14 Oct 2013

Review - Can*Con 2013 - Part 1 - Saturday

This past weekend, October 11-13, 2013, saw Can*Con 2013 held in Ottawa, Ontario.  I wrote a review for MuseHack, but the following is the more personal approach.

Before I get into the details, I will mention that I took notes.  Those very notes are the reason why the review is late.  Take a look at my handwriting at the start of the first panel.
Chicken scratches are more legible.

Someone should hire me to encrypt messages.  Even in plaintext, it's hard to figure out.

I was not able to get to the convention the Friday evening.  The program shows a variety of panels, including one for first time con attendees, one about chemical weapons and synthetic medicine, a marketing panel, and humour in science fiction, along with a concert at the end of the evening that included open mic filking.

Saturday morning, I arrived with a rough idea of what I wanted to see, a mix of panels to stimulate the imagination and panels to learn about the business side of writing.  While I did notice some organizational issues, the problems wouldn't be apparent to most attendees; experience running a convention let me see a few cracks that most people would miss.  However, I paid for the weekend, I was off to the panels and the rest of the weekend went smoother than expected.

First panel, Atmospheres Around Solid Bodies: Mars, Venus, Titan, Pluto.
Panelist: Science guest of honour Mark Robinson
The panel covered meteorology on rocky planets. using Earth as a basis; my reason for going was to learn more for a personal project.  Robinson is a meteorologist, hosting StormHunters on the Weather Network, and has experienced the more extreme weather here on Earth.  He then extrapolated that information to show how weather would work on Mars, Venus, and Titan.  Definitely was worth getting to, and the questions from the audience were intelligent.

Second panel, Going Viral: Infection and Disease in Speculative Fiction.
Panelists: Lynne M. MacLean, PhD, Leslie Brown, Wayne Conlan, PhD, and Cameron McDermaid.
As the title implies, the panel covered how diseases spread, again using real data as a base to build on.  Again, this was more for personal projects, both current and future.  Cameron McDermaid is part of the Ottawa Public Health Unit, tasked with tracking rates of infection while Leslie Brown, Dr. Conlan and Dr. MacLean are research scientists.  Also again, the audience asked good questions about the nature of viruses and bacteria and the vectors used.

Third panel, The Business of Writing.
Panelists: Authors Suzanne Church, Jean-Louis Trudel, Karen Dudley, and Chadwick Ginther.
This was the first panel about the business side of writing that I attended, and it was loaded with information.  Topics covered included the use of social media and how to use it, how to balance the time spent between writing and marketing, the pros and cons of self-publishing beyond just the still lingering stigma.  Also mentioned, be nice to fans; word of mouth can work against authors, too.  Also to keep in mind, electronic catalogues can now track a writer's online presence, so just having accounts on various social media platforms isn't enough; writers need to be social on social media, too.  Also useful, especially in light of the track almost dedicated to it, learning how to give readings; sometimes a good reading can pull in people who didn't expect to be buying the book.  The financial side lead to more useful information, including what and how to claim for expenses.  Even books and magazines can be expensed by writers.  Since Can*Con is Canadian, there was a mention of an extra hoop when publishing an e-book through Amazon.com.  The bookseller requires an American tax number; the panelists mentioned that both EIN (Employer Identification Number) and ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) and how to get them.  The panel was well attended and, yet again, had thoughtful questions from the audience about processes.  This panel, if no other, was a key one for aspiring authors.

The next panel I went to was Women as Authors and Women as Fans.
Panelists: Marie Bilodeau, Linda Poitevin, Cherry Valance, and Robin Riopelle.
With the controversies involving authors snubbing women writers and the "fake geek girl" turducken of insanity happening, the panel set out to find positive solutions.  The odd woman out, Cherry Valance, is a fan, not an author, but is very active in the Capital Geek Girls, a group to promote activities for the geek girl.  The problem, though, isn't limited to fans or to creative types; it's systemic, pervasive through society.  There are no easy solutions, but ideas were presented.  One was the idea of a safespace, especially at conventions, where someone can go to get away or someone to go to when help is needed.  Another was increasing awareness, having panels at conventions similar to this one, raising the issues.  Changing the language used is also important; assertiveness isn't being bitchy, it's standing up for what is right.  The changing of the word changes the impression of the action.  Marketing must be brought on board; too often, the packaging becomes limiting, with pastels signfying a book for women only, even if the story might appeal to men, too.  Marie Bilodeau ran into this problem with one of her early novels; it got the pastel treatment, leading people to believe the romance was the main plot when, in reality, the main plot involved explosions.  If the previous panel was key for just authors, this panel was key for everyone.  Fortunately, a good cross-section of the attendees were there, women and men, young and old.

After lunch, the first panel I went to was Gas Giants to Hot Jupiters to Brown Dwarfs.
Panelists: Mark Robinson, Peter Watson, and Derek Künsken.
Like the first panel on I went to, this was about weather, this time on gas giants.  Again, this was for a personal project and, again, very useful for my needs.  Plus, finding out about gas giants where precipitation is molten iron and molten glass.  Definitely geared towards the writers of science fiction.

[And look at what the BBC is now reporting: raining diamonds on Jupiter and Saturn.  Fuel skimming of gas giants is not as easy as it sounds.]

Late in the afternoon, I went to Cripping the Light Fantastic.
Panelists: Derek Newman-Stille, Tanya Huff, and Dominik Parisien.
The panel covered the role of the disabled, starting with a "Disability Bingo" featuring slides of characters from speculative fiction in all media, based on various tropes including "Disabled as mentor for hero", "The magical or technological cure", and "Disability as ugliness".  As society became more sensitive to the needs of the obviously disabled, some tropes were seen less and less, but the disabled character is beginning to be all about the disability and not a full character.  Awareness will help, but efforts will be needed.  This panel was for fans and writers, to help recognize the issues.

[Since the convention, I managed to catch an episode of the remade Ironside series.  Although I can't really extrapolate from just one episode, that one managed to avoid the major tropes covered, having Sergeant Ironside be a detective sergeant first and foremost.  Time will tell, but, so far, Ironside is a character first, his disability second.]

Afterwards, I went to the panel Researching for Fantasy Stories
Panelists: Matthew Johnson, Karen Dudley, and Mike Rimar
Another panel aimed more for writers, the topic covered world building and researching.  Brought up was the /National Geographic/ test on amount researched; if you have enough information to write an article on the subject for the magazine, you have enough information to work with in writing.  When it comes to a fantasy world, start with the science and extrapolate while watching out for incompatibilities.  While it is easy to take an example from Earth, elements of the world may break the sample.  Allow readers to fill in the gaps.  Solid advice from the panel.

Last panel of Saturday was National Novel Writing Month!  Aspiring Writers: Do It!  Commit!  Commit!.
Panelists: Nicole Lavigne, Geoff Gander, Maaja Wentz, and Chadwick Ginther
The panel covered what NaNoWriMo is, the aspects of writing 50 000 words in thirty days, and the social elements.  Also covered were software to help keep writers going through the month, including Write or Die and Written Kitten, and some dirty secrets of NaNoWriMo, including the fact that editors dread December.  Professional writers have also used the month to get a start on a side project, working out a first draft while still working on their main works.  Most of the audience had participated in NaNoWriMo before, but the panel allowed for an exchange of ideas and for getting to know others embarking on the same insane ride.

Remember that handwriting sample?  Here's a sample of my handwriting by the end of the day.  I, for one, welcome the computer revolution.
And that's when I print.  Imagine proper cursive.

As soon as it's written, the review for the Sunday will be posted.


  1. I think it's awesome that you took the time to link out to all the author blogs. Also the day looks really interesting - particularly that "business of writing" and the problem of writing versus marketing. I find it's difficult if not impossible to manage both in addition to a day job, as far as my serial goes.

    Incidentally, I have few problems with the shorthand. Maybe it's the teaching, or my years of secretary work? You should just hire an interpreter?
    First page: Exometeorology; guy from Stormbearers; weather = chaos science predictions: partly cloudy and yesterday's leaf(?); physics is physics; heat big influence (sun)
    Last page: NaNoWriMo; first time stories; fiercely(?) competitive atm (at the moment); write ins; November Is Not Enough; Time management less.

    Looking forward to the rest!

    1. It's a small part of the delay in getting the review of the Sunday up. The larger parts being deciphering and time constraints. The "Business of Writing" panel was instructive. It's a toss up. However, something the MuseHackians thought of was pooling together resources; mutual marketing efforts to spread around the work. Promote three books at once.

      You're good, but there's a few mistranslations. :)
      First page, Stormbearers is actually Stormchasers and is really Stormhunters. Long range predictions sometimes turn into a guess of partly clouding using yesterday's temperature (written as temp where you guessed leaf.)

      For the last page, friendly instead of fiercely, atm was cut off from atmo for atmosphere, less was to be lessons but disappeared off the photo. :)