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.

 

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.

 

Prince Edward County, ON

The trip to Ottawa begins.

We did contemplate driving, but flying is so much faster. WestJet had us in Ottawa about two hours after departing Winnipeg, and we were at our Bed & Breakfast in Picton three hours after that. Driving from Kenora to Picton would take several days.

We brought Dingbat, our familiar but quirky old Garmin. If you are a GPS, the only thing worse than being transported a thousand miles while you are sleeping is waking up in an underground parking garage with no satellite reception. It must be something like The Morning After, a movie in which Jane Fonda wakes up with a hangover and a dead guy. Where am I? What the hell just happened? After we pulled out into Ottawa’s autumn sunlight, it still took nearly ten minutes for Dingbat to recharge and get his bearings.

Our rental car this year is a 2016 Hyundai Sonata. I christen her Sonnet, after an obscure elf warrior from Mon-Colle-Knights. Sonnet has many modern conveniences, including some well-thought-out digital bits. I speak fluent Windows, passable Android, and a few words of Apple, but I was able to find trip meters, fuel economy numbers and cruise control settings in just a few minutes without reading the manual or asking a stranger. I also discovered that she has some kind of proximity warning that you can set off with a lane change in tight traffic.

We needed lunch, and we spotted a Moxie’s on the way out of town. They served food, but I won’t be writing it up.

Same goes for two hours on the 401. There were trucks, and Mondayish amounts of traffic near Kingston. There are still some nice fall colours, although they peaked a week or two ago.

In Picton, we are staying at Brown’s Manor, a beautiful old B&B. Dianne greeted us and got us settled in, and Ross will give us the low-down on things to see and do tomorrow. The forecast is nice, so we plan to do outdoorsy stuff like hiking and scenic sight-seeing first. Later in the week, remnants of Tropical Depression Patricia may bring wet weather, so Wednesday might be a good day to visit some wineries and do indoor things.

Tonight’s dinner plan is Blumen Bistro. Dinner Debriefing to follow.