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.

 

 

 

Avians Update

The book marches on. Editing is complete. The senior editor has passed the manuscript on to the publisher. I feel a massive sense of relief. I no longer have to fear that I will be asked to make unbearable changes. The story really is good enough, and it will be told. One aspect took a day to sink in. My editor isn’t mine any more. He’s on to other things now. Other stories, other authors. I feel a strange sense of loss, as if summer camp is over and I must get ready for school.

Sure enough, the next email I got was from the publisher. They like a photograph I sent them. They’d like to use it for my author profile, maybe even the back jacket of the book. I am left shaking my head in wonder. Sure, I’ve pictured my book as a physical thing, with a cover and a title. It just never occurred to me that my photograph might be on it. Let alone squinting, with my eyes nearly shut. I sent that photo in a sense of amusement. It shows me writing in the back of one of the planes I fly. Before you ask, the plane is on the ground, parked. It was taken by one of our other pilots as we sat around and I typed. My tablet and keyboard are propped up on the table that unfolds for the passengers to use. I know this is not how most writers work. I thought it was funny. But the folks at Five Rivers seem to think it illuminates me; shows everyone what and who I am.

I hastily sent a better picture, in which my eyes are actually open. This time, the cockpit is in the background. Casual observers will see the overexposed sky, and might conclude that I have vacated the cockpit while the aircraft is in flight. Pilots will note that some of the instruments are displaying gyro flags, indicating that the plane is shut down. So please take my word for it: the picture was taken on the ground, while we waited for our passengers to do their thing and return. It shows me getting set up to work on the final edits on Avians, though, so that’s pretty appropriate.

The publisher likes this one, too. While I’m at it, she adds, could we have you write a blurb for the back cover? Make it sing, she says, we’d like something scintillating. Oh boy. I’m okay at telling a story, I think. I can keep the action moving and I can evoke a mood now and then. But write a compelling tease in just a couple of hundred words, that introduces a character, a situation and a conflict? Umm. Better give me a couple of days. On my computer, I have a disjointed document that is the digital equivalent of a waste-paper basket full of crumpled sheets. It goes back months, nay, years. I tried different angles. A version that plays up the conflict between Raisa and Mel as they struggle to relate as equals instead of master and servant. A version that focuses on Raisa’s jeopardy and desperation. And a longer version that tries to do both.

Right now, I’m leaning toward a blurb that starts with some very short sentences. It doesn’t sing, it shouts. It doesn’t scintillate, it takes a swing at your face. If I can complete it, and flesh it out with the character/situation/conflict thing without losing momentum, it’ll be good. Or perhaps I’ll have to go back to the drawing board.

One other thing. Antipodean SF has accepted another bit of my flash fiction. So I get something published this year after all, despite being preoccupied with the big novel project most of the time. “Zeta Series” will appear in October. I hope you like rats.

 

Yup, it’s in there.

One of my stories has reached publication in the latest issue of NewMyths.com. “Far Gone” is about the terrible sacrifices a crew must make on a long journey to deliver their precious human cargo to a new world. It’s also a prequel to my novel, Avians of Celadon.

The novel began as a story about girl pilots, eco-friendly gliders and solar powered airships. To make that work, I had to build a whole world, with the kind of society that would drive young girls to take dangerous work. That raised questions: How was Celadon colonized? Why the divide between the technological Haves and Have-nots? Why do the locals marry so early, and why not for love?

“Far Gone” is what I like to call licking the spoon. I baked up a whole cake planet, and I had all these stories left over. It’s a sad and bitter story, I think, and I find it strange that it has been one of my first to find success. If you click on the NewMyths link above and read it, you might be interested to follow developments a little further- “Freezer Burn” is a flash fiction piece about one of the first colonists of Celadon, and it appeared in January’s issue of Antipodean SF.

Publication in NewMyths counts as my first semi-pro sale. That is, they pay, but not at the professional rates endorsed by the Science Fiction Writers of America. After some thought, I decided to frame the cheque rather than cash it. It hangs on the wall of my cluttered office, just above a certificate for a story that won a contest. Still looking for a home for that story – “Fermi High” is about being the new kid, struggling to fit in… and roller-skating on the moon. Cute, positive and slightly romantic, it’s proving a tough sell. Anyone know a good place for something like that?

You may have noticed that all three of those stories have two-word titles beginning with F. It’s not a thing. “Flesh is Weak” has a three-word title. It’s making the rounds now, but it’s SF Horror, so that means I had to research a different market. So far my list of likely publishers is short, and just because I think it’s right for a particular magazine doesn’t mean that the editor will agree. Seriously, the F thing is a coincidence. Two word titles are a thing, despite the exception. Two words is short enough to be concise and memorable, long enough to be original and evocative.

All this activity means that my submissions spreadsheet is growing longer. And wider. I have added a column for Rights. This is where I note, in shorthand, what rights a publisher has acquired to one of my works, and what they paid for them. For instance, many magazines reserve the right to reprint a story in a “Best of…” anthology. I wish! I keep an eye on that clause for the word exclusive. Maybe one day, I’ll assemble some of my spoon-lickers into a Celadon anthology.

500 words. Time to stop.

And now, back to writing.

I have been away. Not physically, but elsewhere in the virtual world. In spring, I host a blog dedicated to tracking the ice-melt on Lake of the Woods, south of Kenora, Ontario. Being logged on to WordPress for the Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol changes all my settings. It also takes a lot of my time: reading, writing and critiquing all take a back seat for the six or eight weeks it takes the lake to melt.

Somehow, while getting up early and staying up late, I still managed to keep my writing turning over at a trickle. Although I didn’t keep my submissions in full flow, I believe I have achieved my first professional sale. I have agreed to a contract for “Far Gone,” the first prequel story I spun off from my novel, Avians of Celadon. “Far Gone” should appear online on the first of June, and as soon as I have confirmation that the deal is done, I will post a link to the magazine. While I’m at it, I should do the same for “Freezer Burn,” the second Celadon story, which appeared in Antipodean SF in January.

How’s the novel going? Well, my Odyssey online course gave me a lot to think about, and now some of my classmates are chipping in with critiques of the opening chapter. The revision process seems to be pretty much endless, and somehow I have to persuade myself to submit each version to new agents or publishers. In the meantime, Lindsay Kitson is reading the whole thing. She is a dieselpunk author from Winnipeg; we are both pilots with an interest in what I like to call alternate aviation. She does magnetically lifted aircraft carriers and diesel powered fighter aircraft, I do solar-powered airships and counterweight catapulted gliders. We met at KeyCon in Winnipeg a couple of years ago, and I’m reading her first manuscript, Redwing. I look forward to exchanging ideas and critiques.

Speaking of cons: I plan to attend two this year. Winnipeg’s Keycon 32 will be in just a couple of weeks, and I’ve been too busy to even pay proper attention to the emerging schedule. It looks like I’ve already missed the boat on advance registration, so I’ll be joining the herd at the door. In August, I’ll be heading to Spokane for Sasquan, this year’s WorldCon, home of the Hugo Awards. None of my current favorite authors are in the running this year, and I am only just now freeing up enough time to try and get some reading done. It was a mad scramble last year to try and get ready for the Auroras, so I don’t know if I’ll be voting for any Hugos.

First I have to catch up on all the blogs I follow.

No, I Did Not Get Published in 2014

About one year ago, I split this blog off from my travel blog, so that my foodie friends wouldn’t have to suffer through my writer’s angst and my writing friends wouldn’t have to put up with my wine snobbery.

At that time, I announced that my goal for 2014 was to get published, and that since my novel probably had a long row to hoe, I would be putting my efforts into writing short stories. I enjoyed this, and I learned a lot from writing some shorts. I had some success; I won the Speculative Fiction category for the annual NOWW (Northwestern Ontario Writer’s Workshop) contest for “Fermi High” a YA story about roller-skating on the moon. Outside of NOWW’s magazine, I did not get into print in 2014. I’m pretty philosophical about that. In retrospect, setting the goal of getting published in a particular year seems naive. Like a young single who vows, “I’m going to get married this year.” Maybe you need to meet the right one first, and build a relationship. So I’m carrying on with my search for an agent or publisher for my novel, and I’ll continue to try and find homes for my handful of short stories, and even write a few more. My writing will improve, and my time will come when it comes.

My day job is as a pilot, and when I’ve had career setbacks or problems with that, I’ve always tried to move forward. Learn new skills, add to the qualifications on my licence with new ratings or endorsements, that kind of thing. I have taken the same approach to my writing.

I enrolled with Odyssey for an online course on Showing versus Telling, and spent January slogging through the assigned work: analyzing and writing and critiquing. I put dozens of hours into the homework, and I got my money’s worth and more. I also had fun! I learned a ton of stuff about the title topic, and even more about critiquing and crafting a scene. I even got to rework one small segment from my novel, and it was revelatory to see the comments of my instructor and fellow students. It made me a stronger writer, and I’m developing new ideas for parts of my book now.

It didn’t make the 2014 cut-off, but my flash fiction “Freezer Burn” was accepted by Antipodean SF and appeared in January 2015, issue 199. The audio podcast is due out on Valentine’s Day, in my own voice.

What I Read in 2014

I’ll be taking an online writing course next month, from Odyssey. On the pre-course questionnaire, which made me feel guilty about how much more writing I should be doing, I had to say how many books I read in a year. I didn’t know, so I guessed ten or fifteen books and about three hundred short stories. After I sent that form off, I started thinking about my answer. What did I read last year?

My focus was on Young Adult books, but I read as young as Middle Grade, up through the range of YA and into New Adult, and when I read adult books, I preferred those with young protagonists. As always, I leaned towards Science Fiction, with a smattering of Fantasy.

I did a fair bit of reading this year. Some stuff because it was recommended to me, some because I met the author and wanted to see what they had done. I chose some of my first books for 2014 at Cons, or because of them.

At the C4 Lit Fest, I met Julie Kagawa and bought autographed copies of the first two books of her Blood of Eden series for my wife, because Vampires. I had no real intention of reading them myself, but Julie’s take on vampires in dystopia is crazy and original, and her protagonist is a street kid who has to become what she hates the most. The final novel of the trilogy came out just as I was finishing the second, so I bought it (in hardcover!) for myself.

I also picked up a few other books from local authors at the C4 LIt Fest dealer room. I think that’s where I bought a couple of Ronald J. Hore‘s books: Housetrap and Dial M for Mudder. These are tongue in cheek detective noir stories set in a universe (or at least a solar system) populated by fantastic creatures and characters. Points for calling a spaceship The Rat Queen. Ronald’s more recent work is more serious fantasy, I think, but I haven’t read The Dark Lady yet. This is also where I got Sierra Dean‘s Something Secret This Way Comes, the first of her Secret McQueen series. It’s also vampires, but I enjoyed it for it’s sassy style and occasional puns, like, “Your Secret’s safe with me”. There was a strong teaser for the second book, but I just wasn’t looking to read a whole series of New Adult vampire-slayer stories.

I read Robert J. Sawyer‘s “WWW” series: Wake, Watch, and Wonder. I’ve read a handful of his other books, (and taken a workshop by him), and these have my favourite characters so far, so it was Wake that I got autographed at KeyCon. I told him that Caitlin really was “made of awesome”. Part of the appeal of this series for me was that it is as close as Rob comes to writing Young Adult, although it’s more of an adult book with a youthful protagonist.

Naturally, I headed into the dealer room at KeyCon to say hi to Samantha Beiko, who is my freelance editor. I had already read her The Lake and the Library as an e-book to size up her skills before hiring her. Her skills are fine; I don’t think she knew yet, but she was short-listed for an Aurora award for it. I should have bought a print copy and had her autograph it. It’s kind of a ghost story, but it’s the deft handling of her protagonist’s muddled teenage feelings and behavior that makes the book.

Sam was sharing a table with Clare C. Marshall, so I picked her Stars in Her Eyes, which is a cool story about a bright young student who gets into an exclusive university run by people with an agenda of their own. Alien people.

Round the corner from them I bought LT Getty‘s Tower of Obsidian. It’s got dragons, but in a very original way. Not were-dragons, exactly, but cursed shape-shifters. Some wonderful strong female characters, too.

This may have also been where I bought Brandon Sanderson‘s The Rithmatist. I was actively seeking some Middle-Grade books to see if my own work belongs on that shelf. The Rithmatist is a hoot, and I love how the protagonist is an utter underdog in a school full of magical prodigies.

Around this time, I also picked up Soman Chainani‘s The School for Good and Evil. This book takes the most subversive look at fairy tales I have ever seen; gender stereotyping comes under heavy fire. Applause, please.

Because I knew some of the authors, I took a look at this years Prix Aurora Award Nominees. In addition to the previously mentioned The Lake and the Library, I read Robert J. Sawyer’s Red Planet Blues, a noir detective story set on Mars. He had fun writing it, you can tell. Enjoyed Amanda Sun‘s Ink, too. Paranormal Romance is usually wasted on me, but the view of Japan through the eyes of an exchange student is brimming with verisimilitude. It feels like you are there, and even like you are her. Out of Time is by D. G. Laderoute, who is from Thunder Bay, which makes him practically a neighbour. I liked his cleverly crafted story about a disaffected modern boy who slips into a past populated only by Native North Americans – and spirits.

I think it was this year that I read David Weber‘s A Beautiful Friendship and Fire Season, on my brother’s recommendation. Mr. Weber is best known for his Honor Harrington series, and this is his Young Adult series set in the same universe. Loved his eleven-year-old protagonist Stephanie Harrington, but not her use of handguns.

Sometime during the summer, my brother also recommended John Scalzi‘s Old Man’s War, and the sequels: The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale. Usually, Military SF just makes me shake my head. John Scalzi’s makes me shake my head and chuckle. Best thing about this series is the voice of John Perry. Mr. Scalzi sees some of the same potential for nanite medicine that I do, which startled me. Given the publication dates, he thought of it first.

Sherry Peter‘s Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf came out in August. An axe-throwing bearded protagonist that just happens to be female. Fantasy feminism, yay! I met Sherry through her huge behind the scenes role in KeyCon 30.

Once I decided to attend Can-Con in Ottawa in the fall, I wanted to read something by Jo Walton, the author Guest of Honour. I chose her Among Others, partly because of all the awards and acclaim, but also because it has her youngest protagonist. Once I read it, attending Jo’s workshop at the con became a priority.

I read Veronica Roth‘s Divergent and Insurgent. For me, the strength of these novels is in how Beatrice rebuilds herself into the daring Tris. I lost interest halfway through Allegiant because the focus seemed to be shifting away from that.

Speaking of sequels, my last book of the year was Soman Chainani’s The School for Good and Evil #2: A World Without Princes. Wow. If the first one was about gender stereotyping, the second is about gender issues. This book will probably ruffle some feathers, but I hope it gets very widely read.

Scanning back through this post, I see that rather than the ten or fifteen novels I thought I might have read, I read twenty eight, give or take a couple. One or two might have been read in 2013, and I might have missed something.

On top of these novels, I read hundreds and hundreds of short stories, always with a special interest in opening lines. I read old anthologies from my local used  bookstore, plus Daily Science Fiction, Apex, Antipodean SF and much more.

While it’s good for a writer to read, I think I need to do more writing and perhaps less reading. With that in mind, I will be focusing on my Odyssey course in January and there will be no new posts on this blog until February. If you want something to read, check out some of the authors and titles listed above!