Recap: Superstars Writing Seminars 2018

Okay, so this conference happened at the end of January…yes, JANUARY! Better late than never on this review, right?

One of the reasons I did still want to do this review though is because this is the best writing conference I’ve ever been to. Seriously.

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Jonathan Maberry During a Breakout Panel

My neighbor has gone many times before and she was always telling me how would I like it and I should really come. I was resistant mostly because it’s an investment to travel to Colorado Springs where it’s held every year. What if I didn’t like it? What if I didn’t get anything out of it? It’s a long conference – it would be a lot of time off from my job and there was hotel, airfare, and meals.

But after the SDSU conference went on hiatus for 2018, I decided I would apply for the scholarship open to first year attendees. And after the application process, I was now so invested I had basically decided I was going to go even if I didn’t get the scholarship. I didn’t so I registered for everything in November.

I was excited about our hotel because the conference takes place at the Antlers. The Antlers is a historic hotel and while the hotel as it stands is not the original (it’s the third hotel of the same name on the same site), what’s notable about The Antlers is that Nikola Tesla might have stayed there instead of at the Alta Vista in 1899 if The Antlers hadn’t burnt to the ground the year before. You can read more about my Colorado Springs historic hotel research here. And while the Alta Vista has been gone for more than fifty years, I figured The Antlers would have some info about its history somewhere in the hotel. And I was right! They had pictures! I actually spent an hour one day walking around the hotel and photographing all of their pictures to file with my research. I didn’t expect to have much time to explore Colorado Springs  (and I didn’t) so it was nice to be able to get those photos.  I actually went to Colorado Springs a few years ago and took myself on a photographic research tour. You can see that story and photos here.

By the time January rolled around, I was pretty stressed. Superstars ended up being sandwiched between two horse shows and my birthday. I’d also picked up a couple clients and was trying to do that and my regular job beside it. I considered not going to the conference even though everything was pretty much already paid for because life felt very overwhelming. But I took a deep breath, told myself I would figure it out, and packed my bags for Colorado.

We flew into Colorado Springs which I have never done before. It was weird to be in my home state, but not seeing my family or any of my friends. I did have one friend I planned to go see in Colorado Springs, but as luck would have it, that didn’t end up working out so it really was a trip home without seeing any of the people who make it home.

One of the things that makes Superstars different is that there’s an emphasis on tribe and community. And that starts from the moment you show up because other members of the tribe that live local or are already in town volunteer to pick people up from the two airports. My neighbor and I ended up getting picked up with a guy from Texas who had also never been to Superstars before. We’re now all in a writing group together so if you needed a reference point for how well the tribe thing works, that pretty much tells you all you need to know!

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Branden Sanderson

My neighbor has been coming to Superstars for years so she knew tons of people which meant I immediately got introduced to tons of people. Everyone was very nice and welcoming even if I was a little overwhelmed. But after a few days, I started to remember people and made a few friends of my own.

Overall, what set this conference apart for me beyond the instruction was the people. So many friendly people. And so many people invested in making relationships, not acquaintances. I still talk to and interact with people I met at the conference beyond the ones that are now part of my writer’s group. And that is pretty darn cool.

Okay, so on to the instruction! I can honestly say I learned so much at the conference. It’s really a conference about the business of writing, how to make it a business, how to build a brand, and how to build a career for a lifetime. The first day is optional and it’s a “craft day” which is your traditional writing conference fare of topics related to the actual writing of stories. It was definitely good, don’t get me wrong, but the business of writing sessions were really life-changing for my process and my work.

I’ve always been very serious about wanting to write books. I’m also just pretty practical (at least in this sense, the rest of my life is debatable) and I’ve worked hard to find and create a career outside of writing. Because I love writing, books, and everything associated with being a writer, but I have no interest in starving for my art. That’s my personal line in the sand and you can say what you want about that, call me not a “real writer” or not dedicated enough because I don’t write everyday or because I’m not willing to be a starving artist, but I don’t care. I know who I am, what I was put on this Earth to do, and I also know how deep my dedication runs.

Anyway. Mini rant over. So, what was really life-changing for me was I really came around to the idea of thinking of each of my books as a product. It’s not a book, it’s a product for sale, and if the market does not want it, there’s not much you can do about that. You can attempt to fix it, but at some point you might need to concede defeat and try something else. That has been really life-changing in my approach to my process and goals. I’ve been working on Shadow of the Magician off and on since the spring of 2012. I wrote a couple drafts of another book called Haven’s Gate in the meantime that I never was able to get representation for. And I wrote an untitled draft of the first book in a sci-fi trilogy. But I have largely been consumed by this project at different points over the last six years and I’ve lost track of what number draft I’m on. I think six or seven because the story has had three huge development shifts that prompted complete rewrites. But my point now is that this is the last time around. If this doesn’t do it, I’m moving on to something else because life is short and I have more stories I want to write.

I took tons of notes during the lectures and really learned so much that I didn’t know about the way publishing works, whether it’s traditional or self-publishing. I met writers at all different stages in their careers, published and not. I got to hear from Branden Sanderson, Jonathan Maberry, James Owen, Dave Farland, and Kevin J. Anderson which was all really fantastic. I also had lunch with Jonathan and dinner with James a few times. Those are the kinds of experiences that Superstars gives you!

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Dinner With James Owen and New Friends

I also got to practice pitching my book and finally felt like I truly get the difference between the hook, the pitch, and the synopsis and how to create them. This is essential information for any aspiring authors and it’s an art all in itself. If you’ve ever asked me or someone else whose writing a book what the book is about and you got back a rambling, disjointed answer, it’s because writing the book is one thing. Being able to distill the 85,000 words that are in the book and the 40,000 that are on the cutting room floor and the 30,000 that make up your notes and the countless books you read while doing research and all the internet rabbit holes you went down into just a paragraph or a pithy sentence is a mighty tall order.

I am looking forward to heading back to Superstars next winter for the 10th anniversary conference! You can find out more about the 2019 Superstars Writing Seminars conference here and if you have more questions about my experience, just let me know! Also if you are thinking about going, I can get you a discount code for $100 off your registration! This discount is good until November 1, 2018.

 

Writing Project Wednesday: Trains

I think I grew up knowing more than the average person about trains. My dad used to work for the railroad and there was always a healthy appreciation for these iron horses in our house. Sadly, the age of the train has long been on the decline. It was such a treat to get to research trains during their heyday! I’m sharing a few of my favorite tidbits of research below:

-Colorado’s history and growth is intrinsically bound up with the development of rail lines through and across the state. Colorado Springs was no exception. Until 1971, Colorado Springs had a functioning passenger train service. The historic train depot is still there. Until 2011, it was home to Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant.

-The Colorado Springs train depot is the very same one Nikola Tesla arrived at in 1899. Tesla is just one of many famous faces who passed through that depot. If you’re ever in Colorado Springs, you should pay a visit to the beautiful old building. You can see my pictures of how the building looked at the end of 2014 here. Here’s how it looked in 1871:

-At the end of the nineteenth century, steam locomotives were still used to power passenger trains. They weren’t fully replaced by electric and diesel locomotives until the first quarter of the twentieth century.

-In 1876, the Transcontinental Express train made the journey from New York to San Francisco in just 83 hours. A few days after its historic trip, passenger service began.

-In the 1890s, railroad lines covered the eastern side of the United States, but were comparatively sparse in the west:

-There are many examples of steam locomotives in museums across the country. If you visit Colorado Springs, there’s an example of one in the park across the street from the train depot. Here’s a rendering of one:

If you ever have the opportunity to take the train across Colorado or more broadly, across America, I would highly recommend it! It’s one of the most fascinating ways to experience our country as the railways take you through places you would not otherwise be able to see.

On the next Writing Project Wednesday, I’ll be talking about food!

Writing Project Wednesday: The Alta Vista Hotel

The Alta Vista Hotel in Colorado Springs is notable because it is where Nikola Tesla stayed while he worked in Colorado Springs. Though it no longer stands, there are photographs and a smattering of information about it. For today’s Writing Project Wednesday, I’m going to give you the history of Tesla’s home away from home in Colorado!

-The Alta Vista Hotel was built around 1889, just a few blocks from the train station. It was torn down in 1962. You can see pictures of it during the demolition on The Colorado Springs Gazette here.

-It was located at 112 N. Cascade Avenue. The Kirkpatrick Bank and its parking lot sit on that site now. You can see the spot where it stood in my pictures from my trip to Colorado Springs here.

-The Alta Vista Hotel was made of stone and brick. You can see a beautiful colorization of it here. Additional photos of it can be found on The Tesla Universe site here and The Pikes Peak Radio and Electronics Museum site here.

-Tesla stayed in room 207 or 222, depending upon whom you ask. Most of his biographers agree that it was 207. As the story goes, he selected his room because the number was divisible by 3, a prime number.

-Tesla also famously asked for eighteen fresh towels to be delivered to his room every day. The biographies about Tesla abound with these details as if every biographer seems keen to prove Tesla’s eccentricity.

-In researching more facts for this article, I stumbled across a copy of the breakfast menu at the Alta Vista Hotel that is in the New York Public Library’s digital collection. I have to say, some of my most fascinating research is seeing what people used to eat.

-I also found a sample of the letterhead from the Alta Vista Hotel on the Tesla Universe site.

On the next Writing Project Wednesday, I’ll be talking about trains!

Writing Project Wednesday: The Color of Lightning

Growing up in Colorado, I used to think we’d hit the jackpot when it came to natural disasters. Hurricanes never bothered us, earthquakes didn’t happen, and blizzards were easily handled with a pile of blankets and some advanced planning. While we were close enough to the mountains that tornados in our area were rare, we were also far enough away that wildfires weren’t much of a concern. But one weather phenomena we did have in abundance was thunder storms and with it, lightning. These lightning storms and Colorado’s dry climate are the main reasons Nikola Tesla traveled to Colorado Springs in May of 1899.

I’ve seen a lot of these natural light shows. A normal summer day consisted of a hot and sunny morning with a thunderstorm rolling off the mountains in the afternoon. If you wanted to go to the pool, you best not sleep in since eventually you would be chased out of the water by ominous, dark storm clouds.

Living in San Diego, I kind of miss the thunderstorms. In the nine years I’ve been living here (yes, nine, wow!) I’ve only seen an actual thunderstorm a handful of times and aside from the one time we got a tornado warning in Del Mar, it’s nowhere near as beautiful (or as dangerous) as the type of storms Colorado tends to produce. In my parents’ house, there’s a series of pictures that’s been hanging up for as long as I can remember that my dad took one summer. It’s aptly titled “Armageddon”.

Depending on where you live, you might not know that lightning actually comes in colors! Yes, colors! I’ve seen white, of course, but also purple and red and twice I’ve had the fortune of seeing “thundersnow”: the rare phenomenon of a thunder storm coupled with snow! I always thought the different colors of lightning were merely a trick of the light or the eye (is that still a trick of the light?) and nothing more. But as I’ve been doing research for my novel, I found out that colored lighting actually tells you something about the lightning and the atmospheric conditions of the storm!

According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) “lightning can appear to be many different colors depending on what the light travels through to get to your eyes. Haze, dust, moisture, raindrops and any other particles in the atmosphere will affect the color by absorbing or diffracting a portion of the white light of lightning.”

A Reddit Ask Science forum also had this to say about the colors of lightning: “When white light passes through the Earth’s atmosphere, the molecules that make up the air (nitrogen, oxygen, and argon) will scatter the wavelengths of visible light disproportionately. Shorter wavelengths are scattered more than longer wavelengths by a factor of roughly 3.5:1. This causes a beam of white light to appear yellowish. As the light travels through more air, the shorter wavelengths are depleted even more and now the yellow wavelengths are being significantly depleted causing the light to appear reddish. So the more air between you and the light source the redder the object appears. A lightning flash reaches temperatures of about 30,000 K (54,0000°F) which is five times hotter than the surface of the sun. Objects with this temperature would emit a brilliant white light. The closer the lightning flash is to you, the whiter it appears. Distant lightning flashes will have a yellowish color because the light has to travel through more air molecules. If there are raindrops between you and the lightning flash, the color will appear reddish. Sometimes fine dust particles are eroded from the surface by the wind beneath the cloud and lifted into the air. These particles will also scatter the light and give the lightning flash a yellow/orange appearance.”

In lay terms, basically the closer you are to the lightning and the less interference from dust and other pollutants, the more white it will appear. The further away it is and the more dust and pollutants in the air, the more yellow or even orange it will appear. You can think of a flame…the center is often white or nearly white where the fire is hottest and the outer edges appear orange and red where the fire is cooler. Raindrops in the air also cause the lightning to appear reddish…you have probably often seen purple lightning with thunderstorms that have a significant amount of rain. Other colors are possible, though more rare. The NSSL mentions that during the thundersnow phenomena, the lightning can appear pink or even green!

Bonus fact: if you’re always trying to remember whether lighting or thunder comes first, lightning comes first because light travels faster than sound! You cannot have thunder without lightning because lightning causes thunder. NSSL has a great description of how lightning causes thunder here.

A little off topic, but while doing research I found these two insane videos of what happens to wood when lightning hits it…worth a watch!

Next week I’m going to be diving into the great feud between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, the “War of Currents”!