Ad Astra, part three

Panel the Third, and Panel the Fourth: “Non-European Fantasy Worlds” and “Good Research Makes for Better World-Building”

I’m running my report on these two together, because they’re really quite closely linked. The first panel consisted of me, Steven Erikson, Derwin Mak, and Douglas Smith; the second me, Erikson, Derek Kunsken, Julie E. Czerneda, and David Weber.

Blinded by the light. Non-European Fantasy Worlds. After some hassle, we got the lighting guy to turn off the eye-damaging spotlights.

Blinded by the light. Non-European Fantasy Worlds. After some hassle, we got the lighting guy to turn off the eye-damaging spotlights.

The research conversation carries on after the panel ends.

The research conversation carries on after the panel ends.

In both, much of the discussion centred on doing good research. Histories, archaeology, personal travel, and scientific speculation were all discussed. Douglas Smith talked about dealing honestly and respectfully with another culture when writing primary world fantasy about traditions not your own. Erikson made the point that part of the purpose of fantasy was the broadening of horizons that exploring the unfamiliar and unknown brings, while I talked a bit about how the past is just as foreign as another place and that as authors, we need to do just as much research when incorporating elements of the past culture of our own ancestors as of someone else’s. In the world-building panel, Erikson had some rather blood-chilling war-stories of being an archaeologist in Central America in the eighties. Weber talked about the challenges of keeping track of his own technology. Czerneda told the story of building a model of her village of Marrowdell to ensure that the descriptions of light and shadows — essential to the plot and magic in A Turn of Light — would be accurate, while Kunsken described how he’d taken up the challenge of creating plausible life on a planet where a book told him it couldn’t exist. As a bonus, Derwin Mak’s moderating of the “Non-European Fantasy Worlds” panel, by breaking down the programme description into separate questions and working up and down the table to invite each author’s response, before taking questions from the audience, was very instructive. Next time I get volunteered for such a role, I’ll know better what I’m doing.

And the fun stuff . . . not that the panels weren’t fun!

My friend MC and I also attended some other events. Greenwood and Erikson discussing epic fantasy was particularly interesting, in a conversation that ranged over quite a long history, from Gilgamesh and the purpose of epic, to the current obsession with ‘grimdark’ and what that might say about contemporary society. We wandered through the dealers’ room several times, being particularly taken with the beautiful work of Irina at Black Currant Jewelry, and visited Bakka’s table. We took a short shift manning the SF Canada table while Ira had a snack break. Emboldened by one another, we also took an hour-long belly dance lesson. (We are not good at belly dance. We will not be giving up engineering or writing in the near future.) We attended Julie E. Czerneda’s reading from A Play of Shadow, sequel to her fantasy A Turn of Light. And finally, on Sunday, we met up with my friend and manga partner Connie Choi (yes, the manga version of “The Storyteller” is still alive, just in hibernation, since Connie’s a full-time student at present), and after some posing by a spiffy replica TARDIS and Dalek, abandoned the con for supper and some serious writing-and-art talk.

My friend and expedition photographer MC looking ready to be whisked away for adventure. That Dalek is huge and scary. I don't trust those museum exhibit velvet ropes to hold it back.

My friend and expedition photographer MC looking ready to be whisked away for adventure. That Dalek is huge and scary. I don’t trust those museum exhibit velvet ropes to hold it back.

Connie and I and a replica TARDIS. We think it was a replica. We couldn't check, because the door was locked.

Connie and I and a replica TARDIS. We think it was a replica. We couldn’t check, because the door was locked.

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Ad Astra, Part Two

Panel the Second: “Judging a Book by its Cover”
This was a really interesting one. I mentioned the lack of officially-appointed moderators in the previous post, right? So, Ed Greenwood appointed me moderator. What? I don’t know what I’m doing … so the audiences I have most experience dealing with are kids … I’ll just assume the same techniques can keep a panel going …. Well, we all survived. My faithful friend who trailed after me throughout the whole con said this one was the most fun from the uninvolved spectator’s point of view.

Ed Greenwood certainly kept things lively.

"Seriously?" The cover art panel -- lots of fun.

“Seriously?” The cover art panel — lots of fun.

This one contained, in addition to myself, Cathy Palmer-Lister, who brought the reader and book-buyer’s perspective to the table, the one and only Ed Greenwood, and Jen Frankel, who writes, illustrates and publishes the “Blood & Magic” series, as well as being involved in screenwriting. The discussion was wide-ranging and covered things such as what first attracts a reader’s attention, how covers can convey the mood of the story and invite further exploration, the history of cover art in sf, bikini mail and loincloths, those beautiful landscape-based British covers of the eighties and nineties, the changing expectations of both readers and publishers, and current trends, some for the better, some … not. (Paper-doll teens in Photoshop-applied clothes; bloke in cloak and chick in leather pants, right? We’ve all seen them. Over and over and over and …)

This was definitely the panel on which the participants laughed the most. We wandered down a few tangentially-related byways, too, into a shared enthusiasm for the original Nancy Drew stories, among other things. Ed Greenwood’s decades-long experience as reader, author, and librarian was definitely a vital element of this discussion.

more to come in part three …

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Ad Astra 2014, Part One

Ad Astra . . . where to begin?

I set off after a three-day storm, heading west to where I hoped it might, possibly, be spring, and arrived in a grey, muddy, early-spring Toronto with cardinals singing all over the backyards in the tree-filled neighbourhood where I was staying. (Not, technically, part of Toronto, but part of the great sprawl that has devoured all the countryside and towns around-about.) The first night was a chance for three old undergrad friends to meet up and discover we could still talk for hours, and the day after that, a chance to do some writing, keeping house with the cats while my friend was at work, but on Friday we two con-goers set off in high spirits and, on my part, some nervousness. Though I do quite a number of readings every year and not a few workshops, I have been on only one con panel before, and it was a very long time ago at a very small con. At Ad Astra I was on four, and the programming people confessed that they had forgotten to appoint moderators, though they were sure we’d all sort it out . . . .

Panel the First: “Self-Promotion on the Social Media Soapbox”
I was on this one with Beverly Bambury, a publicist, indie author Ellie Di Julio, and Linda Poitevin, author of The Grigori Legacy, among other things.

The Social Media Panel

The Social Media Panel

Self-promotion is not a field in which I excel, so part of what I was there to contribute was the perspective of someone who really isn’t into that sort of thing with any passion — but who really likes Twitter for the way it lets me keep in touch with people with whom I enjoy talking, and with what’s going on in my field(s). From some points of view I’m very much living in a backwater, so I can definitely testify to the usefulness of some forms of social media in keeping in touch with the wider world. Others were better able to talk about ways to use Facebook and Tumblr. Then there was quite a lot of discussion of Google+ and some devoted advocacy for it, which I found interesting, as just that morning some of the people I hang out with on Twitter had been discussing whether or not Google+ had died yet. Did we conclude anything useful to the audience? Mostly that the utility of various social media platforms for connecting with one’s readers was going to vary from author to author, depending on both one’s temperament and where one’s particular pool of readers tended to hang out. (So, I’m a Twitter person, and you can find me here.)

to be continued …

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The Storyteller contest winners!

Whoops, I just realized I never did post the winners in that contest from last month, to win copies of The Storyteller. (One winner asked if they could substitute a Torrie and the Dragonslayers, as they already had The Storyteller.) Their prizes have long been delivered, but here is the official announcement, for the record. The lucky winners, who knew that Moth in fact appears on the cover of Blackdog as the white bird with elements of both owl and hawk, were Meghan, Katie, and Felix. Hooray! Three cheers, etc.! I hope you’re all enjoying your books.

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Con Number One: Off to Toronto for Ad Astra 2014

Well, I’m off to Toronto this coming week, to attend Ad Astra, the first stop in my year of cons. Some authors seem to hit a con a month (at least, that’s the impression I get from the chatter on Twitter!), but for me, even getting to two or three is tricky, so I’m pretty excited. I haven’t been to Toronto (not counting that dreadful plane-voyage where I was benighted on my way to Macedonia), since . . . um . . . well, I lived there for a year back in the last century.

It should be a lot of fun. I’m staying with a good friend, catching up with some other people I haven’t seen in years, and maybe hearing a rehearsal of the Amadeus Choir, among non-con things. At Ad Astra, I’m on several panels, ones discussing social media for authors, cover art, non-European fantasy worlds, and research in world-building. I’m pretty excited about all of those, but especially the latter two — looking forward to some really interesting discussions there.

Plus, it’s Toronto: mochi, canned sweet red beans and ajvar and pindjur in the grocery stores — I’m going grocery shopping.

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Contest winners

Winners in the “on which Swanland/Pyr cover other than The Lady does Moth appear (and in what form)” contest have been chosen! And weirdly, they were all Canadians.

The first entry winner was Meghan from Saskatoon.

In the random draw, Mr Wicked got carried away and selected two winners from further east, Felix and Katie.

Congratulations! Spiffy copies of The Storyteller will be coming to you soon.

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Cover Art for The Lady: Marakand Volume Two

Three rousing cheers and a city in ruins: the cover art for The Lady had been released!

The Lady: Marakand Part Two, cover art by Raymond Swanland

The Lady: Marakand Part Two, cover art by Raymond Swanland

This is the second part of Marakand and continues the story of the assassin Ahjvar, his shield-bearer Ghu, and the temple-dancer Zora begun in The Leopard. The Leopard comes out in June 2014, The Lady in December, and both can be pre-ordered now. Just follow the link to my website, my children, and let the countdown till publication day begin!

The cover shows (naturally) the Lady of Marakand. Is she not beautiful and terrible? Cover artist Raymond Swanland has also included, in the background, Moth, her first appearance on a Pyr cover in human form, and Mikki is lurking there too.

The contest to win copies of The Storyteller is now closed. Thanks for all your entries. Winners to be announced soon in a new post!

Tell you what, let’s have a contest, to celebrate this beautiful cover and console us on the wait till The Leopard comes out. If you’re in Canada or the US (sorry, rest of the world, Canadian postal rates are rather high, even for a slim volume of short stories) Tell me which other Swanland Pyr cover for one of my books actually does show Moth, describe how she appears (because, after all, you have a fifty-fifty chance of guessing right anyway), and if you’re in Canada or the US, I’ll send the first one to get it a signed copy of The Storyteller, which includes the first-published story about Moth and Mikki, in which they exact a fiery revenge for the death of the demon Moraig. Update! The Spouse says, what is this, a radio call-in show? Okay, so, amended contest. The first person to get it right gets one, since I already said that, but, for the next week (let’s say, until I turn off the computer next Tuesday night, March 18th) all the correct answers go into a draw for a second copy of The Storyteller, winner to be selected at random by Mr Wicked. Use the contact form on my website here to enter and don’t forget to give a valid email address, in case you are the lucky winner and I need to get in touch. And, if you live in the UK or somewhere else the Book Depository delivers for free, you can enter after all, and I’ll send you one that way (though it won’t be signed — can’t have everything).

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