Prose & Cons: When Words Collide 2018

I’m heading to Calgary next week for the 2018 iteration of When Words Collide. This convention brings together writers of all genres, giving everyone a chance to brainstorm on problems common to all storytellers, such as plotting, pitching, publishing and procrastination, along with a few things that start with other letters. This will be my third visit to WWC, and my third time presenting there.

Last year, I launched Avians at WWC (buy my book!) plus I did a solo presentation on Writing Aviation, moderated panels on Worldbuilding and Pantsters versus Plotters, and was reader for the science fiction edition of Live Action Slush.*

*Live Action Slush, (it goes by other names at other conventions) is a chance to have a few pages of your work read out loud to a panel of editors. Bringing your work to this event takes courage, because the whole room–and in Calgary it’s usually packed–will get to hear not only your draft manuscript, but also the editors criticisms of it. WWC does it wonderfully, by which I mean the focus is on constructive criticism. No one gives in to the temptation to mock writing that falls short. Authors who take the opportunity to identify themselves after their piece is critiqued get generously applauded, especially if fundamental faults were pointed out.

My schedule for this year’s WWC is lighter than last year’s. I’m reading for the SF LAS again, and I just saw on the final schedule that they’ve taken me up on my offer to read for other kinds of slush– I’ll be doing the historical fiction one as well.

Organizer Randy McCharles mentioned to me that WWC is always on the lookout for presentations about aviation, so I decided to combine two of my favourite things, and do a talk on Aviation in Worldbuilding this year.

I plan to run through the who, what, when, where, why and how of Aviation as it pertains to writing fiction, and I’m hoping that the worldbuilding aspect will attract some writers of speculative fiction.

Under the Who, after introducing myself, I’ll talk about some writers who have included fabulous aviation in fiction, ranging from famous authors like Heinlein and Herbert to more current writers. Time permitting, I’ll plug some of my favourite Sky-Fi authors and books. Maybe I can get an easel or a whiteboard, and jot down some titles in advance. Note to self: create a web page on this blog for Tim’s Sky-Fi reading list.

What will be my opportunity to segue into talking about some kinds of aviation that are very different from our mundane metal monoplanes. Ornithopters, horse-drawn battle-kites, inter-colony ballistic missiles, human-powered flying machines, the usual stuff.

When will be a chance to speak about some historic aspects of aviation. I’m convinced we could have developed flight much earlier than the Wright Brothers, and I’ll use that to encourage writers who want to put aviation in low-tech worlds. In hindsight, some form of air travel should have been feasible in the age of sail, and even the iron age. My own novel is set on a world with technology not much above the stone age. Mini-rant: don’t underestimate stone-age societies, they had a lot more going on than hand-axes.

Where will take us to other planets, with a quick contemplation of potential aviation on Mars and Venus to introduce some of the basics of flying in less earth-like environments, and then some words on factors that make flying easier or harder, such as local gravity, atmospheric density and composition, otherworldly weather, and so on.

Why will cover reasons aviation matters in worldbuilding. Transportation is, I believe, a pivotal technology, like communication. It’s fundamental to a society’s trade and travel in ways that affect everything from family visits to restaurant menus. Seriously. Want fresh fruit from far away? You’re going to want it flown in. The existence of aviation also implies a whole lot of career choices. I’ll try not to get sidetracked into grumbling about pilot stereotyping.

How sounds like it could be a recap, but I think I’ll use it to discuss how to make aviation immersive and emotionally compelling. Then I’ll move on to ways to use aviation to advance the plot and reveal inner character.

Huh. I just killed two birds with one stone. I have used a blog post to write an outline for my presentation.

If you’re attending When Words Collide, come see me at 10:00 AM on Sunday in the Acadia Room, which is downstairs in the Tower Building.

 

 

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.

 

Prose & Cons: Can-Con 2017

Less than a week to go before Can-Con. I think this is my fourth visit to Ottawa. I’m looking forward to morning walks along the canal, seeing my Ottawa friends, and perhaps some fall colours.

I have a light schedule at Can-Con this year: I’m taking a workshop on Friday, doing a reading on Saturday, and joining a panel on Sunday. (See the convention’s full program here.) That’ll leave time for meals! We know some nice restaurants, and we’ve made some reservations already.

Friday: We fly in late Friday morning, so I couldn’t make the noon workshops. The second batch are at 2:30, and that includes Nailing Your Beginning with James Alan Gardner, which I’ve signed up for. I need this; I suck at beginnings. I’ve been more or less stalled on my WIP’s opening for months. As it’s a sequel, I thought it would be easy, but I’m finding it hard because this time around, no-one will be explaining stuff to the main character, which may leave readers struggling or confused. Maybe I should have her explain things to someone else…

After that, registration, opening ceremonies, perhaps a panel, and then dinner out with Caroline.

Saturday: Lots of cool panels and readings to attend, and I’m scheduled to do my own reading from Avians at noon. Guess I better rummage around and select a scene or two. Su J. Sokol and Ryan McFadden are the other readers in the room for that hour, so that should be a fun session. I’m likely to be too busy for a proper lunch date, so I’ll probably just grab something in the lobby bar and get back to the con. I’ll sacrifice some of the early evening sessions to make time for a nice dinner, though, and then I want to be back for a later panel and the Bundoran Press party.

Sunday: we have breakfast plans, and I’ll have an easy morning sipping coffee at the con, then in the afternoon, I’m sitting on the Leveling Up Your Writing with Formal Courses panel with Curtis C. Chen, Suzanne Church, Leah MacLean-Evans,  and Kelly Robson (moderator). I think that means I’ll be representing the more affordable end of the education spectrum compared to full six week Odyssey or Clarion resident courses or a university Master of Fine Arts program. I took an Odyssey online course one winter, and got a lot out of it.

We don’t fly home until Monday, so we’ll have all Sunday evening for a leisurely supper.

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.

 

 

 

Prose and Cons: Countdown to Launch

AVIANS has been officially released, meaning it’s now widely available online. I have some links at the right, if you like.

Oh, and I just found out that copies have arrived at my local bookstore: Elizabeth Campbell Books at 129 Main St. S. in Kenora has them in stock now, and my books aren’t just in the store, they’re in the window!

The launch will be at When Words Collide, in Calgary, on Saturday, August the 12th. WWC is a big convention that brings together writers from all genres.

So between now and then, I have some things to do.

I have some panels to prep for. On Friday afternoon, right at 5:00, I have one called Worldbuilding? where I hope to talk about some of my favourite aspects of this art: using key details, showing what isn’t there, and staying true to the character’s perception. A fictional world, no matter how strange, should feel immersive.

Saturday morning is Pantsers versus Plotters with some friends at 10:00 am. Ron Hore is a true pantser. He picks a title and starts writing. Another of the panelists is Robert Runté, my editor from Five Rivers. I don’t actually know which side of PvP he’s on. I hope we have at least one dedicated plotter, because I think both pantsers and plotters are amazing. For me, outlining comes late in the process; I tend to write the action scenes first, then expand outwards, developing character as I go and plot twists last.

Saturday afternoon I have the launch: Five Rivers Presents is set for 2:00 pm in the Fireside Room, with Senior Editor Robert Runté presiding. At other events, I’ve read whole scenes or half scenes, but for this one I’m thinking of short snippets. That way I can introduce two or three of the main characters and choose pages that show them in action, conflict or stress. C.P. Hoff is going to be there to read some highlights from her A Town Called Forget, and she’ll make everyone laugh, so for my reading, I may choose some of the parts of Avians that make me cry. Like when Raisa vents on how she feels about arranged marriage, or when Mel clings to an unrealistic hope that an accident hasn’t been fatal.

Immediately after that, at 3:00, I have my solo presentation on Writing Aviation. I’m going to talk about some of the confused reporting I often see when the media covers aviation incidents and then move on to talk about using flying in fiction to advance plot in ways beyond mere transportation. Along the way, I hope to explain that pilots don’t really speak entirely in jargon, and that the lingo changes so fast that it’s probably a mistake to include much of it anyway. As an alternative, I’ll offer some ways to have fictional pilots communicate clearly to the reader.

I’ll be at the mass autograph signing on Saturday evening, but my book’s only been out for a little while, so I don’t think there will be any masses for me. I have author friends I can hang out with, though, and at least one is launching a book on the same day.

Last up for me is the Science Fiction session of Live Action Slush at 11:00 am Sunday. If you’re not acquainted, here’s how it works: brave writers shuffle up to the front of the room and hand over two or three pages from their manuscript to the reader. In this case, me. Maybe there’s a reason this gig was available: I’m crossing my fingers that I don’t get whole swaths of unpronounceable alien words. I read the pages without identifying the author, and then a panel of editors and pro writers quickly dissect the sample’s strong and weak points. The brave writers, sitting in the audience, get their skin thickened, which’ll come in handy later in the submission process.

Monday, I fly back to Winnipeg and drive home to Kenora. Tuesday, I have an event at the Kenora Public Library. A whole hour to talk about Avians and read some bits. What I like best is the chance to answer questions. There never seems to be enough time for that. I love talking about the stuff beneath the book – the stuff that isn’t spelled out in the text, but seeps up between the lines.

By the way, if you’re not going to be in Calgary or Kenora, but you’d like to hear a reading, check out the AVIANS Audio links on the right. (Try scrolling down if you’re using a mobile device.) I’ve recorded the blurb, and all the scenes from the first chapter.

Keycon 34: Friday

Keycon is an SF convention held in Winnipeg on the May long weekend. I go because they have lots of stuff for writers. A few years ago, KeyCon 30 was the first sizeable convention I attended. I went to panels on publishing and agents, and I signed up for some blue-pencil sessions.

I remember being depressed after that. I went in thinking that with the book written, the rest would be easy. I left knowing that finishing a book is just the beginning.

I persevered.  I found a publisher. Avians is coming out in a few months.

Now I’m a panelist and a presenter, and I know most of the other writers there. I even own a display stand to show off my book.

Friday evening I had one panel, but it was perhaps the most challenging of the weekend. Chris Barsanti, the convention organizer who contacted me about attending, suspected I might be a Hiyao Miyazaki fan. His hunch was correct: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is one of my favourite movies, and influenced my own story telling in several ways. Chris suggested we do a panel on Miyazaki and Flight. Miyazaki’s other films are worth watching, too, so I rewatched Kiki’s Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky, and took in Porco Rosso and The Wind Rises for the first time. This is the kind of gruelling convention prep that the professionals do, I suppose. Good thing I did.

We were never able to find any other fanboys panelists to join us, so the two of us had to work hard. Chris brought the notion that flight is almost a character in Miyazaki’s works, with its own character arc and resolution. I argued that flight is more of a recurrent theme for Miyazaki, like feminism, pacifism and ecological sensitivity are. All of those are influences on my own work, as are his richly complex antagonists.

I still think Nausicaä is the best of his films. It is one of a very few films that I have watched more than twice.

We had a good discussion, and the right audience. Two people stopped by the table afterwards to recommend Last Exile, an anime series from the same people as Blue Submarine No. 6, but with flying machines. I’ve been watching it ever since I got home.