July 29th, 2008

ozarque figure

Conestoga report; part one...

Conestoga -- the sf convention in Tulsa -- was fandangous; we had a wonderful time. When we got home, the copyedited manuscript from Barnes & Noble was, as I had predicted, waiting for me in our mail, which means that I have less time for this report than I'd like to have. Moving right along, therefore....

My first panel, on Friday afternoon, was about "Future Trends in Science Fiction." It didn't go well, despite the fact that we had Gordon Van Gelder -- longtime sf editor, now editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction -- on the panel. It became clear very quickly that none of the panelists had an adequate crystal ball. Some trends were identified: the current dominance of fantasy content over sf content; the "surge" for YA (young adult) content; something called "mundane sf" that is apparently very strong right now; sf romance and paranormal romance; the growing presence and prestige of Internet sf. We talked about the current fragmentation of sf into a long list of niche markets. We came to no firm conclusions.

There had been a minor bit of confusion in the scheduling, leaving me with my publisher [Tyree Campbell of Sam's Dot Publishing] there, and me without a reading or a signing; but the concom straightened that out for me Saturday morning, giving me a reading at noon and a spot at Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon's signing table at 1:00 p.m. That crowded my Saturday a tad ... panel at 10:00 a.m., reading at noon, signing at 1:00, panel at 2:00 ... but I was grateful all the same. I haven't a clue what I did from 11 to noon; if I spent it talking to you and the experience has simply disappeared from my memory, I hope you will forgive me.

The Saturday morning panel was on "Creating Believable Aliens," and that one went well and was fun. I said I thought that the best way to learn how to create believable Aliens was to read all of the books in CJ Cherryh's Foreigner series; what I had in mind was her atevi Aliens. Lee Killough added that Cherryh also brings in some way-over-the-edge non-humanoid Aliens in that series and makes them totally believable, and I seconded that. I said that you have to decide first whether your Aliens are going to be good guys or bad guys, and then you have to decide whether you want them to be scary or appealing. Several of the panelists had excellent examples of the way that the choices you make about the physical form of your Aliens can turn out to dictate a lot of your setting and can constrain your plot; Killough, for example, talked about the consequences that deciding on Aliens with thumbs on both sides of their hands had for the way weapons in the book would have to be designed. I talked about the problems I'm having with a novella where my Aliens look -- to Terrans -- like very large cattle, and how much trouble I'm having figuring out how a PDA-like device they use for communicating with the Terrans in Panglish ought to be designed .... that is, how are Aliens with hooves going to push little tiny buttons? And one of the panelists immediately suggested that they'd do it with their tongues, which would mean they'd have to have stylus-like tongues, and that brought up the question of how would that work when they ate or when they were speaking their own native languages instead of using Panglish. A good time was had by all.

My reading -- which of course wasn't in the program book, and was competing with lunch, and was after all a reading of poetry rather than fiction -- turned out to have no audience, but it did have one of you LJ-ers, and he and I spent the hour in very interesting and productive conversation. Then I went down and joined Misty and Larry at their signing table at 1:00, and thanked them for being willing to let me do that. The line of people wanting them to sign books stretched off into the distance, down halls and around corners and into crevices, with everybody in the line carrying a tall stack of books, and so far as I could tell it got no shorter as the hour went by. When I left to go to my 2 o'clock panel it still seemed just as long as it had been at the beginning, and signing was still going on. Very impressive.

My panel at 2:00 was on "Building Community Through the Internet," and it was so interesting that it went by in a flash. [A blurred flash, and way too much information for me to remember, but still a flash.] Lots of different people there. Lots of LJ-ers -- both personal-blog LJ-ers and LJ-ers running communities; some people with blogs on independent websites -- including Deborah Leblanc, who blew me away with her recommendation for having the authors of books at the top of the NY Times best-seller lists do guest posts on your blog; lots of different styles and ideas. I talked about the way we've written poems together online in this journal, and how well it seems to me that that has worked out. There was quite a bit of discussion about what kinds of rules you have to set up for your blog; when it was my turn to talk about that I could only admit that I haven't ever set up any rules, and people were very polite about that.

George was waiting for me at the door after that panel, bless him, and he took me to the bar for dark beer on draft and splendid popcorn. I was afraid that doing that would mean I wouldn't be able to eat any dinner -- but that didn't happen. There was dinner in the bar, and then everything is a blur....