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.

 

New Article Published: How to Be Mindful at the Barn and Around Your Horse

I wanted to share that I recently had a new article published on 2kGrey‘s blog, Intrepid International. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been riding horses for over fifteen years, I compete in local shows in San Diego, and I have two horses of my own. My journey with horses has been so wonderful. I’ve learned so much from every horse I’ve been fortunate to ride, but most importantly I think I’ve learned how to be a better human from my interactions with horses. This article talks a little bit about what I’ve learned over the years and I think you’ll find it interesting even if you’re not a horse person because I think we could all stand to be a little more mindful and present in our every day lives.

Check out my article here.

If you liked this article, I would appreciate it if you would share it with your friends and especially the horse people in your life!

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 Unsolved Murders of the Burnham and Wayne Families

On one of my trips home to Colorado, I popped into Barnes & Noble to kill some time and I decided to look at the local section. I ended up going home with a slim book called Ghosts of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak by Stephanie Waters.

I almost never read horror. I don’t like scary movies and I like scary books even less. But as I flipped through this book, it didn’t seem that bad and I thought I could handle it and that it would maybe give me some interesting ideas for my novel. It turns out this is the one book possibly on the entire planet that I could give actually read sitting alone and not need to lock every door. The book is actually told with quite a bit of humor so it’s not unlike visiting Disney’s Haunted Mansion – it’s not really supposed to be that scary.

And, I did get some ideas from reading it. I found myself drawn to the account of the 1911 murders of the Burnham and Wayne families in Colorado Springs – a crime that was never solved. If you don’t like gruesome, creepy stories you should stop reading now and come back for the next Writing Project Wednesday which will be on something less scary.

-For historical reference, the infamous Lizzie Borden axe-murders happened in 1892 in Massachusetts.

-In September of 1911, Nettie Ruth, sister of Mrs. Alice Burnham, went to the home of the Burnham family in Colorado Springs. She was greeted by a terrible, rotting stench.

-Nettie Ruth went inside the home and discovered her sister’s body and the bodies of the two young Burnham children in the bedroom. All three had had their skulls crushed in.

-The police were called and a crowd soon gathered at the Burnham home. It soon became evident that there was an unusual silence hanging over the Wayne home, located next to the Burnham residence.

-When the police entered the Wayne home, they found Mr. and Mrs. Wayne and their young daughter also dead in their beds with their skulls crushed in.

-The murderer’s creepy calling card? He tucked his victims into bed after murdering them, drawing the blankets up to their chins.

-The hunt was on for a serial killer who had murdered six people while they slept. Only one of the victims, one of the Burnham’s two children, appeared to have awakened during the crime. Robbery did not appear to be a motive in the killings as valuables were found in plain sight in both homes.

-Mr. Burnham, who lived at a local sanatorium as he suffered from tuberculosis, was the initial suspect in the crime. He was soon acquitted.

-Later, an Italian butcher was suspected of the crime. Though he was later let go for lack of evidence, many in the town believed him guilty.

-The 1911 murders of the Wayne and Burnham families have never been satisfactorily solved. In 2012, The Smithsonian ran an article that seemed to connect the slaying of the two families in Colorado Springs with a chain of ax murders that occurred across the Midwest from 1911-1912, the most notable of which seems to be the Villisca murders in Iowa. You can read that article here.

-If you want to read more about the case, The Denver Post ran a story in 2016 which you can read here. A longer account of the murders is posted on Genealogy Trails here.

On the next Writing Project Wednesday, I’ll be talking about the history of Colorado Springs’ Alta Vista Hotel.

 

 

Writing Project Wednesday: Gibson Girls

On my last Writing Project Wednesday, I said I was going to talk about one of Colorado Springs’ creepiest unsolved murders. Which I will do, but while working on my book last weekend, I found myself researching women’s hairstyles form the 1890’s and stumbled across the Gibson Girl. I’d heard the term Gibson Girl before, but I never knew what it meant or what to attach it to. It turns out that the history of the Gibson Girl is as fascinating as the hairstyle. I showed my friend what I was researching and we were in awe of how these women managed to get their hair to do that. I feel like I have enough hair that I could probably pull it off if I didn’t have layers cut into it. Maybe there will be a WPW Video Tutorial in my future…

So what is a Gibson Girl? The name refers to the pen and ink drawings done by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson in the late 19th and early 20th century century America. Gibson said that his creations were composites of the hundreds and thousands of women he saw everyday.

One of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson’s “Gibson Girls”

In a nutshell, The Gibson Girl was a willowy, regal Caucasian woman who oozed poise and grace. The signature Gibson Girl hairstyle involves piling all of the hair on top of the head in an elaborate hairstyle. Most writings call this either a bouffant, pompadour, or chignon style. But it’s really a combination of the three:

-This is First Lady Betty Ford wearing her hair in the bouffant style.

Via Glamourdaze

-This is actress Katherine Hepburn wearing her hair in the pompadour style. The rest of the hair could be worn up or down.

-This is actress and Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly wearing her hair in a version of the chignon style.

Credit: Lucy at Loepsie

-And this is an example of the Gibson Girl hairstyle, done by hairstylist Lucy from Loepsie. She has a tutorial for the Gibson Girl hairstyle up on Youtube here if you want to watch.

Some people say The Gibson Girl was the first national beauty standard for American ladies. Others say The Gibson Girl was the first pin-up. Whatever she was, The Gibson Girl was certainly an icon!

Next week on Writing Project Wednesday, I really will discuss Colorado Springs’ creepiest unsolved murders!

An Evening With Neil Gaiman in Review

In an effort to become a better writer, I’ve been doing a lot of things lately that are kind of outside my comfort zone:

1. I joined a writer’s group. I’m still not sure why they like me, but I’ve spent enough time around horses to know not to look a gift horse in the mouth!

2. I went to a writer’s conference. Which I realized I still need to review on the blog. More on that later then.

3. I signed up to go to a second writing conference in May.

4. I got tickets to go see Neil Gaiman speak in San Diego.

The last one is notable because I bought a ticket without finding out if I knew anyone who wanted to go with me. At the time I was thinking I’d probably find someone to go with and we could carpool. Which did not happen. So I’m super proud of myself that I didn’t flake especially because I had to drive myself downtown to go.

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Anyway, back to the event. I really had no idea what to expect. It was billed as “An Evening With Neil Gaiman” which is all I really needed to know. What I didn’t expect was how many other people find Neil Gaiman as cool as I do.

Earlier that day I was explaining to someone how the event I was going to was at the San Diego Civic Center. To which they pointed out that it’s an enormous space for an author to book. I looked this up later – The San Diego Civic Center seats 2,967 people. While not every seat was filled, the majority were. And that is just so cool for an author to fill that many seats with booklovers and wordnerds. I’ve been to concerts and sporting events, but there is just something so uniquely magical about gathering a crowd of overly excited introverts together to talk about books.

The setting itself was just as dramatic: a single podium on that massive stage. No signs, no backdrop, no video screen. The whole evening was blessedly free of pomp and circumstance. Just Neil and a microphone.

As could be expected, he did some reading of his work. Nothing I had actually read before so it was nice to experience it for the first time being read by the author. He read a story from his book Norse Mythology and he also read a short story about a genie.

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Apparently Neil had also been accepting questions prior to the event. I didn’t know about this, but it was okay. He had quite a stack of questions up there on the stage which he picked from. Some of the questions required longer answers, some just a few words.

Overall, I really liked how the evening was unscripted and fun. It ended up feeling like a very intimate event, despite the fact that perched high on the balcony I had to squint to see the tiny figure on the stage. My only real complaint was that 90 minutes was over much too soon.

If you get the chance to hear Neil Gaiman talk, I highly recommend! He’s as lovely and entertaining as all the Twitter posts have led you to believe.

Speaking of Twitter, this happened the next day:

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Life. Made.

 

 

 

New Adventures

Alright guys. I’m finally done moving. Still reading Game of Thrones. But I haven’t forgotten about you/this blog.

I also started writing as a contributor this website, Dressage Daily. It’s a website about horses and the sport I do, dressage.

My first article was published on Monday.

Charlotte Jorst and Vitalis

 

Also, for some reason my Twitter has been getting a lot of activity. So if you want to follow me, too, you can do it here.