Can-Con, mostly.

I had a pretty full schedule at Can-Con on Saturday. Normally, I would have written it up on Sunday Morning, but that was November First, and I sacrificed my blogging hours at the altar of National Novel Writing Month.

More on NaNoWriMo later, but first Can-Con 2015, for anyone who is interested.

Remember, during any hour, there are half a dozen things going on, and I’m only going to write about the ones I attended.

Ten AM: Ask a Doctor Anything for Your Writing. Okay, none of the four had much experience with victims of vacuum trauma or oxygen toxicity. I got some useful information on hyperthermia and heat-stroke before the horror writers took us into their dark and scary basements.

Eleven AM: played hooky to fit in my morning walk on the Rideau Canal.

Noon: NaNoWriMo Strategies. I got two good take-homes from this. One: don’t stop. If you get stuck, jump ahead to something else, but keep writing. Two: if you make a mistake, or need to check something out, don’t stop. Mark the bad passage with dollar signs or square brackets and keep typing.

One PM: would have gone to The Role of Editorial Voice in Acquiring Stories, but I had a Blue Pencil with Dr. Robert Runte. As an acquisition editor, I wanted his take on the opening pages of Avians. If there’s stuff in there that’s likely to turn agents, editors or publishers off, I figured he’d be a good guy to spot it and explain how it could be fixed. This notion took a slightly deeper turn since I had basically pitched him the novel at the Bundoran Press party, but I figured it was still fair to run it by him for any signs of trouble. Overall, he liked it. He spotted two things. Vagueness in the opening paragraph, and some awkward dialogue on the third page. The first was no surprise, I have never got those opening lines to do what I want. I will have to find a way to have my main character look at something she would normally take for granted, and really think about it so the reader gets what it is. The dialogue thing was a surprise. Robert pointed out that a mother and daughter who have been at loggerheads over something for weeks would not outline the issue. He suggested leaving that for a later conversation with someone else. I was happy with his suggestions, and he was happy with my willingness to listen and brainstorm changes, so that was a good meeting.

Bought some books on the way through the Dealer’s Room. Notably, Second Contacts from Bundoran Press, because I liked Blood & Water so much. Also Brave New Girls, an anthology aimed at empowering girls and aiming them at Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Because, see previous sentence.

Two PM: played hooky for lunch. Sat with Brandon, Gabrielle, Fanny and Leah. Gabrielle amazed us with a reading from her slush pile. It would have been a pretty good effort from a nine-year-old, but not a nine-year-old with a future as a writer. It would make a marvelous teaching tool, because it had bad action, inane dialogue, tired tropes and more gaping holes than actual plot. It was uproariously funny, entirely by accident. I had to take small bites so that I would not choke. If I gained nothing else from this conference, I got this: I will never again fear my work being the worst thing an editor has seen.

Three PM: I had been torn between Writing… for Analog and The Frontiers of Young Adult Fiction. Both are relevant to me. Chose the latter, no regrets.

Four PM: Authors and Editors in Dialog. Two writers with two of their editors, and I knew three out of the four. A fascinating look at when the relationship works well.

Five PM: Naming Exoworlds. I love learning about Exoplanets, and it was very timely because the International Astronomical Union was letting people vote on names for some forty planets during October. Also some fun discussion on naming planets in fiction.

Six PM: Advice to Aspiring Writers on the Craft. Beautifully moderated by Robin Riopelle, and Amal El-Mohtar turned out to be the life of the party.

Seven PM: Would have gone to Getting Noticed in the… Slush Pile, but I needed dinner and I went to the similar panel last year.

Went for dinner with Caroline at The Buzz, and we’re going back. Combined Dinner Debriefing to follow.

Nine PM: the Chi-Zine Press Halloween Party. Brett and Sandra, the Chi-Zine team, were sick and could not attend, but the party went on with help from the Can-Con folks. I mixed. I told true stories about playing with dynamite, a long time ago. Do not try this at home. Or anywhere, for that matter. These disclaimers usually go on to point out that these people are trained professionals, etc. etc. Pfff. Not!

Sunday: Got up before dawn on November First and wrote the first 1837 words of Bandits of Celadon. This scene went well, as I have rehearsed it a couple of times. Not stopping to fix an out of character mistake was incredibly liberating. As was not opening the previous novel to refresh my memory as to whether Corby has a desk or a table. Marked both passages with $signs$ and wrote on, not losing the scene in my head. If I can do that for a whole month, I believe I really can write a draft in thirty days.

Ten AM: How to Get Traditionally Published. Liked this panel, because all the authors had gone about it in rather different ways, and achieved rather different things.

Eleven AM: Would have gone to Writer-Editor-Publisher etiquette, but I had a Pitch to Elizabeth Hirst from Pop Seagull. She listened all the way through, and said Avians sounded interesting, but not right for them.

Noon: Had to choose between How to Build a Sustainable Critique Group and Contracts, Contracts, Contracts. I’m the new kid at my critique group, so although I thought it might be nice to gain some insights, I wasn’t sure if I should be taking that advice home. The contracts panel was interesting, and I did get an answer to one of my naive questions. If I let a publisher have the movie rights, do I have any defense against my book being made into a cheap, bad, or horribly different movie. Short answer, no. Slightly longer answer, a bad movie doesn’t really hurt the author, and many writers accept that a movie will be intrinsically different. Dissenting opinion from someone I repeated this answer to, not always.

One PM: Might have gone to Reviewers and Reviewing, but I had a Blue Pencil with Marie Bilodeau. By the way, I filled in first through fourth choices for Blue Pencils, in the hope of getting one or maybe two. I got three of the four. I’m glad Marie came last, because a) contagious manic energy and b) she writes Space Opera. Showed her a short story along those lines that was narrowly rejected by a pro publisher, to see if she could spot why. I think she did- it needs more insight into the main character and the MC’s motivation and desires. I can see that this would bring it to life.

Two PM: Two Academics Talk the History of Canadian SF. Actually there were three, and they got a late start due to technical difficulties. Did you know that Canadian SF can trace its roots all the way back to the 1800’s? Me either. Also, an examination of what makes Canadian SF distinct.

Three PM: desperate for lunch, I missed the feedback session, but I did catch up to Marie as they wrapped it up. Backpats all around to the terrific crew of Ottawa writers and volunteers who work hard to make Can-Con fun. I renewed and strengthened some friendships, and made a bunch of new ones. I hope to be back.

Can-Con Workshops

Can-Con is Ottawa’s SF Convention. It’s not about getting a selfie with a movie star; (autographs are so last century) it has a strong focus on writers and writing. That’s why I came back.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before the con began, I had a misadventure. Remember, this blog is about the adventures and misadventures of an SF writer. Whether it goes well or badly, I write about my journey here.

I walked to the Sheraton and had lunch early. In the hotel’s lobby bar, there’s a guy pattering away on an Apple laptop. Has to be a writer. Halfway through my lunch, I realize he’s likely Robert Runte, one of the special guests. I’ve signed up for a blue pencil session with him. (That’s a fifteen minute critique of just a few pages of your writing. It’s like a drive-by shooting with paintballs.) I confirm his identity by peeking at his Twitter profile picture.

So I wander over and say hi. He seems nice, and willing to chat, so I bring my coffee over to his table. When it comes up that I’m pitching my novel to Pop Seagull, he asks why I’m not pitching to him. He represents Five Rivers. I can’t remember. Is it because they don’t do YA? No he says, we do YA. Why don’t you pitch me now, he says. Un. Pre. Pared. I babble about the plot. I mutter desperately about the character and setting. He gives me a few pointers on what a publisher looks for in a ptich session. I leave him convinced that my first novel is alphabet soup thrown at a wall to see what sticks.  I have to pay my bill and run, tail between my legs, to the first workshop.

My first workshop is with Derek Newman-Stille (sorry, if I hyperlink every author I mention in this blog, I’ll be surfing for hours. Google him.) His thing is on Exploring Your Character’s Sensory Environment and Setting. I try to write for the five senses, so this appeals to me.

The workshop is fun. We wear blindfolds half the time while we listen to stuff, smell stuff, touch things. BTW, can you turn off your cell phone while wearing a blindfold? I can’t.

He lets us take the blindfold off to write.  Anyway, the workshop was great fun, people scribbled out some amazing short paragraphs, and I learned something about the interconnectedness of our senses.

I give myself a grade of C: Tim needs more self-study to improve his skills. I was inspired to write, and had some wonderful ideas driven by scent and sound, but when I reviewed my stuff, the writing wasn’t as sensual as I would hope.

On to Workshop Two: World-Building as a Biologist, the Complexity of Eco-Systems and Using Them as a Metaphor, with Nina Munteanu. I went to this one because my novel is set on a colony planet with an artificial ecology, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss something important. Nina was fun,and enthusiastic about her field. We did an incredibly rapid overview of what ecology is. The most entertaining part of that was when we discussed extremophiles (very useful for SF authors) and tardigrades (fascinating little critters- tough as nails). Oh, the part about aggressive symbiosis was cool, too. After a short break, we moved on to the writing exercise.

For storyboarding practice, we sketched out the links between our Major Character and one of three things: a minor character, a setting, or a development. I guess the ecological angle would dovetail best with the setting. I chose to show how my MC chose a different path than a minor character who had undergone some of the same challenges. It was a useful insight into some of the ways that my writing is knit together. I give myself a B- on this one, because I was able to keep up with the science and complete the exercise in a relevant way.

I missed the opening ceremonies because I had a Blue Pencil with Leah Bobet. I showed her the first three pages of Avians, because those opening pages are so crucial to editors, agents and publishers. This is where an author makes his first impression; it’s a job interview, and your opening paragraphs are your suit and haircut. Leah could tell right away that the opening pages have been reworked a number of times. On a more positive note, some of her favourite sentences were new ones. Her special gift to me was a suggestion that to tie it all together, I should focus on the scene’s dominant emotion. I’m not a note taker by inclination, but I wrote that down.

Went to the Bundoran Press / SF Canada party in the hospitality suite. I’m running low on time this morning, so I’ll have to just say that the readings from Second Contacts were solid. They were short, they ended in hooks, and they were delivered with the casual confidence of pros.

Bumped into Robert Runte on the way out, and undid some of the damage from our earlier meeting. I remembered why I had chosen not to pitch to Five Rivers; they express a commitment to SF with a Canadian flavour. I didn’t think my setting on another planet was what they were looking for. Turns out, that’s not what they meant. There’s an old saying that American SF ends in victory (Star Wars),  British SF ends in failure (Day of the Triffids), and Canadian SF ends in compromise or limited achievement of revised goals. That’s us, alright, and that’s closer to what Five Rivers meant in their submission guidelines. That I can do, and I was invited to drop them a line in January.

Ran into Brandon Crilly, Rob Sawyer and some friends on the way through the lobby. All in all, excellent fun for the opening day. I’m going to post this now, and head off for day two.

Can Con 2015

I had to cancel my plans to travel to Spokane for Sasquan this summer for reasons related to health and health insurance. I cautiously set my sights on Hal-Con for the fall. I’ve always wanted to see Halifax, and there would be lots to do: the Cabot Trail, the Maritime Museum, Halifax Harbour, Theodore Tugboat. However, by the time I felt ready to book, Saturday had sold out. This is probably because the costume ball falls on Halloween, an opportunity not to be missed by Cosplayers. For writing geeks like me, though, it meant I would only be able to attend the Friday and Sunday events, amounting to about half the total schedule. It’s likely that I would have missed some major panels and workshops. Maybe next year.

This year, Ottawa’s Can Con also falls at the end of October, so while I was thinking of Halifax, I was resigned to missing Ottawa. I loved Can Con last year. I pitched my novel to Dragon Moon and Bundoran, did a workshop with Jo Walton, and met a bunch of other writers. So I’m going.

We have enough Air Miles to fly to Ottawa from Winnipeg, and enough RBC Rewards to rent a car. The Sheraton has arranged a splendid room discount for convention guests, so it’s all starting to gel. We’ll start by driving out to Prince Edward County to see some wineries and sceneries. There are also cheese producers, and the whole county is a foodie paradise, with many fine chefs and restaurants. If we’re really lucky, there might still be some fall colours.

We’ll take Dingbat, our quirky but lovable Garmin GPS. He gets left and right mixed up sometimes, and there’s always some excuse: the museum expanded and was relocated across the road; the intersection was redesigned; the official address is on one street, but the parking lot entrance is on the side road. The lovable part is that if it wasn’t for Dingbat, Caroline would be navigating, and heated words might be uttered. I can utter all I want at Dingbat- he neither hears nor cares.

Once we’re back in Ottawa, we’ll return the car. The Sheraton is walking distance to Byward Market, the restaurants of  Elgin Street, and many other attractions. And enough coffee shops to get me a different dark roast every day. I’m starting to get excited.