Saturday, May 31, 2014

Con Report: ConCarolinas 2014, Friday (Day 1)

I’ve become part of a group that meets each year at ConCarolinas, and this is becoming one of the highlights of my annual convention circuit. Last year, many of us agreed to arrive on Thursday (“the new Friday”) to enjoy a relaxed dinner and evening together before the non-stop panels and hall conversations and dealers’ room browsing and more panels and costume gawking and more hall conversations that make up ConCarolinas.

An additional benefit to driving and arriving on Thursday was a lovely relaxed morning, up through lunchtime and into the early afternoon. It felt like a real vacation, not the super-rushed experience of most cons. I could get used to this!

I was surprised, actually, to realize that programming began before the opening ceremonies at 4pm. I had planned to get a little work-work done after lunch and before setting it aside for the weekend. There were a couple of writers’ panels I would have like to see, but it’s never possible to do it all.

I headed down to the convention space about 3pm and said hello to a lot of familiar faces, mostly along the authors row in front of the main “Lakeshore” programming rooms. I was delighted to see Faith Hunter, author of the Jane Yellowrock and Rogue Mage series; Tamsin Silver, A.J. Hartley and Stuart Jaffre, whom I’ve come to know and admire through the community; David B. Coe, one of the first fantasy authors I ever befriended; and John Hartness, author of the hilarious Bubba the Monster Hunter series. John and Emily Leverett co-edited last year’s Big Bad anthology, and although I wouldn’t have thought it my usual fare, hearing them talk about the incredible stories they worked with has made me enthusiastic to read it. So I bought the hardcover and had both of them sign it, as well as a handful of contributing authors who are also guests here this weekend.

So began the initial rounds of hall conversations. I made my way to Danny Birt’s first concert of the weekend—always a treat, including his homage to National Pi Day (March 14th, or 3.14), to the tune of “American Pie”.

My next panel was the media track’s “Rise of the Strong Princess”—they were specifically focused on film, and talked about the evolution of Disney princesses, as well as Leia’s role in Star Wars, and other “I don’t need a hero to rescue me” characters. Maybe I wasn’t in full con mode yet, because I didn’t find this panel as engaging as I had thought it would be. Towards the end of the panel, the lights mysteriously went off, and that was my cue to duck out to the Buffy Sing Along…

This screening the musical episode, “Once more with Feeling” of Buffy’s 6th season, was acted out in front of the screen by the talented cast of the Pineapple Shaped Lamps comedy troupe. Audience singing was encouraged, so I belted out “Going Through the Motions”, “I’ve Got a Theory”, “I’ll Never Tell,” “Under Your Spell,” and “Rest in Peace”.

Then it was time to head out to one of the few steampunk panels, featuring the inimitable John Hartness. John and Tonia Brown led a lively audience discussion on favorite examples of steampunk in TV and film, as well as literature. They helped to define the genre for several audience members who were curious but didn’t really know what steampunk *is*. And they satisfactorily answered the question “Is Steampunk Dead?” with a resounding “No!”

One favorite recommendation that’s new to me was The Windup Girl, a “biopunk” science fiction novel, by Paolo Bacigalupi. John called it “polarizing”—in his observation, people either love it or hate it. Firefly was described as “future steampunk”, and John Carter of Mars was given a nod, which I thought was interesting given that Burroughs was writing at end of the Industrial Revolution (which broadly defines the era of steampunk). Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Nikola Tesla were described as the first authors of the genre. One audience member made a surprising reference to one of my favorite books, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, published in 1888. I’m not sure I would describe it as steampunk, per se, but always a treat to think about and discuss this delightful story.

One funny side note to this panel. During a conversation about the amount of research that is appropriate for a story, John related Joe Haldeman on a panel, where an audience member was quizzing him about the depth of research for one of his books. Haldeman finally threw up his hands and said, “It’s just a story!” And as authors, it’s ultimately *our* story to do with as we will.

The last panel I attended today was Romance in Fantasy, a full row of panelists talking to a packed room. I’m currently debating how much romance (and sex) to include in a couple of my stories, so I was very interested in this premise. I came in a bit late (hall conversations and and and…), in the middle of panelists describing their “pet peeves” in romance stories: sex as a reward for the hero for saving the heroine; fated love, or love at first sight; love triangles; sex in the middle of an adventure/danger scene; rape fantasy.

Interesting recommendations for Man Made Boy, by Jon Skovron, and another story I missed the title, about shapeshifting dragons who are partners as both men and dragons. Discussion on bestiality, and what crosses the line (and who draws that line). Strong discussion on rape fantasy. Good discussion about the differences between romance, erotica, and porn, which boil down to the development of character and story vs pure sex. Interesting comments about writing breakups, and a quote to the effect of “Every relationship is a failure until your last one”… Other strong recommendations included the movie Closer, featuring four very intimate and difficult relationships; and Harry Turtledove’s story about a German tanker and a Russian pilot.

The discussion ended with a great question for tomorrow  night’s “Writing A Sex Scene” panel: “When you’re writing a lot of sex scenes, how do you ‘keep it fresh’?” Keep it fun, playful, and lighthearted. Switch up situations and locations, not just sexual positions. There are so many different *kinds* of sex: hot, angry, tender, bittersweet, callous, satisfying, unsatisfying, unexpected, out of the ordinary… Remember to ask yourself, “What’s the f***ing point?”

Feeling a little tired, I was actually thinking of heading up to my room for an early night, when I ran into a couple of friends I had been planning to see tomorrow. We settled at the bar for a couple of beers and long, fun, rambling conversation. The very best part of any con!

And now, a good night’s sleep, with no alarm. We’ll see if I’m motivated enough to get up for “Breakfast and Books” in the morning…

Time writing
~1 hour, including a little research

May word count

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