First panel, Creativity in Fandom.
Panelists: Errol Elumir, Debs Linden, Chadwick Ginther
The panel covered creative fandom, the ins and outs and the fun. Debs and Errol perform geek music and have just released an EP. Debs also works solo and knits on the side. Chadwick is a novelist. Although the panel was about creativity, LinkedIn recommends that creativity not be used as a keyword; the term is too broad to be meaningful. Get specific. Meanwhile, Chadwick uses music as a fuel for his writing, creating a soundtrack for his novels as they get written. What helps is being creative in your daily life. The creativity helps remove filters. Errol is a great example. Also helping in removing filters, NaNoWriMo, which encourages to, if not kill your inner editor, at least leave it tied up in the closet for a bit. Other ideas to help with being creative is to keep a notebook handy for when ideas strike. Some reading material mentioned was Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, both by Czech psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Animation from Script to Screen by Shamus Culhane, and Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Flow and Creativity both show the need to enter a state of flow where you lose track of time while creating. Animation mentioned the dichotomy between perfection and completion; novels aren't so much finished as abandoned. Taking on crazy challenges, such as NaNoWriMo, still results in something being created and refined as needed. Perfectionism though can be a problem, deadlines help push the project to an end. Also mentioned were "pantsers", people who write/draw/create by the seat of their pants; even they* have pitfalls including poor work and distractability. However, with practice, the processes will be internalized, becoming natural. To help become more creative, keep an eye open for ideas; they're everywhere. Improv classes help remove the internal filter. Watch out for research, it can sometimes become a chase down a rabbit hole, especially on certain sites like Wikipedia and TVTropes. Collaborate; having people participate, even through being first/beta readers, will help keep the creativity going. Again, a very useful panel, for both writers and fans.
Second panel, Marketing for Writers 201: Blog Tours and Other Clever Ideas*
Panelist: Linda Poitevin
A followup to a Friday evening panel, Marketing 101, which I couldn't make, Linda Poitevin presented a talk on virtual tours. Linda is currently on one to promote her latest book in The Grigori Legacy and shared her knowledge. She also came prepared with handouts! A lot of the info can be found on her blog by searching "blog tour". The short of it, a blog tour is a virtual book tour, giving guest columns and interviews at various websites. The goal is to get your name and the title of your book out there to as many people as possible in a short amount of time. There's two ways to go, set up the tour by yourself or hire a tour organizer. In both cases, you need to decide how long the tour will last, how many times a week you'll post, and if you'll have a giveaways during the tour. With an organizer, the bulk of the work will be off your shoulders as the organizer arranges for the sites, makes the needed introductions, and giveaways. The organizer can cost anywhere from one to several hundred dollars, but, in return, a lot of the heavy lifting is done for you. Otherwise, you'll have to research and contact the various hosts. Ideally, you'll appear on blogs that review books that are similar to what you've written. Verify the number of followers the blog has; the idea is to raise your presence. Also check the level of feedback; the number of followers isn't always indicative of the activity on a site. The more active the commentary, the more active the followers are. And keep track of where you're appearing, so that you can send a reminder to hosts of your guest appearance a a week or two in advance and remember what sort of post you're putting up at the site. Prepare your guest posts as soon as possible and send them when they're ready. The posts don't necessarily have to be about the book being promoted; Linda has written about canning on her current tour. When in doubt, ask the host for a topic. Once your post is up, check back a few times over the next few days and the following weekend so you can follow up on feedback. And, above all, remember to send thank yous. Definitely an informative panel for writers.
My last panel, The Mystery Plot Form.
Panelists: Violette Malan, Hayden Trenholm, Robert J. Sawyer, Tom Barlow
The panel was delayed a bit as the Aurora Awards banquet wrapped up; Robert J. Sawyer arrived halfway through the panel because of photography needed after his Lifetime Achievement Award. Once it got started, the panel covered adapting a mystery into a speculative fiction format. The panelists noted that speculative fiction is similar to a mystery, with an investigation into what is happening. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes was the first scientific detective, using methods that were, at the time, akin to science fiction and based on the work of Doctor Joseph Bell and of police officer Bartelet. The key is to know whodunit before starting to write. In effect, mysteries are written twice, once from the end to the beginning to make sure the chain of clues to the perpetrator holds up, and then again from beginning to end to add the needed red herrings. The writer needs to use subterfuge and sleight of hand to distract the reader from the clues. At the same time, the author has to maintain a separation of writer and character knowledge.** The big thing to avoid is the "I don't understand" reaction by the reader; the mystery reader adds a meta-level of reading by trying to solve the mystery along with the investigating character. Mysteries tend to be in series because the lead character is the most empathetic; this can lead to the problem of the lead character not changing as the writers aim to make each book accessable whether a reader picks up book 5 or book 35. The order of most mystery series usually isn't important; however, there are exceptions such as John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series, which has a subtle progression. In science fiction, though, there is a progression; characters develop from book 1 to book 3; missing book 2 means missing key events. Sawyer brought up another aspect once he arrived; his first novel was a science fiction mystery. He saw the Venn diagram of readers of SF and of mystery, with the intersection. He thought he'd reach everyone; instead, he got the intersection.
Summing up the weekend, I am happy I went. First, this was my first con since FanExpo in 2010 where the crowds were far too overwhelming. CanCon was much smaller, intimate, and didn't involve getting trapped going upstream in a crowd. Second, the panels were focused on written work. The panels I went to were either to get information for projects, especially the Traveller idea, about the business of writing, or about the creative fan aspects. I did see some cracks, but that's four years of being a con exec for AC Cubed speaking up. I also had an idea for a panel for next year's, which I do plan on going to.
If you're a writer or a reader of fantasy and science fiction, this is the con to attend.
* Okay, we, but I'll have a post on my methods separate from the review.
** Similar to player versus player character knowledge in RPGs, really.