Mark's Musings on his first Norwescon...
I just arrived back from three days in Seattle. I found it somewhat ironic that the city enjoyed the three nicest days of the year during a time when so many people spent all their waking hours indoors, breathing each other's exhaust and geeking out over fanboy minutia. The weather was truly amazing; the con, for me, was a mixed bag of engagement and intimidation.
I have to confess I was not as prepared as I needed to be to deal with the size of the whole affair, the people crush, and the direction some of the panels I did or attended took. Maybe I'm wrong, but I experienced a little 'on the outside looking in' thing going on that started on Thursday and never really left me until my second glass of wine at the Baen party on Saturday night. By that time I'd had my fill of hits and misses. I stayed long enough to score a few books, shake a few hands listen to Gardner Dozios rumble through a couple of stories. In the end, the wine settled things out as a draw. I had a good time, but I didn't do anything brazenly noticable. At times for me the place exuded inhibitions and pretensions and I fell prey to a little doubt. I either needed more wine or some of my peeps--both would have been better. Tom Vandenberg, my cover artist and friend, and a guy fast becoming our go to inhouse guy, showed up Friday night and we had a good time taking in all the freakishness. This was a good first foray for both of us, and next year we both want to be more of a presence with books and art. The stuff that was there wasn't really all that impressive. Tom's covers would get a nice reaction.
Next year we are going to melt the place...
I finally learned the proper way to pronounce Shannara (Shan-ara) from the man himself. Terry Brooks gave us a nice hour about the history of his writing career. I've read his stuff. I still have my orginal copy of Sword, and I still the copy of Lin Carter's The Year's Best Fantasy where he lambasts Brooks for such an overt lifting. Funny, didn't seem to hurt Terry's career. Some of the same sort of reaction has been leveled at Paolini with much the same results, at least initially. Meh.
Don't get me wrong. I loved listening to him. He was engaging, generous, funny, and in total control of the moment from the start. Thirty plus years and 20 million sales can do a lot for a man's confidence! While I don't consider myself a huge fan anymore, it was still a lot of fun to shake his hand and observe him at work. Nice human.
I also got a chance to listen to Catharine Asaro's Q&A. And again the control and confidence impressed me. And yet she took great care to be ingratiating and genuine.
My panels somewhat disappointed me because the first one caught me little off guard with the direction it took soon after we started. I assumed we were going to look at how fiction sometime falls prey to bigotry through ignorance, but it quickly swerved into an examination of cultural integrity and how some authors misuse those subtle cues and end up insulting certain groups. I blame myself here, not my panel members, for they did not know me and were women of ethnicity and quite passionate. The moments for twenty odd people were dominated by handful of folks--all of whom spoke from an social or cultural experience that your WASPy blogger could not share.
It's not that I disagreed with their sentiments. I got it and rallied not too lamely to add what I could. But in the end I kept coming back to the same thought: raise consciousness all you want to, but make sure you keep it in the proper context. Yes, authors need to do their homework, but being PC forces the debate out of context. Read your Bradbury, please. For me, it all boiled down to a simple thought: if it's obviously troubling, it's probably just bad writing or intentional and it will sink under the weight of its own ignorance. And if it isn't intentional, then the writer is just being lazy, and he needs to read his Orwell or risk getting slapped and then ignored. I felt like I let the topic down a little, but I would have liked to have kept it more literary rather than sociological. My apologies to anyone who was there and reads this and feels like I missed the point totally. Still something of a newbie here. Be nice.
The second panel was much more relaxed and fun, and I felt like I made the most of my moments. For some reason, folks decided to focus on poor Thomas Covenant and went on a collective rant that I think missed the point totally. I actually called a time out to offer some defense for the poor old leper. We were debating the difference between 'rogue' and 'anti-hero'. Quite a few folks wanted to dismiss him as nothing more than an a**hole because of the early rape scene. Now, it has been twenty years since I tried to gut through those first three Donaldson tomes (I never got through all of them. Too over-written for me), but I actually think that scene is huge because it was the spasmodic reaction to the sudden regenerational effect of the Land, and the depth of that violence sets the tone for his booklong denial. Sure, it gets trite real fast, but I think Donaldson intended to present someone diametrically opposed to Aragorn's epic goodness. This was the late 70's--the time of The Silmarillion and Bakshi's film, the advent of the rise of the genre and all those schlocky copies (see above). In any event it must be pretty obvious that this hour passed much more quickly than the first panel. Time really does fly when you are having fun.
The workshop panels were a mixture of intimidating and envigorating for me. I found myself in with some folks who were veterans of the activity and really knew the language. I found myself playing the role of the general encourager at times because some of the folks seemed to really pick over the material--almost as if they needed to assert their skill in some way. I got that sense all through the weekend: there were some who seemed to be trying too hard. Now, having said that, the workshop moments were truly positive and helpful to the writers. I really liked some of the characters they presented. Most of my questions dealt with the worlds those characters inhabited. I didn't go into frantic detail about horsey stuff or armor stuff or whatever. As a result, I felt like some of my comments might not have jibed well with others, but that doesn't make them invalid. I still felt useful. A little...
Some people I met:
Tina Connolly, Ironskin (Tor), was an absolute gem of a woman, sharp, generous and highly skilled. Working with her on the workshop panel was great and talking with her at the Baen party really helped me get a grip on the totality of my experience.
Catharine Asaro is a multi-faceted, compelling personality. She held the room for an hour, and it was like we were at Panera having a bun and coffee. I listened to her warm-up stuff before her music thing. Ok.
Kate Marshall, works as an editor for a local online zine. Again, gracious, SMART and talented. We did a critque together and chatted at the party as well.
Gardner...I think I referred to him as an overweight Kembril in a facebook post. Sorry, sir! He ROCKED. The man can hold a room, an auditorium, a ballroom...awesome.
I listened to Cat Rambo and Carol Berg read. Very nice. I think my stuff is different. I chose not to read in the end. I have no excuse other than I just wasn't feeling it. I've been away from Poets now for awhile, and I don't think I was handling the idea of reading in such close quarters very well. The room was small and the first one in the hall where all the panels took place. Everytime I looked at possible passages, all I saw were flaws. Of course, that was fear talking. All of the writers I listened to had allies in the room. I felt pretty much alone at that point. I flinched and let it get to me. Plus, some of my earlier experiences had me a little sour on the whole drama, and I just wasn't ready. I missed my HRB family. That won't happen again. Next year I will know what to expect, and if the con lets me have another go I'll brazen it out.
The next generation of publishing panel dealt with small presses. Patrick Swenson and the rest of the panelist did a great job reaffirming the role of and need for such business models. Eric Reynolds is doing the right thing, and I believe it is going to pay off in the end. The industry is in peril of turning itself into a caricature of art. There is just too much sameness out there--a whole pack of dogs trying to chew on the same bone. It reminds me of the silliness of television news these days. Quick stories for ratings; quick sales for profit. Where quality falls in that scenario, and what it means to ART, leads me down a dark path I'd rather not walk...
So, in the end I would say my experience was a qualified success. The con is GREAT with something for everyone. It has a long history and supports local writers. I will be back.
ps: sorry about the shoddy editing here. I got in late! Happy reading! King's Gambit comes out in May! Conquest in KC with my HRB family!
I just wanted to add how impressed I was with the overall organization of the con. The staff at Norwescon were outstanding, considerate and continually demonstrated their devotion to our genre. There really was something for everyone. Tom met up with his KC Klingons, and I saw flags of many stripes flying proudly. Well done Norwescon family! Next year I hope to rise to the same level of professionalism and commitment.