My First Nebulas Conference

My regular posting has been a bit skewed the past few weeks, due to multiple conferences and the general busyness that comes from doing a lot of things. But I’m back – not just in the figurative sense, but literally back from a four-day trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for my first Nebulas Conference, as a bonafide associate member of SFWA.

See, I have a card and everything.

I love writing conferences because I get a nice energy boost from hanging out with my fellow creatives and talking shop, and each one has something a little different to offer. As you can imagine, SFWA’s annual get-together had a lot to offer, from brilliant programming to great networking and hanging out with awesome people who, like myself and pretty much every other writer out there, are trying to do their best in the crazy world that is the publishing industry. I got the chance to meet writers who I’ve been corresponding with online for a while, and begin forging new friendships and professional contacts that I will hope will last well into the future (do I sound really hokey yet? I’m a little tired, not at all from multiple nights in the hotel bar – I swear I was in bed relatively early each night). I’m not a fan of posts that provide a play-by-play of everything someone got up to at a con, but here are some of my favorite moments from the weekend, in no particular order:

  1. Debating objectively (for me, anyway) who’s more attractive: Neil Gaiman or China Mievelle. Apparently the correct answer is “neither,” in place of a third party (or so I was told).
  2. Fellow author Mike Evans using my own peer-pressuring methods to keep me in the hotel bar for an extra three hours (I think) on Friday night (I still swear my statement above is true).

    Sorry this is a little blurry, Cat!

  3. Cat Rambo delighting in her newly-purchased centrepiece robot from the Nebulas banquet.
  4. Dodging as Tee Morris literally leaped over me in the hotel bar to meet the makers of Habitica (which is an awesome app, by the way).
  5. My friend’s agent asking him, “Wait, are you pulling a Comey memo on me?” as we discussed his detailed agenda for their business meeting.

But all of this pales in comparison to the Nebula Awards ceremony on Saturday night, for the simple reason that I got to cheer in person for the fabulous Amal el-Mohtar, who won the award for Best Short Story for “Seasons of Glass of Iron,” which was published in The Starlit Wood last year. There’s something special about seeing someone truly deserving win that kind of accolade, and if nothing else reinforces that good people who do good work still get acknowledged for it in this world.

Now that I’m returned to the real world here in Ottawa, with a ton of new ideas and resources for my writing and a contented fatigue that I only partly hope will fade so I can actually teach tomorrow, I wanted to say one more thank you to the SFWA board and the organizers of the Nebulas conference. I’m already looking forward to next year, and will be registering as soon as the option is available. And of course, a shout-out and thank you to my friend and mentor, Derek Kunsken, for convincing me to make the 10-hour drive to Pittsburgh to see everything that SFWA has to offer.

Ad Astra Next Weekend

This is one of those weeks that kicked the hell out of me in many ways – if you read last week’s post where I outlined my schedule, you’ll understand why. But I was also propelled by various bits of good news. Most notably, my short story “Synchronicity and Sonata” has earned my 4th Honorable Mention from Writers of the Future, so I get to eagerly await the published list of winners on their blog. I also sold another short story, which I’ll announce once the contract is signed. And now that the semester is finished at Algonquin College and I have one job off my plate … I have multiple conferences to prepare for, so I’m sort of out of the frying pan and into the fire. But in a fun way.

Next weekend, I’ll be at Ad Astra in Toronto with a bunch of other authors from the Ottawa community and beyond. I’ve confirmed that I’ll be on a TEGG panel with Ed Greenwood and others, discussing what’s going on in the company and our recent and upcoming projects, including my latest short story “Wizard-sitting.” I don’t know my schedule other than that yet, but I’ll try to post that here if I can – regardless, I’ll be tweeting like mad all weekend. If you’ll also be at Ad Astra, give me a shout!

Keeping Constructively Busy

I realized that if I didn’t sit down and write a blog post right this very second, odds were I wouldn’t write one at all for this week. Which would be bad (in my own mind, since it’s not like many people read this) since I didn’t write one last weekend, amid excitement over seeing my name printed with the other Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Award shout-outs, getting caught up on various work items, and that whole Easter Weekend thing.

The thing about being busy is that it’s only useful if the busyness is also constructive. When you’re constructively busy, time tends to fly but you can sit back at the end of the week, go over everything you did, and ideally see the beneficial impact of the time you spent. This is incredibly important in teaching; from when I get to the school at 7:30 a.m. to when I leave sometime after 2:30 p.m., I’m on the entire time and handling a dozen little things involving different students and aspects of the school, but it’s all worth it if I can leave Friday afternoon and know that I actually made a difference. Or in the case of this past week, leave at about 10:30 p.m. on Friday, having stuck around to see the school musical (which was friggin awesome, by the way. Kudos to the Merivale drama and music department!). Of course, being busy like that leads to days like yesterday (Saturday) where I did a little bit of administrative stuff for my writing and a couple chores, and sweet crap all for the rest of the day besides a long walk – but I earned that, dammit. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Being constructively busy in writing is just as important, even if the tangible benefits are a little harder to track. I submitted my novel Convoy to some more markets, which is an accomplishment because just one of them might be interested, but it could easily turn out that no one is interested and I’ve wasted my time. Little things like organizing my files or research isn’t exactly new words written, but they’re meant to feed my productivity later. The same is true for spending a few minutes on social media each day, making sure that my voice is out there as I spread the word about TEGG, Can-Con, Black Gate and my own IP. (See how I worked it in there just now? Mission accomplished.)

How does one make sure they’re constructively busy? I try to have a plan, particularly when I’m facing a week where I know I won’t have a lot of spare time. This week coming up, for example, here’s what I have on top of my normal school day: two afternoons supervising girl’s soccer, a staff meeting, final exams for my Algonquin College students (and then calculating their final grades), Oscars night one evening (which I can’t miss, cuz it’s going to be awesome), at least one admin Skype chat for TEGG but possibly three, a soccer game to supervise one other afternoon (shit, I just remembered) and a friend’s birthday dinner (which will also be fun). Admittedly, my week isn’t normally that insane, but when it is I need to think very carefully about where I’ll be able to commit time to getting some words written, and also make sure that I take time to relax so I don’t crash somewhere between the soccer game and Oscars.

In the end, it’s probably all about attitude. Like a certain writer friend of mine who shall remain nameless, I think I thrive a bit on juggling multiple balls (wipe the smirk off your face) because I’m actually at my most relaxed when I don’t have too much time spent sitting and wondering what I should do (I didn’t have my mind in the gutter, you did). I could’ve spent the last ten minutes doing exactly that, but thankfully I had this blog post to write, so that’s ten minutes well spent.

Now I can twiddle my thumbs for a bit.

Honorable Mention – Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Award

Funnily enough, writing news and feedback tends to come in bursts – three rejections on the same day, a bunch of people tweeting about you all at once, etc. Over the weekend, I got two pieces of good news. One is the sort of thing that only a writer really understands as good – a personalized rejection from a pro market. Without saying which market, the editor took the time to tell me that they loved everything about the story, but it didn’t quite fit the genre they publish (too fantasy, not enough horror). For an upcoming writer like me, that kind of news is huge, when normally we just get form letters from the pro markets while we throw things into the ‘verse and hope that something catches.

The second piece of news is much more exciting: an Honorable Mention in the Twelfth Annual Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards, in the Science Fiction category. I’ll let that sink in for a second. What does that mean? That in the latest issue of Writer’s Digest, you can see my little name and the title of my story, alongside the other Honorable Mentions and the winners in each category. Naturally, I got a copy for myself:

This, folks, is the kind of thing that gives you the encouragement to keep writing when you’re feeling too tired, or that everything you’re doing is just pissing into the wind. This, fellow writers, is called leveling up.

The Honeymoon Period

Over March Break I jumped fully into the second draft of my current novel (a space opera), having re-outlined like crazy beforehand, and managed to make it through five chapters of revisions before the week was up. Then things got crazy busy, between teaching obligations and promoting new publications and my role with TEGG Games, and I found myself struggling to keep my momentum. Part of the challenge was that I had hit a point in the draft where I was finally going to be making sizable changes to the narrative, requiring me to basically rewrite entire chapters from scratch.

Naturally, I hit a wall, for the first time in a long time. I sat at my computer a few times wondering if this novel was even worth my time. I had changed some of the characters to be more dynamic, but I was convinced no one would care about them. The premise involves the genetic modification of an entire species, but I’m not a geneticist, and I don’t want it to become a hard SF novel – but would it need to be? And most importantly, would the changes to the outline I’d proposed to myself actually make it a better novel? To make matters worse, I recently got three more short stories approved for TEGG, and I really want to work on those (even though the deadlines aren’t for a while) and I have two other novel ideas tugging at me, both of which I became convinced were more compelling ideas that would be more attractive to an agent or publisher.

Sunday morning, at a group writing session, I explained this to a couple friends, and one of them said to me: The honeymoon period is over. In other words, I had made it through the afterglow of first jumping into a project, and was finally seeing the sheer amount of work and things to fix before this draft would be done (and those other projects calling to me are like women with nice asses walking past me on the street – my friend’s metaphor, not mine). When all I wanted to do was put the space opera aside and (temporarily, I assured myself) work on something else, they told me to stick with it and get it done. The key piece of advice was to find the one thing I want to focus on in this novel – whether it’s the relationship between characters, or the premise, or the pacing, etc. – and concentrate on doing that as effectively as possible, then worry about solidifying the rest in later drafts.

Long story short, and after further reflection, the most important thing to me in novels is the relationships between the characters, with a fast-paced style being a close second. Keeping that in mind, I forced myself to sit down at the coffee shop until Chapter Six was finished. To my surprise, on my walk home I got it in my head exactly how the start of Chapter Seven would look, so I pounded out some more words while my dinner was in the oven. Though the honeymoon period is over, I think this novel and I have figured things out.

Now I just have to keep up that momentum until this draft is done, and ignore the various other ideas dancing in my head and demanding my attention. So with the little bit of time I have before I teach my evening class (now that I’ve finished this post) excuse my while I draft some more.

My First TEGG Story is Live!

Exciting news! For those of you that haven’t already seen the announcements on my
Facebook and Twitter accounts, my first short story with the Ed Greenwood Group (TEGG) is now available for purchase! “Wizard-sitting” is set in the world of Stormtalons, a fantasy setting designed by Ed Greenwood involving action and mystery, a cold war between a religious order and a powerful mage called the Hierophar, and roiling mists that consume (and possibly transform) anyone foolish or unlucky enough to step within them.

Here’s the logline:

The Stormtalons can change a person. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. 

When your beloved mentor’s Gift is awakened, how do you keep him safe from the powers that seek all mages? Particularly when he seems to have no interest in protecting himself?

Lonos, a scholar, encountered the mist and his Gift has bloomed. Now his proteges are desperate to keep him hidden from the Heirophar, a desperation only increased when a ruthless noblewoman from their past finds them and threatens them with exposure–unless they perform a certain little task…

I’m really stoked that this story has finally been released, not just because it’s my first TEGG publication, but because it’s the first published work set in the frontier town of Tasmouth and the nearby Yacathan jungle. Expect more works set in the same region from myself and other creatives (which I’ll spread the word when the time comes).

You can purchase “Wizard-sitting” via the link above – in addition to getting an e-copy straight from the Onder Emporium, you can also get the story for Kindle, Kobo, Google Play and iBooks.

Every author has a stake in the profits of their works with TEGG, so it would mean a lot if you can spread the word about this (and other TEGG publications) via social media, or by leaving reviews on the platforms listed above. You can also check out a recent blog post of mine on the Stormtalons website, where I discuss my mentors and how my relationships with them tied into “Wizard-sitting.”

Hi, I’m Brandon, and I’m a Shipper

Tonight I caught up on the most recent episode of The Good Fight – which is just as brilliant as its predecessor, by the way – and came to a realization: I’m a gods-damned shipper.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a “shipper” is someone who reads a book or watches a TV series, etc, and waits with bated breath for particular characters who have chemistry to hook up or declare their undying love. Some more extreme individuals might hit social media in a rage, or even write to authors or showrunners demanding that relationships happen, or other relationships end because the characters aren’t right for each other, and so-and-so should be together instead. I’m certainly not like that (no judgment meant). But I won’t deny that I spent part of this week’s The Good Fight cursing two characters (Diane and Kurt, for anyone who watches it) for not putting the past behind them and getting back together. Because by the gods, they make each other happy and Diane is going through so much crap that she could use Kurt’s support, and leaning on him a little doesn’t make her weak!

But I digress.

This realization probably shouldn’t be much of a shock to me. The scene where Han and Leia were reunited in The Force Awakens was one of my favorites, and the tragedy that they didn’t get a chance to make amends was crushing. In Fringe, I cheered when Olivia and Peter decided to give it a go, only to watch in horror as it was revealed that Olivia had been replaced by her doppelganger from another universe (yes, that happened) – and not just because it was a compelling and terrifying twist, but because Peter was with the wrong one. I’m one of the legion of fans wishing Firefly had gone on long enough to see Mal and Inara end up together, and I waited fifteen novels of the Dresden Files for Harry Dresden and Karrin Murphy to admit they’re in love with each other, while filled with terror for most of the series that Murphy was going to die before that happened, because Jim Butcher is both amazing and cruel.

At my core, I think I’m a bit of a romantic, which is why I’m drawn to these story lines – not the cheesy relationships in bad romcoms and the like (don’t get me wrong, there are some great romcoms out there), but the slow build of a connection between well-developed characters by a creative who really gets the complexities of human relationship. I don’t think I’ve ever effectively captured it in one of my own works, though I tried with my fantasy novel Convoy, which is currently making the submission rounds, and I’m going try with the next novel I’m drafting. Making someone have the same visceral reaction with my characters as I’ve had toward the titles I mentioned above is definitely on my list of writing accomplishments to unlock. And the inspiration for that comes from these great relationships in fiction.

So if there’s a support group out there for people like me, sign me up. My name is Brandon, and I’m a shipper.