Quarantine Ups and Downs

By now most creatives are familiar with the “But Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine!” argument that being stuck at home should increase creative output. And by now most creatives have gotten fed up with non-creatives expecting them to compartmentalize emotions during social distancing.  Well, we know it isn’t that simple.

What about when you get the chance to work from home? For many, doing so has resulted in a creative malaise, or too many distractions, from having their kids home 24/7 to having their work life creep into their creative space. Honestly, working from home has been a godsend for me. I have physical disabilities, and working from home has alleviated many of the distractions caused by them. No longer am I coming home in pain, with eye strain, struggling to get any word count. I mean, my home office is an easy chair, after all. I’m even giving the business side of things the proper attention, which I so rarely do. Damn querying!

The only logical conclusion is that the words are flowing and everything’s peaches and cream for me at the moment. Not so fast. My creative output IS up, as a direct result of social distancing, the quarantine, and working from home. No denying that. What IS suffering while my writing thrives is ME. After I close the computer, what is there? I make connections online, talk to friends and family, and…sit around and do nothing. Watch TV. Surf the ‘Net. Read. Get things done around the apartment. Watch TV, surf the ‘Net, watch TV, surf the ‘Net, become more of a hermit, forget the positive things I can do at home, watch TV, surf the ‘Net…

I’m falling into a vicious cycle because of this quarantine. For now, the writing is good. I don’t have the problem many creatives have, of finding it harder to create. For how long, though? There will come a breaking point, and if it is reached, I have no doubt I’ll be in a deeper rut than before. So I have to guard against that. Try to lift myself in these trying times. Work on coping strategies to deal with the difficulties. You know, the hard stuff.

We talk about the obvious problems, that it can be difficult for many to create in these circumstances. We also need to worry and take precautions when things are going WELL in these trying times. We need to recognize our own fragile mental states and balance our creative output against our mental needs. I’ve written this rambling post as a cathartic tool, not so much to find answers to my dilemma–because there are no easy answers here–but to process what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling. Hopefully, in reading this, it will help a few other creatives do the same.

Chasing Your Tail in Traditional Publishing

If you’re like me, self-publishing your novels isn’t even remotely possible. At the very least, it isn’t a good idea. To be a successful self-publishing novelist–and, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be successful?–you have to be able to promote yourself and promote your book. For someone who considers three likes and one reply on Facebook an enormous victory, I’ll never be able to sufficiently self-promote.

So, what do you do when you think you’ve finished what you consider a successful novel? Sign with an agent that will champion said novel, get it into the right hands, and land you a publishing deal. I won’t even get into the nuts and bolts of how difficult it is to succeed at that, as most of you already know. And most of you already know how brutal it is trying to write and assemble all the materials, especially the query letter, you’ll need along the way. That’s fine. If it were easy, everyone would do it. No, let’s talk a little about how, unless your first finished, polished manuscript is an instant success, you’ll be chasing your tail.

One of the truths I hear spoken by countless amazing and successful authors is that it’s rarely your first book that gets published. Often, it’s the second, third, fourth, fifth…you get my drift. The more you write, and the more books you write, the better you get at it. Simple logic. So, what do you do after getting all your querying materials together and get to querying? Start another book!

Here’s where the seemingly impossible gets even more difficult. You’re itching to move on to your next project, eager to put those writer muscles back to work. Writing takes a lot of time as well as effort, and, with an assumed day job, time is at a premium. Well, you have to give yourself copious amounts of that precious commodity to query your finished manuscript. Querying is a volume task, too, meaning you don’t just want to query one or two agents. If you limit yourself like this, even a great manuscript may take years to land you an agent.

How long does it take to query each agent? Mileage varies here. Some agents use sites like Query Tracker that make the process quicker and easier. Some have easy-to-read sites with concise lists of what they want emailed to them. And some…don’t. Just figuring out who wants what sent how is a chore. Then there’s personalizing your query, inputting the agent’s data into your files, changing formats, copying chunks of your manuscript into files of four chapters instead of three, never mind finding the agent in the first place…you get the gist. Personally, I lay out half an hour minimum for each one, because I’m slow and prefer to be thorough.

Half an hour each? Submitting to as many as you can? When will I write? It’s an excellent question, and it leads many writers, myself prominent amongst them, to vacillate. I tried to split time for a while, querying a few agents a week while writing my current WIP. But, time being short, I ended up super behind on my WIP. I’ve previously finished three books that were polished enough for me to query with. The first I have since shelved, but I feel the other two have potential. I’m trying to query two novels and write a third one. Ai!

Take heart. It’s frustrating, it’s a lot of tail chasing, but if it leads to an agent, and that agent lands you a book deal, it’ll all be worth it. And while, yes, being a published and agented author working on future projects comes with its own challenges, guess what you won’t have to do from that point on? Query agents. It’s a ginormous, intimidating prospect, but one you only have to conquer once. Unless you have to change agents for one reason or another. Hey now, let’s not borrow trouble! And, who knows? At that point, you may be like Kameron Hurley, who had an agent solicit her for work 🙂

ConFusion 2020 Report (or the Also Report)

As reported, I attended ConFusion 2020 in Novi, Michigan last weekend. I enjoyed a confluence of wonderful coincidences, had a lot of fun, and met some fabulous new friends.

First, the coincidences. The week before the con I began reading “The Light Brigade” by Kameron Hurley, which I finished during the con and highly recommend. Kameron was a guest of honor, whom I shared coffee with in a small group at a kaffeeklatsch. Kameron’s a wonderful writer and person who encouraged me in my writing and showed genuine interest in what I had to say, and who shared a lot about her own journey. Also, in the days leading up to the con, Bogi Takács posted a series of intersex literature resources on Twitter, which I found immensely helpful, as a novel I am querying has an intersex main character. E was also a guest of honor, and I also had a kaffeeklatsch with em! Bogi shared anecdotes about events in Hungary, helped bring me up to speed on current controversies in the literary world, and was simply a delight to chat with.

John Scalzi was also in attendance as a guest of honor and hosted a DJ dance party on Saturday night. I’m usually one people must force to stay up late these days. All Scalzi had to do was put on some slammin’ tunes, and I was up until almost 2:00 in the morning playing the dancing fool.

ConFusion had outstanding programming, too, for a writer. Although I didn’t go to many of the panels on the craft, the one on training sequences inspired how I’m going to handle my main character’s initial training scenes in my current WIP. The Friday panels on the business side of things really dropped the knowledge bomb, though. I learned oodles at those. Might just be filing as a fiction writing for the first time this year. Ugh, itemizing! Ugh, receipts! lol

As for the people, I’m not going to try to name all the names, because there’s just not enough bandwidth to name them all. I reconnected with some folks, made plenty of new friends and connections, and even met a few authors I knew of but hadn’t seen in person. On the Border for the win for dinners we didn’t have to drive through the snow to get to! Was the con perfect? No, of course not. No con is. There were some coordination issues, and not all the logistics worked out. Also, I didn’t have any agents go goo-goo eyed over my books and offer representation–not that I was expecting even a chance to pitch, but you never know. Still and all, I will definitely attend again. Hopefully next year I’ll check in early enough to be a panelist, too.


Let there be no confusion (pun very, very much intended): I will be attending ConFusion in Detroit this upcoming weekend. Well, it’s in Novi, Michigan, but close enough, right? If you want to ask about the novels I have to query or submit, chat about geekery and nerdy things, say hello, or just plain want to chill out with me, cool! I’m easy to approach and love making new friends and business contacts, as well as catching up with old ones.

World Fantasy Con 2019

*–I’ll post the same caveat at the beginning of this report as I did last year. Too many names, too little time (and blog space!) to mention.

Once again, I ventured out to World Fantasy Con. This time, rather than rambling across Pennsylvania and dropping into Baltimore, I had to take flight and cross the country to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, due to aircraft problems, Southwest withdrew their nonstop flights to and fro LAX. It wasn’t to be the only travel problem–the decision to do an Airbnb instead of the host hotel didn’t pay off, and the final leg of the trip home was a pain-in-the-ass delay–mitigated by a great flight-mate–but none of that mattered. Like last year, WFC was one hell of a time. 

So, I had the same sub-agenda as I did last year: to find representation for a novel. Well, novels, this time, as I have two manuscripts ready to go. This time around, I made it a sub-agenda, because I learned that WFC is so much more than tasteless trolling for agents. Not that I would ever act like that, but still, there’s more to life than selling books. My main agenda was simply to have fun networking and catching up with those already in my network. And, you know what? I ended up garnering a few requests to check out my manuscripts anyway.

When I think about what I found best about WFC, I can only reply “Yes!” There were wonderful panels on professional development in all aspects of the industry. I went to a fair few of these, adding to my knowledge base and writing tool box, but these by far weren’t the highlight of the con. There were great chance meetings with new folks, with whom I enjoyed rich conversation, yet this wasn’t the best part either. Brandon and Brandon against the world rocked California like Hans Gruber blitzing into Nakatomi Tower, but that wasn’t it. Hitting up the con suite, relaxing with the friends, new and old, that washed up there, was marvelous, as was lingering in the lobby and ballroom lobby doing the same, but neither was it the best part of the week. I just can’t separate one of these from the other. Everything about WFC was the best part of the con, because the sum of WFC IS its parts.

Okay, so maybe I’m getting too philosophical about the experience. In simplest terms, I loved it last year, and loved it this year, too. LA was different than Baltimore, sure. No two experiences can be the same, no matter how wonderful they are individually. I hope I come to enjoy many more WFC’s in the future.

Next year is in doubt. It’s in Salt Lake City, and sounds a tad more expensive than I may be comfortable with. Regardless, I’ll do my utmost to continue connecting with all of you beautiful people I met and renewed connections with at WFC, whether it be online or at other cons, or maybe even in Salt Lake City. Ya never know. Until then, I’ll ride the energy wave this trip infused me with to jumpstart a few projects.

Stay frosty, my friends!

World Fantasy Con 2019

I am pleased to announce that I will be attending World Fantasy Con this week in Los Angeles. While there, I will be a part of the autographing session. You say you don’t have any of my books? Never fear–I’ll have a nice selection available!

Some of the biggest names in fantasy history will be in attendance this week, and I’m honored to be autographing alongside them. Top guests include Tad Williams, Reiko Murakami, Sheree Renée Thomas, Margo Lanagan, Beth Meacham and Robert Silverberg as Toastmaster. And wait’ll you get a load of some of the folks reading and on panels!

Sharpen Your Mind at the Table

People lament it all the time, this fascination we have with technology. The dumbing down of America, I’ve heard it called. I can’t throw stones myself, because my smart phone is indispensable and I’m constantly surfing the Internet. I also have a hobby that many might consider a waste of time, dooming me to eternal geekdom. To that I say thank you for the geek label, and that board games are anything but a waste of time.

Everyone played games like Monopoly as a child, and many progressed to Risk. While those kinds of games are fun pastimes, they’re not what I’m describing here (although Scrabble, without the falsified “official” dictionary, certainly fits the bill). I’m referencing the massive amounts of advanced board games that people are bringing to the table, games that sharpen as well as entertain the mind.

Take Terraforming Mars. It appears simple enough on the surface: when the oxygen and temperature are both maxed, and the oceans are all placed, the game ends, with the victor the individual with the most victory points. TM lists all the types of actions, many leading to those valuable victory points, in the guise of terraforming rating. Yet to win TM takes the mastery of engine building, finding the right combination of cards, standard actions, and other avenues to build up the best point-scoring approach. Should I fund this award, or will an opponent overtake me to snag the points from it? If I sell out to get this milestone, what do I do if someone beats me to it? Additionally, though I love getting the perfect cards to fuel my engine, I find it even more fun and challenging to build a winning engine out of components that don’t, on first blush, fit together. This allows me to exercise my mind while having a hell of a good time.

Then there are games that I suck at, that bend my brain, but that I love anyway. Goa is this kind of game. I’ve played upwards of thirty times and won maybe four or five. I certainly didn’t win within my first ten plays. I should hate it, except it’s such a great game that the challenge of getting better keeps me coming back for more. How much should I bid for which tiles? Will I take the money action and eschew other valuable choices to prepare for the next auction round? With a strict amount of actions in the game, you must figure out where to focus your efforts. Sure, maybe I’m getting better, but I’ll never master it. And I’d play Goa every day of the year, if I had the time and opportunity.

There ARE an increasing amount of board and card games that integrate technology, like One Night Werewolf. Heck, I use Chwazi to determine start player for many games. None of the games I have in mind use technology, but I won’t disqualify them because they mostly use it not to change the game, but to simplify things like accounting and DMing secret knowledge for the players. I don’t get into games like this, but don’t condemn board gamers who do.

Finally, really cool people play board games. Well, they’re MY kind of cool, and that’s all that counts! What else can you do that’s loads of fun, that you get to do with cool people, AND sharpen your mind? Well, you may come up with some ideas, but I’m sticking with board games.

To check out the games I mentioned, and many hundreds of thousands more, go to www.boardgamegeek.com.

Read These Writers Now!

This website, and the sort-of blog I sometimes post on it, is usually dedicated solely to moi. As it should be, since it’s named after me, and I’m kind of a big deal, right? Well, I’m rather tired of tooting my own horn all the time, and I reckon you, my readers, are as well. In order to spice it up around here, I’ve decided to let you in on some fabulous writers I know who are working on and have published some wonderful things. Read these writers now!


I know Frank well, sharing a writing group with him (Write-or-Die, or WorD), and have beta read a novel he’s working on getting out. Not only is Frank a great writer, but the man can cook! You can read about it on his social media pages. Frank’s a horror maestro with lots of creative, deviously wonderful short stories out there to find. In fact, he has a new story, “The Worm Turns,” out in Corpus Press’s “Creatures of the Night,” that just dropped recently. You can find Frank on Twitter (@FrankOreto) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/frank.oreto) Read Frank Jason Oreto now!


I first met Shannon at the Nebulas in Pittsburgh, and it’s always nice running into her at events. She’s a freaking scientist with NASA–how cool is that? We even ran a kaffeeklatsch together at Confluence last month. Shannon was selling her book “Rights of Use,” which is book 1 in her Project Black Book series, at Confluence. She sold so many copies the first day, her husband had to drive several hours to deliver even more books. Get this one while it’s hot, folks! You can find Shannon on Twitter (@ShannonEichorn) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/shannoneichornscifi) Read Shannon Eichorn now!


I know Larry from the WorD group as well, and we just shared a dealer’s table at Confluence. Larry’s a great guy that’s fun to hang around with. Get him to laugh, because he has one of the most entertaining laughs you’ll ever encounter. And he has a lot of stuff out. His recent book, “Magus Star Rising: A Tale of the Galactic Nexia” has been getting great reviews. He also has an anthology of short stories out, called “Beyond the Numinous: Tales of the Galactic Nexia.” You can find Larry on Twitter (@LarryIvkovich) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/larry.ivkovich.3) Read Larry Ivkovich now!


AJ is a relatively new writer with some fabulous credentials coming right out of the gate. He’s a good friend of mine, and a member of the writing group I run (https://www.meetup.com/pittsburghwritersmeetupgroup/). When he’s not rowing, or coaching rowers, he’s writing. AJ’s first short story got professionally published in Deep Magic. Another story, “Graveyard’s Whistle,” just won the 2019 PARSEC Short Story Contest and was published in the Confluence program. It might be more difficult to find that one, but imagine how valuable it’ll be when he’s a famous writer! You can find AJ on Twitter (@HarmonicAuthor) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Smity652) Read AJ Smith now!

There you have it, dear followers. I plugged some fantastic writer friends instead of plugging myself this time around. What’s that, you say? I did kind of mention myself a few times? Sh! I won’t tell if you don’t. Forget about that, and read those writers now!

Confluence 2019: Lost and New Voices

Last weekend at Confluence, I experienced a first. This was my first con as a panelist, vendor, reader, kaffeklatsch co-leader, and even contest coordinator. There was so, so much for me to do, and I was mad with anticipation. Then, just as I arrived at the con with my friends Jerome Stueart and Brandon McNulty, the unthinkable happened: I lost my voice. Those who know me know what a presence I am, my size and booming voice combining to create a force of nature. With my voice reduced to a squeak, I felt helpless. How could I possibly take on everything I wanted to do at Confluence without a voice? Through the support of wonderful people, that’s how!

First mention has to go to Jerome, who did yeoman’s work reading my unpublished story “Under the Dark Moon” on Sunday. I’m so sorry for all the difficult pronunciations, Jerome! Brandon McNulty, otherwise known as the Elder or the Slender, supported me in accepting less sleep so I could go to Giant Eagle for necessities like Throat Coat and cough drops. Karen Yun-Lutz and Kevin Hayes kept checking on me all weekend, with Kevin even giving me a throat massage. It didn’t get my voice back, but felt amazing! Cat Rambo gets honorable mention just for being her awesome self, and for running an amazing First 500 workshop. Shannon Eichorn’s help cannot be understated either; she provided moral support and ran an awesome kaffeklatsch with me. And Thunderchild…oh, you always make me laugh, Thunderchild! So, so many more wonderful folks at Confluence were patient with me, helped me when I needed it, and came together to create a truly memorable con experience.

Then there were the new voices at Confluence. The aforementioned Shannon Eichorn had her new novel “Rights of Use,” book 1 in the Project Black Book series. She did such robust sales the first day she had to call in her husband to ferry more books all the way from Cleveland! Also, a friend and fantastic writer made his debut at Confluence: Alfred “AJ” Smith. He won the 2019 PARSEC Short Story Contest, which I coordinated, with his story “Graveyard’s Whistle” appearing in the Confluence Program. He also had the experience of giving his first public reading. Now, AJ is humble and self-effacing about his works, and doesn’t like when I brag about his writing. He scoffed when I told him I cried the first time I read it. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and his reading made someone else cry, in the very best of ways. So, it wasn’t just my lost voice, but some new and newer voices, that highlighted Confluence for me.

And, you know what? I think I lost my voice for a reason. Cat Rambo agreed with many others who have already given me feedback that my novel’s title needed changed. While my friends bantered over dinner about what the new title should be, someone came up with “Nomad’s Blade.” I loved it, and said (or tried to say) “Nomad’s Blade” would be perfect. Except Jerome didn’t hear “nomad,” and said “No Man’s Blade” is indeed perfect. And, right there, a title was born. A title which, if you know the book at all, fits perfectly.

The Edition Wars

I’d like to take a break from my regularly scheduled writer updates to chat a bit about another passion of mine: Dungeons & Dragons. Specifically, let’s examine the edition wars and my take on them. There are so many editions, from Advanced D&D to 5th Ed, and many more opinions than there are editions. Which one’s best, and why, has been a hot button topic for decades. A lot of people say the debate ended with 5th Ed, because it brought back the classic feel of the game with modern rules. Mine is a different stance.

I’ll probably never play 5th Ed. Not because I think it’s crappy–I don’t know enough about it to judge, although a quick browse of the Player’s Handbook made me think it’s overpowered–but because I’m not going to transition to another edition. The costs these days are astronomical, and I’m not dropping hundreds of dollars on an edition I’ll probably never play. Should circumstances change in my group, or should I get into other groups, then maybe, MAYBE I’ll give in and change. I just don’t see it.

I went through a 3.5 Ed phase, and I like a lot about it. Feats are pretty cool, and I liked a lot of other fixes, too. It’s more streamlined and easier for n00bs to learn, which can be vital. 4th Ed I will never play, because, let’s face it, 4th Ed was geared towards video gamers and minis fanatics. Which, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that, and nothing wrong with wanting to play that, but I knew it wasn’t for me when someone’s claim to it being the “best” edition was that you can create a character in five minutes. Yeah, that’s taking the R out of RPG!

For me, I’m solidly in the 2nd Ed category, with the caveat that it’s heavily home brewed. The DM and I have made many sensible rules changes, judged things differently based upon party size, have brought in aspects of Skills & Powers and Combat & Tactics, and all around used 2nd Ed as a platform to create whatever the heck we wanted to create. And that’s what D&D SHOULD be: a basis for having the kind of fun YOU want to have. So sure, I have opinions on the edition wars, and strong ones at that. The bottom line with every individual, with every DM, with ever party, though, should be about having fun. If it floats your boat, it’s the perfect edition for you. Yes, even if it’s 4th Ed. Maybe 🙂