Monday, 24 July 2017

CanCon 2016: Days 1 to 2

Can*Con 2016, the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts & Literature took place from September 9-11th in Ottawa, Ontario. I’m finally doing the writeup 11 months later... well, that’s how long it took me to get to it in 2015 too. I also blogged about 2014 and about 2013, if you’re a completist.

These posts are recaps, with very little colour commentary on my part. Some are near word-for-word recaps, others are a summary. This is the latter, as I go through my written notes, though some more detailed accounts will be split off from here into their own posts. As was the initial workshop “Get Plot! which happened before the start of the Con.

After that workshop ended, I went away for a bit, then came back, and was there for the Opening Ceremonies at 7pm. Pretty sure that somewhere in there, I rolled up my “stats” on my Con Badge, and for the record: Strength 13, Intelligence 20+1, Wisdom 12, Dexterity 15, Constitution 18+1, Charisma 8. Which results in Health 23 and Defence 19. I guess that’s reasonably accurate (if a bit overpowered), I just keep barrelling along, thinking I’m clever but really it’s more I know things, while not being charismatic enough to hold people’s interest.

At the Ceremonies, the head of programming, Derek Kunsken, said a few words. Including about the history (founded in 1991, with a vision of bringing fans together, has been running continuously since 2010). He notes, “we’re a particular size and place”, picking two things and doing them really well. Come here for the Literary and Science side of conventions, many other places do anime and costuming.

He then introduced the Special Guests. Tanya Huff (Author Guest of Honour), Eric Choi (Science Guest of Honour), Sheila Williams (Editor Guest of Honour), and Sam Morgan (Agent Guest of Honour). There’s also attendees from BC, Montreal, New York, etc. Incidentally, this con has been nominated for an Aurora Award twice. It’s on the ballot with this year with Ad Astra.

He asked the guests why they said YES to coming here, seeing as they could do anything with their weekend.
-Tanya: Last time, she got an Aurora award, so she has good memories. And if we don’t take our genre literature seriously, as Canadians, we can’t expect the world to. So given CanCon’s concentration, she wants to hook into that energy. Looks forward to conversations. Works alone, scary when the cats answer back.
-Eric: Considers ‘no’ is not an option. He’s been on the other side of the table for several CanCon in the past, and they do his two favourite things. As someone new to Ottawa (it’s way friendlier than Toronto), it truly is an honour to be at this table, and be amongst one of his favourite cons with some of his favourite people. Looks forward to conversations and learning. Then, referring to his rolled stats: “I’ve got Wisdom 6 here, how threatening can I be.”
-Sheila: It worked out well for her schedule this year, she keeps the number of cons she attends down, having a job and kids. But she likes to go to places that are in different areas, meet new people, new writers, new readers, to hear different things, and reach new audiences. This was a great opportunity and she was very honoured to be asked. Her last Con in Ottawa was World Fantasy Con in 1984, thought it was time to come back. Looking forward to meeting people, “I am really friendly”.
-Sam: The joke he prepared was that you paid me. In sincerity, he loves Canada, it’s full of super nice people, and when going to conventions he meets the nice people of that area. It’s been wonderful, people have manner, some of his favourite actors are Canadian, he resonates. Also, poutine.

Derek then handed things over to Marie Bilodeau, who went into the layout of the hotel, and how in the programme, 50% of the rooms marked are correct. (Sunset is actually Aurora. Related, the guild hall and tavern programming are reversed, except when it comes to the parties at night.) Using the stairs is also encouraged, since there’s only the one elevator in this particular tower, please save it for those who need it.

There was also mention of how some volunteers are boss monsters, who can be challenged, and thanks was given to sponsors. At 7:25pm, things were officially open for business, campaigning, and whatever.


I poked my head into “So This is Your First Con!” (even though it wasn’t) with Lisa Toohey, Ryan McFadden, and Matt Moore, moderated by Brandon Crilly. They were talking about pitch sessions (that’d be new for me, I stayed). Lead with a strong pitch, and they’ll ask for more info. As it’s their livelihood, they’re likely looking for reasons to reject you, but it’s not about the work, it’s about what can be sold. Pitches like hard SciFi, lead with the genre AND sub-genre.

If you’re meeting the person at a bar (rather than a formal session), you can lead with small talk. Do not EVER pitch at a Dealer’s Table. Matt Moore added, don’t be an ass, because while there’s not a blacklist, word will spread - Canada’s a small community. And don’t think a different person is better, he politely rebuffed someone once telling them not to do that, only to see them ask a colleague later, to which he figured, they’re in trouble now. Don’t lie, you’ll get caught. If you say you "like their work", the natural response is what’s your favourite book of ours.

There’s no dress code for pitching, but the people are in business and looking for someone they can work with. Express your true self, in a professional way.

I also have written hashtag #OttSpecLit, if you like what happens in panels made a note of things not to forget, and if you don’t like parties, hang around the restaurant or approach people at panels. Or Mike go to parties anyway, the bell curve for “cool kids” is shifted here.

I ended up at the Story Structure panel at 8pm. That’s one I recapped secretary style on my laptop, so it will be in a separate post. At 9pm, I dropped by “Batman vs Superman: Cataloguing the Badness of it”. On the panel, Erik Scott de Bie, Jack Briglio (who saw the “Ultimate Edition”), and Tim Carter.

What was seen as the biggest problem? Jack said motivation was weak. The Batman/Superman fight in particular was more a “get this over with” so we can fight the real villain at the end deal. Tim said it was the universe building. (He compared it with Amazing Spiderman 2.) Erik said it came down to Zack Snyder, the Director. With the portrayal of woman, and plotting like SuckerPunch (another movie Snyder directed).

Conversely, what was done well? Jack said “The Doomsday Battle”. Tim said having real world consequences for superheroes. Erik said Wonder Woman. They then delved into an analysis of individual scenes and how they ranked.

I left 15 minutes in or so, figuring time to head home, though did end up popping into a few places on the way. The “Non-Verbal Communication in Prose” room seemed to be locked. The “Mechanics of Sex” panel room provided the following, though I didn’t get the introduction of who was who there:
-Sex is one of the biggest character reveals. Consider a Wizard doesn’t want to say the wrong thing and set the bedroom on fire, literally. Vocals isn’t only moans.
-Sex isn’t nice and pretty, it’s messy and fun and concussions.
-There’s history and location to consider as well. For trans people re-evaluating sexuality, please do your research!!
-Someone with a physical injury may have full sensation but not full control. Penetration being some magical end goal is perpetuated out there, why?

I also peeked into the ConSuite, where there was a discussion about “Young Adult” books, how the audience is made up of two groups: Those who ARE NOW young adults (late teens), and those who WERE young adults 10 years ago. There is the “New Adult” category, seen as for older, but that’s a box made for those who WERE, and top down categorizing never works. The biggest thing now is colouring books, and picture books, for parents who have kids or have friends with kids. It’s all demographics. Wait another 8 years, we’ll be back to 14 year old protagonists again.

I headed out to get home. End Friday. Begin Saturday.

My first panel at 10am was “Character Arc and Mental Health”, another recap for a separate, more in-depth post. I then went to “Why Doesn’t Epic Fantasy Get Any Critical Respect - Or Does It?” at 11am.


Panelists were Evan May, Sonya (S.M. Carriere), Ed Willett (the moderator), Ranylt Richildis, and Peter Halasz. After introductions, the natural question was how to define Epic Fantasy.
Not that...

Evan: Big scale, lots of people, high stakes. An entire continent.
S.M.: Agreed, large cast, high stakes.
Ranylt: Echoed completely, but also politics. And a heroic element. Doesn’t matter if there’s magic or point of view changes.
Peter: Can’t disagree, he also adds how it’s the oldest form of storytelling. The epic of Gilgamesh echoes today. But these used to be poetry, it’s only prose the last 100-150 years. Why the change? Dunno.

Ed went from there to where “epic” came from, and whether that relates to the possible lack of critical respect. S.M. thinks is depends on the literary circles. Ranylt remarked on “click bait”, infuriating fans. Evan says the epic story hasn’t always been told really well, plus there’s Tolkein fatigue after being saturated with the movies. Peter built on that, saying after the Tolkein imitators that came out of the early 60s, there were hack imitators.

Peter said he couldn’t get past the first few paragraphs of the “Wheel of Time” series, S.M. backing him up on that. Granted, after James Rigney Jr. (pen name of Robert Jordan) died, and it was taken up someone else from book twelve, it apparently got somewhat better. Ranylt noted how, after the 90s, Tolkein (and Stephen King) seemed “back on the syllabus” too. The moderator (Ed) remarked that Tolkein definitely came from an academic place, no matter what you think of his writing - but now perhaps we should define “respect”?

Peter said it’s not financial respect, like “Wheel of Time” gets. S.M. added you can enjoy something without respecting it - Pern (Anne McCaffrey’s planet) gets zero respect but is enjoyed by millions. Ranylt said there’s a disconnect with those not familiar with SpecFic, noting Sturgeon’s Law, “Ninety percent of everything is crud.” Peter said someone who’s not a hack is Canadian Steven Erikson, whose “Malazan Book of the Fallen” (essentially 10 books in 10 years) is remarkable and politically valid for the world. S.M. added there’s incredible characters and arcs in that.

Ranylt said she loves multiple book things, mentioning Scott Barker and Scott Lynch (who is a “Master of Understatement”). Peter tossed in four names, Ian Cameron from Toronto, Guy Gavriel Kay from Saskatchewan, Joe Abercrombie from the UK, and George R.R. Martin, with the caveat that “Game of Thrones” goes downhill from the first book. Peter thinks the TV Series is better (a rare case where the media version’s superior).

Ed asked, is it possible to have a SHORT epic fantasy? S.M. said what matters is the scope, that stakes are the entire world. “Coming of Age” was referenced, and is it more women now than men? Ranylt mentioned Kameron Hurley, her “The God’s War” trilogy, and that it’s hard to build a world in a short time. You need to imply that it’s there, which is a real skill.

Someone was brought up (Susan F? My handwriting’s bad here), which segued into the idea of “sausages taint the steak” for things that are badly written. Fantasy does go into the human condition and can be insightful. So, what does it take to get respect? S.M. says write well, Evan adds take politically correct issues into account, and Ranylt includes be a critical thinker who understands nuance. To clarify, it’s not “good versus evil” now, it’s shades and “the tragic backstory” with the Big Bad being offscreen (like Sauron, Vader).

Final question, why is respect for epic fantasy important? S.M. said it’s an explanation of the human condition that is less technologically done than in SciFi, and it’s just nice to be respected. Peter said it used to get huge respect when it was poetry, it’s stories about us, our journey through life. Jungian not Freudian. Ranylt said the 20th century model of what we see as “literature” needs variety, that the old model is starting to die. Ed noted how Shakespeare is grandfathered into respect, and wondered if there were any last comments.

I don’t have anything written down for that.


What I have next is the panel “Getting Your Work Noticed” with Laurie Cooper, Marissa Caldwell, Beverly Bambury and moderator Lisa Toohey. Starting off, what’s the #1 Tip to Get Heard?

Laurie said believe in yourself. Start a newsletter, your brand, what you want to do. Marissa agreed, decide what kind of image to put out there. Background, graphics, dark red versus bright pink - write 50 words that describe you and the way you write for branding. Beverly agreed, noting quality is more important for her. Work on the craft first, then branding.

There needs to be either a lowering of ego or an increase in humility. You can still be yourself, even if that self is you hate people. (Chuck Wendig was mentioned.) It may not have the broadest appeal but you just need to get the right people. Lisa added that who you’re selling to, versus who your audience is, might not be the same. For instance, you market to parents, not young kids.

So, some people are more genre focussed, others have a broad range, how do you brand cohesively? Lisa suggested the brand is you. When selling books, you’re selling yourself, embrace that. Beverly said you can have different parts to a website or different websites, it’s whatever brings together those parts. Laurie said consistency is key across all platforms, your tagline/bio should represent that self.

When should you get a publicist? Laurie said, if you’re generating income, you’re a business. Start a virtual assistant, consider percentages. Beverly added publicists need a nurturing aspect, so it never hurts to send an email. On platforms, Laurie likes Facebook but it does curtail your reach, and Marissa says you can “target ads” but NOT “boost posts” since that last gives no control over who sees it.

You can get scary good at targeting ads by looking at demographics. A giveaway may be worth it, depending. Romance as a genre tends to be more visual, as is Instagram. Twitter upside is powerful searching and more solid connections, downside is it’s slower to grow and targeting sucks in Canada. Do have a business page. Goodreads was brought up - but that’s when I had to go.

I left somewhere around 12:30pm, to get to my niece’s birthday, returning around 4pm, which is a good enough point to break this post up. The rest of Day 2 is now at this post.

Hopefully you found some of this to be interesting, informative and/or helpful. Feel free to drop a comment if you have an opinion or a question. The interim panel posts are now up and linked too.

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