KeyCon Sunday

If I can write this post in not much more than an hour, I can have it up the same day. We’ll see. Close, but no cigar!

I started with Sherry Peters’ Taming Your Inner Saboteur workshop. It’s based on her non-fiction book of the same title, and it tackles all the things that hold writers back. For me, this meant learning to set manageable goals so that I don’t dread starting big chores. Other people at this workshop spoke frankly and deserve confidentiality, so that’s all I’m saying. Got things that hold you back? Check out Sherry’s book.

After that, all I did was blue-pencils and socializing, so as a guide to KeyCon, this blog won’t help much from here on down.

First, a blue-pencil session with David Weber, Guest of Honour and author of the Honor Harrington series of military SF novels, plus some other hard SF and even a YA or two. For him, I pulled one of my more technical SF pieces out of my briefcase. I didn’t think he’d read all 2500 words of “Ill Wind” given the limited time, but he turns out to be a very rapid reader. He says he likes to mostly write novels, and when he does do short stories, he prefers to work in the 10,000 word range. While my story is largely about technology, it was the character relationships and rather nasty future society that he wanted to see expanded. He thought it could make a nice opening to a novel, or if I wasn’t looking to take it that far, it could grow to 5000 words or so to flesh out those aspects.

Second, an almost last-chance decision to sign up for a slot with Liana K, the con’s toastmistress. If you check out her Wikipedia entry, you’ll see she has a rich variety of qualifications, but I chose to seek her editing expertise to get input on a YA story called “Fermi High.” It’s about changing schools, fitting in, and roller-skating on the moon. Liana spotted a retro feel to it, and I admitted it’s partly a homage to Heinlein’s “The Menace From Earth.” Liana gave me a crash course on YA that left me reeling. Example: “don’t just show teen insecurity- wallow in it!” I’d love to talk to her about my novel sometime, I have a feeling that “eye-opening” wouldn’t cover it.

Which brings me to: Third, a blue-pencil session with Gerald Brandt, not on my novel, but on the query letters I am writing for it. I thought I had the basics about right, but he felt there was entirely too much of it, and he found ways to order it better and make it tighter. He’d like to see my revised version, so I have homework tomorrow.

I finished the day in the restaurant with a table that ebbed and flowed as people wound things up and headed out. Finally got to exchange more than ten words with Karen Dudley, and to meet her family. Last chance to talk to Craig Russell, author of Black Bottle Man. We’d been following each other around all weekend, but never had time to actually have a conversation. He left to tackle the drive out to Brandon before the deteriorating weather made it any nastier. I was also facing a drive, although heading east to Kenora would lead me toward better weather, not worse. Told Gerald Brandt and Lindsay Kitson how much they added to my enjoyment of the weekend. Lucked out in bumping into both Leia Getty and Holly Geely while waiting for the elevator, so I was able to say goodbye to them, too.

Then a chance to enjoy downtown Winnipeg in wind and rain and sleet.

KeyCon Saturday

Made my way back to KeyCon for the first scheduled events of the day at 10:00. I was keen to attend Gerald Brandt and Lindsay Kitson’s seminar on querying. For the most part, it sounds like I’m on the right track.

The sign-up sheets for the Blue Pencil sessions were nowhere to be found, so I just walked up to see David Annandale at eleven o’clock. He writes horror, and I had two flash fiction pieces in my briefcase that lean that way, so I produced them. He liked “Flesh is Weak” more than “Zeta Series.” Despite being only 200 words, (it was written to the stringent limit of Flash Friday) he felt it had evocative setting and enough characterization to make him curious. He gave me some pointers on how to enrich it for wider marketability. I was thinking of expanding it to about 300 words, he thought it could go to a thousand. “Zeta Series” was written for the Science Gone Wrong category of an Apex Magazine halloween competition, and takes a tongue-in-cheek look at making lab rats too smart for our own good. David pointed out that even for a piece written entirely in dialogue, it has too many exclamation marks. He thought it would work better as an audio presentation, like a little radio play. I’ll keep an eye open for opportunities like that.

By the time we were done, the sign-up sheets had appeared. I didn’t want to be greedy, so I put myself down for two: Sherry Peters and Gerald Brandt. I planned to come back and hog more slots if there were vacancies later. I could have been bolder; Chadwick Ginther’s sheet never did fill up.

I wandered off to the dealer’s room to kill a few minutes and didn’t make it past Ronald Hore and Leia Getty’s table. I remembered to tell Ron that I thought The Rat Queen was one of my favourite names for a spaceship. Pretty soon it was time for my next blue-pencil session.

For Sherry, who I have been bumping into for a couple of years now, I felt comfortable enough to produce an unfinished piece. “Aperitif” is about a mysterious encounter in a hospital. An old man anxiously awaiting major heart surgery is offered an unspecified alternative by a cryptic stranger. Sherry liked the free-flowing voice, and pointed out some places where more description would enrich the story. I’ll have to try and figure out a snappy ending before I can send it anywhere.

I went to see about some food and bumped into Chadwick Ginther, so we had lunch together. I asked him about that steampunk werewolf piece from his Friday reading, because I forgot to note the title. “A Taste for the Other Side,” appears in Beast Within 4: Gears & Growls. He also talked about how he developed Ted, his protagonist for the Thunder Road trilogy. Ted is an oil-patch roustabout with a gift for rubbing people (and Norse gods) the wrong way. Chadwick is completely different- he has a gift for visiting places and chatting to people. He calls it research, and admits that luck plays a big part in finding the right settings to enrich his writing, but I think it’s his willingness to let people he hardly knows show him around that makes the luck happen.

In the afternoon, I went to the Taming the Swampy Middle of Doom panel. Ronald Hore and David Annandale focused on how to structure the middle of a novel to keep the reader engaged. I remembered where I had first met David. He visited Kenora for one of the Word on the Water festivals and ran one of the very first workshops I went to. He is a die-hard Outliner, where Ronald is a reformed Pantser. I am a retroactive outliner at best, but David is persuasive when he talks about how outlining frees him from writer’s block and breaks the writing process into manageable chunks. He stays flexible by using an index card approach. Maybe it wouldn’t kill me.

There were still vacancies on the blue-pencil forms, so I shrugged and signed up for one with David Weber, Guest of Honour. This is the one I expected to book solid in minutes. Perhaps people are shy to show their work to such a successful author. I haven’t read anything by him this year, so while I was wandering through the dealer’s room, I picked up a used paperback of his 1999 book, Apocalypse Troll. Why not something newer? As an author who is just starting out, it sometimes helps me to read earlier works from ‘big names’. And hey, it’s a fun read.

I went to the panel on Establishing Setting with Chadwick Ginther, Gerald Brandt and David Annandale, AKA the men in black. Gerald likes to use GoogleMaps and it’s street view, but I was impressed that he goes the extra mile to research seasonal weather norms for a place he’s checking out. Chadwick specializes in Canadian settings within driving distance and likes to visit them in person and talk to locals. Me, I mostly build my worlds from scratch, so I was interested when David talked about modelling fictitious cities for his Warhammer series by studying earthly cities. David has to crank out planets rapidly, because he tends to waste them. In the bad way. But when he wants a waterlogged city, he looks at Venice, and so on. I should probably look at some mountainside cities. To, you know, add dimension.

The last thing of the day for me was the pair of readings by Evan Braun and Sherry Peters. This was my first exposure to Evan’s work; The Law of Radiance is the conclusion of The Watchers Chronicle. It just came out electronically today, with the print version some weeks away, although Evan had a printer’s proof for display. Sherry offered a preview of Mabel, a Mafioso Dwarf, which is coming out soon. It’s the sequel to her first novel, Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf, which won a Writer’s Digest award.

I have to stop blogging and get moving, the Sunday schedule is starting.

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!