Writing Wednesday – Flash a Naked Heart

It’s that time of the week again!

I’d hoped to start today’s entry with an update about the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Challenge, but they’re delaying results fifteen hours. Womp-womp. But I did have the thrilling, not-at-all intimidating realization that if I do make it through to the third round, I’ll have to write my next piece during Naked Heart, which is this weekend.

Womp-womp indeed.

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If you haven’t heard about Naked Heart, it’s an LGBTQ Festival of Words running into its third year this year. I’m looking forward to it, and the schedule was released and posted (it was a bit last-minute to find out what was going on, and some events still have the speakers/readers listed as TBD, but like I said, it’s a young festival).

There are a third less as many panels this year (down from twelve to eight)—replaced by upping the number of workshops (up from nine to thirteen)—but there are always readings to go to as well, and if you’re in Toronto it’s still worth checking out even if you’re a reader rather than a writer. I’m heading down this weekend for as much of it as I can (I’m not speaking or reading) and I’ll have to head out before it’s over (one major downside of events that run late into Sunday is having to leave before the event is over if you’re not a local), but if you’re going to be there, please say hi!

Okay, on to my update-of-progress-in-public-to-keep-myself-honest.


Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks

I’m humming along now. I’m still waffling over the timeline, but I think I’ve finally clicked that it’s okay to skip days if I write a decent transition, and that’s likely the path I’m going to take. This is why we have editors, though. I trust Jerry to say, ‘Woah, ‘Nathan, no.” if I need to hear it. And he’ll be at Naked Heart, so I get to see him soon!

In other words, I’m on track for the end of the month.


Open Calls for Submission

Writing Wednesdays are also about keeping track of open calls for submission I’m keeping an eye on, as well as tracking how I’ve done thus far for the year in submitting things for publication myself.

On the latter front? Previously this year thus far: January was: 6 submissions (4 reprints, 2 new), 1 acceptance; in February was bare minimum: 1 submission (1 new); March brought 1 rejection, and 1 submission (new); April saw 1 submission (new) and 1 acceptance; May: 1 submission (new), 1 acceptance. June: BUZZ! (Let’s not talk about that). July: 1 submission (1 new). August: 1 submission (1 new). September and October: While I was more or less offline here, I did manage 2 submissions (2 new), and I had 1 acceptance, but all that pretty much happened in October. My goal is to average one a month, and I’m still ahead of that, but only because I started the year off with a bang. Still, it counts. November thus far is zero submissions, but I might have to do one in a hurry this weekend if I make it to the next round of the Flash Fiction Challenge.

And now, the open calls:

  • Chicken Soup for the Soul—Various titles, various themes, various deadlines, 1,200 word count limit.
  • Mischief Corner Books—Open to submissions for various themes, including Legendary Love, Everyday Heroes, Cowboys and Space; these are open rolling calls, so no deadline.
  • NineStar Press—Open to submissions for various length prose, paranormal, science fiction, fantasy and horror; Click “Currently Seeking” header for details; word count limit variable.
  • Spectrum Lit—This is an ongoing patreon flash fic provider, 1,500 hard word count limit; LGBTQ+ #ownvoice only; ongoing call.
  • Apex Magazine—Super-short flash fiction, theme of “Valentine’s Day Invasion.” 250 hard word count limit; deadline November 30th, 2017.
  • Quantum Shift—Annual celebration of quantum-inspired call for flash fiction; 1000 word count limit; deadline December 1st, 2017.
  • Best Gay Erotica for the Year, Volume 4—Cleis Press; 2,500-5,000 word count limit. Original stories strongly preferred; deadline January 5th, 2018 (but the earlier the better).
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to F*** Them—Circlet Press; Erotic short stories with magical beasts and shapeshifter tropes; 3,000 to 7,000 word count limit; deadline February 1st, 2018.
  • Lost—NineStar Press. LGBTQIA+ romantic pairing. Both HEA and HFN are acceptable, Click “Lost” header for the theme. 30k-120k word count limit; deadline April 30th, 2018.
  • Happiness in Numbers—Less than Three Press; Polyamorous LGBTQIA+ anthology, non-erotic polyamorous stories that explore the idea of “Family”; 10k to 20k word count limit; deadline April 30th, 2018.
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Writing Wednesday – Typa Typa Typa.

This last week has been much, much better. Wordcount is flowing, even I’m starting to get sick of the rain, and my books arrived for Romancing the Capital, which is in less than a month and oh wow, that’s really soon.

The other thing that will happen this week is the Flash Fiction Challenge, from NYCMidnight. I made it to honourable mention in the first round of the earlier contest, which… isn’t far. But it’s a challenge and it makes me stretch, so I’m in again. It all starts Friday, and tomorrow is the last day to register if you want to join me.


Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks

I am back on track with my new word count goals, and although I’m still fighting through inertia (man, this book doesn’t want to flow at all, every scene is like walking uphill), I’m still supported by the magic that is friendship. Camp NaNoWriMo is helping.

Plus side? I got a scene drafted I’m quite proud of: this is Cole “landing” in the bedroom of his boy-crush with an errant teleport-gone-wrong when he is escaping some bad guys.

“Hey, hey, Cole…” Malik said. “Are you okay? Do I need to call someone? What happened?” All the while, he ran one hand over my back in a small circle, pulling me against him with his other arm. It felt warm, and safe, and I slowly got myself under control.

“Sorry,” I said again. My voice was rough. “I’m having a really bad night.”

Malik let go, and reached up behind him to his bedside table. He handed me a box of tissues. I used a couple to wipe my face.

“What happened?” he asked.

“I got snatched,” I said. It just came out.

It felt so good to tell the truth.

“What?” His voice rose, and we both flinched. We waited a couple of seconds, but no one came to the door.

“I got grabbed. They took me somewhere, and…”

“Wait,” he said. “Who? Who took you?”

“I don’t really know. There are a few of them. I’ve seen them around a few times now, and they said they’ve been watching me.” I shook my head as Malik shook his head. I sounded like I was insane. “I got away.”

“And climbed up my house and through my window?”

“No,” I said. I bit my lip. “No, that’s not how I got here.”

Malik frowned. I could practically see him deciding I was a lunatic.

“You’d never believe me,” I said.

“Try me.”

I took a deep breath, and used one last tissue to wipe the last of my meltdown off my face. How did I even start? The people who’d taken me were obviously like me: a teleporter. That guy had grabbed me and yanked me through a door with him, and we’d ended up in his creepy-ass cell.

“There’s something happening to me,” I said. “And, actually, it goes back to the locker thing.”

I looked at Malik, and he nodded, once. His dark eyes didn’t leave mine. It was really distracting to have him looking at me like that, so I stared at the floor.

“It’s going to sound insane,” I said. “And I can’t think of a way to say it that isn’t insane.”

“Just say it,” he said.

“I teleported.”

Malik blinked. “What?”

“I can teleport. It keeps happening. I start to go through one door and I end up coming out of a different door.”

He scowled. “Cole,” he started, voice low and annoyed.

“I dove though a window where the guy had taken me and came out through your window. I was aiming for my own bedroom. I guess I missed.”

“You missed.” Malik crossed his arms.

“It’s actually tougher than you think it is,” I said, annoyed. “I’ve only been at this a week.”


Of Echoes Born

Typa, typa, typa. Juggling the stories, the YA novel, and crafting my “Cards Against Humanity” game for Romancing the Capital (yeah, you read that right).


Open Calls for Submission

Every Wednesday I try to include my list off all the various open calls for submission I’ve found and/or am trying to write for. If you know of any others, by all means do drop them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list. If this is helpful for people other than myself, it’s even better.

July thus far? Nothing yet, but the Flash Fiction Contest will be a new submission on Friday.

Previously this year thus far: January was: 6 submissions (4 reprints, 2 new), 1 acceptance; in February was bare minimum: 1 submission (1 new); March brought 1 rejection, and 1 submission (new); April say 1 submission (new) and 1 acceptance; May: 1 submission (new), 1 acceptance. June: BUZZ! (Let’s not talk about that).

  • Chicken Soup for the Soul – Various titles, various themes, various deadlines, 1,200 word count limit.
  • Clarkesworld – Currently open for art, non-fiction, and short story submissions.
  • Cast of Wonders – Young adult short fiction market, open to story submissions up to 6,000 words.
  • Totally Entwined – Many calls, various dates and lengths.
  • Erotic Short Romances — Carina Press, an ongoing call for 10k to 17k word count limit.
  • The Witching Hour – Mythical creature visitation theme; deadline July 30th, 2017; 10k to 40k word count limit.
  • Holiday Stories – Ninestar Press is seeking queer holiday tales; deadline July 31st, 2017; 5k to 30k word count limit.
  • Haunted — Erotic stories centered around the theme of haunted, Mugwump Publishing; Deadline August 5th, 2017; 1k-5k word count limit.
  • Flint Charity Anthologies – Organized by Vicktor Alexander; deadlines throughout September, 2017; 5k to 20k word count limit.
  • Saints & Sinners Short Fiction Contest — Judged by Radclyffe; deadline October 3rd, 2017; 3k to 7k word count limit.
  • Futurescape Contest – “Blue Sky Cities” theme; 8k word count limit; deadline October 13th, 2017.

Book Launches

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The launch table for Triad Blood (with the official signing pen of awesome.)

I have a question for my author peeps (especially those of you with an ever-growing publishing tail). I’d like to ask about launch parties (or, specifically, the fading returns thereof).

 
My experience has been that book one, everyone I knew in the area was super-happy, many RSVP’d (and only about 10% or so of the people who said ‘yes’ ended up not showing). It was a great evening, the whole of which was a delight to experience, and—most importantly to me—the hosting bookstore had a successful return on their investment.
 
So, when it came time for book two, I imagined there’d be a drop-off, so I reached a bit wider with my original invitations and was surprised to end up with almost as many RSVP’s. But where typical RSVP’s for events at the store seem to see about a 20% no-show, this time it was closer to half. And while those who did show made it a great time and the venue got enough out of it that it was a success, I’m looking at book three and thinking… Maybe not?
So, what say you, author friends? (And reader friends, too, for that matter, if you’re the sort who attend book launches and readings?) Is a book launch something that has a one-time-charm to it? I feel like I don’t have an unbiased opinion, as I really like book launches and do attend them when I can.

Speculative Brunch

As you likely know (and will soon likely be tired of hearing), I was at Naked Heart last weekend, and it was freaking amazing. Part of said freaking amazing was being on a reading in the very first timeslot on the first full day of the festival. So, at 10:30 in the morning on a Saturday, Steven Bereznai, myself, David Demchuk, J.M. Frey, Stephen Graham King, Michael Lyons, and James K. Moran got up to do our thing.

Here’s the thing about readings—you’re always, always sure no one will show up, and then half-way through reading you’ll burp, barf, or have some sort of massive nosebleed. (It could be that’s just me, but I have it on decent authority that at least half the people at this reading were feeling at least the jitters, so let me have this.)

Another thing about doing a reading is you’re often sitting in the first row, and you arrive early (of course, all the better to fret) and stare at a display of books.

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Bless you, Glad Day Bookshop, for this bounty that my Mountain of To-Be-Read books is about to receive…

When the event actually begins, it’s not until you get called upon to stand up and face the audience that you realize…

Oh. Look at that. The chairs are full.

(For the record, that’s an incredible feeling, and far, far more often the reality is ‘Oh! Good! I’m outnumbered by audience! Win!’)

That’s what happened. That it happened at the first slot on the first day, opposite workshops on getting an agent and on writing craft, was stunning.

That Samuel R. Delaney and Felice Picano were there in the audience? Well, let’s just say that the whole burp-barf-nosebleed thing felt like a very real possibility. It didn’t happen, but it sure felt likely.

I read from Triad Blood, the very short opening scene with the three guys at the table. I like how it shows their relationship(s), and it lets me drop in the first geeky Curtis Firefly moment, which—to my great relief—garnered laughter in the way it was supposed to. It was a spec fic reading. One assumed there would be Firefly fans in attendance.

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The traditional, if fuzzy, group selfie shot, courtesy of Michael Lyons.

Steven Bereznai‘s book, I Want Superpowers, sounds awesome (hey, you all know how I feel about superheroes, no?) David Demchuk—who pulled double-duty as host—read a really chilling piece complete with witches dining on the flesh of children. J.M. Frey read from her second book (soon to release!) in The Accidental Turn series, which involves characters who pop in and out of our real world from a book not unlike a George R.R. Martin epic. Stephen Graham King treated us to a sneak-peak from the next Maverick Heart book, Gatecrasher, which follows up the awesome Soul’s Blood. Michael Lyons read from his story in an Egyptian steampunk anthology that blended Lovecraftian horror with steampunk and it was creepy as all get out (watch out for the anthology, Clockwork Cairo). And James K. Moran gave us a scene of despair from his haunting Town and Train.

The audience was friendly, the readings were lively, and the anxiety was done right off the bat. Who could ask for more?

I cannot express thanks enough to Glad Day Bookshop, and everyone who volunteered and organized the Naked Heart Literary Festival. It was amazing. If you’re considering going next year, please let me be a voice telling you you should.

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.

Getting Naked in Toronto

Before anything else I’m about to say, I want to make sure the first thing I write is this: If you were at all pondering whether or not to attend Glad Day Bookshop‘s Naked Heart: An LGBTQ Festival of Words, allow me to be the first to persuade you. It was fantastic – even moreso to say it was the very first year the event existed – and I sincerely hope it happens again next year. Also, huge thank-you to my publisher, Bold Strokes Books for trusting me enough to sponsor the event.

Okay, now back to the beginning. Last Thursday, my ever-patient husband and I brought His Fluffy Lordship to the in-laws, spent the night there in the guest bedroom while His Fluffy Lordship wandered about at night wondering why no one was playing with him, and then caught the train to Toronto on Friday morning. We arrived in the mid-afternoon, and we took a tour of the new aquarium, which was flipping brilliant, and my husband especially loved it (he adores aquariums). It was a great time, and by the time we were done, we were hungry, so we went to The Host: Fine Indian Cuisine and wow was that some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had. Seriously, you should go there. So good.

Anyway, those of you who know the schedule for Naked Heart know on the Friday night there was a launch party that started at nine-thirty. For those of you who know me, you know that’s roughly half-an-hour after I’m usually done for the day (I know, I know, I’m old and boring, but in my defence, I’m awake at 5:00a-ish most days, and up and ‘doing’ by 6:00a at the latest). I wanted to try to push myself. But with a belly of Indian food, all hope was lost. I fell asleep.

But I was all the brighter-eyed and bushy-tailed for the following morning.

By funny coincidence, all the events I went to during Naked Heart – with the exception of the reading I was a part of – were located at Buddies in Bad Times, Toronto’s leading destination for alternative theatre and a world leader in developing queer voices and stories for the stage. It’s a perfect venue for a festival of words, and every event there was fantastic. More, they should be given massive kudos as they – and all the event locations – were donated space for this event, which meant the programmers could afford to put every penny they could raise toward paying the authors and artists who made the festival so grand.

The first panel I went to was Bending the Genres of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Thriller, which was hosted by David Demchuk, and included authors J.M. Frey, James K. Moran, Michael Lyons, and Steven Bereznai. This was a very fun and upbeat panel – even when the panelists were discussing how they’ve sometimes been pressured to squash a bi character (Moran) or knowing the queer character can’t be front and centre if they’re looking to move copies with the big-5 (Frey). I have to admit I found myself nodding and laughing along with all the authors, and I had a bit of a fan-boy moment saying hello to Steven Bereznai afterwards (he wrote Queeroes, and how can I not gush over queer superheroes?) And for a guy who was worried beforehand about feeling like an impostor, Michael Lyons often stole the show with his wit and energy, discussing meta-narrative and fielding the topics with ease. It was a great time, and the usual measure of that – David Demchuck calling time after what felt like a few minutes – was keenly felt. I wanted more, darn it, but I really got a lot out of it. Also, David Demchuck is a great moderator – just enough input to keep things hopping, and to keep authors on point when, really, let’s be honest, doing so is like herding cats.

After that, I stayed put and waited for Hyphens & Hybrids, a panel about the experiences of those who with cultural hybrid identities and how that has impacted their audience, writing, and successes, and it was absolutely fascinating. Here, Keith Garebian, Tamai Kobayashi, and Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene led us through a fascinating discussion of identity, language, appropriation and colonization, history, and bias that was eye-opening more than a few times. It’s funny, as I’ve bumped into some of the things the authors spoke of, and I’m a freaking white British guy in Canada. You wouldn’t think there’d be erasure or pressure to change there, right? But there’s that pressure to cater to a mainstream audience (even when that’s not at all who you’re writing to) that can come from publishing, and it was fascinating to realize that something as simple as being asked to make sure I mention that Ottawa is a city and Canada’s capital in a story is actually a bit insulting: context exists. Hearing the more extreme versions of this editing colonialism from the mouths of these authors was really enlightening. I loved this discussion. Also, huge praise to Yvonne Fly Onakeme Eteghene who had the audience learn how to pronounce her name before the discussion began, pointing out something just as colonialist: how come we’ve all learned how to say Schwarzenegger, but ask people to provide easy nicknames or to shrug off mispronunciations if they’re from somewhere else. ‘Burgoine’ gets mangled all the time, so I can only imagine how much frustration she gets on a daily basis. I’ve always tried to give people the consideration of learning how to pronounce their names properly (which maybe came from having mine mangled in so many interesting ways), but I’m going to redouble my efforts here. Glad Day Bookshop had her book, too, so I picked it up.

After a lunch break, I was back again in the Theatre for Alex Sanchez who was absolutely adorable. He was interviewed with a brilliant Q&A from Glad Day Bookshop’s Michael Erickson, and I basically sat back and just absorbed the entire time. I will say this: Sanchez was generously candid, speaking about his process, what it’s like to step away from a contract and fly solo and then realize that the industry is changing and it might not be easy to sell the next book. He spoke about readers who’ve contacted him, and how they were inspiration for new book topics and new characters, and most of all he was just so freaking humble and lovely. When asked what the biggest surprise was in his writing career, he said, “That people wanted to read me.” Sanchez credited a lot of the positive response to his works to having characters that weren’t pigeon-holed or one-note (I keep thinking of the term “intersectional”) and how much positive feedback he got from readers who’d never seen Latino characters like themselves in YA fiction before – let alone queer YA fiction. He had some great advice about dealing with the negative critic that lives inside your head and writer’s block. He keeps a journal where he writes down those negative thoughts while he writes – quite literally giving that critic a voice on a fresh sheet of paper – and then goes back to work. He finds giving that fear an outlet shuts it up faster. And he’s always found his writer’s block comes from fear, so he digs into that fear and tries to figure out what he’s afraid of, and then exposes it in the writing. I could write on and on about this event, but suffice it to say everyone in that audience was enthralled, and it was fantastic.

After that, it was time to wander to Glad Day Bookshop where three of the authors from that morning’s SF panel (Michael Lyons, J.M. Frey, and James K. Moran) were joining Stephen Graham King and I at a reading.

Three things about this reading: One, we had a mild moment of panic when it looked like one person was going to be our entire audience (only to learn that people had gone to the bookshop rather than the performance space one flight of stairs up, where we were). That was funny, in hindsight, and when people filled the chairs, it was a lovely (and anxiety inducing) moment.

Two: Everyone was great. Seriously. Michael Lyons was witty (and needs to finish writing his Toronto steampunk murder mystery, like, now), Stephen Graham King won everyone over with a single ‘Let’s get squishy,’ J.M. Frey tantalized with a perfect tease, and James K. Moran showed the room the atmosphere of his haunted work.

Three: For the first time in my life, I tripped up on my timing and went over. That has never happened before. I was so lucky Evil Mark from Saints and Sinners wasn’t there, or it would have been bullhorn time. I was really struggling with keeping my stutter at bay, and going slower than usual, and avoiding eye contact, which meant I didn’t look up to see our timekeeper waving me off. I am so damn sorry to Stephen, who went after me, though overall the event ran only three minutes late. Mea Culpa.

After the reading, the audience was really engaged, chatted with us all, and most went right down the stairs back to Glad Day Bookshop to pick up copies (which is brilliant, and we love you all, audience). I learned I’d sold out – these are awesome words to hear – and while James K. Moran and Stephen Graham King signed their copies, I gave them a stack of my magnets. I have no idea if any are left, but anyone who wanted one was free to grab one. If you’d like one, you could ask Glad Day Bookshop if there are any left. I can’t give you telekinesis, but I can help you hold stuff to your fridge.

After the reading, my brain went a bit wobbly (as it always does) and it was time to eat and step back. We had a lovely dinner, and then went back to the hotel room where I basically threw myself onto the bed and drooled.

On the Sunday, I was only able to stay for a bit, as my train left in the early afternoon, but I was so damn glad I made it to the Building Intergenerational Bridges panel. Moderated by Gitanjeli Lena, this fantastic group of people gave me a few dozen “aha!” moments of learning, and I love that feeling.

You’re all probably sick to death of me harping on this topic, but it’s huge. By virtue of how queerness works, we almost never have that consistency of generational inheritance that belongs to other groups. It’s not queer fathers passing on stories to queer daughters. It just doesn’t work that way (most of the time, of course exceptions apply, etc.) Finding our stories and making sure they are passed on is huge, especially in the trans* communities, where visibility of a future is so damn important.

Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Prathna Lor, Susan G. Cole and Wayson Choy were, in a word, phenomenal. From discussions of thinking differently about “coming out” vs. “inviting in,” language barriers, poverty and racism and the various intersections and the effects on who has the privilege of visibility (and therefore representation), how elders have often survived things that youth cannot grasp (and vice-versa), and the random red-tape effects on youth and elder work (sorry, you’re over 19, no help for you, nor you, since you’re only 59!), the way the trans* community is often at the whimsy of the language use of others (at what point do we stop forcing transwomen to identify as transwomen and just understand they are women?)… The discussions here was fast, furious, and completely engrossing. I learned so much. Seriously.

And Wayson Choy made me cry, twice. The first when as part of his introduction he admitted a recent brush with death – “I am in my seventy seventh year, and I almost died recently, so I am very happy to be here.” And the second where he spoke about being your authentic self. “Simply behave as you do. You have a right to be here.”

Naked Heart was a reminder of that. I walked to the train station feeling revitalized, and supported, and reminded of the community around me – and how I also need to be working harder to find more of that community, especially those who don’t often have the opportunity or means to speak.

It was so well done. I hope there is another.