Authors are often asked this question, and I have yet to form a conclusive answer.
To put it simply: Compulsion.
There are universes constantly exploding inside of my brain, vibrant worlds pushing against my bones and demanding release. Scenes play out on loop in my head, characters live and breathe through my eyes. They must be heard, they must be sculpted into something tangible.
Conversations of people both named and unnamed echo within my imagination. They evoke feelings that I have difficulties expressing to others. I want to share them with my readers, help them see what I see. And maybe get a glimmer of insight as to who I am.
There may not be meaning in the words I form, not conscious meaning anyway. I write what comes out. And it builds and builds. Sticky webs of interaction and intrigue. Relationships form and tear apart. The universe shifts as generations pass, forming new order for those yet to come.
I like to imagine myself as a keeper of lore, akin to the story tellers of the past who entertained with the tales preserved through eons. Each time a legend is spoken, something changes, a small detail that shifts the perspective of the future.
Everyday I sift through my vast collection of scraps and half-plots, wondering when I will have the chance to give them all the attention they demand. Perhaps one day, the well of inspiration will dry up, and my racing fingers can stop the toil. But that day is far out of my reach.
There is a cold disbelief in this cruel world of ours, a disbelief in the freedom of the mind and a slippery conviction that imagination is bad for production. For an example, look at the hard-on Wall Street has for AI. Those financial types think they’re going to be able to program a computer to be as creative as a person for a third of the price. That’s what intelligence means: the ability to think up something completely new. Imagination. Artificial imagination built to goose an economy profitably, predictably, 20% on the quarter every quarter and the shareholders can’t lose. In this case, I think those financial types fail to understand that they won’t be able to make an artificial mind create like a human without giving it the equivalent ability to wonder why it’s creating. Then you’re back to the same old problems of nonproductive creativity and disgruntlement, the answerless question, are we really doing all of this just for money? And then your expensive AI tears off its clothes and runs naked though the forest to subsist on ground nuts and apples again and you have to start from scratch.
The point is that only certain kinds of creativity are valuable to a capitalist society. Teams of people working silently, measurably, frantically, squeezed like lemons and having a miserable time are technically being creative in a short-term, profitable way. The creative misery of underlings appears to be a good business in this world we’ve made for ourselves, this strange utopia for the 1%. But imagination is dangerous. It frees us from the now and suggests that we are, or could be, more than cogs – or, at least, that we could be or are more joyful, complex, and interesting cogs than what we were told in grade school and at the career center, that being part of the glorious interconnected machinery of the universe could be grand and intoxicating and ecstatic. I write because I am free, not independent of others, but interconnected in ways subtle and beautiful and constantly rearranging. And you are too. And you. And you. I don’t care if you never see a red cent from your words. Write, my friends. Write, because they cannot stop us now. If we all do it, the ones who think they’re in command will realize that it’s sand they hold, and it is we who make the fire that will turn it all to glass.
As I write my blog, I’m sitting at a long table set up in a living room, surrounded by women on laptops, with notebooks, reading books…and a loving doggy who inspires us with snuggling. We go between soft-clicking silence and conversation; we talk about the science of ceramics, what scares us, and mind-controlling fungus. We pause for “what’s that word for…” requests and brain farts. It’s our first New England Broads writer retreat of the year—but not the first we’ve organized either formally or informally.
There’s a certain energy in a room full of writers, and a slightly different energy if all the writers are women. After all, we can talk about periods, uteruses, and not being listened to by doctors; we talk about the specific horrors (and magic) we face as women. In a mixed crowd, certain members would run away or be uncomfortable with such topics; there’d be pressure to not offend anyone or avoid being judged. There is a particular trust and candid honesty that weaves into our writing and inspires us, comforts us, and gives us courage to submit our work out into the world.
I’m not saying there’s not magic in writing retreats of mixed gender; there is. Any good group of writers can make an awesome retreat. Sometimes, though, you want to be in a group where certain things are shared experiences.
Writing retreats aren’t the main draw to being a member of Broad Universe—in fact, that’s more closely related to the fact there are a lot of members who live close to each other in the New England region. However, we found ourselves through Broad Universe.
Broad Universe is an international non-profit dedicated to promoting, celebrating, and honoring women’s contributions to science fiction, fantasy, horror and all the speculative crevices in between. It started at Wiscon, a feminist SF convention in Wisconsin in 2000, on a panel about how women can get more recognized as authors (and artists). At that time, the gap in pay, advertising, reviews, recognition, etc. was still exceptionally massive. While that gap has shrunk some in the past eighteen years, it isn’t yet “small.” While we’re updating our website, we’ve collected quite a few statistics about who still gets more reviews, better advances, and better placement in bookshelves.
And we’re working to change that.
With message boards, email lists, Facebook groups, and other tools, we help women talk to each other, support each other, and share their collected knowledge so we all can do better. We work together at events selling each other’s books because we all know how hard it is to sell our own; we get the still-strong stigma of a woman selling her wares. In a group, we’re stronger. We also do this online, sharing our news and publications. If a member has ties to a convention, we try to get other Broads (yes, we have claimed that term proudly!) onto programming so more people can discover them.
Broad Universe certainly wasn’t the first women’s organization to do this. We designed a lot of our work based on what Sisters in Crime had already done—and is still doing—in the mystery genre. There are other local and regional women’s groups that are genre specific or general interest. Seek them out.
The world still isn’t an easy place for women to get recognition, pay, reviews, or awards for their writing. Working as a group, we are stronger and have a better ability to change that. Whether you find a local informal group or seek out a larger organization, consider the power in numbers and don’t go it alone.
Find out more about Broad Universe at www.broaduniverse.org.
Find out more about Sister in Crime at www.sistersincrime.org.
Trisha J. Wooldridge writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry—sometimes even winning awards! You can find her work in a variety of anthologies, magazines, and online markets. She’s also editor of over fifty novels and two anthologies. As child-friendly T.J. Wooldridge, she’s published three kids’ novels and poetry. Find out more at www.anovelfriend.com.
As I sit here, typing this post at quite literally the last moment, (this blog goes up as soon as I finish typing it and figure out how to post it to the site) I am still not sure what to say about being a woman that writes sci-fi and fantasy. But I can tell you what it is like in my personal experience to be a writer. And I just happen to be a woman, so woo hoo!
The thing that I do, maybe not the best but definitely the most, is I Mom. I am a mom first. Four boys. Which keeps me busy on any given day, anyway. These boys of mine like to eat, and drink, and play video games, and watch YouTube, and have very recently gotten into playing Dungeons and Dragons. We play it as a family. And so I need to feed them, at least once a day (we are working on independence in eating, like making sandwiches and stuff, with the youngest at this point. He is 8.)
And this past week has been a stressful one because the youngest was diagnosed with influenza A and has been home sick. We also had a snow day yesterday, so that made chaos at the house too.
BUT if it wasn’t for my youngest child, and my life as his mom, I would most likely not be published. Ever. I am a writer, at all, because of him.
Here is my big old back story about why I was never going to be a writer. A lot of women I know have been in abusive relationships. Men too, but as I am a woman and this is my experience, it is what it is. I was in an emotionally and psychologically, and sexually abusive one. The biggest thing that happened to me, that impacted me, revolved around my writing.
This guy threw my writing away. My journals, my stories. And the ones that he didn’t throw away, he edited. Secretly. I still have a copy of a journal of mine in which he literally crossed out what I wrote and wrote a different version of the events. And even though the writing was his and not mine, he told me I did it. Writing, for me, had always been personal and mine. If I wanted someone to read it, I gave it to them. Never before had I felt that my writing had been so violated. It was like a piece of my soul, torn out. And I stopped. I stopped writing, not trusting that my innermost private thoughts were for my eyes alone, anymore. It broke me. For a long time.
I got rid of him, eventually, but the other damage he had done took a long time and lots of therapy. But I still couldn’t write. I had lost confidence in it and in me. I spent ten years not writing, and I felt like a piece of me was missing. Because it was. I had always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first book, “Just Me and My Mom” like the Mercer Mayer books, when I was young. Creative writing had always been an escape for me that I didn’t have anymore.
BUT that changed.
On August 31, 2012 My world stopped spinning for a bit. My youngest son (who is now 8 and besides the flu, healthy) was diagnosed with Pre B cell ALL leukemia. My baby had cancer. He turned 3, three days later. In the hospital.
I started to write about it. All the things I was feeling, the terror, the sorrow, everything. And it felt right. Not good, because the content was painful. But it felt like coming home again.
Peter Dudar, my friend and mentor, sent me a link to a horror anthology. I wrote a story, but I also submitted a personal essay about my son’s diagnosis. It was accepted. It was my first anthology acceptance and it benefited the National Children’s Cancer Society.
After hearing my son had cancer, which was the most terrifying thing that I could imagine, I no longer was afraid for my writing to be out in the world. Or that someone may reject it. I wrote our experiences so that other families could know that they weren’t alone. I wrote to get out the emotions I had, to spell it out for the world. I wrote to help get funding for childhood cancer research for kids like mine. I wrote because it was something that I hadn’t seen much information on, having thought that pediatric cancer was rare. It isn’t and I really wanted people to know that. And that the treatment was a planned three and a half years. (it ended up being closer to three, but still…)
I kept writing. I kept submitting my stories. Fiction stories. And I had some accepted. To date, I have been published in six anthologies and I am still going. All my publications have been in the horror genre, but last year I finished my “baby.” I finished writing a high fantasy novel and am in the process of edits. I am also working on an Urban Fantasy/ epic fantasy/sci fi/ghost novel . And I have a mystery novel written and am working on edits for that.
I have been called a “horror hag” during women in horror month. I have gotten into some big kablooeys during Women in Horror Month. Several years, in fact. But none of that scares me anymore. I just keep writing. When my 8 year old isn’t playing on my computer, anyway.
*Note. I do not recommend waiting for a cancer diagnosis or something like that to clear you of your fear of putting your work out there. Just do it. Every “no” response to a submission is just a sign that you are working and writing. That you submitted it in the first place. And that is something to be proud of. Don’t let ANYONE steal your words from you. I spent too long living like that and wasted ten good writing years.
April Hawks lives in a small Maine town with her husband, four boys, two bunnies and a Tomato. She writes a bunch of different genres, but she just finished her “baby” a fantasy novel and is revising it before she sends it out of the nest. April is a frequent and often obnoxious facebook poster and is on twitter and Instagram as well. Find more of her work on her Amazon Page.
If you are a comic book writer, you’re obviously in the right place, but what about science fiction and fantasy authors? Can you have success as a vendor at Comic Cons? My experience says yes. But purchasing a table and showing up won’t be enough for a successful weekend. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your Comic Con experience:
- Create an eye-catching display. You’ll have a good-sized table, so be sure to make it appealing. Put out a bowl of candy. Give away bookmarks. Set up a banner behind you.
- Interact with the crowd. I attended Cons before I was ever a vendor at one, so I love the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd, and I’m a fan myself. It was easy to talk to the people who stopped by. But I didn’t just wait for them to stop, I stood behind my table, smiled, and said hello to just about everyone. I complimented costumes and asked people if they were having fun. Be approachable.
- BUT, don’t annoy people with hard sell tactics. I engaged with people as they walked by. I didn’t talk about my books unless someone asked me directly.
- Have a quick, enticing pitch ready when they do ask. My nineteen-year old son was my table buddy at Boston Comic Con last summer. When he heard me stumbling over my book description to the first few interested people, he said, “Mom, that was terrible. You have got to do better.” We practiced and refined for a few minutes until I had a couple of sentences that captured the essence of the story. Think log line but with a more conversational tone.
- Use the opportunity to build your mailing list. Have a clipboard with a sign-up sheet for people to leave their names and email addresses. I send out a weekly, very brief communication to my mailing list called “Monday Musings.” Mailing lists are a powerful tool for an author and Cons are a great place to add names. I find that because I’ve met and spoken to these people, they are less likely to unsubscribe, and often will respond to my mailings with personal notes.
- Be ready to make sales. Have a cash box with change, and make sure your credit card reader is functioning. Keep a supply of extra pens or markers easily accessible for signing your books.
- Network! Selling books isn’t the only opportunity at Cons. Make new friends. I left every Con with at least one interview booked, stacks of business cards in my bag, and a nice bump in my social media following. And ‘BarCon’ is a thing! Find out where people are congregating after hours and join the fun.
- Take care of yourself. Cons are fun, but exhausting. Have a bottle of water, some power bars and snacks with you. Wear comfortable shoes.
- To cosplay or not to cosplay? I choose not to when I’m a vendor. Generally, I break out my Rebel Alliance or Starfleet Academy t-shirts, but I don’t wear a costume. A friend of mine is a fantasy author who writes about deadly mermaids. She rocks ‘aquatic chic’ like nobody’s business at Cons. It totally works for her. But my books don’t easily lend themselves to a costume, and I don’t want my attire to be the focus of conversations. Ask yourself if a costume will help or hinder you.
- Take Monday off. If possible, give yourself some downtime after a Con. The days are long, and sometimes the nights are even longer! I’m a disaster after a weekend on my feet, and I plan an easy day when I come home.
As a sci-fi/fantasy writer, I feel right at home at Comic Cons, and I’m as excited to be there as any of the attendees. Enjoy the experience and energy, and most importantly have fun!