deborahjross: (Default)
 BayCon is my local science fiction convention, one I have attended regularly for quite a few years now. At first, the hotel venue was within commuting distance, so long as I did not indulge in too many late night events that left me driving twisty mountain roads when I was already fatigued. But as the convention moved to different hotels, as conventions sometimes do, each successive move took it farther away until I was faced with either driving over an hour in either direction or shelling out for a hotel room. Fortunately, a dear friend and writer colleague offered me a guest bedroom and the chance to carpool from her house. Her adolescent children attended the con, too, so my own experience was colored by becoming a temporary part of her family and also the rhythms and accommodations of young folks. Among other things, I heard about the teen track programs, the gaming room, and other aspects of conventions I otherwise would be oblivious to. The kids reminded me that although conventions are primarily work for me, they can and should be play, as well.

The other difference in this convention is that Book View Café had one of two tables in “author’s alley,” near guest registration (the other was Tachyon Books, featuring Peter S. Beagle). Although the various attending members were not particularly organized, it was a somewhat successful learning experience and some of us sold books, talked about BVC, and chatted with fans.

We arrived at the hotel Friday afternoon, in time to hear both Juliette Wade and Chaz Brenchley read. Listening to authors read their work, sometimes work in progress or yet unpublished, is a special treat. When I have a heavy schedule of panels, I regret not being able to attend, so this was a great beginning to a convention. Not only did I get to hear two very different but equally wonderful stories but sitting quietly in a convention atmosphere helped with the transition.

It seems the older I get and the longer I live in the redwoods, the more difficult it is for me to “shift gears” into convention mode. I’ve become accustomed to long, deep silences, not to mention a slower pace of conversation. I always feel as if I’m moving (and speaking) too fast, which of course increases the risk of mis-speaking or not listening carefully enough to what the other person is saying. Most of the time, no one seems to notice. Being so aware of my own limitations, however, does make it easier for me to respond with gratitude when I am called out on an error. I appreciate not getting backed into a defensive posture.

My first panel – and I was moderator for all of them – got things moving on Saturday with Science Fiction (and/or Fantasy) as a Tool for Social Change, with A. E. Marling, Stephen “Dirk” Libbey, and Carrie Sassarego. In preparing for the panel, I had the thought that the influence of literature can be both good and bad (Mein Kampf and the world of Ayn Rand being two examples). Various members pointed out how pop culture influences people, and the metaphors used in speculative fiction allow subversive ideas to slip “below the radar.” Superheroes and media like Star Trek fill emotional needs but also empower us all to see ourselves as  heroic (for example, how Uhura inspired generations to reach for the stars). Since the theme of the con was “dystopia/utopia, we pointed out how sf/f offers “cautionary tales” of “if this goes on” or “it can happen here.” It offers hope that life can and will go on after a disaster. We need Gandalf and Dumbledore after this last election!

Chaz Brenchley and R.L. King joined me for a lively discussion of Stand-alone or Series. We swapped stories from our own careers and debated the advantages and pitfalls of each form, and how what the publishers are looking for has changed over time. Writers who once regularly got multi-volume contracts found themselves having to market completed stand-alone novels. Chaz pointed out that a stand-alone can and often does become the first volume of a continuing series when and if the publisher decides that book has sold well enough to merit more (“like the first one only different”). R. L. represented authors who have chosen self-publishing to bring out a series in rapid succession. In her case, she set up her own imprint and hired professional editors and cover designers, so the final product had high values. Her urban fantasy series is targeted at a particular reading experience, which reminded me of Amanda Hocking’s highly successful self-publishing strategy. Readers know exactly what kind of experience to expect, and frequent new releases (ever 3 or 4 months) keeps them coming back for more. This contrasts to conventional publishing, where an author might typically take a year to write a novel, which would spend another year in production.

I had further conversations with R. L. King and A. E. Marling when we tackled Writing in Someone Else’s World. I’ve spoken on this topic a number of times, about continuing the “Darkover” series created by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and also writing a Star Wars short story (“Goatgrass” in Tales from Jabba’s Palace). Both other panelists came from a gaming tie-in background, where the rules are a bit different. For example, A. E.’s experience writing for Wizards of the Coast involved NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements, which prohibit him from discussing material in production and other aspects of the job). R.L.’s tie-in novel was set in “Shadowspawn,” a large and varied gaming world.

My friend Cliff Winnig played sitar in concert. He usually accompanies an author reading for one of his pieces, but this year the author he’d invited couldn’t attend, so I filled in at the last minute. I read the sword fight scene from Thunderlord, and Cliff’s music made the dancing come alive.

After dinner, it was time to play and relax. I particularly enjoyed the Masquerade and Variety Show this year. One of my Darkover anthology authors, Jeremy Erman, won “Best in Show” in the variety show for his keyboard performance of the music of James Horner, but all the other entries and costumes were highly entertaining, too. The musical duo “Library Bards” did their usual hilarious and musical job at the microphone.

Sunday morning began with a panel I actually wasn’t on. (That’s not a joke; I’ve been to far too many conventions over the years where the only panels I got to go to were those I was a participant in.) I wanted to hear the discussion of Women’s Utopias or Queer Utopias, with Meg Elison, Heather Rose Jones, Skye Allen, and Wanda Kurtcu, and I was not disappointed. With a huge audience for a 10:00 Sunday panel, the conversation with animated and thoughtful. People are not uniform, so one person’s utopia is another’s dystopia. Meg described her Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife as The Handmaid’s Tale with queers and pointed out that most apocalyptic stories are asymmetrical with regard to gender and sexual orientation. Typically, such tales don’t question the binary nature of gender, and they often reinforce gender role stereotypes (with notable exceptions like Mad Max: Fury Road). Early feminist utopias didn’t even address sexual needs/preferences, assuming celibacy for equality. Novels set in utopias often incorporate the element of misfits or those who resist (Brave New World, Logan’s Run) to contrast and point out the impossibility of setting up a system that works equally well for everyone. “Who is this utopia for?” becomes a central question. While hell as dystopia is a popular topic, almost no one is interested in heavenly utopias, perhaps because “heaven” pertains to life without the body (“meat suit”) and that’s inherently boring, while the structure of a novel requires conflict or dissatisfaction. “People will always find ways to be unhappy.” All-lesbian utopias assume a uniformity of sexual activity, but people aren’t all the same in this dimension, either. “Incidental queerness” occurs when the sexual orientation of a character is not his or her central problem, it’s just one facet of that person.

My last panel was Care and Feeding of Your Creative Muse, with Skye Allen, Jennifer Nestojko, Mark Gelineau, and R.L. King. We talked about how to balance the different parts of your life: family and other obligations, self-care, day job, and writing. How to keep the ideas coming (and not forget them!) and then wrangle them into stories. How to keep the whole process fun. It’s important to develop strategies that work for you to keep you writing on a schedule and not just “when the muse strikes.” Mark encouraged us to have courage, and faith in our creative process. We talked about how to keep that faith alive when our lives fall apart and we can’t write. Hope during difficulties means remembering that “this too shall pass.” We all need reminders of how our creativity sustains and nourishes us during difficult times. Having a writing ritual can keep us going through distractions. Detractors can undermine our confidence in our work by denigrating its importance; instead, we remember that our art is how we fight the darkness.

deborahjross: (Default)
Baycon's a local convention, which means I commute, driving an hour each way over twisty mountain roads and freeway. This tends to color my experience, first because I don't have a quiet place (aka hotel room) to which to retreat, and second that because I'm not a night person, I rarely stay later than dinner time. This year I had a light schedule and many people I wanted to see, which is a nice combination.

I began on Friday with a panel on "Writing Rituals." Actually, before the panel, with running into Chaz Brenchley, our own [livejournal.com profile] desperance. One of the delights of conventions is getting to meet my favorite authors, finding new favorites, and enjoying the resulting friendships. The participants included me and Chaz, Ian Grey, Laurel Ann Hill, and Susan Krinard. The panel itself was a bit unfocused, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The discussion ranged from how the medium we use influences our writing (including voice recognition software or dictation vs typewriter vs longhand vs computer) to our personal superstitions about writing or selling to the struggle just about all of us face in actually Sitting Down To Write. Chaz talked about how writing on a typewriter forced him to craft each sentence in his mind before typing it because it was such a pain to retype mistakes or changes. I thought voice recognition software might be a good way to write with a cat on my lap and also to help me over the "inertial hump" of getting that initial and thoroughly disposable paragraph on the page. Susan shared how she uses deadlines to set daily or weekly goals. Laurel Anne had researched the odd habits of famous writers -- who liked to write naked, for example, or in a bathtub, or lying down. Dani Kollin joined us half-way through the panel (which often happens in early-scheduled panels) and talked about how his collaborative style (he writes with his brother, Eytan) structures his own writing. Collaborations create interesting "rituals," depending on how the work is divided (do you both create prose, do you alternate drafts, does one do the story creation/outline and the other fill it in?)

Chaz and I wandered to the dealer's room, where we ascertained who was carrying which of our books and whether they wanted them signed now or later in the con, admired leather clothing and swords, told more stories, and eventually met up with [livejournal.com profile] klwilliams, who transported us away to a Chinese restaurant. We returned to the hotel midway through the Meet the Guests event, but I still had the chance to circulate and chat with Guest of Honor Mary Robinette Kowal, with whom I'd had a grand time hanging out at last year's Orycon, as well as a bunch of other fine folk. I wrenched myself away before Regency Dancing could begin (or I would not have been able to leave, as it's something I adore and get to do far too infrequently) for the long drive home.

Saturday morning's highlights involved getting together with local members of Book View Café, first in a breakfast meet-up and then a panel on who we are and what we offer the ebook reader. Dave came in with me and added his perspectives on the creative use of internet marketing resources. Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff was there, but participating in the writers workshop; we waved greetings-in-passing. The panel included Madeleine E. Robins ([livejournal.com profile] madrobins) and Irene Radford ([livejournal.com profile] ramblin_phyl, as well as me and Chaz, and Kit Kerr in the audience. Given how early the panel was scheduled, I was delighted at how well attended it was. Mad and Irene, who were founding members, talked about how a bunch of writers, including Vonda N. McIntyre and Sarah Zettel, with the support of Ursula K. Le Guin, decided to pool their skills to epublish their out of print back lists. Eventually, they formed Book View Café. The Café now has 30 members, all established pro writers, 3,000 subscribers, and currently lists 100 ebooks, plus a daily blog posts and free fiction.

After the panel, I stayed to discuss a BVC anthology project that I'm editing along with Irene, then Dave and I headed back to Santa Cruz for a memorial service of a dear friend, my Quaker mentor Ellie Foster.

I was back at Baycon the next morning, still a bit weepy but very happy to be around book people. The autographing sessions were scheduled in an out-of-the-way room, quite a distance from the dealer's room or any flow of traffic; as a consequence, no one appeared during the time slot I shared with Diana L. Paxson, but Diana and I had a wonderful time catching up on career news and the challenges we each face as inheritors of two of the series created by the late Marion Zimmer Bradley. Diana had been double-scheduled for a panel, so she headed off to that and I wandered back to the dealer's room, where I spent far too much money on books, then back to the autographing room to hang out with Mad Robins and Juliette Wade, a local writer and co-conspirator of the Lady Writer's Lunch. Mad entertained us with tales of her life in the theater, and various plots were hatched. This is the way of conventions, even if no autographs were dispensed.

My final con event was a "themed reading" of short science fiction. I shared the time slot with Cliff Winnig. As I was on my way, however, I had an unexpected treat, which was meeting a dear friend of my older daughter and her partner. I'd heard them mention Mari with great fondness, but had never met her before and am delighted to report that the fondness is mutual all around.

Cliff and I had read together before and had exchanged emails about how to divide the time. (I highly recommend this, if you're ever faced with a similar presentation.) At Cliff's suggestion, he read a short piece involving a ballerina spy and a giant Nazi robot on an airship, then I read a longer, more serious piece ("Mother Africa" from Asimov's 1994), and he followed up with steampunk on Mars, complete with costume. He dubbed this a "Deborah sandwich." Then I was on my own but there wasn't much happening until after dinner, so with some regret, I wended my way home.

Over the years, I've learned that there are some cons when it seems all I do is speak on panels and catch my breath in between, and other cons when I get to sit back and enjoy other people holding forth, learning new cool stuff, attending readings by writers I don't know, and such like. I try to take each one as it comes, especially given the limitations of time and energy when I'm commuting. I had a lovely time when I was there and am pleased with the choices I made as the best of what could be managed. As always, the best part was the people -- old friends, new discoveries, mutually appreciative relationships. I was particularly grateful for the community during this otherwise grief-filled weekend.

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Deborah J. Ross

May 2017

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