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. 🙂
So, in order to get time off for Stonecoast this July, I traded a whole bunch of shifts at work…which has resulted in me working eleven days straight. Right before that, I worked ten days straight—I had a day off in between the two stretches. Plus, I write at night.
I shouldn’t complain. I know people who work more hours, longer stretches, more stressful jobs.
But darn it, I really just want to sit alone by myself for a day. In the dark. And silence. Without people. Alone.
Huzzah for introversion!
As most people know, introversion isn’t about shyness or anti-sociability. It’s about energy production. Introverts generate energy within themselves, and lose it during social interaction. Important caveat: the energy loss varies from person to person. Chilling with friends takes energy, but significantly less than dealing with irate customers or dozens of strangers at a party. By contrast, extroverts generate energy through social interaction, and lose it when they have to be alone.
So ideally, for an introvert, life should look something like this:
And for an extrovert:
Energy loss more-or-less equals energy generation. For introverts, that means that they get enough alone time to balance out the social interaction (which, while fun, is expensive, energy-wise). Extroverts get enough people time to compensate for the times that they’re alone. Everyone is happy.
It doesn’t always work this way.
Sometimes, like at cons, the creative environment and awesomeness of seeing everyone face-to-face masks the energy loss. That’s why so many introverts collapse after conventions; we’ve been steadily losing energy all weekend, we just haven’t really noticed. Adrenaline does the same thing. We had a fairly busy weekend in the brewery recently—and man, I was flying.
Sample! Growler! Growler sample growler! RETURN GROWLER SAMPLEGROWLERSAMPLESAMPLE!
And then I went home and promptly crashed.
Since Balticon, however, my own graph has looked more like this:
It’s out of sync. My alone time isn’t enough to pay for the energy I’m spending on work, writing, and various other things. Think of a bank account. If my paycheque is suddenly slashed from $500 to $100/month (I’m using round numbers, bear with me), I’ll go into debt if I keep trying to pay my $200/month rent (again, I am pulling these numbers from the air).
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, your energy source is just as important as food and water. Extroverts need people. Introverts need solitude. Force them to go too long without their generator of choice, and bad things happen.
All of which explains my own exhaustion and irritability. Yeah, I’ll own up to that—I’m trying very, very hard, and I feel terrible after snapping at people, but it happens.
But what can we do? After all, at some point, every one of us will go through stretches like this.
Setting boundaries and limits helps, I think. I am protecting my few off-days. Communication, as well: explaining to people that you love them, AND ALSO need to sit alone by yourself in such solitude that you cannot even sense the presence of another human being.
And of course, knowing yourself and maybe planning for those stretches. For me, some of these extra shifts were unexpected; I’m trying to roll with it, but having strategies in place—carving out time with/without people, allowing yourself breaks, getting enough sleep and such, which I admit I struggle with—might have made this easier.
Ah well. Only a few more days. And then—
Cool Thing of the Week
Apparently, I’m getting a reputation as a lush! My ten-year-old self would be horrified. Two people sent me the same link to 18th century drink recipes—I raise my eyebrow at the ones with egg and cream, but some of them actually look quite good!
“I think the word this year,” quoth Tee Morris at the Shared Desk live cast this past Balticon, “is perspective.”
Sitting in the audience, I couldn’t help agreeing. “Perspective” fits this year’s convention on many levels, both in terms of my professional path and in terms of the people walking that path with me. Cons always function as creative pressure cooker and reset point for me: a place to get fired up, but also to take a sober look around and ask, “Whither hence?”
So let’s look at the community first. At any con, there are always “I love you, man,” moments. This Balticon felt like those moments lasted for four days straight. This was one of the first cons I’ve been to where I could walk into a room and know more people than not. More than that: I could walk into a room and have more friends than acquaintances.
That’s growth. And I felt calmer and more confident than at any other con. Lauren “Scribe” Harris put it well, remarking that this crowd has become like family; we don’t need to be ON around each other all the time.
So, perspective: I am very, very lucky. I have always said this, but it’s good to be reminded of it. One of the strengths of the writing community is that it is a true community. We come from all different walks of life, all different parts of the world, we are all different ages. As such, we can teach and support each other in so many diverse ways. Sometimes – especially with social media, where mini-scandals erupt like bushfires – it’s easy to forget the fact that really, the broader community is driven and united by the same passion: for good stories, good writing, and dragons and starships and suchlike.
Seriously. I love you, guys.
The flip side of all the hugging and socializing is the cold, hard look at the professional path. 2013 was a lost year, but 2014 is almost half-over. Where am I going? What are my goals: short, medium, and long-term? How can I get there?
One simple thing for starters: I need to be producing more. Yes, yes, dayjob and schooling, we’ve all heard that before. When I put my mind to it, I can write a LOT. Like, a LOT. Part of the problem has been working harder, not smarter…I say yes to ALL THE THINGS, relying on youthful energy to bull through. That works, but then I’m too drained for MY projects.
It’s partly a matter of prioritizing, partly of allocating my energy better. And I do mean energy – I have the time, I’m just too exhausted to do anything with it. Thinking of this along the lines of an energy budget might help. As might…you know…actually getting sufficient sleep and iron.
Perspective: this was the sickest I’ve ever been after a con. Probably coincidence, but maybe also indicative of the fact that I was running on empty beforehand; I just didn’t have the reserves this time around.
The other perspective gained dovetails with some advice from Stonecoast. Here’s the thing: I write often and well. On a purely technical side, my prose is already pretty clean. That got me a head start, but relying on technique isn’t really enough. Diving into analogy, I could put out table beers that taste fine and ferment in 24 hours…but I want to put out really complex, aged porters. Lagers. Heck, let’s say some 16-year-old scotch. It’s remembering to focus on art as well.
But the only way to get there is to keep writing: well and often. Refine those techniques. Use that head start like a springboard. Depth will come with time – but only if I keep writing, learning, and growing.
Perspectives, man. Perspectives.
COOL THING OF THE WEEK
EAST O’ THE SUN AND WEST O’ THE MOON premiered last night. The kids have SO much to be proud of – they did a great job with a very challenging score and libretto (Norbert and I did not pull punches). Also, I truly do have amazing family and friends… 🙂
Just like the unfurling leaves and May 2-4 Weekend, Balticon is a sure sign that summer is coming. This is my favourite con: relatively accessible from Toronto, just the right size, heaps of wonderful people, and great programming. Between bringing the nice young man, some really cool panels, and the chance to see some dear friends, I’m SO EXCITED for this year.
Of course, because it’s a con, I totally haven’t packed yet and I’m awaiting the appearance of my usual outbreak of convention hives. Plus, I feel barely organized enough to get the nice young man and I safely on the plane, but hey—it always works out in the end.
Want to find me during the con?
Beyond Medieval History (panelist), 4:00 pm – 4:50 pm, Chase
Reading (with Veronica Giguere and Val Griswold-Ford SQUEE), 9:00 pm – 10:00 pm, Pimlico
The Fantasy Author’s Guide to Beer (presenting), 5:00 pm – 5:50 pm, Derby
Writing Real Children (panelist), 7:00 pm – 7:50 pm, Salon B
Skool Daze: Pursuing a Writing Career While Still in School (panelist), 11:00 am – 11:50 am. Parlour 1041
How Hard Can It Be? Jumping out of Genre (moderator), 1:00 pm -1:50 pm (Chase)
When I’m not doing panels, I’ll be roaming. You can probably find me hanging around the New Media/Literary side of things, or drooling over steampunk things in the dealers’ room (I’ve somehow acquired a tendency to accumulate stuff for the dayjob…). Come say hi, if you’re around—I wear a pounamu necklace and I am bespectacled.
I am so looking forward to this. Can’t wait to see everyone!
Cool Thing of the Week
Um. Balticon. ‘Nuff said.