Monday, July 25, 2016

The Necessity of Writers Conferences: Christina Discusses The Authors Combat Academy

My bio at the end of each piece I write says it all.  I am trained for only those particular things and honestly I am not interested in learning anything new at this point in my life.  You can tell by what I usually cover that Nerdom is my headquarters, the martial arts is my place of Zen, writing is my eccentricity (writers are by nature insane while yet still being sane,) and motherhood my meaning of life.  So blend that together and it makes for an interesting human with a flair for pieces that range in various directions.  At least I can say that much about myself. 
There are many out there that want to bust into the world of writing and haven't found their voice yet.  There are many that have and they still struggle with one or more aspects:  fight scenes, sex scenes, dialogue, the muddy middle, etc.  Some are not even sure how they want to get their work out there.  Do they want to work in magazines or fanzines, novels or short stories, self-publishing or a standardized house?  These are valid questions.  They need answers.  You can't always depend on your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate for the answer (see what I did there?  Ah....Spaceballs: The Needless Things Article!)  But there are places that you can go to find this information from reputable sources.  Places with writers, publishers, agents, editors, etc., who know the game and can help you navigate the waters.  I'm talking about writers conferences, and you will never find a more valuable tool than they.  Today I'm going to discuss one that I frequent yearly:  The Authors Combat Academy.

Held annually in the heart of Nashville across the street from the Grand Ol' Opry (as in you walk across the street about one hundred yards there is the Opryland Hotel,) the ACA has been a staple of many aspects of my writing life since its inception in 2014.  Writing, networking, and even just counting as an outright awesomely fun vacation weekend for the husband and myself.  From panels to martial arts demos, crime scene tactics to a full on five star banquet, you don't have a chance to get bored.

Let's give you some examples of what you experience, shall we?  Every writer works in various genres, be it horror or romance, thrillers or even non-fiction.  Every human being that has a day job works in different arenas too, from fry cooks to police officers, military personnel to doctors.  You can’t expect a doctor to know how to drive a tank unless he served.  You can’t expect a fry cook to know anything about a particle accelerator as he is not a physicist.   So as you are a writer, you can’t know all the facets of every job in every world.  That is what these conferences are for.  Panels are set up on a daily basis to teach you anything and everything that you could want and need to know.  Ranging from fight scenes to death scenes, interrogation tactics to how animals react in the wild, even panels on the differences in self-publishing verses getting an agent and work with a publisher to know which route is best.  You will want to be sure to bring a notebook and pen; each panel is full of notes, videos, pictures, power point presentations, etc. ACA always gets Instructors that bring busting-at-the-seams knowledge so you can walk out armed with more than you walked in with.  The point of conferences is to learn something as well as to network so that you can make potential contacts that could help you later on down the line, which is why many of the Instructors come ready with their social media, email, and even business cards.  That way you can still keep in contact with them should you ever have any questions later on down the line.  As I said before, every writer has a different area that they are in need of help with, and every project is different.  The Instructors know this and know that while you might not have that crucial question ready now, you might have it later, and need them. 

That is how the panels are laid out, but what are some of the panels and the people who teach them?  I’m glad you asked.  Well, you didn’t really, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. 

You might not have had any problems with a project before, but suddenly you are writing about a CSI who witnesses a paranormal event.  You've never even tinkered with Crime Scene Investigation.  Ah, but you find that your writer's conference has a CSI as a guest speaker.  Brilliant!  You can pick their brain!  See where I'm going with this?  The ACA has had authors such as CJ Lyons, DragonCon alums Sherrilyn Kenyon and Maxwell Alexander Drake, A.J. Scudiere, and Lilliana Hart, all leading panels that range from self-publishing to real-life ER emergencies (complete with photos from the ER traumas,) to how to best research for you book.  The Conference has had Physics experts, Death Investigators, Police interrogators, and military personnel.  Each offer panels and workshops from their own unique worlds to help you learn their way of life so that you can, as a result, hopefully learn your character's way of life.  I’ve sat in on panels that gave the basics in deciding financial which would work better for you; self-publishing or a publishing house.  I have listened to Sherrilyn Keynon talk about her world of writing and how she got started, listening to two different SWAT team members break down the tactics (and ethics) involved in their world, had a police interrogator explain how to detect a lie, and seen rather graphic photos of life in the Emergency Room from a Doctor’s POV.  These are just a few of the panels, and these are mostly from last year alone.  We've even had an expert in knife-throwing people.  And next year we're having Jim Butcher (Dresden Files,) a Navy Seal, and Terry Brooks (Shannara Chronicles) has also shown interest in joining the party.  How freaking cool is that?

The panels are not the only chance you get to ask questions and mix and mingle with the instructors and other attendees.  ACA is an all-inclusive and all-joining conference; everyone has a chance to get involved.  A mingle is set for the conference is each year, but not the annoying B&B style with mind-numbing chit-chat that puts one to sleep or makes them run for the hills.  The first year for example, the mingle was set around Instructors as well as invited Agents/Publishers, giving attendees and chance to meet with those that taught at panels one-on-one and ask more in-depth questions.  They could also meet with Agents and pitch their ideas and, if they had brought their query letters/proposals to the party, pass them along while they had the chance.  Last year was an information gathering meet and greet.  Everyone wore two different colored "My name is" stickers; one color on their back and one of their chest.  Everyone would stick as many as they needed on them, and each one on their back was a listing of everything that they were an expert in.   Anyone that might need help with their own writing project could look around at this hodgepodge of tags on the backs of each attendee and if they found a person in the area of expertise that they needed, they could strike up a conversation and pick their brain.  By sticking this tag on your back you were telling everyone "I am an expert on (insert here.)  Come to me for questions and advice!" Every sticker that was put on their chests was something that they needed help with in one of their existing projects.  The "chest tags” were the proverbial neon signs screaming "I need help with this area!  Someone talk to me!"  It was the ultimate brain picking exercise and many people walked away with emails and phone numbers to continue their conversations later on.  The Instructors even got in on the action, passing on information and even asking attendees for help in areas that they were struggling with on current projects.  

This conference is called Authors Combat Academy.  Key word "Combat."  One of the co-founders is a martial artist.  So do you think that the writing of fight scenes is not going to play a prominent role in the conference format?  During this weekend of panels and banquets, mixers and shopping, there are many demonstrations to be had.  Martial arts demonstrations in which the techniques are broken down, slowed down to show placement and effectiveness and worked at normal speed to show organized ring sparring verses realistic survival situations.  We have sword demonstrations, knife throwing and the highlight for many is known as the "Rent-A-Ninja" sessions.  When you sign up for the conference you are assigned an hour block of time with a staff of martial artists.  If there is a scene in a project that you are working on that you need help with blocking to make the realism pop a bit, you bring it to your designated Rent-A-Ninja hour.  Give them the details ahead of time for how many people are needed and what weapons will be required (we martial artists have foam rubber weapons for practice with newbies I promise,) and they will block out the scene with you step-by-step, giving tips and suggestions on how to up the realism.  

Just to show you how much you can get from this conference, here is an example of some of the notes I have gathered from the ACA that I still use regularly:

Publicity Panel

- Marketing publicity- Finding the right hooks

- Everyone has an angle or favorite thing/fetish/genre/cover/word

- Try to work something in that will give you a hook

- Make contacts. A person of a person of a person

- Establish a platform early

- Remember: 80% of marketing is WORD OF MOUTH. “Start spreading the news…”

- Libraries are as valuable as bookstores for helping you as an author.

- Blog sites, interviews, posts, stories, offer to review other books.

- Youtube shows (think Tabletop/Geek & Sundry for example)

- LinkedIn for Non-Fiction books

- Agent negotiates number of copies, publishers negotiate more after. Author can at their discounts, but this does not allow it to count toward your Bestsellers list sales. Advanced Readers copies come out as well. Most editors prefer giving out those instead of finished copies as they are ready for sale

Promoting Your Books Panel

- Web site: Be sure to put visible/positive reviews (if possible with a picture/face attached)

- website for intro videos and specialized vids w/logos that can be added. These snippets can be used for Twitter updates to advertise.

- Stark contrast: Connects to memory

- Upbeat music: feeling energized and excited. Helps to get something to catch you.

- Animoto: music and animation. $29.00 for one month

- Point is “I want to keep you looking at me.”

- You want to structure site to see you (bio,) books (maybe side bar,) and social media links and blogs. Make your work VISIBLE.

Trauma Panel

- In emergency situations various agencies and even civilians often are involved.

- “is the scene safe?” assess this situation first before proceeding to trauma rescue

- Team effort. Have to be coordinated.

- Lead usually not in a “White coat.:

- Trauma leader usually at head or foot of bed.

- Good trauma organization is quiet because team is organized and knows each other and what they are doing. (Not the noisy because mess you hear on procedural shows.)

I only gave you a smidge of the notes from each of those panels; that was just a taste.  And these were not even the SWAT panels or the Interrogation, the panels on how to get the most out of researching a project, or my Rent-A-Ninja scene blocking.  You even have great notes that you can take during the banquet from the keynote speaker so be sure to bring a pen/notebook to dinner for goodness sakes.  And I’m not even thinking about the Ice Cream social or the stellar breakfast social and raffles.  Can’t believe I forgot to mention those.

You want to build your writing?  Want to feel like you are getting unstuck from the muddy middle or no longer staring down the white bull?  Check out the Authors Combat Academy as a great place to start building your writers conference credentials.  You can find them here:

Want to be listed on their Experts List as a research helper?  Someone that a fellow writer can come to for help if they need advice?  If a writer has never worked in a factory and you have, never seem what a firefighter does and you are, never worked in a McDonalds before and you did as a teenager, then guess what?  You’re an expert.  Any and every area from toy collecting to restaurant work to computer repair to motorcycle maintenance is an area of expertise for a writer that might be making their hero affluent in it.  If you want to help, just contact me at Needless Things.  I man the Experts List and I’ll be happy to pass you the form to fill out that lists all the things you want to list yourself as knowledgeable on, and add you to our list.  Anytime an ACA member needs help in a certain area we peruse the list and if you happen to be a person with knowledge of that area, we will contact you and ask if you could yack their ear off a bit.  Simple as that.

Now go check out the links I just posted.  Sign up for this conference!  Don’t miss the chance to sit in on these panels, eat some great food, watch martial artists duke it out, and get to hear the likes of Jim Butcher talk to you about the world of writing.  Seriously…why on earth would you want to pass that up?

Christina Sizemore is trained in only four things:  writing, fighting, paranormal investigating, and being a mom.  At this point in her life she truly feels that she is not qualified to attempt to learn any new field.  A twenty year martial artist, mother of three, and writer who is working on the publication of her first book titled “Finding Your Way: A Guide To Your Path In The Martial Arts,” she spends her days working out, writing, making fanvids, going to DragonCon, and playing board games/video games/out in the yard with her kids and husband who are just as geeky as she is.  She is convinced that one day her skills will be of assistance in the Zombie Apocalypse and that while she is of no use in the kitchen, she can Buffy that zombie for ya or teach you the best way to get the blood stains out of your clothes (Psst…the secret is mixing Crown Cleaner and Shout.  Just sayin’.) 

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