“The Emperor’s Dragon”

I’ve sold a short story, and it will appear in the next issue of NewMyths.com. I’m not sure it’s science fiction, because it introduces no extrapolated science or technology ideas. Instead, it looks at the development of aviation in the distant past.

When I was doing some reading on the history of aviation, something struck me: the Wright brothers were not ahead of their time. I say this because of the way aviation exploded across the globe in the years following their 1903 flight. It was as if they let the genie out of the bottle.

For thousands of years, humans had dreamed of flying, but progress was sporadic and slow. The Montgolfiers flew a hot-air balloon in 1783, but it went nowhere. Did we have transatlantic balloon flights in 1800? Nuh-uh. Dammit, they were French: they had Champagne. They could have been doing a thriving business in sight-seeing excursions. Pardon the pun, but it just didn’t take off.

Otto Lillienthal made over two thousand glider flights in the late 1800’s and any modern observer would recognize his aircraft as a hang-glider. But he remained a novelty, a curiosity. There could have been hang-gliding clubs taking railway excursions to fly the Alpine slopes in droves, but there were not. Where was our dream then?

But after the Wright brothers did their little hop at Kitty Hawk, progress was exponential. A mere sixteen years later, in 1919, Alcock and Brown flew across the Atlantic. By 1931, the Supermarine S.6B was flying at 400 mph (on floats!), and in 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in level flight. Let’s stop and think about that: we went from the first powered flight to the speed of sound in less than fifty years. Orville Wright was alive, aged 77, when Captain Yeager flew the X-1.

The speed of this progress suggests that aviation was waiting to happen, like a dam about to burst. The Wright brothers made not the first crack, but the critical, fateful one.

I omitted the role of war in my summary, but it is inescapable. The Vickers Vimy flown by Alcock and Brown was a modified WWI bomber. The S.6B was a forerunner of the Supermarine Spitfire. And Chuck Yeager’s flight was at least partly a military project.

Aviation is good for warfare, and vice versa.

But what if the dam had not burst in the twentieth century? What if the river had flowed much earlier?

China had silk and bamboo a long time ago, and they experimented with manned kites and developed a good understanding of some aspects of flight. To say that this was before the Wright brothers would be an understatement; it was around the time of Jesus Christ.

By a thousand years ago, the Chinese had gunpowder, and were close to developing rockets. I think they could have devised a form of powered flight, and could have used it to defend the Great Wall on their northern border.

The technology I imagine is plausible, but risky. You wouldn’t volunteer to pilot such a contraption.

You’d have to be conscripted.

“The Emperor’s Dragon” will appear in issue #39 of NewMyths.com on June 15th.

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.

 

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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