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: 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.

 

 

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.