Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Convention Survival Tips

When you're a genre writer like me, eventually you're going to want to go to some of the many (many, many) conventions that are held all over the world. In my case, I was in luck this year, because the Wizard World Comic Con was in downtown St. Louis earlier this year, in addition to Archon in Collinsville, which I plan to attend this fall. Conventions are a great place to meet fans, both of the genre you write in and (potentially) of the stuff you write, and most people are pretty friendly. Additionally, conventions are great for introverts like me because for some reason I have an easier time approaching some guy dressed like Robocop or Batman versus some random guy on the street.

However, whether you attend a convention as a free-range guest to attend the seminars are see your favorite actors or writers or whatever, or you get yourself a table in the dealer's room to hock your wares, there are a few tips that will help you survive.

Wear Comfortable Shoes

I can't emphasize this enough. Chances are, you will be doing a lot of walking at the convention, possibly for eight hours or more, and you can't count on there being a whole lot of unoccupied places to sit (no, the floor doesn't count). Even if you are in costume, and the high-heeled boots you got look awesome with your outfit, think how comfortable they'll be towards the end of the day when you can barely walk. At Comic Con, I wore a mad scientist costume on Sunday that had a pair of really awesome looking stompy boots from Hot Topic (my #1 source for all big stompy boots). I had a great time walking around, taking pictures, getting my picture taken in turn, and buying geeky stuff. When I got home, I pried my really awesome stompy boots off my aching feet and found I had a raw spot worn in my heel.

Now, this might not be as much of an issue with those who get a dealer table, but you never know. You're not going to necessarily sit on your butt the entire time.

Stay Hydrated

Conventions will be hot and stuffy. There will be a lot of people. You will sweat. This goes double if you're in costume, no matter how much actual skin coverage is involved. Many conventions will have food vendors, but they will be expensive. Carry a bottle of water with you and refill it in the restrooms from time to time so you don't have to go hunting for a drinking fountain before you pass out.

Be Polite

This goes equally if you are a speaker, a bookseller, or one of the roving crowds of unwashed masses. Ask permission before you take someone's picture. Act like a freaking civilized human being. A lot of conventions have "no creeper" rules because some convention-goers have decided that a cosplayer in a skimpy costume deserves to be groped or have her zippers messed with (I wish I was kidding). That's a good way to get the snot beaten out of you by Superman, Thor, or Jayne Cobb.

There is an unstated rule that being in a Deadpool costume means you can act utterly insane and get away with it, but have some freaking standards, or the dozen or so other Deadpools will call you out on it. Acting like a jerk at a convention is a good way to get you not invited back at best, banned in the middle, and arrested on assault charges at worst.

Have Fun

This is why you went to the convention in the first place, right? Walk around! Meet people! Check out the costumes! Talk to fellow writers! Attend the panels! Buy the stuff! Get out there and have a good time (within reason, see above)! Chances are you'll make some new friends/networking contacts, and you might even link up on the social media platform of your choice.

Going to a convention does take some planning and some extra endurance, but the main reason you go to one of these things is to have a good time and meet people with similar interests. Bring a camera or Smartphone and a spare charger, though--you don't want to see the Best Costume Ever towards the end of the day and realize you're phone's almost dead from the 900 other pictures you took that day.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Paranormal Romance vs. Sci-Fi Romance

When I first decided I was going to write (and finish) a novel, the first idea that came to mind was a sci-fi romance called Heart of Steel. That was fine as far as it went, until the time came to do a little genre research, whereupon I found the relative handful of sci-fi romance titles were tossed into the same section as paranormal romance. That struck me as odd, since sci-fi and paranormal are only similar in that they're both spec fiction. Aside from that, they're worlds apart. Now, I know that the people in charge of cataloging the romance subgenres are going to keep using the terms interchangeably while sci-fi romance is even nichier than paranormal romance, but I thought I'd try to distinguish the two.

First, let's talk about setting. Paranormal romances tend to be set in roughly the modern day, plus or minus twenty years or so. They're usually like "our" Earth, except for the presence of the paranormal stuff, which may or may not protect itself with a conspiracy to keep normal folks from discovering (and freaking out over) it. This offers the reader a fairly comfortable frame of reference, and allows for the possibility of an everyman or everywoman lead. Sci-fi romance can be set anywhere from 100 years ago (in the case of steampunk) to several hundred years in the future (for nearly everything else). It also doesn't have to be set on Earth, let alone "our" Earth--I've seen titles set on alien planets as often as a futuristic Earth that might be a mind-boggling dystopia, a post-apocalyptic hell, or a wondrous speculation of miracles yet to come.

Now let's talk about the critters. Paranormal romances tend more towards magical or supernatural creatures, including but not limited to vampires, spellcasters, ghosts, demons, angels, and shapeshifters. Any one of these may be a love interest (vampires seem to be popular these days), and they can be either gender. Sci-fi romances can have aliens (usually humanoid), cyborgs, robots(!), and any number of metahumans with superpowers not otherwise covered under the paranormal umbrella. Again, any one of these can be the love interest in your story (yes, even the robots), but while they can be either gender, there seems to be a slight preference for males, regardless of the gender of the other lead.

Finally, let's talk about the heroes. Paranormal romances tend towards intuitive heroes who aren't afraid to resort to physical combat to get the job done. They use their street-smarts, or instincts, or gut feelings to get out of a scrape. Conversely, sci-fi romances tend to have intellectual heroes who prefer to think their way out of a scrape. They might or might not be able to build a death ray out of some aluminum foil and a car battery, but they're more likely to try to make a plan rather than punch, kick, or bite (depending on preference) their way through obstacles. This is not to say that all PNR heroes are brutish beasts (even if other members of their species are) or that SFR heroes are all emotionless robots (even if they literally are). Even a steampunk artificer might know how to throw a solid punch in a pinch, but if he has time and the death ray option is open, well, he's going to build himself a freaking death ray.

Now, I know that there's going to be some overlap between SFR and PNR stories, especially if the author takes the science fantasy route or the Magic Is Sufficiently Advanced Technology route, but these are the distinctions I've seen. Unfortunately, the fact that there aren't separate categories for each means that someone looking for one or the other might have to hunt around in Romance or Science Fiction to get your speculative romance on, regardless of which type you prefer. Fortunately, with the increase of self-published authors, I imagine that both of these categories may increase in size, meaning that the cataloging people in bookstores (online and physical) may eventually separate the two properly. In the meantime, though, happy hunting.