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.


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, 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, 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.

Three Things

Thing One: a new reading from Avians is up on this blog. PLANS is the first scene from the novel, and the audio file (mp3) is available at the preceding link, or at the right under the menu for Avians Audio. Note: if you are using the mobile version, you might have to scroll way down to find the menus at the bottom. I enjoy reading PLANS at conventions, because it introduces Raisa, and has some nice details of her world and situation that generate audience questions. I love questions. You could use the comment form to ask one…

Thing Two: I’ve been invited to KeyCon in Winnipeg in May. I’ll be bringing a projector, and Lindsay Kitson and I will present the SF Writer’s Glossary of Alternative Aviation: from Autogyros to Zeppelins. We had fun with it at When Words Collide last summer, and I look forward to doing it again, although I might shorten the name to Alternative Aviation in SF. I’m adding Lifting Body (eg. Thunderbird 2) under L.  Besides Lindsay and I, Daria Patrie, a third member of the Fantasy Five critique group, will also be there, and I expect we’ll appear on some panels, individually or in various combinations.

Thing Three: Ann Crowe has finished the cover picture for Avians. No, I can’t show you; the art department still has to take the illustration and turn it into a cover. With my name on it. Squee!

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.

Prose and Cons: KeyCon 32

Spent some time this afternoon cleaning up “Far Gone” for The story is about an interstellar crew who have to make terrible sacrifices on their long journey to preserve humanity and right a wrong. Their editor has asked for only three little changes. I don’t know whether to feel delight or despair. I just reread their 30th issue, and the standard of writing is impressive. It is hard to believe I belong in issue 31, but I thought I better get the edits done today, because…

KeyCon 2015 is coming up this weekend. Winnipeg’s SF convention has lots of goodies for writers, and I am getting to know a number of the Winnipeg authors. I plan to tag a few of them for Blue-Pencil sessions so that I can get feedback from people whose writing style I know. And say hi, of course. This time I’ll take short stories, which may be easier to absorb and critique in the limited time slots. I have a handful that I should be sending back out, and some feedback might be good. In addition to my Winnipeg friends, there are guests of honour, including David Weber and Elizabeth Moon, that I’ve actually read, and not just in a frenzy of preparation.

As usual, I’ll be trying to tweet and blog the whole thing from my tablet. That will be hectic, because I also have to fit in daily walks, two dinners out, some convention time with my brother and a little book brainstorming with Lindsay Kitson. On top of all that, I hope to update my travel blog with restaurant and hotel reviews. Good thing Lake of the Woods thawed on schedule this spring and my third blog is all done for the year. The next person who says I should resurrect my FaceBook page will get a deer-in-the-headlights look and a mumbled Rain Man response complete with distressed body-rocking.

I’d better post this and get back to stuff like laundry and packing and print-outs and registration forms.

Prose and Cons

I had a very good weekend at KeyCon in Winnipeg. I can’t say my ship came in, but I would say I found my way to the wharf. I should begin at the beginning.

It would have been easiest to drive from Kenora to Winnipeg on Saturday morning, but I took a vacation day on Friday so that I could do the full weekend. The main reason was that on Friday evening, Chadwick Ginther and S.M. Beiko were doing readings together, and they both got nominated for Aurora Awards this year. Besides, Samantha recently became my freelance editor (just before I found out she was nominated – bonus!) and this would be my first chance to say hi in person since we began working together.

Also on Friday night was a presentation on aero engines by Lindsay Kitson, and I feel a special kinship with her because like me, she is writer and a pilot. Interestingly, if I understand her right, she views her Dieselpunk as being more fantasy than SciFi. Even at a Speculative Fiction event, I sometimes feel like I am the only Science Fiction writer in the room. Unless Rob Sawyer is there. Then I feel like he’s the only Science Fiction writer in the room.

Saturday was a whirlwind.

Chatted to G.M.B. Chomichuk, who was working on a large painting right by the grand staircase.

Said hi to Silvia Moreno-Garcia, who did a ten-minute blue-pencil session with me at last year’s KeyCon that led to some good changes to my book. Told her so.

Went to the art show, looked for potential cover artists. Met one guy, got website info on another.

Bought books from Leia Getty and Clare C. Marshall.

Went to ‘Locally Grown’, an impressively large panel of Winnipeg Speculative Fiction authors and illustrators.


Jonathan Hatton, Adam Knight, Lenora Rose Patrick, Laurie Smith.


Samantha Beiko, Gregory Chomichuk, Chadwick Ginther, Lindsay Kitson, Karen Dudley, Leia Getty.


Said hi to Karen Dudley because she did a fun reading at Word on the Water in Kenora last fall. Mentioned how happy I was to have Samantha editing for me. Karen asked, ‘Are you the author Sam was raving about on facebook?’ I didn’t know how to answer that; I don’t have a facebook account, and I wasn’t sure what Sam might have said.

Spotted my nephew and his family at lunch, so I actually got to eat with them. Wonderful to have a little grounded time with them, it was a interlude of tranquillity in a day of commotion.

Got Rob Sawyer’s autograph in Wake, told him how much I liked his character Caitlin, who is probably the youngest of his protagonists.

Learned more about teaching from G.M.B. Chomichuk. Specifically, I noticed that not only did he answer a question with bang-on material from his own work that led to a fascinating discussion of a whole new topic, he made sure to conclude that topic by explaining how it answered the question, keeping us all in the relevancy loop.

Went to a panel on Indie/Small Press/Big Press because Silvia, met Lenora Rose Patrick, who wrote a novella, and Adam Knight, a former pro wrestler turned author. ‘It’s all story-telling,’ he said. Decided on the spot to go to more of his panels.

Some would say that the social evenings are the heart of conventions. When pressed, I make excuses, but the truth is, I have ascetic tendencies. That’s a fancy way of saying I’m a wet blanket when it comes to partying. Or a polite way of saying I’d rather talk to you when you’re sober. Whichever you like, I finished my day at KeyCon at the unfashionably early hour of 1800.

I went for dinner with my wife and an old friend. Donna has a facebook account and a smartphone, so while we were waiting for food, she looked up Samantha Mary Beiko so we could see if her ‘ravings’ were about me. Wow. They were. I don’t think anyone has ever said anything so nice about me behind my back before!

After dinner, in the peace of Donna’s living room, I checked something on my own smartphone. Months ago, I entered a writing contest held by NOWW (Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop) because the genre category this year was Speculative Fiction and the judge was Robert J. Sawyer. I figured it would be a chance to get him to read one of my short stories, if I could get it short-listed. The judge, you see, only gets to read the best six entries as selected by a screening panel, but I figured it was worth a shot. I had heard nothing from NOWW except a reminder that the annual meeting (at which the winners would be announced) was the day before KeyCon. I could not swing Thursday off as well as Friday, so I could not make the trip to Thunder Bay. I was checking the website on my smartphone to see who won, and if I got an honourable mention, which might imply I was short-listed.

I won. First place in Speculative Fiction for my story ‘Fermi High’. The first thing that crossed my mind was not that I would get some money, or even that my story would be published in the NOWW newsletter. It was that I had shaken hands with Rob Sawyer just hours ago, and neither of us knew that he liked my story. That is to say, he didn’t know who wrote it, and I didn’t know that he’d read it, much less chosen it for top prize. Apparently, the contest judging is so rigorously anonymous that the only way Rob could have seen who the prizes went to was to look it up on the NOWW website like I did.

With good things happening on both the novel and short story fronts, I went to sleep with a grin on my face.

By Sunday morning, Rob had retweeted my tweet about winning the contest, and a little later he added his personal congratulations. I ambushed him on the way into his reading to thank him personally, and we had a short conversation while people were taking their seats. He said I should send ‘Fermi High’ to Analog or Asimov’s Science Fiction and mention the contest and his name in the cover letter. Then he introduced me to the whole room before starting his reading, which was a cool look at a work in progress.

Went to the market again, bought a nostalgic Andre Norton paperback, one of the ones she wrote under her (rare) Andrew North pseudonym. And an old copy of Fantastic Story magazine, which I picked up because of the cover, but hey, Ray Bradbury and Henry Kuttner.

More readings: Karen Dudley, because she’s always a blast and she’s just releasing her newest. Adam Knight to see what he’s about. He read fearlessly from one of his prologues, and explained why he uses them even though they are unfashionable. Different voice and different perspective were good arguments.

Last, a panel on Marketing & Publicity by Rob and Samantha. Short version: don’t push. Slightly longer version: don’t push your book on people who probably will not like it – you will waste their money and lose their respect, which will build nothing. Rob answered my question about what a big publisher can do that an indie cannot; not in vague terms like ‘placement’ and ‘connections’, but solid examples like transit and newspaper advertising, and book tour support.

On the way out, before leaving, I had a few more words with Lindsay Kitson, who I hope is on the brink of success, and Holly Geely, who is funny and must not quit.