Tuesday, November 21, 2006

John's Orycon Adventure

I've just returned from Orycon. It was the best con (out of four) I've attended. I never thought that a con would rejuvenate me. I'd gotten into a difficult place in terms of my writing, and visiting with other writers and editors allowed me to put various things into perspective.

This year, the scariest costume wasn't the Klingons, or even the latex gals. It was the person who gave me a stalker vibe. I'm not even going to write about what they were wearing.

Here's a quick break down of the panels. Go to a panel with a strong moderator -- a strong moderator will have some prepared questions for the rest of the group, will be able to shut up and let other panelists voice their opinions, and will keep the socially maladjusted know-it-all(s) in the audience from hijacking the panel. Go to a panel with panelists who actually know something about the topic (or who are good at asking questions).

Here's the long-play commentary on the panels that I went to:


Editing the Short Story -- the most interesting thing about this panel, which was made up of editors, was hearing the emotional side of purchasing short stories from the editor's point of view. The coolest quotes were from Ellen Datlow, who said, "We want to clear our desks [of piles of manuscripts]... and we want to love your work." And Eileen Gunn, who said, "The essence of SF is finding yourself [as the reader] in a weird, off-balance place, and then you figure it out."

Palaces and Prisons -- This was a disappointing panel because, A) I wanted the panel to discuss future cities from a science fiction writer's point of view and B) none of the panelists seemed familiar with the concept of arcology. Hello? You're on a panel about future city planning and the only thing you have to say about arcology is that it's ugly high rises for the rich? The panel turned into a "problems of population" discussion. Probably the most interesting idea, which came from an audience member (not me, I was too busy trying to steer the panel to say something about arcology), was the concept that the French Revolution is a metaphor for the dichotomy of the city as urban palace or prison.

What is Magic Realism? -- this was a useful panel, if only because my understanding of magical realism was that it was something like the urban fantasy of Charles de Lint. It's not. (I'm sorry -- even if I've seen "Kiss of the Spider Woman", I've never read "One Hundred Years of Solitude".) Magical Realism (and slip stream) is about taking an absurd idea (like waking up as a bug) and having everyone deal with it as if it were normal or every day. MR is an examination of the rational and the irrational and how they inform each other. As a result of this panel (OK, and I bought another copy of Polyphony), I have a better understanding of why my stories are getting rejected by Deborah Lane (sorry Deborah).

Friday Night: Although I vowed not to turn on the TV... I did and stumbled onto the very latest Dr. Who episode, complete with an old Sara Jane Smith (who now looks like the brunette Abba woman) and a retro-looking K-9. And a Doctor who looks just a little bit younger than me.


We had a wonderful Wordos Breakfast. It was great seeing everyone there and getting a chance to hob-knob with Ellen Datlow. I also got a chance to speak with other Wordos who don't normally make it to Eugene about writing, writing strategies, and family life.

Ask Ellen Datlow -- This was fun and useful. I did get to introduce Ellen to the word "rejectomancy" (the divinatory art a writer uses to try to figure out what an editor really thought about a story by how many code phrases are in the boilerplate rejection letter, by the amount of time it took to get the rejection letter, and by any hand written notes in the margins). When Ellen writes, "I loved this story, but I can't use it for the [magazine or web site]" that that's what she means.

Turkey Readings (from Shimmer Magazine) -- this was the funniest panel. The panelists took turns reading rejections from the slush pile and from Planet 666. There were some pretty painful manuscripts ("Ow! Ow! Ow-ow-ow!"). They also read some accepted manuscripts to illustrate where they had worked with an author to polish a story. The only bad thing about this panel was that it was at the same time as the Endeavor Awards and I missed Jerry Oltion winning.

Ellen Datlow Interview -- Saturday was sort of Ellen Datlow Con. It was interesting to hear some of her stories of how she started out editing at Omni Magazine and to hear more about her editing process.

Juggling Jobs -- the most inspirational. Over the last half year, I've really been wound up about writing production, production, production and I'd lost sight of why I write. It's because I enjoy it. (And yeah, it would be great to make a living at it and to have Undying Fame.) I've been so production oriented that I've been locked up when I try to write. The moral of this panel was take regular time to write, and budget your writing time to balance with your family and your job. And it's OK to focus on your children's and parents' needs.

Alien 1st Contact -- the moderator's idea of moderating was to argue with the other panelists that aliens were here on earth now to eat us. I guess the most interesting idea was (from Jerry Oltion) that if humans and aliens don't have a formal agreement then no one has to apologize for anal probes or shooting flying saucers out of the sky.

Magic or Tech -- very disappointing because it seemed to want to turn into a bitch session and not explore new ways to look at magic, technology, and fictional societies. By this point at Orycon, I had learned enough to ask questions "as a writer" to try to focus the answers on the writing process. When asked why Mercedies Lacky (for example) writes Valdamar as a mediaeval world with magic instead of a tech world with magic, the discussion devolved into an observation that successful writers write less well then when they were less successful.

Shimmer Party -- Fun. Except for that stalker. (Note to self: there's a down side to the World's Most Fabulous Shirt).

Dance -- There's not too many places left in the world where I can free-form dance to cheesy 80's music.


Archery -- really knowledgeable presenter and I wish that I had managed to get through checking out of my room in time to catch the beginning of the talk. As it was, there were some useful "this is what archers do and these are the mistakes writers and illustrators make depicting what archers do" points. Oh, and some cool bows.

Digging Into Cory Doctorow -- Probably not the best choice for me as getting the most out of this panel depended on reading most of Doctorow's work; I haven't read anything by him, and it sounds like I should. It sounds like he's a very smart technogeek writing slipstream.

Blogging for the Writer -- This panel challenged some of my ideas about blogs. I guess I've been "blogging" since 1990 or before, only back then it was called a mail list. The thing that I'd sort of forgotten about using a blog is that it's supposed to be fun. OK, and be careful, because the internet has collapsed people's social personas, so the boundaries between your work persona, your family persona, and your hobbies persona have gone away. There were other points -- like from a publicity standpoint it's better to be interesting than boring. And Cory Doctorow uses his blog like a wiki for what he's interested in... this is interesting to me because I use Voodoo Pad on the Macintosh as a notebook for keeping track of ideas and it would be nice to have just one database.

Beyond Llewelyn -- Well... someone had scheduled a filk fest in the Eugene Room before this panel and when some people get a guitar they lose all sense of time. After several people had mimed "time's up" at this person, we started chanting "Spam Spam Spam Spam" and they still kept on singing something that sounded marginally shorter (but just as cheesy) as "The Horsetamer's Daughter." Once the musicians had cleared out, we discovered that we had only one panelist and she wasn't the moderator. She did a great job trying to moderate, but after about twenty minutes of trying to engage the audience in more than "Llewelyn sucks if you want anything else but Wicca 101" observations, we all mutually agreed to end early. I did continue a conversation with two guys about gay paganism.

Immortality -- This one had a strong moderator. Even though the panel had a tendency to digress and interrupt each other, I got a lot of story setting ideas. I did wish the panel had agreed to talk about immortality instead of the failures of today's health system, and I wish they had agreed about what type of immortality they would talk about (biological or cyber). Someone suggested that the French Revolution... oh, wait... Actually, the most entertaining idea thrown out by an audience member was that The Medical System (which is profit driven) doesn't want to cure people, because if you cure someone, they go away and you only get to bill them once. What The Medical System has done in the past is give people treatments, which require multiple visitations and billings. However, The Medical System is in the process of switching to a "Wellness System", which means you get to preventively treat people before they get sick; so now you can bill healthy people (and there's more healthy people than sick people...).

Then we went home. I should say that Mark wins some sort of award for watching Arthur by himself all weekend and freeing me up to wear nice light-colored clothing without the fear of being used as a baby snot rag.
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