Happy Halloween!

It feels strange to have Halloween on a Monday, especially since all the parties seemed to have taken place over the weekend. As fast as this year is going, today already feels like November somehow. But it’s officially pumpkin day, so I’m offering a few random treats.

Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) Shows Off Her Haunted Dollhouse – Wonderful photos of a very spooky little house.

Jack-o-Lanterns Inspired by Literature – Photos of some very creative pumpkins.

Why J.K. Rowling Almost Killed Ron Weasley – Fun peek at how the author considered bumping off this member of the famous trio. (Because even your favorite characters can occasionally make you feel murderous.)

Much more coming up here this week, so be sure to check back. I’m going to be sharing a few tips for those of you tackling Nanowrimo (starting tomorrow!) and there’s a giveaway on the horizon as well. Meanwhile, have a happy, safe Halloween, and try not to eat all that candy at once. (It makes a good reward after a writing sprint!)

Trick or Treat

The main trick I’ve heard of so far seems to be all the snow dumping itself on New York and points farther up the Northeastern part of the U.S. In October, no less. Trick indeed. Hope everyone in that neck of the woods is keeping toasty warm.

Of course, whether you’re snowed in or not, this is a weekend for Halloween fun. Parties, candy, costumes, and spooky tales are all on the agenda. And while I can’t throw you a party from here, and I draw the line at sending candy-grams, I’ll gladly offer up some suggestions for holiday-themed reading.

In general, I’m not a big fan of scary movies or books. I enjoy them, but it takes a lot to scare me these days, which is just as well since I’m in no hurry to lose any sleep. What does generally frighten me are the things I can see happening in real life, no matter how twisted and exaggerated they’ve become for the sake of a plot. But regardless, I admire the ability to build suspense to that level, whether through fantastical creatures, reality, or a mix of the two. Anyone looking to work on their suspense-building skills might find reading a few good horror stories a fun way to hone their skills.

So, book thoughts? I’m a fan of the classics, like DRACULA and THE TURN OF THE SCREW, as well as more modern works, particularly books by Stephen King, such as THE SHINING, ‘SALEM’S LOT, THE STAND. I recently read Justin Cronin’s THE PASSAGE, and that made for a few squirmy moments. Right now I’m reading Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIANS — more magic, less scares. For Halloween, I’ve got a copy of THE LAST WEREWOLF by Glen Duncan.

As you can see, I’ve a pretty broad definition of what I consider Halloween reading. Below I’ve included some links to some other people’s ideas of what to read this time of year. And how about all of you? What’s on the nightstand in honor of Halloween? Or do you keep your to-read list business as  usual?

Top Ten Scariest Books of All Time

Critics Picks October: An Apocalypse Edition

Ten Tales by Ray Bradbury to Get You in the Halloween Spirit

Weekend Linkage

I can’t say I know what happened to this week — it really flew right by. Heck, let’s face it, I’m not sure where October went.

What I do know is that the weekend is upon us and I’m once again (still?) buried in submissions and client reading. So I offer up some links to keep you entertained, including thoughts for preparing for Nanowrimo, which kicks off Tuesday. Happy weekend, everyone, and enjoy!

Writing Short Stories or Articles with a Fantastical Twist – Some good thoughts, and sort of appropriate for the days before Halloween.

Online Resources for Improving Your Life – A useful look at some online organizational tools.

Martha Alderson: How to Plot Your Writing Time During the Month of November – A few tips for you Nano-types.

The Story Bible: What It Is and Why You Need One – More good tips for tracking details in your WIP.

The Last Slacker: Colson Whitehead’s Zone One – Because what’s the weekend before Halloween without something zombie-related?

20 Alcoholic Beverages Inspired by the Harry Potter Series – I’m not sure this requires any explanation.

Halloween Chat!

The Knight Agency is hosting a Halloween-themed chat this evening, featuring author Kristen Painter, whose novel BLOOD RIGHTS, the first in a trilogy, is now in stores. Join us for a fun time, featuring spooky book talk and fun prizes.

Chat begins at 9pm ET/ 6pm PT, tonight, October 27. You can access the chat room here. For more details about the chat, visit The Knight Agency blog.

So grab some candy, don your costume, and meet us online for a little Halloween fun!

The Conference Skinny

I’m back from the Surrey International Writers’ Conference and have been playing a bit of catch up the last few days, but I wanted to post about the conference now that I’ve had a little time to think about it. It was a lovely few days, just as I anticipated, partly because I have done this particular event before and I’ve gotten to know a number of the organizers and other presenters, and partly because it attracts a diverse group of people that always make for an interesting and entertaining long weekend.

Each year, I probably do something in the neighborhood of a half dozen conferences, not counting trips to speak at the meetings of various writers’ groups. They all have their specific features and appeal to me for different reasons. Surrey is a broad conference, one that attracts writers across genres, and can boast an attendance somewhere between 700 and 800 people. It’s flexible, in that writers may register for the entire conference or pick and choose, attending for a day or two, or even coming early for a day of master classes. Attending writers have the chance to book a pitch appointment with an agent or editor, or sign up for a blue-pencil session with a published author. There are workshops and panels scheduled during the days, and often hilarious entertainment during the evening, plus inspirational keynotes sprinkled throughout the conference.

From an agent’s perspective, I love the Surrey conference for the variety of attendees. Many of the conferences I participate in are genre-specific, so it’s fun to switch it up and have the chance to hear pitches from writers across the spectrum. I also get a chance to do a panel and/or workshop. This year I did Surrey Idol for the second time. This panel involved four agents sitting at the front of the room, while author Jack Whyte stands at the podium. Writers submit the first two pages of their manuscripts anonymously, and Jack pulls them at random to read aloud (with his wonderful Scots accent that makes anything sound just a little bit better). We agents consider the reading as we would a submission, listening to the point where we would have stopped reading ourselves, then raise our hands. Once two of us have our hands up, Jack stops reading and we say what was working and what wasn’t. It’s always a highly entertaining panel and sometimes you find a gem in all those pages. This conference we heard several partials that really shone.

Aside from that, I love that the organizers of the Surrey conference remember that presenters are people too. Yes, we’re happy to work with the attending writers, to sit with them at lunch and dinner, have drinks with them in the bar, and generally make ourselves available. That is, after all, why we’re there. But at the same time, I appreciate that presenters get breakfast in a little room on our own, giving us time to chat to each other and jump-start our day. We also have a bit of downtime in our schedules, allowing us to go check e-mail or even to checkout a workshop ourselves — something I was excited to do this conference. It gives us time to network, to catch up with people we haven’t seen in a while, and to make new friends. I left on Sunday aware that I’d done a lot of work over the weekend, but it had all been enjoyable, and so mixed with playtime that it felt more like a retreat than an actual conference.

For those of you thinking about attending a conference, Surrey is one I would recommend, but of course you must consider what is important to you — what you hope to get out of a conference experience. Think about size and manageability; are you interested in a small, intimate conference — perhaps focused on writers of a single genre, such as romance or mysteries — or would you like a big, varied conference that allows you to get both general and specific information on both writing and the publishing process? Are you looking just to pitch or meet agents and editors, or would you expect to participate in workshops where you have the chance to pick up some new tricks or generate ideas? Some conferences allow writers to submit pages for critique ahead of time, and then set up meetings with the agent or editor who read the material in order to discuss it.

If you’re a published writer, you might consider participating in a conference from the other end of the spectrum, giving back to the writing community by sharing some of the things you’ve learned along the way. And of course, cost is always a consideration, including not just the conference itself but travel and accommodations. There are conferences all over the U.S. and Canada, as well as around the world. It’s important to check around and see what meets your criteria, but it also might be worth it to save for a year or two if there’s a larger, more pricey conference that appeals to you.

Writers’ conferences are listed in writing magazines and online, through writers’ organizations and formal writing programs. Resources for finding genre conferences include the Romance Writers of America, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and the Horror Writers Association. Word of mouth is also a great way to learn about new conferences. Ask friends what conferences they’ve attended and get some inside perspective on the events. You can also visit the websites of your favorite writers and see if they are scheduled to present at any conferences.

Attending conferences is part of my job but a wonderful part. Like many writers, I work alone most days in my office. There’s a flurry of e-mail and plenty of phone calls, between clients and editors and my fellow agents the other coast, but I don’t get much face time with people in my industry. Conferences are a chance to learn things, to build your business, but they’re also a time to socialize, to rub elbows with people who speak the same language, this language of writing and books and publishing. You can come away inspired.



Linkity Link

Greetings from beautiful Surrey, B.C., Canada. This is just a quick wave from the conference, as I have a full schedule ahead of me. But I promised some weekend reading, so here you go. Enjoy!

A good wrap up of the National Book Awards/Lauren Myracle Situation – courtesy of Publishers Weekly.

Julian Barnes Wins the Bookercourtesy of The Millions

Bram Stoker’s Notebooks Unearthed – A perfect follow up to my question about writers’ notebooks earlier this week.

On Reading North American Books in Cuba – Writer/translator Jose Manuel Prieto on the books he read while growing up in Cuba.

I Was No Longer Afraid to Die – A fabulous look at Joan Didion’s new memoir over at New York Books.

Conference Bound

I’m off today for Surrey, B.C., Canada for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, where I’ll be taking pitches and chatting with writers, editors, and other agents through Sunday. Some goodies should pop up here on the blog tomorrow in anticipation of the weekend, so be sure to check back. And if you’re attending SIWC, please do say hello! Hope to meet a few of you there. Happy writing!

Keeping Notes

Lots of people keep notes, make lists, and otherwise track things they need to remember, whether they’re writers or not. But I’m most interested in how writers keep track of and organize their thoughts, because in addition to all those other things they need to recall — doctors’ appointments, play dates for the kids, due dates for work projects, dinner parties, shopping lists, birthdays, the annual flu shot, getting the gutters cleaned — writers have to keep track of their ideas.

There’s a myth that all writers keep a pen and paper on them wherever they go, be it a nice notebook and a pretty fountain pen or just some scrap paper and a stubby pencil, so when the muse strikes, they can jot down a few words or sentences to avoid forgetting what might be the germ of a poem or article or story. In reality, I know a lot of writers who do no such thing. You’d be amazed how often I attend a writers conference only to have someone borrow my penduring a pitch session so they can make a note of what I’ve asked them to send me.

credit: www.notebookstories.com

But many writers do have a system, generally some sort of small, portable notebook where they can accumulate bits and pieces over the course of their day, ideas or things they’ve seen or smidgens of dialogue that felt inspirational in the moment. I’ve heard of writers with notebooks for different purposes; one for actual writing of drafts, another for jotting ideas and notes, and separate notebooks to serve as story bibles for individual projects where all the details of the world are kept in one place.

In this electronic age, however, I see more and more writers who have gone digital. Notes are kept on tablets or laptops or even in smart phones. I acknowledge the convenience, but I can’t help but feel something is getting lost in the process this way. I like the idea of notes that include sketches or scribbled out bits, or of notebooks that have things slipped between their pages — maps or postcards or flyers from tourist spots. Yes, you can snap photos on your smart phone to serve as visual reminders of a particular landscape or site, but it’s not quite the same.

Charles Simic writes about his own adherence to the old fashioned way of tracking his day and his ideas for the New York Review of Books Blog. I love how for him the act of writing down his thoughts is partly about creating a lasting work, almost an art form in itself, that is in no danger of getting deleted or recycled when he upgrades his electronics. Of course, notebooks are not permanent in the sense that they can be damaged or lost, but these seem less of a danger.

How about you? Do you keep a notebook or journal of sorts, whether as a writer or just as an individual interested in keeping record of your life? What form do your ramblings and memories take? And do you ever go back through old writing to visit your past self?

Links for the Weekend

TGIF! I’m happy to kick off the weekend with some links to fun and useful reading. Wishing you all a great couple of days!

Nominees for the 2011 National Book Awards – Courtesy of The Millions

Ten Types of Writer’s Block – (and how to overcome them), according to io9. This actually strikes me as a fairly comprehensive and useful list, with some good suggestions.

P.D. James Writes a Pride and Prejudice Sequel – No zombies, thank goodness. This one sounds like a good time to me.

Creepy Doll Automatons = Steampunk Goodness – Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray talks about a new steampunk anthology. (Go just to check out the creepy photo.)

Friday Reads – Have you checked out Friday Reads yet? You may have seen the #fridayreads hash tag on Twitter, but they’re online at their own site and on Facebook as well. Join in each Friday to let them know what you’re reading. Everyone who participates has the chance to win a free book. Plus the site is a great place to get book suggestions for your own TBR list.