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.

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!

Prose and Cons

I had a very good weekend at KeyCon in Winnipeg. I can’t say my ship came in, but I would say I found my way to the wharf. I should begin at the beginning.

It would have been easiest to drive from Kenora to Winnipeg on Saturday morning, but I took a vacation day on Friday so that I could do the full weekend. The main reason was that on Friday evening, Chadwick Ginther and S.M. Beiko were doing readings together, and they both got nominated for Aurora Awards this year. Besides, Samantha recently became my freelance editor (just before I found out she was nominated – bonus!) and this would be my first chance to say hi in person since we began working together.

Also on Friday night was a presentation on aero engines by Lindsay Kitson, and I feel a special kinship with her because like me, she is writer and a pilot. Interestingly, if I understand her right, she views her Dieselpunk as being more fantasy than SciFi. Even at a Speculative Fiction event, I sometimes feel like I am the only Science Fiction writer in the room. Unless Rob Sawyer is there. Then I feel like he’s the only Science Fiction writer in the room.

Saturday was a whirlwind.

Chatted to G.M.B. Chomichuk, who was working on a large painting right by the grand staircase.

Said hi to Silvia Moreno-Garcia, who did a ten-minute blue-pencil session with me at last year’s KeyCon that led to some good changes to my book. Told her so.

Went to the art show, looked for potential cover artists. Met one guy, got website info on another.

Bought books from Leia Getty and Clare C. Marshall.

Went to ‘Locally Grown’, an impressively large panel of Winnipeg Speculative Fiction authors and illustrators.

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Jonathan Hatton, Adam Knight, Lenora Rose Patrick, Laurie Smith.

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Samantha Beiko, Gregory Chomichuk, Chadwick Ginther, Lindsay Kitson, Karen Dudley, Leia Getty.

 

Said hi to Karen Dudley because she did a fun reading at Word on the Water in Kenora last fall. Mentioned how happy I was to have Samantha editing for me. Karen asked, ‘Are you the author Sam was raving about on facebook?’ I didn’t know how to answer that; I don’t have a facebook account, and I wasn’t sure what Sam might have said.

Spotted my nephew and his family at lunch, so I actually got to eat with them. Wonderful to have a little grounded time with them, it was a interlude of tranquillity in a day of commotion.

Got Rob Sawyer’s autograph in Wake, told him how much I liked his character Caitlin, who is probably the youngest of his protagonists.

Learned more about teaching from G.M.B. Chomichuk. Specifically, I noticed that not only did he answer a question with bang-on material from his own work that led to a fascinating discussion of a whole new topic, he made sure to conclude that topic by explaining how it answered the question, keeping us all in the relevancy loop.

Went to a panel on Indie/Small Press/Big Press because Silvia, met Lenora Rose Patrick, who wrote a novella, and Adam Knight, a former pro wrestler turned author. ‘It’s all story-telling,’ he said. Decided on the spot to go to more of his panels.

Some would say that the social evenings are the heart of conventions. When pressed, I make excuses, but the truth is, I have ascetic tendencies. That’s a fancy way of saying I’m a wet blanket when it comes to partying. Or a polite way of saying I’d rather talk to you when you’re sober. Whichever you like, I finished my day at KeyCon at the unfashionably early hour of 1800.

I went for dinner with my wife and an old friend. Donna has a facebook account and a smartphone, so while we were waiting for food, she looked up Samantha Mary Beiko so we could see if her ‘ravings’ were about me. Wow. They were. I don’t think anyone has ever said anything so nice about me behind my back before!

After dinner, in the peace of Donna’s living room, I checked something on my own smartphone. Months ago, I entered a writing contest held by NOWW (Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop) because the genre category this year was Speculative Fiction and the judge was Robert J. Sawyer. I figured it would be a chance to get him to read one of my short stories, if I could get it short-listed. The judge, you see, only gets to read the best six entries as selected by a screening panel, but I figured it was worth a shot. I had heard nothing from NOWW except a reminder that the annual meeting (at which the winners would be announced) was the day before KeyCon. I could not swing Thursday off as well as Friday, so I could not make the trip to Thunder Bay. I was checking the website on my smartphone to see who won, and if I got an honourable mention, which might imply I was short-listed.

I won. First place in Speculative Fiction for my story ‘Fermi High’. The first thing that crossed my mind was not that I would get some money, or even that my story would be published in the NOWW newsletter. It was that I had shaken hands with Rob Sawyer just hours ago, and neither of us knew that he liked my story. That is to say, he didn’t know who wrote it, and I didn’t know that he’d read it, much less chosen it for top prize. Apparently, the contest judging is so rigorously anonymous that the only way Rob could have seen who the prizes went to was to look it up on the NOWW website like I did.

With good things happening on both the novel and short story fronts, I went to sleep with a grin on my face.

By Sunday morning, Rob had retweeted my tweet about winning the contest, and a little later he added his personal congratulations. I ambushed him on the way into his reading to thank him personally, and we had a short conversation while people were taking their seats. He said I should send ‘Fermi High’ to Analog or Asimov’s Science Fiction and mention the contest and his name in the cover letter. Then he introduced me to the whole room before starting his reading, which was a cool look at a work in progress.

Went to the market again, bought a nostalgic Andre Norton paperback, one of the ones she wrote under her (rare) Andrew North pseudonym. And an old copy of Fantastic Story magazine, which I picked up because of the cover, but hey, Ray Bradbury and Henry Kuttner.

More readings: Karen Dudley, because she’s always a blast and she’s just releasing her newest. Adam Knight to see what he’s about. He read fearlessly from one of his prologues, and explained why he uses them even though they are unfashionable. Different voice and different perspective were good arguments.

Last, a panel on Marketing & Publicity by Rob and Samantha. Short version: don’t push. Slightly longer version: don’t push your book on people who probably will not like it – you will waste their money and lose their respect, which will build nothing. Rob answered my question about what a big publisher can do that an indie cannot; not in vague terms like ‘placement’ and ‘connections’, but solid examples like transit and newspaper advertising, and book tour support.

On the way out, before leaving, I had a few more words with Lindsay Kitson, who I hope is on the brink of success, and Holly Geely, who is funny and must not quit.

 

 

 

 

The Cursed Computer Returns

It’s baaack… and working. There is light at the end of the tunnel; my tablet PC is up and running and connecting to WiFi. Word, Scrivener and Kindle are reinstalled. Now I just have to restore my data and customizations.

Samanth Beiko, my freelance editor, has been nominated for an Aurora award for her debut novel, The Lake and the Library. It’s a YA story with elements of the supernatural. It will be fun having her edit my book; her voice is very different from mine. I’m totally pumped that she got nominated for such a prestigious award.

There is no Aurora for children’s books, so I will never get a look in the door. Sigh. But if my efforts at Self Publishing are a success, I will use my imprint to promote Science Fiction for middle grade readers.

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So far, it’s just a dream. But when I started writing a book, that was just a dream, too.

I’m also beta reading my sister’s novel, Switching, Switching, about a woman who has very strange experiences after a plane crash. It’s not published, it’s still undergoing revisions.

I’m trying to find time to read The Forever Song, the conclusion to Julie Kagawa’s Blood of Eden trilogy. I don’t usually do vampires, but I bought the first two from Julie in person at Central Canada Lit Fest and liked them so much that I picked up the hard-cover of the final instalment almost as soon as it came out. My timing was divine, Forever Song was released just as I was finishing Eternity Cure.

I don’t usually read three books at once. My usual style is to devour books at single sitting, even if it takes all night. I may have to put two of them down and do that. The beta-reading is harder to speed through, because of the need to make comments and because the writing is less fully edited, so somewhat rougher. Yet that’s the author that might be waiting anxiously to hear how it went. I know that feeling – it can be paralysing.

On top of all that, I am insanely busy with one of my other blogs. The Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol is my seasonal project each Spring. For ten or eleven years, I have been taking aerial photographs of the lake where I live as the ice goes out and passing them on to cottagers who wish to know when the summer season will begin. I started sending them by email, and it grew into a set of public albums at PhotoBucket. This year I hit on the idea of doing it as a blog, and it has been a spectacular success. With two thousand hits a day, and new followers signing on at a rate of about one per hour, I have a lot of email to read and chores to do.

The lake will melt soon, and then I’ll have more time for reading and writing.