Christina Vasilevski

Writer/Editor for Content Strategy and User Experience

Ryerson Publishing: What Other Students Thought

I last wrote about the Ryerson publishing program when I answered some FAQs from prospective students. But what do other publishing students have to say about their experience?

I found out — and I hope you get as much out of their comments as I did.

Note: all quotes below have been lightly edited for grammar or clarity.

J’s thoughts on the Ryerson publishing program

J is finishing up the Ryerson program this fall, and currently works as an in-house editor with a publisher:

The program and the EAC have both been vital in me furthering my editing career. But I’m not sure how much of that was just the timing of when I entered the industry. I think it will be much harder for current students.

J elaborated on this in another email:

The Ryerson courses, as well as the EAC [Editors’ Association of Canada] courses, improved my editing skills immensely. Not to mention the networking opportunities from both.

However, when I started there were many more in-house opportunities than there are now. Many of those in-house positions have been outsourced off-shore. So there is more competition for the freelance, and in-house, jobs available.

I did do an internship and would recommend it to anyone who wants to be an editor, or be in publishing. Just don’t fall into the trap of moving from one internship to another in the hopes of gaining full-time work: it rarely, if ever, happens.

Lea Kaplan, graphic designer

Lea Kaplan is a writer and graphic designer who now lives in Toronto. After completing the publishing program, she studied graphic design in New York. Here’s what she had to say:

I did graduate from the program, though I know plenty of people who did not.  I’m not actually working in publishing right now (though I do still hope to end up in the industry). I went back to school and got another degree, and am now job hunting once again.

Her thoughts on whether the program offers transferable skills:

To be honest… I don’t know if there really were any transferrable skills. At least, not in regards to the direction I’ve gone.

The degree I received was in graphic design, and I am hoping to end up back in the publishing industry as a designer. I suppose that some of the skills learned in the book design course I took were transferable, but otherwise…

I suppose some of the tricks and tips learned in the marketing and/or publicity classes could be transferable, because being able to sell things is an important skill set regardless of what you’re selling. And I’m of the firm belief that everyone should have the skills to be able to copy edit text.

What I loved about the program was that it was specific. It was targeted to books, it gave the student a remarkable overview of all aspects of the publishing industry, and allowed us to connect to professionals who actively worked in that world. For someone trying to break into the publishing industry, that was invaluable. The things learned in the classroom were only half of the strength of the program.

An anonymous editor

This editor and I took classes together at Ryerson, and we reconnected after seeing each other at the 2014 EAC conference. Here’s what she had to say:

I fell into publishing in my third year of my undergraduate degree while fulfilling a voluntary placement. At the time, I was studying to be a teacher and was very unhappy. As a publishing intern, I realized that I could use my best skills – research, editing, and writing – and that teaching wasn’t my only option as a literature student.

I studied publishing at Ryerson in 2009 and then at the graduate level in 2012. I interned in editorial, marketing, and for a literary agency. I currently read for an agency, intern for a magazine publisher, and take on freelance editing projects wherever I can.

I believe that studying publishing is useful for an overview of the industry and to have access to internships and jobs you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get, but I would advise any aspiring publisher to work in the industry rather than studying it. Work in a bookstore, help with a literary festival, assist with digital platforms, freelance, and attend as many conferences and events as possible. If I could go back and tell my younger self anything, it would be to start working in publishing immediately upon finishing my undergraduate degree rather than going on to do graduate work. If I had known then what I know now, things would be very different.

Last spring, I interned for a wonderful company and was under the direction of a woman whose career trajectory I wish I could emulate. She started as a freelancer, worked as an assistant across different publishing sectors, and now – at the age of twenty five – is an assistant editor for a well-respected literary imprint. I would give anything to have what she has and do what she did, but I’m not her and she’s not me (and I didn’t know then what I know now).

I would also advise any aspiring publisher to work across as many sectors as possible. Don’t be picky and don’t limit yourself. You might find something you love that you never thought you would, and you will learn things you never dreamed you could if you step out of your comfort zone and you are open to new possibilities. Also: learn InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and as many other publishing-related systems as you can. Strong administrative skills, attention to detail, efficiency, and a willingness to handle and apply criticism are essential.

A second anonymous editor

This is another person who studied at Ryerson at the same time that I did. She says some pretty strong stuff here — I can’t resist quoting someone who’s stirring the pot. Here are her thoughts:

When anyone asks me about working in publishing, I tell them “don’t do it!” I’ve had at least six friends this year alone lose their job at Random House. And several at other publishers too — or friends in magazines have their company go under. It’s a depressing time. Most internships are keeping things afloat these days. So I’m kinda negative about the whole thing. Ryerson accepts unlimited amounts of people to train for jobs that just don’t exist. The newer courses, such as the one on rights and the eBook production course, are the good ones, though I haven’t taken the digital production one yet, so I can’t really comment on it. I didn’t finish the diploma, mainly because I had a job in publishing and I didn’t think it was really worth it. So maybe I’m not the best person to talk to!

These days, the bigger publishers are more concerned than ever about their bottom lines. This affects the people working in publishing through cutbacks, but it also affects the types or quality of books they’re looking to publish. But maybe this will be a more exciting time for the mid-size or smaller Canadian publishers; they will get those authors usually snapped up by the larger corporations. Still, the point is that people getting into publishing because of a love of books need to choose their passion wisely because the industry has changed a lot.

You start classes and the first thing you hear is that there is NO MONEY in publishing. Well, that’s okay, you think, because I love books! But what you don’t hear (or maybe you do now) is the climate at these larger publishers: what drives them is a need to see return on their investments, not “good books.”

This makes sense, since business is business. But those doing it for a love of books are both out of pocket and lost in the bureaucracy of a larger publisher. And that’s where so many end up because of internships. A job at a smaller/mid-size publisher is really what you want, but those are few and far between.

What are your thoughts?

These are the thoughts of only a few people, and I recognize that far more comprehensive surveys could be made given the right resources. However, I feel it’s a start.

What are your thoughts? Are you a Ryerson publishing graduate who wants to weigh in? Are you a current or prospective student looking for more info? Submit a comment or send me an email.

3 Lessons From InboundCon 2014

InboundCon - Canada's Premier Inbound Marketing ConferenceA week ago I attended InboundCon 2014, a one-day conference on inbound marketing. It was intense. There were some breaks for networking and meals, but otherwise it was a non-stop stream of information about topics like SEO, PPC advertising, UX design, content marketing, social media, and lead conversion.

I was overloaded by the end. It’s taken me a while to sift through things since then. However, I’ve thought a lot about what I’ve learned. Here are my top 3 lessons from InboundCon 2014:

1. Content may be king, but don’t forget about the rest of the castle

The pithiest quote of the day came from Ira Haberman of Atomic Reach, who said, “If content is king, then audience is queen…and we know who runs the house.”

Given the wide variety of topics under discussion, though, the conversation needs to extend beyond these two concepts. Content is important. Good content is more important. But kings can’t get nearly enough done without a castle full of advisors, courtiers, and scullery maids, not to mention all the tax collectors in the countryside: good content is effective only when there’s proper infrastructure in place to support it.

Whether this infrastructure involves responsive design, A/B testing, or lead conversion tools, it and content are all connected. A/B testing helps determine the best way to present your information, which leads to greater engagement, which leads to more sales, and so on.

2. Sometimes the most useful information is the most concise

I took a lot of notes at InboundCon, but at day-long events like these, attention inevitably starts to flag. There was one session that stuck out to me, though, called “30 Amazing Marketing Tools in 15 Minutes.” It was by the COO of Powered by Search, the organization running the conference.

It promised a lot of useful information with no filler, and it delivered. The fact that the information was given so quickly and precisely, and that it focused on stuff you could use right away made it stand out from all the slides and panels and lingering conversations.

3. No one knows everything, but everyone knows something

The pace of change in the online marketing industry is ridiculously fast — new algorithms, new insights, and new tools always appear. It’s difficult to keep up, but all of the presenters make it their job to do so. However, no two presenters spoke about the same thing, and although their advice was similar in many ways, it’s safe to say that they learned as much from each other as the audience did.

This means that no matter how knowledgeable an expert is, there’s no point at which this knowledge is complete. Expertise is a constant state of progression. Even though I’m the tortoise, I can catch up whenever the hare pauses to take a breath.

And you know what? I find that comforting. I’ve got my running shoes on. I’m confident that with the right amount of focus, I can find my footing in this race — and contribute knowledge of my own when the time comes.

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.

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

Captain America 2: Winter Makes Me Cranky

I, my husband, and two of our friends watched Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier on Saturday night. I’ve been pretty happy with most of the movies produced by Marvel so far, despite a few missteps (Iron Man 2, I’m looking at you). In particular, I think that The Avengers is pretty much the best thing since sliced bread. So I went into the theatre with reasonable explanations for a nice popcorn flick.

Instead, I came out feeling sad and cranky. I think I may have reached my limit of superhero movies that attempt to be smart by addressing current political topics and yet fumble the ball.

Note: Spoilers ahead.

Where to start? Well, how about…

Its simplistic depiction of institutional evil

I’m not going to summarize the plot, but it’s pretty standard spy-movie territory. (Blah blah, SHIELD infiltrated, No One is Trustworthy, Big Data, mass pre-emptive drone strikes, people are sheep and will trade freedom for security, it was Robert Redford all along, whatever.)

When it’s finally revealed that Hydra’s been pulling the strings and that the helicarriers are really targeting people based on the threat they pose to Hydra’s new world order, the proceedings feel hollow, somehow. Captain America patches into the speaker system of SHIELD’s HQ and gives a Rousing Speech revealing that Hydra’s filled the organization with spies, that the corruption goes all the way up to the top, and that the true agents in support of Freedom and Democracy have to fight back.

As Rousing Speeches go, it does its job, and the various loyal SHIELD agents turn against their foes. Meanwhile, Cap and his trusty fellow soldier manage to board each of the three helicarriers (AKA: floating, geotargeting remote drone-strike platforms of doom) in time to rewire their targeting systems so that they will simultaneously shoot each other instead of all of the innocents targeted by Hydra’s potential threat algorithm. There’s even a helpful counter on each ship’s screen, showing the number of targets dropping dramatically from 700k to 3. A general sense of relief pervades the film when all the ships (undoubtedly stuffed to the gills with Hydra baddies) explode and fall into the ocean.

But let’s think about this: if Hydra really wanted to ensure its grip on SHIELD, would they really have placed the majority of their units onto these three ships, especially knowing that others within the organization have become suspicious of the plot? And if Hydra’s really been a parasite within the agency for 50 years, would one speech have been enough to make The Good Guys understand? This sort of warped thinking can’t be purged easily. It really shouldn’t take three big explosions to destroy half a century’s worth of war-mongering.

Which leads us to…

Too many explosions

This movie has a serious case of Man of Steel syndrome. After a while, all the fighting, all of the  hand-to-hand combat and awesome mechanical wings and cybernetic arms gets kind of… exhausting. Lots of CG, lots of shattered glass, lots of just-in-time escapes, you know the drill.

Oh, and let’s not forget…

It (almost) fails the Bechdel Test

I know, I know, the Bechdel Test has its flaws. But there are not one, not two, but three badass military women in this movie (four if you include the bits with Peggy, even though her character is in a nursing home dealing with Alzheimers). Two of them, Black Widow and Maria Hill, share at least several moments of screen time. But when do they share that screen time, and what do they discuss? They’re either in the hospital talking to others, or at the recovering Nick Fury’s bedside. Yes, they talk about ways to disarm Hydra’s helicarriers of doom, but never – not for a single moment – do they have a private chat.

I got into a big discussion about this with my husband. He pointed out that the girl that Steve Rogers asks out for coffee (who is really an undercover SHIELD agent assigned to protect him) is actually Peggy’s niece, and that she’s seen finishing off a phone call with her aunt before he talks to her. But Peggy’s never seen onscreen during this conversation; if he hadn’t told me that she was Sharon Carter, I would not have made the connection. I doubt that other viewers unfamiliar with the comics would have picked up on this either. So yes, nominally, this movie grudgingly passes the test.

But honestly, is this the best it could do? Both Thor movies passed the Bechdel Test without having to rely on a technicality like that. It’s not that frickin’ hard. The fact that they failed to do this even in the wake of The Avengers just pisses me off. On top of that, despite this conversation, this scene is all focused on the male protagonist: the phone call is used as a way for Rogers to break the ice and ask her out. After she declines, she reveals that the stereo in his apartment has been playing loudly for a while. This isn’t a scene based on any sort of female actualization or agency in any way – she’s presented as date material, then gives him a handy warning. Again, is that the best this movie could do?

This movie is fun. It’s got explosions. It’s got neat fight choreography, snappy dialogue, and a paucity of shaki-cam. But I don’t know…I guess I’m becoming a bit bitter.

Ad Astra 2014 Recap

Everything is awesome!

Ad Astra, where everything is awesome!

Ad Astra wrapped up just a few days ago. Now that I’m fairly sure I haven’t gotten con crud,  I’ll tell you all about it! Although I didn’t take part in any panels or do any readings, I had a blast. Here’s a breakdown:

The panels

There was a lot to choose from. I’ve learned from past conferences and conventions not to pack my schedule too tightly, but it was so hard to resist. I think I attended about 10 in all, most focusing on aspects of writing and editing fiction. Highlights include the three I attended where Anne Groell was a panelist, the “Mission Unfilmable” panel with James Bambury, and the “That Drives Me Crazy” panel with my good friend Andrew Barton. All in all, I was pretty satisfied with what I attended. I also live-tweeted a number of the panels with the #AdAstra2014 hashtag.

The readings

I only attended two readings this year. One was a regular reading, but the other one, well, that was something special. More of the (somewhat NSFW) specifics are available on Michael Matheson’s blog. But let’s just say that the combination of fan fiction, Star Wars, Pacific Rim, Shakespeare, and Harry Potter that was on display that night was a legend in the making. I really hope that a reading like that becomes an institution at Ad Astra and similar cons.

The parties

If there’s one thing that conventions are good for, it’s parties. My husband and I attended a few, most notably the Doctor Who tea party on Saturday afternoon, and the Bundoran Press launch party for Strange Bedfellows the same evening. We entered raffles, got pictures taken in front of a green screen where you could choose a digital background (I chose the classic Tardis interior and wore the 4th Doctor’s scarf), ate cookies, and had some tea (which was somewhat middling, unfortunately).

That night at the Bundoran launch party we got to hear several authors read, including Andrew Barton and Robin Riopelle. Riopelle’s reading, in particular, was amazing, which brings me to…

Books and other fun purchases

I bought lots of books at both WFC 2012 and last year’s Ad Astra. This year, not so much. In fact, I bought only 3 books! One of which was Robin Riopelle’s debut, Deadroads – her reading was so emotive and engaging that I couldn’t resist. Interestingly, this book is one of the first ones published by Night Shade Books after their incorporation into Skyhorse Publishing. It’s comforting to know that despite its financial issues, this press has continued publishing quality fiction.

Aside from that, I did make some random purchases, including this little guy knit out of yarn:

A tiny little Captain Picard, knit out of yarn.

Make it so!

Let’s just say that the next time I have some Earl Grey, I won’t be doing so alone!

One last thing…

The masquerade was on Saturday evening at the same time as the Bundoran launch, so I didn’t get to see the amazing costumes in play. However, people wore costumes all weekend, so I am happy to present to you possibly the most awesome video I have ever filmed:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WKdZQKjWxc

 

Yes, that is someone dressed up as Newt from Pacific Rim (with arm tattoos drawn on in Sharpie marker!) doing contact juggling a la Labyrinth. You’re welcome.

Dear tea, I love you.

Varieties of tea from Bonsai HillLately, I’ve been feeling pretty burnt out on reading books. Magazine articles are no problem, and neither are short stories, but I haven’t read a full book in about 2 weeks. I’m going to have to do something soon if I don’t want to get too behind on my reviewing. The Summer Prince is there by my desk, waiting for me to get past the first 20 pages, but it’s just not grabbing my interest.

So instead, I’m going to talk about something else I love besides books: tea.

It’s only been in the past 2 years or so that I’ve been drinking loose-leaf teas instead of bagged ones. Before that, I only had access to the generic kinds found in the grocery store, which always tasted kind of gross.

I learned early on that green teas were my favourite. White varieties were okay, but I didn’t want to try black teas at all after years of Orange Pekoe and hibiscus and chamomile. Slowly, my collection grew – a tin from Teaopia (now Teavana) here, a bag from David’s there, a stop-off at the Sloane pop-up shop on Toronto’s Path after that…..

And that was just the beginning. A few months back I found Steepster, the tea community’s equivalent to Goodreads. I started reading the reviews on there to know which ones were good and which ones to avoid. About a month ago I went one step further and opened my own account. When I mentioned this on Twitter, my friend Jessica asked whether I was going to the Toronto Tea Festival.

Having never heard of it, I did some googling, found the site for the festival, and rubbed my hands in glee. Jessica and I made arrangements soon afterwards to attend the festival together, which happened a few weeks ago.

It was glorious.

The Appel Salon was packed full of tea vendors and drinkers. Tables and tables full of different types – greens, whites, blacks, oolongs, herbals, rooibos, pu’erhs, everything! – to sip and sample. This was an amazing opportunity to try teas I’d never had before, and to buy from independent stores instead of the big chains. I ended up buying 5 different kinds – 2 greens, 2 whites, and an oolong.

Five varieties of tea purchased from the Toronto Tea Festival.

My haul from the Toronto Tea Festival.

The two white teas were kind of hit and miss – the fruit-flavoured white tea I got from Majesteas was a huge disappointment in particular – but the oolong was a nice introduction to that variety, and the two greens from Capital Teas were absolutely lovely. In fact, I liked them so much that I almost don’t want to drink them, since I don’t want to run out. (Seriously, their Jasmine Dragon Pearls are something else.)

Since then, I’ve gone on a bit of a tea-buying spree, getting stuff from David’s and TeaVivre, and making wishlists of other teas from other vendors. Steepster is now a huge source of temptation, because posting reviews of new teas is one of the built-in mechanics to gaining a wider following on the site. Seeing all the reviews of other teas on that site and figuring out which ones I want to try is my current replacement for window shopping. I’ve got about 30 teas of various amounts in the dining room now, and even have a few free samples on the way in the mail. The pressure is on to go through the smaller amounts faster – that way I can buy some more!

Anyways, yes. Tea. It’s lovely, it’s delicious, and it’s gotten to the point where on some days I’m not even drinking water anymore.

What about you? I’d love to get some more recommendations in the comments.

Holy crap. I’m reading slush for Lightspeed Magazine!

Lightspeed MagazineOK, I need to get something out of my system right now:

Ohmygod ohmygod I’m slush reading for Lightspeed this is so awesome everything is awesome someone please pinch me holy crap!

Alright, now let me back up:

A few weeks ago, sci-fi anthologist extraordinaire John Joseph Adams announced on his blog that Lightspeed Magazine was looking for some new slush readers. Those interested were free to apply online. So I did. I filled in all the boxes and fields, gave my contact info, and then submitted it, hoping that the science fiction gods would look down kindly upon me.

I didn’t hear anything for a bit, so I figured they were still wading through applications. However, since I’m an impatient little Virgo, I asked the magazine yesterday via Twitter if they had any updates. Within hours of that tweet, I got an email from Mr. Adams himself saying that I was on board! And that I had an account to access the slush pile right now and everything!

When I saw the email in my inbox I hyperventilated and squealed in delight. I’ve missed reading slush since the closure of Electric Velocipede, and the chance to do the same for Lightspeed – a magazine that I’ve subscribed to for years, and have mentioned in various blog posts here – is so cool. It’s a volunteer position, but I’m pretty sure I can fit it in with the other things I’m involved in, like my new writing group.

One final note: take a look at the Women Destroy Science Fiction Kickstarter campaign that Lightspeed Magazine is running. If they make their stretch goals, they’ll do an additional all-female double-sized issue of Nightmare Magazine guest-edited by Ellen Datlow, and even resurrect Fantasy Magazine for an all-female double-sized issue edited by Cat Rambo. Who can say no to a deal like that?