Recap of Saturday’s Fun:
I kicked off Saturday with a delightful Kaffeeklatsch hosted by Victoria Janssen, a skilled writer of erotic fiction. If that strikes you as an odd choice on my part, given that my focus is on writing YA and MG stories, check my part 1 post for the explanation. It was a great conversation that ran the gamut of topics from industry trends to work-life balance. During this Klatsch, I met Sam Schreiber, whom I re-met later the same day. More on that in a bit.
I rushed from Victoria’s kaffeeklatsch to Susan Jane Bigelow’s workshop.
Maybe they didn’t expect many people to attend it? They put her in one of the smaller Salons in the hotel room. Big mistake. By the time I arrived at 9:04, every seat was filled, and folks were beginning to sit on the floor, myself included. No way was I going to miss Susan’s workshop.
I’m fascinated by government systems as portrayed in fiction. And, since my current project is all about the upheaval of an existing government system, I thought it would be good to sharpen my world building tools.
Also, I saw Susan for the first time at Boskone in February. She participated in a panel called “Governmental Structures in SFF” that was outstanding. I wrote a summary of the discussion here.
I don’t know if Susan was inspired to create this workshop from the Boskone panel discussion or not, but she gave an epic workshop. She made all of her slideshow available on her website, too. Check it out.
What governments do.
What forms governments can take.
How governments go bad.
Current government structures with examples from the US, Iran, and Italy.
Historical government structures with examples from medieval Europe and China.
Questions an author should ask/answer when creating a fantasy or science fiction government.
Great, right? Yeah, it was.
Serendipitously, I was working my way through The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2017 Collection, edited by John Joseph Adams and Charles Yu. I had picked it up during my final residency for my MFA in creative writing program at Lesley University at the end of June. Catherynne has a story in the collection called The Future is Blue. I hadn’t yet read it when this Klatsch happened, but I’ve read it since then, and Odin it was so good! Space Opera is now on my TBR list.
The rest of my Saturday at ReaderCon was a whirlwind of panel discussions, followed by an awkward encounter at the hotel bar with a man who unintentionally offended me multiple times as he tried to chat me up while I ate dinner. Thank Thor, Sam Schreiber turned up and gave me a reason to extricate myself from a bad conversation for a much, MUCH better one. Sam is a member of the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Group, and he helps produce the podcast Kaleidocast.
I just listened to the first episode of season two, by the way. The story, “Playing Nice with God’s Bowling Ball” by N. K. Jemisin, was quite enjoyable, and the woman who narrated the story, Tatiana Grey, did an excellent job.
Shameless plug, Sam (if you happen to read this), I would love to narrate a story for you fine folks.
I discovered the existence of the Boston Speculative Fiction Writers Group pretty much accidentally while at ReaderCon. Had Sam not mentioned it in passing during our conversation at the hotel bar, I might never have stumbled upon its existence. This was after I used him to extricate myself from a very uncomfortable conversation with some Rando who was making me very nervous.
The hotel restaurant was packed on Saturday night, so I asked to be seated at the bar for dinner since there were actual seats available there. They put me next to an older gentleman who was also eating dinner at the bar. I ordered my food, got my food, ate my food, and then decided that it might be fun to try my hand at “Barconning,” so I ordered a beer and sat, hoping to see someone I had already spoken to earlier so I could say hello and try to have a conversation with him or her.
Long story short, that was when the man sitting beside me, who was not part of the convention, proceeded to tell me that he’d like to beat the $h!7 out a fellow standing at a nearby table for laughing too loud.
Reg flags up, warning bells ringing, iceberg dead ahead. Course correction needed five minutes ago.
Then, he asked what the convention was about and I told him.
The man with the violent tendencies and hair trigger then said, “I always wanted to write a book because I’m a pretty good writer, and I bought this house once to renovate it but when I went inside of it, it had this feeling like it was possessed, like not just haunted, you know, but possessed by evil, like that Amityville house, you know what I mean, with the walls just and voices screaming at me to just, just get out, get out, get out like it was pure evil. That would make a pretty good book, right?”
The side of this boat has been torn off, folks. Evacuate if you can.
That’s when I saw the guy from Victoria Janssen’s kaffeeklatsch. What was his name? Loki, why am I so terrible with names? Sam! His name is Sam! Okay, be cool. Keep the fear and desperation out of your voice.
“Oh, hi there! You’re Sam, right? You were in Victoria’s Kaffeeklatsch with me.”
Sam’s smile was as glorious a sight as a life raft to a drowning victim.
I jumped ship and did so without a shred of guilt.
End of Tangent
On Sam’s suggestion, I skipped the Comedy Show happening at 9 PM in the ballroom and instead scoped out the Boston Speculative Fiction Writers Group, where I had a great conversation with author Elaine Isaak. [I later learned that the party was hosted not by the writing group but by the related Speculative Boston Readers Series Group. Not entirely the same thing.]
She’s a member of BSFG, and I’d seen her on a few panels at Boskone. It was great to see her again and talk to her in a smaller, more informal setting. She told me about another organization, Broad Universe, and invited me to check it out. I did, and I’ll be joining the latter group while wishing the former group was open to new members.
At around 10:30 PM, I finally made it up to the eighth floor, where the ReaderCon Suite resided. All weekend long, folks had been mentioning the ConSuite up on the eighth floor. I had envisioned it as a secret VIP room for the chosen few where high powered con-goers sat around schmoozing with one another high above the lowly commoners (like me). A ridiculous notion, I know, but I’m still new to the world of book and writing conventions. Cut me some slack.
Sam Schreiber was the one who got me to swallow my misguided fears and get into the elevator. Turns out, it really was just a place to hang out, eat free food, drink free beverages, and chat with entirely ordinary people! I had a long conversation with a book dealer who woke me up to the existence of CanLit (Canadian Literature). We also discussed Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and Plato. Peter, from Ontario, it was a pleasure debating the philosophy of myth and religion with you, sir.
I called it a night at 12:30 AM, an obnoxiously late hour for me.
Second Name Drop
Ready for this?! I ate breakfast with Samuel Delany. Can you freaking believe it?
Despite getting to bed at a ridiculously late hour (for me), I got down to the restaurant at 7:30 AM for breakfast. Just in time for the rush, apparently. The guy standing in line ahead of me shifted, and I noticed he was wearing a ReaderCon badge (on a lanyard, so I had to stare at his belly to read his name and hope he didn’t notice and take offense).
Samuel Delany? Oh Sugar Honey Iced Tea, I must talk to this man. I must open my mouth and stammer out a hello to this giant in the sci-fi literature world. Be cool. Be cool. Just say hello. That’s all you have to do.
“Hi, are you Sam Delany?”
What a nice guy. Just as open and friendly as Ken Schneyer had been on Friday. After a few minutes of talking about the convention and the panels, the waitress said she was ready to seat him. He turned and asked if I would like to share a table with him because he was all by himself–his spouse, Dennis, had elected to sleep late. Gee, um, let me think. Okay!
So I got to spend Sunday morning chatting with Samuel Delany about his career, his process, his love of genre fiction, his love of ReaderCon, and other random stuff over eggs and bacon and oatmeal. He even let me snap a selfie of the two of us together, because who would believe me that I’d had breakfast with him unless I obtained photographic evidence?
After breakfast, Sam and I walked together to his and my first panel of the day:
Curses, World Building Through Explitives
It was, of course, a highly entertaining and thought-provoking hour. In hindsight, I wish Catherynne Valente and Scott Lynch had been on the panel, as they both make lovely use of expletives as world building tools in their writing. Still, Francesca Forrest, Sarah Smith, Vinnie Tesla, Yves Meynard, and Sam had the audience laughing and scribbling notes like crazy.
They talked about the fine art of inventing curse words. Vinnie brought up the standard technique of blending “high” and “low” into a contrasting and therefore ironic and insulting combination (“holy shit,” for example). Sam mad the excellent point that the preferred pejoratives a culture uses tell a lot about systems of power and dominance in a fictional world. A culture that tosses around “bitch,” “slut,” and “cunt” is probably patriarchal. Curses that invoke a world’s religion(s) or god(s) will always be blasphemous, and Yves Meynard brought up the use of swears that denigrate certain professions or geographies as excellent and quick ways to tell readers who the underclass are in a world.
Bloody great stuff, am I right?
Then, it was off to the next discussion:
Crime and Punishment Panel
The discussion kicked off by identifying familiar “criminal” archetypes in fantasy and science fiction. Rogues, thieves, burglars, tricksters are the big four.
The nature or purpose of incarceration both in life and in fiction generated lots of questions and comments from the audience. Is the primary purpose of imprisonment to punish the individual or to send a message to the broader populace? Or is it a tool to rehabilitate, and if so, who decides what constitutes “rehabilitated?”
The discussion was fascinating and unsettling all at the same time.
Final Panel of My ReaderCon Experience: How Horror Stories End
This was the panel I’d been most looking forward to all weekend.
Horror is my favorite genre. It lives and breathes deep in my psyche. In the second grade, I filled a notebook with short stories, all of them involving bloody deaths and vicious murders and witches eating babies for breakfast. All accompanied by my own gory illustrations in bright Crayola colors. It’s a wonder I didn’t end up meeting regularly with the school psychiatrist.
Nick opened things up by asking the question: Can a horror story have a happy ending?
Short answer, no. Not really.
Characters can survive. They can even defeat the enemy and save the day, but it still isn’t a happy ending because said characters have been forever changed (probably damaged) by their ordeal.
The discussion then shifted to the concept of definitive versus ambiguous endings in horror novels. Ellen Datlow professed that ambiguous endings get tiresome. She likes a story that ties up all the loose ends. [Correction: Ellen did not actually say that. That was my (mis)interpretation. Rather, she said that reading too many stories with ambiguous endings gets tiresome, and there seem to be many of them, so the stories with definitive endings are a welcome break from that. That’s not a direct quote either, but I think I’m correctly capturing the spirit of her words.] Other panelists tried to come up with concrete examples of horror stories that do that. The Haunting of Hill House was mentioned as a horror story with a concrete ending. I suppose it is for the characters, but (and I applaud Yves for pointing this out) it still contains a level of ambiguity because Hill House survives. It continues to exist, so the potential for future horrors remains. I thought of Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie. The ending is definitive for the characters, but King tacked on a “letter” at the end of the book that left the door of ambiguity open.
Panelists and audience members alike tossed out example after example, each with an ending that seemed to contain both definitive and ambiguous notes. Given that the human psyche wants neat endings, wants things wrapped up and resolved, wants problems solved. Ambiguity is inherently horrifying to us.
In my opinion, the only successful use of a genuinely definitive ending in a horror story would involve the heroes losing and the villains winning. I’m thinking of a recent superhero film that shall not be directly named, to half-heartedly dodge spoiling it for folks who haven’t yet seen it. Pretty unambiguous but definitely horrifying.
It was a great panel!
And Then I Went Home
By the end of “How Horror Stories End,” I was well and truly done. Fatigue slammed into me like a wrecking ball loosed from its chain. I might have actually staggered. I checked out of my room, quickly and without difficulty, caught the shuttle to the Redline, the Redline to North Station. So as not to miss my stop should I fall asleep, I set an alarm on my watch. Thank Thor for a bit of foresight, because I did indeed tumble into the land of Nod shortly after the train started moving. An hour later, I was home. It took me a week to recover from four days of high-octane interactions and very little sleep, but it was worth it!
So, that was my adventure at ReaderCon 2018. It took two ridiculously long posts to cover all the fun, I know, but I gotta say, I had an incredible time. If you’re a fan of science fiction and fantasy stories, you have to get to ReaderCon. You won’t be disappointed.
Except, maybe, by the lack of towel hooks.
Thanks for dropping by and as always, happy writing to you.