Most Wednesday evenings find me with a handful of other writers in a comfy, living-room setting, where we talk and laugh with, and get advice from a writer whose career is way ahead of mine: an author of more than 40 published novels (at least eight of which have been New York Times bestsellers) and countless short stories, and winner of a number of writing awards.
I curl up on a floor pillow or relax on a chair and spend an hour listening to stories from the world of big-time publishing, getting an expert’s advice on specific writing questions, learning an insider’s tips on how to deal with the crazed world of the modern-day publishing industry. I also get to meet other writers and, in general, build my professional network.
A great resource that costs nothing! Plus it takes me only a few minutes to get there. But not because this author lives nearby (though, oddly enough, he was born in a town not far from me).
Rather, because he hosts these friendly sessions every week in the virtual world of Second Life.
Michael A. Stackpole, a prolific science fiction and fantasy author (probably best known for his Star Wars and Battletech series), has been holding these weekly “office hours,” along with his good friend and business partner, nonfiction author/management consultant Kat Klaybourne, for almost two years at his Third Life Publishing office in SL.
I didn’t know what to expect when I first checked out Stackpole’s “office hours.” I’d visited his Third Life Books early on in my Second Life explorations, was delighted to find a successful author with such a big presence in SL. I heard about his office hours, but assumed these were like professors’ office hours – you know, where they sit in their office working, but can be interrupted if you have a really compelling question you can’t get answered anywhere else.
I was wrong, as I found out not too long ago from my friend Kghia Gherardi of Bookstacks (another great place for writers and readers in SL). Quite the contrary, Mike Stackpole’s office hours are lively, interactive discussions on all kinds of writing (and some non-writing!) topics. Participants are strongly encouraged to ask questions on any writing or publishing industry topic, but if there are no questions, Mike and Kat will share, in an easy, often quite humorous way, whatever’s currently on their minds.
In recent sessions, for example, discussion topics included:
- The need to finish a draft before revising it (“Writing a novel is like being in a demolition derby — you don’t stop to flatten the dents every time you get hit, you finish derby and then fix the car.”)
- Working with editors (“Editors don’t always see the solution to the problem, but they do see a problem, and you have to pay attention to that.”)
- Writing books in series (“I’d like to strangle authors who leave things hanging on purpose so you’ll buy their next book.”)
- Learning from other writers (“Before you take advice from a writer, read that writer’s books and see if they practice their own advice.”)
- Mike’s inside scoops from conferences like DragonCon (he had to climb 14 floors to his room because the number of attendees overwhelmed the elevators)
- Kat’s marketing and publishing tips (from her expertise in business consulting)
- Which brands of single-malt Scotch are best
- Trading cards (like in sports) for artists and authors
- Accepting the fact that digital media (including e-books) are here to stay!
Actually, there is some “professorial” aspect to the origin of Mike’s office hours. He teaches a lot of writing classes and publishes many how-to-write ebooks and newsletters, so he gets a lot of questions from his students and readers, both via email and in Second Life. To answer as many students’ questions as possible in the most convenient arrangement for everyone, he and Kat started these weekly session.
Mike and Kat’s “Second Life” extends far beyond just the office hours, however. They are two people who have looked below the surface and grabbed hold of the adventure and possibilities of the virtual world.
As the avatars Noble Charron (Stackpole) and Kat Alderson (Klaybourne), they founded Third Life Books, which publishes books in Second Life, brings in guest authors for readings, and sponsors classes they teach.
Not too long after their arrival in SL in 2007, Mike and Kat also discovered the fun of designing and building in the virtual world and promptly began making and selling everything from clothes and jewelry to furniture (in addition to the books).
Until just recently, they’ve been headquartered on a Victorian-themed piece of SL real estate; last month they moved to a cool new island sim of their own called Wind River Territory, which naturally has an Old West theme (think Wind River, Wyoming).
I give a lot of credit to successful authors like Mike Stackpole who are willing to support the goals and dreams of other writers – and I’m especially delighted to see the way Mike and Kat have used a resource as accessible as Second Life to offer that support. (It’s also great that their efforts help market Mike’s books and writing instruction – you can’t beat a win-win situation.) I hope to see more successful authors taking on projects of this caliber in SL.
If you know of other successful authors supporting other writers in Second Life, I’d love to hear about it – please leave a comment or send me an email.
To Go to Mike Stackpole’s Office Hours:
When: Every Wednesday at 6 p.m. Second Life Time (Pacific time zone).
SLURL to teleport directly to Stackpole’s office (click link) on the second floor of the Bookstore at Wind River), where the Wednesday office hours are held.
Protocol: Mike and Kat use voice chat to talk, so be sure to have speakers/headphones on; attendees are asked to use text chat for their questions and comments.