Archive for the ‘Conventions’ Category

End of year thoughts : 2014

Posted by arnaud on January 1st, 2015

I’m not a person who likes to make new year resolutions I know I won’t be able (or willing) to keep, but I do like to see a sense of progression in what I do, so I find it useful to look back at what happened before. So here it is : my view of 2014 from a writing angle.

The Whisperer’s revolution

Now, that book really has been a surprise for me, not only in it’s writing process, but in how the book turned out. I already started editing it (see below) and what I found was that the writing quality has increased so much (when I compare it to Shrouds) that I can feel comfortable now submitting the rough draft with minor edits to the writing group. That’s a huge improvement over what I produced earlier (The Fifth Compendium for instance took me twice the time to edit as it took to write because it was so laden with mistakes that the rewrites were major).

The story itself had been brewing inside my head for a long time, with different ideas merging into a single plot line. There was at one time a feeling that I had to start writing it or I would lose ideas like a boiling cauldron sending out splotches everywhere. I never had trouble finding ideas, but to feel like I was brimming with this one story was really great.

The writing went smoothly even if the characters kept driving the story in unexpected directions. There was one scene in particular where I sensed I was so immersed in the world, that it drained me: writing a good man coming to the decision he must sacrifice an innocent friend to save his kingdom was a really powerful moment for me as a writer (much like Liseria telling me she murdered her mother while I was writing The Fifth Compendium)

I also feel very proud of the Whisperer’s ending. I don’t want to spoil anyone, but I think it’s surprising enough and still makes a lot of sense with the characters. We’ll see how my beta readers enjoy it. I might get cursed at some point, but I think my decisions made the story much stronger.

Editing

A very large part of this year was spent editing not one novel but two. I always knew I had to go back to Shrouds after I finished The Whisperer’s Revolution and I plunged right into it armed with my friends at Reading Excuses comments, but when my new writing group started to take off, I felt like I couldn’t give them Shrouds where my edits were more on language this time, and I decided to feed them with The Whisperer’s Revolution. The surprise there was how less work Shrouds needed when compared to The Fifth Compendium and how less Whisperer’s needed when compared to Shrouds. It shows evolution in my writing, I think and I look forward to the next novels to see even better stories (though I expects some diminishing returns in that area).

What I also noticed was my shift in dealing with magic systems. The Fifth Compendium is about discovering magic and its uses, so the third part of the book is all about the magic. In Shrouds the magic is everywhere but the bad guy has found new ways to use it, so the book tries to understand exactly how he does things and counter it. Emerald Shower was also about someone discovering magic (a dark version of magic anyway) and how that magic is taking hold of her. Already there I had started to shift my focus from the workings of magic to how the magic changes a character. In The Whisperer’s Revolution, I went along the same lines with a character dealing with her increasing abilities (even though she’s not the real protagonist). This I think came from the realization that as a writer I’m much stronger dealing with character than description. Setting is why I started to write in the first place, but over time, my writing mind started to use characterization more and more.

Anyway, despite a lag in September where I didn’t have time to edit, I still managed to finish Shrouds and edit the rough draft of Whisperer’s for the first act. Great work.

Writing Group

At the beginning of the year, I already knew that my Paris writing group was tanking. In fact, I had used the group not as a writing group per se, but as a way for me to practice my spoken English. I mean, that group was so transient (over 40 members, with average attendance of 3-4 for every meeting) and with so much time in between (once a month), that no good work could be done. At one time, I had decided that I should only submit short stories there because where the group renews itself every month, no-one will be able to judge chapter 24 of a novel without having read what came before. Still, I had hopes in this year that I could keep the group going and that serious members would somewhat appear. Then I had a meeting where I was alone (when 6 said they would come) and I decided to allow the group to die, so I stopped paying the monthly meetup cost and waited. No-one said anything when the group went from active to standby and no-one said anything when the group died. I had made my peace with that, so I wasn’t devastated. Leading a writing group is a frustrating job at best when nobody takes an active part.

But something good came from it anyway. During the group’s last throes someone new contacted me. I explained that the group was past dead now and we got to talk. I met him once and had a great time, exchanged some emails. Then he himself met other serious writers and this new group was born. We’re all writing genre (which is difficult to find in Paris) and are in different points in our writing careers (ranging from new to published), but all are really there to learn and work. So I’m really hopeful about this group. I had so wonderful comments on my work I already know the next draft will be much stronger. Yeah group!

Conventions

I loved both Eastercon and World Fantasy, but I wasn’t prepared for the monster that Worldcon is. Apparently, as things go, Loncon was a larger beast than usual and I think it shows. I had hoped to meet a few acquaintances there, but aside from Gillian (because I knew she would be in the dealer’s room) and Aliette (because I attended one of her panels), there were so many people I didn’t get to see anyone. The interesting parties (the publisher’s) were all secret and private, so I didn’t go to any. The panels were difficult to get into (especially on Saturday where British walked in and bought day-passes) and far too many for me to choose well (I mean, who can choose between 16 different tracks with different lenghts?). Anyway, I got to see interesting panels (Charlie Stross is always great to listen to), but nothing as interesting as World Fantasy (When you heard Tom Doherty speak about publishing, really nobody can compare afterwards).

Then there was my usual Utopiales in November. That experience has been bittersweet for me this year. I go to that particular conference because they tend to invite international writers in an environment where few people can actually talk to them. It’s perfect for me and I used that con to grab chunks of time from Brandon Sanderson, Ian McDonald, Nancy Kress and Michael Moorcock. The hickup this year was that the guests were not that interesting to me: Jo Walton, Norman Spinrad and Michael Moorcock I already met, Christopher Priest was only there a short time, and K.W. Jeter  I didn’t know. So not much interaction with established writers here this year. Aside from that, the panels were better than the earlier years (they got rid of most of the bad moderators, academics who take a third of the panel ‘framing’ the question without anyone having said a word).

And then one morning I noticed a business card on a coffee table and read it. ‘Worldcon in France’ it said on one side and when I flipped it over, there was the mysterious sentence ‘Meeting Saturday, 2PM, Room K2). I went to the website (really bare bones thing) and yes, it appeared legit, so I went to the meeting. There I met France’s fandom. All 15 of them where I maybe was among the youngest. I joke when I say they’re all the French fandom–they’re the French fandom who cared enough they went to Loncon. There are surely more fans hidden somewhere, though they might not know about it. Anyway, this group has serious communication issues if you need to find secret business cards to find them. They could have asked the organizers to have a few minutes of screen time. I’m sure it would have attracted at least 100 people there, but they didn’t.

After I went to the meeting, I agreed to join their group and the magic started. Euh, not exactly. We’re french, you know and we can’t just get to work without some heated discussions and the appropriate amount of paperwork. For now things are moving at an handicapped snail’s pace. Thankfully, we placed ourselves on the 2023 slot, so there is still time, but I wish we could start working and stop the petty village wars for once. We still don’t have a venue, so unless we find one (which is a really difficult thing, since we could attract from 2000 to 9000 and there is no way to know beforehand), that project will end up at the bottom of the sea.

Preview of next year

Next year promises to be a busy one. First, I started my next novel ‘Chrysalis‘ a few days ago. The writing is really slow for now, mostly because I don’t know what this book will look like. I still haven’t decided on a genre for it (though I’m leaning toward Fantasy-Horror) and the characters still feel a bit bland to me. I already know what is happening behind the scenes, but that’s pretty much it. We’ll see how this turns out.

Then, I need to send out Shrouds now that it is finished. All I need now is a damned hook for the logline (because ‘God detective story’ isn’t nearly good enough) and a decent query letter. Once this is done, I have my agents and publishers list: I know where to go.

Hopefully, I can send everything before Easter and go to Eastercon (in London this year) to talk about Shrouds.

Within all this, I have to squeeze enough editing on Whisperer’s Revolution to keep my writing group well fed. And if that’s not enough, I always have Emerald Shower to give them even if it needs major rewrites.

And then there’s the Writing Excuses retreat. I’m still on the fence about this one (mostly because it happens at a really bad time of year). I guess I’ll have do decide before June.

Woah. That’s a big program! Maybe I should go right away back to writing, because those 1900 words blogs don’t really count as writing, do they?

Happy new year all.

The Discovery Writer and I

Posted by arnaud on November 15th, 2012

Yes, I’m shamelessly pilfering Wicked here, but you know : artists do steal from time to time.

This is supposed to be a short post about my Utopiales con from last week. We’ll see how short I can go.

I go to Utopiales every year (in Nantes) for several reasons:

  • This con has been really good to me in the past. I got to meet wonderful people and spend time with them.
  • They love to invite international writers. Since french people don’t speak English this well, I can have said writers to myself
  • They mix science panels with literary panels. This pleases both the old physicist me and the new writer me.

So, how did this year go?

First, I had hoped to see our famous Dan Wells there. He was free this weekend and seemed interested, but the con’s schedule was already booked by the time I talked to him about it, so he couldn’t be there. Maybe he can join us next year, though only one week after WFC in Brighton, it might be difficult for everyone to stack 2 cons in a row.

Now, I did have a great time. I got to meet Nancy Kress, a very nice lady who happens to be a discovery writer too. We discussed a bit about discovery writing and middles, since those are a weak point in my writing. Imagine someone picking a car who wouldn’t know where to go? The resulting route isn’t nearly a direct line from start to finish, it’s a meandering path with dead ends, failed scenes and scenes that take off in unexpected ways until I stumble into an idea (usually about the 2/3 mark) and find my ending. She described her process in almost the same words, so I felt a kind of kinship here. When I asked her if there was some way to direct the trajectories to get a more direct path, she said no : you can either write too much and remove the extra or rewrite the whole thing once you know the story. I was kind of hoping to skip a bit of the editing part, but nope. She also mentioned that sometimes, the book doesn’t work. Either she doesn’t find the ending or it doesn’t work. In those cases, she has to scrap the whole project and do something else. That’s not good news to me : I spend too much time on my books to afford to lose one. Maybe it’s better than trying to sell at any cost a book that doesn’t work anyway.

I got to eat lunch with both Norman Spinrad and Michael Moorcock. Michael and I discussed about his ideas for distributing electronic contents (both words and music, as he’s a musician too). He didn’t think someone had already done it, but I mentioned that Kevin J. Anderson had a couple of books he had produced with a rock band, so Michael and him can discuss how Kevin did it.

A comment about the overall panels.

  • First, please do stop putting college researchers as moderators. They spend 15 minutes to introduce the topic without even presenting the panelists. I come to hear what the panelists have to say, not what the moderator wrote in his thesis.
  • Then, French writers seem to have different problems than the rest of us. They don’t need agents; get two-year contracts on electronic books; have their share of the cover price guaranteed by law. Different worlds. They don’t seem to care much about translation rights either. On the other hand, they don’t see themselves as storytellers, but as people wanting to make their readers think. It’s strange to me that a writer wouldn’t define itself as a storyteller first.
  • The science panels were all interesting. If I had more time, there are a thousand of story ideas there.

I’m done for this post. Next one will be about ending ‘The Emerald Shower’ – weird stuff.

Is it Easter already?

Posted by arnaud on May 1st, 2012

It’s been quite a bit of time since I’ve posted anything here. In fact, even my Twitter activity has been kind of low these last few months.

Do you know why? Editing is not that interesting to blog about, and I’ve been doing a lot of editing.

Let’s rewind a few months.

I had the opportunity to send 10 000 words to Gollancz’s editing  director Gillian Redfearn. Now, I wanted to have the full editing experience, so I composed a query package including the query letter, synopsis,  and my text. Since I could only reduce the synopsis to 2 000 words, it meant my text couldn’t be more than 8 000 words. That’s not a lot, especially for me.

Per Ian McDonald’s advice, I knew I had to end my submission on a dramatic beat, so I looked for one. The Prologue was a no-brainer and I included it. Oops, here’s half my allotted words gone away. Chapter 1 was good character development but too slow (the running gag is that it took me 3000 words to say “Ciera went to work”). Chapter 2 was on another character (still some nice development going on here) and no dramatic beat. Now, chapter 3 was a Ciera chapter with a little bit of surprise on the middle.

So, I could merge my 2 Ciera chapters, I could find my dramatic ending. The trouble was that all those sections put together were around 7 000 words.

That meant a round of hard editing, cutting off entire paragraphs off (sometimes, entire pages). After a few rounds of comments from my trusted readers, I felt confident enough to send my submission out.

That was early January.

The original plan was to go back and finish book 3, but I figured that if I could edit book 1 in full before Eastercon, I might have something to actually pitch to agents and editors there. So, I went to editing.

Let’s face it, I’m as good as GRR Martin when it comes to plan a schedule (unless I have a hard objective to meet it seems). So editing drifted a little (Ok, a lot). Today, I’m about halfway through book 1 with a few side editings of books 2 and 3.. Granted, there were some health issues in my family and I could have been more productive, but let’s face it : editing is much harder than writing. On average I edit only as fast as I write. That means I can only edit about 1 000 words a day. As the book was written in 5 months, that gives a rough estimate for the editing (expected to be over by the end of may, and I think even that’s optimistic).

That’s when Gillian asked me for chapter 2.

It was a few weeks before Easter. She had been swamped by larger than expected books delivered (expect a fat Joe Abercrombie in a few months) and started to edit my work basically in late march. After a brief instant of panic (“I haven’t merged my chapter 2 yet!”), I was very pleased to know that the writing didn’t repulse her and that she wanted more (whatever her reasons). I merged my 2 3 000 words chapters and managed to bring what I delivered back to 2 000 words. As I said on twitter, 3+3=2 when editing. I sent her the new chapter and waited for her answer.

Her feedback came shortly before I went to Eastercon.

I must say it surprised me. I mean, this was my first novel I submitted. Even with heavy revisions, it’s still the first thing I ever wrote and I expected a professional editor to send it back bleeding red with a side note saying “This story isn’t novel worthy”. Maybe that was my writer’s insecurity talking here, but I really expected to be trashed to some extent.

Along with her annotations, she wrote this to me:

“The main thing I’d like to say, though, is that it’s very nicely done. Your ideas are strong, the characters are nicely constructed, and the world is well conceived and well evoked. Those things are all rarer than you might think :)”

Now, that’s high praise for any aspiring writer. The edited document was bleeding red as I expected, but showed no big  mistakes – except my antagonist’s name which happens to be the name of a lethal illness (that made me laugh no end). Oh, and she loved the query letter, so I was overjoyed to say the least.

That gave me enough confidence to go to Eastercon with a load of questions for her.

But that’s another story for another blog post!

End of year thoughts

Posted by arnaud on December 28th, 2011

I wouldn’t want to do the traditional year recap here, and bore everyone to tears, but 2011 has been a pivotal year in my writing experience, so I wanted to take some time to write those down.

I wrote 2 books this year (almost, but let’s not dwell too much on that).

I know ‘Shrouds’ took me almost a year to produce, and that it has a lot of problems, but let’s be honest, I learned quite a lot writing this one, and there is this feeling when you reach the end of a book where your fingers write faster and faster, like you are riding a horse that won’t stop. Crossing the finish line in these conditions makes you forget all the time you were down in the mud trying to convince the horse to make a step.

I learned to like rewriting.

Funny how it’s much easier to edit your work once you actually see what’s wrong in it. My first editing passes were awful, and I knew it : I corrected nothing, and only got frustrated. Thanks to the writing group, now I know what to look for, and how to fix it.  It’s becoming difficult to read one of my earlier chapters now, because I can see what’s wrong in them, and I have to fight the urge to edit said chapter on the spot.

I joined the RE writing group where my writing got much better after a hurtful few submissions were trashed.

I was warned beforehand, that the writing group process was a difficult one. Man, I had no idea. They minced my first chapters real nice, pointing out all that they felt was wrong in it. That wasn’t easy to hear, but in the end, I found that the worst things they said about me were also the most useful. Sometimes, I really wish I had more bad reviews out there.

I’m now attempting to be professional about my writing : I follow Locus sales, I read business blogs, I go to conventions.

Yes, I’m switching to professional writing mode. I always wanted to sell my work, but 2011 is the year I began actually doing something about it. As every SF/F writer should do, I subscribed to Locus and am actively tracking the sales each month to get a feel of what editors and agents are buying today. As many writers this year, I asked myself the question about self publishing, and read actively writing business blogs to get a better feel of the industry. I’m also now a member of the SF/F community, as I voted for this year’s Hugo awards.

Let’s not forget conventions, shall we? My plan right now is to attend 2 cons a year, one local (Utopiales has really been good to me), and one international. This year, I went to Sweden for Eurocon, where I saw some wonderful people talking. Eurocon didn’t bring me much in the way of business connections, but it certainly widened my understanding of the genre a lot.

Next year, I’ll go either to World Fantasy in Toronto, or to Eastercon in London. Worldcon in Chicago seems out for now.

I attempted and won Nanowrimo – twice.

I don’t want to boast too much here, but I did it. Twice! This year, I was in a good position to start a new novel for Nanowrimo, with the concept and basic characters formed in october. I launched myself into it, and soon realized that 50 000 words were too easy to reach for that novel, so I pushed my limit to 100 000. It seems like the procrastinator in me really needs fixed goals in order to produce. I usually do 1 000 words per day, 4 days a week. During nano, I did 3 000 words per day every day, which boosted my productivity. Since then, I allowed myself a few days rest, and the novel isn’t going forward anymore. I need to fix myself a new goal – preferably an unrealistic one.

I’m extending my networking with other writers, known or not known.

Last year, I met Brandon Sanderson. I was pretty much a fanboy then. He gave me some great writing advice, but I wasn’t that professional then. This year, I met him once more, this time to talk about business. At Utopiales, I met Ian MacDonald and he explained to me for an hour the whole process of submission. After Nanowrimo, I got to meet Aliette de Bodard, and she spent an hour of her time to talk about the business too.

On the not-yet-published side, I’m also networking with other aspiring writers who are serious about being published. It’s great to exchange tips on writing or about the business with them. I also am building a writers group in Paris with one of my Nanowrimo friends. We’re going for an innovative format where we’re not only critiquing our work, but also discussing about the writing business and craft.

I’m pushing my work to an editor.

I haven’t blogged about it yet, since I’m yet at the proposal stage, but I was lucky enough to win a detailed analysis of 10 000 words I’ve written by Gollancz’s editorial director Gillian Redfearn. Gollancz is one of the biggest SF/F imprints in the UK, and Gillian Redfearn is a top editor there. It’s really a privilege to be able to push my work to her and get her input on my writing.

I’m currently assembling the package I’ll be presenting to her early January. Staying under the 10k barrier has proved difficult and forced me to merge together chapters the writing group suggested be presented as one. Right now, the submission includes a 5 pages synopsis, the book prologue, and chapter 1. I intend to write a short query letter as well for Gillian to critique.

 

So, I have a lot of things to be grateful about this year.

For 2012, the plan is to:

  • Finish the third novel. Honestly, I shouldn’t spend more than 2 weeks on this.
  • Finish editing the first novel. The entire first act is almost through the writing group. I think now I can finish editing this novel without them.
  • Present the first novel to agents. If I want to do this by Easter (for Eastercon), the novel has to be edited by then.
  • Edit the third novel
  • Start the fourth novel
Lots of work in perspective!

Utopiales aftermath

Posted by arnaud on November 21st, 2011
Main conference room

Main conference room

I’m back from Utopiales. As always, I experienced the now familiar con-backlash : you spend 4 long days crammed with lots of people talking writing and SF, and in a matter of minutes, it all goes away. There is a feeling of loss that’s difficult to bear for a few days after.

The con went great. I followed some fascinating panels (9/11, and wikileaks come to mind). In fact, Utopiales is a strange mix between a literary convention and comicon. You’re sitting in a room, listening to a panel about philosophical issues raised by Science Fiction novels, and your eyes drift to the concourse surrounding the panel area. There, you see some groups of people with steampunk attire, or even dressed with manga outfits. The entire thing feels surreal and adds a very distinctive feel to Utopiales.

The other area where Utopiales shines is his guests. This is a small local convention (well if you call a con with 45000 people attending small), but it has some great international guests. As a result, you have well known authors essentially free to talk to you, because very little people around can even understand english. Yes, why bother to go to overcrowded signings where you’ll have 3 minutes to talk to your favorite author when you can talk to him comfortably seated in a chair sipping coffee?

So, for 2 years in a row, Utopiales has been great : last year, I had Brandon Sanderson essentially all to myself (Right, I might have bothered his editor a bit when I showed up to talk to him when she was around). Those talks were all about craft, and I learned a lot there – even joined the writers group he mentioned then. This year, I had decided to target (forgive the expression) Ian McDonald. I chose him, because I wanted specifics about publishing in the UK. I might have gone with Glen Cook instead, but decided that Ian was the best choice.

The talk with Ian was wonderful. He talked to me (while sipping coffee) for an hour, mostly about editors and agents in the UK and submissions packages (he has some pretty interesting thoughts about the subject). I don’t regret not bothering him at Eurocon : he was a guest of honor there, he couldn’t have given me this sort of attention then.

So, all in all, things went great. Will I go back there : definitely. Was the pass worth it? Yeah totally!

9/11 panel

9/11 panel