Wednesday, August 14, 2013

When Words Collide 2013

This past weekend was the third annual When Words Collide here in Calgary. It's sort of a reader con, or a literary festival of genre fiction, and it's a great opportunity for learning and networking for writers, readers, editors, and publishers. My schedule is full of notes and stars next to names - I have a lot of new-to-me authors to add to my to read list now...

It started on Friday at 1 pm, and I wasn't as early as I would have liked. There were three workshops that afternoon that required signing up ahead of time, and I wasn't there early enough to get in line. There's never been a lineup for the signup sheets before - I didn't realize how much bigger it was going to be this year!

I went to the Live Action Slush: Early Bird Edition, which is always fun. I learn so much about editing and what publishers are looking for from almost every live action slush I go to. I did have a writing submission in that pile too - and while it didn't get the  book offer I was hoping for, I did get some good feedback. :)

Next I sat through three mystery-oriented panels in a row - Have Gun Will Murder, Violence in Literature, and Pushing the Limits of Traditional Mystery. Have Gun was about western mystery genre, and the panelist posted a list of recommendations on her website. I didn't get a chance to chip in, but Hell on Wheels, Dead Reckoning by Mercedes Lackey, and The Apparition Trail by Lisa Smedman are all western-based fiction that I recommend. Violence in Literature was an interesting panel - there was discussion about whether violence in fiction is necessary, and the general consensus seems to be that some of some sort is necessary - the panellists were clear not to glorify it, and some introduce it off-screen rather then on, but there's violence in real life, and it's a good tool to use to move the story along. One of the panellists is a paramedic/former cop, and he had some good info about violence and how to write it realistically, and fielded questions about things like how long people tend to stay unconscious. Pushing the Limits talked a lot about the genre of 'cozy' mysteries and why they work and why, for some readers, they don't work. Apparently there's a new line of gluten-free cozies, which produced general hilarity. :)

Then I went to a YA-focused live action slush, and a live action editing panel, where we looked at handouts of things that make publishers reject stories and got some hands-on experience, which was pretty cool. Hopefully they'll do one like that again next year. Although one of the plots that they rejected reminded me a lot of a Monty Python animation I watched last night, and we all know how popular Monty Python ended up being...

The guests of honour (six of them who were paid to be there - EVERYone else volunteered) spent about an hour and a half each giving a short talk about their work in the industry and told stories and whatnot, and it was interesting as always. All of the guests this year were new to me, so it's a good chance to get a feel for the personalities, which helps when trying to choose between three panels later in the weekend. On Saturday, there were ELEVEN scheduled things every hour to choose from, which is hard! Then I popped into the EDGE party room until it go too crowded and noisy for this introvert, then I fled. :)

Saturday was jam-packed with all kinds of goodies. I was there from 9:30 in the morning until 10:30 at night, and I'm still trying to recover! If there's programming running, I want to be participating in it, so it can be rather exhausting. The first live action slush of the day was all about fantasy, and it had some good content - there were a lot of manuscripts that were really well received. A panel called Doom and Gloom and Dark Despair, Young Readers Love Them Everywhere was a bit disappointing. In hindsight, they really should have had the guest who's a child psychologist on that panel, which is what I was expecting. It was a discussion about the darkness of YA books these days, but the panel was really big and not super focused, so I left unenlightened. Making the Everyday Fantastic was a really good panel, with writers talking about how they take everyday places and things and make them fantastical, and I ended up buying Through the Door by Jodi McIsaac because of its setting in Halifax.

Each Generation's Sherlock Holmes was a fascinating look at Sherlock Holmes through his various incarnations on stage and in movies and tv shows. The two guys who led it, Charles Prepolec and Jeff Campbell, have co-edited a bunch of Sherlock Holmes anthologies and what the two of them don't know about the 'franchise' isn't worth knowing. Next year I'd love to see a panel discussing the influence that Sherlock Holmes has had on detective fiction as a genre, or something like that.

The Steampunk Art and Science Society did a couple of presentation on steampunk costuming (I'd give my eyeteeth for mad sewing skills!) and on Tesla vs Edison, which is always a fun topic. :) The panel on Canada as Our Exotic Home was quite good - lots of discussion about Canada as a place to set stories (will that turn off American readers?) and if there's something that defines Canadian fiction as a genre. There was a good mix of panelists, and I really enjoyed that one.

I went to another Sherlock Holmes panel called Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Bag of Tricks, which was really interesting, but the AC was running really loud, and I was too tired to focus, so I ended up sneaking out early. I wish I knew what all his tricks were, but I just couldn't sit still anymore! :P The last panel I was going to go to before dinner was about this software called Wattpad, and I thought it might be interesting, but after looking at the leaflet they were handing out, and not being anymore prepared to focus, I went and dozed in a big chair until Trevor came to have dinner with me. Dinner and a walk gave me a second wind for a busy evening, thankfully.

Editor for Hire was a great panel that basically convinced the burgeoning writers in the room that they need to hire an editor of some sort to look over their manuscripts before submitting them to publishers, which was just what I wanted to hear, that being my developing speciality. :) Make Your Mark Online turned out to be not really for me, although I did pick up a few ideas about some Wordpress plugins to check out. I don't have a need for a blog or a newsletter promoting my editorial business, so it mostly just wasn't relevant to where I'm at right now.

Then I went upstairs to the Steampunk Arts and Sciences party room, and chatted with a few people about their costumes, and tried some Absinthe (an acquired taste, but interesting...) and then fled again when it got too crowded. The party rooms at this new venue are smaller then I remember the ones at last year's hotel being, so it didn't take many people to make me feel claustrophobic.

By Sunday my attention span was even shorter - Pantser, Plotter, or Quilter was a good panel that caught my attention for supporting the Oxford comma, and turned out to be an interesting mix of people and had some good discussion about writing styles. The Live Action Slush: Mystery Edition turned out to be a bit of a disappointment because there weren't very many submissions, but I guess a lot of people didn't know that would be an option, so hopefully there are more next year, and I kind of wish I'd just gone to Getting Past the Middle Doldrums in Novel Writing.

Writers Tools in the Digital Age was a fascinating look at the availability of software tools to help the world-building author. I'm not a world builder myself, but it was incredibly interesting. I wanted to ask about editing tools, but the panel went too long for many questions. Mystery, Science Fiction, and Fantasy was a panel with three authors, each of whom write in one of those genres. I went to it mostly because I'm a big fan of Robert J. Sawyer, but it was a really interesting discussion and good combination of panelists. Here's a blog by Barbara Fradkin, the mystery guest of honour, who was on that panel.

I went to the EDGE book launch up in on of the party rooms, where they had readings from some of the new books EDGE has recently published. Shanghai Steam is a Chinese steampunk anthology that sounds really good, but again the claustrophobic feeling had me getting out of there before it was over, so I kind of wish I'd gone to The Role of Beautiful Language. I went to the Live Action Slush: Romance Edition, but it was over really early, so I also went to the last half of Historical Whodunits, which had good panelists who didn't seem to be the right fit for that topic. And the very last panel of the weekend was The Publisher's Panel, which was a good discussion between a bunch of publishers about the market, trends, things they're looking for, and developments in the industry, which was a good way to end the weekend.

Last year I stayed for the wrap-up party, but I was so tired I just came home. I'm actually still quite tired - I started getting ready for bed at 8:30 last night! But it's one of my favourite weekends of the year, and I'm SUPER excited for next year - Diana Gabaldon, one of my all-time favourite authors is coming. She's an experienced con guest, and really good at giving writing advice, so I know she'll be excellent. Sometimes I think I learn more in a weekend at WWC then I do in a whole semester of school...too bad they don't issue BAs! :)

The team of volunteers that puts this conference on does a fantastic job, and I'm very thankful to have the opportunity to attend, and to have the rare opportunity to go to a conference where I'm not volunteering in one capacity or another. It's definitely worth every penny of the very low registration fee, and I highly recommend it!

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