Indigenous Culture and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

I attended my first CanCon (The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature) in Ottawa last month (Oct 13 – 15, 2017)  and was very much impressed by the level of programming offered. It went beyond a lot of the rehashed 101 SF & writing topics I have seen at some other conventions. One of the panels that I wanted to talk about in particular was “The End is the Beginning: First Nations Post-Apocalyptic Fiction” .

The panel description reads:

Join author and journalist Waubgeshig Rice and writer, artist, and television producer Jay Odjick as they discuss how to end the world – only in writing, we swear!  – and the intersection between First Nations issues and post-apocalyptic fiction.

I wanted to try to recap / review the panel and share it with a larger audience. During the panel I had tweeted one particular insight by Jay Odjick that garnered some attention and had people asking if there was any recording / transcript of the session. Having said that, I caution that this is my imperfect recollection of the panel and I don’t try to claim its completeness or verbatim retelling.

Brandon Crilly, an organizer and programmer for the con, was the third person on the panel. Technically, the moderator, Brandon did a terrific job of playing host and giving the floor to the two guests. The panel started with Brandon having to stick his head into the hall to locate Jay Odjick who had been waylaid talking to other con goers as happens at these gatherings. Jay entered apologizing for being late and announcing in a booming jovial voice “Welcome to Big Fucking Indians with Tattoos” as he took his seat at the table, cracking up the audience and making a grand entrance.

Introduction were made. As an illustrator / writer Jay developed the graphic novel  Kagagi: The Raven which was later adapted for television on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) as an animated series with Jay producing and writing. Jay also recently illustrated a children’s book by Robert Munsch called Blackflies. Jay has also illustrated and written The Outsider which he described as a post-apocalyptic meets grind-house type of comic with lots of cussing and gore. The introductory issue is available for free download through his site.

Waubgeshig Rice is a journalist working for the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) formerly out of Ottawa, but recently relocated to Sudbury, Ontario. He’s also a writer with several books to his name – Midnight Sweatlodge and Legacy. His yet to be released (2018) book from ECW Press called –  Moon on Crusted Snow – deals with a post-apocalyptic world from an indigenous character’s POV.

(What follows is my recollections and paraphrasing of what was discussed. It may be far from chronological in what was discussed when during the 50 minutes of the panel discussion).

Jay talked about how in end of the world movies like Independence Day it’s always the  Americans swooping into save the day. Everyone in the movie is standing around saying “About time the American’s showed up”. How that these stories always American-centric and that no one else can survive without their intervention.

Jay also talked about how America is already filled with post-apocalyptic like landscapes stemming from economic collapse and that you only need to look at towns such like Rochester, New York (where he was born) where the main industrial employer Kodak has been obliterated from the landscape leaving economic devastation in its wake.

At one point Jay posed the question: “Are we talking about the world as a whole ending or YOUR world ending? Because I know of some people are already living in a post-apocalyptic world”

Personally, I felt the statement threw into focus the topic in a way that many of us white privileged people sitting in the audience hadn’t considered fully. Sure we’ve seen the news reports detailing life on Canada’s reserves and the inadequacies that First Nations people are forced to live with daily, but I think few have first hand knowledge or realize what lead directly to these conditions.

At one point Waub elaborated by discussing the history of the Wasauksing First Nation people. Traditionally they migrated up and down the eastern shores of Lake Huron hunting and trading. With the signing of the Robinson Huron Treaty in 1850 between the First Nations chiefs and the Crown, they quickly found their movement greatly restricted and they were moved off the best land. Economic interests in logging and prime forests kept them contained in places like Parry Island near Parry Sound Ontario.

Both men also gave the audience (some of whom weren’t Canadian) a bit of background in other issues affecting First Nations people in Canada such as Residential School System and what’s been in the news lately of the “The Sixties Scoop”. Jay mentioned that his family was unaffected directly by the abuses of the Residential School System, but went on to tell a harrowing tale about how his father (as a young child) and his father’s siblings narrowly avoided being taken from their parents by Jay’s grandfather standing his ground with a rifle. (I could recount more of the details of the tale, but I think they’re Jay’s to tell not mine.)

Both Jay and Waub talked about how they always thought in the case of an apocalyptic world ending event that they would both retreat to the familiarity/safety of the reserve despite both being self described urban Indians. Both men joked about becoming “soft” living in the city and that their fishing and hunting skills were not up to par. Jay recounted how his brother was a regular Native Indiana Jones type that put him to shame. Jay said the best plan in case of an apocalypse was to stick close to his brother. Waub said that he knows of several First Nation communities that have disaster plans in place with assigned roles and caches of supplies.

Waub talked about living on the reserve as a kid during the wide-spread power outage in 2003 and how not knowing what was going on at first was pretty scary. It got him to thinking about survival skills and world ending events.

Both men were asked how they thought the world might end. Jay was convinced it would be something “unsexy” like a economic collapse. Jay said that few people realize how close we came to having a societal collapse during the economic crisis of 2008 all because of a bunch of bankers. Waub said that he felt the apocalypse might be brought on by failing infrastructure.

When asked if they were optimistic or pessimistic about civilization’s chance for survival in the event of an apocalypse (I think) both said they were relatively optimistic that we could survive if we pulled together. Jay recommended people watch the TV show Jericho to see what he thought one version of a post-apocalyptic society could look like. Jay said he thought society in general could learn a lot if they just looked at the history of First Nations people and how their civilization was destroyed by colonists and settlers.

When discussing his forth-coming book Moon on Crusted Snow, Waub said that every time the power would flicker or go out while he was working on the final draft he would nearly shit himself thinking the end was here. He had immersed himself that much in the possibility of a post-apocalyptic world.

There was probably more discussed, but those are the highlights as I recall them. It was the panel where I took the least amount of notes this weekend, just because I was engrossed that deeply in the conversation.

Sudbury Ink – A Sudbury Writers’ Guild Anthology

Cover of the Sudbury Ink anthology by the Sudbury Writers' Guild

Cover of the Sudbury Ink anthology by the Sudbury Writers’ Guild

I am proud to be included in this anthology – Sudbury Ink –  published by the Sudbury Writers’ Guild. The organisation has a long history of bringing together writers in the community in order to support each other, they’ve been around since 1992.

I’ve had the honour of being the co-chair of the group for the past two years along with my fellow writer Mat Del Papa. While I can’t claim the anthology was my brain-child, I can take some responsibility for helping usher it into print. After a long journey its been fantastic to unpack the books, hand them out to the authors who contributed to them, and also to get them into the hands of eager readers.

This past weekend I gifted a copy to my best friend from high school’s mother who was celebrating her 80th birthday. To see her eyes light up when I told her I had two stories in the anthology and that I had signed the book for her, was a nice reminder of why I ultimately do this. I want to connect with people. To share my stories. To see them off into the world, and to hopefully lodge into people’s brains (in a good way – not in a parasitic ear worm kind of way – KHAN!)

While the book has been available for about a week now, we still have a long way to go in promoting it. Locally you can find it in a couple of the books stores (Coles in the New Sudbury Mall and Bay Used Books on Elm). As well we are hosting our official launch this coming weekend Nov 12 at the Main Branch of the Sudbury Public Library on McKenzie Street. Facebook Event here – https://www.facebook.com/events/528043247395580/

Individual members are also selling copies, if you know any. (Hint – me!) Although my own stash is dwindling fast. An ebook version is in the works and should be available before Christmas – just in time for gift giving electronically!

I have two pieces in this anthology:

Frozen – , a flash fiction piece which originally came to me one cold winter evening while shovelling my driveway and remembering the many times I spent ice fishing in my youth. Ice fishing is not incidentally fishing for ice, but actually drilling a hole in the ice suspended above a frozen lake and jigging for fish in the cold waters below.

Mother’s Day is a longer piece that contains more traditional science fiction elements to it, but remains firmly rooted in family relationships and memories. Mother’s Day explores the question of what is the value of a memory and how clearly would you like to interact with those memories?

I’m looking forward to reading from them this coming weekend. This has been a great experience and with everyone’s support hopefully there will be a volume 2 that will feature more talented writers from Sudbury.

Con Report: Ad Astra 2016 – Part I

The annual Ad Astra convention in Toronto* is one of those local SF&F conventions that I have been attending off and on since early 2000s. After I moved North ten years ago, its gotten a lot more challenging to attend, logistically, financially, and  requires a time commitment from both my work and family for me to attend. I was undecided about attending this year’s convention (Apr 29 – May 1st, 2016) for a while due to all those factors, but in the end decided I had to go.

There’s something to be said for devoting a weekend to talking about the craft of writing and geeking out over books, authors, and all stuff science fiction and fantasy related with old friends and people you just met.  I find it reinvigorating and gets me excited all over again about writing. Especially my own writing.

This year I didn’t go so much for the Guest of Honours as I did the panels. That’s not a slight on any of the guests, they had fabulous GOHs in Tom Doherty of Tor (Publishing), Jack Whyte (Author), Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savoy of ChiZine Publications (Editors/Publishers), and Catherine Asaro (Author / Musician).

Despite the schedule not being released until the week before the con, the panel descriptions were available a month or more ahead of the convention and helped solidify my decision to go. When the schedule was finally released I had a number of conflicting decsions to make and one of the panels near and dear to my heart was being held from 2-3 pm on the final day of the con when I had planned to travel home.

Below is a run down on my weekend and a brief glimpse at the panels and what I thought I got out of them.

Friday – April 29th, 2016

I arrived at the hotel around supper time, checked in and dealt with a few irregularities with my room (AC was not working) and ran to meet fellow writers from Sudbury for dinner in the hotel bar. We compared notes on our 1st and 2nd picks for the weekend and tried to figure of which ones we had in common. After supper it was off to our first panels of the weekend.

7 pm – Gateways to Science Fiction and Fantasy

What draws writers, and readers, to science fiction and fantasy in the first place? For some it’s their childhood reading tastes; for others, it might be RPGs, a movie, a tv show, or a specific book or author encountered as a teen or adult. Does how you came to the genre affect what you expect of it?


Panelists:
JD Deluzio, Robert Boyczuk, Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Simon McNeil

I was curious about this panel for a couple of reasons. Firstly, one of the writing associations I am involved in locally is a mix of writers from all genres and only a handful of us are SF&F writers. We’re having a discussion in May on what got us into the genre and I thought this panel might help spark some ideas to discuss and recommendations to make to the non-genre readers in the group.

The evidence of the greying of fandom was evident in the audience for this panel with most of us in attendance being north of 40 and probably the majority was closer to 60 if I had to guess based on the comments. One of the moderators was born in late 1970s which made him probably the youngest of the bunch.

Interestingly enough the panellists and audience members fell into one of three camps, although there were some overlap in how they came to SF & F., Either their parents were fully supportive and they read to them from classics like Tolkien  or their parents were indifferent/hostile toward genre and frivolous things like reading comics/watching tv which encourage them to seek it out more. Other people were drawn to it either through a love of space exploration of the 1950s through 1970s and its representation in pop culture of the time. Several panellists and audience members, myself included mentioned getting hooked on Lost in Space and Twilight Zone.

When the conversation turned to getting other people involved in SF&F the suggestion was don’t try to immediately introduce them to the “classics”. Chose something contemporary. One suggestion was Robert Charles Wilson. Another was Robert Sawyer. Both Canadians of course.

There was some discussion about people already reading SF&F and not even realizing it – i.e. Hunger Games. There was also discussion about mainstream culture erasing labels of genres. The conversation also drifted to introducing our own kids into the genre and where to begin. It gave me pause to think about the direct and indirect influences I expose my kids to and that I have opportunity to make a more conscientious effort in that area.

8 pm – The Medium is the Message – Plays, Screenplays, Novels and Other Media

As a writer, you may have considered writing that novel. But what about that screenplay? That play? That board game? That web series? How can you make a living as a writer or create that great work of art while thinking outside the box of simply words on a page? This panel is about transitioning between various mediums to create the universe that lives in your mind, some of which you maybe never even considered, and how to approach each one differently.

Panelists:

Jen Frankel, Leah Bobet

I was interested in this panel for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I took part in a playwright workshop a few years back and was curious to see other people’s experiences in applying their love of SF&F to other media.

Both Jenn Frankel and Leah Bobet were knowledgable and entertaining speakers with a variety of experience in other mediums. Leah has experience in video games, comics, and art installations in addition to her novels. Jenn has experience in theatre and TV production.

It was interesting to hear their experiences, but I found I was looking for more pointers on how to develop your work in other mediums. I asked them about developing works for other mediums and how does one break into that medium. My point being that its hard enough to get traditionally published, so for a writer to invest time and energy into developing say a play or screenplay without knowing the business side of the industry seems like a very big gamble. The response I got was a combination of  its who you know and that it all depends on who you came up with in the writing world. Encouraging and discouraging at the same time.

One audience member with some theatre background was more helpful in the practical pointers and gave me some suggestions after the panel for which I was thankful. Sorry I never got his name. Good panel over all and don’t regret sitting in on it for a minute.

9 pm – Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction Launch Party

9 pm –  Robert J. Sawyer Birthday Party

These were two separate events that I wanted to pop into that started at the same time. I showed up to wish Rob Sawyer a Happy Birthday and to snag a piece of very delicious cake. Was that maple flavoured icing?  I managed to miss the signing of Happy Birthday (I assume everyone sang?) As you would expect Rob Sawyer has a sizable number of friends and fans so the room was quite busy so I didn’t stay as long as I might have.

I made my way down the hall to the Clockwork Canada launch party where I was just in time for the readings to begin. Editor Dominik Parisien was talking about the anthology and his vision for it before introducing the 4 authors he had on hand to read from it.
Charlotte Ashley,  Kate Heartfield, Kate Story, and Claire Humphrey each read a portion of their stories and I was hooked by each of them. The collection is a blend of steampunk/alternate history in a Canadian setting. Of course I bought a copy and had the authors sign their stories. I look forward to reading the collection. IF you are curious about it Tor.com had a favourable review of it the week before it was launched here – http://www.tor.com/2016/04/29/book-reviews-anthology-clockwork-canada/

Up next Day 2 – Saturday at Ad Astra

 

Return from Viable Paradise

IMG_3156Well it’s be nearly two months since I returned from Viable Paradise and felt it was time to do a wrap up post of sorts. I started a post almost immediately after returning at the end of October, but kept stalling on it. Mainly because it felt too raw, too incomplete. Like I was only telling half the story. What’s that you say? A writer at a loss for words! It happens, deal with it.

In a word the experience was INTENSE, but in a good way.

Before I went to VP I had this idea to make buttons that read I SURVIVED VIABLE PARADISE 19″ to hand out to my fellow classmates on our final day together.  I am so glad I didn’t.  SURVIVING is completely the wrong word to describe the experience.

To survive something is to endure it. To put up with something and come out the other side despite it. Like surviving a bad relationship or a really boring meeting at work.  VP is not about surviving. It’s about surrendering and being reborn as a writer, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

Before I applied, I had heard VP being described as a type of writer’s “boot camp”. I took it  to mean that you were immersed in the workshop and that you were there for ONE thing to become better writers. It wasn’t until I was there and in the middle of our writing assignment that I realized it was much more than that.  I had spent the better part of two days attending the lectures, scribbling in my notebook and trying to keep up with all the great and useful stuff I was being told. I had no idea when I was going to have the time to process it all and apply it. I told myself, just write the story assignment and try not to get caught up in applying everything I was learning in the moment. Then an interesting thing happened. THE STORY WROTE ITSELF.

No not literally, but what I mean is that up until that point in my life I couldn’t explain my short story writing process to you if you held a gun to my head. It was just something that happened (and not always consistently). After only a few days of intense VP workshop I found myself applying stuff I had been learning without even realizing it. It was like in the original Karate Kid when Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel all those seemingly mundane and repetitive jobs to do when all Daniel wants to do is learn karate. Finally Daniel has had enough and demands to know when the old master is going to teach him karate, Mr. Miyagi has Daniel step through all the tasks – “Wax on. Wax Off” and “Paint the Fence” and its then that Daniel realizes he has absorbed the lessons already without realizing it. Young Daniel’s mind is blown. It was that kind of epiphany.

There I was having a mild panic attack one day – How I was going to write a short story in less than two days? The next thing I knew I had an outline and was banging away the keyboard well on my way to completing my story. I am not sure what came over me.

The great thing about the workshop is that it keeps you so busy that you have little time to over-think things. Just keep swimming. Every minute you are there counts, whether you are attending lectures, writing, or chatting with instructors and classmates over dinner or in the few quiet moments there were.

The week went by in a blur and in that way that time has of dilating when you are busy, stuff that happened only the day before felt like a lifetime ago and it was easy to lose track of the days and hours. The instructors and staff at the workshop were fabulous and I never felt more cared for in my life (no offence to my mother!). Since the staff are all former students of VP themselves, they are well attuned to the rhythm of the week and know intimately what the students are going through.

I felt privileged to be surrounded by so many talented people, especially my fellow classmates. I think one of the reasons I hesitated finishing this post in November was because of my inability to put into words what it meant to connect with my classmates.  It was like discovering an extended family you never knew you had. I still can’t quite describe what it means to find your tribe in the way that you experience it at VP. I am sure VP alumni reading this will simply nod along in agreement, and for those of you that may have never experienced something similar will have to take my word for it.

I felt like our class was fairly tight going into VP as we got to know each other during the almost 4 months leading up to the workshop through emails and social media, but it wasn’t until we were forged in the same fire that we really bonded. The price of admission was worth the friendships that have stemmed from the experience both my classmates and other VP alum that have been more than generous to use newbies.

I’d definitely recommend Viable Paradise to others with the caveat that it has to be the right fit for you and what you are looking for. It will not suit all people’s needs or personalities, but then again, I suppose that’s why there is an application process. So the instructors can be assured they are reaching those that will benefit the most from the experience. I know I will be applying the lessons I learned at the workshop for years to come.

Before I close, a few pieces of practical advice. 1) Bring good walking shoes. I brought my everyday shoes and thought they would stand up to the rigours of the workshop, but not even close. As much as you are sitting around for hours at a time in lectures there are also frequent walks during the week and I had the blisters to prove it. 2) Don’t over plan for food. The instructions say you are responsible for breakfast and lunch, during the week and that they generally feed you one meal a day, but I found that I had a bit too much food left over at the end of the week. Non-perishable stuff can be donated to a local food bank, but anything open or perishable has to be used up or tossed out. There are opportunities to grab more supplies during the week and the staff is very helpful in that regards.

A final word of caution. The facilities currently being used pose serious accessibility issues for people with mobility restrictions. Stairs abound at the Inn and there are weird little step downs into the suites on the second floor of the Inn. That and the lofts of the suites have very narrow spiral staircases for access. I know the workshop has a long history with the Inn, but they seriously need to reconsider the facility’s accessibility or they are going to potentially exclude a lot of talented writers based on this barrier alone.

If you want to know more or ask a specific question leave a message in the comments or drop me an email.

 

 

The Final Countdown

I can’t believe it’s October already. There’s so much to look forward  what with Thanksgiving (The Canadian Version), the return of hockey (the NHL and my beleaguered Toronto Maple Leafs, not to mention my son’s house league), and a Federal election with the tantalizing promise of political change (I can dream can’t I).

But none of that can compare to my trip to Viable Paradise in less than two weeks. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been aiming towards this writing workshop for almost 4 years. Even after receiving my acceptance in June it still felt surreal and intangible.

It’s been slowly starting to become tangible in the passing weeks with each incremental step in preparing for the workshop.From getting to know my fellow classmates online to booking travel arrangements and accommodations each thing has taken me a step closer to the actual workshop.

With the Canadian dollar at an 11 year low (It’s costing me almost an extra 38 cents on the dollar for every dollar I spend in the US) I joking said to a friend that I must really want to go to this workshop to pay the extra money that its costing me.

I’d like to think I am as prepared as I can be for the workshop, but the thing I keep telling myself is to go there ready to learn and absorb. To be open to learning from the instructors and my classmates and to not stress over the travel and being away from home from a week. Any of those anxieties will seem like small potatoes once I am in the thick of it.

Sure I’ve got that the equivalent of back-to-school jitters, but I know that these are my people and that based on what I’ve read of previous alumni’s experience that I am in for a  potentially life-changing experience, if I am just open to receiving it.

I hope to share some of my experiences of the journey via this blog, but be forewarned I won’t be updating this in real-time. It will probably be sometime in November before I’ve had a chance to decompress form the experience and put my thoughts in some sort of order.

I plan to take lots of notes while I am away, not just notes about the workshop and writing, but notes about the experience itself. I want to absorb as much as as I can of the experience.

Wish me luck and I will see you on the other side.

 

Sarah Connor and the Strong Female Character

Terminator (1984)

Terminator (1984)

I had the opportunity to rewatch the original Terminator (1984) with my son last night on Netflix. He’s getting to that age where he’s mature enough and patient enough to sit through “classic” grown-up films that I enjoyed and form part of my pop culture DNA.

The point of my post, was not so much my son’s reaction to the movie (which was interesting in itself), but rather my own thoughts about  Sarah Connor and the role of the strong female character.

OLD MAN ALERT: I first saw Terminator in probably the summer of 1985 or 86 when I was a teenager. It was a year or two after it had been in theatres when it showed up on a FREE preview weekend of The First Choice movie network on pay-TV in Canada. I sat mesmerized watching it late one night, riveted by the action and Brad Fidel’s score. Since then I have probably watched it a dozen or more times and have probably owned it on everything except LaserDisc and Betamax(Yes it was released on both those formats.)

We’ve all come to view Sarah Connor in general, and Linda Hamilton’s version in particular as the definition of a strong female lead. There is no denying that she’s all that, but oddly I think that when you ask most people about Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor they picture this:

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

And not this version below:

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator (1984)

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator (1984)

Obviously the first one looks more “badass” than the other, but the second one is no less strong a female lead than the other.

In the original film, Sarah is a young waitress working a thankless job at a local family diner and sharing an apartment with her friend Ginger. Just a girl in her 20s trying to figure out her place in life. She’s caught up in this unbelievable and traumatic experience  as she targeted by the Terminator that will stop at nothing to kill her. (Spoiler Alert!) Sure she triumphs in the end , but through it all she reacts as many of us might; with disbelief, shock, tears, fear, and anger. You know normal human emotions given the circumstances.

Sadly, it’s not just Sarah’s reaction in the circumstances that makes her a “strong” female character, but rather our own low expectations of female characters in similar circumstances. The fact that she perseveres and goads on a critically injured Kyle Reese in the final battle is due to the fact that the director and writer Cameron has allowed her character to go through those events and survive.

Having all the answers and being tough as nails is one way to have a “strong character”. Another more realistic way is to allow them to be human, show emotion, and have weaknesses, and STILL triumph. This applies to both male and female characters.

Not to steal away from Sarah’s character, but take a moment to contrast the two male lease, the Terminator and Kyle Reese. While the Terminator can rely on his virtually indestructible nature to survive, emphasized by Arnold’s hyper-masculine body builder physique,  Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) and his “average” male physique by contrast  must rely on the strength of his wit and loyalty to John Connor to survive. Even though human and weaker physically, Reese is a stronger and well rounded character as we learn what motivates him and his passion to save Sarah.

Cameron has been held up as one of those pioneering writer/directors in Hollywood that instead of trying to turn women into male action heroes, wrote women characters that were true to themselves and their femininity and still saved the day. Thankfully we’ve had more creative people, both male and female come up through the ranks in the last 30 or so years that also believe in creating believable female characters that carry the story on their own.

In Equality Now speech, May 15, 2006 Joss Whedon related a story where he was asked “So, why do you write these strong female characters?” again and again by reporters during press junkets.  His variety of responses were thoughtful and revealing, but he ended the story in frustration and his final response was “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

I try to write strong characters in my own stories regardless of whether they’re male or female. In my story “Second Harvest”, Charlotte is young nurse serving with the Canadian Army in World War I and has seen a lot of horrible things. Not just the horrors of war, but also what the doctors and scientists have done with the bodies of the dead in the name of science and winning the war. She’s basically had a mental breakdown and has been discharged and returns home, where she has to confront her role in the war. I think through it all her humanity is what carries her forward. She has a compassion for those that have suffered at the hands of others during the war and eventually wants to balance the injustice.

Maybe, it was seeing characters such as Sarah Connor as an impressionable teen that helped shaped my views in some small way. I just hope I can continue to carry the torch forward in my own writing when it comes to writing believable and strong female characters.

I leave you with a quote from J.J. Abrams another director/writer from my generation that sums up what I’m trying to say.

I don’t try and write strong female characters or strong male characters, I just try and write, hopefully, strong characters and sometimes they happen to be female.

J. J. Abrams

Writer: Level Up!

Writing is a long journey and as a writer it helps to stop and get the lay of the land every once in a while. To pause and look back and to see how far you’ve come, but also l to look ahead at that next summit, catch your breath and say”Let’s do this”.

Portrait of the writer as a young man.

Portrait of the writer as a young man.

I’ve been writing all my life. Most of it spent wandering aimlessly hoping I would hit upon some magic formula for success. (What can I say I was young and naive)  I wasted much of my youth thinking I had all the time in the world to write and that someday I would REALLY crack down and take it seriously. It wasn’t until my wife and I were expecting our first child 12 years ago that I committed myself to this path that I am on now.

I realized then that if I didn’t double down and make an effort that I risked losing my writing to the demands of parenthood and family life. It would be far too easy to say – “I’ll pick it up again when my kids are older and I have more time.” Of course there never is enough time. You have to carve that time out of everything.

I became active in writing groups, both while I was living in Toronto and now here in Sudbury. I attended workshops, read books about writing, and most of all took the time to write. Ever so slowly, its been paying off. My writing has steadily improved and just last year I sold my first short story, Second Harvest to Fictionvale.com.

Back in 2011 one of my writing buddies – Stephanie Charette applied to and attended a workshop called Viable Paradise at Martha’s Vineyard. The workshop is a week long intense session with professional writers and editors in science fiction and fantasy. Here’s how they describe the workshop:

Viable Paradise is a unique one-week residential workshop in writing and selling commercial science fiction and fantasy. The workshop is intimate, intense, and features extensive time spent with best-selling and award-winning authors and professional editors currently working in the field. VP concentrates on the art of writing fiction people want to read, and this concentration is reflected in post-workshop professional sales by our alumni. ~From Viable Paradise website.

Stephanie came back from that workshop a changed person.  She encouraged me to apply practically the minute she stepped off the plane in 2011. I wanted to attend, but I somehow had excuses for not applying each year. Too busy with work. Too busy with family commitments. I can’t afford the money this year. I can’t get the time off work. “Next year I’ll apply” I said. For three years. 

Then 2015 came around and I looked up at that next summit and said “Let’s do this!” My family was on board and I was finally in a position at work where I could manage the time off. I enlisted the help of my writing circle of friends both to be my cheer leading squad and to help me whip my application into shape.

I submitted my application a few weeks before the application period closed and waited – until yesterday when I got the word.

I have been accepted! Look out VP19 here I come! (Well, in 4 months anyhow)

Scott Pilgrim Levels Up

Scott Pilgrim Levels Up

I suddenly feel like I have levelled up as a writer. Ready to take on this challenge. (Okay maybe the true Level Up won’t come until AFTER the workshop, but you know what I mean.)

Thanks to everyone who has supported me along the way on this journey, I couldn’t have done it with out you. I’m looking forward to this next chapter in my writing life and more than just the new skills I will add to my tool kit, I am looking forward to the new friendships and personal connections that will flow from it.

 

Supporting Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA) held their AGM yesterday in Vancouver and in addition to the business aspects of the association, the nomination list for the 2015 Aurora Prize were announced.

You can check out the full list here – 2015 Aurora Awards Nominees

As you may recall my short story “Second Harvest” was eligible to be nominated and I wanted to thank everyone who took the time to consider it. Even though my story did not make the final ballot, I can’t be disappointed.  There are so many fabulous authors and short stories that did make the final ballot. We are fortunate to have so much talent writing in Canada and from a Canadian perspective.

While the Aurora Awards are given “to honour the best Canadian science fiction and fantasy literary works, artwork, and fan activities from the previous year” that is only part of the mission in my mind. The larger purpose is to bring recognition to the work that is being created by Canadians in the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

If your a long time member of the CSSFA, or just signed up for the first time this year as I did, make sure you take time read what you can of the nominated work (A Voter Package of stories should be available in the coming weeks here Aurora Award Voter Package). Voting runs from June 1st 2015 and will close at Midnight (end of day) EDT on October 17th, 2015.

You can support Canadian science fiction and fantasy, by reading it, writing it, and talking about the stories that move  you with your friends and family. We need to encourage and support both the next generation of creators and fans.

Good Luck to all the nominees.

Canada’s Prix Aurora Awards

In case you didn’t know Canada has it’s own Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards called the Auroras. The Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA) administers the awards which are awarded in a number of categories including Best Novel, Best YA Novel, Best Short Fiction, Best Graphic Novel, Best Poem/Song, Best Related Work, and Best Artist, as well as a number of Fan related categories.

Canadians who have produced work in those categories are eligible to be nominated each year for work produced in the previous year. Nominations are made by members of the CSFFA and once nominations have been closed online voting takes place for several months by the members again to decide on winners.

The reason I am telling you all this is because I only just recently learned that my short story Second Harvest that was published in May 2014 by Fictionvale is eligible to be nominated for the Short Fiction award.

The problem is I just found out that nominations close on April 25th, 2015 for this years awards. That’s this Saturday at midnight!

Now I realize that Fictionvale may not have the readership of other more traditional publications and the fact that even fewer of the readers of the magazine are probably Canadian and eligible to vote in the Aurora Awards, so that’s why I am putting this post together and letting you know.

If you’ve read my story and enjoyed it and would like to support it by nominating it for the Short Fiction award, I would be very grateful. There is a lot of great short fiction being produced by Canadians right now and it would be an honour just to be nominated amongst them.

If you’re interested in nominating my story or someone else’s work head on over to Aurora Awards site (Link: – http://www.prixaurorawards.ca/) and click on Join/Nominate/Vote button on the top menu. There’s one catch and that you have to become a member of the CSFFA to be able to nominate and vote, but its a simple process and only costs $10 for the year. Yes, I realize $10 is a princely sum when you’ve got better things to be spending it on, but by becoming a member you are eligible to receive FREE copies of nominated stories/novels to vote on as part of the voters package. So don’t think of it as a membership fee, think of it as a donation for all the free reading material you are about to receive once nominations close.

Voting begins June 1st and closes Oct 17th, 2015. Plenty of time to read through the nominations and vote on your favourites.

The Aurora awards will be present during SFContario 6 / Canvention 35 on the weekend of November 20-22, 2015 in Toronto.

Thanks for your time and consideration and please take a moment to support Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy. I know I will be nominating/voting for some of the favourites I’ve read this year.

 

Welcome 2015

Chalk up another successful spin around the sun. No earth destroying asteroids. Check. No, global nuclear annihilation. Check. No zombie hordes. (Looks around carefully) Check. So here I sit with the shiny opportunity of another 365 days ahead of me. (Less the 22 1/2 hours eaten up already out of today).

Before I get to plans for 2015, a little retrospective of 2014 is in order. Besides avoiding those world altering catastrophes mentioned above, I did have some highlights worth mentioning.

  • Last Stop PosterIn January 2014 I finished my Playwrights’ Junction Workshop with a public reading of a scene from my WIP by professional actors. You can read more about my experience here: Last Stop with the Playwrights’ Junction
  • IMG_2439In May 2014 I attended a writing workshop with the fabulous Chuck Wendig that was hosted by the Toronto Romance Writers  where Chuck discussed at length his own journey as a writer and helped walk us through some of the things he learned along the way. Great teacher, funny guy, and actually doesn’t swear as much as you would think based on his blog posts at Terribleminds.com. (Fanboy aside: It wasn’t the first time I met Chuck in person, but I did get a great Selfie with him and got to go out to dinner with him and some of the writers from the Toronto Romance Writers so it was an extra special workshop for me.)
  • Fiction Vale - Episode 3 Cover RevealIn May 2014 my short story Second Harvest was published in Fictionvale.com’s Episode 3: A Different Outcome. It’s my first professional sale and a story I’m very proud of. You can get a copy of it here: Fictionvale Store

 

While I’m proud of all I accomplished this past year, I have to admit two of those things – the Playwrights’ Workshop and the publication of my short story – were set in motion in 2013. Not that the lead time diminished the accomplishments, just highlighting the fact that some accomplishments are not finite acts that fit nicely in a calendar year.

So where does that leave us heading into 2015. Well for starters you’ll notice there was no mention of my current novel that I am working on. Let’s just say 2014 may not have seen my best effort on that front. I made some fits and starts on it, but to borrow a phrase Chuck Wendig used during his workshop I kind of felt like I was an old man at the mall, not sure what I had come for when I was working on it this year.

So for 2015 in lieu of specific line item resolutions I am going to pledge one thing to myself:

To Do Better. In All Things.

This includes my writing, relationships with family and friends, health and fitness, my reading habits, and pretty much anything else I can think of. I will strive to do better than last year and not get hung up on what I did or didn’t do previously.

I have big plans for 2015 more of which I hope I can share with you as the year progresses.

I hope 2015 is a good and productive year for all the writers I know out there and whatever your passion is don’t let this precious time slip by. You never know when that next asteroid/zombie horde is due.