LibertyCon: Find Your Tribe

LibertyCon has come and gone. I leave my tribe after a long weekend.

It’s a science fiction and fantasy convention that has the honor of producing more lifelong friends than any other event in my entire life. It’s my tribe– a thing you should find, and keep, and have and celebrate. It’s books and games and characters, and in the halls are people who I’ve admired for forty years– and then they’re in front of me, and I get to chat with them about the books that are, in some way, the soundtrack of my life.

This year was a bit different, and by that I mean even better. I’m writing for a truly excellent person, Chris Kennedy, in a genre that I’ve loved since I was a kid– Military SciFi. Being involved with Seventh Seal Press is sort of like joining a winning team on the first day. Chris takes care of the details, big and little, and it shows. I carry this coin proudly.

For three days, I was on panels, at parties, buying books, talking about books, science, films, and anything else associated with a fandom that has given me limitless joy since I was a kid. I was exhausted but invigorated, a curious blend of wanting to do more on less sleep, and finally convincing myself I could sleep on Tuesday, because there was too much good stuff to see and do.

After leaving friends for the trip home, my thoughts return to my family and how much I’ve missed them. It’s a good drive– mountains, sun, summer heat– and I look forward to that strange sensation of coming home to people you love more than anything, even after being among people you love. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and it never gets old.

On the way. I stopped to eat in a small town, Monteagle, Tennessee. There’s an iconic place– The Smokehouse– and I went in having not set foot there since 1977. Fond memories of being a kid with my family, seeing snow for the first time, a wooden toy my grandfather bought me, soon to be scattered across the cavernous back seat of our 1972 Cadillac. Joyous thoughts, then a conclusion as I realize that of seven people at that table, only two remain, and we’re not kids anymore.

Travel is like that for me. It gives and takes. It fills up my tank, and not all of it is pure, because I’m aware of the passage of time. I eat the food slowly, processing the past three days while thinking of the next ten.

I return home to teach, write, edit. Things that are all part of my third life, the one that has bloomed unexpectedly out of a childhood love of things that didn’t exist anywhere except the books I loved– dragons, distant galaxies, starships made of light. This is the best of my three lives, and LibertyCon is the fuel.

To repeat: find your tribe.

Terry

Hot Yoga: I Will Die With Abs

Four weeks ago, raw panic set in as I realized that I have to wear a toga this summer, so I found hot yoga.

 

I’m not wearing the toga for fun, mind you, but an author event in beautiful Frankenmuth, Michigan, a glorious little town with Christmas, Polka, giant pretzels, fudge, and midwestern charm to spare.

Long story short: I am 6′”1. I was at 250 pounds of. . .let’s call it “human”. Not fat, not muscle. Just critically forty-nine years old and in need of a boost.

Enter hot yoga.

I went. I gasped. I sweated– Lord above, did I sweat; like I was a spy under interview lights– and my heart pounded from a tortuously fluid series of motions that went on for three days.

Okay, one hour, but still.

But it’s amazing. I love it. It quiets my mind, and makes me work harder than I’ve ever done in any other workout, and all with a smooth deliberation that leaves me energized and at peace. It’s incredible.

Today I did the Crow pose and Eagle for the first time (without falling over like a giant Polish tree). It’s quite a sensation. I have three months until the Day of Toga Reckoning, and I think I will be– not beach ready, but Toga Ready.

That’s a thing, right?

ALSO!

Follow me on YouTube. I’m doing writer-y stuff.

5 Minute Author Coach

See you this summer, my calendar is up to date!

Cheers,

Terry

Party Hard: 1993 Edition

I went to Iowa last week.

It’s my ancestral homeland (dad is from there). It’s filled with lovely people, open spaces, and the occasional blizzard.

Maybe more than just occasional, but still, well worth the trip. I was at the North Iowa Book Bash, and it was simply amazing. People, books, fun. It’s basically heaven (an Iowa thing for fans of Field of Dreams), and it was also the Super Official Release Date for my newest book, A Touch of Frost.

HOWEVER, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the kicker, which is this: Clear Lake, Iowa has a BENNIGAN’S.

For anyone alive in the 1990s, Bennigan’s was the place to be across much of the country, featuring (but not limited to)

Beer.

Irish-y stuff.

Fried things.

The Monte Cristo Sandwich.

What’s a Monte Cristo? Allow me to describe it to you.

Take ham, cheese, turkey, cheese, and ham, place in bread.

Dunk bread in batter, like a funnel cake.

Fry.

Serve covered in powdered sugar with a side of raspberry jam.

Yes. It’s that good. It’s so blissfully America I felt the urge to sing patriotic songs and quote Top Gun; it’s a fat bomb of grease and flavor and sweetness that is simply sublime.

Since the Bennigan’s is located in the hotel, we were able to walk through on the way to our author event, thus seeing the Calm Before the Storm.

Little did the staff know they would be inundated with rowdy writers and readers in a short time, as well as shouts for MORE MONTE CRISTO from certain unnamed person(s).

Iowa is beautiful in that heartbreaking way, open tinged with a hint of loneliness when you get outside town. I love it.

There was yet another winter storm on the way when I left, but that’s the Midwest– it ain’t summer until the Fourth of July, and even then the nights are cool enough to remind everyone winter isn’t gone, just resting.

I can’t wait to go back. Every time I visit, I understand why my family returned after decades abroad, and as long as there’s a Bennigan’s, to quote General Douglas MacArthur, “I shall return.”

If you haven’t gotten the new book, here it is, just click the cover to grab one. Hope you love Gideon and Sammie. I know I do.

A Touch of Frost

Cheers!

Terry

 

I lost a parent. I gained some family.

Dad died last month, and it’s been a lot of things. It was closure, and sad, and frustrating. That was in the first ten minutes, and then it settled into my bones and became real.

Grandpa and Grandma Maggert

I went to Iowa for the funeral. I connected with people who are my flesh and blood, but have never met. It was an uplifting, somber, joyous mess of a day sandwiched in between two twelve hour drives with my own thoughts.

I miss my dad, I ache for my mom, and still have flashes where I think both are alive. I don’t know if that will ever pass.

My cousin Richine– well, I saw her and knew we were kin, and it felt like a gift. She sent me a hundred or more pictures of my family that I’ve never seen, dating back to the 1930s. It’s a treasure. My cousin walked me across the old farm and pointed out the place my grandmother was killed in 1955. I miss her, even though we’ve never met, and wonder how life would have gone for all of us if she had lived.

It’s a time of possibilities and sadness, metered through a lens of my own family. We are unique, identifiable, and now that I’ve been back to Iowa, more connected.

I’ll be in Columbia, South Carolina on Nov. 11 for the Authors Invade Columbia Event. Stop by and see me if you’re around. Check out the page here: Sakarlina, Y’all! Come see me!

Wanna succeed in writing? Find an Amy.

Here we see Amy in the wild.

 

There’s only one Amy, but every writer should aspire to have a friend like her. Here’s why:

  1. She loves books.
  2. She knows the book community.
  3. She LOVES books.
  4. If you have further questions, see 1-3.

Amy is my friend and Publishing Assistant, and a visible sign of how four years of work can be good– but not enough. I’ve written constantly for four years just to get to the point where Amy can help me.

If you’re an author, you need people like Amy to do things you’ve never even thought of. Release day activities. Twitter lists. Meeting other writers. The list goes on, and all of these things– outside writing– are the building blocks for being a professional.

You can do a lot on your own. If you want to go to the next level, find a person like Amy.

But not Amy. She’s busy being amazing.’

Cheers,

Terry

*No Amys were harmed in the making of this blog post. 🙂

 

Recharging Your Spirit: Illinois Version

What I did on my summer vacation, by Terry.

We went to Illinois! Land of Lincoln, corn, wheat, soybeans, cows, people with Scandinavian names, and the finest breakfast pizza in this wing of the galaxy. But I digress. First, some background.

This is Uncle Leon (of Leon and Cindy Oleson Farms), along with my enormous son, who is also an Oleson.

We spent glorious days on the farm. There’s no other word for it.  I’ve never farmed a day in my life, unless you count raising chickens and gardening. Uncle Leon and the family are farmers; it’s what they do. They have an encyclopedic knowledge of topics that range from the hydraulic pressure in a tractor line to the tendencies of obscure beetle species. Riding around on the farm is like the best possible college lecture ever– you’re learning but you don’t realize it until after the lesson ends.

Iowa is, in some sense, my ancestral homeland, and there are a lot of similarities between Elkader, Iowa and Shabbona, Illinois. We start with the scenery.

That’s a lot of corn, and it requires large places to put it.

We visited Cousins Amber and Brent and their dairy farm. To sum up: loud, fun, smells like the essence of life, busy, beautiful, real. The Mueller farm is everything a farm should be, but with excellent Wi-Fi and lots of cats. It’s a lot like heaven.

It’s impossible not to feel connected to this place. There’s a visceral reaction to things of great purity, and being on the farm around great people is one such event. And now, the requisite picture of corn, if you will.

That’s the kind of scene that makes everyone think they can farm.

(full disclosure: not everyone can. it’s demanding work with a high degree of uncertainty. in short, farmers are cool under fire)

But the fact that simply being close to a farm engenders such feelings tells you that anyone who wants to refill their proverbial tank should consider a visit to the farm. I left with a head full of words, and it was more than the excellent company, food, and rest. It’s a mythological connection to something from the time before, when concerns, like life, tended to be more centered on community.

Speaking of community. Let’s see main street,, a couple towns over. They got the sign right the first time, so there’s no need to change. This is a testament to the power of Midwestern Culture, and yes, that’s a thing, because it’s so easily identifiable. If you step into a town and start looking for Frank Capra’s ghost– you’re in the Midwest.

My writing batteries were also recharged by something that is so rare as to be mythical. It’s the distinction between nice and good.

When you visit the Midwest and your family is filled with people who are nice and good, take a moment to consider the distinction. People can be nice– nice is polite, pleasant, mannerly. Nice can be your friend. Nice bakes for neighbors and picks up your mail when you visit relative on the other coast.

But nice is not necessarily good. Good is a kind of innate construction that makes some people break to the side of goodness out of instinct. Good is doing the right things without effort or thought, it’s the communal willingness to donate the two most precious things– time and work– to something other than oneself, in order to better the life of someone else. When you visit your family and realize that they are truly good, there’s a validation and hope that your child– my enormous, goofy, replete nine year old– will be emblematic of that tradition. Good is, in some sense, a choice, and it’s cultivated, not unlike the corn that soars across hundreds of acres on the family farm.

Good is not a goal. Good is a permanent structure, built by learning from others who share the ability to see beyond themselves out of a quality that cannot be measured or weighed.

Four days in July, and my tanks are full.  Here’s to a wonderful fall.

Terry

Pretzel Power and Author Events: 5 Dumb Things

You want a pretzel? We’ve got a pretzel.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the Bavarian Inn Lodge “Big Twist”, which powered me through an entire whirlwind of signing books, fandom, and fellowship with other authors. Located in gorgeous Frankenmuth, Michigan ( my new favorite town in America), it’s a magnificent Grand Dame of a resort that I will be going back to– and soon.

The event? Once Upon a Book. The host and organizer was Stacey Rourke (buy her books, she can really write), and it was more than just a book signing. It was, as usual, a learning experience. Fellow authors, and young authors– please take note.

  1. Thinking of attending an author event? Look at the organizer. If they write, look at their books. Are they crisp, attractive, professional? Is it a dalliance? Is it their life? They might treat the event like their books, and you can use this information to help you determine where– and with whom– you want to sign books.
  2. Is the venue superior? Remember, readers love books as much (or more) as we do. They want to be comfortable, engaged in fun, and treated well. If you wouldn’t stay/eat/visit the venue, why should your reader?
  3. Look at the other authors signing. Are they professionals? Are they serious? Are they committed to writing great books? Is the event a chance for them to be away from their family for a vacation, or is it an opportunity to both have fun and meet readers in a superb setting? I met an author I’ve admired for years, and I told her so– because people who are doing things the right way should know that they’re being seen. (Thanks Mary!)
  4. If there are authors attending that you admire, plan on introducing yourself. I’m an extrovert; this is easy for me, but even if you’re shy, watch your favorite authors and take notes. How do they conduct themselves? What are their public strengths? What would you do differently? Why do they impress you, and if so, can you adjust your own career goals and improve?
  5. What are the readers saying? This is a tidal wave of honest criticism that you must process. Listen to them. See what they’re reading. See who they come to meet. Ask them questions about books, without pressuring them to buy yours. If you’re forgetful, take notes. Every author event has an area where serious readers can be found reading the books they purchased moments ago. This is your goal. You want your books in their hands as they read and get lost in your worlds.

Also, wear pants. Trust me on this one.

Now, to quote my friend Lawrence, what are you going to do about it?

 

Cheers,

Terry

 

Dealing With Bad Reviews: 5 Dumb Things

TL;DR Don’t.

Now for the longer version, and a few specific examples of who and what tribulations await you, the writer.

  1. The Hater.  They’re out there, and in another life, you’ve personally kicked their puppy. They’re going to get every ounce they can out of a punitive review, and by all that’s holy, no one will wonder where they stand by the end of it.  Example– from one of my actual reviews– I have to say this was singlehandedly the worst story I’ve EVER read (and I read quite extensively). Ouch. How, you might ask, do I deal with this? Simple– you don’t. Ever. It’s a no win situation to engage someone who has an extensive desire to write bad things about what you do. It might irk you, but it’s not personal. It’s the Internet.
  2. The Frustrated Writer. They can be your best friend or your worst enemy depending on how they view your work. Simply stated, they take time to write a review that is clever, sometimes mean, thorough, and often scattered with personal attacks. These are, for me, the most troubling, because so much of me goes into my stories. In effect, they attack your history, which can evoke a powerful reaction. Example– I haven’t seen such blatant yet backhanded anti-Semitism in a very long time. In this case, the reviewer refers to a character changing their name to be a YouTube star, which is common in the entertainment industry and– here’s the kicker– what my Grandfather did for his music career. He was a big band leader in the 1930s, prior to going off to fight Nazis. With a last name like Grabowski, he chose Gray for his performer name and we’ve used it as a family tradition for restaurant reservations ever since. In essence, the reviewer made an incorrect assumption and branded a fun tradition in my family as something sinister. What did I do? Nothing. And that is, once again, the right move.
  3. The Crusader. Oy vey. These are among the most difficult to deal with because they have an agenda prior to even reading the sentence of your book. They’re taking a square peg and hammering it into a round hole and damn the consequences. Using magic? You hate Pagans. A man makes a decision? Misogyny. Not enough Lithuanian characters? You must hate Lithuania. You get the picture. Example–Terry Maggert manages to subtly insult every single practicing Pagan in the world and maybe some atheists and other religions as well. This is radioactive. Back away, forget it ever happened, and keep writing your novels. I’ve written stories about the Pope being a vampire and zombie sex, but reactions like that one are best ignored. This also speaks to the issue of censorship. I’m against it. Period. I can’t allow exterior forces to shape a narrative in a fictional place. This is my policy, and as I tell people at conferences, “Your world, your rules.”
  4. The Scholar. *Heavy Sigh* Some people could take the fun out of a naked demolition derby, and they will invariably show up in your reviews. They’re experts on virtually any topic you choose to write about, and they’re going to let you know. They will chide you for perceived errors, and in some cases even reach out to you personally to do so (I’ve had it happen at signings). I write fantasy and science fiction. Therefore, I operate on the principle espoused by Mark Twain, “Get your facts straight, then you can distort them as you please.” This ties in to #3, but also stand on its own as a cautionary tale about the immediacy of “expert opinion”. Example–The Adirondacks were named by the Mohawk, not the Huron, so Maggert doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Setting aside the concept that original cultures moved around, this is a shining example of The Scholar. They’re angry, they don’t like your book, and they’re going to make it a personal attack based on their perception and bias about your intellect. If they paid for the book, sally forth, I say. If they got it for free, well, you should be warned that NetGalley is where dreams go to die (more on that at a later date).
  5. The Soul of Brevity. Often cross-pollinates with the Compulsive Cusser,, these reviews can be as short as two words, leaving no doubt as to the position they’re taking about your book. I actually like these, because more often than not, they strike me as honest. Example- Totally sucked. Attaboy. That’s at least honest, and it leavens the other windy reviews. There are varieties in which the reviewer channels a soldier or stable hand’s language, but that’s okay too. If nothing else, it pumps up your total and gives you data about who is– and isn’t– reading your books.

The common theme here is this: there is no scenario in which engaging a bad review can end well. In point of fact, I’ve personally watched two NYT best-selling authors nuke their career by clapping back at bad reviews. If they can’t withstand that kind of pushback, then I know I can’t. *

At least, not until I have my island filled with giraffes and rocket launchers.

See you in Frankenmuth, Michigan this weekend. I’ll be the guy eating. All the time.

Cheers,

Terry

*I can, however, have someone I dislike die a horrible death in my next novel. I’ve done this four times. True story. Be careful, change their name. 🙂

 

“That’s SO funny” means it isn’t. 5 Dumb Things about writing.

I’ve always said that making people laugh is one of the hardest things to do. Writing books with humor is a challenge to even the most nimble authors, and making a character who is genuinely funny even more difficult. I reference the people in my books, who, be they witch, vampire, asshole at the bank, or good hearted truck driver, are all real people to me when I write them.

.

Now, let’s break that down– genuinely funny— as it contains two of the most important parts of your main character.

  1. Genuine. I have a single goal when I create a character, and that is for the reader to think, “I know this person.” I want my readers convinced that the character is someone they might meet the next time they leave the house. That’s critical.
  2. Three Dimensional People. I use this term to describe the characters because they should exist in every plane; you should feel their personalities, their voices, and the background of their lives. All of these make them have a weight on the pages. Don’t skimp on background. Don’t use background instead of dialogue. Here’s why.
  3. Dialogue Is Good Voyeurism.  I’m not talking about watching your neighbor through their window, you dirty little critter, although if they’re leaving the curtains open while they dance naked to Bon Jovi and you have a box of wine and nothing to do on a Friday night hey who’s fault is it anyway I mean– sorry. I meant to say, dialogue– good dialogue– is the single best method to get inside the head of your characters. For readers, one page of dialogue is equivalent to an entire chapter of exposition, because it tells you why they act as well as how they will act in the future. This is how we bring readers with us to the last page. They must burn for the Great Reveal in which all becomes clear.
  4. Real People Are Hilarious.  Don’t think this is true? Go to the returns desk at any major retail store on the planet. Then wait. Within fifteen minutes you will see: Thieves. Liars. People with sweaty ‘bra money’. Flimsy excuses. Glorious expressions from the employees. Anger. Resolution. You might even see an adult in a onesie, given the state of our planet. It’s all there, and it’s free. My point is: real life is a fountain of hilarity, if you observe the right places. If you want unlimited rage, go to the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you want funny, go everywhere else. Then– write it down.
  5. Read Aloud. Let me repeat this: read. your dialogue. out loud. You should laugh, or cringe, or feel. . . something. What you should not feel is nothing. If that’s the case, the dialogue is flat and it needs to die. Start over, keeping the best sentence you have, then ask yourself. What would your character do if they were at the returns desk at Walmart? It’s a great start, and you might surprise yourself by learning more about your own characters.

I know Carlie, Ring, Saavin, French and Wulfric inside and out because to me, they are real. I can hear their voices, see their walk, and imagine how they might deal with an overcooked steak  (steak cannot be undercooked, fight me!) or  flat tire. You know, life. This is why I’m able to make Carlie more than a Quirky Girl Doing Cute Things.

You know what to do. Keep your eyes and ears open, take a few notes, and write people who you every day. But, you know, with dragons and swords and stuff. That’s what I do.

I’ll be in Frankenmuth, Michigan for Once Upon a Book (Aug 11-12). They claim to have the World’s Best Chicken Dinner. My body is ready.

Cheers,

Terry

Why You Should(n’t) Use A Pen Name: 5 Dumb Things

My name is actually Terry Maggert, and I made a conscious decision (a rare event, but still) to use that as my pen name. If you write, you might be faced with a similar decision as more people read your books, and I’ve assembled what I hope to be compelling reasons for the type of name you use when creating a brand. For me, even my brand has a brand. See?

  1. Necessity made you do it.  If you’re a youth minister who writes giraffe-based BDSM erotica, you may consider a pen name. (Note: I have dibs on Lance Goodthrust, and if you think I’m kidding, just watch me). First: congrats on finding your niche, you maniac, and secondly, your choice of a pen name is a defensive movement designed to protect your identity. Which brings me to my second point.
  2. There is no privacy. Occasionally, I meet some adorable writer who thinks that their life isn’t an open book. News flash– our lives are beyond open; they’re a commodity that’s  being sold. Make certain that you create two entirely different identities for your brand and your life if the two aren’t congruent. This goes down to the detail of social media (especially social media), because that’s where you’re going to build the most important part of your growth. Which brings me to my third point.
  3. Don’t Get Cute or Witty with Names. I refer to the social media handles you choose. I use Terry Maggert everywhere, and I do so despite having titles that range from Young Adult Fantasy to Zombie Erotica. (Seriously. It’s a product of my childhood. Leave me be.) People who like my books can always find me. You know who can’t find you? People looking for your name instead of Wordcrusher or PirateWench69 on twitter and Instagram. If you don’t use your real name, then you must build a brand name so that people can find you. Otherwise, you’re creating a barrier between you and your readers.
  4. Pen Names  Can Infer Genre. There’s an expectation within genre fans that their favorite authors, if choosing a pen name, will pick something that dovetails with the style of books they write. If you’re a romance author (and statistically, you might be), then Selenia D’Argent makes a lot more sense than Bill Shotzenburger, who might be a lovely person but has a name that belongs to a guy who manages a tire store. Like buying bananas, choose wisely when picking your name.
  5. Pick A New Variation. Look, we all want the money that big name authors have, but selecting a pen name that’s close to theirs isn’t just poor branding, it might anger fans. You know- those people who stand outside a book store at midnight because some author just released a playlist of things their characters did while suffering from the flu? Yeah, those people. They’re rabid, they’re loyal, and they will absolutely brand you a fraud if you try to rip off their beloved author by name-crowding.

That’s a general guideline and there are many good reasons for using a pen name (organization being one), but just as many reasons to be yourself. Remember– you are the brand, as much as your books, and you must protect that identity every day. Across the spectrum of social media and other interactions, your name will be with you when you break out.

So, pick a good one, or go with the one you’ve had since the start. It’s working so far, right?

Terry