Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why You Want to Go To A Writer’s Convention


Nina Munteanu and Tom Doherty share a panel on ecology

I'm about to attend (and participate as a panelist and guest author) tomorrow for four days at the World Fantasy Convention in greater Toronto (The Sheraton Hotel in Richmond Hill). And I’m all jazzed about it! Why?... Well, let me tell you why…

If you haven’t yet attended a writer’s conference or convention, it’s high time you did. Because, not only are you missing out on an education, you are missing out on a sub-culture that may change your life as a writer, help feed the hungry and align the universe.

The last World Fantasy Convention I attended was several years ago in 2008. It was held in Calgary, Alberta, when I still lived in Vancouver, British Columbia. The ten-hour drive through some of the most glorious Canadian wilderness and mountains was bracing and we were lucky that the weather played fair. It was an auspicious start to a wonderful journey of self-discovery.

Nina introduces Toulouse to author  Lynda Williams
Hosted by toastmaster Tad Williams, this world-class convention featured guests of honor, David Morrell, Barbara Hambly, Tom Doherty and Todd Lockwood. The World Fantasy Convention promised great things and delivered them. And I’m not just talking about that white chocolate cranberry-date-nut dip that had me loitering at the hospitality suite. Or all those midnight parties that served savory wine with salted almonds, sharp cheese and colorful conversation with the likes of David Hartwell, Tor editor and impeccable dresser (gotta love those ties!). I’m not even talking about the hot tub that sprung a leak on the 18th floor at 1 am or the entertaining panels and readings, which rocked for both writer and reader.

What made the con great for me was seeing my writing community (both writing colleagues and readers who followed my writing) and meeting new people, all lovers of books.

Nina meets an old friend...
I was rudely eyeballing someone’s nametag on his chest, when I collided with the Prince George crowd that included authors, Lynda Williams (herself responsible for some pretty nasty intergalactic wars), Nathalie Mallet (who cages princes) and publisher Virginia O’Dine of Bundoran Press (rumored to have been somehow responsible for the hot tub fiasco). I also chummed with Jennifer Rahn, author of The Longevity Thesis, who was charmed by my sly cat (she’s a softy at heart). Toulouse just kept charming his way through the crowd right to the book fair. We wandered to the back where Anita Hades of Edge Books gave Toulouse her usual greeting (a feline move that was a cross between Sophie Marceau and Brigitte Helm; both she and Toulouse have French blood coursing through their veins, after all—c’est vrai!).

I’d come a long way from the first writer’s conference I went to as a budding writer of a few short stories and non-fiction articles…

Toulouse meets all the babes...
Here’s what author Susan Denney says about her first writer’s conference: “Going to my first writers' conference was an act of faith. I was just starting to make some freelance sales when the members of my writers' group encouraged me to join them at a conference a few hundred miles away. The expense didn't seem justified to me. The cost was far more than I had earned through writing that year. But they convinced me at last and it proved to be a great investment. The benefits of a writers' conference are there for anyone who has a desire to be a better writer.”

Here are some reasons why you can’t afford NOT to go to a conference or convention:

Contacts: you will make contacts with people working in the industry, an extremely valuable asset; this industry is a social one, based on trust, respect and joyfulness. While there’s no guarantee that you will meet anyone famous or influential, you will definitely meet people who know more about writing than you do. Just hanging out with professional writers, editors and agents is educational. If nothing else, you will gain some confidence and ease with industry people, who are real people too. Some may become friends; some may become colleagues; some will become both.

Appointments: through agent/editor/author appointments, you will have a chance to have a quality private conversation with a professional on all aspects of writing and publishing. This is your chance to pitch your novel or ask that one burning question. You know you’ll get a candid and professional answer. That in itself is invaluable and may be enough reason to attend the con. Appointments are also your best chance of getting your manuscript read. This is because it bypasses the slush-pile and months of waiting for a response. More and more editors and agents look to conferences to meet potential authors. For them, meeting an author in person is a bonus to their gauging potential success in a relationship with them.

Toulouse meets an old friend...
Education on Craft & Marketing: you will learn something about craft and marketing, no matter what stage you are in your writing career. Depending on the conference or convention, aside from good information from panels, you may also get personal mentoring, 1-page critiques, or attend small themed workshops. Feedback from an experienced writer can save you months of frustration and grief. Just hearing about what is currently going on in the industry is also valuable and conferences are a good way to get the skinny on what the current issues in the writing and publishing industry are. Getting it from those who are working inside avoids the idle and potentially harmful gossip.

Community: you will be exposed to a community of writers, hundreds of creative people in various stages of their careers. By interacting with both those you can help and those who can help you, you will gain a measure of both humility and confidence and satisfaction. We learn so much by helping others. Simply being with other writers can help hone your people-skills, the same ones you will need when approaching agents, editors, publishers and research sources during your career as a professional. Remember, if you aren’t having fun, you are missing one of the most important aspects of attending a writer’s conference, and you will lose your own effectiveness.

Energy: there is nothing more energizing than a common sharing among those of like-minded thought and vision. Writing is primarily an individual pursuit, often thought to belong to the introvert; but, to succeed in the writing/publishing industry a writer must display staying power, persistence, confidence and enduring energy. There is nothing quite as inspirational as hearing an accomplished writer provide their story of victory against odds. I will never forget the moving words of Ray Bradbury at a conference in Palm Springs years ago. I have repeated those words many times since. If you come to a conference with the right mind-set, I guarantee that you will leave with more energy than you came and with a burning need to write.

Nina meets an old friend too...
Exposure: depending on the kind of conference or convention you attend, you will have the opportunity to expose yourself to something different (e.g., different fiction genres and associated communities; fiction vs. non-fiction; different media; etc.). I attended a romance writers conference a few years back (I write mostly science fiction and fantasy—but often with romance elements in them) and found it bracingly educational.

New Markets & Ideas: conferences attract writers of all kinds. Conferences provide fertile ground for cross-pollination of ideas, markets and marketing ploys. Writers, like you, are generally a nice crowd; most are willing and eager to share their successes and failures. And contacts. Sharing is one of the great things that happens at conferences. There may be a common pin board set up for people to share. Most conferences are Twitter and Facebook enabled for quick and easy viral sharing. If you don’t come away from a conference with at least one new idea, contact or market, you haven’t done your job: talk to people.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts for when you go conferencing:

1.     Wear comfortable but not sloppy clothing and shoes (it’s likely that you will be doing a fair bit of standing and walking); you want to make a good impression. Be yourself and dress accordingly.

2.     Bring promotional material with you (e.g., business cards, flyers on your book, stories, etc.). Have something to share and exchange with other writers and professionals. Most conferences also have tables devoted to shareware. This is your chance to introduce you and your writing to others.

3.     Take something to write with (e.g., notebook and pen or iPad, etc.).

4.     Talk to people. Chances are that everyone there is interesting.

5.     Respect the time, particularly other people’s time, and keep your appointments and meetings.

6.     Don’t bring your heavy manuscript with you to the conference. Agents and editors don’t have the time or inclination or space in their suitcase for it. Use the conference to make an impression and get an invitation for something later in writing.

7.     Keep all of your interactions verbal and face-to-face. Don’t rely on memorized speeches or a folded up written pitch in your pocket. Keep it casually professional. Make eye contact and speak from the heart. Show your passion.

8.     Have fun. And don’t be afraid to show it; there’s nothing more infectious and attractive than someone having fun.
j






Sunday, October 14, 2012

Writing About Truth…and Other Lies


So, what is it to write about truth?

Many of you are familiar with the term “write what you know”. I wrote an article on Scribophile about this topic.  In it I shared some excellent advice from Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner:  “Write what you know means write with authenticity about thoughts, feelings, experiences of life. Be honest. Write from a deep place. Don't write from the surface. Whether you're writing about parenthood or cancer or anything else... be real. Don't reflect what you know from other people or the media... write what you know from your own inner life.” The advice write what you know isn’t about literal truths; it’s about what you know inside. And as SF author Marg Gilks says, “You know more than you think.”
So, what is it to write about the truth?
vote yes to Proposition 37
Here’s a bit of truth from New York Times reporter Stephanie Strom in an article on September 19th, 2012, entitled Uneasy Allies in the Grocery Aisle: “Giant bioengineering companies like Monsanto and DuPont are spending millions of dollars to fight a California ballot initiative aimed at requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods. That surprises no one, least of all the proponents of the law, which if approved by voters would become the first of its kind in the nation.”
Let’s dig a bit deeper into this truth: “companies behind some of the biggest organic brands in the country—Kashi, Cascadian Farm, Horizon Organic—also have joined the anti-labeling effort, adding millions of dollars to defeat the initiative, known as Proposition 37.”
Strom reveals even deeper truths when she discloses that these well-known “organic” companies are owned by larger conglomerates like Kellogg, General Mills, Dean Foods, Smucker’s and Coca-Cola. Other food companies who have thrown in funds to help defeat the bill for transparency include PepsiCo., Neslé, and ConAgra Foods.
Strom reports that those who support the bill to label GMO products include Whole Foods, Nature’s Path (a Canadian company) Organic Valley, Cliff Bar and Amy’s Kitchen.
Whenever an issue of importance arises, the truth reveals itself. And sometimes in the oddest way. It often slides in through a back door in nuance, motion, color. I’m not just talking about factual truth; I’m talking about resonating hair-standing gut-grabbing truth. The kind of truth that resonates through you in a scintillating frisson that sparks of thrilling unfamiliar yet calms you with the warmth of home. The kind of truth that stops you mid-stride, like someone shouting your name. Subversive truth. The kind of truth that vibrates deep inside and radiates out in a warm flood of epiphany.  The kind of truth that stirs your heart in a relentless wave of flaming light.
At first glance it’s rather obvious why those fighting the bill are against it: they have something to lose in transparency. The question is, why do they think that way? These giant biotech food companies are feeding the entire world, after all, with revolutionary strains of super-plants. They are doing a great good, surely. Could it simply be a concern that they may lose some customers who do not wish to consume GE products but who are unwittingly doing so now? That is being dishonestly self-serving as well as short-sighted (the European Union has required biotech labeling since 1997—it’s just a matter of time).
Could it be the recent bad publicity from findings of the long-term effects of GMO products and Roundup on test animals? (See the incendiary paper by French and Italian scientists in Food Chem. Toxicol., referenced below).  Despite the barrage of bad press (wonder who’s behind most of that?), the paper’s results cannot be refuted entirely or ignored (if only from the basis of scientific inquiry and professional due diligence to do with Type II Error).
Or is it more insidious? 
There is something far more insidious than a lie; that is to dissemble with a half-lie—or half-truth—a truth that veils a festering lie beneath its candy-coated mantle of equivocation. A “truth” so delicious that we want to believe it, even when we see the lie lurking beneath. Little lies always hide bigger lies.
For more than a decade, consumers in North America have purchased cereals, snack foods, and salad dressings, among other products, blithely unaware that these products contained ingredients from plants whose DNA was manipulated in a laboratory.
Here’s my witnessed truth: The aggressive multi-million dollar campaign waged by multi-national corporations against transparency in food labeling in the USA is the culmination of self-serving protectionism in a most heinous way. Their decade-long silence and current reluctance to label their products (and all this before the Seralini et al. study) points to a far greater lie.
Since the long-term toxicity study by Seralini et al. was released in Food & Chemical Toxicology last week, a massive campaign to discredit the study has been waged on the Internet. This despite the soundness of the 2-year study, its glaringly obvious results (e.g. test animals died 2-3 times more quickly than controls among many other findings) and the fact that it sets precedent by being the longest and most detailed study ever conducted on a herbicide and a GMO to date; all previous studies by Monsanto labs and others were only 90-day trials.
So, what is it to write about the truth?
I’ve been a practicing scientist for over twenty years. I did research and wrote papers that were published in scientific peer-reviewed journals. I diligently used the scientific method, hypothesis-testing, objective observation and appropriate statistics to my work. I also write articles for magazines, blogs and places like this site. I write short stories and novels. I write how-to books and guidebooks. And I write letters. Lots of letters. In all this, I have made a point to do my research. I try always to go to the source and verify my information through cross-checking, and various other quality assurance procedures I learned over the years to best represent and communicate the truth.
For instance, in writing this article, I perused many articles that presented both sides of the several issues I covered, including the source paper by Seralini et al.  
Science is the rationale tool for the pursuit of the truth. This is why scientists are burdened to proceed under an objective protocol in their premise presentation, experimental design, methodology and interpretation and conclusions drawn. Because the introduction of error and bias is possible in each of these steps, researchers with integrity ensure through design and quality assurance protocol that these errors and biases are minimized. This includes the use of contols, sufficient sample size and statistical power, blind or even double-blind experiments and more. Experiments are reported with sufficient transparency to be replicated (an icon of good science). Once they are reported in a paper, results transform from science into politics.
Science and its close cousin “pseudo-science” are the weapons waged in this issue of GMO food labeling. But science is just a soldier. Who are the politicians behind the soldiers of science and what are their motives? That is where the truth lies.
In the end, I have found that listening to the conviction of my heart, to my inner “soul wisdom”, best serves the truth. Then again I prefer the resonating hair-standing gut-grabbing truth.  
You may be interested in a previous article I wrote here back in 2007 about the potential ecological dangers posed by GE practices, the wisdom of labelling GE products and Nature's alternatives to GE. Here is an excerpt:

While developers of genetically engineered foods (GEF) strive to produce hardier and higher-yielding plants, ecologists throughout the world eye transgenics skeptically. They fear that these genetically altered plants, may escape into the wild and displace native plants with unforeseen and potentially devastating results. Dr. Wes Jackson, director of the Land Institute in Kansas, a non-profit research facility devoted to alternative agricultural practices, warns that, if misused, biotechnology may lead to the human-induced degradation of the genomes of plant species. “What is being more or less ignored” in the rush to biotechnology, he said in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, “is that some of the same principles and processes that govern an ecosystem, like a forest or a prairie, also operate with genomes. The genome is a miniature ecosystem.”1 Thinking along the same lines, Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists of America suggested that transgenic science practices may release a seemingly harmless gene into our food supply with life-threatening consequences.

Growing knowledge of potential risks to ecosystem and human health is prompting many to insist that GEFs be identified and segregated so that consumers can make a choice for or against them. Which brings us to the obvious question: what alternative to the use of GEFs will we find to feed our ever-growing populations? Rissler advocates an alternative vision for agriculture, one based on nature’s own balance, which she calls “sustainable agriculture” or biomimicry.
Go here to read the entire article, "Biomimicy: Nature's Alternative to Genetically Engineered Foods".

If you live in California, or even if you don't, I exhort you to support Proposition 37 this November any way you can. Our freedom--and truth--is at stake.

Reference:
Seralini, G.-E., et al. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food Chem. Toxicol. (2012). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.201208.005