When Words Collide 2019

I regret absolutely nothing about the face I’m making here.

I regret absolutely nothing about the face I’m making here.


I went to a conference in Calgary called When Words Collide. It’s a great literary event, where authors and publishers and reviewers and whoever all pile into a hotel and talk about the business and craft of writing for three solid days.

I didn’t even know it existed. But then I got a story into the Gunsmoke and Dragonfire anthology, and Diane Morrison suggested that we go and do some promotion, maybe sell a few books. I said sure, why not.

Then she mentioned doing panels. And reading from the stories. And doing all that author-type stuff where you interact with the public. You know, the stuff that I find terrifying on a deep, visceral level.

Then everything to do with #CopyPasteCris went down, and I submitted a talk on plagiarism AND a panel on swordplay to the conference organizers in a fit of what I can only describe as temporary insanity.

They accepted both.

Then Diane told me they’d also accepted a book social for the anthology.

Long story short, I was due to host a panel called Storytelling with Swordplay on Friday, and then give a talk called The Discovery of Digital Plagiarism on Saturday. I would have to stand up in front of actual people and talk and not freak out.

My friends, if my boss walked up to me tomorrow and said, hey, we’re going to recreate Facebook but using quantum computing, I’d just nod and give him a cost and time estimate. Doing weird, impossible shit with web servers is just what I do. Standing up in front of people and talking, however, is difficult and goddamn terrifying to me.

Like, I was legit on the verge of drinking to try to deal with the level of anxiety I was getting from thinking about doing this. I am so, so scared of being in front of people.

I still did it because fuck it, this is what authors do.

We arrived in Calgary on Thursday evening and checked into the hotel, which was very nice. I was ready to go on Friday once I met up with Diane. I went to lots of different talks and panels, and live-tweeted most of them, spamming the official hashtag (as is right and proper) and generally making a nuisance of myself on social media before it was time to do the scary stuff.

So first up was the Storytelling with Swordplay panel. For this at least, I wasn’t alone; I had Diane and Jen Landals with me. (Diane has done a lot of work in SCA and eskrima; Jen is a mounted combat instructor an all-round expert on HEMA.) I had my sword with me, and I think that helped; my longsword is oddly comforting because it’s so familiar. I don’t know if it all worked, but somewhere in the middle of it, my nerves started to calm down. I just like talking about swordplay, mostly. I know a lot more about it than I think I do.

Then there was The Discovery of Digital Plagiarism. I got to tell the story of the Serruya case, in a presentation with slides, as it happened and as I remembered it. I spent half an hour outside the room, sucking down coffee and spinning my karambit, and repeating a shortened version of the Dune Litany Against Fear to myself over, and over, and over.

I will not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that causes total oblivion. I will face my fear and let it pass over and through me. And when the fear is gone, only I will remain.

Yeah, this isn’t the exact Litany, it’s just the version I like the best. It helped. For reference, a karambit is a kind of small knife and I’m now really, really good at spinning it. (Mine is plastic because of Canadian laws on concealed blades, don’t worry.)

Anyway, the talk started fifteen minutes late because the projector didn’t work with my Macbook. Then I talked really, really fast. And there weren’t many people there.

I got through it and didn’t throw up at the end, and I didn’t then go and get blind drunk, so overall I’m calling it a win.

Reading from my story in the anthology seemed kinda tame after that so I think I did okay, even though I still talked too fast. Then the highlight of the con, for me at least, was going to the autograph signing session on Saturday night and taking photos with almost every author and their book to put up on Twitter.

I think I’ll go back to the conference next year. I may even do more talks. I will definitely be actually prepared this time, and bring my own books, and maybe even some actual business cards or something.

Claire Ryan