Guest Post: Chelsea Eckert on On Writing Anthropomorphic Animal Characters (For Adults)

As someone who works deeply in the zoo/conservation industries and spends a lot of time pretending to be a tiger at conventions around the country, you might say I’m enthusiastic about animals.

You’d be wrong, of course.

I’m zealous in my love for them. If I could be a little shield-carrying furry paladin, I would. (In fact, I play one in a homebrewed Dungeons and Dragons campaign.) I could go on and on about the why—because as an autistic person I relate to critters more, because there’s always something new to discover about ‘em, because they’re just badass—but the point is this…
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Checking In: October Stuff

I’m off to Multiverse Con next week – it’s their first year, and I’m there as Industry Guest of Honor along with Seanan McGuire and John Piccacio. Come say hi if you’re there! Two weeks after that I’ll be up in Surrey BC as a presenter at the Surrey International Writers Conference.

In writing stuff, I am working hard this month on EXILES OF TABAT, which should go to beta readers on November 1. THE FIVE OF US, my middle grade space opera, just went off to readers at the beginning of the month. Next up in writing is the sequel to the Tor space opera, which will be my November project. In December, I’m going to focus on short stories and outlining three of my 2020 projects: a horror novel, a novella project, and the third space opera book.
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Guest Post: Catherine Lundoff Talks About Gothic Horror And Me

This Sunday, Catherine Lundoff will be teaching a class that’s particularly apropos for this Halloween-laden month, on one of my favorite flavors of horror: gothic fiction. She talks about some of the influences that have brought her to gothic fiction, and what she loves about it.

Edward Gorey was one of the guiding lights of my teenage years. I saw his sets for “Dracula” on Broadway when I was about twelve and it was like coming home, aesthetically, at least. I loved his black and white drawings, his weird stories, his obsessions with cats and opera singers. I still do. I like to think of him as my posthumous Fairy Gothmother, who opened the door to a marvelous dark universe where I could wear black all the time and didn’t need to pretend to be happy if I wasn’t.

I read Dracula, of course, and “Carmilla” and Poe and Wilde and Northanger Abbey. Austen turned me on to Ann Radcliffe, but I found Byron on my own. I discovered fashion, the kind where you rim your eyes with liner and wear multiple black on black outfits that have, perhaps, a hint of lace or silk, if you are lucky. And when I got to college, it was 1981 and there I found Adam Ant and Prince and Siouxsie Sioux, along with glorious morbid folk rock bands like Steeleye Span. So many murder ballads! So much gender play and glorious costumes! All of it became a part of me long before I thought of myself as a writer or a teacher or as Goth.

I devoured Gothic romances by the likes of Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, Gothic horror in its multimedia splendor, even more murder ballads, artwork, outfits with all the black lace my teenage heart could imagine. Starting to write ghost stories and tales of haunted mansions could not be far behind, though in my case it started with vampire stories and editing the first (to the best of my knowledge) anthology of lesbian ghost stories. From there, I moved on to writing ghost stories myself as well as monster tales, media tie-ins, psychological horror, each story shaped and honed by my earlier reading and watching.

These days, I’m a huge fan of Gothic horror and romance films and shows like Crimson Peak, Penny Dreadful and The Addams Family. I’ve written horror tales for publications like Respectable Horror, Fireside Fiction and one of the Vampire the Gathering 20th Anniversary tie-in anthologies, as well as my own collection, Unfinished Business: Tales of the Dark Fantastic. A childhood enthusiasm has morphed into a lifelong affinity for ghosts, haunted mansions and various interpretations of the monstrous.

I love watching authors and other creators turn their eye to new interpretations of female and queer monsters and different kinds of outsider survivors. The Gothic Heroine doesn’t have to be a cisgendered white Final Girl or married under dubious circumstances to a love interest who is, perhaps, not to be trusted. I want to read more of these stories, as well as classics like The Woman in Black and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Let me help you bring your dark fiction into the light and help it come alive, no pun intended. Crimson Peaks and Menacing Mansions is an online class that I’m teaching on 10/13 from 9:30-11:30 PST at Cat Rambo’s Academy for Wayward Writers.. It will include a mix of lecture, discussion and writing exercises, as well as the opportunity to ask questions. I hope you’ll be intrigued enough to check it out!

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Guest Post: Roxanne Bland on Living in the Underground

“This is the weirdest book I’ve ever read.”

That’s what one woman wrote in her pre-release review of my paranormal urban fantasy/romance/science fiction hybrid The Underground. What a fabulous compliment! I wasn’t going for weird when I wrote the story but that’s the way my mind works so I’m happy to know my weirdness shone through. Still, I wonder what it was about the novel she found strange. Could it be The Underground is the story of an alpha werewolf and an interstellar assassin who fall for each other? Hm…maybe it was the sex. It’s not every day one snags a ringside seat at the Bedroom Olympics where one of the partners is an eight-foot wolf.

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Guest Post: Dawn Vogel on Fairy Tales and Fiction

Fairy tales have been around in one form or another for centuries, even if they weren’t written down and compiled into collections like Grimm’s Fairy Tales. They’ve changed over the centuries as well, shifting from folk stories to morality tales to more sanitized or “Disney-fied” versions of what they once were. In the process of this sanitization, oftentimes the messages the fairy tales purported to dictate have changed. Gone is the Little Mermaid who watched her beloved marry someone else, at which point she cast herself back into the ocean and drowned, showing us that you shouldn’t change for someone you love. Instead, we get the version where the mermaid and prince live happily ever after, flipping the moral to be that you can (and should?) change in order to make someone love you.
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Late September Thoughts and Checking In

I’ve been reveling in a chance to be productive and at home after a summer so full of travel, and have been getting at least 1-2k words in on most days, plus I’ve gotten back to early morning gym runs, so hurray me and boo for the fact that it stays dark later and later every day.

It’s very much fall and drizzling rain here. The raccoons have devoured the last of the grapes from the grapevine, shelf fungi has sprouted at several points on the front porch, and we’re experiencing an invasion of Seattle’s notorious Giant House Spiders, so I feel ready for October. Recent experiences include leading a trivia team in the Clarion West Trivia Night, lots of gaming, and taking Seanan McGuire to the Washington State Fair. Also so many spiders lately. Just so many. We have a detente and when I catch them I let them go under the bookcase downstairs but I have also warned them I will destroy any egg sacs I find in the name of sanity.

With projects and books, here’s what’s going on:
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Guest Post: Michael Mammay on Reading Outside the Genre

Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I don’t know many pro writers who disagree with him. We might debate how much reading is enough, and I think a lot of us struggle to find time for writing, reading, and the myriad other things we have to do to live. To me, that competition for time makes the time that I do have to read more important.

I’m a science fiction writer. Right now, I write military sci-fi thrillers. My debut novel, PLANETSIDE, came out in 2018 and the sequel, SPACESIDE, released in late August. I think it surprises people when I tell them that the biggest influence on PLANETSIDE was GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn. If you happened to have read both, you’re probably thinking to yourself…but wait…PLANETSIDE is nothing like GONE GIRL.

Of course it isn’t. Yet, here we are.
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Where I’ll Be: MultiverseCon 2019

I’m the Industry Guest of Honor at the first ever Multiverse Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, along with my friends Seanan McGuire and John Picacio! It should be an amazing time; please come say hi if you’re in the area.

Friday, October 18

1:00 PM Opening Ceremonies (Gather BC)
-Come kick of the convention with style, get to know some of the folks running it, meet our Guests of Honor, and hear about some of the cool and awesome things to do this weekend.

2:30 PM Ageism in Fantasy (Harding)
Cat Rambo (Mod), Chris A Jackson, Catherine Lundoff, Christopher Morgan
-Are only the young allowed to be heroes? The panel will discuss ageism in fantasy and how inclusion also means having older heroes.

4:00 How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Podcasting (Rabun)
Shannon Strucci (Mod), John Hartness, William Hayashi, Cat Rambo
-Want to podcast but don’t know where to start? Come hang out with professional podcasters and learn what type of equipment and software you will need to carry out your podcasting mission.

5:30 PM An Hour with Cat Rambo (Chattahoochee A)
Jesse Adams (Mod/Interviewer), Cat Rambo
Who knows what could happen here? There may be pickles. Or cheese. Maybe not. There will certainly be questions.

Saturday October 19

10:00 AM Signing (Signings) Read It Again: Dealers’ Room

11:30 AM Story Quickies: Made Up Slide Presentations (Savannah A)
Gigi Eng (Mod/EmCee), Craig Campbell, Cat Rambo
-Audience and Guest Participants are challenged to give presentations on random topics chosen by attendees. Pictures shown for 15 seconds must be incorporated into a 5 minute presentation. Prizes awarded for the most entertaining, most unexpectedly educational, and other superlatives!

1 PM Social Media for Writers (Sinclair Amphitheater)
Cat Rambo (Mod), Catherine Lundoff, Terry Maggert, Melissa McArthur, Bobby Nash
-Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Goodreads, blog tours, cover reveals, contests, interviews… There’s only so much time in the day! As an author, what social media should you embrace? How do you decide? What’s the most effective? Join our authors to learn about different ways to use social media to your advantage as an author. Don’t be a slave to your social media. Own it!

4 PM Be Like Killjoys: Mapmaking in SpecFic (Rabun)
Cat Rambo (Mod), Bobby Nash, Chris A Jackson
– The TV show, Killjoys, gives the viewer a map of their world in the opening credits. Maps can help a reader know more about an imaginary world, and it can help a writer outline world-building details such as trade routes, rival civilizations, and class divisions. Come make a map with us! Each participant will have paper and colored pencils and will follow along as the panelists draw a basic map. Participants will add their own unique features to the map to reflect the world they want to build.
(Extended note from Track Director: Each participant will have paper and colored pencils and will follow along as the moderator draws a basic map. Participants will add their own unique features to the map to reflect the world they want to build.)

8:30 PM Rathskellar Readings (Sinclair Amphitheater)
Ceres K. Wright (Mod), Dana Cameron, Meg Elison, Bobby Nash, Errick Nunnally, Cat Rambo, Alyse Steves
– Got a story? Like to hear it, here it go! Grab a drink and come down to the Sinclair Amphitheater (WRITE) room! Be prepared to read for 5-7 minutes from one of your works. Choose wisely!

Sunday, October 20

10 AM LGTBQ+ in Fandom ((Chattahoochee A)
Darie L.K. Wolfson (Mod), K.D. Edwards, Marcus Haynes, Catherine Lundoff, Havana Nguyen, Cat Rambo
-A discussion about the unique perspectives, challenges, and considerations of the LGTBQ+ community as it engages with geeky fandoms.

11:30 AM The Many-Faced God: Unraveling Sub-Genres in Fantasy (Harding)
Cat Rambo (Mod), Scott Hawkins, Melissa McArthur, Seanan McGuire, Christopher Morgan
– For much of the early history of SFFH the operative terms for the genre were fantasy and sword and sorcery. But, today we have YA, Epic Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, High Fantasy, Dystopian, Dark Fantasy, Heroic Fantasy and upwards of 50 more subgenres. Are they really that distinct or are they simply marketing tools? The panel will discuss the state of the genre and talk about the development of the subgenre.

2:30 PM Part of the Pack: Horror Under the Speculative Fiction Umbrella (Ogeechee)
Cat Rambo (Mod), Marcus Haynes, Tiara Janté, R.J. Joseph, Kenesha Williams
– All in the family! This panel discusses how horror’s inclusion under the Speculative Fiction umbrella impacts the genre. Do you find that the inclusion negates many of the sub-genre distinctions, effectively flattening it out? Is this good or bad? How are authors able to stand out so that readers can find their work?

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Guest Post: Alanna McFall Reveals How Fanfiction Helped Me Write My Novel

Note from Cat: I copy-edited Alanna’s recent novel, The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus and was pleased to do so because I think it’s one of the outstanding fantasy books of 2019. It is gentle fantasy, an on-the-road feminist version of Peter Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place. I highly recommend this book, particularly to people who love literary fantasy. If you enjoy her essay, please check the book out!

I still remember the moment I learned what fanfiction was.

I was in seventh grade and deep deep deep in an obsession with the Harry Potter novels. I was speaking to a ninth grade girl in the same school play as me and she mentioned that she loved Harry Potter as well, and all the extra stories she had found.

Extra stories? Had JK Rowling written something about Harry Potter that I hadn’t gotten my hands on yet? Where could I find these stories? This girl corrected me: no, these were written by other people, but they were about all sorts of things not in the books. People were writing these stories and all I had to do was look for them and I would have no end of Harry Potter, long before the next book came out. This revelation rocked my world. Who else knew about this concept? What was out there for me?

Through middle and high school I set about reading as much fanfic as I could get my hands on. I wrote a great deal of my own, testing out ideas just for the thrill of making a mark on stories I loved, but didn’t have the courage to share it online until I was in college. That became yet another revelation, a world that I could now access as an active participant. It was some of the best concentrated writing practice I have ever gotten, and best of all, there was an eager audience ready to read and support what I had put out there. I know for a fact that a lot of that practice paid off in my professional life.
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Why You Can’t Teach Writing

How do you learn to write? You learn by observing and doing, by reading good fiction and making attempts at your own. The truth is that writing is primarily self-taught, that the axiom that you must write a million words is on the mark, and that the first rule is this: To learn to write, you must be writing.

With my students who are writing and thinking about writing, I would have to actively give them bad advice like Play videogames rather than write. Don’t read anything. Only write when you’re in the mood. for them not to get better. That’s the plain and simple truth.

So Do Writing Classes Help?

Writing classes do help – or can, at any rate, depending on what you do with them. They can supply short-cuts, impetus, tricks and techniques. They can kick you in the butt and make you produce, by forcing you to give fellow students a piece to critique, or via homework or in-class timed writings. They can provide inspiration to keep going by giving you something new to try or a way to break a log-jam or dry spell. They can build connections and new friends for you, sometimes friendships that will last for years or even decades.

But with or without them, if you’re writing and think about writing, you will get better at word-smithing, and that is true no matter what stage of the game you’re at. I schedule classes with other people for the Rambo Academy because they’re classes I want to take, which means I’ve been very lucky in recent years, getting to hear people like Seanan McGuire talk about writing series or Ann Leckie discuss writing space opera. Those classes always inspire me, and the novel that I have coming out next year from Tor had its genesis in Leckie’s class. If I wasn’t willing to take classes, I wouldn’t have had that inspiration.

What Should You Learn to Become a Writer?

What should you learn? Learn grammar, so you don’t have to rely on Word’s red wiggly line to tell you when you’ve got a subject/verb agreement. But remember a good, innovative writer colors outside the lines sometimes — know the rules so you can break them with panache. A writer writing to get a high score on Grammarly is missing the chance to innovate and improvise, and aiming for mediocrity in the process.

Learn how to show instead of tell, weaving a dream to pull in your readers. Pay attention to your senses so you can replicate those sensations in your text. Work on supplying the details without ever drawing attention to yourself, so you never commit the cardinal sin and remind the reader that they are reading. Look at how other people do it, and find the techniques that work for you.

Learn how to revise what you write, so you can just write whatever you’re writing, knowing that you’ll make it perfect in the rewrite, and relax into that joyful flow of verbiage. That’s another thing you must be doing in order to learn the skill, but also a place where working with a group that lets you critique other people’s work as well as be critiqued will help you learn it faster.

Critiquing groups are a vast help but not in the way you think. You learn more from critiquing someone else’s work than you do from having your own critiqued, because the former forces you to articulate your ideas and understandings of fiction. You’ll be amazed at how often the problem you’re spotting in someone else’s work will turn up in your own.

What Should You Read to Become a Writer?

What should you read? Read everything — contemporary and classic — and when you love or hate a piece of writing, go back and figure out why. Look at what other authors are doing and imitate them. Steal like Picasso and make things your own.

Read stuff that wins awards so you know what the current trends are and who’s producing what. You can’t predict where the market will be going, but you can know what territory has been so well-visited that it probably won’t be returned to.

Read nonfiction because so much of the stuff of story resides there. Nonfiction will give you details that help makes your dream real for the reader, as well as insight and information that will help shape your stories.

What Should You Do to Become a Writer?

You must write. Every day if you have that luxury, even if it’s a quick 100 words squeezed in on your phone on the bus to work. You must figure out how to carve space and time for your writing, and you must defend that time from well-meaning friends and vile enemies alike. You must learn to step the hell away from social media and other distractions sometimes and just write. Use the things you love to coax yourself along — ten minutes on Twitter if you finish that page, an ice cream cone for hitting your weekly word count, that new fountain pen for completing that story. Find the things that make you productive — and do them.

You must — at some point — start sending stuff out. Don’t do the editor’s job for them by rejecting the work before they even see it. Send it out and write more while you’re waiting for it to come back.

Remember that writing is a professional activity, that if you’re putting yourself out into the public maybe you want to think about how you’re coming off in face to face and online interactions. It’s a small eco-system and you’ll find that the editorial intern you take out a frustration on today may well be the acquiring editor turning down your book somewhere down the line. Don’t assume you always have the right answer, and don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t. Be kind. Or at least, as per Connie Willis’ advice, don’t be a jackass.

The unexamined life is not worth living, Plato tells us, and I will add that it’s not one that makes you a better writer. If you want to understand the human heart, look to your own and all its petty mean behaviors as well as the nobility of which it is capable. Write what you know; write truth. All of this will help you become a writer.

But write. And write, and write some more. You cannot be a writer until you begin to write.*

*For an alternate viewpoint, consult Timothy the Cat.

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