Laura is a dynamic and funny speaker who has engaged audiences of tens and of thousands, at venues ranging from fandom conventions to library workshops to professional conferences—so don’t hesitate to ask about your event!
Laura is available to speak on a variety of topics, from animal behavior to zashiki warashi and much in between. Below are some prepared talks, or ask about something new.
Talks for Readers
Japanese Folklore: An Anime/Manga/Film Primer
What’s the difference between bakemono and ayakashi? Who’s that Pokémon, and why is it in a 200-year-old woodblock print? Does the story of Sailor Moon actually predate the Norman conquest of England? (Spoiler: It does!) Get the most from your anime and Asian cinema experience when you understand the cultural background! Learn about Japanese mythology in this folklore primer, illustrated with video clips from anime and Japanese film.
Storytime From Japanese History
As the oldest monarchy in the world, Japan’s had plenty of time for some amazing moments in history. Hear a few of the most important, most famous, or most fun—from the Genpei War to the Meiji Revolution, from girl power to magical red cows, from archery contests to smallpox—with illustrations, photos, ties to your favorite anime/manga, and plenty of geekery.
Moar Storytime From Japanese History
How did an earthquake lead to the development of ramen, and a hostage situation to Cup Noodles? Who went “Gotta paste ’em all!” about religious stickers? Who were the Shitennou before they were Sailor Moon villains? What will you eat at a Buddhist temple, and why is it so good? Come pick up a few more stories and facts from Japanese history!
Road Trip on the Kumano Kodō
The Kumano Kodō is one of only two UNESCO honored pilgrimage trails in the world, used since the 10th century for physical and spiritual journeys across the Kii peninsula and helping to create a millennium of peaceful religious syncretism. Join a thousand years of ascetics, samurai, emperors, and monks to learn this trail’s cultural history from someone who has hiked it herself.
The Vikings are having a Moment in modern pop culture, what with Thor: Ragnarok, Neil Gaiman’s book, and more. But much of what we see in modern interpretations is far departed from the original mythos, and little of it is in context with actual Norse life and culture. Join the award-winning author of The Songweaver’s Vow for an overview of the historical Viking era, what we really know—and don’t know—of Norse mythology, and how these ancient stories are still being told today.
Saiyūki: History of the Journey to the West
From Dragon Ball to Saiyuki, you’ve probably encountered many adaptations of the world’s most popular folk tale. But what’s the real story—not the famous novel, but what inspired it? Learn the cultural context of the 16th century novel, the folk stories that came before it, and the true history that inspired them all.
Talks for Writers
Your Velociraptors Are Broken
From fiction to screenwriting, creators often ignore basic science in the name of storytelling. But it’s true that “truth is stranger than fiction,” and often using the same old trope or assumption means missing out on something much cooler. Join Laura, international speaker on animal training/behavior and bestselling author, to discuss some of the most common errors and show how taking an accurate approach might yield not only a more believable story, but a more complex and better story.
A Wizard Did It! Magic Systems (as Science)
Put a dozen fantasists in a room and lines will quickly be drawn between writers with encyclopedias full of spell rules and those who turn up their hands and say, “I just make it up as I go.” But magic is both character and setting in fantasy, and as soon as you have someone deliberately using it, you have a science, too.
Just as there are many ways to use character and setting, so must a writer know how to choose the best technique in this instance for magic. We’ll cover broad theories, advantages and disadvantages of different approaches, and some tips for informing the reader how this magic is different than in the previous book she read.
Take Off the Exposition Hat: Introduce Your World and Characters While Avoiding the Dreaded Infodump
All stories require background, from worldbuilding to character backstory. But explaining all this to the reader can be the kiss of death to pacing and compelling narrative. The trick is to get the reader everything they need, at the right time they need it, without weighting the story with anything they don’t need—and to do it unobtrusively. We’ll talk about ways to do this, tips and tricks, and genre conventions, and then we’ll try some hands-on problems ourselves.
When Is It Good Enough?
Perfect is the enemy of good—but bad is a career assassin. When do we stop editing and start selling? When do we leave a project, and when do we hang in there because persistence will pay off? These are tough questions for writers who have goals beyond wanting to see their words in print. With limited resources of time and energy, and with perpetual doubt on when a work is “good enough” to send out into the world, and with the knowledge that not every project is a saleable one, we can find ourselves trapped in analysis paralysis. Let’s talk about how to balance our resources and how to make those difficult decisions, from finding the right professionals to help to prioritizing our own goals to make easier determinations.
The Sagging Middle (Of My Career)
You’re not a newbie—you’ve published a book or three, you’ve sold some stories to recognized magazines or anthologies, and you’ve even officially paid taxes on writing income. But you’re not quite famous yet, and you still have to fit part-time writing into your full-time life. Where do you go from here? We’ll talk about setting and re-setting career goals, prioritizing projects, adjusting strategies on the shifting sands of social media, growth beyond “start an email list,” and managing that awkward conversation about whether or not you’re really a professional writer now.
Using Criticism (Without Taking It Personally)
Critique of our craft is absolutely essential for improvement and for marketing. Yet it’s often difficult to hear less-than-positive reactions to something as deeply personal as our writing. How can we interpret criticism—even harsh or ambiguous criticism—in a constructive way and use it for good? Let’s look at some techniques and truths.
Author Websites in an Hour
How you, yes you, can have a great author website with lots of conversions without paying thousands to a designer. Don’t let the technology bully you—let’s walk through how to do this! Build and maintain a great site for less than $100/year, fully portable and scalable.
Why I Hate Self-Publishing: a Snarky Guide by a Happy Self-Published Author
Today it’s simple to publish a book with the click of a mouse. It’s not quite as easy, though, to publish a book which will sell well and establish a good writing career. And bad advice about writing, editing, marketing, and relating to one’s fellow authors is everywhere. Let Laura warn you about some of the most common errors, and advise how best to avoid them, with some laughs along the way.
Author Marketing & Branding: The Technical & Practical
1 or 2 hours
Discoverability, branding, and marketing are critical to the success of a traditionally-published or self-published author, but there is still a startling amount of unhelpful or just plain wrong information being shared. Laura VanArendonk Baugh will discuss technical aspects of branding and marketing, with walk-throughs for setting up and maintaining an author website (including caveats for common mistakes and dangerous pitfalls for the novice) and tutorials for some of the scariest bits of marketing (learn to love the camera!).
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