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Dragon*Con Writing Panels: Part 3

It’s been a while since Dragon*Con, but I still have notes from 3 more panels I’d like to share with you: Worldbuilding 101, Peopling Your Fiction, and Social Media: Love It or Hate It?

DragonCon Harry Potter Cosplay

from Hitokiri_Ace on Flickr

Science fiction and fantasy authors like Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Jim Butcher, Lynn Abbey, and more gave attendees some insight into how to start developing a world, how to create characters for that setting, and how to use social media once your book is released out into the wilds. Stick around for more after the jump.
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Dragon*Con Writing Panels: Part 2

Dragon*Con Writing Panels: Part 2

Next up of the Dragon*Con writing panels I attended were Fabulous Women of Fantasy (featuring Laurell K. Hamilton, Lynn Abbey, Katherine Kurtz, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro) and Politics in Genre Fiction (featuring Lee Martindale, Elizabeth Moon, Chuck Gannon, John Ringo, Michael Williamson, and S.M. Stirling). I’ll share my notes below.

This post is second in a series where I share the wisdom from the science fiction and fantasy authors who lectured at Dragon*Con 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia over Labor Day weekend. Clicking on the topics in Part 2 below will jump you down to those sections.

See part one to read about the non-writing fun we had.


Fabulous Women of Fantasy

Panelists: Laurell K. Hamilton, Lynn Abbey, Katherine Kurtz, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

These fantasy authors related some awesome anecdotes from their writing careers. But first, intros:

Laurell K. Hamilton is best known for her NY Times Bestselling Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series and her Merry Gentry series (set in Fairie world), both of which are urban fantasy. She has over 30 published books available.

Lynn Abbey is best known for her work in the Thieves’ World shared-world 12-volume anthology series and in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. She has 20 or so published books available, as well as being in numerous tie-ins and anthologies.

Katherine Kurtz is best known for her NY Times Bestselling Deryni novels and has around 40 published books available in the modern fantasy genre.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro may be best known for her historical horror series about the vampire Count Saint-Germain, but she has 92 published books available, so you may know her from many other series, like Messages from Michael.

Early Days

In the mid-80s, editors told Hamilton that her “mixed genre” fiction wouldn’t sell, but of course she helped kick off paranormal romance. Lynn Abbey was also told that her female sword and sorcery wouldn’t sell. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was told that you can’t write a “positive vampire,” but her Hotel Transylvania ended up in book clubs and kicked off her career.

Developing as a Writer

Yarbro says she thinks she’s gotten better as a writer. Kurtz says her genre didn’t exist yet and started with simpler plots originally. Abbey says her craft has gotten better, but she writes about generations differently now that she’s older.

Hamilton says she’s definitely a different writer than when she started. She started out with elves and dragons but she was told the market was dead. She didn’t know how to write a book and stumbled her way through Nightseer, the first novel she ever wrote (except for its sequel, she has no trunk novels). Now as the writer she is, she would write the sequel differently. She can “write without flinching,” and she’s afraid that would make those books too harsh now.

Pursuing Writing as a Career

Hamilton said it was Andre Norton who gave her the idea that women (not just dead white guys) could write—she realized Andre Norton was a real person. And if Norton could do it, so could Hamilton.

Abbey had to write a story in high school. The Berlin Wall had just gone up, so she wrote about high school kids who were separated. When she was done reading the story out loud, the teacher and the kids alike broke into applause.

Kurtz thought she’d be in space medicine originally. She went to med school and decided to write about it instead. She worked for LAPD. While in LA she went to a scifi convention and made contacts there, and when she sent her first novel out, it got accepted. She was friends with and frequently had afternoon tea with Anne McCaffrey.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro promised herself at the age of 6 that she’d write 100 novels in her life. She did theater as a teen. It took 2 ½ years to sell her first story. In the next 6 months, she sold 3 more. Anne McCaffrey was one of her mentors later. Her mentors helped her think of herself as a pro writer.

Abbey went to ConFusion in Michigan. She was injured in a car accident on her way to pick up Gorty Dixon, the Guest of Honor, from the airport. He felt terrible and asked if he could do anything. She had him read her manuscript, and he mentored her through craft and publishing.

A teacher gave Hamilton Writer’s Digest magazines, and then she went to a scifi con in her early 20s. There she attended a writer’s workshop. 3 months later she sold her first short story.


Politics in Science Fiction and Fantasy Fiction

Panelists: Lee Martindale, Elizabeth Moon, Chuck Gannon, John Ringo, Michael Williamson, S.M. Stirling

I had to leave to meet friends partway through this panel, but what I caught was interesting. Lee Martindale did a great job as moderator, making sure everyone kept to the topic of politics in fiction. 

One of the panelists noted that in pre-state groups, around 1/3 of males and 15% of females died by murder (that we know of). That’s understated because we only have bones to reference; we can’t see the soft tissue (so a knife in the gut wouldn’t show up for archeologists). Clearly, humans’ natural state without government is acting our politics out through violence.

In Stirling’s Dies the Fire series (Emberverse series), a man becomes king and his death renews the land. The series is about myth reborn and fighting fire with fire. He explores concepts around superstates: Is the UN really doing what it said it would? Helps with education and health care, not peace. Stirling noted that no politics will work in all situations.

Stirling says he’s always found it easy to write people different from him. He’s an atheist and materialist but his Wiccans came across as advocacy to some. And some fans even converted!

Moon looked at how longevity treatment would affect politics. In her Suiza series, it’s young pitted against old. For her, New Texas went against her own beliefs, making it hard but fun to write, with characters you hate but aren’t bad. She shows that being compassionate is hard. Her characters are honorable people but are also often against her political leanings.

Ringo says he’s a Libertarian neo-conservative if anything. He believes in a small government but is socially liberal. Last Centurion was less socially liberal but was socialist. For him it was like a possession because he wrote 150,000 words in 9 days. However, Ringo says he can’t write someone who’s 180 degrees off his leanings. He considers it a personal failing.

How to Write Politics

From the panelists:

People who hold the power think they’re right. Everyone else is delusional, or wrong.

Technology conspires to change which governments thrive and which don’t.

Those in power will have some kind of self-validating myth. What were the initiating ideals of whatever political group came to power? What did they evolve into?

Look for legitimizing myths, such as 51% of the population = right, noble bloodlines, or a deity as founder and ruler.

This post is second in a series where I share the wisdom from the science fiction and fantasy authors who lectured at Dragon*Con 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia over Labor Day weekend. Clicking on the topics in Part 2 below will jump you back up to those sections.

Have you attended writing panels at scifi conventions like Dragon*Con? Leave a comment below or find me as +Traci Loudin on Google+, the perfect place for fans of science fiction and fantasy to hang out.

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Dragon*Con Writing Panels: Part 1

Dragon*Con Writing Panels: Part 1

I had a great time at Dragon*Con and collected a ton of great writing tips, which I’ll share in the next few posts. +David Dorian Granruth and I also hung out and took about a million photos of cosplayers, and we also saw the Lost Girl cast and a panel with Jayne and Shepherd Book from Firefly. We also went to some fun fan panels for Lost Girl, Continuum, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., where we speculated with other fans about what’s to come in future seasons.

While we were at the Westin, we saw a platoon of uniforms clearing corners and generally acting like soldiers in an active war zone. I was vaguely amused, but then an Alien came out of nowhere and started slaughtering them! It was the most fun LARP I’ve seen. Photo time afterwards:

Soldier cosplayers and the Alien that slaughtered them at Dragon*Con

It goes without saying at Dragon*Con, but we saw, oh, a couple thousand AMAZING costumes. And we participated with a little steampunkery. But mostly we just tried to take it all in, this being our first Dragon*Con and all.

And the dealer room… my god, it’s full of stars… Let’s just say we spent everything in the budget and then some.

This post is first in a series where I share the wisdom from the science fiction and fantasy authors who lectured at Dragon*Con 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia over Labor Day weekend. Clicking on the topics in Part 1 below will jump you down to those sections.


What’s Next in Urban Fantasy?

Panelists: Debra Dixon, Claire Eddy, Diana Gill, Laura Anne Gilman, Georgia McBride, Samantha Sommersby

This was an all-female panel with a variety of writers and editors, including Jim Butcher’s editor. What is urban fantasy? It’s usually set in our time, +/-10 years. Writers should establish setting as a character. Voice is essential, which is why first person is so common.

In the 80s, horror was hot, but the market quickly became saturated. In the 90s, many horror writers moved to thrillers. Urban fantasy’s roots are in the romance genre. Fans crossed over into paranormal romance, and then delved into urban fantasy. So UF often features romantic subplots.

However, while romance often dominates PNR, UF often features “happily right now” or may not need a romantic subplot at all. The panelists recommended that writers work the edges of urban fantasy and get over sexy shapeshifters. Vampires and werewolves are at 20% of 2012 numbers. 


Tons of UF are mysteries, capers, private investigators. The panelists recommend writers branch out and read mainstream fiction, not just urban fantasy. Comedy is hard to pull off, but it could be a niche. Weird West is growing in popularity. 

UF’s future may be diverging from the urban. Charles de Lint revitalized the genre, but his work tends to be categorized as contemporary fantasy. Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. 


Down & Dirty Plot Development

Panelists: Debra Dixon, Chesya Burke, Claire M. Eddy, James A. Moore, Janny Wurts, Clay & Susan Griffith

Goal, motivation, and conflict help create a strong plotline. Main characters need to stumble and fail; they shouldn’t succeed at everything they try. They need to deal with failure and the unexpected.

Scrivener, index cards, sticky notes, spreadsheets, graph paper — use anything you can to keep track of huge plotlines. My own process is very similar to what one of the panelists mentioned: Put characters and factions at the top of a spreadsheet with time going down and fill it in.


Writing a novel in 3 weeks helps you keep track of your plot. On the other hand, another panelist recommends working on multiple stories at once so that when you get stuck, you can let your subconscious work on it awhile. 

How to Get out of a Bind

Write yourself a note that something’s messed up and continue writing. Track what’s at stake. Dialogue stops the action, so know when to use dialogue versus narrative. Do the scenes address what the book is supposed to be about? 


For your first draft, speed through without slowing down. You can figure out what to do about the fact no one’s eaten in 7 days on your revision pass.

Ending a Plot

Zelazny had a publisher that chopped a Chronicles of Amber book in half and ruined the plotline. Every book should have a beginning, middle, and end, even in a series. Leave threads, but wrap it up. The best way to leave a cliffhanger if you want one is to end the book and resolve the plot, and put enough of the next book at the end to leave it on a cliffhanger. 

Somewhat off topic, but the panelists mentioned that menopause, loss of a loved one, and depression can all have a terrible impact on your creativity and cause changes in your process. You think you’ll never have another great idea. 

Were You at Dragon*Con?

Did you go to Dragon*Con? Leave me a link to your awesome cosplay photos. C’mon, I know you gots ’em.

This post is first in a series where I share the wisdom from the science fiction and fantasy authors who lectured at Dragon*Con 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia over Labor Day weekend. Clicking on the topics in Part 1 below will jump you back up to those sections.

Find me as +Traci Loudin on Google+, the perfect place for fans of science fiction and fantasy to hang out.
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