Prose & Cons: When Words Collide, Friday.

Day One of When Words Collide. This is my first Calgary convention, and it’s the biggest one I’ve been to yet.

Right of the bat, I ran into Gerald Brandt in the coffee shop at 6:30 this morning. He had been trying to squeeze in a little writing since 5:00, because deadlines. I hope he was ready to give up, because I moved over to sit next to him and pestered him about everything from readings to cover art. He was very gracious and enormously helpful.

This made me late for my morning walk, so we were only able to do an hour. Then shower and get downstairs for a workshop on working with an editor with Robert Runté. Who happens to be my editor, but we’ve never had enough time to talk, so I was very glad to get his input on working with Track Changes, a feature of Microsoft Word that is powerful but sometimes tricky, especially when two people use it differently. The overview on different types of editors was good review, and I hadn’t seen it specifically applied to polishing submissions before.

After that, registration opened, and I was able to get my ID tag and desk card. Then I asked about doing a reading, as my email request for a last-minute slot on Saturday evening hadn’t been answered. Turns out I had missed the boat on that, but a cancellation this morning had left an opening after all. I’m on for a ten minute window at 9:30PM tomorrow.

Also started running into friends as they registered, set up in the book room, or found their way to meeting rooms.

Sat in on Gerald’s first panel, about blending genres. Good stuff there from all four authors, and fun.

Somewhere in here I slipped out for a quick lunch, but made it back to learn about doing readings. E.C. Bell and Jayne Barnard tag-teamed one with good audience participation. My favourite part was about bookstore etiquette: show up early and thank the staff when you’re done. Oh, and I got to ask Jayne if one of the flying machines in her book is an ornithopter. It is. Bonus! (The character observing it is well acquainted with them, so does not remark on the other possibilities.)

The panel on common manuscript mistakes was packed, and I was lucky to get a seat. Five editors (three I know) tore loose with their pet peeves. It was fascinating and amazingly useful. Lessons I took home: don’t slow the action down with mundane movements, extensive physical descriptions or pointless showing. Check.

Pretty much dragged Lindsay Kitson off to sign up for a pitch session. She hadn’t been able to negotiate one online, but there were still some last-minute slots available. I also talked to a beginning writer who wasn’t sure whether she wanted a Blue Pencil or a Pitch. I’m a believer in Blue Pencils. These short sessions are the drive-by shootings of literary criticism. The time constraint, usually just fifteen minutes, brings great focus. You get one or two bite-size lessons pertaining to things that really jump out at the editor. Usually glaring flaws, in my experience. Pitches are for writers looking to submit a completed novel, so that comes later.

Caught up with Caroline after that, and went for pizza. That’s all for now.



Can-Con Saturday: A Tale of Two Pitches

If you were hoping for a well-rounded overview of the con as a whole, today’s post may disappoint. I did get to a few rooms, but my selfish focus was on pitching my novel. With that in mind, my first must-have event was the How to Pitch Your Novel panel with all four of the relevant editors: Gabrielle Harbowy for DragonMoon, Sandra Kasturi from Chi-Zine, Caroline Frechette from Renaissance, and Hayden Trenholm of Bundoran. The stand-out comment for me was Hayden’s desire to hear a single sentence describing what the book is about. This is harder for a writer than you might understand. I had to put myself outside my work to describe it as a reader might, if he were mentioning it to a co-worker.

This novel is about the uneasy symbiotic relationship between two human cultures; spacefarers that can live forever and pre-industrial planetary colonists that can reproduce.

That sentence was hard to write, because while it is my premise in a nutshell, it drifts into inaccuracy in two places. For forever, read indefinitely. For pre-industrial, read non-industrial or agrarian. Anyway, armed with this new sentence and a short page of key points about the protagonist and the relevant world-building, I felt ready to attempt my first pitches ever. Of course, they were still hours away.

I took a lunch break and missed the 13:00 hour panels. This is a fact of life at Cons. Unless you want to go all day on coffee and snack food you have to sacrifice some sessions to eat.

I made it back in time to sit in on The Engaging Author Reading. Marie Bilodeau talked about trying to do a reading on a day she had no voice above a whisper, and Erik Buchanan spoke about how to handle a readings with different sizes of audience, and what to do if turnout is disappointing. A recurring theme at this con has been Don’t Be a Dick. If people are making time in their lives for you, make them glad they did.

Three o’clock came, time for my appointment to meet Gabrielle Harbowy in one of the conference rooms. Ms. Harbowy was accompanied by her assistant, Fanny Darling, who never spoke, but she did take notes and help to project a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. The room was way larger than needed for three people to meet, but I was seated with my back to the empty space, so it was comfortable enough. I performed better than my own expectations. I remembered to include my premise, managed to stick to the rough script of my notes, and included my Elevator Pitch: “It’s Windhaven meets Old Man’s War – without the war.” I did not try to talk non-stop, I made time for questions and feedback. It went well, and I was invited to submit my manuscript for consideration. 116,000 words was not a length that bothered Dragonmoon. In my own mind, I was effective, persuasive and as cool as James Bond. More about that later.

To wind down for the remainder of the hour, I chatted to some of the other writers waiting their turn to pitch and then Nicole Lavigne dragged me off to the Can-Con Chocolate Fountain for a little time free of pressure.

Next hour I went to the panel on Let’s Stop Counting Adjectives, a discussion on the current expectation that writing should be lean and clean makes it too bare. My favourite part was a question from the audience: What mainstream literary author would you like to see writing genre fiction? The panelists were not expecting that one, but responded gamely. Thomas Hardy was mentioned, I think, and some other classic writers. I had more time to think about it, and wished for cyberpunk written by Elmore Leonard.

Time for my meeting with Hayden Trenholm. It did not go as smoothly. Mr. Trenholm is polite, but businesslike. Remember, he owns Bundoran, so the unspoken question in the room is not “can you tell a story,” but “can you improve my bottom line?” We were interrupted twice, I think. Once by someone poking their head in, and again by someone who actually entered the room and had to be told by Mr. Trenholm that he was in the wrong place. I’d like to believe that I would have done better without the distractions, but I suspect that my nerves were showing already. Mr. Trenholm was a gentleman, and kept me moving with questions. I fumbled my short explanation of what the book is about and forgot my Elevator Pitch completely. Bundoran is less enthusiastic about the length of my manuscript, seeing it as nearly fifteen thousand words too long. Even so, I was invited to submit the first three chapters as a sample.

Later, I had chance to catch up with Gabrielle and Fanny in a less formal environment, and they told me I had been visibly nervous at their presentation, too. I’m glad I didn’t know that until after the second session!

Two pitches of variable quality, two invitations. This is as much as I would have dared to hope for, and certainly more than I expected.

Somewhere in here, I went to a reading by Andrew Barton, one of the contributing authors in Bundoran’s Strange Bedfellows. Attendance was modest, but the reading was intriguing and I had a chance to chat with Andrew afterwards.

Last event of the day for me was the popular Getting Noticed… In the Slush Pile. The good intentions of the panelists to be helpful were soon overwhelmed by humorous tales of epic fails.

Supper break, and then back for an hour or two of the evenings publisher party hosted by ChiZine Publications. Book prizes from the hosts, and good conversation all around. It was a long day, and I still missed so many things! I didn’t get to go to the paper airplane contest, the Worst Readings, the Feminist Exploration of Female Villains (packed), Face-Palms of World-Building, or Exploring the Solar System, just to name some things I had highlighted on my schedule.