Aurora Update

The Prix Aurora Award nominees have been announced, and I’m not one of them. There were thirty-four eligible novels in the Young Adult Novel category, so getting enough votes to finish in the top five was a pretty big challenge. I know four of the five finalists, and they are cool and interesting people who write great stories. The feminist within me is pleased to note that all five nominees in this category are women this year.

Best Young Adult Novel

Exo by Fonda Lee, Scholastic Press

Houses of the Old Blood by Elizabeth Whitton, Kettlescon Press

Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge by Jayne Barnard, Tyche Books

Scion of the Fox by S.M. Beiko, ECW Press

The West Woods by Suzy Vadori, Evil Alter Ego Press

I look forward to reading them all. Actually, I’ve already read Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge, and you can see my review at goodreads. Jayne and I have exchanged emails on topics related to alternative aviation, so I take a special interest in her books.

In the Novel Category, competition was even tougher; there were seventy-four eligible works! One of the six finalists is Light of a Distant Sun, by Brent Nichols, which I also enjoyed (and reviewed) soon after it came out.

Best Novel

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner, Tor Books

Jade City by Fonda Lee, Orbit

Light of a Distant Sun by Brent Nichols, Bundoran Press

The Rebel (Book 3 of the San Angeles Series) by Gerald Brandt, DAW Books

RecipeArium by Costi Gurgu, White Cat Publications

To Guard Against the Dark by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW Books

Several of these were already on my To Be Read pile.

I’ve reviewed some of the other books that were eligible but, like mine, did not secure a nomination. Check out my reviews for The Reluctant Barbarian (funny) and Parasomnia (clever).

Another book that didn’t make the cut is Edward Willett’s The Cityborn. I stumbled across it in a Winnipeg bookstore the other day, and bought it for something to read. It was very enjoyable, and a review will be up soon.

There is one nomination for this year’s Auroras that is very special to me. In the Artist category, Ann Crowe is nominated for her cover art for my book, Avians. It’s a lovely illustration, and a signed and framed print of it hangs in a place of honour on the wall of my study. I’m cheering for her.

 

 

The Prix Aurora Awards

Nominations are about to close for the Prix Aurora Awards. A little background if you’re not acquainted with them: the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association runs them, and any Canadian resident can join the CSFFA and vote. Annual membership is ten dollars, and it’s a good deal if you’re into speculative fiction.

Members of the CSSFA get electronic copies of (usually) all the nominees. That’s five Novels, five YA novels, five Graphic Novels, five short stories, and so on. That’s an armload of reading for ten bucks. Here’s a link to the CSFFA FAQ, if you’d like to get a better feel for what’s involved.

I’m a member because it’s a great way to keep in touch with the latest in Canadian SF. Nowadays, many of the eligible works are by people I’ve worked with, such as editors or book designers, or people I’ve met at conventions, on panels or at readings. Some books that I bought, read, and reviewed on Goodreads made the eligible list, so it felt great to vote for their nomination.

The deadline for nominating an eligible work is May 26, just days away.

This year, Avians is eligible in the YA Novels category. If it gets enough votes to be nominated, many more Canadian writers and SF enthusiasts will take a look at it, which would be nice. I’m also excited that my cover artist, Ann Crowe, is eligible in the Artist category.

Nominated works get  short-listed, which is an accomplishment in itself. The final round of voting, to select winners from the nominated works, will begin on July 28.

Busy

I haven’t posted anything here in weeks. Sorry about that. I’ve been busy with my day job—more flying, fewer pilots—and my other blog. This time of year, I operate the Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol, featuring aerial photographs and updates on the spring thaw in Kenora.

When the ice goes out varies from year to year, and summer residents come to Kenora from all over the world. My website is pretty much the only place to offer regular reports so people can plan their travel dates. That demand for information leads to a lot of traffic, especially when we have a late spring.

Taking the aerial photographs, editing them, uploading them, and explaining them with coherent text takes a lot of time. There are also emails and comments to answer, plus I sometimes do interviews with radio stations.

Which is not to say that good things don’t go with my writing efforts. I recently did an author interview with Jay Whetter for Kenora Stuff magazine, and I’m looking forward to seeing that in print.

I’ve been doing some more narrations for the Antipodean SF Radio Show and Podcast, the audio version of the Antipodean SF magazine. Check it out if you like flash fiction of the speculative variety. I’ve read about two dozen pieces for them now, including two of my own.

I was startled to see my name mentioned in a Tweet from When Words Collide recently. Their 2018 writing conference in Calgary is still months away, but the tweet was about a panel I was on last year, on Worldbuilding, with Kristene Perron, Roxanne Barbour, and David B. Coe. As the most junior author on the panel, I moderated. I had forgotten, but that panel was recorded for podcast. You can now listen to it here.

I’ll be heading back to Calgary this August, for the 2018 WWC, and I’ll be doing a presentation on Aviation in Worldbuilding. What if your fictional world doesn’t have fossil fuels, heavy manufacturing, or thousands of airports? I’ll be talking about how the right kind of flying can make your world feel original, advance your plot, and maybe mess up your character’s life.

WWC’s tentative preliminary schedule also lists me as reader for the SF edition of  Live Action Slush. Brave New Writers will hand over a page or two of their Work in Progress for me to read to the audience and a panel of editors, who will raise their hands when the manuscript loses their love. The mini-critiques that follow are kind, professional and helpful, but being told that your writing has glaring flaws is tough love. I often learn interesting things from the editors’ comments, and I suspect other writers do, too. The room is usually packed.

 

 

 

Some thoughts on reviewing books

The way I read has changed since I started writing. I notice the craft more, for better or worse. A well-foreshadowed turn, a deft descriptive example, or an artful bit of dialogue can delight me, as can a scene that neatly advances plot and illuminates the character. But I’m also quicker to spot a cliché. An editor once talked me out of, “she let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding,” and now I see it everywhere.

I am not a patient reader. I used to give a book a hundred pages or so, and if I didn’t care about the characters by then, I’d reluctantly put it down. Now it’s more like forty pages, and it’s not only the characters. If I can get it down to ten pages, can I become an acquisition editor? Seriously, I’m starting to understand them. I have so many books I want to read, and only so much time. Purple Prose? Nope. Repetition? Nope. Info-dumps? Nope. The proportion of books I do not finish is getting dangerously close to half.

At Goodreads, a Did Not Finish is supposed to be grounds for a one-star rating. I did that once, with a sequel I felt had diverged badly from the opening book. I wasn’t interested in the romantic sub-plot and the save the world stuff wasn’t enough to keep me going. So I quit, and gave it a one-star review. I felt guilty about it though.

Recently, I got thinking. Should I be firing off one-star reviews for every book I don’t finish? My Goodreads page would look like a fireworks show that fizzled in the rain. I don’t think that’s what they had in mind. I think when they said did not finish, they really meant could not finish. If I’d read that whole book, I’d have likely given it two or three stars. But I’m not gonna. So I withdrew that review.

From now on, all the books I set down will get the silent treatment. That’s going to bias my reviews towards books I enjoyed and therefore rated highly. I’m happy with that. I want my reviews to be a guide to fun reading, not a platform for me to be dismissive.

So here’s a partial list of things that discourage me from reading a book:  psychotic bad guys, graphic violence, graphic sex, heroes with limitless superpowers, macho men with guns. And, more regretfully, dense literary prose. You won’t find a lot of reviews by me of books with these features.

On the bright side, here’s a short list of things that make me want to read a book: complex characters, strong females, original world-building, underdogs with grit. I have a special fondness for alternative aviation. Check out my reviews if you share these tastes. Or maybe take a look at Avians.

 

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: 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.