Perhaps not of huge interest to those outside the Ottawa area, but it’s of interest to me. As Editor Guest of Honour at Can-Con: The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature, I have a pretty full schedule next weekend. I thought I’d share it with you.
On Friday night, I’ll be attending and speaking briefly at the Opening Ceremonies. I don’t expect to replicate the wide-ranging and, some say, amusing, talk of last year but never fear: Robert J. Sawyer, the author guest, is always informative and entertaining. I look forward as well to hearing what Mark Robinson, Science GOH, and other special guests have to say. After the opening, I’ll drop in to the Aurora Pin Ceremony to congratulate nominees for this year’s Aurora Awards. Then, it’s off to the Chizine party for a drink or two.
Saturday starts early with the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association AGM at 9. I’ll have to leave early as I am on a panel at 10 with Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory on Book Pitches: how to do them or, more likely, how not to. From 11 to12, Rob Sawyer and I will interview each other in what may be the highlight of the Con. Rob and I have been friends for going on twenty years so we have some stories to share. We won’t be baring all (no-one could possibly want to see that) but it should be fun and maybe occasionally surprising. I get a nice long break after that – though I will be dropping in to hear readings from Bundoran Press writers, Tom Barlow and Neil Godbout at 3 p.m. Right after that I’ll be taking book pitches (sign up at registration). I’m in the market to buy one or two novels this fall – maybe it will be yours. Saturday ends in a big way with our room party from 9 p.m. on to celebrate the launch of I’ll Meet You Yesterday by Tom Barlow.
Sunday I’ll be at the Aurora Awards Banquet from 11 to 1 p.m. I’m the MC for the event and, as a special treat, get to award a lifetime achievement Aurora to Robert J. Sawyer. There are eleven more trophies to hand out, culminating in Best Novel which comes with a $500 Cheque from SF Canada. I go straight from the ceremonies to a panel on plotting mysteries with Violette Malan, Rob Sawyer and Tom Barlow and finish off the day with The State of Publishing Today with Sawyer, Malan, Sean Moreland and David Hartwell, senior editor with TOR Books.
Of course, anytime I’m not at the panels mentioned above, you can probably find me at the Bundoran Press table in the Dealers’ Room.
There was a considerable tempest in the twitterverse this past week when successful Canadian novelist, David Gilmour, (Governor General Award winner and Giller Award nominee), made some rather outrageous statements about his love of ‘manly-men heterosexual’ writers and his general disdain of any who didn’t fit that category – specifically women and Chinese writers. He also said there were no Canadian writers he loved, which I guess means he never reads his own books. If he wasn’t an instructor of first and third year students at University of Toronto, I doubt if his comments would have attracted much attention, but he is and they did. Some of the reaction was, perhaps, as over the top as his own stupid remarks, but others found the right combination of mockery, correction and disapproval that the comments deserved. Gilmour himself claimed he was joking and, besides, distracted and, oh yeah, being picked on. You would think a manly-man would be better at taking responsibility for his words and deeds.
Every writer – every reader – has writers and books they particularly admire. There is nothing wrong with that. Anyone who likes all books equally has no discrimination; no taste. However, some people’s tastes are more limited than others. Gilmour apparently is only interested in reading books by people like him – that is, middle aged white men. That’s what he’s passionate about. I might suggest it is less passion than narcissism; gazing endlessly in the pool to see your own reflection.
Still, I’ve read and admired some of the same writers – Fitzgerald and Chekov, for example – and have my own favorites, some of whom certainly qualify as ‘manly-men.’ Everyone knows I’m gaga for Papa (Hemingway for the non-aficionados). There are lots of male writers I admire – though they are not universally white and middle-aged. But I can and have gotten plenty passionate, curious, moved, enraged, engaged, lost in, thrilled by any good story, by any good writer – and those certainly aren’t limited to white males, dead or otherwise. I can’t imagine reading to see myself reflected feature for feature, experience for experience, emotion for emotion. I read to discover – both new things about the world and new things about myself. Personally, I learn more by reading books that challenge my world view, that propose alternative ways to think and feel, that present a different culture, life experience. Is that always fun, self-affirming; a good time had by all? No – but it makes me a better writer and a better person. Everyone should read a good book they hate at least once a year. Then they should try to explain why it’s a good book to someone else. If you can’t – then maybe you need to question whether you really have anything of value to say in your own writing.
One of the first things you learn in writing class is: write what you know. It’s a useful place to start but a lousy place to finish. Clearly it leads you into the trap of only writing (and reading) what you personally experience. Since most of us don’t know nearly as much as we think, it would lead to a lot of books about growing up in suburbia or working as a barista while composing the Great Canadian Novel. (Yes, I know, there are a lot of those, but how many do you need to read to get the gist?) Obviously, for genre writers particularly, this maxim quickly gets turned into: write what you can learn and understand. Otherwise, mystery novels would only be written by violent psychopaths and space operas by alien visitors who have actually flown through space.
One of the great sources of inspiration for me and for many writers is travel. It doesn’t necessarily mean going to Paris or the African savannah. Walk through an unfamiliar neighbourhood in your own city – or even a familiar one, trying to see it with the eyes of a stranger. I recently read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Much of it takes place in a small area of rural Sussex – a few roads and fields, gardens and hedgerows. You can feel that Gaiman trod those very paths – day and night, seeing them with both familiar and strange eyes. When he steps off the path into worlds of wonder, it still feels real, the way things out of the corner of your eye seem both real and wondrous at the same time.
Travelling is not tourism and vice versa. Wherever you go, you have to look with your eyes and your imagination; see the space both as citizen and foreigner. Living in a new place can be tremendously educational and inspirational but so can trying to see with fresh eyes the place you know so well you don’t look at it anymore. To write what you know, you first have to forget you know it.
Okay – time for a walk. Right after I scrub the toilet (as my wife, Elizabeth, says it’s all well and good to be a great literary figure, but the bathrooms still need to be cleaned).