I’ve been going to the Ad Astra fan convention for quite a few years now, and every time I go back there’s something even better than the last time. This year’s guests of honour were Jim Butcher, Stephen Hunt, Ben Bova, and Scott Caple (unfortunately Shannon K. Butcher couldn’t make it) and also on-hand were a number of past GoHs including Kelley Armstrong, Julie Czerneda, Ed Greenwood, Guy Gavriel Kay, Lesley Livingston, Robert J. Sawyer, and many more.
There’s always something to do each day of Ad Astra and the programming is always excellent. This year was no exception. I started off with a panel called “The Book is only the Beginning” which featured Gregory A. Wilson, Brett A. Savory and Samantha Beiko from ChiZine, Marie Bilodeau, and urban fantasy author Linda Poitevin, of whom I’m a huge fan. It was essentially focusing on what happens next when a writer has finished a book.
The best thing about the panel was the diversity of panelist backgrounds with both the independent small press contingent as well as traditional Big Six (soon-to-be-five) point of views and experiences being discussed. Some highlights included mentions of Dos and Donts, such as not pitching to a publisher when they’re in the bathroom, which is a pretty big one but still some people seem to be repeating it; another good one was to realize that authors aren’t J.D. Salinger-esque figures who can just come out of their cave every so often, give their manuscript to a publisher, and say “Okay, now you promote it while I go and work on the next book.” Publishers and authors should have partnerships. Even those signed with The Big Six must take promotions largely into their own hands to ensure their success. Brett and Samantha stressed the importance of having an active and up-to-date online presence, which there are many ways to achieve, and that publishers are ultimately looking for more information on an author when they’re considering a manuscript by that person, and not having a website or any online profiles can definitely work against an author.
Next up was the “Defining Horror” panel moderated by Suzanne Church and featuring panelists Michael Matheson, Matt Moore, and Rio Youers, which was an interesting look at attempts to define horror and what it means to fans, and ultimately, horror is very personal, because there are things that can terrify one person or writer to death and not be of such consequence to another person, so horror can be subjective in that way. There was also some discussion of horror tropes, some cliches that are best avoided, why certain works of horror have been effective, as well as universal themes that scare us all, including death. The audience contributed some interesting points to the discussion, which made it an interesting panel overall, and although Ad Astra usually has a small Horror contingent, it’s always nice to see some of the programming devoted to it along with the sci-fi and fantasy discussions that go on at the convention.
Following that was “You Must Finish” featuring Erik Buchanan (moderator), Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Mike Rimar, Derek Kunsken, and Karina Summer-Smith, which was a discussion of why some writers have so much difficulty finishing projects, and why we get stuck, and what we can do to counter-act these problems in our own writing. This was a genuinely entertaining panel with many funny moments as some of the panelists had a great banter and moderator Erik Buchanan’s dry wit went over very well with the audience members. Discussions of plotters versus pantsers came up, giving advantages and disadvantages to both, as well as some talk of the “don’t look back” method whereby writers should power through writing a manuscript and not look back until they’re done, that is to say, don’t rewrite as you’re writing the manuscript. One of the panelists mentioned that there are some writers who are able to rewrite as they’re writing their manuscripts and that although it’s great that this works for them, this system doesn’t work for everyone. The most important thing is to go ahead, surround oneself with words of encouragement from other writers, particularly if participating in NanoWrimo or similar writing events, and to find a system that works for you. Some writers can get incredibly ‘boxed in’ and limited and feel trapped by outlines, and it’s always something that should be paid attention to when a book starts to deviate from the written outline, because perhaps that’s a sign that it’s too rigid.
There was also some discussion of the fact that not everyone can write 2,000 words a day and that writers do definitely set “too high” goals sometimes, which is definitely something I think we can all say we have been guilty of at some point or another, and that instead of beating ourselves up for only getting to 200 words one day that we should embrace the fact that we have made progress instead of lashing out at ourselves for not making as much progress as we said we would.
I also had the pleasure of attending the “Demons, Werewolves, and Necromancers” panel moderated by Douglas Smith, and featuring perhaps the most popular GoH at the con, fantasy author Jim Butcher, as well as Timothy Carter, Timothy Liebe, and Andrew Pyper. This was one of the most fascinating panels to listen to and it was a packed house with standing-room-only for good reason. Some very interesting questions were asked including how not to make protagonists–or villains–come across as perfect, flawless and thus unsympathetic Mary Stu/Gary Stu types, as well as a particular motivation given to a villain from each of the writers that they considered to be the most interesting thing they’d done. I was glad to see Pyper in particular, author of the recent supernatural thriller The Demonologist as he’s more known for his contemporary real-world thrillers, and although he’s not known for being a genre fiction writer, and is new to the supernatural, he made very interesting contributions to the discussions and it was nice to see the diversity of panelists represented not just on this panel but overall, as well.
As well, I was fortunate enough to get my copies of Sins of the Angels and Sins of the Son signed by Linda Poitevin, which was fantastic, and I’m so happy I had the chance to meet her as she’s one of my favourite urban fantasy novelists and it’s amazing to see more Canadian UF novelists emerging in the field, which gives me hope for my own novels (someday…;-)). It was a great way to cap off a great afternoon, and if you haven’t been to Ad Astra before, I would wholeheartedly recommend that you do attend, because there’s something for everyone, and it’s a great combination of a fan convention with cosplay and dances, but also many amazing, useful, and insightful panels for aspiring and established writers as well as genre fans and readers alike.