Thursday, November 01, 2012

WFC 2012: Day 1 - Enter The Bagpipes

This post comes in two parts - first, commentary on events and panels, and then some related thoughts / decisions of mine.  I'm going to assume most folks are interested in the former, so feel free to stop there.

Registration came this morning with a massive bag of books, more than I remember in previous years and some that look very intriguing.  As always, there was a swap table in case someone already had a book or something else looked better.  I was disappointed, however, to notice that there were apparently no anthologies in the book bags, so I told myself I was allowed to purchase one.  Just one.  No, really.

I also assisted with setting up the first of the freebie tables, since they weren't up that morning.  This means I got my bookmarks and cards out first.  Kathryn Sullivan had the excellent idea (particularly for a writers' conference) to create pens, so I'm actually using one of hers to scribe notes with.

Also walked out the rooms and noticed that the two locations for panels on Fri-Sat-Sun could not be further apart.  Oof.

Next stop - panels!

Whither The Dark Arts? (Stephen Pearl (m), Richard Gavin, David Sakmyster and Derek Kunsken):  The panel discussed psychic detectives, whether the concept is alive and well, and how it plays out in modern fantasy.  As happens in so many of these concepts, the panelists took a particular delight in debunking the panel title and the flavor text.  A lot of intriguing example works were mentioned, such as Charles Stross' series that combines computer IT with something like the Cthulhu mythos, a work whose author I didn't catch named Zeus City, and mysteries featuring angel Remy Chandler.  They talked about how so frequently, the two worlds of the psychic detective - the mundane world and the speculative one - overlay each but don't interact; the analog (or lack thereof) with the hardboiled detective and the knight-on-white-charger phenomena; and the narrative power of mysteries:  ask a question and the reader will hang with you until it's answered.

I asked here about the difficulties of balancing an occult power that could potentially end a mystery before it starts - for instance, the medium who can speak to the deceased and asked who killed them.  How do you keep coming up with mysteries in these circumstances without it feeling contrived?  Not that - as I think about it more - regular mysteries are immune to this:  think of how many people just happened to drop dead around Jessica Fletcher ...

The Wilderness Within (Eileen Gunn (m), John Clute, Nathan Crowder, Lois Gresh, Matthew Moore):  Such cosmic irony in the timing of this panel.  It was meant to imply that the exterior wilderness has given way to a more internalized, urbanized form ... but the topic that infused much of the dialogue was that of Hurricane Sandy and what she demonstrated - the malice of the world, our belief that we have a much bigger place in it than we do, that we can control it.  It was pointed out the Puritans thought the wilderness was evil; we've evolved beyond that view, but we're sometimes still conflicted by it, balanced between fear and respect.  There were also a few anecdotal stories that evolved into a comparison between a sea of elk and a sea of outlaw bikers.  (Thank you, Eileen Gunn.)

Opening Ceremonies (Gary K. Wolfe introducing Guests of Honour and Special Guests):  This was only about fifteen minutes long and basically consisted of an introduction to the guests of honor and expressed hopes that we could all hit the bar.  It was prefaced by a piper in full dress, and I had to explain to the poor person sitting next to me (hi, Folly Blaine!) why I had just said, "Get me a shotgun."  That is:  why yes, harpers and bagpipers have an ongoing feud.

Reality Made Fantastic, Or Fantasy Made Real (Garfield Reeves-Stevens (m), Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Judy Reeves-Stevens, Kat Richardson):  (Mercedes Lackey was, regrettably, still en route at the time of this panel.  Safe journeys, Ms. Lackey!)  First of all, it needs to be mentioned that apparently, Patrick Nielsen Hayden gets tweets from dyslexic Neil Patrick Harris fans.  The Reeves-Stevenses (... no, I don't know if that's the proper plural.  Is it like Jacks-in-the-box?) are into film and media tie-ins, and had a lot of interesting things to say about approaching the fantastic element.  For instance, when pitching a Witch World pilot, they found they could take two angles:  start with the fantastic world, then introduce the modern character, or start with the modern character and then pull back to the world.  PNH stated that that many books that are "almost publishable" are those that have too much invention, too fast, and Kat Richardson drew a parallel to The Matrix:  you can only swallow one pill at a time.

Another very interesting concept was that of imagination overhead:  both for the reader, who has to have the capacity to encompass certain ideas, and for the writer, who has to use the proper frames of reference.

I piped up with the third imagination overhead:  the character.  I asked the panel to comment on suspension of disbelief, when it's too fast, when it's too slow, and they generally agreed that the most important part was it had to be appropriate to the character.  Richardson commented that she almost found it more annoying when the character suspended disbelief too fast.  It was also pointed out that many modern transplant stories involve characters who themselves have read fantasy or seen recent pop culture examples, like the Lord of the Rings movies or Harry Potter.

Music Hath Charms (And Terrors) (Charles de Lint (adhoc m), Robert Eldridge, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Neil Williamson):  Ellen Kushner couldn't make it, so de Lint sort of got shanghaied into moderating.  I loved this panel, and it focused more than I had expected on the incorporation of music that really interests me:  when it's not overt / obvious, a musician character, but the influence of musical themes and the presence of music in a story.  De Lint commented he "scores" his fiction, using musical devices, such as staccato language, to convey mood.  I got (too) many recommendations of fiction to look up.  In particular, I want to look up Williamson, because he apparently has stories that are intended as musicals:  narrative prose, but all the dialogue is intended to be sung.

PNH discussed something which I was surprised I didn't know about, given my focus / study on the Renaissance era:  gallery music, which was essentially pub musicians brought in to play church music from the galleries, and their very rousing, toe-tapping renditions of what are typically thought of as stately church hymns.  It's a backwards take on what I'm familiar with, the religious borrowing and "taming" of traditional music.  Also covered:  music as pre-verbal structures of feeling, genre expectations in music itself, and the idea of avoiding a detailed description of magical music and illustrating it by the audience's reaction.

I took a moment to pipe up about my experience with a Scandinavian music class, where the teacher pointed out a certain comma end-of-phrase structure, and told us that it was present in the language, as well.  This really struck me as an illustration of the bond between music and language.

Our Monsters, Our Selves (James Alan Gardner (m), Lena Oakley, Ellen Datlow, Christopher Golden, Richard A. Kirk):  Great panel - way better than I expected it to be, considering it wasn't a topic of huge interest to me.  There was a surprisingly involved discussion of zombies, including as a metaphor for resurrection.  And I finally heard an explanation of the phrase "uncanny valley," which I had just taken for granted, courtesy of Oakley.  It actually comes from computer science / robotic development, where scientists tracked on a graph that humans become more empathetic to a robot the more human it looked - until the point it became *too* human, at which point the empathy drops sharply - hence a "valley" in the chart.

Other topics touched upon:  monsters as perverted versions of humanity; making something monstrous potentially allows you to draw it out and make friends with it; the fear / attraction of breaking taboos.

At this point, the panels are over for the day and I am feeling sort of like a zombie, myself.

I took some personal notes during all this, too.  I jotted down the story idea I had come up with waiting in the cellphone lot and watching the pair (they looked like mother and son to me, but I'm not so great with ages; they could have been a couple) in the neighboring car.  And I got some great ideas for the zombie story (yes, you read that right) I've been mulling over, in particular to use a "superstorm" such as Sandy to delay the kind of military reaction that would "realistically" shut down such an event.

Especially in the monsters panel, I keep hearing reinforcement for my newborn zombie idea.  I'm doing it "right" and tapping into the elements that I want to tap into, going into directions that bring out the kind of story I want to tell ... even though zombies aren't my usual tools.  I really want to work on the science aspect - not of the zombies themselves, but of a consequence that I think makes this is an unusual take.  It's the pivotal point of the concept, and it was inspired by two photos I got at a zombie walk.  (Yes, you read that right.)

I also purchased two books.  I only brought American cash with me to discourage myself from buying stuff.  This has ... sort of worked, but it's only Thursday evening.  Anyhow, the two were Booklife, by Jeff Vandermeer, which looked like a great resource for a writer not just limited to writing, and Rum and Runestones, an anthology of fantastic pirate stories from the BroadUniverse table.  I picked this one partly to support BU and Laurel Anne Hill, who rode to the rescue in starting up the table today.

Finally, I made some plans for the next few months.  Haven't figured out how my editing will dovetail, but next stories:  FWO November challenge; cellphone lot couple; prep and then write zombie piece ... and in January, I want to go back through my notes for all the prior World Fantasy Cons and strip out specific ideas and recommended reading.

As an aside, I got to recommend Connie Willis' Inside Job to someone today.  I really can't speak highly enough about the novella - it's awesome.  Great meshing of supernatural elements with a historical persona, and (coming from someone who hates titling) it has an absolutely perfect title.

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