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.

 

Giving Back

Before I finished my first novel, I would have been intimidated by something like Calgary’s colossal When Words Collide. I started by attending a tiny local event: Word on the Water was a Kenora literary festival that ran for two or three years, and it put me in touch with editors and published authors for the first time. I got my first blue-pencil there, and took one of my first workshops. I met Robert Sawyer there, and a host of Winnipeg and Thunder Bay authors, and Samantha Beiko, who became my freelance editor.

So I have a soft spot for little conventions that make an effort to reach out to writers on their home turf.

Winter Wheat is a new literary festival being held in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba on Saturday, December 10th at the public library. I’ll be joining a number of friends there, and we’ll have panels on Story Genesis, Editing and Graphic Novels, and we’ll do some readings, too.

I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d be joining friends; I just received the draft version of the schedule, and I know almost all of the presenters. Leia Getty is the home-town organizer; we first met at the C4 LitFest, an intimate Winnipeg event that spun off from Central Canada Comic-Con. Same goes for her old friend R.J. Hore. I have books by both of them on my shelf. I think I first met Holly Geely at KeyCon, a larger Winnipeg convention where we sat in the same audiences a lot. Lindsay Kitson is a fellow aviator and SF author- I’m in her critique group now. Scott B. Henderson goes all the way back to Word on the Water, where I bought a copy of 7 Generations.

I get to sit on the Editing panel because I’ve worked with Freelance, Small Press and Magazine editors. Just to be on the safe side, I dug out my notes from the Working With an Editor workshop that Dr. Robert Runté gave at When Words Collide this summer. He’s Senior Editor at Five Rivers Publishing, and my editor for Avians. My entire notes on the two-hour talk consist of one notebook page of scrawled keywords. I’m more of a listener than a note-taker. So: winging it.

I’m also on the Story Genesis panel. Basically, this will be about developing ideas into stories, I think. I plan to talk about harnessing your imagination and combining ideas, mumble about building the right point of view character and world for the story, and then stare at the ceiling and make stuff up.

I’ll be doing a reading from Avians. Which will feel weird, because I’m hard at work on the sequel Bandits now.

I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be fun. Me dispensing wisdom… who’da thunk?

 

 

 

Seattle to Portland via Ape Cave

Seattle to Portland is not a long drive, so we planned a diversion to  Ape Cave, which is actually a lava tube under Mount Saint Helens.

It was a lovely change from the I-5 to drive through the winding two-lane road to Cougar, Washington and make our way uphill to the site.

We had lunch at a picnic table on one of the trails to the cave entrance.

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The official recommendation is warm clothing and three sources of light. I carefully set out a hoodie this morning, but left it in the car when I went back for something after lunch. It is just above freezing in the cave, (6°C) and very breezy in the narrower parts of the passage. Caroline wore a sweater and still got cold. I’m glad we had all the lights we did. Our headlamps were all but useless, casting a dim glow. It might have been possible to walk by that light, but it wouldn’t have been easy. What worked best were the pair of tactical flashlights I picked up for the trip. I’d been second guessing the usefulness of such a narrow beam, but they were ideal, penetrating all the way to the next bend and revealing ceilings high overhead.

I’m calling this novel research, as parts of Bandits are set beneath a volcano. Right now, those scenes are in draft form, with the basic plot and dialog written. Walking through the lava tube gave me a much better understanding of what it would be like; it wasn’t as straight or as dry as I had imagined. I look forward to rewriting sections where I have Raven suffering from thirst. There’s water, but mostly in the form of drips; actually trying to drink the water would be frustrating. The footing varied from flat and gritty to jumbled rock. That’s perfect for my story.

Once we were done with that, we resumed our drive to Portland. When we got out of the car in the hotel, we were stunned. They’re in the middle of an extreme heat warning here, and the jeans and t-shirt that were so inadequate in the cave had us wilting in the parking lot.