When Words Collide 2013 Roundup (Finally)

I had an abbreviated, whirlwind When Words Collide weekend this year.

I arrived late on the Thursday before the convention, already running a sleep debt, and then promptly stayed up well into Friday morning catching up with my pal, tourguide and host, Kevin Madison. We left in the morning for Kananaskis so that I could do some location scouting for future stories (more on that later), and then I hit the con hotel in time to join Celeste Peters and Renee Bennett for supper.

Unfortunately, I missed the Patricia Briggs workshop on Character and Voice, it took place before the conference, and I wasn’t able to get the extra days off of work. I still submitted my sample though, and both she and the critique group had some great things to say about my non-Thunder Road-related work in progess.

Because I wasn’t entirely certain I’d be able to make it to Calgary at all, I didn’t sign up for any programming this year, not even a reading. But my publisher, Jamis Paulson from Turnstone Press, was one of the Guests of Honour, so I crashed the hour with Jamis panel that fellow Turnstone author, Edmonton’s mystery queen (and all around awesome human being) Janice MacDonald was also guesting on.

When Words Collide Janis & Jamis

Hilarity ensued.

WWCwithJanis&Jamis

(Last two photos courtesy of Randy Williams)

Some of my favourite folks are Alberta folks. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I’ve met so many amazing people at the Calgary conferences I’ve attended. WWC feels like my home con even though its over 1300 KM away. I got to meet a bunch of my fellow critiquers for the first time. There were some great stories in that batch of first chapters and I think you’ll be seeing more than a few on the shelves sooner rather than later. It was lovely to hang out with Sandra Wickham, Ella Beaumont, and Jill Flanagan from the critique group, who missed no opportunity to remind me that I wasn’t there. They also made sure to drag me off to meet Patty before the con was over though, so there’s definitely no hard feelings!

One of the other great things about going to cons is finally getting to talk in person with people you’ve only interacted with on Twitter or Facebook. I enjoyed sharing a drink with JW Schnarr, Charles Propelec and Jeff Campbell even if the service and decor of the sports bar were lacking. They were also kind enough to offer their sympathies about the Blue Bombers woes to me when they saw I was from Winnipeg.

There were many launches taking place at WWC this year, but I was only able to take in one, due to my schedule, and that was the Urban Greenman launch. I’m so happy for Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine. They’ve put together a beautiful book and I can’t wait to dig into the stories inside. I have so many friends who made it into Urban Greenman, and I’m not going to lie, I REALLY wanted to get a story in this collection. Alas, not to be, but I did write a story that I love, and I’m sure it will find a home eventually.

I always tend to spend a lot of time in the Dealer’s Room at any convention I attend, if you can’t find someone in the bar, they’re probably looking at books and swag. And I brought too many (and yet not nearly enough) books home this year, including Urban Greenman, The Puzzle Box by the Apocalyptic Four (aka Eileen Bell, Randy McCharles, Ryan McFadden, Billie Milholland), The Tattooed Witch by Susan MacGregor, and Warriors by Barb Galler-Smith and Josh Langston. Also big thanks to Owl’s Nest Books for stocking Thunder Road at their table this year!

Owl's Nest Books

(Photo courtesy of Randy Williams)

When Words Collide is also the host conference for the In Places In Between short story contest. I have fond memories of this contest. Learning about it was a big kicker to get me submitting my fiction. The first short story I every finished and submitted to strangers went to In Places in Between. I didn’t win. I didn’t place. I didn’t have a hot clue what I was doing then, but having my work critiqued by strangers was an eyeopener. A member of my writing group has placed in it, the extremely talented Chris Smith (“Crow-Maiden”), and this year, I was surprised to see my copy editor, David Jón Fuller had a story inside (not surprised he made it in, David’s a great writer, but I had no idea he’d entered) and now I see that he took second place. Congrats, David (and you’d better come to Calgary next year)!

DSC_0288

A note on the parties (because there are always parties): Whether it’s bubble-blowing gauntlet or a bowl of punch so heavily spiked that allows you to see through time, romance writers know how to have fun. To Tim Reynolds, for the Irish Whiskey (Mmm Writers Tears), and the generous soul (I never caught your name, I’m sorry!) with that fine, fine, bottle of Kentucky Bourbon (Blanton’s, I believe), thank you for roaming the halls with your libations, gentlemen. I took things easy this year, knowing I’d be hiking through the Badlands the next day, and somehow I felt being dehydrated, hungover, and scrambling up and down coulees was a remarkably bad idea (it was, evidently, I didn’t take things quite as easy as I thought).

Next year’s fantasy author guest of honour at When Words Collide is Brandon Sanderson! Which reminds me that I really have to finish writing my review/roundup for the Wheel of Time, now that its all done. But hey, that series was supposed to be a trilogy and it lasted decades and fourteen books, so if my review is a few months tardy, who’s going to complain? Brandon will be joined by Diana Gabaldon (Historical Fiction), Jacqueline Guest (YA, Historical), D.J. McIntosh (Mystery), and my Tesseracts 16 editor, Mark Leslie (as Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations for Kobo).

Thank you Randy McCharles and all of the WWC organizers, volunteers, members, and guests for another great year!

Write on!

Lord, I Was Born A Traveling Man

August has been busy and it’s not going to let up, it seems.

I’ve started writing up a blog about my trip to Gimli, Manitoba and Islendingadagurrin, and realized that unless I want August to turn into the black hole of broken promises that my trip to Ottawa last summer (still awaiting a blog of its own–probably not going to happen now) has become, I’d better get on writing this trip up. And my trip to brilliant Calgary conference, When Words Collide. And my research trip to the Badlands of Alberta. I will write them. I swear.

But in the meantime, here’s some great news and a quick reminder:

The Winnipeg launch of Tombstone Blues has a time and place! October 15th at McNally Robinson Booksellers. Hope to see you there!

There is also less than one month left to vote for the Prix Aurora Awards, and here is my sole reminder that Thunder Road is short listed in the Best Novel category. Matt Moore has written an excellent blog about the Auroras and why you should vote, even if it’s not for him (or for me), so check it out, and please vote!

Write on!

 

My World Fantasy Convention Roundup

Another World Fantasy Convention has come and gone, and as my blog readers seem to enjoy these reports (if my site stats are to be believed) here’s the WFC2012 report.

Better late than never, right?

World Fantasy is my favourite convention, hands down. Maybe I imprinted on it somehow, World Fantasy 2008 in Calgary was the first away from home conference I ever attended. I talked comic books with Tad Williams, football with George R.R. Martin and Hemingway with Joe Haldeman. I met tons of people who became good friends. That is bound to make an impression on a guy.

This year’s convention was also held in Canada, so I knew I’d also have a lot of friends to meet up with. It was an early start for me, as I flew off Thursday morning with friend and fellow Turnstone Press author, Karen Dudley. We’d hoped to meet up with another Manitoba writer, Shen Braun, who was arriving at the same time as us, but on a different flight, and split a cab from Pearson airport to the conference hotel (it was quite the jaunt as World Fantasy Toronto was actually in Richmond Hill, or so I kept being told). Unfortunately, Shen didn’t get in on time, but Karen and I did share the plane with Winnipeg writer Gerald Brandt. Even more luck, our mutual friends Eileen Bell and Ryan McFadden were on route to the conference and near the airport, so they swung by to pick us all up. It was a tight squeeze with five writers and their luggage in a Toyota Corolla, but we made it work.

Arriving at the hotel was a homecoming of sorts. Every time I turned around, there was someone else I knew. A great feeling. Over the weekend, I not only connected with friends who are scattered across the continent, but met many new friends.

After ditching our bags, we had to hustle to get through registration and grab our swag bags (the swag at WFC is truly epic, this is only what I could fit in my luggage, I left at least this much behind on the trade table.)

We had to hustle because Thursday night, Turnstone was sponsoring the Ravenstone Books Launch Party for Thunder Road and Food for the Gods. I’m glad the party was Thursday, it meant I didn’t have it hanging over my head for the entire weekend. I know the way I roll, and there was no way I’d have been able to relax and enjoy the convention until the launch was over. Marie Bilodeau from Ottawa served as our host and Bakka Phoenix was there to sell copies of our novels. We managed to get the room set up, and just finish having a bite to eat before it was time to open the doors and the worrying began. What if no one shows up? What if everyone shows up? Fortunately, we had just the right mix, the room was full, but not so packed that we couldn’t move about and mingle. I had a great time, signed a bunch of books, and met a few people I’d only know through Twitter or Facebook. It was over too soon, but it did teach me how stressful organizing an event can be. My hats off to people who do it all the time.

Friday:

I took in Julie Czerneda’s reading from her forthcoming fantasy novel, A Turn of Light. I’ve been curious about this one for a long time, as I’ve always had my feet deeper in fantasy than in science fiction, looking forward to reading the whole book. The samples Julie read were enough to entice me to read the book when it releases.

At my very first World Fantasy Con, I met Chandra Rooney. She was on a panel about writing tie-in fiction. I read her Tarot Cafe novel, The Wild Hunt, and interviewed her here. It was great to be able to chat for a bit after her reading. The samples Chandra read are unpublished right now, but you’re in for a treat when they do see the inside of bookstores.

I think the only panel I took in this year was Sandra Kasturi’s interviewing World Fantasy special guest, Tanya Huff. Sandra’s a riot and Tanya is also funny as hell, and a consummate pro to boot. She shared some great stories from her career with a packed and eager room. Good times.

Every World Fantasy Convention also includes a mass signing, putting every author in one big banquet room for two hours, and lets the signature hounds go wild. It was a better experience than I was expecting. I did actually sign some copies of Thunder Road, despite Fantasy giants like Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss being in the same room. I handed out a bunch of my temporary tattoos and had fun chatting with Neil Godbout from Prince George (who’s debut YA novel, Disintegrate, is well worth checking out) and Robert Sawyer.

After the signing had concluded I made my way up to the hospitality suites and flitted between the EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Fall launch, the Tor Books party and the Con Suite. I happened to be around when it was announced that James A. Moore had wrote a story about Dr. Doom and Barbie. There was a bet of some kind involved, I never did suss out all the details, something about 55$ and popcorn. James joked it was the best per word rate he’d received to date. Christopher Golden read the story aloud to a dozen or more listeners. The story, about 1200 words, complete with a beginning, middle, and end, was evidently written in about 45 minutes. It was amazing. James promised to put it up on his blog at some point. As soon as it surfaces, I’ll link to it, because it’s too good not to read.

I picked up a copy of Shanghai Steam (complete with an awesome story by my bud, Shen) and read the first five minutes of “Back in Black” from Tesseracts 16, joined by fellow contributors Michael Kelly, Sandra Kasturi, Adria Laycraft and Randy McCharles.

Saturday was mostly spent taking in readings:

James L. Sutter, author of Death’s Heretic and fiction editor at Paizo did a short reading, and then led a fun Q&A about writing and gaming with his audience. I’m still holding out hope that Paizo will let him write a novel set in his Distant Worlds Pathfinder Campaign setting. It’s may be a bit of a fringe product, but it was one of the coolest game accessories I’ve seen in years, and it was obvious James had a real passion for it.

Another Paizo author, Dave Gross, had the room next. Dave read from Queen of Thorns. It was a saucy reading for 9:30 in the morning. Man, I love the character of Radovan! I picked up Dave’s previous book, Master of Devils after Dave’s reading at When Words Collide 2011 in Calgary, and have been looking forward to his next book ever since.

Suzanne Church won the Aurora Award for her short story “The Needle’s Eye” so I wanted to check out her reading (also, she promised candy). Suzanne read snippets from a few different stories (bought her issue of Clarkesworld while I was picking up my “rejected by Clarkesworld card), all very different, but all excellent.

I had to run to make Helen Marshall’s reading from her new collection, Hair Side, Flesh Side, but it was worth it. A very intriguing story, and perfect delivery in the reading.

I made it back from supper in time for the epic ChiZine party. I’ve met so many of the ChiZine authors, and they’re all awesome people in addition to being great writers, but the gravitational pull of that much awesome in one room made for a very crowded party. So I wandered the halls roaming between the consuite party, ChiZine party, and the hotel bar.

It sounds bad, but I mostly behaved (mostly). I had to be up at 5 to get ready for my flight home.

I survived the weekend on two hours of sleep a night and managed not to pick up any con crud despite seemingly being surrounded by coughers and flu carriers (Looking at you, Mrs. Dudley). It was also quite the change of gears to go from drinking bourbon with friends for four days and being on no one’s schedule but my own to plunging back to the incessant ringing of telephones and vague requests for “that blue book, you know the one.”

Next week the western leg of the tour starts! Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, I am coming for you…

Write on.

Thunder Road Launch Roundup, Part The Second

I’ve mostly recovered from my first book launch. Thanks again to everyone who came out on Thursday. I was so wired afterward that I don’t think I slept a wink.

As problems go, I’ll take it.

Knowing that space as I do, my best booksellerly (it’s a perfectly cromulent word)

estimate of attendance would be around 250 people.  Wendy even overheard a customer who saw the crowd say: “who the hell is reading tonight, James Patterson?”

I’ll take that too.

McNally events maestro, John Toews, gave me a lovely and professional introduction, hitting all the highlights of my writing career thus far, and I’m sure that Orrin Grey and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, my editors for the Fungi anthology will appreciate that John (who is a huge fan of things eldritch and Lovecraftian) also singled out Innsmouth Free Press and my story “First They Came for the Pigs” in front of the crowd. Even sweeter than the professional introduction, was the very personal one that my dear Wendy offered up. She likes public speaking even less than I do, but she stood up there, and she fucking rocked it. My Grinch heart grew three more sizes in that moment.

 

 

I told the crowd that while I was preparing I felt that I was writing a toast for a wedding. I was surrounded by family, friends, acquaintances, and yes, even some strangers (in some ways, that was the most thrilling thing, that someone had seen the poster and thought that looks cool and decided to attend). I’m also sure a few people were drunk when I hit the podium (and certainly were by the end of the night, judging by how much wine Turnstone put out. I know I had a couple or three by the time the line was done. Woo!).

People seemed to like my intro, and laughed where I hoped they would, which was a relief. I’m not a natural public speaker. I can’t hop up to a podium and extemporize and have it go well. The most stressful part of a reading for me is what to say before  I start reading. Once the book comes out, I’m on script and feel fine.

Again, because I’m not a natural performer, I rehearse my readings to ensure good pacing and change of inflection. I’ve been to at least three hundred readings over the last ten years, and so I like to think I’ve absorbed a bit about what works and doesn’t. I chose a passage from the beginning of Thunder Road so that I didn’t have to spend five minutes explaining backstory, and read for about ten minutes, trying to leave the story on a tense moment, hoping the audience will need to know what happens next. Judging by the Winnipeg Free Press Bestseller list, it worked.

Because of the size of the audience and the fact that I knew there were a number of out of Winnipeg guests (hello, Morden, Darlingford, Miami, and Brandon!) who still had to drive home on a work night, I decided against doing a question and answer period. If any of you were in the audience and had a question you wanted to ask me, drop me a line in the comments, and I’ll be happy to chime in with my two cents.

The Thunder Road launch was also a reunion of sorts. My teachers from the 2nd, 3rd, and 8th grade were in the audience, as was my junior high principal. I’m sure every time I said “fuck” it brought back old times for him (I was an early adopter of profanity, even I mostly kept it hidden from authority figures). There were tons of local writers in the crowd, and Robert J. Sawyer, who provided the cover blurb for my book) flew in from Toronto to attend.

After the reading, I was presented with a block mounted, enlarged version of my author photo. I had absolutely no idea that McNally Robinson planned to enshrine me on their wall of writers, so surprise well-kept folks. This is a store where the staff go above and beyond every damn day–I also joked that I liked to think that maybe they gave me just a little bit extra above and beyond, and boy did they ever deliver. So thank you, once again, to my fellow booksellers, here in Winnipeg, and to booksellers every where else.

I was also surprised with gifts of whiskey (Irish and Kentucky), Odin Stones hand picked from Gimli’s beach, a beautiful photo album (which will become my record of the evening) and a very cool caricature card drawn by my friend and former co-worker Phil Hayes. John Toews also arranged to have a soundtrack of sorts playing for the evening with the songs I used as chapter titles. For those of you who know my taste in music hearing this in the store was totally worth the labour of writing a book.

 

This isn’t the first time I’ve scrawled my name and defaced a book or magazine. When I sold “First Light” to On Spec, I signed copies for friends and family. At Edmonton’s Pure Speculation festival in November 2011 I signed my first signature for a stranger (though Cath Jackal isn’t a stranger any longer!). Recently at When Words Collide in Calgary, after the EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy fall launch I signed my name over my story “Back in Black” in a bunch of copies of Tesseracts 16. This was very different however. With the pressure to move a long line efficiently, and wanting each of the signatures to be heartfelt and unique, I often found myself scrambling for something to write. My publisher warned me to come up with a few stock taglines to sign with, and I did, but let me tell you, in the moment, it’s a lot harder than it sounds to remember them. Sometimes, you go to sign a book and you just have nothing. One more thing to work on. You learn more about this business of being and author every day.

You also learn to watch what you say on Facebook. I made a professional wrestling reference and thanks to David Nowacki of Cult Couch infamy, this was happened:

 

“Oooh YEAAAAAH!”

A Blog About Blogging

Is it too meta to write a blog about blogging?

One of my goals for my holidays was to write a blog post every day. So far, so good. One of my goals when I started the blog was to post at least every week. If I look at my number of posts so far this year it looks like I’ve succeeded, but in reality, there were weeks with multiple posts, and stretches where my site was lying very fallow.

The thing I love about using WordPress, is the access to stats. A fellow could get lost analyzing them, breaking them down, and eventually, writing towards them. And why not? I want to draw traffic to the blog. So what have I learned since January?

1. People love my convention roundups.

My two biggest posts thus far have been my post on Keycon 2012 and When Words Collide 2012. What does this tell me? Step One: Go to more conventions. Step Two: Don’t know. Step Three: Profit! But seriously, Underpants Gnomes references aside, I love going to conventions, and love writing up the experience afterwards, so that’ll happen regardless.

2. When I post something, I get more hits.

This should have been self explanatory, but it’s nice to see the data backs it up. It would be very disheartening indeed to see blog traffic go down when I posted. Another thing I’ve noticed is that there is carryover to blog traffic the day after a post, but not much beyond that. Keep posting everyday and even if the numbers fluctuate up and down, the average views have been significantly higher than they have been. August has been my busiest month for page views as a result of this.

3. Most of my page views have been from Canada.

Another stat that I expected. Most of the people I know are from Canada, my publisher is Canadian, and I rarely travel outside of Canada. That said, there have been multiple views from The United States (also expected), Great Britain (interesting), Korea (really?) and Iceland (awesome!). I can only hope these aren’t the spambots that have been trying to comment about Search Engine Optimization.

4. Blogging everyday is exhausting.

I don’t know how folks like John Scalzi do it (maybe if I had a cat I could tape bacon to…no, that’s been done. Maybe pics of my belt buckles or bad moustaches?). I’m glad they do, because I love reading their posts. I’m still committed to blogging every day of my holidays, but I think I’ll need to find a schedule that suits me better, while continues to provide more benefit than the once a week goal that I had originally set for myself. Perhaps every other day or three days a week would work.

5. Once you start writing about any topic, it isn’t hard to wind up with five hundred words or so on that topic.

See, I just did it.

Write on.

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…