Tag Archives: Short story

Colorado Gold 2014: Great Conference But What the Tech?

Earlier this month, I attended RMFW’s Colorado Gold Conference. Wow, what a whirlwind weekend, packed with informative sessions on fiction writing and the writing business and so many great people to meet. Every day felt like two days because they managed to cram in so much great content. Although the sessions and keynotes were excellent, that’s not really the aspect of the conference I’d like to address.

One of my primary goals for the conference was networking, meeting other writers and sharing stories and experiences, and in that regard the weekend was a great success. I’m not usually a hugely outgoing person, so often in large groups such as this I find myself on the outside. However, as I mentioned in my previous post, the RMFW anthology Crossing Colfax, in which I have a short story, debuted at this conference, which certainly helped.

My conference badge included an “Anthology” ribbon so some attendees would see that and ask about my story. I also got to meet and chat with most of the other included authors—generally easy to spot because they also had the “Anthology” ribbon. The anthology has fifteen stories, and all but one of the authors were at the conference. Even before the conference, I’d begun following many of the authors on social media, so the conference was a nice opportunity to meet in person.

Smashwords CEO Mark Coker at RMFW Colorado Gold 2014

Keynote speaker Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, speaking during one of his sessions at Colorado Gold 2014.

In case I’ve not made this clear before, I’m a big believer in the power of social media. A conference such as Colorado Gold is a perfect chance to meet people face to face—but social media still can play a part. So, as I said, I planned ahead, following people’s blogs and Twitter handles who I wanted or expected to meet. In the days leading up to the conference, I began watching Twitter for the conference hashtag, #RMFW2014, to find other attendees to follow and engage with. And during the conference sessions, I tweeted out key points and quotes from speakers as they occurred, or retweeted what others had to say about sessions I didn’t attend.

This social media approach to conferences is something I learned when I attended technology conferences as a journalist. At those conferences, the IT pros in attendance frequently had two or three different mobile devices, all needing a connection, because in some cases they might need to be on call for remote assistance back at the office—therefore, a strong, reliable WiFi signal throughout all areas of the conference floor, including session rooms, was a must. At Colorado Gold, having no WiFi in the session rooms was a bit of a shock.

This technological omission caused me to evaluate how others at the conference appeared to use technology overall. So, as I sat in session rooms, taking notes with OneNote on my laptop and ready to tweet on my smartphone, I’d look around and see what others were doing. I was really rather surprised to see that most people, if they took notes, were doing so by hand: pen to paper. How very old school! Although I didn’t do any firm counts, I’d estimate that probably no more than 15 or 20 percent of attendees used a laptop or tablet for note-taking.

Long ago, I abandoned taking notes longhand because, one, I know I won’t go back and re-read them, and two, I probably couldn’t read my own writing if I did. Of course I know plenty of people feel there are benefits of using a physical pen and paper in helping you remember what you’re writing. My counter to that would be that I don’t need to remember—well, no more than a keyword, anyway. If I have some idea what someone talked about or who said it, I can search for a keyword—I don’t have to remember how long ago it was or what physical notebook it was in—and I can pull up the material. As long as I’m using something like OneNote on cloud storage, I can pull up that information not just on my PC/laptop but also on a phone or tablet—anytime, anywhere access.

Twitter also serves as a repository of notes: Whatever I tweet during a session or keynote remains in my tweet stream for later access as well. As mentioned previously, using the conference hashtag also makes tweets available to other conference attendees who might have missed that particular session. Additionally, when you get a lot of people tweeting from the same conference, it creates a sort of buzz around the event for those not in attendance—and quite possibly making them want to attend the next time.

During the conference, I had a conversation with three of the founding members of RMFW, Kay Bergstrom, Carol Caverly, and Jasmine Cresswell, about the early days of the organization. At some point, the discussion turned to writers’ use of technology, and Kay Bergstrom remarked that in the 1980s, writers in her circle were all early adopters of PCs and related technology because they saw how it made the business of writing easier. To my mind, writers today should take advantage of social media, cloud storage, and other current technologies for the same reason.

I always look for the technology solution. Whether it’s attending sessions at a writing conference or sitting alone at my computer to do some writing, I’m pretty sure there’s some trick, some procedure, that can help the day go a little smoother. But I recognize—and glancing around those session rooms at Colorado Gold was a great reminder in this—that not everyone, certainly not every writer, has the same approach to technology or the same abilities.

For the writers out there, I’d be interested to hear what role technology plays in your writing life. Do you struggle with social media and creating an online presence? Or do you navigate the online world with ease? Do you worry about how to handle backups of your digital assets (i.e., writing)? Do you wonder what the best program or application for writing is? Or do you have recommendations about any of these topics to help your fellow writers? Are you committed to writing longhand at least part of the time? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Other posts on RMFW Colorado Gold 2014:

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins


Warts & All: J. Tull & My Early Creative Writing

I’ve pretty much been writing stories for as long as I can remember. It’s the only way you can get away with lying all the time. You know, if that sort of thing appeals to you. I did quite a bit of writing when I was first in college, right out of high school, in the late ‘80s. That was also the same period when I first listened to the music of Jethro Tull. It turns out that even back then, my stories were influenced by the music I was listening to.

When I started listening to Tull, they had already been around for nearly 20 years. In fact, the second time I saw them in concert, in 1988, was for their 20th anniversary tour. I was only 21-years-old at the time, so naturally, they seemed really old: I mean, they’d been performing for basically as long as I’d been alive. (Their first album was released in 1968; their best-known album, then and now, Aqualung, was released in 1971.)

As part of that 20th anniversary, Jethro Tull also released a box set of rarities and live performances. Among those tracks were a few songs from their famous abandoned album (from 1973), known as the “Chateau D’Isaster Tapes.” Due to technical difficulties, illness, and other problems, they scrapped a nearly complete album, but those recordings were still around; this was the first chance to hear a bit of what the band had been planning, warts and all.  Continue reading

The Changing of the Gods

[See the story behind this story in “Warts & All: J. Tull & My Early Creative Writing.”]

The center of the room was occupied by a pillar, a tall and sturdy, strong and functional pillar, rooted firmly in the floor and growing broader as it rose upwards. This pillar had a name: He was called Zeus.

Zeus was wearing his favorite white tunic today, the one with the fine gold fringe and tassels. He had arranged for the Eternity Suite and, upon arrival, had firmly planted himself as if he intended to grow still greater. He had checked his thunderbolts downstairs and now stood like a pillar with his hands behind his back, alternately gazing upward and then casting his eyes down.

He muttered, “So many. I had not thought death had undone so many.”

(This, echoing down through the Ages, would later be picked out of the Ether by some crazed poet.)

The others had by this time arrived and were lounging about, awaiting the solemnities. There was Aphrodite in the cushioned, low-backed chair, her leg over one of the arms, her golden hair trailing to the floor behind. She was gazing lustfully at Apollo, who had found a harp and was absentmindedly plucking the strings. Apollo glanced up and gave a slight smile. She licked her lips seductively. Suddenly becoming very aware of his short tunic (and the fact that he was wearing nothing beneath it), Apollo twanged a sour note and looked away.

Pan, meanwhile, was sitting on the floor in the corner, his knees drawn up, horns nicely polished, leg hairs neatly trimmed and styled. He was playing on his pipes in pleasant discord to each note of Apollo’s. Continue reading

Synchestra: Unleashing the Transdimensional Space Goat on America’s Wickedest Street

I’ve written before about my reliance on music to form an appropriate mood while I’m writing, and how music can influence a story I’m working on. And I’ve written about my constant search for new and stimulating musical experiences. The point is: I really love music. A while back, someone posted the following pic on Facebook, and yeah, I totally get it:

That moment when the music is so good you turn into a transdimensional space goat

My latest transdimensional space goat moments have come from a musical selection called Synchestra by the Devin Townsend Band. Devin Townsend has been around for more than 20 years, recording under a number of different band names, although I only discovered him about six months ago. That introduction, by the way, came via another band that’s influenced some of my recent writing, Voyager. When Voyager tweeted about opening some shows last fall for the Devin Townsend Project down in Australia, I figured DTP was worth checking out, which led to finding all the other Townsend permutations.  Continue reading

Yellowstone: The Story Generator

I blogged last week about some of my fascination with Yellowstone National Park. In response, I heard from one of my writing friends that I should write more about Yellowstone. In fact, it doesn’t take much encouragement for me to do so. As I mentioned, I frequently write stories set in Yellowstone, although I didn’t go into details about any of them in that post.

I started writing about Yellowstone about fourteen or fifteen years ago, which was also when I started working on my MFA in creative writing. My MFA thesis ended up being mostly Yellowstone-based, although it wasn’t the complete collection I’d envisioned, for both length and the needs of satisfying my advisor in order to graduate. In my last post, I mentioned that a picture from the Yellowstone Facebook page called to mind a scene from one of my stories—that story is called “Feather Tracks,” and it’s the lead story in my thesis collection.

My overall intent for the collection is to have a series of stories from a variety of Yellowstone historical eras that explore the nature of storytelling. Several of the stories are “stories within stories.” For instance, “Feather Tracks” is about a park ranger in 1945 awaiting his son’s return from the war; he becomes obsessed with a historical paper trail about a cavalry soldier who went missing on patrol in the park in 1894. The ranger uses the story of the soldier as a means of helping him understand and come to terms with his own son.  Continue reading

A Clog in the Story Queue

I don’t know about other writers, but when I’m working on one project, it’s pretty hard to set it aside to work on something else. I guess I feel like if I don’t push the current story through to completion, I’m giving up on it. Sometimes I might have several other stories clamoring to be told, but they have to wait until I get the first story out of the queue.

The longer I work on something, the more likely I have other stories backing up in the queue. I almost always have several ideas for stories floating around in my brain, but then something happens—I learn a new fact, or a new angle occurs to me—and an idea turns into a story, ready to write. My fear is always that if I don’t start writing it soon, I’ll lose it, the story will lose immediacy and fade away.

Pieter Claeszoon - Still Life with a Skull and...

Pieter Claeszoon – Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What it comes to, essentially, is that I have to write the thing that is most immediate—that is, the story that is most alive in my creative brain. If that’s not what I’m currently working on, well then, that story I’m working on is probably in trouble. But “most alive” doesn’t mean that a lot of other characters, settings, thematic ideas, and whatnot, aren’t also alive and clamoring inside to have their time on the page. I suppose it’s a little like being insane, hearing voices, begging to be released.

Oh, stop looking at me that way.

As I blogged previously, I’m trying write four new stories during October. As the month began, I had a new story I was (I thought) ready to begin writing, and at least two other ideas I hoped (still hope) I’d be able to make into stories. Unfortunately, when I started to work on the first new story, I found myself blocked because I hadn’t finished the previous current story in my queue.

So, after a couple of days, I decided I’d just better return to that previous story, even though it was begun prior to October. It’s a story that’s gotten well out of hand from what I initially thought it would be—just a quick, 4,000–5,000 word short story. Currently, it’s pushed over the 15,000 word mark, and part of the reason it’s taken me so long is that I’ve struggled all along with whether I should keep writing to its natural conclusion, knowing it will be very difficult to market, or if I should start again, focusing on the shorter word count but knowing that makes for a quite different story.

You see, writing is hard. In case I’ve never mentioned that before. But if you’re a writer, you already know this. The good news is that I believe I’m just a day or two from wrapping up this story, in first draft form, anyway. Although, depending on how I end it, I might have to revise some of the opening sections for consistency. And naturally, the whole thing requires a solid edit/revision all around. But one step at a time—a finished draft is worth celebrating.

Perhaps most important, writing this story out of my queue opens the way for the next story to take its place. In the grand scheme of the October challenge, I’m behind in my goal, but not so much that I can’t make it up. So, get the mood music turned up loud, blinders on, and down to business. Write on!

Hey, and don’t forget to leave a comment to let me know how my experience with the story queue relates to your own. I’d love to hear how other writers deal with this problem.

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins

The October Challenge

Most people have heard of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, where aspiring writers all over commit to writing a complete novel during the month of November. The program has many good points and many supporters, of course. Basically, it gets participants out of the planning stages, gets them off their duff, and gets something done.

Success in the challenge is generally considered to be completing 50,000 words. Now, I’m not sure I’ve read many novels as short as that, but then I tend to pick up epics. Additionally, with the emphasis all on word count, it’s too easy to ignore quality. The idea is that you’ll be able to revise after you complete the draft, but if the draft is too bad, you’ll end up starting over anyway. And yes, there’s a little of an elitist in me that says quality matter and just because you can commit 50k words to the page doesn’t make you a novelist.

Clearly my views on NaNoWriMo are mixed at best. The writing group I work with has taken the idea behind NaNoWriMo, however, and applied it to writing short stories. So, during this month of October, we’ve each set ourselves a goal for a number of new short stories we’re going to attempt to complete. We’ve taken the word count out of the equation, yet still set a fairly difficult task—especially when you consider that each of us also has other projects to work on simultaneously, not to mention work, family, and all those other niggling elements of life that get in the way of writing.

My personal goal for October’s Writing Blitz is to complete four new short stories. Since I’m a pathetically slow writer, I consider this a pretty lofty goal. As part of the challenge, I’ve also d the group, and myself, to pick up our blogging output, so I’ll also try to get two blogs posted a week. And we’ll see how all that goes.

So far, I’d have to say I’m off to a slow start, considering I haven’t written anything in the way of a story, although I’ve done some research and prep for writing. (We started our October challenge yesterday, before the first of the month, so we could begin on Monday, which seemed to work well for everyone—it’s like officially cheating!) Obviously, I’ve got some work to do.

But anyway, here’s blog number one. I’ll try to remember to include some updates on how things are going throughout the month.

Related: May is Short Story Month, but October is Short Story Writing Month

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins