Prepping for When Words Collide 2016

As I’m sure you know, every year I attend the local (to Calgary) readercon When Words Collide. This will be my fourth year attending and I’m hoping to shake up my experience this time around; with August fast approaching I decided discussing my aspirations here will transform into a plan and help me to get my butt in gear.

In 2013 and 2015 I attended the offered pre-festival workshops featuring Patricia Briggs and Faith Hunter. Those were writing-life altering experiences. This year the master classes didn’t call to me, so I’m simply attending the festival, though that itself is rife with more information than any writer brain can process quickly.

All the writerly wisdom gathering aside, my focus this year is networking. I am a terrible networker. Atrocious really. My social anxiety, coupled with my doing-my-darnedest-to-be-punctual-but-rarely-am stress, and my myriad issues with strangers means that when I’m not inside a presentation or with someone I know, my brain is in defensive mode. Defensive mode is not the best head-space for trying to chat people up.

I was largely on my own last year because Kate, who is my WWC compatriot, had multiple presentations to prep for and attend and a merchant table she helped out with, among other things. I was pretty exhausted, but I did damn alright on my own –I even had lunch with someone I met outside the little café I was eyeballing.

I’m betting this year will be largely the same since Kate has her own merchant spot to handle on top of everything else she likes to tackle. I don’t mind the alone time at all, but I want to do more than mentally bolster myself during that time.

So, with a little under four weeks to prepare (as of the day of me writing this post, 10 days from it going live), I am going to do my best to learn how to network in such a setting!

I feel better armoured since I know in advance that I’m going to be largely on my own, and my day job in customer service has made me a pro at small talk, plus never underestimate the bolstering power of a professional persona. E.V. O’Day is much better in such a setting over the long haul than Elisa is any day.

Wish me luck! And I will absolutely be passing along my results and knowledge!

Oh, and I hope to see you at WWC!

Wry Moments of Inspiration

White TeethI’ve been reading a lot of great books by some fabulous and talented women lately. I just finished Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, which I discussed at length –probably too long, but tough– in my last post, and I’m roughly a third of the way through Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Though Smith’s story is a tour-de-force coming of age and a no-holds-barred look at being a person of colour in a xenophobic country, Strayed’s is a memoir about hitting rock bottom and the lengths one will go to crawl out of the dark and try to find themselves on the other side.

What both tales have in common are that they are primary examples of why I want to write. What both women share about the human experience underscores why artists do what they do.

What I’m writing right now can’t compare to White Teeth. I’m pretty sure nothing I write ever will, but the focus of my book is far too removed from it. Wild, though, I’m feeding off of Wild. In RA1 I am trying to showcase that my main character is very close to an emotional rock bottom, which is very difficult because I’m not showing any kind of before. Mostly because her emotional descent has taken place over the span of nearly a decade and I want to catch her in the worst of it.

She’s not a destructive sort, like Strayed. But as I get to know her, get a feel for how she was trained, I’m seeing that she takes bad risks. Risks that could well see her die. I guess that’s a different kind of destructive.Wild

I’ve hit emotional rock bottom, but I’ve never been the type to put myself at bodily risk. My survival instinct is too hardwired. But reading about Strayed’s experience is enlightening, and I have an idea of what I can do with my character.

If I can transmit even half the emotional power of either book into my own writing I will call myself an epic winner. This is why reading widely is so important as a writer. You learn and grow and become better.

I feel bad that I’m almost feeding off of Strayed’s misery, but that’s kind of why she published the book in the first place, right? So others could learn from her? I wish that I’d been writing my story when I went to see her speak in 2013, I would have asked about that.

These are my latest moments of wry inspiration, though I don’t know why I think these two stories are an odd place to find inspiration for my dark fantasy novel.

A Downside to Research

In my current WIP, RA2, my protagonist comes from a long line of military people. She’s American and her family has long ties to the various entities connected to the Marine Corps. I am neither American nor a part of any military branch, though a fascination with both cultures has helped to keep me informed. However, from day one of fine-tuning my character, I knew I needed to bolster my knowledge.

Like any male dominated body, the military has its dark side when it comes to women in its ranks –that I was prepared for. I’m an open eyed, realistic feminist. Men’s clubs don’t come without their dangers to women.

Doing my research and reading the myriad of different material I could find that was designed exclusively for men that projects misogyny, homophobia, and hyper-masculinity was what I was not prepared for. Even as I write that down I have to sigh at my own naivety. Boys clubs are boys clubs and those three things are heavily tied to most of them.

I won’t point fingers at any specific reading material, but I’m not overly impressed by any of it. There’s one item in particular though that I find exceedingly difficult to swallow, but I have to remind myself that (some) men really do connect with their fellow men by projecting the top dog image whose core is misogynistic, homophobic, and hyper-masculine. I am very much not the intended audience for such pieces. I roll my eyes, scoff, shake my head, and remind myself of that constantly.

I’m learning a lot, that’s my positive. I’m a big believer in learning from and about people you don’t see eye to eye with (an understatement in this case) because that’s the only way you’ll ever see the whole picture. Reading stuff that offends you, makes you mad, or even makes you a little sick to your stomach is definitely the downside of research. Just make it useful in the end.

Personally, for my own sanity and satisfaction, I’m subverting all my anger onto my villainous character who is a monumental jackass. I hate him but he has more ties to my main characters than either of them knows so he’ll be around far more than they know. I feel bad for her, but such is life.

For the record, I have enormous respect for all military branches. I have enormous respect for anyone who serves and protects their country. Every entity out there has dirty laundry they’d rather the world didn’t see. I would love to see a monumental mind shift in all boy’s clubs, that’s all.

When have you experienced a research downside?