Monday, November 10, 2014

The Power of Elegance

One of my favorite titles by
Patricia A. McKillip.
I was very lucky this year to be able to attend the World Fantasy Convention in Washington, D.C. All it all, it's been a great weekend, in part for the ongoing discussions about fantasy, but most of all for the opportunity to get together with a lot of friends and colleagues that I haven't seen for a while, including sisters at Hadley Rille Books Terri-Lynne DeFino, Julia Dvorin, Heather McDougal, and Amy Herring.

One of the under sung events of fantasy conferences are the author readings. For me, author readings are one of the most delightful aspects of the cons, yet they are woefully under-attended. I've discovered many great authors by attending readings. There's just nothing like hearing an original tale told well by its author. Moreover, because readings rarely pack a meeting room, you have a much greater chance of one-on-one interaction with the presenter than you do at any panel.

It was one of my extraordinary privileges this past weekend to listen to a reading by Patricia McKillip. As you may imagine, McKillip did pack the room, but it was still a pretty small room they had set aside for her half-hour session. Yours truly had no problem securing a front-row seat, just a few feet away from the great author herself. McKillip read from a new novel in the works, a modern adaptation of the Arthurian legend. (Mark, I think you will go nuts over this novel when it's released. I know I will!)

All of the readings I attended at WFC were excellent, yet McKillip rose above the rest. More than excellent, she was spellbinding. Ever since hearing her, I've been trying to put my finger on what set McKillip apart.

She did few of the things many of us do to liven up our readings. She played little with the voices, kept facial expression and hand gestures to a minimum. She explained the context of the scene, something I've been told one should not do at a reading. Once she started reading, she made no eye contact with the audience, another no-no on my how-to-do-a-reading list. Her passage was long, a full 25 minutes. So often I've heard one should never allow a scene to last more than 10 minutes. Yet if we hadn't been kicked out of the room at the end, I'm certain all of us could have gone on listening to McKillip for hours.

In short, McKillip's lacked a number of the conventional public reading "pizzazz" factors. She simply gave us her voice, her presence, and the words -- these last unhurried and pure, weaving their spell in a way that only perfect (or near-perfect) story telling can do.

I will be mulling over this experience for some time, because the truth is I want to uncover McKillips secret and infuse it into my own public readings. My sense is that it's a combination of the quiet confidence of her presence, the humble joy she takes in sharing her work, and the simple power of the words she uses to tell her stories.

In the end, I summed it up in a single concept: Elegance. As a reader, elegance of words and presentation is something I deeply enjoy. As a writer, it is a state of being I hope to aspire to.

All this to say: Next time you're at a con, attend the readings!

Not just the big name readings, but the full spectrum from first-time authors to tried-and-true veterans. The best moments of SFF community get togethers are not the literary analyses or the discussions of publishing or the drinks at the bar. The best moments are the stories we tell.


Terri-Lynne said...

I have to agree, Karin. Aside from the sangria, McKillip was the highlight of the con for me. She's my favorite author, or course, but for the reasons you cite, she was sublime to listen to.

And to have a sneak peek at something coming out next year?? I squiggle with joyful anticipation!

Heroines of Fantasy said...

Mark here:

Great post you lucky, lucky woman! She was an early favorite of mine, discovered by chance in the HS library. I spent the year as the new guy, trying to fit in, but my northern vowels jarred the Oklahoman scene. McKillip's prose has always spoken to me out of a combination of its simplicity and rhythm, music and magic. Looking forward to this new work you mention! Sounds wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Terri & Mark! Mark, you're so lucky to have found her early on. :)

Terri, thanks for keeping on my tail about going to WFC this year. It was SO worth it. Still tasting those sangrias... ;)

Terri-Lynne said...

There will be sangria in VAB, even if there will be no McKillip. Oh! Unless her new book is out by then and we can read it together to squee over while there. :)