27 September 2010

Con report: day 3

Sometimes I feel like I live on a slightly different planet than anyone else -- it arises from that novelist's thing of spending too much time immersed in my own head. It hit home when I was a writing student in class years ago, when one student asked what a gantry was. Another student tried to explain it in terms of railways and railway lines, and I became frustrated with the explanation, which was taking too long, and said something along the lines of: "Oh, there's a far easier and more commonplace explanation than that: it's what an astronaut walks across to get into the spaceship." More commonplace? In my world, yeah, but maybe not in everyone else's. Clearly not judging by all the faces.

And so I was reminded again when I turned up at the double session workshop on "Write the fight right workshop" with Alan Baxter. I thought it would be sword-fighting. We're at a con, right? SF people. Fantasy people. It's got to be sword-fighting. Right? Wrong. It never even crossed my mind that it might be anything else, but when I got in there it was about boxing and brawling. Okay, I figured, that's relevant too -- and in fact a lot of what was said would be relevant to the sword-fight as well.

My least favourite part was when we had to get up and act things out -- but that doesn't mean it wasn't useful because it was. In fact, in retrospect, it probably should've been my favourite part. I learnt a lot in this workshop. An awful lot. [Note to self: go look over all fight scenes and rework!] Lots about techniques and the type of language to use when writing the fight scene (ie not the tech terms we were discussing). The main thing to remember is that no-one comes out of a fight unhurt. (Yep, I remember my father's story about hitting and flattening his brother, and when he went home his father demanding to know what he'd hit him with. And my dad showing off a very swollen hand.)

I liked that Baxter had prepared a handout for us -- handouts are always good -- and yet I still managed to take lots of notes. In between the acting out stuff. (There wasn't really too much of that.) Good movies to watch for realistic depiction of fighting: the Bourne movies. And, surprisingly, Bridget Jones's diary -- a great depiction of a fight where neither character knows what he's doing.

This was a fantastic workshop, and after that I should have had a break and some lunch, but I wanted to keep going. I did six panels in a row (counting this as two), but the rest of the day I felt tired and washed out, and everything else was an anticlimax.

Kim Stanley Robinson's Guest of Honour speech was next, which was interesting, but I wished it was more about writing. (Another friend later told me he wished it was more about mountaineering.) Robinson said the book he's most proud of is The years of rice and salt, which I have, so I'll have to read it now!

My next panel was an academic one: Laurie Ormond on "Studying fantasy fiction as genre: magic and violence and generic convention in Sara Douglass and Fiona McIntosh". Now, the first thing I noticed was that Fiona McIntosh was in the audience. I wondered whether the presenter realised this, and if she did the effect this had on her -- I imagine it would have really played on my nerves had I been her. It reminded me of that panel way back in Aussiecon 3 when J Michael Stracinzky destroyed two fans he was on a panel with because he totally disagreed with their views of his TV show ("Babylon 5"). It's something I never want to witness again. But this case was different: McIntosh was quiet and never drew attention to herself. Ormond made the point that fantasy fiction has taken up feminist concerns, but avoids showing characters exhibiting the disintegration of self. Okay, interesting. I wonder why not.

The second part of this panel was Narelle Campbell on "The sky and the cave: differing representations of the God and Goddess in Guy Gavriel Kay's The Fionavar Tapestry". Campbell talked about the long history of femme fatales dating back to Eve, Guinevere and La Belle Dame sans Merci. She mentioned how Kay's societies are definitely patriarchal, and that the imagery associated with the God (sky) and Goddess (cave) are very telling. She also said that Guy's females want to jump into bed with every man around, and that Kay says he hates books that give females broadswords because they're ahistorical, but that he's happy to ignore the lack of contraception . . .

Then I went to "Finding the right voice: accents and speech patterns" with Karen Miller, Jack Dann, Deborah Kalin and Kaaron Warren. Good examples to study: The road, Huck Finn, Kipling's short story "Gloriana", and Australian writer Andy McCrae's short stories. [Go, Andy!] Poor Andy looked suitably embarrassed at all the attention. Dann said conveying about one tenth of a dialect was about right. I've never heard anyone put a figure on it before. They talked about various things: techniques to tell whether it's working or not, eg having someone else read it aloud. I sometimes tell my students to do this, but it's particularly important in dialects because you can see where someone else stumbles over what you've written and more accurately judge whether it's awkward or not.


Laurie said...

Hey Tracey,

Every time I talk to someone who was at AussieCon 4 I wish I'd made the effort to go to more panels. It's not a great place to bring your shyness with you! I totally noticed as soon as Fiona walked into the room, she was about the second person to come in. It did cause a bit of inner turmoil, as I could just imagine how strange it would be to listen to someone apply the unnatural apparatus of literary criticism to your own work. Maybe that's a panel for Natcon, how authors react to hearing panels about their work! - Great to find someone who was listening...

Tracey said...

Thanks for your comment, Laurie. Yes, I like that suggestion. I did suspect you were aware of the fact, and I really felt for you. I would've been quaking! But you handled it with real aplomb!

Yes, shyness and cons aren't a good mix -- but in my early con days, I always found that's what the panels were good for. In the panels, I was busy listening and taking notes, and so didn't have time to feel lonely. The more cons you go to, the more people you meet -- the smaller cons are especially good for this. On the other hand, the idea of actually being on a panel terrifies me. Doesn't mean I wouldn't do it, but that I would sweat about it for days beforehand...