Neil Gaiman Event in Toronto

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neil gaiman toronto event
Photo courtesy of Sally Sparrow (

The line-up that wrapped around a block outside The Danforth Theatre in Toronto wasn’t for a band or a celebrity, but rather it was for celebrated and beloved author Neil Gaiman, who is on what is being proclaimed his last signing tour. That is to say, the last multi-city promotional book tour in which he is going to do mass autographings. He’s shown pictures of having to dunk his hands in ice and let them soak because he has pre-signed so many copies in preparation for signing tours, not to mention the autographs he does on the spot for those who stand in line and wait to get their books signed.

I was delighted to see that by the time I heard about the event and checked the website I could indeed actually register and that tickets were still available. In the past I’ve been very disappointed by sell-outs that seem to happen within five minutes of Gaiman events in Toronto. Anyway, this time around I got lucky and even though my seat was on the balcony level, it was a real pleasure to hear Neil Gaiman read from his novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane as well as giving the audience a sneak preview of his forthcoming children’s book, Fortunately, the Milk, which comes out next month.

Some of the highlights included the interviewer, Mark Askwith, himself a Toronto legend in the comic book community, calling Gaiman Toronto’s boyfriend. As well, Gaiman related an amusing anecdote involving Shirley Maclaine and his famous mop of hair. And one of the best lines from his upcoming book, Fortunately, The Milk involves the main character saying to another character, “You’re a Stegosaurus.” When you get to that scene in the book, it’ll make a lot more sense and will be much funnier in the context of that particular scene.

I heard that the event didn’t end until two o’clock in the morning (yikes!), and that it did indeed live up to the standards of Gaiman’s other signing events, which are notorious for stretching on and on for hours with the signing portion, which he graciously obliged to. They called up rows with a lottery system, which was also interesting. For those that stuck around to get their book(s) signed, I’m told it was well worth it, and I imagine it would be. One of my co-workers, also a Gaiman aficionado, got her book signed with a charming little drawing from the author, which was also a highlight.

Overall, it was a great, well-organized event and at least I can say I saw Neil Gaiman when he came to Toronto even if I didn’t get the chance to meet him, which I’m sure would have been a spectacular treat, but one never knows what things may come in the future.


World Horror Convention/Stoker Awards Weekend 2013

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I attended the World Horror Convention/Bram Stoker Awards Weekend 2013 this past week in New Orleans, Louisiana, aka the Crescent City, aka the Big Easy, and I wrote the convention recaps on my book review blog in three parts, which you can find by clicking on the following links:

WHC2013 Day 1
WHC2013 Day 2
WHC2013 Day 3

The above posts focus on the panel recaps and the convention itself, but having dreamed of visiting New Orleans for many years (the city has a reputation for being hugely inspirational for writers from Tennessee Williams to Anne Rice), I was glad to have been able to make this come to fruition at long last. New Orleans is a place that I felt an intimate connection to even before I visited, because it has inspired me in a way that few other cities have managed to. Since reading Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice as a youngster, I found myself hypnotized by the descriptions of the places, the flavour that Rice drenched over the book. It’s something hard to shake. And the images from the film adaptation provided me with even more fuel. New Orleans is made of the stuff of dreams.

As a writer, I relished the opportunity to do “on the ground” research and even though the research I have been doing for years into the history of Louisiana, the architecture, the food–everything–was fairly comprehensive, and although both Google Street View and YouTube can be an indispensable tools, nothing compares to the experience of physically being in a place. One of the most significant places I needed to research for my current WIP, which is another rewrite of Novel #3, features bayous and swamps. Although I’d done as much research as I could and worked hard on the descriptions, there’s things that we notice when we’re physically present somewhere that we normally wouldn’t. For instance, one can get a good handle on sight and sound imagery from photos, videos, etc, but not smell imagery, which is the most vivid. And I got a good whiff of some of the most intense and unusual scents of a swamp, which was hugely educational.

The French Quarter, of course, isn’t without its charm, and I took in a few ghost tours, as well as a Cemetery/Voodoo tour, which were all great experiences. Although the voodoo spoken of on the tour I went on was very much an “on the surface” type of approach that was more of a Spark Notes version, I learned that there are some fairly significant differences between Louisiana and New Orleans Voodoo versus Haitian and West African Vodou, which is more the tradition that my research has pointed me to.

One thing that everyone reacts to is also the heat, which was definitely very intense for this little Canadian. Don’t get me wrong–Eastern Canada definitely has heat waves and it gets muggy, humid, and just generally gross here, as well, but the heat found in the Southern US is of an altogether different breed.

This was a very significant trip for me in many ways, and definitely fuelled me to keep going on my WIP. As well, I picked up quite a few books on Louisiana folklore, which I’m hugely interested in, including Gumbo Ya-Ya, Louisiana Folk Tales, and Louisiana Indian Tales to name a few.

Why are Immortal Characters So Immature Sometimes?

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Fantasy author Rachel Aaron recently posted this entertaining and insightful blog piece about immortals in genre fiction, especially the male characters, who are quite often said to be thousands of years old yet they seem to be immature and act like the thirty-something that the model on the cover depicts.

It continues to amaze me that paranormal romance and urban fantasy authors don’t see anything wrong with depicting a guy or group of guys who are supposed to be five thousand years old and all they do is go to night clubs and hang out with each other, living in “Frat Houses of the Damned” as Smart Bitches have called them, until one of the guys meets “the woman of his dreams” who “show him what he’s been missing” all this time. It kind of begs the question, what have they been doing until the present day? Like Rachel, I, too, wish the authors of some of these books would put more thought into, as Rachel says, “why is this dude still going clubbing/living alone with no hobbies at 3000 years old?”

I think perhaps more authors need to question the notion of how a creature who’s been alive and kicking around for thousands of years would find anything in common with a (usually) mortal woman who’s only been around for 20 to 30 tops (or worse, a teenage girl), and I often wish that readers would get more insights into a male character’s background and history, but that’s often not the case. More importantly, it’s difficult for many authors to convey, with authenticity, characters who are that old and it’s sometimes just a “taken for granted” thing that they know their way around the twenty-first century world without much explanation as to how they’ve adapted. The comment section of the blog post is definitely worth a gander, as well, and as one reader pointed out, Anne Rice stands out as one example of an author who has managed to lend a wonderful sense of timelessness to her immortal vampires.

But I digress. It’s a very entertaining post, and Rachel raises many good points that I often find myself wondering with some of the more popular paranormal romance series that feature several immortal characters who perhaps don’t come across as developed as they should.

Although I’ve not heard of the anime she mentions, Scrapped Princess, it seems interesting and like it might be worth checking out 🙂

Ad Astra 2013

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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.