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The Muse Online Conference 2009
I've mentioned this conference on and off over the last couple of years, but this may be my first official conference report. Though I'm not one to hang about in my robe and bunny slippers, Muse Online is unique in that it is 100% online with the interactions occurring round the clock in a combination of forums and chats. This year, a new aspect was added: pitching to both agents and editors. The feedback so far is overwhelmingly positive and it looks like more agents and publishers will participate next year.

So enough with the generals. Here is my Muse Online experience:

I have been offering a writing techniques class since 2007, my second year, so the whole Muse Online experience began for me back in June when I put my class materials together. I was not alone in the focus though, because the year-round, related listserv was buzzing with people trying to confirm their memberships and eager to see what this year's conference would offer.

I reviewed the folks offering pitch slots and identified one agent who accepted works like my novel. From that moment on, there was all the normal panic associated with an in-person pitch, only slightly lessened by the realization that this would be typing not speech, so I'd be unlikely to dissolve into stutters or lose my voice. And if my hands shook, I could always edit before I pushed send.

I did put together a pitch, edited it again and again, got crits, edited again, and finally polished the pitch before I submitted it to Lea, who evaluated all pitches to make sure the work was a good match, a pre-screening to ensure this aspect a greater chance at success. I also attended two pre-conference workshops on in-person/online pitches to prepare.

A week before the conference, the presenters were allowed into the forum and I put up my welcome thread in the board reserved for my Non-Verbal Communications workshop. I already had a list of names and emails for both my forum class and the related chat that would have been intimidating if I didn't know how many people, myself included, tended to over schedule. Since my workshops involve a feedback component, the number of active members can affect my participation in the rest of the conference, but at the same time, the more the merrier, because overall, Muse Online attendees tend to be supportive and encouraging of their fellows' efforts.

Late Sunday, I posted the introduction to my class and went to bed.

When the alarm rang on Monday morning, I wandered in, armed with my conference agenda which I had already beefed up with direct links to the specific forums, and notes about whether I'd downloaded the related documentation and read it. I first went to my workshop and responded to the enterprising folks for whom the sun had risen long ago, and then to each of the workshops I had signed up for.

My first mistake. I had carefully converted the Eastern times into Pacific and recorded when the chats would be (the only time-dependent aspects), but had confused 12pm with 12am in my rush to get ready. So I missed my first chat, luckily one that was a recap of the pre-conference pitch preparations.

Despite that rocky start, though, I managed to keep up with my own class and read the material in the ones I'd signed up for. The very first day I had to mock up a website in a class on marketing yourself online and put together a scene with specific dialogue requirements on top of the reading. I also had the opportunity to ask questions based on the various readings, one I took where necessary.

I managed to keep up with the readings and some of the assignments for the first two days, but on my pitch day, I could focus on nothing else as much as I tried. I answered questions and gave feedback in my class by sheer force of will, but the rest, I thought, could wait a day.

The pitch itself went not at all as planned. My first shake occurred when the agent said, "Hello." A simple thing, but I had step by step directions that said hop in the room and paste your pitch because time is short. I stalled for a moment, but since there had been some confusion about rooms and the moderators were clearing out stray people, the delay before I said, "Hello" back went largely unnoticed. Still, remember that panic?

Then I pasted the first line of my pitch and paused to give the agent a moment to read, as counseled in the staging area where the moderators gave a blow by blow account of the pitches to help prepare those waiting. I was second, so I hadn't seen many of the tips, but I incorporated what I could.

I was preparing to paste the second line when she asked about genre. That's in the last line of my pitch, but easy enough to bring up. Then she follows with another question: length, and another question. Suddenly, I have lost the security blanket of my carefully polished pitch and am winging it.

Here's the thing though. She couldn't see my shaking hands, and I learned that rather than drone on about the ten thousand details and complexities that made up my novel, I was surprisingly coherent and clear. Ultimately, she told me to send in a partial, so despite losing my footing, I'd managed to do just what I'd intended, intrigue her about the story.

So, my first experience with an "in-person" pitch? It was positive, fun in a scary kind of way, and a confidence builder simply because I didn't lose focus or run on.

Not too surprising, I rode that high for the rest of the day while I tried to catch up with my classes.

Then came the limits of an online conference. The next day was swallowed whole by a programming issue on a site I support. Eight hours later, exhausted, I struggled to catch up with my classes and failed. However, I did manage a trial run for my chat with my two marvelous moderators who helped me transform a wild and crazy concept into a functional chat game.

Friday morning, I ran my non-verbal charades game in chat (with the help of three moderators, actually). Everyone had fun and learned things all at once. It was so popular that when our time expired, the game continued back in the forum and has been borrowed by a couple attendees for their own writing groups.

The rest of Friday and Saturday, I rallied and managed to catch up on the reading if not the assignments in all but two classes, as well as keeping up in mine, and on Sunday I finished off everything but one class that was largely lecture so I can still read and benefit from it.

This conference has all the rush, adrenaline, learning, and overwhelm of the in-person conferences I've been to with a firm writing focus and none of the hotel and commute costs. I recommend it to everyone, only do try your best to set the week aside, because you won't have time for much else.

My conference take-aways were many, but here are some of the top ones:

1) The biggie was that I learned I can pitch Shadows of the Sun effectively.
2) I learned some online promotion techniques that should serve me well, and already I've improved my website with this page: http://margaretfisk.mmfcf.com/forreaders-chc.php
3) I learned how to improve my bio. I haven't implemented the change yet on my website, but it's in the works.
4) I now know just where Demon Rules falls in the MG/YA market and how to put that in my query letter.
5) And I picked up a handful of writing techniques that will be fun to try.

That's not to mention the chance to chat with writers I wouldn't normally have encountered, the joy that comes in seeing people grasp concepts not because it's easy but because they've worked their tails off, and the creative energy that comes over me despite the post-convention drain, an energy that has sparked progress on two separate editing projects as well as a handful of deadlines.

Some people say you get what you pay for. If you truly believe that, then let me recommend you plunk down a donation at the end of next year's conference, because whatever you pay, this one is worth it.
marfisk: (Default)
Hi everyone. Wow, I didn't realize I'd neglected this blog so much. Trouble is that my focus has been largely on critting and non-fiction writing, so I didn't have much to say on the fiction writing world.

So, a quick catch-up:

1) I've redone my website so it now is a pure writing focus. (I mentioned this regarding the image at the top, but I've done a bit of polishing.)

2) I sold a short story that's available online so if you've been curious about reading something of mine, just go to the "For Readers" page of my website. Also, while you're there, check the "Latest News" page for additional happenings.

3) I should have been doing a crossover post all along, but I've started a new tradition on my Stray Thoughts blog called Friday's Interesting Links. Since these links have a heavy writing/publishing focus, they should be of interest to anyone here who does not also follow that blog. Check out this week's here: http://marfisk.blogspot.com/2009/10/fridays-interesting-links.html

4) The outlines:

--The Princess in the Tower is the closest to done of all three outlines, but it still needs some work.

--The Farmer Boy is the farthest from being done as I only did the examples necessary for my class and haven't gone back.

--Let Me Tell You All About Myself is probably about halfway done. The concepts are all there, but the threads to pull it all together need fleshing.

5) NaNo - yes, I'm planning to do NaNo this year, the first planned event since my second year doing it back in 2004 (note I've done NaNo every year regardless :p). However, I have yet to settle on a project, so things are still up in the air.

6) This month I'm going to both Muse Online and World Fantasy. Hope to see/meet in person some of you there.

7) And I've finally started working on a fiction project again...Selkie. I'm in the process of re-outlining based on the feedback, after which I plan to retype the whole thing because so many of the edits are a word here, a phrase there, that will change the meaning significantly. I find retyping allows me to integrate them better.

I think that's about it :). Any questions?
marfisk: (Default)
Gak! I have been attacked, sneak attacked at that.

I've been pushing on so many things that my life has come to resemble a tornado, touching down on one project just long enough to leave disaster in its wake before bouncing off to find another victim. To counter this, and give me space to do what I need to do...like teach a class starting August 3rd that'll run for 6 weeks...I declared once I finish Molly, that's it. I'm not starting another novel (meaning writing, not prep work) until NaNo. This is a blessing because it means I won't be scrambling to finish a novel before November 1st, especially since after the class, I'm teaching another at Muse Online (remember registration closes on August 1st) and going down to World Fantasy 2009 in San Jose (meaning I won't even be here for the start of NaNo).

And those are just the big external things. I'm currently critting a novel with another in the queue, I let my Selkie edit fall to the wayside when I got overwhelmed, and I'm supposed to be editing and submitting short stories which means getting and receiving crits...and acting on them.

Do I sound frantic enough? And that's not even considering my computer work, my kids, my hubby, and plans to go on vacation a lot in the remaining days of summer.

The last thing I needed was an article on self-publishing and the concept of having to explain your life's story on a first date to cross my plate.

What do these two things have in common? Well, absolutely nothing to any reasonable person. But when have I ever claimed to be reasonable.

Enter Let Me Tell You All About Myself.

The idea crossed my mind early this morning. I wanted to pass it to a friend because it was funny, but she wasn't around. I figured I'd have forgotten it by the time she got back, and went about my business. Bad move.

That gave the story a hook into my memory because I wanted to tell it to someone. And with that hook, it wiggled its way through the barriers to that swamp I call my idea generator and started shuffling through the mud, stirring up an unholy mess.

No, this isn't an urban fantasy, science fiction, or even a romance. I can't even claim this as a crossover mainstream like Coma Wedding. Let Me Tell is a psychological mainstream novel about expectation and delusion. About building up an image that becomes so real that you start to question whether reality can compete. (Okay, I forgot about the article talking about a man whose girlfriend is a body pillow stamped with an anime character, which might have had a slight hand in this mess too.)

The closest genre to something I've completed before is a romance, but it's certainly not conforming to the genre requirements since we only meet her through her self-published autobiography. However, because of that, I'll need to come up with entries that are sweet, funny, endearing, and positively wonderful (oh and I don't do funny well :p). But mainly it's the story of a guy who finds his perfect mate between the covers of a book, and the struggle between wanting to find the reality and fearing it won't measure up.

And to make matters oh so much better (not :p), because the idea burst in upon me with such weight, it already has an almost complete initial synopsis and a handful of scene suggestions. This makes it worthless as my "work alongside" idea for the August workshop, which is From Ideas to Outline. I still have to find an idea for that...but maybe I shouldn't look too hard until the 1st has come and gone :p.
marfisk: (Default)
Some of you might remember me mentioning this before, and some of you may even have gone the previous year, but it's time to set aside a week in October (October 13 - 19, 2008) for the Muse Online Conference. This is a free conference with no cover charge, no transportation costs, and you can participate in live panels in your jammies :). The conference signup deadline is September 1st so you don't want to delay too long if you're planning on attending.

I will be teaching a forum workshop on telling details this year, those elements that a writer needs to highlight in a scene so the reader is right there with the characters. The difference, in my head at least ;), between a workshop and a class is that in a workshop, the participants get to do all the work. If you've joined in on any of the Forward Motion workshops, you already know what I mean. If you haven't, this is your grand opportunity to discover the difference.

There are dozens of other lectures, classes, workshops, chat sessions, and probably some variations I can't think of on offer from authors around the world and in pretty much every area of writing possible. Whatever your particular interest or weakness, odds are you'll find something, or more likely twice as many somethings as you have time for. Some, like mine, are 100% forum to allow participants to join in no matter what the time zone. The chat presentations though are at specific times dependent on where the instructors live.

Register here:
Muse Online 

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Margaret McGaffey Fisk

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