Monday, August 15, 2016

Strangers Among Us Book Launch

The Strangers Among Us: Tales of Underdogs and Outcasts anthology book launch at When Words Collide was the most moving I have ever attended. Instead of doing readings, each author was asked to speak to where the idea for their story had come from. The authors all related personal stories of encounters with mental wellness issues: PTSD; lifelong anxiety; chronic depression; the suicide of a son; the death of friend.... It wasn’t just the authors who struggled to get through this portion of the program without crying.

Vanessa Cardui sings commissioned composition, "Strangers Among Us". (Photo: Bev Geddes)

A specially commissioned song, written and performed by Vanessa Cardui, was included as an intermission between author statements. Achingly beautiful, the song was about coping with ongoing thoughts of suicide. Putting poetry to music does not lessen the impact of saying these things out loud; on the contrary, the song cut right through the brain directly to the emotions. (Vanessa and her friend performed a second painfully wonderful song later in the program depicting the downward spiral of alcoholism.) Then more author stories.

Authors listening intently (Photo: Bev Geddes)

I presume they placed me last to speak because they knew my story in the anthology is about toasters not trauma, and had decided that having me go last might provide a bit of buffer between the emotionality of the event and returning to the convention outside. That might have worked better if I were not myself having a bit of difficulty holding it together, though in my role as listener rather than as speaker.

It wasn't all doom and gloom. (Photo: Bev Geddes)

Door prizes were distributed, announcements made, thanks said, and everybody went home.

Of course, the major takeaway is that in any group of 10 people, 9 of them will have some deep connection with mental health issues. (10 out of 10 if you count ‘denial’ as an issue. See “The Missing Elephant” in Playground of Lost Toys for my shortcomings...) I should say that the anthology itself is actually surprisingly optimistic. I don’t want to leave the impression that this is a cover-to-cover tear-jerker. Far from it. Just as the immediacy of the launch event was something else entirely. So honoured to be included in the anthology, and so glad to have been able to make this very memorable and touching launch.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

My Schedule at When Words Collide Festival, Calgary, August 11-14, 2016

As mentioned previously, I am one of the Guests of Honour at When Words Collide Festival this year. In contrast to my limited participation at Limestone Genre Convention in Kingston (see previous post) I'm pretty booked at WWC, so thought I'd post my schedule in case any of the topics are of interest, and also to show typical workday of a GoH at writers' conventions.

Note that the Friday AM Masterclass is a 3 hour workshop that requires prior registration and a small fee in addition to membership in the WWC convention; the Five Rivers pitch sessions are free to convention members but require signup for a time slot on first come, first served basis; Festival Guest readings, Book Launches, the autograph session (8-10 Saturday), and the merchant's room are open to the public; all other events are restricted to registered WWC attendees.

  1. Thursday Aug 11 Guest Dinner [Private Function for Convention Committee]
  2. Thursday 7-9 PM Fish Creek Public Library GoH Readings - Open to Public (2 hours)
  3. Friday 9-Noon  How to Work with an Editor (3 hours) [Master Class workshop - requires prior registration & small fee]
  4. Friday 1-3 PM Festival Guest Readings (2 Hours) Open to the Public
  5. Friday 4 PM   Five Rivers Pitch Session (requires signup)
  6. Friday 5 PM    Common Manuscript Problems (panel)
  7. Friday 7-9 PM Festival  Guest of Honour Keynotes (2 hours)
  8. Saturday 10 AM How to Write a Good Pitch & Query (panel)
  9. Saturday 11 AM Five Rivers Pitch Session (requires signup)
  10. Saturday 12 PM Live Action Slush - Science Fiction (panel) 
  11. Saturday 2 PM  Five Rivers Publishing Presents (Double Book Launch; open to the public)
  12. Saturday 3 PM  An Hour with Robert Runté (presentation)
  13. Saturday 5 -6:30 PM  Steampunk Banquet (90 minutes)
  14. Saturday 6:30-7:30 evening Aurora Awards Ceremony (
  15. Saturday 8-10 PM  Private meeting with Essential Edits client (2 hours) [not part of WWC, just part of personal schedule!]
  16. Sunday 11 AM   What Makes for Good Non-Fiction (panel)
  17. Sunday 12 PM   Five Rivers Pitch Session (requires signup)
  18. Sunday 1 PM   Publisher's Panel: Novels (panel)
  19. Sunday 2 PM   Live Action Slush - High Fantasy (panel) 
  20. Sunday 3 PM   Five Rivers Pitch Session(requires signup)
  21. Sunday 4-5 PM  Laksa Media Book Launch (open to the public)

So I make that out to be 21 scheduled events for 28 hours over three and a half days. So toss in putting in an appearance at the after hours parties and the usual convention socializing, and that's pretty much full on for the whole convention. Which is as it should be, and pretty much what I would be doing anyway if I were not a GoH, because I love all this stuff.

Limestone Genre Convention (Kingston)

Because I'm based in Ontario for the next six months or so, I was able to attend Limestone Genre Convention in Kingston this year. A newer, smaller convention, it was quite the change for me because I was only on a single program item (a pitch session for Five Rivers) and I only knew half a dozen people there. Which turned out to be great because it forced me to meet new people and to listen to people I hadn't heard before on panels, rather than me being the one who was pontificating. (Well, okay, I couldn't totally resist pontificating anyway, so 'contributed' from the audience whenever they asked for questions from the floor, but mostly the structure and moderators were able to restrain me.) So as a consequence, I learned a lot! Listening will do that!

As is often the case, smaller convention translated out to 'more intimate' and I was able to actually meet and talk at length with a number of people I had never encountered before or only corresponded with through email. This was great, because I discovered a number of self-published Canadian authors I hadn't know existed, and who turned out to be fabulous. For example, I was totally impressed by Jen Frankel who in turn insisted I go hear Kit Daven's reading, whose books I had bought on Kindle before she even finished her reading. I've met Suzanne Church before, but always a pleasure to see her in action, and Marie Bilodeau did a great performance, and Derek Kunsken was fabulous moderator on his panel and Derek Newman-Stille was as insightful as ever, and on and on with so many great people. Brandon Crilly and Ira Nayman were people I knew but never met. So many great conversations, and new authors for me to read.

The pitch session for Five Rivers went well, introducing me to many local authors who were not normally in my catchment area. A couple of promising things there.

I really enjoyed the panels and learned a lot, again because I was hearing opinions from people I don't usually hear at conventions out West and a lot of what they were saying was new to me. After going to some of the same conventions for 40 years, I've heard a lot of the same people over and over and pretty much know what they are going to say before they say it, but that was definitely not the case for me here. And sitting in the audience instead of on the panels, I interacted a lot more with my fellow attendees and particularly with younger writers. I got to ask these youngens a lot of questions about their writing and publishing and --that whole listening instead of pontificating thing--learned a lot. I like to think I'm on top of trends, but um, instead of following what is happening, I think I got a glimpse into what is coming down the road for the future as I heard very different attitudes from a lot of these kids than I'm used to with the people I usually work with. Brave new world / exciting times if half of what I was hearing reflects widespread attitudes among the next generation of writers.

Of particular revelation was the panel on fanfiction. Look, I have my copy of Mirror Mirror (probably the first piece of modern fan fiction) and my daughter is big into Victor Hugo fan fiction, and I've been working on a paper on Lynda Williams and her encouragement of fan fiction in her universe, so I thought I knew a little about the topic, but oh my god was I out of touch with current trends. So exciting! So hopeful about the future of writing. (Hey listen, my day job teaching in the Education Faculty to students who no longer read has been incredibly depressing--I mean, if your kid's English teacher doesn't read for pleasure, let alone write or publish, what the hell hope do we have? So re-discovering the world of fanfic on the scale it now exists, hell yes, I'm excited!)

So hat off to Liz Stranger and her crew for organizing a great convention. Well worth attending for anyone within range next year.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Dos and Donts of Writing

Karl Johanson, editor of NeoOpsis Magainze, talks about the Do's and Don'ts of writing science fiction at KeyCon. Karl's approach is a refreshing change from the usual 'there is only one way to write' nonsense . . . .

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Selecting An Editor (An extra criterion)

I recently asked a photographer acquaintance how business was, and he allowed that it was good, in spite of the recession; but that he was frustrated by the increasing number of incompetents who were opening up shop in town (presumably as they got laid off from the oil patch). It was not that he was afraid of the competition, because his corporate client base was not about to go to anyone else, but that these amateurs gave professional photography a bad name: they'd charge families large sums for bad portraits. "The problem is, anyone with a camera and a month's rent can open a studio. They think because they have an actual camera instead of a phone, that makes them a professional photographer. So they look at what other studios charge and charge just enough less to make them seem competitive. But they have no idea what they are doing, and people pay hundreds for badly composed and badly lit portraits. Their clients could have done better themselves with a selfie on their cells."

Somewhat naively, I suggested that as word got around that this or that photographer was useless, they would go out of business.

"No, you don't get it. Good photographers are often booked months or years in advance, whereas these clowns are always available. There are always people who decide they have to get married immediately, or who forgot to book in advance, and have to take whatever photographer is available. And it's these guys! They're always available on short notice because they're everybody's last choice. But that happens often enough to keep them in business forever! And since they're still there a year, two years later, people think they must be legit."

"Well," I say, "what's the problem? You have more than enough business, so what do you care?"

"Because people look at what these clowns do and think that's professional photography, because they paid professional rates for those photos. So when they hate the pictures, they think photography is a scam and decide not to bother again. There's a whole generation of consumers growing up thinking they can do as well with their phone cameras. My art, what I contribute, is discredited along with the bozos."


And then it occurred to me the same pretty much applies to editing. I constantly see postings seeking editors like this from June 7: "If you are interested and would like to start working today please contact me." My staff (Hey, did I mention I have staff now? I should do a post on that!) are booked through to September at least, and I personally have project commitments to keep me going well into the new year, so I cannot even think about responding to that request. So I can't help wondering, what's the hurry? Whom did that guy expect would have an immediate, out-of-the-blue opening in their work schedule to take on an 83,000 word book project today? (And how fast did they think one could properly edit 83,000 words?)

Photo credit   [Not actually my desk: I almost never handle paper manuscripts anymore, but a screenshot of an overflowing file folder on my computer desktop doesn't have the same visceral response....]

I understand that after working months or years on a manuscript, it's natural for an author to want to celebrate by getting it out the door and to the editor. But um. I haven't had an immediate opening on my editing schedule for the past three years, and I only started the business six years ago. So unless someone is brand new, or just had an unexpected cancellation (authors do occasionally drop dead or go bankrupt or give up writing or announce they are going to be two months behind schedule getting their manuscript back to you), I can't help but wondering if we aren't dealing with another case of 'wedding photographer'.

Maybe if one has invested months or years in a manuscript, one should be prepared to invest a little patience in getting their first choice for editor. Or, you know, scheduled editing ahead of time.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Fantasy Novelist's Exam

The Fantasy Novelist's Exam is a list of common cliches in fantasy, so if you find any of these elements in your own story, you need to immediately edit them out... I think this was intended to be humorous, but as an editor, I'm not laughing because I indeed see all of these things across my desk way too often.

Friday, May 27, 2016

What Not to Say to an Editor

Neo-Opsis editor, Karl Johanson, during a panel with and Laurie Smith at KeyCon (Winnipeg, May 2016) gives an example of something not to say to any editor when submitting a manuscript:

I would add another thing not to say: what precautions one has taken against the editor stealing one's ideas. Because, that's not only telling the editor that one does not trust him or her (and why would I want to work with someone who insults me by suggesting I'm a thief?), it's making it pretty clear that they (a) have a grossly over-inflated sense of how original and creative their ideas are; and that (b) they think coming up with the story idea is the hard part of writing. So that pretty much flags one as paranoid, likely to be a bad writer and difficult to work with. In other words, an easy, instant rejection.

As with Karl's example of a 'don't do that', I never thought I'd actually ever get one of these paranoid cover letters—even though every other editor has their own examples—but we have already had to deal with a couple of these.... It just completely sad, and not just because it means an instant rejection.

(Unless the writer is 12 or under. I am prepared to cut a 12-year-old a certain amount of slack here because they are too immature to . But if you're tempted to write that cover letter when you're in your 30s, you need to seek the counsel of a mental health professional. Seriously.)

I also have had to listen to a couple of semi-pro writers talk about how this or that editor ripped off their idea. In one case the writer complained how an editor's recent award-winning story was actually their rejected submission of a few months earlier. All one can do is frown and nod sympathetically...because that is just patent nonsense. Sure, both stories had a spaceship, and both stories used the word 'hyperdrive' at some point, but really? You don't see a difference in the writing? You don't think that is a sufficiently generic trope that it might come up once or twice before? It's just embarrassing.

I know a number of editors have said they had to stop writing once they became editors to avoid countless accusations of this type. Fortunately, this has not been an issue for me: apparently, no one wishes to claim credit for any of my stories....

  — — — — — —

Of course...none of that applies to dealing with anyone connected to Hollywood. Those guys are sharks, and do not—judging by recent remakes and releases—have any original ideas of their own.

Oh, say! Karl posted a part two:

Another good point!