Armadillocon – Two Days, Eleven Panels

all right, here we go… the last time i attended ‘dillocon was over fifteen years ago, possibly closer to twenty – back when it was well attended. this convention was a tiny relaxacon in comparison.
Friday:

“The Magic of Collaboration”
overall, an enjoyable panel.
collaborate carefully as it can be very stressful to all sorts of relationships.
the collaborative gestalt is smarter than either of the authors involved. while any well-written and conceived character can surprise its author, when there’s another writer dealing with the same character, said character can really surprise the author – if both authors have a good grip on a character’s psyche, the differences in their own thought processes and imaginations can take the character in legitimate directions that the other collaborator literally could not conceive of.
two collaborators can have widely divergent views of their mutual process. “What I get back always surprises me.” “I don’t know why it should, you told me exactly what to do and where to go.”
how much space do you give your collaborator? there’s a point at which you can have written so much that you leave them no wiggle room.
the process: sharing characters and realities and trusting each other with your children.
collaboration can be mutual role-playing as each author comes into it with their own ideas – let those ideas play with each other nicely.
when it works, it’s magic. when it doesn’t work – get out as gracefully as possible, with as few hurt feelings as possible.
types of story that lend themselves to collaboration – epistolary, short scenes. stories with long scenes not so much, unless you’re both rewriting and reshaping each other’s work as part of the process.

“Texas Is a Scary Place”
as a state, Texas provides almost any topography and climate you could want for a story, along with a general perception of being untamed, wild and unpredictable. the worldwide recognition and acceptance of the ‘Texan stereotype and cliche’ can be used as a short-form description in your story, allowing you to devote more words to other matters.
the “handle-it-yourself”, “can-do” attitude is useful in constructing protagonists, compare this to the reality of vigilante justice.
many perceive our state’s people as having a matter-of-fact reaction to whatever comes their way.
Texans are perceived as a mix of danger and familiarity.
consider conservatism and fundamentalism as possible horror sources.
in such a vast state, many areas are/will be abandoned – therefore easily translatable into “the shunned place”.
guns as part of the Texan identity – we’re all armed, we can handle it… until the horror reveals that guns have little or no effect.
consider a gun as the prime element of horror in a story.

courtesy of the mostly-closed restaurant at the hotel i missed the panel, “Trends in eBook Publishing”, but i will point out that at a convention about writing, there was only one panel involving ePublishing in any way. i think a lot of writers are sticking their heads in the sand and their fingers in their ears and trying to wish the whole ePublishing field away… it’s not going to happen.
boos to the Renaissance Hotel’s kitchen – if it takes you forty minutes from order to plates hitting the table, you got problems. your onion rings were an overly salty, greasy disaster. the top half of the bun on my wife’s burger was a discus, suitable for use in competition, not a piece of tasty bread. evidently your renowned steak had some issue, as our dinner partner couldn’t finish it – and at the price you were charging, she should have.

“Imagining the Future: World Politics, Global Economics and More”
as those of you who keep track of me on Facebook might already know, a lot of this panel was eaten by Bruce Sterling being a giant jumping dickhead… which is a shame, because as intelligent and well-educated as he is on Futurism, he could have made a lot of valuable contributions to this panel – instead he was dismissive of the topic and the audience – i really got a feeling that he felt his time was being wasted and we had to all be morons because this is stuff we should have all known already. he rambled on and off the topic like a drunk trying to walk a straight line and any contributions anyone else might have made were run over by his sour observations.
most important thing learned from this panel: i will never, ever attend another panel he’s sitting on.
some suggested reading: “As We May Think” & “Science the Endless Frontier” by Vannevar Bush; “Stand on Zanzibar” by John Brunner; “Camp Concentration” by Tom Disch
dystopic fiction exists because dystopia is where the action is (utopias are boring – everyone is happy, everyone is content, stories are conflict) and as cautionary tales – this is what the author sees as a possible future – let’s avoid it. man is a fear-based animal – fight or flight – and dystopias are fear based imaginings.
(jim observation: it is entirely possible that a great majority of porn can be viewed as the most successful utopian writings ever. everyone is happy and gets what they want in the end – no pun intended. there is little to no conflict, often everyone involved has no other problem other than the question of whom to fuck and when. it may not be a utopian society, but the fiction has utopian qualities to it. then again, i could be completely smoking crack.)
current dystopias focus on post-cheap-fuel apocalypses… must all utopian fantasies be based on cheap/free energy? is that a requirement?

Saturday:

“SF&F Mysteries”
suggested reading: “The Caves of Steel” by Isaac Asimov; “The Demolished Man” by Alfred Bester; the Charlie Spotted Moon series by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro; the Garrett P.I. series by Glen Cook; the Lord Darcy series by Randall Garrett
first and primary rule of genre-crossing whether ‘mystery’ is involved or not – you must be true to the genres you’re using. you cannot, for instance, use high science or high magic to ‘deus ex machina’ your way out of the problem, unless the mechanism used has been present since the beginning. no MacGuffin can be ‘magicked’ away, or ‘technobabbled’ away in the third act by some fabulous whizzbang we’ve never heard of before… not and have it be a good story.
mentally play with ideas of any and every genre, crossed with mystery.
the traditional mystery dichotomy – Sherlock Holmes or Batman? thought over action or action over thought… not that either side has all of one and none of the other, but where will the mystery you write fit into the spectrum?
mystery does not require crime – in one sense, all stories are mysteries as there is always something that must be discovered. puzzles vs. crime/suspense…

“Class Issues In SF/F”
where you come from is where you write from.
“The American Dream is an opportunity, not a promise.” – Joe Lansdale
we all consider ourselves middle-class – whether it’s what we wish we were, what we are, or what we claim to be to appear as one of the ‘common people’.
class is perception, so as perception broadens definition of class becomes more of a gestalt.
class, and the conceptualization thereof, varies by national identity – in any given ‘society’, how can one’s class shift up or down.
invisibility of class – what we don’t see, we don’t take into consideration. if we see no poor, there are no poor. if we can reclassify the poor into some other strata, or make it their fault, then they are not really poor.
when researching class for a historical story or one set in another culture, read primary sources for what is said – and what isn’t said, more importantly. look to secondary sources for an overview of the period.  take overview and first person accounts and work with that gestalt. to identify class assumptions, what do the members of that class take for granted? those are their class assumptions.
suggested reading: Megan Lindholm’s “Wizard of the Pigeons”, Terry Bisson’s “Talking Man”

“Learning From Others’ Mistakes”
if you have a huge backstory, DO parcel it out as promised.
characters need to grow, especially over the course of a series. (otherwise your readers realize they’re reading the same basic story again and again.)
if you’re writing a historical, do your research, be authentic.
avoid the Quick Finish – 350 page buildup, 10 page pay off.
use Wordles ( www.wordles.net ) to determine which words you’re overusing.
always, show don’t tell… if you have side stories, sure as shit don’t “tell” these… don’t show them either if they don’t play into the story or important character development.
avoid genre tropes unless you’re trying to do something with them. don’t just use them because “that’s what ‘whatever-genre’ is supposed to have in it.
avoid stories that are too disjointed.
if the characters know it now, don’t be coy – don’t hold it as a ‘really nifty reveal later in the book’. it won’t be. if they know it now, tell the readers now.
bad novels are your friend – they are ready inspiration.
is it important to the story? no? Cut It!
you be in your character’s head – don’t write your characters from your head.
editor’s suggestions are not Holy Writ. an editor may know it needs fixing – don’t trust them automatically when it comes to how to fix it.
exposition is unavoidable – work towards effortless exposition. exposition that passes unnoticed – the reader absorbs it and moves on.
don’t promise what you don’t deliver.
avoid characters that change for no reason.
write every day. over time you’ll realize that on good days or bad days, inspiration-filled days or slogging-through days, your authorial voice will not change.
create structure over the course of the book, not over the course of a chapter, and then another, and then another.
publishers make a lot of the mistakes writers get blamed for – blurbs, covers, even excerpts – might not be the author’s fault.

“Fantasy in the Wild West”
the Weird West – blend your genres, interweave, don’t just pop a cross-genre element into a genre and think the job is done.
your voice is more important, your interpretation is more important than the genre – don’t be obsessive about details (unless that’s your bag – it works for some, for others it makes disastrously boring writing)
go for a dominant note in blending – you don’t have to beat it to death.
avoid getting categorized – don’t get pigeon-holed. write widely.
suggested reading: Louis L’Amour’s “Haunted Mesa”, Midori Snyder’s “The Flight of Michael McBride”
for research books on a variety of Native American tribes, the Cahokia Mounds Bookstore online ( http://cahokiamounds.org/shop/bookstore/ )

“Paranormal Romance”
paranormal romance – supernatural elements with romance as the driving force of the story. love story w/conflict.
urban fantasy – romantic elements (or not) with supernatural as the driving force of the story. conflict w/ love story (or not).
Romance – love story, 2 people, happy (or happy-for-now) ending.
is any monster a Pure Monster? can the monster be redeemed? (a Pure Monster cannot). what makes the monster a monster?
so much emphasis on human woman, paranormal male – there is the illusion of balance but there is never true balance.
realistic female heroes.
archetypes – Vampire, Werewolf, Demons, Angels… what else? ghosts? mummies? prometheans? faeries? the Shunned Place? is Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” a paranormal romance between the House and Eleanor?
and a real shocking piece of advice – internal consistency is good! (please note heavy sarcastic tone)

“Wiscon and Elizabeth Moon: What Happened and What Can We Learn From It?”
okay, there are no real notes for this one – a lot of time was spent making sure we were all on the same page as far as what happened when (and if you’re interested, look it up), but the important concepts to take from the whole mess are: what we write in our blogs and through social media are forever. if someone takes a big enough dislike to what we write in our blogs and through social media, it can have repercussions on us as writers. when we’re writing in our blogs and through social media, do we really want what we say to be forever?
if this smacks of censorship to you, you’re right. publish and be damned. any party’s vapid and shallow enough to worry about – and get all pissy about – my opinions is probably not a party i really want to attend anyway. censorship always reflects upon the censor, as much or more than on the censored. now then, in a later panel a private blog and public blog are suggested… and i’ll deal with my feelings about that then.

“Attracting and Growing an Audience”
self-marketing.
brand yourself.
work the social media. do not mention your books every time you post something. DO NOT. if you’re working the media and doing nothing but pushing your stuff, you’ll turn off far more people than you attract. be yourself (within the limits of blah de blah de don’t step on anyone’s toes blah blah be a sanitized version of yourself blah blah de blah blah).
work conventions – the networking opportunities are endless, but don’t be an asshole about it. talk to people. be friendly, open.
sell yourself… no matter how much you may suck at it, selling you is far more important to your readers, in the end, than the story/novel/whatever that you’re working on right now.
personal page – fan page – limit yourself for your career.
okay. some of my feelings about this are evident from my last panel’s notes. most of you who know me can certainly guess the rest.
It is the tale, not he who tells it. if i believe that the Holy Water Buffalo of Wang Chung created the universe by taking a shit, if i believe that the Kennedy assassination was the work of the Keebler Elves, if i believe that the fill-in-the-blank party is being run by sentient lizards from outer space… not one bit of that should affect your enjoyment of my stories. they are what they are. they should be taken as such.
if a reader is so worried about my beliefs that they won’t read my stuff because i’m a left-wing socialist who believes in a Higher Power except on the days he doesn’t, then fuck ’em.
now, likewise, if i turn out political or religious tracts barely disguised as stories, well, that makes for a shitty story. i’m not doing my job. i’m not telling the tale, i’m using it as a poor vessel to spread my particular ideology… well then, see the italicized epithet above.
of course my viewpoints and opinions are going to be conveyed in my writing. inescapable, really. but there are levels of conveyance, and if at any time my ideology overruns my ability to tell the damn story already, then… see the italicized epithet above.
there are writers (and actors) that i don’t care for, but i love their work. i may hope they choke on their own bile and die an ugly death… but only after they’ve given the world all the creativity they have. until then, they’re paying the universe back for giving them the talent in the first place.

“Writing Erotic Fiction”
okay, not a lot of notes from this one
variance in physical descriptions – what is your audience and what do they want? from personal experience, men want to be that guy, so if i over-describe him, they can’t be him. and women want to be that woman – same problem. but i don’t write literary erotica, or romances, really. not for a female audience, and by the standard rules of romance, certainly.
what do the participants communicate through sex?
love, romance, passion.
it must mean something… it can’t just be another fuck. if you cannot bring the conflict, then you must bring the meaning.
Melanie Fletcher said good erotica must have players who will physically die if they cannot touch each other right that damn minute… i’m not sure i’d go that far, but a good thought nonetheless.
this panel was a lot of fun, and i was worried that i made far too many comments. i was assured i didn’t.

that’s it, compadres. i was so tired of sitting cattywampused in those chairs after Saturday that i could not bring myself to go back for another 5 hours of panels on Sunday. besides, 11 panels, seeing friends, $20 – i got my money’s worth.
i hope my notes are of some help to those of you who write.

Listening to: the quiet of my house
Mood: I’ve been better, I’ve been worse. I’m tired and I’m going to bed. Night-night now.

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