Tuesday, 6 September 2016

CanCon 2015: Day 2

I learned about the Conference on Canadian Content in Literature in 2013. I blogged about it that year, and then again when I returned in 2014. I went in 2015 as well, again got distracted by life, and started this post in February of 2016 (between Semester 1 and 2). Didn’t get very far... so now I’m back at it less than a week before CanCon 2016.

Let’s see how much I can pull together from the schedule and my cryptic handwritten notes. Day One (Oct 30, 2015) I only made it to the Time Travel Panel, you can find it in the post linked there. Day Two was Oct 31, 2015.


Saturday Morning: Pumpkin Carving at my house. I’d missed Halloween in 2014 to see my sister’s wedding, I didn’t want to miss it for two consecutive years. I did make it in to the Convention by noon, with plans to return home that evening in time to hand out candy.

Regarding the first panel here, at noon, on the subject of "NaNoWriMo", it’s something I’ve always been interested in, but November is literally the fourth worst month of the year (beaten only by the OTHER report card times in January, June and April). Also, I knew someone on the panel.

“National Novel Writing Month - Strategies & Emergency Inspiration”, panelists (left to right): Lisa Toohey, Scott Delahunt, Leo Valiquette

-Lisa (one success, some fails) from Hamilton, Scott (nine successes, former municipal liaison) and Leo (freelance nonfiction).
-NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words in a month, so 1,667 words per day. 200 words is a full manuscript page.
-How to meet goals? Just sit down and write. Connect with local groups for WriteIns. “Word Wars”. “IntraRegional Challenges”. Pacing yourself, to not burn out. Fluids, not junk food, go for walks, sustain energy levels.
-LEO: Don’t spend time going over what you wrote yesterday. It's not about having a published copy.
-When you hit “the lulls”, friend for accountability?
-“Planners” vs “Pantsers” for plotting? A plan doesn’t survive the first 10 minutes of battle. As preparation, an idea in mind?
-Tabletop Roleplaying Games help; adjust plot lines as a GM. D&D exploration.
-(Audience member:) There’s different skill sets. People who do writing for a living. Connections make you a stronger writer and can further your writing career.

-Linear Writing? “Books are not linear.” Can move to next chapter, fill in a piece later. Don’t fear this. Avoid “look up this one thing” trap. (Person walks to the edge of the temple... then 20 min to find term “crepidoma”.)
-Empty square brackets to add information later. Scott D used “Main & Washington” in Cleveland (as most cities have those roads) for placeholder.
-Partly Finished story, do more during NaNo? Or start fresh? Many need the right headspace for a previous work. Could finish story and start new one (50,000 words not same story). Backfilling within pieces, bumping up draft.
-Should one have few characters or a large cast? Depends. Primary viewpoint characters or not? Trouble getting into head of other characters. “Words count”, whether the perspective stays in the final novel or not. (Write a chapter from "this guy"’s perspective?)
-Keep a file, ongoing, so a character doesn’t have eyes of 3 different colours. Interview your character? Have characters interview each other?
-“Don’t get dependent on anything to get you in the mood.”

-Do whatever adds words to your total.
-Scribner (paid) or Wikipad, if you like to plot, or yWriter. Test in advance what works for your writing style.
-Follow NaNo Website & Facebook. 
-Someone said “Write your novel, then cut the first three chapters”. Start where you need to start. Stop writing while still happy; don’t burn out.
-Know what’s coming next as you go (can leave notes)
-There is a write-in today at midnight (Nov 1).

Next panel at 1pm was “The History of Science Fiction”, with host David Hartwell. I listened more than took notes, but here’s what I have:
-“Science Fiction has to be written consciously, not by accident.” So Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) didn’t write what David would call SciFi, but he did influence the genre.
-Precondition of genre: Write a book ‘like that’ for some audience. Early 1870s, big decade. Carlisle translations. 1872: 10 books on wars. Proposing government other than monarchy. Oliver Cromwell, 17th century, “thought experiment” as scifi?
-“The Scientific Romances”. 1890s. We don’t know enough to know what the principle language was. French? Russian? Polish?
-SciFi in 20s/30s/40s was as a “gorgeous umbrella” for fantastic things in fantasy, horror, etc.
-In “the literary establishment”, those of the time had to be “experts” and define what would be left out, not worthy of expertise. Removed Children’s Literature first; their science tended to be psychology. William James (1842-1910).
-“Science fiction could not be first rate literature.” Such a literary attitude endures now, the literary establishment has not lost power.
-Olaf Stapledon (1886-1950) wrote “Wells-ian novels about evolution” and the SciFi community were the ones reading his books. He was bewildered.
-SciFi is an odd genre, no real consensus or agreement. It exists as a feedback loop between authors and audience.
-It’s lasted because “it does something they don’t”.

At 2pm was the panel “Serialization Past and Present”Panelists (left to right): Linda Poitevin, Robert J Sawyer, Marie Bilodeau (moderator). I’ve been writing serials for almost 20 years now, before I even knew that’s what I was doing. I didn’t want to miss this panel.

-Analog Publishing, started in the 90s; best selling English-language SciFi magazine (readership has been down). Does serializing. Robert J Sawyer holds record, in 24 issues.
-Linda’s grown an audience on Wattpad. Owned all rights to self-publish, generates interest there. When eBook came out, Wattpad audience trickled out to buy the book.
-“There’s nothing worse for an author than obscurity.”
-Hold onto your serialization rights. Take contracts seriously. A traditional contract, default language gives publisher control (to publish an excerpt). Non-fiction. Very little in fiction, but some (like Analog) will do full text (not abridged). They take half the money.

-What does serial give to reader? Why the big deal? Mobile platforms and commuters. Smaller print, shorter attention spans, time constraints.
-People like anticipation and waiting VS. binge watching/reading. Can be fun in the waiting.
-Not a new concept, a resurgence (from Charles Dickens).
-Roughly 2,000 words over 52 chapters, trying to generate sales at the same time. “A season of your book instead of a day”; “Staying in readers’ minds.”
-China and Korea have serializing platforms (never in eBook format). “Manga” format?
-Analog has a 4 ACT structure. (3 act is a lie : 25% Act I, 50% Act II with epiphany in middle, 25% Act III). Structuring makes it serializable.
-MARIE: Planned a 5 part structure. Fairy apocalypse. Each part solves or reveals SOMETHING, and has a point of emotional intensity, but ends on a cliffhanger.
-Study aid: Textbook out in chunks to more easily digest. (Academia is reacting.)

-Two ways to serialize. Do it all first, or write as you go. Similar to outlining vs flying by seat of your pants. Does former result in better experience for reader?
-Great way to release a completed project. Though if you see a sequel, in Book 3, can’t take back what happened in first book!
-Interactive voting seen as popular with the younger crowd (seen in gaming).
-*I recall making a remark at around this point, to the effect of how my “Epsilon Project” had readers voting for the plot every week. Linda thought this was great, but Robert had reservations, in that your audience may not know what they really want. Who votes for the sad ending? (See next point) Something I’ve done with that is an attempt to foreshadow what may be “better” or “worse” and ask the question obliquely. (I always get less than 10 votes anyway.)
-If popular opinion had allowed Bambi’s mother to live, the movie may have been forgotten. But would readers feel too upset by things they cannot change?
-Possible solution is the “RetCon” to reconsider things. Tolkein did it (ring).
-SM Carriere (who’s downstairs) was referenced. Also noted “The Chronic Argonauts” was the first version of “The Time Machine”.

-Pitfall: Those who read for free won’t buy a paper copy? Ideally they become your Ambassadors!
-There is a certain anticipation that it’s going to chunk into parts, which doesn’t work for all stories. (A courtroom drama becomes a court tease, expectation of objections.)
-“The thing you need to deliver is each part is a microcosm of the whole.”
-Need a chapter hook (to get impulse buys). Need to deal with possible difficulty of finding Part 1 (magazines sold out). 2nd/3rd/4th instalments could have a “The Story So Far” (can help make a synopsis for the whole thing). sfwriter.com for how to write outlines.
-Some minority want the whole novel in hand to read - but that happens even in a book series.
-Wattpad does require consistency. Linda posts Friday mornings. Other publishing, need editing and quality.


At 3pm, I went up to the ConSuite, where “Pop Seagull Press” had been doing a Book Launch for “Robotica”, an anthology examining relationships and sexuality with artificial life. They started at 2pm, but it was still going on, I heard part of a reading. There are some questions about Transformers which I had never considered asking. Things wrapped up by 3:30pm, and I went back down to catch the last part of the following panel.

“Writing Fiction and Fact for Analog”, panelists: Trevor Quachri, Eric Choi, Andrew Barton, Derek Kunsken (moderator).

-What is a story for “Analog”? At it’s heart, *hard SciFi*. Doesn’t have to be physics or space exploration. But not mundane fiction, it needs an element of pushing the boundaries.
-“Beware of soft SciFi creep”. Can’t do time travel stories. Careful with FTL (faster than light) travel. For their readers the HOW is very important. Perhaps we don’t know how a cell phone works, but for the reader, that’s very important. (Similar to how those going to a “Kung Fu” movie expect a fight scene.)
-Andrew echoed, try to be science accurate, make as few requests on the reader as possible beyond the “one big lie”. (e.g. that there is a form of time travel) Not a lot of room for hand waving.

So I'm probably not a match there. The last panel I attended was at 4pm, “Magic and Magical Systems”. Panelists (left to right): Leah Bobet, Kat Heartfield (moderator), Jim Davies, Leah Petersen. When I role-play, I do lean towards characters with spells, and I enjoy Magical Girl Anime. My time travel serial also has Chartreuse, who employs a form of mysticism, so this felt topical.

-Why do we choose to make systems? (Related, why do we find things interesting?)
-Young Adult, can address contemporary issues, what the world is like today; make it subtle. If fantasy world, with important/relevant “magic heavy” system, do something different from Tolkein.
-“Hard” vs “Soft” fantasy; the unexplained (magic works) versus clarity (here’s why) has pros and cons either way.
-People read the same books for very different reasons. For discovery, for familiarity; it depends on the goal for the writer and reader. You can read role-play books for pleasure.
-What you can do with a system is SURPRISE. In a saga, if you have the reader confident something cannot happen, it packs more punch when they’re hit with a loophole or an unknown element. You do need to help the reader build the puzzle. Is magic a constant, or a variable?
-When there is no system you can have “Inexplicable wonderfulness” (Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz) or “Inexplicable awfulness” (Horror genre is creepier when we don’t know). In defining a system, you lose some of the magic, it becomes more “scientific”.
-System itself can be compelling, should have it generate more interest than it solves. Mind says “got X, what next?”
-“Hidden World” stories, could be happening right now. Great for a reader but lazy world building. What if magic truly WAS everywhere? Consequences! (Magic to solve poverty?)
-Harry Potter Series: Some people get magic, others don’t. Why are some privileged? Connected to a class system?
-Does magic scarcity imply class division? You can see a lot about an author in what magic IS or IS NOT. Adademia? Music? Animals?
-Inherent problem: Ordinary isn’t (usually) interesting. So that magic isn’t ordinary, it must be restricted. Magic can be a reflection of our [author] enthusiasms.

-“Spells of the Sky” has different ways of doing magic. Had to sacrifice something merely to get the POSSIBILITY of magic (eg. able to reproduce). Show who gets magic and at what cost? “House of Shattered Wings”
-Magic/Technology Integration: Powder Mage books (Brian McClellan). New magic found in new technology. Still magic; new mages. “Blood and Iron”, divination via an MP3 list placed on Shuffle. “The Librarians”, an app for magic. Also Charles Stross.
-Why have magic? Thematically, what the story is about versus what the story has to say for itself. (Does magic make a good chord, as an add on? Or dissonance? Resonance?)
-The best editors make you justify stuff like that. Why do you NEED magic? Is it doing enough work? Why not robots instead? Why not robots with magic?
-Do I care about the power itself, or only what it does, the result? More the “what if” or the process and consequences?
-Elemental Magic: Inherent unto races. Do you want the system to show? It should always be there. Short story easier, novel length likely some gears. “Iceberg Theory” of fiction: 10% is visible, trust that there’s a system in the other 90%.
-Magical Realism: What’s true metaphorically becomes true physically. Bad/Good luck? How quantified and detailed? Likely want to avoid a system here.
-“The Magicians”: Any rule about what could be a spell? Can put what you want, want to appeal to readers who like the system - but is it a system?
-To render things systematized is “push a spell, get a prize”.
-Once something is scientifically proven, magic definitions change. (“scientific” powers that are magic, like Trek).

I believe at 5pm I went to look around the Dealers area before they closed at 6pm. No purchases, I tend to save those for the last day, after some thought. Following 2014, I’d been interested in the return of “Weather Slapdown” at 6pm, but it was cancelled due to weather (keeping the key panelist away - ironic?). I don’t have any more notes for Saturday, aside from knowing I got home by 7pm. See Halloween remarks above.

This leaves Sunday, which is in this final post.


  1. And for the real fun part of using that placeholder in Crossover, that intersection was right where I needed it to be. If it wasn't, I'd have found a better spot, but Main & Washington works until the research can be done. In Canada, try Laurier and Main.

    You had walked in during the reading from Robotica and missed the explanation. It was a Twlight/Transformers mash-up/parody, with Edward replaced by a giant robot disguised as Bella's father's pickup truck, named Pickup.

    IIRC, you managed to direct the voting in a direction where the outcome didn't change the overall plot direction, just the details of how plot unfolded. The readers had choices, but the choices were ones you were ready for.

    1. Thanks for the additional info - and excellent memory! (I'm bad for missing explanations.) As to the voting, right, that sounds like something I would have tried to clarify.

      I've since tried to refine that further, hopefully not to my determent in terms of choices that indirectly cause changes. Hard to know; I guess I'll take the lack of pitchforks as a sign. Thanks for the comment!