Friday, November 21, 2014

Toronto International Book Fair report

It's five days since I got home from Inspire!, the Toronto International Book Fair, and I'm just about recovered enough to write about it. This was the first year for the Fair and they were very enthusiastic about having SFWA participate, so Communications Director Jaym Gates and I organized setting up a booth and getting SFWA members involved in the Fair's programming. Lots of members from across Canada and the U.S. sent postcards, bookmarks, buttons and other material to hand out to attendees, and we also had pamphlets about SFWA and Writer Beware, the two most recent issues of the SFWA Bulletin, the 2014 and 2013 Nebula anthologies and volume one of the Grant Masters anthology.

SFWA Showcase reading
Our first item on the program, the SFWA Showcase Reading Series, featured Alyx Dellamonica, Ed Hoornaert, Robin Riopelle and Karina Sumner-Smith all doing short (5-6 minute) readings from their works. It was on Friday, when most of the attendees were kids, parents or teachers, and while it didn't attract a huge crowd the readers were all warmly received.

"The Future Ain't What It Used to Be" panel
On Saturday I got my own six-minute slot in the Put That On Your Bookshelf: Quirky Shorts reading, where I shared the stage with D.D. Miller and Shawn Syms and managed to read all of "When We Have Time". Finally we had our panel, "The Future Ain't What It Used to Be," in which Andrew Barton led a lively discussion between Julie Czerneda, Douglas Smith and Stephanie Bedwell-Grime that started with the question of why we didn't get the future SF promised us and moved on to many interesting places. Saturday was much livelier and we had a standing-room-only crowd for this one.  

SFWA wasn't involved in any official programming on Sunday but traffic to our table was still good, and by the end we were out of Writer Beware pamphlets and Bulletins and down to our last copy of each of the anthologies. Then, after many chats with readers, writers, and friends old and new, not to mention witnessing the ChiZine crew descend upon the Piller's booth in a mad frenzy for free lunch meat products, it was time to pack up and head home.

Oh, and Popeye stole my pen.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Where I'll be at the Toronto International Book Fair

Just back from World Fantasy (which was great, by the way) and tomorrow I'm off again for the Toronto International Book Fair. I've been organizing SFWA's participation in collaboration with the invaluable Jaym Gates: we'll have a table at booth 118 in the Marketplace where you can chat with SFWA authors, buy books and/or have them signed and pick up informational materials about SFWA.

We're also having two SFWA-sponsored events:

SFWA Showcase: I'll have the honour of introducing readings by members A.M. Dellamonica, Ed Hoornaert, Robin Riopelle and Karina Sumner-Smith at 5:30 on the Spark Stage. Hang around after to catch a bunch of great CZP authors on the same stage, talking about the legacy of Shirley Jackson and her successors.


SFWA Presents: The Future Ain't What It Used to Be at 5:00 on the Spark Stage. Despite the amazing technological advances of the last fifty years, our world looks very different from the future predicted by science fiction. This panel asks the question of what role SF writers play in predicting and preparing us for the future. Stephanie Bedwell, Julie Czerneda and Douglas Smith will discuss these questions with Andrew Barton moderating. 
I'll also be participating in Put That On Your Bookshelf: Quirky Shorts on Saturday at 3:30 on the Discovery Stage alongside D.D. Miller and Shawn Syms, where I'll be reading about 6 minutes' material from Irregular Verbs and Other Stories.

There will be signing sessions after each of these events. If you'd like to meet participating members outside of those sessions, you can come visit the SFWA table at the following times:


7PM to 8PM: Matthew Johnson
8 PM to 10PM: Jaym Gates


10 AM to 12 AM: Suzanne Church
12 AM to 2 PM: Alyx Dellamonica
2PM to 4PM: Ed Hoornaert, Jaym Gates, Matthew Johnson
4PM to 6PM: Eric Choi, Madeline Ashby
6PM to 8PM: Derwin Mak, Matthew Johnson


10 AM to 12 AM: Robin Riopelle, Matthew Johnson
12 AM to 2 PM: Andrew Barton, Matthew Johnson
2PM to 4PM: Douglas Smith, Jaym Gates
4PM to 6PM: Gina Grant
6PM to 8PM: Stephanie Bedwell‐Grime, Jaym Gates


10 AM to 12 AM: Julie Czerneda, Karina Sumner-Smith
12 AM to 2PM: Jaym Gates
2PM to 6 PM: Matthew Johnson


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

In memory

For a Canadian, being in the US in the runup to Veterans' Day is sort of weird. Remembrance Day is always a fairly low-key and somber affair, so watching downtown Washington prepare for a gigantic rock concert to honour veterans was sort of surreal. It's all part of the way that the military is a much more visible and integrated part of American society than it is in Canada, but it's also because the U.S., of course, has two holidays to fill the roles played by our one.

As odd as the result may seem to me on Veterans' Day, I like the idea of having two separate holidays. That's because while it's absolutely important to pay tribute to veterans and their service and sacrifice, I often find that comes at the extent of one of the original purposes of the holiday -- back when it was still called Armistice Day -- which was to mark the end of war, to not just honour but also mourn the lives lost, and to loudly say, "Never again."

Like everyone my age, I grew up in the shadow of war, one that hung over our heads for a generation. We need to remember that that war didn't happen, in large part, because we didn't let it happen: because we marched and advocated for peace -- a part of the story that we've mostly allowed to be left out. At the same times as we honour those that fought for us, we also should remember what we won by the wars we didn't fight.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Spoiler Space: “Talking Blues”

This story is a bit unusual in that it has a single starting point. Some years back I was at a dinner party with some family friends who had recently returned from Vietnam, and they mentioned that while the country had become much more prosperous because of foreign investment in factories there, people were concerned that because wages and the standard of living were rising the people who owned the factories would wind up moving them to someplace where people were willing to work for less. This made me think of the classic SF premise “If this goes on…” and imagine the process finally ending with the factories moved to Hell.
This made me think of the old practice of using convict labour, which was a major issue for the labour movement in the early 20th century. (Unions were opposed to the practice not primarily because it exploited convicts but because it drove down wages.) Most of what I know about labour history I learned from reading and listening to Pete Seeger, so I decided to make the protagonist a folk singer in that mould, which led me – embarrassingly late – to recognize the echoes of Orpheus in the story, and come up with a twist on the don’t-look-back rule that changes it into a story that’s mostly about compassion.
No real Canadian references in this one, though the folk club the main character plays at, Raskolnikov’s, is a goof on the much-missed Ottawa folk club Rasputin’s, where I used to occasionally play gigs with a friend of mine who is an actual musician. I’ve never had any really bad jobs – at least not as bad as the jobs people in the story have – but I have had a few fairly bad one. My experience in telemarketing, in particular, led to what`s probably my favourite line in the book: “It’s always dinnertime when you call from Hell.”


Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Where I'll be at World Fantasy

Time flies! Tomorrow morning I'll be on a plane to Washington DC to go the the 2014 World Fantasy Convention. I'll mostly be hanging around, but here's where I'll be on an official basis:


Language and Linguistics in Fantasy
Time:  10 a.m. - 11 a.m., Regency E
Panelists:  Lawrence M. Schoen (M), C. D. Covington, Matthew Johnson, Sofia Samatar
Description:  Foreign languages are often used in fantasy literature to add atmosphere, to show cultural backgrounds, and to bring a richness to the world, as can be seen in Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange and Richard Adams' Watership Down.  Some authors rely on real languages, while others, such as Tolkien, have invented entire tongues.  Which stories incorporate other languages successfully, and where have authors stumbled, making much of the work incomprehensible?


SFWA Business Meeting
Time:8:30 - 10 a.m., Washington Room


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Public Safety" podcast up at Far-Fetched Fables

When I do readings, I usually like to do a story that's short of enough for me to read the whole thing. The problem with that is that I only have so many stories that are the right length for a 20-30 minute reading slot, and it leaves out a lot of my favourites. That's why I was delighted when Nicola Seaton-Clark contacted me about doing a podcast of "Public Safety." As I've written before, this is one of my favourite stories, and I've always thought that it would read well: I think narrator Nobilis Reed proves me right. You can check it out here.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Spoiler Space: "Long Pig"

Yes, I ate this
This story started as a pretty simple technical challenge: I had always wanted to write a story in the form of a restaurant review. As is typical with these things, that idea floated around in my head for a few years beforemy wife and I ate at a restaurant where the service was so solicitous that it led me to wonder, in that way SF writers do, just how far it could go. Like a lot of stories in this book, it started out as a joke and turned into something rather more serious -- in this case through exploring the reasons behind the main character's actions -- which, if it works, pulls off a double-fakeout and goes from humour to horror to something... else, I guess. I was never really sure how well it worked, but several people I know told me that I had to include it in the book, so for once there's something here I don't have to take the blame for.

The Canadian reference in this one is to Spadina Avenue, a street in Toronto that is, indeed, famous for its Chinese restaurants (though many locals will tell you all the good ones have moved out to the suburbs, I remain devoted to New Sky and Mother's Dumplings.) On a somewhat more obscure level, the story was written in my best imitation of Joanne Kates, who was for many years the restaurant reviewer for the Toronto Globe and Mail.