Monday, May 28, 2012

CONduit 22: Time-Lords of CONduit

CONduit is Salt Lake City's annual science-fiction/fantasy convention, and it's something I look forward to every year. This year was especially dear to my heart, as a Doctor Who fan: the plethora of Doctor Who costumed people (I was dressed as Amy Pond, companion to the 11th Doctor), props (like the plywood TARDIS for photo-ops), panels (my favorite being the Kid Con Sonic Screwdriver Panel), etc., made me very happy.

Beyond that, what made this year special to me was Tamora Pierce as Guest of Honor, and the profusion of YA panels, both for readers and for writers. Last year, on my own blog, I did a three-post series, discussing the panels I went to on each of the three days. I'll do a shorter version of that here that I think I'll call The Good, The Bad & The Awesome*.

The Good: Fantasy Not Set in White, Medieval Europe | Tamora Pierce | Jane Lindskold | Dan Lind | Bryce Moore | Robert Defendi
This is a topic near and dear to my heart, but the panel rates "Good" rather than "Awesome" because I felt the amount of "advice to writers trying to do this" was lacking**. The first half of the panel was given over to book recommendations***.
Regardless, the advice in the second half of the panel is well worth distilling:
  • "If you've got an Arthur novel in your head right now, get rid of it. Open up your head, and start dumping bleach in it." (Tamora Pierce) 
  • Every time you pick from a culture, you are picking someone's heritage, and they are going to love it†, so treat it with respect††
  • Culture isn't the only consideration; there's also time: medieval††† is good for some things, but it's not the only time period out there. 
  • The best way to research another culture or time period is to follow your obsessions (Stop taking your ADD meds--Dan Lind), and write multiple novels at once, so you don't stop writing in order to do research.    

The Bad: Getting Your Stuff Published | Tamora Pierce | Bryan Young | Eric James StoneJane Lindskold | Brad R. Torgersen
The first panel I attended, E-publishing, had similar problems to GYSP, but this panel merits "Bad" rather than that one, because of the billing‡: E-publishing was only about the phenomenon of publishing electronically, whereas this panel should have been a guide to getting your stuff published. 
As a frequent reader of the publishing blogs of Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and The Passive Guy, I was disappointed to find that the panelists were mostly established authors who mostly only knew about self-publishing their back stock, or books they had been told were too strange for trad. pub.  I'm not going to repeat any of the advice we were given, because it seemed obvious advice from people whose major publishing experience seemed so one-sided. 
The best thing I got out of this panel was a reminder of the Clarion Writer's Workshop, and how much I want to go to that.

The Awesome: YA Literature: Is Romance Required? | Mette Ivie Harrison | Elisabeth Waters | Tamora Pierce | Dave Wolverton
The first answer that TP & EW gave, immediately, was: NO. 
That, of course, is not what grants this panel "Awesome" status‡‡. I found it a useful panel, I liked the panelists, and I found the discussion lively and engaging. Also, the topic is a good one, and the advice was useful. So here's some of that: 
  • DW believes that romance stories can help answer questions of identity, of how one is seen by others, of whether one is desirable, of what to do when you fall in love with someone, or someone falls in love with you, and you're not interested. 
  • TP & MIH's characters are often busy (sometimes saving the world), and so the romance may be there, but it doesn't take over the story, it's not the point of the story. 
  • It was a general complaint that when romance is the entire point of the story, then the most exciting thing about the main character is whether or not she gets a boyfriend. Also, MIH compared stories like that to the book "Are You My Mother?": the female character's job is to go from character to character, asking, Are You My Romantic Partner? Are You My Romantic Partner?  Are You My Romantic Partner? 
  • A good way to deal with romance in YA is to go slow: start your characters young, and develop a romance over several books.  A good way to avoid romance in YA (if that's not your thing) is to write characters that are too young, too busy, too tired (etc.) for romance.
  • A general thought about people who are asexual: like people who aren't white, they would like representation in fiction. 
  • In order (for MIH) to actually enjoy the romance in a book, she needs the sense that it's possible for the book to end without a romance. 
  • Sex? Do what's right for the story. Sex is not romantic, romance is not sex, and less is more: hope, a look, a glance, a touch can be much more powerful. 
Closing quotes: "Reality isn't necessarily good fiction" (Tamora Pierce); "The difference between reality & fiction is fiction needs to be believable" (Elisabeth Waters). 

And the CONduit Quote comes from Tamora Pierce: 
"I'm not good at making stuff up."‡‡‡

* I'll say this now: my assessment of these panels will be extremely subjective, and based in large part on what I go to conventions for.
** Which is what I, as a writer^, look for first in a panel.
^ I will not be discussing the fantastic non-writer panels I allowed my non-writer self+ to attend, including Steampunk Costumes & Props, Temporal Mechanics (which I mostly attended so I could gain some understanding of how time travel can work, not for writing++, but for having conversations with some of my friends), and the Sonic Screwdriver Kid Con (where I made a Sonic Screwdriver).
+ CONduit tends to be a little painful for me, because I have to miss fantastic-sounding costuming panels and interesting-sounding reading or art or comic or other fandom-related panels in order to go to the writing panels. It makes me sad ...
++ Time travel tends to give me a headache. I am tempted to try writing about it (as a way to understand how it works), but it's not at the top of my list.
*** To name a few: Vodnik, by Bryce Moore (Slovak), The Buried Pyramid by Jane Lindskold (Egyptian), Breaking the Wall series by Jane Lindskold (Chinese), Shadowhawk by Andre Norton (Egyptian), Throne of Isis & Lord of Two Lands by Judith Tarr (Egyptian), The Cross and the Crescent by Susan Schwartz (Crusades), Beast by Donna Jo Napoli (Persian)
† This is the part that is near and dear to my heart. Though I am white, the world is colorful. A monochrome world is boring.
†† Bryce Moore told a lovely story about writing Vodnik, which features a Slovakian mythological creatures that prefers drowning children to adults. His initial reaction was, the Vodnik is evil. His wife and brother-in-law read the first draft and said, No, the Vodnik isn't evil, it just drowns children--like a bear isn't evil for eating fish.
††† "The problem with medieval fantasy is that most of it isn't medieval culture. Most of it's, like, 18th century frontier culture." (Robert Defendi)
‡ It also had some redeeming qualities, like a discussion of treating your writing like a business.
‡‡ Like I said, purely subjective. One of my criteria was how many notes I took.
‡‡‡ Tamora Pierce talked a lot about basing characters, cultures, etc., on real world examples--people she knows, real-world culture/history, etc.


  1. I'm sorry you didn't feel the Not So White, Medieval European panel didn't get at more of the things you needed. Speaking from the other side of the table ;-) , next time, ask us how we deal with the specific writing issues you need addressed more, if you want that to be the focus. I generally always come in prepared to discuss books, not writing issues, unless writing is specified in the description I'm given. I'd cite those books anyway, because they do give writers a good idea of how other writers handle cultures often not their own.

    I'm really sorry you didn't like the publishing panel! I was completely at a loss, since I know I don't know enough about the new forms of publication. It was one of those panels I get put on that I don't feel I can say no to because it's the last minute. It's also why I slated myself as moderator.

    It was a pleasure to meet you--thanks for the write-up, which is useful to me!

    1. Thank you for the response!
      Don't get me wrong, I did *enjoy* the Non-White, Non-Medieval Fantasy panel (the book recommendations are good just for reading pleasure, if not for studying what other writers have done, and the end of the panel was good and writerly). I'm not really good at coming up with questions during a panel, and/or asking them (I've decided that I'm going to come up with questions ahead of time for my next Con, because that might help). Plus, the "follow your obsessions" advice has given me ideas for books ...

      Yeah, I'm sorry I didn't like the publishing panel, too. I wanted to like it. But I think the Con this year suffered from last-minute-itis, which is unfortunate.

      It was a pleasure to meet you as well, and I'm glad to hear the write-up was useful.