Spring!… SPRING!?!?

When I first set up this site, I didn’t realize I’d actually live up to the name. Tragic Speech Delay, indeed! Almost 2 months since my announcement for THE DARKEST NIGHT have passed. 16 chapters later and a vast mind blur of events have come and gone like a driver in the Furious 7… exciting movie, by the way. I might have weeped a little inside at the memorial in the end. Well done.

I’m still trying to find that balance between chemist job, writing aspiration, friends and family reality, and sleep. The second I settle into one rhythm, other factors sneak in, and the game changes all over again. I’m beginning to think that one rhythm isn’t the way to go. Call me crazy…

CreateSomethingMagicalConAd_FINAL_web One of the coolest experiences I’ve had actually happened at the end of March. The last time I attended a writing conference was… gosh, 4? 5 years ago? I missed it, so it was about time for me to get back in. I love the camaraderie, the presence of other writers (of a wide-ass range of levels) going through similar experiences, similar struggles, and similar moments of highs and lows. It’s comforting, and the community is super welcome and encouraging. Everything happens here. Almost every subject is touched upon at these events. Advice and tips, even work-balance are major topics of discussion.

This conference is held by the Liberty States Fiction Writers group, an organization of people primarily on the northeast coast who share the writing and book passions I know all too well. I’ve been able to attend one of their regular monthly meetings, and hopefully, given the aforementioned crazy blur of life, I’ll be able to attend more. They are a lovely group of writers, up to their very organized, very encouraging panel of officers who run the LSFW. I’d recommend any writer to this group, and if this specific one is too far to travel to, I’d say to seek out another group like this one. It helps to keep you informed of the community and new things happening out in the storybook world. You automatically have access to people with common interests, which might seem nuts to others who aren’t so deep in it. The group keeps you on your toes whether you’re just trying to get that first novel or short story finished or if you’re serious about making writing a career.

The Create Something Magical conference was a lot of fun. I was able to attend a few workshops:

The Line Between Good and Evil
I’m a big fan of villains. Someone once taught me that a villain can be considered a would-be hero that made different choices. The discussion was thought-provoking and ran by two ladies with great chemistry and an ability to create a good, comforting atmosphere for open discussion. We discussed books as well as television and movies – from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars to The Avengers.

Love in a Galaxy Far, Far Away
You Don’t have to be a Rocket Scientist to Write Science Fiction
And you don’t! I’d say the geek in me really came out as I listened to an animated group of writers talk about their opinions of science fiction and fantasy (as well as romance) and how these genres traverse books of all different kinds. The panel of 3 awesome women – all with their own specific takes on the subject – tossed candy at us, made us think and laugh, and facilitated a pretty fun conversation. Side thought: Adults are kind of like kids with more polished finesse.

Lunch banquet with Sylvia Day
By the time I entered the big dining hall, most of the tables were already full. I spotted an empty chair at a table somewhere in the back-center of the room, took a deep breath, marched on over, asked if the seat was taken, and did what I came to the conference to do: Meet awesome writers. From historical fiction to alternate reality, self-publishing to traditional publishing, to everything in between, I met some lovely people and listened to their stories, excitement about their books, and experiences and motivations going into their tales. Sylvia Day was the keynote speaker, and after 45 minutes or so of mingling and socializing, she took the podium.

10063343 I confess that I’ve only read one of her several romance books – A TOUCH OF CRIMSON – and that was because I didn’t want to go into the conference cold. I chose this book because of the supernatural aspect, not to mention the dark and broody angels involved. It’s from her Renegade Angels novels. I was not disappointed. Actually, I kind of devoured it.

Sylvia Day was inspiring to say the least. She started by telling us a story of how she started reading novels and writing at a very young age… quickly followed by the decision that she wanted to be a writer for a living. She loved books and writing them. She worked for it. She lost sleep over it. She took deep breaths and risked rejection of it. But the biggest thing I took home from her story was to not lose sight of life. Many writers understand what it is to be shut up in a writing cave, cut off from the rest of the world, lost in writing a book, and easily avoiding or forgetting that we don’t actually live there – that the people and events around us are actually what gives energy and content to what we put on the pages. She spoke of her lowest moments resulted from writing too many books at a time, committing to too many contracts, and skipping important events in her life because she had to make a deadline. They brought her to the point of being utterly burnt out where she literally couldn’t write anything. She stopped reading books, and honestly thought that maybe she was done. Eventually, she took that much needed step back and got back to the wonderful things – family, reading, and good old-fashioned life things. Soon, she got her groove back, better than ever. It felt good listening to her story. Also, she made us laugh. Sylvia Day is quirky like that.

Competition – So You Think You Can Write Part I
Typically, at these kinds of conferences, there are agent/editor sessions that you can sign up for to make appointments and pitch your book. I didn’t have any finished books for this otherwise great opportunity, so I paid no mind to it this time around. However, one of the workshops featured a live competition where you could submit a work in progress and see how you pit up against other writers. 4 judges who happen to be bestselling authors and an editor from Carina Press (an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises) resided over the panel. The moderator (another bestselling author) instigated laughter and joy and might as well have been a host on a fun television show.

The competition ran like The Voice wherein Round 1 consisted of the moderator reading 1-minute summaries of books anonymously. If an author-judge liked it, she’d pound her fist on the table and request that the writer be on their team. If more than 1 author-judge liked it, they’d fight for you. Needless, to say my heart pounded summary after summary, waiting for my own to be read aloud. Most of them were intriguing, and I found myself wanting to read these yet-to-be-finished books. As each author-judge explained their backgrounds, I scribbled notes furiously, wondering all the while if even 1 of them would pick my story. Turns out my summary was the last one to be read. Of course. Also, it turns out that 2 of the judges pounded their fists for it, and I can’t describe how flattering that was. In the end it was difficult to pick one, but pick one, I did.

So, I made it to a team of two plus author-coach, the judge who picked us. (The other gentleman on my team had an action-adventure, suspenseful summary, one in which I’d keep on reading.) Immediately after the workshop, our mentor spent almost an hour with each of us, giving us feedback on excerpts we’d prepared for the competition in the event that we advanced. To be honest, the story I submitted for the competition is one of my favorites that I’ve worked on to date, but it’s unfinished and still in what I consider to be stages of writing fun. So, I never imagined that it would be put through critiques this quickly. My mentor was gracious and gave very useful feedback. She actually made those bits of excerpts stronger, in my opinion. It was a good feedback session.

IMG_9970 Afterwards, I hit up the conference book fair where I loaded up on the books on my pre-meditated list of books to get and authors to sign. Finally had a chance to meet Jennifer Armentrout!!!! What a cool person. We chatted about her Lux series and Covenant series, and I confessed that I’ve read every single book in both sets EXCEPT the very last ones… because that would mean an end! Not ready for an end! She mentioned that apparently, I’m not the only one who’s done that.

When I left the hotel and conference, I picked up some dinner, made it home, and went straight to revising my excerpts for the next few hours. I emailed the revisions to my author-coach and proceeded to figure out how the heck I was going to get to sleep that night. Upon checking my email in the morning, I came to the realization that I would most likely be missing the conference breakfast with Maria V. Snyder and another morning workshop. My author-coach had stayed up the night before and sent further feedback. Now, I know myself, and there are rare occasions in which I’m okay with doing things half-assed. I wanted to give my story the best chance in this competition. So, not wanting to waste the efforts and help she’d given me, I went right to editing my excerpts with mugs of coffee to keep me company. I made it back to the conference and competition 10 minutes before it started.

Competition – So You Think You Can Write Part II
Round 2 was designed like a battle. The night before the judges pooled all the stories that advanced and paired them up against each other. This time my 3-4 minute excerpt went up against a witch story, both read by the moderator. Advance by applause. More heart-pounding. More breath-holding.

Not gonna lie. It’s strange, nerve-racking, and kind of exciting to hear your story read aloud. Somehow I’d garnered slightly more applause than my opponent, and I made it to Round 3, the final round. There were four finalists including myself, and we all read our own 2nd excerpts. I was glad for all the times I’ve sang in public as well as all the presentations I’ve had to give at work. They help A LOT with the public-speaking thing. Given the order of Round 2, I was first to read and felt pretty good about it, especially when I heard chuckles in the audience where I’d meant for certain parts to be funny. Score 1 for intent! The 2nd excerpt after me was a rather hilarious scene involving a bit of the raunchy and a bit of the funny. The 3rd excerpt was from a supernatural story by a girl whose prose came out very well in her reading of it. The writing and characters were beautiful, and her excerpt displayed good suspense. I got to chat with her after the competition and expressed interest in her finished book – whatever she decided to do with it. The 4th excerpt was a science-fiction story by a guy who I kind of wished I was able to meet as well. The Sci-Fi was good, although it can be tough to hear that kind of writing read aloud. I had a huge appreciation for the technical aspects of his excerpt, but what roped me in was the brief moment where one character met the other. I wonder if this guy knows that he can write a good character scene.

After all the readings, the editor announced my story as the winner. Like a dope, I actually hadn’t realized she called out my story at first. It was pretty damn fantastic. There were hugs and pictures taken and a couple of random congratulations from some of the spectators. The grand prize was a month-long mentorship with my author-coach and automatic feedback from the editor – that is, after I submit the final manuscript. So, that’s what I’ve been doing the past couple of months. Neurotically, finishing my book and revising parts of the first draft, keeping in mind some of the tips from my mentor. It’s a wild ride, that’s for sure. Good people have also been helping me and encouraging me along the way, and I’m grateful for every single one of them. No matter how all of this ends up, I hope I get to share this book with everyone.

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