27 May 2014

Come see me at Colossalcon 2014!

Image (c) Nostalgia Conventions
Colossalcon 13: June 5-8, 2014 at the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio

For my THIRD (!) year in a row, I'm a panelist at one of my favorite conventions ever, Colossalcon

My panel, Fanfic into Fiction, makes a triumphant return for this year's con! I've expanded it and revised it to incorporate even more audience participation and will get to cover a lot more ground than what I was able to last year by expanding the panel to 90 minutes. 

Fanfic into Fiction: Friday, June 6, 4:00-5:30 in Events 11, aka the Wisteria Room!

Admission times have been posted on Colossalcon's website, and you can grab a copy of the Schedule and the Convention Guidebook. Check me out on page 53 of the guide!

 *UPDATE 5/30: Most recent information (including new schedule details) HERE.*

Besides being a panelist, I'm looking forward to trying something absolutely new. This year, I'm a Baby Tiger Cub Pass holder. I get the benefits of a VIP pass (the biggest--the private autographs event!) but on top of that, on Saturday morning I get to play with baby tigers before running off to the con again. This may sound like a random event, but the Kalahari also has its own collection of zoo animals in addition to its African-themed waterpark. Animals are pretty much everywhere in the convention center as well as the resort's decor. It's just this time, I get to play with live tiger cubs! 

Guidebook (c) Nostalgia Conventions
All I need to do is hug a dolphin and carry baby gophers around in overalls, and my animal bucket-list will be complete.

In other news, this is the first convention where everything's been done at the last second and on limited funds. Normally I'm well-prepared in advance of the con, but due to teaching and a large drop in funds, this convention almost completely slipped out from under my nose.

I'll be staying at a hotel in Milan to save money (and also because the Kalahari and other major hotels have been sold out since FOREVER), and I'll not be staying for the entire convention like I normally do. And I also have the tradition of cosplaying at every Colossalcon, but I'll have to break it this year. I haven't had the time to finish sewing my Andresh cosplay and I can't re-wear my older cosplays (boo, bad health!) so I think I'm going to just geek it out in my awesome fandom tees

On top of everything else going on, I am a last-minute addition to the North Central State College summer roster and will be teaching English Composition while I attend this con. I know from the past that grading papers during large events is next to nigh impossible so I will have to create a timeline for grading and stick to it if I want to make the best of my convention experience.

I feel like starting with the con, this will be one of my busiest summers as I try to catch up on creative projects as well as teach. Please wish me luck, and if you're at the con, please stop by and enjoy my panel!

14 May 2014

Writing a Trilogy is Crazy Difficult.

(cc) by Stefan Krause
It's been a while since I've mentioned my fiction writing. Around this time last year I wrapped up my first novel, The Name and the Key, and the month after that, submitted it to Seton Hill as my thesis, and then after that, pitched it to an agent, then after that, queried several agents over the following months.

No bites. 

After multiple rejections, I was pretty burned out on The Name and the Key. I still love the book and am proud of it, but after all of the self-esteem hits, I felt like I needed to push the book aside and let my brain regroup.

During the spring semester I taught at North Central State College, I tried to work on other creative writing in my spare time, which proved to be challenging. I started work on a second book, The Step and the Walk, teetering and tottering between making it the first or the second book to be released in my trilogy (even though it's kind of a prequel). For a while I settled on The Step and the Walk as being first because it's Andresh's story, and he's a ridiculously popular character. I kept thinking that because The Name and the Key was being rejected, I needed The Step and the Walk to be the manuscript that nabbed me an agent.

Recommended by Tim Waggoner,
awesome author and my SHU mentor. 
For a while, this reasoning almost worked. But the most I pumped out for The Step and the Walk has been a measly twenty pages, and I've been unable to complete a single chapter yet. I can think of a couple reasons why, but the most immediate one that comes to mind is THE BURDEN OF BALANCING BOOKS. 

For the longest time, I was staunchly anti-trilogy when it came to fantasies. I thought it was a big cliché of the genre, and I didn't want to get sucked into anything I perceived as being clichéd. But over the years at Seton Hill, and after doing rigorous research on the publishing industry, I realize there's a reason why trilogies exist. It's kind of the same reasoning used for Hollywood's current sequel and superhero movie crack addiction--trilogies, quadrilogies, sextets, and the famous door-stop book series ( à la J. K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, Terry Brooks, and Robert Jordan) are meant for a built-in audience. If the first book does well, the second and third book have an audience ready to buy. To summarize the Atlantic article, it's all about the money. Yet, at the same time, if the author creates something amazing in the first book--be it worldbuilding, or memorable characters--trilogies offer the opportunity for readers to continue to experience what they love. Or, it could be something simple yet astonishing: the plot becomes too large to resolve in a single, satisfying serving.

At some point while I was writing The Name and the Key, I felt like the story was getting big--too big for the two books I planned all along. All of a sudden, I had a trilogy: The Name and the Key, The Step and the Walk, and The Eye and the Storm. I knew I would have one book per each lead character--The Name and the Key belonged to Lily, and The Step and the Walk belonged to Andresh. The third book would resolve both characters' destinies and wrap the series up in a nice, pretty bow.

However, coming up with a plot for three books is essentially coming up with one single plot--a very large plot that will be chopped up into pieces at appropriate times. The problem with this is I'm a pantser, the term for writers who aren't very structured and prefer to write "by the seat of their pants." As many times as I've tried to write out an outline or plot for this trilogy, I've come up short. My epiphanies don't come until I'm in the very midst of writing. This isn't a bad thing, and it keeps writing exciting and fun (What will my brain do next?). But pantsing hurts when you have deadlines, and as I've found out, it hurts in the continuity department when it comes to balancing a plot between three books. Yeesh.

Every time I dove into writing The Step and the Walk, I'd come up with an amazing idea that didn't work with The Name and the Key. Then I lost motivation when I couldn't find a way to resolve continuity issues between each story. My mental list of things I needed to change in The Name and the Key started growing the moment I submitted my thesis, but trying to figure out the plot to The Step and the Walk just added to my list of tweaks.

Finally, the other day, I realized that I wasn't really ready to dive headfirst into my second book. The more I thought about The Step and the Walk, the more an unrelated idea would pop into my head that would work for The Name and the Key--ideas that would resolve issues based on feedback I received from crit partners, my mentors, and my beta readers. Soon I was back into thinking about my first book again.

Although I still think The Step and the Walk would be fun to work on now, it seems like my brain, or my gut, won't let me change course until I truly feel like I've made The Name and the Key is the best I can make it.

I shouldn't allow myself to believe that because agents aren't biting at The Name and the Key, that it's perfectly ok to abandon it and rearrange a trilogy that goes against how I originally envisioned it. The Name and the Key is the first book in my series. Because if The Step and the Walk was supposed to be the first book in the series, I would've written it first. 

(c) Big Stock
My brain is stubborn, and once it perceives that certain things are assigned and in order, it will not allow me to change course without some sort of consequence (like stressing out until I'm sick). I learned during grad school that when I fought with my natural tendencies, my writing would suffer as well as my state of mind. I'm not going to fight with myself over The Step and the Walk anymore, and go right back into The Name and the Key with a new gameplan--one that I've figured out gradually over time on my own.

First thing on the agenda--completely gut the beginning of the book. I'm thinking at least a hundred pages or so. As much as it will hurt to toss it out, I have to do it, because it's taking too long to get the story started. And I honestly believe that the reason why the book keeps getting rejected is because the beginning doesn't feel natural, like it's taking too long to get to the inciting action. For agents who request samples, they usually want the first five to ten pages. That's all you get to sell them on your writing. And, sadly, my first five to ten pages seem more like exposition than action.

I can't be too sad about making these changes, though. The fact that I recognize there's a problem here is a huge step towards progress. 

13 May 2014

First Term Wrap-Up: I Survived Teaching at College!

(c) Shutterstock
Hello, all.

My first semester as an adjunct professor wrapped on Thursday, May 8th and I've finished up all of my grading. That means I'm done with NC State until the fall, when I will be teaching a full load of English Composition classes again. Huzzah!

I feel incredibly lucky to have nabbed the opportunity to teach. It's been a lifelong dream and part of the reason why I chose Seton Hill University as my graduate school of choice: I'm in the business of teaching writing. Of course I'm in the writing business as well, but as far as dream jobs go, being a professor and teaching college English is a huge deal, because I've met a goal that is immediately tangible.

Coming into teaching for the first time, I had a lot of expectations and misconceptions. Several of my fellow writing friends are interested in teaching at the college level, too, and expressed interest in my experience as a first-time teacher. I thought I'd share with you some of the things I've learned.

1) It helps to understand what being an Adjunct Professor entails. Stating the obvious, right? When I was hired, I knew that an adjunct professor does not have tenure, and works part-time. I knew that I would not have benefits, either. But one of the things I realized is that adjuncts--truly any kind of teacher--do not get paid for the actual hours they work. There's a limit to how much time you're allowed to put into the job--in my case, 29 hours--but if you add together grading, mentor meetings, student meetings, meetings with the dean, and staying after class to help students with homework--I know I've put in 40 hours or more a week. But I only taught eleven hours, so that's what I get paid for.

I heard the rumors that pay for adjuncts was rough, and although my hourly wage sounds impressive, when you count the number of hours worked, it's depressing. This is by no means has anything to do with my college specifically; it's an ongoing issue for all teachers, regardless of what they teach or where they work. You seriously cannot make a decent living doing this kind of work, and being an adjunct professor taught me this. The even more-important lesson that everyone should take away from this: if teachers cannot survive on their pay and hours worked, then why don't they leave? The answer is clear:
Teachers do it because they love it. 
When you think about everything educators are up against today, no other reason makes sense.  I have never before appreciated what every single one of my teachers and professors have gone through until I started teaching.

2) Most of the time, you're teaching a curriculum already designed by the college. But this doesn't mean you can't put your own stamp on things! When I was handed textbooks and a syllabus, I made the mistake of believing that I absolutely had to do everything perfectly and word-for-word from what was given to me. I stressed myself out thinking I had to completely do things one way, and one way only. This was a very stupid mistake on my part. Once I realized I had more freedom in the classroom than what I thought, stress began to melt away big time. I didn't feel guilty anymore about rearranging class schedules or coming up with spontaneous lessons, or even abandoning my electronic-only stance. You know what would've helped me from all of this? Asking questions and asking for help. NC State has been nothing but supportive in shaping me into a professor, and all I had to do was open my mouth and rely on others for help. Lesson learned.

3) You will hear the weirdest excuses for everything. Even weirder is when you find out they are true. I've had students tell me about spontaneous surgeries, car accidents, summonses to court, surprise pregnancies, trips to hospitals, and deaths in the family, all as excuses for missing class. And boy, did this semester show me that the amount of students who stop attending or skip classes is ridiculous. So when students would give me these excuses, I'd struggle with whether or not to dock attendance points, because the situations may be extreme, but are still plausible. Well...like 99% of all of these stories checked out as legit. Which made me realize that students do tell the truth. Sometimes the dog does eat the homework.

4) Try not to get too emotionally involved. Try not to worry about what students think of you. For the most part, I feel like my term was successful. My coworkers who observed me said very positive things about me, which definitely is a boost in the self-esteem department. The students, though...this is tricky. I naively thought that I was OK enough for all my students to pretty much like me. I couldn't think of a reason why students would hate me. Well, guess what. People like you or hate you for imagined reasons, real reasons, or stupid reasons, and you don't have control over what they think. All you can do is work hard and take the job seriously.

I found this out through some yucky situations with some students this term. It didn't matter what I said or did, they made it up in their minds that I sucked, even over some of the most trivial things ever. One student heard in my opening class speech that my graduate background is in popular fiction and pop culture. The moment I said I liked video games, superheroes, and Harry Potter was the moment the student thought I was a shitty teacher and threw obstacles at me every step of the way. S-s-s-sabotage!

With openly hostile students, you can learn a couple of interesting things: hostile students will put more effort into causing you trouble and trying to get you fired as opposed to putting that effort into their own education. The students who dislike you and think you're a poor teacher also happen to be the students who skip class and don't take responsibility for themselves. Huh.

I didn't really go out of my way to make students like me or hate me. I thought I was pretty amiable and understanding, and it still surprised me when I heard criticism about the way I do things. Once I received validation from professionals and coworkers, I felt better...but really, the only cure for this sensitivity is time and experience.

5) Teaching is stressful. Sometimes it's crazy. Sometimes it's fun. It's definitely rewarding. But overall, this is a dream come true and I couldn't have asked for a better career.

I do this because I love it.

11 May 2014

Over 100,000 views. Mind blown.

Source: Buzzfeed
I don't know when it happened, exactly, but somehow my website has broken the 100,000-visitor barrier.

This is huge! I've been working very hard on this website over the years, to create something that reflected my personality,but also contributed something, somehow, to the web. The goal has always been for this site to help out others...

So to see that this website has continued to be relevant makes me very happy and offers some reassurance that I must be doing something right.

Thank you to everyone for stopping by and making this website what it is!

01 May 2014

What you write online DOES matter.