Saturday, March 14, 2009

But I gave away no prized possessions

Unless blank notebooks count?
I flew to San Francisco for Potlatch, and this being the 3d I've attended, perhaps I've become a regular? Unless the Bay Area fandom that runs it is so longstanding and tight-woven that it's like the Maritimes and if you weren't born there you'll always 'come from away'. Not that I felt at all excluded, with all my VP mates: Evan, Dru, Elise and Lucy. Plus meeting up with Eva who was in the writing workshop last year and getting to compare notes (and meet her little girl) on what we'd been doing in the meantime.
This year I achieved balance--yes! Attended two panels (Books of Honour discussion and a panel on multi-pov as the new century's favoured style), visited with friends, and did the writing workshop. I even managed to sell something while table-sitting for Elise.
We missed Bart, though. Everyone missed Bart.

Workshop: an explosion of attendees this year. Last year, o faithful reader, you may recall that two sessions were required, with Suzy Charnas and Mary Rosenblum brought in to handle the overflow (which included me, and it was a great session). This year there were five (5) sessions, with one instructor each, running at the same time (Saturday lunch). A logistical challenge, especially since Vylar was both overseeing the arrangements and in one of the sessions. But all went well, with only the most minor of glitches.
I got to meet the instructor, Debbie Notkin, the evening before, because I was hanging about wondering if I could be useful for something. And she said she was drawn into my story in the first 2 minutes, and that I am a writer. (internal shouts of Yes! Yes!) But I thought, oh, it might be that 'local dexterity' thing, because as you know, Bob, I had concerns about the structure--it's an unlicked cub of a story. But she thought not, that it required tweaking more than gutting and restuffing.
The three stories (the other sessions had 4 students, ours had 3) were quite different, though all had first-person narration, and two didn't name the narrator. One was probably classifiable as horror; it had no supernatural element, and might well be salable as litfic. I wondered if it had been workshopped before, as it was polished and tight, with only some minor punctuation errors. Wait, I wrote a blurb: "In the 1960s South, three outcast boys unearth a human skeleton, and their imaginings about its past lead them to courage and destruction." I was pleased with myself in the discussion for coming up with a possible way to show the boys' friendship and foreshadow the ending at once, but honestly, the story was pretty much ready to go.
The second: "Members of an experimental utopian community leave their offshore platform for a supply run to the mainland, and return to a brewing storm and a group fracturing under stresses internal and external." This one had structural issues: most of it taking place as flashback and direct explanation to the reader, during the supply run. I found it a frustrating story to critique, because I kept focussing on plausibility problems which could probably have been cleaned up easily, or handwaved past if the pace were faster. There were several Big Ideas, and at times it felt more like essay than narrative, or at least a story that should have been much longer. Probably most of the discussion time went to this story, but it was an interesting discussion, particularly around which elements best served the story, and which might be ditched or downplayed without losing the theme.
Mine went first, because getting it over is good. One of the critiquers wanted more to be explained, which I found myself resisting--not the material culture bit, which for once I had left mostly sketched in and was willing to expand--but the backstory and the motivations of the gods (This space intentionally left blank). To me, much of the point of the story is that we don't know the motives of the gods and have to struggle along with guesses and do our best, with the contrast for the characters of having been 'favoured of the gods' once but no longer. Since the characters are disused heroes, and what (I think) the story is about is 'what do you do when your story is over', I didn't want to be too specific about what they'd done down in the world, only to have echoes of myths to suggest what sort of heroes they'd been.
Which is a dangerous path, as I learned with "Foretold". Hint at gods or heroes, and everyone's looking to figure out who's really Zeus, or Thor, or Arthur. Nobody did that this time, so I may have got the vagueness right for that aspect. So I have to think about how specific I need to be for the plot to make some sort of sense, without turning it into a rebus.
A useful takeaway: putting the story theme into words, somewhere in the story. Usually I have no idea what the theme is, but this time I do, so in revision I need to sneak it in.

Socialising: Evan put up Dru and me in his cool apartment, multilevel with a bay window and view over the gardens. Lots of space but not boxlike, the space broken up into comfortable bits, and bookcases strategically placed. Creambuns and strawberries for breakfast, late night talks about books and writing and slushpiles and agents and reading.
Elise's table was a magnet, as usual. I think each of us VPers was there for some part of the con. She had some helpful thoughts about my plot-bunny, and shared a little bit about her elves in the old West novel, reawakening my lust for her to finish it so I could read it, sigh.
Lucy table-sat and caught up with friends. I hung out with her in the con-suite for a while, and we all went out for dinner, failing at the Fish Market because of massive (and untrue) wait times, then successfully at Bombay Garden. Indian buffet with tv screens showing Bollywood videos. I'm not that experienced with Indian food, but it was delicious and I wish I'd had room for more. I will note that I'd far rather watch dance spectaculars with my dinner than sports broadcasts. Also that you should hire Lucy to petsit your cats.

And yes, I'm going to get a membership for World Fantasy this year in San Jose, so I can visit with people again. Even though I am teh suck at networking. I had cards with me, and only gave out one. I didn't even think of giving one to Jed Hartman when he (browsing Elise's table) saw my nametag and asked if I'd submitted to Strange Horizons. I didn't say 'why yes, and you have one of my stories right now', no, I said, 'yes, a few times' and did not offer him my card. Agh. I am so Canadian.

Books: why, yes, I bought books. Fortunately I'd brought notebooks for Elise, so the weight/space requirement on return wasn't hugely different. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton, spiffy Tor trade paperback because I'd somehow missed it on the first go-round; Howard Who? by Howard Waldrop (Small Beer); Stagestruck Vampires by Suzy McKee Charnas (Tachyon), Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder because both Evan and Dru recommended it; two Dave Langfords, The Leaky Establishment and The Sex Column. And a few others.
I read Vampires on the way back, and loved "Beauty and the Opera, or, The Phantom Beast". That one's going to stay with me for a while. Mark snaffled the Langfords so I have to wait on them.

Just before Potlatch, I had the treat of a visit from Betty (whom I always think of as Serena, which comes from friendships that begin in pseudonymous societies) for a few days. I had Monday and Tuesday off, so we talked writing, walked out to the shops, and slept in. I got to read more of her long-running LOTR fanfic, which I think has a fair claim by now to being an original story, and was introduced to Crossing Jordan via a fic she's writing as a gift.
Serena handles sex scenes so well, using them to show how the characters are changing while managing both hotness and humour. Given that I tend towards asterisks or some version of 'then they had sex', I should put more study into how she does it.
Also she made a delicious vegetable dish with peanut sauce for dinner.

The month got off to a good start.


Evan said...

It was lovely having you and Dru over, Barbara -- here's hoping to catch you at the next Potlatch! :)

batgirl said...

You bet! After all I have better hope of getting positive reinforcement at the workshop than from agent queries.
I can't remember, were you planning on World Fantasy this year?