Ad Astra 2015, day 3: The hero’s journey and the story promise

I lied. Last week I’d said that I’d be reporting on fairy tales this week. Turns out that my notes from that panel were less than a page (!) I was enjoying rather than making notes, again (bad Mellie). So I’m fast-forwarding to the last session I attended at Ad Astra this year.

Panellists: Catherine Fitzsimmons, Cathy Hird, Kelley Armstrong, Nina Munteanu

the hero's journey panel

KA: The first stop on the hero’s journey is the ordinary world. Science fiction and fantasy authors can struggle with this because of the urge to info-dump. We want to share all the details of our intricate world building. You can’t jump straight to the call to adventure, though. You have to set the stage.

NM: The call to adventure is often refused and may require the appearance of a mentor figure.

CH: Refusal is an interesting moment, though. It’s great conflict.

NM: Threshold guardians are another great source of conflict. In most cases, your hero will need help to defeat or circumvent them. Mentors or allies. The descent and return must be accomplished by your hero alone, however. Your hero must transform.

KA: That’s the return with the elixir. Sometimes, though, the hero does not refuse. Sometimes, it’s awesome. I’m in! Hella yeah! And sometimes the threshold guardian just doesn’t want the hero to get hurt. It’s still conflict. It’s just not so overt.

NM: It’s the belief in the quest that carries the hero over the threshold. The mentor believes in the hero. The threshold guardians do not.

CH: In Tanya Huff’s The Enchantment Emporium, the quest is hidden.

NM: The story promise requires the hero to progress on the journey to its ultimate fulfillment.

CF: There has to be a hint, even when the quest is hidden.

KA: Even romance novels follow the hero’s journey.

CF: Literary fiction can be more metaphorical.

CH: Two people may want to achieve the same goal, but in different ways or for different reasons. In some of the epic stories, things fall apart. Every King Arthur has his Mordred.

Q: Is the hero’s journey a western convention?

NM: The template aspect is western, but Campbell studied cultures all over the world to identify the pattern. The basis of the hero’s journey is universal.

CH: The hero’s journey doesn’t fit with some of the eastern stories, though. They can be more cyclic in nature. The Shiva trilogy by Amish Tripathi is an example.

CF: It’s a matter of interpretation.

KA: If you want a simplified version of the three act structure: chase your character up a tree; throw rocks at them; have them climb back down.

NM: In the third act resolution, the hero’s resolve must be tested.

And that was time.

Next week: The Ad Astra 2015 wrap post with my usual picture of my bookish purchases.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Ad Astra 2015 day 3: Making a living isn’t just for the cream of the crop anymore

Here we are, finally, on day 3!

Saturday evening, I attended the Edge book launch event for Jane Ann McLachlan and Aviva Bel’Harold and then on Sunday morning, I got to sit between Charles de Lint (eeeee!) and then president of SF Canada, Peter Halasz at the Guest of Honour Brunch.

EDGE Launch

Jane Ann McLachlan and Aviva Bel’Howard at the EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy launch event

All that to say that there are only three sessions left to report on (including today’s). So we are almost at the end of Ad Astra 2015.

Also, as we’ve hit a new day, I thought it might be handy to reiterate my disclaimer:

These posts are composed of my notes. Often, because of the scheduling, I enter sessions after they’re already in progress. I write by hand, so as I’m writing what I believe to be a salient point, I may miss the next one. I do my best to catch as much as I can, but things will be missed. Also, if, in my haste I recorded something incorrectly, please don’t be shy about coming forward and letting me know. I will correct all errors post-hasty once informed of them.

Panellists: Gail Z. Martin and Mary MacVoy

GZM: Publishers pay twice per year. You have no idea what your royalties might be. When sales trickle off, multiple streams of income is a wise approach.

MM: Multiple streams on income could include traditional publishing, epublishing or self-publishing, Wattpad, crowd funding, Patreon, etc. You have to educate yourself on how each potential stream works.

GZM: Athena’s Daughters was the most successful literary Kickstarter at the time. Be aware, though, that 75% of all literary Kickstarters fail.

Q: How do you grow your following?

GZM: Your current discoverability/sales for your current work will be based on how successful your last novel was. Crowd funding is a way to identify your audience/readers before you have a project out. Kickstarter will not allow charities anymore. Indie-gogo will, however. Go fund me and Patreon might be options, too.

MM: Crowd funding is just one element of building your audience.

GZM: Do you have a newsletter? Do you have YouTube videos? Do you podcast? Can you teach a class? Building an audience is largely about what you can offer.

Q: What advice do you have about working with small or indie publishers?

MM: It’s an option to explore. Some small publishers have excellent marketing and PR packages. Confidence is key when approaching a small publisher.

GZM: Different streams will compensate for each other.

MM: People are looking for an experience. Make sure your audience leaves with a piece of you. Check out the rules of your various social media periodically. They change and you don’t want to run afoul.

GZM: Facebook and Twitter are essentials. Talk about what you’re doing. Build relationships. Don’t spam.

And we got the nod that it was time to clear out for the next panel.

Next week: Fairy tales!

Have an awesome weekend and we’ll catch up with you on Tipsday.

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Cutting contracts and shaking hands

The business basics of writing

Panellists: Greg Wilson, Monica Pacheco, Gail Z. Martin, Leah Bobet

Cutting Contracts Panel

Q: Do I need an agent?

LB: First, you have to ask yourself what you want. What will your career look like?

MP: If you want a Big 5 publishing deal, film rights, foreign rights, etc., you need an agent.

GZM: Can you do your own taxes or do you have an accountant? An agent has specialized knowledge that’s critical in the publishing industry. Their 15% commission is well worth it.

LB: I have to clarify my response: if you want to self-publish, no, you don’t need an agent. If you focus on short fiction, you don’t need an agent.

MP: Short fiction is excluded in publishing contracts.

GW: The stuff that used to be done by acquisition editors in the publishing houses has shifted to agents. There are many ways to achieve the same result. Having an agent can free up more time to write.

GZM: I don’t need an agent for short fiction, but if I notice something hinky with the contract, I can run it by my agent. He gets paid if I get paid, so he’s invested in my success.

LB: Agents aren’t interchangeable. It’s like a marriage. Fortunately, break-ups are rarely acrimonious.

MP: Your agent is also a buffer between you and the editor, you and marketing, etc.

GZM: My agent can play the bad cop.

MP: There’s an imbalance of power.

GW: A bad agent can be worse than no agent at all. You have to believe in what you do. Get the right agent for you.

GZM: I recommend the Guide to Literary Agents.

LB: Don’t take the boiler plate! [Mel’s note: a boiler plate is a standardized contract that frequently offers the worst possible terms for the author.] When it comes to long form contracts, it depends on the publisher, the genre, and the specific rights asked for.

MP: An agent will get a different boiler plate as a starting point for negotiation. Sub-rights depend on whether the agency has a strong film/foreign rights department.

GW: Also look out for audio rights and gaming rights.

GZM: Ebook rights are now a part of the non-negotiable rights a publisher can ask for. It will differ by house. A lot of authors are doing more hybrid work as their careers progress. Your contract determines what you can do (e.g. when rights revert to the author).

LB: Non-compete clauses are something to examine carefully. Looking at the big picture, publishing houses are figuring out how to proceed in the world of epublishing and publishing on demand (POD).

GW: Distribution wars can have an affect on your novel. When Amazon and Hachette were fighting it out, some authors lost out because their books were getting into the stores.

GZM: The sales of your current book will determine how many copies of your next book stores will order.

GW: Titans fight and the peons pay. I self-published and then I got a traditional deal. Publishing and writers are both more flexible. Hybrid will become the norm. You have to have more awareness of the “shape” of the industry.

MP: We used to search WattPad to find the next author. Now, established authors are publishing on WattPad.

LB: I’m interested to see if WattPad will be monetized.

GZM: How does free translate to readers (which translates to income)? Some people read a book a day. They can’t afford their book habit, but if they read and review, they become influencers.

GW: We now have multiple avenues to get our work out there. You can leverage multiple fan bases. The more each author is successful, the more all authors are successful. The rising tide floats all boats.

LB: YA rules are a little different. It’s flush with money. It’s a gold rush. I’m aware of my limits as a writer, though. 18 hour days on an ongoing basis would kill me. Publishing is built on interns. Books are great, but they’re not everything. You have a life outside of books. Your career is your choice.

GZM: Precarious is in the eye of the beholder. I have a life and I do work long days.

GW: Being a college professor is precarious. You have to learn how to work smarter, not harder.

LB: No one knows what the magic button is.

And that was time.

Next week: We move on to DAY 3 (!) and making a living as a writer.

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Canadian young adult literature

Panellists: Amanda Sun, E.K. Johnston, Monica Pacheco, Jane Ann McLachlan

Canadian YA panel

MP: What makes a YA novel Canadian?

JAM: Weather. We have a unique obsession with seasons, weather, and winter.

MP: Setting. American cities are the default for most YA authors.

EKJ: The Story of Owen is set in my home town. When I go to read at local schools, the kids are always excited: “Hey! That’s my street!”

MP: There’s a trend for setting becoming a character in its own right.

AS: Can lit is starting to embrace the speculative.

EKJ: We have horror to thank for that.

MP: For me, it always comes down to the writing and the voice.

JAM: There’s a difference in dystopian, too. Americans don’t trust their government as much as we do. It’s a central theme. Canadians are different. Our dystopias are often ecological disasters.

EKJ: One review of The Story of Owen said, “This is a poorly written dystopia.” It’s not a dystopia!

JAM: Even people on the right are left-leaning in Canada. How do we sell to American readers?

EKJ: I actively don’t care. Readers are looking for interesting and different books.

AS: My editor is American. He’s the gatekeeper. What’s March Break? What’s icing sugar (it’s powdered sugar in the States)? You wrote “in hospital.” Did you mean in THE hospital? Are you done work, or done working?

EKJ: I reclaimed Canadian spelling in subsequent printings of my book. It was a victory.

AS: I write in Canadian English.

JAM: I edit to American spelling but I’m afraid we’re going to lose Canadian spelling if all our young people are reading American English. I feel like I’m contributing to the delinquency of our youth.

Q: What’s your opinion of the renaming of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone in the States?

[There was a brief discussion of how Scholastic made the decision to rename the book in America and how this translated into the movies. Was it a “dumbing down”? No, just a matter of wording, like icing sugar vs. powdered sugar.]

MP: Both authors and editors expect advocacy. There’s more acceptance of diversity now.

EKJ: Maureen Johnston is an American author, but she wrote an amazing book that is British in every way: setting, weather, politics, and language.

JAM: That’s another thing that distinguishes Canadian YA: our sense of humour and multiculturalism. Canada is a mosaic and America is a melting pot.

EKJ: I have friends in the leadership of the We Need Diverse Books movement. It’s a slow burn.

AS: We don’t understand how divisive race is in America (or other countries).

Q: What about the “white washing” of diverse characters (the character is one of colour, but the cover image shows a white character)?

EKJ: It happened to Beth Revis. In Across the Universe, the male love interest is black. The actor in the movie is white.

AS: I wanted my novel’s Asian love interest on the cover and was nervous, but the publisher agreed. Julie Kagawa’s Clockwork Prince features an Asian on the cover. The cover for Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring is culturally appropriate.

EKJ: YS Lee’s Agency series is another example.

MP: I have noticed some of this, but I’ve seen more graphic covers that don’t feature a person at all. I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it, though.

JAM: What about the humour aspect? Canadian humour is self-deprecating.

And that was time.

Next week: We’ll be cutting contracts :)

On deck (today): The next chapter June update and a Caturday quickie pupdate.

How to get published with Madeleine Callway and Wordstock Sudbury 2015

I know I’m a little tardy with this report, but after spending the day at Wordstock on Saturday, I was exhausted, and returning to work on Tuesday, so forgive me, but I’m not going to apologize outright.

So first up is Madeleine Harris-Callway’s “How to get published” workshop which took place on June 18.

To Madeleine, there are three main components: confidence, commitment, and courage. Her presentation focused on the traditional publishing industry because that’s where she’s had her experience and her success.

After introducing the group to her experience and to the state of publishing today, we moved onto the three C’s of publishing success.

I’ll go over each component in a little more detail below:

Confidence

Perfect your writing skills.

  1. Formal learning
  • Creative writing courses at universities and colleges.
    Cambrian College: The Essentials of Writing Fiction
    Correspondence courses: e.g. Humber College, Toronto
  • Writing workshops by established teachers.
    Brian Henry – Quick Brown Fox
  • Workshops and panels by published authors.
    Literary festivals
    Authors associations
    Public libraries
  1. Feedback on your work
  • Critique groups are essential to success
    Join and existing group, or form your own.
    Consider manuscript evaluation services or freelance editors
    Find them through professional associations or writing conferences.
    Explore mentoring programs
    Find them through professional associations, universities or colleges, or make a private agreement with an established author.
  1. Grow into a novel
  • Write short fiction first for magazines or anthologies
    Start a blog
  1. Writing awards and contests
  • An excellent way to get recognition for your writing
    Short story competitions
    Unpublished novel contests

Commitment

  1. Just write
  • Every day
    Use the ten minute rule (even if you don’t feel like it, try writing for 10 minutes – if you still want to stop, then stop)
    Critique groups provide motivation
  1. Network
  • Join writing associations
    Stay in touch with writers you’ve met
    Attend book launches
    Local author readings
    Attend literary festivals and conferences
  1. Social Media
  • Join online literary groups
    Connect to other writers through Facebook and Twitter
    Subscribe to online writing publications
    Join literary sites (e.g. Goodreads)

Courage

  1. Rejection is the norm
  2. Take heart – even famous authors were rejected
  3. Use strategy
  • Contact publishers in your genre only
    Study their websites
    Follow their submission guidelines to the letter
  • Edit your queries and proposals – eliminate typos and formatting mistakes
  • Multiple submissions are fine
    Follow up
  • Find an agent
    Study their websites
    Follow their submission guidelines to the letter
    Attend pitches at writing conferences
  • Consider small publishers
  • Consider epublishers

Then, Madeleine ended the evening with a Q&A session.

Having organized the session, I forgot to take pictures :(

Wordstock Sudbury 2015

This was only the second edition of the festival, but the organizers made a number of improvements.

Friday night began with a reception at the Speakeasy, followed by the announcement of the Youth Writing Contest winners and “An evening with Terry Fallis and Sandra Shamas.”

Saturday started early with book table set up and the organization of the two venues for the workshops and panels at Sudbury Secondary School. Over at the Greater Sudbury Public Library, Danielle Daniel held a children’s story time.

As of 10:30 am, the workshops and panels began and continued right through until 5:15 pm. I’ll let you read the program on their web site to get the details if you wish.

Madeleine Callway readingI participated in the author readings at noon, attended the genre fiction panel at 1 pm, volunteered at the indie book table until 4 pm, and then caught the graphic novel panel.

After we closed up the book table, the venue moved to the Motley Kitchen at 6 pm for a dinner and performance by Corin Raymond, back to Sudbury Secondary for Cheryl Cecchetto’s book launch, and finally back to the Motley Kitchen for Spoken Word After Dark.

It was a busy day. Hence the tired.

Wordstock Sudbury 2015 was a success, in my opinion, but it has room to develop and grow as a literary festival.

I’m looking forward to the next iteration.

Genre Panel

Graphic Novel Panel

Up next: I’m getting miscellaneous.

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: What’s your punk?

Panellists: Ian Keeling, Angela Keeley, Gemma Files

What's your punk? panel

AK: What is a –punk?

IK: Punk, to me, is an attitude. Skate punk, for instance. It’s anti-authoritarian. You find it in video games and anime.

GF: When you punk a genre, you’re deconstructing it.

AK: Punk comes from the music of the same name but is most closely identified with industrial and Goth sub-cultures. It’s an aesthetic. You can have diesel punk, steam punk, and desert punk (think Tank Girl or Mad Max).

GF: It can also transfer from fashion into fiction. “I’ve made this persona and I want a story that this persona can exist in.”

Q: How do you world build in a punk setting?

GF: There’s an element of alternative history. What if the industrial revolution had gotten stuck in the steam age? You look to the relevant historical period and research.

IK: You have to do enough research to make your world feel authentic.

AK: It’s retro-futurism. In fiction, look to H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), and Marlowe (Faust).

Q: I’d like to write in a(n) (Art) Deco punk setting. What should I aim for in terms of aesthetic?

GF: The aesthetic of an age is always attached to other things.

AK: Think of Gotham in Tim Burton’s Batman. The tortured but beautiful body was a fascination of the age. The 20’s were glittery and then the Great Depression happened.

Q: We haven’t mentioned cyberpunk yet. What about The Difference Engine?

AK: Charles Babbage was the inventor of the Babbage Engine, or the difference engine. In fiction the invention/thing itself is aware.

Q: Are there any contemporary punks?

AK: It’s hard to write an alternative history about now.

GF: Karl Schrader is a futurist, or rather an “ambiguist.” His question is, how do we make complicated ideas simple/accessible through story? The future is the only period that is wholly ambiguous.

AK: Colonialism belongs in this conversation. It has the transgressive and rebellious aspects required for a punk. Punk is always dystopian. Otherwise it’s gaslight fantasy. The prevailing mood of a dystopia is distrust of government.

IK: I’d argue that we live in a flawed society, not a dystopia.

GF: The horror iteration is splatter punk. It’s extreme in everything. It’s a response to mainstream horror authors like Stephen King, whom some people view as “tame.”

IK: Has punk lost its meaning?

AK: I don’t think so. Look at A Knight’s Tale. That’s medieval punk.

GF: Punk is intended to be offensive and in your face.

IK: Chaucer was a rowdy, irreverent writer. Was he punk, or meta? Is postmodernism the original punk?

GF: The Dadaists, maybe.

AK: Punk lacks the self-awareness of meta or postmodernism. A Clockwork Orange was not punk. It was a visceral reaction to the direction Burgess saw society heading in.

Q: Can you punk gender? How do you write a gender neutral being?

IK: Choose a pronoun/word and use it consistently, but realize that it will make your book more obscure/niche.

And that was time.

This was one of the most interesting panels I attended. It had a distinctively academic/intellectual bent that I kind of appreciated.

Tomorrow: How to get published with M.H. Callway, and Wordstock Sudbury. And things might get a little miscellaneous ;)

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: High quality self-publishing

Panellists: Beverly Bambury, Caro Soles, Catherine Fitzsimmons, Samantha M. Beiko, Stephen Kotowych, Mark Leslie

Self-publishing panel

ML: When you self-publish, do you use your own name?

CS: It’s not professional.

BB: If it’s a small publisher that no one has ever heard of, why not use your own name?

SMB: It doesn’t really matter. The book will speak for itself.

SK: Using your professional name adds credibility.

ML: I run Kobo Writing Life for small publishers and independent authors. The top 15 to 20 best selling Kobo books are independently published.

BB: Does Kobo offer supports?

ML: We’re looking into how to best connect authors and services. There are a lot of predators out there. We should be bringing out something later this year.

BB: Supports vary. Authors have to do more regardless.

SMB: An author will finish writing and editing a book and say, “Well, that was a nightmare.” Fasten your seatbelts, people: it gets worse.

ML: What’s your best advice to the author considering self-publication?

CS: Join writers’ organizations. You find out what’s going on in publishing. Hire a copyeditor.

SMB: Come out to events like this one. Everyone really wants to help everyone else.

SK: Don’t spam people. Offer something of value.

CF: Don’t skimp on the cover, but be smart. Shop around.

CS: I do my own covers. You just have to learn how.

BB: Someone with a graphic design background could be better than an artist. Invest in an editor.

CS: A beautifully written story, if poorly copy edited, will lose competitions for awards and other opportunities.

ML: A good cover catches attention. A good back cover copy reels readers in. Write your next book. Nothing sells you last book like your next book.

CS: An ebook cover has to look good in thumbnail form.

CF: Check out Kindle cover disasters on Tumblr.

Q: You mentioned two different kinds of editors. Could you elaborate?

SMB: There are substantive editors. They look at the big picture, structural stuff. They can cost a lot. A copyeditor or line editor looks at sentence structure, grammar, and syntax. Is this the best way to convey your intent? A proof reader looks at spelling and punctuation.

ML: Who’s looking at the revised copy? If you have beta readers, ask them, “Where did you fall out of the story?”

CF: With beta readers, the more the better.

ML: Beware the hype of the Kindle gold rush. Don’t look at self-publishing as your ticket. It’s a long term game, not a quick buck.

BB: As a publicist, I have people coming to me with unrealistic expectations.

Q: What are your thoughts on giving away your work for free?

CF: You shouldn’t start that way. If you have a complete series, then offer the first for free. If readers like it, they’ll buy the rest of the series.

ML: Kobo uses free in different ways. It works best when the call to action is to buy the author’s next book (series or otherwise).

SMB: If you have a novella, don’t give it away for free. It’s considered an exclusive item. Give it a limited run.

ML: Let’s run the numbers. Say you offer a book for free and 10,000 people download it. Of those 10,000, maybe 2,000 will open the book. Of those, only 350 will finish it. Of those, only 175 will buy the next book.

Q: How do you balance everything?

CS: That’s up to you.

SK: Schools can be a goldmine.

And that’s all we had time for.

Next week: Ad Astra gets punked ;)

And sorry folks, you’ll have to wait until next weekend for my report on Madeleine Callway’s workshop and Wordstock. I’m bushed.

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Paying your grocery bill: Grants and writing grant applications

Panellists: Amanda Sun, Karina Sumner-Smith, Sandra Kasturi, Chadwick Ginther, Bob Boyczuk

SK: I apply for Toronto Arts Council (TAC), Ontario Arts Council (OAC), and Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) grants for ChiZine and as a writer. OAC runs the Writers’ Reserve. There’s also the Works in Progress (WIP) grant. There are three deadlines a year. If you’re successful, you can’t reapply for two years.

KSS: The first time I applied for a grant, I did everything wrong. Reframe your application in literary or academic terms. I went from applying for a WIP grant so I could write my science fiction novel, to applying for funding to support the creation of post-apocalyptic literature.

SK: The jury changes every round. Keep applying, even with the same application. If you’re turned down in one round, you may be successful the next depending on who’s on the jury.

CG: CCA is the most open to experimental projects, I find. The OAC is the most conservative.

SK: The Writer’s Reserve runs from September to January every year. You send your manuscript to select publishers and one form to the OAC. Publishers get a set amount. ChiZine gets $13,000. That means we can publish about nine books.

KSS: The Writer’s Reserve has funds set aside for residents of Ontario outside of the GTA.

SK: The Speculative Literature Foundation offers two grants per year.

A: Actually they’re up to four now. Check them out.

BB: For the TAC, they ask for five copies of the manuscript and your name is not supposed to be on them anywhere. The judges actually sneak a peek.

SK: Guidelines may be hazy.

Q: What can you tell us about reporting?

SK: It varies between grants and organizations.

CG: There are also literary awards. The CCA runs the Governor General’s Awards. Generally you have to have a publisher to put your book forward for awards.

AS: Register for Access Copyright and the Public Lending Right programs as well.

Mel’s notes: Municipal arts councils will vary in the amount of support they can offer. TAC has money because it’s a big city (may go without saying, but . . . ). The Sudbury Arts Council has to be more selective in the projects it supports and has more limited funding. Provincial arts councils also vary widely. I’ve heard great things about the Edmonton Arts Council and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. Other arts organizations, like the Canadian Authors Association, offer literary awards. Check out the individual sites for further details. Finally, the CCA is currently restructuring its funding programs. Check them out.

Next week: Self-publishing :)

Six questions with M. H. Callway

Madelaine Harris-Callway

Madeleine Harris-Callway is a traditionally published crime writer. Her debut novel, Windigo Fire, which has a northern Ontario setting, was published by Seraphim Editions in October 2014. It was warmly received by reviewers, including Margaret Cannon of The Globe and Mail. The Huffington Post Canada put it on their list of Books for Book Clubs. On April 23rd, she was thrilled to learn that Windigo Fire is a finalist for this year’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel.

Prior to writing Windigo Fire, Madeleine was a successful crime short story writer. Her stories have appeared in several anthologies and magazines and have also won awards.

She has moderated and participated on numerous panels at writing conferences. Most recently, she moderated a panel at Left Coast Crime on plot twists. Her favourite topic is “How to Get Published” and she regularly gives talks at public libraries on this subject.

In 2013, Madeleine founded The Mesdames of Mayhem, a collective of 16 Canadian women crime writers.

_______________________________________________________________________

I was introduced to Madeleine through a mutual friend, author Dorothy McIntosh (D.J. McIntosh), last year. She mentioned that she would be interested in coming up to Sudbury to promote Windigo Fire, and we started a correspondence that culminated with the organization of a writing workshop and her participation in this year’s Wordstock literary festival.

I’m so pleased to welcome Madeleine to Writerly Goodness :)

WG: When did you first come to writing, and, as it’s always seemed to be your thing, what drew you to crime writing specifically?

MHC: I have been writing since I was a child. I co-opted my mother’s portable electric typewriter and banged out plays for my friends to perform with mixed results! I forgot my dream to be a writer between studying science and business at university, earning a living and raising a family though I returned to it from time to time. In 2002, I decided it was now or never and committed to writing full time.

While I worked at the Ministry of Health, I was assigned to work on the scientific investigation of the mysterious deaths at Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto. The study, in parallel with the police investigation, was headed up by the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta. The report concluded that deaths were indeed homicide.

It was a deeply disturbing experience that affected every one of us who worked on the study. My boss at the time ended up leaving the government and becoming a forensic psychiatrist! He and I would have many long discussions puzzling over the motivation of the person responsible. I began to read accounts of true crimes, trying to gain insight into the criminal mind and I continue to read such books to this day though I’ve come to believe that the reasons, at least to me, remain unknowable.

I turned instead to crime fiction, where the criminals, for the most part, are caught, punished and moral order is restored!

WG: You’re an avid cyclist, runner, and downhill skier. Does your physical activity play a role in your creative pursuits?

MHC: Physical activity and writing are intertwined my personal life. Windigo Fire is an outdoor survivalist thriller. I drew on my personal experiences with dehydration and fatigue to lend authenticity to the hardships my hero, Danny Bluestone, goes through. During long training runs and bicycle rides, I have the freedom to think up stories and to resolve plot problems. And on the way I always spot odd and fascinating people, buildings or incidents that give me ideas.

WG: What led you to found the Mesdames of Mayhem?

MHC: Sadly women crime writers still face an uphill battle to get equal recognition. Though we represent at least half of published crime writers, we aren’t reviewed as often as men and we don’t win as many awards. My friends and I feel we have greater power by banding together and supporting each other at our new book launches and through social media. Through the Mesdames of Mayhem website and Facebook page, we reach far more readers than we can as individuals. We’ve had great fun doing readings at libraries and other venues. It’s much easier for emerging and mid-list authors to get exposure when we approach libraries and literary events as a team.

WG: What was the idea that became Windigo Fire, and how did it evolve?

MHC: The first crime novel I wrote became my “learner novel”. Though it had interest from a few publishers and a New York agent, it never quite made it and it now lives in my filing cabinet. Windigo Fire was to be the second novel in the series, but Danny came to life and took over.

The story of Pasha, the tame bear at Logan’s zoo, was inspired by a bear we saw performing at Clark’s Trading Post, a roadside attraction in New Hampshire. I was inspired to write Windigo Fire after reading about Ted Nugent’s obsessive advocacy of hunting. At the same time, I ran across a sad story about canned bear hunts or fake hunts where the poor animal is chained down and shot by “hunters” who pay a fortune for this. Fortunately these occurrences are rare. Naturally, I asked what if the hunters become the hunted . . .

I spent a lot of time in Northern Ontario early on in my working career: my first job was with Lac Minerals, a gold mining company and later on, I ran health studies for the Ontario government. I heard many wild stories from my workmates, some of which, like the wild bear encounter, are true. The event “karaoke strip night” is an exaggeration, of course, though not by much!

WG: Windigo Fire is set in northern Ontario and features a native protagonist. What kinds of research did you conduct in the process of writing the novel?

MHC: I relied on a friend and fellow writer who was Native Canadian. She explained aspects of culture, such as sweat lodge ceremony and shared her life on and off the reserve. Sadly she passed away so she never knew that Windigo Fire was published.

I also did research at the Spadina Road Branch of the Toronto Public Library, which has a great collection of Native Canadian literature. Studying Cree legends, I ran across the story of the windigo, which proved to be the perfect theme for my novel. The windigo is the symbol of evil, a cannibal with a heart of ice that can only be destroyed by fire. I believe Native Canadians used this legendary character to explain the existence of psychopaths.

At a deeper level, my novel represents the struggle of the main characters against evil. Do they rise and become strong enough to fight it? Or do they succumb to it and let their hearts turn to ice?

For information about surviving in the north, I used the book, How to Survive in the Woods, and for details on uranium mining, I used the internet.

WG: Can you give us a hint about what’s coming up in the future for M.H. Callway, author?

MHC: Absolutely! I am hard at work on Danny’s next adventure, the second book in the series, called Windigo Ice. Danny survived forest fire season, but now he’s forced to battle the frigid northern winter and a rogue priest bent on bio-warfare.

In follow up to our successful first anthology, Thirteen, my group, the Mesdames of Mayhem, will be releasing a second anthology, Thirteen O’Clock. It contains twisted tales of time and crime and will be available on Amazon this fall on Kindle and in printed form.

Thank you for an insightful interview, Madeleine. It was a pleasure! Break a pencil in your creative pursuits :)

Many thanks, Mel. It was a pleasure to be interviewed!

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Danny Bluestone, a young Native Canadian, settles for a job at a children’s camp in his Northern Ontario hometown of Red Dog Lake. Local entrepreneur, Meredith Easter, offers Danny some easy money: play the role of native scout for his wealthy hunting buddies. Danny knows that Easter’s roadside attraction, Santa’s Fish Camp, is the front for the local grow-op, and probably more, but the money is his way out of Red Dog Lake. Danny flies the hunters to an island lodge deep in the wilderness. Once there, he learns that he’s part of an illegal bear hunt and is powerless to stop the men from shooting the helpless animal. The following morning, he awakes to find all the hunters but Ricky brutally murdered. Even though each of them believes the other is the killer, Danny and Ricky must team up to escape the forest fire started by the hunters. While his friends in Red Dog Lake struggle to rescue him, Danny falls back on the teachings of his shaman grandmother to survive the bush and the Windigo, the evil spirit that pursues him and Ricky.

Windigo Fire

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Put the pen down and back away slowly

Editing your work

Quick note: My apologies. Last week I mentioned that I would be getting uncanny, but I realized (only today when I opened my notebook) that the panel on the new weird, speculative fiction, and uncanny literature was one that I sat back and enjoyed rather than taking copious notes. I guess I needed a bit of a break (!)

In any case, I did take notes on the self-editing panel. And here they are :)

Panellists: Julie Czerneda, Anne Bishop, Monica Pacheco, Kelley Armstrong

Self-editing panel

AB: I used to write a scene because I wanted to follow the path for the story. Now, if I know a scene will likely be cut, I can run through it in my mind without writing it.

MP: Do you edit as you write?

KA: If I edit as I go, I’ll never finish. My first drafts are quick and dirty. The faster, the better.

JC: I just finished two fantasies, two literally, sweeping epics. Now I’m writing science fiction, so I find it easier to write to a word count goal. Still, I like to write quick and dirty, though.

AB: I write my first draft to tell me what the story’s about often. Anything goes at this stage and I use a strange font. It tends to free me up.

MP: Where do you start?

JC: If something is bothering me, I’ll deal with it right away. If it can be left until I edit, I leave myself a signal in the text. I use “OOO” so it’s sure to stand out.

AB: I used to be comfortable making notes outside the document, in a separate notebook. Now I write notes inside the document in different colours.

JC: My computer has defaulted to Canadian English and now I have to make a special pass just for that.

KA: As I write, I can flag what needs work. I use Scrivener.

MP: Are you harder on your work than an editor?

KA: Yes. I’m my own worst critic. Working with a great editor teaches you a lot, though.

JC: How do we know when to stop?

KA: When the publisher rips it away from you. We do the best we can in the time we have.

AB: I learn from the audio book version of my novels. Where do I need dialogue tags and where can I use an action beat or piece of description?

JC: I learn the most from my editor’s comments. Sheila doesn’t give me any praise, just notes of what to work on.

KA: If you’re critiquing, you have to be positive.

MP: You have to be careful not to crush spirits.

JC: You have to recognize the good in your work. It was a triumph when Sheila called me up in the middle of the night just to tell me she’d cried twice while reading my manuscript. Because she’s not big on praise, I knew I’d nailed it.

AB: You don’t want to edit the heart out of your story, either.

Q: What’s your editing process?

AB: I print it out, read through it, and make notes by hand.

KA: I put my first draft aside for at least two months while I work on something else. I print it out and mark everything up with a red pen from page one.

JC: I also print it out and edit my drafts by hand, but I like to edit in a separate place from where I drafted.

Q: What do you do about editorial comments you don’t agree with?

AB: My editors know I’m fragile. Most of the time, I can come around to seeing things their way, but it I can’t, I find I have to express why I think the scene or line is essential to the story. If I can offer a cogent explanation, the editors come around to seeing things my way.

KA: The majority of the editors I’ve worked with are great. I know them and what they want to see. We’ve developed a relationship. Some are dead wrong, though. You have to be willing to defend your work.

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And that was time.

I learned a lot from these writerly women. I hope you did, too :)

My Next Chapter update and another Sundog snippet will have to wait on tomorrow. I have a retirement party to get ready for (!) Not mine (I wish), but two lovely ladies from the BEA hive at work. I’m the comic relief O.o