SFContario 2014, or a Study on the Effect of Polar Opposites on the Self-Published Writer

When I first opted to self-publish The Summerlark Elf, I'd like to think that I approached the endeavour with decidedly realistic (read: low) expectations. To be honest, I was expecting to be met with little, if any, attention from the fantasy community, nothing but negative feedback from those who did take a chance on my book (because the internet), and an absolute dearth of opportunities to promote myself and my writing past spamming social networks. What I did not expect was to have several local stores graciously offer to put my books on their shelves, to have been embraced so warmly by the fantasy community (readers and authors alike), to have received several positive reviews, and to have been allowed the opportunity not only to promote my work in Chapters, but at FanExpo. As a little indie guy who decided one year ago to start work on a multi-book fantasy series with zero credentials going into it, I am proud to say that I think I've done decidedly well so far.

So well, in fact, that I think I really needed SFContario this past weekend to make sure I wasn't getting carried away with all this good luck.

I had only ever attended a few different conventions leading up to my working FanExpo, so perhaps my expectations going into this convention were somewhat skewed. I want to be clear before I continue, however, that this post is not meant to dump on SFContario; the show's organizers were friendly and helpful, and truly seemed to have their hearts in the right place. The convention is still young, this being its fifth year, and I believe that with time and perseverance the con is capable of becoming much larger and much more recognizable. All this being said though, I would be lying if I said that my experience this past weekend wasn't a bit... underwhelming.

I arrived at the hotel where the convention was being held on the Friday afternoon. The dealers' room opened at 4pm, so I had thought that arriving at 2:30 seemed like a good idea - plenty of time to find my table, get set up, etc. I was met by what seemed like a somewhat surprised liaison, who accompanied me to the roughly 30" x 20" hotel conference room that would serve as the dealers' room. Seven tables were set up around the room's perimeter, with two more tables set up in the hall outside.

"Well, here we are." the liaison, an older gentleman, announced simply. "Seems you're the first one here, so you an have first pick of the tables." (excepting, of course, those booth spaces where two tables had been secured). I opted for the middle spot along one of the walls perpendicular to the door, and he left me to set up while he no doubt attended to other matters. I had been dealing with an unusually high number of unfortunate happenings in the thirty-six hours leading up to that point, but as I began to set up my books, signage, etc, I began to relax. Sure, the dealers' room was small, but that could only be to mine and Deanna's benefit, as shopping traffic would have a difficult time not passing by our table. Plus, as the other dealers began to arrive, it became clear that I was the only traditional fantasy author there, and that Deanna and I were the only ones with a picture book, so we had both those corners of the genre covered.

The bright outlook Deanna and I had going into the weekend, unfortunately, darkened considerably as the weekend progressed. The dealers' room was vacant more often than not, and the majority of people who did pass through were panelists, friends of dealers, or decidedly disinterested in traditional fantasy and picture books. There were two instances that really capped the whole thing, though:

1. I was talking with an attendee who seemed to get openly offended when I referred to science fiction as "Sci-Fi", and not simply "SF". Her reaction really confused me, and I tried to be polite about it, humourously excusing my faux-pas, though the whole time I was simply baffled. "Sci-Fi" is apparently not a thing you should say. The whole interaction really smacked of a kind of elitism that really gets under my skin, especially as someone who writes the type of fantasy that's generally not considered fashionable right now. I'm sure I'm not the first person to touch on this, but I feel like there are way too many people who want so badly for fantasy and science fiction to be "taken seriously" that they forget that the genres are supposed to be fun. So, I'm sorry that I devalued a genre by using the wrong diminutive for it, I'll be more careful next time.

2. Robin Hobb was the fantasy guest of honour at the con. I am well aware of who she is, and how well-respected her works are in the fantasy community. I didn't have any time to read up on any of her work leading up to the con because my reading time is limited, I was in the middle of the Riyria series, and I genuinely didn't expect to be in the same room as she was at any point that weekend. Wouldn't you know, she decided to saunter into the dealers' room on the Saturday and circuit through the tables, talking to each dealer.

"It figures." I whispered to Deanna, "I made a point of brushing up on Elminster for FanExpo, and never once even saw Ed Greenwood. Now I'm about to meet Robin Hobb, and I haven't read any of her stuff."

"Relax, it's not like she's going to ask if you have." Deanna whispered back "That'd be really snobbish and stupid."

Thankfully, Robin didn't ask me if I had read any of her books. She didn't even talk to me, actually, nor Deanna. After talking to the author at the OnSpec Magazine table to our left, she walked past our table, briefly glancing at the books atop it, and proceeded to stop at the table to our right, where a really nice guy named Chad was selling wind-up steampunk automatons.

Now, I don't want to say that Robin was being intentionally rude, that she spitefully avoided Deanna and I or anything, but at the time, it was a huge, driving all the wind from my sails, slap to the face. it made me feel like the kid from the school newspaper trying to cover a story amid "professional" journalists, like any sense of validation I felt prior was false. It felt like there was a clear message being stated: "Self-publishing does not a real author make", and it really sucked.

Past that, I can't say that there were any more overtly negative experiences that weekend. We didn't sell many books, but we did have one person cold-purchase the picture book, which, as Deanna iterated, was her highlight of the weekend. We also made some pretty cool con buddies in Chad (who goes by "Simon Dalek" on Facebook), and fellow author/artist couple Kit Daven and Sean Chappell, who helped us make the decision to try and make it out to Ad Astra next April. Go google them and buy all their stuff.

All in all, SFContario was an experience worth having, as it gave me some insight into exactly what kind of depth and breadth the convention circuit contains. It was a great networking experience, and although I'm not sure if I'll be back as strictly a dealer for 2015, I wish the organizers all the best in the future.

Wouldn't it be kind of ironic if I would up as a panelist?

To Thine Own Books Be True

I've been listening to a lot of Michael J Sullivan audiobooks lately. Binge listening, if you will. For those unaware, Michael wrote the Riyria Revelations series, the prequel Riyria Chronicles books, and is currently in the midst of authoring the First Empire series, which predates the events of the initial books further still. Since September, I've listened to the audiobook versions of the Riyria books almost exclusively. Prior to that, I listened to the two free Riyria short stories offered on Audible. I've talked briefly with Michael himself over Goodreads, Twitter, and Reddit, all three of which he is an active member of. As an author who made a success of his series through self-publishing before signing on with Orbit Books, Michael is kind of a folk hero among self-pub fantasy authors.

I guess you could say I'm kind of a fan.

During FanExpo, I worked through the awkward art of pitching The Summerlark Elf to complete strangers. During the pitches, I tried to think of more popular and familiar fantasy series' that I could use for comparison. Having listened to the Riyria short stories, which featured sell-swords, witty dialogue, and mention of dwarves and elves, I figured I wasn't unjustified in likening my books to Michael's in some respects. Right now, I'm roughly a quarter of the way through Heir of Novron, the last book of the series (I listened to the prequels first), and I have, over my span of time with Riyria, realized that I cannot, in good faith, ever liken my books to Michael's ever again.

The Riyria books are meticulous and masterful in their depictions of a medieval/Renaissance-esque world, so much so that I can honestly say that I think I've learned more about certain aspects of European history from these books than I had from my textbooks when I studied history in university. Everything from the Church of Novron to the treatment of mir (the half-elves of Elan), feels so well-planned that it feels like an alternate-reality earth. My books are... less so.

For a couple of days, this fact bothered me, and dredged up a bit of a case of imposter syndrome within me. What kind of paltry stuff am I writing? So much of my world feels patchworked, fast and loose by comparison. There are so many nuances of medieval warfare, of the social hierarchies of nobility, that I haven't put thought into. How will people enjoy my books if they aren't as believable?

Here's the funny thing, and it's a thing that I'm glad I realized sooner rather than later. My world isn't as thoroughly premeditated as Elan because I am not Michael J Sullivan, and that's okay.

It's very arguable that I write fantasy that's distinctly more "light" than a good number of other books on the market, but I don't think that fact is to the books' discredit. I have received a number of very positive reviews of The Summerlark Elf, and recently of The Missing Thane's War. Heck, I was recently compared to Terry Brooks! This doesn't mean that I've fooled myself into thinking that I'm some kind of master crafter of epic tomes that will be lauded for their contribution to the literary world, but at the same time, I'm proud of what I create, and the fact that it resonates with people on some level. Sometimes people want fun, and light, and I'm more than happy that I have produced (and continue to produce) books that allow people to scratch that itch.

Seriously, though, my books are pretty short, and I've only just started the third. Go read the Riyria books in the meantime. They're awesome.

FanExpo 2014

In all honesty, I did not think FanExpo was on my radar, not for 2014.

I mean, Deanna and I talked about splitting the cost on a Small Press table, but opted to wait for 2015, so as to assure we'd both have a body of work to make the cost of a table worthwhile. I did not expect to receive an offer from Jason Anarchy like the one I did this past Anime North:

"So, I have a table for FanExpo this year, but I'm also doing some panels. I had a friend who was going to help me run the table, but he's got other obligations. If you give me a hand, I can give you some table space."

I still cannot believe it, doubly so because this isn't just a Small Press table. Jason is a featured Gaming guest, and as such, that is where the table is located. Let's just say I owe him a few pints, at least. This is FanExpo, the biggest con of the year in Canada.

There is a part of me that is sufficiently terrified.

I mean, I know it's just jitters. I know I'll be fine, have a great weekend, and hopefully sell some books, but it's surreal. On top of the con, Jason, Deanna, and myself are attending Jim Zub's launch party for his new comic tomorrow night, and the Cyanide and Happiness Banana Bar Crawl on Saturday. While on the more casual side, these are very much industry events, with industry people, and I will be commingling with them, as an industry person (sort of).

As it stands, I still have to pack (I will be at Deanna's during the con), but I did want to let you all know what my schedule was going to be like, and where you could find me, provided you'll be attending.

I'll be at the con all four days, so you needn't worry if you only plan on making it out for only one. I will be at table 563 (just a couple tables away from the LEGO booth). Keep an eye out for the big Drinking Quest banner. I will more than likely be there constantly over the four days, so come by and say hello, buy a copy of The Summerlark Elf, and a copy of Drinking Quest. If perchance I am not there, there is a good chance I'm attempting to find Ed Greenwood and give him a copy of the book, so you could likely find me there.

Anyway, I have clothes, books, cards, and DnD stuff to try and pack, so I will see you all later (hopefully at the con!)

In Which I Write Some Words, Preen About Said Words, and Eat Other Words

It's done, you guys. The Missing Thane's War is finally finished.

Well... not entirely finished per se... the first draft is finished, which, to be fair, is still a 61,500 word gorilla off my back. I still need to do a bit of editing on some things that I realized needed tweaking in hindsight before I ship a beta draft out to be pored over, but I took the day off from my manuscript today (I've been working on it more or less consistently since April, I figured I could take a day).

Part of what I did to preoccupy the time I otherwise allocated to this next book was to pore over the new fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook.

Yes, I know... I just finished complaining the other week about how Wizards of the Coast unceremoniously abandoned my edition of choice, but I did maintain that I'd keep an open mind about 5e. Well, last weekend I started running the 5e starter set adventure The Lost Mines of Phandelver with five players, two of whom had next to no DnD experience. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed running the game (which included five pre-generated characters) so much, that this past week I caved and bought the PHB, having all available character options now gloriously at my disposal.

I wanted to see how character creation felt with the new system, even though as a DM I really have no reason to roll up my own characters, so I decided to see how well one could customize a character by rolling up the four protagonists from The Summerlark Elf.

Rolling up Enna, an elf wizard, took me longer than anyone else, in part because she was the first character I created, and in part because any class that has spells to choose will inherently take longer to create. It took me about ninety minutes using just the PHB and the form-fillable character sheets provided on the DnD website, but after rolling up one character it was easy to get the gist of it, and I was able to roll up O'doc, my final creation, in about forty minutes.

It was a fun exercise, and I have to say I think I was able to create pretty good representations of my characters. I wanted to share the results, so here they are! Feel free to print them off for your own group, and see what kind of messes you can get my characters into (and out of)!





Everyone's Story

So let's start things off tonight with a couple good pieces of book news. Firstly, my hometown comic shop Stadium Comics (which, it's worth mentioning, is owned and operated by two of the nicest, most down-to-earth individuals I've had the pleasure of working with) is the latest to be added to the list of shops that carry The Summerlark Elf. If you live in Brampton, be sure to swing by pick a copy up, and pick up some comics while you're at it, because Kevin and Ricky are good guys.

Secondly, this Saturday, May 3rd, I'll be doing my first interview about TSE! I was put in contact a couple weeks back with TJ Redig, a fellow speculative fiction author, and host of the Speculative Soapbox Podcast, a short-form podcast wherein small-time fantasy, sci-fi, and other speculative fiction authors get a chance to promote their work. My interview will be live at 9pm EST, and will be available for streaming and download sometime thereafter.

I'm sure I've lain this point on a bit thick before, but I really enjoy Dungeons and Dragons. The game has been part of my consciousness in one form or another since I was a kid, when my dad bought my siblings and I the "New Easy-to-Master Dungeons and Dragons Game" from Toys 'r' Us back in the early '90s (this is a story outlined in greater detail on my tumblr page here, should you wish to read into the matter further). The thing about when I enjoy something, is that I become an absolute sponge about it, trying to mentally ingest anything and everything I can find on it. I could just as quickly tell you the last song on the UK cut The Clash's debut album (1977), as I could tell you who invented the frontside rock 'n roll (Eddie Elguera), and what were the original three playable character classes in the D&D White Box (Fighting Man, Cleric, and Magic User). As such, I also have a habit of scouring Youtube for whatever visual media I can find in an attempt to slake my unending thirst for trivia. This leads me to this video posted by author Ethan Gilsdorf.

It's an actual super-8 recording of a young Gilsdorf and his friends playing D&D. There was something heartwarming about the video because, though it lacks any audio, it shows one thing that makes tabletop RPGs so unique. Part of why I love D&D is because whether I'm playing or DMing (usually the latter), I'm creating. It starts when I build a character, or think of an interesting adventure hook for the players, but that certainly isn't where it stops. If I'm thrown into a situation where I'm being interrogated by the city guard, how do I react? Conversely, if my players don't take my hook, or find some other way to circumvent what I had planned, what do I do next? By their very nature, tabletop RPGs require you to try and think as creatively as you can for the duration of play. As a writer, there's no better way of keeping my creative mind as sharp as it can be. Don't get me wrong, writing every day is important to maintain motivation and momentum, but working on the same project constantly can easily lull a person into inanity, and something as visceral as a roleplaying game can oftentimes give your creativity a nice kick to make sure it isn't becoming sedentary.

That isn't the real reason this video is so great, though. What the video shows in spades is a bunch of friends getting together and enjoying an evening. Of all the positives I can think of to playing tabletop RPGs, what comes out on top is that it's an amazing social experience. You may wind up making new friends (I have), or seeing old ones in a new light (I also have). I enjoy writing because I get to tell my story, but I enjoy D&D because I get to be a part of telling everyone's story, and that kind of combination of creativity and camaraderie is something that I think everyone ought to experience at least once in their life.

A Much Better Welcome Post, and Some Book News

Hey All,

For those of you who saw the site at its outset, you can see that it has already undergone some substantial aesthetic changes, and looks all the better for it. Huge thanks are in order for my girlfriend Deanna, who took care of all the lovely artwork, and all the lovely photographs (You should really check out her Tumblr Page for more of her lovely artwork).

Many a goings-on to report on the whole "me as an author" front (which, I expect, is why you are here). Book One of the Four Kingdoms Saga, The Summerlark Elf, has been available for just over two weeks through Amazon and CreateSpace, and as of Thursday this past week, readers in the Greater Toronto Area are now able to purchase a hard copy off the shelves of actual physical stores! For anyone on the lookout, you can snatch up a copy at Bakka Phoenix Books, the Silver Snail, and Hairy Tarantula. One hopes that this list will increase, and you can be sure that I will keep you, my lovely readers, informed.

In further authoring news, I am well into the thick of the first draft of Book Two of the series. I won't lie, it has been substantially slower-going than the first, for all manner of reasons, not least of which are less time to write, and a book whose scope is significantly larger. Fear not, though, dear readers, I am remaining diligent, and will keep you all abreast on my progress.

Finally, Deanna (my aforementioned girlfriend and lovely artist) and I are drawing ever closer to a project we have been working on for quite some time now. I am incredibly excited to get this project out there, and I think a lot of people will be very into it.

Well, fine readers, that's all for today. Until next time, I leave you all with a pointedly underwhelming closing.

- Brandon