Ad Astra Convention 2016 – Saturday

6 minute read

In the interest of becoming a Real Author, I’ve been trying to network and get to know the local community of Toronto sci-fi and fantasy writers. I’d love to find a local group of SF&F writers to join to share tips, woes and stories. Ad Astra is, according to their website, a “science fiction, fantasy and horror event with a focus on authors”. Perfect.

Today was the main Con day, and it was great! In trying to treat this like a real job, I have notes on the panels and events I attended.

Each event has a tl;dr that was my main takeaway from the panel, with full notes below.

Crafting a Believable Alternate History.

Panelists: Charlotte Ashley, Dominik Parisien, Jack Whyte, Kate Story, Stephen Kotowych

TL;DR. If your goal is to build a believable world, you must do your research. There is no getting around this. Also, Jack Whyte is very Scottish and opinionated (in a good way!).

  • Research. Also: research. Research more!
  • Don’t use research to procrastinate. Make a conscious decision when to adopt research and when to throw it out (and don’t be afraid to throw it out for the sake of a SF&F story).
  • Research especially if your story is set in some kind of historical context. Read everything you can read on it until you think you know everything, and then read a few more books.
  • If your story is not in a historical context, you should still know how things like economies work so that you can make a believable one. See: Good as Gold: Peculiarities of Fantasy Economies
  • Nobody else can do your research for you
  • You might not know exactly what you need to know before you start writing.
  • In SF&F, you have a slightly longer tether when it comes to believability, but it’s not infinite. Don’t stretch your reader’s patience too far by failing to research some critical aspect of the world, e.g. how horses work
  • Cultural appropriation is a bad thing. If you write about a particular culture using common stereotypes, you are failing that culture. See: J.K. Rowling’s History of Magic in North America Was a Travesty From Start to Finish Yes, you have to research this. When can you ignore it? Any time, but don’t be surprised when people call you out on it and you alienate some of your readers.
  • Long, unpronounceable names can alienate part of your readers, and why would you do that?

Common Writing Mistakes from an Editor’s Perspective.

Panelists: Dominik Parisien, Linda Poitevin, Nina Munteanu

TL;DR. Your editor is one of your first readers. All of the rules of writing apply equally to pleasing them as for your other readers. The beginning is even more critical for them, though, because the beginning will determine whether you get fished from the slush pile.

  • Beginning – introduce the story and the voice ** Start at the right place – with conflict (mental or physical) ** Voice is critical – make sure the writing style suits the story and the characters ** Set up the ‘promises’ with the first few pages/paragraphs. The beginning draws the reader in and lets them know how the rest of the book will go.
  • Middle – transitions ** Don’t lose the “want line” – what is your character’s driving goal and why are the readers engaged with them? if you solve their problem too early and the characters wander from thing to thing afterward, it becomes more of a travelogue. Lost the ‘want’ that powered them at the beginning ** Make sure your POV switches stay relevant. The reader has to care about every new character introduced, especially in POV. ** “Kill your darlings”. Especially in the saggy middle, get rid of any scene that you love if it does not contribute directly to the plot.
  • End – wrap everything up ** Don’t end too late – if there is ending after ending after ending, it is exhausting to the reader ** Don’t end too early – without wrapping everything up, it is very unsatisfying to the reader ** Cliffhangers only work later in a book series. The reader has to be very emotionally invested before they’ll accept a cliffhanger ending, and book 1 is not the place for that.
  • Every book needs a clear ending and to finish the main conflicts by the end. ** Sometimes the story is better served by making it a standalone novel ** Don’t be afraid of non-3 book series — 2 books or more than 3. ** If a book is part of a series, every book still needs its own arch that can resolve.
  • Pet peeves ** Head hopping – author unintentionally starts telling the story from the POV of another character ** Beta readers are your best friends. You have to pick them carefully, but once you have them you’re golden. Don’t take just one person’s opinion though; use consensus so that your beta doesn’t end up writing your book for you. ** Of course, all of these rules can be broken, but you have to master the rules first before you can break them. ** If a story is too short or too long for a genre, the editor will work with the author to either trim or pad it out so that it’s sellable. ** Horror works best as short fiction, since it’s “sustained dread” and that can become exhausting for the reader to maintain. ** Editors want your fiction to be the best it can be, so when they mark things as “wrong”, they are trying to help. Don’t get discouraged.

Steampunk Tea Duel

Tiffin master: Todd Clark

TL;DR. Cookies, delicious teas, and a head-to-head competition where you stare at soggy biscuits. What’s not to love?

In tea duelling, competitors dunk biscuits in tea for a prescribed number of seconds, flip the cookie upright, and attempt to balance the soggy biscuit the longest.

J and I were drawn in as soon as we entered the Con suite. It was hugely entertaining. There was some laughter, some tears, and a rogue A/C that tried to take out the cookies on one side of the table. In the end, Ellie (left), the only competitor who was steampunk’d up, took the prize: A all-in-one Downton Abbey commemorative teacup.

Apparently it’s a whole thing at steampunk cons. See: How to become a tea duelist

Dealer’s Room

TL;DR. Upon entering, the first thing you see is books! With mostly words and few pictures! These are my kind of people.

I acquired books:

  • The Iron Assassin by Ed Greenwood. Steampunk London, Queen Victoria is a robot, and there’s an “Ancient Order of the Tentacles”. Free with registration.
  • Dragon Whisperer by Vanessa Ricci-Thode. Husband of dragon whisperer has to convince dragons to behave and find his wife.
  • What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank: A fantasy lover’s food guide by Krista D. Ball. Non-fiction guide to who ate what kinds of food typical fantasy settings (e.g. middle and Victorian ages). Largely European, some Native American and Middle Eastern food traditions too.
  • Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets, edited by Paige Daniels and Mary Fan. Science fiction short stories about women in STEM roles. All proceeds from the anthology go to Society of Women Engineers.

Eeeeeee books!

Leslie Hudson

TL;DR. Geeky music of multiple genres, very good singer. I really want her Star Trek album coming out soon. She played some of the music off it and it sounds awesome.

Artemis suite.

Artemis Second Light Division, Hamilton ON

TL;DR. I spent way more time than I expected working together with four other people to steer a starship and blow things up in space.

Artemis is a spaceship simulator game. It is off-topic here, but I had never played it before and today I spent about 4 hours working the helm of various classes of starships. It was a blast. I only steered the ship into mines twice. And only blew up the ship from said mines once. But I had bad information from the science officer! I did fly directly into the asteroid, and that one was all on me. Oops.


Tomorrow morning I’ll be hitting up one of the panels before dashing off to my writing workshop at 1pm. So far, everyone has been fantastically welcoming and friendly, and I will be delighted to attend again next year.

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