Can Con Reflection: Day 1

A week has gone by since I attended Can Con for the first time, and I’m ready to start discussing it. And by that mean I finally have the time and I’ve gotten over the flu bug that I caught from my students.

If you’ve never been to a writing convention before – and especially if you’re planning on breaking that – it’s important to realize that stepping into your first one is really nerve-wracking. If you’re like me and you care a lot about your writing, and like to pretend you’re a professional, the idea of sitting down with your peers isn’t easy. Odds are you’re going to have to tell people about your work, describe your projects, compare methods and even successes – and possibly be judged as a result. It’s tough.

Luckily, you get over it quickly, especially if you’re willing to engage with people and put yourself out there. And if you find yourself in a group that’s both interesting and accepting, which is something I’ve found with the Ottawa spec fic community. If you’re a spec fic writer here in Ottawa, or somewhere nearby, know that there is a thriving community of peers in the capital region, and they are a great group of people.

So, the nerves were dealt with pretty quickly. The Can Con program started in the evening on Friday, probably to accommodate the fact that most writers have day jobs. I decided to start by attending a reading for a new anthology called Hieroglyph, which is being published by HarperCollins. The theme for the anthology is really neat in that it focuses on the hope for a better future provided by science fiction. A lot of the great stories out there look at how advances in science and technology lead to humanity’s potential destruction, but the stories in Hieroglyph discuss the ways in which our lives are enriched or advanced. The sample that I heard touched on a variety of topics, from space elevators to the Northern Gateway pipeline, and I was intrigued enough to add the book to my buying list for the upcoming months.

Next I attended a presentation by editor Guest of Honor (or GOH) Gabrielle Harbowy, from Dragon Moon Press and several other publishing houses. The presentation was called “Rejectomancy” and discussed what editors mean when they politely reject your work, and how to respond to it. The short lesson from Ms. Harbowy is that there’s no way to divine hidden meanings from the form letters that you receive from an editor. If someone says that your story wasn’t quite right for them but that you should send other work in the future, they might actually be interested in seeing more, or they might just be polite. The important thing is to not take rejection personally, and to not take it out on the editors. Over the course of Can Con I got further insight into how difficult the life of an editor and can be, so that sending a nasty response to a rejection is not just rude, it’s really cruel. Just don’t do it. If an editor rejects your work, the best thing to do is move on.

Interestingly, I’ve received a few rejection letters in the week since Can Con, two of which were much more personal than a standard form letter. In both, the editor discussed specific things they liked about my story, and encouraged me to submit other stories. In these cases, the messages seem genuine, specifically because they aren’t just form letters. Those are the responses that I think you should take to heart, fellow writers. Unless an editor says something like: “Your work is drivel. Stop writing immediately and never put pen to paper again.” That kind of crap is just mean.

The final panel that I attended focused on writing for the RPG industry, including (but not limited to) writing modules for Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. I didn’t sit in very long, but while I was there I learned two things. One is that the D&D community in Ottawa is very passionate about the game. Very passionate. The other is that writing for RPGs most likely isn’t for me. The amount of work needed to construct a really good module – designing characters and setting, generating stats, and planning for the potential side paths players might take – is way too huge for me to tackle while continuing with my short fiction and novels. Sadly, I’ll be leaving the RPG work to other writers.

Overall, though, my introduction to Can Con was enlightening and very entertaining. And as I quickly learned the following morning, I had just scratched the service of what I didn’t yet know about writing.

Coming Soon – Reflections on Days 2 and 3!

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