Okay, so the outreach program is largely the brainchild of author and podcaster Tee Morris (Morevi and Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword), and it focuses on his alma mater, Monacan High School. The point is he brings the authors and artists of RavenCon to the students where they study and read.
On Thursday, April 18, he bused a handful of us to the school for programs thematically linked to the subjects studied in the school’s Humanities Program. My roomie Jana Oliver (Sojourn) and I were on the hook for a 90-minute seminar on “The Use of History in Science Fiction and Fantasy”. Ironically, many of the books and movies we discussed were cited again in Tee’s afternoon session on “Why Science Fiction and Fantasy Matter”. I’d say great minds think alike, but since I’m pretty sure I was already starting to succumb to the Con Crud, I’m not sure I had a mind.
The Usual Suspects – (Left to right) Tee Morris, Monacan High School teacher Alex McGrath, yours truly and Jana Oliver following our Thursday panels at Monacan. Tee credits Alex with setting his feet on the path to writing.
The highlight of the Friday program at Monacan was a lunch-time panel discussion featuring DragonMoon authors Jana, Tee, Val Griswold-Ford and Pete Prellwitz, NASA contractor Laura Burns, multi-published comic writer and novelist Rich White, artist Bryan J. Prindiville and yours truly. The interesting thing was how much the questions resembled those at every writing panel I’d ever sat on.
- How can I get my book/art published?
- What are publishers looking for?
- What’s the process like?
- How can I make a living at this?
The questions came from students and teachers and librarians. Not all of them wrote sf, fantasy or horror, but all of them were interested in writing or art.
I confess, despite having two books published and eight years of covering the genre arts scene for Crescent Blues, I still feel like a fraud answering those kinds of questions. I don’t know how to make a living at it. I could probably make a decent income writing nonfiction. That’s more or less what I did in the Fed–if you ignore the non-fiction part. But it would be a high-stress financial struggle and entail taking on a lot of work I didn’t like.
Fiction, on the other hand… I don’t have a clue how to become the next Nora Roberts or Stephen King. Part of it is writing good books that scratch the itch of the moment. But nailing that need is so much a matter of luck. So much is a trade-off too. It could take years before you see any returns from a print book published by even the most reputable and prompt-paying small press. Yet a small press editor could be an important step in your development as a writer. I can’t send enough props to Jess Bimberg of Samhain Publishing, for example.
Pete zinged me on going into too much detail on points like these. But this is what I wanted to know when I started out. Not that it would’ve changed anything, but it would’ve been good to know the reality of the situation. If you’re addicted to writing or art, as these folks plainly were, it’s good to know the challenges in advance, if only to wargame ways around them.
I wasn’t listed on the official list of con guests, because I submitted my application too late, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t snag panels. The full story of how I weaseled my way–er, was invited to sit in on four panels can be found on the Samhain blog I wrote while I was sweating out my fever between cons.
Interestingly enough, I found myself participating on three “sex” panels:
- Shaken… Not Stirred (Leading Men and Women in SF Films) – in which Tee opined he’d do Sam Elliot in Ghostwriter. We will never, ever let him forget that. We will make sure his kids never do either.
The Strawberry Pic – Jana and Tee, Shaken… Not Stirred with lots of rum. Captain Jack Sparrow would’ve felt right at home.
- My Lover is a Vampire… Or Maybe a Werewolf… (I Can’t Decide; They’re Both So Hot) – which was more interesting in retrospect because the panelists raised the same issues raised by the editors and agents in the following weekend’s Washington Romance Writers Retreat.
- Vice in Science Fiction – this was a pick-up panel. I wandered into the session largely because Programming Director Tony Ruggerio seemed desperate for participants. It gave me my best line of the con. Heh heh. Moderator Greg Eatroff kicked off the session by saying his qualifications for leading it was he read a lot of porn. I waited, a bland expression on my professional face, until the introductions came around to me. Then I purred, “I read a lot of porn…professionally.”
It got one of the biggest laughs of the session and had the virtue of being mostly true. I’ve copyedited several of Samhain’s hottest erotic romances. You’ll probably be disappointed to learn I didn’t dwell on my reading habits, though. Instead I brought up Full-Metal Alchemist and the Seven Deadly Sins. Sometimes a Catholic education is a terrible thing for the wasted.
Tee and I shared an autograph session where we spent a lot of time talking about the marketing value of podcasting. Ancestor, the new title by fellow Dragon Moon author Scott Sigler, debuted at Number 7 in the Amazon science fiction rankings as a result of Scott’s advance podcast readings. The only books ahead of it in the rankings were the six current Harry Potter titles. No eager autograph hunters showed–a far cry from the reactions of the students at Monacan. As Tee said, it sort of put the notion of small-press fame into perspective.
I wasn’t expecting any fans. For me a con is all about connecting with friends (Hello, Kelly, and Jay and Sherri of Elemental Life Jewelry & Massage). I was thrilled to have books available for signing. Period.
Creatures ‘n Crooks, the official con bookseller, deserves special props for being willing to stock and sell With Nine You Get Vanyr on such short notice. They actually sold a copy too. It was to a friend, to be sure, but I didn’t twist her arm or anything. Now I’ve just got to hope she likes it.
Another person I hope likes the book is Charles Gilliland, who bought a copy of the book from me in the Con Suite. I read his dad Alexis’s books back in the day. How totally cool is that?
The con also boasted sf/fantasy comedy sketches by Luna-C and the Geek Comedy Tour 3000, and a costume competition. The Masquerade seemed so small to the DragonCon extravaganzas I’m used to, but I’m sure it will grow. Like RavenCon itself. Last year, the con had around 450 attendees. This year attendance topped 700, making it too big for the current con hotel. Next year? Well, let’s just say I plan to submit my guest application really, really early.
I crashed as soon as I lugged my suitcase through the door of Chez Squirrel. Con crud at its finest–not! The nurse practitioner associated with my doctor’s office shares her boss’s aversion to antibiotics, but one look at me and she whipped out her prescription pad. I was pathetically grateful. The meds were the only reason I managed to complete my scheduled Samhain Blog April 25, which was doubly important, because that was the week of the Romantic Times BOOKlovers Convention. There would’ve been no one available to cover me if I fumbled the ball. At the time, though, all I could thing about was how relieved I was I didn’t have to board a plane to Houston. I never would’ve made it.
My signing at Boonsboro MD’s Turn the Page (TtP) Bookstore Cafe and the Washington Romance Writers (WRW) Retreat in Harpers Ferry were iffy until Thursday afternoon. I probably should’ve stayed home, but how many times in your life do you get the chance to sign with Nora Roberts–as of today, one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Important People in the World. (Yes, I’m riffing on an old commercial for a bank that’s since been absorbed into something else, but still… LOL)
After the Signing – Silhouette Nocturne author Pam Palmer, Nora Roberts and me. It doesn’t get much better than this. *smiles*
The April 27 signing was small by TtP standards, but pleasant in the extreme. The bookstore is housed an historic Boonsboro building with an annex the staff converts into a signing area. Twelve folks were signing April 27: Retreat guests Lisa Gardiner, Julia Quinn and Madeline Hunter, Nora, fellow WRW members Dee Davis, Sue Donovan, Diane Gaston, Donna Kauffmann, Kathleen O’Reilly, Pam Palmer, Hope Tarr, Michelle Willingham and moi.
I even managed to sell a respectable number of books–especially considering Vanyr, a trade paperback, was almost three times the cost of the mass market paperbacks in front of my fellow authors. Sometimes smaller is better.
But then I blew about ten times what I made in royalties buying everyone’s books and getting them signed on the spot. Two, in particular, were reserved for Mom’s Mother’s Day package–a Nora anthology and Michelle’s Her Irish Warrior. It will be fun to see how Mom reacts to a story about a tall, well-muscled Irishman paired with a petite, dark-haired heroine named Genevieve. Reader identification knows no age.
The Ol’ Sweet Shop – Pam and Diane Gaston place their luncheon orders. Just seeing all the desserts behind them makes my mouth water retroactively.
Pam (the angel of mercy who offered me a ride to and from the event) and I followed up the post-signing signings by joining Diane and several of the other writers at the Ol’ Town Sweet Shop across the street. The shop offered Italian Wedding Cookies! I bought a dozen for Mom. I should’ve bought more. Don’t it figure they were the one sweet she didn’t share. LOL
This year’s retreat offered little in the way of surprises unless you count the impromptu sing-along in the bar after Romance Jeopardy Saturday night. (St. Martins editor Jennifer Enderlin and Julia Quinn know more show tune and pop standards than anybody. Eva!)
Friday night boasted the traditional Editor/Agent free-for-all with regulars Kate Duffy (Kensington), Jennifer, Tracey Farrell (Harlequin), Lucia Macro (Avon), Jenny Bent, Elaine English, Meg Ruley, and newcomers Shauna Summers (Bantam) and Elaine Spencer. Emily Sylvan Kim may have been on the panel, but I was too out of it to tell. Saturday night there was Romance Jeopardy (which is Not Fair!)
“Romance Jeopardy Is Not Fair!” Karen Smith, Binnie Syril Braunstein, Jennifer Enderlin, Kathleen Gilles Seidel and Beth Fedorko incite mayhem in front of the Jeopardy board. At least they weren’t singing, which they did earlier in the competition. (Oh, the humanity!)
In between there were great speakers and programs and massages, and on Sunday we got to hear Nora’s traditional comedic closer, introduced–as has also become traditional–by Tim Bentler-Jungr, this year in the persona of Borat. Afterwards, I took advantage of the publicity photo shoot offered by Tisara Photography. Maybe I should’ve waited. The lingering remains of the C-Crud left my eyes a little puffy. But Nina Tisara, the photographer, did a great job, and I hope to post the results here and on the web site very, very soon.
I slept through more morning sessions than usual. Couldn’t seem to rebuild my energy until I after got home. But I still had fun, again mostly through connecting with my buds–who I will one day succeed in photographing well. (I wish Nina could’ve had her photographic way with them. Unfortunately, everyone needed to leave too soon.)
The Terrible Three – My roomies Anne Shaw Moran (left), Kim Headlee (writing as Kimberly Iverson, right) and me.
Friday, May 4, was the day I set aside for having dinner with Carole Nelson Douglas and Lillian Stewart Carl at Malice Domestic, the local traditional mystery conference. I was a little worried about it. Not about seeing Carole or Lillian, whom I adore as friends and writers, but about the con itself. I didn’t want to pay the $200 registration fee.
Or feel the pain. In a throw-away at the WRW Editors and Agents Panel, Lucia Macro mentioned Avon has canceled its cozy mystery series. I half expected to walk into a cloud of psychic anguish.
If there was one, however, it didn’t extend to Bin1700, the Crystal City Marriott’s new tapas bar. There it was all good, from the crab cakes to the “dos-a-dos” preview book of Carole’s Dancing with Werewolves and Chasing Silver Juno Books has created to the fabulous cover of Lillian’s upcoming Juno release, Blackness Tower.
Carole was one of actors in the Malice Theater of the Air’s 2007 production of OpOp. Her own panel (conducted in the character of her Dancing with Werewolves heroine, Delilah Street) went well too.
The only thing remotely painful was the painfully missing Elaine Viets, who was slated to be the con’s toastmistress before her stroke earlier this spring. Like Carole, Elaine’s a frequent performer in the Malice Theater of the Air. I can only hope her recovery is speedy and complete. She’s one of the good guys.