This was my second year at Once Upon a Book, sponsored by the Stacey Rourke. She’s small, dynamic, and utterly committed to the book community. Note to young writers: she’s the kind of person to follow and learn from. This is how you grow. This is how you engage, link up, join a tribe, and become an author instead of just a writer. Your books will thank you for it, trust me. Between “writing” and “author” is a world of experience.
There’s a difference.
My book Heartborn won for best cover. My thanks go to Staci Hart, who answered my panicked call for art with a stunning realization of my idea. Young writers, again take note: work with great people. Get to win awards. Get to dress up as “Mandusa” and accept the awards. Eat cake. Have fun. All side effects of being in a great book community.
SO, now that you’re done laughing at my legs, let’s discuss the remainder of 2018. (That’s super-reader Tina. She’s delightful).
I have five more events, across much of the country. It’s going to be busy. South Dakota. New Orleans. Wisconsin. South Carolina. I can’t wait. I hope to see you at some of the events– if you’re close by, say hello!
Halfway Unwrapped is on schedule for October.
Halfway Holiday is on schedule for Christmas!
AND. . .a secret project is about to publish, under my new pen name. Once it’s out, I’ll share it with you. I want this one to be a surprise. Totally new direction, and with a writing partner who’s fantastic.
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.
As for my life, well. . . this is week four of Keto and week five of Hot Yoga.
I LOVE Hot Yoga. It’s transformational. It’s hard, it’s a mental challenge, and it’s something I’ve been looking for. As for Keto. . .I miss carbs, but darn it, I feel better, look better, and my mind is more focused. The goal is to be 225 pounds of “not middle aged guy” by August. I like my chances. 🙂
I’d love to have you visit my channel, or me, or the events. See you on the road, and let’s have a great summer.
P.S. If I die from doing Keto and Hot Yoga, please send cookies. That is all.
There’s only one Amy, but every writer should aspire to have a friend like her. Here’s why:
She loves books.
She knows the book community.
She LOVES books.
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.’
*No Amys were harmed in the making of this blog post. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!)
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?