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.

 

A Withering Rejection

Before I tell you about my latest misadventure, I’ll just catch up on a couple of nice things that I’ve missed.

At When Words Collide, someone did something very thoughtful for me, and I forgot all about it until I got home and unpacked. At last year’s WWC I did a slide-show presentation on Alternative Aviation, and gave examples of speculative fiction that put machines like autogyros, hang-gliders and Zeppelins to good use in storytelling. One of my examples was Emergence, by David R. Palmer, in which a teenager comes out of an underground shelter after an apocalypse and uses an ultralight to search for other survivors. I mentioned that the book is out of print, and getting expensive on e-bay. A woman from the audience told me that she makes a hobby of hunting for copies at used book sales. This year, she tracked me down at WWC and presented me with a worn paperback. Thank you. I look forward to re-reading it; it has an unusual style.

I had a fun event at the Kenora Public Library last week. The library was very supportive, putting posters on the lawn and front door, providing Tim-bits and bottled water, and helping me set up. An article in the local paper helped get the word out, and there was an interview with one of the local radio stations, too. Sadly, the sun shone brightly the day of the event, and there were no teenagers to be seen in my audience. I did three shortish readings from Avians and talked about its development a bit. Elizabeth Campbell Books sold a few copies at the event, and donated ten percent of the take to the library fund. I donated copies for both the Kenora and Keewatin branches, and the librarian for the Children’s Section actually bought a third copy on the spot, saying that she knew some girls who would “eat it up.”

So being a writer is all fun, fame and friends. Except every now and then, I have to submit something for publication. I’m a wimp about this. I dread making submissions, and while I should probably have multiple stories making the rounds, I often struggle to ensure that one story is out there somewhere. For one thing, I’m not what anyone would call a prolific author. By the way, does anyone know a nicer antonym for prolific than fruitless or impotent? I really don’t fancy describing myself as an impotent author.

Typically with submissions, the first few places are going to say no. I have one piece that’s had some nice rejections. I know that’s an oxymoron, but the default rejection is a terse form letter, and a personal note from an editor is a step up. This particular piece is a flash fiction story of just 300 words. I’ve had two form rejections, and one personal note that declined, but praised the way I did so much with so few words.

When I came across a market that said they were looking for tight writing, I thought of that story right away. It fit their guidelines, the rate of pay was acceptable, and the submission process was anonymous, which means I didn’t have to list my publication history in an attempt to sound like a worthwhile contributor.

They looked at it and they declined. They were kind enough to give me an idea of why they said no, which is a great help when it comes to reshaping the story for next time. But the included comment was a downer: “Interesting, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. There isn’t enough sense of place and character to hold up the lack to true narrative.
There are also a couple of typos.” Ouch. I thought it had character, setting and a twist. And typos! I try hard to send clean submissions, even reading them out loud before I hit send, but apparently, I dropped the ball. Right now, I can’t bear to look through it, but if I’m going to send it out again, I’ll probably have to read it out loud and backwards to spot the mistakes I missed. At least it’s short.

To have a real shot at finding it a home, I ought think hard about what they said, and see if I can make some improvements. I’m working on something else today, so I’ll probably shelve it for a while, which means I’ll have no submissions pending. If I want to call myself a writer, I’ll have to try again. And quite likely fail again. This is the not-fun part.

Luckily, I was up early and wrote a page for my next novel before that depressing email arrived. After struggling with a variety of opening scenes, I think I’ve finally found an angle that has character, setting, conflict, and something I might be able to sharpen into a hook. I have a few days before my vacation ends, and I  have some driving to do, which is creative thinking time for me. I feel I’ll be able to make some good progress.

 

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.

 

 

 

Author Timothy Gwyn Three Random Questions Interview — Bonnie Ferrante – Books for Children

Timothy Gwyn writes science fiction stories and has recently finished his first novel, Avians. Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Timothy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your novel, Avians. It is quite apparent that you are extremely knowledgeable about flying and can discuss gliders and airships with great expertise. Can you tell us a little about your experience with […]

via Author Timothy Gwyn Three Random Questions Interview — Bonnie Ferrante – Books for Children

“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.

 

Keycon 34: Saturday

On Saturday, I had a light schedule, with just one presentation in the morning. This is the first time I’ve gone to a convention as part of a team. Three of us from one critique group worked at supporting each other. I did my slideshow on Alternative Aviation in SF, with Lindsay Kitson’s help on the projector and Daria Patrie looking after details of giving away a signed copy of my book.

There’s no need to go into the content of my presentation in this post, the online version is available as a page on this blog.  Despite ensuring in advance that I had the right cable for the job, my tablet would not send anything to the projector, so we had to run the pictures from a USB stick. A couple of images didn’t display, but nothing that did real harm to the talk, and it was quicker than setting up my spare projector. (I’m a pilot. I have a backup plan for everything. I had three USB sticks.) Audience participation was good.

After that, I was free to wander around the convention. I ran into my nephew Keith and his family, and otherwise tried to follow Lindsay and Daria’s panels. Then I heard another presenter needed a projector, so I headed up to the admin suite to see if I could help. Of course, the cable I had didn’t work for his laptop, so he went to the hotel’s concierge, and they got him set up.

While I was doing that, I missed my friends’ panels on self editing, so I showed up in the boardroom for Daria’s panel on poetry in SF. Her co-presenter was MC (Matt) Joudrey, and he opened my eyes to some of the poetry hidden in speculative fiction. Example: “One Ring to Rule Them All.” Daria brought some works by some of her favourite poets in the genre. Whose names I should have written down, I now realize.

In the afternoon, I took in a couple more panels, one on Myth & Legend, and one on Point of View that tightened up my understanding of the different third person forms. Said hi to Melinda Friesen, because we would be doing readings on Sunday, along with Sherry Peters.

I ran into some friends in the Dealer room. One offered to review Avians, and when I pulled one of my author copies from my bag to sign, startled me by insisting on paying for it. Later, at supper with my wife and a friend, it was pointed out to me that this was the first sale of one of my books. Toasted that with a sense of wonder.