When your Cover Artist gets your characters.

Raisa and Mel 75

This sketch of my Avians main characters by cover artist Ann Crowe is a wonderful illustration, because it beautifully sums up the difficult relationship between Mel and Raisa. Holding hands because they’re in it together. Facing away from each other because they’ve never quite become friends. Ann gets my characters because she read the whole book- not many cover artists will do that. Also, their outfits blow me away, because I never described them in this much detail. Ann found a way to make Mel’s decon suit look practical for handling airship cargo, and Raisa’s flight suit warm enough for flying an unheated glider. I’m very pleased that these girls are dressed for work, not glamour.

A little history of this illustration. An early version of it was one of Ann’s original proposals for the book’s cover art. I loved it, but still felt a cover with “a glider, a volcano and a honking great airship,” would be truer to the book’s contents, so I asked publisher Lorina Stephens if I could have it inside the book, and designer Éric Desmarais found a way to put it on the title page. Five Rivers is great that way.

At book signings, I never write on the title page. No way I’m scrawling all over the margins of this. I personalize the dedication page.

If you squint at the illustration above, you can see that it’s a scan of my personal copy signed by the artist. Once I get it framed, it’s going on the wall of my writing den so that Mel and Raisa can watch over my shoulder as I continue to tell their story. If it appeals to you, ask Ann nicely, and I bet she’d consider doing a print run. Or drop by her facebook page to look at her other work: there’s all kinds of cool stuff there.

Misadventures in Mexico

We’re in Mexico, enjoying a relaxing vacation at an all-inclusive resort. I’ve been doing some writing, and it’s been very quiet. Perhaps too quiet: at breakfast today, Caroline remarked that we never did anything anymore.

C: You said you might go skin-diving.

T: I thought about it, but I remembered that time in Puerto Vallarta when I tried to shoot out of the water onto the boat like a porpoise. I could do it when I was a teenager. But I barely got my hips out of the water for a moment, and I cracked my ribs on the swim platform. Sank into the water before I started screaming, so at least no-one heard me. Except the dolphins, maybe. I think I heard them laughing.

C: Boogie-board?

T: Fun until that time I let a wave carry me up to the crest as it broke. Dropped four feet onto the sand. The board cushioned me a little, but I broke my glasses and almost my nose.

C: You rented that Honda trike in Mazatlan…

T: Yeah, I stalled it on a steep hill, and every time I restarted it, it would stall again when I put it in gear. I put my feet on the road, started it, then revved it and popped the clutch. It tried to climb my legs. Laid rubber all up my calves and halfway up my thighs.

T: Then there was the time I took sailboarding lessons in Spanish. I couldn’t understand half of what Miguel told me. I dropped the sail and fell forward onto it. I didn’t think it would hurt, but the boom got me right in the shins.

C: We rented cars…

T: Mmhmm. There was that VW we almost hit a cow with, back when Bucerias was just a pedestrian crossing with a fruit juice stand. I never knew drum brakes could fade out so fast. My foot was on the floorboards.

C: That was the end of renting VW’s.

T: Or the Nissan Tsuru with the cracked windshield and the hood that wouldn’t open. The rental guy only agreed to replace it when we showed him that the horn didn’t work. That’s when he substituted the one that got a flat tire and had no spare; remember how we borrowed a can of fix-a-flat from that restaurant guy in old PV?

C: Is that why we switched to big-name rental companies with newer vehicles?

T: Like the brand new Canadian-built jeep that stranded us in Tepic when the clutch gave out in the mountains halfway between Mazatlan and Vallarta? We found those shady mechanics that wanted to take us to Guadalajara for a new transmission…

C: We did get to spend the night in Tepic.

T: Which was lovely, except we didn’t sleep because I was afraid the mechanics would be back after dark to steal the jeep. In the morning, we found out the iron gates to the parking lot had been locked all night, so we’d been fine. I figured out how to ask for hydraulic fluid in Spanish (apparently) and walked to a truck stop to get some so we could top up the clutch reservoir and turn back. But the clutch would only last for about an hour at a time between top-ups, so we had to lurch through an agricultural checkpoint without stopping because I couldn’t get into neutral and I didn’t dare stall: “¡No Frutas! ¡No Vegetales!”

C: Well the bus trips were okay…

T: Remember when we took one of the old buses in Maz, and the driver had customized it with exhaust stacks at the back? They were so loud the vibration had shattered the rear windows, and he hadn’t got around to replacing the glass, so the bus’s backdraft drew in dizzying gusts of exhaust gases. We just had to hope the driver had breathable air at the front.

But that time we took “La Flecha” out of Zihuatanejo was cool. We got off at the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere and transferred to that one-ton truck with the canvas top to go down the side-road to the beach. I liked that until all those soldiers came in trucks.

C: They were just there for security.

T: Not our security! They were there for that politico on the yacht that moored off the beach. But all those machine guns made me nervous. The officer was nice though. I think he just wanted to practice his English.

C: So no adventuring today?

T: Let’s just go for a walk on the beach.

C: I’ll try not to step on a bee this time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting 2018

A couple of nice things happened as the New Year began.

Jamie Farquharson, an enthusiastic SF reader in  France, posted his annual Goodreads summary on Twitter. You could check it out if you wanted to scope out all 40 books he read last year. But in case you don’t feel like clicking the link, the summary looked like this:

Allow me to defensively add that the term “Least Popular” used here doesn’t mean least well-liked, it means least well-known, which is fair enough. Disclosure: Jamie read my book because he was my consulting volcanologist, and he’s listed in the acknowledgements. But please note, that outstanding 4.5 star rating for Avians is the average from all the Goodreads reviewers, not just Jamie’s.

A day or two later, Bonnie Ferrante, a book reviewer from Thunder Bay, Ontario, started summarizing her favourite books from 2017, and Avians made her Top Five YA books. From that link, you can connect to her full reviews on any of those five books, or explore her site to see reviews on other age groups. Bonnie specializes in children’s books, and is not especially into science fiction, so I’m pleased that she found my book as enjoyable as some of her more mainstream reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extreme Cold

I go for a walk every day, even when it’s extremely cold. I try to keep my eyes open for beauty, and sometimes I remember to take a picture.

Yesterday morning, walking in the icy mist by the river on the Tunnel Island hiking trails, I got this.

Iron & Ice

Iron & Ice

 

Today, our extreme cold warning came back, so I waited until the afternoon. The wind died down, but it was still bitterly cold down by the river.

Fenceposts

Fenceposts

 

You might be wondering why I shoot landscape photographs in portrait mode. It’s partly because I like the depth of having the near foreground start right at my feet, and it’s partly because I like to save them as wallpaper for my computer monitor. Yes, I have my 27″ monitor in portrait mode, for writing, so I resize and crop the images to 1200×1920. You can click on the pictures to see them at that resolution.

Those letterbox pictures at the top of my blog are also my own work, by the way.

Upcoming

But first, downcoming. On Thursday, I had a  flight before dawn, during the hours when the Geminid meteor shower was in full force. From the ground, an observer who gets away from the lights of urban areas can hope to see about a meteor a minute.

Sean and I were flying north from Kenora to Kingfisher Lake, so we were a long way from city lights. Better still, we were at Flight Level 210, about 21,000 feet above sea level, which put us above most of the atmosphere. You may be thinking, “Tim means above most of the haze and pollution,” but air density up there is less than half of what it is at sea level, so we really were above more than half of the atmosphere by weight.

We had very clear viewing conditions, and  we saw a shooting star as soon as we leveled off and darkened our cockpit. Given our restricted field of view – pressurized airplanes don’t have picture windows – we hoped to see about twenty meteors during our forty minutes of level flight. We counted 59. That’s one every forty seconds. It was an immensely satisfying flight.

And now back to earth. The  title of this post refers to some public appearances I’ll be making in December and January.

On Tuesday, December 19th, I’ll be popping in to the Q-104 radio studio to chat with Ken O’Neill. The interview will take place at around 9:00am, and will likely go to air soon after.

Update: the interview is recorded, and should go to air around 8:10 Wednesday morning.

Novel Ideas bookstore Dryden Winter

One thing I’ll be mentioning is that Avians is now being carried by Novel Ideas in Dryden.

Please support your local independent bookstore. They support authors like me.

On Friday, December 22nd, I’ll be at Elizabeth Campbell Books on Main Street in Kenora (next door to the Plaza restaurant, if you weren’t sure.) Susie 01I’ll be chatting about Avians and signing copies of  for an hour or two starting at 7:00pm. You don’t have to wait until this late date to buy someone my book for Christmas, of course; I’m delighted to sign and personalize copies regardless of when they were purchased. Since the August release, Elizabeth Campbell Books has ordered several cases of my books. My publisher must have been impressed, she featured Elizabeth’s store on the Five Rivers Publishing blog back in October.

On January 25th, I’ll be in Winnipeg to speak at the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada at 7:00pm. The meeting of the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society is open to the public and free to attend, and there will be coffee and doughnuts on hand.

CAHS Jan 25 2018 poster

I’ll present a version of my Alternative Aviation slideshow and talk: I run through an entire glossary of unusual kinds of flying machine, from Autogyros to Zeppelins. If you didn’t know there’s been a flight by a human-powered helicopter, or that nuclear powered airplanes were once a thing, you might find something entertaining in my presentation.

I’ll also talk about some of the aircraft from my science fiction: the bamboo gliders and gigantic solar-powered airships of Avians, and the gunpowder propelled paragliders from my alternative history short story “The Emperor’s Dragon.”

I plan to introduce The Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol for some of those Winnipeggers who may not know about it, and yes, I’ll have copies of Avians on hand.

I’m looking forward to a fun winter.

 

Some thoughts on reviewing books

The way I read has changed since I started writing. I notice the craft more, for better or worse. A well-foreshadowed turn, a deft descriptive example, or an artful bit of dialogue can delight me, as can a scene that neatly advances plot and illuminates the character. But I’m also quicker to spot a cliché. An editor once talked me out of, “she let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding,” and now I see it everywhere.

I am not a patient reader. I used to give a book a hundred pages or so, and if I didn’t care about the characters by then, I’d reluctantly put it down. Now it’s more like forty pages, and it’s not only the characters. If I can get it down to ten pages, can I become an acquisition editor? Seriously, I’m starting to understand them. I have so many books I want to read, and only so much time. Purple Prose? Nope. Repetition? Nope. Info-dumps? Nope. The proportion of books I do not finish is getting dangerously close to half.

At Goodreads, a Did Not Finish is supposed to be grounds for a one-star rating. I did that once, with a sequel I felt had diverged badly from the opening book. I wasn’t interested in the romantic sub-plot and the save the world stuff wasn’t enough to keep me going. So I quit, and gave it a one-star review. I felt guilty about it though.

Recently, I got thinking. Should I be firing off one-star reviews for every book I don’t finish? My Goodreads page would look like a fireworks show that fizzled in the rain. I don’t think that’s what they had in mind. I think when they said did not finish, they really meant could not finish. If I’d read that whole book, I’d have likely given it two or three stars. But I’m not gonna. So I withdrew that review.

From now on, all the books I set down will get the silent treatment. That’s going to bias my reviews towards books I enjoyed and therefore rated highly. I’m happy with that. I want my reviews to be a guide to fun reading, not a platform for me to be dismissive.

So here’s a partial list of things that discourage me from reading a book:  psychotic bad guys, graphic violence, graphic sex, heroes with limitless superpowers, macho men with guns. And, more regretfully, dense literary prose. You won’t find a lot of reviews by me of books with these features.

On the bright side, here’s a short list of things that make me want to read a book: complex characters, strong females, original world-building, underdogs with grit. I have a special fondness for alternative aviation. Check out my reviews if you share these tastes. Or maybe take a look at Avians.