Tag Archives: Can-Con

Grab Bag

As the title suggests, this is going to be a bit of a grab-bag of thoughts I’ve had while getting back to work on the current WIP. (Which still lacks an actual title. Hmm.) I was going to follow on from writing a bit about the TV adaptation of American Gods last week by writing about the TV Handmaid’s Tale this week, but I’m not the best person to talk about it and I’m not sure that I have anything especially noteworthy to say at this point anyway. Except I guess that if you haven’t been watching it, you should a) brace yourself and b) go watch it, because it’s quite well done.

I am, as summer reluctantly comes to my part of the world, trying to get back at working on my current project somewhat systematically, with the aim (still?) being to have a complete first draft done by the fall. Part of what I’m trying to figure out is how I can make writing a scheduled part of my routine. I do much better with a lot of stuff when I have a plan to always do it at X time on whatever days of the week than when I just try to figure out when it gets done on the fly. This isn’t just the case for writing, it’s how I get myself to the gym and get my running done and a lot of other stuff. If I leave the time for things vague, they live in an eternal ‘later’, never getting actually taken care of. If I have in my mind that I do this (say) every morning starting at 9, then something takes place.

I don’t at all suggest that this is some iron rule for how to Be an Effective Writer, because that would be advice, and mostly I think everyone needs to figure out their own methods and process that works for them anyway. Some people probably do need to write every day, some people work well with specific word targets per week, some people need to Go To A Place and Work There. Despite (although also in some part because of) all the earnestly written declarations on how to Do Authoring, I think there’s no universal formula and you just gotta figure out what leads to you getting words on the page and then unapologetically do that. Of course that’s not an easy thing to figure out, but neither is trying to contort yourself to fit someone else’s process. I think I have a ‘morning writing’ thing going on now and we’ll see how that works.

Part of what caused me some difficulty recently (along with all kinds of Real Life stuff, and then also just being very tired) was the disappearance of a deadline. I’ve mentioned before that I work very well when I have a deadline (I do not miss deadlines) and that part of the adjustment from being a student to being basically employed by me post-education is not having deadlines imposed on me. Again, that eternal ‘not now, but soon’ becomes very attractive. I’m getting better at working without deadlines but if I’m being honest what I also do is seize on things that I can use as a deadline to restore that familiar motivation.

For this WIP, I had decided that I wanted to have it ready to pitch to the agent Guest of Honour that will be coming to this year’s Can*Con SFF conference in Ottawa, which seemed a solid idea. (Brief aside – I am on the programming team for Can*Con, we’ve got some very exciting stuff planned for this October, and you should definitely come if you can. All the details are not ready to release yet, but you can check out a lot about us here.) Unfortunately, I did the required research and found that she doesn’t rep the kind of thing that I’m working on. Which is of course fine, and of course she’s still an amazing Guest of Honour for Can*Con to have, but her usefulness to me as a deadline suddenly dematerialized, and not a lot got written for a while.

I really need to break myself of this deadline habit.

As I’m writing at the moment, I’m also reading, of course, and right now I’m reading the John Le Carré autobiography I mentioned a while back, and re-reading some William Gibson. They are, I guess obviously, very different writers, but to me they are also similar in that I deeply admire the way they craft with words. They’re both (to me) quite demanding writers, in that their writing requires your attention. Both can get a lot out of a little, conveying things of tremendous importance with a perfectly-chosen word or two, so you really can’t miss anything.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a long time, you’ll remember that there was a time when I tried, very hard, to write like William Gibson, and that it didn’t go very well. I don’t do that any more, but I find reading both him and Le Carré inspirational in the sense of reminding me what is possible to do with words when you put them together right, and to try to push myself to achieve something at least somewhat similar. This isn’t to say that other styles of writing can’t also be effective, can’t also be fun to read, and can’t also be artistic. But I guess the arguably subtler or more intricate mode of operation twangs something inside me just that little bit more, and is the style that I would be most content if I could produce something like. I’m not sure that I’m anywhere in that quadrant of the galaxy, but (all my wittering about struggles with the WIP notwithstanding) I am enjoying the effort.

One of the decisions I made in writing this current WIP was to write it just as I wanted to, to just really let myself use exactly the words I wanted to. I was going to thoroughly ignore the questions of ‘is this the right voice?’ and ‘what kind of audience does this appeal to’? I was just going to write something that pleased me, do it as well as I could, and then see what people thought of it. The basic idea is/was kind of crazy anyway, so if it ended up something that appealed to no-one else but me it wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world. Fortunately for me, what I’ve heard back from the Eager Volunteers and my writers’ circle has so far been very kind and very encouraging, which of course makes me more confident to go on doing things this way. Again, I’m not suggesting this is always the right way to do things, but at the moment it’s having good results for me.

Anyway. I’ve got a little over 30,000 words (much of it non-sequential, of course) written, and if I can get down to this over the summer I should be able to finish my story in time for the autumn. Then I will begin a whole new set of challenges, but that’s something to worry about another day. That’s what I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading.

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Star Wars and the Future(s)

Last week was the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Wars, and since (as you will know if you read this blog much) it’s a movie series that I have loved a great deal, I thought I would write a little more about it today. I’ve written some about why I like these films so much before; I like the very clear good vs. evil of the stories and the idea that power always carries a price with it. (We saw a rather more shades-of-grey take on the setting with Rogue One, which was fun, but I hope they won’t continue that with Last Jedi.) I’m not sure I have anything new to say along those lines today, though.

Ok, so something new for this time around. I love the way the Star Wars movies (thinking primarily of the original trilogy, Force Awakens, and Rogue One) look. Specifically, I love the way the technology looks. Most of it is beat up and a lot of it is covered in grime. There’s no touchscreens and not a lot of chrome. In fact, not all that much looks shiny at all (C3P0 being the obvious exception), and the stuff that does mostly belongs to the Empire, to the bad guys. The good guys’ stuff is oil stained and scratched and dinged up, which I think helps quietly and consistently underscore the desperation of the Rebellion.

It’s pervasive through a lot of the tech in the movies, though. The outside of starships are not sleek and streamlined, and certainly don’t have giant bird paintings. There’s pipes and hatches and various flange-y bits sticking out everywhere. In general everything looks (to me, anyway) like tools rather than showpieces; this is all stuff that gets constant heavy use and is designed primarily for function rather than form. I like that a lot.

Now, there’s also arguably a bunch of stuff that is missing from the tech in Star Wars. The touchscreens are one example. There also doesn’t appear to be wifi or anything like it, R2 has to physically plug into computers with those very satisfyingly mechanical, rotate-y ports. There’s no hi-def recordings either, the very best you get is a flickery, blurry, mostly monochrome image, if you get that at all. This is, somewhat paradoxically, a retro-future, and although that sometimes ends up seeming silly, to me it works out.

Another recent example of this being done very well was the Battlestar Galactica TV series, with the corded phones and Cold War looking computers. There was an in-universe explanation for it, first of all that Galactica was an old ship, but also that the more advanced gear we’d expect was fatally vulnerable to Cylon shenanigans. That worked fine, but I don’t think it was necessary. One of the players in my Star Wars RPG likes to think about why there are no touchscreens in the game world, and although I enjoy hearing his thinking, I also don’t think I ultimately need an explanation. There isn’t because there isn’t. There isn’t because it’s cool.

That may be the reason why they continue to keep the retro-future, clunky tech in the new Star Wars movies. Consistency is of course part of the deal, and I like to think that part of it is that technology isn’t the solution to the problem in Star Wars. A lot of the time, technology is the problem, and so maybe that’s why the movies don’t glamorize it. Part of the reason, I also suspect, is that the clunkier tech tends to look more dramatic in action. There was a lot to like about Star Trek: The Next Generation, but no matter how furiously you tap on a touchscreen, it doesn’t convey a great sense of urgency, not like flipping some big chunky switches or slamming a receiver into its cradle.

I also know a lot of the props for Star Wars were scavenged or modified from real world bits and bobs, with the blasters being tricked-out pistols rather than purpose-built future guns. So some of the look is also probably practicality in set building. They used what was relatively easily available and could be used as-is (or as-was, I guess) rather than scratch-building a bunch of stuff that probably wouldn’t look as convincing in the end anyway. I really do like Star Trek perfectly well (not as much as Star Wars, but you probably knew that), but the computers and tech props made for the original series never looked like anything but props to me. Also everything is distressingly tidy. (I wonder whether part of why I like the knocked-about, messy Star Wars stuff is that my spaces tend to be cluttered, and anything owned by me tends to look beat-up in a hurry)

I also think that the way Star Wars looks reflects the way people in the late 70s and 80s imagined the future, which is probably inevitable but is kind of interesting to think about. (Now yes, of course I’m aware the movies are set in the distant past, but I think it’s reasonable to say that in imagining a world of space ships and interstellar travel and intelligent robots we’re thinking about the future of our society to some extent) First of all it’s not unreasonable to say that there are no touchscreens and no wifi in Star Wars because the people writing the scripts and making the props didn’t envision how technology was going to develop. This happens all the time, of course – in one of my very favourite books ever, Neuromancer, no-one in the ‘near future’ setting has a cell phone. That change in tech wasn’t seen coming.

That also gets me to another point, though, because Gibson is at pains to point out that he wasn’t trying to predict the future with Neuromancer, and that it was really a book about the 1980s. I think that’s almost always the case with the visions of the future that we create; they’re nearly always more about the time they were created in than any real attempt at futurism. They reflect the perspectives and assumptions that the creator was immersed in when they sat down to write. Neuromancer imagines a future where the line between technology and humanity is becoming blurry, that dehumanises people and makes the artificial closer to human. Star Wars imagines space as a place where people live and work in their regular lives, doing ordinary work; where there are working-class beings putting in a hard days’ labour. This is not a gleaming future with contemporary concerns solved, it is one that still has poverty and crime as things to be worried about as well as alarming space fascists.

Some of these visions of the future become obsolete as time goes by. I don’t think you’d get a lot of traction with a story about the gee-whiz, rockets everywhere, meals in a pill, spandex jumpsuit future of the 1950s any longer. There’s parts of it I think we actively don’t like and parts of it readers would not believe. (Although, I would also love to be proven wrong!) It’s not a version of the future that has aged very well for us. Almost universally (it seems to me), if someone does present you with this bright, shiny, perfected future, it’s because they’re setting up to jerk back the curtain and reveal some horrific underside.

It’s not always a case of future visions simply not aging well. Not all that long ago the futures we imagined seemed to almost always include the idea the virtual reality would become endemic, that we’d be constantly immersing ourselves in digitally created worlds to work and play. I don’t understand the technology enough to get why, but it didn’t happen (Gibson is interesting on the road we may have taken instead), and our VR fantasies seem vaguely silly, now.

On the other hand, we seem to like the 1980s futures a good bit more. That new Blade Runner movie that I fretted over a couple of blogs ago is very much cut from that cloth, for example. There’s something about that grim, crumbling future that still appeals to us, on some level, some part of it that fits with how we either think about our world or think about where we’re headed. You could argue that the steampunk genre takes a Victorian vision of the future as its inspiration. I don’t know why we like certain futures more than others, but it’s been something I’ve been thinking about lately, and I’m hoping to put together a discussion along those lines at Can*Con this fall. We’ll see.

However all that may be, the 1970s future portrayed in Star Wars is obviously one that works for today’s audience, or at least a good portion of it. When the two most recent movies came out, I remember hearing from more than a few people that they were glad to see that the tech was all chunky and beat the hell up. Captain Andor’s U-Wing looks like it has been used for many hundreds of hours by hundred of people and it is glorious. When we meet Rey, she lives in a junkyard of wrecked and abandoned ships. The Rebel base, when we get there, is once again in a dingy, dark concrete bunker. Saw Gerrera’s partisan stronghold was filthy and his gear looked like it might stop working any second now.

40 years is a fantastic run for any imaginary world, and it says something about the basic quality of the Star Wars story that both the original movies and the newer additions to the franchise seem to be as popular as ever. I hope they keep making Star Wars films for us as long as they have good stories to tell, and I hope all of them have that clunky, battered, busted-looking tech as part of them.

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If you’ve missed me talking about it before, the Limestone Genre Expo is in Kingston this weekend, and it’s not too late to register! This will be my second year attending and if last year is anything to go by it will be a marvellous weekend of time spent thinking and talking about reading and writing. I’ll be on a few panels and hanging out at the Renaissance Press booth if you’d like to say hello, and it’s a great opportunity to meet writers and fans of great fiction. Details are here.

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Relative

I had a curious moment last week, and thus a topic for this week’s blog. It was at a planning meeting for Can-Con 2017 (which, quick aside, if you haven’t already made your plans to attend, you definitely should. We’re going to have amazing stuff for you this fall, and our guests are fantastic) and the person who organizes one of our city’s writing groups said that I was one of their success stories.

Wait, what?

In recent months I have gotten to thinking that my writing hasn’t yet amounted to very much.  My friend who just signed a lucrative book deal, now there’s a success story. Another of my writer friends has newspapers wanting to do stories on her latest release. Yet another guy I know is blowing up all over the media with his latest project. When I had been thinking of ‘success stories’, those were the people that I thought of. (And, just to be clear, they are all immensely talented artists who have earned every drop of that success and I could not be happier for them)  Nothing I have done seems as though it is in the same league as that.  Thus, not a success.

And yet. I should also remember that I have two books published. There are plenty of people out there who work very hard every day chasing that dream that I am sometimes in danger of dismissing. When Renaissance agreed to put King in Darkness into print, I said it was the fulfillment of a life’s ambition, and it was. Then they did it again. What I mean is that if my point of view shifts slightly, what I’ve done with my writing changes from ‘ugh not really going that well honestly’ to ‘wow, there are really some Achievements Unlocked here’.

I don’t say this to humble-brag (honestly) but to try to remind myself that ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are not really the binary absolute standards they may appear to be or that we often think of them being. There’s a lot of space for point of view and perspective that allow those two ideas to bleed into each other, and it’s all too easy for someone like me, who tends to be one of my own worst critics, to push everything I do into the latter category, even though there are perhaps lots of people who wouldn’t put them there.

These sort of reminders are all around me, when I pay attention. At the gym where I work out, I frequently can’t help but compare the amount of weight I can lift with what other people are doing, and think ‘wow, I’m pathetically way off that’. At the same time, though, not that long ago I was talking to one of the people who lifts those alarming large amounts of weight; they asked how long a run I had just done and I said it was ‘just’ 5k. (This made sense to me because I’m training for a longer distance and from that point of view 5k is not very much) They replied that they’ve never done more than 3.

Just like with my writing, this is important for me to remember. Lots of people will never run 5k. (Perhaps even more have absolutely no ambition to do so, but never mind) Even for people who are athletic or who take up running, that may well be the longest distance they ever think of doing. I am currently aiming for a longer distance, and 5k is, from that perspective, part of a training plan rather than a goal. Neither of those things is better or worse than the other, they’re just different people with different objectives and different strengths and at different points in their process or entirely different processes.

So as with writing, how to evaluate the things we’re capable of depends very much on point of view. Perhaps in a few years it will be me with a nice payday from a book deal. Perhaps it won’t, and if I was determined to look at it that way that might be a disappointment, but one the other hand I will always have two novels in publication and that is a goal some people, including me from 10 years ago, dream of. What might be a disappointing performance for one person or in one circumstance might be an absolutely exceptional one in a different context. I think if we’re being fair, there probably really aren’t any absolute standards for things at all. I think, and try to keep reminding myself, that it isn’t a very good idea to measure what I can do against the standards of other people. No matter how well I do, there will always be someone who can do way better. There’s always something I can point to and convince myself that I don’t measure up and am not doing well. I shouldn’t do that, because there’s certainly lots of people who would trade places with me in a second. I am, in many ways, incredibly fortunate. What I should be is grateful for that, and perhaps allow myself a bit of satisfaction in what I am capable of rather than kicking myself for what I can’t do.

None of this means that I shouldn’t continue to push myself to write more, and Write Better. I should continue to work to run further and faster. However, the part I need to keep reminding myself about is that the reason to do more and better is the challenge of improving myself, testing the limits of my own abilities (which are not the same as the limits of anyone else’s) and seeing what I am ultimately capable of. In the end, the race is only with ourselves.

Thanks for reading.

(I know you are overjoyed that the running analogies are back)

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No Middle Ages

This is a topic I’ve been saving up for a week when I didn’t have a good idea to write about – and this is one of those weeks. Here we go.

You may (or may very well not!) know that I have a degree in medieval history. As a result, when a lot of people find out that I write fiction, they assume that I therefore write either historical fiction or classic fantasy (by which I mean fantasy set in some imagined society that takes medieval European society as its foundation, with castles and knights and so on). As of yet, I do not – both of my books are what I guess we could call contemporary fantasy, or fantasies set in some close analog of the modern world, rather than some version of the past societies that I study and love. My current project is set in the past, but not in the medieval past, or any version of it; this story takes place in an imaginary version of the 19th century (there is a whole question to be asked about how good an idea this is that I am cheerfully ignoring for now). I can’t argue with the idea that this seems to playing against what you might assume to be my strengths. Very often, people then ask why. I usually just say, “It’s complicated.”

This is the longer answer.

I want to make clear from the outset that I love to read both historical fiction and classic fantasy. Some of my favourite books are from those genres and some of my favourite authors work in them. There are reasons why these are enduring and popular forms of story with audiences spanning impressive distances of time and space. And yet, I’ve never seriously tried to write either kind.

I think there are two main reasons, and they kind of flow into each other. One is that I know, from talking to writers who do write historical fiction, how very hard it is to do well. An immense amount of work goes into figuring out the right vocabulary to put in the mouths of your characters, the appropriate technology to have available, the right sort of names to give them and populating the setting with the buildings, foods, animals, instruments, and a thousand other things that meet the demands of the story but also fit with the time being described. As an example, I did once try a short piece set in the Middle Ages, and ran into problems with what to call the hired muscle. Can’t use ‘thug’ (19th century). Can’t use ‘goon’ (20th century). Even ‘bully’ appears to be 16th century and thus too late. As I check now, I see I used ‘ruffian’, which also seems to be too late, although maybe I thought its Latin etymology let me get away with it.

And that’s one word. What would the food be like? Animals and their associated equipment are devilishly complicated. Ask any medieval historian about inns and prepare for a difficult answer.

So it’s very hard to do right, and I would be keenly aware, as a scholar of the past, of a need to do it right, and any mistakes (like ‘ruffian’) would bother me. I would also be concerned that people would read the thing, expecting all the pieces, large and small, to be just right, and be most displeased when they weren’t. I don’t exactly expect a thesis examination panel response to a history-based story that I might write, but I don’t exactly not expect one either. Now, it’s true that writing fantasy rather than historical fiction somewhat exempts you from all these problems – if you want your pseudo-medieval society to have had potatoes, it can just have potatoes – but I would still feel the need to portray a society that was credible based on what I know about the real past, which would be very nearly as hard.

So, part of why I don’t do it is that although it seems like it should be easy, I feel instead that there’s a great deal of pressure (most of it internally-generated) in writing about the medieval world (or something resembling the medieval world) that I don’t currently feel like tackling, or at least not until I have an idea that’s so exciting that I can’t avoid it. It’s true that I probably have more to build on than many other writers might, but I guess what I’m saying is that that also makes me aware of a great many more pitfalls that I worry about how to avoid.

However, there’s more to the problem.

Because I think I could, if I put in the spadework, produce stories set in the past, or something like it, that would be a reasonable approximation of what we think it was really like. The other trouble is that I’m not sure it’s what people really want to read. I think sometimes we (and I include myself in this) prefer our imaginary version of things to reality. It can be ever so much more fun that way, perhaps also more uplifting or comforting. I guess, on some level, I worry that if I wrote a story that closely represented medieval society the way I understand it, people would read it and think something like ‘well that’s just not very cool’.

I’m not really sure why I think that, because I think the real Middle Ages were amazingly cool, and I don’t think it was necessarily an awful grim joyless time to be alive, and I think when I teach courses on the subject I communicate that reasonably well. But stories are not lectures (or at least, I don’t think they should be), and my guess is that people may prefer the imagined past to the real one. As an example I’ve used here before: yes, it would probably be possible to write the story of the ‘real’ King Arthur, of whatever historical personage inspired some or all of the legend, but I don’t think people would like it very much because it wouldn’t have Lancelot and it wouldn’t have the quest for the Grail and so many other parts of the story that we love today. We don’t want the real story, we want the imaginary one. Which is wonderful, but then I think that if I’m not going to write something rooted in reality, then there’s no real advantage to me writing a medieval story at all, and I may as well just write another of the contemporary-rooted ones that I have rattling around my rickety brain.

(Yes, this all sits more than a little uneasily with my previously-expressed love for historical fiction and the fact that I know it is very popular. I know you can do this really well. I have never pretended that all my thoughts fit together terribly well and won’t start now. I suppose in the end what I doubt is my ability to do it really well.)

All this may just mean that I don’t have the right ideas yet, and when I do I will sit down to write about the Middle Ages, or my imagined version of them, with confidence and energy. It may be that I will never do it. I honestly don’t know, except that when I think about all the stories that I would currently like to get to writing at some time in the not too distant future, there still isn’t a medieval, or medieval-ish, one among them.

Just as honestly, I think that’s fine. There are, after all, so many people already doing it well. As ever, this is Not Advice, but I think the best thing most artists can do is do whatever work excites them and inspires them, rather than worrying about what makes sense for them to do or what they of course should be doing. Or such are the thoughts that I use to comfort myself, anyway.

That’s what I’ve got for you this week. I appreciate your reading.


In case you missed the announcements on social media, Can-Con, Ottawa’s Speculative Arts and Literature conference, has booked its dates for 2017.  As part of the programming team I’m already getting excited.  The con will run from October 13-15 and returns to the Sheraton Hotel in the city’s downtown.  Details and registration here.

Also in case you missed it: I will be donating all of my royalties from sales of The King in Darkness and Bonhomme Sept-Heures to the Canadian Council for Refugees from now until March 3rd.  It’s a modest gesture, but it’s something that I can do to help people who truly need the world to be just a little kind to them.  If you’d like to help people looking for safety and reward yourself with a story I think you’ll enjoy at the same time, I would be very grateful.

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Can*Con 2016

This past weekend was Can*Con in Ottawa, which is our annual convention for readers and writers of science fiction, fantasy, horror and erotica. It is steadily growing both in terms of the stature of the guests who attend and the number of people who sign up for a weekend’s worth of discussion on the literature they love. It will also always be special to me because it was a Can*Con pitch session that got me connected with my publisher for The King in Darkness, and being able to see my first novel in print.

As always it was fantastic to get to spend a couple of days really feeling like a writer: participating in thoughtful discussions about both how to write and things we enjoy reading, meeting loads of awesome people who are deeply into the same stuff that I’m deeply into, and talking about my own writing to people who didn’t immediately look shifty and scurry away sideways. Especially when writing often has to be crammed into whatever time can be stolen here and there from jobs that pay the bills and the practicalities of life, it can be easy to feel like your writing isn’t very significant. It’s amazing to have a few days where writing gets to be The Thing and to have your passion validated. I always come away from Can*Con very excited to get to work on new projects. Project. One project at a time, like a sane person.

So that feeling was great to have again, but this Can*Con also felt very different because this was the first year that I was part of the organization team, which is also getting larger as the con (and therefore the work involved in setting it up) expands. This added a whole new level to the experience. In addition to everything else, I was also getting chairs where we needed chairs and hastily creating signs and helping lost souls find the con suite – and also getting to meet all of our guests in a slightly different way than previous years. Getting to (even briefly) say hi to Ed Greenwood was pretty cool. More than anything, this all made me appreciative of the work that goes into putting on an event like Can*Con in a way that I hadn’t really understood before; we started actively planning this soon after the New Year and had basically been working steadily at it ever since. It was great to see all that work turn into the event itself and to watch people enjoying themselves with what we’d put together.

Now I also need to lie down.

All of the discussions I went to were interesting – I was part of talks on epic fantasy, the nature of monsters (which will lead to a radical change to my current WIP), the portrayal of medieval culture in fantasy, the financial side of writing, and Shakespeare in science fiction, and all of them gave me a lot to think about. The one that I’ve been going back over in my mind over and over, though, was the panel on adapting SFF for TV or movies, which (to be honest) I mostly went to because Jay Odjick panels are always awesome.

Now, in all honesty I’m extremely unlikely to have to worry about the things that go into having something I wrote adapted for film (although, as we saw last week, I do think that would be pretty rad), but one of the things that all of the panelists said (including Tanya Huff and our agent guest of honour Sam Morgan) got the Mind Gears going. Basically they said that if your work is being adapted into another format, those writers are going to change basically everything (Tanya Huff was invited to write an episode of the series that was adapted from her book Blood Ties, and they kept six lines of the dialogue she had written) and that, as a writer, you should be fine with this because they’re giving you a cheque, and your original work is of course unchanged.

I gotta say, that makes a solid amount of sense. Stephen King got asked about whether he was upset about what Hollywood had done to some of his books, and famously replied that ‘no, the books are fine, they’re right there on the shelf’. I admire that. I also know that deep inside my bizarre little writer’s heart, I would be screaming at the top of my lungs about something I wrote being changed. It’s my story. These are my characters. I wrote them this way for a reason, you don’t get to just change them around. Or, if you do, it’s not my story any more, and let’s not pretend that it is. (As an example, one ‘change’ suggested by a reader of King in Darkness was that the main character Adam should ‘get together’ with Sophia. Sophia is gay. Adam is at least twice her age. If that change got made to the story, I would be really upset. And yet, ‘add a romance!’ seems like a pretty probable move.)

I really do get the ‘yes, but cheque!’ argument, as well as the one that everyone knows that film writers change everything and so nobody really connects a film version to the writer in any significant way. It’s probably ok if the screaming is on the inside. So I do get that, and understand Sam Morgan’s comment that if a client of his was upset about changes being made to an adaptation of their work, he’d smack them (because: cheque!), but I also know that at least some part of me would be deeply unhappy with the whole deal. It’s probably just as well that this is a moot point and that probably no-one will ever want to make a movie out of King in Darkness, is one takeaway.

The other is that it’s remarkable how much ownership creators (because I don’t think I’m the only one) feel over their imaginary people and their stories, and how emotionally invested we are with the pretend worlds we’ve brought into being. I do write my stories the way I do for reasons that I think are good, and because (as I mentioned in an earlier entry) I feel like I know these characters so well, it seems wrong to just arbitrarily change them. It’s part of why creating art is so risky, because you really do put a piece of yourself out there for the world to look at. (That’s also part of why it’s great, when people look at it and say that they liked it.)

However, I should know from my history studies that stories don’t belong to anyone, or rather they belong to everyone. Stories that survive almost any length of time at all get constantly rewritten and changed and done over again to suit the needs of different audiences and to express the values and priorities of different cultural moments in time. King Arthur and Robin Hood and (more recently) characters like Batman and Sherlock Holmes change and change again as writers and readers who love them want to do something new with them or make the story work for their time and place. It is, really, a wonderful compliment to a creator to say that you want to take something they came up with and adapt it and give it a new kind of life.

So maybe I really would be ok with someone rewriting my stuff to film it.

Once the screaming died down.

And on that cheerful note, I want to use this space to thank everyone who was part of Can*Con and helped make it such a great weekend. We had amazing panelists, really enthusiastic and thoughtful audiences, and our volunteers were outstanding. All of the other members of the organizational team – Marie Bilodeau, Nicole Lavigne, and Brandon Crilly (who was programming’s Batman to my Robin) did fantastic work. I also want to especially thank co-chair Derek Künsken for inviting me onto the team and letting me be a part of it all.

Already looking forward to next year.

—-

Some of you may have noticed a sudden lapse in running-related entries on here. Many of you probably said ‘oh thank God’. In case you were curious, though, the reason is that I have had only the second significant injury I’ve suffered as a runner this summer and have shut things down for the season. The plan is to spend the winter getting strong and have a great season next year.

This has been surprisingly difficult, though, both because running is a stress-buster for me and has very much been part of my routine for years, and also because (as I’ve talked about previously) I do a lot of writing in my head while running, and all of that is currently lost. I also had to admit a little while ago that there was no way I could do the race I had planned for the end of the month, and just let that go.

In a way though that’s another useful lesson to come out of running that I think applies to writing as well. It’s good to set goals for yourself and to push yourself to achieve them, and to try to set standards that you need to live up to in terms of amounts of work getting done or having something finished by a certain time. That helps with organization and time management and making sure that you’re making your writing a priority.

There are also times, though, when things are just out of your hands and you have to let one of those goals go, and that’s ok. I couldn’t do anything about this injury, and it’s ok, and I will be back running when I can and I’ll hit the next goal. Sometimes the equivalent will happen with writing, and something won’t get done on time, and that’s ok.

Setting goals is only useful if it makes you better, not if it just turns into another stick to beat yourself up with.

Letting go is ok.

That’s what I’ve got for this week, except that if you’re going to be in Ottawa on Saturday, October 29th, you should definitely come to the Renaissance Press launch event for Bonhomme Sept-Heures and seven (seven!) other authors and creators, at the 3 Brewers pub at 240 Sparks St. It will go from about 5 to around 7, and there will be reading from all the authors, prizes, and probable tomfoolery. It would be great to see you there.

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Cinematics

Several things to throw at you today!

First, I recently joined a local writers’ group and it has already been fantastic in motivating me to keep working on the current WIP (so I have something to bring to circle) and our conversations have been really interesting as well. For anyone trying to improve as a writer, I strongly recommend seeking out a group to work with. As is often the case, the internet is probably your friend here, and I really think it will help your writing.

In any case, the group I have joined had some really useful feedback on my current project and one of the conversations we had also got me thinking about something I thought I’d write about on the blog today.  We were talking about what does and doesn’t work as an opener to a piece, and a lot of the discussion kept returning to the framework of ‘if this was a movie, then…’.  I think because film (under which umbrella I am sticking movies, TV, and whatever the label is for things ‘broadcast’ through places like Netflix) must be the context we experience most of our stories through, we tend to use it as a default to think about stories in other contexts.  I also think it very likely affects us as artists working in other mediums.

I hadn’t really articulated it before but I do frequently think of scenes in my writing in terms of how they would work if filmed – or at least, as much as I am capable of doing so with absolutely no background in film at all. I don’t really know anything about how to set up a shot or what the terminology is or even why film directors do things the way they do; I’ve just seen end products that I’ve thought were very cool and they’ve influenced me in terms of what I like to create and given me a sort of framework for how I imagine the story I’m creating might unfold.

So, in my mind, the prologue bit of the WIP would be one long scene, then there would be a credit sequence (because of course), and then fade in to the opening of Chapter One. We’ve been debating whether the prologue needs to stay or not, and one of the reasons I think it does is that I like that idea of a pre-credits scene to sort of whet the audience’s appetite and let them know what kind of show they’re in for.

In fairness, I also think it introduces my main character in a kind of cool way and hits some of the main beats about her without a big wodge of exposition, while also bringing in the setting and hinting at the main plot line a bit. So, I think it does have genuine merit from a literary point of view, but I’d be lying if I said the film scene justification wasn’t in there too.

I imagine somewhere lurking around in there is the thought that it would be awfully cool to see something of mine filmed at some point in the future, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. Film gives its own particular framework to stories, and the cuts from shot to shot can really regulate the mood and tension of the piece (he said from a more or less uniformed standpoint). A director or a film studies person could dig into this much better than I can, but suffice to say that I like to try to do some of that with my written stuff, too. This is also the reason for a lot of scene breaks in early versions of my manuscripts that sometimes baffle and/or annoy my readers and editors – the reason they’re there is because it’s where I imagine that there would be a cut to a new shot. Or a commercial break. (Seriously)

It is kind of paradoxical, though, because (as I’ve written about here before) I don’t really tend to put huge amounts of careful visual description into my writing. I like to let the reader fill in a lot of the scene from their own imagination based on the parameters I give them. So, even though I know exactly how every scene in the book looks in my mind, I’m not sure it’s useful to give all of that detail to the reader, especially as I don’t find reading reams of description a particular pleasure myself.

So, a lot of the ‘works like a film’ part ends up being an internal process for me and I’m really not sure how much it comes across in the finished work. I can see it, but I know that it’s supposed to be there. I guess I’m not sure if it actually makes what I write work better or even differently, but it is part of the engine of creation that ends up with words on the page, so (perhaps due to inherent laziness, superstition, contentment with the results, or some blend of the above) I just kind of roll with it.

Again, none of this is advice (because I don’t write advice) but perhaps some of that will be interesting to any of you who are working on your own writing. I do think it’s sometimes useful to reflect about my process as an artist and think about what works, what maybe doesn’t work so well, and at least recognize my strengths and vulnerabilities as a writer so that I can play to the former and try to compensate for the latter.

Thanks for being a sounding board.

——

By way of updates: The final set of edits on Bonhomme Sept-Heures were completed late last week and I am currently going through the proofs before the book is sent to print. I could not be more excited that the book is this close to coming out – should be ready to come your way by October!

This weekend is also Can*Con here in Ottawa, and as a member of the programming team I’m both fired up and very proud about the weekend we’ve put together for you. It is not too late to register and come out for what should be a great 2 1/2 days of workshops and discussions about SFF, horror, and comics writing, and some awesome opportunities to meet people who are both established and up-and-comers in the field. There are spots left in all of the workshops Friday afternoon, and even though online registration for many of the sessions is now closed, you will be able to sign up at the registration desk, so there’s still time to get in on everything! Check out the program here, and if you want to listen to my friend Brandon Crilly and I talk about Can*Con and why we think you should come, you can listen to a radio interview we did about it last Thursday right here. I’m really looking forward to it and you should definitely come.

Finally, but far from least important: I got confirmation this week that Renaissance Press will be at the Word on the Street festival in Toronto this year, and I will be able to attend! I’m thrilled to be able to bring my work to such a massive event and looking forward to being a part of things throughout one of the biggest days in literature in Canada. Renaissance Press will have a table in the Fringe Beat section, and I will be there throughout the day. I’m very excited to get to meet some new people, so come say hello!

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Why We Write

All right. I imagine everyone who does anything on the internet gets exposed to plenty of those motivational graphics that probably make up about 55% of traffic on the world wide web, right up there with cat pictures. Mostly I ignore them – I know that most are posted out of either apathy or good intentions – some of them make me grit my teeth a bit. Of late, I keep seeing one that argues that everything that happens in life will either make you better or make you bitter (barf) and that the difference is Up to You.

If you really believe that, I envy you the peaceful and problem-free life you have enjoyed to this point.

Moving on, rant narrowly averted.

Also of late, I have seen a particular writer-directed one that asks ‘If no-one knows your book exists, what was the point of writing it?’ The first time I saw it, it raised the ol’ hackles a little bit and I wasn’t entirely sure why.

I do understand the point the person who made the graphic was (probably) trying to make – that writing a book is, in a lot of ways, just the first step of making it a commercial success and that learning to advertise and promote it is an important skill set for writers in the Current Environment. It’s a skill set that I’m gradually learning, and I get the idea behind the advice.

Still bugs me.

It took a while, but I eventually figured out why. I don’t like the part where if the book isn’t a commercial success, there was no point in writing it. Obviously (I think) I would love it if everyone on the planet read my stories and it would be great if I was able to get a significant income from my writing. I imagine most writers feel the same.

On the other hand, that’s not why I write, and I suspect that’s true for many other writers as well. I write because I have stories I want to tell, and I have fun making them up, putting them together, and writing them down. I love inventing people who have never existed and seeing what they do. I really dig the challenge of having a scene in my imagination and trying to convey that experience to other people.

I love working with words. I like trying to find just the right way to put something or to find a new way to get an image or an idea across. Words have been my toys for about as long as I can remember, so writing time is time to play.

As I guess I’ve alluded to a few times on this blog, writing is also a form of self-care – it relaxes me and the process gives me pleasure. Taking a deep dive into my imagination is a great way to give myself a timeout from whatever Real World problems are plaguing me, and having banged together a few hundred words can provide a feeling of having Done A Thing, on top of it all.

So, yes – of course I would love it if my writing became a huge commercial success, both because that would mean lots of people had read it, but also because, yes, money is a nice thing to have. However, even if you told me that would never, ever happen, I would still keep writing. I do want people to read my writing, of course I do, but that isn’t the reason why I did it. The point of writing, for me, is to write, not to have x number of people read it. Readers are amazing, and I am grateful to everyone who has ever thought it was worth their time to read something I wrote. But, if you pump me full of truth serum (or, apparently, get me to write a blog) I write for me. Because I love it, and because on some level I kind of need to.

I promise I won’t write any motivational posters though.

I admit I sometimes post cat pictures.

They’re mostly my cats though.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week.

—–

Registration has opened for Can*Con 2016, the SFF convention here in Ottawa. This year it runs from Sept. 9th to the 11th, and although the programming is still being put together, what we already know is awesome: The Hugo Award-winning editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction, Sheila Williams, will be a Guest of Honour. There are other very cool plans in the works that I can’t wait to tell you about (but have to) although I guess I can say that I’ll be part of some of the panel discussions again, if hearing me yammer on is the sort of thing you think you might like to do.

You can get the full details and get registered here.

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Overtime

I’m going to be extraordinarily selfish today and continue a couple of thoughts I had from Can-Con panels a couple weeks back, today. (Who knows, maybe I can keep mining Can-Con for blog topics until the new year!) The panel discussions – both when I was on the panel and in the audience – were really engaging for me and it always felt, at the end of the hour, that it could easily go on for a good deal longer. I guess I’m going to give myself a little bonus time today.

One panel was a reader’s panel on SF and one of the questions was along the lines of ‘what makes great SF for you?’. I had to think about it, because I like all different kinds of SF writers and stories, but eventually I got it figured.

I guess the defining characteristic of SF is that it includes some kind of future technology or alien world, but for me a really great SF story is still ultimately about people. I want to see how these things affect individual characters, or human society, or I guess ideally both. My favourite SF writer (who you will guess if you’ve read back in the blog) is William Gibson, and although his stories are filled with intriguing speculations about future uses of technology, the meat of the thing is always about what that tech, and what that world, does to the people in it.

SF is an interesting genre in having a big fissure right down the middle of it between ‘soft’ SF (which I have clumsily just described) and ‘hard’ SF in which the science is often the star and the human characters have a secondary role. I read hard SF stories, and often enjoy them. One from way back that I still reread from time to time is Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama, which is a fascinating book about humanity’s encounter with what they first think is an asteroid, but quickly turns out to be a dormant alien spacecraft. It is a wonderful imagining of what such a ship might be like, how it might work and ideas about a society that is (from the hints we get) truly alien. The human characters, though, are primarily just there to walk around inside the ship and allow all this stuff to unfold, and none are especially deep or memorable. It’s a good story, but I’m not sure I would call it great,for me, because I want the people to be the star, not the alien ship.

This reminds me, now, of a column that was on the Guardian website last week which posited that most famous SF includes massive, impersonal technological constructs (this was in connection to the recent speculation about megastructures – or whatever the objects are – apparently orbiting around a distant star) and not much in the way of humanity. It’s certainly easy to think of examples of this: another Clarke story, 2001, features the famous massive, implacable monoliths and the most intriguing character is a computer. So it’s certainly true, some of the time.

I don’t think I agree overall, though. I suppose it depends in part what you’re defining ‘famous’ as. Gibson’s Neuromancer is one of (if not the) most influential SF books ever written, and it’s far from impersonal. I guess it may not count as ‘famous’, though. Does Ray Bradbury? John Wyndham? A lot of Asimov is primarily about people rather than technology, even if ‘robot’ is in a lot of titles. Hell, E.T. is one of the biggest (in terms of money) SF movies ever, and it’s not about massive impersonal things at all. Those are just off the top of my head, and why I don’t agree with the premise that ‘famous’ SF is impersonal SF but I do accept that that is ‘SF’ to a lot of people. It’s a part of SF to me. It’s not my favourite part, though.

It came up on a separate panel that for a while, SF stories generally involved some sort of problem – often involving space travel or an alien world – which was solved by human ingenuity and the application of technology. This became less the case as we (Western society, anyway) got less optimistic about technology as necessarily being the solution to every situation, and sometimes being the problem, so we don’t see as many of these ultimately optimistic stories any more. There certainly is a great deal of dystopian or post-apocalyptic SF being written and read these days, which may just be the fashion or may reflect broader trends in society; I suspect it’s a combination of both. I like to hope that there’s some room for optimism in our fiction today, though. Certainly another thing about the stories I like best have some sort of positive development in them – you can generally say ‘and afterwards, things were better’ in summation. That’s what I enjoy reading most these days (I get more than enough situations that don’t work out as I or we would like in the real world) and that’s very broadly the kind of thing I like to write at the moment.

I was going to transition over to a point from yet another panel but I think instead I’ll touch on something that just dropped while I was writing this blog – the World Fantasy Convention announced that the recently-distributed World Fantasy Awards will be the last set that will come with trophies modelled on H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft, of course, is an undeniably influential figure in fantastic writing, and some (certainly not all) of his stories are very creative and chilling. Just as undeniably, though, his stuff is also rife with distressingly racist ideas, ideas that he apparently stuck to his guns on even as the world around him was moving forward. While I don’t think this necessarily means everyone has to throw their copies of Lovecraft into the trash (although if you want to, that’s certainly understandable too), it does mean that there’s no way he’s the right emblem for an organization to be using in 2015, so this is unquestionably, I think, the right move.

I suppose some people will moan about ‘political correctness’ but I really don’t think it should be a controversial stance for any group to say that they aren’t going to have a racist as the trophy they hand out as an award any longer. I doubt there was any racial agenda when Lovecraft was picked as the model for the trophy, but since the connotations of his image have been pointed out, and people have said, loudly and eloquently, that it upsets and offends them, it’s a good step for any organization to simply admit that the way they’ve been doing it is wrong and make a change. I’m sure getting rid of the Lovecraft trophy (which is a kind of odd pick for a World Fantasy award anyway) will make things more comfortable and feel more inclusive for writers (and probably fans) from diverse backgrounds going forward.

Also now I guess they’ll have to pick something new for the trophy, and everyone will get to argue about that for a while. With how broad and diverse fantasy has become as a genre, it’s going to be pretty hard to pick something that encompasses all of it, and it might be impossible. For what it’s worth, I don’t think they should do another author head because I don’t think there’s any one author that really works as the figurehead for all of fantasy. (Although if you have suggestions I’d love to hear) I’m going to predict they go with a dragon, because dragons are cool and not too many people would likely raise too much objection to it. If it was left entirely up to me I’d probably do a sword in a stone, in part because of my affection for Arthurian stuff and in part because everyone who gets an award is, in that moment, the chosen one, and so the sword in the stone would be kind of appropriate. But I get that that is pretty ethnically and culturally specific and probably wouldn’t work out. Good thing it’s not up to me.

I’m glad they’ve made the change, for what that’s worth, and I hope it’s part of helping to increase the diversity in speculative and fantastic writing going forward. It can only help the fields we love so much. I also look forward to seeing what the new trophy will be.

And now this is maybe enough for one entry and I’ll leave the other stuff for next week. I’m continuing work on my next book and I feel like it’s progressing reasonably well. I’ve been excited and flattered to have several readers ask if there is a sequel to The King in Darkness coming and I’ve been pleased to be able to say that yes, that’s what I’m working on right now. Hopefully there won’t be too long to wait.

Details on PopExpo in Ottawa are still to come, but they are coming!

Thanks for reading once again.

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Can-Con

Last week’s entry was very grumpy but I have fuel for a much more upbeat entry this week. (Also presumably a subject upon which Wil Wheaton will not immediately release a column, but if he does it will be a cool trick) This past weekend I attended the Can-Con SFF convention in Ottawa and I had such a groovy time I wanted to talk about it a little today.

This was my first convention as a panelist and ‘guy with something to sell’ so it was all a very new experience. Getting to be a part of discussions that were all about the weird stuff I write, having intelligent, passionate people want to discuss them as well, was very cool and felt good. It was also just fun to get to sit around and talk about books and authors and ideas we all love for a while without feeling like there was something else that I was really supposed to be doing.

I had a good time hanging out at the Renaissance Press booth, meeting other writers and readers, and I got an amazing amount of support for my book. I hope everyone who picked up The King in Darkness enjoys the read and I hope to hear what they all think of it when they’re done.  I spoke with people who have been at the stage of things that I’m at, and had great advice.  I got my picture taken with the same crochet TARDIS that has posed next to Sylvester McCoy and Neil Gaiman.

I met Peter Halasz, who works with the Sunburst Awards and (I learned) is an amazing advocate of Canadian speculative fiction. He was also enthusiastic about The King in Darkness, which meant a lot to a beginning writer, even if he promised to hunt me down if he doesn’t like it. I also got to say a ‘thank you’ in person to Hayden Trenholm of Bundoran Press, whose comments on a ‘how to pitch’ panel at last year’s convention fixed mine and helped me find a home at Renaissance Press. Those are just two of the highlights but I met people that I am proud and pleased to share (in some fashion) a community with and it was immense fun.

Ultimately it was just very good to be surrounded by people who are writers and/or love writing and fans of fantastic fiction. It’s very energizing to be around people who value the same things you do and think that the kind of stuff I’m working on is (on some level) interesting and exciting. There is a lot of talk about validation and so forth that often ends up sounding very new-agey and motivation poster-y but I think it is true that sometimes you need a pat on the head or a slap on the back to redouble your efforts, and Can-Con was a big weekend long slap on the back for me.

So, because of all that, thank you to all the volunteers who worked hard making the weekend happen, to Derek Kunsken and Marie Bilodeau and all the other people who I don’t yet know who organized the con and did a fantastic job creating such a lovely environment for lovers of strange stories. I hope to be part of it again next year, and I’ll be there one way or the other!

CSvVq5bXIAEgcJU

——

Work continues on the sequel to The King in Darkness and early returns from the Eager Volunteers are positive on what I have done so far. I’m hoping to perhaps have a manuscript ready for the publishers by March, and then perhaps the new book will be out next autumn. We’ll have to see.

I will be at PopExpo in a couple weeks – details still to come.

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Pay the Artists

This is a subject I’ve been meaning to write about for a while and I keep putting it off because I know it will make me sound more than a little grumpy, but today’s the day. I suppose I have been slightly triggered off by the closing of an opera company in Ottawa last week. I made the mistake of reading the comments (forgetting what is perhaps the most essential rule of the internet), many of which predictably said that it was the company’s own fault for setting ticket prices too high, that art isn’t a priority for people right now, and that if artists want an audience they should offer their work for free.

This is all nonsense.

We are a society that loves art. I suspect this is true world-wide, but I’ll stick with Western society for today. We love it to the extent that it is very rare to find a person who doesn’t appreciate it, at all. Really. Try and think of someone you know who doesn’t like any movies or television shows, doesn’t enjoy any music, does not have any pictures they like to have up around their home or as the background on their computer or phone, and never reads any stories. If you like even one of those things, you like art. (I left out sculpture, going to the theatre and probably some others.) This is (obviously) not to say that everyone likes every kind of art, or that we like all kinds of art equally, but as a society, we don’t just like art. We love it.

We play our music (different kinds, sure) all over the place and throughout the day. We put up images in almost every space we move through and occupy. We are storytellers and lovers of story; currently television is probably our most popular way to experience them, but that doesn’t change the basic truth that we make stories an important part of our lives as well – Appointment Television – as the immense success of Game of Thrones and Walking Dead easily attest. So let’s set aside the idea that art isn’t important to us. Demonstrably, palpably not the case.

Our problem is that we don’t then seem to want to support the people who create all these things. Put bluntly, we don’t want to pay the artists. Yes, of course, there are musicians and actors and writers who are stupendously wealthy. However, if you spend a little time speaking with people in artistic fields, you will quickly learn that it is Bloody Difficult. It’s extraordinarily hard to make a living, or part of a living, from art. It is really a rare few who are able to support themselves entirely from their art, and thus devote themselves to it completely. Most artists do one or several other jobs to support themselves, and then get the art in where they can.

Many people will now be thinking that this is the expectation, and you’re right that it is. The ‘starving artist’ is a cliche, and one that we tend to laugh at. There are endless jokes about waiters and actors. We seem to regard it as basically fine that if you want to be an artist, you will probably be poor and probably have to do other things to pay the rent. In the popular mind, it’s part of the gig, this despite our love of art noted above. (You would think, given our love of art, that we would cherish our artists and support them lavishly. Not how it seems to work out.)

We don’t do this with other professions, though. You don’t graduate from university with your MBA (remember that many artists have been to university and have one or several degrees in their field, and their craft) and then get told that the understanding is that you’ll work serving tables most of the time, squeezing in your business work between shifts and hoping to have an understanding boss, while you gain experience and hope to make your reputation. It isn’t expected that you will do a lot of it for free (for the exposure!) and put off making any money from your labour to some distant day. We don’t make jokes about the ‘starving biochemists’ just getting started in their field; absolutely, every trade has its ‘entry level’ and the expectation that you must work your way up, but not the expectation that you will do a whole other job to subsidize perhaps getting started in the work you want to do.

Artists do these things because they love their art. It is a great gift to create and (here I speak from experience) leaves one very sad to stop. They persist, as long as they do, in their craft because it is just that important to them, that they are willing to scramble around and find ways to Make It Work while still doing their art and expressing what is inside them. Of course, it brings them pleasure. It should bring them more than that.

The reason it is so difficult for people to make a living in art is, increasingly, that we don’t want to pay for it. We don’t want our tax money goes towards art (it is inevitably the first thing cut when a budget appears difficult to balance, and objections are usually minimal), and we are relentless in wanting to get our art for cheaper, and hopefully for free. Want a crowd? Lower ticket prices. Want someone to read your book? Put it up for free download on the internet. Both of those things will probably work, but leave unanswered the question of how these artists are supposed to support themselves in their craft.

Art does require work, constant work. Besides the actual creative process – whether that is learning a part, rehearsing your songs, or writing – you need time to practice and study your craft, to stay at a level where you can produce good work. You may need to do research, speak to other artists, and hopefully to your audience, too. Increasingly, you’ll need to spend some time promoting and marketing yourself as well. Of course you can do none of these things if the rent isn’t paid and there’s no food in the house, yet.

Many wonderful, creative people give up on their art because they just can’t afford to continue to support themselves in it; these are singers we will never hear and writers who we will never read. We love art, we want it to surround us and to consume it, but we’re reluctant at best to support the process by which that art reaches us.

Now there is, unquestionably, some level of market demand stuff going on and no, not everyone who likes to create is thereby instantly entitled to a living in the arts. As in any field there will be successes and failures, somewhat (although I suspect not as closely as we might think) tied to levels of skill and talent. So it goes, but I can’t help but feel that the pendulum has currently swung quite heavily against our creative people, in recent years. Our next great painter may be giving up on their craft because they need to work more hours to pay the bills. You may never hear your new favourite musician because they have no place to play and no way to be heard. Now, many people will say that if you give up, you just didn’t want it enough, but that’s the sort of thing that’s easy to say when one is not making that choice in the face of this month’s unpaid rent cheque.

Artists, ultimately, need to get paid. It isn’t being entitled to say, in our relentlessly capitalist society, that you should get at least a little compensation from the enjoyment something you created brings. Art does not need to be, and shouldn’t be, a road to instant riches. It shouldn’t, however, be one where the wolf is constantly at the door, either. The expectation that art should be free, especially a free download, is very common and seems to be growing. People seem increasingly to think that anyone expecting to earn anything at all, nevermind a living, from their art are fools and dreamers. If the government (any level) announces that it is spending money on art and culture, the accusations of waste are inevitable.

Meanwhile in Canada we live in a country that spent an immense amount of money on stealth snowmobiles (truly) and on advertising to remind us how grateful we should be for the things our government does (although that, I suppose, is a kind of art!) and yet the idea of spending to support artists in their work seems to gain little traction. Certainly there are different sizes of audience for different kinds of art and some kinds of artistic endeavour will not succeed. However, if we don’t support the creation of various kinds of art, how will people ever have a chance to discover it, and perhaps love it? Our forms of art are treasures, they are to me the very best of our cultures, and we owe it to future generations (as well as our own love of art) to keep them alive.

That only happens if we pay the artists. If you have art that you enjoy having in your life, support an artist if you can.

(I realize that this is all quite self-serving, given that I am a writer who has work for sale. I recognize my own self interest, here, but I also know that I love many kinds of art, am fortunate to know artists and to cherish them and their work, and so believe very strongly in supporting their work as I can.)

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On a less crotchety note, this past weekend we did the official launch of The King in Darkness at a wonderful event which also cracked bottles of champagne (not literally) over 3 other new titles from my publishers at Renaissance Press, and then one more from my friend S.M. Carrière. It was a lovely, energetic afternoon full of the love of writing and it certainly stoked the fires to Write More. Thank you to my new friend Kevin Johns for taking this picture of four scribblers at the end of a good, good day.

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And now, Can-Con approaches! There is still time to register, if you haven’t, and come to see an amazing array of panelists talk about all sorts of SFF-related topics, participate in a workshop, and meet other fans and creators of amazing fiction. I will be on three panels through the weekend and I’m quite excited to see what that will be like.

Renaissance Press will be selling the full line of their products (including mine!) in the vendor’s room, which is open to the public, so you can come in and buy some books without having to register, if that’s what you want to do, although it seems a shame. I will be at the Renaissance table at least some of the time, although I don’t yet know precisely when. I’ll update here, and on my Facebook page once I do. It should be another exciting weekend and I’d love to see you there if you can make it.

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