Sunday, August 23, 2015

When Words Collide 2015

So apparently I haven't blogged since early January, which is sort of shocking. But when you consider in that time I've graduated from university with a double major, successfully orchestrated a conference, turned CAFE's (the Calgary Association of Freelance Editors) social media into a vibrant internet presence, gotten a summer job, and done a million other things as well, it's not that surprising that SOMEthing had to give, and this blog was it.

Photo by Teresa Rehmann Photography

But now that school is over (for now...), the youth conference is in the past (although I still have a lot of paperwork to sort out), and this past weekend was the fifth annual WWC (When Words Collide) conference here in Calgary, it's time to blog again. I've been going every year since it started, and it's grown to 600 people, which makes me both happy and sad. Happy that it's so popular and such a quality event, but sad that there are so many people! It's an introvert thing. :)

WWC is five this year, and my business is almost there! In my first blog post about the conference, I mention working on starting up my business. How far we've come! In 2012, the second year, I was ambitious enough to do a post each for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. 2013 was a good year, and in 2014 I was sick, but still got a lot out of it.

Registration felt more scattered than it usually does. Something had gone wrong with my registration, and I wasn't on the list, even though I'm on the list of members on the website. So I had to fill out some paperwork and they had to make me a name tag, and I kept getting lost in the shuffle because I'm too polite to be pushy. Sigh. #Canadianproblems

My traditional first panel at WWC is the Early Bird Live Action Slush, which is a mixture of genres. I always pick up lots of interesting tips from the panellists. Basically what happens is that writers submit, anonymously, the first page of their manuscript, and a reader reads the page. The panellists put up their hands when they want the reader to stop, and when there are three hands up, the reader stops and the panellists give their feedback about what they liked or didn't. Occasionally the reader will get through the entire submission without being stopped, which is actually happening more frequently as the years go by, so clearly the writers are becoming more practiced at their craft, which is really cool to see.

As our second panel we went to Subtext in Foreshadowing, which was interesting, but even though we were there early, there weren't any seats left, so we had to sit on the floor. I've gotten too old to sit on the floor, and my bum went numb. I managed to make a few notes, though. :) Our third panel was in the same room, so we managed to snag chairs, which helped! The panel was called Crafting Magical Worlds with Extra Credits' Mario Theory. The idea is that the game design logic applied to creating Mario can be applied to creating fantasy worlds in fiction. Really interesting, and based on this video:

At 4pm on Friday there were a few things that were interesting, but I ended up going to a workshop by ZEDS Comic Communication about public speaking and using a microphone. I was moderating a panel on Saturday, and what with applying to grad school and probably needing to teach in the future, public speaking is something I'm becoming more interested in learning about. The session was really good, super useful, and had some tips I did successfully apply to the panel the next day.

Next up we went to a panel on research, which was good - I love research, so I enjoy hearing about it from people who geek out about it as much as I do. At 6pm was the event I'd been waiting for all day - an hour with Diana Gabaldon. Although, really, it was only 50 minutes, and only a fan would be counting. :) She read an excerpt from Outlander book 9, which she's currently writing, and took some questions. So awesome.

Friday evening at 7pm is always the WWC keynote speaker addresses, which I enjoy. I knew Diana would be great, but I didn't know any of the other authors. I was totally taken by Faith Hunter and Brandon Mull. She looks a little scary/intense in her author photo, and I'd seen one of Brandon's book covers, which looked really dark, and it hadn't done anything for me. But the were both so funny and enjoyable, and such great speakers, that's I'll definitely be checking out Brandon's books. I got started on Brandon Sanderson's books that way last year, and I haven't regretted it. I'd check out Faith's, too, but I just can't do urban fantasy. But as Gwen Hunter she writes mysteries, so I'll add those to my list.

Our first panel of the day was actually a panel of one: Brandon Mull. And we were late, because we'd gotten there early to do some book shopping in the vendors' room, and then got talking to people. We got there just as he was talking about this race he'd invented who had a seed in each of their brain stems that allowed them to re-grow after they died, so they were basically immortal. Apparently that really made an impression on me, because that night I dreamed about a whalers hunting whales for their brain seeds, like rhinos are hunted for their horns, or something. It was a very vivid dream - he's a very articulate and creative speaker. He was inspired as a child by Narnia, and as an adult by Harry Potter. I REALLY LIKE HIM.

At 11am my friend went to eco-fiction, which looked interesting, but I really wanted to go to the Editing Tricks panel to get a feel for what writers were asking about editing as research for my CAFE panel later in the afternoon. One of the panellists brought up CAFE, which was really great. But again I had to sit on the floor, so it was hard to see who said it. But it was interesting to sit in as an editor, and I appreciated it. At noon there were a whole bunch of interesting things, but we ended up going to YA and the Tough Stuff, which was interesting, but maybe not very enlightening. I'd love to see some actual young adults on these panels, rather than just 30+ adults who write what they think they YA audience wants/needs. Sigh. I've been frustrated with the YA panels for a couple of years now, so next year I might just skip them.

At 1 we couldn't actually find anything we wanted to go to, so we took a nice, quiet lunch break in one of the seating areas. We were actually having a really intense conversation about YA books and how they portray families when one of the panellists came and sat near us, so my friend asked her about it, and we had a good conversation. That's one of my favourite things about WWC - the unscripted, unplanned things that just happen.

Our next panel was On Writing with Gwen Hunter and David B. Coe, which was really good. I really wish I'd taken notes, but I was distracted by the fact that Diana Gabaldon was sitting at the other end of the row, and the fact that I was getting nervous about moderating my first panel in an hour! They are each good conference guests on their own, but when you put them together, it's magic. I'm really kicking myself for not paying more attention.

At 3pm I was in charge of moderating the Editing Explained panel, and four of my fellow CAFE members. By the time I got there I wasn't nervous anymore, and I think it went REALLY well. It was a lot of fun, and the panellists were great, and so was the audience. There were TWO other editing-related panels at the same time, which was really too bad - it would have been nice to have more people there. Immediately after we hosted writer/editor "speed dating", which was a chance for writers to talk one-on-one for a few minutes, and I met a bunch of interesting people who are excited about writing, which was fun. While I was doing that my friend went to Your 20 Second Opportunity, about honing your elevator pitch, and she said it was really good.

WWC was at a new venue this year. The bathrooms were REALLY nice, and the chairs were the comfiest hotel conference chairs I've ever sat in. There were also lots of seating areas with armchairs and couches. The dash back and forth across the street between buildings, or else up three or four floors, across the walkway, and then down three floors, was a bit much, but at least I got my exercise and it was nice to be forced to get some fresh air. The hotel staff were really friendly, but the service in the Atrium for dinner was SO. SLOW. It took us three hours to have dinner on Saturday, and while the fish was good, the chips were bland, and the dessert was really disappointing. Oh, and it was freezing in the restaurant. They gave us the dessert for free because of the slowness of dinner in arriving, but I wasn't impressed by the gesture or the lacklustre dessert. The conference also keeps moving further away from where I live, meaning that I don't stay as late, which is kind of saddening. But it could also just be that I'm getting old...

We started off Sunday morning going to the historical live action slush panel, which was one of the best slushes I've ever been to. Diana Gabaldon was one of the panellists, and the other three were all good, too. There were lots of great submissions and lots of great feedback. And so much laughter and humour - I really enjoyed it.

At 11am we went to "Science Fiction and the Future", which was interesting, but it was SO HOT in the room, and we were near the middle of a row. There was a guy sitting next to me who really suffered from 'manspreading' to the point where he actually stepped on my foot once. He also elbowed me and crowded me with his shoulders to the point where I was either going to have to leave or have a panic attack. Thankfully the panel ended before I had a total meltdown, and we were able to move to the end of the row for the next panel. It was still hot but at least I wasn't putting up with unwanted physical contact. Even if they'd spaced the chairs a bit further apart, it would have been better. Anyway, the noon panel was on historical license, and it was phenomenal. Great mix of panellists and discussion, and so interesting. I love historical fiction, and so wish I'd taken more notes. Note to self for next year: take more notes!

After that panel my friend left to head home, and I went to 'Murder - Ancient and Contemporary", but I was tired and hungry, and it was going over a lot of the same ground as the panel I'd just been at, so I snuck out and went to eat my lunch. At 2pm was one of my favourites; pus on by a woman who used to work for Scholastic and who now works for Chapters, it's 50 minutes of suggestions about which YA books to check out. Not that I really need to add anything to my reading list - but it's fun. And this year there was a teenage girl who came and made suggestions too, to that was awesome.

At 3pm there were a couple of things I wanted to go to, but I ended up going to the YA live action slush, mostly because Brandon Mull was on the panel. :) There was a wide range of submissions, and some interesting discussion and it was a good choice for where my attention span was at by that point in the weekend.

4pm was the last hour of panels, and there were a bunch of interesting-looking things. I went to the EDGE book launch, but just couldn't focus any more, so I ended up heading home before the conference even finished. I spent Monday seriously introverting. :)

Things for the future:
Next year I'd love to see a presentation about Scrivener. I've heard the name in passing a few times, and I'm under the impression that it's a piece of software that you buy to help structure your book, but I'd like to see someone with a computer and a projector actually showing us what it is and what it can do. I'd also like to see more sessions for readers - I feel like this year was pretty writer-focused, but writers are readers too (or should be), and it would be fun to see some panels on things like what readers think about their favourite books being made into movies or tv shows, and a discussion of how some things HAVE to be changed for the screen (maybe bring in a screenwriter?). Another fun discussion would be classic authors' influence in modern works, like Shakespeare's Star Wars, or the series of cozy mysteries about a Jane Austen scholar. Or even a panel of authors talking about what they like to read for fun, and which authors inspired them when they were kids.

As always, the WWC committee put on a great, affordable, and accessible weekend of learning and networking. I'm already looking forward to next year, and the dates are in my calendar!

Monday, January 05, 2015

Top Movies of 2014

2014 wasn't really a great year for movies, until December came along with more movies than I had time to see!

When I did my 2013 movie post, there were a few I was still hoping to watch; Saving Mr. Banks, August: Osage County, the new Jack Ryan one, Philomena, Frozen, Austenland, Lone Ranger, and Pacific Rim. I did see Saving Mr. Banks (which was very good), Jack Ryan (which was good, but had a lot of unfulfilled potential), and Austenland (which was silly and good for a bit of a giggle - the second book in the series was actually better anyway). For some reason I just don't get around to watching things on DVD - it's not as much of an event as going to the theatre, I suppose.

This year I only managed to get to 10 movies in-theater, and a special mention goes to Belle, which came out in 2013, but I didn't get to see it until 2014. It's a beautiful movie - very British, with a fabulous cast and a moving story.

Another special mention goes to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, which I didn't get to see in 2014, but which I liked more than book. I'm really looking forward to Part 2!

My least favourite movie of 2014 was one I thankfully took out of the library rather than paying to see it in the theatre - A Million Ways to Die in the West, despite its star-studded cast, is terrifically terrible. Crude, gross, and full of plot holes, it was a total train wreck. If anyone asks you to watch it with them, run away run away!

So, for the 9 movies I did see in theatre in their proper release year:

9. How to Train Your Dragon 2
This deserves its spot at the bottom of the list. I felt totally and utterly betrayed by this movie. It's up (or down?) there with Bambi and The Lion King, but the betrayal was compounded by how much I was enjoying the whimsy of the animation and the excitement of a family reunited. At least in The Lion King the dad died right away so you didn't have time to get attached...this was a TERRIBLE movie.

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I really enjoyed this for the most part - it was fun and whimsical. I just couldn't get over how little the adult Zero looked like the adolescent Zero. It's probably the kind of movie you have to be in just the right sense of humor to enjoy, so I cautiously recommend it - but only if you enjoy absurdity and farce.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy
GotG is a fun movie - lots of laughs. I've seen it twice now, and while I do like it, I don't see what all the fuss is about. The character development is really weak, and I had to see it the second time to really figure out the politics of the thing. The soundtrack is great though!

6. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
I was a wee bit disappointed with this last Hobbit movie - I shouldn't have been surprised that with a title like Battle of the Five Armies it was basically one giant battle scene, but I was. I don't enjoy battles, so I felt a bit numb from all the senseless killing by the time the movie was done, although I did have the urge to throttle Thorin myself. Bard and Bilbo get the best bits of the movie, and I enjoyed them. I was SUPER disappointed by the way Tauriel's character ended up - if you're going to totally create a new character - a woman who's supposed to kick butt - HAVE HER KICK SOME BUTT, not sit there in tears while someone else does all the work. Argh. In the end, I do wish Jackson had done it in just two movies, rather than three. The third one is lacking the charm of the first two, although I realize all of the deaths that shook me were written in by Tolkien. Sigh.

5. X-Men: Days of Future Past
This movie confused me, and I think it's because I'm not familiar with the abilities of a lot of the secondary characters who were popped in rather than developed. I really enjoyed having all of the actors in the one movie, although the level of violence, particularly that which Magneto inflicted on Mystique, and that which was inflicted on Wolverine (although it was nothing new for him, I suppose) left me a bit cold. There were some really fun scenes and interactions, but First Class remains my favourite of the X-Men reboot.

4. The Monuments Men
This is really charming, underrated, gentler kind of war movie that inspired my history research paper for the semester. It only brushes the surface of the work the real Monuments Men did, but it tells a super important story, and I highly recommend it.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This is a great movie. So, so good. I love the friendship of equals, without any sexual tension, that Steve and Natasha develop. It's my favourite friendship in the Avengers universe, I think. It's just a really good, solid, entertaining movie about relationships and saving the world.

2. Penguins of Madagascar
I LOVE THIS MOVIE. It was everything I hoped for from the penguins, and I ADORED every second of it. I laughed, I cried. It's lovely, silly, and is also about friendship. It's a gem in a violent movie world. It was going to be my top movie of 2014, until I saw The Imitation Game...

1. The Imitation Game
This movie blew my socks off. I was going to get around to seeing it at some point, mostly for the cast...and then I scored free passes to a special screening, so that bumped it up the priority list. It's a brilliant movie. Well-acted, historically accurate, and so, so funny. Even knowing how tragically Alan Turing's story ended, it was still funny. After the screening I listened to the movie's PR person asking people what they thought of the movie, and so many people said they'd never heard of Enigma and Bletchley and Turing, which made me sad, but I'm very glad that the movie, like The Monuments Men, is shedding light on a little-known and important historical event. The Military Museums here in Calgary actually has an Enigma machine in their collection, which is awesome. I definitely recommend it. I know a bunch of people who've seen it, and I've only heard good things about it. If you only watch one movie this year, make it The Imitation Game.

Tomorrow I'm going to see Into the Woods - when I was a kid, I loved the Broadway version with Bernadette Peters as the witch, so I'm looking forward to it. And I still want to see Night at the Museum 3 - the first two highly entertained me, and this one's set in my beloved London - so seeing it before I get sucked into the new semester of school is a priority. Paddington and Kingsman both look excellent - I have passes to a screening of Kingsman later this week. I also want to see The Judge, which came out at a very inconvenient point in the school year!

In 2015 I'm looking forward to the new Star Wars, the final instalment of The Hunger Games, Tomorrowland, the new Avengers, and Mortdecai, although I'm sure there will be others as well...I really do enjoy movies - can you tell? :) Maybe in addition to the degrees in English and history I should go for one in film studies as well! :P