Tag Archives: Word on the Street

Word on the Street 2017

I’m late writing this and I don’t expect it’s going to be a really long one, either: I had a busy weekend and then right back into teaching Monday. However, it was a good kind of busy, because for the second year I was at the Word on the Street literary festival in Toronto.

Word on the Street is a really cool open air literary festival that mixes big name writers with the lesser lights like myself, which gives it a very cool mix of attendees and makes it a great opportunity for both writers and readers to broaden their horizons some.

This year it was also roughly a thousand degrees. In Ontario we’ve (somewhat perversely) been getting our hottest weather of the summer and in Toronto it was a scorcher. Even being down by the lake didn’t really help. It was just really, really hot.

Thinking about it now I’m super impressed at the number of people who still came out to walk around and look at books. Thank you to everyone who visited the Renaissance Press booth and visited some slightly heat-delirious writers.

Also thinking about it now, although for most of the day I sort of gave in to the heat and just sat in the tent and baked, the best part of the afternoon was when I made myself get up and go walk around myself. I said hi to the folks at ChiZine, bumped into a couple of other friends, among which the force of nature Jay Odjick. I sucked up some of the generally excited, enthusiastic energy of people and came back to the Renaissance booth feeling way better.

There’s a little mini-lesson in that which I need to try to remember: sometimes it’s better, even when you don’t feel like it, to get up and do something, anything, rather than just sit there and suffer. Sometimes it feels a lot better to be taking some kind of action.

A couple people asked how the new book is going and expressed some interest in seeing it when it’s done, so that gets me (hopefully) re-energized to bust through on the rewrites and get the first pass of the MS done. So that would be another nice bonus from Word on the Street.

That’s what I’ve got for you this week; I’ll try to have something a little more substantial next Tuesday.

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Word on the Street is over but Can*Con approaches! Can*Con is the SFF writers and readers con that I help organize in Ottawa. It runs from October 13 to 15 and if I do say so myself I think we have an amazing lineup of guests and really exciting programming for you this year. There’s still time to get registered and have a great weekend of the fiction you love; details and registration here.

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Word on the Street

This past Sunday was Word on the Street in Toronto, and I was there for the first time as an author, and for the first time at all in a very long while. The last time I went, the festival still took place on Queen Street, turning a segment of a major downtown road into a literary pedestrian mall. At the time, I also thought I wanted to be a journalist and that if I was going to write fiction, it would be cyberpunk. A lot has changed.

I don’t know all the circumstances (or, as one friend who visited me discovered, really any of the circumstances) that led to Word on the Street moving not once but (at least) twice, but to me the new location (sort of new – this was the second year on the site) at Harbourfront is pretty great. There’s lots of interesting spaces to wander around while meeting authors and sampling books from publishers large and small, and plenty of book-related events went on throughout the day. If it was a little brisk in the shade with the wind off the lake, it seemed a lovely day to walk in the sunshine and immerse oneself in books.

We were busy at the Renaissance Press table through much of the day, and it was great fun (as it always is) to have people come up and talk about our books and their own writing and things we both like to read. Some people took my book home with them and that is always a wonderful feeling. Some people picked it up, read the back, and put it back down again – I haven’t quite immunized myself to the little pang of rejection when they decide my story isn’t for them, or the desire to ask ‘WHY DON’T YOU LOVE IT’ like a crazy person. Of course that’s unfair, but I guess it shows something of how much of ourselves we pour into our creations, as artists. The King in Darkness, whatever strengths and flaws it has as a story, does have a little fragment of my soul in there. I doubt that having created it will keep me alive for all eternity, and there’s a little bit of vulnerability in putting yourself out before the public eye in such a way, but I don’t know another way to write. I imagine a lot of artists feel the same.

That got heavy.

In all seriousness it was a great day of meeting new people and seeing some old friends and playing the part of a Writer for a little while again, that I wrote about after Can*Con. So that was good. In some ways though that wasn’t the best part. Also that weekend, I ran into Hayden Trenholm from Bundoran Press on our way down to the big city, and we had as nice a chat as it is possible to have in a 401 rest stop. Maaja Wentz stopped by the booth to say hello. Peter Halasz of the Sunburst Awards and font of SFF knowledge came by and very nearly stole my sandwich. All of these people, and (to my great wonderment) an increasing number of others are genuinely interested in my writing (well, writing in general) and encouraging and supportive about the whole process of creation and dissemination of the written word. It is wonderful to be gradually becoming part of a network of amazingly talented individuals who really get why I feel like I have to write, want other writers to do well, and to help if they can. I hope I’m able to give a little of that back, and very glad to have these chances to be surrounded by these very supportive people.

Even if they do have designs on my sandwich.

Anyway, that’s not a feeling I had really had before this Word on the Street, so for that reason alone I’m very glad I made the trip down. If I can, I’ll be back next year, possibly more warmly dressed.

Thanks for reading.

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Driving with the top down

As I’m continuing to write the new WIP, at the moment I’m having a great deal of fun. In part this because I’m mostly at the stage of the project where I think it is A Fantastic Idea and Statler and Waldorf haven’t weighed in too much yet, partly it’s been because I’ve had wonderfully encouraging feedback from its very limited audience so far, but in large part there is another reason. Some characters are just fun to take out for a spin.

If you read the blog regularly (first of all: my sympathies), this is still the project with Easter Pinkerton, Victorian-era spy as its protagonist. I’m greatly enjoying writing Easter at the moment because she’s very unlike the lead character of King in Darkness and Bonhomme Sept-Heures, and the other project that got stuck in the mud summer before last. In all of those cases my lead tends to be thoughtful, arguably intellectual, but certainly not hard cases or much good at physical confrontation.

Easter is clever, I hope, but she’s also dangerous and that’s a very fun change for me. Easter responds very differently to crisis and to her enemies and it is (I imagine) like driving a different kind of car for a while, one that handles differently and has more power and acceleration. It’s not necessarily better (I am still very fond of Adam Godwinson) but the different experience is exciting.

This is one of the joys of writing, of course. One of the cliches about being an author is that you get to live a great many lives, vicariously, through your characters. I’m not sure I entirely agree with that, but you certainly get to play with a lot of different bits and pieces of the range of human experience without, you know, actually having to do them. You can write someone who is not the least bit afraid of perilous situations and get at least a sense of what that might be like, as one who generally tends to run for cover. You can create a character who speaks their mind no matter the consequences, and sort of know what that is like, even if you really tend to be shy. Of course it’s all pretend, and all you really know is what you imagine those things to be like, but these are still rewarding explorations to go on, and one of the pleasures of being a writer.

Some characters are just fun to write, as well, and I hope that Easter will continue to be one of those. I guess by this I mean their personalities are such that its entertaining to think of what they might say or do next and fun to put it down on the page. Another character from King in Darkness, Dr. Todd Marchale, turned out to be a great joy to write because he’s such a sarcastic grump and coming up with his next grumble never fails to amuse. Fortunately readers seem to have liked him too. I’m enjoying writing Easter in a somewhat similar way, too – hopefully in time her audience will like her just as much.

It is one of the great pleasures of indulging ones imagination and writing to take the time to come up with all the bits and pieces of background for characters that we like and craft every facet of their personality. At least for me, a great many of those details will never make it into the story – I think I’ve said before that I don’t particularly like it when stories bury me in reams of backstory, most of which has no real impact on the tale at hand – but still come up with them. I was delighted to discover that George Miller, the creator of the Mad Max franchise, has detailed backgrounds for just about every character that appeared in Fury Road, even though you don’t get even a hint of most of them. It sounds very familiar.

There are times when characters are not fun to write, of course. I talked about this a bit in the process of writing Bonhomme Sept-Heures – some characters are genuinely unpleasant to ‘be around’ and so the task of writing them down is (for me, anyway) also unpleasant. In a narrative sense it needs to be done, because I need that character and the story requires them to be a certain way, but that doesn’t mean I have to like doing it.

I suppose it’s a tiny tiny downside to writing fiction with some darker elements to it; from time to time I have to slither around in dark parts of the human psyche to create the made-up people I need to give the story the villains to go with the heroes. The temptation is to do it quickly and get it over with, but I have always thought that a good villain needs depth just as much as a hero does (perhaps more, because we’re more likely to ‘naturally’ grasp the hero’s motivation) and so it’s not an experience I can rush through.

I guess I hope I do justice to all my imaginary people, in the end. It isn’t their fault if the story requires them to be awful and I hope I treat them with somewhat the same care as I do the character who are fun to create. It’s also a kind of comfort that I know they aren’t real and are safely in my imagination where they can’t really do any lasting harm.

Now I think I’m going to go see what Easter wants to do for a while.

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It’s just a few days until Word on the Street in Toronto! If you don’t know, Word on the Street is a fabulous open-air literary festival and this year, Renaissance Press will be there for the first time. I’m very excited to be able to make the trip down and to hang out at the Renaissance table all day; we’ll be in the Fringe Beat section if you’re looking for us on your map. If you’re in the area I don’t think there’s any way you’ll be disappointed if you come down, soak up all the wonderful reader-y and writer-y stuff going on, and pick up some awesome stuff to read. I’d love it if you came and said hi at the table.

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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.

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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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