Ad Astra Report!

I promise this is the last post I’ll be titling with an exclamation point for a while–I have no idea why, as I’ve just noticed, my last three entries have had them (must have been excited recently), but if I end this with a period people might get the idea that Ad Astra was somehow less worthy of emphasis…which certainly isn’t true. On to the highlights:

I arrived at the Crowne Plaza Toronto Don Valley Hotel (good luck pronouncing that acronym) late on Friday night after a seven hour drive or so (believe it or not, even with the price of gas it’s a lot cheaper to drive than fly to Toronto from NYC. The U.S. vs. Canadian Dollar War just ain’t what it used to be…), and after a quick update post on the blog fell into bed, as the next day was a busy one. (One comment on the trip: driving through New York is beautiful, but there really is a lot of “middle of nowhere” after about three hours. Credit my .mp3 collection and a few audio books for bridging the gap, along with listening to some NCAA tourney coverage!)

Saturday for me began with my first panel, ominously titled “How Not To Submit Your Work.” I must admit I was a bit worried that this was going to come out as a “stupid things authors do” panel (we really don’t need a #submitfail too, right?), but as it turned out I had nothing to fear. Kathryn Cramer, Brett Alexander Savory, Gabrielle Harbowy (and one other panelist who was a last minute replacement and whose name I am very sorry to say I have forgotten, which is what happens when you’re working on extremely limited sleep…if someone saw the panel and remembers who it was, please let me know and I’ll update accordingly) and I talked about what editors are looking for from submitting authors, and what screw-ups on that score will drive them (the editors πŸ™‚ ) absolutely nuts. Most of the panelists had extensive experience in short stories in particular, and although I have some experience in writing and editing in that field (including a new and exciting project to which I’ve somewhat mysteriously referred to here before, and about which I’m afraid I still can’t reveal any more details!) I was obviously there to speak more about the novel submission side, particularly from the perspective of the author. We had a good turnout and good questions afterwards from the audience, and on the whole I think (and hope) it ended up having some practical advice for people in attendance.

Then it was on to my panel on “Different Kinds of Fantasy: Epic, Urban and Everything in Between,” a topic which I had suggested to the organizers and for which I was duly punished by being made moderator. (That’s what happens when you’re working on extremely limited sle–well, you know. πŸ™‚ ) Kidding aside, I was honored to be moderator of the panel with (again) Kathryn Cramer, Tamora Pierce, Alison Baird, Tony Pi and Lorne Kates–a more balanced mix of authors and editors here (usually both), and some pretty well-known names as well. I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot lately as I’ve been shopping Icarus and writing Grayshade, each different kinds of fantasy than The Third Sign, and after reading off a list of sub-genres (I think my favorite new one is biopunk, though none of us could think of something which immediately fit the description!) I asked the panel where the field of speculative fiction as a whole was going. An interesting and wide-ranging discussion ensued, including some comments and questions from panelists and audience members (the room was packed for this one, by the way) about the obsession with genre labels and bookstore placement, and I was really impressed with the level of the discussion. We could have gone to two hours easily, but they needed the room after one, alas. πŸ™‚ But in talking to some people afterwards I could tell we had struck a chord–there’s a real interest in genre questions at the moment, I think, and a lot of people are wondering how the labels are going to shake out in the near future. After checking out a couple of other panels and stopping by the dealer room, I headed back to my own room for some grading and much needed sleep.

After attending a panel on “Fields of Plenty for Writers” Sunday morning (good stuff), I had a reading of The Third Sign in the early afternoon, then checked out a couple of final panels before hitting the road for the States and home (well, after stopping for a “maplesaurus” fleece for my daughter. Laugh at me all you want–it was cute.).

My overall take on Ad Astra:

1. It’s got a different feel from other conferences like Readercon or ICFA; it’s definitely got more of a mix of fans and authors, but in many ways I liked that. I had the chance to meet with authors, editors and readers, get some business done, and relax while Darth Vader strode by. When’s the last time you had that combination to work with?

2. The Green Room is awesome. Free food and drink, just for panelists and convention guests, open early and late. ‘Nuff said.

3. It’s a medium size convention, just about the right size for feeling like you’re really at a gathering without being overwhelmed.

4. I thought the organizers did a good job with the panel assignments, and the turnout was excellent at most of the panels I saw or was on myself.

5. Despite all this, there’s still a bit of the tendency towards cliquishness I’ve observed at some other conferences…and whether intentional or unintentional, this can be kind of off-putting once in a while.

6. Readings are up against too many other things, and staggering them more would have helped. I’d suggest the ICFA model, where authors are placed on three person reading panels, combining lesser known authors with bigger names–that way people in the audience are exposed to something new, and the turnout will be much more likely to be reasonable for everyone. In one case I saw people outside a room talking while waiting for a reading to end so they could enter and watch their author read. They couldn’t have popped their heads in for ten minutes while they were waiting? You never know what new stuff you could find, after all… In any case, the reading setup wasn’t optimal.

But taken as a whole, this was a great convention and I’m looking forward to returning next year. By then my daughter should have grown into the maplesaurus fleece, and she can pull out the cute with the best of them. πŸ™‚ Bravo to the Ad Astra organizers…this was worth the trip.