Conventional Wisdom

I did not post on Monday because I was in Massachusetts, at Readercon, which was just splendid.  What is a Readercon, some might ask?  It’s an annual convention of readers and writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy; unlike many such, Readercon doesn’t contain programming about anything but books, which makes it a very fun place for the reader.  Generally, an SF/F convention is not just a collection of loony people in Spock ears (despite local media’s occasional “Oh, Look, the Crazy People Are In Town” tone).  They’re get togethers for both the readers and writers of SF/F to talk about the issues raised in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and about writing, and about specific books and authors.  It’s an opportunity for the audience to meet writers they admire, and for writers to talk to their actual consumers.  Sometimes business is done.  Sometimes you wind up in the bar talking with other writers, friends you may have known for years or friends you’ve just met.

Many conventions have programming about film and TV, music, costuming, and the culture of fandom itself. Readercon, as I said above, is all about the books.  I was on five (!) panels–a fit of generosity on the part of the programming committee that I attribute to my willingness to moderate panels, and to the fact that I hadn’t been there in ten years (so they were making up for lost time, or wanted to store up enough Madeleine Robins to last another 10).  My first panel was on “Writing Within Constraints,” where the panelists–all writers–talked about writing to fit genre conventions, writing within a canon (as with licensed media tie-ins and comic books), and using constraints as a way to challenge yourself as a writer.  The second panel was on Jo Walton’s lovely fantasy Among Others, and was enlivened by the fact that Jo’s husband was in the front row (although at no time did he pull a Marshall-McLuhan in-Annie Hall and announce “You Know Nothing About Her Work!”).  And in the early evening I moderated a panel called “The Quest and the Rest,” which was really about the necessity for rooting fantasy in reality (the example the program description gave was Tolkein’s assertion that Sam and Rosie’s romance was absolutely essential to the plot of Lord of the Rings, but there were certainly examples aplenty).  On Saturday (yes, that was all Friday!) I had a panel on Location as Character, a subject near and dear to my heart; one of the great things about such discussions is that you come away with a list of books you simply must read Right Now.  And on Sunday morning bright and early, I had my last panel, discussing the permeable borders between fan-fiction, parody, “referential fiction”, pastiche, and straight fiction.  That one was fun, and worth a post on its own.

In addition to all that, I did a reading from The Sleeping Partner, and a workshop called “Walking Through Mayhem,” about using stage combat techniques (among other things) to create fight scenes.  I went into the workshop thinking I had about 45 minutes of material; it seems to me I used that all up in about 20 minutes, and vamped the rest of the time, but the audience seemed pleased.  Also one of my old fight buddies, Duncan Eagleson, was there, and played Crash Test Dummy.  That was not only swell, but recalled to me that certain physical memories don’t go away, they just go dormant: with a few cues we were falling into a sort of “okay, you do this and I do that and we’ll make it look good” rhythm that was very satisfying.

After the convention I made my way down to Norwich, CT, within spitting distance of Connecticut College, my alma mater.  I’d been invited to do a reading-and-sword-demo at the Otis Library, which turned out to be great fun.  The organizer had borrowed some short swords; another friend came up and was my Crash Test Dummy, and the audience seemed entertained.  And they laughed at the right places during the reading, which is very pleasing indeed.

Then home again, jiggity-jig.  And back to writing.


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