Saturday, May 25, 2013

Baycon - the Extremely Abbreviated Commuter's Version

Baycon is my local science fiction convention. It's in San Jose and I'm an hour's drive up in the mountains, and it always seems to be me a good (not to mention thrifty) idea to commute from home. Actually, it's an excellent idea to sleep in my own bed, surrounded by my own cats, and have time every day to get some work done. (Of course, many writers, including myself, bring laptops or netbooks to conventions -- you'll find us in odd corners or up in our rooms when everyone else is partying, pounding out our daily quota of words.)

Commuting from home has its price. It eats up 1 1/2 - 2 hours from my day, and it means a fairly firm departure time and no alcohol. (Twisty mountain roads at night are not a good setting for excessive fatigue.) I've never been much of a party-goer, being (a) a morning person; (b) happily married; (c ) not at all interested in getting drunk. There are parties and then there are parties, however. I've made some wonderful connections, mostly at publisher's parties and early enough so actual conversation was possible. By commuting, I pretty much rule those out. And most concerts, some of which I'd really like to attend.

Speaking of connections, here's a mini report of yesterday, along with The Highlight Of The Day. I had 2 panels -- Women in SF (with Ann Wilkes, Sandra Saidak and Sarah Stegall) and YA Fiction: More Than Blanking-out the Sex (with newly-published YA author Ingrid Paulson, Sarah Stegall, editor Daniel Hope, and Irene Radford). Both had lovely moments and genuine give-and-take conversation. And good moderators. The first panel asked questions like: what is a strong woman character? What is strength? Is it easier for women to be masculine than for men to be feminine? Can we envision sfnal societies without gender bias? One of the first things we did on the YA panel was to dispel the notion that you can't have sex/sexual-thoughts/sexual-feelings in a YA novel. What's the difference between a YA novel and an adult novel with a teen character or protagonist? Will you lose sales if you depict your teen characters using four-letter words? How has literature for tweens/teens/college age kids changed? What's the effect of social media on how YA readers hear about books and how have the ways they're reading changed?

Now for the highlight. After my second panel, I sat down at one of the tables in the mezzanine, where fan tables  are set up -- the area itself has tables and chairs and is a general hang-out  place. One of the people from the audience, a bright and earnest young woman, was there, and we struck up a conversation. The topic quickly switched from the panel itself to writing and then became one of those magical interactions, a chance to pay forward for all the support and advice I've received over the years. She'd taken time off from her day job to concentrate on writing; I told her how I managed to write either when I had an infant at home or when I held a full-time job as a single working mom. What writing issues she was struggling with; some different ways of looking at them; what makes a good critique group and what she needs from her beta-readers (and how to connect with good critiquers). Books and blogs that have helped me. Connecting with a fellowship of writers.

It was the High Point for me because I love teaching and the conversation was exactly the right one at the right time. Yes, it's ego-boosting to meet hordes of fans (although I have yet to experience hordes) but it's in many ways far more satisfying to have these one-on-one talks where both people are fully present, there's a give-and-take, and I walk away with the certainty that it has been meaningful to both of us. I need to remember that I too was once a beginner trying to figure out this writing business. I've made my share of mistakes, but I've figured out what works for me and I've heard a lot of stories about what works for other people, too. We don't have to re-invent the wheel if we're willing to be generous with our knowledge.

Here's a possibility. See if it works for you. I've heard it said that writing cannot be taught, but it can be learned. That learning does not have to occur in isolation. After all, when I encourage and educate a new writer, I contribute to there being more wonderful books for me to read!

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