the last time I mention Legendary Confusion
Posted February 10, 2014on:
at least until next year. Here’s my write up on the panels I attended. Good thing I wrote up notes while I was there, and typed up a draft of this a few days after returning. It’s been a few weeks now, and my memory is starting to get fuzzy! If you’ve seen my previous Confusion posts or the after action report I did over at SFSignal, some of this might be a repeat.
tldr: Panels at Confusion were full of awesome. Lots of surprisingly deep conversations happening.
With a heavy emphasis on genre fiction and literary tracks, panel topics included everything from trends in urban fantasy to worldbuilding, to using (or avoiding) bad language, finding an agent, polishing your manuscript, characterization, researching vs making-it-up, and about a gazillion author reading readings. There was also a large science track of programming, gaming, anime, weaponry demos and lots of Doctor Who. Guests and Attendees included many from our community – Cherie Priest, Mike Carey, Saladin Ahmed, Tobias Buckell, Ian Tregillis, Myke Cole, Wesley Chu, Jacqueline Carey, Peter V. Brett, Bradley Beaulieu, Seleste deLacey, Sarah Zettel, Brian McClellan, Lucy Snyder, Sam Sykes, Laura Resnick, Justin Landon (of Staffer’s Book Review), Peter (of Odd Engine) Steve Drew(of reddit/r/fantasy) and more. Cons are where friends meet up, and where new friends are met. I got chatting with new author Matthew Thyer, and went home with a signed copy of his novella, The Big Red Buckle (it takes place on Mars and is very cool, btw).
During the daytime, confusion is a family affair, and there was full programming for the 10 and under crowd, and the 10-15 crowd as well. This year had a few special events. Saturday morning was Author D&D which took place in the atrium. So long as you weren’t distracting the D&Ders, anyone could observe. Watching the authors roll their characters in the bar the evening before was pretty surreal as well. I am in a bar. Surrounded by famous people. Who are also drinking, but they are rolling dice and filling out character sheets. Absolutely surreal. Another special event was the live reddit AMA. we were lucky enough to have elquesogrande, aka Steve Drew, who runs the Reddit Fantasy subreddit. For a few hours on Saturday afternoon, about a dozen authors were furiously typing away on their laptops, answering your AMA questions. Convention attendees were welcome to stop in and ask questions, say hi and take photos. there was also Scotch in that room. it smelled magnificent. although they are out of date now, you can read all the AMA’s here.
I’m one of those geeks who loves going to the panels at conventions. Hearing experts discuss something interesting for an hour? um YES. Here’s a few words on the panels I attended (and by “a few words”, I mean more than you ever wanted to know).
The Worst Thing I Ever Tried to Write with Cindy Spencer Pape, Cherie Preist, Seleste deLaney, and Patrick Tomlinson. The discussion revolved around first novels, trunk novels, failed novels, and are you still trying to sell this novel? Someone brought up fanfic, and it’s wasn’t long before everyone on the panel confessed to writing fanfic, and that everyone had been writing fanfic forever, but no one knew that everyone else was doing it until the internet exploded with it. Audience questions included “what did you like, but others didn’t?”, and my favorite answer was Cherie Priest’s – a YA project where aliens come to Earth for resources, and the kids they meet convince the aliens that everyone on Earth is a ninja. The characters are based on her childhood friends, and she’s thinking of self pubbing it (I’d buy this!). Another great audience question was “what do you learn from writing something crappy?” and the general consensus from the panelists were to give yourself permission to write and get through those crappy words, because if you don’t write them, you can’t fix them.
Shortly after that panel was the Opening Ceremonies. This is a chance for the con organizers to officially welcome everyone and introduce all the guests of honor (this is also very helpful to con attendees who may not know what these people look like). The fan guest of honor, Mark Bernstein, stole this show, by getting the entire audience to participate in a call and response of M’nah m’nah (doo doo do do doot). Announcements were made, there was much applause and laughter, and props to Ryan Carey, the ConChair. It’s Ryan and his team that made all of this happen.
After a quick snack, I headed to:
More Dumb Questions, with Myke Cole, Jaqueline Carey, Nancy Fulda, Sam Sykes and Laura Resnick. This is exactly what it sounded like. The audience’s job was to stump the authors with dumb/silly questions. But first, Myke made us all stand up and solemnly swear that we’d ask only dumb questions yet stay respectful and not make any of the authors want to crawl into a hole and cry. This was an hour of laughter and silliness, and Nancy Fulda coming up with intelligent answers and getting a lot of laughs at Sam Sykes’s expense. Silly questions included “what’s the worst thing you ever wrote for money”, “what’s the worst character name or psydonym you’ve used” (Laura Resnick wins with her drag queen whose stage name was Saturated Fats), “how many drinks would it take for you to let Peter Brett shave your head?”. See? dumb silly questions. So much laughter. after the panel broke up I marched up to Sam Sykes and said “holy shit you’re tall”. Then Myke dragged everyone off to the bar for drinks, and Cherie Priest rolled for an assassin.
I started the morning off with What You Should be Reading Right Now with Saladin Ahmed, Merrie Haskell, Gretchen Ash, Patrick Tomlinson, and Amy Sundberg. The authors talked about books they’d read recently and really enjoyed, and upcoming titles they were looking forward to. What better group of people to get reading recommendations from? When prompted to talk about recent favorites, the answers included Scalzi’s The Last Colony, Parasite by Mira Grant, Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams, Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch, Nexus and Crux by Ramez Naam, the Lazarus comic series from Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, and Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns series, among others. It was brought up that the default for “what you should be reading right now” is “novels”, but what about short fiction? Nearly everyone on the panel had a few short fiction magazines (both print and online) to recommend, as they had gotten their start in short stories. When asked what upcoming books they were excited about, answers ranged from the upcoming War Stories anthology, to N.K. Jemisin’s new series, to Ancillary Justice, to Myke Cole’s new Shadow Ops book. What I most enjoyed about this panel was the wide variety of tastes of the panelists, and how everyone was getting excited hearing about what everyone else was excited about. All our of Amazon wish lists just exploded.
Next up was The Democratization of Reviewing, with Christian Klaver, Seleste deLaney, Doselle Young and Christine Purcell. Doselle kicked the conversation off by talking about all the “noise” in the online reviewing community, and the other panelists agreed that there is so much on Amazon and Goodreads that it’s difficult to know what reviews you can trust. Admitting to being a 20th century writer trapped in the 21st century, Doselle said he prefers when there are gatekeepers involved, and he prefers to get his reviews from print magazines. Twitter, Goodreads, Blogs and Facebook have allowed for a more intimate connection between the writers, the reviewers, and the consumers, but do we want that kind of connection? There were jokes that weren’t really jokes of needing a “Rotten Tomatoes” for books. Bloggers don’t get paid for reviews but print magazine reviewers do, so there was discussion of does it matter if the reviewer was paid? Audience members who were bloggers were of the opinion that it did matter. And what about critical reviews? the panel agreed that when you’re an author it’s not cool to give a negative review, but then you run the risk of your Goodread profile being all four and five star reviews, so casual fans think you are friends with all those other authors. So should authors just abstain from ever reviewing someone else’s work? I was expecting this panel to be more about the hows and whys of reviewing, so perhaps I’ll have to crash the panel next year so there is a reviewer (who isn’t a writer first) on the panel. The major concern that the panelists seemed to voice about “book bloggers” is our inconsistencies, and as a blogger I agree that is a legitimate concern. A few book blogs are of the quality of print magazines, yet others provide inexplicable content with little to no information about what worked in the book and what didn’t, and the vast majority of us are somewhere in between. Which leads to the most important question – who are reviews for? authors? readers? other bloggers? consumers? publishers?
Using Expletives, with Sam Sykes, Peter Brett, Doselle Young and Christine Purcell. This was a surprisingly clean panel, at least when you take into account the name of the panel. It was discussed that since normal adults use bad words (rarely, of course. of course!) then it’s only natural for book characters to use them too. If your character never spouts a “shit!” then depending on the environment they may feel too formal. But don’t feel like you are limited to the very popular shits, damns, or fucks. There was a lot of discussion of the “swearing” in Peter Brett’s series, where the bad words are part of the worldbuilding. No reader (or the parents of young readers) would be offended, but you can tell that the character is pissed off. It’s the context that gives the connotation, not the word itself, and the reader knows it’s a bad word based on how other characters react. A panelist asked if it would be possible to ever go back to the sanitized fiction of yesteryear, and was quickly reminded that yesteryear involved some pretty filthy music and let’s not forget the raunchy Canterbury Tales. And anyways, what do we gain by sanitizing fiction, or saying it should be sanitized? If you do that, you are taking away from what the author is trying to do. Ok, so is language pushing the divide between what’s appropriate for adults and what goes on the YA shelf? It was agreed that whether you use bad words in your book or not, the trick is to market appropriately, know your audience, and realize no matter what someone is going to be offended that you used too many or too few bad words. The topic switched from novels to comic books. Only very recently have comic book publishers allowed swear words in comics, even though the plot lines may be very mature. Why is it not okay for a comic book to have swear words when it’s perfectly okay to buy A Game of Thrones on the impulse rack at the grocery store? For something that I expected to be about creative uses of the word Fuck, this was one of the deepest panels I attended.
Mass autograph session. this was split up into two one hour blocks, with half the authors at a time. Pros: the room was far less congested, lines were much shorter, the atmosphere was very mellow. Cons: if you wanted to get books signed in both sessions, that was two hours away from panels you may have wanted to attend. Go to a reading or a panel you really want to go to? Or get your book signed? I got books signed and schmoozed. nonchronolocial comment of the day – after the convention ended someone tweeted that they weren’t sure how to interact with authors. Here’s how to do it: go to the autograph session. Get your book signed and say Hi to the author. Ask how their weekend is going. Sincerely say you enjoyed a panel they were on, or that you’re looking forward to one they’re doing later. If you’re a local, welcome the person to your city and thank them for coming. Go from there. That’s how you do it. Easy cheesy.
I only attended one panel on Sunday, as the con was starting to wind down and it was time to say goodbye to all the wonderful new people I met. Also, we opted to sleep in. But I did make it to:
Write What You Don’t Know, with Tobias Buckell, Mike Carey,Elizabeth Shack, Catherine Shaffer and Brian McClellan – it’s easy to write what you know, but how do we write fantasy and magic, when no one knows that stuff? The discussion started with where and how to research, and of course it was “go to the library!”. McClellan said “researching things you don’t know is writer food”. Mike Carey talked a bit about the Felix Castor books and that to research the setting he “trudged around London” and chose the settings. It was agreed by everyone on the panel that the researched side of things and the “made it up” side of things needed to come together in a seamless and coherent way. The discussion moved towards writing characters. Do authors tend to write characters based on themselves or on people they know? How do you write a character whose personality is completely unlike yours? Tobias Buckell said he avoids drama, but he doesn’t want all his protagonists to eschew drama. So he’s been watching a lot of grimdark and high drama TV shows. If you saw that “you’re taking grimdark medicinally?” tweet, this is what they were talking about. There was discussion of “original source creativity” because “writing what you know”, to some extent involves being influenced by the fiction you grew up reading. An interesting audience question that came up was the “smithing” of what to leave out. How do you know what background material to leave in, and what to take out? And of course, Neal stephenson immediately came up as someone who (mostly) gets away with infodumping. The narrator/voice of the author becomes a character unto themselves for massive chunks of exposition. Terry Pratchett does it a little bit, Jeff Vandermeer does it a little bit. It was suggested that it’s the editor’s job to make sure this is done in a way that will work for the reader.
And that was Legendary Confusion!