Cultural Differences

By Nancy J. Cohen

Genres matter when you attend a conference. I started out in romance, attending National RWA and Romantic Times conventions. At RWA, we dressed in business attire and wore sequins to the Awards dinner. We taught workshops or we spoke on panels where the emphasis was teaching other writers the craft and business of writing. The same was true for smaller chapter conferences held around the state and throughout the country. Editor/Agent appointments were a staple for this type of working writers conference.

Romantic Times, in contrast, was a fan convention. Here we’d meet readers, booksellers, and reviewers in a fun, party-type setting. I still dressed in business casual during the day. At night, people wore costumes to themed balls and parties. As RT attracted more writers, they added writing tracks to educate aspiring authors. Now they’ve expanded to include other genres just as RT has changed its name to RT Book Reviews. It’s still a great conference to meet industry personnel and readers.

Then I switched to writing mysteries and attended Malice, Bouchercon, and SleuthFest. What a difference! People wore jeans! There were men in the crowd! Panelists were expected to be entertaining and witty and mostly talked about their books. Bouchercon and Malice are fan conventions while SleuthFest is a writers’ conference. SF has a forensics track and workshops for different levels of writing, along with editor/agent appointments.

The one thing these events have in common? Writers hang out at the bar, the hospitality lounge, or the dealers’ room and network like crazy. Costly swag gets picked up along with candy and pens. Bookmarks and other papers lay around the promo tables like unloved orphans.

And then I attended Necronomicon, my first SciFi/Fantasy/Horror convention. Lo and Behold! Another culture shock! In many ways, this convention was similar to the mystery cons. The panels were professional and moderated by a host. Aspiring authors attended in abundance. Instead of a forensics track like at a mystery writers conference, this convention had a science track led by scientist guests. However, here’s the biggest difference: Gamers. One darkened breakout room held 3 rows of computers where people sat  playing Halo. Other guys sat at round tables absorbed in role playing games.

Workshops went on into the wee hours of the night. I was scheduled to speak on three panels and had to request the organizer not to book me after dinner. Authors who paid for a spot in Author’s Alley sat at tables in a hallway and sold their own books. The Dealers’ Room was similar to the ones at mystery cons, where authors hope one of the vendors has their books for sale or else we make a consignment deal. I noted only one bookseller at this convention. Most of the vendors sold jewelry, games, and other knickknacks.

All in all, this conference was a valuable introduction to an entirely new audience. The panels were interesting as well as stimulating, and parties ranged into the night if you were so inclined. Check out my personal blog for more photos and reports on the panels I attended. Keep in mind that this was not like the big SciFi cons where TV and movie stars attend and people roam around in costumes. There was a costume contest, but it was one night only. This felt more like a writers conference aimed at SciFi/Fantasy authors.

Would I attend again? The jury is still out on that one. While the conference was comped for me since I was a speaker, I still paid over $500 for a hotel room. I sold two books. Granted, this audience is more likely to order the ebook version, but would I spend that money again instead of attending a conference that targets mystery or romance fans? We’ll see. The exposure to a new crowd is always good, and I had a great time meeting new people. I guess as in any choices we have, it depends on the budget.

If you have crossed genres, were you surprised by the differences at the conferences you attended?

5 TIPS on World Building from Scratch

By Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

World building is a huge topic. I will only cover a fraction of it, but it’s a topic that’s been on my mind lately. Writing crime fiction thrillers, I mainly thought of world building as creating a setting that readers can relate to using all their senses. It can also be a world that can be its own obstacle for the characters I turn loose in it.

My brand slogan is “Take a front row seat to suspense,” which is a saying I felt related to the style of my “up close and personal” writing. But writing for the young adult thriller market has broadened my thoughts on world building. It’s stretched me. I’m working on a new YA proposal for a thriller series that will be set in the future, something I never thought I would do. Sci-Fi? Really? I’m faced with creating a world that doesn’t exist and I would imagine fantasy writers do this all the time. It truly amazes me, but now I’m testing myself too. I thrive on a challenge and this new idea has my juices flowing. I wanted to share my thoughts.

When developing a world that exists only in the future or in a paranormal fantasy realm, this is not the time to shy away from “over the top” thinking. The best tool in your author arsenal is actually a question – “What if…?”

Five Tips on World Building

1.) Take the familiar and give it a twist. A reader can more easily imagine the world you are trying to convey if you make them believe they have seen elements of this world before. Take known calamities, myths, or fairy tales and give them a new spin. Or use real hazards in our world and time—project them into the future with dire outcomes—and see how they might turn out. A dark Alice and Wonderland twist (Splintered by Anita Grace Howard, Jan 2013), for example. What if the world has taken a downward spiral from global warming or what if money is no longer a physical commodity? What replaces the power of money?

2.) Add a Heavy Dose of Human Nature. Basic human nature can transcend time and reality. Determine what matters most in the world you are trying to reinvent or create—and apply a human story at the crux of it all. That is good drama and readers will relate to a well told story with good solid conflict. A great example of a near future world is the ASHES trilogy by Ilsa Bick. A teenaged girl, dealing with a fatal brain tumor, must survive a post-apocalyptic nightmare alone.

3.) Take a look back to see ahead. If your world is in the near future, say in 2025, you might take a look back at the same span of years (13 years) to see how much has changed and in what areas. (Compare 1999 to now. What’s changed most?) Or if you are creating a fantasy world, man’s history or mythologies can give you ideas on what to bring into that world. What if there is civil unrest in your world? Who are the players and why? What if a magical mythical creature exists in your world? What would it be and what are its powers?

4.) Paint a world by highlighting the elements that enhance your story most. As an author you might know every aspect of the world you want to portray, but are these details important to your story? It can be tedious to demonstrate your world building skills at the expense of pace. Make your key elements conflict with your protagonist’s goals or become an obstacle to challenge them. Think of your setting and world as a character and place as much importance on setting up a solid framework where your characters can thrive. Your world may have to survive a series.

5.) Color Your World. Every world has its own dialect, slang, food, clothes, and customs. “Borrowing” from fables, myths, and history can be a starting point, but don’t be afraid to develop something on your own. Invent a few words that will play a prominent role in your new world or perhaps take a risk by combining a known world with a fantasy/paranormal one. A reader will feel grounded in the world you are creating, yet feel you are bringing something new to the table. A good example of this is the old Sci-Fi TV show FARSCAPE. A present day astronaut gets caught in a wormhole and transported to another universe where he is the only human. Remember the word, “Frak!” Yep, another four-letter word starting with F.

For the sake of discussion—by the year 2025—what do you think would change most? What would be cool to have? What bad things do you think are looming if we don’t change our ways? Will we still use real money? Are we headed for a global society, rather than individual countries? Exercise your writer brain and throw out anything that comes to mind. In brainstorming a new world, you need to cut loose, think over the top, and have fun.