Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fourth Street Fantasy: Day Two

Saturday was an awesome day at the Con. I don’t know in what order I met people, but I had some great conversations with cloudscudding, aedifica, karenthology, somebody named Ginger, and a bit with seabream. I wish I got to talk more with seabream, he seemed pretty cool and he came from Toronto for the con, which I think is just nuts (not necessarily more nuts than Texas, but still). And I chatted with other people in larger groups up in the consuite and I have no idea who they are, but collectively, it was a great group.

This was the big long day with 6 panels. On Sunday Steven Brust talked about maybe having one or two fewer panels next year, and I think I like how many panels we had. Saturday was crazy and some of the meal breaks ran long when the hotel restaurant wasn’t really staffed to handle the volume of con guests (even the 60 – 100 guests we had), but I think the panels were a good length (no clue how long...some felt longer than others, the Shadow Unit panel felt way too short, and others felt rushed at the end when there was still good panel going on. I think that’s the way of it, though. There is always something more to be said.

Because I really prefer going to panels and hearing what the professionals have to say, I’d be just as happy with shorter breaks. Yeah, I had a great time talking to the other con goers, and I know that’s an essential part of con experience, but we’ve got some really great panelists here.

On to the Panels:

9:30 AM: The Dreaded Second Draft
Panelists: Elizabeth Bear (moderator), Eleanor Arnason, Emma Bull, Pamela Dean, Catherine Lundoff, Caroline Stevermer.

Cool! There are folks here I’ve never heard of, though obviously they are here for a reason. Maybe because this was 9:30 AM or the room was arranged weird (different room from Friday night), but this was a quiet panel. What was interesting was just how many different ways the various writers drafted. From outlines to running through a complete draft to constantly revising on screen so that by the time the first draft is done it is quite a bit more polished than the average first draft. Good stuff, though a quiet opener.

11:00 AM: The Chewy Bits
Panelists: Teresa Nielsen Hayden (moderator), Steven Brust, Emma Bull, Pamela Dean, Jim Frenkel

Kevin Maroney was listed as a panelist, but I’m not quite sure that he was there. I’m also not sure who he is. My apologies if he was actually up there and I’ve forgotten it. The core of this is that the Chewy Bits are the aspects of the story that really makes the reader think, even if they are missed on the first read through. It’s what makes the story deep and what we talk about with our friends when we talk about stories. It’s not the Shiny bits (the cool ideas that are fun to write and read), but where we get our nutrition from. I may not be saying this right. There were some interesting dynamics going on here. I believe I said yesterday how much I was impressed with Emma Bull (and seriously, she’s awesome), but Steven Brust is one of the most entertaining people ever on panel. When he is in the audience he asks great questions, he’s a fantastic moderator, but the man has clear opinions and states them very well with a high dose of entertainment. He’s smart, cares about all of this in regards to writing, and just how honestly interested he is in how this all works comes across. I wouldn’t complain if he was on every panel. I’ll talk about Teresa Nielsen Hayden when I get to the 8:00 PM panel.

1:30 PM: Advice From New Writers
Panelists: Teresa Nielsen Hayden (moderator), Reesa Brown, Jennifer Evans, Marissa Lingen, Michael Merriam, Kit O’Connell, Jon Singer

Rather than giving advice to new writers, we got advice from new writers. The first piece of advice: sit in the comfy chairs. Rather than simply take what is given you (i.e. a table with uncomfortable chairs), go grab the plush comfy chairs from the hallway. If there is a single point that defines this panel and what the New Writer panel is about, that’s it. I don’t know that the panel really gave advice in the sense of what can help other new writers, but it was a collective conversation about changing the landscape of fiction, what new writers hate and don’t want to see anymore (from other writers, from publishers, etc), and just the overall sense of what these particular new writers think of when they think of fiction. This was probably my second favorite panel of the day and this is mostly because of the entertainment value of the panel. I don’t mean mindless entertainment, that’s not what I want to get across, but it was just so fascinating to listen to. Different perspectives.

3:00 PM: Playing with Structure
Panelists: Elizabeth Bear (moderator), Alec Austen, Emma Bull, Jim Frenkel, Jon Singer

I’m starting to blank and people on the panel. My program has a Bernadette Bosky on the panel, but this is another case of I really don’t remember that person. We start with a bit of varied definition of structure, some examples of variations of story structure, and a wide ranging question on how to use it, what it means, what it can be used for, and how structure can be just as important as the story (example – the movie Memento). Good panel, but I’m not sure it really was a favorite of mine. This is because I’m not really a writer or using structure in any informed way. I think other people took a lot from this panel.

4:30 PM: 21st Century Storytelling
Panelists: Steven Brust (moderator), Alec Austen, Elizabeth Bear, Emma Bull, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly.

Ostensibly this panel was actually about with models will be used to tell stories in the twenty first century. This was the Shadow Unit panel. Shadow Unit was used as the lens with which we viewed 21st Century Storytelling because while not completely original (stuff like this HAS been done says a grumpy guy named Pat who seemed somewhat bitter that his history wasn't really recognized), it is part of what the new wave of storytelling may look like. What is old is new again. Plus, four of the five writers of Shadow Unit were on the panel. Emma Bull gave a run down on the history of Shadow Unit, how it came about, what they intended with it. I love Shadow Unit (surprise!), so I thought it was a great panel. The only part that I didn’t quite get was Patrick Nielson Hayden’s taking issue with the SU folk seeking a publisher to print the SU stories as a book. It took me a while, but I figured out that PNH is concerned that the website will be considered publicity for the “real” story, the book. How the panelists are taking this is that the book is publicity for the website. Or, better yet, merchandise for the more interactive storytelling done online. The reason I want a book is because a) I like having a book, and b) I want Bear / Bull / Monette / Shetterly / Downum to get PAID so that not only is it fun to create Shadow Unit, it is profitable. This is also why I’ve been donating a couple dollars at a time via the website. Shadow Unit is professional quality work given away for free. This was my favorite panel of the Con.

8:00 PM: Food, Fashion, and Fornication
Panelists: Elise Matheson (moderator), Elizabeth Bear, Catherine Lundhoff, Sarah Monette, Kit O’Connell, Jon Singer

This was probably the most informative panel of the entire Con. What does food, fashion, and sex have to say about the fantasy worlds being written about? The best way to really get to the main...thrust...of the panel is to try to paraphrase what Teresa Nielsen Hayden had to say when asked about fabric. She was called on and asked what lace and linen and some other fabric meant in terms of economics. She started with lace. In a pre-industrial society lace is a true luxury item. Like everything else it has to be hand made and it takes a lot of time. A lacy trim on the dress of a noblewoman would take approximately a year’s worth of labor to create. Think about that. The average lower class townfolk or provincial would NEVER have a lace trimmed dress because they could not possibly afford it and they wouldn’t take the time to make one because if it takes a year to make there are many more things they could be doing with their time (making the rest of their clothing, sheets, curtains, or, doing other manual labor). Not to mention the possibility of sumptuary laws. The core of this panel, to me, was that what characters wear and eat says a lot about what sort of world / land the story is set in and is something that really does need to be carefully considered. And then there’s fornication. Apparently there was a woman from England who is a serious historical sex scholar in the audience and she was invited up on panel because she’s extensively knowledgeable about the topic.

The point I wanted to make about TNH was simply that she was a wealth of knowledge about a huge range of topics and even though she was not involved in many panels, it was so cool that she was there. I was more than impressed with how much TNH knew about and all of her contributions to panels (both as moderator and just when called up in the audience).

This was such a great day at Fourth Street. I don’t what I’ll think about other cons as I start going to more of the local conventions, but Fourth Street was a perfect Con to have for my first one. I met some great people, went to awesome panels, had good conversation about fantasy / bookish type stuff and overall just had a great time.

I’m glad I went.

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