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2013 Liberty States Fiction Writer's Conference

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I attended my first #LSFWConference this year. That's the Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference, held in the spring in Islen, NJ. (Yes I know I'm opening with a hash-tag (#) but it is the official hash-tag. This is the blogosphere, and Twitter is not to be trifled with.) Let me throw their web site out here for good measure: http://www.libertystatesfictionwriters.com/ .

The conference happened back in March, but this is the first chance I've had to write about the weekend itself. Attending the conference recharged my enthusiasm for my main writing project, and suddenly it's June.

How does that happen? Let me walk you through the weekend.

Friday I left work early, stopped at Micky D's for a couple Whalers, and blazed down the highway to the Renaissance Woodbridge Hotel in Iselin. As I entered, I got the distinct impression that a hotel chain had just moved into a large art gallery, and hadn't had a chance to redecorate to the bland hotel standard. Bold colors and dynamic shapes are found throughout the hotel, as well as art of all types. Sculptures, photographs, oils, even video projections present themselves at every turn. And then there's the "Elvis" room...

I'm getting ahead of myself. The point is the place has style. I can't remember the last time I took this many photos of a hotel. You can check them out by clicking here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.387515024689069.1073741827.269149496525623&type=1&l=f39fd4564a .

I checked in, realized how little sleep I was running on, took a nap, and went down to get something to eat. The bar/restaurant area features a lot of red paint and white leather, and the bottles of spirits are back-lit in a way that reminded me of the bar on "Planet New Vegas" in Tales of the Black Knight. I'll grant you there were no fish here. Still, it's usually—but not always—a good sign when elements of your writing start appearing in real life.

I say not always because of the man I saw sitting at one of the tables, feverishly typing away at his laptop. If you didn't know who he was, you'd guess he was a retired professional grizzly bear wrestler, who retired undefeated and was now writing his memoirs. Truth be told, I have no proof that he has not at some point wrestled a bear. I wouldn't put it past him.

The man's name is Jonathan Mayberry, and he writes some of the best horror, thriller, and science fiction you can find today. Usually he hits all three genres in each book. I'm not sure what his opinion would be, but I do not want to meet any of his zombies, vampires, monsters or terrorists in real life.

I met him at the 2012 Philadelphia Writer's Conference, where he was the keynote speaker. He was one of the three best selling authors who critiqued the first chapter of the Tales for me. This was not through some special arrangement on my part: that's one of the great things about the Philly Conference. When you register you can submit work for critique.

By the way, the other two authors were Merry Jones, who can write such amazing murder mysteries that I watch her scare a talkative attendee into silence with a plot example, and Caridad Pinero, who writes such fantastic paranormal fiction that you almost forget it's a boiling hot romance novel.

I approached Jonathan, knowing that this was someone I was aspiring to refer to with words like "college," "fellow best-selling author," things like that. You need to maintain your cool in situations like this to get there. "Mr. Maberry, I'm sure you don't remember me, but we met at the last Philadelphia Writer's Conference." That kind of thing.

Meanwhile, I'm trying not to look and sound like a teenage girl at a concert who just found a dropped back-stage pass and made a bee-line for the dressing rooms.

Jonathan, as always, was incredibly approachable, showed me the page of Code Zero he was writing (of which I can remember nothing, because my brain rebooted just looking at it) and then invited me to hang out with him on the other side of the bar later, as a bunch of people from the industry were getting together just to visit.

After I had a wonderful meal which I remember was excellent and featured Portabella Mushrooms, I strolled over and hung out with writers and publishers and agents and prospective writers. We exchanged cards and stories and networked the way they say you can at conferences.

I kid you not. This happened—and the conference hadn't even started.

The next morning I was making my way to registration table when someone called to me from across the room. “Oh my God! I didn't know you were coming! It’s great to see you!“

It was Caridad Pinero, author of the previously mentioned hyper-intelligent yet super sultry paranormal romance novels. Caridad is one of the founders of the event, which might explain why she was being so friendly and approachable—except for the fact that she’s always that way. I’m a witness.

Amazingly, I did not faint. Having a successfully author remember you and your work from almost a year ago will sometimes have this effect. Instead I absorbed a massive wave of encouragement, double underlined Caridad's name on my list of favorite people, stayed on my feet and continued to the conference.

The courses covered a broad spectrum of writing interests. Need to get past writer's block? Gotcha covered. Need the ingredients for a great thriller? Check. Need pointers on world building in sci-fi and fantasy? Step this way. Utterly clueless when it comes to publishing? (A very natural condition, I might add.) You will not be clueless when you leave. From promotion to emotion, everything is covered.

The courses and events were planned with both writers and readers in mind—after all, readers are kind of important to writers. Plus there is a lot of overlap in interest. For instance take the following course title and tell me if it's for a reader or a writer: "Sweet, Snarky or Sexpot: What Makes a Great Heroine."

I will say that the course that affected me directly the most was „Hook Your Readers with a Fabulous First Line!“ by Sarah MacLean. I re-wrote the first line—and later the first paragraph—of Tales of the Black Knight the Orphan's Search during the course. Actually I probably re-wrote it a bit too quickly, but the resulting problems have been fixed. No matter what the front end of the book looks like in the final result, there will have been influence from that course.

The conference also offered the opportunity to meet with agents and editors from various agencies. Not only were they available for one-on-one pitch sessions, they were also available for panel discussions on a wide variety of topics. This allowed everyone to pick their brains for longer than the minute or so allotted for the pitch sessions.

Johnathan Mayberry presented a keynote address at lunch that I was planning on describing in detail, but then realized that might be considered stealing his stories. This is not good form normally, but it's spectacularly bad form when the person in question is an eighth-degree black belt—who may or may not have wrestled bears. Suffice to say it made me realize I shouldn't tie myself to one genre of writing, and sent me away with a deepened desire for coffee and a keyboard.

Oh and lunch was delicious. Kudos again to the Renaissance Woodbridge.

More courses and panels were followed by a massive book signing, which was a boon for both writers and readers. Again, there's a lot of overlap there, and I made several trips back to the room with new books.

Dinner was a networking pizza party, which sounds like fun. It was more elegant than I had imagined going in, as there were no cardboard boxes to be found. (Not that I have a problem with cardboard boxes. Some of the best pizza I have eaten has arrived that way.) But having gourmet pizza sliced for you by servers at multiple stations was a very nice touch.

This was immediately followed by the P.J. Party with the Book Obsessed Chicks. I realize that last sentence sounded scandalous, but the event had nothing in common with similarly named events at your local dive bar. Most did not wear their pajamas, and those that did were in exceptionally good taste.

For the record, I wore the same clothes as I had all day, as switching to my normal sleepwear would have involved discussions with the Iselin police department that I did not want to have.

Along with great music and some line dancing—which involved some coercion but that's not uncommon with line dancing—the event was essentially an extension of the pizza party networking event. It was at the PJ party I was introduced to an agent who was willing to read a sample of my work. I'll save the details of the story for the acknowledgements section of the book should it happen, but suffice to say I'm extremely grateful for that opportunity. I will say that she got back to me quickly with great suggestions for improvements, and I'm still cascading those through the book.

After the P.J. Party, I ran into a group of people hanging out in what was dubbed "The Elvis Room." I guess I'd better set the scene here.

The Elvis Room is one of the Renaissance Woodbridge's more creatively designed areas. It's a small alcove, just big enough for a wraparound couch made of white leather to take up two of the walls. The third wall is adorned with various forms of art—including lava lamps—and the fourth wall is open for entry.

The center of the room features a coffee table designed to look like tree stumps painted silver. This rests under a classic disco ball dubbed "Elvis' Ball" by those in attendance that night. The walls were apparently panted/wallpapered with silver glitter, and at least one of the works of art featured an abstract in oils of naked women.

Here I spent the evening discussing a variety of topics ranging from the nature of the universe to rarely discussed aspects of the lives of penguins. It was exactly the sort of evening that the uninitiated expect of writers—drinking and discussing stuff that wouldn't occur to most people. (Though I am limited to ginger ale nowadays, I have the ability to turn off the filter which is disabled by alcohol, so I was able to keep up.)

It was—in a word—delightful.

Every conference has it's own vibe. For 2013, it was a very romantic vibe, with romantic fiction, and dare I say erotic fiction writers making up the bulk of the population. That's the community of writers that gave birth to this conference, but they are not isolationists by any means. As a writer of science fiction I can tell you any fiction writer would do well to attend. I felt very welcome, made some new friends, caught up with some old friends, and learned a tremendous amount about the craft of writing.

The next day, I went down to the restaurant for breakfast. I said farewell to Caridad, who was with a large group of attendees, still tapped into some endless source of enthusiasm. Sure she's a founder of the event, but that will only get you so far. Staying energized for that long is a lot of work. The woman is amazing.

And then, just before leaving, I said a quick farewell to Johnathan Maberry, who was not ten feet from where I first saw him at this event, doing exactly what he was doing when I first saw him—working on Code Zero.

And in that last few minutes I got one more take-away from the event. Don't underestimate the dedication needed to wear the mantle of the writer.

 

 

The Race of the Saints 2013:Shuta Multimedia Vlog Episode 97

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This Episode shows highlights from the 2013 St Ubaldo Day, AKA the Race of the Saints or La Festa dei Ceri, in Jessup, PA.

Background:

Every year, on memorial day weekend, La Festa Dei Ceri is celebrated in Jessup, PA. This festival celebrates the actions of Bishop Ubaldo Baldassini, who was canonized as St. Ubaldo. St Ubaldo rescued the town of Gubbio, Italy by talking Barbarossa out of sacking the town. Before he could return with the news, the town was overcome with fear and panic. Lacking CNN or any social networking sites, and with his health failing, Ubaldo needed a way to tell the town he was fine--in a hurry. So he had himself carried on a platform carried by young men from the town. They ran through the city, calming the population. In Gubbio, this event was reenacted by carrying a statue of St. Ubaldo along the same route. Later Statues of St. George and St. Anthony were added. When immigrants from Gubbio settled in Jessup, PA, they brought this tradition with them. Thus, in Jessup, PA, the Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend is St. Ubaldo Day, and it culminates in the Race of the Saints.

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A Good Day in the Mid-Valley: Shuta Multimedia Vlog Episode 96

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In this episode we cover three events, all from May 18th, 2013, and all happening in the Mid Valley--Olyphant and Throop, PA to be exact. It's a hometown extravaganza for yours truly.

The first event was put on by Tom DeBlasio and June Fedorchack-Deblasio, a husband and wife team that are both fighting cancer. They organized a bed race with the help of local councilman and mechanical wizard Jerry Tully, and the Olyphant Borough. Proceeded benefited the American Cancer Society. Participants included local businesses such as the 411 Studio, and students from Mid Valley High School. The MV High School Cheerleaders raced and cheered everyone on! June and Tom also wanted to use the event to promote the larger Relay For Life Event happening at the Mid Valley High School on June 8th, 2013.

 

The second event was a car was put on by the Youth Group of the Parishes of Holy Cross and Blessed Sacrament, at Custom Auto and Cycle--owned and operated by local councilman and mechanical wizard Jerry Tully. The benefits went to help Kelly Brown, who lost her family in a horrific fire in Pottsvile, PA on Mother's Day 2013. The kids raised $300 to show her she is not alone, and that she has the love, prayers and support of the church community.

Finally, I attended an art show at Mid Valley High School, featuring the art of students present and past. Organized by Art Teacher Rebecca Rabel, it showcased the immense creativity of the high school kids, which gives me great hope for our future.

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Tebow Logic Fail

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I'm confused again.

 

Tony Romo has one playoff win to his credit, and just got signed for six years and over one hundred million dollars, roughly half of which is guaranteed.

 

Peyton Manning came to Denver, lost in the first round of the playoffs (as he had seven times before, twice as much as any other player) and is considered one of the best quarterbacks of all time, if not the best.

 

Tim Tebow took that same team—minus players brought in just for Manning—to the playoffs and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he can't even play the game.

 

Are we going to assume that Quarterback isn't that important a position? Was Dever so good they were able to beat the Steelers even though they were saddled with Tebow?

 

And yet with Peyton Manning, they couldn't beat the Ravens? Nothing against the Ravens since they did win the Superbowl last year. But if Dever was so awesome they could carry Tebow then my goodness, they should have been undefeated last year.

 

The fact of the matter is Tebow can win games. He does it with an undisciplined, sand-lot, heart attack inducing style, but he wins games. It was a mistake for the Jets not to play him last year, especially once they had nothing to lose. I'm convinced they didn't because then they would have heard, "Why didn't you play him sooner?" If all the quarterbacks were terrible, then obviously the coaches weren't to blame.

 

Would I want Tebow to show up in a Steelers uniform? Certainly. I know if he went in for Big Ben, he could find a way to win, and I’m sure the Steelers could find ways to work him into the normal gameplan. This is especailly true with Heath Miller injured.

 

For the record, I’m not taking down any of the Steeler backups here. I’m not saying we need him, I’m just saying I would in no way be upset if we took him.

 

Actually, the Steelers would probably be the best place for him. Can you imagine the Steelers getting derailed by media drama? Historically they’ve been great at handling issues that come from somewhere other than the field. The Jets? Not so much. The Jets seem to enjoy it too much.

 

So I’m still confused. Why is there so much Tebow hate? Everyone around him says he’s genuinely a good guy. I don’t hang out with the dude so I can’t testify, but that’s a point no one seems to contest. Even if he’s the worst player in the NFL, why the rancor?

 

I can tell you this: it will only make him more popular. People identify with Tebow. Trying your best, producing, and still being torn down is not an uncommon event. There’s a sense that his treatment has been unjust, and that will grow his fanbase. 

 

Some percentage of people will look at it as an assault on his Christianity. I’ve seen commentators  say the only reason we care about Tebow is his faith, so that’s not a stretch. As a Roman Catholic, I know I feel hostility from the media. (And as I rejoice. Matthew 5:11.) It would be a bit much to call him a martyr just yet, but people are going to rally around him for what they perceve as persecution.

 

And that popularity will infurate his detractors, and the lovers and the haters will gather together and wait with baited breath for his next move. The cycle will continue.

 

Oscar Wilde said the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. The jury is still out on that, but by Oscar’s estimation, Tebow is doing just fine.

Steelers Had Mediocre Talent Last Year According to GM

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It's been a while since I've opined on the subject of Football, but today I got inspired. As today is the start of the draft, I surfed over to Steelers.com to see what my favorite team is doing. While there, I read this article:

http://www.steelers.com/news/article-1/Steelers-approach-remains-the-same/fd2ae2e6-be5c-41ae-a045-42696326725d

In it, General Manager Kevin Colbert made the following statement:

"As we’ve stated before, we finished 8-8,” said Colbert. “We weren’t good enough. Quite honestly the talent that we had assembled was an 8-8 team. Any other explanation than that I think is incorrect. Obviously the plan is to be able to upgrade the team that we are going to put on the field in 2013."

Let me get this straight: in the 2012/2013 season, the Steelers had the overall #1 defense in the league.

They had Big Ben Roethlisberger and an array of fast receivers.

They had three competent running backs.

They had Heath "First Down" Miller.

And the most logical explanation for an 8-8 season is mediocre talent?

Let me venture that any other explanation would make more sense. I'm not saying it was aliens, but I'm not ruling it out either.

The Steelers refuse to blame injuries, so I'll stick to the company line on that one. As Tomlin says, the standard is the standard.

Before last season, they got rid of a lot of key players, and brought in a new offensive coordinator. They decided to go to a short-pass, dink-and dunk-offense that was designed to keep Big Ben healthy. (Big Ben got hurt anyway.) The play calling seemed geared to making Mike Wallace look bad, so that no one would offer him big money this year. (Good luck to Mike with the Dolphins. Enjoy that $60 million over 5 years.)

Meanwhile the GM blames the talent pool? Really?

This year should be great then. We've lost Harrison, Wallace and Mendenhall, and Miller is hurt. Unless several people blossom into superstars, or they find some draft day miracles, we're looking at a net loss of talent.

Oh and Colbert just told the current players he doesn't think they were good enough. That's a great motivator. Look for him to start a motivational speaking tour soon.

So by this logic, what are we looking at this year? 6-10? 4-12?

I know we all have moments when we just say stuff that sounds good in our heads but looks bad on paper. I'm guilty of that. But for the sake of this season, Mr. Colbert please say something to the effect that last year's players were only good enough for 8 and 8. There were other factors at play and you know it. Fix those problems and fire the team up.

Or blame the aliens.

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