Tuesday, November 1, 2011

World Fantasy Convention Report Part The Second - First Daze

Sailing the Seas of Imagination
(A Disclaimer: Part of me is kicking the other part for not having taken better notes, but the other part insists that Friday, my first day of convention participation, was so saturated in conversation, in meetings and greetings and reunions, that it wouldn't have mattered anyway.)

World Fantasy Convention differs from smaller regional cons in several important ways. For one thing, everyone pays for their membership (this is true for WorldCon as well), and this has the effect of placing readers and writers, newbies and big names alike on an equal footing. Second, participants get one panel or a reading. This nicely gets around the "he got 12 panels and I got only 2" hierarchies and resentments. The exceptions, of course, are the Guests of Honor, Toastmaster, etc. As a consequence, perhaps, panelists really focus on doing a good job. (Another difference is that publishers and sometimes authors donate piles of books, which are stuffed into bookbags for each attender.) There's no masquerade and I didn't see a single costume, Klingon, brass bikini or otherwise. This is a serious reader/writer gathering. And the conversations and informal gatherings are glorious!

When I studied the program, I kept going, "I want to hear this! And this! And this!" And made it to only a few, because whenever I tried to walk anywhere (and the venue this year was a sprawling "resort" with many mini-environments and long distances Between Things), I'd meet so many old friends, writers I desperately wanted to meet, or people who desperately wanted to meet me. I've long since given up any expectations that I will actually make it to any panel besides the one I'm on.

One such encounter -- I can't remember exactly when in the day it was, but probably the reason I didn't get to much morning scheduling, was a lovely chat with two Romance/paranormal/urban-fantasy writers Dave and I had met some years ago at ConDor. One also teaches, the other writes full time, and the full-time writer shared a very different experience of deadlines from mine. I typically take a year to a year and a half to write a book. She gets three-book contracts with three month deadlines between each one. Now, they're not as long -- 75,000 words as opposed to my usual 100,000-140,000 -- but I'm curious how she manages this. I think we have a lot to learn from one another. So we talked. And talked. Sitting around a table under a sunshade in the beautiful bright San Diego morning, with a clear blue sky overhead.

At another of these conversations, a newer writer asked, "What advice would you give yourself at the beginning of your career?" Learn to revise, don't take things too seriously, a career is a long time, don't hang on to old projects that don't work. There was a lot more, all of it as applicable to seasoned pros as to aspiring writers.

And so it went, although I did make it to the last half of the villainy panel. Kay Kenyon, who is one of my favorite writers-talking-craft people, was on it. Alas, I did not take notes. I remember some bits about the difference between a villain and an antagonist (someone whose goals or even existence poses an obstacle to the hero achieving his goal -- or should we say protagonist). And the usual, no one gets up in the morning and says, "I think I'll be evil today." Well, maybe not.

I love hearing Connie Willis speak, particularly when she's rambling on about everything and nothing, which pretty much describes her Toastmaster speech. It is so heartening to hear a writer of her caliber talk about taking years to plot a novel. I always want to rip through it and as a consequence keep stumbling over the things I haven't thought out well. It occurs to me that the plotting, if done carefully and deeply, might well take longer than the actual putting words on page or phosphor. (She's also a huge fan of the British series Primeval, and explained why in the most entertaining fashion.) She also related the moment when several young people came up to her and said, "Are you Connie Willis?" "Why yes, I am." "Hey, everyone, it's Cordelia's mom!" So the generational torch passeth.

I actually got to hear most of the panel on "The Crystal Ceiling," with Kate Elliott, Charlaine Harris, Nancy Kilpatrick, Jane Kindred, and Malinda Lo. Oh, what a treat that was! It wouldn't have mattered to me what those writers talked about, I would have sat and basked in their conversation! As it was, I'm quite interested in thoughts on how the male science fiction and fantasy community is dismissive of "women's writing" and what we can do about it. I had not realized that books written by women get reviewed (and hence bought by places like libraries that depend on those reviews) so much less frequently than those by men (the statistic I wrote down was 30%/70%, which I find horrendous). Vidaweb tracks statistics. Urban fantasy, written predominantly by women, has helped a little. Someone quoted Susan Loyal as saying that men's work can be flawed and important, but for women's work to be important, it must be perfect. Kate Elliott talked about  "men's gaze,"how men's preferences and perceptual biases, have become the norm; girls absorb these, even when they don't correspond to their own experiences. On the phenomenon of Twilight, Charlaine Harris suggested that the book is about obsession; she said she gets lots of requests to review books, but review only those she likes, not wishing to be a "blurb whore." Our notions of what a writer is like (hard-drinking, smoking, poker-playing, etc.) are male images.

In between panels, I also found out about these folks at Author! Author. "If you're traditionally published and Ingram carries your book for a standard discount, please contact us for an author purchase quote. We can offer you your own books at a deep discount and with a 50 copy order (mixed titles are fine), we can give you free freight." So the books you order (and sell or give away) count towards your royalty and sales figures.

I missed two conversations I would dearly have loved to have heard: Shawna McCarthy and Gordon Van Gelder; and Neil Gaiman and Connie Willis. Sigh.

But the evening included dinner -- a feast served up by the con suite and eaten picnic-style on tables on the lawn outside -- and more wonderful conversation. Shop talk, ideas, news of the field. Whether agents who typically represent adult sf/f can effectively market YA. Story ideas. Reinventing careers.

Friday ended with a mass autographing session. We didn't have to compete with Neil Gaiman, as they gave him a room all of his own. We took our name cards and assembled ourselves along long tables. I grabbed a seat with Dave and Sherwood (Smith) on one side, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman on the other. Nina is one of the most fun people to share an autographing table with. She brought Hallowe'en stickersto share and had multi-colored pens on hand. Such events are like gambling -- sometimes I get a flood of attention, and others, I might as well be invisible and unread, so I try not to take them seriously. I put myself next to writers I enjoy (or strike up a conversation and make a new friend), and if anyone comes by to say hello or ask for my autograph, it's quite wonderful. (This evening was wonderful.)

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