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.

Author Copies

A box arrived in the mail the other day. Now, any day I get a parcel is a good day, but this box was especially fine because it contained books. My books.

I have to say, it feels special to actually pick Avians up and hold it.

The Five Rivers team lavished attention on this book, and it shows in every detail.

Cover artist Ann Crowe did more than the cover illustration you see here. Read what Ann had to say about her artwork for Avians at this page on the Five Rivers Publishing website, and see some of her preliminary sketches there too, including some I never saw. One of her alternative proposals that I did see was a character sketch of Raven and Mel that I loved, and a finished version of that graces the book’s title page. She also drew a little sketch of a glider and an airship for each chapter title, a beautiful touch.

Art Director Jeff Minkevics and book designer Érik Desmarais teamed up on a lovely title font, so between them, the book looks splendid inside and out. Érik even found time to fix a missing title that was my fault, and he has my gratitude for using my own little glider graphics as scene dividers. Jeff borrowed one of those three glider silhouettes I drew for Érik and put it to use on the back cover, so you can see it in the photo above.

In addition to all the work he did last year, Senior Editor Robert Runté smoothed over some last-minute hiccups: a sentence that got broken late in the setup, for instance, and a baffling one that we had somehow overlooked all along.

I can’t begin to imagine all the things publisher Lorina Stephens does, but I do know she was patient with my frequent anxiety attacks.

The end result of all this teamwork is close to miraculous. My beta manuscript was a stack of paper in a ring binder. Working with a responsive team at a small press has produced a finished product with some details that are amazingly close to my personal vision, but with an overall harmony that I could never have imagined. I couldn’t be prouder.

Avians is available for pre-order now, through Five Rivers and major online booksellers like Kobo, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Release is scheduled for August 1st, and it will be available in your favourite e-book format, or as the beautiful trade paperback you see above.

 

 

Avians – Cover Reveal

Can’t resist reblogging this!

Lindsay Kitson - Author and Pilot

You might recall I mentioned one of the members of my critique group was getting published, and I promised to post more when there were further developments. Well it’s getting closer to his publication date, and he’s got a cover reveal post on his blog right here. 

I read this in it’s infancy a few years ago, and while it needed work at that point – every novel does at that stage – I whipped through it as fast as I used to read authors like Lloyd Alexander and Monica Hughes. Actually, I think Monica Hughes would be the author I’d compare him to – YA, but with serious themes and without the preoccupation with romance that a lot of YA fiction with female focal point characters seems to feature these days.

And I can’t say 100% for sure that I didn’t read it that fast because it revolved around…

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Three Things

Thing One: a new reading from Avians is up on this blog. PLANS is the first scene from the novel, and the audio file (mp3) is available at the preceding link, or at the right under the menu for Avians Audio. Note: if you are using the mobile version, you might have to scroll way down to find the menus at the bottom. I enjoy reading PLANS at conventions, because it introduces Raisa, and has some nice details of her world and situation that generate audience questions. I love questions. You could use the comment form to ask one…

Thing Two: I’ve been invited to KeyCon in Winnipeg in May. I’ll be bringing a projector, and Lindsay Kitson and I will present the SF Writer’s Glossary of Alternative Aviation: from Autogyros to Zeppelins. We had fun with it at When Words Collide last summer, and I look forward to doing it again, although I might shorten the name to Alternative Aviation in SF. I’m adding Lifting Body (eg. Thunderbird 2) under L.  Besides Lindsay and I, Daria Patrie, a third member of the Fantasy Five critique group, will also be there, and I expect we’ll appear on some panels, individually or in various combinations.

Thing Three: Ann Crowe has finished the cover picture for Avians. No, I can’t show you; the art department still has to take the illustration and turn it into a cover. With my name on it. Squee!

Book Design

There’s something that I’m really coming to like about being with a small press: inclusion.

A little general background before we move on to specifics. Things like cover art and book design are business decisions. At a large press, the marketing department has a big say in those things, the author not so much. Self-published authors have much more control; they can choose their own artists and editors, and even overrule them, but it’s a ton of work to do everything a publisher does, and they have to pay for all those specialists.

Working with a small press can put an author on middle ground. You don’t get the marketing clout of the giants, but you don’t have to surrender to the machine. For me, this is turning out to be a happy place: Five Rivers keep me involved. Cover artist Ann Crowe and I exchanged emails for weeks.

I got an email the other day, it seems there’s a new guy on the Avians team. Éric Desmarais is working on the book design. He’ll be setting up the interior layout to make the pages look nice. That includes details like the choice of font, whether a chapter title falls at the top of the page or halfway down, the amount of white space (blank paper) between scenes and chapters and a slew of other details.

In a nutshell, Avians is about girls who fly gliders. Éric wanted to know what the gliders looked like. He was thinking some little glider silhouettes would make nice scene separators, but he wanted to get them right. I approve, because the gliders in question are unusual. They’re like a sailplane from our 1930’s, of wood and fabric construction, but they carry a wicker cargo pod that they can drop.  Stock clipart isn’t going to do them justice.

So I got out my graphics software, and drew these:trainer-3-view-003

Éric likes them, so I’m fairly confident they’ll be in the finished book. They’ll be small, of course, about the size of a paperclip, which is why I kept them so simple. You might be asking why three designs, why not just one? Well, Avians is written from three points of view, and each change of viewpoint requires a scene change. Éric says he likes the idea of a different graphic to introduce the scenes for each character. Raisa, the main character, will get the head-on view; her rival and sometime antagonist Mel will get the side view; and Corby, who has a more mature perspective, will get the overhead view.

I’m guessing that some readers will never make the connection. That’s the thing about book design. It’s like the frame around a picture: it’s jarring if it’s ugly, but if it’s harmonious, you don’t really notice it except as part of the whole. I just grabbed my Kobo to look at A Town Called Forget, by C.P. Hoff, because it had nice design. There’s a little graphic of a stack of letters tied up with a ribbon at the start of each chapter, and that’s very appropriate, because the letters from home are a key feature of the story. I checked the credits, and book design was by Éric Desmarais. I’m excited to have him on my side. I think his work is going to be beautiful. I’ll notice, and I hope you will, too.

A Good Year for Reading and Writing

I’m going to buck the trend. Instead of doing a review of the year right around New Year’s Day, I’ve held off until my birthday.

2016 was a good year for me. In January, I tapped my critique group for help with the first thirty pages of Avians. The members of Fantasy Five made powerful suggestions, and when I submitted the sample to Five Rivers Publishing, Senior Editor Robert Runté promptly requested a full manuscript. That led to a contract offer a couple of months later.

Editing ensued, so not a lot of other writing got done, and just as I was getting back to it, I got hooked up with cover artist Anne Crow and got side-tracked by that.

Short stories in particular took a big hit. I did write a handful later in the year but my submissions flagged badly. Overall, the trend has been for my stories to get serious consideration at pro markets. Acceptance, not so much. I like to think this means that my writing is okay, and that more submissions would result in more sales. An old favourite of mine drew fine feedback from the acquisition readers at a YA magazine and I’ll be rethinking that one in light of their comments.

I had high hopes for cracking the pro market in 2016. A story speculating that the Chinese could have developed powered flight about a thousand years ago clawed its way out of the slush pile to the senior editor’s desk at a top market in November, but as of New Year’s, I have not heard one way or the other. I will soon have to query. Groan/cringe. I hate querying, because it feels like tempting fate, but eventually it must be done. I once let a story ride for six months, only to learn that the publication had lost it in the shuffle of a reorganization. Update: just received a form rejection one day before my birthday. Yay. Sent it elsewhere the same evening.

Lately, I’m working on Bandits, the sequel to Avians. I roughed it out in 2015, then let it age for several months before revisiting it. Because I wrote it in a month (yes, NaNoWriMo) I expect it to need a lot of work. It does, but it’s not as awful as I feared. There are some good bones in the draft, and some nice lines, too. The story needs more obstacles, more conflict and more showing, so revisions are proceeding. Slowly.

I did attend some conventions this year. I dropped Winnipeg’s Key-Con and tried When Words Collide in Calgary instead. It was the biggest one I’ve been to yet, and I did a slide-show presentation on Alternative Aviation in SF there (see the Glossary link at the side of this blog for the online version). A month later I went to Ottawa for my third Can-Con, where I did a reading from Avians and moderated a panel on Sub-Genres of SF. At the end of the year, I went to the first ever Winter Wheat, in Portage la Prairie. If it had been any smaller, we could have held it in my living room, but it was great fun. They all were.

2017 will see the release of Avians in August, with a launch at When Words Collide. There should be a cover reveal a month or two prior to that. I love doing readings from it, so I’m thinking of putting audio files of the first few scenes on this website. Probably the first chapter, in instalments.

Last but not least, I read some wonderful books in 2016, despite the lack of a big bookstore in my hometown and the failure of my e-reader. My Kobo made it through the laugh-out-loud A Town Called Forget, from fellow Five Rivers author C.P. Hoff, but caffed halfway through David D. Levine’s Arabella of Mars, forcing me to finish reading it on my phone because I was on a road trip and I couldn’t leave it alone. I’d call it Age of Sail meets Martian Pulp: an atmosphere pervades the solar system and square-riggers sail between the planets. It was a hoot.

My out and out favourite read of the year was Updraft, by Fran Wilde. Feisty protagonist in desperate situations. Plus, hey, alternative aviation in the form of hang-gliderish wings of bone and silk. Sky-Fi! World-building up to here, and beautifully unexplained. Why are there towers of bone growing above the clouds? We never find out, and it doesn’t really matter: it’s just a place where the story happens. Rushed to buy the sequel, Cloudbound, but I’m not as invested in the protagonist early on, and I may or may not finish it.

Other books I tackled on my smartphone, tablet or desktop computer included most of this year’s crop of Aurora nominees. I was most impressed with A Daughter of No Nation. I read it last because the title didn’t grab me. Don’t make the same mistake. A.M. Dellamonica won the novel category with it, beating out some of my friends, and I can’t say she didn’t deserve to. I also enjoyed Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise. A computer nerd discovers she can do magic. Sometimes. Probably.

My favourite in the YA category was Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond. It didn’t win, but I enjoyed Jayne Barnard’s light style and fun with character names. I’d already read the anthology Second Contacts (in trade paperback) because Bundoran Press is a reliable source of solid collections. I found one or two of the other anthologies a little too narrow in scope to hold my interest.

Speaking of anthologies, I picked up Clockwork Canada (also in trade paperback) at the dealer’s room at Can*Con. It’s a steampunk/alternative history anthology. There are some fine pieces in there, and I grabbed it every time I had a break in the schedule.

I got a new e-reader at Christmas, so I hope to do more reading in 2017.

I’ll have to wrap this up because the dog just ate Caroline’s glasses off the coffee table. I guess it’s time for walkies.