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My favourite writing festival, When Words Collide will be happening August 13-15, 2021. This year's online event will feature a full program with up to ten options every hour from Friday to Sunday. Most events will take place on Zoom. The festival is free, but you have to register in advance to prevent Zoom bombers from disrupting the panels and presentations.
This year I'll be participating in six events, the most I've done since I attended the inaugural WWC ten years ago. A few of my panels were carried over from last year's cancelled in-person festival. The others are topics that appealed to me and needed volunteers to fill remaining spots. WWC is entirely organized and presented by volunteers, which contributes to its atmosphere of equality among writers and readers.
"Roaring Twenties" banquet: me with author Will Ferguson at WWC - this year's socials will be online
Friday, August 13th, I'll be driving back to Calgary from a hiking holiday in Jasper, Alberta. I hope to get home in time for the keynote speeches by the festival's five special guest authors. These are often thought provoking, hilarious, or both.
My first panel, Chapter One: Your Debut Book, is scheduled for Saturday at noon. I'll moderate a group discussion on the experience of publishing a first book and how to attract readers. This is a timely topic for me, since my new novel will be released in August. Much has changed since my first book appeared ten years ago, but I hope to apply what I've learned to our increasingly digital world.Signing Ten Days in Summer, book # 2 of my Paula Savard mystery series, at my book launch
Next on tap is Killer Dialogue, a panel about how to make your evil characters sound evil but real. My contribution to this topic might be different from that of my fellow panelists, since my bad guys tend to be regular people who do bad things and simply talk like themselves. Some of the other panelists write 'noir' books with heavier lingo. I'll probably learn as much from them as the viewers who tune into the discussion.
Then, for something completely different, is a panel called Prophet and Loss: Cults and Extreme Beliefs in Fiction. My last novel, To Catch a Fox, was primarily set at a cult-like retreat in California. Despite the costumes, life at the story's New Dawn Retreat is a touch more mainstream than the experience of one of my fellow panelists, a former member of the Unification Church, colloquially called the "Moonies."
Saturday night features social activities on Zoom. I skipped these last year, but people said they were almost like the real live thing. Especially popular were break-out rooms, where attendees got to know others in small groups. I hope to get involved this year, dressed in my pajamas from the waist down.
Sunday I'm back at ten a.m. on a panel called Book Clubs for Readers. I've belonged to the same book club for 25 years, although the membership has changed through time. We all met though a group organized by the Calgary Public Library and used to meet at the Fish Creek branch. Since last September we've been getting together on Zoom. The online platform has worked well to keep our group going, but we look forward to discussing books in person next fall.
The last minute addition to my schedule is a panel titled Imagery, Theme and Titles Aren't So Tough. I find all three of these tough at times, but interesting. My first writing instructors taught me to start each story with an image. While I can't say I've continued to do this all or most of the time, it was a good way to learn fiction writing. What makes the perfect title? I think it's often one that ties imagery and theme together on multiple levels. For instance, the title "A Red Balloon" (I made this up) might be a story with an actual red balloon. As the story progresses, the balloon and its colour signify meanings of increasing depth.
Finally, this year I'll be doing my first WWC presentation: In the Beginning is the Sentence. Editor Tania Therien and I will geek-out on sentences. We'll talk about opening sentences, sentence length and type, sentences we've loved and hated, what makes a sentence a sing? We both feel out of our comfort zones, but trust we'll pull each other through. We also secretly hope that by our time slot - four p.m. Sunday afternoon - listeners will be too tired from the busy weekend to notice our goofs.
My presentation and five panels are a small portion of the hundreds of offerings at When Words Collide next month. This online year is a chance for non-Calgarians to check the program out. There's bound to be something for anyone interested in writing or reading books. In 2022 WWC hopes to return to its usual Calgary hotel, but probably with online components.