(Long post warning. Get comfortable.)
Here in Calgary every August is a weekend event which I take two weeks off of work for When Words Collide Readers & Writers Festival at the Calgary Delta South Hotel. Although it officially starts at noon on the Friday and ends at midnight-ish on Sunday, when you combine pre- and post-festival workshops (which I attend voraciously) and a road trip to either Banff (the Rocky Mountains) or Drumheller (dinosaurs!) with the festival Guests of Honour, my three-day festival lasts 6 days.
As a rule, I don’t get out much. Due to pet responsibilities, I haven’t left town for anything longer than a day trip in over two years, so this annual weekend of writerly bonding and networking and partying in town IS my vacation. I have friends coming from all over North America for this event, and it’s great!
This year the first workshop was with Canadian author Julie Czerneda, and she had us all building aliens and environs and creating first contact…using pipe cleaners, tissue paper and PlayDoh. We had a blast! Shannon Allen and I ended up with a sentient, space-faring sea slug that lives around Arctic lava vents. That may sound strange to you, but it’s the kind of alien-building help my sci fi novel needs.
Thursday evening was the Guest of Honour Readings at Fish Creek Library, which is this wondrous glass-pyramid structure full of light and inspiration. Julie Czerneda, Ian Hamilton, and Marty Chan all read while I was there. I usually find that author readings can drag on and on because many authors are not the best public speakers, but when the excerpts read are short and filled with energy, and the writers engage with the listeners, it is a delightful time, and this was one of those times.
Friday started off with a half-day workshop with mystery writer Ian Hamilton, who didn’t START his fiction-writing career until he was in his mid sixties, and now he has nearly a dozen books of the exploits of his heroine, Ava Lee.
The Festival officially began at noon on Friday, so I raced home to tend my beasts and made it back in time for the now-infamous Absinthe & Whisky Party put on by my publisher, Tyche Books. If you haven’t tried absinthe, you don’t know what you’re missing. As server/artist Kevin Jepson explained, it leaves your mind very sharp while your body gets more than a little fuzzy.
He was exactly right! I sampled one of the excellent scotches upstairs in the loft, got my absinthe lesson from Kevin (including a generous sample), then headed over to moderate a panel on Humour in Fiction. My mind stayed sharp, my body was a bit silly, and fun was had by all.
The parties continued (I didn’t drink any more), but I eventually had to get home to the beasts (and get some sleep).
Saturday was a big day for me, as we (Tyche Books and I) officially launched my new novel, “Waking Anastasia“, about a young man who accidentally awakens the mischievous ghost of Anastasia Romanova. It was a multi-author event, as I wasn’t Tyche’s only launching author this weekend, so we all did short readings and signed a few books. Here I am with my talented publisher (and editor), Margaret Curelas.
In addition to the Tyche launch, I had a short story in an anthology (“Enigma Front: Burnt“) being launched by my writing group, the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association (IFWA), and I taught a class on Sparking the Idea (for beginning writers). Then it was back home for dinner, a nap with the beasts, walk the dog, and right back to the Festival for the mass autograph signing in which every author at the Festival set up shop and waited for fans to come on by and stroke our egos. My ego got quite a bit of attention because when the signing event started, my publisher only had two copies of “Waking Anastasia” left. As we were packing up at 10pm, Julie and Roger Czerneda rushed over to buy one of those two copies, and then there was one (which sold out first thing the next morning in the Merchants’ Room!).
The usual Saturday Night launches and parties continued and we wandered from event to event, sampling appetizers here and desserts there, and catching up with friends we probably hadn’t seen in person since last year’s festival. This is the weekend when I stock up on hugs to last the rest of the year.
There was the Godfather of Canadian Science Fiction, Rob Sawyer’s, party, Bundoran Books’ launch party (for Jennifer Rahn’s “The Cyanide Process” and Brent Nichols’ “Stars like Cold Fire”) and one or two others which we wandered in and out of to spread the love. Since I had to drive home later, I went without alcohol, which made some of the socializing a bit clunky, but still fun. These weekends are best experienced when you are staying in the hotel, but hangovers are fewer when you drive home to your own bed.
Sunday ‘dragged’ me back to the hotel for another anthology event, this time a tiny one of ten stories which all made the final selection of the Robyn Herrington Memorial Short Story Contest. My absolutely silly superhero send-up, “Space Junk”, was one of the lucky ones. For an hour we all read brief slices of our stories, and in the second hour the four judges (professional editors and publishers) gave us our critiques and rendered their verdicts. “Space Junk” was on the honourable mentions, which was more than I expected for a story about a union superhero rather too proud of the size of his manhood.
Now, if it sounds like I’d had a busy, big-event weekend up to this point, it was all just leading up to my solo presentation, “Meet Anastasia”. With a PowerPoint presentation, I explained to the twenty-or-so attendees exactly where my story had come from (a dream), how much of it was true history (99% of the opening scenes), and what research led me to portray Anastasia the way I did. I had been planning this for months and hadn’t done a PowerPoint presentation in years, so the fingers were crossed…but unnecessarily so. It all went well, people learned a few things, we had a few laughs, and the official part of my weekend was DONE.
There was more visiting, many more hugs, and then I was off home for a nap, a steak, and a few hours of beast attending before returning for the last official party, the “Dead Dog Party” in Boomtown, the hotel’s pub.
Believe it or not, I wasn’t done yet. First thing Monday morning I was back up to the hotel to meet with my road-tripping cohorts, Stacey Kondla, Julie & Roger Czerneda, Cliff Samuels, and Annette Mocek… and we were off to Drumheller, Alberta, and the Royal Tyrrell Museum in the heart of dinosaur country. I could do a whole blog on the hilarity of that day alone, but I will share just one photo which pretty much sums it up.
Yes, it was that kind of silly day. And just in case you’re wondering, that IS a giant T-Rex in the background. Not only does it reside at the Drumheller Tourist info building, but you can fork over a few shekels and climb up the inside, to the head, just like the Statue of Liberty, but less French and much cooler.
Despite the long (terrific) day, There was more to come. Monday evening was the launch of Sarah Kades’ delightful new novel “Kiss Me in the Rain” at the Wildrose Brewery, so Annette and I met up with Julie and Roger Czerneda to keep the party going. It was a great launch, with Editor-Supreme Adrienne Kerr handling the intro of Sarah and her beautiful new book. Food and dancing was enjoyed by all.
Okay. Five days down one to go. You might be thinking that after this much writerly activity, that Day Six would be a great time to chill out and kick back. Not a f*cking chance! Launches and parties and networking are all great and wonderful, but for me the big event is the novel-critique workshop at the end of it all. This workshop is where I do most of my learning and get feedback on my work in progress. My novel “The Broken Shield” was workshopped with Walter Jon Williams one year and then again with my new BFF David B. Coe the next. “Waking Anastasia” was workshopped with Jack Whyte the following year and the author pitch for WA was workshopped with Senior Editor of Commercial Fiction at a Penguin Canada (at the time) Adrienne Kerr. I took that pitch to Maragaret Curelas of Tyche Books, and she bought “Waking Anastasia”. Last year I workshopped my Young Adult fantasy novel with bestie David B. Coe, and I hope to find a publisher for that fun novel soon.
So year, 2016 brough the amazing, wonderful, talented, lovely, (she’s ‘family’, so she didn’t have to pay me to say that) Adrienne Kerr back to Calgary for #WWC2016, and this time she was leading two one-day manuscript workshops. Six of us had sent the first 20 pages of our manuscripts in months before and we’d all been reading and writing critiques in preparation for this day. I won’t bore you with the details, but I find I learn as much about my writing when I critique another author’s work as when they critique mine. I learned a lot, had a lot of fun, and am energized and plowing ahead with this exciting new novel (a psychological thriller, sort of).
Six Days dedicated to writing, publishing, networking, selling, hugging, and absinthe… All done. Until next year.
That’s it, that’s all. Buy my book. Leave a review. 🙂
Ciao for now.