Let’s start off by stating, unequivocally, that Calgary is home to some of the nicest people. It also boasts a beautiful skyline downtown and the Canadian Rockies beckoning just to the west. This is where When Words Collides holds its annual convention which is, in turn, the reason I came to Calgary.

When Words Collide emphasizes speculative fiction (sci-fi and fantasy) and is the venue for the Aurora Awards, along with three days of workshops. As with other cons I’ve attended, some of the workshops are great, some are good, and some I should have snuck out of. So far, I’ve averaged six class sessions per day, ranging from book launches to writing romance in young adult fiction. In the Romance in YA session, I was the only man.

The con is well organized. I am discovering that most of the business side of the sessions aren’t very useful to me. Since I read widely on industry trends, I’m a bit ahead of some of the curves.

The craft sessions tend to be the most attended and of the most immediate utility. Donna, who is attending with me, thinks that part of that is a desire for people to find the magic key that will unlock a famous writing career. A session on creativity and another on time management dashed those hopes if the same people attended. There is no substitute for placing your butt in a chair and working, working, working, to improve your storytelling.

The other function the con serves, besides award recognition and education, is to allow for some networking. Notables, Patrick Swenson of Fairwood Press who publishes Lousie Marley and James Van Pelt, authors I met last year at Worldcon. Brian Hades and Janice from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, based here in Calgary, that have a strong line-up of successful authors that includes J. A. McLachlan. McLachlan is a terrific presenter, but strikes me as disinclined to put up with fools.

Danielle Jensen sat on two panels (Romance for YA, Plotting for “Pantsters”) I attended yesterday. She’s more soft-spoken than many of the panelists, but had a wealth of advice to impart. She never mentioned it during her introductions, but Jensen is a USA-Today Best-Seller.

By four o’clock, we were done with the sessions. Since we didn’t have tickets to the banquet, we were on our own, so I got to try something that just seemed a hoot.

I went axe-throwing.

The Backyard Axe Throwing League is one of several clubs that cater to a clientele that prefers to hurl something somewhat more substantial than a dart. The Calgary branch allows walk-ins to visit and learn, so we did. Or I did, as Donna appears to place axe-throwing in the same category as running – if nothing is chasing you, why bother?

The fee is just $20 for an hour session with a coach to guide you along. I presume the coach is also supposed to ensure the guests leave with all their digits squarely attached instead of in a kleenex box. At least, that’s the way I would run things.

Blair was my coach, known around the club as “Bees”. Since Donna declined the chance to throw, we skipped some of the safety warnings that the group in the next cage – the throwing lanes has cinder block walls and chain-link separators to protect the unwary from wayward axes. Their warning included an admonition to not throw until the person ahead had both retrieved their ax and returned to the safety of the top of the lane. Seemed sensible unless someone was over-insured and a nuisance to boot.

Bees led me through the process, two-handed grip, the lift overhead, the delivery, follow-through. His stuck in the wood with a satisfying thud. Mine try went thud as the back of the ax head dented the pine. The next one went into the net above. Oops. The third one bit wood and stuck. Pretty soon, all of them started to stick and some hit the bull ring. Obviously, it was time to more up from the small ax, a hatchet-sized affair, to a full lumberjack ax.

That one requires a bit of a rocking movement to get it launched. You also start out farther back as the blade on the rebound can come distressingly far out into the lane. Bees demo’d the action, and then it was my turn. Over-rotated the first one, so I changed my position in the lane, snugging up six inches. A meaty thunk told me that part was dialed in. A few throws later and I was dialing on the bull ring with the big ax, too.

A couple of dozen throws and I moved back to the little ax. One miscue on the first throw while I adapted to the weight and then I was back in business, dropping three bulls in a row at one point.

That, however, was the highlight. Axe throwing is tough on the forearms and my form started to deteriorate. It was time to call it an evening, so we left. I did forget to get some critical information from Bees.

I need specs on how to build an axe target at home. The neighbors won’t mind – they already think I am bit of a loon. Pleasant enough, but odd, you know.

Have fun out there this week. Run, jump, throw axes – make it fun.