Saturday, 28 March 2015

CanCon 2014: Part 2

I learned about the Canadian Content Convention in 2013, and previously blogged about that experience. I returned for 2014. I then got distracted by life, hence why this little summary of travels and the events of October is being posted in March 2015. Oops.

If you missed part 1, find it here, filled with talk about Joss Whedon, World Building, and more. I pick up here at 4pm on Saturday.



WATTPAD


It’s a growing online writing community (panelists: Maaja Wentz, Linda Poitevin, Mark Leslie-Lefebvre) based out of Toronto, still at the “ground floor” of popularity. At present, writers are something of a limited resource (the place is 95% readers) with the majority being Young Adult. However, R.L. Stine and Margaret Atwood have both talked about it. Linda Poitevin chronicled her journey into Wattpad on her blog.

The format is serial fiction (a chapter by chapter style of publishing). Each “chapter” read counts as a “read” (so divide to get number of readers). Updating (to correct typos) doesn’t mean you lose reads. Anyone can publish anything at any time. Recommended that you publish Friday (or Wednesday and Friday) since most people start reading on Saturday.

Be careful with RIGHTS: Putting a whole novel online is a contravention of licensing (e.g. for Kindle), but maybe you put up half. Though some may not commit to reading until you’re finished. There’s also the fact that if it’s successful first on Wattpad, publishers may call you, and you can take the book down if you sell the rights. People were posting tagged NaNoWriMo novels in 2013.

You need to regularly post, to become visible (and some stories get “featured”). Romance is currently a popular area. Anything “mainstream” means for adults. It’s also multimedia, you can post up trailers or art and pick casting choices for characters. There IS a Code of Conduct. Don’t promote your story on other comments, you cannot block but can report behaviour, and while people may request feedback, know that you cannot help everybody.


SLAPDOWN AND OUT


At 5pm I went to the “Fantastic Weather Slapdown”, entirely because of Mark Robinson’s interesting perspectives back in the “World Building” panel. (He’s a meteorologist with The Weather Network, also a storm chaser.) Here’s how the Slapdown worked: Mark would present a weather phenomenon. It was up to Erik Buchanan (Fantasy), Julie Czerneda (Science Fiction) and David Nickle (Horror) to come up with a short story related to said phenomenon. “Improv at it’s finest.”


The weather effects were: Rains of various types (fish, blood...), Catatumbo lightning, Ball lightning, Derecho wind storms, Firenadoes, and a more theoretical Hypercone (winds at the speed of sound). These pre-planned items were exhausted by 5:25, so Mark pulled out a few more off the cuff. Ice Storms, Acid Fog, Les Suetes Winds (Cape Breton), Green clouds during thunderstorms (see hail), Roll Cloud, Thunderstorms, Waterspouts, and Katabatic Winds.

I didn’t write down much in the way of the short stories. I do recall a couple instances of Reincorporation (callbacks) - Horror had a grandma, SciFi had purple things with one eye, and Fantasy had a baseball game: Greek v Norse Gods. It was all good fun, no one was declared a winner. It finished a bit before 6pm, giving me time to go back down to the Dealers Room before it closed to buy “Smash Fear” from Kevin T. Johns.

I then chatted a bit with friends, and swung by the Hospitality Suite once more. Ended up discussing Babylon 5 and Doctor Who with some people up there (one recalling when 5 minute segments were aired after Classic Who episodes). Learned that “Newhart” was all a dream within the “Bob Newhart” show. Eventually headed home for dinner - I think this might have been a big marking papers weekend.


SOCIAL READING


Sunday started at 10am, I went to “Social Media 201” with Linda Poitevin. (I’d enjoyed “Marketing for Writers 201” last year.) She’s spent 3,000 hours over the last 3 years investigating social media; 72% of all Internet users are now social media active. She’s eliminated platforms like G+, Tumblr and LinkedIn in favour of marketing on three: Twitter, Facebook and Wattpad.

The main thing with social media is you have to be SOCIAL, be in conversations, not just self publicizing. Don’t necessarily seek out other authors - you need readers, reviewers, bibliophiles. On Twitter, to manage your followers, use lists (keep 10-20 followers per list, unlimited number). Don’t use the egg pic, there’s a ’twitter bio generator’, and also ’tweriod’ to find out when followers are online. You have an 86% higher chance of a RT if there’s a link, and images create double the engagement.

Twitter DOs: Personalize your profile. Respond to all @ posts. Vary your posts. Promote others. Consider Writer Wednesday & Follow Friday. Twitter DONTs: Use auto responders. Overpromote. (For every 10 regular posts, allow 1 promotional.) Double promote. (Same message on multiple platforms - vary it.) Other apps: BufferApp (schedule up to 10 tweets for free), picmonkey (make banners fast), manageflitter (unfollows account types). Try to optimize everything for a mobile device.


With regard to Facebook, use a PAGE vs a PROFILE. The latter you cannot promote. The former you can Boost a post (choosing amount of $), create an Advertisement (turn off the right column ads), or do Unpublished/Dark (something that won’t appear on your page, but can target it elsewhere to learn more). Facebook will analyze hits per image choices. Make sure to change their “per day budget”, and don’t continue unproductive ads. Aim for 3-5 posts per day - again, can be scheduled. With regard to Wattpad, see above.

At 11am, I stuck around for “Different Ways of Reading” (panelists: Nicole Lavigne, Mike Rimar, Derek Kunsken, Peter Halasz). The idea is you read text differently if it’s for pleasure, for acquisition, for editing, for critique, that sort of thing. We have different “Reading Hats”, some of which are worn simultaneously (beta readers may incorporate many). There may even be a ‘SciFi’ hat vs a ‘Fantasy’ hat for genres. Or you may put a hat on after, to analyze what you just read.

Personal taste can’t enter into it when selecting for a magazine. Could be someone’s readership won’t read (a) or (b) but if one is only critiquing/proofreading, that's not an issue. Nicole’s job required including a personalized comment, to make writers who submit feel more valued, which does make the job harder. There was also mention of “tripping”, which is when you realize that you are reading, making something feel like work - related to involuntary hat wearing, if you notice certain weaknesses in the material.


SUPERHEROES


For whatever reason, superheroes have never really grabbed me - but I wanted to see “Do Superhero Tropes Devalue Collective Action?”. Perhaps because something resonated in the title, also because Jay Odjick was on the panel (with Mark Shainblum and Su Sokol). Jay was the Media Guest of Honour, his graphic novel KAGAGI has become an animated TV series (debut was during the con), and his art is on the Program Book. As he said at one point: “You can’t tell a superhero story in the real world, because their existence changes the real world drastically.”


It's Tempus, from my post #100!
Does a belief in ideals remove our impetus to change societies? We want to have a hero to take care of our problems for us. So we must make a distinction between ‘someone will save us!’ and ‘we should aspire to be like him’. Moreover, superheroes don’t have to follow society’s rules. You want to dress up in “real life”? Cops can shut that down, if it’s illegal to walk down the street in a mask (misdemeanour, concealing identity). Is Bruce Wayne better off spending his money building schools?

It was noted that Canadian history doesn’t have the same “lone avenger” mentality as the Americans seem to. Also superheroes have had to reflect culture: Jewish people weren’t writing Jewish superheroes. And what happens after the villain's captured? They go on the FBI list? When the story ends, reality begins. Who fights to correct social injustices? All ordinary people need to relate to the new heroes.

How about superhero collectives? (Fantastic Four, Green Lantern Corps) Generally they’re trying to preserve the status quo, not overthrow it (though see X-Men). I’ve scribbled ‘government overreach’ here. Then there’s the danger of trivialization: Is Marvel turning World War II into a fight against Hydra, rather than the Nazis? Superhero battles reflecting cultural battles can even become cliche. Though one can also add gravitaas by using real events, and metaphors can survive rather than “date” a storyline.

How could superhero stories inspire collective action? There's the idea of collaborating with ‘ordinary’ people, or other people with different skill sets. Even in a collective, it’s still important to have leadership - a final decision. Sometimes a superhero is a guy in a suit (if we elect this person, will he save us). Justice League Unlimited was very political. Of course, everyone has a different opinion of “What happens next” if Superman lands in Ferguson. (...That’s still relevant from October? It’s a crazy world.)

Finally, we’re growing up. Superheroes didn’t, corporations are trying to keep traditions. You can’t do breakthrough characters now, you’re dealing with shareholders, not the public. (“Screw you, I need money to put my kids through college.”) Yet we need more diversity. And things are now more morally ambiguous (whether that’s from us being older, or in the world as a whole... I don’t specify).


After the panel, I had to head out... I forget if I stayed for a bit of Jay Odjick’s “The making of Kagagi”, I do remember him talking about some of the challenges involved in adapting the graphic novel to TV, but that might have been at another time. For instance, he said it’s not simple to animate a lot of trees, so (if memory serves) rather than jumping between them, Kagagi’s wings became more of a feature, to have battles in the air. Also there were some stylistic issues.

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed reading this, and got something out of it! I will probably return in 2015 - not sure if I’ll continue the blogging, considering my track record? Is it worthwhile?

Saturday, 21 March 2015

CanCon 2014: Part 1

I learned about the Canadian Content Convention in 2013, and previously blogged about that experience. I returned for 2014. I then got distracted by life, hence why this little summary of the events of October is being posted in March 2015. Oops.

This has been here the whole time... yes...

FANDOM TO FILK


Long story short, I started the Con late on Friday, arriving to the 8pm panel “The Past, Present and Future of Fandom” partway though. (On panel: Jo Walton, Madeline Ashby, SM Carriere, Liz Westbrook-Trenholm) These days there IS more of a connection between writers, fans, even actors. It was remarked on that genre writers start as fans, while literary writers may be more isolated. They don’t necessarily have a place they can go to talk to fans of their work, or people who are writing similar works. Success can also be a barrier. “Neil Gaiman can’t go to a convention to hang out anymore.”

Benefits of fandom: Community is nice. People may recommend & defend you to others. Flip side: Stalkers and haters. Tends to be 1 in 100, so “need to be more popular to be more hated”. Don’t engage them. May even need to avoid posting about it on a personal blog, because your FANS may escalate the situation, going after the person. (I believe it was Jo who told a story of a guy who accused “you sicced your posse on me!” and she hadn’t even realized.) Noted that as things get big there’s a tendency to fragment (otherwise it’s overwhelming).

At 9pm, went to the Open Mic Filk (Farrell McGovern as MC). No one had a guitar. There were about 6 of us, we chatted a bit. (There was a publisher party upstairs that may have influenced attendance.) Eventually I started off some actual singing, as I’d brought a karaoke file on my PC for the Carly Rae Jepsen sendup “It’s Probability”. (I sing the math hits, in case you were unaware.) Someone else led a round (based on... Charles Stross??). A young lady who had sung a “Homestuck” song last year also contributed, this time on the same show but she had written it herself.

Things broke up a shade after 10:15. I took a quick look upstairs in the Hospitality Suite to see what the big deal was about the party, and left the hotel a bit after 10:30pm.

WHEDON TIME


I’d considered the writing and editing workshop (10-noon) with Julie Czerneda, but a large number had already signed up on the Friday, so I met elsewhere with friends I hadn’t seen in a while instead; if you’re wondering about the workshop, check out this entry on Brandon’s blog. I arrived about 11:30 and went to the “Dealers’ Room”. Wandered about a bit, chatted with the people hoping to bring the int’l convention to Quebec, and to Kevin T. Johns. Walked with him up to the next panel, which he was on.

Said panel was “The Whedonverse” (panelists Kevin Johns, Timothy Carter, Derek Newman-Stille). Started with “Buffy”, as you do. Noted that she was entering post-secondary around the same time as some panelists/audience, giving that extra bit of relevance for the time. Buffy was an “outsider”, someone on the “fringe”. The show was great with metaphor, and the story arcs always had a payoff (unlike, say, “X-Files”). The characters would also transition, which wasn’t typical at the time, like Xander going into employment rather than keeping the cast together academically.

Talk transitioned from “Buffy” to “Firefly”, which also had strength of character - which was largely lost when episodes were aired out of order. It was also a mashup of genres, not merely a “Space Western”. The cancellation of the series was raised as being a possible transition point in Joss Whedon’s career. Serenity (the movie) seen as more traditional: he was a “slave of two masters”, having to be faithful to the fans but also produce a successful film.

The power of an “open myth” was discussed, as Joss likes to leave items open and unanswered. An audience LIKES to think about such things. Perhaps Canadians in particular - the point was raised, do we like the grey areas more than Americans? It’s also true that the issues Joss tackles don’t HAVE easy answers anyway. Joss also likes to play with viewers’ expectations and stereotypes: strong female characters can still like frilly bows. Loki (from Marvel universe) was mentioned as an extension of Joss... playful and a trickster, but also makes fun of himself.

His “Much Ado” movie was referenced, as it shows his abilities beyond being a writer (Shakespeare wrote the script). “Dollhouse” was brought up, and the idea that we’re all “playing roles” or “wearing masks”. Also his brother’s work on “Agents of SHIELD”, and it was noted that with a father who worked in TV, perhaps it opens more doors for the 3 Whedon brothers. (The problems of Hollywood were remarked on here too.) Concluding thought, is Joss still as subversive now as he was with “Buffy”? (Feeling was no...)

After this was the Time Travel panel, which has been my thing since grade school, hence why I managed to previously blog about it here.

FANTASY WORLDS


From 2-3pm, I went to “I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Read That! (Fantasy)” (panelists Kathryn Cramer, Peter Halasz, Jo Walton, Matthew Johnson, Yves Menard). There was brief discussion of Jo’s “suck fairies” before starting - a detail fairy that ‘sucks’ some pleasure out of a story you read when you were younger, because you didn’t notice sexism or other cultural issues. Then the first question: What’s the biggest gap in terms of recommending an author/title?

One issue is a person can’t necessarily appreciate current things without knowing the building blocks. (“There are protocols!” Perhaps something’s being subverted?) Another is not knowing a person’s preferences. (What do you already read?) There’s also the fact that “Fantasy” is really broad. And is the person reading for love as literature, more for pleasure, to be a completist...? Some names that got tossed around: Robert Aickman, Pamela Dean, Susan Palwick, Guy Gavriel Kay, Naomi Kritzer, John M. Ford, Christopher Moore. (Some of those names from second question, about who’s current.)

Third question, who are the pillars of history? Names included Lewis Carroll, Edison (who came before Tolkien), and Lord Dunsany. Dracula was also referenced as the only book that has remained in print - other than the Bible - it’s terribly written, but has sublayers. There was also some question about whether Fantasy is more Genre or Tradition. And there was a fourth question of one book to pass on to people, but all I got down in my notes is “The Once and Future King”.

From 3-4pm, “Face-Palms of World Building” (with Mark Robinson, Andrew Barton, Julie Czerneda, Cenk Gokce). If you misfire in world building, you’ll lose 5% of readers who can’t get into the story because of it (like Dune: no oceans = no climate). Worse, if you’re writing in a sub genre (military SF, historical fantasy) that 5% could be your whole audience! Noted that a lot of world building may not appear, particularly in short stories, but should be known by the author.

Don’t necessarily explain, which can also pull a reader out. Use word choice: “The door dilated”. Or the detective who puts his hand on the car hood - you don’t need to spell out that it’s to see if the car’s been running. If the setting is Vancouver, people there wear raincoats, they DON’T use umbrellas - meaning a person with an umbrella is automatically branded a tourist. The panelist knew this because he talked to someone from Vancouver. This is a good plan, if you’re writing about a place you’ve never been.

“Everyone knows the weather”: Be careful of this trap! Game of Thrones has decades long seasons, and yet the implications of such do not appear in the story! (For example, hurricanes happening on a regular basis.) You even have to be careful with small things - which way are your rivers flowing? Is this creating a swamp in the middle of town? You can also USE the weather to drive stories. Thunderstorms MUST appear if you have a land mass like North America... unless no, because wizards on flying carpets? 

Speaking of, magic needs rules. If magic has no COST, why not always use it? If magic carpets exist, why are they restricted? Economies are based on scarcity of resources. It was noted that the “Avengers” movie gets portals wrong: Zero millibars in space, about a thousand millibars on Earth. Things move from high pressure to low pressure (creating winds which in this case would swirl at 1600 mph, whereas 318 mph is the max on Earth). Fix it - only solid matter can get through? (Suffocating Iron Man, oops?) The game “Portal” does them right.

There was also some mention of World Cultures. #AllOfTheTopias tend to bend everything (for good or bad) to make a point. Planets aren’t homogeneous, so what part of the planet is the “alien race” from? (One with scarcer resources?) Also, it’s warmer up in Alert in February as compared to Ottawa because there’s no dampness. Are all your characters the same age? Climate can also drive how entire cultures evolve. If the direction the Earth spins drives thunderstorms over planes - what if Earth spun THE OTHER WAY? “CliFi”: Climate Change Fiction?

I’ll let you ponder that, and finish the recap next week.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Product of: It’s Time

At some point, what you've written needs to get out there, otherwise it will require serious editing.

This post will clarify that statement, after which I’ll talk more personally about my time travel story.




TIMELESS


First, the statement is not saying that you should publish without serious editing. It’s saying that even AFTER doing all your editing, once you have a near PERFECT story - if you pull it out five years later, you’ll need to update everything.

Granted, this will depend a bit on if your story is timeless, or a product of it’s time. If it’s the former, you have more latitude. For instance, if you’re writing a historical drama, or a dystopian future, or a fantasy romance, it might make for good reading whether it’s 1980 or 2015. But even so, consider something like “The Hobbit” - when adapting it for the movies in present day, there needed to be more done with female characters (so I’ve heard, haven’t watched it, geek cred gone). Because an all male cast is the sort of thing society now frowns on. Other big issues along with gender (which is no longer binary!) are race and diversity. What was acceptable even ten years ago might not be acceptable now.


But it’s not only our society. Scott Delahunt wrote a good “Lost in Translation” column about our changing technology. If you’re currently writing a story about teenagers, and they don’t all have cell phones, there should be a REALLY good reason for that. Something that was not an issue fifteen years ago. And looking ahead another ten years, cell phones might date a story as being “very 2010s” because everyone will have wrist phones, or who knows what. And let’s not even start with how pop culture references can horribly date things.

Speaking as a writer, this is a real pain.

Worse, my writing has always trended towards urban fantasy, which leans much more towards being “a product of it’s time” than other genres. Because it includes more present day elements. And while it’s all well and good to invoke an alternate universe, an audience isn’t going to engage with the material if it’s too dated or unfamiliar. So, at what point does a story run past it’s “best before” date for publication? No idea. I’m now shifting gears to look at me, personally.


IT’S TIME


I have resisted publishing my time travel story online for two key reasons: (1) Once it’s online, there are issues with traditional publishing and/or plagiarism. (2) It’s technically incomplete.


My characters can stop glaring any time now...
I AM going to be putting it online shortly because: (1) The idea of publishing has always been secondary in my mind, and for all I know someone else will come up with the ideas independently. (2) It’s complete in as much as any show is complete at the end of it’s second season... plus it’s becoming dated.

Also, the writing kind of sucks. Don’t get me wrong, my grammar is great, the characterization is solid, and the ideas are innovative. But the majority of characters are white (Luci, the exception, inadvertently became a stereotypical asian brainchild), the thing takes forever to get going (there’s remarkably little time travel, I’m a character writer) and let’s face it, the whole idea behind DOING writing is that one improves at it over time.

Combine that with the fact that I already revised the whole thing once from 2012-2014 (see this post for more backstory), and you’ll see why I don’t relish doing it again. Besides, if I start publishing 3,000 words every week, right now... it will STILL take over a year and a half to get through. Who knows what else will happen by then?

So. It’s time. Two questions remain:

1. Do I take over my “Choose Your Path” web serial to do it? (After the current arc.) This is my inclination, since putting “Time Trippers” on that site was always kind of the plan. Yet in September, I wanted to write, not publish older material - whereas I now have the option of reviving my math web serial to keep me busy. But is that too jarring? The other option would be putting it onto Wattpad, but I haven’t fully investigated there yet. Or should I do both?

2. How big should a part be? My first season is a full 22 episodes, verging on 7,000 words each, WAY too much for a week of reading. The easiest thing to do is chop them in half (where I used to have commercial break cliffhangers), but the easiest thing isn’t necessarily the right thing. Would 1,500 words twice a week be better? For that matter, how often/when should I update? I was thinking only on Fridays.

I welcome your thoughts!! As before, I’m a writer regardless, but I feel better bringing joy to others, as opposed to wasting your time. To that end, your input is invaluable. Thanks for reading this much!

Friday, 13 March 2015

Grouping Tagline

This school year, I attempted a grouping experiment. I set my classroom up in ten clusters of 3 desks. Students would take a random number each day, and proceed to that cluster. (For more about "visibly random groups" see section 9 of this CMEF post. For more about how my experiment ran, see my post The Grouping Experiment from October.)

Well, six weeks into semester one, I was "kind of battered and broken". The system completely fell apart by November. Now, we're six weeks into semester two. I am no longer broken.


FAILURE IS A SUCCESS


When second semester began in February, I knew the number system wouldn't work. Not merely because it had already failed, but also because a lot of my laminated numbers had gone missing. So I did a quick investigation into the software solutions proposed by readers after my last post - and it still seemed like some overhead would be necessary (like a printout). And again, what about people who had to be in a particular location? Or students who were away?

Then it hit me. Nametags.

Happy 3/14/15 tomorrow!
The fact that any idea hit me at all is impressive, given the annual exam burnout at the end of January. The fact that this (eventual) success is based off the first greatest failure in the experiment makes it even more so.

Consider, my October post noted that "Desk labels with names: Failed within two days" (of the start of semester one). And I let it go because the names had been more for me, with respect to doing attendance. After all, it was numbers that decided the groups, not names! Right? Derp.

This semester, within the first week, I (again!) had each student make a name tag out of a coloured sheet of paper. Different colours for the different classes. It wasn't done the first day, and the second day I was sick, but it got done. After that first week, every Tuesday and Thursday, I've randomly distributed the name tags around the room. A student finds their name, and sits there.

For whatever reason, it's working brilliantly. Here's a quick analysis of why I think that is the case.

1) It's not every day. I didn't start this until the second week, by which point some people already preferred certain desks. Humans are creatures of habit. Thus, only every other day in a week - but this seems to have more buy-in! The student knows they can go back to their friend or the back of the class the following day. With any luck, they'll take new ideas back with them.

2) Accommodations aren't tricky. My projector is still an issue like last time, but people who need to sit closer to the front can put a star on their tags, and I drop those names closer to the front. Boom. If a student is away for a week, I don't put their name out. If a student is away unexpectedly, a group of 3 becomes 2, no big deal.

3) Ease of distribution. I don't have to re-collect numbers from people for the next class - the next set of names is different. I can even set out tags for the next class before collecting the current ones (which is then easily done while the new class comes in), and some students even drop their tag on my desk on the way out. I keep the tags in a small bin.

So yes, students need to search for their names, but they were searching for numbers last time regardless. Yes, name tags have gone missing (or been doctored), but they're easily re-made. Yes, some people are still "gaming" the system (I do see when you swap your name tag for the place behind you), but that hasn't been terribly disruptive (pick your battles). And yes, I have lost a bit of the interaction; that's on me to recover it.

In brief, nothing is ever an unqualified success, but I'm a heck of a lot further along this semester than I was in October. Some students have even gotten overly creative with their tags, which is nice to see. So on the whole, as far as "visibly random groups" goes - it's not quite like that, but I'll take it.

Classroom setup - same now as in September