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.

 

 

 

Prose and Cons: Countdown to Launch

AVIANS has been officially released, meaning it’s now widely available online. I have some links at the right, if you like.

Oh, and I just found out that copies have arrived at my local bookstore: Elizabeth Campbell Books at 129 Main St. S. in Kenora has them in stock now, and my books aren’t just in the store, they’re in the window!

The launch will be at When Words Collide, in Calgary, on Saturday, August the 12th. WWC is a big convention that brings together writers from all genres.

So between now and then, I have some things to do.

I have some panels to prep for. On Friday afternoon, right at 5:00, I have one called Worldbuilding? where I hope to talk about some of my favourite aspects of this art: using key details, showing what isn’t there, and staying true to the character’s perception. A fictional world, no matter how strange, should feel immersive.

Saturday morning is Pantsers versus Plotters with some friends at 10:00 am. Ron Hore is a true pantser. He picks a title and starts writing. Another of the panelists is Robert Runté, my editor from Five Rivers. I don’t actually know which side of PvP he’s on. I hope we have at least one dedicated plotter, because I think both pantsers and plotters are amazing. For me, outlining comes late in the process; I tend to write the action scenes first, then expand outwards, developing character as I go and plot twists last.

Saturday afternoon I have the launch: Five Rivers Presents is set for 2:00 pm in the Fireside Room, with Senior Editor Robert Runté presiding. At other events, I’ve read whole scenes or half scenes, but for this one I’m thinking of short snippets. That way I can introduce two or three of the main characters and choose pages that show them in action, conflict or stress. C.P. Hoff is going to be there to read some highlights from her A Town Called Forget, and she’ll make everyone laugh, so for my reading, I may choose some of the parts of Avians that make me cry. Like when Raisa vents on how she feels about arranged marriage, or when Mel clings to an unrealistic hope that an accident hasn’t been fatal.

Immediately after that, at 3:00, I have my solo presentation on Writing Aviation. I’m going to talk about some of the confused reporting I often see when the media covers aviation incidents and then move on to talk about using flying in fiction to advance plot in ways beyond mere transportation. Along the way, I hope to explain that pilots don’t really speak entirely in jargon, and that the lingo changes so fast that it’s probably a mistake to include much of it anyway. As an alternative, I’ll offer some ways to have fictional pilots communicate clearly to the reader.

I’ll be at the mass autograph signing on Saturday evening, but my book’s only been out for a little while, so I don’t think there will be any masses for me. I have author friends I can hang out with, though, and at least one is launching a book on the same day.

Last up for me is the Science Fiction session of Live Action Slush at 11:00 am Sunday. If you’re not acquainted, here’s how it works: brave writers shuffle up to the front of the room and hand over two or three pages from their manuscript to the reader. In this case, me. Maybe there’s a reason this gig was available: I’m crossing my fingers that I don’t get whole swaths of unpronounceable alien words. I read the pages without identifying the author, and then a panel of editors and pro writers quickly dissect the sample’s strong and weak points. The brave writers, sitting in the audience, get their skin thickened, which’ll come in handy later in the submission process.

Monday, I fly back to Winnipeg and drive home to Kenora. Tuesday, I have an event at the Kenora Public Library. A whole hour to talk about Avians and read some bits. What I like best is the chance to answer questions. There never seems to be enough time for that. I love talking about the stuff beneath the book – the stuff that isn’t spelled out in the text, but seeps up between the lines.

By the way, if you’re not going to be in Calgary or Kenora, but you’d like to hear a reading, check out the AVIANS Audio links on the right. (Try scrolling down if you’re using a mobile device.) I’ve recorded the blurb, and all the scenes from the first chapter.

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.

 

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.