CanCon 2015 day 2: Magic and magical systems

Panellists: Leah Bobet, Kate Heartfield, Jim Davies, Leah Petersen

KH: Why do we choose to systematize magic?

LP: There are so many ways to approach it. I think the goal is to bring something unique to readers. Generally, epic fantasy means systemic magic.

KH: Have reader expectations changed over time?

LP: If you know what you’re aiming for, you have to dig in.

JD: In Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, magic is inexplicable. It’s more wonderful because it’s not explained. Observation yields magic. Understanding saps magic of its wonder. The best solution is to have your magic system generate questions in the reader.

LB: Where do you want to go today? Patricia McKillip is more mystical. Lev Grossman is more systemic. Your story is going to dictate the nature of the magic in it. Magical realism liberated the idea of what magic could be. I could be organic. You need the right tool for the job. People read books for different reasons. Is the reader looking to be challenged or are they looking for the familiar?

JD: I read role-playing game books for pleasure. I had trouble getting through Harry Potter because I felt that there wasn’t anything that couldn’t happen.

LB: Authorial fiat may damage your world building drastically. You might end up with one foot on the cliff and one foot in the air.

KH: The question asked in Grossman’s The Magicians is, who gets to have the magic? Harry Potter never explored that question. How do modern authors address this?

LP: In a book I’ve read recently, every culture within the world had its own magic.

JD: The charm of hidden world stories like Harry Potter is that it could be happening right now. Writers could also be lazy.

LB: Some magic systems play with magic and class. Scarcity implies privilege. What would it be like to be special? Knowledge can be magic. Music can be magic. If magic is important in your story can the average person get it? I am special – magic is internal and only the gifted can access it. This thing is special – the magic is external and anyone can use it. Our systems are a reflection of our enthusiasms as authors.

LP: Increasing diversity means that everyone looks at magic differently.

KH: A great example of that is Aliette de Bodard’s House of Shattered Wings.

LB: In The Shadow Speaker, the pathways to knowledge are difficult.

Q: Can magic and technology work together?

LP: Yes. Look at the Powder Mage trilogy. As technology increases, so does magic.

LB: Elizabeth Bear had one of her characters use divination by MP3 shuffle. That would be cool – an app for magic.

KH: Steampunk conflates technology and magic.

Q: How do you decide that the story you’re writing needs magic?

LB: I had an idea for magic using resonance and chords. It was cool stuff theory. Editors make you justify your bullshit, though.

KH: You have to get into the how of it. Science and technology is to science fiction what magic is to fantasy, generally speaking.

LP: I had to think about how the magic in my story world worked, but do my readers really need to know this?

Q: How quantified does the system have to be?

LB: Theme can be your guide. Like Water for Chocolate used food magic. In [Gabriel Garcia] Marquez, the landscape is magic. In The Cooler, the magic was the character’s ability to dampen luck.

JD: How systematized is systematized? Even if you use spells, unpredictable results may render the magic non-systemic.

LB: Magic cooking would be yummy.

Q: When do you go subtle and when do you sensationalize?

JD: Stage magicians are sensational. People who want you to think they have power work more subtly.

LP: It will depend on the story.

LB: If everything is at a 10, they everything is really at a 1.

Q: Can you talk a little about consequences?

LB: Magic can have social consequences, sour relationships. It can be small, cumulative things. Check out Resurrection Man.

KH: The magic user can get to a point where they’re forever changed by the magic. In The Fisher King legend, the king is linked to the land, so the consequences are not just for him, but for all his people.

LP: The price could be to lose your generative ability. You’re sterilized as an initiation. It’s all up front.

JD: In The Runelords, the cost of magic comes from someone else.

LB: For Ged, in the Earthsea trilogy, the cost is his morality.

And that was time.

Next week: Blood spatter analysis (!) A constable from the OPP explains how it’s really done ;)

CanCon 2015 day 2: Writing fiction and fact for Analog

Panellists: Derek Kunsken, Eric Choi, Trevor Quachri, Andrew Barton

AnalogPanel

TQ: With respect to hard science fiction, there’s a soft creep to fantasy, and a hard creep to the uber technical. I care most about character and plot, but the story must make sense scientifically as well.

DK: Eric, since you’ve been published in Analog several times, what is an Analog story to you?

EC: Trevor’s covered it really. I edited an anthology with Ben Bova called Carbide Tip Pens, which has been described as Analog in hard cover.

DK: Is there a quantifiable difference between Asimov’s and Analog?

EC: Both have published my Mars-focused fiction.

DK: I have a track record of stories Stan (editor for Analog) rejected, but Sheila (editor for Asimov’s) bought.

EC: Editorial personalities and preferences do play a role.

DK: Andrew, you’re not a scientist, but you’ve had stories published in Analog.

AB: All of them have been science oriented. I’m not a scientist, but I try to make as few demands on the reader with respect to the science, except for the one big lie that is the basis for the story. I try to be rigorous, but I also try to write an entertaining story.

TQ: I commend Andrew for the material he’s submitted. There’s a misunderstanding out there about how rigorous the science has to be, though. Stan was a physics professor. He’d fact-check. You have to be science literate. You have to do the leg work.

DK: Andrew and Eric, what would be the difference between writing a physics-based story, and writing a chemistry-based story or a biology-based story?

EC: My most recent one was on baseball statistics.

AB: Everything I know about orbital mechanics, I’ve learned from playing Kerbal Space Program.

DK: I tend to write on the biological side of things. One response I received was that I was just showing off what I knew. What I really needed to focus on was the how.

TQ: You have to know how things work.

EC: Don’t limit yourself to a particular type of story. Smash the stereotypes. For “Crimson Sky,” I talked to a pilot and an ER trauma surgeon. Don’t be afraid.

TQ: Culture and biology may be a match. Stan was also into linguistics. Look at Dune. It’s science fiction with fantastic elements. Cultural prediction is interesting is done well. Sometimes it’s about the approach to story rather than the nature of the science involved.

Q: Can you have different physics?

TQ: It could work if you’re rigorous in your created universe.

DK: Let’s turn to non-fiction science articles.

TQ: I never get tired of those. Give me more. They have a popular focus. The information has to be accessible. Balance is key. We also have scientists who read Analog. Science fiction relative is also good, the deconstruction of tropes, idea generation, interesting research. How can a writer use this information? It has to be entertaining.

Q: Should I query first, or just go ahead and write?

TQ: If you’re adamant, go ahead and write, but we also take queries.

Q: Any formatting tips?

TQ: We’re not to picky.

Q: Can we use figures as long as they’re cited?

TQ: That’s no problem as long as they’re right.

DK: Your readers seem to be hungry for everything.

TQ: There needs to be diversity. Don’t be too complacent. Curve balls are important.

DK: What’s the ultimate fate of these stories and articles?

TQ: It falls to the individual authors what happens to the piece after publication. Sometimes there are tie-in “science behind the story” articles, audio versions, etc..

There was then some promotion regarding subscriptions to Analog, as well as where to get sample stories and articles online. It’s all available on the web site. Start there and you won’t go wrong.

Next week: We’re talking magic and magical systems.

CanCon2015 day 2: The history of science fiction

Presenter: Dr. David G. Hartwell (and, his site).

DavidHartwell

Sorry for the poor pic. It was the best of the bunch I took :(

Frankenstein (1818) was actually a collaboration between Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Bodleian library holds the original manuscripts. They reveal four distinct hands. That it’s the first science fiction written by a woman is therefore debatable.

Aphra Behn, Margaret Cavendish, and Jane Louden could be contenders.

Many of the manuscripts from the early 20th century are now being re-examined.

Facsimile reprints only lasted 15 to 18 years for the research set. Now we have Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and the like.

There have been no organized, concerted efforts dedicated to science fiction. It’s something fun for academic researchers. The early works, in particular, don’t get a lot of attention.

After Shelley, we have Jules Verne (1828 – 1905) and Edgar Allen Poe (1809 – 1849).

Poe was, arguably, not a great writer, but he more or less created genre fiction, specifically mystery, science fiction, and horror.

Kafka (1883 – 1924) and Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803 – 1873) published speculative works as well.

There was a growth in modern nationalism and military invention at the end of the 1800s. The machine gun, the tank, and the air plane. It was largely considered the end of war the way it had always been fought. Governments other than monarchy developed.

More’s Utopia and Plato’s speculations were considered thought experiments. They were never realized.

By the 1890s, there was a large body of work that could be read and mimicked.

George Orwell was considered to have wrote scientific romances.

Currently, it is thought that the ‘important’ science fiction is written in one language, but there are French, German, Polish, and Italian writers in the genre.

Q: What is proto-science fiction?

Science fiction is a conscious effort. If it’s accidental, it’s proto-SF. The second consideration is that there has to have been an audience for the work.

Q: What about other literatures?

There are Arabic texts describing aliens that date back to Medieval times.

Q: Is Tom Swift considered science fiction?

Not really. It’s more adventure.

All imaginative literature got scrunched together and separated from ‘proper’ literature. The fantastic exists in literature since Gilgamesh. That doesn’t mean it was what we consider fantasy.

Q: What’s the difference between a techno-thriller and science fiction?

In the techno-thriller, the changes are temporary. The world reverts to normal. Science fiction tends to change the world permanently.

J.G. Ballard’s work usually involves a disaster of some variety and humanity must live with the results. It’s not the optimistic attitude of most science fiction.

Between 1920 and 1940, the literary establishment had to start excluding written material to maintain their elitism. The typical modernist text of the time was normal life with psychological insight.

John Updike wrote about The World Treasury of Science Fiction. He said it couldn’t be first rate literature.

The attitude of the literary establishment toward science fiction is not acceptable.

Q: Could you comment on Orwell? What about Huxley and Burgess?

Burgess liked reading science fiction, but his only analogue is A Clockwork Orange. Orwell wrote in the tradition of H.G. Wells. He would have been appalled if anyone called him a science fiction author.

Science fiction and fantasy are marketing categories.

Genre is an interaction between the author, the text, and the reader. There’s direct feedback. The traditional genres (literature, drama, poetry) don’t necessarily have that.

There was a fair amount that I didn’t get written down with this particular presentation, but it was still a great source of information. It filled in a few gaps for me from my previous studies. I have a feeling that Dr. Hartwell could have kept going :)

That’s it for this week.

I’m off to Bedfordshire (as in bed).

TTFN!

CanCon 2015 day 2: The basics of the sword, the katana, and the Viking axe

A quick disclaimer, since I haven’t provided one recently. These posts are transcriptions of my notes from the panels in question. There will be errors. If you can provide clarification of correction of any of the information provided, please do not hesitate to do so. I will make any corrections post hasty.

Update: Feb 4, 2016. Ariella was gracious enough to give me some additional notes :) These have been added with brackets.

Panellists: Geoff Gander, Kris Ramsey, Reanne Roy, and Ariella Elema

SwordPanel

GG: What bugs you most about how most movies and television shows represent sword fighting?

KR: Flynning. Named after Errol Flynn. It’s all the swahbuckling stuff that would never work in real life. When it’s done well, you can’t tell an actor is Flynning. If not, it’s terrible. The last Three Musketeers movie is an example. You try to stay out of blade range when you’re fighting with a sword.

RR: I hate it when actors fight with a katana and cut through the opponent’s body. It would get stuck. The first two inches of the blade is the dangerous part.

KR: Swords are only for when you’ve run out of all other means of attack.

RR: And samurai using two katana? One is heavy enough. Musashi carried two, but is was a shorter blade and a katana, not two katana.

AE: A ‘case’ of rapiers. It can be done. It’s a flashy trick for duels, but it requires mastery of use in both dominant and non-dominant hands.

 

KR: Longer weapons tend to flex and it makes them less deadly. A shorter weapon is deadlier. When using two blades, it’s usually one long and one short. The longer blade deflects, and the shorter blade is used to kill.

GG: How has swordplay changed, historically?

AE: With armour, the shield became redundant. [More precisely, the development of complete suits of plate armour in late fourteenth-century Europe made shields less necessary. Having two hands on a sword gives you the leverage to cut faster with a longer blade.] The second hand was used on the sword for more power. The Germans placed the emphasis on speed. [IIRC, this comment was specifically about the differences in style between Italian and German masters in the fifteenth century. Fiore dei Liberi, an Italian master, seems to have been fond of moving into close range. His treatise, The Flower of Battle, has a lot of instructions for grappling, disarms, and pommel smashes in the face. The German masters, especially the later ones, tend to put more emphasis on the things you can do a little farther out at cutting range. This may be a reflection of the fact that Fiore was teaching people who were likely to face heavily armoured opponents, while the later Germans had a tradition of holding unarmoured tournaments.] When fighting in a tournament, knights fought at sword range.

KR: There was an older, battlefield style that included bo, naginata, and grappling.

Q: When did they stop having tournaments?

GG: It depends on the culture.

AE: I wrote my PhD dissertation on it. Trial by Battle in France and England. Tournaments ran from about 1050 – 1250. The last big tournament was in France in 1455. [1455 was the year of the last judicially-sanctioned trial by battle in the territory of what is now France. Subsequent duels were not organized by courts of law. The last trial by battle in England that came to blows was in 1456, but there were some outlying attempts to revive the practice in the 1650s and the early nineteenth century. Fencing tournaments of one sort or another have existed pretty much continuously since the Middle Ages.] There were outliers as late as the 1650’s. By and large, fire arms took over. Usually, they missed each other.

KR: There were cavalry charges with swords as late as WWII.

AE: By that time, though cavalry was a combination of horses and vehicles.

KR: A very good book on the subject is Swords and Swordsmen by Mike Loades.

GG: Who are the lead smiths now?

AE: Charles Jevins (?). [Charles Jevons is a terrific maker of aluminum practice swords. His site is here: http://www.swordcrafts.com/] He uses aluminium these days. Weight and balance of a steel sword can be duplicated, but there’s greater safety because of a thicker edge. You can get steel swords as well. It will run you anywhere between $300 and $2500.

Q: What was the historical cost of a sword?

KR: It’s hard to say. Again, it would depend on the culture. Initially, Japanese swords were made from crap steel. Then, they learned how to make it durable. It took months to craft and took two smiths to make. They’d quench them in clay.

AE: In the thirteenth century, the cost was about 12 pence. That’s about two weeks of wages for the average peasant. [Here’s a place where the Historical European Martial Arts community has collected some data on medieval European sword prices: http://www.fioredeiliberi.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=18566]

KR: The Vikings were very poor. That’s why they raided. They had to go out to get what they needed to survive.

Q: In 1966, I bought a Japanese katana for $400.

KR: Now they’re made in a Chinese factory.

Q: Can anyone carry a sword, or do you need a permit?

AE: In Canada, it’s technically legal, but you could cause a disturbance by walking around with one and get into trouble that way. I have white lady privilege, though. I can walk through the financial district of Toronto carrying my sword. Only the panhandlers notice. [I admit to having done this quite close to the financial district. It was probably dumb. I don’t recommend trying it yourself: results may vary. Sword canes almost certainly fall under the category of concealed knives, but I don’t know of any legal cases that have set definitive precedents on the matter. I’m a medieval legal historian, not a lawyer, so don’t take anything I say for legal advice. :) ]

Q: How about cane swords?

AE: It’s a grey area. It could be considered a concealed weapon.

Q: What do you think of the sword work in Sparticus?

AE: The fight director might be Philippine influenced. The theory is that the Medieval Arabs taught everyone sword fighting. [My personal hypothesis is that medieval Arab sword arts influenced both Chinese and European fencing theory. There are quite a few medieval martial arts treatises in Arabic that have not yet been edited or translated into any European language. The oldest one dates from the mid ninth century CE.]

KR: There are only so many ways you can move with a sword.

Demo ensued.

KatanaDemo

KatanaDemo2

SwordDemo

We didn’t really get into the Viking axe, sorry to say.

Next week, we’ll delve into the history of science fiction from an academic perspective.

Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend!

CanCon 2015 day 2: Asteroids

I can’t believe it. I actually had the time between Boxing Day shopping and family dinner this evening to put my post up. I love it when a plan comes together ;)

Happy Boxing Day, everyone!

Panellists: Andrew Barton, Eric Choi, Wolfram Lunscher

AsteroidsPanel

AB: Let me just say this: Armageddon is not a documentary.

WL: Asteroids pass Earth all the time. There’s an asteroid that will pass us on the far side of the moon, about 15,000 miles. The Hallowe’en asteroid. Mining asteroids is feasible, but we’d need rockets bigger than the Saturn 5. Space-X is developing the Falcon Heavy, which could be used for the purpose. Our planetary resource needs could be met by mining four asteroids. There is a parallel between the exploration of space and the exploration of the new world. Spice used to be as expensive as gold until the Spice Islands were discovered. It will be expensive to mine asteroids until we have sufficient access to the resources we need to make it reasonable.

Q: Can a solar mirror be used to melt asteroids?

WL: For resource processing in situ, a solar mirror could be used to smelt minerals. If we can figure out a cost-effective way to mine asteroids, we could become a true space-faring species.

EC: Terrestrial mining is a huge part of the Canadian economy. Can we transfer these skills to the mining of asteroids?

WL: The short answer is, yes. There’s a lot of enthusiasm within the industry for making the leap. Deep mining drills are taking place in Sudbury and a paper is being prepared, a feasibility study.

EC: Back to you Andrew. You said before that Armageddon was science fiction.

AB: I’m not the expert. I’m just and author who likes to write about asteroids. My research tells me that asteroid settlement is possible. James S.A. Corey (actually two co-authors) writes about the Belters, who make a living mining the asteroid belt for water to supply settlements on Mars and Jupiter’s moons. Asteroids are actually spinning rubble piles.

Q: Diverting asteroids away from Earth is supposed to be more effective than trying to blow the up. Are there any practical experiments or is this all fiction?

AB: We could use a kind of gravity tractor to divert asteroids. There’s not a lot of drama in the process, though, so people don’t write about that.

WL: If the asteroid impact is immanent, we would have to try blowing it up. If we can spot the asteroid at least ten years out, we would have the time to mount a mission to divert it.

EC: The budgets for the films Armageddon and Deep Impact were both orders of magnitude greater than the budget astronomers have for asteroid detection.

AB: There’s a probe that has been sent to the inner solar system, to Venus and closer to the sun. It’s intended to detect asteroids orbiting in the inner solar system. There’s danger from that direction, too.

Q: What complications does the spinning of the asteroid pose to landing on it?

AB: It’s problematic because there are voids in the asteroid a probe or landing vehicle could be lost.

And that was time.

Next weekend, I’m going to take a break from CanCon do write my year-end Next Chapter update, and, if I have time, I want to put together a post on how to set up Jamie Raintree’s new writing and revision tracking spreadsheet. I was asked to do this back in the spring by some writer friends who aren’t Excel-savvy, but realized that doing it when the spreadsheet is fresh off the presses would be better. Sorry for the delay, ladies!

We’ll see how it goes :)

In the meantime, I hope everyone is safe and cozy with their loved ones and if anyone dared Boxing Day madness, that they’re all home and none the worse for wear (if a little poorer in their bank accounts).

CanCon 2015 day 1: How to pitch

Panellists: Hayden Trenholm, Gabrielle Harbowy, Robert Runte, Elizabeth Hirst, Marie Bilodeau

PitchPanel

Q: What do you want to see/hear in a pitch?

EH: Enthusiasm. If the author loves their book and believes in it, that’s a good sign. Make sure the book you pitch is finished.

HT: Don’t lie. If the book isn’t finished, be up front about it. If the finished book comes in nine months later, that ship has sailed, though.

GH: First impressions count. Don’t ignore the guidelines. One guy wiped his nose before he shook my hand. It didn’t matter what he did after that.

EH: Presentation is key.

HT: I have to know I can send you to a high-end book store. Publishers don’t buy books. We buy authors.

RR: Different editors look for different things. You want to get rejected as quickly as possible. If you’re not a fit for the editor, you have to feel good about that and move on. You’ll find the editor who’s as passionate about your work as you are. I polled my SF Canada colleagues and asked them, ‘what’s the longest you’ve waited for a response?’ Eight years was the longest. That’s a huge chunk of your life.

HT: Pitching is like a job interview. Treat it like that.

EH: I wish the authors well. If it’s not for me, I might suggest someone else.

GH: Don’t argue. All decisions are final.

HT: Some people try to tell me why I’m wrong. It’s like asking for a second date after a failed first one.

EH: You should ask as many questions as they ask you.

HT: You have to make sure it’s the right fit.

EH: I might recommend self-publishing to some pitchers.

GH: But I can’t take a book that’s already been published.

RR: You have to make sure you match your capabilities. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver.

HT: We don’t know everything. We all do what we can. Self-published books are a tough sell. 55% of Americans won’t read an ebook. Think about what you want. Your expectations should be clear. A bestseller in Canada is about 5000 books. When you choose a small publisher, you have a personal relationship. Our goal is to make the best book we can. If that’s what you want, pitch to a small press.

GH: Bigger presses look at Dragon Moon’s catalogue. We’re happy to send authors on to bigger and better things.

RR: If you’re asked for a synopsis, it’s a blow by blow of everything that happens in the novel, including the end. I need to know the ending. You have to tell me what your book is about.

EH: The ending is not as important to me as the main conflict. What’s interesting about the book? What’s the intrigue? That’s the reason people read.

GH: Premise and plot are not the same thing, though.

HT: People think the book has to be perfect. No. The book has to be interesting. If the book is a shambles in terms of spelling and grammar, we can fix it.

RR: I have to love your book to put the four- to five hundred comments on it that I do on most books. I’ve been giving these talks forever, but I finished my first book and went to pitch it . . . and blew it.

HT: The last person who knows what the book is about is the author.

Q&A ensued.

And that’s the end of day 1. Between Nina’s workshop and this panel, the opening ceremonies took place and after this panel, I went to the Bundoran Press book launch and SF Canada party, where I got to hear GoH Ed Willett read from his latest novel and network with my writerly peeps.

So that was all I did on Friday.

Next week: Asteroids.

Note: I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post on Saturday or if it will have to be pushed to Sunday. Family shenanigans. You know the holiday drill :)

CanCon 2015, day 1: Ecology and story workshop with Nina Munteanu

It took us a little longer to drive to Ottawa than I thought, so I was late for this workshop. My apologies to Nina and to any of my readers who experience confusion as a result. If you think there’s something missing, you’re probably right :)

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Overlapping ecosystems are vibrant.

Ecologists ask why and how.

  • Why do species eat this food and not that one?
  • How do the environment, other species, diet, etc. limit population growth?

Adaptive traits:

  • Mimicry
  • Camouflage

Autotrophs (producers – species which produce their own food)

Phototrophs (produce food from light)

The Bracken Fern. Ubiquitous. Found on every continent except Antarctica. Very successful. Carcinogenic. Breaks down vitamin B. Reproduces by both spores and rhizomes.

Fiddleheads contain cyanide. Aggressive symbiosis. They attract ants which in turn defend it against other predators (peonies do this, too, though they don’t contain cyanide).

Nothing else will grow in a hemlock grove. It kills all potentially competitive species.

Some primates live with viruses that cause disease in other species because the monkey is the virus’s ‘ideal’ host. (Mel’s note: I think this was a digression into other forms of symbiosis–monkeys aren’t phototrophs.)

Chemotrophs (produce food from chemical processes)

Heterotrophs (consumers and decomposers, including us)

Parasites

Saprotrophs – fungi and bacteria

Detrivores – insects and earthworms

Lynn Margulis proposed the Gaia hypothesis and symbiogenesis (Google search for more information).

Endosymbiosis – cooperative adaptation.

Darwin’s theory of competition (survival of the fittest) is incomplete. It doesn’t explain altruism.

Symbiosis leads to happiness.

  • Kin selection – the choice to support the reproductive group including sacrifice for the greater good (heroism).
  • Group selection – the choice to limit population growth in favour of x (where x is more food, habitat, etc. for all).
  • Reciprocal altruism – The vampire bat, for example. All hunters may not be successful, but the successful hunters will share their food with the unsuccessful and with mothers/pups (by regurgitation) to ensure the continued strength of the community.
  • True altruism – Dolphins will help humans and other species for no apparent gain. (Mel’s note: they may also rape their own and other species for no apparent reason, but that’s another story.)
  • Communal feeding – Lions in prides.
  • Satellites – In some frog species, the small males will hang out with the big, noisy ones and ‘head off’ the eligible females attracted by their big, noisy brethren.
  • Niche partitioning – competing species that coexist in the same ecosystem by voluntarily partitioning food, habitat, etc..

Adaptation and extremophiles

The brine shrimp of Mono Lake (California) thrive in inland seas with salinity that kills potential predators. They can also survive being dried out.

There are flies that can swim and dive because they carry their own oxygen supplies in air bubbles.

There are bacteria that feed on sulphur.

The Microbes of Lake Untersee in Antarctica live in a super alkaline environment with lots of dissolved methane in the water. They create stromatolites—the largest ever found anywhere.

Bacteria in the Rio Tinto thrive in extreme acidity and high iron content in the water.

The fungi of Chernobyl feed on high levels of radioactivity.

The Atacama Salt Flats in Chile is the most arid desert in the world, yet hypolithic algae have evolved to thrive where no other plant life can.

Tardigrades (also known as water bears or moss piglets) can survive anywhere, even in space (for approximately ten days). They can be revived after a century of desiccation and endure 1000 times the lethal dose of radiation for a human. Technically, they’re not true extremophiles because they have not adapted to prefer, or thrive in these environments. They merely survive.

 

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The rest of the workshop was taken up by an exercise in which we applied ecology to the characters of our stories. How have our protagonists adapted to thrive in adverse conditions, compete against, or mimic, other characters, to become the heroes of our stories? In what ways do they show altruism, and is it true altruism, or another form? How does the unique environment of the story world affect them?

It was a very interesting workshop and I’m sorry to have missed the beginning of it.

Unfortunately, because of my late arrival, I did not get a picture of Nina or the workshop participants.

It was a good start to a great weekend of panels, though.

Come back next Saturday when the CanCon 2015 reportage continues with advice on pitching your novel.

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.