Saturday at the World Fantasy convention was awesome. Tons of amazing panels, with excellent advice and some very interesting insights.
First, I attended “The Story Cycle vs. The Novel,” which was moderated by L.E. Modesitt. The panelists talked about the evolution of a series and the difference between a cycle of novels vs. a continuation. In a story cycle, there may be many books, but one ending, whereas in a more loose series, every novel is a standalone with an ending. In another panels someone used the analogy of an avalanche vs. skipping stones, which I found quite useful.
Next, I attended “The Continued Viability of Epic Fantasy.” The panel started out by defining epic fantasy (as opposed to heroic / sword & sorcery), which they more or less agreed has the following characteristics:
- Takes place in an alternate world
- Is large in scope, rather than personal
- Involves characters who are trying to save the world
- Has a multi-strand plot with many viewpoints
- Has an extended story arc
David Drake then blew the premise of the panel out of the water by arguing that epic fantasy is still selling well–in fact, that the market has been expanding over the past ten years.
Drake also pointed out, however, that when you’re successful, the normal commercial rules don’t apply; first, you have to prove your chops, realizing that the publishers will lose money on your first couple of books. That’s just a fact, and anyone who denies it is arrogant and stupid.
The next panel was “Slaughtering the Evil Hordes,” about the barbaric hordes trope in fantasy and whether it’s disturbing or a good thing. I asked the question: “how can you have the hordes win and still make it work?” and Tom Doherty pointed to Modesitt’s Magic of Recluse as a good example of this. Basically, you have to show the good in each side, sometimes by a shift that makes the reader suddenly and unexpectedly see the hordes in a new light.
Next, I attended “The Moral Distance Between the Author and the Work.” This panel was quite fascinating. One of the interesting questions that was raised was whether you can deduce an author’s morals from reading their work. At first, the panelists said that in good art, you can’t, but then Scott Edelman and Eric Flint pointed out that if you read an artist’s whole corpus, usually you can. Nancy Kress compared artists to dandelions; over time, you grow and mature, but when you send out work, where it goes and what happens to it has nothing to do with you as the artist.
One of the best panels, however was “Authors and Ideas,” which happened the next hour. The panelists started by agreeing that as an author, your most deeply held personal beliefs will always show up in your work, whether or not you know you believe it. The stuff we believe most firmly, we never even think to question because it is invisible to us. Most aliens in sci fi are less alien than the Japanese, and our own great great grandparents are more alien to us than anything else.
The panel then got on to how writing is a collaboration between the author and the reader, where the writer has no control over what the reader will take from it. Even though your art will contain your beliefs, in order to be great it must also convey what you don’t believe–the “opposition in all things” element. Done well, the author “shakes hands with the reader over the character’s head.”
After the panels, I had dinner at the con suite–and let me just say, the convention organizers went WAAAAY out of their way to make the con suite awesome. They literally provided every meal, and enough of it to feed everyone who came in, which really surprised me. A huge thanks to everyone who volunteered with organizing and running the con.
Anyway, I got into a HUGE discussion at dinner with an amazing couple who runs a used book business out of Massachusetts. We talked about artificial intelligence, the physical limits of computer circuits, and whether it’s possible for us to one day emulate the human brain on a computer system. Gained some very interesting insights for my novel Genesis Earth, as well as just a general fun time. Conversations like this are one of the things I treasure about these events.
And then I bounced around the parties for the rest of the night. Had fun, talked with Tom Doherty and a handful of authors (though not as many as last year), but probably most importantly made a bunch of awesome writer friends, with whom I will be keeping in touch after the convention.
I might not have met a bazillion agents and editors this year, but I did make a ton of friends among the aspiring writers and editors, and that definitely counts for something. I look forward to staying in touch and supporting everyone as we break in and make our mark; we’re the next generation of an awesome literary tradition, and we’re definitely going to keep it going!