A special Fearless Lady Byrd Adventure!

Black-capped Chickadee by Shutterstock
(c) Shutterstock / Bruce MacQueen

Virtue is a white robe only women get to wear…

Everything in this bird tour has gone awry: Lady Byrd wakes up too late, because the tour guide forgot to arrange the calls. In a foul mood, she has to get to the site herself. Then, her path crosses that of a pregnant birder in the throes of an abusive relationship, and cornered into a hard choice only women have to face.
What can an expert birder can do to lift this fog of sadness?

A spirited and hopeful story with the energetic Lady Byrd !

(This is an extract of the story. The ebook is available on paper and ebook formats at Echofictions.com.)


Chicks and Chickadees
A Fearless Lady Byrd Adventure

by Michèle Laframboise

1

See meeee!

The fluted call woke me from my heavy sleep. That chant was as familiar as my living room couch, coming from the tiny throat of a black-capped chickadee. The rest of the year, that small quick bird emitted a short chip, or a gleeful nasal, ha-han-han-haan, more reminiscent of a duck quack. They were the life of the party in any forest; hanging a lump of fat in a net is a sure way to invite them to any backyard.

But, as the snow melted, the perky chickadees’ thoughts turned away from food. They started singing that soft whistle.

See meee!

The bird was enjoying the morning; I wasn’t. At all.

A budding headache reminded me how foolish I had been to accept that glass of wine yesterday evening, even the light white brand that complemented the meal served at the hotel hosting our birding group. One blond lady was endlessly raving about her 150 mm cam, but I lost most of her words.

I pushed off the big fluffy down hotel coverlet from the bed, striking with my feet like I would a nighttime aggressor.

(I am lucky to never have experienced the event, but my niece had.)

(She did OK and sent the stupid horny student to the hospital. Nevertheless, I take extra precautions.)

I balanced myself to sit on the edge of the bed, my feet hanging inches from the floor. Extra-high hotel bed. A tingling feeling of something wrong nagged at me. Not the headache.

Then my eyes fell on the digital clock on the lacquered nightstand.

Ten past six. AM.

Holy Moly!

I was supposed to get up at five-thirty, eat a small collation and board the minibus that would take me and a dozen others to a secluded spot where a famed warbler had been last observed.

That warbler was that kind of elusive brownish bird, easier to hear than see. Its off-key colors made them the opposite of the chickadees: not only difficult to see, but a challenge at identifying.

Birders woke very early to get to the field at dawn. I winced. By now, the tour bus would have left with the rest of the group.

On my precedent birding tours, the organizers usually managed the morning calls so everyone was woken around the same hour, generally 5h00 or 5h30 AM.

I hadn’t met the Sully Bird Tours manager yet, only the athletic brown-haired girl, a Lucy Something (I should have remembered her name but the flight had left me slightly zombified) who greeted me at the airport and lifted my bags without breaking stride. She had driven me to this three-star hotel, where I later met the birding party, but the Sully of Sully’s tour had been apparently busy elsewhere.

If the manager was around her age, maybe he had left a Facebook message, Twitter notification or I don’t-know-what-tech alert to the tour members, not thinking that some tour members could be old enough to be his mother. Or grand mother, if he was that young.

I felt a surge of wrath towards this Ronald Sully. A competent birding tour manager would have made sure all members were up and seated before taking off.  Especially when said members had paid north of one thousand dollars for one week-end, all-inclusive package.

See-mee!

The love call tempered my disappointment. A chickadee’s spring mating call was a soft flute, not migraine-inducing at all. Maybe Ron Sully had called my room number, and I had been sleeping too soundly to be roused?

I checked the hotel phone.

No blinking red light. So no calls. I thought fast.

If I skipped breakfast and toothbrushing, I had a thin chance to catch the 6h30 AM hotel shuttle and get to the Park entrance in time. Normally, I would have called a taxi, but the town abutting the gigantic park didn’t have a lot of those, and no way at my age would I adopt the Uber application my tech-savvy nephew was raving about.

My hands went to my night gown, holding my full bladder.

To the bath-cave, my numb brain ordered.

2

While scurrying to the bathroom to get my three essentials “U” (Urine drain, Uplifting cream, UV screen), I thought about the surprises that this coming day held in reserve.

Birding expeditions were a fascinating adventure I had shared with Paul, my husband for thirty-two wonderful years. Then Paul’s strong body had been grabbed by the Crab, and nothing had been the same ever since.

Only our common love of birds had saved me from spiraling into depression and alcohol after Paul’s death. Each bird tour was a way of reconnecting with the man who had meant so much to me.

#

I got dressed, bundled my dog-eared Sibley Guide to Birds, my 8×25 Bushnell field binoculars in their case, and filled my water bottle at the sink.

Next, I put on my “fearless lady explorer hat”.

Strapping it under my chin, I looked like a Victorian-era explorer matron. The vintage pith jungle helmet had been a joking gift from Paul. I wore it without qualms: besides being well-padded, the off-white pith hat was a fine conversation starter.

I even got to learn what the word steampunk meant.

Minutes later, I walked up to the front desk among enticing smells of breakfast prepared at the restaurant, my soft-soled walking shoes plopping softly on the waxed oak floorboards. The morning clerk looked up at me from his screen, all fresh face and pimples.

“Can I do something for you?” he asked, his eyes squinting at my Victorian pith hat.

The first words coming to me were: Wasn’t someone supposed to wake me up? But I chose a more diplomatic approach.

“Yesterday, did I leave instructions for a wake-up call?”

The boy (I write boy because he couldn’t have been more than 16) bent on the screen raising like a flat obsidian monolith between us. I could only see his combed auburn hair, like waves.

“No, you didn’t.”

Oh, I thought. So I had forgotten.

No wonder. The plane trip had been exhausting.

Two hot-headed (and thoroughly inebriated) guys were spreading their politics around in loud angry voices with scant regard for their fellow passengers. As they sat on the row before me, it had been impossible to doze off.

Eventually the flight attendant got tired of the hate spiel and shushed them. As the attendant was a brown-skinned, petite Indian-looking stewardess, they scoffed and leered at her politeness, making me wish I had some knitting needles or hat pins to prod them in the ribs with, or more stamina. Only when the head steward, a burly, fortyish man with a military buzz cut, came to back up his colleague, did the two goons tone down, relenting under a male authority.

So I had accepted the complimentary wine glass on board to complement the kneaded napper meal.

Later, at the three stars, medium-sized hotel, I had been only too happy to meet fellow birders to care. The local brand offered at supper proved one sip too much, but I would discover this only in the morning.

#

The rumbling under my seat lulled me to a better mood. I munched on a soft ChocoPower bar, the one with nuts, while the shops and motels of the outskirts were replaced by fields and forested stretches. My multipocketed coat was rolled under my back to provide a support for my spine, and I rested my slightly pounding ball against the fabric headrest, the explorer hat on my knees.

It was past 6h 45 when the hotel shuttle grinded to a halt on the blacktop of the parking near the Conservatory entrance. (A conservatory was the same thing as a natural park, but without the noisy camping grounds.)

The parking lot was bare, except for a pine hut contained a pit toilet, and a green and blue minivan with the words Sully’s Birding Tour printed in another shade of blue across a pale grey seagull outline. Which looked strange because, this far inside the continent, the only seagulls I had seen were the ubiquitous ring-billed seagulls actively checking out the hotel’s waste containers.

I stepped off the shuttle in a deflated mood. At this hour, most morning birds would have flown off to ensure their survival. I would get the obvious customers, robins, woodpeckers and the happy-chirping chickadees.

The group’s route must have been another useful info the organizers had trusted to the Internet. Hence, I wasted another two minutes of early morning observation to consult the large wooden map, discolored by years of exposition to the elements. The paths were marked by vivid-colored plastic ribbons.

More disappointment piled as I discovered that most of those brightly-colored paths were over four kilometers long, and crossed higher slope gradients that I cared for.

I pulled out the tiny flat green cell my nephew had given me.

I didn’t care much for using a phone while birding, but I needed to know which path the group took. I punched the main number. After three rings, a primp, happy-sounding voice announced that Sully Bird Tour were unavailable and would I like to leave a message?

Of course, they would have disconnected their cells, because a sudden noise erupting from a pocket could scare the birds away. Even the more discreet vibration setting was picked up by the birds’ tine-tuned ears, resembling a low-throated alarm buzz that most species heeded as a predator presence warning.

I puffed my cheeks. Looking at the tour bus, I decided to leave a low-tech message. I sacrificed a page from my small do-it-all notebook for the busy woman (a gift from my niece) and wrote my cell number and my name, plus “on Trail 4”.  

Trail 4 was the shortest circuit available, which would let me amble at my own pace and make the best of this day. And, with luck, one of the guides would check on me.

After a cautious stop at the pit toilet (making sure my cell phone did not fall at the bottom), I set on the path winding between tall pines.

(End of extract)

The whole story can be found at Echofictions.com


This story was up for one week only, for International Women’s Day, but I left it on this blog five months because: this Covid period needed hopeful stories. If you liked it and want to support my writing, please buy the ebook and offer it to someone. Available on paper and ebook formats at Echofictions.com.
Bird Pic (c) Shutterstock / Bruce MacQueen

A Lady Byrd Story

An owl perching
image from Canva.com

Superb Owl Day

For the first time, fearless Amanda Byrd must mind her turbulent grand-niece while on a special birding excursion, on the day of the SuperBowl.

#

Our sharp-eyed guide pointed silently towards one of the husky, snow-powdered spruce branches. There, its mottled cream and caramel-brown plumage almost invisible against the tree background, its pale heart-shaped face marked with the dark marbles of its eyes, was a discreet nocturnal bird doing its best to avoid the sharp daylight.  

You rarely got to see a Barred owl from such a close distance, in a cold February afternoon, a meager dozen feet from the trail our small gaggle of birders was following. I didn’t even need my 8×42 Bushnell binoculars to take in its 22-inch long body from head to tail. I felt I could just stretch an arm to brush the fine down on its roundish head.

Well, not that I would do such an impolite gesture in front of my small niece. But my sister’s first grandchild had no such qualms herself.

“Hooo, hooo!” Mona said, her bright red mittens cupped in front of her mask, her brown eyes full of glee.

The owl’s neck moved like a tank turret to investigate the disturbance, one abyssally-dark eye blinking under a fluffy cream eyelid.

Most owls had gaudy-colored irises, orange or gold, framing round pupils; Barred owls had obsidian eyes, like black glass, the irises indistinct. Owl’s eyes were not slitted like cats’ to minimize incoming light, so the nocturnal bird protected its sensitive retinas.

Its downy eyelids, lowered at half-mast, gave him a perpetual air of either wisdom or sleepy annoyance.

Some owls’ tufted feathers reached out in points, like the Great horned owl, but this owl’s tapered along the round head.

When the owl’s head moved, Mona hooted happily.

“He looks like caramel ice cream with nuts!”

Count on children in the dead of winter to talk about ice cream, I thought, shivering.

The bird’s colors rather reminded me of an ill-fitting wool pull one of my own “aunties” had knitted for me (forgetting that teenage years were also growing up years) with a pattern of creamy whites and spatter of light brown stitches, at odds with the gaudy colors the sixties era favored.

I wore it for a time, to please my aunt, and as a camouflage to observe birds, Eventually, the mites found it. My mother unraveled the pull and knitted a warm scarf with it. Now that scarf, decades later, I wore in my winter bird watching, those muted hues being less aggressive.

I breathed in the cold air through the scarf and my thin face mask. The low temperatures prevented me from getting the scents of pine and fresh snow, but the odor of old wool impregnated with my mom’s patience remained present. I wore a heavier daypack with a thermos and collation.

But at least, it was a rewarding activity to go birding on the ‘Superb-Owl’ Sunday, as birders called this day. The name had been coined by a passionate birder in the 90s, and since then, many bird-lovers found out, in cities and woods alike, how quiet that peculiar Sunday was. The usual troves of weekend hikers also dried out on that day.

At this moment, my nephew, along with half the United States population, was lounging on his living room couch watching football players as colored as birds disputing a spectacular waste of money. (I’m told the commercial spots alone cost several millions.)

Meaning that, on Superbowl day, our small group of dedicated birders had the huge park near Albany, NY – and all its birds– to ourselves.

Including our own elusive, superb owls.

“Hoo, hoo!”

That is, if one of us did not scare said birds away with her bubbling enthusiasm.

Continue reading

Ho-Ho-Ho!

Hoping all of you stay well!
Image

Be well…

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And keep your distances, like those two birds sitting in the cold.

Let your thoughts travel faster than light, if your bodies can’t.

Humans are not like birds, they can’t survive picking up seeds or buds

So remember to share in the joy, and to share, whatever and whenever  possible.

***

Reading Shock…

The reader, after finishing a good book, want's to thank the writer A.C. Crispin, but finds out she's gone.

I just finished “Sarek” an excellent SF novel by Ann. C. Crispin, set in the Star Trek universe.

In these trying times, I need some comfort readings, which I get from some Star Trek novels.

I just finished Sarek, (a story with Spock’s dad), a tale with finesse and a touch of Pon Farr that enriches the universe of the original series. (I ignored the ST reboot at the cinema). There, we meet Amanda in depth, and learn about her love affair with Sarek. The novel shows up this Vulcans are not walking cold computers, not perfect, but people with their own emotions, tradition clashes, preferences, disagreements. But they settle their difference in a more zen manner.

As with “Vulcan Heart” by Josepha Sherman (another fine writer we lost in 2012) and Susan Shwartz (many thanks to you!), this reading leaves me with a strong impression that our humanity, sick with conspirators, hate groups, anti-vaccines and anti-science, would need Vulcans (and also the Bene Gesserit, but that’s another universe). Just the basic control of emotions and the philosophy would prevent many problems from even happening (what’s the logic in despising dark-skinned persons?) in addition to cleaning up most prejudices.

The only flaw in this book, alas, is that we can no longer thank its author … Ann Carol Crispin left to count the stars in 2013. It’s a shock when it is a contemporaneous author who disappears.

Has the same thing happened to you? What was your most shocking experience? Please, share your testimony, because I haven’t found my zen state yet. So many writers to be grateful to, so little time!

Fortunately, Ann C. Crispin and the other departed writers have left many books behind, like a trail of excellent chocolate chips leading to the stars!

A Happy Bundle of YA Books!

StoryBundle was created by Jason Chen to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price.

Discover the YA MegaBundle!

All Books Large800

The YA MegaBundle organizer, Anthea Sharp, explains her motivation to link readers and writers with a super ebook deal. I met Andrea in 2016 and she is a talented musician as well as a writer. So I was delighted to be included in the Bundle with my YA SF novel Clouds of Phoenix!

A Word from the YA MegaBundle Curator

“I love connecting authors with one another, and with readers. This huge multi-genre project is a perfect chance to benefit a good cause (children’s literacy) and bring a little brightness into the world—for parents and teens alike—during this difficult time. Continue reading

Brave new Worlds

BraveNewWorldsboxset

Worlds on the brink of apocalypse, or already there.
Nature’s wrath and dominion over humanity, and humanity’s folly incarnate.
Dark magic, terrifying tech, greed, ravaged environments, rare courage and grim hope in lost cities and fallen worlds.

Brave new worlds or last best hopes — Dare you glimpse the future?

Here Be Brave new Worlds – 13 SF & fantasy futuristic stories, novellas and novels, collected by U.K. author A. L. Butcher. I have read some stories by J.D. Brink, Rob Jeshonek and Leah Cutter previously, and their stories are a fine level.

My contribution is the dystopian story Ice Monarch. 

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Come and get it, on the main platforms!

 

 

I fell down a rabbit hole… (The joy of researching)

2020MicheleMontreTard800

I did it again!

I am researching for a SF novel in preparation (the specifics I keep to myself for now) and, one interesting site after one fascinating site, found out that time compressed itself and most of the afternoon had fled down the rabbit hole!

I do not know if my scientific formation aggravates this time-sink habit. I hold a Master degree in geography, and so many aspect of macro-ecology do hold my interests!

Plus, even the very day-to-day concerns penetrates my Serious Writer mode.  From the over-usage of single-used plastics that keep turning up in the remotest places or the oceans, to the waste of my own pens and stylus, to the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count, and my own, heart-warming geek love Valentine day short-story…

So, all those tiny bits cluttered like a planet aggregation process, dissolving my focus. Already 16h00?

As I mentioned previously, most of what I ‘m noting right now won’t ever make it to the novel you’ll read somewhere in the next year. Some of those, if I can’t place it in the novel, will turn up, greatly compressed, in one or two exploratory short-stories, set in the same universe.

What I will NOT do is integrating all that painstaking-ly gathered tidbits into the novel itself, under the form of some extra-large infodump, (or a rather lengthy explanation by a secondary character that will get killed in the next chapter).

Research as an iceberg

See research as the hidden part of the iceberg. What floats if what the reader experiences. If you tried to pull more of the iceberg over the water level, like I did in my first books (fortunately Daniel Sernine, my editor of the time, detected it) you would end up with an indigestible lump of details that weights down the storytelling.

Yes, I was one of those very interested in sharing all those cute details!

Yes it is soooo tempting to have your characters stop on a ridge and describe the wondrous landscape in excruciating details, over two or four pages! It is more palatable if the description is shorter, and punchy, like this one from a WIP:

The dunes went on and on, a pale sandbox barely contained by a row of angry mountains, each chipped and corroded summit vying for predominance.

Most of the research iceberg must stay invisible!

Solution is not dilution!

To keep our focus, it’s good to set limits, to avoid diluting our attention.

One solution in time management is to do the research after you complete writing a certain set number of words for the day. This is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s method to limit the time spent in research. She also manage to get her research done before writing the novel, while she’s finishing the previous book.

Not the way of Dean Wesley Smith, who does his research as he writes, because some cool factoids will influence the story telling. I know it happened to a short-story I was researching for.

One obvious solution is to restrain the time passed on the social platforms. Or retire completely from social media in a period of rush. Julie E. Czerneda mentions it.

My own is setting a timer. Sometimes the amount of time is not enough and I prolong the time. Still work to do.

Or I use this experience to write a blog entry.

 


TL;DR : I lost time surfing the web for my research. Some remedies may apply


Flash news:

I had the joy of discovering that my last published SF story in Galaxies 60 (in French!)  is on the selection for the Grand Prix  de l’Imaginaire 2020.

A Short Winter Tale for a Short Day

I participate in the Winter Holiday Spectacular 2019, an initiative from authors Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, uniting 35 Christmas stories in various moods: mysteries, romantic stories set around the 25th of December, and winter stories exploring other traditions or special days. My own story “Winter Pariah” celebrates the winter solstice, the Great Christmas Bird Count, and our troubled humanity, in a combination filled with hope and wonder.

This Christmas tale will be up on my official author website  for one week only, and it will be later published on paper next year. Here is  what Kris wrote about it.

 
Winter Pariah
Genre/Mood: quiet
For the actual solstice, I decided to give you “Winter Pariah,” a story that takes place in the thin light of the shortest day of the year.
Michèle Laframboise takes us birding, something I have never done, and creates marvelous characters along the way. Michèle writes in both English and her native French. She also illustrates much of her fiction. Multi-talented doesn’t begin to describe her.
Her award-winning fiction includes nineteen different novels (in both languages), and over forty-five short stories, three of which have appeared in Fiction River (and two reprinted in Fiction River Presents) with more to come. She writes about birding quite often, including a series about Amanda Byrd (whom you will meet here). A collection of Byrd stories will appear shortly. Find out when, and view some bird pics at michele-laframboise.com.
Michèle is a bird watcher herself. In fact, the last time she was here in Las Vegas, she and another writer/birder discovered a part of the city I had never heard of, where they saw some birds (maybe even life birds) that I hadn’t heard of either.
I simply don’t have the patience to stand outside and wait. (I can hear my husband laughing right now.) I would have to bring a book, which defeats the entire purpose of watching. So I’ll experience birding vicariously. On the page. Which is where I prefer to experience many things.
Enjoy this delicate little story on this, the shortest day of the year.
—Kris

Report on my Ad Astra 2019

The Ad Astra brings together fans and authors of science fiction & fantastic, both literary and mediatic in the north of Toronto. It’s a very user-friendly conference, which has left me with good memories.

Échofictions at the Ad Astra 2019

My house Échofictions had its vending table, which was successful. When people stop by themselves to look at the books and ask me questions, once in three, they leave with a book. Much better than my score at the big book fairs, where, on average, only 1 in 20 stop by my signing , because few readers come for the SF!

Michèle Laframboise devant son kiosque Échofictions

Michèle poses proudly in front of her stand, full of butterflies!

I launched the English version of my first SF novel, Clouds of Phoenix. Yes, the cover has changed, and the story has gained consistency. It’s the same story, but a little more detailed at 46,000 words! It is also the first full-length novel printed by Echofictions, whose full graphic design I realized.

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Clouds of Phoenix, a novel by SF YA, 214 p.

Activities at Ad Astra

The nice surprises of the Ad Astra congress are the meetings with SF amateurs who did not know my books, and who discovered them. And to find fellow science fiction writers like Robert J. Sawyer, Julie Czerneda and Tania Huff presenting their latest Sf novels.

I have come to love this event; the sale tables are not expensive and the audience generous! I’ve offered a good choice of books translated into English.

Un Cosplay typique du Ad Astra

A typical Cosplay. Don’t ya love’em! I admire the cosplayers’ time and effort to make their costumes. The craftswoman Squid Creations behind the band does not look too scared!

Table de bijoux artisanaux

A craft table.

Mon voisin de kiosque au Ad Astra Zachry Wheeler

My stand neighbor, an independent writer, Zachri Wheeler, very well organized! We exchanged books. Note the announcement of the film in development, it is always useful.

Douglas Smith

Douglas Smith (a Toronto-area author) reading an excerpt from his novel The Wolf at the End of the World. I had already bought his book Playing the Short Game, at another Ad Astra

2019-07-13 20.58.26 Allan Weiss Michele

Allan Weiss and Michèle. It’s been 16 years that we know each other! Allan is a specialist and author of SF. Bow ties are cool!

Some Ad Astra panels I attended

My husband and son kept the table while I was there.

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How to publish without spending too much!

How to publish for not too expensive, led by Beverly Bambury (center, black dress). The gentleman on the right, well organized, rolled his cupboard full of books!

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The animals in fantasy with Avi Silver (left), Catherine Fitzsimmons and Eli Hirst. How to treat the Other, how to show the animal companions of heroes, or when animals are heroes.

2019-07-13MiddleAges
How to make medieval stories fantasy or historical. The mistakes to avoid! With Cathy Hird and L. A. MacLachean.

Book Harvest

Mon mari achète des livres au Ad Astra 2019

My husband buys books, a lot of books. He hides his secret identity well under his glasses…

Two Dark Moons

Two Dark Moons

For my current reading, I discover a new author Avi Silver, who considers himself non-binary.

In Two Dark Moons, we follow a teenager of the Hmuns who live in caves in the altitudes of the Eiji world, because the soil of the jungle is traversed by disturbing reptilian predators. Sohmen falls by accident (his fall broken by many branches). About 200 pages is very short, and enjoyable reading, in addition to staging non-gendered characters.

The Wolf at the End of the World

The Wolf at the End of the World

My colleague Douglas Smith signed his first novel to me, The Wolf at the End of the World, which mixes Native American legends and espionage, not to mention the nature threatened by greed on the part of the rich. Among us are Herokas, magic humans who can change into animals. Obviously, the secret services consider them as threats … But a too-hungry Wendigo and lost loves of the past mix the cards.

Canadian Dreadful

Canadian Dreadful, Anthology by David Tocher

Canadian Dreadful is a fantasy horror anthology inspired by the dark aspects of our beautiful big Canada. Edited by David Tocher, it brings together Canadian authors including Nancy Kilpatrick. I would not have bought it, but two public readings by participating authors convinced me to taste it!

I have not read yet the other books bought by my husband, a staunch supporter of new indie authors!

2019-07-13 AdAstraTable650

The things I learned from Ad Astra:

1- Novels sell better than short books and comics. Clouds of Phoenix was my best seller, almost half of my sales!

2- Participate in the round tables next year. It allows a first contact with the public, rather than “cold calling” behind a sales table.

3- Bring a tablecloth! It was not supplied, so I used a big poster to hide the uneven wood.

4- The month of July was not ideal, with less attendance due to vacations. Daniel, one of the organizers, said that the Ad Astra 2020 would come back in mid-April, at the same time as the Quebec book fair, oops!

5- If you missed the Ad Astra, know that … I will return next year, with new books. In the meantime, have a look at Echofictions’ list of publications!