Muscle Woman and High Fiving a Robot

First up, some bragging points:  My short story “A Quartet of Clowns” got an honorable mention in the Writers of the Future Contest.  No publication, but I’m moving up.

This weekend, I was at Ravencon, a science fiction convention that’s held every year, now in Williamsburg, VA.  It used to be in Richmond, but the hotel hired new staff, who jacked up the price, so they moved to the new location.

I was hoping for nice weather.  Instead, it was rain and gray skies all the way up.

I had two goals for the con.  The first was to use the hotel’s swimming pool and get a little swimming in. For the con, it was to participate more, because when I do I’m memorable.  Not sure why, but everyone remembers me.

So I had to pick better panels than I’ve had in the past.  A lot of the writing ones tend to be beginner level, so I don’t want to participate (and in some cases, I think what they’re giving out is really wrong).  I scoped out the panels about week before, though first contact changed that.

I got in a quick swim before the con started. About ten laps, which wasn’t much (the pool was small). I also did pool pullups. I use the handles on the ladder to do it.

Then off to the con. The first sessions included a panel on world building.  I think one person suggested the world building topic, because there was a lot of world building panels, and nearly always the same writers on the panels.   One of the commentaries on horses came from a horse enthusiast on panel.  In fantasy novels, everyone always has a horse, but horses are really expensive (why they hung horse thieves).  That made me note a comment to add to the short story I was working on (called Lady Pearl and now in submission).

After that, it was off to a Star Trek 50th anniversary panel—it’s hard to believe it has been 50 years.  The panelists went through all the various incarnations of Trek.  There had been two panels on Star Trek scheduled that I planned to attend, but after this one, I had my fill.  Never thought I’d say that about Star Trek.  When I was growing up, I had a shrine in my room—everything I had all displayed.

I chatted with the panelists before the panels—sitting in the front row is great for interaction.

Saturday started with another trip to the pool. Then off to a panel on robots, which is where my post title comes from.  There was team of teenagers who had participated in an annual contest for building robots.  They’re given a task—in this case, climbing a ramp—and they have to build and program a robot that can accomplish the task.  Everything is Open Engineering Book, so all the teams can use what someone else comes up with to learn.

Two of the team members were girls.  They built a robot which looked like the lunar rover.  It had a hand on the top that gave you a high five, which was pretty cool.

And it was girls, which was awesome,

Then off to Flags on the Moon, which is exactly what it was.  The panelist talked about the trials of trying to stand a flag up on the moon and how many were standing.  We got to hear some clips from NASA and see some moon videos.   This is from NASA on the status of the flags.   No one’s been there, but NASA can tell their presence by the shadows they cast in photos.

World Building: Creating Fictional Political Systems was next.  This one presented an interesting idea, which is that a lot of writers just use the U.S. system.  How our system is unique and the only one like it, so others are better choices.  The panelists thought if there was a world government, it would be more parliamentary.

Next was the Baen Traveling Roadshow.  Reps from the company show us what’s going to be released and give away books. Honestly, it was great looking at the posters of covers they had up. Some really awesome artwork.

And back to World Building with First Contact and Politics.  Hmm.  Do you think the election might be influencing the panels?  First contact is always depicted in films as the aliens contacting the government, but the panelists thought aliens would contact merchants.  Merchants are always the ones branching out to find more markets.

My last panel was on Writing the Short Story.  The panelist was Bud Sparhawk, who’s been in Analog and Asimov’s.  He was joined by another writer, whose name I can’t recall.  That writers was a pantser, so he was the opposite of everything that was Bud.  I didn’t get as much out of the panel as I was hoping, and it was at a really bad time (10:00), so not much on the audience side.  The woman sitting next to me took notes on her checkbook register and had green lipstick that Bud said was distracting (okay, well, it was a con, and at least she wasn’t wearing one polka dot).

For Sunday, it was back to the pool first thing in the morning. This time, a mother brought her daughter, probably no more than 12, to play in the pool. It was 7:00 a.m., so this was very odd. After I did the pool pull-ups, the daughter tried it. Couldn’t do it at all. But then I’m Muscle Woman. I’ve been working on my arm muscles.

I looked at the panels for Sunday, and the only one I might have attended was late in the afternoon.  I booked out at 8:00 a.m., hoping to avoid the predicted rain.  Needless to say, it rained the entire way back and turned into a downpour once I hit Quantico.

Oh, dear.  Need to go off line.  Thunderstorm is coming in.

Engaging Readers with Social Media

Margaret Miller and Reetta Raitanen asked me to write a post on the “Microblogging and Macroblogging” workshop from Ravencon. Microblogging is Twitter, and Macroblogging is a blog like this.  With indie publishing exploding and forcing change on the publishing industry, writers of all flavors are having to learn how to do social media to sell their books.  The old marketing methods like “repeat the message” not only don’t work with social media but can instead disengage readers.   Who wants to receive a constant stream of “buy my book”?  I’ve found it a frustrating process because there’s a lot of information on what not to do, but what to do to be successful is a little vague.

These were the ‘don’ts’ discussed by the panel:

  • Don’t send “Buy My Book” tweets.
  • Don’t blog about your writing.

The latter of those strikes me as a curious tip.  I think the first thing every writer gravitates straight to is doing a blog of how-to tips.  Obviously, those are going to appeal only to other writers, and not to future potential readers.  Austin S. Comacho noted that we’re writers, so we have a wide variety of interests that we can talk about.  But a little later, he also said he hadn’t had much success with blogs and was participating in reading groups on Facebook.  And he is also blogging about — guess what?  Writing!

It all keeps coming back to writing.  Even ones who are well known like Bob Mayer, Kristen Lamb, and M.J. Rose have all gravitated to blogging about writing in some form or another.  We do write every day, and some write all day, so it’s hard to ignore talking about it entirely since it’s so much a part of our lives.  Maybe it’s not discussing how-tos, which tend to have an “article” flavor and only draw writers, but maybe something that would fit in with the writing but that readers would enjoy.

I’d like say there was some enlightening point in the workshop, but the above was the most exciting part.  They wandered off on a tangent about Live Journal, and there were two writers who only used Twitter to send blog links to.  No one answered what to tweet about or what to blog about, and it makes me think that maybe no one really totally knows.  I was glad I wasn’t the only one who was clueless!

But it prompted a question:  Are there writing topics that would appeal to both readers and writers?  The how-tos are obviously very writer-focused, and reviews are time consuming because reading the book is involved.  Post your opinion in the comments.

Meanwhile, here’s an info graphic from Copy Blogger on coming up with topics.  Since this is being linked from another site, I’ve included a screen reader version below.

22 Ways to Create Compelling Content - Infographic
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

For screen readers:

The infographic contains 22 tips:

  1. Curation: Compile a list of 10 favorite blog posts from other blogs
  2. Group brainstorming: Ask some friends for ideas
  3. Ask your readers: Get some help from your readers by asking what they would like to read about
  4. Interview someone: Writing a few questions for someone else to answer is easier than turning out a whole post
  5. Let a guest write: Guest posts add content effortlessly to your blog.
  6. Best case studies – company, product or website to do a best case study on
  7. Worst case studies – company, product or website that you don’t like
  8. Review something: Pick a product or service and write what you like and dislike about it
  9. Share your success: Show people step by step how you got there.
  10. Share your failures: Write about your biggest challenges
  11. Relive the memories: Pick some of your most useful older posts and share them for new readers

Use name recognition: This method requires mashing two unrelated subjects into one post i.e., what Batman can teach you about blogging

  1. Movies: Popular movies are a great place to get ideas
  2. Television: Chose television shows your audience would be likely to watch
  3. Books: Use the author’s name or book title, but aim for fiction or poetry for more impact.
  4. Comics: Superheroes make great blog post themes.
  5. Top trends: Click Google trends to see what’s hot now.
  6. Celebrities: Any celebrity will do.

Find your muse.  Sometimes it takes a little jump start to get your creativity flowing again.

  1. Take a walk: Breaking up the routine can help restart your brain.
  2. Watch a play: The atmosphere of a theatre can be very stimulating.
  3. Expand your cultural horizons: Visit an ethnic restaurant.
  4. Get personal.  Tell a personal story on your blog.
  5. Recycle

Action Scenes with Women Characters: We’re Not Men!

Woman soldier armed with rifle in one hand prepares to throw a grenade with the other.  Hoo-Ah!As a reader, I’m almost always never happy when I read action scenes with women characters.  Male writers default the action to the male characters, or they make the women like men.  Women writers either make the women into victims or give them super strength and healing, ruining the suspense.

One of the workshops I attended at Ravencon was “Writing Action Scenes.”  The panel consisted of three men — what, no women writing action?  I asked what had been a popular question at Alan Baxter’s webinar last year: “How do you write action scenes for women?”  The guys all got queasy and uncomfortable and started talking about not wanting …  Read more of my post over at Unleaded: Fuel for Writers.

Convention Report: Ravencon 2012

Purple robot is horrifiedLast weekend, I visited my second science fiction convention of the year, Ravencon, which was in North Chesterfield, Virginia.  It was chaos getting out the door and on the road.  I nearly forgot to pack underwear, and I did forget my camera (sorry, no photos.  I promise to be better next time.).

I arrived a day early to explore the area, but didn’t like the location much.  North Chesterfield wasn’t pedestrian or car friendly.  There were lots of restaurants but no easy way to get to them.  No sidewalks!  I visited the Science Museum of Virginia, a hands-on, interactive museum that was a lot of fun.  I hovered in the beach exhibit for a while, and I’m sure people must have wondered why I was scribbling notes, which I could barely read later.

The con started at 3:00 on Friday, and I jumped into three writing workshops: Writing Action Scenes, Building Suspense, and Creating a Timeline.  The organizers were generous with the writers at times — some of the panels had so many writers there wasn’t enough room at the table.  But it was made for a good mix of writers.  We had indie and traditionally published writers, and short story and novel writers, so there was a lot of different perspectives.

In the evening I attended the 2 hour A Different Kind of POV Workshop, which included writing based on a prompt.  That one was a little disappointing — all the writers said omniscient viewpoint isn’t used any more, and then later brought up examples in omniscient.  I dunno — maybe everyone is thinking of the 19th century version of omniscient?

Saturday is the big day of any con.  Ravencon had an astounding sixteen hours of workshops, on seven different tracks.  That was over 100 workshops!  I felt like there wasn’t enough time to take everything in!

First up was What Harry Potter Did Right, a fascinating discussion that delved into the themes of the story.   Other workshops I attended included Self-Publishing 101, Professional Self-Publishing, and Rooting for the Bad Guy.  On social media:  Macroblogging in the Microblogging Era and Self-Promotion and Social Anxiety Disorder.  Hated the title of the last one — it sounded like writers had mental problems — but it was an informative discussion with different perspectives.  Leona Wisoker mentioned how hard it was  for her to just to participate on a panel.

Saturday night must have had a lot of late partying because when I came for the Write What You Know Workshop, there were six writers on the panel and audience of one: Me.  Day (from my critique group), moderator for the workshop, sat in the audience, and Bud Sparhawk hopped into the audience as well to at least look like people were there.  About 2-3 more came in late.  Bud commented that anyone dealing with guns in their books should carry a gun around in their pocket for a while and see how dirty it is. (* Furtively writes information down. *)

Con highlights:

A 12-inch Col Jack O’Neill teddy bear.  Full camouflage uniform, and a Stargate SG-1 badge.

A kid in the con suite making popcorn sandwiches.

A waiter who was shocked at my magazine reading choice.  The gun ad on the back gave it away.  But honestly, how could I pass up articles called “Dealing with Multiple Attackers” and “How to Stop a Gunfight Fast” with a gun and magic fight in my book? (If you’re interested, these are in Shooting Illustrated.)

Attending Ravencon was empowering and exhausting, overwhelming and fun.  I’m looking forward to my next convention!

We’re getting into the season of vacation travel.  What are you planning to do — exotic trips, family visits, or just plain fun stuff like a good con?  I’d love to hear about your coming adventures!