Saturday, March 5, 2016

Con Report: MarsCon 2016, Williamsburg, VA, Friday, Jan 15, 2016

This was my 4th MarsCon, 2nd as an invited guest, and it remains one of my favorite regional conventions. A terrific new hotel this year, with real convention space collected in one wing, rather than walking back and forth endless long halls at the previous hotel (although I didn't get as many steps in, so there's that).

Parking had been a serious problem at the previous hotel the past couple of years, leading me to decide to drive in Thursday night and plan to spend Friday as a writing day before the con spun up. I was glad for the "down" time, although as usual, distractions kept me from getting as much writing done as I had hoped.

Unfortunately, I missed one of the very first panels that I'd wanted to attend on "Writing in Shared Worlds". That's always the way - more programming than one person can handle.

For me, Marscon began, appropriately enough, with the Opening Ceremonies. A little loose, a little rambly, lots of well-deserved recognition for many very hard-working people.

Oh, whee, a fire drill! Glad we got *that* out of the way early…We all stood around for a moment, wondering whether to take it seriously. Just about the time the con-runners started to tell us to head outside, the siren stopped (though the strobes continued flashing for quite a while).

What can follow that? Mikey Mason, of course, a high-energy performer who sang an obvious crowd-favorite, "Best Game Ever" <>.

Next up, new-to-me, the charming S.J. ("sooj") Tucker, sang and played guitar well. But of more note (sorry, I couldn't help myself), was her very sweet and earnest entreaty to the audience, "If no one has told you that it's ok to be you…it's all good. I'll write you a note."

Someone (I really was not yet in note-taking mode--sorry!) put together a lovely memorial video of genre luminaries who died in 2015..and even included Davie Bowie and Alan Rickman, both gone earlier in the week.

There was a champagne & sparkling cider toast to absent friends, and to the best weekend of the year, MarsCon!

Afterward, I hustled over to the hall where I will be for all of my weekend's panels (they are all in the same two rooms), for the Writing Guest of Honor (GOH) interviews with Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, and Alethea Kontiss. The interviewer, Mike Pederson of RavenCon was there, and a good audience…but no GOHs! They were all in the Opening Ceremonies…

Then this happened…


So once they arrived and settled, Mike invited them to introduce themselves -- three talented women in a genre historically dominated by men, both creators and creations. After fun introductions, Mike asked each woman about their thoughts on the weekend's theme of women in science fiction.

Ellen Kushner talked about starting her career around the same time as genre powerhouses Shawna McCarthy and Ellen Datlow. There was a rise of women in publishing about the same time that there was a rise in fantasy of SF -- there wasn't much fantasy other than Lord of the Rings until Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara. Most "fantasy" was loosely called "sword and planet" -- falling under the science fiction umbrella, but clearly "sword and sorcery" set offworld. Anne McCaffrey's Pern, Marian Zimmer Bradley, and other women rose to prominence in this period. A lot of fantasy was published as children's books, such as Madeleine L'Engle, C. S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, Lloyd Alexander, and Susan Cooper. [Almost as an aside, Ellen observed that now, YA has overtaken fantasy!]

Ellen spoke briefly about some of the negative patterns that she has seen over time. Women are still "ghetto-ized." White hetero male is the default assumption about a character in the absence of description. In the business arena of writing and publishing in the genre, the "big deal" women tend to be "honorary men"--one of the boys.

Delia Sherman said she considered herself very lucky, and she was pleased by the growing diversity of the genre and community: more diversity, more women, more women of color. Now there's the Octavia Butler scholarship to Clarion…things are changing. And to be honest, most of the old guys who don't know women are literate are retiring…the younger men rising to fill their places are more appreciative, more open-minded.

Alethea asked for her comments to be off the record. Truly, she didn't say anything scandalous, just blunt honesty about her early experiences in the publishing industry. But in truth, you're doing yourself a disservice if you've never seen the beautiful, effervescent "Princess" in person.

Mike asked, "Do women still have to write under pseudonyms or gender neutral names?"

All three agreed that people still think differently about material when they know the writer is a women or know/think the writer is a man. This is not to say that women are not excelling in areas of the genre still predominantly male, such as Louis McMaster Bujold or Elizabeth Moon in military SF. Alethea observes that publishing houses are often essentially run by women, with a man in charge.

Mike asks about their most recent projects…

Dehlia is writing book about boy who runs away from home in Maine and runs into an evil wizard. She says Maine feels very much like you've just stepped back half a century or more, and magical things live out in the forest. She has a steampunk story coming out from Tor next month, in a series of novellas.

Ellen has been happily absorbed in Tremontaine, a shared-world anthology, structured like a tv series, each episode is a short, Ellen wrote the "pilot" to set the stage. She loved the Bordertown series--so did Holly Black--so they've revived it.

Malinda Lo kicks butt w/plot, Ellen does really great w/character studies, [?] brought in whole new culture… Ellen wrote the "finale"--she said it felt like writing fanfic for her own world - lots of sex! She's also working on a new novel.

Mike asked Ellen, "What's it like, turning over control of your world for a shared world?"
Ellen tried to back off and let the writers develop their own stories--in fact, she went too far and wasn't as involved as the writers wanted. They're working on a 2nd "season" now. And there is the original Riverside series of novels that began with Swordspoint! So there's lots of material for the authors to run with.

A question from the audience:
"Do you think that women tend to write men better than men write women?"
All three agree absolutely. Ellen elaborates: we grew up reading books about boys having adventures; we had to push ourselves into male POV to get into the stories and imagine ourselves in their roles. So we as women are used to putting ourselves into a male context, whereas men haven't had the same impetus to do so. She wonders whether the next generation of women writers will have the same ability, as they have a greater variety of characters to dive into. At the same time, she says there are some men who write terrific women!

Delia says you really have to look at individual authors, because there are "the worst" of both women and men writers. Women are trained by our culture to understand underlying contexts/subtexts - "why would you do that?" We're trained to interact with people, not humans with one set of genitalia or another. But our culture still defaults to male. Men generally aren't as interested in what motivates women and what they're thinking--they haven't had to be.

Mike adds that he finds the men who don't wrote good women tend not to write good secondaries in general - all their focus is on their main characters. They don't know how to bring depth to the people they're not interested in.

Consensus: Peter Dickinson writes fantastic women!


Time for me to earn my keep! I was moderator for the panel "Social Media Etiquette for Authors". The panelists were Kim Headlee, Alethea Kontiss, Gail Z. Martin, and Will McIntosh.

We talked about a range of topics, including handling criticism on social media, negative reviews on websites like Goodreads or Amazon, as well as providing "content" rather than a constant barrage of "Buy my stuff!" messaging. Panelists discussed their preferred mediums, including Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and a few of the youth-targeted sites such as Instagram or SnapChat.

Will said that he's working closely with media publicists now that some of his books have been optioned for films, and they are pushing him toward Twitter. We talked about keeping up a flow of messages, and managing this time demand with other behind-the-scenes demands of a writer.

Sadly, I did not manage to take notes during this first panel--the commentary was lively, and I was trying to herd the cats! ;-)

My panels done for the evening, I enjoyed some time catching up with friends before diving into a full day tomorrow!
And so, with a loving heart, I offer you 
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s my favorite: 
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes 
the light of the universe that shines within you.