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Massive Wiscon report, part 2
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Wiscon 2004 Con Report

--< Part 2 >--

In case you've just stumbled upon this entry, I'm talking about our weekend at the Wiscon science fiction convention in Madison, Wisconsin. I covered the first two days in my previous entry, so if you haven't read that yet, you might want to take a look :)

I forgot to mention in my previous entry that one of my other concerns was that this convention is dubbed the "World's Only Feminist Science Fiction Convention!" I had visions of rampaging feminists glaring at me as I walked past, and generally being surrounded by women. The reality was quite different! I'd say there was an even mix between genders, and everyone was friendly and enjoying themselves. In keeping with the theme of the convention, there were lots of panels about gender issues and so forth, but there were so many panels (150+) that there was something for everyone!

I had planned on including days three and four in this entry, but once again it has grown to monstrous proportions (that, and I'm getting tired). I'll work on the entry for day 4 later on Wednesday :)

Now I must press onward and talk about the fun and frivolity of day three...


Day Three - Sunday, May 30
We started the day, bleary-eyed, by attending an early morning panel : Happy Writers and Fast Writers, an Optimists panel. Panelists were Benjamin Micah Rosenbaum, Caroline Stevermer, Jim Munroe, and David G. Hartwell.

Ben talked about how he'd published (?) 25 short stories and was seen as a fast writer by some. His natural story length seemed to be around 1500 words, and he was mostly a 'happy writer.' He gets peeved about some people suggesting that you should only write if you're absolutely driven and that writing is seen as hard by many people.

Jim has published 3 books since '99, and feels like people talk a lot about agonized writers when they really mean people not writing, in quantity or consistently. Caroline said that it was easier to write if you had an idea in mind. At one point, she was having a hard time writing and ended up writing a resignation letter to her Muse! Fortunately it worked, and a couple of days later she was writing again.

David had a lot of interesting things to say, given his vast experience in the SF scene stretching back decades. He said that in pro terms, fast is considered one million words per year, which is basically writing a novel every 6 weeks. Many such fast writers wrote terrible stuff in their 'fast mode,' while others could do a good job (e.g. Robert E. Howard). Back in the days of typewriters, fast writers would often load their typewriter with a roll of paper so they didn't have to keep changing sheets.

David mentioned one of the tricks of the pulp writers was to keep action happening constantly, which enabled them to write fast. Poul Anderson and Brian Aldiss wrote 6 novels a year in the 60s, and wrote good quality stuff despite their fast writing. In the early 90s, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch held workshops to teach people to write fast, among other things. David wrote an editorial about this at one stage, and did not think that approach was necessarily a good idea. He said that writing quickly embeds certain solutions in your subconscious; solutions which the mind latches onto to achieve a fast writing speed. Once the mind is trained in this way, it is very difficult to break out of bad habits. He used the example of a strange line in one of Silverberg's stories that came from Silverberg's days writing 'adult' fiction (if you catch my drift).

Jim liked the example of the pulps being so different from the literary pretentious mode of writing he learned in school. He said that he cannot inject profound messages in his work, but they just come. The first 4 hours of writing are the most productive for him, which is why he tends to write in 4 hour blocks.

Ben said that he often has no idea at all when he first begins stories that he has the most fun writing. He'll write a weird first sentence, and then spend the rest of the story trying to figure out what the sentence means. At the same time, he won't just dash things out with no rewriting. He likes his day job, and he talked about contrasts with parenting and writing. He said he was most productive when he wrote a 10,000 word story in 5 days, with his infant daughter in one arm and typing with the other.

David talked about many writers having performance anxiety. He mentioned one Nebula award winner who decided to write a Star Trek novel, despite the objections of David and the writer's agent. She went ahead with it, and ended up writing it in 6 weeks! Apparently the Star Trek novels were a failure up until that point. When The Wrath of Khan came out, this same writer wanted to do the novelization, and took a mere 8 weeks writing it! She had no performance anxiety whatsoever while working on these Star Trek novels, and was then able to go on to write more of her own work.

David discussed writers finding their own methods of self-discipline. Gene Wolfe, for instance, wrote for 1 - 1.5 hours early in the morning before work for 20 years or so, and consistently turned out 3 pages per day. Fred Pohl writes 2,500 words a day wherever he is (even when at cons or travelling). Ray Bradbury apparently has 3 filing cabinets full of unfinished stories and every so often he'll pluck one out and finish it off. Many of these stories resemble his old stuff.

Continuing with his fascinating anecdotes, David said that some writers have the novel in their head and cannot write it until they've worked through it all. Apparently Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in longhand over 22 days while working full-time at a shoe factory. He was broke, with not much promise as a writer--yet he persisted. He'd had the story in his head for a year.

David recalled talking to Philip K Dick before he wrote The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, and Dick talked about the story for 6 hours (it was all in his head). 6 weeks later, Dick turned out the novel and had to recuperate in hospital for a week afterward. The end result was very close to what he'd told David!

Caroline said that no matter what the writing method you use, be prepared to have it fail after 6 weeks! She tries to avoid talking about her works in progress because it satisfies her urge to write and she feels no need to actually write the story after that. She mentioned that Bujold sometimes turns down attendance at cons because it'd be fatal to her work.

Ben finds that he works well in cafes. He needs to have people around, which he put down to the 'herd mentality.' If he gets up at 5am and goes to the Cafe, he can get a decent amount of writing done. He used to get wrapped up in why he had trouble writing at times, but eventually realized that it often boiled down to technical problems with his writing. Trying a different tack usually worked.

David said that some writers would manifest certain behaviours that would be precursors to them writing something new. Zelazny's wife knew when he was about to write a new novel when he took out the garbage, cleaned the floor and did other household chores. David said that he personally needs 2 days for what he called 'binge writing,' where he writes until he drops. When writing his SF book (presumably he was referring to Age of Wonders), he wrote a section in 3 days totalling 20K words.

The panelists talked a lot about fast writing, and tried to steer the discussion toward 'happy writers' at this point.

Ben had some advice: arrange your life based on the type of person you are, rather than the type of person you think you are, so that it will be predictable that you get writing done. I took that to mean that you should know yourself and your habits, and to take them into account so that writing comes naturally.

David said that 'Happy is being done,' and Caroline said that it boiled down to 'what would you be broke to do?' She mentioned Joseph Campbell, and said that she thought a lot about this question when she was laid off from a tech job. David said that the Clarion workshop tires people out in order to 'break their defences' against writing. He said that Joanna Russ recommends always changing the time and place of writing to avoid the dreaded Writer's Block.

Ben enjoys being 'in' the writing, and hates worrying about not writing. He said that when his wife met him, he was working in a tech job (still does) and hadn't written in 10 years! She couldn't believe how much he changed when he resumed writing--when he's cranky, she says he has a story coming :) He likes to leave some time after revising to let his work 'sit,' since he often thinks it is crap the day after he finishes something. He finds that he can't show it to people before the 1st draft is completed without killing the story.

After the panel concluded, I found myself wondering why I didn't have a wrist cramp from taking so many notes. It must've been due to the Moleskine and the comfortable pen :)

* * *

We headed off to breakfast in the hotel bar and partook of their breakfast buffet, then I checked my email and browsed the usual online message boards. I may also have visited the Dealer's room once again, but I can't recall buying anything. While I was at my laptop near the hub provided on the 2nd floor, I nabbed a free book from the free book table. I didn't have much luck with the subsequent book because the con organizers had instituted a line policy, and the line was seemingly miles long by the time I got there :)

We went back to the hotel room and relaxed for awhile, having leftover pizza for lunch. At 1pm we watched the Campbell nominee smackdown between Jay Lake, Tim Pratt, and David Levine. They beat at each other with foam poles from the pool room, and generally demonstrated their bad-assness (if that is a word). David ripped off his t-shirt partway through the bout and pummelled his opponents with great ferocity. He was declared the winner, and tapped Jay and Tim on the shoulder while they remained on their knees before him. It was definitely one of the highlights of the con ;)

After the bout, we rushed off down the hall to a reading entitled "Parables and Parodies." The people doing readings were David Eric Lunde, David J. Schwartz, and Paula J. Schumacher. Unfortunately we missed part of the first story (David's story Mike's Place), but we got the gist of it and laughed quite a bit. David Lunde read some excellent poems and other short pieces, while Paula read her modern-day retelling of the Russian Baba Yaga myth.

* * *

Following the readings, we went upstairs to the 6th floor to attend the Strange Horizons Tea Party. There was tea in abundance, and also plenty of snacks and Strange Horizons merchandise. I finally caught up with Tim Pratt and had a nice chat about his work, Locus, and writing, among other things. For those who don't know, Tim sold his first novel recently! Yay, Tim! I also had a chat with a couple of other people, but their names weren't familiar.

At one point during the tea party, Susan Marie Groppi called for quiet and talked about Strange Horizons, their new story collections, membership, and other information about the site. After that we had a chat with Jason Erik Lundberg and Janet Chui. Janet recently moved to the U.S. and it was interesting comparing their experiences of immigration with mine. She also had some damn fine stuff in the Art show, which was most impressive.

After the tea party, Carrie and I headed off to dinner at the hotel restaurant and ordered some cocktails while we perused the menu. I was tempted to order ostrich for dinner, so I asked the waiter what it was like. He'd never tried it, but said he'd heard it had a 'distinctive taste.' I chickened-out and decided to have the Mahi-Mahi instead, with some cream of vegetable soup :) Carrie had another type of fish and a salad, and we both thought dinner was very tasty. We were also pleased with the con attendee discount ;)

* * *

We went upstairs to the 2nd floor and found a huge line of people stretching across the hall and down the stairs. This was the line for the dessert salon prior to the Guest of Honor speeches and the Tiptree ceremony :) It wasn't too painful waiting in line, and the desserts were well worth it. We chatted briefly with James Frenkel (Senior Editor at Tor books, and married to Joan M. Vinge, author of The Snow Queen) while waiting. I mentioned my writing, and he was very encouraging, telling me to keep at it.

While we were eating dessert, I noticed David J. Schwartz standing near the table (Hi, David!). I invited him to take a seat at our table and we had a good chat before the ceremony began.

It wasn't long before the guests of honor were introduced: Eleanor A. Arnason, and Patricia McKillip. Patricia gave a speech about her sources of inspiration, including plenty of funny stories, the places she has lived, and the roadtrip with her new husband. Eleanor Arnason gave a heated political speech, making a lot of good points, and saying that we were living in a world described by several SF disaster novels, and the world was effectively in the midst of a third World War. Unlike many of the non-fiction writers she quoted, she still had hope.

The host, Victor Jason Raymond, talked about the Tiptree award and how this year's Wiscon set a record for attendance: over 700 people attended this year! He then introduced this year's James Tiptree, Jr. Award winner, Matt Ruff. Matt was presented with several items, including framed artwork, chocolates, the Tiptree award, and the Tiptree tiara which he wore throughout his speech.

It was fascinating listening to him talking about his winning novel, Set This House in Order, and it made me want to rush out to the Dealer's room the next day and pick up a copy. Everyone else must've had the same idea, because all copies were snapped up the next day! According to the judges, his book was really, really, really, really, (you get the idea) good.

Ellen Klages led the choir with a song in Matt's honor, and they also sang the alternate version at the insistence of the audience: it was set to the tune of "How much is that doggy in the window?" and they barked out "Ruff" at the appropriate moments. It was all very amusing :)

* * *

After the ceremony, everyone streamed upstairs for the parties on the 6th floor. We mingled and chatted with David J. Schwartz, Susan Marie Groppi, and John Trey, among others. Sometime past midnight, we bid them adieu and headed back upstairs to our room, feeling exhausted and hoping to catch some sleep before the panel early the following morning. Are you detecting a pattern here, yet? Sleep is a fleeting luxury for the typical Wiscon attendee ;)


Stay tuned for the grand finale! I must rest my weary eyes...

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