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.




What Have I Wrought?

Time for a little author’s angst. Pitching my novel at Can-Con was a rush: I was nervous, excited, pumped. I presented to two publishers I respect, and got two invitations to submit.

Now the hangover of doubt: what if they don’t like it, etc. etc.

Leaving aside the worst uncertainties, because I’m reasonably confident it’s a good story, what about the whole, “It’s not right for us,” aspect? It may not be for them. Because my protagonist is young, both editors asked whether this was an adult novel or a book for young readers. I have trouble with this question. There’s no adult content – I would let my friend’s kids read my book without hesitation. But that doesn’t make it a kid’s book. When Hayden Trenholm asked this question, I must have looked uncertain. After all, in one sense, I wrote the book for me. It turns out the way I want. Does that make it an adult book? Although my characters often have their own ideas about how to get there. They’re young. Does that make it kid lit?

Mr. Trenholm clarified it for me. In his view, a Young Adult novel deals with a young protagonist deciding what kind of person they will be. In an Adult novel, the protagonist’s character is firm, and the issues are about how that person will deal with the situation. This was food for thought, and I’ve been relating this idea to books I have read, to see how it fits.

Not long ago, I read Julie Kagawa’s Blood of Eden trilogy. In a nutshell, it’s about a street kid who hates vampires, and has to become one. This is a wonderful coming-of-age story, because if you substitute the word adult for the word vampire… well, it couldn’t be much clearer. Will she be a moral, honorable vampire adult? Or a cruel and corrupt one? For the insight into that series alone, Hayden’s explanation was magic.

But if I look at Harry Potter, it’s not so clear to me. I don’t think any reader expects Harry to join Slytherin House or side with Lord Voldemort. He’s not choosing between good and evil; he’s trying to figure out how to stay alive. Perhaps this is the mark of a more straight-forward adventure story. Teenage anxiety plays less of a role. It could be argued that Harry Potter is for middle-grade readers. But I know a lot of adults that read and enjoyed it, myself included.

Another series I admire is Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. If that doesn’t ring a bell, I’m talking about The Golden Compass and it’s sequels. Girl rescues boy. Yay! Girl turns out to be secretly princess of the Gyptians. Umm. I’d rather she made it on her own merit. Lyra does face a number of moral challenges, and she comes of age in more ways than one. But there are some pretty adult themes: can a weak God be a bad thing? That’s not especially meaningful to me, but it’s hardly kid stuff.

More clearly an adult novel with a young protagonist is Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW series. Wake, Watch and Wonder are about Caitlin, who is fifteen. It’s not a kid’s book. Her parents are fully developed characters, too. There is a question of good vs. evil, but it revolves around a computer. Well, the internet as a synthetic person, actually, but Caitlin’s role is as a guide as much as an actor.

Then there’s The Hunger Games. All kinds of survival and adventure there, but also a love triangle, some family issues and a dystopian future. Dystopias are great for young adults. They know the world is whack. They may have just come to realize how whack. Themes of how to cope with that are highly relevant to teenagers. It’s their life. Divergent, too.

So I’m a little clearer on one thing. My book is not aimed squarely at teenagers. Now I just need to know if my target readership is pre-teen or post. My beta readers were adults, and they liked it. I have sent my MS to a tween I know. He reviews books, and is extraordinarily well-read. If anyone can tell me whether I should be barking up the kid tree or the grown-up tree, I think he can.

Of course, I may get an answer from one or both of those publishers. They may say, “It’s not for us, it’s too young.” Or they may like it as an adult book. Or hate it for some other reason entirely. “Too many characters.” “Not enough male characters.” “The protagonists goals and obstacles are all over the map.”

It’s hard to sleep with a monster under my bed. His name is Doubt.