Can*Con 2018 After Action Report

This isn’t so much a detailed account of last week’s Can*Con, but more a meditation on resetting yourself mentally and physically, as a creative person.

Most people wouldn’t know this (which was deliberate on my part) but I was dealing with some heavy family stuff a week before Can*Con. Once everything around that was sorted, I jetted back to Ottawa to play catch-up on teaching work and the hundred or so little things that needed to be done before the con opened – like preparing to interview a GoH, and for my other panels, and worrying about details because obviously I want the weekend to go off as smoothly as possible, so everyone has a good time. Since Evan May and I took an even larger role on Programming this year, there was an extra level of concern about panels being well-received, etc, and somehow one-upping the excellent programming our team put together last year.

The weird thing, though, was the calm that settled over me during Can*Con. The event didn’t run perfectly (obviously – no event does) but whenever something came up that needed to be dealt with, it was a simple matter to give direction to one of our volunteers or accept that it was something out of my hands (like a presenter not showing up, for example). A large part of that is knowing we had a team put together to deal with anything that might happen – our co-chairs were on top of certain things, Evan and I could handle certain things, and our volunteers dealt with everything else. A friend of mine even commented on how much calmer I seemed compared to 2017, and for a moment I was worried that maybe I was too calm. But no – I was too frenetic in the past, and this year I reached my equilibrium.

(Which was helped by the fact that Can*Con 2018 was fucking awesome. Our GoHs were a blast, my panels were a lot of fun, and I got to chat and geek out with a ton of colleagues and old friends who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like. I could go on and on, but like I said, that’s not really the point of this post.)

That said, I crashed pretty hard after Can*Con, and have been fighting off con crud since Tuesday. And obviously I couldn’t take any time off to properly relax, since I sort of teach and stuff. If I’m honest, the important thing this week was less playing catch-up on teaching work, and more wrapping my head around what’s next for me as a writer – every Can*Con results in new projects, and holy shit is there some super-secret levelling up going on in my career right now (*cough* vaguebooking *cough*). I mean, part of attending cons (and helping organize one) is to advance my career, but you don’t actually expect anything to happen, if you’re realistic. So when it does, you need to recalibrate, and try not to freak out.

Which explains why the other night, when I sat down at my laptop to finally get some writing done after three weeks of not, I froze. And then I wrote a couple lines over and over, hating every try, until I gave up and went to bed. Which almost never happens to me. Maybe it was fatigue, maybe I’d spent too long away from my writing and needed to get back to it slowly. Or maybe I freaked myself out a bit.

The worst thing to do in that moment, I think, is to force it. So I spent Saturday doing some more teacher catch-up, which helped my brain relax a bit more because I don’t like to be behind. Then I played some Pillars of Eternity, continued my rewatch of The Good Wife, made a solid dinner, puttered about my apartment, and listened to music. And let myself really relax, which I realized I hadn’t done since Can*Con, despite being sick.

And then this morning I went to my local to write with a couple friends, as per usual. We chatted a bit about things related to my maybe freaking out, and then we all got to work. I spent the time revising a comic script I’m working on for an anthology, while I blasted Eagles through my headphones, and sent it off for critique. And for whatever reason, that seemed to fix my headspace. I don’t know if it was relaxing yesterday that did it, or just getting back into the routine of my usual Sunday writing, but I imagine it’s a combination of letting my brain and body reset. I push myself a little too hard sometimes, and so I’m learning to pay closer attention when either brain or body telling me, Slow the hells down, dude.

Events like Can*Con are huge when they go well, offering a healthy dose of creative energy by being surrounded and inspired by your peeps. But it’s easy to get spun around by the sheer awesomeness of it all, too, and forget to decompress.  We joke that getting back to the grind after a con sucks, but I think we need the grind to keep us level.

Or maybe I’m still spinning and none of this blog post makes any sense. Either way, I wrote some things today and my con crud is almost gone, and I’m not scrambling to get work done for tomorrow’s classes. So let’s call this an extended win from Can*Con 2018, and go relax a little more 🙂

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Less Than Two Weeks Until Can*Con!!!

It’s somehow always hard to believe, but Can*Con is once again almost upon us!

Helping to plan this event is always a blast – even the finicky scheduling that keeps me up at night sometimes. Even the days it stresses me out are fine because I’m lucky in who I get to work with: my fellow programmers Evan May, Cortni Fernandez and Lisa Toohey, co-chairs Derek Kunsken and Marie Bilodeau, and everyone else involved in what is essentially a year-long planning process. And in my totally unbiased opinion, the guests and programming this year look amazing, and I can’t wait to spend the weekend hanging out with my fellow creatives.

Below is my official schedule for Can*Con (though I’ll be around the entire weekend). I’ll be mostly MIA on social media between now and then, but expect a ton of activity from me throughout the con. Looking forward to seeing you then!

Saturday, October 13

11 am: Black Gate Magazine Interviews Author GoH Kevin Hearne – Black Gate columnist and programming director Brandon Crilly sits down for a candid interview with award-winning author Kevin Hearne, discussing his career, his influences, and his perspective on SFF.

1 pm: I’m Sick to Death of Grim and Dark – In his book Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker argues that despite popular news headlines, human progress is still happening. Though grimdark is still popular in speculative fiction, more authors are capturing and fostering hope in their work. Authors discuss how they focus on hope in their storytelling, who inspires hope in them, and what we still need more of in SFF. Lex BeckettBrandon CrillyTanya HuffJean-Louis TrudelKelly Robson (Moderator)

4 pm: In Conversation with Jay Odjick – Join programming director Brandon Crilly for a candid conversation with returning special guest Jay Odjick, creator of the graphic novel Kagagi: The Raven and subsequent TV show on APTN, author and artist of the forthcoming The Outsider, and illustrator of bestselling children’s book Blackflies from Scholastic Canada.

Sunday, October 14

1 pm: Interested in Being on Programming Next Year? – Programming directors Evan May and Brandon Crilly will be on hand in the dealer’s room to discuss Can*Con 2019. If you’re interested in being a panelist, come by and introduce yourself!

 

“So How Did You Spend Your Summer?”

It dawned on me sometime in the past week that I haven’t been present for the first day of school in a traditional high school in three years. Last year I taught in an alternate program for two months before getting my permanent contract at my current school, and the year before that I didn’t start work until I picked up a position mid-September. Starting back as a permanent teacher for the first time is strange enough after six years in this profession, but having to rethink the beginning of a new year is another animal on top of that.

And good gods is it tiring.

I’m not complaining, though! I’m lucky to be teaching full-time on a permanent contract, so I’ll take the fatigue and sore throat and long hours gladly if it means I can throw away the anxiety of being a temp (which we call “LTO”). Plus I get to rejoin a department I’ve really come to enjoy working with, since we’re all a little odd and dysfunctional. Working with “normal” people is boring.

But odd and dysfunctional as my colleagues and I are, discussing what we got up to over the summer threw me a little. Everyone else talks about day trips with kids, catching up on house renovations or books they wanted to read or whatnot, or extended vacations to somewhere exotic. And when they ask me I can compare with attending Readercon in Boston and then Toronto Fan Expo at the end of August, and relaxing after teaching summer school – but then I throw in, “Oh, and I finished my latest novel and sent that off” and people’s jaws drop. My gut response is always, “hold your praise for when the book sells” or something like that, and I can tell they don’t understand that attitude, because good gods, man, you wrote a book!

I get it, though; to a lot of people, finishing a novel is a big deal because they don’t think they could ever do it. From my perspective, I’m prouder of writing a novel I think is good enough to find an agent and publisher, and one that taught me things I can apply to my next project (incidentally, a comic script and a new short story). When a friend of mine at work said he and his band worked out a bunch of new songs over the summer, that impressed me. When someone introduces themselves as a microbiologist or a policy analyst for the Canadian government, I’m genuinely intrigued because I know can’t do either of those things. So maybe my colleagues wowing over me finishing a novel shouldn’t surprise me.

All of this is to say that it’s a transition to get back to the “real world,” so to speak, where most of the people I see in the week aren’t fellow creators. I have to get used to being more careful with my evenings and weekends, to make sure that a) I set aside time for writing and b) I don’t try to push myself to get too much done, to avoid cognitive burnout. I have to remember that sooner or later my new students are going to realize their teacher has a social media presence, so I should curse a little less here and on fucking Twitter. (Oops.) And no, none of this is a complaint, since I’m lucky to have a job I enjoy that gives me the stability to spend my free time writing. This is just yet another honest ramble about the real life of being a writer.

Because like I said above: good gods, it can be tiring 🙂

Feed the Bird

I almost called this post “feed the snake” – I’m not even sure why that’s the first thing that came to mind, but some neo-Freudian could probably explain it to me in ways I won’t even hint at here, since I have students who read this blog (why, poor children, oh why).

“Feed the bird,” however, I picked up from Castle, and it’s basically equivalent to a fist bump. Nathan Fillion adopted it specifically because it isn’t a fist bump, the reasons for which are pretty cool. I like to use it to celebrate when someone says or does something really extraordinary, like if a friend tells me, “Guess what, I sold a story to [insert big market here]”  and I want to give them props.

This weekend, I’m engaging in a little self-feeding of the bird (okay, that also sounds bad) because I’ve been reminded more and more lately that constantly working on projects and jumping right from one thing to the next can be really dangerous. Why am I indulging in giving myself props? Because I spent most of the last month and a half revising my novel WIP Three Coins of Silver, and as of yesterday morning, that fucker is DONE. Or at least done to the point that I’m confident sending it out to agents and publishers and seeing what happens.

Anyone writers reading this know that finishing any novel draft is pretty huge, mainly in that a novel takes a lot of mental energy. Three Coins has taken the better part of a year and a half to finish, balanced with other projects. For someone who’s a bit of a workaholic like me, the immediate temptation is to dive into the next project almost right away (once I decide what that will be).

But it’s way more important to take a breath, as I’m being reminded of more and more on social media and in conversations with my friends in the industry. So yesterday afternoon I took a couple hours and finished reading Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky (which is amazing, by the way) puttered a bit and then spent the night watching a movie. This morning I got up, made breakfast and watched the recent Times Talk interview with Stephen Colbert, which I highly recommend because I’m a huge fan of conversations with any creative people, and I think Colbert is brilliant. Around noon I’ll be keeping tabs on the monthly #SolarpunkChat on Twitter, but that’s not really work since one of my favorite pastimes is conversation, and after that I’ll be doing more reading/watching/playing of games or some such. All of the above feeds the bird in different ways, besides being a reward for accomplishing something: I get ideas and encouragement from everything I digest these days, but losing myself in a book or a movie or an interview lets my brain come down from that non-stop movement I seem to get into when I’m working on a big project.

Am I going to work on something new tomorrow morning? Probably. But for now, I’m feeding that bird.

Source: Castle Fandom Wiki

Office Hours For the Win

There’s something awesome about going for a walk, leaving your phone behind on purpose and not caring what time it is or how long you’re walking for, since you don’t have a laundry list of things to get done before work the next day.

Yes, I realize I’m a teacher with five weeks off (because summer school) and clearly lots of time on my hands. (I almost appended a good-natured “fuck off” to the end there.) Here’s the thing: summer doesn’t mean vacation for me. Summer means lots of writing time. Teaching summer school online for three weeks in July put a bit of a damper on that, so to make up for it I’ve been doing consistent “office hours” since last Tuesday, literally treating writing as a full-time day job. Spoiler alert: this concept is, in Pokemon terms, super effective.

I can’t claim credit for the idea, which I got from my friend Derek Kunsken, well known in our circles for almost religious productivity. I’ve done group writing sessions with him that are essentially a bunch of us showing up for “work” as writers: whether it’s drafting, editing, promotion, etc, with a lunch break and maybe a couple smaller breaks to stretch or make tea. Surrounded by a bunch of other like-minded people, we get a ton accomplished (which I guess is the opposite of your typical office setting). The key is that you can’t slack if the person sitting across from you is still pounding out new words, and they can”t if you’re still working, so it becomes a feedback loop of productivity. This past week I tried to do the same thing solo, but I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off, since at home it’s too easy to get up and do dishes or answer Can*Con emails or call my Dad.

But in just a week of work, I went from having 1/3 of my draft 4 revisions done on my novel to completing my draft 4 revisions.

Obviously there’s still work to do on this novel, specifically some worldbuilding tweaks and then extensive line edits. But I think the reason why these solo office hours worked is because I sat down, looked at everything I want to get done over the next while, and forced myself to do it. That might sound overly simplistic, but writing is what I love and I have a lot of story I want to tell, including a couple novellas, a bunch of short stories (including commissions), collaborations with some friends of mine, and so on. Most importantly, the closer I get to September, the more headspace I’ll have to dedicate to getting ready for a new semester, and I decided I didn’t want to lose momentum on my novel. Line edits are easy to do with other stuff on your plate; major content revisions, not so much.

Having that ticking clock in the back of my head only adds extra motivation – provided I don’t burn myself out, which is why I took the last two days off from most writing work  and relaxed. But tomorrow it’s right back into office hours, not just on line edits for Draft 5 but also to start laying the groundwork for other projects. There is, after all, no time like the present.

***

I also have announcements! First, in case you missed it, my short story “Moments” is now available as a reprint in Timeshift: Tales of Time, after a successful Kickstarter a few months ago. I’ve talked this anthology up a lot online because it’s packed with awesome flash fiction, and I’m particularly proud of my contribution, which details a love story between two time travellers through the short poems one writes about the other.

Also, first short story sale for 2019 achieved! Super pleased to announce that “Exactly What You Need” will appear in Abyss & Apex sometime in early 2019. Stay tuned for more news on that, as well as forthcoming work from me in Hyperion & TheiaDigital Science Fiction, and The Outsider.

And lastly, my friend Tracy Townsend has a two-part article on dialogue with Luna Station Quarterly, and incorporated some safe advice from yours truly in Part 2. You can check it out here. Then go read Tracy’s other stuff!

Yes, I’m Totally a Professional (Watch Me Geek Out)

Okay, so a big part of being a professional writer is maintaining your “cool.” When you meet other writers at a conference like the Nebulas or ConFusion, you try to casually shoot the shit like you’re at the average water cooler, congratulating some bestselling author whose work you adore on their latest book without fawning over them. When you chat with celebrity writers on Twitter, you remember that you’re just professionals talking where almost the entire world can see  and that it’s no biggie. When someone invites you to work on a project because they like your style, you think critically about whether that’s a good idea for your career even though you want to scream for joy and say “yes, absolutely” because the sheer act of being invited makes you giddy.

Sometimes, though, I think one is justified in shedding off the “cool” writer mystique and geeking out about something exciting in their career – whether it’s writing an opinion piece that gets a ton of traction in the news (*nods toward friend who might be reading this*) or your new play getting rave reviews because your work is awesome (*smiles discreetly at no one in particular, I swear*). Not because we want to brag, but because sometimes you feel like maybe you’re at the center of some Make A Wish Foundation thing and don’t realize it.

The reason I’m excited right now is because after a successful Kickstarter a little while ago, an anthology called Timeshift: Tales of Time is available for preorder on Amazon. This was my first time being invited to participate in an anthology (and only time up until recently – shhh), which is wicked in and of itself, that an editor would read a story of mine and like it enough to republish it. When I saw the lineup of other authors, though, my jaw dropped: Cat Rambo (who’s delightful on top of writing awesome things), other heavyweights like Ken Lieu and Mike Resnick, and last but certainly not least, Kevin J. Anderson.

Now you might say, “Brandon, being in an anthology with any big writers is awesome” and you are absolutely right. But I’m going to indulge the faux pas of geeking out about another writer because one of my first entries into SFF was none other than Kevin J. Anderson. It’s no secret I’m a huge Star Wars fan, and that’s partly because some of the earliest novels I read were from the Expanded Universe. Individuals like Anderson, Timothy Zahn, Christie Golden, Michael Stackpole and others were my introduction to writing, really, and some of my first examples of what I wanted to become as an adult.

And now my work is in an anthology alongside one of those people. With sincerest apologies to any of my students who are reading this, that is really fucking cool. 

So yes, as professionals we’re supposed to be suave and collected, and present ourselves as put together and undramatic. But sometimes you need to celebrate those special moments in your career.

And hope the person you’re talking about is too busy and important to ever read your blog.

My geeking out aside, Timeshift has a ton of excellent authors in it and I’m excited it’s finally available for preorder. If you like time travel stories, you can check it out via Amazon.ca or Amazon.com. And I hope you enjoy!

(Sidebar: You probably won’t see a post from me next weekend, since I’ll be at Readercon! First time heading out that way, and I’ve heard amazing things about this con and Boston in general. If you’ll be there, let me know!)

What I Do at Black Gate Magazine

I’ve mentioned before that I have a column on Black Gate Magazine, where I post bi-weekly fiction reviews and occasionally an interview with a fellow author. But I’ve never actually spent much time explaining what I do as a reviewer, or why I’m still writing for Black Gate after almost two years as a contributor (shit, it doesn’t feel like that long).

My running title for my column is “In 500 Words or Less,” which means my reviews are exactly that: capped at 500 words, maximum, and if I can get them shorter, more the better. When I first started writing this column, I found that my early reviews were really wordy – concision is something I’ve always struggled with when drafting. So forcing myself to stick to a word limit is a useful exercise that helps with my other writing, since I can’t discuss everything about a book. And when I pared them down, I realized that I didn’t need a ton of space to explain why I loved a particular book. I’m not trying to convince anyone to go buy something (most of the time) or change their taste in reading material – it isn’t a five-paragraph essay about the significance of an author’s work (*shudder*). All I want to do is give you a taste of why I enjoyed a particular book, and let you look into it more closely yourself. If you have the same taste as I do, great. If you don’t, no worries. (Read: you’re actually a heathen and we can never be friends again.)

Sometimes keeping to my word limit has been tough, particularly when I read something that I get really excited about, like Robots vs Fairies (edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe) or The Nine by Tracy Townsend. And also because I try hard not to fall into the boring, overly-academic style that a lot of reviewers seem to take. Kinda like this blog, I try to sound like we’re just chatting casually, and I’ll freely admit that’s not easy every time and sometimes I don’t quite hit the mark I want. It also means I throw out the occasional joke or random aside – and maybe eats up my word count. But that’s a small price to pay, as far as I’m concerned, to make sure that I’m having fun and you’re having fun and no one gets bored with a 500-word review.

But the best part about writing this column for Black Gate is that I get to signal boost authors who I think need more attention, like Curtis C. Chen, or get ARCs of books ahead of their release, like I did recently with Steven Erikson’s forthcoming novel Rejoice: A Knife to the Heart. It might not be much, but it’s one more thing I can do for my fellow writers; if it gets even a handful of additional readers paying attention to their work, that’s a win as far as I’m concerned.

The only drawback is that I’m not sure how much impact my reviews actually have – or how much they even get read. I’ve reviewed works by well-known authors, like S.A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass, and gotten more play than I would expect on social media, but when I review an author with less existing notoriety I worry that my words are getting lost in the vastness of the Internet. So while I would never do something as base as asking everyone who reads this blog to spread the word about my reviews, what I will say is that if you’re on the lookout for new reading material and 500 words every two weeks isn’t a huge piece of your free time, maybe check out my column. Feel free to follow any of the links I’ve included so far, and if you like my style, spread the word! The more eyes we get on these reviews, the better for the authors I’m able to discuss.

And if you’re a fan of fantasy and didn’t see this a while back, here’s the ultimate level up for me as a reviewer/interviewer so far: getting to chat with Jim Butcher at ConFusion. So maybe there are fringe benefits to doing what I do… 😉