WHEN WORDS COLLIDE: Celebrating Canadian SF

OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.


It is an exciting weekend! For one thing, the winners of Canada’s annual Aurora Awards will be announced tomorrow (Saturday).

Exciting for two Amazing Stories columnists, at least. Steve Fahnestalk and myself have been nominated for the columns we write for Amazing. Also, I’ve been nominated for my semi-pro fictionzine Polar Borealis. I haven’t been this excited at the prospect of an upcoming weekend since… well, I don’t know. My memory isn’t what it used to be. But like many seniors, I can focus on the here and now quite intently.

More to the point, why should you be excited?

Because, even as you read this, the host convention is live, online, and free!

You don’t even need to register! Just download the program, and click the links attached to the particular program items you’d like to see. (Info will be provided below.)

The 10th Anniversary When Words Collide (first time virtual) runs Friday to Sunday, August 14-16, and features no less than five tracks of programming. Literally hundreds of volunteers have put this together. If you attend you’ll quickly find out why this is arguably Canada’s finest writers festival to do with multiple genre writing and publishing. Much of the focus is on SF&F and Horror, but WWC also encompasses Western, Romance, Mystery, and other genres.

If you like to read, and more specifically, are interested in writing for these genres, or in getting involved with editing or publishing, this is the con to attend (and not just for Canadians).

Volunteer-run, When Words Collide is a superbly successful convention/festival when many seem to be falling away or carrying on despite financial hardship. In normal years (pre-pandemic that is) WWC always sells out, reaching their cap of 800 attendees months ahead of time, and always makes a profit. I repeat, always makes a profit sufficient to guarantee that planning for the next year’s convention can start immediately. This is why I have advocated for years that SF conventions would do well to follow WWC’s financial methods. They know in advance how much money they’re going to have, and budget accordingly. Why screw around with failed and inadequate traditional procedures when there’s a shining example of intelligently-created success happening year after year?

I have never been to When Words Collide (which takes place in Calgary, Alberta) and was so looking forward to attending for my first time. I had my plane tickets and hotel room booked, and my membership paid. Was looking forward to attending the Aurora Awards banquet (which I have done several times before when the awards were hosted by other conventions). And, of course, was given to fantasizing about hearing my name announced and striding toward the stage amid a chorus of “Who? Who? Never heard of the guy.” Etc. etc. And then being on stage proudly stating “I thank no one! I’m the guy who shelled out all the dough for the bribes, so I thank me for winning!” or some such sample of my humble and modest nature.

When I heard WWC was cancelled because of the pandemic I was a bit sad, but accepted that the organizers had no choice. A little later I heard the Aurora Awards would be announced live. I thought, “Good. Good. Still a pity about the con itself though.” And then, all of a sudden, it was announced a full-fledged WWC would take place, albeit online. I was staggered. I hadn’t thought it possible. A token effort, maybe, but five tracks of programming? Fantastic!

But it’s not a miracle. It’s the logical and inevitable result of a huge and dedicated volunteer support-base determined to keep the festival going against all odds. Other cons have been struggling to find even the bare minimum of volunteers required to carry out what needs to be done. Yet WWC literally has no trouble finding volunteers. How can this be?

Simple. Nothing succeeds like success. The WWC “culture” works brilliantly. People are proud to be involved. They don’t see it as a burden, but as a fun triumph they are eager to help make happen. This is why I keep advocating WWC as a role model for SF conventions. Yes, I know it’s a bit different, they lack cosplay and gaming and video rooms and many other things found at general interest SF Cons. WWC is a writers festival, after all.

But WWC is a fan-run (volunteer-run) convention which knows its limits, is tightly focused on what it can do, and first and foremost, as a matter of absolute priority, insists on following common sense financial practices to the point of never having to worry about how much money they take in! I mean, Great Galloping Ghu! Isn’t that the ultimate dream-fantasy of convention planning? Not only does it mean every upcoming con will be a success, but part of the reason for that success is that they are able to keep their membership rates low. In effect, success breeds success. Everybody should follow their lead.

Anyway, they’re putting on a complete, virtual con as if it’s no problem at all. If need be, they’ll do the same next year. Eventually they’ll get back to in person conventioneering without missing a beat. How many other cons do you know you can take for granted they will be that successful? WWC is amazing.

But enough of me pontificating. When Words Collide is happening right now! Let me present the basic schedule. Look it over and cherry pick what sounds intriguing. Then grab the detailed schedule available from the WWC website (see below) and join in!

Note: All times are Mountain Time. Also, there may be last minute changes.




  • Pitch That Story Idea.
  • There Are No Tigers

1:00 PM:

  • Plot vs. Character: Crime Fiction’s Eternal Grudge Match
  • Writing After the World Ends
  • Knowing the Rules and When to Break Them
  • It’s a Bold Business, Making the Mental Shift to Being a Career Author

2:00 PM:

  • World Class Disasters
  • Burnout—It’s all in your Brain: A Neurosurgeon’s perspective
  • Live Editing
  • It’s all in the Plot
  • Paula Johanson et al Book Launch

3:00 PM:

  • Street Drugs Part One—Opioid Crisis
  • Ten Things I Wish I’d Known
  • Autobiographical Novel, Personal Essay, Memoir—Are You Confused Yet?
  • Time Travel: Not just a Thing of the Past
  • Writing Pipelines 

4:00 PM:

  • Before Storytelling 101
  • Imagery and Resonance: Specificity and Universality
  • Shaper of Worlds
  • Open Office Hours with Mark Leslie 

5:00 PM:

  • Street Drugs Part Two: Methamphetamine and other Dangerous Drugs
  • Fix that Manuscript!
  • Podcasting A-Z
  • Law in SFF Worldbuilding
  • “A Diary in the Age of Water.”

6:00 PM:

  • Exploring Scene Setting in the Rockies: A Virtual Tour
  • So I Quit my Job and Started Freelancing
  • Relieve Your Stress—Read (and Write) Humorous Books
  • Prompt Poetry with Shawn Bird 

7:00 PM:

  • Festival Meet and Greet (Speed Networking)
  • SF Canada Online Social (2 hours)
  • Special Go Indie Now Joe’s Bar Live
  • Virtual Pool Patio Party hosted by Mark Leslie (2 hours)
  • Noir @ the Bar (start time TBA) 

8:00 PM

  • Bedtime Chats & Stories with IFWA


10:00 AM:

  • Crafting Fantasy From Myth
  • Can the Crossover Fit the Crime?
  • Ecology as Story: World as Character
  • Building a Personal Brand
  • Q&A with Det Sweet

11:00 AM:

  • Write it right—Human Trafficking
  • “He did what?” Character Development Before and Through your Story
  • Emotion in Fiction
  • Writing for Children and Young Adults
  • The Cohesive Anthology 


  • Ethics & Exploration Contamination
  • The Long & Short of Crime
  • Going Deep—Learn to Write Immersive Fiction
  • Pace and Flow
  • Editors: When Can They Help and How?

I:00 PM:

  • What makes for Great Dialogue?
  • Writing Historical Fiction
  • Mapping Your YA Novel
  • Access Denied
  • Open Office Hours with Mark Leslie

2:00 PM:

  • Meet the Mesdams of Mayhem
  • The 7 P’s of Publishing Success
  • Amazing Stories Magazine with Publisher Steve Davidson!
  • Don’t Distract Your Readers!
  • “Flights of Marigold” Book Launch
  • Go Indie Now Live Red Carpet Coverage of Aurora Awards (3 hours)

3:00 PM:

  • Medical Errors and Tropes
  • Writers Groups—Learning and Teaching
  • Character Agency in YA
  • Are You Prepared to Write?
  • The Seven Sentence Short story

4:00 PM:

  • Researching Alternate Histories
  • Crime Thru Time
  • An Editor’s Take on Dialogue
  • 10 Ways to leverage Short Fiction for Marketing & Making Money
  • Ask Me Anything (AMA) with Angela Ackerman 

5:00 PM:

  • 2020 Aurora Awards and Hall of Fame Inductions (2 hours)

7:00 PM:

  • Aurora After Party

8:00 PM:

  • Advertising in the Apocalypse

9:00 PM:

  • Ghost Stories from Mark’s Haunted Fort


10:00 AM:

  • To Hell and Back
  • Getting to Know Your Characters
  • Sex Scene Slip Ups: or, Where Did That Third Hand Come From?
  • Cast a Spell: The Power of Poetry
  • How to Win an Editor’s Heart

11:00 AM:

  • The Heroine’s Journey
  • The Science of Branding
  • Edit an Editor
  • LitWorld, the Events Spot for Readers and Writers
  • Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy


  • Space Force versus Mars
  • Become a Structural Story Architect
  • We’ve Been Edited!
  • Sunday Lunchtime Open Mic (2 hours)
  • Diversifying Your Author Income Stream

1:00 PM:

  • Why Write?
  • From the Mean Streets to the Deadly Wilderness
  • Writing Technology into Stories
  • A Map is Not a Journey

2:00 PM:

  • Bring on the Goths
  • Injecting Humour into Speculative Fiction
  • New Writer Roll Call
  • Jonas on Editing
  • “The Rude Eye of Rebellion” Book Launch

3:00 PM:

  • Drugs as a Murder Weapon
  • Diversity in Speculative Fiction
  • Cities of the Future
  • The Dos and Don’ts of Successful Pitching
  • Character Building Workshop

4:00 PM:

  • Turning Your Creative Goals into Reality in Today’s 2020
  • Writing Science Books for Youth
  • Birth of a Poet
  • Open Office Hours with Mark Leslie

5:00 PM

  • Dead Dog Social

Throw in a chatroom, Twitter live conversation, a hidden art show, and a merchant’s corner dealing mostly in print and e-books, and you’ve got the makings of an excellent convention, I’d say!

It’s all happening this weekend! And it’s happening now!

Go to the link listed below and download the detailed schedule which describes every item and lists who the panelists are. Each comes with its own unique link to click on. Some involve Zoom, the rest FaceBook, Utube, and other set-ups.

Go to:  Detailed WWC Program Schedule  and download the final version with all the links.

There’s also a handy quick program guide you can download, as well as a list of presenter bios.

And now here’s a list of all the Aurora Award nominees. Even if you are utterly unfamiliar with Canadian SF&F this will give you a sense of how widespread and diverse the contemporary SF&F scene is in Canada today.

If you are a Canadian aware of the current reality of the genre, this is a chance to review the choices and remember whom you voted for.

And if, like me, you are one of the nominees, it is nail-biting time!

2020 AURORA AWARDS – ( for works produced in 2019 )

Best Novel

  • Haunting The Haunted – by E. C. Bell, Tyche Books
  • The Gossamer Mage – by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW Books
  • A Brightness Long Ago – by Guy Gavriel Kay, Viking Canada
  • The Quantum Garden – by Derek Künsken, Solaris Books
  • Jade War – by Fonda Lee, Orbit Books
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow – by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Del Rey

Best Young Adult Novel

  • Wolf’s Bane – by Kelley Armstrong, K.L.A. Fricke Inc
  • The Brilliant Dark: The Realms of Ancient, Book 3 – by S.M. Beiko, ECW Press 17
  • The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Metamorphosis – by Marty Chan, Fitzhenry & Whiteside
  • Bursts of Fire – by Susan Forest, Laksa Media Groups Inc
  • Murder at the World’s Fair – by MJ Lyons, Renaissance

Best Short Fiction

  • This Is How You Lose the Time War – by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, Saga Press
  • Clear as Quartz, Sharp as Flint – by Maria Haskins, Augur Magazine, issue 2.1
  • Alice Payne Rides – by Kate Heartfield, Tor.com Publishing
  • Little Inn on the Jianghu – by Y.M. Pang, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September
  • Modigliani Paints the World – by Hayden Trenholm, Neo-Opsis, Issue #30
  • Blindside – by Liz Westbrook-Trenholm, Amazing Stories, v. 77, issue no. 1, Fall

Best Graphic Novel

  • The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel – by Margaret Atwood and Renee Nault, McClelland & Stewart
  • Krampus is My Boyfriend! – by S.M. Beiko, Webcomic
  • It Never Rains – by Kari Maaren, Webcomic
  • Carpe Fin: A Haida Manga – by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Douglas & McIntyre
  • Dakwäkãda Warriors – by Cole Pauls, Conundrum Press

Best Poem/Song

  • The Girl who Loved Birds – by Clara Blackwood, Amazing Stories Magazine, v. 76, 17 No. 3, Spring
  • At the Edge of Space and Time – by Swati Chavda,
  • Love at the Speed of Light, Ancient Hound Books
  • Steampunk Christmas – by David Clink, Star*Line, v. 42, no. 4., Fall
  • The Day the Animals Turned to Sand – by Tyler Hagemann, Amazing Stories Magazine 76, issue no. 3, Spring
  • Totemic Ants – by Francine P. Lewis, Amazing Stories Magazine, v. 77, issue no. 1,
  • Fall Beauty, Sleeping – by Lynne Sargent, Augur Magazine, issue 2.2
  • Bursts of Fire – by Sora, theme song for book trailers

Best Related Work

  • PodCastle – by Jen R. Albert and Cherae Clark, Escape Artists Inc.
  • Nothing Without Us – by Cait Gordon and Talia C. Johnson, Renaissance
  • Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine – published & edited by Karl Johanson
  • Lackington’s Magazine – published & edited by Ranylt Richildis, (online)
  • Dave Duncan’s Legacy – by Robert Runté, On Spec Magazine issue 111
  • Augur Magazine, Issue 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 – published & edited by Kerrie Seljak-Byrne
  • On Spec Magazine – Diane L. Walton, Managing Editor, The Copper Pig Writers Society

Best Visual Presentation

  • The Umbrella Academy – Steve Blackman, Dark Horse Entertainment V Wars (Season 1) William Laurin and Glenn Davis, High Park Entertainment
  • Killjoys (Season 5) – Michelle Lovretta and Adam Barken, Temple Street Productions
  • Murdoch Mysteries (Ep. 10-18/Season 12 and Ep. 1-9/Season 13) – Peter Mitchell and Christina Jennings, Shaftesbury Films
  • Van Helsing (Season 4) – Jonathan Lloyd Walker, Nomadic Pictures

Best Artist

  • Samantha M. Beiko – cover for Bursts of Fire
  • James F. Beveridge – cover for Fata Morgana and cover for On Spec #112
  • Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk – A Rivet of Robots in On Spec Magazine and Cartoons in Amazing Stories Magazine.
  • Nathan Fréchette – covers for Renaissance Press
  • Dan O’Driscoll – covers for Bundoran Press and cover for On Spec Magazine #110

Best Fan Writing and Publications

  • Graeme Cameron – weekly columns in Amazing Stories (online) Magazine
  • Graeme Cameron – Polar Borealis Magazine, Issues #9 to #12, publisher & editor
  • Jennifer Desmarais – Travelling TARDIS, JenEric Designs
  • Steve Fahnestalk – weekly columns in Amazing Stories (online) Magazine
  • Ron S. Friedman – Will Voyager 1 leave the Milky Way?, Quora
  • Christina Vasilevski – Books and Tea

Best Fan Organizational

  • KT Bryski and Jen R. Albert – ephemera reading series, Toronto
  • Brent Jans – Pure Speculation Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival, Edmonton
  • Derek Künsken and Marie Bilodeau – co-chairs, Can-Con, Ottawa
  • Randy McCharles – chair, When Words Collide, Calgary
  • Sandra Wickham – Creative Ink Festival, Burnaby, BC

Best Fan Related Work

  • Brandon Crilly and Evan May – Broadcasts from the Wasteland
  • Kari Maaren – Music on YouTube Channel
  • Derek Newman-Stille – Speculating Canada
  • Joshua Pantalleresco – Just Joshing, podcast
  • Edward Willett – The Worldshapers, podcast


Regardless of whether I win or lose, I intend to have a heck of a lot of fun “attending” this writers festival.

In these pandemic self-isolation times, a weekend of exciting options is a Ghu-send! Why be bored? Come to When Words Collide!

Again, you can download the final program schedule complete with all necessary links at:

< WWC Complete Program Schedule >



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