Category Archives: Commentary

Podcasts For Writers by Wendy Van Camp

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Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash

Convention season is upon us and like many authors, I’m scheduled to appear at several conventions and conferences during the summer and fall of this year. One of the items I pack when I travel is a DAP, a Digital Audio Player. I like to keep my music and podcasts separate from my phone so that I don’t drain my phone battery and gain a better quality of sound. I don’t upload audio books, although that certainly is an option, I tend to prefer books on my ereader when traveling. If there is one constant of being on the road, there are always plenty of wait times involved. Waiting for a flight, long hours of driving on the road, standing in line to listen to a favorite author read, or just something to be mellow within the hotel room are all times when a DAP makes life more comfortable.

This year, I’m trying out a Hidizs AP60 player. Not only does it have a decent quality of sound, but it has Bluetooth capabilities that allow me to patch into my car stereo. I prefer it to my old Apple iPod Touch both in sound quality and size. I also love not having to deal with iTunes. I pair it up with Media Monkey to organize my music library and Stitcher to keep me up to date with podcasts. The unit has a comfortable weight, a sturdy casing, and an easy to read display.

I have discovered several new podcasts to listen to this fall and I thought that I’d share them with you. Some of them are craft related, some are about marketing tips, and others are author interviews that touch on the writer’s inspiration. All are free to download and in my opinion, of excellent production values.

Grammar Girl
“Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer’s Digest’s 101 best websites for writers multiple times. She is also an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame.

Grammar Girl provides short, friendly tips to improve your writing. Covering the grammar rules and word choice guidelines that can confound even the best writers, Grammar Girl makes complex grammar questions simple with memory tricks to help you recall and apply those troublesome grammar rules.”

Creative Writing Career
“Turn writing into more than a hobby, make it your career. Stephan Bugaj (Pixar’s Brave, Wall-E, The Incredibles), Justin Sloan (Telltale’s Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, and Minecraft: Story Mode), and Kevin Tumlinson (Citadel, Lucid, The 30-Day Author) give you their advice on writing for books, movies, video games and more, and occasionally try to sound smarter by having on amazing guests.”

Reading And Writing Podcast
This is a podcast featuring interviews with authors from many different genres. At a glance, I noted several authors that I would love to listen to in my own genre, so I have cherry picked this one for the authors that interest me. On the website, the podcaster has listed all the interviews by genre, so it is easy to find authors in the genre you love to read.

Write Now With Sarah Werner
I am fascinated by Sarah Werner as a podcaster, she has quite a strong work ethic! Werner records two regular podcast series, the “Write Now” and one called “Coffee Break”. Both are well produced and feature both writing topics and interviews with authors. She has a third audio project called “Girl In Space” which is a science fiction serial. All three projects can be found at the same URL and all are free to download.

Very Serious Writing Show
“Writing advice from people who know and people who don’t. Practical skills meet ridiculousness as I talk with some of the best writers who are willing to actually be on this show with me, and get their input on how to live the writer life.”

I am intrigued by this podcast with a humorous bent, but I believe it may not be producing new episodes at this time. The last time stamp I saw was from last year. Still, the samples I listened to are good. I’m willing to listen to the back catalog for now. Maybe they will return!

Fountain Pens in the Creative Process by Wendy Van Camp

Fountain Pens In The Creative Process
Background Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

I love fountain pens. Sometimes I think I’m the ambassador for using these pens in life. I’ve introduced them to my friends, to my husband, and to many of the writers in my circle. Making converts everywhere I go. What is so great about them? Well, for me, they not only make the writing I do easier, but they help me when planning my short stories and novels.

I discovered the fountain pen back in 2013. At that time, fountain pens were not cool. To use one invited stares and derisive comments. The pens drew me because my cursive writing had fallen into disuse and was unreadable. I took up journaling to counteract this, reasoning that if I wrote one entry a day in cursive, my penmanship would improve. The more I wrote with the ballpoints, the more my hand cramped. I googled about writing and learned that fountain pens need not press onto the page as you write. You hold them at an angle that is more comfortable for the hand. You could write more words and for a longer time with a fountain pen than with a ballpoint. I had to try it.

The inexpensive Chinese model I bought to find out if I would like writing with a fountain pen was easy to write with. I loved the feel of the pen in my hand, the myriad of ink colors to choose from, and that I could select different nibs to change the way my words looked on the page. I went from using a standard medium nib to a fine nib and to an italic nib, which is a smoother version of a calligraphy stub nib. It was fun! I became hooked on the pens as a hobby.

Within a year, I graduated from the $2 Chinese pens I had to fine tune before using to the $30 pens with smoother nibs and out of the box writing quality. My current “beater” pen, the one I use most often in my office is a Lamy Safari in Lilac. I use Noodler’s Black ink, which is archival and “bulletproof”. I own many colors of inks, but basic black is my main color for the creative process and record keeping. I also use a Platinum Plaisir for autographing my novels out in the field. It is a pen with a cap that keeps the pen from drying out for a long period. My readers love seeing the pen and it makes the autographing process a little more special.

Do I love fountain pens because they are an aid to my creative process as a writer, or do I use paper notebooks as a writer because fountain pens are fun for me? My process of writing developed at the same time I started my fountain pen hobby, so who is to say? I use fountain pens mainly in the brainstorming process of stories and poems. I find that the shorter the project, the more likely I will use the pens during the creative process.

For poems, I create them almost entirely via fountain pen and paper. There is something about doodling all those words on the page to find the perfect fit in my poems. I can switch out the colors to fit the mood too. I store the finished poems in a traveler’s notebook to take with me to open-mic readings. Something about the matching of paper and leather seems quite bohemian.

When writing short stories, I keep an ARC notebook, which has excellent quality paper for fountain pens. I write out ideas for my stories and create handwritten character sheets, outlines, and maps. Once I develop the story enough, I move it onto the computer where I do the drafting.

Finally, there are my novels. I use fountain pens and notebooks when I’m brainstorming ideas for a novel. I create a limited “novel bible” of character sheets, locations, and objects that I can take with me when I go out drafting. I draft on an Alphasmart digital typewriter. Once I complete the first draft, I move the manuscript into Scrivener for revision.

As the years go by, I continue to incorporate fountain pens and paper into my life. I sketch and ink the drawings with a fine fountain pen. I continue to keep a journal to chronicle my life and I keep a bullet journal to keep my writing tasks in order. I experiment with using fountain pen inks as washes in my artwork. I feel that writing with fountain pens has enriched my life. Perhaps they could do the same to yours.


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Better Blogging Topics For Authors

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Traditional wisdom states that if you are an author, you should have a blog to attract readers to your work. The experts tell you to write about your characters, plots, world-building, how your novel is coming along and don’t forget to toss in a little about your cat. Now, I can already hear you moan:

“Where is the traffic?”
“Writing a blog is hard!”
“Isn’t blogging a dead end?”
“Nobody cares about my book before I publish it.”

And you would be right on all accounts.

Blogging about a novel when no one knows who you are is a wasted activity. If you are not publishing your story as a serial, few will care about plotlines or characters. The only people that might be interested are your fellow writers. They may visit, but will they buy and read your book? Probably not.

Who you want to attract are the readers of your genre. They are your target audience, not other writers, family, and friends. The key to a successful writer’s blog is to write about content that is related to your genre and keep the personal angst off your platform. Be entertaining, but offer your readers content that relates to their interests. Then make sure to make it easy for them to purchase your book. You don’t need to blog every day. Once a week or even once a month is enough to get started. I have settled on blogging three times a week; but if I miss a day now and then, I don’t sweat it.

I am a science fiction and fantasy author. My writer’s blog is a mixture of posts. I write interviews with up and coming science fiction/fantasy authors and reviews of classic science fiction novels. My flash fiction and illustrated scifaiku poetry offer examples of my personal writing. On Monday I do a link-list of articles about the craft of writing. These articles are geared toward my genre or items that simply interest me personally, such as fountain pens and handwriting.

My first year blogging, I was excited if I had four or five visitors stop in on a given day. Slowly, the traffic to my blog has increased. Five years later, No Wasted Ink has around two thousand subscribers directly via WordPress. When I publish a story as a guest poster or in a magazine, the other place always reports plenty of traffic from my blog to their website. Likewise, when I published my first book, I announced it on my blog via a post, and this was enough to drive a decent number of online sales. The authors I interview on the blog report an increase in sales and traffic on their own sites.

Here are a few blogging ideas on related topics based on genre:

Science Fiction
Readers of science fiction love science and new technology. You could develop blog posts about scientific developments and how they relate to people. You could write reviews about classic science fiction books or films.

Mystery
Readers of mystery love the process of finding clues. Write posts about forensic techniques, true crime stories ripped from the newspaper, interesting ways for the police to capture and detain criminals.

Romance
You could do travel posts about romantic villas. Talk about the latest episodes of The Bachelor! Maybe you could follow the 10 eligible men in the world or the latest beauty queens.

Historical
Research the places of the era you write about. Talk about the customs and clothing of the time period. Find interesting stories locked away in crumbling (online) newspapers from the Victorian era. Write museum tours of the era you focus on.

Blogs do work. Don’t give up on the idea too soon. They are an important part of your author platform.

WonderCon 2018: A Review

WonderCon 2018 - Convention Exterior

Science Fiction conventions are the lifeblood of science fiction and fantasy authors. We go there to sell our books, meet the readers of our genre, sign a few autographs and participate in panels. Not to mention have a great time soaking in the creative atmosphere of people that “get” us and our crazy love for our genre. The science fiction community is tight knit, they support creatives with passion.

I’ve been a dealer and participant at various science fiction conventions on the West Coast of the United States for over twenty years. I began as an artisan jeweler, selling handmade sterling silver items featuring semi-precious stones and art glass. I was both in the dealer room and in the convention art show, depending on the venue.

In 2014, I published my first novel and began the shift toward less time in the dealer room and more time in programming. I began participating in panels, giving workshops on building a social media platform both as an author or an artist and I shifted my wares in the art shows, not only bringing in my handmade jewelry but also selling a series of art prints based upon my illustrated scifaiku poetry.

WonderCon 2018

WonderCon 2018 - Wendy Van Camp AutographWonderCon is one of the newer incarnations of Comic Con International, put on by the people that organize the huge convention in San Diego. Although I’ve been exhibiting my work at the San Diego Comic Con for almost twenty years, I had never so much as walked the floor at Anaheim’s WonderCon. When Broad Universe, a feminist science fiction writing guild, opened a table at the convention. I decided to attend.

I was assigned five hours at the Broad Universe table to sell and autographic my books. I appreciate everyone who purchased a book from me. It is my readers that keep me going. This year I brought my Regency Historical “The Curate’s Brother” and copies of “Murder They Wrote”, a horror anthology in which my short story “We Can Rebuild Him” is published.

After my autograph time was over, I left the table and went out to see what WonderCon was all about.  My goal was to make a solid determination if this was a venue that I might return to or not as an author. I will outline my personal impressions of the convention below.

Small Press

The table I was assigned to during my autograph session was in Small Press. This is where all the authors were located. The section is on the far left side of the convention, the furthest area away from parking and furthest from programming. Many of the authors had paired up at the tables and fully half of them were promoting graphic novels. There were plenty of dead times in Small Press when foot traffic disappeared, but the authors were stoic and kept a smile on their faces.

I noticed that the major Indy bookstore in our area, Mysterious Galaxy, was relegated to the rear back corner of Small Press next to the area set aside for the authors of programming to do their autographs. Normally, Mysterious Galaxy has a prime location at the science fiction conventions I attend, so it was odd to see them in this low traffic location. Of all the areas in the convention, this was the slowest and least attended place at WonderCon.

Exhibition Area

WonderCon 2018 - Exhibition HallThe Exhibition area was the largest of the convention. The vendors had full 10×10 spaces or larger. The majority of the vendors were from media, software, gaming, or popular artists. I counted three extra large booths that sold artist supplies at discounted prices. Being a sketch artist, I drooled over the selections of fine paper notebooks, pens, and inks. If you are a painter or sketch artist, this is a great place to stock up on art supplies for the year. Curiously, I did not see booksellers in the Exhibition area. If they were there at all, they were tucked away from the main areas and I did not encounter them during my four or five passes through the place.

The Exhibition area was packed with people at all times. It is located under the location where programming takes place on the second or third floors so it would be easy for attendees to pop in between panels and do a bit of shopping. I personally did not find anything to purchase beyond the art supplies, but I imagine if you were into software games, science fiction films/TV or collected Disney pins or bobbleheads, you would find something to please you.

WonderCon 2018 - Artist Alley Composit

 

Artist Alley

This was one of the larger artist alleys that I’ve ever encountered. It rivals the one at the San Diego Comic Con. The artists were all top notch. Most were sketch artists whose work would be comfortable gracing a comic book, but all styles were represented in the science fiction genre. There were plenty of graphic novel authors there as well. I spent some time chatting with various artists to get a feel of how they felt about the convention. Most were delighted with the attendance and traffic to their tablespace. Artist Alley was the place to be at WonderCon.

Art Show

There is no art show at WonderCon. I find this surprising since almost every science fiction convention offers one. An art show is a boutique showing art from artists from all over the country. They mail in their art or drop it off in person and the art show handles the sales. Afterward, the unsold art is mailed back and the artist receives a check for their sales minus a small commission to the art show and any sales taxes owed to the state the show takes place in. It is an inexpensive way for an artist to gain exposure for their work without having to attend the convention. For a venue that seems to support artists in all other ways, this is a glaring exception.

Panels

WonderCon 2018 - Panel 1Personally, I was disappointed by the panel selection at WonderCon. As an author,  I did not find panels about writing except for one or two late on Sunday.  As a sketch artist, I discovered many art-related panels. The panelists offered good basic information for budding sketch artists or digital art creators. While the panels were all of good quality, they were clearly designed to be of benefit to artists, gamers, or filmmakers.  Writing books was not a focus of the main panel topics, it was more of an afterthought.  However, the one or two writing panels that I saw were well attended and offered quality information.

Cosplay

The costumes were in full force at WonderCon. The majority were wearing comic book themed characters. The cosplay participants wandered the halls of the convention, but many clustered outside in the courtyard near the food trucks. There was a bevy of professional photographers taking pictures. I asked about the media attention and discovered that the photographers were not connected with the convention officially, but had been brought in by the cosplay people. Although they had access to the professionals, I found that the people in costume were happy to pose for regular people such as myself. You should make a point to politely ask first. This is part of the collection of photos I gathered to enjoy after the convention.

WonderCon 2018 Cosplay Composite

 

Why WonderCon is more for Artists than Authors

In the end, I am forced to conclude that WonderCon is not a good venue for authors.  Most science fiction conventions have full writing tracks, rather like a mini writing conference, to give beginning science fiction authors genre-specific information. They also allow published authors time to hold readings and autograph sessions in the more traffic intensive areas of the convention. WonderCon did not offer this.  As an author, I felt shunted aside.

However, WonderCon seems to be a great place for artists to be seen and network. While there were fewer professional tutors to review your work and give career advice as San Diego Comic Con offers to new artists, there was still more than enough panels and exposure for an up and coming artist to find value. If you are a science fiction themed artist, WonderCon should be on your list of consideration for an artist alley table. I don’t believe that you would be disappointed, even if you need to travel to attend.  I spoke with many contented artists during the weekend, many of whom have been returning to WonderCon for years to showcase their graphic novels, art books, prints or imprinted 3D items.

I hope this review of WonderCon is helpful to you, either as an artist or an author.  As always, if you can attend a convention to “walk the floor” in person before purchasing a table, that is always the best policy to follow.

Attending Science Fiction Conventions

San Diego Comic Con

All across the world from the United States to Europe, Australia, and more, large groups of readers and writers of the science fiction and fantasy genre gather together to experience and talk about all that is weird and wonderful about the books they love. Some conventions are huge with tens of thousands of attendees and others are smaller local affairs of a few hundred. Both types are incredibly useful as an author and offer much both as a resource for writing material, a writing conference to learn your craft, and a place to hang out and talk about your love for Star Wars or Dr. Who without getting odd looks from your mother. One of the reasons I choose to be a science fiction and fantasy author, besides the fact that I love the genre, is that it has a well-established circuit of literary conventions.

The conventions have different “tracks” within them. This is a series of programming at the convention that ties in with certain people and interests. Sometimes there is a separate charge or area for the different tracks, but often the programming is left wide open allowing the attendee to enjoy what interests them.

Writing Track

This is where I usually hang out. The writing track is a mini writer’s conference within the convention. Panels and workshops about the writing craft, tropes in the genre, how to market your books, and readings by established authors or up and coming writers are featured. This is also where the podcasters and movie buffs hang out.

Filk Track

A filk singer is someone who takes a well-known song and gives it new lyrics, in this case, of a science fiction or fantasy nature. It is sort of like fanfiction for musicians. The better-known filkers are set up to perform throughout the evenings to provide exposure for their art and to provide entertainment to the attendees. It is common to see people with folk guitars lounging around the commons of a convention on any given day.

CosPlay Track

Conjecture 2014 - blogAttendees who wear costumes and groups of people that enjoy creating them have been a big part the science fiction community for as long as I remember. You’ll see people dressed as Jedi knights, in star trek uniforms, and many other pop culture icons. Usually, if you ask politely, they are happy to stop and pose for a picture with you. On Saturday night, there is often a masquerade ball where the costumes are judged and prizes are awarded based on their creativity.

Science Track

Science fiction attracts a large number of engineers, doctors, and other professionals who come to let out their geek side for the weekend. Most conventions will feature lectures and presentations by these scientists that rival ones I’ve seen at JPL and other institutions. These are talks about the planets, new technology, mathematics, physics and a host of other subjects. As a science fiction author, I find these to be gold mines of information that I can later use in my stories.

Artist Track

Dealer Room ShopperAnother track that I am very much a part of, the artist track consists of the vendors in the dealer room that sell all sorts of science fiction related items from books to soft goods, jewelry, and much more. There is also an art show where 2D and 3D art is on display and for sale in a boutique to the attendees. Before I became an author, I was a dealer of jewelry for around twenty years. I sold Celtic and Science Fiction themed jewelry in the dealer rooms or more recently, my prints of Scifaiku Poetry in the art shows. I still book tables for my jewelry and books from time to time, but these days I’m more often in panels or giving presentations in addition to my readings.

I consider these conventions to be a “leg” of my author platform and every bit as important as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I attend several each year and always see a bump in my online sales along with the books I sell at the event. It also proves to be a great place to network. I find new authors to interview for my blog, guest posters, and people to interview me in turn.

While you certainly can book a table to sell your books at the convention, I found that joining a writing guild and sharing a table proves to be more beneficial. That way you get time at the table to do signings, but you also can get away to enjoy the panels and other fun events of the convention. The guild I belong to is Broad Universe, a writing guild that promotes women writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. It is a national writing guild and we host tables and readings at most of the larger conventions in the United States. However, there are many other guilds represented at the various conventions. As an author, you simply need to check out what is available in your local area and move forward from there. If you are attached to a small press, often times they will host a table for their stable of authors too.

Science Fiction Conventions are fun! The creative energy in the place is like nothing I’ve experienced anywhere else. If you haven’t been to one, find a smaller local one and get your feet wet. Release your inner geek. Beyond selling books and doing readings of your work, you might find a place where you can relax and chat about your favorite books and movies on a level you have never experienced before.