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