“Houdini” is live!

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I am crazy-happy to be a part of Literary Orphans new issue, “Houdini”. The Editor, Mike Joyce, and his staff put out a unique zine full of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art, and interviews. It’s obvious by the visual beauty of the zine and the top notch talent that they work very hard to give their readers a stimulating and exceptional reading/viewing experience. Each issue has a theme and each contributor’s work is complimented by original artwork which, in my opinion, brings an added dimension to the words on the page. This is my second time to be a part of Mike’s dream; this journal, this art, this wonderful collaboration of artists and writers. If you haven’t read Literary Orphans, I highly recommend you do so. You won’t be disappointed.

Congrats on another great issue, Mike and staff!

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CONtraflow: New Orleans’ Own Taste of the Geek Life by Anna Harris

IMG_1807-0If someone had told me a few months ago that I’d get some of the best writing advice of my life at a hotel out by the airport, I’d have been suitably skeptical. It’s just that when one imagines a scene filled with award-winning authors, aspiring wordsmiths, and a sizeable contingent of steampunks and Chewbacchanalians, the Hilton on Airline Highway is probably not going to be the first place she thinks of. Not that the Hilton isn’t a great hotel, of course – just that it’s not that high in the list of wretched hives of scum and villainy. That fact notwithstanding, it turns out that the organizers couldn’t have picked a better spot to house the odd and amazing convergence known as CONtraflow.

Now in its fourth year, CONtraflow is a fan-organized, volunteer-run convention that focuses on science fiction and fantasy in literature and art. It’s a small convention (for right now, at least), but a robust one. This year the gathering boasted 100+ educational panels, parties, and concerts, featuring over 55 well-known names in the sci-fi and fantasy community. The gathering attracts writers, artists, vendors and fans (and everything in between), who mingle and bond over a shared love of geekdom.

At 32, until very recently it was a necessity to keep my geeky interests a secret, lest I be branded a weirdo. Even though pop culture has thoroughly embraced gaming, comic book heroes, and various sci-fi franchises over the last decade, if you’re my age (and especially if you’re female) you probably remember a time when it was just not possible to admit that you read fantasy novels and knew a smattering of Klingon without being ostracized. It’s only within the last couple of years that I started meeting geeks who were proud to share their interests with others, and started to realize that it was OK to be geeky. Meanwhile though, old habits die hard, and I’m still getting used to not being ashamed to buy comic books or profess my love for Settlers of Catan.

So while a large contingent of my comic book-loving, RPG-playing, sci-fi movie quoting friends regularly attend huge and hallowed conventions like Dragoncon and San Diego Comic-Con International, the bulk of my con experience begins and ends with Star Trek conventions with my mother, circa 1990. As you can imagine, I hadn’t revealed my secret to any of my friends – how embarrassing to basically be a con virgin! I was hoping that CONtraflow would give me a decent taste of what it’s like to go to a convention, without the huge crowds and overstimulation. I figured I could work my way up to the crazy stuff if the basics seemed interesting enough.

Luckily, my expectations were right on the money. From the moment the Hilton’s automatic doors sluiced open, enveloping me in brightly printed carpet and the sweet, sweet caress of over-conditioned air, I knew I was home. Two steampunk pirate wenches and an excellent Maleficent walked in with me from the parking lot, and I followed them through the hotel to the registration desk.

I had hoped to attend all three days, but as it turned out, Sunday was my only opening to check out the panels. I explained this to the lovely volunteer at registration, and she gamely recommended the best panels that day, based on my interests. While we were talking, I explained that I was new to this whole “being vocal about being a geek” thing. Without missing a beat, she reassured me that there’s nothing like going to a con – in fact, she’d met her husband at one! I made a mental note to keep my eyes peeled, just in case Destiny happened to be cosplaying that day.

The first panel on my list was “How to Write a Great First Line”, with author and radio talk show host M. B. Weston. Weston’s specialties are fantasy, YA, steampunk and paranormal fiction, and her enthusiasm for her craft was immediately evident as the panel got underway. “Punch, and punch hard!” was the message of the day. During the hour-long open Q&A, Weston shared her experience in crafting first lines made to immediately reel a reader in, and keep them hungry for more. The author explained that first lines were a kind of bait, or a drug, if you will. Keep adjusting the formula as you get to know your readers more. Introducing sensory details, inciting curiosity, and creating a sense of urgency are all ways to get the reader hooked. Most importantly, don’t get caught up on the first line. Keep writing, and let that perfect introduction come to you as you build the rest of the story. You can always go back and edit.

Weston’s talk was so engaging that I found myself staying put through the break to chat with other members of the crowd who’d stuck around to talk about first lines. Before I knew it, the next panel was getting under way. During “How to Promote Yourself & Your Writing”, independent author Ben Herr and author/actor/publisher Allan Gilbreath encouraged the writers in the crowd to start thinking of themselves as brands, and to start getting their messaging out to the right target market. Herr, creator of YA fantasy series Alynia Sky, is a fascinating example of how to be your own best brand ambassador. He shared valuable lessons on what’s worked – and what hasn’t – for him as he’s made it his mission to see his stories travel the globe. Gilbreath’s advice was even more interesting, as he’s had the opportunity to view the process from the writer’s chair as well as from the publisher’s point of view. His tips on how to succeed (and avoid screwing up) were useful and frequently hilarious, including the best thing I heard all day: “Interns are an invaluable resource – and they compost well!”

Despite the great advice had in the first two panels, the next panel I attended was definitely my favorite. Authors J. L. Mulvihill, Rob Cerio, and Kimberly Daniels led a very engaged crowd through an active discussion on “Writing Good Villains”. Between the three panelists, they covered a diverse set of genres, including YA, steampunk, fantasy, sci-fi, and comedy, but also were able to reference villains and plot points from TV, movies, comic books, classic fiction and even non-fiction sources. This created a rich and very accepting conversation, where the crowd felt encouraged to bring up ideas and share their struggles and successes with writing villainous characters. We even talked about how societal norms change our concept of villainy, and how to build a story where the villain is the landscape, or the society, or even the protagonist. Best of all, during the panel, I felt a light bulb switch on in my mind, as a story character I’d been writing and rewriting for a couple of years now suddenly completely made sense.

Afterward the day of awesome panels, I realized that it was pointless to try avoiding the siren song of geeky baubles any longer. As I wound my way through the serpentine field of merch tables, exploring my options, I could almost hear my bank account groaning. Bags laden with new books, I wandered back out to the parking lot, mentally signing myself up for next year’s CONtraflow. Wonder if the Hilton takes Vulcans?
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Anna Harris is a New Orleans-based marketing consultant and blogger. You can find her online at Compass & Quill and The Camino Plan.

Hot Reads 8/31/14

Most of  my reading the past week has been flash fiction aka short-shorts or micro-fiction. I don’t think there’s a universally agreed upon definition of flash fiction but I consider it flash if I can read it in under about 5 minutes. I really like flash – it fits in with my minimalist sensibilities and I think it takes a certain kind of talent to strip a story down to as few words as possible but still pack a punch. I like that I can read a story or two in small chunks of time throughout the day. I like the variety and the challenge of reading different voices and styles. So today I’m sharing some great flash pieces I read over the past week, many of which are from Fictionaut which is a good resource for flash and poetry as well as some longer pieces. New pieces are posted there every day so there’s no lag-time like there is with more traditional journals. Here are my picks:

From Fictionaut:

Body Language by R.K. (Update: This story has been removed but you can read R.K.’s stories on her blog, A Beetle With Earrings.)

Touching Jim by Juhi Kalra

Grandma by Donnie Wesley Baines (Don’t let the title fool you.)

At the Lip of the Swimming Lake by Meg Pokrass

Black Purse by Lucinda Kempe

 The Piano Player’s Dead Rejoice by Nonnie Augustine

Also…..

From WhiskeyPaper: Wild Hearts by Amanda Miska and Leesa Cross Smith

From James Claffey: The Chirr of the Cicada

From New World Writing: Strings by Kathy Fish

From Connotation Press: Comings and Goings and Solstice by Gary Percesepe, preceded by a great interview by Meg Tuite. This is a quote from Gary that I really like: “I love that flash fiction is thriving, as a kind of middle finger to the publishing powers-that-be, a kind of quiet desperation that would please the slumbering Thoreau in Walden, the most un-marketable thing imaginable, and a harbinger (the dreamer in me wants to say) to the writerly/readerly democracy which is yet to come.”

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And our book list of the week comes from Book Riot: Book Club Suggestions If Your Most Diverse Pick Was “The Help”

 

Poem of the week is by Sam Rasnake who has graciously given permission to post here in its entirety. Thanks, Sam!

 

Masterplot
by Sam Rasnake

I’m the one-eyed troll,
wet, muddy, long nails scratching
stone from dirt below the bridge
while I wait for the boards to creak.

I’m the bridge or the cold
impatient river, or the sky
upside down, blue and white on water.

Mostly, I’m the goat,
my teeth full of grass,
wanting only mountains,
and time to lift my puzzled chin
to what must happen next.

__________________________

three_billy_goatsI just love this poem because I’ve felt like the troll, the water, the goat at one time or another. Also, The Three Billy Goats Gruff gave me nightmares as a child and that’s a memory that’s stayed with me through life. Isn’t it funny how that happens?

 

Remember to check our Pinterest Board throughout the week for more Hot Reads and have a great reading week!

Showcase Sunday: Book Haul

Via Finding Time To Write, a blog I follow, I’ve discovered another blog that originated a meme that sounds like fun. Books, Biscuits and Tea spearheads the meme “Showcase Sunday: Book Haul” which gives bloggers the opportunity to share the books they’ve read,  received in the mail, downloaded, borrowed from the library, put on TBR lists, and any otherwise procured by any means necessary to get that must-have book in your hot little hands. It’s also a great way to share the books that you love, that make you say Yes! and mentally clap your hands as you read.

youngRight now I’m reading Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy, A Lost Generation Love Story  By Amanda Vaill and I’m enjoying it so much! This story is about the Murphy’s who were at the center of the American expat literary circle in Paris is the 20’s and it’s fascinating. I found this book on the book list “Read This, Not That: Indie Alternatives to Popular Books” compiled by Amy Bonesteel on Paste Magazine. This is the second book on that list that I’ve read and I have to say, her picks over the “popular books” is right on so far.

At the library I have Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton on hold waiting tohillary be picked up. Hillary is such a great role model for women and has led an exciting, eventful life. Diane Sawyer’s interview with her was so good that I immediately went online to reserve this new book.  I’m really looking forward to reading it.

The most recent (within the past few weeks) books I’ve ordered online and received in the mail are

westFacing a Lonely West by Helen Losse – I have her previous book of poetry, Seriously Dangerous, and I enjoyed it immensely. Her poetry is both down to earth and ethereal. Hard to explain, you have to read her.

Rattle, Spring 2014  – This quarterly journal is a must-have for poetry lovers. Always with a diversity of styles, you’re bound to find something that touches you inside it.

 

Exquisite Duet, Edited by Meg Tuite – I can’t wait to start this little gem of a book as I’m (virtually) acquainted with several of the writers. And the cover art is fantastic! duet

Don’t you just love getting great books in the mail?!

Be sure to go over and visit Books, Biscuits and Tea and peruse the other meme participants for more great book ideas. You know you need some more titles for your To-Read list.

 

Glass Woman Prize: Supporting Women’s Writing

Well, National Poetry Month is over and I’m pleased with myself for writing as much poetry as I did. I posted new poems 22 out of 30 days which is the best I’ve done for NaPoWriMo, ever. Last year I didn’t even attempt it so I feel good about this year’s effort. Not that I think all the poems were good ones, but the exercise made me stretch, made me write when I didn’t feel inspired on my own, made me think hard. I had to look for something to inspire, something I don’t do on a regular basis. The NaPoWriMo website was helpful as was reading the work of other poets that gave me ideas or nudged my memory about long-forgotten events. It was a good thing.

A big thing (for me) that happened in April was that I was notified I was a finalist for the 15th Glass Woman Prize for my micro-fiction piece “Something About SW”. I was astonished! I had no idea anything of mine was up for consideration. The Glass Woman Prize is curated by Beate Sigriddaughter to encourage women writersto acknowledge, transparently, who we are, and that who we are is not trivial and unimportant, despite the fact that it is not typically rewarded in a man-made and money-motivated world.

Stats from the website:

As of April 2014:

$10,430 prizes went to 41 prize winners, including $430 in anonymous donations.

5905 direct submissions were read, and an additional estimated 1000 from sources other than direct submissions.

116 stories were posted or linked to the Glass Woman Prize page.

I am honored to be a part what Beate has built and is continuing to build. The winner of the 15th Glass Woman Prize is “Simulacra” by J.P. Reese which I first read on Fictionaut where I commented, “I don’t like how this makes me feel which is what makes it so brilliant.” And I meant it. A good story doesn’t have to make you feel good, it has to make you feel and this story makes you feel, big-time.

I urge you all to go to the GWP page and read the winner’s and finalist’s work and read Beate’s own work, which is phenomenal. The level of talent Beate has gathered for the GWP is amazing and the work is powerful and inspiring. Again, I am in awe of what Beate has done for women’s writing. I hope you will give her your support by reading the work.