I recently attended the Life, The Universe, and Everything 2018 writer’s conference in nearby Provo, Utah between February 15-17. There were usually several panels going on at any given time, so I obviously didn’t see everything, but I did take notes on the panels I attended. I was disappointed that the SWAG bag didn’t have any free ebooks to download this year, but since I’m still catching up on the books I got last year, that’s probably for the best.
Ancient Myth vs. Modern Fantasy
This was the first panel I attended. M. Todd Gallowglas was hilarious and did a great Irish accent. He mentioned that fantasy seems to have less diversity since all fantasy writers either try to be J. R. R. Tolkien or try not to be Tolkien, whereas science fiction is based on scientific discoveries rather than previous science fiction books so it’s more diverse. Fantasy could be more diverse if it was based on different mythologies than it’s usually based on.
Elizabeth Buck mentioned that the X-Men are based on Greek gods and that Greek mythology has been overdone. We need more fantasy based on Mesopotamia or other world mythologies.
D. J. Butler said magic systems or rules often make fantasy more like an RPG game. Many people consider superheros to be modern day mythology, but The Avengers isn’t really mythology because it’s not about coming of age and is more about getting you to buy action figures. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is very Catholic. The characters go through all the stations of the cross and Gollum sacrifices himself on March 25th, which is the date of Jesus’ crucifixion. (Wait, is Gollum supposed to be Christ!?)
D. J. Butler also said fantasy often has the trappings of myth, but except for Tolkien, it’s usually not very mythic. He said coming of age should be more like being woken up in the middle to the night to your uncle wearing a mask, then you get dragged out of bed, taken to the woods, beaten with a ritual item, then circumcised. He paused, then delivered the punchline: “At least, that’s how it was for me.”
Tackling Sensitive Subjects
The panelists for Tackling Sensitive Subjects were Shannon Babb, Callie Stoker, David Powers King, and Ginny Smith. Ginny Smith said villains don’t have to be likable, but they do have to be understandable. Also, violence should be implied if you’re writing for sensitive readers.
David Powers King said writers need to research mental health. It can manifest in different ways. He knew someone who walked around with his hands in the air at all times because he sincerely believed his hands were knives and he didn’t want to hurt anybody.
Shannon Babb has Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) and needs to read lips. She said some audiologists don’t believe CAPD really exists because there’s no physical cause, but using that logic, you’d have to say dyslexia doesn’t exist either. She said writers can use distance to tackle sensitive subjects in a more palatable way. Talk about racism using elves and dwarves instead of black and white people and show humanity on both sides. She also said the brain protects itself when violence happens. People go numb. People who are subjected to repeated abuse often go to a safe place in their minds.
Callie Stoker said fiction can model how to talk about sensitive subjects in both the right way and the wrong way. You don’t have to show violence on camera since the emotional take away is the same whether the camera is focused on the shooter or the victim. Distancing by fictionalizing can make a story more honest because then you are free to say what you really think.
Robinson Wells was also part of this panel, although he’s not pictured. He said it can take a long time to establish a fan base and rank high on Google. You have to think about what content will appeal to readers of your book. It’s best to be on multiple social media platforms and to post regularly. Be consistent. If you do something like a web comic, publish it on the same day every week so readers know when to expect it. If you’re self-published, you need to spend more time marketing than if you’re traditionally published. Don’t start out sharing personal info, since nobody will care about you right away. You need to start with general info, then become more personal after you’ve established a fan base. Doing silly surveys such as “which superhero would you marry, kiss, or kill?” draws readers in because people like to share their own opinions.
J. DeFranco said it’s best to respond to readership immediately so they feel part of the community.
Stephen Gashler said you can’t compete with news conglomerates and you can’t appeal to everybody, so you have to have a particular niche. Know who your tribe is and appeal to them. Have good content. Personality sells. Sell yourself more than the content. Unlike a mailing list, you can do multiple blog posts every day. You can’t overdo content. He mentioned a site called wattpad.com that’s like YouTube for writers. It’s a good idea to give freebies to subscribers and include a call to action. It’s best to evoke strong emotion to make people want to share your post. You can evoke anger by talking about politics, evoke humor with funny posts. People also like to share things that are cute or inspiring.