World Fantasy Convention 2015

Thursday morning I head off to Saratoga Springs, New York, with Rebecca Simkin, Gemma Files and Steve Barringer. It will be my first US literary convention. For months I’ve been looking forward to these four days of books, discussions about books, launches, author readings, autograph sessions, workshops and, of course, parties. Fantasy fiction covers a lot of ground. My hope is to come away with a new appreciation for authors I’ve never read before, and for genres within fantasy I don’t usually read. Memberships are sold out for this year but the website is still worth a look if you are considering going next year: World Fantasy Convention.

Lately, editing Feeding Frenzy has taken up so much writing time that I haven’t posted many book reviews. Let’s hope that returning from World Fantasy I will have a bundle of new books to read and write about.



In other news:

  • Feeding Frenzy exceeded 49 000 reads on Wattpad
  • Over the weekend I submitted three short stories in two days to anthology calls and a contest (fingers crossed)
  • Bookapalooza did a ‘spotlight’ article about me on their website. Click the link to read about the various exhibitors in the Spotlight.

Reading at Can-Con

Authors getting dramatic at Ad Astra.
Authors and actors getting dramatic at Ad Astra.

I will be doing a reading of short fiction and poetry at Can-Con in Ottawa, Saturday October 4, 2014. My co-reader will be novelist S.M. Carriere. One of the best things about conventions is meeting and discovering new authors and making new friends. Conventions are magnets for creative people in the arts and multimedia.

Can-Con is an Ottawa convention which brings together Canadian authors and content creators in science fiction, fantasy and horror. I attended last year for the first time and was impressed by the warmth and welcoming atmosphere. I spoke on the NaNoWriMo panel which brought together a variety of writers. The highlight for me was going out to lunch together and trading stories.

According to their website:

CAN-CON is Ottawa’s premiere Science Fiction and Fantasy gathering celebrating the written word. This yearly event brings together readers, writers, artists, scientists, and publishing professionals for panel discussions, workshops, presentations, readings, book launches, networking opportunities and to have fun. CAN-CON is a function of The Society for Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature.

2011 11 20_Thomas Camera_0049
Aurora Award Winners, 2013.

The 2014 Can-Con guest of honour is author Jo Walton, winner of the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, the John W. Campbell Award, and the World Fantasy Award. The editor guest of honour is Gabrielle Harbowy of Dragon Moon Press. Also check out the panelists.

Why Attend a Convention?

Conventions are fun if you like science fiction and fantasy novels, and/or speculative movies and shows. There are even conventions dedicated to comic books.

Much more casual than conferences, ‘cons’ run on volunteer power. Organized by and for fans, at a convention it’s easy to meet a favorite author. He or she will probably attend the same parties as you.

If half the convention action is at the parties, the rest is split between concerts, award ceremonies, panel discussions and special events. At some cons there are workshops and fashion shows for fans who build and wear costumes inspired by anime, books and movies. There might be an improv show, fire works or even a star gazing workshop. It depends on what the organizers and participants decide.

The panelists at conventions discuss topics as far-ranging as politics, art, science, technology, genre conventions, cultural diversity in literature, and music. My favorite panels are about writing, including workshops, publishing panels, flash fiction contests, author readings and small reader-author meetups called “coffee klatches.”

Fans in costume.
Fans in costume.

Conventions for Creativity

My very first convention was AD Astra, in Toronto. The experience was so creatively stimulating, I went home afterward and wrote my first (unpublished) novel in a six-week streak. If you are into speculative fiction and appreciate geek culture, attending a local convention might be your ideal creativity boost.

A few recommended conventions:

World Con (location changes annually)

World Fantasy Convention (location changes annually)

Can-Con 2014 (Ottawa)

Ad Astra (Toronto)

SFContario (Toronto)

My list is limited to conventions I have attended in Ontario and Quebec. Wikipedia offers a much longer list of conventions where you can find something local to you.


Have a great con!





Web and Video Language Immersion

Students are bombarded with media and spend too many hours in front of computer and TV screens. Does this mean we shouldn’t show videos in class? Of course not.

There is an important place for watching videos in the French or Spanish language classroom. Second languages are best learned in situ but not every student can jet off to Paris to experience French immersion. Video is a convenient alternative. For years I have used educational videos to help students learn French because it exposes them to native speakers.

Téléfrancais is for children in elementary grades. Sol, a French Canadian comedian, stars in the Parlez-Moi series for older students. I’m on the lookout for more modern materials, but the content and the pedagogy is excellent. My students giggle at the passé fashions but still enjoy the characters and stories.

The beauty of these two series is that episodes are short and funny. They explain vocabulary using sight, sound and repetition, within a controlled vocabulary which accumulates chronologically. For each video I make up a brief worksheet and have students hunt for the answers as they watch. Classes ask me to repeat the video, sometimes twice, to help them find the answers. In language teaching, repetition is gold and any time the students are asking to watch a native speaker over and over, they are concentrating on immersion learning.

French teachers interested in using my Parlez-Moi worksheets should send me a message. I will scan them and email them to you personally.

Update: I have scanned the files so you can get the PDF worksheets much more quickly. If you would like them for your personal use with your class, please click here. I’ll email them to you so fast, it will feel automatic! 🙂

Adult learners and students looking for enrichment can benefit from videos too. Check your local library for movies and TV shows in your target language. Make sure there is an option to view with English subtitles for maximum comprehension. Series which deal with everyday life and express a lot of emotion are especially good for learning common vocabulary, cultural gestures and facial expressions. I learned a lot of Spanish watching telenovelas (soap operas) before visiting Peru and it made a measurable difference in my ability to understand native speakers. If you need to refresh your oral comprehension or you are learning a language for the first time, I recommend watching a serial whether or not you like soaps in your mother tongue.

For pleasure as well as utility I strongly recommend BBC’s interactive web mystery for Spanish learners, Ma Vida Loca. In it, you are a tourist caught in a web of intrigue that takes you all over Spain. I wish there were more free web resources of this quality. If you know any, please share with fellow teachers by leaving a comment.


Creative Teacher Librarian

— Teaching more fun!

Off to Peru!

I will be spending most of the month of February in Peru, socializing with my sister-in-law’s family and friends and learning as much Spanish as I can. As a Canadian, I have French but my Spanish so far is just what I’ve picked up here and there from hobby courses or books. Time to get serious!

In the meantime, I’ve started a new novel but with the whirlwind of preparations for my trip, progress is slow. It’s plotted out roughly and I know what kind of tone I want. I know the ending I’m building to and the characters. There is no reason not to work, except I can’t concentrate on anything but my trip. Maybe I should be writing about that instead.

Hasta luego!


My first ‘possum

I took a quick clip of this baby opossum, found in the flower beds beside the beach side Holiday Inn at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I was most impressed with the fauna there. I saw crows, pelicans, gulls, snake birds, turtles, alligators, a snake over a metre long, cardinals and woodpeckers who seemed quite at home in palm trees, great blue herons. My favorite was a pair of owls in broad daylight near the tops of some pine trees.

This trip made me wish I was a good photographer, with a telephoto lens.

To any ‘real world’ friends who might see this entry, visit my pics on Facebook. I’m a little too shy to post pitures of my family on a public website, but I still have time to ‘friend’ you if you’re fast. This weekend I start a new trip.

I won’t be posting much for a bit because I’m going to Europe for a month. Next stop, Paris, the city of legendary writers, critics and readers. In grade twelve I used to love watching a French TV show called Bouillon de Culture or some such. Celebrities such as Stephanie de Monaco would fill the live audience, eager to watch debates and discussions about the latest French books. Is there a place where novelists are better treated than France? Ireland has tax breaks but celebrity worship? In any case, Canada has nothing like it.

Until I manage another post from home or, maybe, overseas, happy reading!

I hope to return with a story to tell

Over dinner, a friend who knows I’m going to South Carolina, compared me to a Southern Belle. Not sure what this meant, I guessed he was referring to my tendency to be “slightly evil,” that is to say, not bland. Canadians are known for blandness in conversation. As a child I was taught to avoid the ‘big three’ contentious topics: religion, money, politics. I was told it was not polite to stir up controversy at a social gathering.

The same friend, who had recently visited New York, was impressed by the way he saw Americans hold passionate views, express them, debate them and yet, despite disagreeing violently with each other, still remain friends. I don’t know if I could do that. If I’m ‘slightly evil,’ for voicing my opinion and sometimes making a snarky remark, I still ‘bite my tongue’ enough to grow a callus there.

I have to admit, too much of what I know about American culture comes from TV and movies — and Canadian editorialists who try to define what is Canadian in terms of what is not American. That’s no way to define ourselves as a people. It’s also no way to understand your neighbours. I’m really looking forward to meeting some ‘real Americans’ on my trip. This should be easy if Americans live up to their reputations for being good talkers.

The English, too, are great conversationalists, playing with words in a way I wish Canadians would do more often. I go to a Monday night social where punsters must pay into a “pun jar” for each unwanted quip. The English, to their credit, know that speaking is an art, practiced to give pleasure to one’s friends. “She has no conversation,” is an old-fashioned English expression but I believe the sentiment still holds. We all have an obligation to support the conversation in a room by listening and making interesting contributions. To do otherwise is to be a bore.

Then there are the French. What I know of French culture is specific, regional and based on two very specific times of my life: high school and university. Let’s talk about high school. In grade 4 French class, Anglophone Canadians learn to greet a friend with: “Comment ça va?” [How’s it going?] In grade twelve, when I arrived in France for a month-long exchange, I discovered the girls in Bayonne were just as likely to ask: “Qu’est-ce que tu racontes?” [What (story) do you have to tell?] This friendly greeting invites you to take the floor and share an experience. When you realize that it will happen every day, you start to think about what you’re going to say.

I like this idea of gathering anecdotes in order to tell them. As a teen, I was aware of the French girls, imitating people we knew and experimenting with techniques so that their stories would impress or raise a giggle.

People tell tales in every culture, of course. Every family or group has it’s favorite stories and in-jokes. At the kind of parties I attend, you have to wait for the best stories, until some drinks have gone down and people have gravitated to the kitchen. That’s when the ‘war’ stories come out and we laugh and “remember when.”

English people have remarked to me on how often Canadians mention the weather. In Toronto, conditions change frequently but there’s another reason. Until recently, aquaintances would avoid talking about the big three: religion, politics and money. In some circles they are still taboo subjects, although in the post 911, globally warming, mega corporate world, I’m constantly reading about them. I just don’t verbally drub others with my opinions, especially when I think we won’t agree.

When I was a small child, a stranger in the street asked my mother the price of our house. She did tell him, once she got over the shock. Later, she told me he must have been ‘new in the country’ to ask such a nervy question. I know, it’s wrong to use my white, middle class family as the example by which Canadian behaviour is measured but I think, at that time, many of my fellow citizens would have cringed as well. At least it gave me a story to tell.

I won’t be blogging for a while as I’m off to South Carolina, leaving my trusty son and stalwart husband in charge of the household. I hope to read a few books and gather lots of stories while I’m there.

In the meantime, happy reading.

The Selfish Gene — Richard Dawkins

Now reading: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. I took out the 30th anniversary edition of this book from the library. I’ve only read the first 80 pages and already it’s changing my view of evolution. Dawkins uses game theory and mathematical models to prove that many of the evolutionary advantages we might assume are conferred at the species level should actually be measured in terms of advantages to individuals within the species. Each animal, for example, is driven by the ‘selfish genes’ which contain the instructions to create it. Each gene, since the primordial soup that began life on earth, tries to survive indefinitely, despite the short lifespan of it’s (animal) hosts. More later…

Other reads:

My son is devouring the Captain Underpants series and the first Bone graphic novel.

Of course my big read right now is the Let’s Go Guide to France. I’m planning on starting with Americanna sublime: EuroDisney, Paris. Next, I go to see friends from Bayonne. I lived with them for three months when I did a grade-twelve French exchange. From Bayonne, I’m sure to go to the beach in Biarritz and investigate the Basque country. My Bayonne friends are also taking me, with my son and mother-in-law, to see the French Pyrenees and the Altamira cave in Santander, Spain. He will love the dinosaur fossils there.

A friend, whom I am visiting after all of this luxury travel, joked that my son will ‘think he’s in the third world,’ when he arrives in Marseille. Bayonne is picturesque, true, but I’ve been to Marseille. It’s lovely! Of course, meeting my friend’s two kids for the first time will be even better. Could I get much luckier?

Looking forward to doing more travelling and writing (and even less blogging.)

Next stop: South Carolina. I wonder what famous books were written about that area? I don’t know the names of famous South Carolina writers offhand, so I’m very open to reading suggestions…

Seriously Spoiled Cereal Girl