October 10th, 2006

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

The long-delayed VCon report

What with one thing and another, I got *sidetracked*. So, before I get sidetracked further, here's a short account of the COnvention That Was over the last weekend.

First off was Friday, with the full-day Master Classes being presented by four of us - yours truly, Matt Hughes, Lisa Smedman and GoH Barbara Hambly. It really was a full-day affair, with 34 people sitting there in the audience while the four of us talked and taught and itneracted - and there were a lot of exercises and do-this-and-do-that things. Barabara Hambly had a scene-setting exercise which provided lots of fun as well as a learning experience. I was last, with my topic of "keys to character" - and the discussion ranged far and wide, with talk of stereotypes versus archetypes and what either individually or both together mean for a story in which they occur - the shorthand for differentiating them appears to be that a stereotype is something you RECOGNISE and an archetype is something you UNDERSTAND on a fundamental level without even knowing why you understand it so completely. It was fun, and instructive, and if invited back next year I'm SO there.

My first panel was barely an hour after the Master Classes concluded - a panel on Where History Ends and Fantasy Begins, and it was a vigorous, interesting panel with articulate fellow panelists who had a lot of pertinent things to say and a lively and participative audience. A good beginning to a convention.

Saturday rdeck and I first went to a couple of panels as audience - one was a panel on immortality and that was a thoroughly wonderful one, with a bunch of things that triggered a bunch of story ideas - not just for me, I saw lots of other people taking notes. That was followed by a panel on Global Warming, which had Donna McMahon, VCon's current treasurer and a friend, on it as a panelist. It was a sobering, even somewhat grim, panel, but it was painfully honest and it asked a heap of questions that need to be asked *and answered* RIGHT NOW before things get much worse than they already are. (There's always ONE twit in the audience, though, and for this particular panel there was one guy who complained that there was "nobody on the panel to speak to the positive aspects of global warming". He was roundly told that should there be any they would be few, and very quickly smothered under the weight of the displaced millions as huge masses of real estate disappear beneath rising oceans and a billion dispossessed people try to find higher ground...) Then we had lunch at the Irish Pub place attached to the hotel, and after that it was MY show.

I had a panel at 4 PM, a reading at 5:30, another panel at 7, and another at 10. A full day's work in an afternoon.

The 4 o'clock panel was FUN. It was entitled "How I write a novel", and it was a bunch of writers talking about writing, which is always a joy. There was lots of laughter, and lots of heads nodding in the audience at one or another comment which hit some sort of personal triumph or disaster - and although it was one of the better attended panels it wound up being one of the more intimate ones.

The reading went okay, and I had brought extra copies of the booklet with the excerpt which I was reading which all disappeared from the freebie table so you might say I had a bigger audience than turned up at the actual reading itself. But A member of my reading audience did say, at the conclusion of my presentation, that she didn't usually go in for YA stuf - but that she would be keeping an eye out for THIS one. ALways good news.

We spent a brief and pleasant interlude with Rob Sawyer and an entire posse of other people at the nearest pub-like place, and then I had to run to my next panel.

The 7 PM panel was on "shadowy characters", and I was moderating that one. It kind of meandered a little as we wound up talking about all KINDS of shadowy characters, not just the basic implication of someone not entirely good. There were a lot of lovely comments from the audience ("If you can have someoen who is irredeemably damned, can you also have someone who is undamnably redeemed?") Turns out we all liked shadowy characters. At their most benign they are the comic relief tricksters; at their most dangeous they are the black soul of the universe; in between they are the characters who are the catalysts and the triggers and the pivots for our worlds and the events that unfold within them. They are essential. May the Gods, whichever Gods they pray to (or are), bless them all.

We went up to a party in the intervening period between the end of this pannel and my late-night one, and spent a brief but pleasant time chatting to various friends and new acquaintances for a while until I had to excuse myself and go down to my 10 o'clock, which was entitled "When the heroine isn't blonde, 18 and a size 3" - but the blurb of the panel didn't make it clear whether we were attacking ageism, sexism or general stereeotyping and it developed instead into a conversation between the three somewhat tired paneilsts who were probably a little too laid back at this point to be coherent and the handful of audience who were interested and involved enough to stay up for the panel. We were actually told by one audience member, after, "thanks for not blowing off this panel,it was great". Again, always good news.

Then I went up to another party while rdeck sensibly went to bed; and after that I went to the midnight showing of teh Rocky Horror Picture SHow. Great, as always. But it also meant I hit the sack after 2 AM...

...And on Sunday we got up, packed, stowed our stuff in the car, and then went for a late and very pleasant breakfast in the company of someone we had met that weekend - she'd been at the Master Classes and after that our paths kept on crossing and she bought two of my books and is generally a very nice lady. Following that we went to the swordsmanship display and workshop put on by Vancouver's Academie Duello (you can learn more about them here) - and the first hour of that consisted of the two instructors showing off various techniques and various weaponry and the second hour consisted of "Get a sword and swing it yourself" kind of activity. They had a limited number of practice longswords, the real thing, and then a bunch of wooden ones which people could use to swing and parry with - but I'm a writer, dammit, and I tell true lies for a living, and wielding a wooden sword is of absolutely no use to me whatever - I need to feel the heft of the real thing, the reach of it, the weight of it, the sounds it makes, the things it can and cannot do. So I got myself a real broadsword, and learned to thrust and parry with it, and although it was inevitably awkward (one is afraid of swinging this thing too wide and putting someone's eye out, after all) I think I got into a rhythm of it after a while and even managed some grace. Either way, I had myself a WONDERFUL time. Everyone should swing a broadsword once in their lives...

Then we had lunch.

Then I sat down at the empty autographing table and had a few of my hardcovers in front of me... and actually sold one or two right there and then. All in all, I sold ten or eleven books over the course of the weekend - which isn't bad for three days' work...

Then rdeck got coopted into a poetry reading panel, where I joined him about halfway through, and that was fun (SF&F poetry has a WICKED twisted mind...) and after that we went in to a panel concerned with Spirituality, Religion and Ethics in SF&F - which overran by at least ten minutes and would have cheerfully gone on for another three hours if allowed. There are so many viewpoints, and so many takes on the whole idea, and so many examples where it was used in this or that way, and so many examples from real life which - if you tried to use them in fiction - would get you flatly rejected as utterly implausible, that neither the panelists nor the audience could talk fast enough - but the panel ended and we all had to go away and clear the room for the next lot, or at least disperse to the CLosing Ceremonies which were on next.

We, on the other hand, moved on to procuring a cup of coffee for the hard working panelist (myself) because I was starting to get yawny and I had another panel to go. TO which, at 6PM, we went, in full expectation that there would be maybe three panelists and two members of the audience. But (someewhat surprisingly, given the timing of it) this panel on YA fantasy/SF turned out to be one the best panels of the convention. The three panelists - myself, Lisa Smedman and moderator Jennifer Taylor - clearly had lots to say and plenty of ideas and the questions from the audience were pertinent and interesting - and there WAS a genuine audience, some eight or nine people, which was respectable indeed for that time slot. We lingered a moment of two, after, to talk to a few people, and then we got into the car and drove home.

It was too much to hope that we would hit the US border when there was nobody there - but we only waited for twenty minutes or so (there have been worse wait times. MUCH worse.) and we got home around 9 o'clock.

(Apropos of nothing in particular... Home smelled like winter when we got out of the car - the air was cool, almost frosty. There were leaves on the ground. Fall is here. I'm happy.)

All in all - my thanks to Clint Budd and Donna McMahon for a well-run, well-organised, interesting con. I heard rumours of various on-going "catastrophes" as we crossed paths with various members of the concom over the weekend but if there were any catastrophes they were kept under wraps very well and dealt with by responsible parties with a commendable degree of discretion and dispatch. I enjoyed this one. Much.

On to dealing with real-life issues and problems, now... and on to Austin. In only a few more weeks. More airplanes. Sigh. I do enjoy cons - and WFC is one with a special character - but I'll be glad when this trip is over and I won't, at least in the NEAR future, be expected to face an airport again...
Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

Harry Potter and the Legacy of the Trust Fund Kid

A fairly stinging article here kind of puts it into quite a different kind of perspective.

I find myself nodding in agreement with a lot of the points made in that article - and partly the resulting jigsaw-coming-together epiphany of the AHA! moment which follows that agreement is an encapsulation of why I myself have never been a no-holds-barred Harry Potter fan.

Possibly millions of non-British readers, with a lack of experience with a particular kind of British school, might have found Hogwarts enchantingly original - but although there were aspects of it that were genuinely enchanting there wasn't really an original brick in its turrets. Aside from being slightly twee and renaming the English school-leaving O-level exams (which stands for ORdinary Level) into the more funky OWLs (still Ordinary Level, with the addition of an extra Wizarding in there just to make the acronym morememorable) this is the classic British Boarding School Story. I read my first one of those back when I was ten years old, and the author was Enid BLyton; there were more, many more.

I do not belittle Rowling's mammoth role in getting kids interested in reading. She has been a phenomenon in more than one way, and a phenomenon which won't be repeated again for a while (I think there's a limit of one per generation, or something like that...) but she has done little more, in the end, than recast an old story and re-tell it in her own words. I mean, *I* wrote O-Levels in England (in a boarding school which happened to be a castle, too, as it happens!) - and once I get sated with the pretty little Christmas tree ornaments with which Rowling decorates her tales, by the time I get the Wizarding out of my system, I am left with Ordinary again. I have a confession to make - I read the first three Potter books, saw the "Goblet of Fire" movie (if that counts), and my acquaintance with the rest lies in what I have heard about it, read about it, absorbed about it by osmosis over the Net, the media, other people. It might be held against me - I could be held accountable for waxing opinionated without making an in-depth study of the material - but let me put it this way - Harry himself failed to hold my interest, for much the same set of reasons that the article I have linked to above has stated. Harry Potter is very very good in getting into scrapes and painting himself into cornernes - but his escapes from such scrapes and corners can be divided into acting on instinct alone without thought or consideration of the circumstances, or being held up and watched over and constantly rescued by other people (Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Lily, the list goes on), or relying on things that hehas inherited (his father's invisibility cloak; his father's marauders map; his parents'wealth, which he has inherited and therefore whatever he does he does not need to worry about the future as such). The one thing he is overwhelmingly good at, absolutely the best at, is Quidditch - and to me, in the end, this means that I am reading a book about the High School Top Jock (the American equivalent would be the Quarterback top dog on the social totem pole). And somehow, by book 4, I had stopped being that interested in it. I AM interested in the Harry Potter world as a phenomenon, as an exercise in world-rebuilding (I hesitate to call it worldbuilding as such, despite its acknowledged touches of inspiration - but I continue to be more fascinated by Diagon Alley as opposed to Hogwarts itself) - but I am no longer agog to find out what happened to the characters themselves. And as the article points out, Harry's role in his own books (as in, they are all "Harry Potter and [insert whatever the current mcguffin is]")can be seen as being totally passive. Surviving a black-magic curse as an infant is not an achievement, it is a combination of happy accident and horrendous sacrifice by other people - Harry himself had very little to do with it, but he has been rideing on the coat tails of that for years now.

I am actually interested to see if Rowlings goes through with what she's been hinting at, and makes book 7 Harry Potter's funeral. In some ways, she has painted him into the mother of all corners, and unless she pulls a very large and imposing rabbit out of a hat Harry is going to wind up without a future, one way or another. And that, to me, is a sorely unsatisfying conclusion to the saga. I am certain that legions of kids, younger than me and with considerably less patience or understanding for ltierary necessity, will set up a howl of agreement.

In some ways, every writer would like to be a J K Rowlings. Right now, however, with the Harry Potter turning into a major elephant in the room and a shattering weight of expectations on her shoulders, I am not at all certain that I would like to be walking in her shoes right now. It will have to be a spectacular conclusion to carry the load of Potter hype that's been piled on over the years - I hope that Rowlings knows what she's doing...

And I do have to wonder what will come in Potter's wake. What sort of heroes will the kids be looking for next? Is the passive-hero-who-waits-for-things-to-happen-to-him become the expected standard? WIll the so-called "coming of age" books ever be the same again?

What's YOUR vision of the post-Potter literary universe? I'd love to hear about it!