The Fourth Street Fantasy Convention is a bit different from other conventions that I go to. For one, there is a single programming track which means that everyone (mostly) goes to every panel. Most conventions that I attend are multi track which generally means that everything that I want to see is at the same time and the rest is just a matter of boredom control (OK, not quite that bad, but somehow programming managers always manage to pit the really good stuff against each other). Other than not having to decide which panel to go to, this allows for a certain amount of blending of the panels. That is, later panels can reference things that were discussed from earlier panels with a high level of confidence that most of the audience would know what they were talking about. This is both wonderful and a bit disconcerting at the same time.
The wonderful part should be pretty obvious. I don’t have to try and figure out how to take all the stuff that I learned during the convention and make it all work as a whole – we already did a lot of that work right there during the panels. When we started the weekend talking about Idioms, it was a discreet panel. However, as we moved into Intertextuality and Syncretism we continued to reference the idioms. We talked about how idioms inform the Intertextuality of our novels. How using different idioms would make our part of the long conversation a little different. We talked about how Syncretism is another aspect of Intertextuality. So I came away from the whole thing with one long conversation in my head.
That would be the disconcerting part. Where I would have distinct memories of each panel at another convention, even now, so soon after the end of the Fourth Street Fantasy conversation, I’m not sure that I remember the panels separately. It’s all just one big conversation in my head. Even the after panel discussions blend with the panels and I have to think much harder than I would expect to know whether Elizabeth Bear said that during the panel or when we were sitting around in the evening.
Ah the discussions in the evenings – what a wonderful invention. Fourth Street really puts a premium on getting to know your fellow attendees. The very structure of the convention is all about having a common experience and through that getting to know each other. I’m not a very social person. Meeting new people scares me more than I care to admit (and writing that line was a hard decision). Yet, despite the fear, I met a lot of new people this weekend. I got invited to dinners. I joined conversations with people I didn’t know, not even one familiar face to break the barriers. Then I sat next to the people I had just met in the panels and got to know them even better. I went to the convention expecting to know about 3 people there – the 3 people who had told me I really should go. When I walked in, that was true. On my way out, I hugged at least 15. Said “good-bye” to another thirty or so and waved to just about everyone between the panel room and the door. I’m only sad that I had to leave so early (other commitments).
So here is a brief list of the lessons I will be working on incorporating into my writing:
– Idioms inform character and world. Using the right one for the right situation is like magic.
– Making up idioms is cool. Making up idioms that your readers will understand is difficult. Don’t let that stop you.
– Different people from the same culture will use different idioms depending on class and status.
– Short fiction can only do three or four things at once, while longer forms can do much more.
– You can try anything you want. Experiments sometimes give negative results – learn from them.
– A story will tell you whether it is short or long – believe it.
– Fans who say “this should be a novel” mean they want more of things like it.
– Editors who say “this should be a novel” mean you stopped before the good stuff.
– One does not need electricity to have a good conversation.
– Readers will bring their experiences to your book, whether you want them to or not.
– You cannot control how people will see your work in the context of literary history, but you should be aware of it.
– Sometimes mixing your sources is the key to successfully creating something new.
– Emotional impact comes from carefully set up background.
– Editing allows you to go back and set it up.
– You can set up many different possibilities for your climax and only have one actually hit.
– Women and men are seen differently in relation to the hero’s/heroine’s journey, and you can’t change that.
– All work will be seen in the social context of the reader.
– You must acknowledge the differences, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept them.
– TV has an impact on your writing (even if you don’t watch TV)
– The set and act structure of our popular entertainments may be hurting our prose.
– Looking outside your background to how other cultures handle things will help you see what’s influencing you. Play with it.
– Showing isn’t the be all and end all of fiction.
– What you tell gives your readers a lot of information about your story.
– Telling can be just as compelling as showing if it’s the right time and done well.
– Not everyone who lives in a religion believes it 100%
– People are capable of living with conflicting beliefs
– Multi-culturalism happens – play with it. Cities are full of many different cultures living side by side.
– Writing should be fun.
Over all I had a great weekend, despite storms and power outs and no AC and all the other horrors we encountered. It will be a convention for the history books. I have much to think about now, so I will leave you with this. It is possible to have friendly conversations about deep topics with people who disagree and not kill each other. When that happens, ideas flow and learning happens. Go forth and find such communities.