This was a remarkably long day, even though I skipped a panel (a repeat topic with different panelists) for lunch and other sundry organization attempts. As before, I'll talk about the panels first, then some personal thoughts that arose from them that don't necessarily directly relate to the conference.
First, though, I want to comment generally on what an amazing, eloquently, witty, funny group of people all these panelists were. I think there was more uproarious laughter today than I can remember in a long time, and not just in the humor panel.
Faith And Fantasy (Jonathan Oliver (m), Ada Milenkovic Brown, Bill Willingham, James Moore, Kari Sperring): One of the panelists -I think it was Willingham - described his upbringing as Jewish and Catholic, which meant he had to go to confession, but he was allowed to bring a lawyer. They talked about the difficulty of removing belief from culture, how it serves to help us deal with not being the center of the world, and Welsh-born Sperring offered a hysterical rant about the cliche fantasy where the evil, monotheistic patriarchal religion persecuted the benign Celtic witches. The idea of quantum physics entered it near the end, in the sense that if you go deep enough, we are all made of nothing ... and if the universe is infinite, then by definition, we are, in fact, at its center (and so is every other point).
Humor In Horror and Fantasy (Michael Plested (m), Sarah Beth Durst, Nalo Hopkinson, Tanya Huff, Patrick Weekes): This was a great panel, and I was struck by how different it was from the perspective given at the Whimsical Fantasy WFC in 2010, though some of the same points predominated - that humor can be very sensitive to time period, but that character humor is universal. Other thoughts: it's funny because it's true; humor as a coping mechanism; faithful execution of an absurd premise; laughter as a way of bringing people together. One writer said they loved unintentional character revelation: a statement that seems normal to the character, but brings the reader up short and tells them a lot about a twisted world view. Durst earned my appreciation by stating how much she hates characters embarrassing themselves as a source of humor: she has to look away when it's on TV.
Another interesting possibility: humor that is relevant for the characters, but the reader doesn't get, as a way of illustrating the alienness or difference of a culture.
Defining Urban Fantasy (Linda Poitevin (m), Ginjer Buchanan, David B. Coe, Adria Laycraft, Tim Powers, S.M. Stirling): This panel confirmed a lot of the thoughts I had in the beginning of Oct about the growing definition in the field and distinction between urban and contemporary fantasy. It has become its own thing, where the city setting, the close, noir voice, the grit, and often the female protagonist, have become critical elements, with some cross-pollination with paranormal romance. Ultimately, the publisher on the panel, Buchanan, said it's a matter of sensibility. They also discussed the importance of using as much real world "lumber" as possible to ground the setting.
They Call Me The Wanderer (David D. Levine (m), Rajan Khanna, Stefon Mears, Robert V.S. Reick, Patrick Rothfuss): This panel proved both very philosophical and very specific, isolating the true wanderer, who has lost his place or cannot return, from the traveler, who has a destination or a home. The wanderer has both a lot of power as a source of information, but is also continuously an outsider. One panelist (can't remember who, alas) discussed traveling as building up a charge, and arrival as its release ... but the wanderer never truly arrives, so he maintains that electricity of potential. They also discussed the wanderer more broadly as an isolated figure and that the journey might be in time (such as vampires, the Wandering Jew, other immortals) as much as place.
Gothic Fantasy Noir (Elwin Cotman (m), Dana Cameron, Gemma Files, Elizabeth Hand, Rhiannon Held, Nicholas Kaufmann): This panel was far more intriguing than I had anticipated, comparing the conventions of the noir and the gothic and how they blend together in urban fantasy. They discussed the idea of a secret culture and how it operates in our world: one way of practice at home, another as soon as you walk out the door. The idea of the apocalypse came up in discussion: the gothic is a slow apocalypse; in other contexts, it's almost comforting, because you don't have to worry about the crushing details of mundanity. By contrast, the urban fantasy offers more hope: by giving real life phenomena you can't control (such as the rise of crime) a supernatural cause, such as a vampire boss, you can, well ... kick its tail. And both the noir and the urban fantasy frequently feature a moment of sacrifice, where something is put right, even as the protagonist has to pay the price.
One point was made that I loved: that too much grit is just as unrealistic than too much gloss, if not more so.
Here I took my break.
Bibliofantasies (Helen Marshall (m), Tina Connolly, Jennifer Crow, Michael DeLuca, Don Pizarro): One of the best panels I attended today, this was a thought-provoking discussion of the qualities of the fictional book, of why it intrigues so many people. The imaginary book, of course, is always more fascinating than any real tome could be, because our mind builds it up that way. (One panelist commented that the real horror of such stories is the fact that we can never find them and read them.) It binds the reader together with the character, because both are performing the same act, that of reading, and both are - or should be - changed by it. They also discussed how the electronic age influenced this, and came to the conclusion that the nature of the barriers had changed, but they still existed ... and there will be always be tension between what one wants to know and what knowledge you have access to.
I brought up Jasper Fforde's books and asked for comments, and the immediate response was, "They're awesome." Yep ... that's pretty accurate.
Special Guest Tanya Huff (interview by Sandra Kasturi): This was an amazing interview - Huff is a warm, personable, funny woman who said a lot of things that struck a chord with me. For instance, she always writes to an ending, and her outlines frequently phrases like "a bunch of stuff happens in the middle." She says she hits two-thirds of the way through a book, suddenly has an "aha!" moment as to what it's really about, goes back to tweak ... only to find her subconscious has been designing it that way all along. She also said that her personal recommendation is to stay away from your reviews, good and bad. One doesn't need the ego inflation, and the bad review will stick with you more than the dozens, even hundreds of good reviews. I was also heartened to see how many people nodded along when she said as a child, she never realized The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was a Christian parable. And ... she read D'Aulaire's Greek Myths as a kid as well. Oh, how I loved that book.
New Twists On Accepted Myths (Marie Bilodeau, Mercedes Lackey, Virginia O'Dine (m), Meg Turville-Heitz): This panel started on an aggravating note, the discussion of cultural appropriation and even the claim that one should possibly avoid taking on a mythology to which one has no personal connection. Oh, this is such a pet peeve of mine. Why should any mythology be more sacrosanct than another? Why should happenstance of birth define what I "should" write about? An audience member pointed out that this wariness can manifest as racism and a form of censorship, and drew the response from the panel that truly, any good writer needs sensitivity to their subject, regardless of its source. I'll go with that.
The panel otherwise focused on how myths move through time, and that the authentic ones can't be divorced from culture and the progression of history. The anthropologist in the group commented it was fascinating how historians place so much importance on found objects, not realizing that just because it was preserved, doesn't necessarily mean it was essential. Ultimately, mythology is how people understand the world, and create mythos have to embrace that.
I mentioned Ladyhawke, which is a fantastic example of a wholly invented myth that completely fits the themes and tropes of its originating culture.
So I said I wasn't going to buy any more books, but Patrick Weekes (see the humor panel) described his book, The Palace Job, as a humorous fantasy take on a heist story, ala Ocean's Eleven, and I pretty much couldn't summon up the willpower NOT to buy it. I am vastly looking forward to this one. How could it not be awesome?
Today, my writer thoughts were mostly about the Citadel, my setting where the gods of all the worlds have mysteriously vanished, leaving mere humans to use the tools they've left behind to serve as stand-ins. I've had a story published in this setting: The Weather-Woman, which appeared in Reflection's Edge and was basically a romance. But I had a brainstorm: in the story, which was the last novel I've ever abandoned outright (which I did because I think I was 60,000 words in and I realized I hadn't even gotten to what I thought was the meat of the story), I had decided I was going to reveal what really happened to the gods. It struck me that it's far more interesting to leave that nebulous, a setting point outside of the main conflict. Of course, there goes (more than) half my plot.
I'm also thinking through my FWO challenge story, which is being obnoxious in that it wants to start much earlier than I had originally intended for an ensemble piece - but I have an opening image so clear and vivid it has to begin there.
Considering this and how complex the zombie story is turning out, I think my brain is telling me if I don't work on a novel soon - and writing, not editing - there's going to be a revolution.
Oh! Almost forgot to explain the title:
Met Sheri Lane today, and it turned out she grew up in Cincinnati and found out in her research that Charles Dickens did a book tour in our city. Promotion was important even back then.