09 June 2007

Con day one (or two?)

Day 2 of the con, but my day 1.

Hmm, saw lots of good panels today, so might just list what they were and anything that came out of them that I found really inspiring.

(i) Where are the new dangerous visions -- interesting because there seemed to be some disagreement among the panel members (Jack Dann, Gillian Polack and Dina Taylor (hope I've got her name right)) adout where the new dangerous visions lay. Dina thought they were in gender, sexuality and race; Gilian thought in religion. Jack talked about magic realism and how it seems to have infiltrated other fiction -- which corresponds to my wonder about how MR is accepted in lit, whereas the rest of SF is frowned upon. Bizarre. Doesn't make any sense.

(ii) Isobelle Carmody's Guest of Honour speech -- very entertaining and with great sound effects. But she talked about how fantasy tries to name the unnameable, and how she thinks it's popular because it embodies that yearning that many of us have for something more in life. Interesting and reassuring to here her talk about not using lists of details. Although I do have a lot of worldbuilding stuff and character profiles, I sometimes feel I don't look at them as often as I should. But she married the whole idea of continuity with the push for publishers not spending enough time on the editing process. She thought they viewed it as part of the technical process rather than creative, and that this was part of the problem. I liked the way she talked about finding that not writing books in series one after the other keeps her fresh.

(iii) Worldbuilding 101. Ellen and I divided for this one as we also wanted to see the panel on good versus evil in fantasy, so Ellen did that one and I went along to worldbuilding with Ian Irvine, Gilian Polack and Keith Stevenson. Gilian thought that for good worldbuilding you need an addictive personality. Should suit me, I thought, as I am known to become rather obsessive about things. Ian Irvine talked about not getting too lost in the details -- something all panelists agreed on. Ultimately the worldbuilding has to serve the story, not the other way around. Some things of particular interest here were Ian's comment that if you try to create a world where everything is different, you'll end up having to spend half your novel explaining things, and will end up with a xenobiology text. He said lots of readers don't like his stories because they have only a touch of alienness, but that's why. Must say I agree with that. An audience member said he'd been to something where an editor said that to become a hotshot writer you should build a world, write six or so stories in it and then sell them to Asimov's. Ian said that that might be true of science fiction but that he would be astonished if it were true in fantasy because hardly any successful fantasy writers were writing short stories. I kept thinking of the SuperNOVA boys who would like to see me write more short stories. It's just not the genre or form I'm most comfortable in. I mention genre because I don't think fantasy lends itself particularly well to short stories. He also said that to do great worldbuilding, you don't need a PhD but a keen interest. Keith asked the others what the biggest pitfalls were. Gilian thought Mary-Sue. Ian thought putting too much thought into the worldbuilding and not enough into telling the story. He reminded us that every page has to have something interesting, exciting or curiosity-arousing to maintain tension.

(iv) Eating ancient food -- with Gilian Polack. She said that we focus obsessively on food in real life, but we hardly mention it in our writing. I found this interesting because one criticism I read levelled at fantasy quite often is that writers mention food too much. But perhaps it's just that thing about not being able to please all the people... She said a lot of writers get food right, but a lot more get it wrong, and that anyone who thinks people ate rotten food all the time in the Middle Ages is a zombie. She said spices were more expensive that fresh meat, and anyway rotten food disguised with spices will still give you food poisoning. Touche. I did get to try some Grains of Paradise -- a medieval aphrodisiac. Mmm, quite nice, too.

After this panel Ellen and I checked out the dealers' room, and then swapped notes about the panels we'd missed. Then we rehit the panel trail, marvelling about how some people like us go to cons for the panels, whereas another group rarely go on them.

(v) Teen angst -- Kate Forsyth said that someone said (Susan Cooper, I think, but I wasn't sure) that children are people without the coats of time. Interesting. Pamela Freeman said that she thought fantasy was popular with teens because it has an intensity of experience and element of idealism. Kate Forsyth thought it was because it often has a theme about empowerment. Lucy Sussex talked about the trouble she sometimes has telling whether a review book is meant for YA or adult audiences, and that sometimes price is the best guide. That was quite interesting. Pamela talked about how some people don't have a fictional imagination and are better suited to nonfic.

(vi) I wish I'd thought of that -- Keith Stevenson's talk about his theories of how people get down to write -- ie the pinball theory of creativity, plus some stuff to consider for worldbuilding.

Ellen and I had lunch out, and went out with Steve Gleeson for dinner, which was interesting as he's just come back from Vietnam so had lots to tell us. Anyway, we were late for the Ditmars, and as Ellen and I were on public transport, decided to come home and be very decadent and write. So I'd better heave-to!


Snail said...

Sounds like a really interesting set of discussions. World building (which all writers do to some extent, I suppose, because stories are set in fictional worlds that may or may not resemble the real one) is a tricky thing. It's so easy for everything to fall flat if the writer is a bit on the lazy side. I remember throwing down a fantasy novel in disgust when the author referred to vegetation as "grassoid". I don't know where to start with that one.

On the other hand, worlds can be gloriously imagined, from Middle Earth to Gormenghast. Just my 2c worth.

Tracey said...

That was at least five cents worth, I think.

Grassoid? Never heard that one before.