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.

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.