Heather introduced me to a whole slew of friends. I’d love to list them off here, but there are too many. I don’t want to do any of them the disservice of forgetting their names on my list of vital people that helped me grow strong after I cast off the internal supports of my distance from others.

During my senior year of high school, I made a decision. It was a hard one to make. I could still see my protective gear in the rear-view mirror of my past. It loomed in my shadow and demanded I return to its safety. My fragile, yet strengthening, psyche of what friendship meant wanted to flee to its protective coverings. I decided not to allow that to happen.

I turned my back on my past and swore to forge a new me.

I had moved past the barrier of fear that kept me from being the true man that I would eventually become.

The person you know today is nothing like the boy he was so many decades ago. The confidence I have in myself, the willingness to make friends, my drive to excel against all odds, and the compassion I have for others are due to the massive emotional efforts of Katie and Heather.

Almost everyone I’ve met since those distant days of high school has supported me and held me up.

The most important person in my life today that keeps me going on my path is my wife, Kimberly. It’s for you that I continue to strive to excel. It’s for our son that I want to make proud that I do what I do.

The point of all of this?

I’m certain you have fears as well. Again, I’m not talking about phobias or those strange things that go bump in the night. I’m talking about deeply internal fears of you build for yourself.

You can get past them. Perhaps not alone. Probably not alone. Find someone in your life you can trust and extend your hand. Ask for help. There are people out there willing to help you for as long as you need. It won’t be an overnight process, but you can do it. I know you can.

Work past your fears and get to what you want. Get to what you deserve.

Finished: Jim Butcher’s Cold Days

Cold_Days_HardcoverI finished reading Jim Butcher’s Cold Days this afternoon. I started this book way back in December of last year. Don’t let the time it took me to read the book suggest that the book was a slow read. I’ve just had lots of PPW stuff and personal stuff going on since that time. I honestly did not have much time/energy to get in as much reading time as I would have liked.

I always thought that Jim must hate, I mean really hate, Harry because of all of the shit he puts the wizard through. This book is no exception. If you think that the previous 13 novels (and handful of short stories) were examples of how to amp up the stakes and beat up a character, then you have another thing coming. The pure hell that Butcher drives Harry Dresden through in Cold Days is nothing short of amazing.

Every time I thought things couldn’t get worse for Harry and his friends, they did. Right up until the final scene. Now I feel even more sorry for a different character than Harry. I won’t say who the character is to avoid spoilers. That character has already been put through the ringer (who hasn’t in the Dresdenverse?), and they have been dropped into the thick of things even more than I thought imagined.

When I saw what was coming to that character, I was in the lobby of my doctor’s office. I sat there mumbling and pleading with Jim, “No. No. Not them. Anyone but them. No. No. No! Don’t let it happen.” … and then it did.

Man, what a ride! As always, Jim has delivered. As always, I’m sad that the book has ended. As always, I can’t wait for the next book to hit the shelves!!!! Come on! Let’s see Skin Game already.

Well done, Jim. I tip my hat to you.