Prose & Cons: When Words Collide 2018

I’m heading to Calgary next week for the 2018 iteration of When Words Collide. This convention brings together writers of all genres, giving everyone a chance to brainstorm on problems common to all storytellers, such as plotting, pitching, publishing and procrastination, along with a few things that start with other letters. This will be my third visit to WWC, and my third time presenting there.

Last year, I launched Avians at WWC (buy my book!) plus I did a solo presentation on Writing Aviation, moderated panels on Worldbuilding and Pantsters versus Plotters, and was reader for the science fiction edition of Live Action Slush.*

*Live Action Slush, (it goes by other names at other conventions) is a chance to have a few pages of your work read out loud to a panel of editors. Bringing your work to this event takes courage, because the whole room–and in Calgary it’s usually packed–will get to hear not only your draft manuscript, but also the editors criticisms of it. WWC does it wonderfully, by which I mean the focus is on constructive criticism. No one gives in to the temptation to mock writing that falls short. Authors who take the opportunity to identify themselves after their piece is critiqued get generously applauded, especially if fundamental faults were pointed out.

My schedule for this year’s WWC is lighter than last year’s. I’m reading for the SF LAS again, and I just saw on the final schedule that they’ve taken me up on my offer to read for other kinds of slush– I’ll be doing the historical fiction one as well.

Organizer Randy McCharles mentioned to me that WWC is always on the lookout for presentations about aviation, so I decided to combine two of my favourite things, and do a talk on Aviation in Worldbuilding this year.

I plan to run through the who, what, when, where, why and how of Aviation as it pertains to writing fiction, and I’m hoping that the worldbuilding aspect will attract some writers of speculative fiction.

Under the Who, after introducing myself, I’ll talk about some writers who have included fabulous aviation in fiction, ranging from famous authors like Heinlein and Herbert to more current writers. Time permitting, I’ll plug some of my favourite Sky-Fi authors and books. Maybe I can get an easel or a whiteboard, and jot down some titles in advance. Note to self: create a web page on this blog for Tim’s Sky-Fi reading list.

What will be my opportunity to segue into talking about some kinds of aviation that are very different from our mundane metal monoplanes. Ornithopters, horse-drawn battle-kites, inter-colony ballistic missiles, human-powered flying machines, the usual stuff.

When will be a chance to speak about some historic aspects of aviation. I’m convinced we could have developed flight much earlier than the Wright Brothers, and I’ll use that to encourage writers who want to put aviation in low-tech worlds. In hindsight, some form of air travel should have been feasible in the age of sail, and even the iron age. My own novel is set on a world with technology not much above the stone age. Mini-rant: don’t underestimate stone-age societies, they had a lot more going on than hand-axes.

Where will take us to other planets, with a quick contemplation of potential aviation on Mars and Venus to introduce some of the basics of flying in less earth-like environments, and then some words on factors that make flying easier or harder, such as local gravity, atmospheric density and composition, otherworldly weather, and so on.

Why will cover reasons aviation matters in worldbuilding. Transportation is, I believe, a pivotal technology, like communication. It’s fundamental to a society’s trade and travel in ways that affect everything from family visits to restaurant menus. Seriously. Want fresh fruit from far away? You’re going to want it flown in. The existence of aviation also implies a whole lot of career choices. I’ll try not to get sidetracked into grumbling about pilot stereotyping.

How sounds like it could be a recap, but I think I’ll use it to discuss how to make aviation immersive and emotionally compelling. Then I’ll move on to ways to use aviation to advance the plot and reveal inner character.

Huh. I just killed two birds with one stone. I have used a blog post to write an outline for my presentation.

If you’re attending When Words Collide, come see me at 10:00 AM on Sunday in the Acadia Room, which is downstairs in the Tower Building.

 

 

Busy

I haven’t posted anything here in weeks. Sorry about that. I’ve been busy with my day job—more flying, fewer pilots—and my other blog. This time of year, I operate the Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol, featuring aerial photographs and updates on the spring thaw in Kenora.

When the ice goes out varies from year to year, and summer residents come to Kenora from all over the world. My website is pretty much the only place to offer regular reports so people can plan their travel dates. That demand for information leads to a lot of traffic, especially when we have a late spring.

Taking the aerial photographs, editing them, uploading them, and explaining them with coherent text takes a lot of time. There are also emails and comments to answer, plus I sometimes do interviews with radio stations.

Which is not to say that good things don’t go with my writing efforts. I recently did an author interview with Jay Whetter for Kenora Stuff magazine, and I’m looking forward to seeing that in print.

I’ve been doing some more narrations for the Antipodean SF Radio Show and Podcast, the audio version of the Antipodean SF magazine. Check it out if you like flash fiction of the speculative variety. I’ve read about two dozen pieces for them now, including two of my own.

I was startled to see my name mentioned in a Tweet from When Words Collide recently. Their 2018 writing conference in Calgary is still months away, but the tweet was about a panel I was on last year, on Worldbuilding, with Kristene Perron, Roxanne Barbour, and David B. Coe. As the most junior author on the panel, I moderated. I had forgotten, but that panel was recorded for podcast. You can now listen to it here.

I’ll be heading back to Calgary this August, for the 2018 WWC, and I’ll be doing a presentation on Aviation in Worldbuilding. What if your fictional world doesn’t have fossil fuels, heavy manufacturing, or thousands of airports? I’ll be talking about how the right kind of flying can make your world feel original, advance your plot, and maybe mess up your character’s life.

WWC’s tentative preliminary schedule also lists me as reader for the SF edition of  Live Action Slush. Brave New Writers will hand over a page or two of their Work in Progress for me to read to the audience and a panel of editors, who will raise their hands when the manuscript loses their love. The mini-critiques that follow are kind, professional and helpful, but being told that your writing has glaring flaws is tough love. I often learn interesting things from the editors’ comments, and I suspect other writers do, too. The room is usually packed.

 

 

 

A Withering Rejection

Before I tell you about my latest misadventure, I’ll just catch up on a couple of nice things that I’ve missed.

At When Words Collide, someone did something very thoughtful for me, and I forgot all about it until I got home and unpacked. At last year’s WWC I did a slide-show presentation on Alternative Aviation, and gave examples of speculative fiction that put machines like autogyros, hang-gliders and Zeppelins to good use in storytelling. One of my examples was Emergence, by David R. Palmer, in which a teenager comes out of an underground shelter after an apocalypse and uses an ultralight to search for other survivors. I mentioned that the book is out of print, and getting expensive on e-bay. A woman from the audience told me that she makes a hobby of hunting for copies at used book sales. This year, she tracked me down at WWC and presented me with a worn paperback. Thank you. I look forward to re-reading it; it has an unusual style.

I had a fun event at the Kenora Public Library last week. The library was very supportive, putting posters on the lawn and front door, providing Tim-bits and bottled water, and helping me set up. An article in the local paper helped get the word out, and there was an interview with one of the local radio stations, too. Sadly, the sun shone brightly the day of the event, and there were no teenagers to be seen in my audience. I did three shortish readings from Avians and talked about its development a bit. Elizabeth Campbell Books sold a few copies at the event, and donated ten percent of the take to the library fund. I donated copies for both the Kenora and Keewatin branches, and the librarian for the Children’s Section actually bought a third copy on the spot, saying that she knew some girls who would “eat it up.”

So being a writer is all fun, fame and friends. Except every now and then, I have to submit something for publication. I’m a wimp about this. I dread making submissions, and while I should probably have multiple stories making the rounds, I often struggle to ensure that one story is out there somewhere. For one thing, I’m not what anyone would call a prolific author. By the way, does anyone know a nicer antonym for prolific than fruitless or impotent? I really don’t fancy describing myself as an impotent author.

Typically with submissions, the first few places are going to say no. I have one piece that’s had some nice rejections. I know that’s an oxymoron, but the default rejection is a terse form letter, and a personal note from an editor is a step up. This particular piece is a flash fiction story of just 300 words. I’ve had two form rejections, and one personal note that declined, but praised the way I did so much with so few words.

When I came across a market that said they were looking for tight writing, I thought of that story right away. It fit their guidelines, the rate of pay was acceptable, and the submission process was anonymous, which means I didn’t have to list my publication history in an attempt to sound like a worthwhile contributor.

They looked at it and they declined. They were kind enough to give me an idea of why they said no, which is a great help when it comes to reshaping the story for next time. But the included comment was a downer: “Interesting, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. There isn’t enough sense of place and character to hold up the lack to true narrative.
There are also a couple of typos.” Ouch. I thought it had character, setting and a twist. And typos! I try hard to send clean submissions, even reading them out loud before I hit send, but apparently, I dropped the ball. Right now, I can’t bear to look through it, but if I’m going to send it out again, I’ll probably have to read it out loud and backwards to spot the mistakes I missed. At least it’s short.

To have a real shot at finding it a home, I ought think hard about what they said, and see if I can make some improvements. I’m working on something else today, so I’ll probably shelve it for a while, which means I’ll have no submissions pending. If I want to call myself a writer, I’ll have to try again. And quite likely fail again. This is the not-fun part.

Luckily, I was up early and wrote a page for my next novel before that depressing email arrived. After struggling with a variety of opening scenes, I think I’ve finally found an angle that has character, setting, conflict, and something I might be able to sharpen into a hook. I have a few days before my vacation ends, and I  have some driving to do, which is creative thinking time for me. I feel I’ll be able to make some good progress.

 

Prose & Cons: WWC 2017

This was my best convention ever, in several ways. Calgary’s When Words Collide is always well organized and fun, but with my book finally out, I felt more confident being among authors, and I think that let me open up and be myself more.

Here are the highlights:

WWC doesn’t generally designate moderators, so when no one else wanted to do it, I volunteered to moderate both of the panels I was on. With only gentle steering, conversation flowed and the time flew by. A well-published author shook my hand and thanked me, the convention volunteers said nice things, and there were positive mentions on Twitter.

At Five Rivers Presents, I launched Avians and moved people with short, powerful readings. Five Rivers Publishing gave some copies away, and for the first time, I got to sign books for complete strangers.

I did a solo presentation on Writing Aviation that engaged the audience. People asked relevant and insightful questions, and when our time was up, gathered around the table to talk and take my cards. I had to usher the last ones out to the anteroom so the next panel could set up. Again, tweets.

With the help of Myth Hawker, I sold a few copies of Avians in the dealer room. That means people picked up my book, looked it over, and decided they’d pay money to read it. Woot! At one point, I passed by the table just minutes after someone had bought a copy. I caught up to her further down the room and signed it for her.

I went to the mass book signing, where anyone (you don’t have to register for the con) can come to have books signed by the attending authors. There are long lines for the famous writers, but I expected to be lonelier than the Maytag repairman. Complete strangers came up to me and asked me to sign their copy of Avians. I saw someone holding my book and scanning the crowded room to look for me. I don’t know what that feeling is called, but it was an “oh!” moment.

As the mass signing wound down, I went over to say hi to C.P. Hoff to tell her that Caroline and I both loved her book. Caroline and I have very different reading tastes, but Connie’s zany A Town Called Forget made both of us laugh. Connie’s hotel room was near ours, and she ended up giving a signed copy to Caroline in person.

I served as reader for the science fiction session of Live Action Slush. Despite my best efforts to make each story opening sound strong and engaging, almost all the samples got shot down before I made it to the bottom of the page. The editors on the panel were polite and constructive, but they wanted it all: if there was action, they wanted character; if there was character, they wanted conflict; If there was conflict, they wanted a hook. Their advice was aimed at taking good writing and raising it to exceptional.

The conference was impressively organized and the staff of the Delta hotel were wonderful. I signed up for next year before the convention ended on Sunday afternoon.

P.S. For a more comprehensive look at When Words Collide, see this review of the convention by Robert Runté, who has been at it for many years.

 

 

 

Prose and Cons: Countdown to Launch

AVIANS has been officially released, meaning it’s now widely available online. I have some links at the right, if you like.

Oh, and I just found out that copies have arrived at my local bookstore: Elizabeth Campbell Books at 129 Main St. S. in Kenora has them in stock now, and my books aren’t just in the store, they’re in the window!

The launch will be at When Words Collide, in Calgary, on Saturday, August the 12th. WWC is a big convention that brings together writers from all genres.

So between now and then, I have some things to do.

I have some panels to prep for. On Friday afternoon, right at 5:00, I have one called Worldbuilding? where I hope to talk about some of my favourite aspects of this art: using key details, showing what isn’t there, and staying true to the character’s perception. A fictional world, no matter how strange, should feel immersive.

Saturday morning is Pantsers versus Plotters with some friends at 10:00 am. Ron Hore is a true pantser. He picks a title and starts writing. Another of the panelists is Robert Runté, my editor from Five Rivers. I don’t actually know which side of PvP he’s on. I hope we have at least one dedicated plotter, because I think both pantsers and plotters are amazing. For me, outlining comes late in the process; I tend to write the action scenes first, then expand outwards, developing character as I go and plot twists last.

Saturday afternoon I have the launch: Five Rivers Presents is set for 2:00 pm in the Fireside Room, with Senior Editor Robert Runté presiding. At other events, I’ve read whole scenes or half scenes, but for this one I’m thinking of short snippets. That way I can introduce two or three of the main characters and choose pages that show them in action, conflict or stress. C.P. Hoff is going to be there to read some highlights from her A Town Called Forget, and she’ll make everyone laugh, so for my reading, I may choose some of the parts of Avians that make me cry. Like when Raisa vents on how she feels about arranged marriage, or when Mel clings to an unrealistic hope that an accident hasn’t been fatal.

Immediately after that, at 3:00, I have my solo presentation on Writing Aviation. I’m going to talk about some of the confused reporting I often see when the media covers aviation incidents and then move on to talk about using flying in fiction to advance plot in ways beyond mere transportation. Along the way, I hope to explain that pilots don’t really speak entirely in jargon, and that the lingo changes so fast that it’s probably a mistake to include much of it anyway. As an alternative, I’ll offer some ways to have fictional pilots communicate clearly to the reader.

I’ll be at the mass autograph signing on Saturday evening, but my book’s only been out for a little while, so I don’t think there will be any masses for me. I have author friends I can hang out with, though, and at least one is launching a book on the same day.

Last up for me is the Science Fiction session of Live Action Slush at 11:00 am Sunday. If you’re not acquainted, here’s how it works: brave writers shuffle up to the front of the room and hand over two or three pages from their manuscript to the reader. In this case, me. Maybe there’s a reason this gig was available: I’m crossing my fingers that I don’t get whole swaths of unpronounceable alien words. I read the pages without identifying the author, and then a panel of editors and pro writers quickly dissect the sample’s strong and weak points. The brave writers, sitting in the audience, get their skin thickened, which’ll come in handy later in the submission process.

Monday, I fly back to Winnipeg and drive home to Kenora. Tuesday, I have an event at the Kenora Public Library. A whole hour to talk about Avians and read some bits. What I like best is the chance to answer questions. There never seems to be enough time for that. I love talking about the stuff beneath the book – the stuff that isn’t spelled out in the text, but seeps up between the lines.

By the way, if you’re not going to be in Calgary or Kenora, but you’d like to hear a reading, check out the AVIANS Audio links on the right. (Try scrolling down if you’re using a mobile device.) I’ve recorded the blurb, and all the scenes from the first chapter.

Upcoming events

I should have updated sooner, but I’ve had a rash of computer problems. I have recovered my data and my computer is running normally. For now. Fingers crossed.

Here’s a look at some things in the next few weeks.

Now

Back when Avians first became available for pre-order from the big booksellers, some of my friends informed me that Amazon was listing the book as available at the end of June, instead of the first of August. I wasn’t sure if that was right, but those people have received their Kindle copies, so there you go. If you can’t wait, Amazon has it available now.

Some reviews are up at Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads already. So far, things are looking encouraging, with four and five star reviews.

July

On the 18th of July, there will be a review of Avians on Bonnie Ferrante – Books for Children. Bonnie covers books for children for all ages, from ABC’s to Young Adult.  I also did a fun interview with her and that post will follow a day later. She always finishes her interviews with three random questions, and I think they reveal more about an author than the more logical questions do.

August

August 1st: the official release of Avians. It will be available from Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, Rakuten Kobo and Five Rivers, as well as Amazon.

When Words Collide is in Calgary on August 11, 12 & 13. Friday evening I’m on a panel on Worldbuilding. My particular focus is on how to show what isn’t there. On Saturday morning I’m on a panel on Pantsing versus Plotting, which should be fun, as I do neither. I’m a quilter: I write the exciting parts first, then stitch them together, outlining retroactively. Saturday afternoon I’ll be at Five Rivers Presents, for the Avians launch. Yay, finally! Then I have to dash across the road to do my presentation on Writing Aviation in the other building. Saturday evening I will put in an appearance at the mass Autograph Session. I’ll probably have plenty of time to chat with the other authors, as there won’t be very many copies of my book in the wild yet. Sunday will be a fun day, I’m the reader for the Science Fiction session of Live Action Slush. It will be my goal to confound the evil editors by making every story sound wonderful. Apart from all that, I had an offer to share a table with some friends in the dealer room. I’ll post further details on rooms, times and co-panelists when the schedule is finalized.

After I return from When Words Collide, on Tuesday, the 15th of August, I’m tentatively scheduled to do an event at the Kenora Public Library at 2:00 pm. I’ll read some short sections of the book and give one or two copies to the library, and then offer to sign some books. If you buy a copy at the event, Elizabeth Campbell Books will donate a portion of the proceeds to the library fund.

 

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.