Can-Con Workshops

Can-Con is Ottawa’s SF Convention. It’s not about getting a selfie with a movie star; (autographs are so last century) it has a strong focus on writers and writing. That’s why I came back.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before the con began, I had a misadventure. Remember, this blog is about the adventures and misadventures of an SF writer. Whether it goes well or badly, I write about my journey here.

I walked to the Sheraton and had lunch early. In the hotel’s lobby bar, there’s a guy pattering away on an Apple laptop. Has to be a writer. Halfway through my lunch, I realize he’s likely Robert Runte, one of the special guests. I’ve signed up for a blue pencil session with him. (That’s a fifteen minute critique of just a few pages of your writing. It’s like a drive-by shooting with paintballs.) I confirm his identity by peeking at his Twitter profile picture.

So I wander over and say hi. He seems nice, and willing to chat, so I bring my coffee over to his table. When it comes up that I’m pitching my novel to Pop Seagull, he asks why I’m not pitching to him. He represents Five Rivers. I can’t remember. Is it because they don’t do YA? No he says, we do YA. Why don’t you pitch me now, he says. Un. Pre. Pared. I babble about the plot. I mutter desperately about the character and setting. He gives me a few pointers on what a publisher looks for in a ptich session. I leave him convinced that my first novel is alphabet soup thrown at a wall to see what sticks.  I have to pay my bill and run, tail between my legs, to the first workshop.

My first workshop is with Derek Newman-Stille (sorry, if I hyperlink every author I mention in this blog, I’ll be surfing for hours. Google him.) His thing is on Exploring Your Character’s Sensory Environment and Setting. I try to write for the five senses, so this appeals to me.

The workshop is fun. We wear blindfolds half the time while we listen to stuff, smell stuff, touch things. BTW, can you turn off your cell phone while wearing a blindfold? I can’t.

He lets us take the blindfold off to write.  Anyway, the workshop was great fun, people scribbled out some amazing short paragraphs, and I learned something about the interconnectedness of our senses.

I give myself a grade of C: Tim needs more self-study to improve his skills. I was inspired to write, and had some wonderful ideas driven by scent and sound, but when I reviewed my stuff, the writing wasn’t as sensual as I would hope.

On to Workshop Two: World-Building as a Biologist, the Complexity of Eco-Systems and Using Them as a Metaphor, with Nina Munteanu. I went to this one because my novel is set on a colony planet with an artificial ecology, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss something important. Nina was fun,and enthusiastic about her field. We did an incredibly rapid overview of what ecology is. The most entertaining part of that was when we discussed extremophiles (very useful for SF authors) and tardigrades (fascinating little critters- tough as nails). Oh, the part about aggressive symbiosis was cool, too. After a short break, we moved on to the writing exercise.

For storyboarding practice, we sketched out the links between our Major Character and one of three things: a minor character, a setting, or a development. I guess the ecological angle would dovetail best with the setting. I chose to show how my MC chose a different path than a minor character who had undergone some of the same challenges. It was a useful insight into some of the ways that my writing is knit together. I give myself a B- on this one, because I was able to keep up with the science and complete the exercise in a relevant way.

I missed the opening ceremonies because I had a Blue Pencil with Leah Bobet. I showed her the first three pages of Avians, because those opening pages are so crucial to editors, agents and publishers. This is where an author makes his first impression; it’s a job interview, and your opening paragraphs are your suit and haircut. Leah could tell right away that the opening pages have been reworked a number of times. On a more positive note, some of her favourite sentences were new ones. Her special gift to me was a suggestion that to tie it all together, I should focus on the scene’s dominant emotion. I’m not a note taker by inclination, but I wrote that down.

Went to the Bundoran Press / SF Canada party in the hospitality suite. I’m running low on time this morning, so I’ll have to just say that the readings from Second Contacts were solid. They were short, they ended in hooks, and they were delivered with the casual confidence of pros.

Bumped into Robert Runte on the way out, and undid some of the damage from our earlier meeting. I remembered why I had chosen not to pitch to Five Rivers; they express a commitment to SF with a Canadian flavour. I didn’t think my setting on another planet was what they were looking for. Turns out, that’s not what they meant. There’s an old saying that American SF ends in victory (Star Wars),  British SF ends in failure (Day of the Triffids), and Canadian SF ends in compromise or limited achievement of revised goals. That’s us, alright, and that’s closer to what Five Rivers meant in their submission guidelines. That I can do, and I was invited to drop them a line in January.

Ran into Brandon Crilly, Rob Sawyer and some friends on the way through the lobby. All in all, excellent fun for the opening day. I’m going to post this now, and head off for day two.

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