Book review of Alon Shalev’s At the Walls of Galbrieth

I’ve fallen behind in my reviewing duties, so I’m going to be catching up over the next few weekends.

At the Walls of Galbrieth

At the Walls of Galbrieth

What Amazon says: The young elf desired only to follow in his mother’s footsteps and become a healer, but when the Emperor’s army attacks his village to punish traitors and conscript youth, Seanchai flees to the mountains, seeking safe harbor with an uncle he has never met. He is shocked as many people sacrifice their lives to ensure he reaches a Wycaan Master, an enigmatic woman named Mhari, who can teach him to wield a powerful death-and-life magic that might just free the races of Odessiya. In a world defined by strict racial boundaries, where humans rule, dwarves hide deep underground, and elves are a slave nation, Seanchai must find a way to create friendships and trust, unheard of since the fall of the Wycaan Masters, and reunite the races into an alliance that will bring freedom to all. Sometimes one must choose between his companions and his destiny. Seanchai abhors his ability to kill and, in the friendships he forges, discovers something potentially more powerful than his magic. Friendship, however, can be a double-edged sword.

My rating 4 out of 5 stars.

The book starts off at a fairly quick pace, with Seanchai fleeing his home in the middle of the night to escape the predations of the Emperor’s troops.

While events continue to move quickly throughout the book, Seanchai is not always at the heart of the action, as he trains with his master to unlock his powers.  Alon took a bit of a risk here letting Seanchai’s companions take centre stage for the middle third of the book.

Some readers might be tempted to skim the sections of training if not for a few key transformations that make what might otherwise be monotonous passages startling.

Then Seanchai takes the reins firmly in hand leading up to the climax on the novel and the payoff is satisfying.

I liked the play on Irish tradition (a seanchai is a traditional Irish historian and storyteller, akin to a bard) and pagan practice (wycaan is a variation of the word wiccan, the modern tradition of witchcraft).  His training with his master is distinctively pagan and I appreciated his angle on magic.

For a first YA epic fantasy, AtWoG is a good read.  The novel is well-paced and written in straight-forward language.  Alon has room to learn and grow as an author, and I look forward to the next two books in his series.

Strictly speaking, Alon doesn’t need my help.  At the Walls of Galbrieth was Alon Shaleva quarter finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthough Novel Award competition, which led to his getting the novel published that same year.  Alon now has two more books in his series published.  This year, AtWoG won the YA category and was a grand prize finalist in the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award.

Alon, who blogs as the Elf Writer, is a staunch supporter of epic fantasy as a viable genre despite what some argue as overused tropes (Tolkien-esque writing, elves, dwarves, etc.).  I also happen to believe in the enduring power of epic or high fantasy and am very pleased that AtWoG has done so well.

Until tomorrow, my writerly friends 🙂

CanWrite! 2013: Gala and wrap post

Before I begin, I’ll apologize for the apparently drunken photo-taking.  I’m still getting used to the camera in my Galaxy Note II 😛

On Saturday evening (June 15), conference attendees were shuttled out to the Best Western conference centre for out Gala event and announcing of the winners of the CAA literary awards.

Gathering for the Gala

Gathering for the Gala

Our master of ceremonies for the evening was Bruce Pirrie, Second City alumnus and writer for the Red Green Show.

The evening’s events picked up after dinner with an introductory monologue from Bruce about the dubious joys of being a comedy writer.

Then Charles Foran took the podium with an impassioned plea from PEN Canada.  While the organization is best known for its work overseas on behalf of writers and free speech (a current campaign focuses on the events in Turkey), PEN Canada has noticed a disturbing trend here in Canada with the censorship of Canadian scientists and the digital freedom controversy.

Charles Foran

Charles Foran

PEN needs writers everywhere to stand up for the right to free speech and fight the oppression of censorship.  To this end, they are conducting a membership drive until the end of June.  Please consider joining this worthy organization.

Andrew Westoll

Andrew Westoll

Matt Bin

Matt Bin

Next was Andrew Westoll, Author of The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary.  Andrew presented the stories of three of the Fauna chimps, their individual struggles, and the rewards their caregivers reap.  It was an amazingly touching presentation.

Then, President Matthew Bin introduced the CAA literary awards.  Originally started in 1937, the awards were the “for authors, by authors” recognition of excellence in Canadian literature.  They became the Governor General’s Awards and administration of them assumed by the Canada Council for the Arts.  More recently, in 1975, the Canadian Authors Association has once again started their awards program.

Here is the list of the winners.

It was a fabulous evening and I was inspired by having been a part of it.

_______________________________________________________________________

The rest of the story

I have been a professional member of the CAA since I joined a few years ago.  As such, I have voting privileges at the annual general meeting.  Two years ago, I expressed interest in taking part in the program committee.

This year, I was invited to join it.

The program committee has a fairly sweeping mandate, including the CAA literary awards and the annual conference.  Also on the list of responsibilities are professional development programs (where my greatest interest is), the roving writers program, editor-in-residence program, members’ book catalogue, and contests.  I’m a little daunted but I have great fellow committee members and a great chair to work with.  Our role is primarily to set policy and make key decisions.  We won’t be doing the leg work, but I can see some of that happening.

There are exciting times ahead for the CAA as it also embarks of a “twig” program and membership drive.

The web site is also undergoing a long-overdue revamp and should be far more oriented to service to the CAA’s membership.

I’ve made some writerly connections: Sharif Khan, author of The Psychology of the Hero Soul, John McDonell, and Vikki Vansickle.  I reconnected with some old friends too: Sandra Stewart attended for the weekend only, as did Betty Guenette, another member of the Sudbury Writers’ Guild.  I reconnected with Sue Reynolds and James Dewar (one of my fellow program committee members), who I’d last seen at the Algonkian conference in the fall.  I met a lot of authors, and bought a lot of books (!)

It was a wonderful experience.  I just wish items like Hermione Granger’s Time Turner actually existed, so I could see and experience everything 😉

Coming up: I’ll be returning to my weekends-only schedule, starting with some long-overdue book reviews.

CanWrite! 2013: Day 3 Traditional vs. self-publishing panel

The day 3 (June 15) panel, featured Halli Villegas of Tightrope Books, Sheila Mahoney, Certified Copyeditor and Editors’ Association of Canada Director of Professional Standards, and Tom Taylor, self-published author of Brock’s Agent, Brock’s Railroad, and Brock’s Traitor.

Once again, James Dewar acted as moderator.

JD: Should an author go for a traditional deal, or self-publish?

TT: There are many ways to skin this cat.  I have a publisher in the UK, but did the Canadian editions myself.  All the big marketing budgets have gone by the wayside in any case (Penguin, ECW). You have to invest money in your own promotion regardless.

SM: Know what you’re willing to do.  If you know you can invest the time and money, then do it.  It cost one client $25000, but mistakes were made.  What’s an acceptable risk?

HV: It’s not either/or but how and when?  Speaking tours can be difficult to arrange depending on your genre.  Publishers do have a lot of resources that can help in some situations.  It’s a matter of choice.  For example for academic clients and libraries, there’s Coutts.  They’ll order a set number of copies for distribution to their clients.  Also, there’s BowkerLINK, which offers sales and marketing information.  Publishers can get the proper ISBN barcodes for the cover.  Your books can be featured in catalogues for booksellers and distributors.

TT: It’s business and you have to approach it like that.  Where will your books sell?  Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge is a rare bookstore, very entrepreneurial.  There’s a bakery in the Niagara region where I’ve sold more books (about 300) than at most bookstores.  The owner will talk the books up to customers, many of whom are tourists.  You have to know how to market wisely.

Here’s what I invested and how I recovered the costs:

  • Line edit: $1500
  • Substantive edit: $1500
  • Layout (internal and cover design): $3000
  • Printing: $4000 (2000 copies at $2 each)
  • Total: $10000

To break even, I had to sell 1000 copies of the book at $10 a piece.  Everything else was profit.

SM: Certified editors are best but they don’t come cheap.  Independent editors, some are good and some are bad.  Design is important.  You should make your book a pleasure to read.

TT: I don’t necessarily want everyone to spend $10000 only to fail.  Your comfort level must be considered.  Editing is paramount.  The package is the product (like the media is the message—Marshall McLuhan).

SM: The people who love you are not going to be honest with you.   There’s a difference between line editing and copy editing and substantive editing.  Know what you need and what you’re paying for.

JD: Agents can take over part of the substantive.

TT: Maybe self-publishing is not for you, but if you’ve done the work up front, if you have a fully edited manuscript and a beautiful layout and a lovely cover ready to go, how much more interested will a potential publisher be?  Media coverage is important as well.  Get the word out however you can.  Chapters will take books on consignment too.  Check with your local store.

Ultimately, there were no real answers in this presentation as to whether traditional or self-publishing is better.  It’s an individual decision for every author.  There was a lot of good information that could come in handy regardless of whether you go for a traditional deal or self-publish.

Tomorrow: The Gala and wrap-up post.

See you then!

CanWrite! 2013: Open mic, Andrew Pyper, and Cordelia Strube

I already mentioned the welcome reception and the morning creative writing circles, but have since launched into panels and sessions without mentioning what happened the evenings of June 13 and 14.

Back-pedalling now …

Open mic and shortlist readings

On June 13, interested parties were encouraged to sign up for the open mic.  I did and intended to read the revised opening of my novel as I had at Wordstock, then at supper I heard that the readings would be restricted to five minutes.  This was reduced to three by the time I arrived due to the number of last minute sign-ups.

Not having brought my poetry with me that night, I read as much of my opening as I could.  It was well-received.

Other readers offered their poetry and stories (one humorous one was about discovering one was having a heart attack while on the toilet – shades of Elvis) the organizers sticking strictly to the three-minute limit.

June 14 was to have been readings from the authors short listed for the CAA Literary Awards, but again, a last-minute change opened the floor to additional readers.  I signed up and brought my poetry, a much more appropriate genre for the three-minute limit.

I got to hear the end of the Elvis story and some more great poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.

I enjoyed the readings from the short listed works.  With one exception, none of them could show up in person.  The man who did was Michael S. Cross, author of A Biography of Robert Baldwin: The Morning-Star of Memory (Oxford University Press).

Michael’s reading was wonderful.  I didn’t know Robert Baldwin was such a fascinating character.

Another fascinating author was Jane Doe. She read from her book The Story of Jane Doe.  She is an advocate and activist and her story is a compelling one.  I encourage everyone who has an interest in women’s issues, advocacy, or the attitudes of the legal system to victims of rape and violent crime to pick up this book.

Andrew Pyper

Andrew Pyper

Andrew Pyper

Andrew Pyper is the author of six novels, most recently, The Demonologist.

Andrew’s session was on the afternoon of June 14, and it was as much workshop as presentation.

The session, Getting organized, getting started, focused on the essential elements required before an author begins to write a novel.

  1. An Idea;
  2. A Premise;
  3. A Protagonist;
  4. A Hook;
  5. A Structure; and
  6. An Outline.

He also offered six tips for overcoming roadblocks.

One of the most interesting pieces of his presentation was about ideas.  Yes, one must have at least one good idea to propel one’s plot, but the author shouldn’t stop there.

Traditional thought and misconception would imply that one idea must be made big enough to become the basis for a novel.  Andrew suggested that rather than one idea expanding to fit a novel, that a multitude of ideas should funnel down and feed into a single novel.

This made a lot of sense to me, and when I think about it, that’s how I write fiction.  I never write about one thing.

The premise is distinguished from the main idea of the novel because of its scope.  Andrew’s explanation reminded me of Larry Brooks’s.

He offered the following example:

Idea: A modern-day Frankenstein.

Premise: Archaeologists extract DNA from mosquitoes trapped in pre-historic amber and use it to clone dinosaurs. A philanthropist establishes a theme park around the beasts and invites a select group of scientists and family to witness his triumph; then the beasts escape (Jurassic Park).

The key to a premise is “high concept,” a concept that can be evasive.  This is why Larry Brooks is forever explaining the difference between idea, concept, and premise on his site 😉

Andrew had us write our premises for the Rob Ford story.  As expected, we all had different takes on the well-publicized scandal.

I won’t give away the whole of Andrew’s session, but I will say that it was informative and fun.

Cordelia Strube

Cordelia Strube’s session, on the afternoon of June 15, was mostly workshop.  She’d actually had workshops on both afternoons (14th and 15th) and anticipated that conference-goers would attend both, but a miscommunication occurred and the message was never conveyed to attendees.

Cordelia has published eight funny, powerful, sparse, cathartic and critically acclaimed novels, among them Alex & Zee, Teaching Pigs to Sing, The Barking Dog, Blind Night, and Lemon. Her ninth, Milosz was published last year.

Her plan was to have participants from the first session return and revise the work they had started the day before.  Those of us who only came on the second day would have to start from scratch.

Cordelia gave us a framework and some strategies for getting into our focused writing.  She then distributed horoscopes and a number of other prompts: postcards, small items, all of which were to inform our writing project for the afternoon.

After we were sent off to write however and wherever we wished, the class was asked to share the results of their writing.

It was an excellent session.

________________________________________________________________________

I should take a moment to mention that there were a number of sessions happening concurrently on Friday and Saturday afternoons.  I can only report on the ones that I attended.

Specialty sessions, at a nominal additional cost, also took place during the mornings.

There were also agent pitch sessions occurring Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings.  Though I did not opt into these, they were very popular and booked solid.

I like the way in which they were conducted.  Each author was to submit their query letter and first five pages of their novel in advance of the pitch session.  I think that this is a much better way to conduct pitches than to do them blindly.  It’s better for the agents because they have a sense of the author’s work.  It’s better for the writer because they don’t only have their two to five minutes to convey the meat of their novel.

A professional photographer was also on site to take author shots for the attendees.  I happily paid the (again, nominal) fee for this.  I should have the results next week and I hope they will be better than my efforts to date.

Tomorrow: The final panel, Traditional vs. Self-publishing.

G’night y’all 🙂

CanWrite! 2013: Day 2 agents’ panel

After another morning of creative writing and lunch, conference-goers again gathered in the academic building for the 1 pm Agents’ Panel Discussion.

James Dewar acted as moderator for the panel, which consisted of: Sam Hiyate, president of The Rights Factory and Carly Watters, agent at the P.S. Literary Agency.

JD: What are you looking for right now?

CW: Picture books; contemporary YA (thriller/mystery, romance); women’s fiction; upmarket; non-fiction; and multi-media.

SH: New agents are looking for new clients. I’m full up myself, right now, but occasionally I do sign the odd author.  For non-fiction, a platform is essential. Most non-fiction sells on proposal alone.

JD: What can a fiction writer do to obtain representation?

CW: Write an amazing novel.  Platform does not matter.

SH: Debut novelists—sometimes even established ones—can fail to sell.  I like a strong voice, someone who can perform acrobatics with a sentence.

CW: I have a more commercial taste, a Book Club book would appeal to me.

JD: How do you move an “almost there” author to “there”?

SH: I’m a different beast than most agents and will work with the writer to edit the work.  Most agents won’t.  Others will set the writer up with a freelance editor.

CW: I’ll write an edit letter to the writer if the good stuff is REALLY GOOD.  Some books are edited seven times before they are sent to a publisher.  If the writer has the ability to turn their MS around quickly, the chances are better.

SH: My best advice is to find an agent who “gets you.”

JD: What should authors NOT do?

SH: Don’t send your MS in too early.

CW: In a pitch session, do not go through your whole synopsis.

SH: Sometimes the pitch or query can be better than the book.

JD: We’ll open the floor to audience questions (AQ) now.

AQ: Do I need an agent first, or can I approach a publisher directly?

CW: Agent first.  Most larger publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts.

SH: An agent can say “no,” however.  An editor will refer the author to an agent anyway.  Send it and see what happens.

AQ: What does an agent do?

SH: Our job is to create a competitive situation around your book.

AQ: Can you have more than one agent?

SH: We contract exclusively, much like a real estate agent would.  Your book is the property we’re selling.  Our commission is 15% on domestic and 20% on foreign sales.

AQ: In the context of the “Literary Apocalypse” of self- and ebook publishing, do writers even need publishers anymore?

CW: Some agencies have publishing arms, but it gets complicated.

SH: Self-publishing is a new way for agents to discover talent.  Eventually, all the good material gets scooped up by the publishers.  Cases in point: Amanda Hocking, E.L. James, and Hugh Howey.

CW: These are exceptions to the rule.  Agents can’t turn $10k ebook sales into a traditional deal, but if you sell $200k+, that’s different.

SH: In the future, writers will have more control.

AQ: If an author has published a book but is not happy with the rights (terms) is there anything that can be done?

SH: No, if the rights have already been contracted out, that’s it.  Most agents won’t negotiate a bad contract for you, though.  Publishing houses and agencies start out with really talented, committed, and enthusiastic people who are grossly underpaid, for like ten years.  In that time, the ones who can’t maintain their passion leave for greener pastures.  The ones who can, become successful.

The agents’ panel was great, and both Sam and Carly were professional and up front with their insiders’ looks into the publishing world.

Tomorrow: I’ll cover Day 1 and Day 2 evening events, and Day 2 and 3 afternoons with Andrew Pyper and Cordelia Strube.  That will leave the Awards Gala and wrap-up posts.  So three more days, and it’s all over!

Don’t despair, there will be lots more Writerly Goodness coming your way this summer.  Book reviews and hopefully some more author interviews, pupdates (yes, there’s at least one more coming), and updates regarding the backyard office (interesting things afoot there).  I’ll also have some updates on my work in progress and any other conferences or events that I get to.

I will be returning to my weekends-only posting schedule after this week, though.  Blogging every day, though fun for a short period, takes up a lot of writing time (!)  My goal is to have my current revision done before the summer’s out.

Until tomorrow!

CanWrite! 2013: Day 1 publicity and marketing sessions

As promised yesterday, I’m going to talk about the good, bad, and downright ugly.

To start with …

The Good

I’ll start with Vikki Vansickle’s Mapping your Market presentation.

Vikki was enthusiastic, energetic, and clearly loves what she does, on both sides of the board.  Vikki is an author and a marketer, recently moving to Penguin Books (congratulations!).

Vikki has published four middle-grade (MG) novels since 2010.

  • So what do you do when you get published?
  • Celebrate!  Tell EVERYONE.  You never know who your champion will be.  Word of mouth is still king.
  • Do some research (yes, it’s important in marketing too).  How do you find the books you like?  Work outward: How does someone like you in Houston, Whitehorse, or Harrison Hot Springs find the books she likes to read?  That’s where you want to go, to get in front of the wave.
  • Who wants to read your book?  Who needs to read your book?
  • Comparative novels (comps) are critical.  It doesn’t even need to be a novel, as long as it’s in popular culture.  “If you like X, you’ll love XXX!”  “It’s Dirty Dancing without the dirty :)”  “It’s Looking at the Moon meets The Summer I Turned Pretty.”
  • Who is your ideal reader?  Define her in every detail.  Who are your potential readers (again work outward)?
  • Your elevator pitch should be about the length of a Tweet.  You have to tell people what your novel is about in pithy, taut, engaging sentences.
  • Be prepared to wear different hats.
  • Instagram is big with kids.  Facebook’s where their parents are (ew!).
  • Goodreads is great for more mature readers.
  • Writers Cafe (dot) org can help you with critique, beta readers, contests, conferences, etc.
  • Find your niche and identify specialized groups that will help you reach your readers.
  • The Ontario Blog Squad will set up blog tours.  6 blogs.  You create the content.
  • Twitter giveaways.  People love free stuff!  Specify Canada only.  Make sure they enter using a Retweet (RT) and including a hashtag specific to you, your book, or blog.  This helps to spread the word to all of your participant’s followers (and so on, and so on).

The Bad

I won’t tell you the guy’s name, or who he works for, but he’s a publicist.  I thought a publicist would be better spoken, honestly.

His session had some good information, but he was almost too relaxed, too casual.  At times I thought he was bored with the topic.  At times he went off on tangents or mumbled.  He decided to wing it.  He didn’t have a plan.

  • Print ads are not an effective use of funds.
  • Look for web magazines that have “up fronts” (= previews) especially if they have a print tie in.
  • A platform is not essential for fiction writers, but is absolutely key for non-fiction.
  • In fiction, the publisher may work with the writer to build the platform.
  • Build your relationship with your publisher.
  • A P/L or profit /loss sheet may determine what will be expected.  Analysis determines what the most appropriate action or angle may be.
  • Do you have a business or profession related to your book?
  • Books = cultural entertainment product.
  • You have to engage your readership on social media (SoMe).
  • Some publishers spend more $$ on authors than others.  This will be different in the States.
  • If a publicist is assigned, it’s usually for 3 months.  On-shelf promotion (during the initial sales period of the book).
  • Marketing is different for every book.
  • Book trailers are too expensive to be effective.
  • Applications (apps) are even more inefficient and more expensive.

The Downright Ugly

One thing that emerged early on in the session and coloured the remainder of it was that this publicist works for a small imprint of a larger publisher and in non-fiction (politics, sports, world events).  His clients are men and of the imprints authors only a third were women.

He made an off-hand remark about the ladies liking their beach reads.  Fatal mistake when speaking to an audience of 90% women.

To be fair, I have to say that I don’t think the young man realized that he’d just insulted his audience unforgivably.  Even after several women from the audience spoke up and made some very salient points, I’m not sure our publicist got it, or if he did, he was so scared, he didn’t know how to save himself with any grace.

I think it has to do with the publishing environment he works in every day, his mentors, his colleagues.  I think the sexism is so ingrained, so rampant in his sector of the industry, that he wasn’t fully conscious of the prejudices he promoted.

For the remainder of the conference, our publicist was the topic of conversation, and not in a good way.

It immediately brought to mind Chuck Wendig’s posts on sexism and misogyny in publishing.

It’s not a problem that has an easy answer.

Tomorrow: I’ll be moving onto the Day 2 panel and session.

CanWrite! 2013: Day 1 Publishing Panel

For the most part, for the panels and sessions, I’m just going to be transcribing my notes, as written.  I’ll attempt to offer some context, however.

After the morning writing circle and some networking time at lunch, it was onto the Publishing Panel.  On the panel were Halli Villegas, publisher of Tightrope Books, Christie Harkin, children’s book publisher and editor at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, and Anita Chong, senior editor at McClelland & Stewart.

In later panels, I noted the speakers, but for this first one, I didn’t have the presence of mind to think of it.  My apologies to the publishers.

The panel was called Changes in the Publishing Landscape.

  • Larger publishers are finding that their biggest book-buyers are going to non-traditional (not brick and mortar bookstores) sellers to get their books (Costco, Walmart). Books are now competing with groceries (!)
  • Smaller presses are going back to events, launches, readings, etc.
  • Fewer stand-alone poetry books being published.
  • LGBT is gaining in popularity.  More mindful of the community they write for and have to market to.
  • Everyone feels like they have to dance to Amazon’s tune, though that may not be accurate.
  • Chapters/Indigo has a very short return policy now.  Books are being returned before they have a chance to get any traction.
  • Inventory control is important to the big booksellers.
  • Chapters/Indigo may buy 5000 copies of a book for all their chains.  Most come back (about 2/3).
  • Some publishers have to increase a print run, or go into a second printing to meet these orders.  This puts them further behind the eight ball.  They’ve suffered a loss before they’ve even got their books in stores.
  • All the indies order books too, increasing the pressure for a large print run.  Smaller publishers are suffering.
  • There is increasing specialization in publishing.  No more generalists.
  • What authors need to know most: DO YOUR RESEARCH!  All the information you need is on the websites of the publishers.
  • Go to the bookstore. Who’s publishing books like yours?  Look at the acknowledgements of these books: agents and editors are often among those thanked.
  • Don’t follow the trends. Erotic zombies?  (LOL)  Stick to your guns.  It’s not either/or but how far are you willing to go and how much are you willing to do?
  • Children’s books are not marketed to children, but to those who buy books for their children: parents, teachers, etc.
  • Print on demand (POD) doesn’t work in most cases.  There are restrictions.  Minimum print runs may still be required to break even.  POD kiosks offer poor quality product.  POD is not viable even at larger publishers.
  • Still on POD.  Short run = 250.  Medium run = 250-1000.  Watch how POD affects your contracts.  It has an impact on what’s considered to be in print.  If your rights don’t revert to you until after the book is out of print and POD technically means that the book never truly goes out of print, you may not get your rights back (!)
  • Electronic publishing is better, regardless of the venue chosen.
  • Publishers generally give 50% of their profits to distributors, booksellers, etc.  Publishing is not as lucrative as you think.  Ebooks lose only 30% (or less).
  • Publishers are looking for new talent all the time.
  • Unsolicited submissions can result in publication, but rarely.  Same with the slush pile.  DO. YOUR. RESEARCH.
  • Writers Reserve from the Ontario Arts Council.  $$ for writers.  Publishers apply for it and use the $$ to pay their authors.
  • Ask agents and publishers what they are looking for.  Write to order (if you can).

It was great to see three fabulous and articulate women take the stage.

Tomorrow: Publicity and marketing sessions: Good, bad, and downright ugly.

CanWrite! 2013: The arrival

Though events and sessions weren’t scheduled to get under way until June 13, strictly speaking, I’m pretty keen to show up and get ready.  I need a little time to rev up and get in the social way of things.  Any conference is pretty much a social marathon for however many days it lasts.  I have to work up to it.

My home for the week

My home for the week

Orillia is a little over three hours away from Sudbury.  I took the full day off on the 12th and relaxed for the morning, picked up my rental car, packed, and got underway just shy of 2 pm.

CanWrite! was hosted this year, as last, by the Orillia campus of Lakehead University.  It is a small campus, but it is a fairly recent construction.  I checked in, unpacked, and collapsed for a few minutes before heading out to my fend-for-yourself supper, returning in time to attend the welcome reception.

At the reception, I reconnected with some old acquaintances and made some new ones.  Among the old were Jake Hogeterp, who heads the virtual branch, Matt Bin, the prez, poet-on-demand, Jean Kay, Lamont Mackay of The Cooking Ladies, and Anita Purcell, our tireless Jacqueline-of-all-trades.  Among the new, Jennie Chabon and Kathleen Schmitt from BC and John McDonell from Nova Scotia.

Though I thought I was heading back to my room early, it was after ten by the time I made it up, and nearly midnight by the time I’d checked my precious social media (SoMe) and powered down for the evening.

The creative writing circles

Each morning of the first three days started off after breakfast with writing circles.  Either poetry or creative writing could be chosen.  Of course, I went for the creative writing.

The first morning, Ruth Walker led the session.  The second and third days were led by Sue Reynolds.

I’m not going to go into detail about these sessions, as the writing done is always intensely personal, but great material was produced all three days by all the participants.

I got some work done on some missing pieces of Initiate of Stone while I was there and that, along with some bits that might produce good stories, made the circles worthwhile for me.

Ruth was new to me, but I’d met Sue before.  I went to the University of Guelph with her sister, Sandy, and then I met her and her partner James last year at the Algonkian conference.

Other bits and pieces

Initially, I was a little concerned.  I could find no information on the Lakehead U site that would tell me what kind of internet would be available.  I’d hoped to try Tweeting some of the sessions.

When I checked in, I was advised that wifi was limited to the common areas of the residence building and required a password, but that I would be able to “plug in” up in my room.

In my room, I looked for a network cable, but couldn’t find one.  It took the kindness of Jean Kay to reveal the secret: the cable was coiled up and tucked into the base of the telephone.

So one problem solved, but the next day, when I attended the first panel discussion, I discovered that there was no signal in the academic building at all.  Bummer.

The food proved very good and was one of the consistent positives of the conference.

The rooms were nice, but the beds were a little harder than was comfortable.  Such is residence life.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin to document the panels and sessions for you.

Until then *waves*

Six questions with Anthony Armstrong

Tony Armstrong

Photo by Jana Armstrong (used with permission)

Find out more about Tony by visiting his web site: www.anthonyarmstrong.ca

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I first met Tony through our mutual friend, Kim Fahner.  He’d been one of her teachers, and she credited Tony for setting her on the writer’s path.

Tony is an award-winning author of short stories, a published poet, spoken word performer, and photographer.  I may have missed a few things in there.  This man does a lot of creative work, all of it excellent.

Now he’s published his first horror novel Penage.

Welcome, Tony!

WG: When did you first start writing, and when did you know that you were a writer?

AA: I realized the power of words when I was a boy and my father would tell us marvellous fantasy adventure stories at bedtime. In elementary school, I could amuse people with silly verse. My grade seven teacher read a poem I wrote and called me a communist. In high school I began writing for personal solace and satisfaction. But it was not until I was about twenty that I wrote anything that contained a poetic perception.

WG: You work in different genres and forms. How is each different, and what do you like best about each?

AA: Poems and short stories exist as completed entities before I record them. They seem to be whole when I bump into them, but I will do some mental editing before writing them down. The novel Penage was different in the sense that it was in progress for a long time, but it did seem to have its own existence. It flowed out of itself. Things I wrote down one night had a significance that became clear to me nights later as the story revealed itself.

WG: You were a teacher for many years.  How has that part of your career played into your writing, or was it the other way around?

AA: Sometimes my enthusiasm for literature was evident when I was in the classroom, but schools are the antithesis of a creative environment. Teachers and students are carried along by institutional inertia.

WG: When and how did the idea for Penage first strike you and how long did it take to bring your project to fruition?

AA: Judy and I have a small piece of land on the shore of Lake Penage. It was given to us by Judy’s parents. My father-in-law told me about a plane crash near our camp. He also told me about retrieving a frustrated fisherman’s lost gear. I was disappointed when electricity came to our area of the lake. All these events and a what if perspective blended together in my mind without much effort from me, and a horror novel was born. I wrote the story at camp over twenty years ago. During June and half of July, I would write for two or three hours beneath a propane light after everyone else went to bed. In the morning I would read the results to Judy. In July, my brother-in-law, who also had a camp on Lake Penage, died suddenly. I was staggered by his passing and can’t remember exactly when I got back to writing the story. Some time later, I did get back to my routine and finished Penage. It was not until this year that the original work got a serious editing by Ignatius Fay and me. The ebook is the final product.

WG: I’m a big process geek.  Would you mind sharing something about your process as a writer?

AA: I am not a process geek. I am even reluctant to emphasize the role of the writer. I feel more like a recording secretary. I bump into ideas and record them. I think this is especially true of my poetry. I perceive something and write it down. I am not responsible for what I perceive any more than I am responsible for what I hear or smell.

WG: What’s coming up next for you?

AA: A print version of Penage is in the works. I am toying with the idea of a short story collection. When I bump into poetic perceptions of godless spirituality (I hate the word spirituality), I record them. I may look for an opportunity to present them publicly in the future.

Thanks for this opportunity.

Thanks for a great interview, Tony.  Best wishes for your future creative endeavours.

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Penage is the story of Madison Green, a man with a violent, possessive personality. His distrust of others leads to his having too many x-rays. He pilots a plane that is struck by lightning—twice. The lightning and the overdose of radiation transform him into a physical and psychological beast. The plane crashes into Lake Penage, and the beast lives secretly in its waters for many years. The remains of the plane are his prized possessions, and when they are disturbed and displaced, unwanted contact with human beings becomes inevitable.

As the beast searches for its possessions, its anger increases. It secretes an ooze that

Penage Cover

Photo by Anthony Armstrong (used with permission) Graphics by Ignatius Fay

protects what is his but destroys almost anything else it makes contact with. As the beast reacquires his possessions he comes to see himself as master of the lake; he comes to think of himself as Penage.

Even some of those who encounter the beast doubt its existence, and any public suggestion of its presence brings ridicule. A drunk, a school teacher, a widow, a marina owner, and a truck driver are forced to deal with the beast. Facing the beast means facing danger, terror, and death.

Penage is available at Kobo, the itunes bookstore, Smashwords, the Sony ebook store, and most major ebook sellers. Smashwords will have the lowest price:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/318759

Sundog snippets: quick update

First, happy Fathers’ Day!

Second, I’ve been away at the Canadian Authors Association CanWrite! conference 2013.  There was much writerly goodness to be shared, but no signal in the lecture hall, so I couldn’t Tweet the sessions as I’d hoped to.

I will be blogging them, however, even if after the fact, and just so I don’t get completely out of step, I’m going to be doing something I haven’t done in a very long time: I’m going to blog daily until I’ve got it all transcribed!

Also, there are big things happening with the CAA, and I’ll save that for the wrap post.

Michael Reaves’s Blood Kiss has been funded through Kickstarter at over $88,000.  The movie is a go, but there’s still much work to be done.  I’ll pass along updates as I receive them for those who were partial.

Though the Margie Lawson course is now over, I’m not going to blog it.  Unfortunately, after about the half-way mark in the month, I fell behind and have not finished the course.  The information was great and I would definitely recommend Margie, but I think the best way to experience her courses is to participate in one of her in-person intensives.  I think that’s a critical piece of the puzzle that I missed out on.

Also, I would suggest starting out with the EDITS system course.  It is the foundation of the other courses Margie teaches, and though you can purchase and download the course materials, I don’t think that it can be a substitution for the live Margie experience.

I received my contract from On Spec this week.  This was the happy-dancing news I received back in April.  They wish to purchase one of my stories for the publication (over the moon).  On Spec is one of the most respected and longest running speculative fiction magazines in Canada.  It is a true pleasure to be honoured with their acceptance.

I manages a couple of submissions so far this month.  Things are definitely looking up 🙂

I’ll be posting an interview with Anthony Armstrong shortly.

Back in a few.  True Blood starts shortly and I have to book to make that deadline 🙂

Sundog snippet