This past Friday I headed up to Ottawa to attend CANCON 2018, an annual convention devoted to readers, writers and fans of speculative fiction with an emphasis on the writing part of it all. It’s the only such convention I attend regularly, having attending three times now in four years. It’s the kind of convention a person can really feel at home at, for a lot of reasons. It’s inclusive and welcoming, attended by a lot of friendly, like-minded people. Importantly, it’s got a well-thought out Code of Conduct designed to protect attendees, a Code of Conduct that’s enforced and taken seriously. It’s got great programming on everything from “Advice to Aspiring Writers on the Craft” to “Rules of Writing: Are They Really Rules?” to “Swiping Right on the Monster”. There are pitch sessions during which you can pitch to various publishers and Meet the Agent sessions with big-time New York Agents and Meet the Editor Sessions with Big-Time New York Editors. It’s attended by newbies and professionals and famous folk in the field and everybody in between.
The first time I ever attended CANCON I got offered my book deal for A Time and a Place. Which as you can imagine was really exciting and has resulted in a lot of good things. So there’s a special place in my heart for CANCON.
So, bottom line, it’s a con that’s got a lot to offer. I attend for all those reasons, but I also attend because I have never failed to find it a rejuvenating weekend, a weekend that leaves me better off than when it found me.
This year was a particularly striking example of that.
I landed at the Con Friday afternoon after driving up with my friends Tanah Haney and Tonya Liburd. I always drive up and like to take a few other people with me, because that’s more fun, and also it’s helping others out who might find it a bit pricey to get up to Ottawa. On this particular day I was really exhausted for some reason, coming off a busy stretch of wearing myself a little too thin physically and mentally. Tanah and I met up with our good friend Jenn Delagran (second year in a row we’ve done the con together), and I socialized a bit into Friday night, but I was feeling really fried. By the end of the night I was seriously wondering how I was going to make it through the con. I imagined feeling this way the entire con, having to fake smiles and pretend that I wasn’t about to completely fall apart, and I did not find that prospect the least bit appealing. So I made it a point to hit the sack early Friday night, hoping that the Power of CANCON would work its magic through the night and restore me to something resembling my usual self.
And it did.
I felt so much better Saturday morning. And it just got better from there.
I headed down for breakfast around 8am and got a table by myself. It never fails that someone interesting comes along when I do that. This time it was Ira Nayman, novelist and editor of Amazing Stories magazine. We had a great chat about a wide range of subjects. Discussing dogs, Ira observed that, “In a worst case scenario, they will eat your face,” which struck me as unnerving but amusing.
From there it was off to the Dealer’s Room, where Myth Hawker, the (fabulous) Travelling Book Store had graciously consented to sell A Time and a Place, which they have been doing successfully for a few weeks now, having sold copies to a trucker in Vancouver and to a cat lover in Ottawa and others that I have failed to obtain biographical information on. I was their “featured author” for an hour and a half, during which the Myth Hawker crew (mainly Lisa Toohey and Diogo Castelhano) tried to teach me how to sell my wares better (“don’t cross your arms!” “Work on your pitch!” “Seek out cat people!” and so on). We did manage to successfully sell one copy while I was the featured author, though me and another writer also managed to frighten one potential customer away by inadvertently ganging up on her. It continues to be a learning process.
I attended a few panels and readings. I like to support people I know, so I often eschew more popular panels to attend book launches and readings from friends and acquaintances. I attended a launch for Maaja Wentz’s new book Feeding Frenzy and a panel on writing for themed anthologies that featured my travelling companion Tonya Liburd. I actually abandoned the programming list, trusting the opinions of my con pals Tanah and Jenn to lead me to interesting programming of their choice. I was glad I did, following them to a talk by Guest Editor Kurestin Armada of PS Literary Agency, who spoke of her Manuscript Wish List, and walked us through the first few pages of several successful recent novels, explaining where and how they fit in and why they worked. Afterward I chatted briefly with Kurestin about what kind of space opera she liked, as I happen to be polishing up a space opera right now, which I hope will become my second published novel.
And the day continued in that positive vein.
You know how they say extroverts draw energy from people, and introverts expend energy that they must re-acquire in privacy afterward? I expend energy with some people, and draw energy from others. I don’t know what that makes me. An ambivert, or freak, or something. Anyway, I was drawing energy from the people at this con, friends and strangers alike. By the end of Saturday I was feeling pretty good. This despite some adventure Saturday afternoon when, to my horror, Tanah and Jenn got stuck in an elevator for an hour! I spent that hour at the front desk on my cellphone texting Tanah, reassuring her that help was on its way. There were ten people trapped in that elevator, but they did a pretty good job of keeping themselves cheery and calm. I was terribly afraid that Jenn and Tanah (and the others) would find the experience deeply troubling, and that it would ruin the con for them, but it wasn’t the case. Although not a lot of fun while they were trapped, they managed to forge some new acquaintances in that elevator, and treated it as an adventure afterward. For my part, I got to know one of the con co-chairs, Marie Bilodeau, as we worked together at the front desk to relay info and try to keep those trapped calm. If I ever get stuck in an elevator, I want Marie on the outside working to free me (I actually was stuck in one once in the middle of the night on my birthday, but that’s a story for another blog post).
Sunday morning I woke up even more refreshed, having slept in a bit. Waiting for the elevator to head down for some breakfast, who should step out of the room next to mine but Special Guest Kurestin Armada, the New York Literary Agent. “I’m so sorry,” she said as we waited for the elevator. “I was watching television late last night, and only too late realized that I might be keeping you awake.”
“That’s okay, whatever you were watching was very entertaining,” I said, attempting to be funny, and then hastened to assure her that I was just joking, I hadn’t heard a thing.
Before we parted, I said, “I’m gonna pitch you later, if that’s okay,” meaning that in a few months I would send her a query letter and a pitch for my new novel.
She said, “Oh, come and find me after eleven, I’ll be hanging around the second floor and would be happy to hear your pitch,” or words to that effect.
I hadn’t been clear. “Uh, okay,” I said. “I would be a fool not to accept that invitation. I’ll see you later!”
And then over breakfast became afraid that I’d come off like a jerk, threatening to buttonhole her later, and that she’d only said to come and see her to be polite. I resolved to look her up afterward to explain that I hadn’t meant to obnoxiously pitch her at the con, but to do so later via email.
Looking her up at the appointed hour, I found her about to talk to someone else, and asked if I could have a moment afterward, which she readily agreed to. And felt even more like an obnoxious jerk, because in my attempt to reassure her that I was not some obnoxious, self-serving pitch-wielding asshole, I felt like I was ironically beginning to appear as exactly that. So I decided to forget the whole thing, and just enjoy the rest of the con, and email her my query in a few months as I originally intended.
I attended a few more panels, chatted in the dealer’s room, bought my quota of three books (including my colleague David Demchuk’s The Bone Mother, whose panel I had attended the day before, during which he related a quite amusing account of the publication of The Bone Mother with Chizine Press), had a lovely lunch with Tanah and Jenn, and shortly afterward gathered my belongings from my room, intending to leave this yet again excellent, rejuvenating con.
On the way out, I ventured into the Dealer’s Room one last time. Kurestin Armada was sitting by the door behind Chizine’s table. She smiled and waved me over. I awkwardly set all my belongings down somewhere hoping that people wouldn’t trip over them and grabbed a chair next to her.
I tried to explain to Kurestin that I hadn’t actually meant to pitch her just then…
“Shut up and pitch me,” she said, except not in those words, she was much more polite than that, explaining that she was in fact there to seek out new talent.
So I shut up and pitched her.
Maybe it helped that we were sitting right next to Myth Hawker, where my first novel was prominently displayed. I showed it to her. I don’t know what she thought of that, but maybe it helped that she saw I’d already successfully completed one novel that a famous, fabulous travelling bookstore felt comfortable carrying.
“Send me the first fifty pages of your new novel,” Kurestin suggested.
“Uh, okay,” I stammered.
And that’s how you end a wildly successful con.