Prose & Cons: When Words Collide 2018

I’m heading to Calgary next week for the 2018 iteration of When Words Collide. This convention brings together writers of all genres, giving everyone a chance to brainstorm on problems common to all storytellers, such as plotting, pitching, publishing and procrastination, along with a few things that start with other letters. This will be my third visit to WWC, and my third time presenting there.

Last year, I launched Avians at WWC (buy my book!) plus I did a solo presentation on Writing Aviation, moderated panels on Worldbuilding and Pantsters versus Plotters, and was reader for the science fiction edition of Live Action Slush.*

*Live Action Slush, (it goes by other names at other conventions) is a chance to have a few pages of your work read out loud to a panel of editors. Bringing your work to this event takes courage, because the whole room–and in Calgary it’s usually packed–will get to hear not only your draft manuscript, but also the editors criticisms of it. WWC does it wonderfully, by which I mean the focus is on constructive criticism. No one gives in to the temptation to mock writing that falls short. Authors who take the opportunity to identify themselves after their piece is critiqued get generously applauded, especially if fundamental faults were pointed out.

My schedule for this year’s WWC is lighter than last year’s. I’m reading for the SF LAS again, and I just saw on the final schedule that they’ve taken me up on my offer to read for other kinds of slush– I’ll be doing the historical fiction one as well.

Organizer Randy McCharles mentioned to me that WWC is always on the lookout for presentations about aviation, so I decided to combine two of my favourite things, and do a talk on Aviation in Worldbuilding this year.

I plan to run through the who, what, when, where, why and how of Aviation as it pertains to writing fiction, and I’m hoping that the worldbuilding aspect will attract some writers of speculative fiction.

Under the Who, after introducing myself, I’ll talk about some writers who have included fabulous aviation in fiction, ranging from famous authors like Heinlein and Herbert to more current writers. Time permitting, I’ll plug some of my favourite Sky-Fi authors and books. Maybe I can get an easel or a whiteboard, and jot down some titles in advance. Note to self: create a web page on this blog for Tim’s Sky-Fi reading list.

What will be my opportunity to segue into talking about some kinds of aviation that are very different from our mundane metal monoplanes. Ornithopters, horse-drawn battle-kites, inter-colony ballistic missiles, human-powered flying machines, the usual stuff.

When will be a chance to speak about some historic aspects of aviation. I’m convinced we could have developed flight much earlier than the Wright Brothers, and I’ll use that to encourage writers who want to put aviation in low-tech worlds. In hindsight, some form of air travel should have been feasible in the age of sail, and even the iron age. My own novel is set on a world with technology not much above the stone age. Mini-rant: don’t underestimate stone-age societies, they had a lot more going on than hand-axes.

Where will take us to other planets, with a quick contemplation of potential aviation on Mars and Venus to introduce some of the basics of flying in less earth-like environments, and then some words on factors that make flying easier or harder, such as local gravity, atmospheric density and composition, otherworldly weather, and so on.

Why will cover reasons aviation matters in worldbuilding. Transportation is, I believe, a pivotal technology, like communication. It’s fundamental to a society’s trade and travel in ways that affect everything from family visits to restaurant menus. Seriously. Want fresh fruit from far away? You’re going to want it flown in. The existence of aviation also implies a whole lot of career choices. I’ll try not to get sidetracked into grumbling about pilot stereotyping.

How sounds like it could be a recap, but I think I’ll use it to discuss how to make aviation immersive and emotionally compelling. Then I’ll move on to ways to use aviation to advance the plot and reveal inner character.

Huh. I just killed two birds with one stone. I have used a blog post to write an outline for my presentation.

If you’re attending When Words Collide, come see me at 10:00 AM on Sunday in the Acadia Room, which is downstairs in the Tower Building.

 

 

Aurora Update

The Prix Aurora Award nominees have been announced, and I’m not one of them. There were thirty-four eligible novels in the Young Adult Novel category, so getting enough votes to finish in the top five was a pretty big challenge. I know four of the five finalists, and they are cool and interesting people who write great stories. The feminist within me is pleased to note that all five nominees in this category are women this year.

Best Young Adult Novel

Exo by Fonda Lee, Scholastic Press

Houses of the Old Blood by Elizabeth Whitton, Kettlescon Press

Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge by Jayne Barnard, Tyche Books

Scion of the Fox by S.M. Beiko, ECW Press

The West Woods by Suzy Vadori, Evil Alter Ego Press

I look forward to reading them all. Actually, I’ve already read Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge, and you can see my review at goodreads. Jayne and I have exchanged emails on topics related to alternative aviation, so I take a special interest in her books.

In the Novel Category, competition was even tougher; there were seventy-four eligible works! One of the six finalists is Light of a Distant Sun, by Brent Nichols, which I also enjoyed (and reviewed) soon after it came out.

Best Novel

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner, Tor Books

Jade City by Fonda Lee, Orbit

Light of a Distant Sun by Brent Nichols, Bundoran Press

The Rebel (Book 3 of the San Angeles Series) by Gerald Brandt, DAW Books

RecipeArium by Costi Gurgu, White Cat Publications

To Guard Against the Dark by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW Books

Several of these were already on my To Be Read pile.

I’ve reviewed some of the other books that were eligible but, like mine, did not secure a nomination. Check out my reviews for The Reluctant Barbarian (funny) and Parasomnia (clever).

Another book that didn’t make the cut is Edward Willett’s The Cityborn. I stumbled across it in a Winnipeg bookstore the other day, and bought it for something to read. It was very enjoyable, and a review will be up soon.

There is one nomination for this year’s Auroras that is very special to me. In the Artist category, Ann Crowe is nominated for her cover art for my book, Avians. It’s a lovely illustration, and a signed and framed print of it hangs in a place of honour on the wall of my study. I’m cheering for her.

 

 

The Prix Aurora Awards

Nominations are about to close for the Prix Aurora Awards. A little background if you’re not acquainted with them: the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association runs them, and any Canadian resident can join the CSFFA and vote. Annual membership is ten dollars, and it’s a good deal if you’re into speculative fiction.

Members of the CSSFA get electronic copies of (usually) all the nominees. That’s five Novels, five YA novels, five Graphic Novels, five short stories, and so on. That’s an armload of reading for ten bucks. Here’s a link to the CSFFA FAQ, if you’d like to get a better feel for what’s involved.

I’m a member because it’s a great way to keep in touch with the latest in Canadian SF. Nowadays, many of the eligible works are by people I’ve worked with, such as editors or book designers, or people I’ve met at conventions, on panels or at readings. Some books that I bought, read, and reviewed on Goodreads made the eligible list, so it felt great to vote for their nomination.

The deadline for nominating an eligible work is May 26, just days away.

This year, Avians is eligible in the YA Novels category. If it gets enough votes to be nominated, many more Canadian writers and SF enthusiasts will take a look at it, which would be nice. I’m also excited that my cover artist, Ann Crowe, is eligible in the Artist category.

Nominated works get  short-listed, which is an accomplishment in itself. The final round of voting, to select winners from the nominated works, will begin on July 28.

Dinner Debriefing: A Weekend in Thunder Bay

Caroline had a conference in Thunder Bay last weekend, so we drove down. I was warned that the drive was a bit bleak, but it was beautiful sunny spring weather, and the scenery was of the rocks and trees persuasion, which works fine for me.

Lakes were thawing, so we saw some that were open water, and others that were largely covered in candled ice. We stopped for lunch at the Riverside Lodge in Dryden. We were told it would be good, and it was.

We pushed our dinner reservation at The Caribou back by half an hour to be on the safe side, and arrived in plenty of time. We had a nice dinner there, with exceptionally fine service. Example: Shauna always came by to check on us just a minute or so after our dishes arrived, so if there had been a problem, it would have been rectified right away. The meal got off to a strong start with an original bread-basket accompanied by hummus. I always feel that if a restaurant does well with basics such as bread and soup, the food will be good overall. See the dinner menu here. We shared an order of Calamari to start. The squid part was very agreeable- lots of tentacle bits, which we both like. We were less sure of the tamarind dip. Caroline took a dislike to it right away, and switched to the hummus that came with the bread, while I persevered for a while before deciding it really wasn’t for me. We shared a salad, the warm goat cheese one with Dijon vinaigrette. For our main courses, I chose a fish special—I forgot to take notes, but I think European Sea Bass, with barley done like a risotto—while Caroline ordered the Mafaldine Braised Rabbit with Pancetta, mushrooms, truffle butter, and Parmesan. Both were tasty and tender. There was a fair selection of wines by the glass, and many suited our personal tastes. We picked the Noble Vines Merlot, and liked it so much I went looking for it in an LCBO the next day, but they list it as discontinued. We finished with a chocolate torte thing that rounded out the meal nicely. We would go back on any future visit to Thunder Bay. We might try for a quieter night; Friday evening was busy and rather noisy.

Saturday I had a day to myself while Caroline did conference things. A helpful front desk clerk printed me a map showing how to get to the scenic lookout on Mount McKay. I wanted to go there because every time I land on runway 30 in Thunder Bay, I get a good look at it from the pilot’s seat: Mount McKay is right beside an approaching aircraft. Map in hand, I programmed Dingbat, our long-time GPS, (notice I call him long-time, not trusty) and he knew a better way to get there. Which took me to a closed bridge. I told him to detour, and he diverted me to Boundary Road, which is blocked by gates to the mill property. When I attempted a second detour, Dingbat tried to guide me back to the closed bridge. Apparently, the Garmin algorithms do not deal well with double detours. I got the map out and did it the old-fashioned way.

The trip up the base of Mount McKay was serene, and a sign at the base said the scenic lookout was open from May to October, between the hours of 9:00 am and 11:00 pm. They didn’t mean all of May, apparently, because there was no one at the toll gate when I arrived at 9:15. Still, I had been told it would be okay to park my car outside the gate and walk in, so I did. It was about a twenty minute walk up the winding blacktop lane to the lookout.

Because we went by road, I had my titanium hiking staff with me! I can’t take it when I travel by air, because: one, it’s oversize and the cost is prohibitive, and two, it’s packed with survival supplies including some fire starting thingies that are prohibited on aircraft. Click to zoom in on this picture, and you can see that my staff is on its third wood grain paint scheme.

But I digress. Scenery!

This is as close to the edge of the drop as I cared to get; there’s a vertical drop of a hundred feet or more. You can see Thunder Bay’s runway 30 in the distance. There was a hiking trail that started at the scenic lookout, but it quickly became steep, and crossed scree slopes that I didn’t care to try alone with the ice still coming out of the rocks.

Saturday we went for dinner at Bistro One. We’d heard good things about the food, and we weren’t disappointed. On the other hand, the meal was slow getting started. We began with some classic French bread with roasted garlic and butter, but then there was a long pause before we saw anything else, and our server seemed to be avoiding us. I started with the Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna, while Caroline chose the 5 Hour Roasted Confit of Ontario Duck Leg. We were both happy with them, although the duck leg was salty, as it often is; some chefs believe this dish should be rinsed, some do not. The wine list here wasn’t quite as tailored to our tastes, but there was a good choice of wines by the glass. For entrees, Caroline had the Roasted Fillet of Atlantic Salmon while I decided on the Cognac Flamed Breast of Duck. Both dishes were superb. By the time we were done, it was getting late, the staff were clearing things up, and there was a hockey game on, so we didn’t linger for dessert. We wouldn’t be likely to go back, but this restaurant was tranquil, and might suit people who wanted to take their time and talk.

Caroline’s conference finished before noon on Sunday, so we hit the road, pausing for lunch in Upsala. We were told it would be okay, and it was.

There were two incidents of note on the way home. First, I saw moose. Not one, but a group of four. They were down by the ditch, so it was more interesting than startling. I flashed my hazards at the next truck, in case they moved onto the road.

Second, we got flagged down by motorists with two cars stopped at the side of the road. I pulled over immediately, in case someone had been hurt in an accident, but they just needed a screwdriver to remove a wheel-well liner that was rubbing on a tire. Boy Scout that I am, (well, was once) I had tools including a Leatherman and a multi-tip stubby that was just the thing. We had them fixed up in minutes and were back on our way.

All in all, a nice little trip.

 

Busy

I haven’t posted anything here in weeks. Sorry about that. I’ve been busy with my day job—more flying, fewer pilots—and my other blog. This time of year, I operate the Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol, featuring aerial photographs and updates on the spring thaw in Kenora.

When the ice goes out varies from year to year, and summer residents come to Kenora from all over the world. My website is pretty much the only place to offer regular reports so people can plan their travel dates. That demand for information leads to a lot of traffic, especially when we have a late spring.

Taking the aerial photographs, editing them, uploading them, and explaining them with coherent text takes a lot of time. There are also emails and comments to answer, plus I sometimes do interviews with radio stations.

Which is not to say that good things don’t go with my writing efforts. I recently did an author interview with Jay Whetter for Kenora Stuff magazine, and I’m looking forward to seeing that in print.

I’ve been doing some more narrations for the Antipodean SF Radio Show and Podcast, the audio version of the Antipodean SF magazine. Check it out if you like flash fiction of the speculative variety. I’ve read about two dozen pieces for them now, including two of my own.

I was startled to see my name mentioned in a Tweet from When Words Collide recently. Their 2018 writing conference in Calgary is still months away, but the tweet was about a panel I was on last year, on Worldbuilding, with Kristene Perron, Roxanne Barbour, and David B. Coe. As the most junior author on the panel, I moderated. I had forgotten, but that panel was recorded for podcast. You can now listen to it here.

I’ll be heading back to Calgary this August, for the 2018 WWC, and I’ll be doing a presentation on Aviation in Worldbuilding. What if your fictional world doesn’t have fossil fuels, heavy manufacturing, or thousands of airports? I’ll be talking about how the right kind of flying can make your world feel original, advance your plot, and maybe mess up your character’s life.

WWC’s tentative preliminary schedule also lists me as reader for the SF edition of  Live Action Slush. Brave New Writers will hand over a page or two of their Work in Progress for me to read to the audience and a panel of editors, who will raise their hands when the manuscript loses their love. The mini-critiques that follow are kind, professional and helpful, but being told that your writing has glaring flaws is tough love. I often learn interesting things from the editors’ comments, and I suspect other writers do, too. The room is usually packed.

 

 

 

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.