Prose & Cons: WWC Sunday, then back to Broken Plate

Sunday was my busy day at When Words Collide: three hours of participation in a five-hour span.

I opened the day with a solo presentation on Aviation in World-Building at 10:00 AM. Since I’m a morning person, I was down at the meeting room at 8:30, making sure the flip-chart had paper and felt pens. Yes and no, but the hotel staff quickly delivered pens, and I was able to outline the whole presentation well ahead of time. See this previous post to get an idea what was on those sheets of paper. I’ll expand on one of my topics.

Here are some of the titles on my Sky-Fi reading list:

Cycle of Fire, by Hal Clement, 1957. Aliens use gliders to preserve precious books. Old-style pulp sci-fi.

Windhaven, by George R.R. Martin & Lisa Tuttle, 1981. Three novellas about a windy, watery world where the islands are connected by messengers who fly on wings made of irreplaceable spaceship salvage. Seminal.

Emergence, by David R. Palmer, 1984. Diary of a post-human girl who survives an apocalypse and sets off to find others of her kind by learning to fly an ultralight. Influential.

Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel, 2004. Young Adult. A cabin boy on an airship lofted by a magical gas is drawn into adventures with a rich passenger. Entertaining. There are two sequels, Skybreaker and Starclimber.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher, 2015. Airships augmented by power crystals fight a vicious trade war for powerful merchant families. Exciting and amusing. A sequel is expected soon.

Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond, by Jayne Barnard, 2015. Young Adult. Maddie is estranged from her family of Steamlords, but she gets swept up in the mysterious disappearance of an airship adventurer. Fun. There are two more books in the series already, and more coming.

Updraft, by Fran Wilde, 2015. Young Adult. Kirit wants to be a trader like her mother, flying from tower to tower on wings of bone and silk. Sinister politics intervene. Marvelous world-building. First of a series.

Icarus Down, by James Bow, 2016. Young Adult. Simon is a pilot, flying electric dragonfly ornithopters along the habitable canyons of his world, but he is grounded when he is injured in a terrible crash. Was it an accident? Big themes. Nominated for a Prix Aurora Award.

I did an enthusiastic presentation on this stuff and other aspects of how aviation fits in worldbuilding, for an engaged audience. I took further questions in the lobby area afterwards, and posed for a photo with a reader. I also sold a book, so I walked over with the buyer and personalized it for her at the dealership room.

After this, I got a break, so I went back to our room to eat left-over pizza. The tiny fridge had frozen it, and after microwaving, the pizza was chewy.

Then I had two hours of reading Live Action Slush, first in the Science Fiction category, and then Historic. The SF submissions weren’t as stellar as last year, but the Historic samples were epic. Ahem. Well, it’s true. One of the Historic pieces almost brought me to tears.

las-at-wwc.jpg

Reading for Live Action Slush, Historic edition. Photo by B.A. Chemali.

This picture was taken by one of the submitting writers, who posted it on twitter, along with this comment: Thanks for such a fabulous read. You should definitely do audio books!

I don’t actually read with my eyes shut. I’m good, but I’m not that good. Two of the panel’s four  editors can be seen: Shirlee Smith Matheson, nearest me, and Tasha Alexander, Guest of Honour, at the left.

After so many hours on my feet, I didn’t have a lot of energy for anything else. I wandered the convention, greeting and chatting with friends and anyone else who couldn’t get away quickly.

Then I cashed out my book sales from Myth Hawker and picked up the copy of Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack that they’d been holding for me. I can’t wait to read it, the two previous BNG anthologies were good fun.

Dinner Debriefing: we went back to Broken Plate because Sunday is Pasta Night. We started by sharing a calamari salad. The pasta menu is not on their website, and I didn’t think to snap a picture of the card, but we had a beef dish on papardelle and a farfalle (I think) with a mushroom sauce. We shared because both were so good, and they made a wonderful combination. A bottle of Flechas De Los Andes Gran Malbec went beautifully with both. Caroline finished with Baklava, and I had the Semifredo with a coffee.

Prose & Cons: WWC Saturday and Another Dinner in Calgary

On Saturday, I had a second easy day at When Words Collide, so I picked a few sessions to attend: We’ve Been Edited, then World-Building: Your World is a Character, and Kaffeeklatsch with Dave Duncan before lunch, and You Oughta be in Audio in the afternoon. It’s possible to do back-to-back programming all day, but I don’t have that kind of stamina. I hadone time-slot where I had highlighted four different options on the schedule, because WWC puts together a lot of good stuff.

For lunch, I stuck to the sandwich and snack concession in the dealer room, and I ended up sitting with an old friend. She has positive things happening with a second book, but it’s too early to talk about it now.

Once again, it was the last event of my day that I enjoyed the most. Although Dawn Harvey and Nina Munteanu kept You Oughta be in Audio focused on the why and how of authors getting an audio-book version, and covered contract stuff like audio rights and payment options for engaging a professional reader, I learned that Dawn Harvey also offers courses for narrators that wish to turn pro. That would be me. I’ve been doing quite a few narrations for the AntiSF Radio Show, but I could use a little more info on the business and technical sides, so I might sign up if she puts a class on in Winnipeg.

Dinner Debriefing: Caroline and I headed out for Italian food at Toscana Italian Grill. That was a walk of twenty minutes or more, but the weather had cooled, and damper conditions had cleared out most of the forest fire smoke from the air. We split a Caesar salad, then Caroline had the Parma e Funghi stone-oven pizza while I chose the Veal Scallopini. I couldn’t decide whether I felt more like the Piccata or Funghi di Bosco option, but went with the mushroom option on Pietro’s recommendation, and didn’t regret it. We ordered wine by the glass, so that we could have different reds, and there was a good selection. Service was swift and the food was tasty. We took half the pizza back to our hotel- by taxi, because there had been a rainshower, and it looked like more might be on the way.

Would we go there again? Maybe, maybe not. It’s a longish walk. I liked the comprehensive Italian menu, but Caroline wasn’t wowed by the pizza. This is partly my fault; I make a wicked wild mushroom pizza. If you want the details on that, you’ll have to ask in the comments.

Prose & Cons: WWC Friday and Dinner in Calgary

Last weekend, I went to When Words Collide in Calgary with my wife, Caroline. It’s a great place to meet readers, writers, editors and publishers, and there are lots of workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.

The trip out on WestJet was uneventful, and my suitcase, despite containing books, squeaked under the weight limit. I spent the flight listening to the opening chapters of the audio proof of Avians. That’s right, an audio book is coming soon!

We arrived at the hotel to register just after noon. I’d like to offer a shout-out to the WWC volunteers; they run one of the smoothest registrations I’ve seen, and they always get my name-tag and desk-card right.

It was hot and smoky in Calgary. The afternoon temperature rose to 37ºC!

We went for lunch at Jack Astor’s, because it’s a walk of barely two blocks. We had salads, and they were good, but I cannot seem to link to their full menu, so they will remain shrouded in mystery.

My schedule this year was light, with no obligations Friday or Saturday, so I was free to take in some panels. For Friday afternoon, I selected three from a full-to-bursting schedule: Shifting from Writer to Author; Now What?, The Best Advice I Ever Received, and Agency for Women in Fantasy / Feminism in Fantasy. 

That last one was my favourite of the day, because the panelists were passionate. One main point was about numbers. It’s not enough to have one woman in the role of spaceship captain: half of her crew should be female, too. Fonda Lee defended the point that by this measure, Black Panther is a more feminist movie than Wonder Woman, because while the latter has one woman who is exceptional, Black Panther, despite having a male lead, has lots of women in different significant roles.

Double standards came up, too. Write a male character with deep flaws, and he’s “complex”. Write a female with quirks, and she’s “unsympathetic.”

WWC has a great dealership room, where a dozen or more different booksellers and presses set up tables of books for sale. This is one of the best places in Canada to go book shopping if you’re looking for Canadian authors in almost any genre. I popped in to see Myth Hawker, because they’re good about selling my book, Avians. I left a few signed copies with them.

While I’m thinking about book sales, one book series I buy on sight is Brave New Girls. This is a set of anthologies of short stories about girls in STEM* and the third volume, subtitled Tales of Heroines Who Hack, has just come out.

That was it for my WWC attendance on Friday.

Dinner Debriefing: I joined Caroline, and we headed out to Broken Plate for dinner. It’s walking distance (about ten minutes) from the Delta Calgary South, and it’s become our regular first-night restaurant when we’re at WWC.

We love their calamari, so we started with that, and a glass of Seven Peaks Chardonnay. Caroline went for a Scallop dish, one of the daily specials, and I  picked the Roast Lamb. Menu link. It was tasty. I recommended it to the table that sat down next to us.

(I’m one of those people that talks to strangers on the elevator, and in the line at the grocery store. I can never go back to New York.)

For wine with dinner, Caroline stayed with the white and I ordered a glass of an Argentine Malbec, Flechas De Los Andes Aguaribay. It paired well with the fragrant lamb.

We finished with a Baklava Cheese Cake. The sour cherry compote was striking.

That’s all for Friday. I’ll do separate posts for each day.

 

 

*Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics.

 

Prose & Cons: When Words Collide 2018

I’m heading to Calgary next week for the 2018 iteration of When Words Collide. This convention brings together writers of all genres, giving everyone a chance to brainstorm on problems common to all storytellers, such as plotting, pitching, publishing and procrastination, along with a few things that start with other letters. This will be my third visit to WWC, and my third time presenting there.

Last year, I launched Avians at WWC (buy my book!) plus I did a solo presentation on Writing Aviation, moderated panels on Worldbuilding and Pantsters versus Plotters, and was reader for the science fiction edition of Live Action Slush.*

*Live Action Slush, (it goes by other names at other conventions) is a chance to have a few pages of your work read out loud to a panel of editors. Bringing your work to this event takes courage, because the whole room–and in Calgary it’s usually packed–will get to hear not only your draft manuscript, but also the editors criticisms of it. WWC does it wonderfully, by which I mean the focus is on constructive criticism. No one gives in to the temptation to mock writing that falls short. Authors who take the opportunity to identify themselves after their piece is critiqued get generously applauded, especially if fundamental faults were pointed out.

My schedule for this year’s WWC is lighter than last year’s. I’m reading for the SF LAS again, and I just saw on the final schedule that they’ve taken me up on my offer to read for other kinds of slush– I’ll be doing the historical fiction one as well.

Organizer Randy McCharles mentioned to me that WWC is always on the lookout for presentations about aviation, so I decided to combine two of my favourite things, and do a talk on Aviation in Worldbuilding this year.

I plan to run through the who, what, when, where, why and how of Aviation as it pertains to writing fiction, and I’m hoping that the worldbuilding aspect will attract some writers of speculative fiction.

Under the Who, after introducing myself, I’ll talk about some writers who have included fabulous aviation in fiction, ranging from famous authors like Heinlein and Herbert to more current writers. Time permitting, I’ll plug some of my favourite Sky-Fi authors and books. Maybe I can get an easel or a whiteboard, and jot down some titles in advance. Note to self: create a web page on this blog for Tim’s Sky-Fi reading list.

What will be my opportunity to segue into talking about some kinds of aviation that are very different from our mundane metal monoplanes. Ornithopters, horse-drawn battle-kites, inter-colony ballistic missiles, human-powered flying machines, the usual stuff.

When will be a chance to speak about some historic aspects of aviation. I’m convinced we could have developed flight much earlier than the Wright Brothers, and I’ll use that to encourage writers who want to put aviation in low-tech worlds. In hindsight, some form of air travel should have been feasible in the age of sail, and even the iron age. My own novel is set on a world with technology not much above the stone age. Mini-rant: don’t underestimate stone-age societies, they had a lot more going on than hand-axes.

Where will take us to other planets, with a quick contemplation of potential aviation on Mars and Venus to introduce some of the basics of flying in less earth-like environments, and then some words on factors that make flying easier or harder, such as local gravity, atmospheric density and composition, otherworldly weather, and so on.

Why will cover reasons aviation matters in worldbuilding. Transportation is, I believe, a pivotal technology, like communication. It’s fundamental to a society’s trade and travel in ways that affect everything from family visits to restaurant menus. Seriously. Want fresh fruit from far away? You’re going to want it flown in. The existence of aviation also implies a whole lot of career choices. I’ll try not to get sidetracked into grumbling about pilot stereotyping.

How sounds like it could be a recap, but I think I’ll use it to discuss how to make aviation immersive and emotionally compelling. Then I’ll move on to ways to use aviation to advance the plot and reveal inner character.

Huh. I just killed two birds with one stone. I have used a blog post to write an outline for my presentation.

If you’re attending When Words Collide, come see me at 10:00 AM on Sunday in the Acadia Room, which is downstairs in the Tower Building.

 

 

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.

 

Prose & Cons: Can-Con 2017

Less than a week to go before Can-Con. I think this is my fourth visit to Ottawa. I’m looking forward to morning walks along the canal, seeing my Ottawa friends, and perhaps some fall colours.

I have a light schedule at Can-Con this year: I’m taking a workshop on Friday, doing a reading on Saturday, and joining a panel on Sunday. (See the convention’s full program here.) That’ll leave time for meals! We know some nice restaurants, and we’ve made some reservations already.

Friday: We fly in late Friday morning, so I couldn’t make the noon workshops. The second batch are at 2:30, and that includes Nailing Your Beginning with James Alan Gardner, which I’ve signed up for. I need this; I suck at beginnings. I’ve been more or less stalled on my WIP’s opening for months. As it’s a sequel, I thought it would be easy, but I’m finding it hard because this time around, no-one will be explaining stuff to the main character, which may leave readers struggling or confused. Maybe I should have her explain things to someone else…

After that, registration, opening ceremonies, perhaps a panel, and then dinner out with Caroline.

Saturday: Lots of cool panels and readings to attend, and I’m scheduled to do my own reading from Avians at noon. Guess I better rummage around and select a scene or two. Su J. Sokol and Ryan McFadden are the other readers in the room for that hour, so that should be a fun session. I’m likely to be too busy for a proper lunch date, so I’ll probably just grab something in the lobby bar and get back to the con. I’ll sacrifice some of the early evening sessions to make time for a nice dinner, though, and then I want to be back for a later panel and the Bundoran Press party.

Sunday: we have breakfast plans, and I’ll have an easy morning sipping coffee at the con, then in the afternoon, I’m sitting on the Leveling Up Your Writing with Formal Courses panel with Curtis C. Chen, Suzanne Church, Leah MacLean-Evans,  and Kelly Robson (moderator). I think that means I’ll be representing the more affordable end of the education spectrum compared to full six week Odyssey or Clarion resident courses or a university Master of Fine Arts program. I took an Odyssey online course one winter, and got a lot out of it.

We don’t fly home until Monday, so we’ll have all Sunday evening for a leisurely supper.

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.