September 03, 2004
Thursday, and an Introduction
Hi, everyone! I'm a new addition here, so here's a short introduction before I get into my Thursday experiences.
I'm a recent college graduate and a Boston area resident, which means I've been commuting in after work for the last couple days. Tonight I drive the car in and start the hard-core attendance-- no more turning into a pumpkin when the T closes! (For anyone who's curious, driving in Boston is, in my opinion, just as nasty for the locals. The only difference is that you know to expect the unexpected.)
In fandom terms, I'm relatively new, having just started attending cons in the last year or so-- but I've been reading and writing SF for very close to as long as I can remember. I just started submitting stories earlier this year, so I'm hoping for some good tips from the panels here. Outside of SF, I work in the environmental sector and am involved with the Ig Nobel Prizes. I also keep my own weblog over at LiveJournal as gjules. And finally, I should mention one last thing-- I'm not a general! Despite the confusing "Gen," I'm just someone with the first name Genevieve, who felt that Genevieve Jules was a bit too close to Mary Sue for comfort.
Thursday I arrived after six and went to buy discounted parking passes, after which I went to meet a friend who was volunteering in the con suite. We headed out to the Prudential Center food court, where I started to demolish a plate of chicken quesidillas (highly recommended). My hands were nice and messy when my friend saw a couple old friends and called them over to say hi. It was after I'd been introduced that I looked down at con badges and realized we were talking to Jim MacDonald and Debra Doyle. I think I managed not to go fangirl, but let me tell you, it was a close call.
After that, I went to George Scithers' panel on starting a magazine. The short version: don't. The long version also seemed to be don't. If I were interested in starting a magazine, I would have found it quite depressing. As I'm not, I found it interesting-- and vicariously depressing.
I then went on to "Whose Line is It Anyway?" where a raucous good time was had by all, until everyone was chased out by the horrifying suggestions for casting Sandman: The Movie. Cyndi Lauper! Keanu Reeves! Enough to turn anyone's stomach. After some further wandering and much looking around, I headed down to the T to make it back home before it closed.
For Friday? I'm about to go brave Boston traffic to head in for tonight's events-- so look for me tomorrow afternoon.
Leslie here. I spent all of Thursday (except for a brief break to see Opening Ceremonies) setting up for First Night. The morning involved trying to get all of the decorator and Hynes setups straight, and moving all my supplies out from storage to the headquarters table in the Midway. In the afternoon, we got a few volunteers who helped with blowing up balloons and hanging crepe paper streamers and cracking glow sticks and hanging signs. Also during the afternoon, the various clubs and performers who were participating in First Night came to check in and settle the final details. Everything went quite smoothly, except for a couple of incidents where persons unknown walked off with vital elements of the setup without asking permission.
Like 30 minutes before opening, when someone came to ask me where the corkboard was for the WSFA booth. "It's right there, next to the booth," and I look over there and see an empty space where just 30 minutes ago there was a corkboard. Lots of little incidents like this made my life a bit more difficult, but it was more than made up for by the people who pitched in and helped out and ran all of the various activities.
I have a few pictures. I admit up front, they're not very good... just quick snapshots I took as I was rushing about from place to place. But they might help give a sense of what was going on.
First Night began with a live brass fanfare by The Star Chamber. I was off in a corner of the ConCourse at the time, so didn't get a picture, but it sounded great. After that, we had nonstop belly dancing by three different groups, who had set up their own decorated area. They were great - they gave the Midway a lot of energy and visual excitement.
One of the big events of First Night was Terry On Trial. We were expecting a lot of people, so with the help of the exhibits and tech areas, we got a platform stage set up in the middle of the ConCourse. Here is Esther Friesner declaiming about Terry's sins, with the Arisia Bounce Castle in the background.
One of the first events we had an idea for was the Hugo Ring Toss, using real Hugo rockets (on loan) and glow stick rings. Here is Anne Murphy of the Science Fiction Oral History Association, who sponsored that booth.
Thomas Farrell brough his theremin for people to play with. This is an instrument that is played by waving your hands in the air (in an electric field). Inexperienced players produce some very "interesting" sounds, but we kept the volumne turned low, so I don't think we drove anyone crazy.
There were lots of other things happening that I don't have pictures of. To properly acknowledge everyone who was involved in making First Night work would involve a long list of probably about 150 people, including all of the staff and volunteers and all of the performers and the clubs who ran booths and the N4 areas that contributed. I am very grateful to all of them for helping make First Night a success.
Now I'm going to relax and enjoy the rest of the convention.
Meeting new people at WorldCon
It is after 2 AM local time. This probably won't be posted until tomorrow as I have no wi-fi access. Forgive the strangeness of the entry, but hey, you wanted NoreasonCon Live, you'll get me live.
I've been up since 4 AM California time. While I dozed slightly on the plane (does anyone actually manage to sleep in those things?) it wasn't restful at all. Thankfully there were no problems en route and my husband and I were able to safely arrive in Boston and then use the public transit I outlined in my last entry to arrive at the Convention Center.
There was an adventure in getting the room. Not really important, other than to mention instead of a double double (for four people) we have a king sized bed w/ a suite including couch bed. Not quite what we asked for nor what we wanted. My husband and I are staying with a friend I met at the Strange Horizons workshop and another writer friend of hers.
Side note: I've heard one of the best ways to get ahead in the SF/F world is to room with people you don't know. More authors have told me that their first sale was due to a friend of a friend of a roommate from a Worldcon. Here's hoping. If nothing else, I've now met another really cool person. Not only that, but my roommates introduced me to EVEN MORE new people over dinner.
There were ten of us who headed out to Thai food this evening [mm… Thai food]. I didn't quite catch everyone's name and ended up sitting across the way from a guy named John who Diana had brought along. John's roommate was next to him and then Diana and my other roommate. John and struck up a conversation and I mentioned I did Chemistry so we chatted about that and the writing thing. I asked him what he did.
"Oh, I work as an editorial assistant," he said.
"Really? For what magazine?"
"F&SF," he said.
I nearly choked. I believe I managed to get out: "John what?"
"John Joseph Adams," he said. That's right, I was in the presence of a deity. The Slushgod himself.
I admit it, I lost my cool. I blushed, ducked my head, and tried not to completely fangirl out. And that is exactly what WorldCon is about. Bringing the fans face to face with the movers and shakers, editors and writers, agents and publishers of the speculative fiction industry. I've seen Ellen Datlow walking around and I successfully managed to get into her KaffeKlatch tomorrow. We've seen Terry Pratchet walk by, which makes sense as he's a Guest of Honor.
I managed to have a perfectly normal conversation with John for the rest of dinner. The five of us trooped to a room and spent the next couple of hours just talking and geeking out. It was a lot of fun. I may have missed First Night and a few panels, but I had fun. And relaxed.
And met the SlushGod. Who, contrary to popular belief spread by rejection notices, is really a nice guy. When I ducked my head, he asked if he had rejected me recently. I nodded and he apologized. It made me smile. He didn't need to, I know it isn't personal. But it was nice.
And that too is WorldCon. People are nice here.
Opening Ceremonies began with an amusing slide show of the history of Boston fandom, starting with the Boston Tea Party (presented as a particularly rowdy bid party), up to the recent preparations at the NESFA clubhouse. Then last year's con chair Peter Jarvis attempted to pass the gavel on to our chair Deb Geisler, but Deb brought out an even bigger one that she had hidden away.
My Thursday at the Con: Highlights
I'm sitting here on Friday morning in the Green Room across from my wife and the lovely Susan de Guardiola, and there are science fiction writers around I want to talk to, and instead I'm typing on a computer. I don't know how bloggers do it.
Anyway, I won't be able to post again until after the Hugos tomorrow night, so I thought I'd take this free hour to let both of my readers out there know what I did on the first full day of the convention.
In the morning, Nomi and I walked through the Prudential Center to go shopping at Shaw's, and on the way over experienced a phenomenon which Nomi named "vortexing" a few years ago at a Lunacon. Basically, you can't take a step anywhere in a convention without running into someone you know, and then of course you want to have a conversation. So if it's going to take you five minutes to get from one panel to another, it's really a good idea to schedule an hour to get there. Among the people we ran into on our way to Shaw's was Shane Tourtellotte, and I made sure to pay him the $6.83 I owed him in joint royalties from 2003. (He later returned my videotape.)
At 12noon, the Con officially opened. Nomi and I took care of a bunch of things on the ConCourse. We left a stack of Burstzines in the Fanzine Lounge; sales of the issues will be donated to the TAFF and DUFF. We stopped at the NESFA Press table to pick up our pre-ordered GoH books, and Peter Weston happened to be standing there, so we got him to sign his book. We said hello to friends at the Analog/Asimov's table, the Threads of Time table, and we met people at the Borderlands Books table: Jude Feldman, Lisa Rogers Lowrance, and Alan Beatts.
At 1 PM we went to the Opening Ceremonies. It's obvious that Deb Geisler is having the time of her life.
At 2 PM I moderated a panel called (Really) Hard Science for Beginners, with Susan Born and Keith Kato. We had a full house, and people seemed to get a lot out of our explanations of string theory and quantum teleportation.
At 4 PM I moderated Stump the Scientists! for 7-12 year olds. These kids had some amazing questions, but Isaac Szpindel, Bridget Coila and I were up to the task.
At 5 PM, I spent an hour autographing at the Analog/Asimov's table. A lot of people came by to say hello, and for the the first time I met Steven Silver, who has published me in his fanzine just as we have published him in ours. He also bought my first story for his reprint anthology, WONDROUS BEGINNINGS.
However, I must say that the highlight of the hour was when Robert Silverberg came over to the table specifcially to say hello to me and engage me in conversation.
Let me say that again: ROBERT SILVERBERG CAME OVER TO THE TABLE SPECIFICALLY TO SAY HELLO TO ME AND ENGAGE ME IN CONVERSATION.
I may be a writer, but I'm still a fanboy at heart.
At 6 PM, Nomi moderated an excellent panel called Language: Barrier or Bridge.
At 7 PM, the Boskone "Sunday Funny Sunday" crew, of which I am one, reprised Twenty Panels in an Hour. I will be the first to admit that we could have been funnier. (One highlight was Leigh Grossman's comment -- "There is only one Godzilla, and Bob Eggleton is his prophet.")
However, at 9 PM, to a full house, Nomi and I co-hosted "Whose Line is It Anyway?" Our improv performers -- Solomon Davidoff, Michael McAfee, A. Michael Rennie, and Josepha Sherman -- were fanatstic. The audience laughed and laughed. McAfee won the game with his portrayal of the World's Worst Worldcon Chair: "Welcome to Antarcticon!"
And, then, at 10 PM, Nomi and I spent an hour connecting with a good friend, Janna Silverstein, whom we haven't seen in three years. Afterwards, we chose sleep in favor of party-hopping. It's funny; a few years ago, I would have felt the absolute necessity to go to as many parties and connect with as many writers and editors as possible. But today, these people aren't scary strangers; they're friends with whom I communicate on a regular basis.
Tonight shabbat starts, and it doesn't end until the Hugo Ceremony begins. Consequently, I won't be able to post again until either Saturday night or Sunday. If you're reading this blog at the con, feel free to tell me, and wish me good luck at the Hugos!
Panel Report: "As You Know, Bob: The Positives and Negatives of Infodumps in Writing"
Description: Exposition can be quick or subtle, or straight, or with a twist. It can stop the story cold, or provide plot (and stylistic) impact. It can be smooth or lumpy, necessary or gratuitous. The panel will discuss expository theory and practice, and answer the eternal question: "What does Bob really know?" Debra Doyle, Terry McGarry (m), Teresa Nielsen Hayden
This panel on Thursday afternoon was very well-attended. I'm going to re-arrange the order of conversation occasionally for flow; I've also roughly divided the topics into theory and practice.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden (TNH) didn't say this first at the panel, but it ought to go first. The three rules of exposition are: (1) you can do anything if it works; (2) never tell a reader anything before they want (not need) to know; (2) all advice about writing is simple, it's putting it into practice that is hard.
TNH pointed out that while SF writers always talk about worldbuilding, they're not actually building worlds, they are making the similitude of worlds. The reader may feel that they know everything about the world the book's set in, but they don't, they're being given just enough. She noted that characterization even depends on the world (how can you know what a character's reaction means, without context?), so the author has a tremendous burden.
She also said that while SF readers get used to having their exposition in lumps, particularly at the beginning, it doesn't have to be that way, and authors maybe do it too much; she mentioned "incluing", Jo Walton's term for gradually revealing background information, as an alternative. Debra Doyle (DD) added that she thinks of exposition and story like making a pound cake: you have a big lump of butter, a big lump of sugar, it's a whole lot of work to get the two of them together, and even when you do you're still not done. On the other hand (to shift food metaphors), when you get exposition right, it's like raisins in oatmeal.
(On the other other hand, TNH noted that she grew up hearing that readers don't like exposition, and realized one day that if that was true, James Michener and Alex Haley wouldn't sell.)
DD asked if SF readers are more tolerant of exposition. Terry McGarry (TMcG) replied they might be, but they're also more adept at compiling information, and more willing to continue the book until they figure things out. TNH said she thinks of it as calluses. However, there are limits: while readers can carry a lot of mental markers of things-to-be-explained, the author can't multiply one by another; the intersection of multiple mysteries is too much. DD put it, don't make readers solve equations with than one variable.
Going back to genre, DD said that if an author has a detailed description of a room, mainstream readers will assume the details carry symbolic/thematic significance; mystery readers will look for A Clue; and SF readers will look for worldbuilding. This is one thing that makes cross-genre work so difficult.
(Question late: what do you do if you're writing something that's cross-genre, mystery in SF setting with romance? DD: well, that's one of the reasons it's hard. TNH: particularly making the payoffs all work at the same time. Maybe rebalance depending on where you want to sell it.)
Late in the panel, DD pointed out that you can play games with exposition. She's got a short story coming out that's a country house mystery written by one character and translated, annotated, and footnoted by another (the reactivated reservist at the start of Starpilot's Grave).
TMcG also pointed out that sometimes SF can get away with more exposition because of sense-of-wonder. TNH brought out Steve Brust's theory of the novel: the structure on which you can hang the maximum amount of cool stuff.
(Around this time TMcG, who makes a good moderator, called on me; my original question had gone by the wayside, but I pointed out that I'd just listened to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy read by the author, and I'd been struck that it's really just one chunk of exposition after another, but Adams could get away with it because the chunks are so good. TNH commented that she thinks the true genre of that book is the Tall Tale.)
TNH remarked that while J.K. Rowling doesn't do ornamental exposition, she's still really good at writing sentences that make you want to read the next one. She used the Sorting Hat as an example; there's a lot of information about the Sorting Hat that we very obviously don't get the first time we meet the Sorting Hat, because we don't care then; it would feel, in Patrick Nielsen Hayden's terms, like we were studying for a test.
Question from the audience: how do you deal with series backstory?
- DD: (immediately) Rewrite until you sweat blood.
- TNH: Trust your reader; it's remarkable how much they will pick up. (She used the page 117 game, where panelists read just page 117 and then extrapolate the book, as an example.)
When people synopsize, they tend toward too much detail. Stick to verbs, avoid nouns.
- TMcG added: Why things happened aren't as important as that they happened. If whys become important later, then explain.
Look at previous events through another character's eyes: this gets you characterization plus exposition.
Question: example of problem-solving regarding exposition? (This turned into series backstory as well, though it was much later in the panel.)
- TNH: someone set part of a book in Washington DC, and didn't know how politicians talked; move that section of out DC.
Something about searching for all "ly " in a manuscript that I didn't catch.
- DD: third book in a series, a character makes a status report back home about events in the prior two books; but also frets about loose ends, etc.
- TMcG: her series books are separated by time and profound changes, so she just starts each from scratch. Readers of prior books get to pick up on the changes.
Question: the questioner, a writer, hates exposition and leaves everything out until her first reader complains, and then she puts it back in. But readers (or her first reader, not sure) complain that the writing feels unnecessarily mysterious.
- TNH: That's a mistake. A writer loses a reader's sympathy in that situation. In general hating exposition is good, though—but the writer still needs to know all that stuff that's not being put it!
- DD: Her pet peeve is hiding the gender of a character.
Question: is a 1 part in, to 10 parts left out, rule appropriate? Answer: no, would hate to quantify.
TNH reported that Steve Brust says that explanations are always an opportunity to get in an argument with the reader. Never explain, describe: not how it works, how you use it. DD added, what happens when it breaks down.
DD: if there's information you must get across, attach it to something inherently interesting, like sex or violence.
TNH: or you could try not explaining, and see if it's needed. However, if you-the-writer find yourself writing all these little scenes where nothing happens but one little detail is dropped in each: either try action scenes, or just tell the reader it, already.
Question: if you can't do the "easy" fish-out-of-water situation, how do you do worldbuilding exposition? TNH: one good trick: talk not about how things are, but how they changed.
Comment: political discussions are another good technique.
- TNH: yes, but be very sure you know about politics and how people talk: either the people in power, or just the dumb arguments in pubs. Ken McLeod is good. So are Alan Clark's diaries (British MP (?)).
- TMcG: and if I don't know anything about this society yet, why do I care about this argument?
- TNH: also people in political discussions have a lifetime of thinking about this, and will be talking about the latest developments.
TMcG pointed out that the level of concreteness a speaker uses depends on their relationship with the person they're speaking to: with someone you know well, you use a lot more "thing" or common referents.
TNH said that the appropriate level of detail is a function of the narrative pace. She got this from pencilers on comics pages. DD said that her father-in-law, who did models, put it that no-one counts the rivets on the moving car. TNH replied, and if they are counting, the car isn't moving fast enough.
TNH points out that the author can be hampered by knowing the real explanation; she described a story where the author had the character give the real explanation, which was deeply lame (my words), and where "I cheated" would have been more satisfying and more in-character. It's remarkable how often you don't need to explain. I believe this was related to her later statement that the Sopranos could be staged with doublets or space suits: almost all action and no explanation.
TNH also suggested the exposition-reducing technique of, "What would Wolverine say?" (not do), and then take out the part where he calls someone "Bub." (The audience really liked this.)
Question: how many new words can you introduce at the start of a story? TNH: if nouns, as few as possible, not even one per sentence. The story shapes what we do with information and we don't know what to do with these yet.
Examples of very good exposition from TNH:
- The Killer Angels
- The Perfect Storm
- Nine Princes in Amber
- Patrick O'Brien
September 02, 2004
Note to contributors
We've set up categories for each day of the convention, so please set the correct category when you make future contributions. Thanks.