Writer Wednesday: Wesley Chu

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1. Your first two novels are scheduled to be published by Angry Robot books this year. You originally submitted during AR’s “Open Door Month” in 2011. What was that process like?

The Great Angry Robot Open Submission was probably one of the most fantastic and angst filled experiences of my life, which is unusual for me because I usually live a pretty happy, zero-angst life. I’m like a cross between that singing meerkat in Lion King and a Labrador Retriever.

The robot overlords, Marc Gascoigne and Lee Harris, opened their doors to subs for one month in March of 2011. The subs went through four levels of review, from query and chapters, full manuscript, editorial and finally to acquisitions. At the end, out of a nearly a thousand submissions, twenty-five manuscripts made it to editorials and five received deals. The entire process from submission to signing the deal took fourteen months.

An added bonus about the open sub process was that fourteen of us in the editorial stage bonded on the Absolute Write forums and created our own social Group: Anxious Appliances. Since our inception, we’ve been the most active writing group on AW. Not gonna lie. Those guys kept me sane. I got pretty batshit crazy as the process drew to a close.

2. Once your book was in to the final stages of consideration, you got an agent. How did you find yours? Looking back on it, should you have started looking sooner, or waited longer?

I did query an earlier draft of The Lives of Tao a few years ago. I received some great feedback, and a request for a rewrite, but things fell through. It was still a great learning experience and helped me develop as a writer. It’s fair to say the book wouldn’t be what it is without the suggestions and changes I made from their critiques. I took a year off from the book and then rewrote it with a fresh pair of eyes.

After the manuscript was promoted to editorial during the open sub, I leveraged the potential deal and began querying again, and received offers from two agencies for representation. I was very fortunate to sign with Russell Galen of Scovil Galen Ghosh, who was one of my top targeted agencies. What better person to lead your career than the guy who represented the authors that wrote the books and movies you grew up with (Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Screamers)?

3. You have a wife, an executive-level job for a major corporation, family, friends, and a dog. How do you find time to write?

There’s a lot of time in the day. You just have to figure out how to prioritize what is important and what isn’t. I admit to being an OCD kind of guy. I am a single purpose driven machine, like a Phillips screw driver.

During my hardcore martial art days, I used to drive an hour to my friend Tony Marquez’s school (he was the original Kung Lao in Mortal Kombat), Extreme Kung Fu, and train at his facility. Then afterward, I drove thirty minutes to another school where I learned from a Bagua Zhang/Tai Chi master. It was four hours of training a day, six days a week. This went on for many several years.

One day, I thought to myself. “Man, I’ve always wanted to write a book. I don’t know how, but I’m going to figure it out.”

So I gave it a shot. Without knowing what I was doing, I began to write when I had the free time. Eventually, writing took over all my other hobbies. I stopped clubbing. I retired from martial arts. I quit raiding in Wow (that freed up a crap ton of time), and focused on what was really important to me. Continue reading

My Guide to Conventions #1: The Five Best Questions To Ask A Panel of Writers

(Please note this is snark, based on things I’ve seen con goers do time and time again. Do not do these things.)

Winter lingers on but spring is right around the corner, and already this year’s conventions are underway. Once we start to think of ourselves as writers, it’s natural to want to be around our own kind. Conventions offer ample opportunity to meet authors and other publishing professionals, as well as take in educational panels that might improve our careers. The programming committee puts together a string of panels on various topics and invites participants to spend an hour talking about that topic.

The first thing you have to know is which panels you want to attend. Of course the subjects are important, but ignore that for the moment and focus on the names. Which of your favorite authors will be speaking? Check off those panels first, because this is a great opportunity to meet your heroes without coming across as a “fan”. After all, you’re going to be sitting in front of them for an hour, learning about writing. They’ll know right away that you’re serious about your craft because you bothered to be at their panel. Schedule the rest of your activities around these choices, and make sure to give yourself ample time to get there early and score that front row seat. Middle of the aisle is the best, even if you have to step on a few toes to get there.

After that, just pick a bunch of panels that sound cool. If there’s a topic that you feel you could have been a panelist for, definitely go to that. The programming committee will have spies in the audience to see who asks the best questions, and those people often get invited back next year. Don’t you want to be on a panel? I thought so.

Once in a panel, in your seat, pay very close attention to what the speakers have to say. Unless, of course, you found the panel with the idiot speaker (there’s always at least one, the cousin or girlfriend of someone on programming) who’s talking about things you already know, in which case you can ignore them until question time. Tweet something, or check Facebook or catch a quick nap. People will respect you since they’ll realize that you know so much about writing that you didn’t even need to pay attention.

When you’re ready to be an active participant in the discussion, raise your hand. Usually the moderator will ask to hold all of the questions until the end, but that’s just for people who don’t know what they want to say. You will have read this post and come prepared, so you can ask your questions at any time. Pick from the following list, and be sure the read the notes at the end:

  1. If you’re in a panel about anything related to publishing, anything at all, describe your current novel project and ask for a list of publishers who would be willing to buy it. If the answer is, “We can’t give you a list, you’ll need to submit to publishers you think would be interested in your kind of work until you find the right fit,” just know that this is a test. The gatekeepers want to know if you’re serious about getting published. Do not give up the floor. Do not back down. Insist that they give you at least a few names to start with, and make sure to have a pencil and paper ready to jot down that list. That’s how you make an impression.
  2. If you happen to be on a panel which is largely made up of female or non-white panelists, don’t let them shortchange you! Obviously, these people are only on the panel because the qualified white male authors weren’t available. Ask for a list of the people who were supposed to be on the panel instead, so that you can look up their work. It will balance out whatever information the second-string panelists gave you, and you’ll get a more well-rounded experience.
  3. When you don’t have a question because you already know more than the panelists do, be sure to share your knowledge with the rest of the audience. Raise your hand, but instead of asking anything, begin by saying, “This is a more of a comment than a question…” That way every knows to pay attention to you instead of waiting for a panelist to answer. Then mention a few of the key points from earlier in the discussion – so everyone can see you know what you’re talking about – and explain how those points are wrong.
  4. If the panelists are discussing the history of fiction, genre, conventions, the publishing industry, or anything else, be sure to ask for an annotated bibliography. All of the best panels prepare these handouts in advance, but they’re like prizes for the most astute audience members. You have to ask for them. If the panel refuses to provide you with one, sigh heavily and sit down. Eye rolling is good here too. That way it’s obvious that you know the panel failed in one of their most basic tasks.
  5. Often the panel won’t get to everything about the topic, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk about it. If you think they left out something important, no matter how loosely related to the discussion that’s been had, don’t hesitate to bring it up! This could be your chance to get your questions answered from two panels ago.

Once the panel is over, be sure to get to your favorite author, or the one you most need to correct, as quickly as possible. They take the first three audience members and will answer additional questions at length, but time constraints prohibit them from taking more. Those lucky three will get to talk as long as they want about anything they want, so don’t miss your chance! Some of my best times at a convention were hanging out in a bar or even author’s hotel room, talking late into the night about my writing, because I was persistent enough to catch their eye after a panel was over.

Lastly, there are some ways to get more attention if you feel the audience or panel isn’t seeing you. If the panel is dull or the moderator ignores you when you have your hand raised, feel free to leave the panel right then. Even if this means that you have to step over people, make noise, or otherwise interrupt the discussion, that’s okay. Everyone will see that you were too important to be ignored, and they won’t make that mistake again next time.

You should also pay attention to the volume of your voice. If your panel has been full of noisy people, the best way to get them to keep it down in the future is to ask your question in a very quiet tone. You may be asked to repeat it a few times, but don’t get any louder. This will remind people to be respectfully silent when you are speaking. Conversely, if raising your hand isn’t working, you can always just shout your question. Most likely the moderator didn’t see you, because they certainly would have called on you if they had.

Yes, this post is meant to be sarcastic, a list of things con goers certainly shouldn’t do or expect. It’s also a list of behaviors I see at every convention I attend. I hope that by putting it all together, it’s so absurdly over-the-top that readers get they’re not meant to actually do any of it. Plus, you seem like it when I get a bit snarky 😉

Oh, did you hear my latest SF Signal podcast appearance? Episode #175 is The 2013 List of Conventions You’re Looking Forward To This Year, with Gail Carriger, Jaym Gates and Patrick Hester (February 4, 2013).

What Else Working Writers Do (Besides Write)

It’s been about a year since I decided to be a writer again*. Over the last year I’ve settled into a comfortable balance between my writing life and everything else, and developed habits that have taken me from obscurity to someone who’s appeared on guest blogs and podcasts, gotten good reviews, made friends with writers and artists that I respect, attended conventions, had a pro-level sale, been accepted into the SFWA (didn’t I mention that? Yes, that was my good news this week), and edited a few books. Oh, and built a tiny but respectable little publishing company. In a year.

But it hasn’t been easy, or simple. I spend between 40 and 60 hours a week working on my writing (and, along with that, the editing and publishing that goes into Dagan Books). I spend about 10 hours a week actually putting words on paper. The rest of my time is taken up by all of the little, largely unseen, tasks that make up the life of a working writer:

  • I read every day. I don’t just read books and magazines, and in fact don’t read them as often as I’d like. I do read them when I can, but a lot of my reading is through the (growing) list of authors I subscribe to on my Google Reader. Through them I am introduced to new writers, new books, movies, and music. I am told where to find a recording of Leonard Nimoy reading Israeli author Etgar Keret. I get reminders about upcoming readings, author events, and conventions, some of which I can make it to. When I can’t, I can find a recap of what happened so at least I know what I missed. I get introduced to film criticism as expressed by The Incredible Hulk, whose breakdown of structure and plot should be required reading for new writers. I read what NPR and The Paris Review have to say about books making the NY Times Bestseller list, and what indie book bloggers say about books I’d never have heard of otherwise. I get to be part of a world-wide conversation on what fiction is today, and what it should be, and that informs how I see my own writing. It has changed how I write, for the better.
  • I also read slush for Dagan Books. In fact, I read every bit of it. 200 fish-themed stories for our latest anthology? I read them all. And for each of the two books before that. I read the novel queries too. From these I learn how many terrible ways there are to pitch your novel, and the few good ways. I learn which opening paragraphs sound less impressive each time you read a new author do the same thing, and which sentences always work, every time. I see authors who come across as arrogant, nervous, self-doubting, clueless, and worse, and I remind myself not to make those same mistakes. Every day, I read all of these things, and my writing improves before it even hits the page. Continue reading

Readercon 2011 Recap: Saturday / Sunday (and we’re done)

I’ve previously talked about the books I brought home from Readercon, some Readercon advice on writing an author blurb, and recapped Thursday/Friday.

Saturday morning was breakfast at Panera, then panels:

11 AM Book Design and Typography in the Digital Era Neil Clarke, Erin Kissane, Ken Liu, David G. Shaw (leader), Alicia Verlager. From this I found out that Ken knows quite a bit about the history of the book and its evolution from scroll to codex to ebook, making him officially one of my favorite people ever. This was one of the most informed panels I attended, and I felt that all of the panelists had useful things to add to the discussion. I only wished it were longer.

12:00 PM Daughters of the Female Man Matthew Cheney, Gwendolyn Clare, Elizabeth Hand (leader), Barbara Krasnoff, Chris Moriarty. I tend to avoid panels on women’s issues in fiction, honestly. I’m of the school that we should promote damn fine writers who happen to be women as opposed to promoting women writers and hoping they’re good. I come from an academic background and am particularly informed by the discussion about women’s place in art history, and the (absurd) question which always gets asked, “Why are there no good women artists?” However this panel was excellent both for it’s suggestions for further reader and for the way it didn’t focus on anything other than good writing by women. Notable for this panel was the absurd statement from the audience about how the panel should have done “a little more work” and created an annotated bibliography to hand out (you know, so we wouldn’t have to read anything on our own).

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Readercon 2011 Recap: Thursday / Friday

The drive up to Boston was easy and uneventful save for the sudden realization that I was actually driving through the Bronx. That wasn’t clear from the directions, which essentially said take 95N from NJ to Connecticut, so you can understand why the first time I drove over the George Washington bridge and into the Bronx I was a little surprised. I stopped in Orange, CT, for breakfast at a place called Chip’s Diner, home to some pretty good buttermilk pancakes. That was my halfway point, and the rest of the drive was pretty but boring. I found the hotel with little trouble, got checked into my room, unpacked my suitcase, fell onto the big, fluffy bed, relaxed in the air conditioning, and very nearly fell asleep.

That would have been bad because I was due to pick Don Pizarro up from the airport an hour later. Logan Airport was only 12 miles from the hotel, but I wanted to be early if possible so he didn’t have to wait. Plus, Bart Lieb needed Don to read at the Broken Slate/Crossed Genres reading Friday night, so he insisted that I get up. I shared the elevator back down to the lobby with another woman – we looked at each other, said, “Readercon?” and both nodded. “I’m going to the gym to try to bike off this headache,” she said. “You?” I told her I was off to the airport. “Oh, at this time? I’m sorry,” she said, as the doors opened, and we waved our goodbyes. I wondered at that, got into my car, and for the first few miles I made good time. Switching onto 93 for the other 9 miles of the trip left me in dead-stop traffic. It ultimately took me 50 minutes to travel those 9 miles, by which time, Don’s plane was due to have landed. I finally pulled in, and called – no answer. I got into the terminal, since I had his flight info I knew where I was supposed to be, called again and … no answer. I checked the Starbucks (we’re writers, of course we gravitate toward coffee and wifi) but no luck. Called again and found his plane had arrived late; he was just getting off it now. Perfect! I wasn’t late after all. We found each other easily after that, got back to the hotel faster than I’d made it out to the airport, and after dropping his stuff off, made our way to the hotel bar.

My room was near the Con Suite, which was not, as directions would suggest, out the 6th floor window.

I did mention that we were writers, right?

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So You Want to Write an Author Blurb? Readercon Edition, With Advice from Ken Liu and Don Pizarro

We all know the first step toward getting yourself invited to talk on a panel at a convention like Readercon is to have a really outstanding author blurb. The kind of run-on sentence (or three) that not only conveys your vast experience in talking out loud but that also implies your great range of knowledge*.

Picture it, if you will.

Actually, I did take a picture. Don (left) and Ken (right) in the Marriott bar, July 16, 2011

One hot afternoon in Boston I found myself sitting across a table from Ken Liu and Don Pizarro, brilliant authors and Men of Experience. We were sitting in the hotel bar, like you do at a convention, talking about how awesome I am. Well, how awesome I’m not. See, I’d jokingly mentioned something to my day job boss about my positive attitude and wide set of skills, and while he didn’t seem to be sure if I was kidding or not, I felt a bit embarrassed. I mean, who goes around telling people they’re awesome unless it’s a joke?

But no, these men assured me, I was on the right track. Once they got done laughing hysterically at my faux pas, I was informed that this was the beginning of an author blurb that was sure to get me noticed. Ken had been on a panel earlier in the day, and both Don and I aspire to be on panels in the future (Don also aspires to be famous enough to say terrible things when he’s really old and get away with it, so I think I’m going to need to stick around and write his apologetic morning-after press releases for him). Don stopped giggling long enough to pay attention at what was about to be a very serious conversation.

“You have to start with that,” Ken advised me. “Carrie Cuinn, author, editor, publisher. Then, ‘I’m awesome’.” He made air quotes with his fingers as he said that part. “Or maybe put, ‘I’m awesome’ first.”

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