Category Archives: Conventional

Fun with Grammar: Lessons from DFWCon

This is my cat, Tavi. He is not a Grammaticat. Maybe one day. We all need dreams.

This is my cat, Tavi. He is not a Grammaticat. Maybe one day. We all need dreams.

Five weeks ago (wow, has it been that long already?) I had the privilege of attending DFWCon, where I got to meet Tex Thompson, grammar-clarifier-extraordinaire. She runs www.thetexfiles.com, which, in addition to general greatness, is where she posts “Grammaticats”–cats teaching lessons in grammar.

I know. My mind was blown, too.

It is no surprise, then, that she led an excellent presentation on Grammar and Style. I hadn’t planned on attending, but my schedule worked out and I made it, and I am so glad I did.

I’ve been a copyeditor and proofreader for years, but I’ll tell you a secret: when editing stuff, we don’t typically talk about it in fancy grammarian-speak. Mostly we just say “ugh, you did that wrong.” For that reason, it was great to brush up on my grammar in Tex’s class: I don’t think I’ve heard some of the fancy titles since high school (if then).

Mostly for my own benefit (and because, who knows? Maybe it’ll help you out, too), here are my notes from Tex’s class.

  • modifier:
  • non-restrictive modifying phrase:
    • 1) Can be deleted
    • 2) must be close to the thing it modifies
    • 3) needs a matched set of commas or dashes
  • Types of modifiers and errors: relative clauses; restrictive vs. nonrestrictive modifying phrases; dangling modifiers; misplaced modifiers; ambiguous modifiers (the phrase being modified could be interpreted two different ways); implied simultenaety (which is fine as long as the actions being given really could be happening at the same time, eg. “Sally walked while talking to Jim.”)
  • Pronoun: subs in for a noun or noun phrase
    • Pronoun case error: using the wrong form of the pronoun (I/me, for example)
    • pronoun antecedent agreement: the pronoun needs to go with the thing it refers to (a group = them; he = Bryan)
    • pronoun reference error: it’s not clear what the pronoun is referring to (“I took my boat and my girlfriend for a ride. She’s a real beaut!” –the boat or the girlfriend?!)
    • wandering body parts (this one’s my favorite)-when anatomy causes confusing issues (is the eye literally falling on the jacket? Ew)
    • dialogue tag: said/ asked/hissed/etc. – it should describe how something is said
    • comma splice
  • Fragment: an incomplete sentence; it needs a subject
    • implied subject (ie. “Run!” The “You” is implied)
    • coordinating vs. subordinating conjunctions (rules for whether or not to use commas)
    • Fragments are often okay if you are writing in deep POV–we don’t always think in complete sentences.

Look at all the words you learned! Don’t you feel like a smart cookie now?

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Total Recap: DFW Writers’ Conference

DFW Writers' ConventionOne of the things discussed in a session at DFW Writers’ Conference this year was not to blog about writing. I’m gonna go right on ahead and break that “rule,” because when I was first starting out, there were so many mixed messages and people with a bias making proclamations that it was hard to tell which way was up. I wish I’d had someone “in the thick of it” to tell me what was going on, so I’m going to provide that resource.

I’ve had a little bit of time to recover from the sugar-and-caffeine soaked two-day marathon that is DFW Writers’ Conference, and I’m here to tell you it is money well spent. I was a little nervous going in that I wouldn’t get as much out of it as I had last year, in my first visit, but this year was better. I was more comfortable, had better business cards (based on experience from the year prior), and knew to wear a sweater because some of those rooms are cold and because I sweat with nervousness during a pitch. All good lessons!

If you’re on the fence about attending a writing conference–maybe you’re worried about the cost–I’d recommend you do it. I can’t vouch for any but DFW Con, as it’s the only “big” conference I’ve attended, but if you even think there is something you’ll learn, go. And if you’re querying agents, DEFINITELY go.

On that note: My pitch session(s)
At DFW Con you get one pitch session with an agent included in the ticket price. You look through all the attending agents, pick your top three, and are assigned a pitch session.

A pitch session is basically like speed dating. And you’re speaking on behalf of your book. You have 10 minutes to convince the person across the table that you have something they could sell. If they’re interested, they may ask for you to query them, or for pages. Or, if you’re really lucky, for a full manuscript.

She asked for a full manuscript!

And then, at DFW Con anyway, you can pay $40 for a second pitch session. So I did that, with another agent who I’d seen around and who I thought maybe would like a zombie gamebook.

And then SHE asked for a full manuscript.

So I’m like:

That alone made the conference worth it to me. Especially when my query letter was read at the Gong Show at the end of the conference, and my letter got triple-gonged before they even read the third line (no, I’m not telling you which letter it was. I’m embarrassed. I swear it was going to be SO GOOD, if they had only read a little further!)

But that explains some of the trouble I’ve been having. I’ve gotten nothing but rejections from my letter. If I was only sending out that letter (continuing to make the mistake/take the risk), I may never have gotten the chance to put my manuscript in front of an agent. By going to DFW Con, I get to do it TWICE. That’s huge.

Even without those parts of the conference, there’s a lot to learn. I went to an incredible session on how to do your taxes as a writer. In fact, I wish I could explain it well enough to do a post on it, because it will be so useful. (The short version: It’s pretty complicated).

I also got to meet lots of other writers, of all kinds of backgrounds, and got to hang out with some pros. I took sessions on grammar and dialogue and social media. I got the inside scoop on the different royalty rates (and I WILL be blogging about that. That was too good not to share), and had an excellent session with Jenny Martin on finding your voice.

In short: Conferences do a lot for you. Go try one out.

And let’s dance a little more.

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Prepping for DFW Writers’ Con

This weekend I’ll be attending my second DFW Writers’ Convention, held in the Hurst Convention Center.

It’s the biggest gathering of writers of all sorts in my area, and–importantly!–is attended by authors of all stripes, as well as editors, marketers, agents, and other folks interested in books and writing. It’s kinda a big deal.

I went last year, and it pretty much scared the pants off me. Like, I don’t think I could have been more nervous if you’d told me it was a walking-on-hot-coals-over-a-volcano conference. But I went, met some nice people, got to chat with two agents, and felt it was overall a good experience.

So I’m trying to prep for this year. My goal last year was a) to show up (accomplished!) and b) talk to people, even though I found that really hard. This year, I’m going to try to “connect”/”network” with two people. That sounds low, but I’m not naturally comfortable with small talk, so my goal is basic: just make a connection with two people that can continue after the conference.

I bought two sets of business cards, one advertising my book and one advertising my editing business. I’m planning out my outfits and going to build my schedule of what I actually hope to attend and where (so hard to choose when good classes are simultaneous!).

I’ve been doing a bit of research on Louise Fury, who I’m lucky enough to have a pitch session with, trying to plan out what might appeal to her. I feel more relaxed about it than last year, because now that I’ve done it (twice!) I know a little more what to expect, and my expectations are a little lower. (I’m writing a genre that has fewer affiliated agents and guests, unfortunately, so I am not sure Ms. Fury will have a definite interest in my novel, but she has such a great reputation with her clients that I hope to get a lot out of our talk.)

Maybe it’s just because we’re still a few days out, but I’m feeling a little more zen about the conference. Perhaps it’s just the “calm before the storm.”

If you haven’t yet attended a writer’s conference in your area, I recommend it. It makes you feel so much more “official” and you’ll learn a lot. It can also be a humbling experience; you’re definitely not the only person with a great idea looking to get some attention.

If you have, what is your best advice?

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I’m Writing the Wrong Genre

I’ve seen two kinds of scuttlebutt online about “what to write.”

A: Write what you love and what you want to read!
or
B: Research the genres that are selling and fit your writing to that mold.

One of my personal rules is to maintain my own integrity, so I’ve been following advice A (which is how I ended up writing a 63,000 zombie apocalypse gamebook/CYOA). And yet I have fits of anxiety when I see things like this:

agent_categories_list

This is an edited version of a list of agents who will be at DFW Writer’s Con and what genres they have a particular interest in. (I added the highlighting and cropped out the agents’ names. You can find the full list here.)

The yellow areas are Middle Grade and Young Adult respectively. Look at all those delightful excited happy faces!

The blue area is science fiction. Only 3 happy faces and one big ugly poison Do Not Talk To Me About This.

Hm.. Zombie apocalypse. Gee, where does that fit?  Blue column of sadness. Maybe horror (it’s not really that scary, though) or humor (because being a zombie is funny!). Well crap. Those columns are pretty depressing, too, 2 and 4 happy faces respectively.

The agent pitch sessions are one of the most exciting parts of DFW Con, but dangit, I don’t think I’m going to have a lot of success this year. I’m in all the wrong categories. (Though I feel a certainty in my bones that just about every adult would get a real kick out of determining their own path in a zombie uprising book. I was talking about it with a friend in a restaurant and a passerby interrupted to say “excuse me, did you just say zombie apocalypse CYOA? Cool!”)

And my prior novel that I’m not actively pitching? Squarely sci-fi dystopia. *sigh*

I have no real interest in writing YA or MG (aside from a dalliance with The Boxcar Kids, as a kid I never even read books that would fit those categories!), but seeing this kind of heavy-loaded listing is depressing and has made me wonder if I should be trying something different. It’s hard to do while continuing that whole “to thine own self be true” stuff, though.

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First Experiences at ConDFW

I attended my first-ever ConDFW today, which is amazing to me because I’ve always lived in the area, always loved science fiction, and I’d never heard of it before two weeks ago. I wasn’t nearly as plugged in to the science fiction world as I thought I was!

The morning was all about panels. I sat in on panels about writing, about game theory, and general science-y fiction-y stuff–various and sundry things. It was a pretty small con, compared to some (I did go to San Diego Comic Con a few years ago, and that was ridiculously overwhelming. This was not that.) It was cozy, and not in the your-realtor-is-lying-to-you kind of way. I think the panels could have been a little better moderated, but it was nice to be around people who can comfortably name-drop James Bond, Serenity, and Star Trek all within five minutes. These were conversations I’ve been having for years; now there were other people who wanted to have them, too? Mind. Blown.

The best part of my day was a moment of pure fangirldom. I got to meet Rachel Caine.

I’ve liked Rachel Caine for several years (I LOVE her Weather Warden series), but the moment she really transcended into super-stardom for me was when I realized she lived in Dallas and had begun writing when she was 26. Most of my favorite authors, until that point, were dead (I ❤ you Isaac Asimov!) or lived in New York in what were apparently unreachable author-y worlds of mystery and magic. It wasn’t until I learned about Rachel’s background that I realized hey, that’s something I could do. She’s kinda like me!

Since then I’ve been hoping to meet her, but it took me awhile. She was my main motivation for attending today. She signed my well-loved copy of Ill Wind and was gracious enough to chat with me for awhile. I did my best not to squee in front of her. I even got to sit in on a reading from her next book!

The next-best part of the Con was an unexpected but very welcome dinner invitation. I am a bit on the introverted side, so my goal (as recommended in Quiet) was just to have one really good connection by the end of the day. I worked hard at being friendly and chatting with people, but things didn’t really come together until dinner. I met some lovely people (hey people on twitter!) and learned a lot more than I ever could have in a panel. Mission accomplished!

I’m glad I had the privilege of attending a sci-fi literary convention in my hometown. What a treat!

-ME

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