In Which the Con is Reported

29 March 2005

Minicon: good.

There, that's enough of a con report, right?

Yah. Well. So. I didn't go to any panels or readings on Friday. I hung around talking to people. I went to opening ceremonies and Ask Dr. Mike. For those of you who don't know, Ask Dr. Mike is when John M. Ford (Mike) gets up and answers random questions from the audience. Last year Timprov and I went because we'd heard from enough people that it could not be missed. We did not entirely believe them before we saw it: "So...people just ask him questions? About what?" About anything. "And he answers them?" Yep. "And it's funny?" Yes. Erudite and funny and very, very cool. For example, he told us the Three Laws of Robotics as enumerated by Susan Calvin's older brother John. Lots of directions of geeky. Good deal all around.

I also listened to some music Friday night, Nate and Louie Bucklin first and then Dave Clement. (Both of whom I had heard on recordings -- well, Louie I'm not so sure I have -- because of DDB.) At some point there was a song about monkeys and hockey. I was...umm. I was not moved to learn this song to share with my spec fic hockey girl buddies, let's say that. I fear that I have partially learned it against my will. (I pick up songs fast. This is why I'm one of the most earwormable people I know.)

Saturday morning I actually went to a (gasp) panel. It was "Curse Words and Other Ways to Tell It Isn't a Children's Book," and the panelists were Jane Yolen, Terry Pratchett, Patricia C. Wrede, Caroline Stevermer, and Laurel Winter. Terry Pratchett was begging someone to have the decency to burn his books, but alas, even the Utah librarians have been praising them. There was some discussion of the idea that children's books should be "seditious, dangerous, anarchic, and challenging." (I don't know about the order, but I know those were the four words.) A couple of the panelists decided that they had new goals when hearing that. I'm not so sure. I don't think children's books should avoid being any of those four, but I think one can go just as wrong imposing sedition on a book that doesn't really have it as sanitizing truly seditious ideas for the benefit of the young. And the things that were being given as dangerous were things like children thinking for themselves and challenging received wisdom. Which...well, it's one definition of danger, certainly, but it seems an awfully broad category. And "anarchic": I think anarchic is a narrower term than "people thinking for themselves." So while I support dangerous, seditious, anarchic, challenging children's books, I don't really think all good children's books are all those things within really meaningful definitions thereof. Challenging. Yes. I'll go with challenging for sure.

In the afternoon I went to "Did Tolkien Harm Fantasy?" with Dave Lenander, Phil Kaveny, Peg Kerr, Pamela Dean, and Sarah Monette. There was one extremely anti-Tolkienian audience member whose name I don't know, and he was making ridiculous claims like, "85% of fantasy on the shelves is Tolkien clones" (bzzzt! Sorry, simply not true) and saying that nobody was hearing of different kinds of fantasy because they were being published in the mainstream because they weren't Tolkien clones. His list was neither extensive nor particularly impressive to me. I had heard of all of them (I'm used to being nobody, though), read many of them, and been crushingly unimpressed by all of them I'd read. When Beth said yesterday that 37.5% of statistics are made up on the spot, I thought of this unnamed fan. (Someone else claimed it was much higher, but I forget who or what number they claimed.) The panelists, on the other hand, drew a fairly clear distinction between influencing a genre and harming it. They were also able to outline some good and bad ways of being influenced by an author in general and by Tolkien in specific.

I also went to "When Writers Collaborate," with Steven Brust, Katya Reimann, Jane Yolen, Caroline Stevermer, Patricia C. Wrede, and Adam Stemple. Jane Yolen's answer to many things was, "I'm the mom." (For those of you who didn't buy the souvenir scorecard, she's Adam Stemple's mom, and they've collaborated on books.) "How do you decide who wins in a conflict between collaborators?" "I'm the mom." Etc. Not perhaps the most generally useful philosophy for a collaboration, but specifically apparently quite workable, or at least amusing. One of the things that interested me most was how much Pat and Caroline seemed to be saying that having expectations had made a difference in their process, once they were no longer "just playing a game." (I poked my head in for the last bit of their reading, too, and I'm all psyched about the next Kate and Cecy book now. I want to hear from the people I gave Sorcery and Cecelia so that I can tell whether to be psyched on their behalves, too. But I think I am.)

Immediately after that was "Working on Your Craft: Writing as an Evolving Process Part 1," with Jane Yolen, Pamela Dean, Steven Brust, and Terry Pratchett. It was one of those panels I wouldn't have attended without checking who was on it, because it's the sort of panel that can be fascinating or stultifying with equal ease, depending on who they've got and how much I can bring myself to care. (Actually, I always check who's on a panel now. There's almost nothing that's so interesting that people can't ruin it. As Roo says when we ask him what happened to this or that, "People broke it.") It was one of those panels where I wanted to hear what everyone had to say approximately equally, in theory, and it turned out that way in practice, too.

I think one of the things I appreciate most about Steven's writing is that he understands the difference between having fun with something and not taking it seriously. In fact, from my vantage point he seems to feel fairly strongly about having fun with things he takes seriously. I like that a lot, and I respect it more than the Permanently Suffering Artist. (No one else on the panel seemed to be in Permanent Suffering territory, either, but Steven's pretty vocal about it.) One of the things he said that hit me most was that if you know there's a weakness in your writing, you can either write around it or try to write straight at it. And I thought, "Hey, I've been doing that!" (The latter bit, I mean.) And then I thought, "How should I do that next?" And I think I have some ideas. So that's good.

I feel like I've been in a mode where the fun bits are getting neglected. Parts of every book are a wretched slog, and this has been one of the parts of Thermionic Night that has slogged and slogged. It's been a shock when I've taken time out for other things and have found that I can still actually write, that it's not me, it's this book. Or maybe it's the two of us together. Anyway, we're going to have a trial separation later this week, with counseling from a few only-slightly-biased parties (that is, they're predisposed to like me, but they might see good points in the book as well).

But anyway, the general consensus seemed to be that many people, the panelists included, can't always tell at the time when they're improving, and it's time and/or other people who can. (Terry Pratchett told of phoning up his editor to let her know he'd decided she was not an ignorant hag after all.)

There was something else I had thought of attending, but by then I was all paneled out and ended up sitting in the lobby talking to people until dinner. There is such a thing as Too Much Panel.

Pamela's reading went well, I thought. She read an entire short story, which is generally less maddening to me than reading just a chapter or two of a book. (It's also less tantalizing, but I don't think it is physically possible for me to want to read Pamela's next book more than I already do, so that's all right.) And my bars were snarfed, and the Death of Rats interrupted her very close to the ending, so we had to change rooms. Anyway, it'll be in the next Firebirds anthology, so you should go buy it when it comes out, and then you can read what I heard.

And then I went to parties and listened to music and talked to people and even got dragged out on the dance floor briefly to make the Sherry happy. And eventually I went home.

Sunday afternoon I wandered around talking to people and eventually went to "How To Be Funny," with Laurel Winter, John M. Ford, Jim Young, and Steven Brust. Someone suggested to me later that it was too early in the day and too late in the con for that panel, and that may well have been true; I also think that the subtopic (which was supposed to be dissecting Terry Pratchett's Discworld work to see what made it funny) might not have worked at all but certainly would have required a panel full of people who had read at least one Discworld book each. So I'm glad they didn't try to do that. It's not that they weren't funny. They were. It's just that the whole panel had a bit of a wearied, incredulous quality about it, the "You want me to do what now? What time is it? Never mind that, what day is it?" feeling. And that was just from the audience.

I had no intentions of going to closing ceremonies. Why on earth would I go to closing ceremonies? Scott was getting on the elevator and asked if I was going, and I said no, and he said, "Well, I have to go! I have to see how they kill the [mumbled word]!" And then the elevator door closed. I couldn't decide whether he'd said "present" (appropriate enough for an SF con but a little trippy) or "president." I was a little alarmed either way. DDB explained to me a bit later that the Minn-Stf presidents are elected for life and so must be ritually assassinated at the end of their term. So I went to see the president assassinated.

And that is what I know about the official bits of Minicon.

I'm currently reading Karen Traviss's City of Pearl, having paused for a reread of Athyra and a couple issues of New Scientist. And I will tell you about something else tomorrow. I don't know what yet. Something.

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