A day at FogCon

I’m an admitted convention newbie. My first experience was Animation on Display in San Francisco this January and now FogCon at the Walnut Creek Marriot yesterday. FogCon is a convention that brings together genre fiction writers (and their fans) of different of types together to talk about issues that surround this field.

I heard about this really late after my teacher at the The Writing Salon Nick Mamatas told me about it a couple of days ago. It was a great experience and worth the money. This won’t be the last convention that I go to this year.

The biggest things that I got out of this were the contacts and also some inspiration for my own writings. So often writing is an individual task, but writers need to commiserate with their own kind and network. I felt inspired just hearing people talk about the things they are passionate about and that made me want to write a lot more.

I went to three panels on Friday. The first was a 75-minute writing session. The writing session was fun for the idea-generation exercises, but the biggest benefit was meeting other writers with the same goals as me. I’ve met a few people with stories similar to mine that have agreed to exchange their work with me.

The first Panel I went to was called “Apple Pie, Rayguns and Galactic Ovelords,” which dealt with the tropes that show up in genre fiction. The panel featured talked about how writers use different tropes and how readers view them. It’s something I knew about before, but I’m now a lot more aware of them when I read. I’ll definitely research this issue a lot more

The second panel was “Equal time for Non-Vampires” which dealt with the prevalence of vampires in genre fiction and other monsters in mythology that have shown up in writing. This was particularly interesting for my story Goddess INC, which deals with a variety of spirits so now I have some new myths to research and possibly incorporate into my story.

The third panel was on the “The Redefined Body” which dealt with body modification, cybernetics and how non-fiction and fiction authors deal with that issue. One of my favorite anime and manga shows is Ghost in the Shell, which deals specifically with the issues that come of from this. This panel certainly sparked a few short story ideas that I want to pursue.

There a still a couple days left in the convention so if you want to go check it out here.


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Hunger Games and the treatment of race in fiction

The book to movie adaptation of Suzanne Collins book the Hunger Games had a huge opening weekend pulling in a $155 million dollars, but recently the story has been about a series of racist tweets that have come up regarding casting.

Some fans were upset with casting of the  character Rue as a young black actress Amanda Steinberg. The tweets that came out were ignorant and blatantly racist.

You can find the story here.

This story and the ongoing case with Trayvon Martin has me thinking about race and how it applies to my own writing and my treatment of characters in fiction.
The issue surfaced in the adaptation from book to movie. When they cast Steinberg to the role, all of a sudden the character on the screen is different from the one that several tweeters imagined their characters to be.

Unfortunately, a readers imaginations can reveal a person’s racial biases unknowingly.

Certain characters, themes and tropes conjure up specific images for people. The racist tweets about the Hunger Games are revealing of people’s expectations are of innocence. One of the tweeters viewed Rue as an innocent young child that was white instead of black, which was a perfectly honest assessment in their eyes, and a racist one to boot.

It got me thinking about some of my own fiction and how I would tackle this issue.

The skin color of my character really never crosses my mind when it comes to building characters. Look is less important as their personality and internal motivation, because inevitably the internal struggle is what drives a story forward.

I come from a school of thought that too much description of the way people look takes away from people’s ability to imagine what their characters look like. Personally, I try to stay away from specifying race if at all possible because there are so many implications to specifying it.

Notice Collins treatment of Rue in the book— she has “dark brown skin.” That’s a big difference than saying Rue was black.

It may be a semantic difference, but to specifically say your character is a certain race brings with it a certain set of expectations and images to a readers’ mind whether that is what you intended or not. Those expectations are going to color the way people view that character’s actions.

That may be fine if you are writing a novel that deals with issues that come with being a certain race, but if you aren’t then you better be aware of what you are doing.

That is not to say you should avoid specifying race, just be aware of what you are getting yourself into. Nobody wants to be racists, but you really have to accept the fact that we all have racial biases come up whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. It’s the product of the society we live in, the way we grew up and what we are exposed to.

That being said, it doesn’t excuse stereotyping and a writer that uses “token characters” to make it easy for people to imagine who a chrachter is not just lazy it’s racist whether you did it on purpose or not. Whether they are flat or round, take the time to build characters based on personality traits and motivation rather than relying a set of assumptions come with skin color or nationality.

It is really your responsibility to first be aware of your own biases and then make sure that you aren’t wading into some dangerous territory.

The way you think is key to a writer’s success

The motto of this blog is “The art and business of creativity.”

I stress that because becoming a professional artists is really about the marriage of two seemingly incompatible things things— making money and creating art.

The idea that you can’t make a living doing something creative is off-base. I can point to numerous examples in my personal life of some very talented artists creating successful businesses, but there is a caveat to that.

None of them are focused on business when they are actually going through the creative process.

Competition kills the creative process not necessarily the art. There is a distinct difference between the two. The pressure of producing something to advance your business is healthy and can can compel you to create art.  It’s when you start thinking about all those things when you’re actually creating something that it all starts to go wrong.

Think about what you think about

Art is knowledge work meaning it takes the combination of vision and skill to create. Vision is the ability to see what you are creating in your mind before it turns into prose, a painting or a sculpture. Skill is the means to produce it.

Where people struggle in the creative process is doesn’t have as much to do with  having enough skill, as it does being able to envision what they are going to create.

Successful artists are the ones that put themselves in position to have vision in the first place. Clarity of thought is key to art and if you are busy grappling with negative emotions then it is difficult to create art on a consistent basis simply because your mind isn’t all there.

That’s not to say artists don’t deal with negative emotions— they do. It’s just that the professional artists are the ones that are able to push aside all pretenses and and focus on what you are doing on a consistent basis.

This may sound blatantly obvious, but it’s so much harder than you think.

The inability to deal with the things that keep  us from being artists is the number one career killer. This is especially true for artists that work full time. A day job can sometimes consume 40 hours in a week or more. Then there are those voluntary time wasters like the internet, watching movies or playing video games that can consume what little free time you do have.

The best thing you can do for yourself is create the time and clarity of thought necessary to have vision. Then you can use those skills you have more effectively.

A first step in doing this is deciding on a time and place where you can be an artists. The one thing that I’ve noticed about all professional artists whether they are writers, painters or sculptors is that they choose to carve out time devoted to creating their art and nothing else.

This is time where you are totally in the present moment. That means there isn’t any multitasking, stressing about work, or worrying about what you have to do 30 minutes from now. This is an important distinction because if your mind is somewhere else, it’s impossible to have vision.

Think of your mind as an empty room and every thought that comes through is a box that appears and takes up space. This room is constantly filling up with boxes, but the only way to clear the room unpack what’s inside. If you are constantly unpacking boxes filled with worry, fears, stress or thoughts of doing something else then there is no room in there for the thoughts that truly matter to you.

The practice of being completely present in what you are doing means pushing aside all those boxes that don’t matter and creating space for the ones that do. It means making a conscious choice in that moment not to check facebook, not to open up your email or give credence to anything else but what you are doing.

If you are truely passionate about being an artist and wish to take that next step from amateur to professional then you won’t just make this choice once, but probably thousands of times over  in a day because the temptations come often. It’s especially strong when you sit down for your allotted time to be an artist.

I’m not saying give up all those things you like to do, just give them all up when it’s time to roll up your sleeves and be an artist.

It’s only in those moments that you are totally present that you have vision. It requires you to be vigilant about what you are thinking about or the time you allotted to work on your art could be wasted.

I create this space every single time that I sit down to write something whether it’s a news story, a work of fiction or even an email to a friend. If it’s important enough for me to sit down and type it then it deserves my full attention.

It’s almost a feeling of splitting yourself in two. There’s one part of myself that’s watching, filtering through the thoughts that run through my head searching for the ones that are relevant to what I am working on. When a thought comes along that isn’t relevant or is negative then I simply let it pass and move on without judgement or a second glance.

To use the room analogy, I’m unpacking all the boxes and passing on the ones that don’t matter. I like to think of my thoughts as brown cardboard boxes because they all look the same until you open them up. It’s a lot easier to discard the ones that aren’t relevant if you treat them all as nondescript on the surface.

The ability to detach yourself from thoughts that aren’t important is a skill every artist has to master. You have to be willing to pass on thoughts or ideas that aren’t relevant. In the end what you think about is useless if it doesn’t turn into actions.

My job as an artist is to choose the best thoughts to act on in that moment and simply discard the rest.

The danger is letting certain thoughts hijack your focus.

Thoughts have momentum to them and can and take over your psyche with such speed and ferocity that it’s hard to stop. Sometimes this can be a good thing, like when I am on a tight  deadline after a basketball game and the details fall into order naturally. When that type of inspiration comes to me I roll with it and suddenly there’s 15 inches of copy sitting on my editors desk in the span of 10 minutes. Usually there is very little editing necessary.

It becomes a problem when you attach yourself to the wrong kinds of thoughts. These usually come in the form of negative emotions. In the above scenario, things go wrong when I start to focus on the deadline. I begin to let the fact that I only have 15 minutes to write something cloud my thinking space.

Thoughts about deadline turn into regrets that I should have left the gym sooner rather than talk to a coach. That turns into wishing that the your deadline was an hour longer and then anger at myself for making a wrong decision and at the paper for not extending my deadline. Suddenly I’m thinking more about the deadline then the actual story that I have to write in that moment.

That’s precious time wasted thinking about things that don’t really matter.

For one day, try to really observe where your attention is going. Keep track of points when you are completely focused on what you are doing. Take note of the times when you are doing one thing and thinking about something else at the same time. When you see these schism’s try and solve them immediately so you can back to focusing on the present moment.

How often are you truly focused on what you are doing?

Thinking about success

I began this post by saying that being a professional means balancing the idea of making money and creating art. The reason that these two ideas seem so incompatible is because of the social value we place on a certain idea of being successful.

Success to a lot of people is making money and being able to support yourself doing the thing that you love. There is really nothing wrong with that, but the thought of attaining that is so powerful that we can’t let it go when it’s necessary.

For writers, the common mistake is to rush the creative process because you want to get that book out now for one reason or another. They are afraid another writer will get there first, or they want to get their career going quicker and decide to cut a corner.

This also happens when authors write toward a certain market for financial reasons  rather than writing what they know best. They react to a market that may change once that book is finished. It’s alright to write within the parameters of a genre, but when it drives the moment-to-moment plot decisions or you derive a certain style from another writer simply because they sold a lot of books then it becomes a problem.

What happens when you finish and suddenly find out your book isn’t going to sell? If you measure your success by the social values I described then you are a failure. .

I’m not saying you shouldn’t set goals for yourself or put deadlines for yourself, but don’t become so attached to those thoughts that it limits you to certain ideas or it forces you to finish something before it is ready.

Art is not a competition to see who can produce the best work and to measure your success on the basis of what someone else has done is a recipe for disaster. Once you do that, everything you produce is seen through the lens of somebody else’s work and you will never be satisfied with anything that you produce.

When it comes time to really get down to work on your art, pressures stemming from the business side of your life should be just another box in the room that you have to pass on. You stay in the moment and just focus on what you are doing.

John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach, was a man who enjoyed true inner peace in his life. He was able to achieve this because of the way he measured success. Success to him had nothing to do with winning or achieving a certain result, though he did strive to bring out the best in himself and his players through setting goals and working hard.

True success to him is peace of mind that comes from knowing you did the best you can with the circumstances presented to you. In the end that’s the only thing you have control over is yourself. You can’t predict where the market is going nor how critics will react to a piece that you finish.

To measure success based on such standards means you’ll never have true peace of mind.

In the end you really can’t ask anymore of yourself then your best when it is called for. If you approach working on your art as trying your best in the time you’ve allocated for yourself then it’s possible to be successful even if you fall short of your goal.

As a writer, my goal is to achieve inner peace. That isn’t necessarily in line with my long term goals of making a living as a writer, but it lays the foundation for me to get there.
For me, true inner peace comes when I am present and focused every moment that I sit down to write. Knowing that I’ve tried my best to do that affords me the peace of mind and clarity of thought necessary to stay present and keep on writing regardless of the obstacles that stand in my way.


Straight talk about Social Media

I’ve struggled with social media both in my personal and professional life. Between Twitter, Facebook, Google + and all the various outlets that are available to put yourself out there it’s difficult choosing which ones to focus my time.

This is an important issue to tackle because it’s important to build a solid and organized social media presence if art is your business. My philosophy is you can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it, so rather than try to work through this problem myself, I looked through my LinkedIn account and decided to pick the brain of the smartest person I could find on the subject.

The journalist in me always wants to give credit for idea that aren’t my own unfortunately, I can’t give direct credit to the person who offered the advice. The nature of her job won’t allow me to give a company name or title. All I can say is that she is a business strategist at a very popular Fortune 500 company in the Bay Area.

I’m thankful for the help. My hope is that all of you can benefit as well.

Deciding what Social Media to use

I think it’s agreed that using social media is important, but for a writer, artist, or other creatives that seeks to make a business out of their work, it is paramount. I wrote about platform in an earlier post, but to give a brief definition: It’s all the ways you are appealing to future clientele.

That definition is vague on purpose because it’s up to you to fill in the blanks. Before ever deciding on which social media outlet be clear about your platform and by extension who that future clientele is.

For me, this means making myself appealing to editors and publishers that seek to publish my work. Social Media is a means of building an audience by engaging with them through the various outlets available to me. This makes me attractive to my future clients because there will be a built in following for my work. That makes promoting a book or shopping an article much easier because they know that the people following me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or my blog will read whatever it is I write.

In trying to tackle this subjects, I kept on trying to think of what the pros and cons are of each social media outlet are and trying to evaluate which ones to use and then deciding on which ones to focus my time.

A valid approach, but flawed in one way. It fails to consider the most important factor in all of this. Where is my potential audience?

“Think about where of your demographic is,” she said. “Find out where most of your demographic is speaking to each other.”

The simplest way to do this is to talk to the people you serve. When a client comes to you for a job just ask them what social media outlet they use and then actively connect with them through it. Let your clients and the people you work with dictate which social media you will use then you will be be more likely to maintain it because the practice has grown organically.

It’s a mindset you have to cultivate so be thinking about opportunities to connect with people at all times.

Say you run a letterpress shop like my sister Olivia does. Referrals are word of mouth and the appeal is coming into the shop and seeing for yourself how she makes her print products.  If a potential client comes to her seeking a service, engaging in social media could be simple as asking them to connect with her through Facebook or Twitter after the initial meeting.

Once a client knows you are using a specific social media outlet they are more likely to engage with you on it. Be aware that if you make a commitment engage with somebody on social media then be sure to actually have a conversation with them.

It’s rude when you know your having a one sided conversation in real life so don’t do it over Facebook, Twitter and the like. Remember, it’s social media so the Golden Rule does apply.

Engage with people in a professional manner and you will be treated in kind.

Engagement could be as simple as writing clients a thank you tweet or note on their facebook wall. Common courtesies like that aren’t relegated to real life and could often mean the difference between a client giving you a referral to their hundreds of followers or friends.

This organic approach can also lead you to new social media outlets. If a client says they are using something you’ve never heard of then be open to exploring what it could do for you. Be willing to engage with your audience where they are most comfortable not necessarily where you are most comfortable.

If that’s on Pinterest, Yelp, Instagram or anything else. Give it a shot.

An Integrated approach

Deciding the number of social media outlets to use and how to integrate them effectively is just as important as which ones to use. Not everybody has a team of employees to launch and maintain an effective presence on multiple social media outlets so think carefully where you want to put your time an energy.

“The generally accepted dogma is that consumers want different content for each medium. It has to look like you care about the person. If it happens to be Facebook or Twitter you have to think about how you might engage them.”

Where your audience or clientele is going will dictate which outlets to use, but if you are going to be using more than one keep this in mind. This is social media not “social link aggregator” or “social spam bot” so be sure to interact with people as if they are right in front of you.

If you apply all the rules of civility and professionalism in real life to the Internet world then you will be just fine. Remember that you are not operating in dead space so even though that status update or tweet is going out to hundreds of people there is a brain and two eyes that are looking at it. People are smart enough to realize when you are being lazy so put in the time and effort to think about what you are doing and how you are engaging with people.

That’s a long way of saying think before you open your mouth.

“The best thing is to decide what the call to action may be. Whatever it is, establish a clear objective with the goal of user engagement.”

When you put up a link, explain why you are putting it up. Refer people to our blog post on Facebook, but ask an engaging question to get people commenting. Engage with the people following you and they will respond in kind.

Artist spotlight: Melissa Pagluica

My main platform at the Vallejo Times-Herald and affords me the farthest reach as far as audience. I’m fortunate to have some great colleagues, but I also get to talk to some talented coaches and High School athletes with great stories to tell.

The closest I’ve ever gotten to the field are those days I cover games, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned some lessons from sports figures that can’t be applied to my writing life. I’ve never met John Wooden before but I’ve read every book and article there is about the legendary coach from UCLA. Wooden died in 2010, but  but he remains an influential figure to me. The one thing I take away from his life and teachings is that it’s everybody’s responsibility to use their skills to teach others and also to be taught themselves.

Mentor is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it’s someone whose principles and values have dictated their decisions and actions as they went about their lives. As a verb, it’s being open to teaching others through actions and receptivity to teaching those that seek guidance. By that definition, all of us are mentors and all of us can be mentored.

It’s a simple matter of being observant enough to see the lessons that be gleaned, but also it’s being aware that the way we conduct ourselves has an impact on those around us.

My talents lay in journalism and in writing. The real beauty of my profession is that it affords me the ability to ask questions and learn about people on a daily basis. My job is to tell stories both imaginary and real and this blog is my platform to tell the stories about all the wonderful Creatives I meet on a daily basis.

I’m going to make it a point to profile at least one person on this blog each week. My hope is that you see each one of these stories as an opportunity to be mentored because every person that has taken the time to speak with me has certainly been my mentor.

Melissa Pagluica

Melissa Pagluica loves a good story.

“My dad was a big fan of Zelda. He’d be playing Zelda and then call me over. I’d run up whenever he’d be fighting the boss,” Melissa said. “ I remember watching X-Men, Gargoyles, and Sailor Moon. I think that’s when I started caring about anime. I used to scour the TV guide a lot (for anime), watch Sci-Fi channel. Robot Carnival and weird Sci-Fi. I played a lot of RPG’s.”

Melissa is an artist from Sacramento whose art is influenced by cartoons and video games. That love for colorful characters from her childhood carried over into high school, college and now into a career as an artist.

Melissa got her Bachelors degree in Fine Arts at Cal-State University Chico in 2007. She said her main influence was a Nanette Wylde, a teacher in Digital Media at the school.

She first started doing commissioned work in college, doing album titles for bands like RedSkunk Jipzee Swing and the New Orleans Moonshiners.

“It just sort of happened in my life,” Melissa said. “I kept making friends with musicians and other band would see my work.”

Currently she works part-time as a desktop publisher, “playing with design software and updating English files into different languages for publications” as she puts it, but her goal is to work full-time as an artist.

“Work the last couple of months has been pretty tough and I find myself up in the wee hours,” Melissa said. “Various project for my day job can be unpredictable, but I take it one day at a time. Work is 24-7 sometimes.”

Between her day job Melissa carves out time to do the things that she loves. Recently Melissa had a booth at the Animation on Display Festival where she handed out business cards and hada portfolio of past work she’d done for clients. Her commissioned work ranges from $15 for sketches to hundreds of dollars for a full color work

She said that it can be challenging at times, but takes a positive approach and sees it as a way of stepping out of her own element.

“I’m still navigating art world, figuring out how to put myself out there. Mainly it’s just my day job that gets in the way. I want to do art all the time; that’s what I wish I was doing. It’s finding ways to balance work and art. ” Melissa said. “I’m learning that if your serious about art, and you want to do it professionally, then you have to make it your lifestyle.”

Melissa’s Work

Melissa uses both traditional and digital mediums to produce her work. Initial sketches are done on sketch pads then transferred using Photoshop or Painter. She said at times she’ll use mixed media or acrylic paints.

One constant is the dreamlike quality that pervades most of ther pieces. On the surface are foreground characters, but the beauty in all her work is the subtlety where shadowy figures often tell their own story in the background.

If you want to see more of Melissa’s work visit here

Swan Dance

“I like working with ideas that people can recognize and associate with easily. Swan Lake is well known for the scene where the Princess becomes a Swan and I wanted to try putting my own spin on this transformation. Stories are important to me, so I always try to portray a point of view that looks like a story is unfolding within my art.”

Gwen Turner


“Gwen Turner is from a story that I’ve been working on for a awhile. She’s a librarian, the non-adventuring nose stuck in a book type, who gets sucked into a dark underworld of demons.”

Utena

“When I do fanart, it has to be nostalgic for me. Utena was one of those animes I watched growing up. I wont pretend to fully understand Utena, but it was fun trying to portray the relationship and pulling symbols I remember from the series within the background.”