Calgary’s When Words Collide festival hosts 36th annual celebration

Readers and writers from across the country gathered in Calgary, Aug. 12-14 to celebrate the nation’s premium authorial talent at the 36th annual Aurora Awards.

The Auroras are Canada’s most prestigious literary prize recognizing creators in the realms of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In accordance with their usual custom, the awards were held during the host city’s local writers’ convention, this year’s being Calgary’s When Words Collide (WWC). This brought joy to the organizers of the Calgary festival because WWC was nominated for an Aurora in the category of Best Fan Organizational, and WWC creator Randy McCharles was also competing in the category of Best Novel, for his work Much Ado about Macbeth.

“In Canada, it’s so important to be a finalist in these awards, because those people in the Canadian speculative fiction community who didn’t know who you were, are now more likely to find out because they’ve seen your name on the ballot,” said McCharles prior to the awards banquet. “So they really do help with building your brand. It tells everyone in the community who is active and who is doing something.”

Eager bibliophiles crowd around the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association (IFWA) booth in the merchant room at When Worlds Collide, scouting out their next great read, and chatting it up with fellow book-lovers and authors alike on Aug. 12. The event was held at the Delta Calgary South Hotel, Aug. 12-14. Photo by Michaela RitchieHe was bested in the novel category by A.M. Dellamonica’s A Daughter of No Nation, but the WWC earned its fifth Aurora win.

Canadian science fiction treasure, and Hugo- and Nebula-award winning author Robert J. Sawyer, who helped conceptualize the WWC with McCharles after the fall of Calgary’s Con-Version in early 2006, was also up for an Aurora for his short fiction Looking For Gordo. Sawyer, who has taken home 14 Auroras and numerous other accolades during a career that has spanned almost three decades, said it was an honour just to be nominated.

“I’m always very excited about the Auroras, but I’ve also won more than my share over the years in different categories. I’ve been at the game a long time, so I really am just delighted to be here and cheering on the fact that there is this vigorous Canadian science fiction scene,” said Sawyer in an Aug. 12 interview.

More than just a festival for wordsmiths, When Words Collide also offers avid readers like Amanda Proudfoot the chance to meet with upcoming and treasured Canadian authors in search of the next great read. This feature is particularly important to Proudfoot, who emphasizes the importance of supporting local and national art. She travelled all the way from Edmonton just to attend the event.
Photo by Michaela Ritchie
It’s a landscape that Sawyer has been helping to cultivate in Calgary since the mid-1990s, when he was invited to teach at one of the very first workshops the Imaginative Fiction Writer’s Association (IFWA) hosted for local budding authors to hone their craft through seminars and writing camps.

“I’ve mentored a great number of the writers who are here at this convention, and so the fact that the Auroras are now here this year, that I’m up for an Aurora, that some of my writing students from those workshops, Randy included, are up for Auroras in other categories — it’s wonderful,” said Sawyer. “I’m absolutely thrilled that it’s here, and I’m delighted that I get to be a part of it.”

McCharles echoed those sentiments, emphasizing the importance of the WWC as a place not just for writers to gain recognition in an award-hosting year, but also as a breeding ground for forming creative connections.

“The main focus of our festival is networking — getting readers to meet with authors that they like, getting new authors to meet with editors and agents and publishers, and getting anyone who is interested in literature to be connecting with their community,” he said.

Amanda Proudfoot, an avid reader and local art enthusiast, travelled from Edmonton to Calgary to attend the festival, held at the Delta Calgary South Hotel. Proudfoot has been coming to When Words Collide since its inception in 2010. A friend was volunteering that year, and as a bibliophile herself, Proudfoot was easily roped in.

“I’m not a writer, I just read, but I come here every year so that I can meet new authors and find new books to read,” said Proudfoot. “I love it, I feel like a fly on the wall, like I’m getting to see behind the scenes, how things get made, and then I get to go read the book.”

Publisher Brian Hades, owner of EDGE Publications in Calgary, stands behind his brand’s latest volumes, many of which, like The Necromancer Candle by Randy McCharles, were written by Aurora Award nominees and past winners. EDGE has published over 86 authors this year in 25 new solo novels and anthologies.
Photo by Michaela Ritchie
Proudfoot emphasizes the importance of festivals like WWC in promoting local authors and artists, and helping them connect with audiences in a more intimate way.

“You go to the bookstore and it’s not like it’s categorized saying, ‘These are local authors, these are Canadian authors, and these are all the authors from the rest of the world.’ So it’s nice because I get to come here and like 90 per cent of the stuff is written by people who live near me, who I could easily run into at the grocery store.”

Like much of the local talent recognized over the weekend, Calgary publisher Brian Hades, who owns and operates EDGE Publications with his wife Anita, said he appreciated the attention paid to Canadian creators in particular during the Auroras and When Words Collide.

Hades finds that his booth is more popular, and sells more, at a smaller festival like this than it does at larger comic and entertainment expos, where an audience of tens of thousands is more interested in buying merchandise and going to A-list meet-and-greets.

Calgary author Suzy Vadori accepts her Aurora Awards nominee pin from Cliff Samuels, administrator for the awards. Upon their first nomination, it is customary that each Aurora finalist be presented with a commemorative pin. Vadori’s novel The Fountain was bested in the category of Best Young Adult Novel by author Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes. Photo by Michaela Ritchie“These cons are important for community, for writers to get to know other writers, because writers are the lifeblood of publishing. I wouldn’t exist without writers, I wouldn’t exist without creative people, so I’m very pleased to be in touch with our writers, and this festival lets me continue to do that,” said Hades.

For a small local publisher like Hades, who often does not have the chance to meet the authors that he publishes in person before he promotes their work, the WWC is an essential part of his publishing process.

“There’s a lot of emailing and online exchanges that go on during the year and during our process, so this gathering gives me a chance to meet those people, find out who they are, what they do. And they get to meet us at EDGE, see what we do, see the extent of our ‘publishing empire,’” he laughed.

“It acts as a bit of a meet-and-greet for us, and gives us a chance to build a sense of community with our writers that we publish, so that we can all better support each other. Cause it can be a lonely biz, to be a writer.”

Robert J. Sawyer, left, and Randy McCharles celebrate the win for When Words Collide in the category of Best Fan Organizational, a meaningful win because the festival played host to this year’s Aurora Awards banquet. The idea of the WWC was first conceptualized 10 years ago by Sawyer and McCharles, after the fall of Con-Version in Calgary, as a way of bringing local authors together with pros from around the world. Photo by Michaela Ritchie“That’s a lot of the reason people love this weekend,” said McCharles. “A lot of authors come here to learn how to become better authors. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they learn more in this weekend than they do going to 10 other conventions combined, because we do offer such a broad range of panels and events for people, and so you can pick and choose the ones that are going to help you work on what you need to improve the most.”

This year’s Aurora Awards winners included Derek Newman-Stile (Speculating Canada) in the categories of Best Fan Related Work and Best Fan Publication, Randy McCharles (When Words Collide) for Best Fan Organizational, Erik Mohr for Best Artist, John Fawcett and Graeme Manson (Orphan Black Season 3) for Best Visual Presentation, Michael Rimar and Hayden Trenholm (Second Contacts) for Best Related Work, Vincent Marcone’s The Lady Paranorma for Best Graphic Novel, Naru Dames Sundar’s Origami Crane / Light Defying Spaceship for Best Poem/Song, Kelly Robson’s Waters of Versailles for Best Short Fiction, Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes for Best Young Adult Novel, and A.M. Dellamonica’s A Daughter of No Nation for Best Novel.

It was announced at the close of the Aurora banquet that next year, the Aurora Awards will be going home to their originating city of Halifax, and will be presented at Hal-Con in September 2017. It was also voted by the members of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA) that VCON will host in 2018, in Vancouver.

mritchie@cjournal.ca