Prose & Cons: WWC Friday and Dinner in Calgary

Last weekend, I went to When Words Collide in Calgary with my wife, Caroline. It’s a great place to meet readers, writers, editors and publishers, and there are lots of workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.

The trip out on WestJet was uneventful, and my suitcase, despite containing books, squeaked under the weight limit. I spent the flight listening to the opening chapters of the audio proof of Avians. That’s right, an audio book is coming soon!

We arrived at the hotel to register just after noon. I’d like to offer a shout-out to the WWC volunteers; they run one of the smoothest registrations I’ve seen, and they always get my name-tag and desk-card right.

It was hot and smoky in Calgary. The afternoon temperature rose to 37ºC!

We went for lunch at Jack Astor’s, because it’s a walk of barely two blocks. We had salads, and they were good, but I cannot seem to link to their full menu, so they will remain shrouded in mystery.

My schedule this year was light, with no obligations Friday or Saturday, so I was free to take in some panels. For Friday afternoon, I selected three from a full-to-bursting schedule: Shifting from Writer to Author; Now What?, The Best Advice I Ever Received, and Agency for Women in Fantasy / Feminism in Fantasy. 

That last one was my favourite of the day, because the panelists were passionate. One main point was about numbers. It’s not enough to have one woman in the role of spaceship captain: half of her crew should be female, too. Fonda Lee defended the point that by this measure, Black Panther is a more feminist movie than Wonder Woman, because while the latter has one woman who is exceptional, Black Panther, despite having a male lead, has lots of women in different significant roles.

Double standards came up, too. Write a male character with deep flaws, and he’s “complex”. Write a female with quirks, and she’s “unsympathetic.”

WWC has a great dealership room, where a dozen or more different booksellers and presses set up tables of books for sale. This is one of the best places in Canada to go book shopping if you’re looking for Canadian authors in almost any genre. I popped in to see Myth Hawker, because they’re good about selling my book, Avians. I left a few signed copies with them.

While I’m thinking about book sales, one book series I buy on sight is Brave New Girls. This is a set of anthologies of short stories about girls in STEM* and the third volume, subtitled Tales of Heroines Who Hack, has just come out.

That was it for my WWC attendance on Friday.

Dinner Debriefing: I joined Caroline, and we headed out to Broken Plate for dinner. It’s walking distance (about ten minutes) from the Delta Calgary South, and it’s become our regular first-night restaurant when we’re at WWC.

We love their calamari, so we started with that, and a glass of Seven Peaks Chardonnay. Caroline went for a Scallop dish, one of the daily specials, and I  picked the Roast Lamb. Menu link. It was tasty. I recommended it to the table that sat down next to us.

(I’m one of those people that talks to strangers on the elevator, and in the line at the grocery store. I can never go back to New York.)

For wine with dinner, Caroline stayed with the white and I ordered a glass of an Argentine Malbec, Flechas De Los Andes Aguaribay. It paired well with the fragrant lamb.

We finished with a Baklava Cheese Cake. The sour cherry compote was striking.

That’s all for Friday. I’ll do separate posts for each day.

 

 

*Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics.

 

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.

When your Cover Artist gets your characters.

Raisa and Mel 75

This sketch of my Avians main characters by cover artist Ann Crowe is a wonderful illustration, because it beautifully sums up the difficult relationship between Mel and Raisa. Holding hands because they’re in it together. Facing away from each other because they’ve never quite become friends. Ann gets my characters because she read the whole book- not many cover artists will do that. Also, their outfits blow me away, because I never described them in this much detail. Ann found a way to make Mel’s decon suit look practical for handling airship cargo, and Raisa’s flight suit warm enough for flying an unheated glider. I’m very pleased that these girls are dressed for work, not glamour.

A little history of this illustration. An early version of it was one of Ann’s original proposals for the book’s cover art. I loved it, but still felt a cover with “a glider, a volcano and a honking great airship,” would be truer to the book’s contents, so I asked publisher Lorina Stephens if I could have it inside the book, and designer Éric Desmarais found a way to put it on the title page. Five Rivers is great that way.

At book signings, I never write on the title page. No way I’m scrawling all over the margins of this. I personalize the dedication page.

If you squint at the illustration above, you can see that it’s a scan of my personal copy signed by the artist. Once I get it framed, it’s going on the wall of my writing den so that Mel and Raisa can watch over my shoulder as I continue to tell their story. If it appeals to you, ask Ann nicely, and I bet she’d consider doing a print run. Or drop by her facebook page to look at her other work: there’s all kinds of cool stuff there.

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