Welcome to third and final installment of Calico In Conversation with J.L. Gribble. If you missed Parts One and Two, click below to catch up:
Editor’s Note: this interview was originally conducted in March through June of 2016.
One thing I’ve admired about your writing career, to date, is how well you seem to manage all the things required of you in addition to writing. You go to lots of conventions (well, more than one to me is a LOT, since I’m lucky to manage one convention per year). Can you talk about your experiences as a small press author at conventions?
Going to multiple conventions and events per year depends on a few different variables for me, such as the reasonable traveling distance (where reasonable can refer to time driving and/or cost of plane ticket) and the price I’m willing to pay for lodging and other necessities. Money is a huge factor in both of these, because I always know going in that there’s no way I will sell enough books to cover the entire cost of the trip. Most authors I know, whether small or large press, are in a similar situation, since we are long past the days of book tours paid for by large publishing houses. In my case, I’m fortunate enough to have a day job that covers these types of expenses (again, reasonably), along with a husband who shrugs it off as the cost of what could be any other expensive hobby.
So because I know I’m going to lose money at every convention I attend, I have a pretty specific criterion about whether I will go. I just have to have the chance to get my name out there. That’s it! I’d like to be on a panel, have a reading slot, have a chance to sign books at a scheduled time, and/or participate in a workshop. Pretty simple, especially since I’m not even asking for free registration, much less lodging, meals, or travel assistance. The drawbacks to this are, of course, that I don’t go to all the conventions I could. Ironically, this means I don’t even go to the two of the conventions closest to where I live, because despite my repeated attempts to volunteer, neither have expressed an interest in including me on their schedule. However, I’ve now been a multi-year guest at a few conventions, and I’m excited to add a few more to the list this year!
My schedule for 2016:
Once I’m at the convention, I put on my people-person hat. (I am not, in any way, shape, or form, generally a people-person). If I’m at an event, I consider my job to be at the event. This means participating in everything I have signed up for (no sitting quietly in panels for me, though I’m also not that jerk who dominates the conversation), attending parties, chatting with people in hallways, and hanging out at the bar. If I’m at a table for a signing, I’m not quietly waiting for people to approach me. I’m standing up and saying hi to as many people walk by as possible. Since I’m not yet at the point where people are lining up to have their books signed, this is part of the grunt work that gets me there. For a relative introvert, it’s absolutely exhausting. I know that most introvert authors can’t do it, but since I can, I’m going to do my best. (And then sleep for about a week afterward).
One thing I’ve noticed at the two conventions I’ve been to (Con Nooga and Mysticon respectively) is the high turnout for small-press and indie authors, which really made me appreciate the work they do while they’re there. Mysticon, for example, had George R.R. Martin as the Guest of Honor, and you knew most of the people there (like me) were there for him. It’s got to be a tough road, but yet I went to a lot of other panels, and got to hear a lot of new-to-me writers talk and share ideas and opinions about various writing and fandom-related things, which was awesome. Getting your name out there is the key! In the conventions you’ve been to, have you also found that’s the case? I will admit: the two I’ve been to are relatively small, heck, they’re miniscule compared to something like Worldcon or Comic-Con!
Most of the conventions I go to are also on the smaller side. I think I like those better, actually! It’s a lot easier to connect with people on a more personal level when the place isn’t packed and you’re not running off to see the next big star. I’ve met some great fans that way, and it was pretty awesome to announce my debut novel at a convention and then have people not only remember me, but be really excited to buy the book when I was back the next year! As lovely as it is to sell books at an event like the annual Seton Hill University writing workshop (In Your Write Mind), a lot of the people there already know me through my participation in the online alumni community. But there is nothing better than talking about my work to a stranger and have them be intrigued enough to give me a chance.
That would be SUPER rewarding! So I want to switch gears, just a little, and ask about your publisher: Dog Star Books, an imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Everything I see online about RDSP indicates small press = big family. Can you talk about that?
Considering that I often describe the annual “DogCon” event as a family reunion, you’re right on the nose! I’ve actually discussed this at length with my publishers (Jennifer Barnes and John Edward Lawson) over the years. What they are very consistent on is a commitment to two things when signing an author: (1) quality of work, as evidenced by the multiple award-winning authors they publish, and (2) quality of author. “Quality of author” sounds pretty nebulous, but ultimately it boils down to “Is this person excellent? Will they be as excited about promoting their work as we are? Will they work as hard to promote their work as we will?” A neat side effect of this priority is that they often end up with authors who are also as excited about the other work published by RDSP/Dog Star Books, and it just ends up as a great ball of fun cross-promotion and good times.
This can lead to genuine friendships between the authors, which is awesome especially because I believe authors should always have other authors in their support networks. (Special shout-out here to K.W. Taylor, K. Ceres Wright, Stephanie Wytovich, and Matt Betts, among many others!) I’m very excited for the next DogCon, which will be in Milton, Delaware, this October. It’s always an event that’s open to the public, so come join us for a great time!
So is DogCon a convention, a writing workshop, all of the above? Does the location of it change each year, and if so, why?
DogCon is part convention, part family reunion (as mentioned above), and all fun. How much actual writing is involved depends on the year. Sometime it’s held as a “convention within a convention,” where we all descend on one poor con and throw parties and host our own panels, readings, and discussions. Other years, we have taken over cities such as Columbus, Ohio, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where we host our own events at various themed locales such as the Thurber House and the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art for readings, live music, and other activities. A big number of RDSP and Dog Star Books authors are usually in attendance, along with other writers, musicians, and most importantly, fans (the people who make all of this possible).
For 2016, DogCon 5 will be held on October 1 & 2 at Broadkill Resort in Milton, Delaware! The best way to keep up with the info as soon as it is released will be to follow the RDSP Facebook page and/or sign up for the monthly newsletter on the RDSP homepage. I will definitely be there!
I know as a reader, it’s fun to spread the love and boost the signal of authors out there we think are criminally under-read. What books would you like to see readers rush out and read en masse?
I have two very different answers to that question! The traditional answer, a fairly new author who I think has a ton of potential and room to grow to greatness, is Rhonda Mason. Her first novel, The Empress Game, is the beginning of a space opera trilogy. Yeah, on the surface it looks like yet another novel set around a combat tournament, but this book is so much more than that! The Empress Game is an epic space opera with an exciting heroine, a very different sort of royal plot, and a very nontraditional love story. I’m counting down the days until the second book this October!
The second answer is a much bigger one. I’m a huge Stargate fan (especially of the television shows Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis), and it’s astounding to me how many people don’t know that there are media tie-in novels available for those series, just like the Star Trek and Star Wars properties. Well, there are! So far there are over twenty titles from various authors available for both SG-1 and Atlantis, plus a few anthologies of short stories. The books cover everything from events in between episodes to adventures that happen after what we saw on TV is over. If you’re a Stargate fan of any variety, you’ll find some stories that appeal to you.
Some of my particular favorites include Diana Dru Botsford’s look at how there is diversity even in the enemies of the Stargate universe (Four Dragons and The Drift) and the continuing adventures of the Stargate Atlantis crew (Homecoming), which includes one of the best cliffhangers I’ve ever read in a novel.
Tell me about your work. With Steel Magic’s release in July, what’s next?
I’ve been saying since day one that I want to do a seven book series, and that’s still on track! I’m currently working on revisions for book 3. Since my first book, Steel Victory, alternated points of view between mother and daughter, and Steel Magic is the daughter’s time to shine, it was fun to get back in mom’s head and see how Victory handles being an empty nester! (Answer: With lots of madness and mayhem in my version of South America.) With any luck, Steel Blood will be sent to my publisher for consideration soon after the release of Steel Magic.
But the fun doesn’t stop there! I already have a scene-by-scene outline written of book 4, bringing Victory and Toria back together again and learning how to handle — er, relate to — each other as fellow adults. My goal is to have the first draft done and into the hands of my beta readers by the end of 2016.
It sounds like you’re managing a book a year. What’s your process like and how do you manage it, especially with a full time job?
Sheer, stubborn determination.
Mostly, it was just a matter of figuring out what worked for me. I am the very definition of a plotter–someone who lays out what happens in every scene of the book before they start a word of page 1. This includes the majority of any necessary research.
After that, it’s just setting monthly goals and sticking to them. I’ve also made great use of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, which challenges authors to write 50,000 words during the course of November. I wrote the bulks of Steel Magic and Steel Blood this way. I post my monthly goals on my blog, which definitely helps on the accountability side. On the life side, I also have the help of a very understanding husband, who likes his video game time while I have my writing time!
Aside from your Steel Empires series, is there anything else you’re working on? Short fiction? A new series for when Steel Empires wraps up?
I’ve been revising some short fiction that I wrote in college set in the same world as the Steel Empires books. In addition, I’m also trying to write short story tags for each novel featuring secondary characters and their continued adventures (since my approach to characterization is that everyone is the hero of their own story). The interesting thing about writing such a sprawling world is that I’m not sure I’ll ever be done with Limani! I have ideas for so many other characters and locations that I could probably keep going for as long as people are willing to keep reading.
But after I finish the main seven book arc, I do also have other things I want to write, such as tentative ideas for a near-future science-fiction UFO sighting novel(s).
UFO sighting story? Sign me up! I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE! It sounds like you’ve got some great stuff coming up. Tell us where readers can find you online and keep themselves updated on all the goodies?
Lots of places! My official home on the web is www.jlgribble.com, where you can find my most current writing news, my book reviews and monthly status updates, and occasional guest blogs by and interviews with other authors. I’m also active on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jlgribblewriter, for free story ideas and editing humor), Twitter (@hannaedits, for random thoughts), and Instagram (@hannaedits, for pictures of cats and books and cats with books).
Awesome! J.L, thank you so very much, and congrats on the publication of Steel Magic!
Readers, I hope you’ve enjoyed our second month of Calico In Conversation, as well as J.L.’s discussion of her writing, her favorite authors, as well as conventioning!