ConFusion 2018: Poetry in Novels

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I participated in at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

THE PANEL: Poetry in Novels (21 January 2018, 10:00)

PANELISTS: Amal El-Mohtar, Clif Flynt, Jeff Pryor, John Winkelman, Mari Ness

DESCRIPTION: “Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass include lengthy poems, placing them in a long tradition of long-form fiction that incorporates poetry into the work. How does writing poems for prose fiction differ from writing poems that stand alone? What distinct techniques does it require? Where do poems within stories exist in the landscape of genre poetry today?”

PRE-PANEL NOTES

PANEL NOTES

  • Poetry can be time-shifted in relation to the story in which it appears
    • In situ, as a bard or skald composes a poem based on events as they are happening
    • Used to imply history/world-building for the setting. An epic poem is written between the time of the events which it recounts and the time in which it is read.
    • The poem itself can be placed in a specific place in history based on written style or language or word usage.
  • Poetry can be used for world-building, either experienced by the characters or as related by the narrator.

MY THOUGHTS

Boy, did I over-think this one–in part because I love poetry, and in part because Amal El-Mohtar was also on the panel and I wanted to bring my “A” game.

ConFusion 2018: A Novel Look at the Short Story

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

THE PANEL: A Novel Look at the Short Story (21 January 2018 14:00)

DESCRIPTION: “Short stories require a different approach to pacing, character, world-building, exposition, and plot than longer works. Let’s explore the tools we use to convey important information to the reader when we have a lot fewer words to do it with.”

PANELISTS: Scott H. Andrews, Amal El-Mohtar, Lucy Snyder, Jessi Cole Jackson

NOTES:

    • Interests from the Audience
      • Distilling vast research down to a coherent short story
      • Contrast between short story structure vs. novel structure
      • Writing short stories for specific markets vs. writing short stories, then searching for a venue
      • How do you keep a short story short?
    • Novel structure vs. short story structure
    • Alan Moore’s Jerusalem
    • 3-act structure, 5-act structure, etc
    • PLOT DOES NOT JUST HAPPEN
    • There is not 100% consensus over what a short story *should* be.
    • The defining quality of a short story is that it is short
    • Difficulty writing short stories of short story length can be mitigated by reading more short fiction, e.g. GET IN THE HABIT OF READING SHORT STORIES
    • Jo Walton – defining element of a genre is PACE – Western page, romance pace, fantasy pace, etc.
    • Lackington’s – really big on prose style, even over plot
    • A truism about academic research – you should get three books out of the same research: your thesis, a monograph, and a popular book.
    • Make words and phrases do double duty
    • Make sure everything in a short story is load-bearing
    • The Pink Institution by Selah Saterstrom – structure is linked (or not) short stories which make up a novel

 

 

My thoughts: I didn’t learn much that was new to me here. I did enjoy the conversation between the panelists, and I picked up a few new books for Mount Tsundoku.

ConFusion 2018: The Setting as Character

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

THE PANEL: The Setting as Character (21 January 2018, 12:00)

DESCRIPTION: “In Science Fiction and Fantasy , settings can literally come alive–be it via the talking flowers of Through The Looking Glass or the rage of Peter Quill’s creepy dad-planet in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. In Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch universe where ships have minds, main characters can be both people and places at the same time. Are living settings a science fiction/fantasy extension of the classic “Hero Vs. Nature” story? How do they exist in conversation with real-world beliefs about whether the world around us has a will of its own?”

PANELISTS: A. T. Greenblatt, Cassandra Morgan, David John Baker, Suzanne Church

NOTES:

My thoughts:

This was a good general overview of the topic. I was kind of hoping that there would be more focus on concepts like Genius Loci and the like, but on reflection the panel’s approach makes more sense, as setting qua setting is the environment in which the story exists, not a personality with agency per se.

ConFusion 2018: Science Fiction and Philosophy

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: “Science Fiction and Philosophy: Exploring the Connections”

DESCRIPTION: “SF has been called the literature of ideas, and the ideas explored in SF have become increasingly philosophical throughout the history of the genre. What are the most illuminating thought experiments in recent and classic SF? Which philosophical questions do they raise? And how are philosophers in today’s universities employing SF in their teaching and research?”

PANELISTS: Andrea Johnson, Dyrk Ashton, Ken Schrader, Nathan Rockwood

NOTES:

MY THOUGHTS:

This panel was interesting in that so much of the discussion revolved around listing works which address philosophical questions, and not a lot of addressing the questions themselves. This bothered me at first, but on reflection I realize that these panels are meant to be introductions and overviews, not necessarily deep dives into the subject; if for no other reason than that the panels all stand alone, and if two or more share a subject it is only by coincidence. That said, I appreciated the breadth of suggestions, and particularly that they included games. Computer games, if the narrative is sufficiently complex, can be seen as simulations and testing grounds for ideas which are not always easy for an individual to address in the real world.

ConFusion 2018: Immigration and Refuge in Science Fiction

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: Immigration and Refuge in Science Fiction (20 January 2018, 10:00)

DESCRIPTION: “Travel stories are classics in any genre, but in science fiction stories of travelling to a new home are often about colonization, or about intrepid explorers amongst the (primitive) aliens. Let’s talk about the science fiction stories that better reflect the experiences of immigrants and refugees in the real world.”

PANELISTS: Alexandra Manglis, Amal El-Mohtar, David Anthony Durham, John Chu

NOTES:

My thoughts:

There were many important ideas passed around in this panel, particularly in light of the racist, xenophobic, fascist policies of the current (c. 2018) U.S. president and his cabinet. One book which comes to mind which showed the POV of a refugee is What is the What, by Dave Eggers. Neither genre nor quite fiction, but a beautiful book all the same. As for fiction stories, well, I can’t think of any I have read. Not that they are not out there.

ConFusion 2018: Visions of Positive Masculinity

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

DESCRIPTION: From high fantasy adventures to noir mysteries to superheroes and war stories , genre fiction has meticulously catalogued the narrow roles society expects men to occupy: strong, brave, and powerful, but also angry, competitive, emotionally repressed, and misogynistic. What does a character arc look like for the man who has decided not to be the best at performing this toxic vision of masculinity? We’ve seen many stories about women who struggle and triumph against gender roles. How can writers use social expectations of masculinity to create challenges that their male characters have to overcome to save the day?

PANELISTS: David Anthony Durham, Jason Sanford, Jim C. Hines, John Chu, Pablo Defendini

NOTES:

  • Before discussing “positive masculinity”, perhaps a definition of “toxic masculinity” (“T.M.” henceforth)?
  • T.M. may appear in ways that seem innocuous
  • T.M. does NOT mean “All men are bastards!”
  • T.M. is something we are born into but can supersede
  • #NotAllMen is a symptom of T.M.
  • Kylo Ren is an example of T.M.
  • Poe Dameron is an example of a different sort of T.M.
  • We are at the beginning of the pushback against T.M. at the institutional level.
  • Part of challenging T.M. is challenging the idea of “masculinity”, i.g. “What is masculinity? What is masculine?”
  • Works which stand against T.M.:
  • Empathy can inoculate against T.M.
  • Good fiction creates empathy
    • “Write better books, make better people”
  • Can healthy, well-balanced protagonists make for compelling reading? YES!!!!!
  • We would like to see aspects of T.M. addressed in literature in the upcoming year:
    • Aggression
    • Conquest
    • Lack of empathy
  • “We want people to live up to Apple’s P.R., not necessarily Apple’s actions in the world.”
  • Big tech companies are often not aware of, or don’t care about, even the first-order effects of their actions (e.g. externalities, be they environmental, cultural, economic, et al.)
  • Being proud of ignorance is a huge signifier of T.M. Distrust of expertise and education and intelligence
  • Dismantling T.M. is MEN’s PROBLEM. It’s not on women to do it for men.

My thoughts:

This was quite eye-opening for me. I am aware of the existence of toxic masculinity in everyday life, and do what I can to expunge it from my personality and social interactions. Of course, as a guy, and as me being embedded in me, I am not always aware of how I am perceived by people outside of me. This panel was a good view into the various ways toxic masculinity can manifest. Of particular interest was that this panel happened right after an incident in another panel, which led to an attendee exhibiting stalker-ish behavior toward one of the panelists. T.M. in action. I expect I will add thoughts to this subject in future blog posts.

ConFusion 2018: How a Manuscript Becomes a Book

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: How a Manuscript Become a Book (19 January 2018, 14:00)

PANEL DESCRIPTION: “‘I’m just an MS…sittin’ here on an editor’s desk…I hope and pray to be a book someday, but today I am just an MS!’ There’s plenty of information on the web about how to write and sell a manuscript , but the process after the deal is signed is often opaque to new writers. We’ll walk through the steps a manuscript typically goes through between deal day and launch day, and what authors can do to help the process go smoothly.”

PANELISTS: Cherie M. Priest, Navah Wolfe, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Richard Shealy, Yanni Kuznia

NOTES

  • On acceptance: It has to be a great book THAT THE PUBLISHER KNOWS WHAT TO DO WITH (Navah Wolfe)
  • You never learn to write A NOVEL. You learn to write THIS NOVEL. The same goes for editing.
  • Pointing out places that need fixing vs. recommending specific fixes. “This isn’t working” vs. “Maybe try this”
  • When the editors do their job well, you don’t notice them
  • “Junicode” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junicode) variation of Garamond with loads of diacritics. Created to fill a need in academic publishing
  • “First pass” == “Uncorrected Proof” == “Galley”

My thoughts:

I mostly attended this panel as a sanity check to see if the rest of the publishing world did things similarly to how I did them. Therefore, for me, this panels was more about affirming than learning. Everything discussed jibed with my experiences as publisher and editor at Caffeinated Press. The notes collected here are the “aha!” moments of the panel.

ConFusion 2018: The Care and Feeding of the Subject Expert

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: The Care and Feeding of the Subject Expert (19 January 2018, 12:00)

PANEL DESCRIPTION: “Writing science fiction and fantasy requires a ton of research. Having the internet at our fingertips makes it easier than it used to be, but sometimes we need to ask an expert. Many folks are delighted to geek out about their specialties, but we still need to do due diligence, respect their time, and make sure we’re asking the right questions. How do you find qualified experts? Do you approach them with prepared questions? When is it ethical to pick someone’s brain for free, and when should you insist on compensating your expert?”

PANELISTS: Marissa Lingen, Michael Kucharski, Monica Valentinelli, Patrick S. Tomlinson, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

NOTES

  • Sources at the start of a project are different from sources at the end of a project
  • Non-geek subject experts love it when writers take the time to get it right.
  • Being wrong is the best way to find an expert on the subject. When inaccuracies find their way into print the critics come out of the woodwork
  • A specific detail is an opportunity for your reader to argue with you. Don’t get it wrong
  • Is that particular specificity necessary?
  • Specificity can turn a work of fiction into a period piece. Accurate details (e.g. the price of things) can pinpoint stories in a particular time and place
  • We aren’t building worlds; we are building simulation of worlds. Therefore don’t add too much weight. Do specificity and detail in service of the story
  • SME can provide a sanity check. As in, is this right to the level of detail necessary to be meaningful to the story?
  • [Nature has a sci-fi section?]
  • How to reward/pay a SME: coffee, acknowledgement in print, dinner, money, Tuckerization
  • Wikipedia is a door, not a destination. The sources in a wikipedia article are the STARTING point for research.
  • [Mention of Jonathan Israel as SME for loads of European stuff]
  • If the SME’s response to a question is “it’s complicated,” it is a good indication that this person is, in fact, an SME. A facile or immediate and simple answer is not necessarily a well-thought-out answer
  • People who are weary about a subject are more likely to be experts than are the people who are excited.
  • “Englishing” – turning a translated text into a “regular English” text – is a Paid Thing

My thoughts:

I like the idea that subject matter experts may well be jaded about the subject in which they have expertise. It rings true. Not jaded in the sense that they find it boring; rather that the magic has become the mundane and they have integrated their knowledge into their lives and world-views. Being an expert in a subject doesn’t mean that you can simply recite dry facts.

ConFusion 2018

I will be speaking on two panels at ConFusion 2018! Here is my schedule:

TITLE: Poetry in Novels
DESCRIPTION: Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass include lengthy poems, placing them in a long tradition of long-form fiction that incorporates poetry into the work. How does writing poems for prose fiction differ from writing poems that stand alone? What distinct techniques does it require? Where do poems within stories exist in the landscape of genre poetry today?
PANELISTS: Amal El-Mohtar, Clif Flynt, Jeff Pryor, Josef Matulich, John Winkelman, Mari Ness
ROOM: Isle Royale
DAY/TIME: Sunday, January 21, 10:00 – 10:50 am

TITLE: Analogue Media in the Digital Age
DESCRIPTION: Paper, vinyl, and film, oh my! What are the unique advantages to analogue media, and what’s just a deeply ingrained sense of how media “should” be? Is it not a book without the paper smell, or a song without the soft crackle of a needle on vinyl?
PANELISTS: David Klecha, Gail Cross, John Winkelman
ROOM: Petoskey
DAY/TIME: Sunday, January 21, 1:00 – 1:50 pm

I will, of course, vastly over-think and over-research these topics over the next ten days, and will therefore post my notes.