Monday, August 25, 2014

Upcoming Event: Panel at NerdCon



I'm excited to announce that I will be presenting a panel at the first Rocket City NerdCon. I'll share photographs and stories from my experiences at Clarion West and Kij Johnson's Beginning Novel Workshop at the University of Kansas. I'll discuss the benefits of residential writing workshops and compare them with the experience of getting an MFA.

Everyone who attends will get a resource sheet, some writing goodies, and I will do a giveaway for several awesome prizes! I'd love to see you there!

Here's the panel description: 

When: Friday, October 24th, 7:30PM

Title: Residential Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshops

Description: What is it like to attend a writing workshop that lasts six weeks? Or even two? Clarion West graduate Jenni Moody will give a presentation on the benefits of residential writing workshops and will share stories about her time at one of the most prestigious genre workshops in the world.

Age group: Family


For more information about NerdCon, visit their Facebook page or buy your ticket on their website.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Ace Outfit: Doctor Who Cosplay

When I found out that Sylvester McCoy would be in town for our local Dr. Who convention, I knew I wanted to try to dress up as Ace, his companion.

Ace is a kick ass partner for the doctor. She's a chemistry whiz, and uses her abilities to make an explosive she calls Nitrus 9. She's brilliant, a punk,  enthusiastic, and friendly to everyone she runs into on her time journeys.

I knew if I wanted to make an Ace outfit, the most important element would be her jacket. Collecting (or sometimes handmaking) all of the patches and buttons from Ace's jacket can be a lengthy task. I knew I wouldn't have my jacket screen-accurate in time for the convention, but I decided to go ahead and try my best.

I found some nice red felt and a white fabric in the remnant bin at the local craft supply store, and I picked up one square of yellow felt from the craft section.

I had printed out a collegiate style "A" to use as a stencil, but when I held it up to my jacket it was much too small. So I just free-handed the "A" and the accompanying "ce" - sketching the letters out on paper, then cutting the paper, then using that as a stencil on the felt, and finally cutting out the felt letters.

If you are making an Ace jacket and your time is short, I'd suggest doing the back of the jacket first. I waited until midnight the night before the con because I was nervous about making the back of the jacket look as good as possible. But sometimes you just have to go for it, and in the end (around 2:00AM), I was really pleased with the way it turned out.



The front and arms of the jacket were a bit harder to recreate accurately. Luckily, several of the patches that Ace uses are from NASA, and living fifteen minutes from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center came in very handy. I was able to get two of the main patches on the front of the jacket, so that I felt as if I were at least on the right path to having a true Ace jacket someday.

But there were still many empty spots on the jacket I would not be able to fill with the correct buttons or patches.

So I made a decision that took away a ton of stress and let me have some fun with the outfit. I pulled out my tin of buttons I have collected over the years, and I chose a few to go on the jacket. If Ace were making this jacket today, what kind of things would she put on her jacket now? I have a button from a punk band I saw in college, the creative commons logo,  and at the con I added a button with the 7th Doctor. It isn't screen-accurate, but I feel like it is still true to the character of Ace.



One of the obstacles I ran into was the weather. Our convention was held in June. In Alabama. So there was no way I would be able to actually wear the jacket during the convention.

Here's where having a backpack comes in very handy. Backpacks are excellent to have at conventions in general, and if you can work them into your cosplay, then you've fed two birds with one scone.

Ace uses a backpack to carry all of her Nitrus 9 and to store her baseball bat when she isn't using it to bash in Daleks.




My jacket had a tiny loop at the inside neck, so I used a carabiner to attach my jacket to my backpack. It worked out perfectly. 

Since I didn't have time to get many of the buttons and patches for the jacket, I wanted to step up my game a little by recreating Ace's shirt that she wears in the episode Remembrance of the Daleks. 

Two elements make this shirt very easy to recreate: 

(1) It looks like it is hand painted. So - excellent! You, too, can hand paint this t-shirt and it won't look awkward. 

(2) It is kind of crazy-funky-cool, so as long as you get the general feel of the shirt, it will be recognizeable.  

My recreation of Ace's t-shirt
Having this t-shirt was great, because people could still tell I was cosplaying even though I wasn't wearing the jacket. And the people who knew who Ace is loved it. 

I had thought there would be a legion of Ace cosplayers, since Sylvester McCoy was the Guest of Honor. As I bopped around town buying supplies for my outfit, I imagined at least one other Ace right in front of me. She was the one who had bought the red felt fabric. She was the reason there was some in the remnant bin. There was only one silver plastic bat at the superstore - she must have bought the other one. 

But when I walked into the convention most of the cosplayers were from the most recent episodes of Dr. Who. No Ace's in sight. There were a few people dressed as older Doctors, including a very cute kid with celery in his breast pocket. 

It wasn't until we headed to lunch at a nearby restaurant that I ran into the only other Ace cosplayer at the convention. 


If you haven't cosplayed before, you may worry about running into someone with the same character as you. 

Don't. 

This person is going to be one of your favorite people you'll speak to all weekend. (Well, supposing they are nice.) 

This Ace cosplayer had an amazing jacket. She had most of the buttons and badges, and had some witty substitutions for the harder to find items. Instead of the Blue Peter badges, given only to children in the UK that appear on a children's television show, she had a button that said "I never earned my Blue Peter badge." 

This cosplayer wasn't my imagined one (her jacket used a different material for the "A" instead of the red felt), but hanging out with her and talking about Ace, and our different quests to make an Ace cosplay, was one of the highlights of the convention for me. 

Me waging a battle with Dalek Braun
This was my first time cosplaying at a convention, and I had a blast. Dressing up as one of your favorite characters is such a great way to meet new people. Even if you're shy, go ahead and try it sometime at one of your local conventions. I bet you'll start thinking about your next cosplay as soon as that convention is done.



Monday, July 14, 2014

Con Kasterborous 2014



I had never been to a single-fandom convention before, so I wasn't sure what to expect from Con Kasterborous, Huntsville's Doctor Who convention. I knew I could fill a whole weekend with Star Trek or writing, but while I like Doctor Who, I wouldn't put down Whovian as my number one area of geeking out. 

I didn't need to worry - Con Kasterborous was an amazingly fun convention, with terrific guests, great vendors, and wonderful cosplayers. I loved the focus on one Doctor. By the end of the convention, I felt like I had taken a very fun and hands-on seminar on television history. 


This trio wandered the halls together all weekend.
 Excellent costumes.
There were so many wonderful cosplayers there, from the cyberman and weeping angel to the Doctor's scarf

Sylvester McCoy and Andrew Cartmel
The convention was a celebration of the 7th Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy. Andrew Cartmel, the script editor during the 7th Doctor's run, was an excellent guest. It was wonderful to hear them chat about the episodes.  

I had heard that McCoy was a great doctor, and that he had a pretty cool companion, Ace. But it wasn't until I picked up the flyer for Con Kasterborous that I started watching the 7th Doctor episodes. 

If you're interested in the 7th Doctor, then read this overview of which episodes to check out by Rachel Hyland on Tor.com. I agree with the reader comments that suggest "The Curse of Fenric" is important and a pretty great episode. (It is also one of the only ones available on Netflix/ Amazon Prime at the moment). The Doctor is scarily powerful, and does some questionable mind-f**kery that I think makes his character extremely interesting and unknowable - which for me are qualities at the heart of an amazing Doctor. 

I decided to do my first ever convention cosplay, and I had so much fun dressing up as Ace. (Come back next week for a post about how I made my Ace costume!)

Sylvester McCoy and I - photobombed by the 9th Doctor

Sylvester McCoy was such a wonderful convention guest. He was witty and irreverent during the panels, but also exceptionally kind to timid audience members asking questions. In between panels and photo sessions, he had a table in the hallway where people could get autographs and take selfies with him. He played the spoons for a child in a stroller, cuddled with a puppy, and commandeered a luggage cart as his personal transport through the lobby. 

If you get a chance to see Sylvester McCoy, take it. 


Across the hallway from Sylvester McCoy, script editor Andrew Cartmel had a table where he sold copies of his book, Script Doctor: The Inside Story of Dr. Who 1986-89. Cartmel was an amazingly welcoming guest. Every time I walked by the table there was a convention attendee sitting beside him - behind the table - just hanging out and talking with him. I bought his book, which came with five limited edition photograph prints of his time working with Doctor Who. 

The book is full of great stories, and he shared a few of them during his panel. You can watch it here


There were so many great vendors. Eyefull productions had a ton of cool buttons to choose from, and some really lovely tardis jewelry. 

Bookmarks by Sweet Geek

I think Sweet Geek may be my favorite geek artist ever. She had buttons, cards, bookmarks, and prints of tons of characters from my favorite movies and television shows. 

Who could say no to this? 



The volunteers and staff of Con Kasterborous were beyond awesome. From the friendly security staff that chatted with me while I waited in line at registration, to the upbeat volunteers who kept my plastic bat safe everytime I left the hotel to go seek food or coffee in the shopping area outside, to the people who ran and organized the convention and were patient and kind with worn-out congoers - these people made the convention a huge success. Many, many thanks to them for making my convention experience so great. 

If you want to see more videos and photos from the convention, check out the con wrap-up page for some excellent links. 

Con Kasterborous, from what I hear, gets bigger every year. I'm looking forward to going again, but I need to watch the movie first


Monday, July 7, 2014

"Sister Winter" in The Colored Lens


My week six Clarion West story "Sister Winter" is out in the Summer 2014 issue of The Colored Lens. 

You can get the issue here.


I'm very excited that this story has a great home. This is the last story I wrote at Clarion West, and I left Seattle with the sense that I had finally written a story I loved and would love sharing.

It is a story about three sisters, an Alaska-like place, and the things that have to change inside a person in order for them to grow up.

I want to send my thanks to my Clarion West classmates, administrators and all-around writer-wranglers Neile Graham and Les Howle, and all of my Clarion West instructors. Special thanks go to S.L. Gilbow who pushed me to write better stories and to Alisa Alering who encouraged me in the submission process.

And many heartfelt thanks to The Colored Lens readers and editors for their hard work and a beautiful issue!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Alabama Phoenix Festival 2014

Art by Carly Strickand
On Saturday, Bryan of Geek Notions and I traveled to Birmingham for the Alabama Phoenix Festival. This was an excellent con - just big enough to have a great variety of panels, guests, and vendors, but not so huge that it was overwhelming. Everyone I interacted with was laid back and enthusiastic about geeking out. I would love to attend this convention again next year, and maybe have an author table or cosplay. I think I'm going to add leveling up at cons to my writing goals for 2014.

My awesome con-partner, Bryan, has also written a con round up. You can check it out here.



Panels
How to Write YA
Panelists: Ciara Knight, Anne Riley, Jessica Hawke, J L Mulvihill, Ashley Chappell, Amy Leigh Strickland

This was the first panel I attended, and was my favorite of the entire con. The panelists were smart and funny and honest, and the audience asked great questions.

One of my favorite takeaways from this panel was a new way of looking at low ratings on Amazon. One panelist pointed out that having a variety of ratings shows that real people are reading your work, in addition to friends and family you may have asked to review your book. Another panelist pointed out that sometimes low ratings sell books - what one person may hate may be exactly what another person is looking for (i.e., sex scenes!).

It is always good to go to these panels, even if you are a seasoned writer who has heard most of the tips before. In my experience there is always one piece of advice that is new, and just being around other writers always fills up my energy reserves for my own writing.

But another good reason to go to these panels is to pick out which authors' books you might be interested in. There were a ton of Indie authors at Alabama Phoenix Festival. I wanted to support one of those writers by buying his or her book, but I only had one day at the con (and just a small amount of time between panels) so attending a writing panel was a great way to help me figure out which writer's work I might enjoy.

A.G. Porter spoke about the process of choosing a cover artist for her books and gave excellent information during the panel. When I found her table in the exhibitor's room later in the day she had one of the best author tables I've ever seen. Professional and friendly, she's the kind of author I hope to be one day when I begin publishing novels. I bought the first two books in her series and look forward to reading them.

My book bounty for the weekend


The Full Scale Millenium Falcon Project

The next panel was with the creators of the cockpit and console for the full scale Millenium Falcon project. This is a labor of love project, with people volunteering their time and money to make a screen accurate replica.

The panel was fun, with lots of questions from the audience and a bit of Star Wars trivia thrown in (where did Boba Fett first appear?). After the panel they encouraged everyone to check out the cockpit down in the exhibition hall.

It was pretty awesome.

The seriously cool cockpit and console

Curious Twi'lek and Bryan in Han's seat



Find the Greeble! Where's the battery pack?

Adam Savage signed the console!
Greg Dietrich spent some time pointing out greebles on the quad laser cannon, and another member of the crew showed us around the console, pointing out which buttons to press and explaining the construction process. 

The Millenium Falcon cockpit was kind of the convergence point for the whole con. While we were hanging out there we talked with people we'd met at Free Comic Book Day, and I ran into Stan from Kingdom Comics, the comic book store I used to visit when I lived in Birmingham. I hadn't seen him in maybe eight years, but he recognized me and gave me a hug. The whole convention had that kind of vibe - a really laid back and fun geek hangout with friends you don't get to see that often. 



Star Wars: The Coming Darkness
Film Screening, Q&A Afterwards with Director Josh Mason and Cast

This was my first time attending a fan film screening at a convention. Like the Millenium Falcon, the funding and manpower for this project all came from volunteers.

My biggest fear about watching a fan film was that it would be long and meandering, with pithy dialogue and a much too serious plot. But Mason's film was fun, with a tight, action-oriented plot and only as much dialogue as was needed to move the movie forward.

There were some issues with the speakers, so the sound was a little too loud on the background noise and too soft on the dialogue at times. And as someone who grew up in Alabama it is hard to divorce myself from southern trees appearing on a distant planet. But those were minor issues, and all-around this was a great first fan film experience.

It was a welcome break in the middle of the day, where I could sit in a dark, mostly quiet room and eat a sandwich and not feel like I had to interact with anyone for a bit. I could recharge my introvert batteries so that I could interact more in the second half of the day. I think I will to try to work in a fan film on my schedule for future cons.


Director Josh Mason and Screenwriter Michael LoBianco
 answer questions after the screening
One of my favorite moments was the post-credits scene. Just as with author readings, humor and lightness work well in a group setting.

Mass Hysteria: Ghostbusters 30th Anniversary Panel

Alabama Ghostbusters joined comics artist Dan Schoening to discuss his art and general Ghostbusters awesomeness during this podcast/ panel for Mass Hysteria. They gave away two signed comic book collections during the panel, one to a young girl and the other to a man in a Ghostbusters jumpsuit. I'm going to start reading the Ghostbusters comics, and I need to play the video game as well.



The Golden Age of Science Fiction

At every con, there's one panel that doesn't quite come together. Panelists drop out at the last minute, it's at the time of day in the con where everyone is tired, or the vibe is just a bit off for no explainable reason. I think one problem with this panel was its broad focus. It would have worked better to have one person giving a presentation on their writing in the style of Golden Age SF, or with a larger, more diverse panel. Instead of defining what is and isn't considered Golden Age, it would have been nice to dive into Golden Age with a panelist as a guide and romp around there for a while.


Art

One of my favorite parts of any convention is finding new geek artists. I could spend a whole day just walking around the exhibition hall chatting with authors and artists and debating on whether to buy cool action figures. There were so many amazing artists at Phoenix Festival, so I didn't have time to see them all, but here are a few of my favorites.

Carly Strickland

Carly designed the badge art for the convention, and had a table of children's books for sale in the exhibition hall.

But what drew me to her table were these:


Star Trek, TOS alphabet cards. Oh. My. Goodness. These are beautiful, and I bought one of each letter she had for sale. You can buy your own here, and follow her tumblr as she adds new letters.


Bryan Crowson

Bryan was one of the kindest people we met at the con. And everyone at the con was extremely nice, so that's saying something. He had lovely drawings of the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz as babies, from the perspective of Wicked. There was also a non-flying monkey wearing an equality sweatshirt, and then there was this:

Wave Walker by Bryan Crowson
Dear Reader, do I need to describe how hard I fangirled? This is my biggest regret of the convention - not buying a print of Wave Walker. Luckily, Bryan has an online store and you can contact him via email to order prints or request commissions. Check out his Facebook page for an awesome engagement commission of a couple running away from Godzilla. And if you see him at a convention, stop by his table to hear the stories behind his art. He's a wonderful guy.


Rick Johnson/ Phat Daddy Studios

Rick was full of love and energy when we stopped by his table. He does amazing comic book art, and what pulled us in was the sweetest Daryl sketch you're ever likely to see, alongside a kickass Rick and Michonne.

Art by Rick Johnson

Check out Rick's Facebook page for more amazing art, including a pretty sweet Drogo from Game of Thrones.

Geek It Forward
There's always a sense of sadness at the end of a con. You have to go back to the real world where you (perhaps) cannot wear your Batman t-shirt to work and no one gets your references.

So it was awesome to stop by the Geek Gathering table and hang out for a bit. We bought t-shirts and got free admission tickets to the convention in September. A portion of the proceeds go to Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Ultimate win!




Monday, May 12, 2014

Five University Jobs You Can Get with Your MFA (That Aren't Adjuncting)

You have your MFA in hand and you're looking for a job. For whatever reason - money, lack of class availability, the desire to try something new - you find that you aren't looking for adjunct work. But you love the university setting and you don't want to leave.

When you're checking out the staff postings for your local university, here are some jobs to look for.

1. Academic Success Coordinator
Keep your eyes open for jobs in the student success center on your local university's campus. They will be the best bet for finding positions that still involve teaching or advising students if the English department doesn't have any positions available. There might be positions with career coaching, success advising, or even managing student tutors. This position has opportunities to give presentations on learning skills to classes when teachers are absent and to teach First Year Experience courses to Freshmen. The biggest downside to this position is that students can view their mandatory time spent with a success coach as punishment for poor grades.


2. Writing Center Teaching Assistant
At some community colleges and universities, there is a designated teaching assistant in the writing center. This position acts as a tutor to students, but also gives supplemental presentations on writing topics. For some teachers, this is a dream job. You get to have one-on-one interaction with students, helping them with their writing with no time constraints, and you don't have to grade papers. You won't have your own lesson plans, and you'll need to interpret the assignments made by English faculty, but you'll be at the heart and center of the kind of teaching that makes drastic improvements in students' writing.



3. Administrative Assistant
Working as an administrative assistant at a university can actually be a lot of fun. If  you work in the graduate studies office, you might have the opportunity to work with theses/ dissertations or schedule fun events, like the Three Minute Thesis competition. There are downsides to this type of work. You may have to work with budgets, take minutes at meetings, etc. And you will have to make peace with the ennui of office life and learn how to prevent ego damage: dealing with being called a secretary/ sometimes treated as if you're inferior. With this type of job, your co-workers can make or break your chance of happiness. So ask around to see which departments have good reputations for staff satisfaction. If a job comes open because someone has retired (instead of applied for a transfer to another department), then that's usually a good sign you'll like working there for as long as you want.



4. Contracts and Grants Coordinator
The professors you studied with during your graduate career probably spent at least some of their time preparing and submitting grants so that they could have more opportunities to do research and outreach. In any university, there is an office that manages these grant applications to make sure the professor has the best chance to receive funding. This job will help you learn about the proposal development and submission process and can be a way to get your foot in the door for grant writing. However, this type of work is stepping farther away from your roots as an academic, and comes with some high costs. You'll have little contact with students, as your primary contact is with faculty submitting grants. You will have to deal regularly with high stress deadlines, brush off your math skills to develop budgets, and there will be little if any writing.



5. Academic Writer
If you have any courses in communications, or any history in professional writing, then you're more likely to be able to find a job that has writing in the job description. At my university, the academic writer composes short articles on recent campus events, alumni who have received awards, and students who are participating in interesting projects. There aren't many of these positions, but they exist. So keep your eyes open.


Two additional points to note: 


1. Don't be afraid to put your creative publications on your resume. They were a great conversation starter at all of my interviews during my job search, and it shows potential employers that you have goals and aspirations outside of the 9 to 5. You're a hard worker and imaginative. Both bonus points that set you apart from other applicants.

2. Temp if you can. Universities love to hire from within. If you're offered a temporary position, it is a good way to start making contacts that can recommend you for permanent jobs later on. Most of the people I have met at the university started as a temp and then were hired on as permanent staff after a year. Keep checking the job board - you might have to apply to a job in a different department in order to make that leap. (Thanks to Amy for this tip!)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Writing Goals for 2014: Building a Sustainable Writing Life


My goals for 2014 keep me company at work

Each January I try to set goals for myself for the coming year. Writing down my goals helps me visualize the smaller steps I need to take to meet those targets. As suggested by countless other writers, I try to keep my goals focused on actions I can control - numbers of submissions instead of acceptances.

So! Before I set my goals for 2014, I checked in on my goals for 2013 to see which ones I met and where I might have fallen a little short.

Goals for 2013 Check-in

  • Complete the first draft of one novel
    • I did not meet this goal, so I'm carrying it over to 2014. 
  • Attend a residential writing workshop
    • Check! I attended the Beginning Novel Writers Workshop held at the University of Kansas, hosted by the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, taught by the amazing Kij Johnson and Barbara Webb. It was a great experience, and helped me find the right path for my novel. 
  • Keep my current stories in the submission/ revision queue until they sell or I run out of suitable markets.
    • Check! My stories have been on a steady submission regimen. I've been pretty good at sticking with the "send it out to a new market as soon as you receive a rejection" strategy. 
  • Write 3 new stories and submit them. 
    • I've not stuck with this one as closely as I should have. However, I have done serious revisions on a few stories I have faith in and have submitted them. I'm going to carry this goal on to 2014 and try to write fresh stories and work less on the revisions. 
  • Experiment with storytelling in different genres (like visual narratives and non-fiction). 
    • I didn't meet this goal either. I'd still like to write a graphic narrative and write non-fiction, but I'm not adding them to my goal list for 2014 at the moment. I want to wait until I have a specific idea for each of these projects so that I can have a more concrete goal. 


Goals for 2014

Looking at the goals I set for myself in 2013, I think I need to hold myself accountable for more writerly development, interactions with other writers, and set hard goals for activities I've had on my idea back burner for a while.

I've divided my goals for 2014 into different categories. My big idea, right at the top of my goal list, is to build a sustainable writing life. I'm not sure what this means yet. Ultimately, I'd like for it to mean a pleasant, steady job that gives me enough money and time to work on my writing life, which includes writing, attending workshops and conventions, and teaching writing to others. Until I can find a job that fulfills all of those needs, I'll try building sustainability daily in small ways.




What are your goals for 2014? How are you stretching yourself from last year?