Sunday, March 30, 2008

Potlatch, working on the workshop

So yes, the workshop. The Isabella suite was pretty flash, with an impressive view of the skyline, slightly truncated from the wide-angle view available from Hospitality. The bathroom was all gleaming oddly-angled surfaces, sort of what you might imagine from the Better Homes & Gardens special R'lyeh issue.

The other students: a trim-bearded man who took the sofa and hunched forward intently. He reminded me of Randy, who wrote the talking cats story for the VCon workshop, but it might have only been that they were each the only bearded participants. Pale, with a slightly hooked nose, like an attentive but short-sighted hawk. He'd written the walled city story.
A dark-haired young woman in casual clothes, with a rumpled but assured air. She'd written the island story. I'd tried to envision the author, and guessed at someone either quite young or older than me (nothing like hedging the bets, is there?).
A nicely-dressed young woman with shorter hair, about the length that many young mothers cut theirs. She turned out to have a two-year old daughter, and I could see her having quick reflexes and a sudden turn of speed when needed.
The instructors: Mary Rosenblum arrived first. A sparely built woman with the square-cut hair that makes me think of silent-movie actresses. Sat compact and elegant on one of the small chairs, leaning in. Suzy McKee Charnas settled back on the couch, almost the sort of merging that Cory Doctorow achieved, but quite definitely awake and attentive. Short pale-blonde hair, blunt features.

Some muddling about beforehand, placing an order for Thai food, which required a group decision on a)type of food, b)specific restaurant, c)menu items and backup choices, d)collection of money. The menu was later discovered to be a couple of years out of date and the money insufficient, but the resourceful person who went for it managed to return with appropriate food anyways.

Discussion. What with the gathering of people and the selecting of food, time had passed and events needed to speed up. When the who wants to go first business began, I threw myself into the breach ("close the wall up with our English dead", and all that) and offered to be victim #1. After that we went around the circle, with the critiques running first to the left, fleeing ahead of the story, one might say.
Now, I was pretty much expecting the worst. I'd read the critique guidelines, and early on they specify that omniscient is a questionable choice of pov. This would be the pov I'd written in. Also, "Climbing Boys" does not have 'a person in a place with a problem', well, it does, but he's not the protagonist, or even sympathetic, and the closest to a protagonist is the dead guy who shows up at the end, and the closest to a sympathetic character is the retarded and exploited child who barely has any lines. Oh, and the two characters who begin the story aren't the ones followed through the story.
It's not that I'm trying to be difficult or edgy or anything else on the auctorial insanity checklist. It's just how the story worked out. And that's after fixing the attempt to make it an sf story (though I still insist the key concept is sfnal rather than fantastic). The other stories submitted were much more in the classic mould, though the island story was a difficult critique because much of it was unclear--vivid but unclear in story terms.
Anyway. Surprisingly, the comments were largely positive. Some found the number of ghosts confusing (easy to tell who had read a lot of ghost stories and recognised the types, by the way), and the ghost-sweeper's language needed trimming, and the two excerpts of dead Stanley's thoughts were bumps in the story-course, but thought it was funny "the funniest story I've read about ghosts and child abuse" (how's that for a blurb?). Mary Rosenblum suggested that I send it to Weird Tales--I thought she might be routinely suggesting market types, but it seemed not, that she thought it would be to Ann VanderMeer's taste. Both instructors were very positive, and started in with ideas on how the ghost sweeping business could be developed into more stories, which was kind of exciting to listen to. They also liked the social commentary aspect, and Mary caught that poor little Ned wasn't necessarily being rescued at the end, that he might be just a puppet once more, with a fresh operator. She also had a terrific solution for getting Stanley's thoughts in without a bump, the mechanism being already in the story but I hadn't seen it.
I did some private squeeing later, when I read the instructors' comments, but that's probably more than anyone wants to read here.

The island story: This had a hard-boiled noirish tone from the narration, and it wasn't until the 3d page that it was clear the narrator was a woman, and quite a young one. She was also somewhat uninvolved in the story, really serving as a narrator. I didn't mind this so much, because it was very much a ghost story, and that's a common feature of ghost stories, that the narrator witnesses the events without really taking part, but is usually changed in some deep way by witnessing them. While the narrator claimed to have been changed, it wasn't evident in the story itself just how. Odd thing was that I thought I had found the story-thread, that the Bear Society rites the old recluse claimed to have secretly learned or stolen from his Indian partner were cannibalistic, and the ghost of the murdered reporter was 'pointing at his intestines' so I was pretty sure that he'd been murdered and eaten so the recluse could gain the bear powers. When I explained what clues in the story had given me this idea, even the author hadn't thought of it. She scribbled notes down, and I muttered "but it's all there. In the words."
When I'd discussed the story with Mark, before, he'd commented that it sounded a lot like the episode of I Love a Mystery we'd listened to recently, set in the West Coast islands: "The Fear That Crept Like a Cat". Not too surprisingly, when she and I chatted in Hospitality, she said she was a huge fan of old radio, including I Love a Mystery, and remembered that series. Knowing that the story had started off as a script also explained a number of the oddnesses about it, like the descriptions without much emotional context.

to be continued, rather like a radio series.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Potlatch, late and from the outskirts

Since the Avocado has picked up the task of being entertaining about Potlatch, I can maunder with a clear conscience. Thanks, Bart!
The thing is that if you asked me to define the essential function or the engine of an sf convention, I would say 'the panels'. Clearly that isn't so for everyone. Some would say 'hospitality', or 'the dealers' room', or 'the video programming' (okay, that one is rather dated now). But for me it's always been the panels, perhaps because they match up in my mind with the lectures at a university, which are what 'university' is, back to the time when universities had no formal buildings, only lecturers.
Potlatch has one track of programming, and a track of readings, of which I attended ... none. So in that sense, I didn't attend Potlatch this year. I was in the vicinity of Potlatch, and I had a membership, but what I did was hang out with people, acquire books, and eat a lot of Japanese food.
Okay, and attended the writing workshop. That was the most directly con-related activity.

The hotel: Hotel Deca, and it's very Art Deco indeed. You could film noir there, and probably someone has. It is a tower, and makes a good landmark for navigating. Hospitality was on the top floor, with a panoramic view obstructed only by another tower.

People I got to hang out with: Lynn and Tony were my wonderful hosts and pickup and dropoff and decompressing at the end of the day people. I was able to visit Lynn's place of work, marvelously neo-Gothic cloisters on the outside, carpets and computers on the inside. At the con, I met up with Evan at Registration, Elise in the Dealers' Room, and in rapid succession, Bart, Mac, and Lisa. When Lynn found me in the ballroom, she commented that I was with a group of 'Barbara-sized people' and while I'd hesitate to claim the dimensions in my own name, it was true that the lot of us who were standing together (almost in a row, to make it all more-so) were within a couple of inches of the same height. (Lynn's quite a bit taller than me, and her hair is longer.)
There was going out for Japanese food and Indian food and bubble tea, and there was exploring of bookshops, and there was acquiring a bagful of books, even though I'd meant to return Lynn's extra bag to her (it was full of fabric when I borrowed it last year, and this year it was full of books). I discovered that Bart and Elise and Lynn all know about technical aspects of airplanes and flight, which was entertaining to listen to. And that I should swallow my food completely before listening to Bart once he gets going, or at least be sure that someone at the table can do the Heimlich.

Writing workshop: two sessions were scheduled, because of the high number of applicants, so when I received the stories for critting, I found out that instead of L. Timmel DuChamp and Jay Lake, the instructors would be Suzy McKee Charnas and Mary Rosenblum. Which was cool, because I was already familiar with Charnas, and liked The Vampire Tapestry since reading "The Ancient Mind at Work" of the stories in Omni (a while back, obviously).
And a darned good thing there were two sessions, because I'd managed to forget any previous mention of the scheduling, and while the workshops were supposedly occurring (Friday, before the programming), I was at a local Indian restaurant (Jewel of India?) with Evan and random people met in the hospitality suite, eating really excellent food. The enjoyment was tempered, about 6:15 pm, by my finding the workshop info (at last!) in the program book, and realising that I had missed it, or rather, that it was ending in 15 minutes.
People who know me may not be surprised to discover that what I was really bothered about was the idea of the other attendees waiting for me fruitlessly, and having wasted the effort of writing crits of my story. Agghh, guilt! I tried blaming the layout of the program book, but it was a rearguard action, valiantly fought but not terribly effective.
Saturday morning, waiting in the lobby for people who had spoken vaguely of breakfast the night before, I unburdened myself to a concom member, and learned that one session (mine!) had been rescheduled, because Suzy had been either delayed or exhausted by her trip. So it would be Saturday at 10 am, in the Isabella suite.
Immense relief followed. Nobody was cursing my name and considering me unreliable and uncommitted. Whoof. There was even time for breakfast.
The stories: four in all. Mine, slightly revised since Nick's comments, was "Climbing Boys", because I figured it needed more work than Chimps, which is pretty straightforward. The others were:
"The Other City", a post-disaster wasteland setting, with wandering foragers outside a walled city of doctrinal and genetic purity, searching for the mythical city without walls, where they could live in safety. Focus on a young woman of the Polluted, and a man cast out of the walled city. Writing was quite competent and smooth and I thought it would be best marketed to literary magazines, because sf readers will have seen so much of it before. It reminded me most of the movie Glen and Randa, though I don't suppose the writer had ever seen that one.
"Best Friends Forever", where the focus is on two little girls, best friends facing separation because Earth is being evacuated. Again, solid writing, and the child's eye view pretty well handled, though it wavered, and I wasn't surprised to learn that it had originally been conceived as being from the mother's pov.
"The Old Man and the Island", a reporter follows up on an abandoned story about a mysterious and possibly deadly recluse on the northwest coast, discovering a grim tale of cannibalistic rites and stolen power. I think. This story was the most challenging, because it was assorted compelling ideas and images, tossed into a bag and shaken. When I learned that it had started life as a radio script, many things made more sense (the plot wasn't one of them, though).

More later. Dinner right now.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

whooshing noise

as I pass by...
Potlatch was all kinds of fun. I skipped the panels this year, and just hung out with people. More on that later.

To all the people I owe crits or feedback: I will get back to you, really. I'm a titch tired and disorganised at the moment, but it's calming down. I think. At any rate, I'm done with the workshop crits!

Dates for the UK: we fly out April 15th, and return April 30th. The first week is tentatively roaming about, the second week based in London (day trips out of London a possibility), probably renting in Barking.
Now I just have to pick the places I want to visit, and cull them down to a number that's doable over a couple of weeks. Easy-peasy, right?