The Prix Aurora Awards

Nominations are about to close for the Prix Aurora Awards. A little background if you’re not acquainted with them: the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association runs them, and any Canadian resident can join the CSFFA and vote. Annual membership is ten dollars, and it’s a good deal if you’re into speculative fiction.

Members of the CSSFA get electronic copies of (usually) all the nominees. That’s five Novels, five YA novels, five Graphic Novels, five short stories, and so on. That’s an armload of reading for ten bucks. Here’s a link to the CSFFA FAQ, if you’d like to get a better feel for what’s involved.

I’m a member because it’s a great way to keep in touch with the latest in Canadian SF. Nowadays, many of the eligible works are by people I’ve worked with, such as editors or book designers, or people I’ve met at conventions, on panels or at readings. Some books that I bought, read, and reviewed on Goodreads made the eligible list, so it felt great to vote for their nomination.

The deadline for nominating an eligible work is May 26, just days away.

This year, Avians is eligible in the YA Novels category. If it gets enough votes to be nominated, many more Canadian writers and SF enthusiasts will take a look at it, which would be nice. I’m also excited that my cover artist, Ann Crowe, is eligible in the Artist category.

Nominated works get  short-listed, which is an accomplishment in itself. The final round of voting, to select winners from the nominated works, will begin on July 28.

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.

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!