Creative Ink Festival 2015

Appearances

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of being the Guest of Honor at Sandra Wickham’s inaugural Creative Ink Festival. Held up in Burnaby, BC, the Festival was a day-long event, packed with panels and presentations for writers, artists, and readers. I like doing panels at conventions and usually tell programming folks that I don’t mind being heavily scheduled. Most of the time, convention programming doesn’t think I mean it, but Sandra? Oh, yes, Sandra definitely took me at my word.

The day started with an hour long presentation on “Jumpstarting Your Novel.” I usually do this as a two hour interactive presentation (and have done it as a full-day workshop as well), and so I was a little concerned that compressing this to an hour would turn it into sixty minutes of me blathering as fast as I could. However, as I’m in the process of restructuring this presentation into a more compartmentalized model, this hour was a chance to try out the new format. It seemed like it went well, and the Q & A with the audience gave me some useful feedback. Next step is to start laying out these ideas in a short how-to book format.

photo of the publisher, reading by Patrick Swenson

[photo by Patrick Swenson]

Next was an hour of improv storytelling with Colleen Anderson, Jennifer Lott, and Danika Dinsmore. The audience provided prompts that were either nouns or verbs, and the panelists were to perpetuate a story started by one of the panelists using whatever prompt was on the slip of paper they were given. It took a story or two for us to warm up to the format, but by the end, we were telling complicated narratives and inventing things like the “trans-dimensional information rodeo.”

This sort of panel can expose just how much of a liar a writer is. Er, well, maybe it was just me. Writing is not like public speaking in that you get a few tries to get a sentence right, and if you can’t recall the right word for something, you can take a few minutes and look it up. When you’re in front of a room full of people who are all staring at you? Yeah, there’s no time to wander off and check your vocabulary. Me? I double down. “Listen, lizards are just like toads. Only drier.”

“Uh-huh,” says another panelist. “So they’re just dry amphibians, right?”

“Absolutely,” I say. “You got your dry amphibians. You got your moist amphibians. You got your window-licking big-eye amphibians. You got your fuzzy hat wearing amphibians. They’re all amphibians, really.”

During lunch, we had a fantastic keynote speech from Devon Boorman, who is the Maestro of Academie Duello, the largest European sword fighting school in the world. I tapped out a few aphorisms he offered, which will fail to encompass the breadth of his keynote, but they’re chewy little nuggets nonetheless. My apologies to Devon if I’m misremembering anything he said.

• “Systems and rhythms are much more important than goals.”
• “Break out of the interia between nothing and something.”
• “You get what you want no matter what you get.”
• “What is the difference between nourishment and numbness, and which are you embracing?”

Later in the afternoon, I went into my long stretch of programming, ping-ponging back and forth between the two ballrooms. Action GOH! First, there was “Growing up a Reader,” with Cathy Ace, Randy McCharles, Andrea Westaway, Dani Duck, and Jennifer Lott. Six was one more than the table could easily fit, so I sat in the front row of the audience and grilled the panelists for a while. The group offered up a lot of engaging discussion about their experiences with books at an early age and their perceptions of how people engage with books now. Great stuff, and I learned a few things about the modern fascination with YA that have been eluding me.

Next up was my second presentation of the day: “Everything from Nothing: Giving Yourself Permission to be Creative.” Somewhat facetiously, I had imagined this being a very short presentation. I stand in front of a room full of people and assume the attitude of the kindly old fart. “You all have my permission to suck,” I would say. “And you all have it in you to finish the book you are working.” Followed by a moment of silence, and then: “Okay, thanks for coming this afternoon.” Mic drop; exit stage left.

Yeah, it was the other 48 minutes that were going to be a bit trickier to fill. Fortunately, the structure I’ve been using for the Jumpstart presentation also works for the Permission model. Again, a little bit of guinea pig testing with the audience, but the hour went by quickly and there were a lot of good questions and discussion with audience. I’m calling that one a win.

Then, an hour of insider talking about self-publishing with Randy McCharles, Katrina Archer, Jo-Anne McLean, and Sabina Khan. All of whom wrote their books, did their research, and then self-published their books directly. Me? I wrote some books and then went off and started a publishing company. I’m not sure I’m doing it right. But I had some insight into indie publishing at that level somewhere between publishing one title a year and the massive juggernaut of traditional publishing.

Publishing is, in my opinion, still in a lot of flux. The tools to publish your own books get easier and easier to use, which makes the reality of self-publishing more affordable and more available all the time. The flip side of that is books are being published at an astonishing rate, which makes discovery much more difficult. And it’s not just for indie publishers. Big publishers have the same problem as well, and while they have name recognition and presence in the marketplace, they’ll still caught in the same flood of content.

Our discussion boiled down to: “Write. And keep writing.” More and more, this is becoming the only truism worth holding on to.

Finally, we had an hour of Live Action Subs. Audience members submit the first page of a story or novel. Our esteemed reader—the always delightful Ian Alexander Martin of Atomic Fez—performs a cold reading, and the panel of grumpy editors and publishers indicate when they would stop reading. Discussion ensues with the intent of providing insight into why a story might get rejected beyond the frustratingly oblique form rejection one normally gets.

For instance: One of the first times, I did this panel, we had a story that kicked all of the panelists out before the reader finished the first line. Why? “Girlfriend in the fridge,” one panelist said. “If this was supposed to get my attention and shock me, where are you going to go from here?” another said. Which led to a discussion about bad story tropes and pacing, all of which was more detail than is ever detailed in “thanks for sending this story, but it didn’t work for me” form rejection response.

This iteration of the Live Action Subs Hour included Patrick Swenson, Claude Lalumière, Alex C Renwick, Jennifer Landels, and myself. I was the youngster of the group in regards the number of manuscript pages that had passed across my desk over the years, and it was fascinating to learn the various quirks of each experienced editor. Proving, yet again, how much of publishing is a matter of personal taste. As both Claude and Alex were keen to remind our audience: a rejection of a story is merely a disconnect between that story and that editor. The writer should always hold fast to their belief in the value of their work. Never stop submitting.

At the afterparty of this year’s event, even though we were all worn out after a long day of hard work, I could tell that Sandra was already refining her vision of the Festival. She’s got plans to build CIF into a world-class weekend for writers, artists, and readers, and as this first year ably demonstrates, she’s well on her way.

The Creative Ink Festival will be back next year when the Guests of Honor will be Carrie Vaughn and Galen Dara. I’m trying to convince Sandra that I should get a sash that says “Old GOH” (or maybe just “Old Goat”), and my job will be to sit in a comfy chair in the lobby and direct traffic with a stick. But I suspect that she’s going to put me on a bunch of panels instead. Which will be fine too.

As long as I get that sash.

Dodging Work

Ruminations

I still read a few newsletters, mostly from folks who are very diligent about posting regularly, and whose missives are always a delight to read. They usually offer at least one interesting thing to go read/look at/listen to. I like receiving these missives because they let me know that other people are busy thinking/dreaming/creating. I tell myself I should do something similiar, but then other things intrude and weeks go by.

Warren Ellis recently mentioned buying himself a countdown timer with thirty days on it, and I like that idea. Time management becomes critical when you have too many things to do and not enough hours to do them all. Rather, when you THINK you have not enough hours to do all the things you THINK you should do. Let’s face it: there are many ways we get in our way when it comes to be being productive. I’ve got one of those right here on the desk next to me. My iPad. Meant to allow me to read and write while not at my desk. More often than not, it’s next to my desk, distracting me from reading and writing.

I have a stack of Field Notes notebooks. I’m getting better about using them to keep track of the daily thoughts and lists, but my desk is still awash with scraps of paper that I don’t really need to keep. I have trouble putting things away–throwing them away, in fact–because I haven’t allowed myself the mental space to decide that this scrap is no longer needed. Eventually, I do throw them away, but only after they’ve been covered time and again with bits of math, scrawled URLs I never get back to, and line items from lists that are never finished.

Am I really this busy, or am I using all this as an excuse to dodge work that needs to be done? If things never get finished, then they can never suck, you know? It’s always better in your head–that unrealized dream. Once it is down on paper or on the screen, then, well, it dies a little bit, doesn’t it? It’s easy to second guess and fret about the Thing Done. We should be better about moving on to Thing Next instead of staring at Thing Done. Or, rather, the shape of Thing Not Quite Done.