Christina Vasilevski

Toronto Writer/Editor for Content Strategy and User Experience.

My Perspective on Ryerson’s Publishing Program — 3 Years Later

Ever since I graduated from Ryerson’s publishing program in 2011, I’ve been contacted by people asking for more information about it — about whether the program is worth their time, and whether it’s led to the kind of work I’ve expected.

These questions have been hard to answer; as I was going through the program, the publishing industry was dealing with the first real eBook boom. The pace of change in the industry has only sped up since then. It was still a novelty for me back in January 2011 to see a person reading from a Kindle on the subway — but then I bought my own Kobo less than a year later. Now I see eReaders and tablets almost everywhere I go when I’m on public transit. In fact, people openly talk about tablets replacing eReaders and have worried about the prospect for years.

Thus, a lot of my information about the program is out of date. I’ve been asked some of the same questions by different people multiple times, however, and I figure it’s about time for me to do a follow-up post.

Or rather, a series of them.

Although I’m happy that others have seen me as a go-to resource about Ryerson’s publishing program, I don’t want to imply that my experience is the standard one. As a result, I decided to get in touch with fellow Ryerson publishing students (some graduates, some not, some who are editors, some who are not) to get their takes on what effect, if any, the program had on their careers. Over the near future, I’ll write at least one post about their experiences. For this post, though, I’m going to focus on my own experiences as they relate to a few frequently asked questions. Here we go.

FAQ #1: Have you ever done an internship? Are internships worth it?

I haven’t done any internships. I’ve applied for them and even had a few interviews, but never been accepted for one. I know of many other graduates who have done internships, and I recognize their value in understanding the publishing industry, but I dislike the economics surrounding them. (Frankly, all of my internship applications in the past year were ones I sent just to prove that I wasn’t sitting on my ass while looking for work.)

An internship is not a guarantee that you will be hired by a publishing company. Some graduates I’ve been in contact with have talked about how they had to complete multiple internships before finding a paying position. If you take into account that book store revenues are declining and that eBook sales haven’t risen the same amount to compensate, as well as the rise of self-publishing, I honestly don’t know how long the current structure of publishing companies will last. I suspect that the chief benefit of internships is the networking opportunities they provide. But honestly, they haven’t made as much sense for my personal career path.

FAQ #2: Help! I’ve graduated from university and I don’t know what to do with my life! I love books, though, and I can spot typos — should I take the program?

Many people think that all it takes to be a good editor is to spot typos. I certainly thought this myself when I started. However, there are many more different types of editing out there than most people imagine, and being a good editor requires a deeper, more muscular level of thought than just catching a misplaced comma on a menu.

I don’t regret taking the program, as I do feel I’ve learned a lot from it — obviously, I wouldn’t be freelancing if I thought the program wasn’t worth it — but there are a number of things I think prospective students should keep in mind:

First, the popular conception of the publishing industry is full of romance. New York! Book tours! Liquor-filled lunches! However, the reality is much different. Big authors are getting bigger advances, smaller authors are often going the self-publishing route, hybrid authors are now officially A Thing, and the midlist is getting squeezed. Taking courses in publishing and learning about the true economics of the industry will at best make you more practically-minded and at worst shatter your dreams.

Second, don’t assume that you’ll work in the traditional publishing industry when you graduate. Some of the former students that I’ve spoken with do end up working for a publisher but others self-publish, while still others migrate into different industries. Like I mentioned above, I’ve never taken on an internship, and in fact do not do any editorial work with publishers at all. I instead focus my editorial services on small businesses and marketing companies.

Most importantly, the publishing industry has changed a lot in the past few years, and no one is still quite sure how things will shake out. If you do want to take part in the industry, you’ll have to work at it. Follow people on Twitter. Read all the blogs and resources you can to stay on top of things. Go to industry events. Learn more about self-publishing. Learn to promote yourself. This really isn’t a program you should choose just because you love books. It’s a good start — a vital start, even — but the industry demands more of its people than just that. Prospective students need to understand that publishing is a business as much as it’s a cultural pursuit.

FAQ #3: What are your thoughts on the online courses the Ryerson publishing program offers?

It really depends on your learning style. I am lucky enough that I live in the same city as Ryerson, and that Ryerson’s publishing program is very highly thought of. As a result, I took most of my classes on-campus, and only took courses online when it was necessary to. If you live outside of the GTA, however, online classes will probably be the most viable option.

The thing is that the atmosphere of an online class is very different from that of an in-person class. I feel like I’m being held more accountable when I have to shuffle downtown with my books and binders.

Do you have the mental fortitude to check in every week on an online class and hand in assignments on time when there’s no one looking over your shoulder? I find that really hard. Sitting in a class, listening to a teacher, raising my hand, and asking questions is a much better fit for my learning style because the effort involved in doing so makes me value the class more.

FAQ #4: Was the program worth it?

I think so. But I think that’s partly because I realized something very early onthe skills offered by the Ryerson program can be applied to multiple contexts outside of publishing. If there’s anything you take away from this post, it should be this.

Also, I took the effort to join organizations outside of Ryerson to learn more, did volunteer work elsewhere, and networked with a lot of people. For two years I had a job that involved online proofreading; when was there, I learned about other skills like content management and content strategy. When I applied to that job back in 2010, some of the things that helped me stand out from the other candidates were my Ryerson background and the fact that I knew how to code HTML — something I taught myself how to do before I even finished high school.

What matters isn’t that you take the program. It’s that the program becomes part of the totality of what you can offer to people. Can you write? Can you edit? Do you volunteer? Just how much effort do you expend into the world in general? Ryerson was a stepping stone for me — not the whole staircase.

FAQ#5: Where else should I go to learn more?

There are so many resources out there that it would take a lot of space to list them all. I’ll devote a future post just to useful links and resources. However, if you’re interested in editing in particular, I highly recommend the pamphlet So You Want to Be an Editor from the Editors’ Association of Canada.

Change: What I’ve Been Doing and Where I’m Going

Oregon sunset-bIt’s been about two years since I decided to transition to freelance work. However, it’s been a bumpy road. I’ve taken on contract work that took time away from doing freelance work. In some ways, I’ve decided to focus on writing posts on here not about what I do for others, but about my own personal interests.

Lately, I’ve been trying to re-examine the choices I’ve made. Some of those choices, like freelancing, are things I’m still happy with. However, I’ve realized that I really need to try and move my blog beyond book reviews and talking about tea (both of which are quite fun, I admit!) to discussing things that other people want to learn or know more about.

What this means is that over the next few weeks and months, regular readers of this blog are going to see a bit of a shift in what I’m talking about.

I’ll still talk about books and publishing, and write the occasional book review on here if the mood strikes. I’ll still talk about pop culture, geeky things, and things that make me think.

However, I’m also planning to discuss in more depth the things that I’ve learned about the kind of business that I’m trying to run, and also talk about the projects I’m working on. In other words, I’m trying to make my blog more of a personal/business hybrid, instead of a personal one alone. My goal is to do roughly one post a week, alternating between discussing personal topics and professional ones.

Here are a few things I’m planning on talking about soon:

  • The aftermath of being a graduate of Ryerson’s publishing program, including commentary from fellow Ryerson publishing alumni
  • What working with a business coach to change my personal focus and development has been like
  • Interesting things I’m learning about the state of content marketing and what people in my industry/niche have been going through lately
  • What it’s been like to be part of a writing critique group, and what I’ve learned from joining one

This may not be the most exciting-sounding stuff on the planet to the people who have followed my posts in the past, but I figure that being honest about my thoughts and discussing upcoming changes in public is the best thing to do.

I hope that this leads to some good things. And I hope that you readers like it too.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Gamora, and the “W” Word

Note: adult language ahead, including a discussion about sex and gendered insults. Just a heads-up.

Last night, my husband and I watched a showing of “Guardians of the Galaxy”, the latest movie to cash in on expand the Marvel universe. It was good, dumb fun – lots of explosions, pretty colours, bog-standard intergalactic villains, crazy hairdos, and great music. The script, while generally lumpy and clunky, had surprising moments of warmth and levity.

Except for one scene. Except for one word.

And if you’ve already seen the movie, you probably know which one I’m talking about, especially if you pay attention to the same spec-fic and pop feminism sites like I do.

Let’s do some scene-setting.

Setting the scene

It’s late in the movie, right as the intrepid quintet of the title are about to infiltrate the lair of Ronan, the movie’s generic baddie. There’s Peter Quill, the smart-ass, Han-Solo-like main character. There’s Gamora, the master assassin who’s gone rogue against both her adopted father and Ronan, with whom he had made an alliance. There’s Rocket, a walking, talking, genetically-enhanced raccoon. There’s Groot, a walking, talking tree with a limited vocabulary. And finally, there’s Drax, a warrior looking for vengeance after Ronan slaughtered his family.

When the five characters first meet, there’s mutual antagonism, especially on the part of Drax, who believes that Gamora should pay for being Ronan’s (unwilling) accomplice, thus being implicit in the death of his wife and child. Considering that Gamora is the adopted daughter of Thanos, who literally wants to kill every living thing in the universe to gain the love of Death herself, the idea that Gamora’s killed lots of people is probably true. Drax has a literal mindset, and is not a character who sees nuance in things. When he first sees Gamora, he pretty much slots her into the “enemy” column.

As the movie progresses and they save each other from various tight scrapes, the five forge a bond and team up to save the galaxy from the Glowy Purple McGuffin of Doom. They hatch a daring plan set to the strains of “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways. And then they enter Ronan’s lair.

OK, so we’re all caught up, yes? Gamora’s a murderer, Drax wants revenge, he’s a literal-thinking guy, and they used to be enemies but now they’re friends.

Now we get to the moment in question

The five of them walk in line through a darkened corridor. Drax starts waxing rhapsodic about how good it is to have friends, and how good it will be to avenge his family. He refers to each person around him in turn, talking about how the human, the tree, and the raccoon are his friends. Then, when he gets to Gamora…

He calls her a green whore.

Literally.

He calls her a whore.

Right after he utters the word, Gamora turns around and manages to get a few sounds of protest in edgewise, but then they’re suddenly attacked. Their attacker specifically singles out Gamora for being a murderer, calling her such, lambasting her for the blood on her hands.

Drax then attacks the new attacker, kills him, and then says something to the effect of “Nobody talks that way about my friends.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Throughout the movie, we see everyone, not just Gamora, shooting, punching, kicking, and stabbing people right and left. Know what we don’t see? We don’t see anyone having sex – much less the movie’s most important female character exchanging sex for money.

So let me get this straight. It’s totally okay to call a woman a whore, even though she isn’t, but not okay to call her a murderer, even though she is – and then get offended when someone else cuts in on your opportunity to cut your supposed “friend” down to size?

Not only is this incredibly offensive – especially in the wake of all of the eyebrows that were raised over the phrase “mewling quim” in “The Avengers” – but it’s also completely out of character.

Remember that I said Drax was literal-minded. We’re talking literal to the extent that he doesn’t understand that running your finger against your throat is a symbolic gesture that represents killing someone. Calling her a “whore” is a leap of semantics that he technically shouldn’t be able to do, since he has no evidence for this assumption, and neither do viewers.

So either we have an instance of a script not staying true to a character’s nature – which is bad – or we have the deliberate use of a gendered insult just for kicks, and see the woman who is the target of that insult exercising only the barest form of agency before a man intervenes and saves her from a threat  – which is worse.

You know what’s even worse than that, though?

The fact that when I talked about “Guardians of the Galaxy” to others, I didn’t call this bullshit out. When someone asked on Twitter whether the movie was okay for a 6-year-old to see, I mentioned the violence and swearing, but I didn’t mention the use of this incredibly hurtful word.

(Ladies and gentlemen, this is rape culture at work.)

But what about context?

When I brought this issue up with my husband, he had a few questions that made me upset. So I’m going to answer them here because I’m pretty sure others will ask the same things. Credit to him in that he stressed he wasn’t trying to condone the word usage, but anyways:

Would it have been better if he called her a whore when they first met in prison instead, when he still distrusted her? No. Know why? Because, as I mentioned above, she’s not a whore. There’s literally no evidence for him to assume that, and remember, this guy takes words literally. Also, Gamora’s presence in the prison is already highly charged as she appears to be one of the only women in there and she’s threatened by several men at night with knives. Gamora should technically be able to wipe the floor with these guys, but I guess fictional prisons aren’t really fictional prisons unless a frisson of rape threats is sprinkled on top, so of course the soon-to-be love interest has to step in and save her.

But what about Rocket? So what about the instances in the movie when Rocket is treated to speciesist insults like “rodent” and “vermin”? Yeah, that’s pretty unpleasant, but I still don’t think it’s equivalent. For one thing, unlike Gamora, Rocket actually gets a chance to rebut those insults and talk about how hurtful they are. Gamora is almost immediately interrupted. For another, get back to me when men call other men “vermin” with the same frequency and bile with which they call women “whores” – then there might be something to discuss.

Edit: I originally said that Gamora was the only woman in the movie’s prison, but there is at least one other moment shown momentarily sitting at a table. The relevant sentence has been updated to reflect this.

Book Review: Stroll by Shawn Micallef

Stroll by Shawn MicaleffTitle: Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto
Author: Shawn Micallef (illustrations by Marlena Zuber)
Publisher: Coach House Books/Eye Weekly
Format: Print
Rating: 3 out of 5

Sometimes walking around your neighbourhood is one of the nicest things there is. Depending on where you are, you can escape from the everyday by going down a choice side street. If you’re feeling a bit more sociable, perhaps, you can just chat with your neighbours.

Occasionally, though, those walks turn into something deeper. You might be with a friend who’s been part of the community for a long time, and knows stories you don’t. You might notice an interesting sign or faded storefront. You might even have had your memory jogged by visiting an archive. It’s those sorts of moments that Stroll focuses on.

Shawn Micallef is one of the Senior Editors of Spacing magazine, a publication devoted to culture and architecture in Canada and Toronto specifically. Stroll was originally a series of columns published by Eye Weekly (which then became The Grid TO, which then unfortunately shut down last week), and is an in-depth look at Toronto’s history and development as seen through its streetscapes.

Each chapter of the book discusses a different neighbourhood or stretch of road in Toronto, from the Beaches to the Rouge to the hydro corridor on Finch, and does so from the perspective of one just walking around. Micallef’s observations are interspersed with those gleaned from long-time residents and historians. Interesting things about the city’s history reveal themselves when seen through the lens of the humble flâneur – ravines and highways are just as important as the now-iconic view of the waterfront. Each chapter also comes with hand-drawn pictures and maps of the locations in question by Marlena Zuber. The back cover also comes attached with a hand-drawn pullout map for more context.

I think part of what makes Micallef such an incisive viewer of the city is that he didn’t grow up here, like I did. He approached Toronto with the sort of exploratory eye that only someone new to a place can bring. It also helps that he came to the city right around the time it was really starting to undergo renewal and/or gentrification, and got to see some of the last glimpses of the past before the condo towers started going up. As someone who has lived in Scarborough my whole life, that’s not the sort of view I’ve had access to. Also, I was away at university during part of this transformation, I think.

That doesn’t mean it’s a light, read, though. I found it difficult to read more than 4 or 5 essays in a row. It actually took me about 2 months of nibbling to get through it all. The stores and architects and important dates become a jumble after a while. Is this the best way to think about history? Perhaps not. But it seems this book is best taken in at a slower pace. Considering that all of the walks are “strolls” rather than “jogs”, perhaps that’s a rather fitting way to look at things.

Book Review: A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia SamatarTitle: A Stranger in Olondria
Author: Sofia Samatar
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Format: Print
Rating: 4 out of 5

Note: This review contains spoilers.

Jevick is the son of a pepper merchant on the island of Tyom, one of a remote group of islands to the southeast of Olondria, a vast and powerful empire. Unlike almost everyone else around him, Jevick is literate. He had a tutor, an Olondrian exile, brought in by his father. Enchanted by this knowledge – by the sound of Olondrian words, by the idea that they last long past the limits of human memory, by the images they conjure, by the idea that life is so much larger than the islands themselves – Jevick yearns to visit Olondria himself, and leaves as part of a trade run as soon as he can after his father’s death.

Life in Olondria is intoxicating, and Jevick soon gets caught up in the whirl and bustle of urban life. However, after taking part in the Feast of Birds, he is soon haunted by the ghost of Jissavet, an illiterate woman from his homeland. His quest to learn and record the story of this woman turns him into a pawn between two rival factions fighting for both power and control over the written word. In the end, Jevick has to face the results of that struggle – what should people value? The book, or the voice? Flesh, or parchment?

Up until very recently, I didn’t know about the concept of “orality.” I knew that there were cultures with oral traditions, but I didn’t really think about how they differed from ones with literal traditions. When you think about it, though, writing is a big deal – it makes things more tangible yet more remote, somehow. It makes things objective.

When I started reading A Stranger in Olondria, I was fully expecting the plot to champion those ideas without question. I’m a writer – it says so right there in at the top of this page – so I naturally place value on literacy and the benefits it conveys. Of course, that’s because I’m a product of my culture, and because I occupy a somewhat privileged position within it.

Samatar (and I really should have known this going in) approaches these questions from a far more nuanced perspective. In the end, the value of the written word is affirmed, and Jevick even becomes a tutor in his own right. But also in the end, the positions of the two cultures are flipped – it is Jevick’s homeland that becomes a haven for the written word, and Olondria that reverts back to a more oral culture.

The thing is, because the book is told entirely from Jevick’s point of view, we only experience that culture second-hand. We are as ignorant as he is about the workings of Olondria’s religious and political structures, and because the book contains no glossary (a meta move, perhaps?), finding direct analogues between these structures and those of the real world is difficult. Throughout the book, I was frustrated by a sense that Jevick, although an interesting character in his own right, was a small corner of a much larger tapestry. I kept on wanting the book to move from a close-up to a wide angle, so I could appreciate things in greater context.

Given Samatar’s aims in the book to interrogate how the advent of writing changes people and cultures, I think her choice to focus on Jevick alone also interrogates the contemporary fantasy reader’s idea of how a second-world book should behave. Fantasy books have been getting longer and longer, and their scopes have been getting wider and wider. They are now more likely to span continents and multiple cultures than they have been in the past – the fact that A Game of Thrones is a widely-acclaimed TV series when such a thing would have been unheard of perhaps even five years ago is a testament to this. In contrast, Jevick’s journey is blatantly small-scale. It’s like seeing the world through a telescope.

So in many ways, A Stranger in Olondria made me struggle with and reassess my expectations. In fact, for a long while, I was wondering how on earth the whole story would pull together. Because while the prose of the book is beautiful – it’s lush and sensuous, full of unusual imagery and vibrant colours and textures – Jevick himself is a pawn, pushed and shunted about. A great deal of the plot hinges upon his ignorance of Olondria’s religious struggles. It’s only in the final third of the book that it really starts cooking with gas, when Jevick finally has a chance to hear and record the story of Jissavet, the woman haunting him.

And oh, what a character Jissavet is. Where Jevick is a clay vessel, waiting to be filled by Olondrian words, Jissavet is the kiln, testing and hardening Jevick’s resolve. She challenges him, mocks him, helps him, probes him. Her story shows that she’s always done this to others, throughout her entire life. In fact, her vehemence that her story must be told is a natural extension of this, born of the exclusion she faced throughout her short life as a woman of low caste on her island – born without an external soul, according to the local hierarchy. Her quest to reach Jevick and make him her amanuensis is thus both a repudiation of her culture and physical proof that souls and words are the same thing.

I finished A Stranger in Olondria on a morning in May when the sun was shining and the breeze was gentle. I sat on the porch, then went out for a walk to the lakeshore and let the wind scour my face. All throughout, thoughts tumbled inside my head. What is a soul? What is the value of writing? What duty do we owe to others, especially those that we’re culturally taught to ignore? How do legacies start? I still don’t have the answers, but I think this book can help others get there.

The EAC 2014 Conference: Live Tweets, Landmarks, and Lost Voices

Conference logo for the Editors' Association of CanadaI’ve been a member of the Editors’ Association of Canada since 2009, but haven’t attended every conference since then. I’ve only attended the ones requiring minimal travel, like the 2010 one in Montreal or the 2012 one in Ottawa. Luckily enough, the EAC 2014 conference, which happened just last weekend, was in my hometown of Toronto. It was a pretty fun ride, most things considered – here’s what it was like.

Friday June 6th

Friday did not start off well for me, as I woke up with an alarmingly scratchy throat. As the day progressed, I felt worse as muscle aches started to set in. Understandably, I was filled with dismay, as having a cold would affect my ability to talk to others, but I soldiered on and went to the reception anyways.

I have to admit that while it was good to talk to people and see familiar faces, I didn’t enjoy the reception as much as I could have, as the cold ruined things. I went out with some other attendants afterwards for dinner in the hope that some Tom Yum soup would fix me up, but alas, it didn’t.

Saturday June 7th

Since I live on the edge of Toronto, it took me a while to travel to the conference location, so I missed the opening moments of Douglas Gibson’s keynote. I enjoyed what I did manage to hear though, especially his anecdotes about Alice Munro and W.O. Mitchell (“now that’s what I call a ‘deadline’!”). I ended up attending the following sessions:

Faster Editing: Using PerfectIt to Check Consistency and House Style with Daniel Heuman: PerfectIt is a software program designed to help editors maintain consistency in a document by automatically checking for things like hyphens and capitalization. I’ve never used it, but this seminar gave everyone in the room plenty of reason to try. The entire room was filled with a low-grade murmur of phrases like “oh my god” and “wow” and “that’s a lifesaver” throughout the hour. I live-tweeted this one.

e-Merging in Social Media to Win Clients with Erin Brenner: Erin is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter, and made an impact with her writing blog and other social media efforts. Her seminar focused on using a blog as an online presence hub with social media profiles as the spokes reaching out from that hub. A lot of this information was already familiar to me (hell, I was live-tweeting this seminar too), but I do admit that it gave me some ideas about how to revamp the static pages on my own site.

Working as an In-house Managing Editor with Brooke Smith, Robert Steckling, and Tracy Torchetti: I didn’t get a lot out of this one, but I attribute that to the fact that I was really crashing due to my cold. However, I did get a chance to reconnect with a former coworker, and that was definitely worth something.

There were a few hours between the end of the sessions and the start of the EAC’s Awards Banquet, and the idea of going back home only to return downtown made little sense. Luckily, I found two editors who came from out of town who were also wondering how to spend the intervening time, so I offered to take them on a little tour of the landmarks close to the conference location.

We ended up going to Old City Hall (which was closed), where I managed to dredge up some of the facts I remembered from Doors Open a few weeks ago, the current City Hall (where we took a look at the diorama of the downtown core), Campbell House, and some of the grassy grounds leading out near the rear of City Hall. We then had an afternoon snack at a local pub, and went back to the hotel where the other two were staying to spruce up for the Awards Banquet.

The Awards Banquet  itself was interesting, but with my cold, I wasn’t able to fully enjoy it. I had run my voice ragged by the time it started, so I couldn’t talk as much as I wanted with the people sitting at the same table as me. Also, as it was the first time I’ve ever attended one of the EAC banquets, I didn’t know what to expect, especially in terms of length – I had to run to catch a taxi after it was done, and if the banquet had lasted one minute longer or if my taxi had stalled for one more minute in traffic, I would have completely missed my train home from Union Station.

Sunday June 8th

This was the day when all of my previous talking took its toll. My throat was sore and scratchy, and any attempts to raise my voice above a whisper resulted in a hoarse squawk. Before I took the train back downtown, I took matters into my own hands, which resulted in this:

I was undaunted, though, and went to seminars in all of the available timespots. On Sunday I attended:

Career Mojo at Work: Deceptively Simple Strategies for Times of “Crazy Busy” with Eileen Chadnick: Lately I’ve been working with a business coach to see how I can make my freelance business more effective. This seminar, run by a different business coach, talked about how stress affects the brain, and discussed methods that freelancers can use to minimize stress and maintain positive well-being. This was a change of pace for me, but I appreciated having the chance to reinforce the lessons I’m learning with my own coach.

Protecting Yourself in Your Digital World: Preventative Maintenance from a Computer Security Perspective with Jeffrey Peck: This session talked all about passwords, encryption, privacy, security breaches, backups, viruses, and more. I admit that I probably piped up a bit too much in this session as it seemed like I already had a lot of these security settings in place, but issues like password management (yay, LastPass!), Carbonite, and two-factor authentification can really do that to a girl. A note to other editors reading this: Lifehacker is your friend. Seriously.

How to Edit a Blog (and When and Why You Should) with Tammy Burns: This seminar talked about the history of blogging and the issues surrounding what it takes to edit blogs for both personal and commercial interests. There was some useful information here, but I’m considering contacting the facilitator directly for more customized advice.

The Future of Self-publishing and Editors with Arlene Prunkl, Donna Dawson, Mark Lefebvre, Vanessa Ricci-Thode: This seminar was definitely the highlight of the conference for me in retrospect. There was so much useful information here about how editors can find self-publishing authors to work with, and what rates are typical for editors to charge. This seminar was done in Q&A format, which I think worked quite well. It also helped that the room was packed. This was the only seminar of the day that I didn’t live-tweet, because I was worried about my phone’s battery.

How to Leverage LinkedIn to Showcase Your Editorial Expertise with Leslie Hughes: The audience for this seminar was so big that it got moved into the auditorium. This was wise, because it was the seminar with the highest attendance of the entire conference. As a bonus, my seat was near an outlet, so I was able to recharge my phone. This seminar served as a good refresher course, since my LinkedIn profile is a bit dusty – I need to work on my social media strategy in general.

The whole thing ended with a closing keynote by Terry Fallis. It was hilarious, but I had heard him deliver almost exactly the same speech in a previous event I had seen him speak at – although this time it had snazzier visuals and a heightened sense of electricity just because of the sheer size of the audience.

That electricity continued as editors filed out the door to return home, because of the final announcement of the conference: Toronto will be next year’s host as well, and the EAC will be partnering with editing organizations from other countries to make the conference fully international. It would be quite the coup if successful – Bryan Garner could be speaking next year, you guys!

Summing it all up

My conference experience would have been better if I hadn’t gotten a cold on Friday. In fact, it’s Wednesday and I’m still in its clutches, despite drinking copious amounts of tea (because of course I am). Otherwise, I felt I got a lot out of it, and have a huge list of ideas about how to develop both personally and professionally.

Other editors have already written about their experiences, too. Check out the roundups below if you want a fuller portrait of the EAC 2014 conference:

Vanessa Ricci-Thode

Suzanne Purkis

Sue Archer

Iva Cheung

Adrienne Montgomerie’s extremely comprehensive Storify of live tweets from the conference, broken down by theme

Book Review: Saga Volume 3

Saga, Volume 3Title: Saga Volume 3
Author: Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrator: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
Format: Print
Rating: 4 out of 5

Note: spoilers ahead for both this and the previous volumes. You have been warned.

Saga is one of those stories where I gobble the installments up like goldfish crackers — chowing down on handful after handful, aware that I’m nearing the end of the current supply. And then, when I do hit that end, I think to myself: that’s it?

When I read volumes 1 and 2 last year, they were so fresh and inventive that they kept me in a perpetual state of delight. I would make assumptions about the world of the story only to have those assumptions upended, like so:

  • This comic features people with horns and people with wings. That means that this must be an angels vs. demons kind of thing going on, right? Oh, and there’s a star-crossed couple, one angel and one demon, who have a kid, the existence of which poses a threat to both civilizations – does that mean it will be like Demonology 101? Cool! I love fantasy stories!
  • Oh wait, there’s an intergalactic war going on. That means it’s space opera, not a fantasy!
  • Oh wait, there’s this weird guy who looks human except for the fact that he’s got a TV for a head. Um…is this still space opera, or are we veering into satire?
  • Oh, and there’s an assassin who’s half-woman, half spider, and there’s a planet devoted solely to prostitution, and then there are…romance novels? And ghosts who wander around, showing off their viscera? And now there’s a giant talking cat who can only say something when it knows you’re lying?
  • Sweet lord, what the hell kind of world is this taking place in? And where can I get more?

Part of the fun of the first two volumes was seeing my SF reading protocols get tossed up and hurled at the wall to see what would bounce off and what would stick. Of course, there are the human elements of the story — Hazel’s retrospective narration, the amazing single-page panels used for emphasis, and Marko and Alana’s love story at the heart of it all.

But the third volume dispenses with a lot of the stuff-to-the-wall-throwing and instead tries to force a confrontation between all of the various parties at play — Marko and Alana’s family vs. Prince Robot vs. Gwendolyn and The Will and Slave Girl/Sophie. At first, I was looking forward to these confrontations. But then they got cut short and resolved too easily to be satisfying, like when Gwendolyn finally came face-to-face with Marko, her ex-fiance. I felt like this story was promising me I would climb Mount Everest, only to drop me off at the base of The Alps instead – still cool, but not as an extreme a trip as I was promised.

There’s a definite sense of table-setting coming into play with this volume. You’ve got the  introduction of the journalists chasing the clues that the government has hidden about Alana, Marko, and Hazel; the introduction of The Will’s sister; the kind-of-tacked-on burgeoning romance between The Will and Gwendolyn; and the introduction  of The Circuit, some kind of underground entertainment network that’s really an open secret.

This is all part-and-parcel with the fact that this is an ongoing series. The end is probably far away, since Brian K. Vaughan has stated that it will run longer than Y: The Last Man, which ran for 60 issues. My bet is that in the coming issues (which resume publication this month), Marko and Alana will join The Circuit and use their broadcasts as a way to inform the world about their relationship (and their daughter) by framing it as an anti-war allegory. But that is just what I want to happen. Staples and Vaughan have been very good at confounding my expectations so far.

That said, there are moments of beauty and grace in this volume, like when Sophie/Slave Girl and Lying Cat (Oh my god, can I tell you how much I love Lying Cat? I even have a shirt with her face on it!) share a moment on a hillside, with the former telling a series of truths and then a lie, only to have the latter interrupt with her trademark exclamation. Or when Marko’s mother, Klara, shares a conspiratorial moment with Oswald Heist over a board game. There are so many good moments here.

The problem, to me, is that these things are moments, not the sustained awesomeness of the opening volumes – the first of which rightly won the 2013 Hugo for Best Graphic Story. On it’s own, I would give Saga Volume 3 only 3 out of 5 stars. In context with the preceding volumes, though, I’m bumping my rating one higher. Here’s hoping that the next volume will get over the bump in the rode that this volume represents.

Book Review: Digger by Ursula Vernon

Digger: The Omnibus Edition, by Ursula VernonTitle: Digger: The Complete Omnibus
Author: Ursula Vernon
Publisher: Sofawolf Press
Format: Print (Softcover)
Rating: 5 out of 5

Stories are living things. As they grow, so do the creators behind them. Most of the time, this change is imperceptible because it happens page by page and panel by panel. But sometimes, sometimes, you get the opportunity to see that growth as it happens.

Like, say, when you read a single-volume collection of an awesome, epic webcomic that was originally published over the course of six years.

Digger-of-Unnecessarily-Convoluted-Tunnels is a wombat. Not only that, but she’s lost. She hit a pocket of bad air while tunneling, and got so turned around that when she unexpectedly emerged from the floor of the temple of Ganesh in the backwater town of Rath, she did so with relief.

Unfortunately, that tunnel was much longer than anyone expected. Rath is far, far away from home, and it appears that someone, somehow, had been planning for that tunnel to be created for a long time – someone who wanted to escape into the world above-ground. Now Digger and her new-found companions – including an outcast hyena, a child made of shadows, a shrew-turned-pirate-turned-professional-troll, and a traumatized monk – are entering very dangerous territory involving prophecies and undead gods.

And, oh yeah: there are the usual fantasy elements like oracular slugs, winged librarian rats, and vampire squash. All quite normal, really.

Digger first appeared on my radar back when I was in university. I’d heard about it through another comic – I think through Bruno by Christopher Baldwin. At that point, it was only a few chapters in, and once I hit the paywall for the comic, I didn’t go any further. Despite that, it still occupied a place in the back of my mind. Talking wombats! Hyenas! Gods! Really foreboding, distinctive black and white art! How would the title character, a lost (but eminently pragmatic and capable) wombat, return home?

I let that question stew in my head for years, only for the comic to reappear on my radar with the 2012 Hugo nomination slate. I was delighted when it won, as I had fond memories of the opening chapters. But it was really a recent episode of the SF Squeecast that spurred me to buy the whole thing.

God, there’s so much to love about Digger. It takes all of the best aspects of Jeff Smith’s Bone – the black and white art, the relateable main character, the epic mythology, the length – and piles on deadpan humour, pathos, even more kick-ass female characters, and such difficult-to-address topics as…

  • the nature of faith
  • culture shock
  • domestic abuse
  • the meaning of familial bonds
  • the nature of evil
  • how to brew a good cauldron of druid beer

That last one is a bit of a joke, of course, but the others in that list are true. What does it mean to believe in a god? How do you show respect towards the dead if paying that respect involves doing something against your nature? If people avert their eyes to avoid addressing a bad situation, are they any less to blame when that situation gets markedly worse? Vernon touches upon all of these issues and more.

That said, there are other places where the comparison to Bone isn’t so positive. Neither comic quite stuck the landing, I feel. In particular, with Digger, the final confrontation with the antagonist happened much more quickly than I expected. Also, the motivations and actions of the secondary antagonist (Captain Jhalm) were underdeveloped: I never truly understood why he felt that his course of action made sense.

However, against the rest of the book, those are smaller concerns. What’s really valuable here is that this is a compressed time capsule of years upon years of work. All stories are like that, but few stories show that progression so linearly – you can see it in the change of Vernon’s drawing style, as she moves from a style that’s scratchy and linear to one that’s more fluid. It’s like watching a river find its own particular riverbed. And it’s definitely worthy of a Hugo.

A final note: you can get the omnibus edition through Sofawolf Press here, or you can read the entire comic online at www.diggercomic.com.

It’s time for a blog-hop

So, it looks like there’s been a popular blog-hop going around, and it appears that I’m the newest target participant. Marie Bilodeau, Matt Moore, K.W. Ramsey, and Adam Shaftoe and many more have all taken part, asking each other questions, posting responses, and tagging three others in turn to contribute to the hop. I got tagged by K.W. Ramsey. Comparisons to Ponzi schemes and pyramid schemes have already been made, so let’s liken this instead to a zombie plague! Where will the outbreak spread next?

I’m just gonna answer the same questions that K.W. did on his blog. Here we go:

1. If you could time travel and steal somebody else’s novel/short story/film for yourself, what would it be?

I think I’d steal the first Dresden Files book by Jim Butcher. Not because I want to keep it for myself, but because I couldn’t stand it even while I was reading it (I gave up on the series halfway through the second book), and I’d want to protect others from such dreck.

2. What writing sin do you actively have to struggle against in your own work? 

“Sin” is probably too strong a word here, but let’s say that it’s monotony. I see a lot of tics in my own writing. I use lots of dashes to denote changes in thought – this happens in my fiction writing, my blogging, and my personal corrrespondence! I also tend to over-punctuate with commas, write lots of compound-complex sentences, and so forth. I need to learn how to vary my sentence length and structure for greater impact.

3. Pick three writers, past or present, that you would want to have dinner with. Why those writers?

Hmm. Let’s go with Catherynne M. Valente (whom I’ve mentioned before), Neil Gaiman, and Shakespeare.

I would invite Catherynne M. Valente because then she could give me a blood transfusion by which I would absorb some of her writerly awesomeness.

Neil Gaiman I’d invite because he seems like he’d be an amazing raconteur, and he also seems genuinely friendly. (Plus, if the Valente blood transfusion didn’t work out, he’d be the backup.)

Shakespeare I’d invite because that’s so obvious I shouldn’t even need to provide an answer.

4. You have forty-two words, write a story. 

Spring came, then summer, and then fall. But not winter; she’d gotten bored of it. Gotten so long ago, in fact. But at least there wasn’t anyone left to tell her what to do. She’d gotten bored of people long ago, too.

 Tag, you’re it

So now here comes the fun part where I spread the zombie plague tag three others to take part: Léonicka Valcius, Carolyn Charron, and Rabeya Merenkov!

I want you guys to answer these questions and then find 3 other people to tag in your response posts:

  1. What is one thing you’ve learned about writing that you wish you knew when you started?
  2. If you could go back in time to witness one particular historical event (knowing that your presence wouldn’t alter the timeline), what would you choose?
  3. If you could delete 3 words from the English language, what would they be?
  4. What is one piece of writing advice that you think is really overrated? Why?

Book Review: Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties

Tea: History, Terroirs, VarietiesTitle: Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties
Authors: Kevin Gascoyne, Francois Marchand, Jasmin Desharnais, and Hugo Americi
Publisher: Firefly Books
Format: Print
Rating: 3 out of 5

About 2 months ago, I wrote a post about how much I enjoyed drinking tea. I framed it then as a lark, a bit of humour. But it’s surprising how complex this topic is once you learn to break out of the world of supermarket bags. Saying you like white tea is similar to saying you like white wine: a good start, but nowhere near specific enough. Riesling or Chardonnay? Bai Mu Dan or Bai Hao Yin Zhen? And even a question like that only skims the surface – the manner and location of the harvest matters just as much as the cultivar.

This is something that Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties covers in depth. Written by members of the Camellia Sinensis Tea House, this book is a guide to understanding tea in all its variety, from type to location to tasting methods.

Interestingly, rather than giving a breakdown of teas according to type, book instead divides the topic up by history and region. Chapters talking about the history of tea cultivation lead into ones about tea tasting, production, and culture according to region. This is then followed up by a brief section about the art of tea tasting and a (rather disposable) chapter containing haute-cuisine recipes. A look at the science and nutrition of tea closes out the book. Overall, it’s a well-rounded discussion of the topic.

However, I feel ambivalent about this book. It tries to split the difference between discussing tea as a product and tea as a status object, which are wildly divergent approaches. I wanted to learn more about the various cultivars of tea, and which flavours are associated with each cultivar. But the writing often reads like it was meant for the kind of lifestyle magazine you’d find tucked into the back pocket of an airplane seat. This is especially true in the one-on-one interviews with various tea testers and growers that are sprinkled throughout the book. The questions are softballs (“What is your favourite tea?”) and the answers sound calculated to offend as few people as possible (“In each family of teas there are varieties of a superior quality. They are the ones I prefer.”).

This feeling is reinforced by Tea‘s coffee-table aesthetic. The photography, layout, and production quality are all lovely, and I recognize that a book like this needs a strong aesthetic impact. However, I think it would have been a more satisfying reference guide if it included the following:

  • A glossary of tea terms separate from the main body of the text – the book contains a “tasting lexicon” of terms that are often used to describe the taste of tea, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg compared to all of the specialized language this book contains
  • A more comprehensive index (eg: a gaiwan and a zhong are the same thing, but the index only lists zhong and doesn’t include any sort of cross-reference between both terms)
  • A list of popular/common cultivars

There are some fascinating tidbits in the corners of the text that I’d love to read entire books about, like the speculative bubble surrounding sheng pu’er and the colonial background behind Indian tea production. There is an awful lot to learn about tea, and I’m just getting started. But I really wanted some more meat than what I actually got.