Monday, October 25, 2010

Gearing Up for NaNoWriMo

Hello all,

I'm currently gearing up for NaNoWriMo, while putting the finishing touches on a submission to a small publisher for my first book series.

So I've been very busy, and that may account for the sad lack of posts here over the past month.

But I have a Question for You:

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Do you even know what it is?

Here's a quick synopsis of the story I'm outlining for this next month's writing frenzy:

The Green Door

Anne's brilliant grandfather Professor Tom Shakleman is building a dimension door to get his family home. But something is wrong with his calculations. This new door leads them, not back to Earth, but to a dimension where humans live in small villages and every outsider is an enemy to kill.

If that weren't enough to chill the blood of a fearful young adult, Toxins released into the atmosphere decades ago killed off everyone not living in the mountainous regions. As the toxins dissipated, however, an unexpected side-effect made descending into the valleys more deadly than the toxins - the plantlife has become sentient. And it's not happy.

Tell me what you think, and if you'll join with me in writing 50,000 words of a novel next month in November!


Friday, October 1, 2010

ACFW Conference Experience

For those of you interested, I went to the annual American Christian Fiction Writers' Conference in Indianapolis last week.

It was an experience I will never forget, I assure you, in many ways.

First, let me tell you that hauling 3 of my kids and wife along in a van that was older than dirt was amazingly memorable. That may very well be the last long trip the old Awana Bus makes. It certainly growled its frustration from Memphis to Indianapolis, punishing us at least part of the way with no air-conditioning.

It has a slow leak somewhere in the cooling system, probably where the freon runs through the tires. I charged up the system with cool before we left Memphis, using 7 cans of freon/sealer. I only found out later that it was only supposed to hold maybe 3 cans. I think it managed to cram the other four cans in it's tires or something.

Also found out later that you are supposed to use ONE can of sealer, and TWO cans of freon. Could be that's why the van made noises like a family of Rhesus monkeys whenever I turned the air on. After manually turning the compressor over a few times, though, the glue broke free and we had some cool air.

Once we got to Indianapolis, we drove under this thing called the Arts Garden. During the day, it's a beautiful and tranquil garden with trees growing above the streets, and nests of sparrows flitting around and finding people to bother, filled with classical music and happy artsy people relaxing while cars rush by under them. For some reason this doesn't seem to bother them.

During the night, however, from the underside, this thing is a petrifying Mothership sent to capture Jimmy Neutron's parents and force them to do the chicken dance. I nearly wrecked while driving under this neon vortex of terror. Our tranquil Embassy Suites was positioned just on the other side. Like coming to a peaceful backwater after shooting the Ocoee in a barrel. A big white squealing barrel.

We found a place to park in the garage, nearly scraping the roof off our 6'4" van, and hauled our luggage up to the front desk. It was 10:45pm.

Fifteen minutes later we crashed into our room, exhausted, on the 10th floor. The clock said 12:00 midnight. We thought it wasn't set. No, we'd lost an hour in Timezone transfer somewhere in lower Indiana.

Dragged ourselves out of bed at 7am so I could make it to the 'Early Bird Special' with James Scott Bell. Took this picture of my boys sleeping in their bed. You can see who gets all the room.

At the Early Bird Session, I got James to sign his book, Plot and Structure, which I'd brought along with me to read while driving. Er, I mean, to study when I had some time free. (I didn't get ANY time free).

It's a good book to read, if you are a Writer. Many many good ideas in it. He shared a lot of those in the Early Bird session, along with many other great ideas for making your plots sizzle and hook your readers.

Sat during his class with Linda Yezak, writer and editor for Port Yonder Press. We managed to snatch a few moments of conversation during breaks. At one of them she locked eyes on me and said 'Pitch your novel!' I pitched her my Lynvia novel. Linda is a buddy of mine from and we've both been participating in some blog chains from there with many other talented writers.

She thought my novel was a great idea. She nabbed my lovely onesheet (I'll include a picture of it here for you to enjoy...)

After the session I met with Jill Williamson, new Christian Speculative author and Christy Award winner for her novel By Darkness Hid. She was with a group of authors from Novelteen, and we all went to lunch together with my family. Here's a picture of us eating lunch together. Foreground left is my wife Rebecca, and three of my kids, on the far side of the table left to right is Susan Lyttek, Jill Williamson, Peggy Wirsau, Adam Weisenburger, Diane L. Sharples, and Christopher Miles Kolmorgen. A name to watch.

Back to the Conference for the opening ceremony, Addresses, and some worship. Has a decent P&W band singing some well-known Chris Tomlin and David Crowder Band.

That night, I had dinner with a few of my ChristianWriters buddies - here's a photo of me, Linda Yezak, and Becky Minor, another name to watch.

Then it was back home to the hotel to crash. There was a late nite session I was too pooped to attend. It was already a late nite for me...

So, I read some of Donita K Paul's DragonSpell to the kids, and crashed. About 12am, I was awakened by the sound of my five year-old emptying his dinner all over the bed. I didn't take a picture, I didn't need to. I'll never forget the way it looked, and it's not something you can un-see.

We called the hotel staff, who rolled right up and took the bedding away, remade the bed quietly and quickly, and were gone again inside 5 minutes. Oh yeah we tipped them. It wasn't a job I would have wanted, and I was busy introducing Johnny to his new friend Ralph in the porcelain pagoda.

Johnny cried a bit as he watched the last of his dinner go down the tube. Then he crawled back into bed, just wanting to get some sleep. We turned out the lights, and ten minutes later I heard him getting ready to heave again. I took him back to the restroom and stayed with him for a few minutes, then laid out some towels on the floor for him and told him he'd have to spend the night there. He wasn't happy.

Rebecca spent most of the night watching him while I slept, and we traded off about 4:30am. When norning came, I showered and headed to the Conference again, exhausted and NOT ready for a 15-minute session with Jeff Gerke.

Jeff is the editor of Marcher Lord Press, a small press and the de-facto Christian Speculative publisher. He's very personable and tried to put me at ease, but after I handed him my OneSheet, I choked up on the pitch, and he had to help me finish it.

I was so nervous I nearly threw up on him. I don't think he would have been quite as friendly after that...

I headed to my Continuing Education class with Jim and Tracie Peterson, on Basic Basics, or the intro-level class on how to craft a good novel. We've all got room to improve there, I'm sure. I took copious notes and got a lot of good info out of the class. I also enjoyed the banter between Jim and Tracie.

At lunch I sat with Jim and Tracie and James Scott Bell. I had no idea these folks went so far back, but it was great watching Jim and Jim joke back and forth. Also at the table was a great guy named Darren, who also writes Speculative, and Omar Campos, another Spec-Fic author who hails from Puerto Rico. I expect to see his cyborg novel published in the next few years. It sounds like an interesting read.

After lunch I headed to a class by Jill Williamson on Creating a believable SFF Story World. She led us through the process she took creating the world for her Christy Award-winning book By Darkness Hid.

Jill had put a great deal of thought and detail into her world, doing historical research, crafting unique weapons and armor for her world, coats of arms, maps of towns and country, and the imports/exports, dress, and behaviours of the peoples in her world.

The bottom-line lesson was that detail of the world, when crafted well into a book or series, makes the experience so much more real to the reader. It's one of the things that made Tolkein's Lord of the Rings series so popular.

From there I went to a class on writing Historical Fiction. It was good, but the projector screen didn't display the text correctly so we just listened to the presentation. Later the teachers emailed the powerpoint, which had lots of useful links.

Saturday night, I had dinner at Weber Grill with all my friends from Here's a picture of us at dinner, sans me.

That night, we finally got some sleep. I skipped out on the second 'Late Night' session because I'd already had all the 'Late Night' sessions I could stomach. Pardon the pun.

Sunday, it was back with Jim and Tracie for more Basics. Jim took the floor and covered a lot about Historical Fiction, and gave some more good resources for finding information. He also stressed Fact-Checking EVERYTHING you read. Finding 3 sources that agree before considering it a reasonable fact. Assuming you can find three separate sources. Many historians just quote other historians, so checking the bibliography is always a good idea.

I had a good interview with Amanda Luedeke, an agent with the Chip MacGregor Agency.
She liked my first book, and suggested some changes that might greatly enhance the book.

At lunch I met several interesting writers, including Jennifer Hudson Taylor, and another author with a seeing-eye dog. The dog really reminded me of Big Red, and he was very well-behaved under the table. Occasionally his tail would thump on my foot.

My next class was with Jeff Gerke and blew the roof off. It was 'The Last Show vs. Tell Class you'll ever need.' Jeff's laptop was missing, it was still in his room. He sent his assistant up to his room to get it, and while she was gone, he began asking the class questions, giving examples of passages and asking us whether it was 'Showing' or 'Telling'. Some of them were tricky. Whenever the text he read didn't cover action, description, or dialogue, it was 'Telling'.

His assistant came back and he plugged in his laptop. It came right up and began nagging him that McAffee wanted to take over his computer and update it with the latest version of bloat code and Anti-spy-ware intrusive intrusion detection software. It was very intrusive, bubbling up from the bottom several times.

The software was MOST insistant. So, Jeff shut the laptop off, and finished the class with a very dynamic ad-lib that showed he really didn't need to lean on the laptop and it's anti-spyware intruder.

The most vivid thing about his class was when he told us 'Rethink what you do - authors should not consider themselves 'Storytellers' but 'Screenwriters'. He then had five members of the class come up and stand across the front, talking and acting out an interesting story about friends meeting. Then Jeff had them turn their backs on us, while he monologued about how the 'reason Jeff is at the store is to pick up tomato paste for his wife Sally, and Joe doesn't like Jeff much but is pretending to for blah blah blah...'

I found it hard NOT to tune Jeff out as he monologued about the story - the ACTION had stopped, and the action was what was holding my attention. He had made his point. 'Telling' is not a good idea. Not because editors want to make all stories cookie cutter, but because it stops the action, bores the reader, and they either skip ahead or put the book down forever.

Though the reader might not catch EVERY bit of detail you as a writer know about the story line, Jeff said the details were caught or inferred through the story. The reader can fill in some of those details themselves, and many are not so important. He said, "What you sacrifice in exactitude, you more than gain in reader engagement."

After a couple additional classes, I headed back to the hotel to pick up Rebecca for the Awards Banquet. I bought take-out for the kids, but they weren't really interested in eating. Hmmm...

The banquet was amazing. Jill took this picture of me and Rebecca there. It was much like the Academy Awards. Very gala and festive. I sat next to an author named JoAnn Durgin. Rebecca talked with an author next to her, an editor who helped edit some of the Carol Award winners.

The next morning we headed for home, but my fifteen-year-old had gotten the bug, and we had to stop every thirty minutes for him to express himself to the highway traffic. He had a miserable ride home.

We stopped at Mammoth Caves on the way home, to gather information for a book, since a scene occurs there and I wanted to be accurate in my description. I was, pretty much. Here's a photo I took from inside the cave...