ConCarolinas 2014: Live Action Slush, Round 2

If you haven’t read about the first round of live action slush, you can read about it here.  This round continued where the first round left off.  It seemed a couple of the pieces didn’t have their human present though.  But the info was still great!

In this round, the reader was A.J. Hartley.  Hearing some of the southern style writing read in a British accent was pretty hilarious too.  I wish I could have recorded some of it! (But that wasn’t allowed so everyone would feel safe having their work read aloud.)

The critics were the same three from round one: Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, and David B. Coe.

Here we go!


Slush #1

  • In a battle, sentences should be short and fast.
  • When you’re in combat, the only thing you’re thinking about is living to the next heartbeat.

Slush #2

  • Don’t single space.
  • Too much world building and description at the beginning will not sell.
  • Wordiness is bad.
  • Don’t end a sentence with about. (like I just did?)
  • First sentence shouldn’t be long.
  • There’s too much description and no action.

Slush #3

  • Wow. Ravens. Wow.

Slush #4

  • Wow again.
  • Comment from writer of the piece – you know how Stephen King said you have to write a million shitty words to get to the good stuff?  This is about a million five.

Slush #5

  • The big moment got lost.
  • Too much wordiness.
  • Poor organization of necessary info.
  • Watch word repetition and boring description.
  • Needs to be more sparse.
  • Know your weapons.

Slush #6

  • Sparse room doesn’t exists – sparsely furnished room does.
  • Watch out for inconsistent descriptors because they will kick the reader out of the story.
  • First page must be absolutely perfect.

Slush #7

  • At times you want to withhold from the reader, not on the 1st page though.
  • Watch for mood shifts.
  • Remember bait and hook.

Slush #8

  • Need to be clear who the main character is.
  • Find your point of view character.
  • Watch out for the comma splice.  Major error.

Slush #9

  • What’s the point of view?
  • Nothing’s happening.
  • Editors won’t be patient waiting for something to happen.
  • First person, present tense not in style.  (past is preferred)
  • Don’t put self description on the first page.
  • Beautiful women who don’t know they’re hot?  Please.  (That was A.J.’s comment)
  • The panelists (maybe A.J.?) also pointed out that female characters get described by how they look.  Men don’t.

Slush #10

  • Needs intimacy, not distance.
  • Show rather than tell.
  • Description sets the stage for the whole book.

Slush #11 (they were starting to rush at this point because we were out of time)

  • Don’t trivialize the description.

Slush #12

  • This one was hilarious.
  • Humor is good when done right.
  • People wanted more. (I wanted to read more too!)

Thanks for reading!  The Magical Words group said that they plan to do more of these in July at ConGregate, so I will be sure to take notes then too!  They said they might even take a video to share if it’s all right with the writer.


ConCarolinas: Magical Words Beginnings

The Magical Words Beginnings panel was held by Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, and David B. Coe.  Along with C.E. Murphy, those three established the Magical Words site in 2008.  (I hear there is an Android app for it too!)   If you’re an aspiring writer, Magical Words is definitely a place you’d want to visit.

On with the panel notes…

To begin, the first 1-2 paragraphs of the book are some of the most important.  The panelists said that the first paragraph should establish five things.

  1. conflict
  2. character
  3. pacing
  4. setting
  5. point of view

If it doesn’t, revise.

The first page should do what is called “bait and hook.”  This means that you engage the reader (bait) and pull him/her into the story (hook).

Avoid using the beginning of a book for an “info dump” – you can establish character in the beginning, but save back story for later.   You have to be careful not to describe too much.  Choose what’s important.

  • Notice what the character would notice.
  • If the character is in an unfamiliar place, the character will take it all in.
  • If the character is in a dangerous or tense setting, the character will have a more focused and limited view.

Faith read the first two paragraphs of Skinwalker.  Those paragraphs didn’t just set up the first novel; they set up the entire series.   How’s that for impressive?

The panel then shifted a little to what was once in style but has gone out of favor, like cinematic openings.   David and Faith said that while cinematic openings are good for movies, they’ve not been used much in writing for about 20 years, so avoid them.  With a cinematic opening, a couple of things happen.  You have an omniscient narrator (which means you don’t get to the P.O.V character until later) and the camera zooms into the action from far away (which can decrease immediacy and intimacy).

The discussion of openings, narrators, and point of view naturally led to a brief discussion of person.  Should you write in first person, second person, or third person?

  • First person: that’s what is hot right now.
  • Second person: avoid it.
  • Third person: that’s the old standby (Thieftaker and Mad Kestrel are written in third person)

However, with that being said, you should write to the market.  Don’t write to the trends, but do keep the market in mind.

David said, “If you’re going to reject my story, you’re going to do it on my terms.”

Faith said, “Write the book you love, not the book you’ll sell.”  Overall, if you don’t love your book, and you’re not passionate about it, no one else will be either.


ConCarolinas 2014: Live Action Slush, Round 1

The Magical Words crew (Faith Hunter, David B. Coe, and Misty Massey) held two sessions of Live Action Slush at ConCarolinas this year.  These sessions had people sitting in the floor, standing squashed together in the corners, and people spilling out into the hallway.  And this was during one of the sessions by George R.R. Martin.  How awesome is that?

The way it worked was attendees submitted the first page of their work in progress (WIP) and a reader read it aloud to the crowd.  When the Magical Words crew heard something that would probably cause an agent to stop reading, they raised their hands.  When all three hands were up, the reader stopped.  In the first session, only one made it all the way to the end of the page.

The following are the comments for the pieces the MW crew discussed.  They were, of course, meant for the particular piece, but the information is good for just about any work!

Slush #1

  • Need to connection to character
  • Tense problems
  • Inner thought/outer thought transition problems

Slush #2

  • It is a vague pronoun. Don’t start there.
  • Too long first line – quick line is better
  • Transition problem
  • Point of view problem
  • Good immediacy of voice
  • Goal in first page is to connect
  • Make sure you start in the right place

Slush #3

  • Telling too much, nothing is happening
  • Needs immediacy
  • Use contractions unless they don’t work for character
  • Careful with erudition

Slush #4

  • Short sentences help increase immediacy.
  • Too much telling not enough reaction to situation
  • Heard, felt, saw – replace with something else

Slush #5

  • Don’t mess with the body at the crime scene
  • Make sure you have your facts right.
  • Magic and tarot cards are intriguing.
  • Point of view shifts
  • Steampunk doesn’t have to be in England – that’s good.
  • Do your homework
  • Differences in names is good.

Slush #6

  • Something needs to happen – what is the story going to be about?
  • Need to have conflict on the first page. First 200-300 words
  • Too many different creatures – be more clear and specific
  • Too many adverbs
  • Avoid adverbs of manner
  • Show not tell
  • Write according to today’s market

Slush #7

  • Be careful about said book-isms – use said not hissed, glared (or say she said, hissing the words)
  • Editors are looking for reasons to say no to get the pile to go down

Slush #8

  • Be careful about misplaced modifiers
  • Too many names at once
  • Order of words must make intent clear
  • Need immediacy – think like character
  • No tourniquets – otherwise you have to amputate.  Instead stuff something in it and apply pressure.

Slush #9

  • Too little happening early on – not starting in the right place
  • Need conflict in the first paragraph
  • Start where things begin to go wrong.

Slush #10

  • Too much dialogue
  • Too many endearments
  • Not enough action
  • We need he said, she said
  • Need action while the dialog is taking place
  • Too slow unless it’s in the moment.
  • People rarely use names – even less so for endearments
  • Prologues are out of fashions – editors don’t like them
  • Only use a prologue if it is something essential to the story
  • Leave the reader to guess – part of bait and hook – give it in bits and pieces.
  • Info dump broken up into dialogue
  • Layer info like lasagna

Slush #11

  • Make your character do what you’re saying they’ll do
  • Needs emotion

Whew!  To sum it up, the things that almost everyone needed to work on include point of view, getting the action going right away, do the research necessary, and hook the reader in.


ConCarolinas 2013: The First Five Pages

The First Five Pages.  Those are some really important words.  Fortunately, I was able to attend a panel discussion at ConCarolinas by some of the Magical Words authors on this very subject!  I really took a lot of notes during this panel because it is something that I really found useful and interesting.The panel guests were Faith Hunter, David B. Coe, and Misty Massey.   Check out their books if you haven’t already!

Panel Notes
  • Need action in the first five pages
  • Editors are looking for potential – able to write, know how to tell a story that will last over the length of the book
  • First five pages must be kick ass
  • They are looking for a reason to STOP reading!
  • You can’t depend on luck if you want to be published
  • Opening must contain
    • Bait and hook
    • Something (event) that will be pivotal but isn’t finished
    • Writing style that sets the tone/genre
    • Sense of immediacy (has to be important and has a time limit)
    • More than one character with a struggle
  • What is on the first page is what the book is about – will carry through the whole book.  Put a body on the first page.
  • A story begins when the points leading up to the climax begin to matter.
  • Let them start to get to know the characters
  • Build worlds with what you know
  • Openings can be action, narrative, or dialogue
  • Advice for researching
    • Read books that are well written.  And badly written.
    • Avoid overused tropes (thematic narrative tool that’s overdone)
    • Make notes of why things work and why they don’t.
    • Find your own opening that the editor can’t put down
    • Read Enders Game
    • Read analytically. Learn how to write by reading. Write in the book and mark good stuff and bad stuff. Choose blockbusters at first. They’re blockbusters for a reason.
  • Conflict
    • Doesn’t have to be the main conflict, but it has to do with it.
  • Great opening – The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron
  • Know the character well enough to know what sets off their emotions.  Then put those things in their path.
  • Discovery is what makes a book work.
  • The first five pages need to be the best work you can do. 
  • Back story in the second third of the book. It’s like lasagna.  Chop it up and give it to us small.  Show.  Don’t tell.   Hint at the back story at first.
  • Don’t sit and wait.  Move on to the next thing.  Publishing is really slow. 
  • Skills will atrophy.  Don’t stop writing.
  • Put distance between the writing and self editing. 4-6 weeks.


This post originally appeared at in 2013

ConCarolinas 2014: Switching Gears

Switching Gears

Tamsin Silver, Faith Hunter, Tonia Brown, Stuart Jaffe, A.J. Hartley, David B. Coe, Edmund Schubert

How do you deal with more than one deadline? 

There are different deadlines that occur when you’re writing.  Faith Hunter described the different types of deadlines one might encounter.  If you’re working on multiple projects, hopefully each of those projects will be at different stages.

  • Developmental Edit: concerned with story arc, characterization, plot.
  • Copy Edit: grammar, punctuation, mechanics.
  • Page Proofs (ARC): just like it will look in print, check each page for missing sentences, missing words, repeated words, etc.

Tamsin Silver said, “Set goals and stick to them!”

David B. Coe reminded the audience that the publication world is usually about 1 1/2 years behind what the author is working on.  (YIKES!)

Stuart Jaffe spoke to those who manage deadlines in the self-publishing world.

  • You do your own cover design.  You’re your own art director.  (Unless you pay someone to do it.)
  • There’s an instant turnaround, but readers start to demand faster turnaround too.
  • He suggested developing a production schedule rather than switching between creative projects.
  • Hard to predict when they’ll go live (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes all have different timelines.)
  • Traditionally published writers have to wait in line, so that’s why it takes so much longer.

What happens if you get stuck or frustrated?

  • David B. Coe: If you’re frustrated by a problem in a work, moving to a different work is a death knell.
  • A.J. Hartley: Agrees with David, especially with creative/academic work.
  • All agree: Don’t drop projects when it gets frustrating.

Are short stories worth writing?  Or as a palate cleanser?

  • Stuart Jaffe and Edmund Schubert both started their careers by writing short stories.
  • Edmund Schubert: They’re a great learning tool, but not a money-maker.
  • Stuart Jaffe: You can publish them online for about 99 cents each.
  • Tonia Brown: Do three at a time–triple shot!

How do you manage revisions?

  • Edmund Schubert: Being a writer is much more than writing.  Do other things before revising.
  • A.J. Hartley: Sometimes time is necessary.  You must be able to read it as someone else would.
  • Faith Hunter: Ask yourself, “What is this book about?”  Then you can cut stuff and fix problems.
  • David B. Coe: Fresh eyes (beta-readers) are essential.
  • Tamsin Silver: Steps to writing
    • Write a book
    • Do something special for yourself because you just wrote a book!
    • Put it away for 6 months (until you forgot what you meant)
    • Work on something else
    • Return and rework it

Is it difficult to switch between genres?

I can’t remember who, but someone (maybe A.J. or Edmund?) described switching genres as not a switching of hats but a switching of heads!

  • A.J. Hartley: fiction and nonfiction is apples and oranges; academic writing is slower writing than fiction; very extensive research and much more scrutiny; purpose is different; when you write fiction, you’re in control and make it happen, but you can’t do that with nonfiction.
  • David B. Coe: Point of view makes it easier.  Submerge yourself into the P.O.V character and then it is more switching people than books.
  • Faith Hunter: wrote for a woman’s magazine when she was Gwen (1 article a month); uses two different sides of the brain (one non-fiction, one fiction, and a split personality for urban fantasy!)


ConCarolinas 2013: The Most Important Advice

I hope to write a book one day, but I have a problem getting started and never finishing.  I have fourteen novels at various states of completion.  Thanks to conventions, personal networking, and the internet, I have been fortunate enough to be able to have individual conversations with quite a few authors – even some New York Times bestsellers!  Of all the advice I have ever gotten, one of the most valuable and most profound pieces of advice I have received came from both David B. Coe (or DB Jackson as he is also known) and John Hartness in the same day.

I was at ConCarolinas, and I approached David’s table, which was situated next to A.J. Hartley and just down the way from Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, Kalayna Price, and John Hartness, who are all wonderful.  I asked when his next book is releasing and he told me (Thieves’ Quarry releases July 2nd, by the way…)  Then he asked if I write.   I had a fan-girl stuttering moment and then replied that I want to write, and I start lots of projects, but I never can seem to pick one to finish.  I explained that I have a computer file stuffed full of good ideas, and not-so-good ideas, but I have never finished a single one.  His advice was so simple and yet so very profound.  He said, “Pick one and finish it.”

Throughout the rest of the Con, those words were on my mind.  Why bother putting in all the effort to learn about the trade if I was never going to finish a book?  I listened for more tidbits of information and heard other good bits of advice, but those words stuck hard.  After another panel, I stopped by the table to visit John Hartness and buy a Read Recklessly t-shirt.  (He has a new anthology out too!)  He asked how I was enjoying the convention, and I blabbered for a while before causally mentioning the earlier conversation with David B. Coe.  John just nodded and said something along the lines of, “Yeah, get your ass in the chair and write.”

Thus, I have really learned a lot about writing from these people, but I believe the best advice I have ever gotten is to just write.  It takes a lot of writing to make a book, and to be honest, one reason I started this blog is to give myself daily assignments for writing.  Will I finish my book?  You bet!  Will it get published?  Well, that’s a whole other ballgame.

For all the aspiring authors out there, keep writing.   That’s what I learned from some of the best, and I am happy to share it with you.


(This is a post from ConCarolinas in 2013 – cross posted from