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.

 

 

 

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.

 

“The Emperor’s Dragon”

I’ve sold a short story, and it will appear in the next issue of NewMyths.com. I’m not sure it’s science fiction, because it introduces no extrapolated science or technology ideas. Instead, it looks at the development of aviation in the distant past.

When I was doing some reading on the history of aviation, something struck me: the Wright brothers were not ahead of their time. I say this because of the way aviation exploded across the globe in the years following their 1903 flight. It was as if they let the genie out of the bottle.

For thousands of years, humans had dreamed of flying, but progress was sporadic and slow. The Montgolfiers flew a hot-air balloon in 1783, but it went nowhere. Did we have transatlantic balloon flights in 1800? Nuh-uh. Dammit, they were French: they had Champagne. They could have been doing a thriving business in sight-seeing excursions. Pardon the pun, but it just didn’t take off.

Otto Lillienthal made over two thousand glider flights in the late 1800’s and any modern observer would recognize his aircraft as a hang-glider. But he remained a novelty, a curiosity. There could have been hang-gliding clubs taking railway excursions to fly the Alpine slopes in droves, but there were not. Where was our dream then?

But after the Wright brothers did their little hop at Kitty Hawk, progress was exponential. A mere sixteen years later, in 1919, Alcock and Brown flew across the Atlantic. By 1931, the Supermarine S.6B was flying at 400 mph (on floats!), and in 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in level flight. Let’s stop and think about that: we went from the first powered flight to the speed of sound in less than fifty years. Orville Wright was alive, aged 77, when Captain Yeager flew the X-1.

The speed of this progress suggests that aviation was waiting to happen, like a dam about to burst. The Wright brothers made not the first crack, but the critical, fateful one.

I omitted the role of war in my summary, but it is inescapable. The Vickers Vimy flown by Alcock and Brown was a modified WWI bomber. The S.6B was a forerunner of the Supermarine Spitfire. And Chuck Yeager’s flight was at least partly a military project.

Aviation is good for warfare, and vice versa.

But what if the dam had not burst in the twentieth century? What if the river had flowed much earlier?

China had silk and bamboo a long time ago, and they experimented with manned kites and developed a good understanding of some aspects of flight. To say that this was before the Wright brothers would be an understatement; it was around the time of Jesus Christ.

By a thousand years ago, the Chinese had gunpowder, and were close to developing rockets. I think they could have devised a form of powered flight, and could have used it to defend the Great Wall on their northern border.

The technology I imagine is plausible, but risky. You wouldn’t volunteer to pilot such a contraption.

You’d have to be conscripted.

“The Emperor’s Dragon” will appear in issue #39 of NewMyths.com on June 15th.

Keycon 34: Sunday

I agreed to three hours of programming on Sunday, and I ended up doing four. That’s kind of nuts, but it was actually okay. All of the rooms were within one floor of each other, so walking time was minimal. I had two back-to-back sessions, then a one-hour lunch break, then two more back-to-back sessions, and that took us to the closing ceremonies.

First up was an hour of readings. I joined Sherry Peters and Melinda Friesen for this, to try and improve the audience numbers. To be honest, it didn’t really work. Still, our tiny audience was nice, and there were questions. I read the first scene from Avians, Sherry read from Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf, (the first of her series) and Melinda read a suspenseful scene from Subversion, the sequel to Enslavement. We kept our readings short, in the five to seven minute range.

Right after that was a panel on Critique Group Survival with Lindsay and Daria. I was grafted onto this panel late in the game because the convention planners didn’t want to make my Sunday so hectic. But when Lindsay asked me, I jumped at the chance. Their critique group made a huge difference to my novel opening, and quite likely helped make it good enough to get a publishing contract. See this older post for more. So I talked about that, and we urged the writers present to seek out critique groups. Take your pages. Leave your ego at home. The harshest criticism will do the most good.  Try to find a group with at least some members in the same genre.

Lunch, and the three of us joined a group of other writers in the hotel’s restaurant: Gerald Brandt, Craig Russell, Sherry Peters, Melinda Friesen. Craig entertained us all with a devious thought experiment about the desirability of intelligence and honesty, and it gave me a chance to unwind for a bit.

Next up was Lindsay’s panel on Aviation & Airships. She had everyone fill out a five-question quiz. Not exactly True or False, the choices were more like Plausible and Improbable, or something similar. The idea was to look at some tropes and misconceptions, like, “If a pistol bullet is fired through the skin of an airliner at altitude, there will be an explosive decompression.” While the audience was scribbling, we talked about some aviation fiction scenes that missed the mark. Lindsay’s questions were devious enough that no-one got all five right, at least not by our definition. Two guys tied with four out of five, and we settled it with a run-off question. In the end, I gave both of them signed copies of Avians. I don’t think my book was the draw here. I think it was the chance to participate and compete that drew people to this panel. Lindsay gets all the credit on this one – I was dubious, but I now count this a lesson learned. I’m already scheming to do something a bit similar at my next convention.

Last was How Do Writers Read? This panel featured Author Guest of Honour Kelley Armstrong, DAW author Gerald Brandt, and Den Valdron, who is with Five Rivers, same as me. I originally planned to nod politely while the better-known authors did most of the talking. However, for personal reasons, Gerald asked to step out of the moderator role, and I was asked to fill in. Not quite at the last minute; I had four hours to prepare. But during those four hours, I had three hours of panels. The show must go on. I basically winged it from the program description. Luckily, all the panelists were in fine form, and it was a fun panel.

As you can see, I had no time on Sunday to attend anyone else’s stuff. Said some quick goodbyes in the Dealer Room, and then I had to run, because we had a drive home ahead of us, and a deadline to retrieve our dog from the kennel.

This was the most involvement I’ve had in any con, and it could have been grueling, especially with a schedule that put so much on one day. It could have been, but it wasn’t: I had a really good time at Keycon this year.

 

Keycon 34: Saturday

On Saturday, I had a light schedule, with just one presentation in the morning. This is the first time I’ve gone to a convention as part of a team. Three of us from one critique group worked at supporting each other. I did my slideshow on Alternative Aviation in SF, with Lindsay Kitson’s help on the projector and Daria Patrie looking after details of giving away a signed copy of my book.

There’s no need to go into the content of my presentation in this post, the online version is available as a page on this blog.  Despite ensuring in advance that I had the right cable for the job, my tablet would not send anything to the projector, so we had to run the pictures from a USB stick. A couple of images didn’t display, but nothing that did real harm to the talk, and it was quicker than setting up my spare projector. (I’m a pilot. I have a backup plan for everything. I had three USB sticks.) Audience participation was good.

After that, I was free to wander around the convention. I ran into my nephew Keith and his family, and otherwise tried to follow Lindsay and Daria’s panels. Then I heard another presenter needed a projector, so I headed up to the admin suite to see if I could help. Of course, the cable I had didn’t work for his laptop, so he went to the hotel’s concierge, and they got him set up.

While I was doing that, I missed my friends’ panels on self editing, so I showed up in the boardroom for Daria’s panel on poetry in SF. Her co-presenter was MC (Matt) Joudrey, and he opened my eyes to some of the poetry hidden in speculative fiction. Example: “One Ring to Rule Them All.” Daria brought some works by some of her favourite poets in the genre. Whose names I should have written down, I now realize.

In the afternoon, I took in a couple more panels, one on Myth & Legend, and one on Point of View that tightened up my understanding of the different third person forms. Said hi to Melinda Friesen, because we would be doing readings on Sunday, along with Sherry Peters.

I ran into some friends in the Dealer room. One offered to review Avians, and when I pulled one of my author copies from my bag to sign, startled me by insisting on paying for it. Later, at supper with my wife and a friend, it was pointed out to me that this was the first sale of one of my books. Toasted that with a sense of wonder.

 

Keycon 34: Friday

Keycon is an SF convention held in Winnipeg on the May long weekend. I go because they have lots of stuff for writers. A few years ago, KeyCon 30 was the first sizeable convention I attended. I went to panels on publishing and agents, and I signed up for some blue-pencil sessions.

I remember being depressed after that. I went in thinking that with the book written, the rest would be easy. I left knowing that finishing a book is just the beginning.

I persevered.  I found a publisher. Avians is coming out in a few months.

Now I’m a panelist and a presenter, and I know most of the other writers there. I even own a display stand to show off my book.

Friday evening I had one panel, but it was perhaps the most challenging of the weekend. Chris Barsanti, the convention organizer who contacted me about attending, suspected I might be a Hiyao Miyazaki fan. His hunch was correct: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is one of my favourite movies, and influenced my own story telling in several ways. Chris suggested we do a panel on Miyazaki and Flight. Miyazaki’s other films are worth watching, too, so I rewatched Kiki’s Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky, and took in Porco Rosso and The Wind Rises for the first time. This is the kind of gruelling convention prep that the professionals do, I suppose. Good thing I did.

We were never able to find any other fanboys panelists to join us, so the two of us had to work hard. Chris brought the notion that flight is almost a character in Miyazaki’s works, with its own character arc and resolution. I argued that flight is more of a recurrent theme for Miyazaki, like feminism, pacifism and ecological sensitivity are. All of those are influences on my own work, as are his richly complex antagonists.

I still think Nausicaä is the best of his films. It is one of a very few films that I have watched more than twice.

We had a good discussion, and the right audience. Two people stopped by the table afterwards to recommend Last Exile, an anime series from the same people as Blue Submarine No. 6, but with flying machines. I’ve been watching it ever since I got home.

 

 

Prose & Cons: My Keycon Schedule

In May, I’ll be in Winnipeg for Keycon. The organizers consider me a published author, which is nice of them since Keycon 34 runs from May 19th to 21st, and Avians won’t actually be released until August 1st. Blatant plug: Avians is available for pre-order now at Five RiversKobo, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

I get to do stuff.

FRIDAY

On Friday evening, at 8:00PM, I’m attempting Miyazaki and Flight with Timothy Gwyn: Flight has fascinated humankind for centuries. Join our panelists as they discuss anime master Hayao Miyazaki’s use of flight in his films, and how they’ve inspired writers and fans alike.

Hayao Miyazuki’s anime works, especially his Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, have been a big influence on my fiction. He portrayed some lovely and fantastic flying machines: airships, multi-wing flying fortresses, jet powered gliders, and more. Not only that, he made the machines and their flight characteristics integral to his plots. The other panelists are still TBA.

SATURDAY

Saturday, I have it easy.

From 11:00AM to 12:00 noon, I present Alternative Aviation in Science Fiction with Timothy Gwyn: From Autogyros to Zeppelins: a catalogue of unusual aircraft past, present and future. A look at the strengths and weaknesses of each, plus how much technology is needed to build them, and how well they fit into different sub-genres of SF. Examples from noteworthy fiction, and how they played a role in plot or worldbuilding. Do you need air transportation in the age of steam, or on an alien world? Alternative aviation may hold the answers you’re looking for. Remember: getting there is half the fun!

I did this slideshow at When Words Collide last year, with Lindsay Kitson’s help. She has offered to run the projector and help again. Wait, did she say help or was it heckle?

After that, I’m free to roam around and take in friend’s panels. Such as Lindsay’s, and also Daria Patrie’s. I’m looking forward to How to Edit Your Own Work, and Why You Need an Editor, with Lindsay Kitson, J. Boone Dryden, Diane Walton and Daria Patrie, Point of View, with Gerald Brandt, Melinda Friesen, Lindsay Kitson, and Daria Patrie, Women in Speculative Fiction with Kelley Armstrong, Tamsen McDonough, Lindsay Kitson, and Van Kunder, and Critique Group Survival with Lindsay Kitson and Daria Patrie.  I’m in their critique group, and it’s been invaluable.

SUNDAY

Sunday, I’m busier.

From 11:00AM  to 12:00 noon, I’m doing the Book Reading with Timothy Gwyn, Sherry Peters and Melinda Friesen: Timothy Gwyn reads from Avians, Sherry Peters reads from Mabel the Mafioso Dwarf, and Melinda Friesen reads from Subversion. A question and answer session follows the readings. Stay until the end to receive a free ticket for a chance to win $40.00 in Dealers Room Dollars. One ticket, per person, per Reading Session. Draw to be held Sunday at noon.

Sherry and I go back several years, and I’m looking forward to meeting Melinda.

From 2:00PM to 3:00PM it’s Aviation and Believable Airships and Aircraft in Science Fiction with Timothy Gwyn and Lindsay Kitson: An interactive session with two pilots who are also writers. Lindsay Kitson and Timothy Gwyn tackle the credible and incredible in aviation fact and fiction. Learn how getting aviation right can enhance your story. Some pointers on how to keep it real with aircraft and airship scenes that actually work.

Lindsay and I both cringe at some of the things we see written about aircraft. In exchange for putting up with our grousing, audience members brave enough to take a quiz will have a chance to win one signed and dated author’s copy of Avians. Remember, that’s a pre-release first edition.

I might give away a second copy at one of my other slots. It’ll be a surprise.

From 3:00PM to 4:00PM, I have How Do Writers Read Books? With Kelley Armstrong, Gerald Brandt, Timothy Gwyn and Den Valdron: Can a writer read a book for pure enjoyment without critiquing the writing? Can genre writers read books within their own field without being overly influenced by those books? What books do writers read? What books do writers recommend aspiring writers to read?

This will be a nice way to finish up. Gerald Brandt helped me write queries and gave me great advice on a word-count problem. I’ve seen Kelley Armstrong at cons, but never really spoken to her, despite us having a name in common. Like me, Den Valdron is with Five Rivers Publishing, and I was at the launch of his The Mermaid’s Tale at When Words Collide in Calgary last summer.

Come see me and my friends at Keycon. I’m excited about it.