Readercon in short: a few panels, which went well; bake sale; naps; sitting in the lobby to stitch and talk.
Readercon at greater length:
We arrived Friday about 90 minutes before my 6pm panel and I chose sleep over food, which fortunately was not a disaster, as I feared it might be when I was hastily downing granola bars after waking from my nap. Anyway, that panel was:
The Dissonant Power of Alternative Voicing
At Readercon 21, there was a panel discussion on the use of documentary text in fiction to lend "authority" to the voice. It can be argued, however, that alternative voicing strategies, particularly the use of documents, framing narratives, etc., are powerful precisely because they are not authoritative. Readers know that they are reading an incomplete version of the document, and consequently are led to imagine what is not being said. What lurks in the interstices between texts? What is this particular document-writer failing to say, or deliberately omitting? This panel will explore the use of dissonance occasioned by indirect voicing to make the reader a fuller, more active participant in the process of creating the fiction.
Panelists: Glenn Grant, Paul Levinson, Kate Nepveu, Kenneth Schneyer (leader), Howard Waldrop.
Some sketchy recollections:
We talked about how, if you're going to use documents (mission reports, newspaper articles, diaries, etc.) in your text, it's important to get the form right and how that can be difficult. [*] Personally I tend to be very easily distracted by implausible form in first-person narratives, like when people say "I have to stop writing in this diary now and go to sleep" but the entry they're wrapping up is eighty print pages long: it reminds me that there's no way they could have written the book and still had time to live the events. Not surprisingly, I regard the death of the required frame story as one of the major instances of progress in Western literature.
[*] I volunteered my law-beta services here and was delighted to be asked a question in the hallway after!
There was some discussion over using documents for exposition but also how they should also serve other purposes, because otherwise they can feel like a lump the author couldn't get in any other way. On the other hand, I think we may not have given sufficient attention to the possibilities inherent in, you know, fictional document forms, like, I don't know, memory aids in the form of word matrices, or whatever.
Someone in the audience said their writing group didn't like their use of documents because it took them away from the characters who were their hook into the story. That's a risk, sure; you just have to decide what kind of story you want to tell.
Once again I got weird looks for saying that the frame story of Lord of the Rings throws me out of the story and increases my disbelief. Other works mentioned: a lot of things I haven't read, including Waldrop's Them Bones and Patrick Rothfuss' epic fantasies (which, apparently, are using a frame story to set expectations for the eventual direction of the story, and, it was argued, to make a strong argument about the existence of unreliable first-person narrators); Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep (how could I have forgotten it!); and Brust's Agyar, as a note-perfect example of a diary.
Oh, and I asserted that the narrator of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (who is omniscient and a person, specifically a woman, but of the time being written about and therefore not Susanna Clarke) also wrote the footnotes, and now I'm not sure that's the case. I am sure that the footnotes are not academic in the sense of being written by present-day scholars (I went through once and determined that, as far as I could tell, the latest reference is to something in the 1830s (chapter 40, note 3, the dates for the Duke of Wellington's horse)), but I can't put my finger now on why I thought the narrator of the text wrote the notes and not, say, her contemporary publisher. Anyone?
ETA 2011-08-16: the narrator wrote the footnotes, see chapter 5, note 4, which uses the first person ("why I do not know," in describing Mr Tubbs' actions.)
Anyway, I thought this started a little slowly but it seemed to pick up life as we went on—this may just be the waking-up-from-a-nap talking—and there were some good questions from the audience.
(Generally speaking, I'm not sure any of my panels needed to be the full 75 minutes like Arisia or WisCon, but they definitely could have been more than the 50 minutes we had (as we were told to start at 5 after and end at 5 of).)
Then I had a congenial meal at the mall food court with some people I wound up talking to after the panel, came back and put up signs for the bake sale the next day, and then lobby-sat for a while working on stitching and talking to people.
Saturday I got the bake sale set up, put the keys in the capable and generous hands of sparkymonster, and then went to my panel for the day:
Paranormal Romance and Otherness
In science fiction, aliens are often used to explore aspects of otherness in our own society, such as gender and race. How are the mythical creatures of paranormal romance and urban fantasy being used to explore these same issues? What are the advantages and the pitfalls for writers?
Panelists: Victoria Janssen (leader), Alaya Dawn Johnson, Toni L.P. Kelner, Kate Nepveu, JoSelle Vanderhooft
This was mostly, and I mean this in a good way, the panel of Alaya Dawn Johnson talking about cool things she did with Moonshine, which is set in New York City's Lower East Side during the 1920s: historically diverse setting, vampires as relatively weak, lots of intersectionality, placing the genie character in his cultural context.
Which is to say: if your similar-to-our-world setting is diverse in lots of ways even before you put your mythical creatures in, then you're not displacing existing issues (of race, gender, class, ability, sexuality) onto the mythical creatures, thereby erasing the existing people (or equating them with creatures!) and replacing difficult issues with something easier to deal with in a shallow and glib way. If you think about your tropes and your worldbuilding instead of using defaults, you're less likely to end up with unconsidered skeevy power dynamics. If you make your characters well-rounded and think about all aspects of their lives, you'll be more likely to have addressed whatever intersectional issues affect them.
We also talked a bit about the use of magical/supernatural abilities as a disability metaphor, though I think we could have done a lot more with this; and I'm not sure we talked about class at all. We talked some about same-sex relationships in paranormal romance and urban fantasy, but at this point I can't remember what.
Anyway, this also seemed to be well-received, which was nice, but I ran right out to get back to the bake sale because the time between panels is the busiest.
The bake sale wrapped by 12:30 and did very well; at least one person pointed out that Readercon's con suite and green room have traditionally been on the minimalist end of things, which probably accounts for a lot. That actually let me get to a panel on the critical uses of the term "urban fantasy," notes for which are forthcoming.
Then I got as far as sitting down in the lobby with some work I should have been doing when I realized I couldn't keep my eyes open, so napped again before going out to a grown-up dinner with Chad (who, alas, had not had a particularly satisfying experience at the "book inflation" panel that morning). Then I lobby-sat again and for the rest of the night, skipping out on Kirk Poland because I wasn't in the mood, and like the night before, had some lovely conversations before turning in fairly early.
Sunday I was spared the need to go to the Panera down the street for breakfast by the ever-bountiful Viable Paradise brunch, and then went to my last panel:
Borders (if Any) Between Fan Fiction and "Original Fiction"
Maguire's Wicked books. Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Chabon's The Final Solution. Kessel's "Pride and Prometheus." Resnick's "The Bride of Frankenstein." Reed's "A Woman's Best Friend." Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Heinlein's The Number of the Beast. All of these stories employ characters, settings, and pre-existing plots from other authors, yet these authors (with the possible exception of Chabon) would probably deny that what they have written is "fan fiction." Lee Goldberg has spent thousands of words explaining why his dozens of authorized television tie-in novels are not "fan fiction." Is there an actual, definable difference between fan fiction and original fiction, or this just another instance, like Margaret Atwood's, of authors rejecting a label or genre in order to remain "respectable" or "marketable?"
Participants: Gwynne Garfinkle, Eileen Gunn, Kate Nepveu, Madeleine Robins, Kenneth Schneyer (leader)
I'm not cutting anything else because I have links to other people's notes instead of my own recollections! Or, well, in addition to. Anyway: Erin Kissane and kouredios both posted notes; I meant to comment at the first, but never got around to it, and saved all my clarifications and additions for kouredios's post, so you might start there. I do want to apologize here as well as there, though, for laughing when Madeleine Robins asked if there was such a thing as real person fic; it wasn't malicious but it was rude, and I'm sorry.
This was fun and was more in-depth than I thought it might from the description, which suggested a pretty 101-type panel to me (which I didn't mind, because it is Readercon). (Oh, and for those wondering at the sole guy being the mod, the panel was his idea.)
Then I went to rushthatspeaks's reading of reviews from the 365 Books project, which IIRC were:
- The Singing Creek Where The Willows Grow by Opal Whiteley (alas, it wasn't clear to me that the reading had started so I missed the killer first paragraph)
- The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth
- 300 by Frank Miller
- Sarashina Nikki + Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian
all of which I commend to your reading attention. These were well and fluidly read, and the audience laughed in all the right places, so that was a pleasure.
And then I was basically done.
I had a good time; my panels went well and I had a bunch of good conversations and some naps, all of which was refreshing in its own ways. I do remain unconvinced that it's a good idea for Readercon to start on Thursday night of a non-holiday weekend that follows closely upon a major US holiday weekend, but I suspect that boat has sailed.