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.

 

Dinner Debriefing: Café Dario

I’m cheating a little in calling this a dinner debriefing, because we actually went for lunch at Café Dario in Winnipeg.

But I’m not cheating very much, because the lunch menu is built on the entrees from the dinner menu anyway. The main difference is that while dinner is a five-course meal, the lunch menu features an entrée plate accompanied by bread and soup. The menu changes fairly often, and reservations are required for dinner.

We heard about this restaurant from a friend of a friend, but it has received lots of good reviews, and has exceptionally good write-ups at Trip Advisor. The chef is from Colombia, so there are lots of interesting South American influences on the cuisine.

The day we were there, the soup was a butternut squash. It was very tasty, with a little spice, but I’m not sure quite what it was. Ancho chile? We saw lots of things we liked on the menu. Caroline chose the Chicken Breast stuffed with guava pulled pork, which came with a Romesco sauce. She had a glass of wine with it, but I cannot remember which one, and I don’t see the wine list on the website. I think it was a Malbec, because South America.

 

I was torn between the Beef tenderloin grilled and topped with Argentinean chimichurri sauce or the Pepper crusted rack of lamb with a red pepper mango puree. The server mentioned that the beef is one of their top sellers, so I ordered that, and a glass of Dos Equis Amber. I’m all about amber ales lately, especially now that the weather is turning cool. I love the toffee notes and the lack of hops.

 

I cut into my steak before taking this picture, and also moved a beet, which left a pink smear on the plate. In fairness to the kitchen’s beautiful presentation, I airbrushed the lower right corner of this photo to remove the stain.

The steak was wonderfully tender, and both of our dishes were delicious: zesty without being overtly spicy. As you might expect from a restaurant with Colombian roots, the coffee was exceptional.

The service was good, and the bill was remarkably modest. Café Dario is located at the corner of Erin and Wellington, which is not too far from many of the airport hotels. We’ll be back.

Prose & Cons: Can-Con 2017 Complete

Every time I go to a conference or convention, I get something different out of it. At first, I was desperate for writing advice, then I needed help with query letters, pitches and submissions. Later, I wanted to know about contracts and marketing. Can-Con has filled all those needs, and has grown with me. This year set an attendance record.

Can-Con 2017 was a low-pressure event for me, because my first novel is on sale and my second is unfinished. I had a light schedule, with one reading and one panel, so that gave me time to take a workshop on Friday afternoon. Nailing Your Beginning, with James Alan Gardner, was in the form of a critique group, with James speaking last. The other writers showcased some fascinating story openings, and I hope to see many of their novels come to fruition. My own effort was a proposed start to Bandits, the sequel to Avians. I got the same general feedback as my critique group in Winnipeg offered: the reader feels a bit lost. The story needs to start more clearly with setting and situation. I’ll have to invest in more description to make the action and the conflict comprehensible. This will be about my fifth version of the opening, but with the story laid out, I really want to work on the starting scenes before I go too far with revising the body of the story, because it’s important to have that connection between the beginning and the end.

The reading was fun. I shared a time-slot with Su Sokol, who turned out to be a fascinating writer: her Cycling to Asylum takes an uncomfortable look at the direction things are going in the United States and the need for Canada to follow a different path. She chose troubling, disturbing scenes to read for us, revealing a cruel and creepy America. I’m still thinking about them. My own reading focused on two scenes from Avians from Corby’s point of view. This made sense for the adult audience, and I guess I reached someone, because one person went straight to the dealer room and bought a copy.

My panel on Leveling Up Your Writing with Formal Courses went okay. The other authors were much more educated, and, I confess, much harder working. Still, I hope I was able to speak to the audience members who aren’t quite ready for a six week boot camp. Odyssey’s online courses are a great way to learn without throwing yourself in the deep end.

I mentioned earlier that my involvement with conventions has changed over the years. At first, I rarely went to readings. I needed factual information so much more than fun. This time around, I took in a lot more author readings, and I met a guy who goes almost exclusively to the reading sessions. He’s attends because he’s a reader, and he likes to see the authors give voice to their work. I think he’s on to something. I bought at least three books because I attended the Renaissance Press reading session: Eric Desmarais’s Parasomnia, John Haas’s The Reluctant Barbarian and Lust and Lemonade, by Jamieson Wolf.

I arrived late at the Bundoran Press party, so I missed the readings, but at their table in the dealer room, I bought Brent Nichol’s books because I had read the free Prix Aurora Awards voter’s version of Stars Like Cold Fire and felt the author earned my money. They had the sequel, Light of a Distant Sun, so I bought that too, and it’s next on my To Be Read list. Also, 49th Parallels, because I’ve found Bundoran anthologies to be a sure bet.

I enjoyed some of the other readings, too, but our suitcases were growing heavier book by book, so I steered away from thick volumes. I can always download the e-books later.

I had one unexpected source of fun. Diane Walton, the editor of On Spec magazine, was on the same plane as us from Winnipeg to Ottawa, so having met her, I stopped by the her table in the dealer room. She had dozens of back issues featuring stories by authors at this year’s Can-Con. It was an impressive list, but better still, she had a contest: if you took a sheet listing the stories and got signatures from the writers wearing an On Spec flag on their name tags, you could strive to win a handful of issues and a year’s subscription. I recognized quite a lot of the names, so I set off to track them down in the dealer room and the hallways. In the end, I encountered over half, and won the contest. I’m looking forward to reading issues old and new.

When I got home, I checked my spreadsheet, and as On Spec‘s submission window opens infrequently and not for very long, I have never actually sent a story to them. I should try harder. I’d be in good company.

Speaking of company, one thing about conventions has remained constant: I always meet fascinating people and make wonderful connections. This year I met authors, agents, editors and publishers. But best of all, I had great conversations.