Coming Down from CAN•CON: The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature

So much fuzzy brain.

One of the things about being a writerly type and heading to a convention is how actively unlike the rest of my life the convention is. So many people. So much discussion (and discussion with people who aren’t bored talking about writing). It’s overwhelming, in a good way, and when it’s done it’s a little like popping the clutch.

Oh. Right. Time to walk the dog and sit down and write and…

Like I said, fuzzy brain.

So, CAN•CON. I had a pretty awesome time. You know you’re in a great place when the first thing you get to do is roll up your name badge character sheet. (No, seriously.) Alas, all the stats were rolled with a d20, and while I natural-20’d my Intelligence (yay!), I also rolled a 2 and a 4 (for Strength and Dexterity) which took me out of the running for any battles. Still, it was a neat flavour to the conference to keep track of experience (you got experience for attending panels, visiting the dealer’s room, getting a book signed, and so on), as well as earning equipment every time I picked something up from the dealer’s room (I’d look great in leather armor, thankyouverymuch).

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Sam Morgan and Sheila Williams

Post character generation, I hit the opening ceremonies and enjoyed Derek Künsken‘s introductions of the guests of honour, which included Tanya Huff (or, as I kept referring to her, Tanya-Freaking-Huff!), Shiela Williams (who I didn’t manage to speak with but loved everything she said), Sam Morgan (that man is so damned funny in such a sneak-up-unexpectedly-way you have no idea) and Eric Choi (ditto).

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Eric Choi and Tanya Huff

This was such an incredible amount of knowledge, experience, and influence to put in one room, and frankly it was a little bit intimidating to be sitting there listening to wealth of first-hand voices at play. Happily, as each guest was introduced and spoke, it became clear the vibe wasn’t going to be anything of the sort.

I’ve been to conferences where the guests of honour were “one step removed” from attendees, but this was not at all the case, and it was so lovely and relaxed from the moment things began. Especially when Derek handed Marie Bilodeau the mic along with a list of suggested things to say were she to stay on script.

It’s like he doesn’t even know her, eh?

Marie walked us through some of the adventures to be had for the upcoming weekend (including some of the unintentional adventures included in the program like room names that were… uh… encoded for those of us who love adventure and blazing new trails without accurate maps). If you’ve never heard Marie speak before, you need to, and you also need to make sure you’re ready to laugh, because she’s freaking hilarious.

Now, one of the things a newbie to CAN•CON might not know is the two-pronged focus. Derek mentioned it in the opening, and it struck me it wasn’t something of which I’d been completely aware. CAN•CON focuses its efforts in doing two things very well: speculative fiction discussions, and science discussions. And wow does it succeed.

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“Any virus that kills its host is a crap virus.” (Agnes Cadieux)

Case in point? The first panel I went to, ‘SARS, Ebola, and Zika: What Have We Learned?’ Here I got to listen to Dr. Dylan Blaquière, Dr. Anatoly Belilovsky, Agnes Cadieux, Dr. Melissa Yuan-Innes, and Dr. Alison Sinclair lay some awesome science bombs down, and the discussion was lively, informative, and pretty much bursting-at-the-seams with plot nuggets for science fiction writers who want to up their science game. There was also much laughter again (I often think humour is used to deal with otherwise awful realities, and this drove home that point) and I think the winning statement of the evening went to Agnes Cadieux, with her line about “crap viruses” (see right).

All the knowledge flying around here was intensely satisfying, and the whole panel was so “on.” Really engaging, and now I want to rethink so many things I’ve accidentally picked up from the media about viruses. (That was another great line from one of the panelists, “Have you noticed the media can’t say the word ‘virus’ without the word ‘deadly’?”)

From there, it was my turn to speak, so I joined the aforementioned Dr. Blaquière, Angela S. Stone, and Talia Johnson and we hit our panel: “The Mechanics of Sex.” This was a blast, and the audience was so open and willing to engage (how can you not, when Angela is offering you sex toys and chocolate for asking questions?) and we hit some really awesome points. I love, love, loved having Talia there to bring the lens on trans experience with the medical professional community, as well as having Dylan and Angela, who, as a doctor and a nurse respectfully, had insights from within. It was a great freaking talk, and a wonderful way to end the first day.

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Ian Rogers, reading from ‘Every House is Haunted.’

Bright and early on Saturday, myself, Matt Moore, and Ian Rogers were blocked in to read at the first 10:00a slot, and so I got to hear from But It’s Not the End and Other Lies (Matt’s upcoming book from ChiZine) and Every House is Haunted (Ian’s book) and they suffered through my Firefly-mentions for Triad Blood.

I then made the dash from the tower, downstairs, across the lobby, and up to “Brave New Baby,” to hear Dr. Anatoly Belilovski, Angela S. Stone, Lesley Donaldson, Julie Czerneda and Hayden Trenholm discuss genetics in awesomely unique (and sometimes frightening) ways. As I mentioned before, this focus of the convention on science is one of the more awesome parts of the convention, and I love having a chance to be exposed to topics I otherwise don’t often come across. From designer babies, to extrapolation on trends, to some myth-busting about what can—and can’t—be done as of yet (but maybe soon), the information here was a landslide of treasure for anyone who writes a genetic component to their stories. Between this panel and the panel on viruses and outbreaks, I think any writer had enough to work with for the next dozen novels or so.

IMG_5462.JPGAt this point, I had to dash out for a friend’s birthday lunch (luckily across the street at the Loft), but I made it back for the author signings hosted by Indigo, and tried not to fan-boy too hard at Tanya-Freaking-Huff. She was very gracious, and signed my copy of Summon the Keeper and made me snivel a bit with what she wrote.

I perused the book selection, picked up quite a few anthologies (seriously, so many anthologies). I love short fiction, as you all know, and seeing so many anthologies of science fiction (and often specifically Canadian science fiction) was a flipping joy. I dodged into the Dealer’s room specifically to nab a copy of Clockwork Canada, and found out some of the authors would be doing a reading on the Sunday, and changed my plans accordingly.

I went to the DAW Authors reading (Violette Malan, Ed Willett, Julie Czerneda and, once again, Tanya-Freaking-Huff) and basked in the glow (and added more books to my To-be-Read pile). All four have a reading presence that is organic and engrossing, which is a rare treat. Each drew me in, and it was lovely to see Julie again especially, as she was the second-ever signing I ever hosted as a bookseller mumble-mumble years ago. Violette’s book seemed right up my alley (telepathy! humour!) and Ed’s setting grabbed me from step one.

Like I said, more books on the pile.

This was followed by a panel on Adapting Literary Works to TV and Movies, and alongside Tanya Freaking Huff, Ian Rogers, and Sam Morgan (all of whom I’ve already mentioned) this was my introduction to Jay Odjick, who walked us through the processes that got Kagagi produced (short version: a tonne of work), and was thoroughly entertaining and amusing. In fact, all the panelists were, and I can’t mention enough how sly Sam Morgan’s humour is. I know I personally have zero chance of writing something that would ever end up on someone’s desk in this sense, but it was fascinating to learn about the processes involved, the systems at play, and I lost count of how many times someone said on the panel “I was lucky.”

At 5:00p, it was my turn to doff my educator hat again, and I joined Caroline Frechette, Talia Johnson, and Derek Newman-Stille for what Derek introduced as ‘the Fabulous Panel! (picture glitter here)’ And it was. Nominally, we were there to discuss “Beyond the Coming Out Story – New Queer Narratives in Speculative Fiction,” and boy did we start there and go elsewhere. The themes were very clear: trans representation (and how abysmal it is, and how it needs to be so much more than a transition tale), bi-erasure, the lack of narrative inheritance to our histories and how exhausting it can be to be the constant educator (yeah, that was me, and the link is to a twitter discussion that followed after the convention), and all over the place in to YA, the inclusion of intersections (quite a few notes about persons with disability), and #OwnVoices and what that means. It was a fantastic freaking audience, and we were also lucky enough to have someone in the audience who could speak quite a bit to ace and other lesser-heard narratives.

Unfortunately, when I went to grab a snack and a drink, my head informed me I was done for the day with some scintillating scotoma, so I booked it home. My apologies to those I’d really wanted to see in the evening sessions. Sometimes my head does that.

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Head Full of Ghosts. Write that down.” (Brett Savory)

Sunday I’d recovered, and began the crack of dawn with some horror and weird fiction (the way you do) by coming to hear Brett Savory, Rebecca Simkin, James K. Moran, and Sean Moreland speak about the stuff they’d read that we needed to read. Now, y’all know I’m not a huge horror fan, but I like weird, and the topic really did balance the two (as well as define the two, in many ways) and all the panelists were fun and charming.

And, of course, way more got added to my list.

Also, there was a surprising amount of parenting advice. Books on demons and demonology might not be the best gift for the under-ten crowd.

Or, they might be just the thing.

Eiher way, good to know.

I popped in to the brainstorming/feedback session after that with Evan May and Brandon Crilly (and this was also where I finally got to have a few quick words with Eric Choi, who, again, awesome), and I cannot give enough props to these guys for taking in advice and feedback and ideas from those gathered. It was a packed room, and the discussion never stopped. You know a Con is on the right track when they include this sort of feature while the con is in play, and don’t just rely on feedback forms and e-mails later, as there’s an opportunity for brainstorming and Q&A right there and then. Loved this.

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Kate Heartfield, reading from “The Seven O’Clock Man.”

As my last thing before I had to go rescue His Fuzzy Lordship from the tedium of being indoors, I found Dominik Parisien, Kate Heartfield, and Brent Nichols and basked in the glow of Clockwork Canada, which I mentioned above.

It was obvious from listening to Dominik’s introduction that this project meant a great deal to him—to take truly Canadian narratives, and especially often colonialist-repressed histories, and meld them with spec fic elements was the driving force, and from what Kate and Brent read? I’m a believer. I’ll be bumping Clockwork Canada high up on my pile.

Both readers were really engrossing, and it was so lovely to take part in the discussion after with them, especially as the topic rolled back to being a Canuck in what is often a very US-centric ocean. It was pretty cool to see similar experiences being shared, too, that it’s not anywhere near as uphill a battle to pitch a Canadian setting as it was even a decade ago.

So, from that point, I took a moment to finish working on my character sheet (I managed to get my lousy “2” in Dexterity into a fairly impressive 14 defence score by levelling up my leather armor, but there was no helping my attack score, so no battles after all), I made sure to find and say farewell to a few people, missed others I really wanted to talk to, and went back to the real world.

The real world doesn’t have a lot of the awesome things the convention had, but it does have this guy, and he was totally ready to hit the park.

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“Where the heck have you been, human?”

Until next year? Thanks, CAN•CON, for everything. The opportunity to be a queer voice in Spec Fic is a huge deal to me, and I can’t tell you how much it means to be invited.

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One thought on “Coming Down from CAN•CON: The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature

  1. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Tuesday links | A Bit More Detail

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