On Productivity

While at When Words Collide, I took in Kevin J. Anderson’s workshop on how to be a productive writer. I’ve been feeling a tad unproductive of late. Evidently, that wasn’t a unique feeling amongst my peers, as that room was packed.

There was the usual advice: Butt in seat, hands on keyboard; dare to be bad (in first drafts); set goals and stick to them kind of stuff. A few things really stood out for me however. First was Anderson’s breakdown of the time it takes to write a novel. If a writer works on one book a year, writing around a day job, a few hours each day, he came up with the figure of 520 hours to complete drafting and revising the novel. Anderson writes full time, 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. That means he reaches his 520 hours in 9 weeks. On his schedule that allows him to produce 5-6 books a year.

Not everyone is in a position to lose the day job, or commit those 8 hours a day on top of their job, but it did get me thinking. One of the things Anderson does is work on multiple projects at the same time. This is good because there are many stages to completing a book: research, outlining, drafting, revision, and then once the book has been sold, there is the substantive edit, copy edit, page proofs, and finally touring and promotion.

Not all of these are as much fun as the others, and every writer is different. Some hate drafting and can’t wait to have something to revise. Others, myself included, love discovering a book, and find edits to be like having teeth pulled.

So why have I been feeling so unproductive? I feel like I’ve been editing for the last two years solid. I had gone through a flurry of drafting, had several projects on the go, but then came the time to polish them up and send them out. Thunder Road was as good as I was going to make it at the time, and out on submission. I had revised the first manuscript I’d ever finished (an epic fantasy) and sent it out to the Angry Robot open novel call. Meanwhile I had the sequel to Thunder Road, another urban fantasy and a sword and sorcery novel in various stages of completion. I figured I should get one of them ready (the sword and sorcery was much closer than either of the UFs at this point) and then I sold Thunder Road

Since Thunder Road was a part of a two book deal, my decision on which project to work on was made for me. The sequel, Tombstone Blues, was due to be published Fall 2013, which means I have to turn it in this fall. Unfortunately for me, I drafted Tombstone Blues immediately after Thunder Road. You’d think it would be a fortunately, and it is, but with caveat: while it’s great to have that finished draft to work with, and if I didn’t have it, there’s no way that I’d have the two books coming out so closely together, it also means that I’m working with writing that is now almost three years old–and I like to think my prose is better now than it was then.

So that means more revisions.

As I said, not my favourite part of the process. Looking back, I see the only new words I’ve written since selling Thunder Road have been added sentences or scenes here and there to existing manuscripts and a few new short stories–mostly written for specific anthologies (and I found myself scrambling to make those deadlines). I have felt a profound inertia in starting anything new, because there are so many words already written that await my attention.

There have been a number of other distractions to my writing life too. I’ve had to undergo physiotherapy for a pinched nerve in my neck and tennis elbow. I’ve had to watch how I work, and pay attention to the signals my body is giving me. I needed to have a website. I needed to get on social media (something I’d avoided like the plague up until recently). All little big things that will enhance my writing career but do nothing to enhance my writing (and yes, I’m quite aware of the irony in complaining about these distractions while I write a blog post for my website that will then be tweeted and facebooked, thank you).

But these are necessary things and I’m glad that I’ve learned them. What is even more necessary is for me to now learn to reconcile them with my writing time. And to find a way to put new words down no matter what. It used to feel so easy. And it was. I had a routine that worked, and worked well. Until I broke that routine. But I’m going to get it back.

One piece of advice that Kevin J. Anderson gave came from one of my writing heroes: Roger Zelazny, and that advice was “write two sentences.” If you do, it’s two sentences more than you had before. If you write two sentences, chances are you won’t stop there.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have two sentences to write…

When Words Collide Roundup

Calgary’s literary festival “When Words Collide” is fast becoming one of my favourite conferences. Outside of maybe the World Fantasy Convention, this is most fun I’ve had as a writer. A lot of the credit goes to organizer, Randy McCharles (who also chaired World Fantasy when it was in Calgary–my first real con, FYI) and won an Aurora Award this year for founding and organizing last year’s festival.

Thursday I was supposed to attend the Bundoran Press launch of Hayden Trenholm’s Blood and Water, but by the time I’d finished supper with an old friend, the event was just getting underway, so it was a low key but very late evening of talking comics for me instead. Probably a good thing as loaded as the rest of the weekend was.

One of the things about being a Winnipegger, is that inevitably when you travel across the country (or the world) you end up hanging out with other Winnipeggers. So I did spent a bit of time with fellow ‘Peg specfic writers Sherry Peters and Gerald Brandt. It was also nice to see that Aurora nominated Greg Chomichuk attended the con (and brought his dad, Walter–lovely man). I also had lunch with Jean and Joedi, two publisher reps out in Calgary. It was nice to see them on their home turf. Normally we only get to talk over book catalogues in Winnipeg.

I didn’t take in much programming Friday, instead hanging around the Dealer’s Room catching up with old friends. I met the Tyche Books team–they’re doing some nice looking work, keep an eye on this rising Edmonton Press. They sent me home with some recipes from Krista Ball’s new book What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank (Brains and Butter! Together at last! Yum!). I also managed to reconnect with Seattle author Rhiannon Held. We met in Columbus, Ohio for the 2010 World Fantasy Convention and I interviewed her for the release of her debut novel, Silver. It was very cool that she made the trip to Calgary. I also caught the tail end of the Keynote speeches (Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta).

I took in the SF Canada and On Spec party which honoured the Aurora nominees as well as the joint launch party for Bundoran Press, Breathless Press and The Tenth Circle Project. Eventually I ended up at an impromptu scotch tasting (you’ll sense a theme here) that proved to be very, very dangerous.

Saturday morning I dusted myself off in time for my panel on Telling a Book by Its Cover (with former Saskatoon colleague Kent Pollard, Stephanie Johanson of Neo-Opsis, artist Dan O’Driscoll and publisher Justyn Perry). It went well–I think. Sometimes it can be hard to judge. I was moderating, I think I kept everyone in the conversation, and that we stayed mostly on topic. Page proofs showed up on my door the week before the con, so I didn’t prepare as well as I’d hoped–I also didn’t want to lug an entire suitcase of books with covers that worked and covers that didn’t on the plane with me.

You never know who’ll you bump into at these things, so imagine my surprise when Sarah Kades and I recognized each other in the hotel hallway. We used to work together at the book store before she moved to Calgary, where she now works as an archaeologist and writes adventure romance. I’ve made a mental note to check out her book.

I rarely go to the Kaffee Klatches, but I hadn’t seen mystery author Anthony Bidulka in a few years. Anthony is an amazing raconteur and had some great tales to tell. A fun, genuine guy and one hell of a writer. I’m really looking forward to his new series of books.

Next was the first set of readings I attended. Nicole Luiken read from her YA novel Dreamline, Jennifer Kennedy read from her Norse influenced story “Fingernails” which appeared in Danse Macabre, and Cat McDonald read from a work in progress.

Eventually, I shined myself up for the Aurora Awards Banquet; grey dinner jacket, salmon coloured shirt and matching tie and my Autobots belt buckle. The food would have been adequate if I had paid twenty dollars rather than forty for my banquet ticket, but at least there was cheesecake at the end (and whiskey throughout). My good friend Rob Sawyer won for best novel–which makes three in a row, his WWW trilogy has made a clean sweep of the award. When asked who will win, I always tend to vote with my heart rather than my head but this year I was wrong more than I was right on either count. One result I’m very happy to report I was right on in both regards was Helen Marshall taking the Aurora for Best Poem/Song. “Skeleton Leaves” is simply an amazing work.

I was also very excited for On Spec to take home an Aurora. It’s always great to see Barb Galler-Smith, Diane Walton and the On Spec team at conventions. They also published the first story I sold, and even cooler, the artist of the cover for that issue, Dan O’Driscoll, won an Aurora too.

Here’s the full list of winners:

Best Novel
Wonder, Robert J. Sawyer (Penguin Canada)

Best Short Fiction
“The Needle’s Eye,” Suzanne Church, from Chilling Tales: Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd I Did Live (EDGE)

Best Poem/Song
“Skeleton Leaves,” Helen Marshall (Kelp Queen Press)

Best Graphic Novel
Goblins, Tarol Hunt (Webcomic)

Best Related Work
On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic, Copper Pig Writers’ Society

Best Artist
Dan O’Driscoll

Best Fan Publication
Bourbon and Eggnog, Eileen Bell, Ryan McFadden, Billie Milholland, and Randy McCharles (10th Circle Project)

Best Fan Filk Musician (for music based on sci-fi)
Phil Mills

Best Fan Organization
When Words Collide, presented to founder and chair Randy McCharles

Best Fan (Other)
Peter Watts, “Reality: The Ultimate Mythology,” Toronto SpecFic Colloquium lecture

Saturday night was party night (More parties! Woo!). There were several going on around the hotel. IFWA (Calgary’s Imaginative Fiction Writers Association) honoured the Aurora Award winners. EDGE publications had a party to celebrate the launch of their fall line. Eventually I ended up at the ChiZine Publications room party. Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi were there of course, as was Napier’s Bones author Derryl Murphy. I also met author and publisher at Faery Ink Press Clare Marshall and hung out a bit with Colleen Anderson. I may have also accidentally pitched a book I haven’t written yet while complaining about how hard I find it to do elevator pitches for my own work (I do a pretty good job of selling other people’s stuff–eleven years of bookselling helps there, but I find it almost impossible to think of a good tagline for any of my own stories). I left the party with an advance reading copy of Robert Shearman’s forthcoming collection of short stories Remember Why You Fear Me.

Sunday came all to soon after three straight late nights and early mornings.

At the EDGE Fall launch, I read from “Back in Black” and was told by the Sheriff of When Words Collide, one Cat McDonald, that I rocked the mic like a bulldog. Everyone at the launch delivered great readings (Dave Duncan, Tim Reynolds, Jennifer Kennedy, Randy McCharles and Adria Laycraft). Immediately afterwards, I read with fellow Turnstone Press author and writing group chum, Karen Dudley. I read from Thunder Road, Karen read from Food for the Gods. It wasn’t my best reading, I’m afraid. My EDGE reading was near the end of the slot, so there was only ten minutes or so between it and my Thunder Road piece. Didn’t quite have the batteries recharged, or didn’t switch gears fast enough. Not the end of the world, but disappointing. I will say big thanks to Eileen Bell, Erika Holt, and Ryan McFadden for being among the audience, especially since Eileen and Erika were at the readings Karen and I did at Keycon.

I stayed in the room for the next group of readers: Bob Stallworthy, Susan Forest, and Colleen Anderson. A little bit of poetry, a little bit of prose. Very good stuff. After a late lunch, I took in the Tenth Circle Project readings with Eileen Bell, Randy McCharles, Ryan McFadden and Billie Milholland. This is a great neo-noir shared world series with some fun science fictional elements.

The Dead Dog party is a convention staple, where the con survivors take in one more night of socializing and fun. So glad I stayed in town for it this year. There was a crazy lightning storm (which despite arriving several beers in, had me scribbling notes in my notebook) that a bunch of us writer types watched from the hotel’s exterior balcony. I didn’t quite close the joint down, at 3:30 am I decided that turning into a pumpkin was in my best interest.

Best part of the con is how many friends I have out in Alberta now. I’ve already bought my membership for next year.

Guests at When Words Collide 2013 include: Patricia Briggs, David B. Coe, and my publisher, Jamis Paulson of Turnstone. When Words Collide is changing venues for next year, and while I loved the open central area of the hotel that allowed you to see who was currently in the bar or having a meal (and those exterior balconies), the place was also hot as Surtur’s ball sack. I definitely won’t miss that. Hopefully new venue, the Carriage House Inn will be a good fit.

I Will Be Appearing at THIN AIR, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival

I think the title of this post should be self-explanatory. This is the good news I was hinting at some weeks back (which was probably in my last blog post–bad blogger! Bad, lazy blogger!). I feel confident in announcing it now, as my name is up on the website .

Come see me read from Thunder Road Sunday, September 23rd on the Mainstage: Voices from Oodena. From the program:

Oodena, the natural amphitheatre at The Forks, has been a gathering place for centuries. THIN AIR celebrates that history with a collage of commissioned work from writers who have made a mark on the local scene. Gather on the stairs for a magical evening of words in many flavours. Bring a jacket—the air is cool as the sun sets.

Admission is free. Books for sale on-site. Inclement weather: Centre Court, The Forks Market

Oodena is one of my favourite locales in Winnipeg. It just screams story (it’s also where I had my first official author photo taken, thank you Rachel!) and the words “magical evening” tell me I’d better bring my “A” game. Fortunately, I have a whole novel of magical things to choose from to read on the 23rd, one of the benefits of writing fantasy.

I’m very excited about this appearance. I attended THIN AIR as a bookseller and reader for several years before I started attending as a writer, so being invited to appear there after the release of my first novel is a real treat. Thank you to the THIN AIR staff: Charlene, Perry, Tavia, Karen, Kate, Bruce, and Kendra for inviting me.

Here’s my write-up:

Here’s a complete list of this year’s appearing authors:


Still Not the Semi-mythical Post About My Trip to Ottawa

It’s been a month since I returned from Ottawa, and still no blog post about it. Just what the hell is my problem, anyway?

Mostly it has been camera issues, as I wanted to include some photographic evidence of the trip. Camera issues have been sorted out, laziness issues continue unabated…

Seriously though, various writing things have come up which made blogging seem like procrastination (given how much I like procrastination you’d think I’d have been all over the blogging instead of re-watching movies like Broken Arrow and Face Off.) So…what kind of “writing things” (that’s the technical term–I checked with my editor) have I been up to:

I finished a review of David Nickle’s excellent Rasputin’s Bastards for The Winnipeg Review. It was a great read, but it was also a big Russian bear to review.

Copy edits and page proofs for Thunder Road. I’m not sure how many of you reread the books you buy, but I’ve reread this book I’ve written more times than I can easily count. Page proofs are also the terror-stage of publishing. It’s the last chance I’ll get to change anything. Which of course means I want to change everything.

With only a month until the launch of the book, there’s been a lot of unexpected (okay, expected, but completely ignored) things to take care of. I spent a good week tracking down the mailing address of what seems like pretty much everyone in Winnipeg. I promised the store I’d blow the roof off the place (the metaphorical roof, not the literal roof–that would get me fired and arrested). This seems more likely to happen, as within a week of the date being set, we had enough reservations that the event grew too large for its initial venue. So, thank you, Winnipeg. That was an amazing feeling.

I’ve finally posted the cover for Thunder Road. If you missed it on Facebook and Twitter, here it is again, because I can’t stop looking at the thing:

Trilogy, you say? I’m hard (ha!) at work on Tombstone Blues. And somewhere in this sea of first book publicity I still need to finish that damned sequel. It’s coming along. More slowly than I’d like, but hopefully I won’t be embarrassed of the book when I turn it in to Turnstone Press in November.

I’ve added a second reading at When Words Collide. I’m part of EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy’s fall launch. I’ll be reading the first five minutes or so of my Tesseracts 16 short story “Back in Black.”

In other short story news, I’ve finished my galley edits for “First They Came for the Pigs” which was a surprisingly painless procedure. Pre-sale on the Fungi anthology happens in November, release is set for December.

I also finished a short story: “A Taste of the Other Side” (almost finished, actually, still some tiny amounts of polish to be lacquered on to it) and will be submitting it to the editor this week. This one was for an anthology where I’d been invited to submit a story. That was a big deal for me, it also means added pressure to get it right out of the gate. I think it works. We’ll see.

The last “writer thing” I’ve had to do involved writing a one hundred word bio of myself. It seems every time I need a bio, a slightly different word count is asked for, and so I must toil at trying to make myself seem a) interesting and b) not a total douche. Thanks to The Daly Show, a little less douche has become my biographical mantra.

Write on!