Prose & Cons: My Keycon Schedule

In May, I’ll be in Winnipeg for Keycon. The organizers consider me a published author, which is nice of them since Keycon 34 runs from May 19th to 21st, and Avians won’t actually be released until August 1st. Blatant plug: Avians is available for pre-order now at Five RiversKobo, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

I get to do stuff.

FRIDAY

On Friday evening, at 8:00PM, I’m attempting Miyazaki and Flight with Timothy Gwyn: Flight has fascinated humankind for centuries. Join our panelists as they discuss anime master Hayao Miyazaki’s use of flight in his films, and how they’ve inspired writers and fans alike.

Hayao Miyazuki’s anime works, especially his Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, have been a big influence on my fiction. He portrayed some lovely and fantastic flying machines: airships, multi-wing flying fortresses, jet powered gliders, and more. Not only that, he made the machines and their flight characteristics integral to his plots. The other panelists are still TBA.

SATURDAY

Saturday, I have it easy.

From 11:00AM to 12:00 noon, I present Alternative Aviation in Science Fiction with Timothy Gwyn: From Autogyros to Zeppelins: a catalogue of unusual aircraft past, present and future. A look at the strengths and weaknesses of each, plus how much technology is needed to build them, and how well they fit into different sub-genres of SF. Examples from noteworthy fiction, and how they played a role in plot or worldbuilding. Do you need air transportation in the age of steam, or on an alien world? Alternative aviation may hold the answers you’re looking for. Remember: getting there is half the fun!

I did this slideshow at When Words Collide last year, with Lindsay Kitson’s help. She has offered to run the projector and help again. Wait, did she say help or was it heckle?

After that, I’m free to roam around and take in friend’s panels. Such as Lindsay’s, and also Daria Patrie’s. I’m looking forward to How to Edit Your Own Work, and Why You Need an Editor, with Lindsay Kitson, J. Boone Dryden, Diane Walton and Daria Patrie, Point of View, with Gerald Brandt, Melinda Friesen, Lindsay Kitson, and Daria Patrie, Women in Speculative Fiction with Kelley Armstrong, Tamsen McDonough, Lindsay Kitson, and Van Kunder, and Critique Group Survival with Lindsay Kitson and Daria Patrie.  I’m in their critique group, and it’s been invaluable.

SUNDAY

Sunday, I’m busier.

From 11:00AM  to 12:00 noon, I’m doing the Book Reading with Timothy Gwyn, Sherry Peters and Melinda Friesen: Timothy Gwyn reads from Avians, Sherry Peters reads from Mabel the Mafioso Dwarf, and Melinda Friesen reads from Subversion. A question and answer session follows the readings. Stay until the end to receive a free ticket for a chance to win $40.00 in Dealers Room Dollars. One ticket, per person, per Reading Session. Draw to be held Sunday at noon.

Sherry and I go back several years, and I’m looking forward to meeting Melinda.

From 2:00PM to 3:00PM it’s Aviation and Believable Airships and Aircraft in Science Fiction with Timothy Gwyn and Lindsay Kitson: An interactive session with two pilots who are also writers. Lindsay Kitson and Timothy Gwyn tackle the credible and incredible in aviation fact and fiction. Learn how getting aviation right can enhance your story. Some pointers on how to keep it real with aircraft and airship scenes that actually work.

Lindsay and I both cringe at some of the things we see written about aircraft. In exchange for putting up with our grousing, audience members brave enough to take a quiz will have a chance to win one signed and dated author’s copy of Avians. Remember, that’s a pre-release first edition.

I might give away a second copy at one of my other slots. It’ll be a surprise.

From 3:00PM to 4:00PM, I have How Do Writers Read Books? With Kelley Armstrong, Gerald Brandt, Timothy Gwyn and Den Valdron: Can a writer read a book for pure enjoyment without critiquing the writing? Can genre writers read books within their own field without being overly influenced by those books? What books do writers read? What books do writers recommend aspiring writers to read?

This will be a nice way to finish up. Gerald Brandt helped me write queries and gave me great advice on a word-count problem. I’ve seen Kelley Armstrong at cons, but never really spoken to her, despite us having a name in common. Like me, Den Valdron is with Five Rivers Publishing, and I was at the launch of his The Mermaid’s Tale at When Words Collide in Calgary last summer.

Come see me and my friends at Keycon. I’m excited about it.

Avians – Cover Reveal

Can’t resist reblogging this!

Lindsay Kitson - Author and Pilot

You might recall I mentioned one of the members of my critique group was getting published, and I promised to post more when there were further developments. Well it’s getting closer to his publication date, and he’s got a cover reveal post on his blog right here. 

I read this in it’s infancy a few years ago, and while it needed work at that point – every novel does at that stage – I whipped through it as fast as I used to read authors like Lloyd Alexander and Monica Hughes. Actually, I think Monica Hughes would be the author I’d compare him to – YA, but with serious themes and without the preoccupation with romance that a lot of YA fiction with female focal point characters seems to feature these days.

And I can’t say 100% for sure that I didn’t read it that fast because it revolved around…

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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.

Audio

When I do readings, I like to keep them short. “Always leave them wanting more,” is good advice, especially if you want to sell books.

But right now, I’m challenged in the More Department. Avians doesn’t come out until August, so I don’t have a book to put in your hands. The cover art won’t be finished for another month or two, so I can’t have a poster. What’s an author to do?

Multiple short readings, that’s what. I’m going to do a series of readings from the first chapter of Avians and post them here as MP3 files. That meant upgrading my WordPress account to allow audio files, but as a bonus, ads are gone.

I’ve been meaning to do this for weeks, but I caught a cold, and my radio announcer voice headed down into James Earl Jones territory. Fun for Darth Vader impressions, but not really me.

My voice is recovering now, so today’s the day to make a start. I’ve begun with the BLURB. Check out the new Avians Audio heading at the right side of this blog page. Readings of PLANS, PICNIC, and FLIGHT, the three scenes that comprise Chapter One will follow, at intervals. PLANS is the scene I usually read at conventions, so when I post PICNIC and FLIGHT there will be something new for anyone who wants to hear more. If you’d like to be notified when I post new readings, rather than checking back every now and then, you could take advantage of the new [Follow] button.

Reading is Not the Same After Writing

This is true for me. I used to read a hundred pages or so before I’d give up on a book, and if I put it down it was usually because I didn’t care about the characters. Now there are other reasons and sometimes they kick in sooner.

A Writer's Path

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by Samantha Fenton

One of the most surprising things I found had happened as a result from starting to write seriously, was how I read books differently. After writing a novel, I can’t look at a book the same way again – which makes sense, right?

Picture someone close to you deciding to play soccer. You don’t know much about soccer. Turns out, that someone is really into it, and you end up going to a lot of their games and listening to them talk about it all the time. You’re going to have a different view about soccer now because of it. Now, maybe you can watch a soccer game on tv without being bored. You can watch a player shoot a goal and you can say, “wow! What a great play!” Or see the player make a pass a say, “what a terrible pass. They should’ve held onto it!”

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Giving Back

Before I finished my first novel, I would have been intimidated by something like Calgary’s colossal When Words Collide. I started by attending a tiny local event: Word on the Water was a Kenora literary festival that ran for two or three years, and it put me in touch with editors and published authors for the first time. I got my first blue-pencil there, and took one of my first workshops. I met Robert Sawyer there, and a host of Winnipeg and Thunder Bay authors, and Samantha Beiko, who became my freelance editor.

So I have a soft spot for little conventions that make an effort to reach out to writers on their home turf.

Winter Wheat is a new literary festival being held in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba on Saturday, December 10th at the public library. I’ll be joining a number of friends there, and we’ll have panels on Story Genesis, Editing and Graphic Novels, and we’ll do some readings, too.

I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d be joining friends; I just received the draft version of the schedule, and I know almost all of the presenters. Leia Getty is the home-town organizer; we first met at the C4 LitFest, an intimate Winnipeg event that spun off from Central Canada Comic-Con. Same goes for her old friend R.J. Hore. I have books by both of them on my shelf. I think I first met Holly Geely at KeyCon, a larger Winnipeg convention where we sat in the same audiences a lot. Lindsay Kitson is a fellow aviator and SF author- I’m in her critique group now. Scott B. Henderson goes all the way back to Word on the Water, where I bought a copy of 7 Generations.

I get to sit on the Editing panel because I’ve worked with Freelance, Small Press and Magazine editors. Just to be on the safe side, I dug out my notes from the Working With an Editor workshop that Dr. Robert Runté gave at When Words Collide this summer. He’s Senior Editor at Five Rivers Publishing, and my editor for Avians. My entire notes on the two-hour talk consist of one notebook page of scrawled keywords. I’m more of a listener than a note-taker. So: winging it.

I’m also on the Story Genesis panel. Basically, this will be about developing ideas into stories, I think. I plan to talk about harnessing your imagination and combining ideas, mumble about building the right point of view character and world for the story, and then stare at the ceiling and make stuff up.

I’ll be doing a reading from Avians. Which will feel weird, because I’m hard at work on the sequel Bandits now.

I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be fun. Me dispensing wisdom… who’da thunk?

 

 

 

World-building: Showing What Isn’t There.

I went to panels on world-building at conventions. I asked, “How do you show what isn’t there?” This caught panellists off guard, and the answers weren’t very satisfactory.

I wanted a world where girls flew gliders. Along the way, I had to create a planet and a society that made that plausible. Raisa’s world is low on metal. I know the reason, but Raisa doesn’t. I never explain, and I can’t have Raisa wandering around saying, “This would be so much easier if we had metal.” She’s never seen a steam engine, or electric wiring, or even a decent mirror.

I turned to books. An old favourite, Courtship Rite, by Donald Kingsbury, is revelatory. Warning: this book will strain your brain, but it’s worth it. By reverse engineering, and much gnashing of my mental teeth, I deduced that there are different ways to show what isn’t there.

  1. Show what is there.
  2. Create conspicuous work-arounds.
  3. Use scarce examples.
  4. Illustrate with myth.
  5. Avoid inappropriate metaphor.
  6. Substitute metaphor that fits.
  7. Write for the senses.

Kingsbury’s festival of the horse is a fabulous example of myth. The children make horse costumes that are not merely whimsical, they are so far-fetched that you know they’ve never seen the animal.

Here are some ways I applied these techniques:

  1. In early scenes, we have a horse drawn cart and urgent messages relayed by semaphore towers. There are stone and ceramic knives for sale in the marketplace.
  2. Raisa eats with chopsticks and an earthenware spoon, not a knife and fork. Her sewing needles are bone, and coins are glass.
  3. Raisa’s mother, Maria, has a metal ring. Not a gold ring, not a silver ring; a metal ring. It’s grey, and so precious it’s worn only for special occasions.
  4. Later, it is revealed that Maria’s ring is a platinum wedding band, brought by her ancestress at the time of the First Landing and handed down for generations.
  5. There are no steely gazes, leaden skies, or iron fists on Celadon. It would make no sense for the locals to have those words in their daily vocabulary.
  6. A flinty stare, or eyes that glitter like obsidian, can help immerse the reader in Raisa’s point of view. The expression  glass in pocket replaces brass in pocket.
  7. When Raisa visits the Converts, who do have metal, she is startled by the cold feel of a metal door, and the clanging of her feet on metal stairs.

These methods work well for other aspects of Raisa’s life. Chickens and ducks are real, but the bird names the girls take when they become Avians are more mythical. At quiet times, background sounds include distant farm noises, but never birdsong. A discussion of birds in the old Earth ecology touches on how some of them ate insects, and the young instructor can’t help but mention how dangerous to essential silkworms and bees this would be. Okay, that’s exposition, and I deliberately left it off my list because it’s not immersive.

Sometimes exposition provides necessary clarity, but I do it as artfully as I can. I try to make it fit in, not stick out. Editors and critique pals were adamant that I must spell out that the rings in the sky are planetary rings, not smoke rings or something. So the first time I mention them, I had to find an excuse for Raisa to think about them. Thereafter, they’re just the rings, and everybody takes them for granted. I was careful to make sure they never disappear, though. They’re always there, and people notice them when they’re thinking about what time of day it is.

Did I miss any? I’m not claiming to be an expert, I’m just gabbing about what I’ve learned so far. Do you have a technique or trick  that you’d like to share with writers who need to show what isn’t there?  Or do you have a book that you revere for its world-building prowess? Comments are welcome.