Questing at Can-Con

Last weekend, I had a chance to check out Can-Con, the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. This is an event I’ve been wanting to attend since I first learned about it two years ago, but schedule conflicts and only hearing about it at the last minute prevented me from walking through the doors.

This year, I was determined.

On the weekend I was preparing to buy tickets, I received a great opportunity to attend as part of Error 404: Show Not Found and conduct a series of interviews, getting a behind-the -scenes look at what, in my opinion, is one of the most important growing conventions in Canada (the video of our explorations will be available shortly).

Why do I have that opinion? Because as a Canadian fantasy author, I feel that my voice is sometimes a whisper in the crowd. While the internet is a great place for blurring those lines of nationality, it’s still difficult for someone north of the border to draw the attention of, say, a New York literary agent (and sometimes even to hook readers if the setting is a small town in Ontario).

Can-Con offers an opportunity for new Canadian genre writers to shout out. Not only is it a collection of speculative fiction authors getting together to rub elbows and share their experiences AS Canadian spec fiction authors, it’s also a chance to check out panels hosted by some big names across a whole bunch of genres, and this year organizers Derek Kunsken and Marie Bilodeau invited a New York agent to answer questions and accept pitches.

RIGHT HERE IN OTTAWA!

This year, the event was held at the Novotel, right across from the Rideau Centre. The event took up two floors, with scheduled signings, a vendor’s room, and different rooms for the panels (discussions included the evolution of the genre, of gender and diversity in gender, on how to adapt your work to film and TV — seriously, so much great stuff). The event itself was an RPG game. On registration, you rolled for your character and kept the card with you throughout the event: a fun and creative way to get to know the competition your colleagues.

The vendor room was full of books (all the books!), local crafts, and products that complement reading to perfection (like locally made tea and coffee).

Can-Con has existed since 1992. It went on hiatus for a while, but returned in 2010 and has been steadily growing ever since. Each year, the organizers bring in incredible research resources, such as doctors and scientists, to answer your questions on any number of subjects (want to know about the spread of the Zika virus? They’ve got you covered). There are opportunities to get your pitches critiqued, to chat with small press owners and, of course, to chat with some of the most well-established writers in the genre.

I missed meeting Tanya Huff, unfortunately, but did grab a chance with speak with (and interview) Charles de Lint, an author I very much admire. These two shared a panel about the fantasy genre, and as they both have been instrumental in developing the genre in the country, are not voices to ignore.

This convention deserves the attention it’s getting and I look forward to watching them grow. Walking through the event, I saw nothing but people excited to be there: to meet fellows in their trade, to learn tricks and tips on how to make a go of the business themselves, or simply to be surrounded by books. So many books. It was wonderful.

Events like this are crucial. Writing is a solitary business and sometimes it can feel like you’re floundering without any anchors. It’s reassuring to know that’s the norm (hurray!), and that there are resources and supports there when you need them.

So next year, make sure to follow them on Twitter, on Facebook, on their website (link is at the top) and get thee to the convention!

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