The Name Thing

This post has two topics, really. The first is why the names of characters in my books are so culturally blended, the second is my use of a pen name.

I’ve always been fascinated by names that reflect different cultural backgrounds. A Mexican restaurateur called Jésus Fong. A CNN news anchor called Soledad O’Brien. Names like these abound, and often escape our notice. To me they are a sign that our world is shrinking and coming together, one child at a time.

So when I set out to build a fictional world, I wanted that. I also wanted gender equality. The name I have is patriarchal. It was my father’s name, and his father’s name. I do know my mother’s maiden name, but that was her mother’s husband’s name. I vowed that on my world, it would be different.

So here’s how it works on Celadon, my orphaned colony planet. Girls take their family name from their mother, and it does not change when they marry. (Hi, Quebec!) So Raisa Wing is the daughter of Maria Wing, who is the daughter of Rhiannon Wing, and so on, all the way back to the First Landing. Raisa gets her first name from her dad. Boys do the opposite: they take their family name from their fathers, and are given their first name by their mothers.

You can guess that Raisa and her sister Nikita’s dad has Russian lineage, and sure enough his name is Anthony Kinakin.

On Celadon, the surviving settlers comprised a limited gene pool, so there has been a concerted effort to mix it up, resulting in some fun names. Some of my favourites include Rajeet Bjornsen, Ichigo Bertollini and Roberto Chan.

This naming convention leads to two things. First, there are powerful dynasties built by both male and female lines. Second, there is a tendency for careers to fall into gender-led roles, as children follow their dynasty’s field of expertise. Raisa is expected to study the silk industry of her powerful fore-mothers. Her brothers will be more likely to take after their father, a dye-master.

This is one reason why all the pilots are women or girls. That, and I thought it would make a nice change from the day-to-day realities of my male-dominated profession.

Now, as to the pen name. My real name isn’t a secret, but Tim Armstrong is a very common name. There are two of us in the town where I live, for instance, and if you Google it, you get a lot of articles about an executive at a software giant. There are a lot of other famous Armstrongs, too: Neil the astronaut, Louis the jazz musician, Lance the cyclist, Bess the actress, Jo Jo the football player. And let’s not forget Kelley Armstrong, the author of speculative fiction for young adults. As far as I know, I’m not related to any of them.

I could never have registered Tim Armstrong as a web domain or a Twitter handle, whereas Timothy Gwyn was a snap. I do have to spell it for people, but I hold a sneaky hope that they’ll then remember it. Gwyn was the middle name given to me by my Welsh mother, by the way. We’re closing the circle here. AVIANS is dedicated to Ruth Maureen. That’s my mom. She’s long gone now, but she was always supportive of my writing.Avians-promo

If any of this makes you feel interested in AVIANS, it’s available for pre-order at an increasing number of vendors. The official release date is August 1st. Various formats of e-book and the trade paperback can be ordered through Five Rivers Publishing, Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble, with others to follow. Chapters/Indigo and vendors in the European Union are rolling out in the next weeks. If you want a good old-fashioned printed copy, and you don’t want to order it online, you can ask your local bookstore to order it in, and they should be glad to help. I’m pretty sure they don’t have any other authors called Timothy Gwyn.

AVIANS Cover Reveal

My publisher sent me a lovely surprise the other day. AVIANS is scheduled for an official launch on August 1st, but it’s available for pre-order now. You can find it at the Five Rivers Publishing website, at Kobo, and now at Kindle as well. Others will follow.

So, apart from pre-ordering, why visit those sites?

Well, at the Five Rivers Publishing site, you can not only see the cover and pre-order the book, you can also click on stuff about me. There’s an author profile, and now there’s an interview as well.

At the Kobo link, you can preview the book as far as the entire first chapter and a little more.

AVIANS will be available as an e-book and as a trade paperback (large format, soft cover).

I checked out the preview myself, because even I don’t have a copy yet. I found a couple more nice surprises. Way back when we were just exploring concepts for the cover art, artist Ann Crowe drew a sketch of Mel and Raisa. It was a very insightful drawing, and although it would have been tough to make it work as a cover, I loved it. I wasn’t sure if we could find a way to use it, so I’m delighted to see that makes an appearance inside the book. So do my little glider silhouettes. Book designer Éric Desmarais incorporated them as scene dividers, and found a font for the titles that complements them beautifully.


Can’t talk you into clicking on any of those links? Here’s a peek for the impatient.

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.

Book cover art

The journey towards developing a book cover is going to be an adventure. A couple of years ago, when I was considering self-publishing, I got as far as contacting a cover artist. We did a first instalment, then I stopped asking for further work because I was pitching Avians to small presses.

For anyone not familiar with this side of publishing, self-published authors pay for their own cover design, and have creative control over it: the artist, the design, the budget, everything. If you sign with a press, even a small one, they take over all that.

Let’s ponder that for a moment. When you sign a publishing contract, you cede control of the cover design. Editor Robert Runté gently pointed out to me that the art director’s job is not to please the author, it’s to make people pick up the book. Preferably the right kind of people: prospective readers in the target market.

So when the Lorina Stephens, the publisher, asked me what kind of art I’d like for Avians, I was glad, but cautious. “If it was up to me”, I said, “I’d jam a girl, a glider and a honking great airship on the cover.” A picture of some main things from the text, in other words.

This kind of cover is good in several ways. Firstly, it shows the potential reader what they’re getting. If they don’t want a book about girls and gliders, they should move on. Secondly, it may spur  enough curiosity to get someone to pick the book up and turn it over to look at the blurb on the back cover. Thirdly, it’s an opportunity to show some stuff that the reader may want help visualizing. What does a solar-powered airship look like?

In the case of Avians, this is no small request. A lot of book covers are based on photographs, but there’s not a lot of stock photography for ringed planets or futuristic airships. Basically, I’m asking for a full-on illustration from scratch.

Five Rivers seems to be taking my remarks at face value: they have introduced me to Ann Crowe, an illustrator who does both line-art and computer graphics. I am delighted. I first conceived Avians as a graphic novel—long story, but my writing skills are more developed than my illustrative ones— and the cover may yet have something of that style. Ann and I seem to have a similar vision. When I mentioned that it would be nice if the airship could have an organic, shark-like shape, rather than the ribbed cylindrical form of historic airships, she replied that she was already fascinated by a whale-like airship she found when looking for reference images.

There’s one other truth about cover art. The artists have work to do, they don’t have time to read the book. If you’re lucky, they’ll look over some key excerpts. So when Ann asked if she could have a copy of the manuscript, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or do fist-pumps. She says she wants to take a break after her finishing her current project, and reading the book would provide that, while also helping her get prepared to do a cover that really suits it.

I believe my baby is in good hands.


Prose & Cons: Can*Con 2016, Saturday

Saturday I had no scheduled commitments, so I was free to hit the dealer room, attend panels and chat in hallways. I started with Weird and Different Sensory Perceptions in Animals, moderated by Julie Czerneda. There were other panels I liked at the same time, but I chose the animal science one for the implications about aliens and their possible senses. Scientist/authors Agnes Cadieux, Madona Skaff, Max Turner and Nina Munteanu were all entertaining.

After that, I went to two fantasy reading sessions. Leah Bobet was paired up with K.V. Johansen. I wanted to meet Leah, because she was on the panel I was going to moderate on Sunday. Besides, her Inheritance of Ashes just won the YA Aurora, and I wanted to hear a little of it in the author’s voice. I found it very moving. After that, I stayed put for readings by Gabrielle Harbowy and Fanny Darling because I like them, and Lesley Donaldson, who I was curious about. Fun all around.

Then science again, a panel called The First Great Terraforming Project: Earth, moderated by Ed Willett, with panellists Alyx Dellamonica, Katrina Guy, Nina Munteanu and Alison Sinclair. I took a fine workshop with Nina last year, and I wanted to see Alyx because she won the English Novel Aurora for Daughter of No Nation, a book I very much enjoyed. The panel looked at how the Dust Bowl was a man-made disaster, and what we can learn about undoing that kind of damage. We can change things if we try.

Next up was the Daw author reading, the one with the raffle. Tanya Huff, Violette Malan, Julie Czernada and Ed Willett all share not only a publisher, but also an agent. Laugh-out-loud stories about their interactions with her. Also, swag! I won the last book package, a set of books in the Confederation Series by Tanya Huff, the Author Guest of Honour. It was a generous set: three hardcovers and a trade paperback. Good thing I brought a big half-empty suitcase.

Took a lunch break even though I had highlighted three panels in the next time slot. Sacrifices must be made. Also, I needed to take that heavy stack of books back to my room.

After lunch, back for some more readings. The Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide 2017 is the third in a series from Dreaming Robot, a press I approve of because a) they have good science fiction for young readers and b) they publish some of my friends. They were next on my list of places to query when I was offered a contract by Five Rivers. Angeline Woon went first, with a story from the 2016 book. I was fascinated, and thrilled to discover when I got home that my Kickstarter contribution gets me all three books in the series. Brandon Crilly is a long-time friend from Can*Con. We’ve shared anxious minutes as we waited to pitch the same publishers, and wished each other luck. He has a story coming in the 2017 Adventure Guide. Eric Choi, the convention’s Science Guest of Honour is in it too. He’s an aerospace engineer, and his story is about helicopter medevacs on Mars. I am eager to read the entire story because of my love of Alternative Aviation generally, and Sky-Fi in particular.

Squeezed in a quick RPG battle with Brandon, which I won by the skin of my teeth, then I stayed in the room as it turned over for Eric’s kaffeeklatsch. Science! We heard about his day job working with satellites, and I got to ask a question or two about Martian helicopter design, and we exchanged business cards because of our shared love of strange flying machines.

I started the evening with another Coffee Chat: How to Make an Anthology. Unfortunately, Gabrielle Harbowy wasn’t feeling well, and had to skip the session. Lucas Law filled in, joining Julie Czernada and Eric Choi. Lucas was a co-editor, with Susan Forest, of Strangers Among Us, which is generating very positive talk. Disclosure: I know several of the authors. I had no idea how anthologies were designed, so this session was pretty cool. The editors have a plan, and you should read an anthology from start to finish, in order.

Next I went to a panel on Authors Selling Books at Conventions moderated by Robin Riopelle. Jay Odjick colourfully illustrated the concept that the author is the brand, while the books are just the merchandise. Benoit Chartier had tips on how to evaluate different cons, and Pat Flewwelling talked about how the Myth Hawkers travelling bookstore offers a solution for indie authors and small presses that cannot miss everything else to staff a book table for three days.

Ended the day at the Can*Con party and talked about flying with fellow pilot Roger Czerneda. His father set the record for the longest non-stop flight in a plane with four piston engines: Hawaii to North Bay in an Argosy. The record will likely stand, because they don’t make planes like that any more. My uncle Leonard flew a Supermarine Walrus in the years leading up to World War Two. They don’t make planes like that any more, either.


Avians Blurb

In my last entry I wrote that my publisher wanted a scintillating blurb for the back cover of Avians, which Five Rivers plans to release in August of 2017. I mentioned then that I was working on something with short punchy sentences, and it turned out well, winning approval from Lorina.

Here it is:

Orphans. Runaways. Thieves. The Avians don’t ask questions about a girl’s past. Or her age. They need glider pilots, and the smaller the better.

Raisa is fourteen. Born to a line of powerful silk merchants, her rebellion against an arranged marriage is doomed. The Avians are her only alternative.

Mel is the young servant blamed for Raisa’s disappearance. She meets an Avian recruiter and seizes the chance to spite her employer.

When Mel and Raisa are sworn in with two other girls to form Blackbird squad, their simmering conflict undermines the whole team.

The flying is difficult, the discipline is fierce, and the older pilots don’t even bother to learn their names. The Blackbirds are starting to look like the weakest squad in years.

Then a deadly accident reveals the truth: only the best survive.

If I’ve piqued your interest, keep your eye on this blog; an excerpt from the beginning of Avians may appear here soon.

Footnote: my author profile is up at the Five Rivers website, confirming that Timothy Gwyn is the pen name of… well, go see.