Creating Tension: Writing Lessons From Balticon 2018

28 05 2018

At Balticon this past Saturday, I watched a panel about Creating Tension with Scott Andrews, Mark L. Van Name, Gail Z. Martin, and Chuck Gannon.

All agreed that for tension to work, the threatened character must be relatable and the stakes recognizable. Maybe summarize the details of what would happen if All Was Lost.

Andrews: It is best to end a chapter with a cliffhanger to keep the reader engaged. Disquietude can act as cliffhanger by using awe, mystery, or curiosity. Entering an awesome new environment can pull the reader into the next chapter. The reveal of an important question can pique curiosity.

Van: Lee Child says unanswered questions keep the reader on edge. In foreshadowing a menace, heighten tension through proximity. For example: the threat is first mentioned, then later detailed, then seen at a distance, then when the protagonist has to hide from it. Morbid humor works, for that read the memoirs of soldiers.

Gail Z. Martin says that Jim Butcher novels will almost resolve a conflict completely, then introduce a last complication.

Gannon says that tragedy is two honorable characters working toward opposing ends (he made clear this was not an original thought, but I can’t remember who he was quoting). Trust your instincts above any plot formula.

Other panels reinforced reading Romancing the Beat and Save the Cat.

 





Lessons From The 2018 Nebula Conference With Links To Resources

21 05 2018

nebula logo

I went to Pittsburgh last Thursday to watch my good friend Dr. Lawrence Schoen get his chance at a Nebula. This is his nominated book.

Being twice nominated, he had a lot of meetings about editorial and collaborative opportunities. This is what conventions are all about for professionals.

Meanwhile, I as an aspiring professional and Growing Concern went to panels to learn about the biz. Here are my notes:

From a panel about Facebook ads, from experienced Facebook advertisers:

  • Cover images! Spaceships or dragons, period. When possible, use food related images for your cover. Food provokes better click rate. I know, right?
  • On the flip side of that, use vampires where possible. Okay, working on that right now.
  • Start small with FB ads and increase where successful. How small? $5 SMALL. This is a relief because my savings took a beating this weekend.
  • As in all things, There Is A BOOK:  “Help! My Facebook Ads Suck!” by Michael Cooper. This book was recommended by Lindsay Buroker on her podcast, too. I’ll be getting this one.

 

From a panel on e-publishing:

  • When publishing your e-book, put in a link for readers to subscribe to your mailing list and receive free material related to that book. Put in that link at the beginning at at the end of the book. Cool! Can do!
  • When readers click the link, they will land on a page asking something like “Would you like to receive materials from me?” There will be a check box. That check box MUST BE AN OPT-IN. They have to click to receive. This is part of those new European internet regulations.

Do you know about Draft2Digital? They are a publishing and promotion platform. Check them out. I’m intrigued.

Have you used Beatsheetcalculator.com? I was developing calculations on where plot beats should fall based on page percentages. Of course, someone else has done it first. It even incorporates the Dent Pulp Formula and the Hero’s Journey.

Last, when writing a series, make all books stand alone. No cliffhangers. I knew this, but it was good go have this reinforced by a panel including series maven Laura Anne Gilman.

Sadly, Lawrence did not win. However, his competition were all from Big Five publishers. My small publisher Noble Fusion Press got Lawrence onto the ballot TWICE. Good work supported by promotion gets results.

Was the convention worth it for me? I had some good moments. A series I’ve begun was well received at a Kickstarter Seminar. Did you know Kickstarter provides guidance on optimizing your campaign? This response did warm my enthusiasm.

The cost, though! I spent enough to set up a book. I was in the middle of a slump, though, and now I’ve got new wind. Maybe I could have gotten that new wind at the upcoming local Balticon at about 10% of the cost.

Anyway, if I remember anything else, I’ll let you know.

Keep writing!

 





Horror Prompt: Describe The Sound

11 01 2017

Here is the new prototype autonomous drones from the US Air Force. It processes data collectively like a flock of birds. Would anyone be at the switch in case the flock made a bad decision?

What would you call the sound this flock makes? How loud would it get before the flock shredded the flesh from your bones?

“A sound carried on the wind, faint and thin. A mosquito whine somehow loud enough to echo from the canyon wall. The whine grew louder. An ululation, the sound that the Muslim women used to make when mourning. Louder. The sound had no tongue or breath. Just an open mouth endlessly screaming. Open to bite and rend flesh. The blue sky at the end of the canyon swirled as if his eyes had filled with swimmers darting in his vitreous humor. The swimmers grew. Converged into a swaying, screaming flock of drones, wings stiff and deadly like ghoulish falcons.”

How would you describe the sound?





I Squeezed StokerCon, Baby.

18 05 2016

I went to StokerCon and got the rewards that’ll build a career.

I want to up my game and begin using conventions to establish business connections. I’ve read dozens of articles over the years on how to network, but had neither the nerve nor the credentials to approach those on the next rung up on the ladder.

  1. This year’s StokerCon was the first to have a full weekend and have lots of workshops with professionals. What did I do?
  2. Assessed my personality. I’m introverted and anxious in general. But if I’m comfortable, I’m glib and pretty damn charming, so I’m told. This was my first “businessy” convention, so to keep up my glibness, I…
  3. …Kept my goals reasonable. If I spoke with editors and agents and was able to pitch my current project, that would be a success. To insure my glibness, I…
  4. …Talked about projects I had described many times. Rehersing would make me nervous (ain’t the way it’s supposed to work, I know, but I’m certain to grow out of this) so I made note only to mention “Diesel Dead” and use “The Flesh Sutra” and its preliminary ballot nod as an introduction/validation. This would work for…
  5. …Speaking with everyone. Not just pros but also my fellow aspirants. We’re all in the same boat, after all. Everyone has something I could learn. This worked well, because…
  6. …Workshops held all types of learning opportunities. Nancy Holder conducted a two hour workshop on discovering physical and mental cues to use when ratcheting up suspense to flat-out horror. Jo Fletcher, Stephen Graham Jones, and agent Ian Drury affirmed what I’d already heard about the market but provided an unexpected opportunity. Another big name’s workshop was a big-time slack-off by said big name, but another attendee found where I can improve another project I’m working on. The convention had other, built-in ways I could learn like…
  7. …editor pitch sessions, which I took one (those slots went quick), and paying a semi-pro editor to review/edit the first 100 pages of DD.

How’d I do?

Three editors want see a synopsis of DD. Ian Drury surprised his workshop by giving those attending a pitch session with him. Had my business card, had my material down, had my glib on. He asked for a synopsis. Meanwhile…

…Nancy Holder’s workshop held a boggling reward. After an arresting two hours, when the attendees milled around waiting to introduce themselves, I gathered my nerve and got out a business card. I walked up to her and said,

“Hi Miss Holder? My name’s Tim Burke and I had a novel on the preliminary ballot for the Stoker’s last year.”

“Really?” she smiled. “I was on the recommending panel. Which one was yours?”

I had forgotten she had been on the panel.

“‘The Flesh Sutra’?”

She gasped. “YOU’RE ‘The Flesh Sutra’? I loved ‘The Flesh Sutra’! I love your novel!”

And Nancy Holder flung her arms around my neck and gave me a big hug.

Yes, this all was worth the money. It’ll be a couple of years before I go across the country, but in terms of business this has helped me in ways I’m still processing.

I stayed a day after the con ended to do Vegas. Ate at buffets: YOU SUCKED HARRAH’S, however CAESAR’S was $60 a plate and was so-o-o good. I hardly ate the next day I was so full.

And I finally got to fire some automatic weapons at Battlefield:Vegas. I’m writing it off as research.

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StokerCon in Las Vegas, Baby! Also, Want To Beta Read My New Novel?

5 05 2016

I’ve finished my new dark fantasy/horror novel titled “Diesel Dead”. Elevator pitch is “Later this century, physics attacks humanity. A man with a secret can help bring civilization back from the brink, if he can overcome his PTSD.”
The book is now 43K words with zombies, diesel-funk, fire spirits, a high-tech ruling class, and quite a bit of bleakness.
Wanna read it? Drop me a line!
Meanwhile, I am preparing to go to StokerCon next week. I have signed up for seminars with rising young authors and plan on networking like hell. I hope to keep you updated through the convention about my impressions and learnings.
Right now, I am writing four synopsis for use in John Skipp’s brainstorming class. These are:

  1. Bev’s Demon: a novella set in the near future, a woman is crisis is shadowed by a mysterious being. The problem with this is my politics may be getting in the way of making a better story.
  2. Babbage’s Mandala: A head-smacking new take on the Difference Engine. So many places to go with this idea. Characters in search of a plot.
  3. Sequel to “The Flesh Sutra”: Tentatively named “The Flesh Frequency”, it will be set in 1970’s California. I have  POV and reveal scene and that’s all.
  4. Dagnoxy: Old friends from highschool convinced me to try my hand at comedy again. So I have a character and an idea as to where he should go. If The Talented Mr. Ripley and Terry Pratchett were to have a baby, Dagnoxy would sell it to make spell components.

An editor for a small pub is also critiquing the first 100 pages of “Diesel Dead”, and I’ll share what she has to say.





Conventions for Writers: Are They Worth It?

26 05 2015

This past Memorial Day weekend, I attended ConQuesT in Kansas City. It was my fourth such visit and it was by far the best con experience I’ve had so far. How did I make that happen? Well, I’ll tell you.

Confluence of Efforts: My novel was out this time and on the table to be sold. And it sold five copies. People liked the texture of the cover stock (no foolin’. It made a difference!). Folks nodded and made DeNiro face at the “Preliminary Ballot of the Stokers.” The back copy and blurbs made people stare and wonder if they could risk reading such a well-received thriller.

So writers: Have your ad copy up to professional standards.

Surrounded By Help: The book sold at the table of my publisher, Noble Fusion Press. My publisher laid out a professional presentation with other authors of note like Lawrence Schoen, who has a Hugo nomination and two Nebula nominations, one Neb nom for his current offering on the table right beside my book.

Writers: You cannot do it all yourself. Find like-minded people like writers groups and coordinate your efforts and skills.

MAGIC ATTENTION-GRABBING WORD: Yes, there is a magic word that will pull in passers-by. No, not that one. Or that one. The word is “chocolate.”
I crooned, “Cho-co-la-a-ate.” I held a gem of Dove Bite aloft between my fingers. The passersby swayed to the siren call, then succumbed.

Writers: Offer chocolate. Good stuff. Quality chocolate means you respect your audience.

Volunteer for Panel Discussions: Concentrate on your areas of obvious expertise. If you contact early and offer to panel, the committee may solicit you for ideas for panels. If you don’t feel comfortable in front of people, offer to help the con committee in setting up. Either way, you meet people who do what you do and want to help you do it better.

Socialize: After programming parties are swell. Even the tipsy people act like grown-ups. Go to the hotel bar and look for a familiar face: “Hey, I really liked your panel…” or even say “Hi, I’m new here. How’s your day been?” Don’t try to sell. Just meet people. Everything is about people.

What did I get from the convention? Lovely face-to-face time with my publisher. Meeting another small press publisher. A regaining of confidence. Encouragement on two novels I will now write proposals for. A possible novel collaboration. A whole bunch of people who will remember my name and think “chocolate” and “nice guy who wasn’t pushy”.

It is a small foundation but it is solid and ready to be built upon.





In Kansas City For ConQuest!

19 05 2015

Here is my agenda:
Friday 5:00 PM Is It REALLY Gothic? (M)
Friday 10:00 PM Body Horror: The Last Ewwww (M)
Saturday 10:00 AM Story in a bag
Saturday 12:00 PM Story in a bag
Saturday 4:00 PM NobleFusion Press Showcase: Readings and More

“Story In A Bag” is a writing session, improvising a story based on a prompt drawn from a bag.
“NobleFusion” showcase is me doing a reading along with other writers in my group. I’ll read from “The Flesh Sutra”.





I’ll See Someone (You?) At PhilCon!

15 11 2014

On Friday (my only day allowed from my Big Box job), I will be at three panels and a friend’s booklaunch at PhilCon: Philadelphia’s Science Fiction Convention. It’s the oldest running con in the US.





Book Launch for “The Flesh Sutra” at BaltiCon, May 24

30 05 2014

The end of Chapter Two, “The Mother and The Worm”, helped me realize that the best themes and symbols are totally accidental. Right now, I believe the best thing artists can do is present their own secret, lonely religions.

 





BaltiCon Book Launch Videos

30 05 2014

I toast. I read. By all accounts, I kicked ass. Here’s the opening toast with Tom Doyle, who launched “American Craftsmen”.

 

 








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