On writing

GenreCon 2012 — Part I

GenreCon 2012 was a conference for Australian genre writers. Sherylyn and I both went along. It was loud, it was fun, it was energetic.

Here are our impressions of it. Mine first, Sherylyn’s next blog.

First rule of GenreCon. Pack light. GenreCon is for writers of genre fiction, and what is genre fiction but books? Lots and lots of books.

There was a book included in our convention bag when we collected it on Friday night, another book placed on our seat at the banquet and, of course, books for sale. Lots of genre books. Some by authors I had never heard of. Yet most of these authors were here, at GenreCon.

I felt more optimistic about Australian genre writing than I had in a long time.

But—I had to buy an extra bag to carry back all the books, and I was extremely glad we had chosen to take the train home rather than the plane, because books are heavy, and I think the airline would have slugged me a fortune in extra luggage.

Second rule of GenreCon. We are all writers there. It doesn’t matter whether you are a published author with ten books to your name, or whether you are still aspiring to be published. GenreCon has something for you. I spoke to a couple of people who admitted to feeling overwhelmed, and a bit of a fraud being at a conference like this where so many people were published. Me too. But if GenreCon was only for professional writers they wouldn’t have eleven (count it, eleven) publishers and agents along to take pitches.

Third rule of GenreCon. Have fun. Writing is a solitary occupation, and it’s not often you can go out and meet people and the third or fourth sentence will be, “What do you write?” and know that if you don’t ask it, the other person will. You’re among like-minded people here. Here to learn, here to share, here to connect.

I have to commend the organisers—Peter Ball, Meg Vann and everyone else at QWC/Australian Writer’s Marketplace who was involved in GenreCon Australia 2012. They did a great job and their choice of presenters and panels worked well. Some of my own personal favourites were:

Writing effective fight scenes. Simon Higgins—novelist, martial arts master, former policeman and former private eye—entertained us with anecdotes and slides while giving us a good grounding in fight scenes and how realistic they are. Like, did you know that if you hit someone hard enough to force their head back as far as they do in the movies, you have probably killed them? Especially when you get that crunching sound that goes with it; you’ve probably smashed in half their face. Likewise the ninja schoolgirl in the cartoon who kicks out at her protagonist and sends him halfway down the street block. The force it would require to send him back that far is a killing force. Our ninja schoolgirl would have stoved in his chest. You’re watching murder here, people.

It was absolutely fascinating. At question time we got onto topics such as the Vulcan nerve pinch? There is no such thing, not where Mr Spock pinches, but there is another place on the neck where you can apply pressure which can shock the body and disrupt it enough to fall unconscious (and maybe do even more damage). All good fun.

Three stages of the writer’s career. In a session chaired by Kate Eltham, Daniel O’Malley (one book), Helene Young (mid-career) and Joe Abercrobmie (six books) talked about how they sold their first book, what they expected from selling that first book, how life has (or hasn’t) changed for them since, the difference between writing that first book and the next books and their publishers’ online requirements and more.

It was interesting to hear the different ways each writer went through to be where they are, the things they didn’t know and the good and bad things that come out of being a published writer.

Author platform 101, presented by Sarah Wendell. I wasn’t sure how much value this session would give me, as I expected it to be a very basic ‘get a website, get on Facebook, get on Twitter’ session, but it was much, much more. We talked about things like how to ensure that everyone who has ‘liked’ you on Facebook sees what you post—pay to push the message through. Or the best times to post on Facebook and Twitter, when more people are on. Thursday afternoons for Facebook, pretty much any afternoon for Twitter, but especially early in the week. Afternoon US time, not Australian time.

Every author must have a website. Blogging, tweeting or being on Facebook are optional—although if you’re not you are reducing the number of fans you are likely to get—but a website is an absolute must-have. Oh, and a dead blog is worse than no blog at all. If you’re not posting regularly on your blog, don’t bother blogging at all.

I could go on. Ginger Clark on the changing role of the agent, Joe Abercrombie in conversation, and more. There were three streams of workshops/panels. I wanted to see almost all of them.

One thing I have to mention though, is the closing debate. Plotters vs Pantsers. Well done to Team Plotter: Kim Wilkins, LA Larkin, Narelle Harris; Team Pantser: Anna Campbell, Lisa Heidke and Daniel O’Malley; and to moderator Kate Eltham. Guys, I don’t know how much planning (plotting?) went into this debate but bravo. What a wonderful way to end a conference.

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