Prose & Cons: My Keycon Schedule

In May, I’ll be in Winnipeg for Keycon. The organizers consider me a published author, which is nice of them since Keycon 34 runs from May 19th to 21st, and Avians won’t actually be released until August 1st. Blatant plug: Avians is available for pre-order now at Five RiversKobo, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

I get to do stuff.

FRIDAY

On Friday evening, at 8:00PM, I’m attempting Miyazaki and Flight with Timothy Gwyn: Flight has fascinated humankind for centuries. Join our panelists as they discuss anime master Hayao Miyazaki’s use of flight in his films, and how they’ve inspired writers and fans alike.

Hayao Miyazuki’s anime works, especially his Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, have been a big influence on my fiction. He portrayed some lovely and fantastic flying machines: airships, multi-wing flying fortresses, jet powered gliders, and more. Not only that, he made the machines and their flight characteristics integral to his plots. The other panelists are still TBA.

SATURDAY

Saturday, I have it easy.

From 11:00AM to 12:00 noon, I present Alternative Aviation in Science Fiction with Timothy Gwyn: From Autogyros to Zeppelins: a catalogue of unusual aircraft past, present and future. A look at the strengths and weaknesses of each, plus how much technology is needed to build them, and how well they fit into different sub-genres of SF. Examples from noteworthy fiction, and how they played a role in plot or worldbuilding. Do you need air transportation in the age of steam, or on an alien world? Alternative aviation may hold the answers you’re looking for. Remember: getting there is half the fun!

I did this slideshow at When Words Collide last year, with Lindsay Kitson’s help. She has offered to run the projector and help again. Wait, did she say help or was it heckle?

After that, I’m free to roam around and take in friend’s panels. Such as Lindsay’s, and also Daria Patrie’s. I’m looking forward to How to Edit Your Own Work, and Why You Need an Editor, with Lindsay Kitson, J. Boone Dryden, Diane Walton and Daria Patrie, Point of View, with Gerald Brandt, Melinda Friesen, Lindsay Kitson, and Daria Patrie, Women in Speculative Fiction with Kelley Armstrong, Tamsen McDonough, Lindsay Kitson, and Van Kunder, and Critique Group Survival with Lindsay Kitson and Daria Patrie.  I’m in their critique group, and it’s been invaluable.

SUNDAY

Sunday, I’m busier.

From 11:00AM  to 12:00 noon, I’m doing the Book Reading with Timothy Gwyn, Sherry Peters and Melinda Friesen: Timothy Gwyn reads from Avians, Sherry Peters reads from Mabel the Mafioso Dwarf, and Melinda Friesen reads from Subversion. A question and answer session follows the readings. Stay until the end to receive a free ticket for a chance to win $40.00 in Dealers Room Dollars. One ticket, per person, per Reading Session. Draw to be held Sunday at noon.

Sherry and I go back several years, and I’m looking forward to meeting Melinda.

From 2:00PM to 3:00PM it’s Aviation and Believable Airships and Aircraft in Science Fiction with Timothy Gwyn and Lindsay Kitson: An interactive session with two pilots who are also writers. Lindsay Kitson and Timothy Gwyn tackle the credible and incredible in aviation fact and fiction. Learn how getting aviation right can enhance your story. Some pointers on how to keep it real with aircraft and airship scenes that actually work.

Lindsay and I both cringe at some of the things we see written about aircraft. In exchange for putting up with our grousing, audience members brave enough to take a quiz will have a chance to win one signed and dated author’s copy of Avians. Remember, that’s a pre-release first edition.

I might give away a second copy at one of my other slots. It’ll be a surprise.

From 3:00PM to 4:00PM, I have How Do Writers Read Books? With Kelley Armstrong, Gerald Brandt, Timothy Gwyn and Den Valdron: Can a writer read a book for pure enjoyment without critiquing the writing? Can genre writers read books within their own field without being overly influenced by those books? What books do writers read? What books do writers recommend aspiring writers to read?

This will be a nice way to finish up. Gerald Brandt helped me write queries and gave me great advice on a word-count problem. I’ve seen Kelley Armstrong at cons, but never really spoken to her, despite us having a name in common. Like me, Den Valdron is with Five Rivers Publishing, and I was at the launch of his The Mermaid’s Tale at When Words Collide in Calgary last summer.

Come see me and my friends at Keycon. I’m excited about it.

AVIANS Cover Reveal

My publisher sent me a lovely surprise the other day. AVIANS is scheduled for an official launch on August 1st, but it’s available for pre-order now. You can find it at the Five Rivers Publishing website, at Kobo, and now at Kindle as well. Others will follow.

So, apart from pre-ordering, why visit those sites?

Well, at the Five Rivers Publishing site, you can not only see the cover and pre-order the book, you can also click on stuff about me. There’s an author profile, and now there’s an interview as well.

At the Kobo link, you can preview the book as far as the entire first chapter and a little more.

AVIANS will be available as an e-book and as a trade paperback (large format, soft cover).

I checked out the preview myself, because even I don’t have a copy yet. I found a couple more nice surprises. Way back when we were just exploring concepts for the cover art, artist Ann Crowe drew a sketch of Mel and Raisa. It was a very insightful drawing, and although it would have been tough to make it work as a cover, I loved it. I wasn’t sure if we could find a way to use it, so I’m delighted to see that makes an appearance inside the book. So do my little glider silhouettes. Book designer Éric Desmarais incorporated them as scene dividers, and found a font for the titles that complements them beautifully.

 

Can’t talk you into clicking on any of those links? Here’s a peek for the impatient.

Book Design

There’s something that I’m really coming to like about being with a small press: inclusion.

A little general background before we move on to specifics. Things like cover art and book design are business decisions. At a large press, the marketing department has a big say in those things, the author not so much. Self-published authors have much more control; they can choose their own artists and editors, and even overrule them, but it’s a ton of work to do everything a publisher does, and they have to pay for all those specialists.

Working with a small press can put an author on middle ground. You don’t get the marketing clout of the giants, but you don’t have to surrender to the machine. For me, this is turning out to be a happy place: Five Rivers keep me involved. Cover artist Ann Crowe and I exchanged emails for weeks.

I got an email the other day, it seems there’s a new guy on the Avians team. Éric Desmarais is working on the book design. He’ll be setting up the interior layout to make the pages look nice. That includes details like the choice of font, whether a chapter title falls at the top of the page or halfway down, the amount of white space (blank paper) between scenes and chapters and a slew of other details.

In a nutshell, Avians is about girls who fly gliders. Éric wanted to know what the gliders looked like. He was thinking some little glider silhouettes would make nice scene separators, but he wanted to get them right. I approve, because the gliders in question are unusual. They’re like a sailplane from our 1930’s, of wood and fabric construction, but they carry a wicker cargo pod that they can drop.  Stock clipart isn’t going to do them justice.

So I got out my graphics software, and drew these:trainer-3-view-003

Éric likes them, so I’m fairly confident they’ll be in the finished book. They’ll be small, of course, about the size of a paperclip, which is why I kept them so simple. You might be asking why three designs, why not just one? Well, Avians is written from three points of view, and each change of viewpoint requires a scene change. Éric says he likes the idea of a different graphic to introduce the scenes for each character. Raisa, the main character, will get the head-on view; her rival and sometime antagonist Mel will get the side view; and Corby, who has a more mature perspective, will get the overhead view.

I’m guessing that some readers will never make the connection. That’s the thing about book design. It’s like the frame around a picture: it’s jarring if it’s ugly, but if it’s harmonious, you don’t really notice it except as part of the whole. I just grabbed my Kobo to look at A Town Called Forget, by C.P. Hoff, because it had nice design. There’s a little graphic of a stack of letters tied up with a ribbon at the start of each chapter, and that’s very appropriate, because the letters from home are a key feature of the story. I checked the credits, and book design was by Éric Desmarais. I’m excited to have him on my side. I think his work is going to be beautiful. I’ll notice, and I hope you will, too.

A Good Year for Reading and Writing

I’m going to buck the trend. Instead of doing a review of the year right around New Year’s Day, I’ve held off until my birthday.

2016 was a good year for me. In January, I tapped my critique group for help with the first thirty pages of Avians. The members of Fantasy Five made powerful suggestions, and when I submitted the sample to Five Rivers Publishing, Senior Editor Robert Runté promptly requested a full manuscript. That led to a contract offer a couple of months later.

Editing ensued, so not a lot of other writing got done, and just as I was getting back to it, I got hooked up with cover artist Anne Crow and got side-tracked by that.

Short stories in particular took a big hit. I did write a handful later in the year but my submissions flagged badly. Overall, the trend has been for my stories to get serious consideration at pro markets. Acceptance, not so much. I like to think this means that my writing is okay, and that more submissions would result in more sales. An old favourite of mine drew fine feedback from the acquisition readers at a YA magazine and I’ll be rethinking that one in light of their comments.

I had high hopes for cracking the pro market in 2016. A story speculating that the Chinese could have developed powered flight about a thousand years ago clawed its way out of the slush pile to the senior editor’s desk at a top market in November, but as of New Year’s, I have not heard one way or the other. I will soon have to query. Groan/cringe. I hate querying, because it feels like tempting fate, but eventually it must be done. I once let a story ride for six months, only to learn that the publication had lost it in the shuffle of a reorganization. Update: just received a form rejection one day before my birthday. Yay. Sent it elsewhere the same evening.

Lately, I’m working on Bandits, the sequel to Avians. I roughed it out in 2015, then let it age for several months before revisiting it. Because I wrote it in a month (yes, NaNoWriMo) I expect it to need a lot of work. It does, but it’s not as awful as I feared. There are some good bones in the draft, and some nice lines, too. The story needs more obstacles, more conflict and more showing, so revisions are proceeding. Slowly.

I did attend some conventions this year. I dropped Winnipeg’s Key-Con and tried When Words Collide in Calgary instead. It was the biggest one I’ve been to yet, and I did a slide-show presentation on Alternative Aviation in SF there (see the Glossary link at the side of this blog for the online version). A month later I went to Ottawa for my third Can-Con, where I did a reading from Avians and moderated a panel on Sub-Genres of SF. At the end of the year, I went to the first ever Winter Wheat, in Portage la Prairie. If it had been any smaller, we could have held it in my living room, but it was great fun. They all were.

2017 will see the release of Avians in August, with a launch at When Words Collide. There should be a cover reveal a month or two prior to that. I love doing readings from it, so I’m thinking of putting audio files of the first few scenes on this website. Probably the first chapter, in instalments.

Last but not least, I read some wonderful books in 2016, despite the lack of a big bookstore in my hometown and the failure of my e-reader. My Kobo made it through the laugh-out-loud A Town Called Forget, from fellow Five Rivers author C.P. Hoff, but caffed halfway through David D. Levine’s Arabella of Mars, forcing me to finish reading it on my phone because I was on a road trip and I couldn’t leave it alone. I’d call it Age of Sail meets Martian Pulp: an atmosphere pervades the solar system and square-riggers sail between the planets. It was a hoot.

My out and out favourite read of the year was Updraft, by Fran Wilde. Feisty protagonist in desperate situations. Plus, hey, alternative aviation in the form of hang-gliderish wings of bone and silk. Sky-Fi! World-building up to here, and beautifully unexplained. Why are there towers of bone growing above the clouds? We never find out, and it doesn’t really matter: it’s just a place where the story happens. Rushed to buy the sequel, Cloudbound, but I’m not as invested in the protagonist early on, and I may or may not finish it.

Other books I tackled on my smartphone, tablet or desktop computer included most of this year’s crop of Aurora nominees. I was most impressed with A Daughter of No Nation. I read it last because the title didn’t grab me. Don’t make the same mistake. A.M. Dellamonica won the novel category with it, beating out some of my friends, and I can’t say she didn’t deserve to. I also enjoyed Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise. A computer nerd discovers she can do magic. Sometimes. Probably.

My favourite in the YA category was Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond. It didn’t win, but I enjoyed Jayne Barnard’s light style and fun with character names. I’d already read the anthology Second Contacts (in trade paperback) because Bundoran Press is a reliable source of solid collections. I found one or two of the other anthologies a little too narrow in scope to hold my interest.

Speaking of anthologies, I picked up Clockwork Canada (also in trade paperback) at the dealer’s room at Can*Con. It’s a steampunk/alternative history anthology. There are some fine pieces in there, and I grabbed it every time I had a break in the schedule.

I got a new e-reader at Christmas, so I hope to do more reading in 2017.

I’ll have to wrap this up because the dog just ate Caroline’s glasses off the coffee table. I guess it’s time for walkies.

Prose & Cons: When Words Collide, Saturday & Sunday

Saturday was my busy day, with a presentation, a salon and a reading. A little stressful and long.

I learned some things about launching a book from Tyche Press’s Margaret Curelas. Pre-release orders work best for big name authors who will achieve high advance sales on Amazon. For someone like me who will attract modest numbers, it will just drag my stats down before the game even begins. Huh. Might not be a good strategy.

Went to a nice panel on Trilogy, Series or Serial. I’m planning a series, by the way. That means my first few books will be related, featuring the same setting and characters, but a reader won’t have to tackle them in order: each book will stand alone.

My own presentation, An SF Writer’s Glossary of Alternative Aviation went well after a rocky start. The room needed to be reversed because of a noise issue, so before I could begin, every chair had to be spun around and the speakers table had to be moved from one end of the room to another. I was already sweating about the length, as WWC is very conscientious about ending each session early to allow people to change rooms. There was also the issue of connecting my tablet computer to an older generation projector. We ducked this by using Lindsay’s laptop and an adapter. She was brilliant as an A/V operator, adjusting the projector, scanning ahead to keep up with my talk and even fixing my e-reader when I accidentally zoomed my speaking notes to an unusable scale.

We had an audience of fifteen or so, which was not bad considering my topic was listed in a very abbreviated form on the pocket guide. The right people read the full blurb in the booklet and showed up. We had about even numbers of writers and aviation buffs, and one person who was mainly interested in a reading list for Sky-Fi. Gave them a plug for Updraft, by Fran Wilde. I’m reading it in my spare time this weekend and loving it. Kind of Windhaven meets Divergent.

Got through my topics on time, even with the inclusion of what I pass off as humour.

After that, I ran upstairs to attend the Five Rivers salon. My publisher is launching two books at once right now, and I enjoyed the reading from A Town Called Forget by C.P. Hoff. This is a tale about a girl who has to go live with her eccentric aunt. For eccentric, read bug-nuts if you’re American, or barking mad if you’re British. It’s slated to be my next vacation read, as soon as I finish Updraft.

Lindsay won a copy of The Mermaid’s Tale by D.G. Valderon. It’s a dark story of serial murder in a fantasy realm. It might not be for me; I’m pretty sure it’s not for my vacation.

I met Jeff Minkevics, Art Director for Five Rivers, and had an encouraging chat with him. If you didn’t know, not every publisher lets the author have a lot of say on the cover art. Jeff seems willing to talk. Later in the conference, I also met other Five Rivers authors, and one that had moved on. Tellingly, he had no complaints about his time with them. That isn’t always the case in an industry that mixes artistic creators with demanding economics.

After that, Plotting for Pansters. I was relieved to learn that I am not the only author to “write dessert first” and then tackle my scenes out of order. There’s even a name for it, it’s called quilting.

The book social with Gerald Brandt and Robert Sawyer was fun. Lindsay won another book. I bought one, and got it autographed. I got invited to a party.

I made time for a supper break with Caroline, then returned to the convention just as the Aurora Awards wrapped up. I showed up early for my reading, partly to show support for other writers. That turned out to be a good thing, as there were a few no-shows. I got to do my bit early, and we ran out of readers at around the time I was originally scheduled. I offered some pitching pointers to some of the newer writers, which is absurd when you consider that I do the nation’s worst pitches. I have, however, learned from my mistakes, and these people hadn’t yet.

Sunday was my fun day. I had no stress and spent most of the day hanging with other writers of MG (middle-grade) and YA (young adult) books. Two panels of kids were probably the highlight of my day. Ranging in age from nine to fifteen, they talked books, shared how they choose what to read, and responded to slush readings. Amazing footnote. One of the slush readings, an SF piece, appeared before both a panel with adult editors and the panel of kids. The kids identified the same flaws. They weren’t as tactful. They haven’t learned the politest ways to hint that a page is boring. They just said so. There were spectacular rants on the topic of describing things in too much detail, and on repetitive phrasing.

After that, I started saying my goodbyes. Some friends are travelling tonight, others, like us, first thing in the morning. There are quite a few people I’ll see again soon, at Can*Con in Ottawa next month. And I was asked if my aviation thing could be reconfigured as a writing workshop. That would be cool.

 

 

 

Summer Travels 2016

It’s been a while since I wrote about our travels. This summer, we’re taking to the road. Dingbat, our beloved(?) GPS will be joining us for a road trip to Portland, OR. But we’re starting with a flight.

First stop: Calgary, Alberta for When Words Collide. My publishers, Five Rivers, will be launching two books at this convention.

5R Poster 2016

And lookit! Way down at the bottom of the poster, it not only says I’m doing a reading from Avians, it nails down the release date in print.

Immediately before the Five Rivers Salon, I’ll be doing my presentation on Alternative Aviation in SF, and I’ve been stressing a little over how to juggle my notes (one handed on an e-reader?) and the slide show (touch screen tablet?). Good news! Lindsay Kitson, critique partner and fellow pilot, has said not only will she be in attendance, she’s willing to help with setting up and running the projector for me. That’ll be a huge help.

There’s far more to the con than just those two things. There are a slew of panels and presentations I’m eager to attend; my schedule often has two or three highlighted at the same time. I’ll blog those as I go.

After that hectic weekend, we’re hopping over to Kelowna for some family time with the western part of Caroline’s clan.

From there, we’re sticking Dingbat in rental car and heading down into Washington and Oregon. We’d like to see the Museum of Flight in Seattle, then I have novel research to do at Mount Saint Helens, because it is a rare example of a stratovolcano with lava tubes, and you can hike through them. Then Portland, OR for some seafood dinners and as a base of exploration for some local wineries before heading back to Kelowna, Winnipeg and home.

Then just a week or two later, we’ll take an extended September weekend to go to Can*Con in Ottawa. That’s one of my favourite cons, and this’ll be my third visit. It looks as if I might get to moderate a panel there, which will be a great chance to meet authors and readers of SF. More later, as details get firmed up.

It’s going to be a great summer!