I Must be Zeus! My Forehead is Giving Birth!

Giving birth from your forehead may be painful – especially if it involves stepping on toes.

RG Cameron July 4 Illo #1 'AL issue 2'

And a painful process it is too. Feels like my forehead is splitting wide open. I can definitely say my brain hurts.

Unfortunately not giving birth to Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, as Zeus did from his mighty brow, much to his surprise (and no doubt to the shocked astonishment of Hera, his wife).

Something less impressive. A semi-prozine. Of sorts.

The water broke, so to speak, Monday June 30th during an online Board meeting of CSFFA (the Canadian Aurora Awards people). They passed a motion declaring my ad hoc fanzine AURORAN LIGHTS (which I had been publishing on behalf of CSFFA) the ‘official’ newsletter of CSFFA.

Well, darn. Suddenly a wave of responsibility passed over me, leaving me gasping for air like a mud-guppy stranded on the moon. Serious stuff, folks. Can’t fool around any longer.

Except that I will. Cause that’s just me.

But I will have to erect a façade of respectability, my very own Potemkin village, a serious yet light-hearted construction, or face the wrath of all those who feel like waxing wroth (insert Groucho Marx joke here).

Why the potential for raising a firestorm of anger?

Because CSFFA is supposed to be strictly neutral in its ongoing maintenance of the Aurora Awards. Absolutely the newsletter CANNOT be allowed to be perceived as favouring one author (or artist, publisher, poet, etc.) over another.

Consider LOCUS, the SF genre tradezine. It almost always features a single author on the cover with an extensive interview with same on the inside, plus all kinds reviews, announcements and the like. And nobody minds. In fact, people have relied on and trusted LOCUS for decades. It’s a great zine.

Yet pros and fen might have a very different mindset about LOCUS if that magazine’s editors also administered the HUGO Awards. Then you would see suspicion and paranoia unleashed. “Why did you interview THAT author? Why didn’t you interview ME?” And such like that there.

RG Cameron July 4 illo #2 'AL issue 4'

A minefield in other words. Stepping on toes. On a massive scale. Like the time I was part of a long line of entrepreneurial kids sitting on pavement, our backs resting against the grade school wall, our legs wide open with assorted wood and nail ‘pinball’ contraptions between them, hoping to ‘win’ marbles from them as dared play. Fattest kid in the school decided to walk the length of the line stepping heavily on everyone’s ankles. The “Great Marble Massacre” of Vincent Massey grade school…

So we, which is to say myself as editor and the rest of the CSFFA Board, need to be very, very careful. The newsletter’s mandate and policies must be clearly and cleanly stated so that no one can find fault with whatever the heck it is we’re doing.

At this point absolutely nothing is written in stone. CSFFA’s sensible policy is to hold every discussion on important matters “in-house” until a consensus is reached, then unleash our decision on the world in search of further input so our decision can be tweaked in accordance with what seems useful.

The in-house discussion hasn’t even begun. I have no idea what the other Board members are thinking. All I know is they believe the time has come to convert my limited purpose fanzine into a newsletter that more accurately reflects the purpose of CSFFA, I.E. to promote the genre at both fannish AND professional levels (which is the whole point of the Aurora Awards themselves after all).

So what I want to do in this column is provide some background information on the evolution of Auroran Lights, throw out a few ideas of my own, and invite Canadian fen and pros to send me their thoughts on the matter, what they’d like to see, what would move them to actively participate, and so forth.

Non-Canadian fen and pros are welcome to give me the benefit of your advice as well. Just be aware that, apart from Hugo winner results and similar, 99% of the focus of the newsletter will be on the Canadian “section” of the genre.

Armed with this response, I will then present my concept of the “new” AL to the Board in terms of what is actually necessary and feasible on a practical level (as opposed to just whipping “facts” off the top of my head which, as I’m sure my readers are accustomed to by now, is pretty much the way I normally interact with reality…).

My initial concept, beginning with issue #1 in February 2011, was to convey CSFFA news and announcements, then promote Canadian fanzine fandom past and present. In 30 pages the first issue featured the following:

COVER – Photo of the first CSFFA Award, “The Coeurl,” sculpted by Mike Spencer and awarded to A.E. van Vogt at Halcon 3 in March of 1980.

CREDITS AND EDITORIAL – As you might expect.

CSFFA NEWS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS – Also as you might expect. That the Aurora Awards were now open for nominations, how to nominate, three new award categories added, and the archive committee expanded.

FALLACIOUS FANNISH HISTORY ARTICLES – All about the “Coeurl,” a complete list of Fan Aurora Award winners to date, my personal account of the 1997 Aurora Awards Ceremony, and an extremely interesting article by Taral Wayne describing the state of fandom in Toronto in 1982.

FABLED FANDOM NEWS AND NOTES – Articles on CUFF (Canadian Unity Fan Fund) nominations now open, TAFF (Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund) voting now open, and FAAN (as in Fanzine fan) voting still open.

FANACTIC FANNISH FANACTIVITY – Latest ‘doings’ of prominent fans like Garth Spencer, Al Betz, Murray Moore, Taral Wayne and Lloyd Penney. A gossip column of sorts.

FRENETIC FANZINE REVIEWS – Of Canadian zines like ONESWELLFOOP #1, IMPULSE V.14#9, BCSFAZINE V.39#452, and CORUSCATING CONUNDRUMS #2.

STUTTERING STRATOSPHERIC STATIC – Letters of comment, in this issue from Taral Wayne and Garth Spencer.

TERRIBLY IMPORTANT STUFF – Colophon and details about CSFFA.

RG Cameron July 4 illo #3 'AL issue 5'

Hmm, it suddenly occurs to me the Board might want me to drop the alliterative headings as not being in keeping with the serious and official nature of the newsletter as now conceived. This clashes with my belief that fandom should be fun, appreciation of SF&F lit should be fun, and that everybody and everything in life should be fun.

It further occurs to me that I was obviously born to be a Cruise Ship Fun Activities Director. Never thought of that before. Guess I missed out on a particularly idiotic career…

Anyway, I hope they let me keep my “fun” headings.

As you can see, virtually entirely devoted to fanzine fandom. Just a trickle about pros in my article about the awards ceremony I attended.

Oddly enough, I did write articles about pros in WCSFAzine (West Coast Science Fiction Association Newsletter) which was supposed to promote VCON (which it did) but grew beyond that into a hodgepodge of articles devoted to fannish history, including retro reviews of past zines and past conventions, as well as retro reviews of old movies, long lists of links to various clubs & SF sources, and even articles by Taral Wayne about his coin collection.

I must have been doing something right. Won the 2010 Fan Achievement (Fanzines) Aurora Award for it. Maybe just the bulk of it impressed people. Fifty pages every month. Still, happy to receive the award, I must admit.

The one regular column in WCSFAzine to do with Pros was called AUTHOR HAPPENINGS and contained items like the following written by Matt Hughes in issue #17 dated July 2009:

Cory and Catska’ Ench’s painting for the second half of my Nebula-short-listed Guth Bandar novella THE HELPER AND HIS HERO (March 2007), has won the Chesley Award, given by the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists (ASFA), for Best Magazine Cover. I love that picture of Beowulf and the bug-eyed monster (minus the bug-eyes). When I sold all the Guth Bandar stories as a fix-up novel, THE COMMONS, to Robert J. Sawyer Books, I asked Rob if he could get the Ench illustration for the cover of the book. He could and did, and I’m sure that arresting image caused more than a few people to pick the book off the bookstore shelf.”

This is exactly the sort of personal announcement (as opposed to a publicity press release) I envision for the “new” AL. Don’t want the material to consist of a dry-as-dust recital of mere facts, I want an “insider’s perspective which gives the reader a glimpse of what it’s like to actually BE a writer. Even stronger and better, a personal approach which enables the reader to feel ‘in touch’ with the author, to make a connection between them.

A superb example of the sort of thing I want for an AUTHOR HAPPENINGS section would be the personal note I received today from Spider Robinson (here reprinted with his permission):

Oh hey, I just realized: I have some actual news to report. Jeanne and I are going to China! No shit. My sagacious and voracious agent Eleanor Wood just sold THE STARDANCE TRILOGY, in both book form and magazine serialization, to a Chinese-language publisher called Science Fiction World, in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, People’s Republic of China. An extra 1.3 BILLION potential customers have just been added to our market. And mind you, Eleanor pulled this off with a trilogy EVERY VOLUME of which features a Chinese villain! Robert did me a HUGE favour when he got his agent to take me on.”

Spider’s pride in the continuing demand for Jeanne’s writing (bless her memory) and happiness over the sale of their collaborative effort shine through. And from a pro peer perspective, the potential market in China, Science Fiction World, is obviously a factoid to take note of, and what writer can’t help but envy, given the difficulty of “catching” any agent these days, of having another author help secure you a really good one? Powerful lot of emotion and writer’s experience bundled together in one short paragraph. Precisely the kind of “blurb” I want authors (and artists, etc.) to send me for AURORAN LIGHTS.

A very important point. If I troll the net searching for whatever pro information I can find, I expose myself (insert another joke here) and the newsletter to accusations of selecting “favourite” authors and ignoring others. Not true of course, as all I’d be guilty of was checking out the authors I’d heard of and failing to research authors unknown to me. Considering how ignorant I am on just about any subject, this means a lot of authors would be “missed,” albeit unintentionally.

RG Cameron July 4 illo #4 'AL issue 6'

How better (not to mention easier on me) to let the pros themselves decide who gets mentioned?

Especially if they got into the habit of sending a brief, one paragraph unique-to-AL and very personal “what-I’m-doing” comment every month (bearing in mind I intend a monthly schedule) on top of whatever else publicity they put out?

Instead of your typical “hit-the-donkey-over-the-head” press release struggling against the fatal inertia of the media, pros would find in AURORAN LIGHTS a pro-friendly, welcoming environment keen on publishing what amounts to mini-letter-like-asides on their current status and interests as opposed to easily ignored bulletin-style press releases.

This is the sort of thing readers could easily get used to as well, eagerly looking forward to what would amount to an APA-like gossip column written by the “victims” themselves. Could evolve into a “must read!”

But why the heck would any pro want to contribute to AURORAN LIGHTS? Aren’t they busy enough already?

Yes, but… AL will be going out the CSFFA members list, I.E. ALL the people who actually vote for the Aurora Awards.

There’s publicity, and then there’s publicity. On the one hand, you can reach out to your readers with a personal website. Darn good idea.

But doing something special going out to the people who VOTE… that makes good sense too.

Pro or fan, Canadian or non-Canadian, tell me what you think. Drop me a comment at < rgraeme(at)shaw.ca > with the subject heading beginning “AL.”

Better yet, if you’re a Canadian pro, send me a short “blurb” in the spirit of the two quoted above. Want to get out a “test” edition of AL sometime this month.

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2 Comments

  1. Technically, no. All members of the Board are eligible (some have won in the past) providing they are not on the Aurora Awards sub-committee. It is the latter that compiles the votes and determines the results. As a non-member of that sub-committee I have nothing to do with the Aurora Awards process. I am always just as much in the dark as any non-Board member.

    The reasoning behind this is the Board does not want anyone eager and pro-active enough to be on the Board, who presumably feels the same way about other aspects of fandom, in my case publishing zines, to refuse to join the Board in the first place because they don’t want to screw their chances of getting an Aurora for their personal fanac. In a sense, we want to avoid having Board members whose ONLY fannish interest is the Board. Want well-rounded fans for the Board.

    So my nomination for these columns is perfectly legit. Though I have to say, if my nomination is PERCEIVED as suspect, despite the rules being what they are, by a LARGE number of fen (and not just one or two with axes to grind or personal hatred towards me) I might have to consider withdrawing my name from the nominations. This would certainly complicate matters, since voting is already underway. And it would put any future Board/nominees in a bind too. They would have to make a decision.

    I would then be faced with a second decision. Since I wouldn’t mind receiving another Aurora or two down the road (I’ve won twice, been nominated more than a dozen times) should I give up that prospect and continue on as Archivist for CSFFA? Or quit CSFFA in order to keep myself eligible for future Aurora Awards? I’d probably stay with CSFFA, but with some sadness in my heart.

    Mind you, now that AURORAN LIGHTS is the OFFICIAL newsletter for CSFFA, I will absolutely NOT be eligible as editor for it as ‘Best Fan Publication’ because a) it will be semi-pro in some sense, and b) because it is proposed (not yet decided) that it go out or at least be made available to the entire list of CSFFA members/voters. Bit of an unfair advantage you might say. Consequently I have no problem NOT being eligible for that particular activity, especially since it is now a kind of volunteer proac as opposed to fanac..

    Mind you, the whole question of whether a newsletter featuring articles by and about pros can be received by fandom as neutral and not biased is still under discussion by the board. Who knows? My own proposal is that space be made available to pros, any Canadian pro, to send in their own material (but something better than dry and boring press releases) with the disclaimer that CSFFA is not responsible, that the pros themselves have decided who gets covered (i.e. anyone who sends in a brief self-promotional word document–if you’re not included, then write something and send it in), and that should be enough to avoid charges of favouritism, because no editorial choice would be involved. Merely pro participation on a first come first serve basis.

    However, the Board might decide even that would be too risky in terms of their reputation for impartiality. Buggered if I know how to expand the newsletter to cover pros without mentioning them or their books. Articles encouraging authors to be authors without revealing anything about the industry or individual authors wouldn’t cut it methinks. In that case the Board decision would probably devolve into the question of whether to have a newsletter at all. Everybody on the Board is currently mulling things over. I have yet to hear their views on the matter. I’m sure it’s going to be interesting.

    I will be gung ho for extensive pro coverage (or, at least as much material as pros will be willing to submit), but saner and cooler heads may prevail.

    Besides, for the first time in thirty years I’ve resumed novel writing. If it ever gets published… well, that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of CSFFA fish…

  2. Then congratulations of some kind are in order, Graeme. I’m sure you’ll carry it off nicely. My only concern is that since you are nominated this year for an Aurora, could there be any perceived–because I have faith there is no real–conflict of interest?

    Just wondering, is all.

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