Last night, I stumbled back into my flat and I slept hard. Head hit the pillow, lights went out. For ten glorious hours, I was submerged in deep, (mostly) dreamless sleep.
See, it was Can*Con this weekend.
I’ve talked about Can*Con before. It’s a SFF convention in Ottawa, and my favourite con by far. This year was no exception. It felt like the platonic ideal of cons.
Good professional things happened. My workshop went really well. I spent time with dear friends. I scored some sweet stuff in the dealers’ room. Fun food expeditions were had.
I could ramble on about how great the weekend was, and leave it at that. But I want to take a moment to dissect why Can*Con works.
Can*Con was inaugurated in the nineties. After going on hiatus for a time, it was resurrected by Derek Künsken (who just released his debut novel, THE QUANTUM MAGICIAN!). He currently co-chairs the con with my pal Marie Bilodeau. The Ottawa writers’ community is lovely and vibrant, and most of them are involved in the con on some level, whether on the programming or corporate teams.
So what makes this a good con?
When a con attempts everything, it ends up with nothing. Cosplay, media, literature, gaming, science, and history attract different audiences and need different skills. Spreading yourself thin to hit them all dilutes the con’s purpose. Some cons fragment into self-contained enclaves; others just end up feeling watered-down, and can’t progress beyond surface-level skimming of their topics.
Can*Con has two main focuses: literature and science.
There are some history panels, of course, and I taught a podcasting workshop. The focuses allow some room to breathe, but all programming aligns with that basic mandate.
Accessibility and inclusivity aren’t after-thoughts. They are incorporated into planning from the outset. There is also a designated Accessibility Coordinator.
Pronoun stickers for badges, a dealers’ room designed with mobility in mind, all-gender washroom availability, a quiet room, accessibility seating in programming rooms—these are all givens. Accessibility and inclusivity are non-negotiables.
Is it perfect? Of course not. But identified shortfalls are met with commitment to refining and improving—not denial and shirking of responsibility.
Get the Right People
Convention teams need a carefully curated mix of personalities and skills sets. After all—those personalities and skill sets become the con.
It’s a diverse group, but there is a common factor: commitment to the convention’s mission and values. Without that, you’ve got no coherency in your team, which translates to no coherency in the con either.
Just a little bit. Every con has a personality—which in turn influences the audience it attracts. Author and storyteller (and my friend) Nicole Lavigne describes Can*Con as “the little con that does.”
At this point, it’s the best game in eastern Canada. And it got there partly by saying it was. It’s a bit like performer A.E. Shapera pointed out…if you claim you’re famous, eventually people make you so.
Commitment to Harassment Policies
Again, there are always procedures to refine and improvements to make.
But the commitment to upholding the current code of conduct is total and absolute.
End of story.
It takes a lot to make a convention. It takes even more to make a convention work. As I reflect back on the weekend, I keep coming back to this:
A convention is its community.
I feel very fortunate to call this community—and this con—my friends.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Ēriks Ešenvalds’ wonderful piece, “Northern Lights.” It starts with a Latvian folksong, and then changes to the writings of American explorer Charles Francis Hall, set to music. The piece reminds me very much of The Flying Dutchman.
From one adventure to the next!
Six Stories, Told at Night had its showcase and reception last week. Overall, we were thrilled with how it all went (I regret a few moments of clumsiness). And to celebrate, The Seventh Story was released on Friday! This is a companion story written as one of our GoFundMe rewards. You can find it here!
So what’s next?
Yes, I return once again to this delightful con! Its numbers are swelling, the programming looks awesome as ever, and I’m so looking forward to seeing lots of cool people. It’ll be a busy weekend, too!
Friday, October 12
WORKSHOP: A Sound Idea – Fiction Writing for Podcasts
Ever wanted to dip a toe in the ocean of podcasting? Play with sounds and learn the difference between a read and performed narrative? Then step right up! I’ll be teaching a session on podcasting writing and production.
Can-Con has a few masterclasses running, so click here to learn more and register!
READING: 3:00 pm
It’s gonna be Anatoly Belilovsky and me kicking off the readings!
Saturday, October 13
A Seriously Folked-Up Panel on Fairy Tales — 12:00 pm
Me, Amal el-Mohtar, Kari Maaren, Rati Mehrotra, Derek Newman-Stille (m)
Sunday October 14
Beyond Romantic Entanglements— 2:00 pm
Me, James Alan Gardner, Jessica Reisman, Kelly Robson (m)
Of course, then fun doesn’t stop after Can-Con. There’s a slew of projects in the works. I’ve deviated some from my magic New Year’s Day list of goals, but I’m happy with the things in the hopper…including a new musical comedy crossover.
Things are good. Exhausting, but good.
What I’m Listening to this Week
I just came across César Franck’s “Le Chasseur Maudit” (The Damned/Accursed Hunter). It’s a wonderful musical take on the Wild Hunt motif. I love the hunter’s horn crying out in the beginning, and the grand, sweeping lines as he’s pursued by Hell. Perfect for this time of year!
Yes, this post is late. I got back from Readercon on Saturday night, and proceeded straight from the airport to Postscript, the Toronto Fringe patio/general hangout area. Then we had our final show Sunday afternoon, followed by one last night of Fringing.
Monday was mostly naps and lounging, to be honest.
But here we are! Fringe and Readercon both behind us! It’s an awful lot of emotion for any one blog post, but I do want to say this:
I am so very, very lucky in my friends and communities.
Fringe first: I couldn’t believe the support given to Six Stories, Told at Night. From the GoFundMe to the general logistical assistance, from everyone who came out to see the show (and some of you travelled a long way, I know!) and everyone who held our hands and told us that everything would be Okay—we’ve been overwhelmed with your kindness.
So thank you. Truly, sincerely, deeply—thank you.
And then I went to Readercon, where I caught up with wonderful old friends, met amazing new ones, and plunged headfirst into insightful, well-organized programming. Again, I felt swaddled with kindness and care. The writing and theatre communities share a lot of similarities ; this support is certainly one of them.
You’re all awesome. That’s my point here.
Now, more general updates: there are still some GoFundMe rewards to deliver! Specifically, the Super Secret Magic Seventh Story and Coxwood 2.0. What’s going on there?
The seventh story is mostly figured out (in my head, at least). We have a plan for recording it. I just need to write it. Because my 2018 is ridiculous, I have a major deadline on August 1st. I’m trying to write this story alongside that work, but it may need to wait just a few more weeks. But it is definitely on my radar.
Coxwood 2.0 is also on my radar, never fear! It’s going to be later in the year, though. Once the ridiculousness of summer dies down, I’ll be reaching out to actors and seeing what sort of cast we can put together. A gentle reminder that it won’t be as long as Season One…but I have some ideas percolating. It’s gonna happen. Don’t fret.
That’s it for now, I think. Blythe and I have some loose ends to tie up and some plans to bash out. No rest for the wicked, after all.
But we are really, really happy. That’s my other point. The Toronto Fringe has been the most challenging experience of my creative life—but also the most rewarding. I am so incredibly proud of our scrappy underdog play. The reviews speak for themselves!
Originally a podcast drama, this adaptation makes rollicking, enjoyable show…it’s clear that Bryski is a storyteller to watch. (NOW Magazine, NNNN review)
A love letter to broken hearts and letting go, to ambiguity and formation, this is a rich, complex play that had many an audience member discretely dabbing at tears. (Mooney on Theatre, “Rave Review”)
The folding paths through which the play presents itself are prevented from getting too murky or confusing through the anchor of the intensely realized, warts and all friendship portrayed by the leads, Blythe Haynes and Alexandra Milne. The heart of an almost delicately intricate, multi-narrative sequence remains throughout the emotional ties between two young women… (My Entertainment World)
Of course, none of that would be possible without amazing people. In addition to the love from our community, we are so grateful for the hard work, dedication, and professionalism shown by staff and volunteers at the Toronto Fringe and Theatre Passe Muraille. We literally couldn’t do it without you!
And there’s our creative team: cast, crew, and everyone who helped along the way. You gave your hearts and souls to this story, and we couldn’t be more thankful.
And of course, my creative partner-in-crime, who’s been with Six Stories from the beginning.
In my head, I see Six Stories as a scruffy little waif who runs around punching things. We can’t wait to see where the journey takes us next.
What I’m Listening To This Week
A little Lord of the Rings music. I’ll be moving to a hobbit hole soon, so it only seems fitting!
Whooo! Toronto Fringe Festival! We’re well underway with performances of SIX STORIES, TOLD AT NIGHT. Reactions thus far have been great—and it’s such a treat to see these characters and this Otherworld come to life onstage. And of course, there are ~150 shows all across the city to check out. The sheer amount of talent staggers me.
Seriously, there’s a lot of emotion here. We’ll have a good chat when Fringe finishes next week.
I’m ducking out of Fringe to attend ReaderCon!
I’m so excited; I really wanted to go last year, but scheduling didn’t permit. When I realized that it overlaps with Fringe, I thought, “Well, of course it does.” Then I figured I’d just find a way to make both work. Because why not?
So I’m not staying through the whole convention. The plan is to fly in Thursday, spend all of Friday, and then fly home Saturday evening, in order to close out our last show on Sunday afternoon.
No big deal.
And I have my schedule!
Friday (12:00 pm)—Consent Culture in Fiction
Me, Teri Clarke, Maria Dahvana Headley, Hillary Monahan, Victoria Sandbrook
Friday (6:00 pm)—Stonecoast MFA Readings
Peter Adrian Behravesh, Me, JR Dawson, Julie C. Day, Emlyn Dornemann, James Patrick Kelly, Erin Roberts
Saturday (2:00 pm)—Alternatives to Romance
Me, Elaine Isaak, Nicole Kornher-Stace, John P. Murphy, Patty Templeton
It all sounds very exciting! And it’ll be great to dive back into writers and prose after a week of theatre. If you’re around, do come say hello. Looking forward to this con, shortened though it must be!
What I’m Listening to This Week
First, I absolutely love referring to the day of resurrection as “That Great Getting’-Up Morning.” It’s also got that emotional, rhythmic style spirituals revel in. And I think it might’ve sparked a story idea.
It is that time again! This weekend, I will be in Ottawa for Can-Con: the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. This is one of my very favourite cons, and I’m excited for stellar programming, good friends, and lively conversations.
What’s my schedule for the weekend? I’m glad you asked!
8:00 pm: Alternate History Live Challenge (Charlotte Ashley, Anatoly Belilovsky, Me, Mike Rimar, and Matthew Johnson)
9:00 pm: The Fantasy Author’s Guide to Beer (Me)
3:00 pm: Writing Games: It’s Big Literature Now (Geoff Gander, Kate Heartfield, M. Elizabeth Marshall, Me Moderating)
7:00 pm: Readings (Me, David Nickle, Kate Story)
8:00 pm: Asexual Identities (Andrew Barton, S.M. Carriere, Dianna Gunn, Kelsi Morris, Me Moderating)
IDK, we should probably get the organizers some coffee and pastries.
In Ottawa that weekend? Come say hi, and hang out with cool people! Also, today is Canadian Thanksgiving, and I am thankful for all of you!
What I’m Listening to this Week
This piece kind of reminds me of high school. But also, it fits the feel/mood/emotion of the novel. I have always loved how the solo voice comes in with the main motif around 2:45—and promptly catches at 3:05.
My dear friends Erik and Katrina got married this weekend! It was a gorgeous ceremony, an awesome party after, and of course, wonderful people in attendance. As a bonus, there were friends I usually only see at cons: not nearly often enough.
Back around the Nebulas, I thought about what a funny thing convention culture is. Conventions are like pocket universes—full of people you love, but strangely separate from everyday life. They’re business and social life rolled into one, and when we land in Ottawa, Baltimore, Boston, wherever—we simply pick up where we left off in whichever city hosted us last.
Looking at my friends at this wedding, I met half at World Fantasy, and half at Ad Astra. (Fittingly, that includes the couple: I met Erik at one, Katrina at the other.) And I’m a little misty-eyed to think—from these conversations in carpeted hallways, these moments stolen from conference rooms and hotel bars—we become part of others’ lives in such a meaningful way.
One of the beautiful things about cons is how they act as a nexus point. My friends range across Canada and the United States: from the Deep South to New England to Ontario, and over to the West Coast. I never would have met them if we weren’t drawn to these cities like moths to a flame.During the dancing on Saturday, I had a little shiver of joy. Seriously, it was really cool. We’d gone from panels to dance floors, readings to toasts, hugs of goodbye to hugs of congratulations. It’s been a lot of experiences in many different contexts.
Writing can be terribly lonely. It’s easy to feel isolated. This weekend was a beautiful reminder of the friendship that brings joy to the road.
Erik and Katrina: you looked beautiful, your joy was palpable, and I wish you many happy years together.
What I’m Listening to this Week
You all know that I’m unflinchingly honest in this section. Last week, we had 14th century sacred music. This week, we have Taylor Swift. Yes, I have a few of her songs in my library. And this week, this one got firmly lodged in my ears:
Last week, I had a dream—one of those dreams that makes you wonder if sometimes we really don’t just leave our bodies for a bit and go walking on another plane.
In the dream, I was in a train station. It’s one I’ve visited in dreams before: the station a little way out of town, but still pretty close to the big junction. (My dream-geographies are remarkably consistent.) A writer whom I deeply respect and admire was hanging out too, waiting for the train. After some chit-chat, I said:
“Everyone else taught me how to write. You taught me how to be an artist.”
All the next day, the dream stayed with me, seeping into the sunlight as only certain dreams do.
Everyone else taught me how to write. You taught me how to be an artist.
Every so often, the sleeping brain figures things out. Craft and art: slightly different aspects of the creative self, aren’t they? Here then, is my theory. Just like we all have public, private, and innermost selves, I think that writer types are three selves as well: writer, author, and artist.
To my mind, the writer is the craftsperson. The Writer-Me is the one who managed to get Hapax published—clean, solid, functional prose and a well-crafted story. She’s the one who beat her head against POV for months until it finally clicked. She’s the one whose voice broke—from clean, solid, functional prose to a distinctive sharpness and lyricism.
The Writer-Self dissects other people’s books like kids taking apart radios to see how they work. She delights in seeing exactly how a plot twist or character arc was constructed. She tries to articulate why some stories just don’t do it for her.
She’s writing presently—she preferred writing presently to writing right now, because of the homophone in the line—but she’s sharing the job with someone else.
I draw a distinction between writer and author. If you like, you can picture a parallel between author/writer and public/private.
So the Author-Self handles the social media, and she’s the one who does readings and sits on panels. She’s aware of how she presents: she’s the most outgoing version of myself, and she tries very hard to be gracious and polite, even when she’s exhausted, because that’s just good manners.But more than that—it’s the Author-Self who does the business side. She maintains the submissions spreadsheet: which stories are with which markets, when they were sent, and their current status. She reads contracts and records earnings. She’s the one who learned to podcast, and create e-book files, and edit video, and lead workshops, and customize a blog, because those are all important authorial skills.
But there’s one more…
ArtistThe hardest one to get a handle on. The Artist is the one who makes stories sing. She’s the one that gives warmth and life to the skeleton so carefully wrought by the Writer. She’s the one who has to create, needs to create. She’s very probably the one who had the dream in the train station.
But the Artist isn’t just a self, it’s a way of life. It’s a way of seeing and breathing and being. And so the Artist is the one who wanders galleries and gets drunk on light and colour. Certain pieces of music make her cry, or gasp, or conceive a creepy, creepy play.
It’s the Artist who pays attention to the small things: apple blossoms and held-back tears. It’s the Artist who rises to the big things: love, and injustices, and fear. She looks to the Other and tries to understand.
She believes in fairy tales.
She wants to make her own.
But the thing is…
They’re not wholly separate, these aspects of ourselves that make up a creative self. They’re interdependent; they need each other. So I guess, as with so many things, it comes down to balance: the harmony of many parts moving as one.
Because really, they are one.
Now rock on with your bad selves! 😉
What I’m Listening to This Week
A cheerful little madrigal by John Bennett. Actually, it’s not cheerful at all; it’s about wanting to cry so much you drown in your own tears. As one does, I suppose.
But it is very beautiful; there are some wonderful chords in there, particularly around the “springtides” section. I also love when the upper and lower voices start dialoguing with each other, before returning to a four-way conversation.
I love conventions. They’re exhausting, they usually involve consistent forays beyond my comfort zone, and I absolutely love them. You’re packing several hundred like-minded people into a hotel for three days and talking about the things we love. What’s not to like?
This was my first Can-Con, and Marie Bilodeau, Derek Künsken, and their army of committee members and volunteers put on one heck of a party. Honestly, I’m so used to being the token Canadian in the room that it was wonderful to spend time with writers from my neck of the woods. You don’t have to explain yourself, in a funny way.
It’s impossible to distill conventions down into 500 words. So, in a nutshell: the programming was stellar, the other guests and attendees hugely welcoming, and it was a great time. I saved five Six Stories, Told at Night beer coasters for future giveaways…the rest found their way into the hands of Can-Con attendees. The reading/performance also went well—thanks to everyone who came out! I met/chatted with a ton of fantastic people (here’s looking at you, SM Carrière, Nicole Lavigne, Sheila Williams, Jay Odjick, Fanny Darling, Eric Choi, Krista Walsh, Lesley Donaldson, Gillian Clinton, Madeline Ashby, Tanya Huff, and many, many, many more). I caught up with old friends as well.
Contented sighs all around.
Beyond the sheer enjoyment, I come away from Can-Con 2016 thinking about three things in particular:
It gets easier
Marie caught me looking a little overwhelmed the first night. Somewhere like Balticon, I can walk into a room and know more people than not. Can-Con was different, because I only knew a handful of people.
But then I remembered: my first Balticon was actually super awkward, because I only knew a handful of people. My first Dragon*Con was super awkward, because I didn’t know any people.
The first time at any convention is awkward, because it’s the first time. But here’s the thing I’m noticing: these situations are getting less awkward as time passes. Partly, I’m accreting a more solid, wide-ranging bedrock of people I know. And partly, I’m better able to deal with the initial butterflies.
The second night felt like Balticon: that same comfort and good vibe. Having awesome people helps, of course—but also, it gets easier.
This is where I belong
Connected to the point above. There’s just something when you hang out with other writers. You’re on the same wavelength. Attending this con brought that home even more.
I’m young, and new, and relatively inexperienced—but this is where I belong.
It’s the long haul
Being young, and new, and relatively inexperienced, it can be easy to look at all the mountain still ahead and wonder if you’ll ever make it.
But then you keep going. Always, you keep going.
On the Sunday, Can-Con held a meeting about joining SFWA. It was a great opportunity to chat with writers further up the peak, and it stoked the fire in my belly.
I want this. I want this so badly. It’s a long game: I doubt very much I’ll be strolling into the Nebulas next year. But you keep going. Always, you keep going.
If we want it badly enough, we don’t really have a choice, do we?
That was my Can-Con 2016. Thank you very much to the organizers, con committee, hotel staff, panellists, vendors, volunteers, and attendees. Your hard work is greatly appreciated, and you should be very proud. I can’t wait to come back next year. 🙂
What I’m Listening To This Week
“Falling Slowly” hails from the musical Once. Unusually for me, I preferred the movie to the stage version (the medium fit better, I think—the visuals just work better on film).
Anyway, it’s a wistful little piece, perfect for continuing to ride the wave of wistfulness that is Six Stories, Told at Night. Enjoy!
It’s not Monday! What am I doing here?
I’m getting ready for a con, that’s what! More specifically, I’m heading to Ottawa for the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. You can see why it’s up my alley. 😉
This is my first Can-Con, and I’m stoked. I haven’t been to Ottawa in years, and I’ll be spending the weekend with really wonderful writers – the Canadian contingent, if you will.
Everything on my schedule happens on Saturday…which will make for a very busy day, but it’ll be much easier to keep track of everything!
1:00 pm – 1:55 pm: Stormtalons: The Second Setting in The Ed Greenwood Group (Ed Greenwood, Marie Bilodeau, many authors, Me)
Ed Greenwood introduces the second setting in his new publishing venture, with authors on hand to chat worldbuilding and suchlike!
3:00 pm – 3:55 pm: Readings (Madeline Ashby, Eric Choi, Me)
As this con has a Canadian-content focus, I’ll naturally be reading from Six Stories, Told at Night. Actually, I’m hoping to play audio from the first episode: Blythe’s accent is much, much better than mine.
8:00 pm – 8:55 pm: The Beer Panel (Me, Brent Nichols, Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Max Turner)
Only the coolest conventions have beer panels. Join us in the Con Suite to hear us debate and discuss our favourite beverage. I’ll have Six Stories swag on hand for this panel!
The rest of the time, I’ll be gallivanting, meeting people, and possibly frolicking. This is my only official convention this year (I was budgeting for Dublin, but I’m hoping to hit more in 2017), and I hadn’t realized until this week how much I’ve missed the con experience. I miss the energy, the excitement, the creative boost…which makes this weekend all the more welcome.
So come say hi, grab a beer at the bar with me, and let’s celebrate Canadian spec-fic, eh? 😀
What I’m Listening To Today
I found a super cool vocal version of Beethoven’s 7th. The 7th is actually my favourite Beethoven symphony; this slightly updated version is nothing if not hypnotizing.
So it’s 2013. I’m at my second Dragon*Con, still quite wee. This time, I’m trying to get around to more panels, so I’m at a late-night talk on LGBTQA+ characters in YA. Mercedes Lackey strolls in, takes her place at the table, and then peers into the water jug. She sighs. Very quietly, she says, “I was hoping for vodka.”
And being quite wee, I think, That’s what I want when I grow up. I want to do a midnight panel at Dragon*Con and bemoan the lack of vodka. I want my books to be part of someone’s childhood. I want a huge freaking corpus under my belt…
…but how do you build a career like that?
The answer floated up, sure and clear.
The same way you write a book. Word by word.
I’m glad I remembered this particular insight. Building a career feels like climbing a mountain, sometimes. A very steep, very slippery mountain. You push yourself for ages—you push so that you’re exhausted, you push so that your hands are bleeding, you push so that it feels you’ve been climbing forever—
But then you look back. Just for a moment—if you spend all your time looking down, you’ll never move forward. But you look back. And you see that the ground looks a bit further away than it used to. You’ve made progress.
Step by step. Word by word.
There’s still a lot of mountain ahead. (Spoiler: it will always feel like there’s a lot of mountain ahead. I don’t think the summit actually exists: we’re always striving to climb further.) Only sometimes you realize you’ve passed some marker on the climb. I did this recently. The realization had been building for a time, but then it broke on me all at once: I can no longer do things for free. It wasn’t a proud, self-aggrandizing kind of realization. It was quite matter-of-fact: that same little voice speaking clearly and quietly.
I can’t do things for free anymore. I don’t have the time.
So that’s a useful thing to know, as I sit gasping on this ledge, still fairly low on the mountain. Word by word, I’ve gotten this far. Since that late-night panel, I have made progress. Maybe you’ve had similar insights about your own climb. They’re almost silly, aren’t they? Little things, arbitrary things. But hey, whatever helps us along.
Of course, there’s still a lot of mountain ahead. But this is why I’m glad I remembered about that night at Dragon*Con:
Thinking word by word takes the pressure off each individual work. Some people shoot up the mountain on one story. It’s not common, but it happens. But I want a corpus. Which means that any one story, any one book, or play, isn’t the be-all and end-all. It’s a single word in the piece; one step on the road; one stone in the cathedral.
That’s not to devalue your work. After all, each word in the story is important. Without them, you don’t have terribly much.
Besides, breaking it down to the most basic level: that’s what writing is, isn’t it? It’s putting words on a page, one after the next. Is it really any surprise that a writing career should be the same thing?
Step by step. Word by word.
That’s all it is.
You got this.
What I’m Listening To This Week
It’s spring, so I’ve been cleaning the garret, rejoicing in the sunlight, and generally feeling much lighter and freer. I’ve got a wonderful album of classic Parisien-café-type songs. I’m not quite sure what it is about this style. It makes me happy; it makes me feel secure and recharged, ready to out and do the things.
Really, I’ve had them all on repeat. But this one makes me smile particularly broadly. Enjoy. 🙂