Arras, France

Ethel and Caroline had an amazing trip to Arras, France. Their principal purpose was to lay to rest Ethel’s uncle, Private Reginald Johnston, a Canadian soldier who died one hundred years ago at the Battle of Hill 70 in World War One. His remains were discovered in 2011, and identification confirmed in time for the 100th anniversary of the battle.

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Grave of Private Reginald Johnston, with Maple Leaf, Metis Federation flag and multiple wreaths.

Ethel and Caroline had an amazing amount of support from Veteran’s Affairs, from the Highland Regiment, and from various people such as a historian at Vimy Ridge, a scientist who ran the DNA tests that confirmed Reginald’s identity, and an owner of a private museum in Loos.

They were also helped by several complete strangers, such as a man who walked them to a restaurant, and airline staff who helped by taking wheelchairs beyond their assigned areas.

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Ethel and Caroline with soldiers of the Highland Regiment

My favourite little story from the expedition was that when they arrived at what was once the front line at the battlefield, Ethel was told that she could stay on the minibus rather than struggle down into the ditch that was once a trench. She said she didn’t come all that way to sit in the bus.

There was a CBC crew tagging along, so there will be some coverage and probably a documentary piece. Hill 70 has never been a very well known battle, having been long overshadowed by the famous Vimy Ridge, but now a new monument has been erected to commemorate those who were lost there.

The schedule was pretty grueling, with back to back twelve hour days, and even longer days of travel from Canada to France and back again, but everyone made it home in good shape and with the afterglow of something well done.

100 Years Ago

A century ago, a man was killed in a battle that almost no-one remembers. In France, during World War I, Private Reginald Johnston died in the Battle of Hill 70. The battle began on August 15th, 1917, and Reginald died that day or the next. He wasn’t alone. By the time the battle ended on August 25th, some nine thousand Canadian troops were killed or wounded, and German casualties amounted to some twenty-five thousand.

Reginald was my great uncle by marriage. He was 22, had not married, and had no children. However, his brothers did have children, and one nephew and one niece survive. The niece is my mother-in-law, Ethel. So Ethel is off to France this week to lay her uncle to rest, and my wife Caroline is travelling with her. Caroline is the family’s genealogy buff, and one of the more experienced at international travel.

The remains of some soldiers were uncovered in 2011, when foundations were being dug for a new hospital and a new prison. It took time, but Private Johnston’s identity was confirmed by a tribunal: a military historian, a forensic specialist and a DNA expert agreed that it’s him. His Manitoba Métis ancestry made it easier to get a clear match through mitochondrial DNA. He will be laid to rest this week, and a new memorial to the battle will be unveiled.

For more background on Private Johnston, see this CBC article. For an overview of the Battle of Hill 70 and its significance, try this BBC piece.

On a personal level, Ethel and Caroline’s trip is proceeding more or less according to plan. More, in the sense that they got to Toronto, then Paris, and then Arras okay. Less, in the sense that Caroline’s cousin Carol was supposed to be escorting Uncle Dale, but as dates and travel arrangements changed, no one noticed that her passport was going to expire 83 days after she came home, rather than 90. Until she went through security at the Winnipeg airport, and was denied boarding. Ethel, Dale and Caroline set off for Toronto while Carol paid a frantic visit to the Winnipeg passport office. Miraculously, she was back at the airport within hours, and the same agent who had turned her away before was still on duty. He greeted her with a hug and rushed her through. She got on a later flight and arrived in Toronto with just forty minutes to travel the length of Pearson International, but was able to board the plane to France with everyone else.

Last I heard, the whole group was going for lunch, then taking a nap to try and cope with jet lag. Caroline is keen to try some French food and wine, but the schedule is quite busy after today. There’s a visit to Vimy Ridge with a ceremony for an unknown soldier, a talk with a historian, a meeting with some military brass and a reception, then a tour of the battlefield at Hill 70, the interment of Reginald Johnston, and probably some interviews with a CBC crew. Then the return trip.

I have it easy. I just have to look after two cats and a dog for a few days.

 

A Withering Rejection

Before I tell you about my latest misadventure, I’ll just catch up on a couple of nice things that I’ve missed.

At When Words Collide, someone did something very thoughtful for me, and I forgot all about it until I got home and unpacked. At last year’s WWC I did a slide-show presentation on Alternative Aviation, and gave examples of speculative fiction that put machines like autogyros, hang-gliders and Zeppelins to good use in storytelling. One of my examples was Emergence, by David R. Palmer, in which a teenager comes out of an underground shelter after an apocalypse and uses an ultralight to search for other survivors. I mentioned that the book is out of print, and getting expensive on e-bay. A woman from the audience told me that she makes a hobby of hunting for copies at used book sales. This year, she tracked me down at WWC and presented me with a worn paperback. Thank you. I look forward to re-reading it; it has an unusual style.

I had a fun event at the Kenora Public Library last week. The library was very supportive, putting posters on the lawn and front door, providing Tim-bits and bottled water, and helping me set up. An article in the local paper helped get the word out, and there was an interview with one of the local radio stations, too. Sadly, the sun shone brightly the day of the event, and there were no teenagers to be seen in my audience. I did three shortish readings from Avians and talked about its development a bit. Elizabeth Campbell Books sold a few copies at the event, and donated ten percent of the take to the library fund. I donated copies for both the Kenora and Keewatin branches, and the librarian for the Children’s Section actually bought a third copy on the spot, saying that she knew some girls who would “eat it up.”

So being a writer is all fun, fame and friends. Except every now and then, I have to submit something for publication. I’m a wimp about this. I dread making submissions, and while I should probably have multiple stories making the rounds, I often struggle to ensure that one story is out there somewhere. For one thing, I’m not what anyone would call a prolific author. By the way, does anyone know a nicer antonym for prolific than fruitless or impotent? I really don’t fancy describing myself as an impotent author.

Typically with submissions, the first few places are going to say no. I have one piece that’s had some nice rejections. I know that’s an oxymoron, but the default rejection is a terse form letter, and a personal note from an editor is a step up. This particular piece is a flash fiction story of just 300 words. I’ve had two form rejections, and one personal note that declined, but praised the way I did so much with so few words.

When I came across a market that said they were looking for tight writing, I thought of that story right away. It fit their guidelines, the rate of pay was acceptable, and the submission process was anonymous, which means I didn’t have to list my publication history in an attempt to sound like a worthwhile contributor.

They looked at it and they declined. They were kind enough to give me an idea of why they said no, which is a great help when it comes to reshaping the story for next time. But the included comment was a downer: “Interesting, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. There isn’t enough sense of place and character to hold up the lack to true narrative.
There are also a couple of typos.” Ouch. I thought it had character, setting and a twist. And typos! I try hard to send clean submissions, even reading them out loud before I hit send, but apparently, I dropped the ball. Right now, I can’t bear to look through it, but if I’m going to send it out again, I’ll probably have to read it out loud and backwards to spot the mistakes I missed. At least it’s short.

To have a real shot at finding it a home, I ought think hard about what they said, and see if I can make some improvements. I’m working on something else today, so I’ll probably shelve it for a while, which means I’ll have no submissions pending. If I want to call myself a writer, I’ll have to try again. And quite likely fail again. This is the not-fun part.

Luckily, I was up early and wrote a page for my next novel before that depressing email arrived. After struggling with a variety of opening scenes, I think I’ve finally found an angle that has character, setting, conflict, and something I might be able to sharpen into a hook. I have a few days before my vacation ends, and I  have some driving to do, which is creative thinking time for me. I feel I’ll be able to make some good progress.

 

Prose & Cons: WWC 2017

This was my best convention ever, in several ways. Calgary’s When Words Collide is always well organized and fun, but with my book finally out, I felt more confident being among authors, and I think that let me open up and be myself more.

Here are the highlights:

WWC doesn’t generally designate moderators, so when no one else wanted to do it, I volunteered to moderate both of the panels I was on. With only gentle steering, conversation flowed and the time flew by. A well-published author shook my hand and thanked me, the convention volunteers said nice things, and there were positive mentions on Twitter.

At Five Rivers Presents, I launched Avians and moved people with short, powerful readings. Five Rivers Publishing gave some copies away, and for the first time, I got to sign books for complete strangers.

I did a solo presentation on Writing Aviation that engaged the audience. People asked relevant and insightful questions, and when our time was up, gathered around the table to talk and take my cards. I had to usher the last ones out to the anteroom so the next panel could set up. Again, tweets.

With the help of Myth Hawker, I sold a few copies of Avians in the dealer room. That means people picked up my book, looked it over, and decided they’d pay money to read it. Woot! At one point, I passed by the table just minutes after someone had bought a copy. I caught up to her further down the room and signed it for her.

I went to the mass book signing, where anyone (you don’t have to register for the con) can come to have books signed by the attending authors. There are long lines for the famous writers, but I expected to be lonelier than the Maytag repairman. Complete strangers came up to me and asked me to sign their copy of Avians. I saw someone holding my book and scanning the crowded room to look for me. I don’t know what that feeling is called, but it was an “oh!” moment.

As the mass signing wound down, I went over to say hi to C.P. Hoff to tell her that Caroline and I both loved her book. Caroline and I have very different reading tastes, but Connie’s zany A Town Called Forget made both of us laugh. Connie’s hotel room was near ours, and she ended up giving a signed copy to Caroline in person.

I served as reader for the science fiction session of Live Action Slush. Despite my best efforts to make each story opening sound strong and engaging, almost all the samples got shot down before I made it to the bottom of the page. The editors on the panel were polite and constructive, but they wanted it all: if there was action, they wanted character; if there was character, they wanted conflict; If there was conflict, they wanted a hook. Their advice was aimed at taking good writing and raising it to exceptional.

The conference was impressively organized and the staff of the Delta hotel were wonderful. I signed up for next year before the convention ended on Sunday afternoon.

P.S. For a more comprehensive look at When Words Collide, see this review of the convention by Robert Runté, who has been at it for many years.

 

 

 

Prose and Cons: Countdown to Launch

AVIANS has been officially released, meaning it’s now widely available online. I have some links at the right, if you like.

Oh, and I just found out that copies have arrived at my local bookstore: Elizabeth Campbell Books at 129 Main St. S. in Kenora has them in stock now, and my books aren’t just in the store, they’re in the window!

The launch will be at When Words Collide, in Calgary, on Saturday, August the 12th. WWC is a big convention that brings together writers from all genres.

So between now and then, I have some things to do.

I have some panels to prep for. On Friday afternoon, right at 5:00, I have one called Worldbuilding? where I hope to talk about some of my favourite aspects of this art: using key details, showing what isn’t there, and staying true to the character’s perception. A fictional world, no matter how strange, should feel immersive.

Saturday morning is Pantsers versus Plotters with some friends at 10:00 am. Ron Hore is a true pantser. He picks a title and starts writing. Another of the panelists is Robert Runté, my editor from Five Rivers. I don’t actually know which side of PvP he’s on. I hope we have at least one dedicated plotter, because I think both pantsers and plotters are amazing. For me, outlining comes late in the process; I tend to write the action scenes first, then expand outwards, developing character as I go and plot twists last.

Saturday afternoon I have the launch: Five Rivers Presents is set for 2:00 pm in the Fireside Room, with Senior Editor Robert Runté presiding. At other events, I’ve read whole scenes or half scenes, but for this one I’m thinking of short snippets. That way I can introduce two or three of the main characters and choose pages that show them in action, conflict or stress. C.P. Hoff is going to be there to read some highlights from her A Town Called Forget, and she’ll make everyone laugh, so for my reading, I may choose some of the parts of Avians that make me cry. Like when Raisa vents on how she feels about arranged marriage, or when Mel clings to an unrealistic hope that an accident hasn’t been fatal.

Immediately after that, at 3:00, I have my solo presentation on Writing Aviation. I’m going to talk about some of the confused reporting I often see when the media covers aviation incidents and then move on to talk about using flying in fiction to advance plot in ways beyond mere transportation. Along the way, I hope to explain that pilots don’t really speak entirely in jargon, and that the lingo changes so fast that it’s probably a mistake to include much of it anyway. As an alternative, I’ll offer some ways to have fictional pilots communicate clearly to the reader.

I’ll be at the mass autograph signing on Saturday evening, but my book’s only been out for a little while, so I don’t think there will be any masses for me. I have author friends I can hang out with, though, and at least one is launching a book on the same day.

Last up for me is the Science Fiction session of Live Action Slush at 11:00 am Sunday. If you’re not acquainted, here’s how it works: brave writers shuffle up to the front of the room and hand over two or three pages from their manuscript to the reader. In this case, me. Maybe there’s a reason this gig was available: I’m crossing my fingers that I don’t get whole swaths of unpronounceable alien words. I read the pages without identifying the author, and then a panel of editors and pro writers quickly dissect the sample’s strong and weak points. The brave writers, sitting in the audience, get their skin thickened, which’ll come in handy later in the submission process.

Monday, I fly back to Winnipeg and drive home to Kenora. Tuesday, I have an event at the Kenora Public Library. A whole hour to talk about Avians and read some bits. What I like best is the chance to answer questions. There never seems to be enough time for that. I love talking about the stuff beneath the book – the stuff that isn’t spelled out in the text, but seeps up between the lines.

By the way, if you’re not going to be in Calgary or Kenora, but you’d like to hear a reading, check out the AVIANS Audio links on the right. (Try scrolling down if you’re using a mobile device.) I’ve recorded the blurb, and all the scenes from the first chapter.

Author Timothy Gwyn Three Random Questions Interview — Bonnie Ferrante – Books for Children

Timothy Gwyn writes science fiction stories and has recently finished his first novel, Avians. Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Timothy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your novel, Avians. It is quite apparent that you are extremely knowledgeable about flying and can discuss gliders and airships with great expertise. Can you tell us a little about your experience with […]

via Author Timothy Gwyn Three Random Questions Interview — Bonnie Ferrante – Books for Children

Upcoming events

I should have updated sooner, but I’ve had a rash of computer problems. I have recovered my data and my computer is running normally. For now. Fingers crossed.

Here’s a look at some things in the next few weeks.

Now

Back when Avians first became available for pre-order from the big booksellers, some of my friends informed me that Amazon was listing the book as available at the end of June, instead of the first of August. I wasn’t sure if that was right, but those people have received their Kindle copies, so there you go. If you can’t wait, Amazon has it available now.

Some reviews are up at Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads already. So far, things are looking encouraging, with four and five star reviews.

July

On the 18th of July, there will be a review of Avians on Bonnie Ferrante – Books for Children. Bonnie covers books for children for all ages, from ABC’s to Young Adult.  I also did a fun interview with her and that post will follow a day later. She always finishes her interviews with three random questions, and I think they reveal more about an author than the more logical questions do.

August

August 1st: the official release of Avians. It will be available from Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, Rakuten Kobo and Five Rivers, as well as Amazon.

When Words Collide is in Calgary on August 11, 12 & 13. Friday evening I’m on a panel on Worldbuilding. My particular focus is on how to show what isn’t there. On Saturday morning I’m on a panel on Pantsing versus Plotting, which should be fun, as I do neither. I’m a quilter: I write the exciting parts first, then stitch them together, outlining retroactively. Saturday afternoon I’ll be at Five Rivers Presents, for the Avians launch. Yay, finally! Then I have to dash across the road to do my presentation on Writing Aviation in the other building. Saturday evening I will put in an appearance at the mass Autograph Session. I’ll probably have plenty of time to chat with the other authors, as there won’t be very many copies of my book in the wild yet. Sunday will be a fun day, I’m the reader for the Science Fiction session of Live Action Slush. It will be my goal to confound the evil editors by making every story sound wonderful. Apart from all that, I had an offer to share a table with some friends in the dealer room. I’ll post further details on rooms, times and co-panelists when the schedule is finalized.

After I return from When Words Collide, on Tuesday, the 15th of August, I’m tentatively scheduled to do an event at the Kenora Public Library at 2:00 pm. I’ll read some short sections of the book and give one or two copies to the library, and then offer to sign some books. If you buy a copy at the event, Elizabeth Campbell Books will donate a portion of the proceeds to the library fund.