Poconos Writers’ Conference 2017

I had the pleasure of attending the 4th Annual Poconos Writers Conference over the weekend. I love conferences because no matter what your level of writing, you can never (and should never) stop learning. Sponsored by writer and attorney Michael Ventrella and the Poconos Liars Club, this one-day writing event featured three writers and one agent who gave excellent talks on craft and publication.

Michael Ventrella kicked off the conference with his talk “The Biggest Mistakes Made by New Authors.” Some great advice included treating your writing like a job in terms of dedicating your time and learning the business, finishing your work, and his secret to success (exclusive to attendees only, I’m afraid). I jest, but he did emphasize the importance of talent, hard work, and networking.

poconos-mike

Michael Ventrella

Next up was agent Alia Hanna Habib from McCormick Literary who presented on query letters and knowing your genre (with examples of what works and what doesn’t). Every time I go to a talk on query letters I learn something new and this was no exception. Alia’s experience was invaluable (and funny). Highlights included ensuring your query reads something like jacket copy, know to whom you are submitting and, of course, read the submissions guidelines.

After lunch, romance writer Megan Hart spoke on Point of View. She provided clear instruction on each type of point of view. I think my greatest takeaway here was the emphasis on how point of view not only controls what we the readers know, it gives the reader information as the character sees it. Each character is the hero of her or his own story, which affects how they tell the story.

poconos-hart

Romance Author Megan Hart

Dark fantasy author Rob E. Boley wrapped up the speaker line up with his presentation on Worldbuilding, which, as he points out, is integral for all genres, not just speculative fiction. Rob asked members of the audience what they thought worldbuilding included and the responses were phenomenal. Many volunteered answers but then made connections with how that aspect (say, currency) would affect the world and the way characters interact. Rob emphasized that your world must serve the story. Coincidences that screw the characters are acceptable. Those that help are not. There are no silos – different aspects of the world affect other aspects (just like the real world!). Do not cast brushstrokes and don’t see everything in black and white.

poconos-boley

Dark Fantasy Author Rob E. Boley

The audience participation really energized the crowd for the final session – a Q&A panel with the authors where we discussed marketing, networking, and being yourself on social media (please, no non-stop promo tweets!) and at writing events. In the end, sell yourself as much as your work, but be real.

Highly recommended conference, especially if you’ve never attended one and might be feeling overwhelmed at the thought of a large, multi-day event.

PS Huge shout out to the Eastern Monroe Public Library for hosting the event. Support your local library!

PPS I might have bought some books…

poconos-books

Book Review: This Alien Shore, by C.S. Friedman

this-alien-shore

Stay with me here for a moment. The first modern science fiction book I read, many moons ago, was Frank Herbert’s Dune. I believe I read it after having an ex-boyfriend insist I watch the 1984 movie. Despite the movie’s flaws, I was hooked. The reason I bring up Dune is because of how well it has aged, perhaps becoming even more relevant now than it was when it released. The technology doesn’t date the book and its themes are eternal (at least within the scope of human existence).

C.S. Friedman’s This Alien Shore is another book that has aged well. It was originally released in 1998. Almost 20 years in a time when technology is exponentially advancing. I’ve read books written at the same time or even after, where the technology has dated the book (there’s nothing like reading a book about the future, especially the near future, that refers to ‘data tapes’).

I’m not 100% sure of this, but Friedman seems almost prophetic in This Alien Shore. Humans live among the stars, but the earliest who went into space “suffer” from genetic mutations, as do their descendants, and are known as Variants. However, these variants have discovered the ability to travel through space via Ainniqs, portions of space that function like wormholes. But therein lies the danger as other living things reside in Ainniqs – creatures that feed on human souls and only special inpilots can navigate them safely – at a price.

This timely and almost prophetic theme of prejudice the Variants experience by Earth and its “untainted” humans is woved throughout the book. Some Variants hate all Terrans because of the way their ancestors were treated once they mutated (due to the spaceship drive used during the first space age, where travel was slow and dangerous). Others, like the Guerans, have traveled back to Earth to invite the Terrans to join their fellow humans in the expanding galaxy now available to them. Terrans have followed but many are not happy and cannot stand the Variants, looking at them as less than human, as monsters.

Also, humans are wired into the datasphere. Most have implants surgically provided at birth. At one point, the hacker Phoenix is walking through one of the stations, reminiscing about teenagers using programs that overlay what they see in real life with fantasy images, everything from dragons to porn. Humans love data, love the datasphere which provides “viddie” entertainment. Also, the hardware also helps regulate bodily functions, providing warnings when the body is distressed and dispensing medication for everything from headaches to more severe illnesses and emergencies. How close are we to this? How many companies are working to get us there?

Technology aside, This Alien Shore tells a great story, which involves a young girl Jamisia on the run after her space station is attacked and destroyed. Jamisia hears voices – but is she crazy? Have these other personalities invaded her head in order to take over her body, or are they parts of her own fragmented psyche? These voices do not just speak to her. Different personalities have different skills and knowledge. Jamisia is being pursued – by Earth Corporations, by the Guild (run by the Variants, who have a monopoly on space ainniq travel) and who knows who else. They want what is in her head. The problem is Jamisia has no clue what is in her head.

She meets up with the hacker, also known as a moddie, Phoenix, who is trying to track down the source of a dangerous virus known as Lucifer that has killed several of his hacker friends, as well as inpilots who travel the dangerous ainniqs. Jamisia and Phoenix join forces with Dr. Kio Masada, a Gueran hired by the Guild Prima to find out who unleashed the Lucifer on the Guild pilots and why.

Intrigue, adventure, danger as well as a satisfying but by no means predictable, ending.

My one writerly nitpick – a lot of passive voice and filtering. Characters do a lot of telling and filtering (“she felt fear”). This can break the fiction spell slightly especially when something exciting is happening, but I feel like there’s a veil between the action and me. A small nitpick and as writing expectations have certainly tightened over the past 18 years, one I am not going to count against the book. I recently read a Hugo-winning book from the late 80s or early 90s, where this was a major problem; however, the storytelling was still fantastic. A good story with relatable characters makes up for a lot!

Introverts, Writing, and…People!

 

aa writing introvert

I think a lot introverts are writers because we spend so much time in our heads (or with noses in books, in many cases). Some of us may be published, some not, some want to be, some write just for the pleasure of creating a well-turned phrase, or a beautiful image in a poem.

So non-writers might ask, well, why then do so many writing conferences exist?

I don’t claim to speak for every writer. I’m sure there are plenty of extroverted writers (I know a few…I think). But what I can say is that for me, a conference of any sort is justification for learning a few new breathing techniques, spending a week talking myself into going, and popping some extra Xanax.

It’s not that I don’t like talking. Ask my co-workers, or my family and friends. Sometimes I’m overflowing with words. It’s not even that I don’t like talking in front of people. I speak in front of groups all the time for various aspects of my life.

But small talk? Introducing myself to someone I don’t know? Please, I’d rather be chained to a chair to watch Episode I from Star Wars, or forced to drink decaf. It’s painful, I’m awkward, and hey, let’s just drink some wine in silence, while we scan Facebook and Twitter and just look like we’re socializing, okay?

Which brings us back to writing conferences. Why we introverted writers put ourselves in the situation. Simply because a good conference is an amazing experience. We get to learn from some great authors, non-fiction writers, and social media gurus. We listen to opening speeches and keynote speakers that inspire us to new heights of wordsmithing frenzy. We get to hang out with friends (if we’re lucky) and *gasp* meet new ones [Again, personal experience only, it takes me a while to work up the courage and usually it’s because I’m with someone I know already, but I do manage to meet a few people]. Plus, through all this, we get to be immersed with people who get us. People who understand how important the written word is, how addicting good stories can be, and how painful yet exhilarating creating fiction and others works can be.

I’m lucky. Philadelphia is home to the longest-running writers’ conference in the United States, the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference (PWC), which just concluded its 67th conference from June 10th through June 12th. My friend, James Knipp, is the current president, a terrific writer with a wicked mind for horror, and all-around great guy. Once again, he helped lead the PWC Board into making the annual conference a memorable experience. Over the next several posts, I will delve a little bit into the weekend’s experience, including the speakers and workshops, the social events, and the cool stuff I bought (books, of course!).

In the interest of transparency, I won a half scholarship, sponsored by the PWC, through the South Jersey Writers’ Group. The PWC offers several full scholarships by application as well as half scholarships to eligible writing groups. For the past several years, we have held a random drawing to determine the winner for our group and this year I was the lucky duck. The SJWG Board of Trustees was inspired that we have added our own scholarship for 2017; therefore, we will be awarding two members of our group a half scholarship to next year’s PWC in fulfillment of our mission as a premier writing resource in the South Jersey region.

Next post: Speakers, Workshops, and…Hats.

 

 

[Book Review] At day’s Close: Night in Times Past

Back in the day, History Channel used to show, you know, actual shows about history. Now we have pawnshops, gator hunters, and truckers, among others. But that’s for another post. I have since moved onto H2, which I can only get with Comcast’s (or Xfinity, or whatever they are calling themselves now) upgraded digital package. But at least there, the shows are by and large about history in some way.

One gem of a documentary I caught a few times was Afraid of the Dark. I really enjoyed the show, which highlighted several reasons why humans are, or have been historically, well…afraid of the dark. Included were the devil, being eaten alive, the supernatural, and for some reason, vampires and monsters seem to get their own category (not sure why it wasn’t lumped with supernatural, but, okay). Apparently, it’s not super easy to find a copy of the special, but you can get one through Amazon Instant Video.

Throughout the show various guests talk about their area of expertise, including A. Roger Ekirch, who was featured rather prominently and whose book, At Day’s Close, formed a substantial part of the show. Intrigued I purchased a copy of the book on the Kindle. I’ve included a copy of my review.

At Days Close
Thoroughly enjoyed this meticulously researched book, which delves into the way people lived through the night in pre-industrial times (the book’s main focus is early modern into colonial times with some references to earlier time periods). Ekirch’s writing is well-informed and entertaining. Using literature, news from the day, diaries, and journals, he traces the habits of people as they prepared for the onslaught of night, as well as the development and beginnings of our modern day night time world. While we learn much about the “darker” side of night activities (crime, lack of conveniences we take for granted, bug infestations), so there’s no looking back through rose-colored glasses, Ekirch makes is clear that modern people have lost something in our quest for a 24-hour lifestyle. It’s definitely something to ponder. My only complaint about the book is that it wasn’t longer…I wanted more!

Book Review: But Soon It Will Be Night

War is hell, the old saying goes, and But Soon It Will Be Night, by Stacey Danielle Stephens, expertly exemplifies this. The story of the October 1943 bombing run on a ball bearings factory in Germany is fraught with tension and gruesome reality. Stephens’ description of the days leading up to the run and the mission itself is delicious with stunning detail, both of the toll it took on the men as well as the technical details of a bombing run. I felt the fear the men felt as they took off and faced the enemy, the horror as they saw their brothers in arms fall prey to enemy fire and sometimes just bad luck. Stephens does not whitewash the reality of sexism, racism, or homophobia among the fighters either. We get several well-written episodes where the attitudes of the time, among white men, show that though these men were brave, they were also fallible humans, some more noble than others.

The dialogue was snappy, revealing, and sometimes viciously funny. Stephens’ definitely captured the irreverent way men sometimes talk knowing that that day might be their last on earth. The “doughnut girl” scenes at the end were heart breaking and symbolic of the waste of war. I also enjoyed the great cameos by Keller, Vonnegut, and Nat King Cole.

My only complaint is that the ensemble cast sometimes made it hard to follow who was who in what plane, although a few of the characters stuck out enough to make their experiences wrenching and personal. I think the book would also have been served to have more of Kohl (whose memoir book ends the novel) front and center with the others’ viewpoints peppered throughout.

All in all though, this book is masterful and powerful, packing an emotional punch, which is made more poignant in today’s world of nearly impersonal war and combat.

But Soon It Will Be Night

But Soon It Will Be Night

Out now! Reading Glasses: Stories Through an Unpredictable Lens

This week has been quite exciting.  It’s the release of the long-awaited small-press anthology, Reading Glasses: Stories Through an Unpredictable Lens from Hypothetical Press. It’s available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.

Reading Glasses is a speculative fiction anthology that was funded through Kickstarter and sponsored by the South Jersey Writers’ Group.

Suspenseful and mysterious, with a touch of ironic humor, Reading Glasses will transport you to the very edge of reality.

Reading Glasses cover

Reading Glasses cover

Incapable of sleep and forced  to keep it secret, a young woman searches tirelessly for the truth about her past.

A man seeking escape from his mistakes happens upon a dried up bayside settlement with unfinished business of its own.

A spinster returns to her childhood home to teach a valuable lesson to family vultures descending on her final days.

In a dystopian future where reading and writing are illegal, a fringe dweller discovers a pair of glasses that proves the literary world is alive and well.

A boy hiding a secret from himself rescues a tiny turtle, and soon discovers that a hard exterior isn’t the solution.

Under the threat of international warfare, a woman coming to terms with the death of dear friends learns that their disappearance was not as permanent as it appeared.

A highborn priestess’ faith is tested when she learns that even those she trusts the most can betray everything she believes in.

An  old man with a terminal illness, who feels he got life all wrong, wants to make sure that at least he gets death right.

Escape to the lives of these curious characters, and lose yourself in thirteen original stories. From life on a space station to tales that orbit a little too close to home, Reading Glasses is a compelling, fantastical departure from the familiar.

Guest Post: Zombies: Isn’t This Fad Over Yet? by Armand Rosamilia

Today on Literary Debauchery, I have a special guest – horror writer and cool guy, Armand Rosamilia. Armand is one of those writers that makes me sit back in awe.  Not only is he a terrific writer, he’s also prolific and dedicated. His latest book, Dying Days 4 is out, and I highly recommend you check it out (along with his other work!). So with no further delay, here we go….

Zombies: Isn’t This Fad Over Yet?

Armand Rosamilia

              I loved horror movies as a kid, and I lumped zombie movies in there as well. I was a fan but after awhile I’d seen it all before: voodoo zombies in great black & white films and then the Romero and Romero-like zombie movies that came later. I watched them all and I loved them all. But there was a sameness to all of them.

But I never read anything zombie. I just didn’t see the attraction, the same way I stopped reading vampire books after Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite wrote everything I wanted to read in the genre. Vampires, zombies and even werewolves were movie monsters. I read about real monsters in print: serial killers, strange unnamed beasts, and the creepy dude next door.

Then I read The Rising by Brian Keene and I realized you could do something different with zombies in print. You could give it a new spin, while keeping it still zombies. I started reading everything I could get my hands on, and found so many great stories, especially short stories like Adam-Troy Castro’s “Dead Like Me,” that I decided to write my own. Hence, my Dying Days series. Dying Days 4 just hit and it is easily my biggest selling series to date, as well as the one people recognize me for.

But people ask me all the time what I’m going to write once the zombie fad ends…

…which I don’t think ever will.

Why? Because I said so!!!

Or, more seriously (okay, semi-seriously), I think zombies will always be in fashion with a small but rabid fan, whether in movies or books or television. The Walking Dead won’t be on forever, but even when it comes to an end (hopefully with Daryl shooting Carl in the head with a crossbow bolt), fans will still be looking for more zombies to see and read about.

True, because of the show more people gravitated toward reading about zombies, but the fan base was already there. The rabid fans will always want to read more and find something a little different in each new book and/or zombie series.

As much as we all cry about sparkly vampires, the vampire genre will never completely disappear. The real fans, who like their vamps evil and ugly and vicious, will find more authors and films to sink their teeth into (yes, stupid pun, but I had to do at least one).

Zombies are here to stay. They might not always be the media darlings they are right now (how many commercials are trying to be cute with zombies? How many more cartoony zombies can we see everywhere we look?) and they’ll soon slip underground for the latest monster (werewolves? Mummies? Giant arachnids? Vorpal bunnies?) but they’ll never go the way of the dinosaur. Didn’t even prehistoric creatures have their fifteen minutes at one point with Jurassic Park?

My point is this: Buy my zombie book, because it will never go out of vogue with the really cool kids, who don’t chase after the latest trend. They just want to read about zombies, and find something different about them like I did when I read Brian Keene.

See? Wasn’t that an easy answer?

Armand Rosamilia writes the Dying Days series of extreme zombie books, he likes to eat M&M’s and hates long walks on the beach even though he lives in Florida. He loves talking in third person. He does a really cool podcast, interviewing authors, that just started. Arm Cast: Dead Sexy Horror Podcast is available on iTunes and his own page at http://armcastpodcast.com or e-mail him at armandrosamilia@gmail.com to talk about Metal music, horror and bacon.

 

Armand RosamiliaDying Days 4 cover art

 

 

Why I Dislike Reviewing Books and Why I Should Do So (and 2 reviews)

I will admit it – I am terrible at book reviews. I love reading, I love talking about books, I love smelling books. I don’t like reviewing them. Mainly because I don’t think I’m very good at it. Can I really say anything truly meaningful beyond ‘this is good’ or ‘this had some problems’? Do my reviews sound scholarly enough? Did I miss some important point? Will the author be insulted if I mentioned some points which bothered me? This ever-questioning batty dialogue circulates in mind every time I sit down to write a review.

BUT book reviews are important – they provide authors with feedback and they help other readers decide whether or not to read something. Even a so-so review can trigger someone to check out a book. Reviews let authors and publishers know people are reading. That the words aren’t wasted, set free into an infinite vacuum never to be read, enjoyed, or savored.

With that in mind, I have been trying to review more books as I read them or even several months after the fact. Here are a few recent reviews I did. As you can see, they are short because I never know what to say!  I have more to write which I shall do in the upcoming weeks and post them here, as well as on Goodreads and Amazon. If you haven’t read them, hopefully this will pique your interest!

 

Blood in the Paint by Jordanna East

Blood in the Paint
Read this in one night! Suspenseful, chilling, and dark Blood in the Paint will keep you turning the pages. Right from the start we know the murderer but what happened so many years ago which makes Lyla Kyle lure men to their murders? And what does Dr. Atford, her psychologist, know about Lyla’s past that even Lyla does not know? Will Officer Brighthouse solve the murders and be made detective?

The characters were rich, fully drawn and evoked both empathy and sometimes horror as we navigated the twisting mazes of their minds and their pasts. The last several chapters left me speechless as we find out just how much the past can affect the present and change the future.

The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft 

art of falling
I will be upfront here when I say that the books I read usually contain aliens, elves, monsters or other fantasy/scifi elements. I don’t real a lot of “mainstream” literary fiction. However, I found this book enchanting and read it within one night. We start off seeing dancer Penelope Sparrow unable to move in a hospital bed after a disastrous 14-story fall. In the hospital she meets Angela, a woman dying from cystic fibrosis and Marty, the man on whose bakery truck she ell. What follows is a touching and evocative journey from depression and despair to friendship and hope and finally to new heights.

What amazed me was how my reactions to Penny changed over the course of the book. At first I saw her as a tragic figure, then mad at her despair and unreliable view of the world, especially when it came to appearances. As Penny grew, i began to understand how her sometimes twisted views were shaped by her profession as a dancer and our expectations of women’s bodies in society.

The secondary characters were well-rounded also and I loved them all. The story is set in Philadelphia and being a native Philadelphian, I also loved seeing the landmarks I grew up with incorporated into the story. I’m glad I read this because it is not only a great story of redemption but also a damning criticism of what is acceptable for a woman’s body to look like in the modern world, not just the dance world.

Next Up – Second Verse by Jennifer Walkup and Starglass by Phoebe North

 

 

Collingswood Book festival bloginess

I was going to write a review of the Collingswood Book festival, which happened this past Saturday in Collingswood, NJ but my friend Sarah Hawkins Miduski did such a fabulous job at her obligatory blog here, complete with pictures and mention of Poehead.com, that I defer to her supreme blogability and submit that you go read her post!!

 

As an added bonus, I also suggest that you check out the Steampunk Granny herself, Marie Gilbert, and her latest post, Wonderland, or How I Lost a Tooth and Found a Ghost.  Seriously. Check it out.

 

 

 

 

Lines on the Pines and Liberty States Writers’ conference news

“The buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching toward infinity…”

A. Edward Newton

Two weekends ago I had the pleasure of working a table at the Lines on the Pines book and art festival in Hammonton, NJ, trying to sell our anthology, Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey. If you’re not familiar with the name Hammonton, then perhaps the words Jersey Devil might ring a bell, because yeah, we were in Pine Barrens country. We sold and autographed several copies of the book but what was really amazing was the array of goods available – everything from books, to art, to jewelry, to handmade crafts. The arts are alive and well in South Jersey! It was a great day and here are some pictures:

Amy Hollinger, editor, and Jennifer M. Eaton with some of her work

Amy Hollinger, editor, and Jennifer M. Eaton with some of her work

Jeff Markowitz and Ilene Schneider with their books!

Jeff Markowitz and Ilene Schneider with their books!

Jon Gibbs selling his books, including his latest, Barnum's Revenge!

Jon Gibbs selling his books, including his latest, Barnum’s Revenge!

Marie Gilbert, anthology co-editor

Marie Gilbert, anthology co-editor

Then just this past weekend, I was able to attend the Liberty States Writers’ conference with co-conspirator Amy Hollinger, where I attended several workshops, met with the great agents, and again was able to hang out with friends, old and new. It was a fabulous experience. Jonathan Maberry gave the lunchtime keynote speech and once again, I was inspired to hear him talk. He’s very much a man of positive energy and you can feel that emanating from him.

After the workshops, I attended the book fair where I spent too much money and bought even more books (my to-read stack is growing exponentially), including Poison Study by Maria Snyder, Dark Music by E.F. Watkins, and Barnum’s Revenge by the above-pictured Jon Gibbs. I also met the wonderfully cool K.A. Mitchell who was a complete doll.

After the book fair was a pizza party (at this point, a glass of red wine was called for!) and some music and dancing. All in all, I had a productive, fun, amazing weekend. I will definitely be returning next year!