Archive for the 'My Writing' Category

My Can-Con 2016 Schedule

 

The schedule for Can-Con 2016 has been posted and it’s amazing. There is everything here for fans of science fiction, horror and fantasy. Plus science panels, pitch sessions, agent sessions, and more. Please take a look at the panel descriptions.

If you’ve never been to a convention but have thought about it, but felt it might be too much for you, please read my post about why conventions are safe spaces for the shy or introverted. If you feel this way, please check out Can-Con. Registration information is online. It will make you feel at home and introduce you to an entire community you didn’t know was out there.

For me, I will be busy! Here’s my schedule, subject to last-minute changes.

Friday

7:00 – 8:00: So This Is Your First Con!
Zenith Room
I’ll be joining Lisa Toohey, Ryan McFadden, and Brandon Crilly (m). I will try to bring some humour and sage wisdom to this panel.

9:00 – whenever: Bundoran Press party
Tavern ConSuite
I’ll be reading from my story “Innocence Prolonged, And Overcome” from the new anthology Lazarus Risen. What happens in a town where everyone will live forever? Well, it’s not good. Nope, not good at all.

Saturday

11:00 – 12:00: Reading from But It’s Not The End And Other Lies
Guildhall ConSuite
Join me doing a reading from my upcoming collection But It’s Not The End And Other Lies (ChiZine Publications) about what makes us human and what makes us monsters. Joining me in this time slot is fellow CZP author Ian Rogers reading from Every House is Haunted and ‘Nathan Burgoine reading from Triad Blood.

5:00 – 6:00: Can The Exorcist Work in the Modern World?
Twilight Room

I’ll be moderating a panel with Timothy Carter, Madeline Ashby, Mike Rimar and Ranylt Richildis. Since The Exorcist works on the idea that the Devil is real, that must mean God is real. And Jesus. And the Bible. In a secular world, does being scared by The Exorcist mean we must accept Christianity? We’ll discuss.

9:00 – whenever: ChiZine Publications party
Tavern ConSuite
This is the party to be at. Meet the leading voices in horror and dark fiction. And there will be booze.

Sunday

12:00 – 1:00: Not All Antagonists Are Created Equal
Sunset Room

I’ll be moderating a panel with Julie Czerneda, Erik Scott de Bie, Gregory A. Wilson and Nina Munteanu where I propose there are three types of antogonist—villains, monsters and forces of nature. We’ll slug it out, talking to both fellow authors and fans. Bring ideas about your favourite antagonist.

1:00 – 2:00: Horror is Domestic
Sunset Room
I’ll be with Suzanne Church, Sean Moreland, Ryan McFadden and Sandra Kasturi. This is an important concept in horror—horror is some external, corrupting force invading the family unit. Is this essential or is it bullshit? We’ll figure it out.

Conventions as “safe spaces” for the shy and introverted

can-con

Can-Con 2016, Ottawa speculative fiction convention, is coming up in a few weeks. It’s taking place September 9 – 11, 2016 at the Novotel in downtown Ottawa.

If you are a fan of sci-fi, fantasy, horror or anything like that, but have never been to (or considered attending) a convention, please give this a try. A bit of my history: When I began writing seriously, I was encouraged to attend Ad Astra in Toronto. I was very hesitant. I am a shy person, very introverted, and a weekend surrounded by strangers seemed overwhelming to me. Like, panic-attack overwhelming.

But I went and was transformed. Here were people like me: shy and thoughtful, but away from the loud-and-boisterous braggarts who dominate just about every public space, we could be ourselves. Was Robotech as good as we remembered, is Star more SF or more fantasy, when does horror go too far? I could talk to people if I wanted to, or be off by myself and no one bothered me. And not just did no one bother me, no one made me think that being on my own was somehow wrong.

A speculative fiction conference is a safe space in a lot of ways. We actively fight sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and racism. But you are also safe to be in your own shell. We’ve all had experiences where sitting and reading our book is viewed as pitiable or even a justification to “save” us from being alone. This does not happen at a speculative fiction conference. And something like Comiccon, even with all its geeky goodness, can be overwhelming with so many people.

SF conventions, like Can-Con, are places to observe and think. It is as contemplative as it is social. You can go to the room parties, read in the bar, or chill out in your room—it’s all OK. If you don’t say one word to anyone else, no one will judge you or think it’s wrong or you’re being a jerk.

If you’re a fan of SF/F/H and feel like no one at work or in your family really gets you, and you have to pretend to be someone else to get by every day, please come. Experience what I did. Make strong friendships even after a life-time of finding it hard to make new friends. We might not all love the same things, or see eye-to-eye on The Force Awakens, but we will respect who you are and what you believe, and welcome you into our community even after so many others have excluded you.

Please come: http://can-con.org/cc/registration/

25 Things I Wish I’d Known 25 Years Ago

25 years ago, I was a few weeks away from heading off to my first year of university. Since that time, I’ve often thought about how much I have changed and how I would have acted if I’d known then what I know now.

So in an act of self-indulgent narcissism, here are 25 things I would tell 25-years ago self:

  1. Teasing can be a sign of friendship – You were teased throughout  school. It was mean-spirited and meant to hurt you. In moving into the dorms, surrounded by young men (and women), you will be teased again. It might be away to establish a pecking order, but can also be a sign of friendship and familiarity. Do not immediately pull away from those who poke fun at you. A way to find out is to tease the person back. If they laugh, they are your friend. If they react with anger (i.e., how dare you break the pecking order and tease them), they are a bully.
  2. Don’t assume you are disliked – After 13 years of being the outcast, the victim, the weird0, you have come to assume everyone you meet will dislike you. This is, and has been, a false assumption. No one you will meet knows who you were or what you were like in high school. They will judge you for who you are now. Do not sabotage new friendships before they have begun. Show interest in them, ask questions, and decide if you like them.
  3. Stop being weird – Because you assume no one likes you, you stress your weirdness. It’s a defense mechanism to put people off. It doesn’t work. You can be a fan of Star Trek or Highlander or Stephen King, but don’t make it your identity.
  4. Not everyone is out to exploit you – You feared anyone paying attention to you. If the cool or cruel kids noticed you, it was either to tease you (“Hey Matt! You fucking freak!”) or exploit you. (E.g., “Hey Matt! What was the answer on the home work last night!”) When it came to exploitation, sometimes you almost gave in because you were grateful they did not tease you. But now, someone paying attention to you or showing affection is not a path to exploitation. Not everyone who is nice to you wants something from you. Don’t be distrustful of someone unless you have a reason.
  5. There are still bullies – Even with what is said above, bullies still exist who are out to exploit you, or delight in hurting your feelings. Your best defense is to ignore them. If they see they cannot get a rise out of you, they will move on. They will exist at college, in your job, when shopping, etc.
  6. Do not be a bully – Sometimes, the best way to get away from the bully is to join them in exploiting or demeaning those who are weaker, more shy or more eccentric than you are. Do not do this. Ever.
  7. Stand up for what is right when someone is selfish – There is a difference between a bully, who wants to hurt you, and someone who is selfish, where their focus is on themselves. Do not give in and think “Well, no sense making a fuss.” Stand up for yourself and demand to be treated fairly. Call them out on it because they are counting on you not saying anything. Tell someone to move their bag off a seat, don’t allow them to cut in line, etc.
  8. You can’t change people – Still, there is a difference between demanding you be treated fairly and expecting someone to treat everyone fairly. Some people call out people for littering or being vulgar in public—this will accomplish nothing and can invite a confrontation that is impossible to win. Such people will not change. Stand up for yourself, but that is as far as you can go.
  9. Friendships can fade and it’s not your fault – You are going to meet a lot of new people and form new friendships. Those friendships may endure, or they might last a semester. That’s life—not all friendships will be life-long. If a friendship does not last, do not assume it is because the other person does not like you. The friendship may have been based on proximity, like living a few doors down or having a class together. If you want one to endure, you must work to maintain it. And be prepared if the other person is not willing to put in the work.
  10. Show commitment to groups – You are suspicious of groups and are not a “joiner”. You fear joining a group will require you to sacrifice your identity or do something you do not want to do just to be accepted. There is truth to this. But be prepared to not be accepted or included in the group—be it a club, group of friends, or team—if you do not show a level of commitment that is needed to show you value the group and want it to succeed.
  11. Drinking – Right now, you do not drink. You will be tempted to and even pushed to by some people. But others will respect your decision. The decision, though, is yours. Be honest with yourself.
  12. Prioritize physical fitness – You do not have genetics on your side when it comes to weight and fitness. Youthfulness will fade; even with the same level of exercise and diet, you will slow down as you get older. Do not define yourself by your weight, pant size or muscle definition, for that is vanity, but invest the time to keep your body mobile. The ability to physically do things, without pain or soreness the next day, will become important as you get older. Start now, establish good habits, and laydown a base.
  13. Make decisions – There will be a lot of hard choices ahead of you in the years to come about money, school, relationships, family and your career. Make those decisions. More time has been squandered, lives lost and money wasted by not making a decision than making a bad one.
  14. Don’t be afraid to make quick decisions – You prefer to have time to consider something, and don’t be afraid to ask for it. But if you need to decide in the moment, make the decision. You have a lot of time ahead of you to mitigate or undo any bad outcomes that happen.
  15. End each day without regret and don’t beat yourself up – You will make a lot of bad decisions. You will make dumb mistakes. You will forget things, rush through things, say the wrong thing. Don’t spend hours or days telling yourself that you are dumb, worthless and incompetent. Try to learn from what happened, incorporate that lesson into your day-to-day dealings, and move on vowing to never make that mistake again. Be able to end each day looking in the mirror without regrets, knowing you made the best decisions you could and vowing to improve tomorrow.
  16. Don’t pretend to ask for someone’s opinion when you are really showing off – You are always looking for external validation since (1) you never received it from your family and (2) often your peers mocked you. You have a habit of wanting to show someone something you made under the guise of wanting their feedback or that it might interest them, but the reality is you are trying to show off. Others see this. It stinks of desperation and low self-esteem. Knock it off. If you are honestly interested in someone’s feedback, let them know why you are approaching them and ask specific questions. Otherwise, stop being so desperate for others’ approval and worry about what makes you happy and fulfilled.
  17. Don’t share all of yourself right away – You can sometimes assume friendships are closer than you think. Don’t share your thoughts and feelings right away. Do not be dishonest, but it’s okay to hold back. Not everyone will be comfortable with such a sudden rush of candor.
  18. Improve you how sleep – You have never slept well. But you have never made sleep a priority. You stay up too late, nap too long. It’s fine to have a late night, but don’t stay up late because you can. Your memory and anger issues come from being sleep-deprived for most of your life. Get better sleep and you will be able to focus better.
  19. Keep a notebook with you always – Always have a pen and paper with you to write things down. Phone numbers, assignments, product names. Do not trust your memory.
  20. Your life is a project – You are an organized person on projects, but not life. You forget events, are late with assignments, find yourself at the end of the week not having done what you wanted to do, etc. (This is because you are sleep-deprived.) Use the skills you bring to a project to run your life like one. Make lists of things you want to do. Make shorter lists of what you need to get done now. Cross things off as they are done. Keep a calendar, keep it updated, and check it often.
  21. Finish what you start and don’t be distracted – You get ideas frequently, often in the middle of accomplishing something, and tend to pursue them without completing what you set out to do. As you get older, the things you will need to do will become more complicated and more important. Do not end up like your father—asleep in front of the TV with a basement full of half-completed projects. Finish your task and cross it off the list before moving on to something else.
  22. Take advantage of culture – At university, you will be surrounded by culture—plays, music, lectures. Most of it free or at a price lower than normal. You will never again have access to these events. Take advantage of them, even if in the end you did not enjoy them at least you will know instead of being left to wonder.
  23. Buy music – You will be exposed to a lot of music. Buy what interests you, not just what you love. You are pragmatic, so hate to buy something you know you will not need, but make an exception. Music will mark events and milestones in your life, and give you common ground with people.
  24. Stay current with music – In college, you will be surrounded by music. After, it will be harder to be exposed to new music. For the most part, it will be the radio driving to and from work, which will be a limited selection. Find ways to learn about new music, listen to it, give it a chance, and buy it.
  25. Don’t worry about fashion – You don’t follow trends and wear conservative clothing. Some people will push you to keep up with trends, but you keep your clothes for a long time, often longer than trends last. This is OK. But it is also OK to buy clothing that is in-style, knowing it won’t last. Not everything you buy has to be worn for as long as it will last. However, make this an exception—don’t waste a lot of money things that will have a very short period of usefulness.

 

 

 

 

2016 Limestone Genro Expo schedule

I’ll be attending the Limestone Genre Expo next weekend and my full schedule is below. When I’m not on panel, you’ll probably find me behind the ChiZine Publications‘ dealers table. CZP is the publisher guests of honour this year and it’s my privilege to represent them.

This is Limestone’s second year and it shows no signs of stopping! It’s a great and growing convention in Kingston, Ontario so I hope you can make it out.

The two-day schedule is on their website and online registration is available until July 21, so go sign-up!

Saturday

10:00 – 11:00: Where is Fantasy taking the modern reader?
I’ll be moderating a panel with Tanya Huff, Violette Malan, Sean Moreland, Kit Daven, Nancy Baker and Marie Bilodeau

Sunday

11:00 – 12:00: Far Out: What’s happening in Science Fiction?
I’ll be moderating this panel with Nina Munteanu, Kate Heartfield, Charlotte Ashley, Ira Nayman, Andrew Barton and Derek Kunsken

2:00 – 3:00: What Horror trends are scaring you these days?
I’ll be on this panel with David Nickle, Karen Dales, Alyssa Cooper, James Moran and Sean Moreland with moderator Evan May

Story to Appear in Bundoran Press’s Lazarus Risen

I’m pleased to tell you that I will have a story in Bundoran Press’s new anthology Lazarus Risen. Continuing Bundoran’s line of anthologies exploring how certain concepts or technologies might affect society and humanity, Lazarus Risen explores science-based immortality. From the submission guidelines:

Lazarus Risen will seek SF (no fantasy or horror, please) short stories that explore the economic, political, social and psychological consequences of life extension, human cloning, the hard upload and other forms of the biological singularity.

I won’t say too much about what my story is about, except it explores how immortality might not be the cornucopia of fulfillment one might dream it to be.

Bundoran has posted the full table of contents on Facebook.

Thank you, David Bowie, for marking a turning point in my life

I was never a big David Bowie fan. I recognize his contribution to music and admire his long a career, I was just never a fan.

With one exception.

Seeing SE7EN in the theatre was a transformative experience and it remains one of my favourite films. I was just out of school and looking for a job to become the adult I had been told my whole life that I needed to become as quickly as possible. But instead of opportunity, I found closed doors, arrogance and hypocrisy in this grown-up world I was supposed to join. I was frustrated, angry and jaded.

And here was this film where the bad guy dies but the good guys lose. Where a pregnant woman is beheaded (offscreen) to make a point. It’s always raining, people bicker more than cooperate and nothing is ever clean. We never know why John Doe does what he does, just that he was twistedly brilliant. And the universe doesn’t give a fuck about any of us.

I walked out realizing the Baby Boomer era of films—where the hero can get shot by a large caliber gun in the climax, but is pain-free and laughing with his buddies five minutes later in the closing comedic beat—was done. (Or, I’d hoped.) This was a movie that matched my pessimistic outlook and opinion of people. I never knew cinema could be like that.

The movie kicked off with a remix of “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, a band I had just gotten into a few years earlier. That already put me in the right mood.

But when the credits rolled (downwards, opposite what you’d expect) it was Bowie’s “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” that played. Dark and brooding, it was the perfect song for sitting in stunned silence and trying to contemplate what you had just seen. (And soon after, Bowie would collaborate with Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor for “I’m Afraid of Americans”.)

I realize that over a decades-long career, this song is relatively unimportant, but it is what I will always think of when I think about David Bowie—his voice washing over me, the industrial sound, the realization that being a grown-up would be mostly disappointment, tedium and frustration. That moment was a turning point in my life, and Bowie was its soundtrack. Hearing it still sends chills up my spine.

Thank you, David Bowie.

Rebooting Voltron on Netflix, and a proposed alternate version

Today, Netflix announced they were making a new Voltron animated series. This new show will be aimed at kids, but I think they are missing an opportunity here to mine some rich material.

Voltron, because everything from the 80s has to be dusted off and rebooted.

About 10 years ago, there was a live-action film in the works that would have been set in a desolate future Earth. (I am working from memory here; I could not find the plot summary I had read. If you can find it, please post in the comments.) Somehow, Earth and Arus are “twin worlds”, which allows the technology for Voltron to flow from Arus to Earth, allowing five young people to build the five lions from whatever they have at hand, ending in a Mad Max-esque Voltron defeating alien invaders.

Sounds like an interesting take, but consider the opening sequence of Voltron.

The group that’s sent to Arus is to bring Voltron back. This has elements of colonial exploitation. Rather than a kids show, what if this was an imperial power, which sees itself as benevolent, stealing a natural resource from an indigenous people?

More than that, the show hinted that Voltron was seen as a god. Whether the robot was worshipped, the robot was based on the deity, or somehow the deity manifested as the robot (like Primus in the Transformers comics) all offer possibilities. More than that, how would a culture view its deity being coopted by a colonial power?’

And not only the physical object stolen and cultural element coopted, but used as a weapon of war to, perhaps, expand its influence and territory, conquering more worlds.

I know, I’m reaching. Any maybe it doesn’t need the Power/Rangers treatment.

But I fellow can dream.

So, below is my take on an opening scene of a serious, live action Voltron film. (As serious as it can be titled Voltron.)


FADE IN

INT. MILITARY OFFICE – NIGHT

GENERAL HAWKINS stands at the window, looking over a futuristic city. Heavily-armed military vehicles move through the air. We can see battle damaged buildings and, further on, a deep crater.

Behind Hawkins, the door CHIMES.

HAWKINS (to the door)

Enter.

The door slides open and CAPTAIN KEITH KOGANE enters. Fit, early thirties, he is a man who has seen hard combat, but he is a committed soldier who has not lost his optimism that he can win this war. He stands before Hawkins’ desk and offers a crisp salute.

KEITH

Reporting as ordered, sir.

Hawkins returns the salute and motions to a chair. Keith and Hawkins sit across from one another.

HAWKINS

How long have you been back on-planet, Captain?

KEITH

About 5 hours, sir.

HAWKINS

Don’t unpack. I have a mission for you and your team.

Hawkins presses a button on his desk and the hologram of an Earth-like planet appears above it.

HAWKINS

This is the planet Arus. Know it?

KEITH

No, sir.

HAWKINS

It’s in the Gyrus Cluster.

Keith reacts to the name.

HAWKINS

What do you know about the Cluster, Captain?

KEITH

It’s a graveyard, sir.

Settlers reached it around 650 SE. Three core worlds and a handful of colonies.

It was cut off in the Second Drule Incursion in 809. There were two attempts to retake the Cluster, but both were pushed back by the Drule fleet. Around 40 years ago, a third attempt found the Cluster deserted. No sign of the Drule fleet and the core worlds had been nuked. Same with the colony planets they checked. Radiation made re-colonization impossible, so it was abandoned.

HAWKINS

What you haven’t heard is five years ago we caught a freighter coming out of the Cluster. They called it salvage. We considered it grave robbing. But they said the colony on Arus had survived.

So we sent a ship to check. And found a colony that hadn’t just survived, but thrived. Agricultural, industry, government, arts and culture. Almost half a billion people in the middle of a graveyard. Cut off from the Alliance for over 400 years.

How?

Keith considers this.

KEITH

Either they made a deal with the Drule—

HAWKINS

Which no other world has been able to do in over two hundred years of war.

KEITH

Or they have some kind of advanced weapons system. Something that kept the Drule from Arus. Maybe even drove them from the Cluster.

Hawkins nods, impressed.

HAWKINS

We’ve been getting our asses kick in the Dairugger system. If we get pushed out, seven more systems could fall. Something that could push the Drule from an entire cluster could change things.

KEITH

We’re going to Arus, aren’t we sir?

HAWKINS

We’ve had a diplomatic mission on-world for the last 6 months to re-establish relations. With them we’ve embedded intelligence operatives as cultural attachés. They’re learned the locals talk about a god named Voltron that could command five massive, mechanical lions to defend the planet.

Understanding dawns in Keith’s eyes.

HAWKINS (con’t)

No one has seen Voltron in decades. The only people who claim to have seen him were children when it happened. But they said they lions kept the Drule back.

Hawkins changes the holographic image. The planet is replaced by the head of PRINCESS ALLURA, a woman a little younger than Keith.

HAWKINS

This is Princess Allura, sovereign of Arus. They’re a constitutional monarchy, so her power is limited, but she is quite popular with the people.

Yesterday, the Arus Parliament agreed to rejoin the Alliance and this morning Allura gave royal approval. As part of the Alliance, they’ve pledged to meet their obligations in placing military forces under Alliance control, but Allura denies that Voltron exists. ‘A myth,’ she said, ‘to rally the people.’

Her family crest is a lion within a five-pointed star, by the way.

Keith is intrigued by the mission. He stares at the confident gaze of the princess.

HAWKINS

The diplomats don’t want to rock the boat. That’s where you and your team come in. Your mission, Captain, is to go to Arus and confront Princess Allura over the existence of the Voltron weapon system. If she agrees to turn it over, take command of it and arrange its transport to Earth.

If she doesn’t cooperate, you and your team are to locate Voltron, steal it and get it to Earth.

Questions?

The Black Friday Executions

Another Black Friday come and gone, and America did not disappoint with pushing, shoving and fights breaking out. Not over clean water or the last spot on a vehicle that could take one out of a war zone. Nope, over shoes, electronics and who knows what else. At a discount.

As a fiction writer, my mind goes to odd places. And so inspired by Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and movies The Purge and Series 7, I want to propose a fictional world where, once per year, we execute a rude, arrogant and aggressive person. Someone who has not committed a serious crime—we have that system in place. I mean those people who commit an on-going series of thoughtless, selfish actions.

Let’s take one of these people who thinks she can rip a box from the hands of a child (and then play the victim when the mother tries to take it back) and put them in the death chamber. Send the message that this kind of behaviour, which puts their wants (i.e., not needs) above the safety and well-being of others, has no place in our society. For our own protection, you have to die to serve as a warning to others.

Same would apply to aggressive drivers. While we all make mistakes from time to time, anyone with three or more moving infractions (e.g., drunk driving, speeding in a school zone, tailgaiting, excessive speed) is also up for execution. It’s luck, not the driver’s skill, that no one has been hurt by their reckless actions, so let’s see if we can’t nip it in the bud.

These executions would not happen for everyone; just one person per year. There would be due process, and I am in no way advocating vigilantism, but I think those of us who can keep it together have the right to defend ourselves. Since these selfish, violent bullies rarely have to worry about consequences, and often their actions result in rewards, let’s give them a reason to pause.

Of course, this is just an idea for a story, not reality. These bullies will continue to flourish, convinced of their own entitlement and superiority. Worst of all, they get to be seen as a hero for presenting the gift they wrestled away from someone else who was ahead of them in line.

(If you use this idea in a story, please drop me a line and let me know.)

In conclusion, here’s George Carlin.

How to Be a Good Moderator for Panel Discussions at Conventions

I’ve been told I’m a good moderator for panel discussions at conventions. Recently, I was asked to mentor someone moderating her first panel. I had intended to just outline a few ideas, but it turned into something much larger. Below are the thoughts that I shared, which I hope can prepare you to moderate a panel at a convention. While this was written for SF/F/H conventions, it can be used by anyone moderating any kind of panel.

These are just my thoughts, so your mileage may vary.

What is your role as the moderator?

A moderator is accountable to the audience. You are not there to serve the ego of panelists.

This is your role. Who gets to talk and who doesn’t.

The audience is attending your panel (yup, its yours) to hear a good discussion on a topic they’re interested in. You must deliver that. This means not letting:

  • One person dominate the conversation,
  • One point of view dominate the conversation, and
  • Some jackass in the audience dominate the conversation (more on this point below).

You are a traffic cop; the panelists provide the discussion. You make sure everyone gets their say while keeping the audience in check. Even if you have a world-renowned expert on the panel, the others deserve their share of the time.

You should be positive, fun and enthusiastic. It is your role to keep the energy up.

How much do you participate?

The moderator is not a panelist. You need to remain neutral and keep the conversation going.

This means keeping your opinions on a topic in check. (There is a special ring of hell for moderators who use their role to advance their own agenda.) You might think X, but Y and Z are also options that audience members might want to hear about. You must get X, Y and Z on the table.

But if there are only two other panelists, you might need to interject, but be clear that what you are saying is your opinion, and then jump back into your (neutral) moderator role.

If there are three panelists, you might be involved.

If there are four or more panelists, you are the traffic cop. There are enough opinions in play.

How To Prepare

Do a little research on your panelists. Know who they are. You don’t need to do exhaustive research; reading their bios on the convention website is often enough.

Have at least 5 questions prepared to ask the panel. Have them be open-ended, not questions someone can answer with “Yes” or “Five years.” Five questions should be enough to fill the panel (assuming it is an hour long).

Begin with introductions

I always begin panels by asking panelists to introduce themselves and then relate themselves to the topic. So something like “Tell us why you wanted to be on this panel” or “What interests you about this topic”. This helps let you know where they stand on the issue. In other words, are they “X”, “Y” or “Z”.

It also might give you fodder for more questions. Sometimes a panelist might say something in an offhanded way that sparks a whole new discussion.

Asking panelists to introduce themselves also lets you get a sense for their personalities—shy, soft-spoken, axe to grind.

Encourage panelists to speak

Let’s face it, we are a community of introverts. Some people might need to be coaxed to speak. If you have an audience member who has been silent, invite them to share an opinion. It could be that they have nothing to say, but make sure you give them the chance. “Jen, we haven’t heard from you. Any thoughts?”

Take notes during the panel

Take notes during the panel. They could give you ideas to keep the conversation going.

Take notes so you have ideas to keep the conversation going.

This is key. People will say something off the cuff, but it could be a great segue into another topic to discuss. Someone might mention something during their introduction you didn’t know which you can delve into later. “Wanda, earlier you said a zombie and vampire are the same basic monster, but what about the master vampire who retains her/his identity as an undead creature?” “Piotr, did your time in the army affect your writing?”

Keep the conversation on topic… Or don’t

Remember the audience is there to hear about the topic. If you are discussing Dr. Who, and you realize somehow the last 5 minutes have been about water on Mars, bring it back on topic. And you can just say “OK, to get back to Dr. Who” and chuckle as you say it. That is, unless the audience is into this new topic—leaning forward, asking questions, etc. In which case, you have to decide whether to let the discussion follow its course or bring it back on topic.

20 minute lull

When I first began moderating, I begin to worry at the 20 minute mark because I felt we weren’t going to make it through the full hour. If this happens, don’t panic—this happens. I don’t know why, but it does. I think that’s when the initial energy begins to fade. But then someone will say something, and you all will hit your second wind. And, you can always turn to the audience.

And if the panel runs out of gas early, admit it. Thank everyone and end the panel early.

Manage the audience

I’ve saved this topic for last because the audience will be your biggest challenge. There will always be someone who thinks they are on the panel and won’t shut up. So how do you to deal?

First, when starting the panel explain that the panel will talk for about 20 minutes or so, and then you’ll take questions. And be clear: To ask a question, put your hand up.

If someone just starts talking, cut them off (“Sorry, let’s hear her out” or “Hang out, I want to hear from the panel. We’ll take question is a bit.”) and go back to the panel. And remind people when you will be taking questions and how to ask.

As people put their hand up, acknowledge them. Even if a panelist is talking and/or you are not ready for their question, make eye contact with the audience member and give a nod or small wave to let them know you see them.

When you call on someone, be clear: “This gentleman in the Spider-Man hat.” “Yes, Poison Ivy at the back.” “Lady in the front row knitting me a scarf. It’s for me, right?”

If various people have their hands up, set up your order: “I’m going first to the gentleman with the beard at the back, then over to this lady with the stuffed TARDIS and then over to the Flash t-shirt.”

Vary who gets to speak. There will be one person with their hand up all the time. Make sure others are heard. Say things like “Yes, in the Sailor Moon boots, we haven’t heard from you yet” or to the person who keeps asking question “I see you have your hand up first, but let’s go over here. We haven’t heard from her yet.”

You'll probably want questions from the audience, but beware of someone who never gets around to asking their question.

You’ll probably want questions from the audience, but beware of someone who never gets around to asking their question.

Be prepared for someone who isn’t asking a question but making a statement. Or, it takes them 5 minutes of set up to get to their question. You don’t have time for that. If you sense someone is standing on their soapbox or is taking to long to ask a question, be direct: “I’m not hearing a question here” or “You need to get to your question because others have questions they’d like to ask.”

If you get the rude jackass who keeps interrupting, be direct. “Hang on, let’s hear from the panel” or “She wasn’t done speaking yet.” You might even need to go as far as saying “Excuse me, but you’ve been interrupting us. If you have a question or comment, please raise your hand.” The longer this person is allowed to interrupt, the more they will do it. So shut them down quickly.

Maybe you think this is being rude to an audience member, but remember (1) you are there for the entire audience, not just one person and (2) that one person is being very rude.

One of my proudest moments as a moderator was a woman who kept loudly interrupting the panel (and other audience members trying to ask a question). I tried to politely deflect her at first, but her behaviour persisted so I became more direct and told her to stop interrupting. So she raised her hand while someone was speaking, I nodded to let her know I saw her, but after five seconds of her hand in the air she screamed “FUCK YOU PEOPLE!” and stormed out. You might think it’s bad I pissed this person off so much, but her anger pales to the sum of the frustration of everyone else in the room. Her absence made the panel run smoother, fulfilling my obligation is to the audience as a whole.

Anything I missed?

If you have advice or suggestions for panel moderators, please put them in the comments below. I’d love to hear your feedback!

My CAN-CON 2015 Schedule

CAN-CON 2015—Ottawa’s original conference on SF/F/H—is coming up in Ottawa from October 30 to November 1. There will be readings, panel discussions and presentations, plus book launches and room parties. Registration is open and it’s $60 for the whole weekend with discounts for students.

A description of all the panels is up on their website. And you can download a PDF of the daily schedule. My schedule is below.

Something that is not listed are my Blue Pencil Cafés, which you have to sign up in advance for, but they are free for attendees. I hope you’ll sign up!

Friday

2:30PM: Workshop – Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats
I wrote a blog post with some more information on this workshop. Short version: creating tension means knowing how to structure a story and create threats to your hero. If you’re interested, you can register on the CAN-CON site. It’s $10 with a $1.25 service fee.

7:00PM: Live critic panel
Matt Moore, Kris Ramsey, James Bambury, Kevin Quirt, Agnes Cadieux
Come hear us crack wise about whatever the audiences says they love.

9:00PM: Bundoran Press/SFCanada Party
I’ll be attending. We’ll have to see how the evening goes, but I might be reading a snippet from “As Below, So Above” from Bundoran’s Second Contacts anthology.

Saturday

10:00AM: Our Monsters are our Children
Matt Moore (m), Sean Moreland
Why do we love monsters, and what does that say about us?

3:00PM: Horror Reading: What is scaring the $#@% out of you?
Matt Moore (m), Peter Halasz
Looking for some good horror novels to read? Come check this out.

6:00PM: Extreme Weather Slapdown CANCELLED
Marie Bilodeau (m), Matt Moore, Eric Choi, Leah Petersen, Mark Robinson
Famed stormchaser Mark Robinson poses a severe weather event, and we authors have to create a story around it.

7:00PM: Scifi Cult movies (Buckaroo Banzai, Mystery Men, Repo Man, etc)
Ira Nayman (m), Timothy Carter, Matt Moore, Eric Choi
Why do we love them?

9:00PM: The ChiZine Publications’ Party
I will be there.

Sunday

11:30AM: Reading
I’ll be reading “The Weak Son” from Tesseracts Thirteen. It’s an older piece, but one of my favourites to read aloud.

12:00PM: Contract, Contracts, Contracts – What’s a Good One?
Matt Moore (m), Matthew Johnson, Eve Langlais, David Hartwell, Caroline Frechette
Are you an author wondering what makes a good contract? Publishers and experienced authors will let you know what to expect, what to fight for, and what’s just crazy to ask for.


Upcoming Appearances

ChiSeries Ottawa Presents Max Gladstone, Brett Savory & Rich Larson - Host
April 4, 2017
Royal Oak, Laurier @ uOttawa
161 Laurier Avenue East
Ottawa, ON
Ad Astra - Panelist
May 5 – 7, 2017
Sheraton Parkway North
Richmond Hill, ON
Ottawa Comiccon - ChiZine Publications Dealers Table
May 12 – 14, 2017
EY Centre
Ottawa, ON
Limestone Genre Expo - Panelist
June 3 – 4, 2017
St. Lawrence College
​Kingston, ON
CAN-CON - Panelist
Oct. 13 – 15, 2017
Sheraton Hotel
Ottawa, ON

Where Else to Find Me

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Find my books on my Amazon Page

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Email me at MattMooreWrites@gmail.com


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