Con Report: MarsCon, Day 1
This is my second year at MarsCon in Williamsburg, VA. I had heard about it from friends for years and thoroughly enjoyed it last year, so I’ve been looking forward to my return. Coming on the heels of Illogicon, I confess to feeling a bit tired and socially tapped out, but I’ve already had a great time seeing many familiar faces.
The only programming I attended Friday evening was the GOH Panel(s) run consecutively from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Mike Pederson interviewed Literary GOH Jim Hines and YA Literary GOH Carrie Ryan. This is my first time seeing both Jim and Carrie, and I thoroughly enjoyed each of them. The panel audience was small, and I hoped to speak with them afterward. My plans were diverted, but I hope to have another opportunity this weekend. I confess I haven’t read either of their books, but I am now excited to do so. Although they often spoke one after the other, I’m going to split up my notes here, to hopefully capture the feel of each GOH’s comments.
So Jim has a series about princesses and a series about goblins, and he talked a little about how he was inspired to write each of these. He’s also been very active in the anti-harassment movement that has seen growing momentum in the convention scene over the past few years. Talking about internet controversy, he did offer this bon mot:
If you ever find yourself in an internet storm, just *shut up* and wait 48 hours, until everyone’s focus shifts to the next person, the next thing.
Jim talked about breaking into the semi-closed anthology market by simply emailing editors and saying he would love to be included if they thought they could use one of his stories. He also had great success pitching an anthology idea to his publisher, which they accepted more readily than he had expected. Jim and Carrie agreed with the typical anthology invitation process: invite a few “shoot for the moon” authors, a few more “likely” authors, and a larger pool of “easy target” authors. Jim commented that the new, less-well-known authors sometimes turned in better stories, maybe just because they were trying harder.
His “shoot for the moon” authors included Meg Cabot, Jenn Lancaster, and Ed Greenwood.
Jim maintains a full-time “day job” in addition to his success as an author, and most of his writing is done on his lunch break. He usually starts with a 3-4 page outline, writes about 20,000 words, then realizes his outline is “broken” – so then it is a staging process of wrangling the outline and hammering out the story.
One of his biggest storytelling/character-driven surprises was in his 2nd Goblin book, when he was drafting the story and the characters started changing “on their own” and “talking back to him” – it brought back much of the sense of fun and wonder for him as a writer that had been missing from the story to that point.
Jim talked at length about humor in storytelling, starting with how to get more in Fantasy and Science Fiction. The trend now is “dark and gritty” (thanks to George R. R. Martin). Jim challenged himself to write a humorist dystopia, so keep an eye out for that!
He shared a few touching stories about humor in difficult circumstances, including his grandmother’s funeral and friend/fellow SF author Jay Lake’s battle with colon cancer.
Humor is a way for people to connect, to cope. It is literal magic.
True for storytelling in general. So often people have told him, “You described me” or “You understand what my life is like”.
You can say things with humor that you can’t say otherwise.
But, in humor, always “punch up” – that is, it’s okay for make fun of the President of the United States, who’s far too successful and powerful to likely care, but not okay to make fun of some random fan at a con – that’s just being a jerk.
Carrie really likes the YA market for a lot of reasons. For one, it’s more of an “open pot”, with crossing genres readily acceptable, unlike “adult” fiction. From a storytelling perspective, she likes that you have to really dive in with a strong story and characters, because teen readers won’t wait around too long for you to get to the point.
She usually doesn’t include real life in her stories, but she did share a couple of amusing instances in which she had.
She’s co-written a series of middle-grade books with her husband, and she talked about that process, what it was like working with him, and how they worked together. They had discussed that it might not work, but they actually had a lot of fun and really built each other’s ideas up much better than she thinks she would have done on her own.
One of Carrie’s biggest storytelling surprises was one of the first times she realized she was going to have to kill off a character. One of the biggest character-driven surprises is in the new middle grade series – a one-time character moved into the story after his scene was supposed to be over and basically continued along for the ride.
What’s interesting about Carrie’s writing about zombies is that she doesn’t “do” horror, but she’s developed this obsession with the zombie apocalypse. She talked about how that came about, the “trope” of “dolphin, dolphin, shark” in horror, the truism that in zombie stories:
Someone always lives
Someone always dies
Someone always gets infected
She also talked about zombie as metaphor, and how George Romero opened her eyes with this regard in a discussion about Night of the Living Dead and how those people literally could not cooperate well enough to save their own lives, and how this is playing out in reality in really big ways, like global hunger, warming, etc.
Authors or books Jim or Carrie recommend:
Discount Armageddon, Seanan McGuire
Redshirts, John Scalzi
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett
Girl of Fire and Thorns, Rae Carson
Prince of Shadows, Rachel Caine
TV shows Jim or Carrie particularly enjoy:
Still hoping for better from Agents of SHIELD
Avatar, Last Airbender
American Horror Story
Black List – terrible writing, but amazing James Spader
60 minutes from notes & research
January word count