Brandon Discovers Discovery Writing – Episode II

So part of my post-Can*Con, post World Fantasy Convention plan is to significantly amp up my productivity on my current novel project, which I started in the summer and which fell by the wayside a bit due to the new school year (and then a new, permanent teaching position) and the need to focus on some other projects. Between several doses of extra encouragement during those two conventions, an excellent brainstorming session on Archivos Podcast, and agreeing to a weekly productivity check-in with fellow writer KT Bryski (check out her work, by the way – it’s awesome) I’ve been writing pages upon pages of development notes for draft 2, and getting much more excited about this novel, tentatively titled Three Coins of Silver.

You might recall that back in the summer I posted that I was going to try my hand at discovery writing Three Coins (if you actually pay enough attention to this blog that you do remember that, I’ll be impressed enough to gladly Tuckerize you somewhere in this novel). Part of my roadblock over the last couple of months, I think, was that I was moving too quickly with that process; churning out 3000 words in a sitting is great, but if your plot is going off the rails and you don’t realize it, those 3000 words don’t do you much good. One of the pieces of advice I got during the Archivos Podcast, from Cerece Rennie Murphy, was to “take it slow” due to how much I have going on in this novel. And the more notes I make for draft 2, the more I realize how slow I need to take things so that everything comes together the way I want.

So discovery writing isn’t off the table, but odds are my process for draft 2 is going to be a hybrid. The amount of notes I’m making is going to naturally lend itself to a bit of outlining, but filling in the details within that outline will occur as I’m writing. And making the changes to draft 2 (and subsequent drafts) is going to be much easier because of my previous discovery writing, in which I purposefully left gaps in my worldbuilding so I could focus on my characters. Though I’m changing some fundamentals about their backstories and relationships to each other, their individual voices and mannerisms will be the same, and those came about as I got to know them in draft 1.

So while I won’t be 100% discovery writing for the remainder of this project (cuz frankly that would be a little nuts) I’ll still be playing around and building things as I go. Thing of it like a best of both worlds scenario. The most important thing is that I’m excited – because that, fellow writers, is the key ingredient in the best writing. And I’ll keep updating you here, in the hopes that it inspires writing of your own!


On the Nature of Change

It’s difficult sometimes to cope with change. When something dramatic happens, whether it’s good or bad, there’s a reevaluation that needs to happen as you adjust to a world that’s ever so slightly different (at least) than the world you lived in before. It’s the nature of the unexpected, and while a change that leaves you angry or sad is often more difficult to recover from, a change that’s mostly happy or exciting also demands recovery, since in both cases certain doors that you thought would remain open are suddenly closed. My friend Marie refers to it as a “blow to the subconscious,” and all of the emotion that accompanies that blow is part of your subconscious processing The Way The World Is Now, so you can move forward within it.

As a writer, I think dealing with change is actually more difficult, because as storytellers many of us can see more potential paths than others can. Not only that, we can envision what a particular moment or a particular life path might look like with vivid detail. I think we’ll often get the image wrong (or maybe that’s just me) but the predictive nature of our minds can at least help to prepare us for something that otherwise would catch us completely off-guard. But this is a blessing and a curse, since our ability to envision these paths makes them even more real to us, and so when one of those doors is closed the loss can be even more profound. That particular story will never be written, and in many ways there’s nothing more shocking or damaging for a writer than that.

But by the same token, writing helps us through these moments. A dynamic and exciting change in our lives exposes us to new people and new experiences that can feed our writing. And when we’re faced with change that leaves us with a tightness in our chest or a tremor in our hands, that can feed our writing, too – not just by feeding the emotional core of our writing, but by reviving the stories that we once saw for ourselves and giving them to our characters. There’s a catharsis in that, whether it’s releasing the nervousness that comes with a new job or the sorrow that comes with a loss. Whether it’s discovery writing a new story, or simply voicing your thoughts via a blog post. When your world – not the larger world we see in the news, but your personal world – is shifting so dramatically around you, sitting down and putting fingers to keyboard or pen to paper can seem like the most daunting task. But getting past that mental roadblock to jot down just a few words makes the next few easier, and can help your subconscious as it recovers from whatever blows it has received.

There’s an ethereal nature to the world, I think; things are always changing, and that can be difficult to grapple with. But if as writers we can envision dozens of possible paths, that means that we can see the various options we have for solidity and comfort and happiness, and that helps the subconscious, too. And piece by piece, word by word, you can find your grounding again, and prepare yourself for whatever the next change will be. Positive or negative, there’s no guarantee it won’t be difficult – but we’re all strong enough to get through it.

One Week Since Can*Con, and I Might Still Be Tired … But Damn, Was It a Good Time

It’s been a week since the end of Can*Con 2017, and I think I’m still a little tired.

No joke, for three days after the conference I had a solid headache that wouldn’t go away, and slept about 11 hours a night after spending most of the evening on my couch. Driving into work on Wednesday with one of my best friends (and fellow teacher), she commented off hand about “her friend” coming in that day, and I legitimately had no idea what she was talking about. After several agonizing minutes of desperately wracking my brain, she reminded me that she was referring to her student teacher. Who has been coming in every Wednesday since the semester started. And who I was working with directly on this year’s Remembrance Day service.

Oh yeah. There’s con fatigue, and then there’s con fatigue.

The short version is that I basically spent the entire weekend of Can*Con living off adrenaline and caffeine and maybe a little booze, after weeks of restless nights worrying about programming details and panelist requests and a bunch of other things, because more than anything else I wanted the weekend to go well. (I’m one of the programming coordinators). Which is in no way a complaint, because a) I knew what I was signing up for; and b) Can*Con was SUCH AN AMAZING TIME.

Describing in detail how much fun I had last weekend would take far too much time and effort, and I’m not a fan of reminiscing in detail about a con as a blog post. Just a few highlights doesn’t even scratch the surface: I got to work registration Friday night, which was awesome because that meant I met panelists face-to-face as they were coming in. I paneled with my friend Jay Odjick for the first time (alongside Waubgeshig Rice from the CBC) and interviewed Steven Erikson, who I’ve been a fan of since I was in university. We launched 49th Parallels, which includes a short story of mine, to a packed con suite. I got to hunt Julie Czerneda like wild game (not literally, it’s just a joke). And on and on. I don’t think I’ve had this much fun at a writing event ever. But the thing that really made it was seeing everyone from the writing community, and getting to hang out and/or talk business with people I see once a month, and people I see once in a while, and people I haven’t seen since last year, and a host of new people who I hope will remain friends and contacts.

Writing is often an isolating profession, but Can*Con is the environment that reminds me that it doesn’t have to be. If you’re a writer, or an editor, or an artist, or you just like books and you’ve never been to a conference before: go to one. It doesn’t even have to be Can*Con (although you really should come out). And if you don’t believe me, check out the photos below, which are just a few captured by me and others.

I’ve said this online a bunch of times already, but a huge thank you to everyone who came out to Can*Con this year, and especially my friends on the con-com and the volunteers who helped us keep things running. You are what makes the con great, and the reason why I do what I do. Which this week was mostly sleeping (although I think I went to work all five days). And next week … will be writing!

Me with co-chair Marie Bilodeau (left) and programming coordinator Evan May (right) – huge players in keeping my sanity

Interviewing Steven Erikson (Photo credit: Afsheen Kay)

Moments before I lose it laughing at something Jay Odjick (left) has said (Photo credit: Benoit Chartier)

On Spec panel w/ (left to right) Chadwick Ginther, Leah Bobet, Susan Forest, and Diane Walton. Yes, laughing again. (Photo credit: Andy Taylor)

Jennifer Carole Lewis and I did *not* coordinate. I swear 🙂 (Photo credit: Nicole Lavigne)

Just some characters … don’t trust them 😉 Kidding – from left to right, Agnes Cadieux, Adam Shaftoe-Durrant, Matt Moore, and co-chair Derek Kunsken

Hanging with Jerome Stueart (see you at WFC!)

The cast of a table read of DINKS by Hayden Trenholm! L to R: Matt Moore, Hayden, Liz Westbrook-Trenholm, me, Agnes Cadieux, Alexandra Renwick (Photo credit: Jim Botte)


Can*Con 2017 Approaches – This is Where I’ll Be!

Gobble gobble, fellow writers!

The title of this post should probably read: “This is Where I’ll Be When I’m Not Running Around Helping with Con Business, or Grabbing a Drink in the Bar.” Obviously that blows brevity right out of the water, regardless of how true it is. After months of planning by Can*Con’s planning committee, the event is less than a week away, and once again I find myself both excited and exhausted now that we’ve made it to this point. But mostly the former. Can*Con started for me as a place to learn and become a professional writer, and now it’s a place where I still get to learn, but also hang out and catch up with some of my favorite people. Hopefully you all feel the same way!

Below is my official schedule for this year’s Can*Con:


  • 11 am: Black Gate Interviews Steven Erikson – I’m still a little giddy about this, but I have the honor of sitting down for a live interview with GoH Steven Erikson, in my role as a reviewer for His Malazan Book of the Fallen series was a favorite of mine in university and one of my early inspirations when I was breaking in as an author, so it’s difficult to really articulate how excited I am to be doing this. We’ll be exploring some deep and critical aspects of Mr. Erikson’s work – you don’t want to miss it!
  • 3 pm: 49th Parallels Signing Session – Several contributors to Bundoran’s newest anthology will be in the dealer’s room to sign copies. If you’re a fan of Canadian alternate history, please come and say hi!
  • 5 pm: On Spec Magazine: 25 Years of Canadian SFF – In addition to managing editor Diane Walton, this panel features authors whose first or second short story sale was to On Spec, specifically Leah Bobet, Chadwick Ginther, Susan Forest and myself, moderated by fellow contibutor Hayden Trenholm. We’ll also be giving away back issues of the magazine featuring our work!
  • 7 pm: Play Reading of DINKS by Hayden Trenholm – What happens when a desperate young guy rents his neighbor’s baby to survive a surprise visit from his mom? Find out in our table read of DINKS, featuring myself, Alexandra Renwick, Agnes Cadieux, Liz-Westbrook Trenholm, Matt Moore, and Hayden Trenholm.
  • 9 pm: Launch of 49th Parallels – Join editor Hayden Trenholm and a bunch of contributors (including me!) as we celebrate the launch of Bundoran’s latest anthology, 49th Parallels: Canadian Alternate Histories and Futures.


  • 1 pm: Interested in Being on Programming Next Year? – Fellow programming wizard Evan May and I will be around all weekend, but if you don’t get a chance to talk to us earlier, we’ll be at our table in the dealer’s room specifically to discuss programming for 2018. If you’re interested in being a panelist or have a panel to suggest, please drop by and introduce yourself!

Somehow even though I help create the schedule, I ended up with a packed Saturday… But it’ll be fun! To anyone else who’s attending Can*Con this year, I hope you’re as excited as I am. See you in a few days!

When Should I Post, Anyway?

One of my writer friends was saying to me the other day how much he enjoys reading my posts here, and commended me on keeping at them. By the “other day,” I mean last week … or maybe two weeks ago. I hadn’t posted that week, and haven’t posted since, despite proclaiming that I was going to get back into regular posting. Not just because people actually read my nonsense, apparently, but because I enjoy my website as my own personal den of rambling, where I don’t have to worry about passive voice and edit a bunch of times like in everything I else I do as a writer.

Part of the problem is being busier than I’ve ever been before – new school year, Can*Con on the horizon, and with multiple short story publications to promote and writing projects on my plate – but you know what the real challenge is? What day I should be posting on. I’m not kidding – I’ve come home and thought, “Great, Monday is a perfect day for regular posting. Let’s start today and stick with it.” And then I remember a bunch of other things I need to do, and I forget to write a post. “Wednesday is just as good, right? Middle of the week, hump day, and I’m not usually doing much so I’ll regularly have time to write up a quick post.” Except that didn’t happen either, clearly.

So is there one day in the week where I will definitely be able to draft a post, at least 85% of the time? Does that even matter? I could commit to writing a post every week and just see where I have time, but odds are posting would always be one of the last things I do each week, after time-sensitive stuff takes precedence. So maybe Saturday morning should involve a blog post? Except that here I am Thursday night, clearly with the time and energy to ramble. And one thing I’ve learned is that setting a consistent writing schedule is one of the best ways to be productive; not having a consistent day lately has led to almost no regular posting.

If anyone is reading this thinking, Christ, stop overthinking it and just write your god-damned posts, you’re totally justified. But this is what writers think about, when we’re procrastinating and trying to avoid committing something to page, since we’re worried that when it comes out it’s going to be absolute shit. And when you’re busy, nailing down one specific time can be a difficult task.

But don’t worry, those of you who read this blog and miss getting a weekly look into the chaos that is my mind. I’ll figure out a schedule that works and get back into consistent blogging. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been up to and will be up to in the near future:

  • Tomorrow morning at 7:15 am I’ll be a guest on The Friday Special Blend on CKCU 93.1, with my Can*Con programming teammate Evan May! You can listen live here, as we discuss writing and pretend like we know what we’re talking about:
  • Can*Con itself is only two weeks away! It’s going to be an absolute blast this year, with a ton of great guests and amazing programming. I’ll post my schedule soon, but in the meantime you can find details here:
  • My newest publication is a short story titled “Clearing Out Nests,” which was released in issue 16 of PULP Literature on September 15. And I got my contributor copy today! If the “ghoulish side of gentrification” interests you, I hope you give the issue a read, and give me a shout if you do.

First Time at Toronto Fan Expo

You know how some people are into spa days? Specifically those ones were you spend an exorbitant amount of money (to some) for a day of mud baths and face scrubs and a bunch of other things that sound totally unnatural (to some) to be doing to your body? Clearly that sort of thing isn’t my cup of tea. But what is my cup of tea is conventions, and I realized after coming back from my first ever foray to Toronto Fan Expo that events like this do for me what spa days do for people who partake in them: they almost recenter me, giving me a chance to breathe and forget about the world, while I soak in the comfort of my happy place.

There’s an energy about conventions that’s unlike anything else, where people come together to celebrate geekdom. Fan Expo takes that energy and kicks it into overdrive, almost like what I imagine taking speed or LSD might feel like (but not cocaine – do less cocaine, kids). I was only there for two days but could easily have gone for the complete four; there’s that much to see, and I feel like I just scratched the surface. But I managed to scope out almost everything I really wanted to do. Here’s the highlight reel:

  1. Bucket list achieved in seeing a live Q&A with Nathan Fillion, who is as delightful as you might imagine. That man is good to his fans, and seems to really appreciate them.
  2. Second bucket list item achieved: I saw Anthony Daniels in person. Though admittedly from afar, as he was leaving his autograph table. But I’ll take it. (The same goes for Meat Loaf, whose line was capped every time I went past, I think because it looked like he was having long conversations with everyone who lined up. He’s a treasure.)
  3. I’m still getting used to the fact that I can go to an event like this and bump into writers and other creative people I know (some day I’ll be at one of those tables, maybe!). I had the great fortune of catching up with Dominik Parisien, Kelsi Morris, Rebecca Diem, Jack Briglio, Benoit Chartier, Sandra Kasturi, and Brett Savory, and I’m sure there were other people floating around that I missed.
  4. The whole reason I was even at Fan Expo was to be part of a DC Universe cosplay organized by my friend, artist Lana Kamarić. I’m new to the whole cosplaying thing, so I went as John Constantine, since that didn’t require me to make or build any elaborate costume. What surprised me the most was that our group (see below) getting stopped for photos was actually really awesome, and the few times I was recognized on my own and someone wanted a photo of me were bizarrely cool.
  5. As well, part of our DC crew pictured below is my new friend “Hamilton Batman,” who is trying to build a following back home that will lead into some charity work. If you’re in the area, follow him and stay tuned!

All in all, it was an amazing trip, and Fan Expo is on my list of conventions to hit up every year, if I can. Below are a few photos from my two-day sojourn. While I scope them out, I’ll be spinning new stories in my head.

Benoit Chartier

Dominik and Kelsi

Jack Briglio

Our DC Expo crew


And all hell breaking loose…



Brandon Discovers Discovery Writing – Episode I

I decided that for the next little while, with the exception of upcoming anthologies I want to pitch to, my focus is going to be on novel writing. The problem is that I have a few potential novel projects to work on. A space opera that’s at draft 2 and needs work. A fantasy novel at draft 1 that needs considerable work (read: rewrite). And about a half-dozen other ideas for novels that are just notes in my Moleskines.

Deciding which one to work on was proving difficult. My main issue, I realized, is that the projects really speaking to me aren’t the ones in my trunk; I wanted to write something new, but that would mean most of August would be spent outlining, and I don’t want to lose the bulk of my break. Yes, I can see you rolling your eyes, non-teachers, but trust me – as much as the summer break is a gift (or a necessary siesta because of how gruelling the school year is, but that’s a separate topic) it can actually be stressful, as you look at everything you want to get done and you’re not sure if you have enough time to do it. So that was the quandary I found myself in.

The solution? I’m doffing my outliner hat, and trying out life as a pantser.

For any Muggles out there, “pantser” is the term for someone who discovery writes (or writes by the seat of their pants) instead of working from an outline. Every pantser is a little different, but the ones I’ve spoken to will have a few notes on character, setting and an overall plot, but not much beyond that, and certainly not a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. The idea is that you just start writing and see what happens, focusing on the skeleton of the narrative with the understanding that you’ll fill in the gaps and correct things as you complete later drafts. I’ve written short stories this way before, but never a novel, and so the prospect made me nervous; I’ve also heard it’s easy to hit roadblocks, write yourself into a corner, etc, because you haven’t planned. However, you could also spend months outlining a novel, start writing it, and realize two chapters in that the whole thing doesn’t work or you simply hate it (I’ve been there).

One thing that I had in my favor was I had an already-developed idea that would be perfect for discovery writing: a series of short stories and a subsequent novel that had been intended as a different project, but needed to be changed (sorry to be vague there, but there are reasons). With the bit of development I had already done for that, I decided to focus on a core idea structure taught to me by my colleague Anatoly Belilovsky. In order, I came up with the following:

  • Heart
  • Voice
  • Character
  • Setting
  • Plot

But the key is that my development was much more minimal than what I’ve done with previous novels. I have my two primary protagonists and my primary antagonist, but any other characters in my head I left as just one-line descriptions. I have the building blocks of my setting and the key rules of my world (it’s second-world fantasy), but the worldbuilding I left vague on purpose, to be built as I write. With an understanding of the key plot points I would need my characters to move toward, I started to write.

And damn if I’m not having a shitload of fun.

In all seriousness, discovery writing this novel has been liberating so far. My focus is on my characters and my dialogue, specifically on figuring out how they would respond to other characters’ lines or various external stimuli. This means that I’m really getting into their heads, and in some cases figuring out ways that I can screw with them. I’m also creating characters on the fly. I came to a scene where one of my protagonists is standing on the front stoop of a friend’s residence, barring the city guard from entering and demanding to see their commander (who replaced her when she retired). I had already spent a few paragraphs figuring her out, since up until starting that chapter she was only a one-line description in my notes, and then did the same with the first guard she speaks to, and then the commander. These people came alive as I was writing, in a way that never happens when I’m outlining. Part of this is because I started asking myself a crucial question: what’s the last kind of person you would expect to see right now? When I outline, since I’m trying to come up with a whole cast of characters without actually writing them, I find in my first draft that some of them are too generic or cliche. But with this method, I’m managing to avoid it.

The long and short of it, basically, is that I think discovery writing might be the way I should be writing my novels. I suppose I should be grateful I’m figuring it out now, at 27, as opposed to later in my career. I’m currently at the start of Chapter 8 (they’re short chapters right now, which may change in later drafts) and trying to manage 2000-3000 words per day at minimum, which so far has been do-able. The adventure now is to see if I can keep up this pace and maintain my excitement – there have always been moments before where I start hating a lengthy project and want to switch to something else – and I’ll be updating you as I go. The lesson here, folks: when in doubt, try something new.