Over Easter Weekend, I attended our local convention of geeky goodness: Norwescon. I had a much better time this year than last, due in large part to seeing people I know throughout the event. With all the workshops and writer events and conventions I’ve gone to, I’ve managed to connect with a lot of really awesome writerly types. So I had no lack of cool people to stop and chat with throughout the weekend.
Now, for the rest of the recap.
I primarily focused on panels geared towards writers. My favorite is definitely the presentation on public reading given by Mary Robinette Kowal. She leveraged her experience as a voice actress into an excellent instruction on simple tips to use while reading. She explored a lot of tools I have never thought of before, giving depth to the different aspects of what creates a person’s “voice.” As part of her bad-assness, she presented a few voices that people have trouble with, and demonstrated how each element she explained affected the sound of the voice. The woman never ceases to amaze me.
Another element I thought was interesting was how the spoken word translates back into print. I come to writing through “I love telling stories” rather than “I love words.” So honing details like paragraph structure is much harder for me. This gave me a lot of interesting stuff to think about.
I also had the honor of sitting on a few panels with the esteemed Jim Butcher. I only recently tried one of the Dresden Files books, so I’m new to Butcher fandom. I hear the books go down in quality, but he charmed the socks off me at the panels he sat on.
Outside of the panels on writing, things were much more hit and miss. Rare was the panel that stayed on topic presented in the book. The most frustrating one was a panel I went to specifically because it tied into research I’m doing for my writing. The panel didn’t really cover what it said it was about. They also mostly ignored people raising their hand to contribute comments and questions from the audience. A fellow writer (there for the same reason) asked a question at the end of the panel, and only received a link to an LJ community. All in all, very frustrating.
The readings I went to were uniformly awesome. There was some sort of snag, as Steven Barnes was scheduled to read but instead someone I’d never heard of before was reading: Michael Swanwick.. I heard something about Steven Barnes needing to cancel his reading last minute, so Swanwick was the replacement. The story he read was heartbreaking and magnificent. Looking through his bibliography, it looks like I’ve read another of his shorts before (“Dogfight” from Burning Chrome, written in collaboration with William Gibson).
Without going into a blow-by-blow of other panels, I did have the honor to meet or better acquaint myself with several other cool people. This includes, but is not limited to, horror writer , fellow Growing Dread authors Lillian Cohen-Moore and Minerva Zimmerman, Ryan Fucking Macklin from the Internet, THE Jennifer Brozek, writer Jak Koke, artist Roberta Gregory, and editor Jordan Lapp.
Fairwood Writers Workshop
This was my second year doing the workshop. This year I opted to submit a few short stories instead of a novel excerpt, since I have a few pieces that had gotten rejected by the themed anthologies I’d written them for, and I felt uncertain about their viability as-is. So I had a workshop Saturday for one of the stronger pieces and another Sunday for the two weaker pieces.
Saturday I was a bit more worried about. In part because the plot element I had (a woman being murdered and used for political purposes) made me uncomfortable. Then on top of that I had Mary Robinette Kowal as one of my critiquers. Though she’s very nice and friendly, I’ve become a huge fan of her over the last year. Her insight into writing constantly helps, I’ve loved what I’ve read of her writing and she does a puppet show as part of her readings. The thought of her reading something and passing judgement on the quality of my writing filled me with raw terror.
My terror was a little unwarranted, though, as they thought it was good. There were some serious flaws with it, and it needed some heavy reworking, but I was constantly reassured that “It’s almost there.” So I came out of that feeling empowered and with a plan for what to do with the story. I could do this. I could make a pro sale out of this.
Really, Sunday was the day I should have worried about. If only I had known. The stories in that workshop were, I admit, weaker. And the flaws were repeated over and over again. What I didn’t expect was that one of the pros on the panel, one who seemed so sweet when I’d seen her before, described herself as the “bad cop” and she meant it. She tore into the pieces. She didn’t offer even a token comment about something she thought was good. The feedback didn’t seem constructive. It just felt like a long list of things she didn’t like with no suggestions on improving it. At one point I even got grilled because she thought my dialogue was awful and wanted to know if I thought people really talked that way.
With some distance I feel better about the ordeal, especially after some reassurance from one of the other critiquers post-convention. But holy moly did I spend a good chunk of time sulking. At the very least, this has raised the bar on “harshest critique ever” and I can feel comfortable in knowing I won’t often face worse than this.
In Other News
I have a long list of book recommendations I received over the course of the convention, but it’s all in a notebook I don’t have with me. I’ll try and do a notebook dump in the near future.