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.

Dog Story

We writers are known to be cat people. When it comes to walking on a keyboard, dogs are useless. But I married a dog person, and for decades, she has wished for one.

Voila!

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This is Piper. She is, according to It’s A Dog’s Life, a Husky cross. Crossed with what, they don’t say. Her reddish coat, bushy tail and narrow snout make me wonder if she’s part fox.

She’s large enough to hike with me, but small enough to not pull Caroline right off her feet. She’s unbelievably quiet and tranquil, but a fussy eater.

We went to Tunnel Island today. I hike there a lot, and I even do a little trail maintenance now and then, such as clearing fallen trees with a Swede saw. This was our second visit together, and although it is common practice there to let dogs off the leash, after less than a week together, I wasn’t ready to turn her loose just yet. I’ve been using a retractable leash to give her a little freedom of movement.

There was a blanket of fresh snow on all the trails, and once we got to where the A and B trails forked about a mile from the parking lot, there were no more footprints. We’d be breaking trail. We did the easier A trail last time, so today I picked B. Piper trotted happily ahead. She hesitated at the first footbridge, but after pausing to look through the planks at the ravine below, she decided it was okay with her if it was okay with me.

All went well until about halfway round the island. Then an off-the-trail excursion to look at a squirrel got her tangled in the undergrowth. Rather than floundering uphill through the deep snow in the bush to get her, I coaxed her to come back the way she went in. That went well enough at first, but as she tried a little too awkwardly to negotiate the last sapling, she pulled right out of her collar. And took off.

She sprinted down the trail right out of sight, but I was reassured when she came back to check on me before running ahead again. She was acting like all the other dogs I meet on Tunnel Island, the ones who have established relationships with their humans. I let her have her way for twenty minutes, then I realized that if we got separated, she had neither her collar nor her tag to help people reunite us. When she waited at the next junction to see which trail I wanted, I gave her a treat and put her collar back on. But not the leash. She was having way too much fun, and she was being pretty responsible. We carried on like that for a while, and I decided that I would reattach the leash when we approached the parking lot and the highway. She was with me, more or less, all the way to the railway bridge. She paused there to see some ravens, and I figured she’d catch up like before. But a couple of minutes later, when I went to see about putting her leash back on, she was nowhere in sight. I called for her, but she didn’t come. We’re only so-so on her coming when I call.

I backtracked to the railway bridge. No Piper. I returned to the car in case she had outrun me in the woods somehow. No Piper. I went back to the bridge and checked the pond and river for dog footprints and broken ice. Nope. At the railway bridge, there were dog prints that looked like hers. They didn’t go near the water. They went up to the railway tracks.

I clambered up the steep, snow-covered embankment. No dog, and I could see a long way. I called some more. The pawprints went along the tracks. Were they even hers? I saw a few spots of blood. Had she  fought an animal, or been hit by a train? Up ahead there were ravens on a kill.

Fussy eater, my ass. What does a husky cross like better than dog food? A deer carcass. This one, lying by the tracks, was mostly reduced to hide. Piper was happily gnawing on it. The ravens were not impressed.

She let me put her leash back on. I reeled it all the way in and we returned to the car handcuffed together. She obediently got in. I didn’t give her a treat, but she found one on the back seat from earlier.

At home, we were tired from our adventure and napped together on the couch. Surprisingly, Rufus, our male cat, came and joined us for a few minutes. He has been rather leery of Piper. She has done nothing to upset him, in fact she’s been the soul of animal diplomacy, avoiding eye contact and showing studious disinterest by lying down or scratching herself when he is in the room. It’s working. He is slowly getting bolder about approaching her.

We have another week before we must formally adopt Piper or return her. I think it’s working out. But we’ll be going to evening classes.