Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The panels, racing through.

WFC, as you may know, limits programming to one or two tracks of panels. On the surface, this makes it resemble a small fannish con, like VCon of old. Probably the limitation is to allow plenty of opportunity for business to be done in the bar, but that side is still muchly a mystery to me.

Friday I started with the Who, What or Why Done It panel, about mysteries and puzzles in ghost stories and urban fantasy, which sounded like fun buuuuutttt... when the moderator showed up (late) and then spent what felt like 10 minutes rambling on about what he'd been reading before he came, introducing the panelists (himself), giving them five (long-winded and verbose) questions to consider, talking about the etymology of 'mystery', praising another story he'd read recently, and ... Well, I left before he'd given the panelists a chance to talk. Every time he paused, and I thought 'he's done, he's going to open discussion' another clause would roll oleaginously from his lips, never a period, always a comma. I ditched. (The same moderator drove me from a panel last WFC--why is he asked to moderate?)

And headed over to Writing Human Characters, which was well underway. This was okay, going over fairly well-trodden paths. Make characters human by giving them something they want and can't have, how to make an alien/inhuman 'human', but how to make a character really alien if they're all humans with forehead prostheses? Discussion of monocultural planets and races (one of my pet peeves) and the dubious practice of using non-European stereotypes as a basis for alien races. All in all, entertaining.

Shelf Lives was a slideshow and talk by John Picacio about how he creates book covers, which I found very interesting, especially the layering of effects, and how he gathers photos and items to trigger concepts.

Non-Conciliatory Fantasy was a bit frustrating, in that the panelists (and audience) didn't seem to be clear whether they meant 'conciliatory' or 'consolatory', ie. fantasy that does not bring into harmony, or fantasy that does not alleviate grief. Because those would be different. It strikes me that most epicky fantasy is non-conciliatory because it ends with one side defeated in battle, or mostly defeated but enough undefeated for the sequel, but it rarely if ever ends with treaties, negotiation and hard-won harmony. (Adjust for ignorance--I read very little doorstopper fantasy). But generally the discussion was about non-consolatory fantasy, fantasy that doesn't leave you feeling comforted or reassured. Point made that many epic fantasists were survivors of war, soldiers, drawing on their combat experience, from Tolkien onwards. Was any fantasy classic really conciliatory/consolatory? Conclusion seemed to be that most end with loss, something small and precious saved from the general wreck. Heroes and anti-heroes considered briefly, the anti-hero not a recent development either, Jack Vance's heroes often brutal and amoral, this bearable because of his detachment.

Having missed the Round Robin Painting on Thursday, I wanted to listen to Artists Who Write and Writers Who Paint. It was fun, and convinced me that I'll have to read Seanan McGuire: when the discussion veered over to book covers and how authors are not consulted, she mentioned that she'd been asked what was the one thing she wanted on her cover and she'd said 'clothes'. That her heroine should be fully clothed, no butt-cleavage, no tramp-stamp, and that this wish had been answered. That one reader had taken Toby for a boy, and she'd wanted to hug them for that. Discussion of using art to unblock or to organise and free thoughts by painting/sketching. I was surprised to learn that no one really made sketches or paintings of characters or settings or scenes, though occasionally art echoed the mood of a story-in-progress.

Academic Treatment of Fantasy and Horror, the advance of genre studies in the last ten years. It's happening, but the 'name' universities are still resistant, and likely to continue so. Degrees in genre studies are easier to get via sociology (popular culture studies) or anthropology than through eng lit.

Know the Soup You're In, slideshow and talk by Lisa Snelling about the creative process, and how she balances art and mass production, where she finds inspiration, and finishing with a lovely playful short film made by a friend, which reminded me of early Norman McLaren.

When People Confuse the Author with Their Work was huge fun with lively opinionated panelists and lots of anecdotes. The fear of your mother (of whatever sort) reading your work as an inhibiting factor, and the decision to write deeply flawed characters. Not answering fan mail from prisons. Preconceptions about one's favourite authors, disappointment or relief? Is the confusion more likely with first-person narrative? Three of the panelists had worked in publishing and found it necessary to separate their love of certain authors' works from their increased knowledge of the certain authors' personalities.

Urban Fantasy as Alternate History, a fascinating topic: if supernatural creatures really were part of society, what would the sociological, legal, historic etc. implications be? And it started off well, with examples of how history might be changed, ways the panelists had approached the question, who did it well ... and then it veered into what's the difference between science fiction and fantasy, and the moderator made no attempt to bring it back, but in fact led it determinedly into surely one of the most trite of all genre questions. So I left.

Coarse Dialogue and Graceful Description, about balancing high and low diction in fantasy, moderated by Deanna Hoak, whom I totally fangirl. Did veer a few times into good and bad copyediting anecdotes, and notable for Ellen Kushner and James Frenkel having a set-to. I felt that Guy Gavriel Kay ran on rather when he got hold of the mike, too.

What Makes a Good Monster was okay, but in some ways was a mirror-image of the Human Characters panel. The most frightening monsters are the most alien or the most human? Humans can make the best monsters; Pennywise the Clown is vastly more frightening than the giant spider-thingy it becomes.

The Sorcerer in Fantasy was one of those panels where every panelist disavowed writing about sorcerers, but they managed to muddle through until it turned into a discussion about the difference between magic and technology, which ties with sf vs. fantasy for mind-numbingly irrelevant and over-studied question. I ditched.

Contemporary Rural Fantasy was pretty good, though not brilliant. Contemporary rural settings make for fantasy for teens and children, horror for adults, so much discussion of horror. With population more and more urbanised, perception of country changes, both safer and more dangerous. There have always been works set in the countryside, why is it not recognised as a subgenre, or so often conflated into urban fantasy? Panelists and audience name rural fantasy works, come up with fairly substantial body of works. Moderator says again that subgenre is waiting for iconic work which will establish it.

Bad Food, Bad Clothes and Bad Breath was brilliant. Just bloody brilliant. Discussion of the gritty and unpleasant realities of pre-industrial societies. I'd thought of ducking out early to catch some of Weird Weird West (which I heard was also brilliant, afterwards) but couldn't tear myself away. Must go and find Kari Sperring's academic work (under different name). Why agriculture? Unintentional germ warfare. Insect life. Positive influence of Christianity, sorry about that, guys. Why doesn't anyone in fantasy have lice or fleas (I do happy dance here, because I have, yes, a lousing scene in Willow Knot) and why do the characters have such enlightened views on medicine and slavery and so on? Anyway, I can't restrain myself, but actually do go up post-panel and brag about my lousing scene.

And those were the panels I attended.


Terri-Lynne said...

Re: rural fantasy:
"Moderator says again that subgenre is waiting for iconic work which will establish it."

Um...Mythago Wood isn't iconic?? It's rural. It's fantasy. It has endured through more than three decades and is still going strong despite simps like me who didn't discover it few months ago!
There's also Little Big by Crowly--another enduring rural fantasy. And how about Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell?? It certainly isn't urban fantasy. Maybe that's historic fantasy?? I can see where lines would be muddled, but one thing they all have in common is the rural fantasy nature of them.

batgirl said...

Would you believe that Mythago Wood wasn't mentioned until almost the end of the panel? Little, Big got a shout-out right away, but I think the long diversion into horror was a distraction.
Honestly, I think it's more a matter of marketing - that the marketers haven't seen this as a selling point. Urban fantasy appeals to people who usually don't read fantasy, so it's a selling point. Rural fantasy doesn't need signposting, because it's mostly read by fantasy readers (I oversimplify) with only something crossover literary like Jonathan Strange (and probably Little, Big) breaking out, and breaking out because they are seen as one-of-a-kind, not - unlike urban fantasy - as part of a genre-you'll-like (chicklit did something similar). I think I blather, though.

Terri-Lynne said...

You never blather, my dear. If we put you in charge of things, there would be far fewer confused people. :)