Wednesday, 7 September 2016

CanCon 2015: Day 3

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 was the time travel panel. Day Two was largely about writing. Day Three, Sunday, November 1st, has more about critiques and art below.

CRITIQUES & REVIEWS


Sunday: Much like Saturday, I made it back to the Convention by noon. I might have spent the morning grading papers; if not, it’s almost certain I spent it procrastinating on grading papers.

After arriving, I bought some items from the Dealers including “The Temporal Element II” from Bruno Lombardi (time travel adventures; I had bought the previous volume two years prior) and “Random Dingoes” by Ira Nayman (with a time agency). Alas, I have not found time to read them yet. (I was reading “Outlander” at the time, I finished it last month. They’re in the queue.) I arrived at the following panel at 12:15.

“How to Build a Productive and Sustainable Critiquing Group”. Panelists (right to left): Barry King (mod), Madona Skaff-Koren, Kevin Quirt, Su Sokol.

-When you critique, be respectful, even if your feedback is negative. Don’t try to write the person’s story for them; if they want ideas, you can brainstorm. (Screenwriting is different, it’s a collaborative effort.)
-For meetings, could rotate through different people’s houses. A school wasn’t as comfortable. Meet on a monthly basis. Yahoo group possible for coordinating.
-If all online: Three days to read something, four days to respond with at least 150 words, then on to the next person. (group of 15 people)
-Don’t bring a piece of work in if it’s not as far as it can go. Don’t get into minutiae of grammar. Suggested a half hour per person. Reading aloud is harder than you think, and the person BEING critiqued can only ask questions, not “try to explain what I meant”. When one person is talking, no one else interrupt (avoids fights).
-Another option is send work ahead of time (vs read aloud). Written feedback possible after meeting. Distinguish written from discussion.
-Find the balance between being kind and constructive and in good faith - but also supportive.
-Groups? SciFi/Fantasy/Both. To ensure commitment from start, send 10,000 words. There’s a need to impose rules on yourself for professionalism (and to lessen personality issues).

PROBLEMS
-Fragile people who freak out, poisons the atmosphere.
-Different people who critique pieces of a full book, lack context.
-Horror/Hard SciFi backgrounds won’t necessarily help each other. A person may write to appease the group, not their story; the more specialized your writing, the more important it is to find like-minded people.
-Need to be openminded to learn other genres, poetry... if “you don’t understand”, say so, rather than a bad critique (not relevant).
-May have to ask people to leave. Can’t cause problems in the whole group for the sake of one person.
-If you can’t write, that’s understandable, life happens, but don’t be distracting.
-Once you have something going, how do you bring a new person in? Is that just as disruptive as removing someone? Personalities are more important than genre.
-Consider culture of the group. Trial period. Let new people know what to expect the first time. See how they respond to critique. No judgements - if not working can still be a good experience.
-Possible stigma, the “new member” is there for ten years.
-Recognize it’s not just chatting, it’s work.
-Submit 2,000 words. Everyone has a chance to say yes/no. Almost nobody rejected once they’d put forward their statement: make the commitment.

BENEFITS
-Can draw pleasure in the success of others; a bit your success too. Also can see something useful for the story of another. (Network, advocate?)
-Keep the humour going, writing is hard enough. Pull out crazy headlines and in 20 minutes, write a scene/short story.
-Get better at writing, at getting ideas across to people, and at community editing.
-Broad base of experience: Women read differently than men. Individuals with other experiences can advise (e.g. know where to hide things)
-International possibilities, video (Google+) versus text... possible scheduling problems (UK vs N. America). Online groups, good to have rules up front, then can relax after.
-Tips for writing group terms: Turkey City Lexicon (SciFi).
-Careful, some people just WANT to write, aren’t writing. Online lurkers, people who want to take credit?
-People waiting in the wings (for opening in group that’s not too big) could always form their own group.
-SIZE: 4 is too few. 9 is too many. 5 is about ideal (person 7 won’t have much new to say).

At 1pm, I went to “Reviewers and Reviewing”. Panelists (left to right): David Hartwell, Amal El-Mohtar (mod), Christina Vasilevski, Jonathan Crowe.

-David reviewed for FanZines before being an editor. Amal is a reviewer for NPR and more. Christina reviews books and tea. Jonathan does map related books and edits for FanZine.
-Greg Cox has written an essay on how to review a book (“The Samurai Vampire Novel”), see David’s website: http://davidghartwell.typepad.com/nyrsf/writers-guidelines.html
-Not a “favourable” review, but a “good” one that covers the basics.
-Power is in reviewing unknown authors. Different venues have different criteria.
-Ethics: Amal can’t review for friends on NPR (but Lightspeed is okay with her doing that). “Publishers Weekly” is read by bookstores, for resale, not readers. Don’t review in advance, only for published works. NPR needs deniability.
-Author sending a reviewer a book is nebulous. Who benefits from reviews?
-Harriet Klausner’s 40,000 reviews for Amazon (she passed away earlier in October).
-Don’t go out of the way to mention spoilers... but must put story in context.
-“Thank you for critiquing my writing, not my sexual identity”.
-Blog reviewing noted no ethics yet needed, full disclosure, note when it’s posted.

THE WRITING
-Who is audience reading the review? Write a review for people who may want to read, versus those who have already read. Two levels of reader. Our reader experience is made visible.
-Secondary audience: The author themselves or publisher. Less critical detachment. A higher level of critical analysis and deconstruction; what makes it good for you?
-Start a review by recapping story without copying the cover flap. (Aside, “The cover copy is supposed to lie.”) Different experience in reading, not the same as what goes on the jacket copy.
-Ebert’s reviews had a philosophy: Take it in the spirit of which it was made. “Generosity of spirit.” (He came out of fandom in the 1950s)
-Avoid bringing in outside view, prior biases towards vampires or SciFi. Set aside what you personally enjoy.
-Has something failed in the book, or is it my failure to understand the genre itself?
-Reader appreciation VS. editorial appreciation. Noted a serious reader wants no spoilers, reading for pleasure is different.

FINDING SOMEONE
-Unless a reviewer has their own site, DO NOT approach them directly. (Go to venues.)
-Amal: Is fine with being sent promotional stuff, pitches books to NPR.
-DO NOT say “send me a copy”. Danger of implied contract. No obligations.
-Balance various publishers. There are more unethical reviewers than ethical ones. (“Unethical” seen as giving personal opinions, no substance within review.)
-Controversy: Even negative reviews sell books? Evokes emotional response. Also “if book does this-and-this and I hate that” others who read that review may instead love this-and-this.
-“Every book that approaches near perfection is completely different from every other book that is approaching near perfection.”

WRITING + ART


With that hour up, I went to the 2pm panel. “Making Comics: A Talk for Writers” Panelists (right-left): Jay Odjick and Silent Dom (Dominic).

-Writing comics - not that different from writing for TV? In terms of business, just say “yes”; it’s interesting what you can come up with when under pressure.
-Do try the different aspects of comic creation to know what the other jobs entail. When you hand over the script, you’ll know what questions to address in advance (time of day, etc).

PROCESS:
-Have knowledge of your own strengths and weaknesses in terms of drawing. Know what is happening, using dialogue to accentuate the art, not drive the art. Lots of dialogue can detract from the experience. (“West Wing”) Dialogue balloons with tails, you lose track.
-Make it like a letter to the artist. Don’t say exactly what to do, say so that the artist understands things. Collaboration at all times.
-Break the story down into “scenes” or “beats”. You need conflict in every scene, and how does it lead into the next scene. Can raise or lower the pace (avoid a constant pace) but have some rhythm to it.
-Keep a page of comic on a page of script, to have an easy reference. (Label Page #, Panel #, Narrator) Putting number of panels on a page is not necessary but may be helpful; can still add a panel if artist thinks it’s a good idea.
-Telling someone a story with text is different than with text and images. Even sketch stick figures, be aware of needed space for word balloons, can cut down time for artists.
-Pacing: In a comic, we can SLOW THINGS DOWN. A guy fires a gun, that’s over in a second. Could sandwich that with pulling it out, bullet in air, simultaneous reactions around the room. “I always do thumbnails.”

-Marvel Way: Outline-Art-Script. Determine what characters are doing. Gets sketched. Then sent back for dialogue. Faster. Stan Lee sketching things out with Jack Kirby. Some debate of whether artists deserve a co-writer credit. (Scott Campbell with Gen13 liked this style.)
-DC Way: Script-Art-Revisions. Very detailed script, artist starts with finished version. Lettering now same time as panels, a more “European” way of working (can be all one person). Recommend this way if you’ve no artist in mind yet.
-Confident Tone VS Neurotic Tone. Latter not recommended (constantly revising narrator).
-Some things that work well in the writing don’t work as well (or can be better) with the art included. Process can depend on nature of the product. (Jay has some sample comic scripts online.)
-Understand your options (monthly book, 24 pages, graphic novel, ... trade paperbacks are different). That choice is going to dictate your ARCS. Overarching continuity, but with volumes people can pick up? Don’t stop a narrative partway.
-Started drawing, fell into writing by necessity. “If this doesn’t sell, my life doesn’t change.” Drawing is the most powerful visual medium for the least means, but takes a long time to master. Art is a lifelong process.

-There are rules to a TV format that isn’t needed in comics. eg. “Complicating incident by page 5. He needs to be in costume by page 8. And we need to put a commercial break in there.” (Short scenes are better for flexibility in commercials.)
-As a writer, what do you need? Script samples. Knowledge of what publishers want.
-To break in/start off: Make one issue, on one character, one action/story. (How a schizophrenic man sees the world?) If minimalistic, plot very “end heavy” go graphic novel. In a series of books people may say “no, will wait for the trade” (individual issues won’t sell).
-Noted that the Network leases the show from Jay, they don’t have the rights.
-If you enter screenwriting, you will hear about “Jake the Cat”, which outlines all the formulaic beats.
-Have faith in yourself and your process. Write what you like and trust in yourself.
-For finding an artist? Make sure you’re seeing comic pages in their work, not merely pinups. Can this guy tell a story? Art is nice but comics depend on flow of story. Bones on a skeleton. (They’re not all alike.) “Depressing but true.”
-Digital art? Jay does all digital, but one can use pencil and ink then digital tones. Don’t need to be fancy (XKCD, Order of the Stick).
-Drawing style can be a nice contrast to the writing. A cartoony style for post-apocalyptic setting.
-“Even if I don’t consider myself an artist first but a writer first, I like making stories.”

My quartic and circle functions.

And that was the last panel of the day, things began closing down at 3pm. Hopefully you enjoyed reading! If you like comics, I do a webcomic, personified math. If you like critiques, I'm always interested in feedback on my time travel serial. If you like recaps, keep following this site, I registered for CanCon 2016. Feel free to leave a comment, see you around the internet!

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