And that’s a wrap on ConCoction 2019

The sequel did not disappoint. I had even more fun this year than last.

All my panels were a blast. So MANY great conversations on the role of creatures in stories, types of relationships besides romance and protagonists beyond the badass…wow. Excellent audience participation, and I met many cool new authors, too, which means of course  I have a huge list of titles to grab for my e-reader. And others to bump to the top of the To Be Read list.

I will attempt a list of all the cool authors who returned from last year and the new ones who joined in…but it will be later, when my brain is less mushy. If I try now, I would forget someone and feel horrible about it forever.

There was even an epic cool event called Prompt Joust, which is basically competitive impromptu storytelling. Two storytellers, one-minute time limit, story prompt/prop revealed just before the first person begins. It’s a web series by Story Medics (link here)  but this was a Special ConCoction edition RECORDED LIVE in front of the convention audience.

<gulp> I did it because the idea terrified me and I love doing scary things, and IT WAS A HOOT! I want to do it again! At some point the recordings will be posted on the Youtube Channel. Yes, I will let people know when mine is on. But I’ll also let you know about everyone else’s, because they were ALL great fun.

Other firsts. I did my first-ever reading from Controlled Descent! To my surprise and glee, it found some immediate fans. Readers grabbed all 5 copies I brought, and also some of Flight Plan, since it’s designed to be readable first. I found homes for a few copies of Rough Passages too. (That phrasing always makes me feel like I’m talking about orphaned kittens or something.)


Stickers were a hit again, people said complimentary things about the Unity Movement & Mercury Battalion support patches, and I even sent a couple of patches home with readers. Also, thanks to the great con organizers, I even had NEW bling to pass along!  I ordered a TON of awesome ribbons with Rough Passages-related messages on them. IT was a huge thrill to see people walking around wearing my ribbons.

(I may love book bling a whole lot.)

Post-con there was a scrumptious pub lunch with great friends I made last year and this one, and Sunday evening I hung out w/the ever-amazing Shannon Eichorn & new friend Abigail Delk for a post-con viewing of How to Train Your Dragon 2.

ON the emotions side, con crash came early with a minor anxiety freakout Saturday afternoon and other twitch sessions thereafter.  I’m getting better about spotting the symptoms early and fending off the worst effects. The most successful defense tactic appears to be regularly admitting to everyone I meet that I’ve gone fragile.

Now that I am fully in post-mode, I am certain I was accidentally rude to people, made someone feel left out, BORED them, or, y’know, just plain screwed up somehow.

But throughout the whole con, I felt included and welcomed and valued. So I’m clinging to those happy snapshots and can only hope I succeeded in my clumsy attempts to be socially supportive to others.

Next up in my life: laundry. Then it’s offline and back to revisions and drafting.

Lockdown’s first reviews. Hey Mikey! They like it!

A writer always worries. When I publish, I wonder if anyone could possibly love the babies of my imagination as much as I do. I’m a more like a sea turtle who abandons her offspring to stagger into the ocean on their own than a watchful protective mother duck, but I am a book mama.
I do care. A lot.
Yesterday I tossed my latest story into the cold waters of the world. Not many survived the hatch (by which I mean “not many sales,” I do love to stretch an analogy) but at least a few babies have found loving, happy homes. Here are the first four reviews for Lockdown, in order received.

4.0 out of 5 starsAn emotional roller coaster ride

There are three things that will push me to give a written work a high rating; outstanding and original use of language (think William Shakespeare), painting vivid imagery with words (H. P. Lovecraft), and most commonly, bringing to life believable characters and provoking emotional responses. This story does the later. Right out of the gate I sympathized with Elena, the story’s heroine, and felt real anger toward her father. But wait, as the story unfolds, that reaction reverses. Elena shows real human flaws and grows up over the course of the tale, partly due to sergeant Cody. Now Cody provoked a very strong emotional response from me. I’m a Marine Corps veteran, and Cody personifies what it really means to be a Marine, and that always surprises me when I see it in fiction by authors that have never been Marines. This author nailed it on the head. I’m a big fan of KM Herkes’ work, and the Rough Passages stories are my favorites (Oi! Novel!), and this is an excellent addition. Highly recommended.

4.0 out of 5 stars

In this comparatively short story KM Herkes has invented a world that is similar to this one, yet believably different. The story draws you in immediately. The author’s expressive way of writing made me want to know more about this strange world that Elena lives in, and the way the girl is portrayed made me care about what will happen to her – and I have read a fair few books where, after the first chapter or so I really haven’t cared about them at all. It’s a knack that some writers have and others strive for.
As the story progresses, the author unveils that Elena has more courage than she has ever realised. She likes the marines she was talking to, so when one of them saves her life without even thinking about it, she realises that, underneath the altered exteriors, humanity still exists in them, so she then does a very brave thing.
This is a story about humanity, friendship and the fears that lie behind mans’ inhumanity to man. I found myself empathising with the main character, and sympathising with the ‘monsters’. I also love the way that the author ties up the ending (which I will not spoil here!)
Do yourself a favour, buy it.

5.0 out of 5 starsTeen story that adults will enjoy

In Lockdown, Herkes returns to the world where super-hero powers appear in mid-life. What makes this short story so enjoyable to me is that it is told through the eyes of young teens. Experiences and expectations of their parents (whether based on fact, fear, or supposition), and the disruption to home life that parents with powers can create, naturally color the teens’ views. I’ve read a lot of teen fiction, and I would have to say that Herkes’ story ranks up there with the best for reminding us of what it is like to be a teen: navigating friendships, respectfully interacting with parents and other authority figures even when it’s hard, and developing one’s own ideas about the world. It’s a challenging time of life emotionally and psychologically, and not all authors can create teen characters who are true to life while still being people I want to spend time getting to know. The main character here, Elena, is just delightful, and the fully fleshed out supporting cast (teen and adult) are engaging and realistic. I enjoy Herkes’ writing because she does a great job of creating her worlds, and this is one I would like to explore more from Elena’s point of view. And you should explore it, too. Just be ready for it to be over far too quickly and to leave you longing for more.

Rough Passages is a great series. I love how each story is written to be read independently, but the more you read, the bigger the world becomes. Most of the stories are from the point of view of adults experiencing rollover, the transformation that happens to some when they hit middle age. This one is from the point of view of the young daughter of such an adult, and deals with her fears for her own future. Herkes’s characterization is top notch, and her plots for this series always keep me turning pages. Here’s to many more!

Letters to warm a worried mama’s heart. Lest you think my head is swelling with pride, I can assure you that not all the responses to my stories are positive. Problem is,  I have yet to convince anyone to share those concerns and valid criticisms online. I don’t blindly. I know my stories aren’t for everyone. I drop readers into my worlds much like I drop my story-babies into the publishing seas. Bloop. Immersion with minimal explanation is not a comfortable or enjoyable reading experience for everyone, nor do I expect it to be.

Variety is good. There should be words of all kinds in the world. That’s why I’m committed to continuing this publishing adventure. If I’ve tempted you at all, if you’ve made it this far into my self-congratulatory, back-patting party, here’s a link to Lockdown itself and to my Amazon author page, where you’ll find the rest of the stories in the Rough Passages collection. If you click “follow” on the author page, you even get updates when I put out new stories. Convenient for everyone!


Chip off the Ol’ Writer’s Block

The information in this post comes from an SFWA panel on writer’s block I attended in June 2015. If you’re a speculative fiction writer and can afford to attend the SFWA weekend in June 2016, I highly recommend the experience. I learned a lot in this session and others, and I met a lot of great people too. Now, about that block…

What’s that? A blockage? Let me at it.

Authors Nancy Kress, Sarah Pinsker, Jack McDevitt, and Jack Skillingstead began the session with introductions and a definition of what writer’s block would mean in the context of their discussion. That’s more important than it might seem on first glance. See, the creative dry spells writers usually mean when we talk about being “blocked” are frustrating, but they’re actually not the debilitating condition a psychologist would call writer’s block. Everything here is directed towards problems of the  “where do I go from here?” “I’m stuck,” or “what happened to my motivation?” type rather than deep-seated avoidances and phobias rooted in “I’m scared. I can’t face it.”

Point 1: There’s no one cause or type of block, and writers can be blocked for more than one reason at a time or over time.  If I’m blocked I might be:

emotionally or technically unprepared for a specific project
distracted by life’s other necessities.

unsure what comes next, plot wise.
buried under too many voices/advice/info on how to. 
suffering from”Tolstoy syndrome” (mired in the emotional swamp of “If it’s not as good as why bother?”)
having an episode of blank page panic
overwhelmed by discouragement.

(to name only a few common issues) 

Point 2: Nothing works for everyone. Nothing works for anyone every time. The suggestions below have worked for some people some of the time. Trying them out is one way to find what works for you. 

Go back to the last place in the story you were excited and re-write from there.
Refuse yourself writing or even words (even talking, if that’s practical) until the ideas start to flow again.
Go be physical (run, walk, garden…)
Free-write: start typing thoughts from a characters standpoint, riff on a keyword related to plot, anything that gets random words on paper
Keep away from the work area and think until start is set in mind before sitting down to the blank page.

Deny self TV/ reading/Facebook/other entertainments until work is done.
Keep multiple projects in play and switch between them whenever the energy on one wanes.

Point 3: Some general tips help writers avoid blocks and ease the work of grinding them down:
Know what you need to do to get the brain settled. Rituals and routines help.
Know your rhythm; work when your mind is sharper. Morning, evening, whenever.
Set smaller goals when you can; focus on writing a paragraph, not a novel
Recognize that each scene is a thing–helps clarify n move ideas
Write into the next scene, try to not end a session on an end
Set a far goal aim, even if it’s not the goal you end up hitting
Reread or read work aloud to find tiny changes to make

Suggestions from the audience at this point included:
using a spreadsheet (the panel wasn’t enthused but agreed it was a good motivator for those who feel motivated by word counts. Petty counting-hater that I am, I silently cheered.)
Opening new files for free writing with the thought “this doesn’t count” in mind
Rewriting other people’s work
Write a bear into the scene. Literally. Just to see what happens.
Outline a scene, if you usually don’t, and when dialogue or description starts happening on its own, go with it.

The panel then digressed into a neat conversation on types of stories: gifts vs shitting rocks. Some stories come wrapped in excitement, others have to be bled from a vein.
And then they meandered into discussing their approaches to writing & rewriting (free vs critical first drafts, some like rewriting, some despise it, etc)
The session ended with commentary on critiquing and the results and how it can both cause and cure blocks, which leads to the last point.

Pointers on using criticism as a springboard to renewed motivation:
Don’t get annoyed. (Silent tears of mirth on my part, on hearing that. Might as well suggest people stop breathing. In fairness, I think the idea was more to recommend getting over being annoyed, without responding. That whole side conversation is what inspired the whole Critiques Are Like Road Trips post.)
Find a good critic who won’t hold back but also won’t indulge in toxic superiority
Find a simpatico readers who are looking for the style and content you create.

Find people who are better than you when it comes to craft and technique.
Find people who aren’t interested in scoring ego points on you.

There. I think that covers my notes. I hope someone else gleans some useful ideas from this. I know I did.