Oddcon Thoughts

So this past weekend, I attend my first science fiction/fantasy convention ever.

It’s not like I’ve actively avoided cons when I was living in Chicago. I knew about WindyCon and Duckon and Anime Central (my sister went to that—kudos to her). It’s just that I thought they looked sort of…weird. I had no great desire to go to a place where people walked around in costumes and going to panels where they debated what really killed the Star Trek series (hey, I liked Enterprise, that is, until it started going all weird and angsty and dark).

Plus, I didn’t really have anyone to go with. I wasn’t about to drag my hubby to one, although it’s possible he would’ve enjoyed himself, and most of my friends were SAHMs with young kids. I just couldn’t see myself bringing a bunch of moms and kids and watching them gawk as a dude dressed as Xena strolled by. Well, okay, I can see that, and in hindsight, it would’ve been hilarious…Also, the Guests of Honor seemed to be people who had their stuff self-published, and suddenly, they’re an “expert”…

Okay. So I did actively avoid the cons in Chicago.

When I got to Madison, I heard about OdysseyCon and checked out the website. The first thing I saw was that Tobias Buckell was attending as Guest of Honor, and hey, I knew that name. Then the whole RaceFail thing happened and, whaddyaknow, some of the LiveJournalists and other authors involved were going to be in attendance too, including Emma Bull and Will Shetterly. Then Tobias Buckley bowed out because his wife was having twins (good for him!), and he’s been replaced by oh, some guy who, I don’t know, made the NY Times Best Seller list but I never heard of him. But by that time, I decided. Oddcon was too good to pass up.

So out of all that, what did I get out of Oddcon?

  • The panels I went to were informative and fun. Some were geared towards writers, but some were fantasy/scifi in general. There were a few that definitely had some in-jokes I didn’t get, but all in all, not bad.
  • I got to meet Patrick Rothfuss, who has one freakylooking beard. But once you get over your fantasy of hunting him down with a pair of scissors, shouting, “AT LEAST MAKE IT EVEN FOR GOD’S SAKE!!!!!!!!!”, you find that Patrick Rothfuss is a pretty laid-back and absolutely hilarious guy. And his debut book made it on the NY Times Best Seller List. AND he won the Writer’s of the Future Contest in 2002. That’s stuff I’d like to do.  Edit: I finally got around to reading his book, The Name of the Wind. You can find my review of it here.
  • Yes, there were people playing D&D. Yes, there were people doing LANgames. Yes, there were people dressed up. But there were also regularly dressed people there too. And oddly enough, I got to know my upstairs neighbors, who I wasn’t expecting to see there.
  • I also didn’t expect to see Jim Frankel, Senior Editor of Tor Books. Actually, I knew that he was coming from the Programming schedule, but I didn’t actually think I would actually meet him and have actual conversations with him. Which was nice. He was gracious, casual and fun to talk to.
  • I got to meet a couple of LiveJournal people whose names I recognized from the whole RaceFail thing—including Moondancer Drake, who can really rock a Stetson. She was fun to talk to, and I really enjoyed getting to know her (and her 6-year-old, who is a sweetie).
  • And yes, I got to meet Emma Bull and Will Shetterly, who at first pretty much intimidated me, as well as Sarah Monette, who does some collaborative work with them. But they’re pretty easy people to talk to once you get to know them. I even screwed up courage to talk with them and about RaceFail. I didn’t want to be confrontational, but I had some genuine questions. I think it was a good conversation overall, and I generally had fun. In fact, this general ease of talking to these well-known authors led to…
  • A most surreal late Saturday night when somehow, I don’t know how exactly, I wound up hanging out with Bull, Shetterly, Frankel, Monette and a bunch of other writers at the hotel bar. Being that it was past my bedtime anyway, and the fact that I’m sitting with well-known authors and a senior editor of Tor, it sort of blew my mind. Then on Sunday, some more friends and I went to have Thai food with Rothfuss and his girlfriend. And I found myself thinking, being a writer ROCKS!
  • Oh. I won a garlic/ginger grater at an art auction.

So there you have it. My first con. I had a great time, and people kept telling me that I chose a good one to attend. Oddcon was small enough so that I didn’t get lost in the shuffle, but prestigious enough to pull in a couple of big names, but small enough that those big names could mingle easily with the rest of us. Everyone tells me that if I liked Oddcon, I would love Wiscon, since it’s gained quite a name for itself over the past few years. I’m looking forward to that, although I’ll only be able to attend that Friday’s events.

There are some things I learned from Oddcon that I’ll take with me to Wiscon. 1) Read up on not just the Guests of Honor, but also people who’ll be attending panels. I’m still kicking myself for not getting to know Sarah Monette more.

2) Bring business cards. For the first two days of the con, I completely did not have anything with me to pass out. Actually, that wasn’t such a bad thing, since I got to know people first before I started handing cards out to them. But I had to put a reminder on my laptop because I’ve fallen out of the habit of carrying my cards with me.

3) Don’t bring a 4-cheese toasted bagel with garlic and tomato cream cheese to a panel. Especially since the con had food there. I didn’t need to stop at Einstein Bagels for breakfast. But dang…it was good. Smelly, but gooooood…

4) Plan to help out at the next con. Which is one thing I definitely intend to do. Who knows, maybe I’ll have a book contract by that time. And then I’ll be the one chasing people down the hall with a big styrofaom mock-up of my book cover, cackling madly. Well, Pat Rothfuss didn’t actually cackle when he did that. But it still looked cool.

Advertisements

The Amazing Super Colossal Technicolor Twitter and Facebook Juggling Act! (Or how to waste time poking nothingness…)

I don’t get Twitter.

I never got on board with it when it came out a couple of years ago. I didn’t see a need for it. Why would I want to let the whole world what I’m doing at that very exact moment? Folding my hubby’s underwear doesn’t work for an interesting status line. Well, okay, yes it does, but that’s only because my hubby isn’t on Facebook or Twitter. But really, who would want to read that? So I pretty much stayed away from Twitter.

Then Facebook grew popular and it seemed like everyone I knew was getting on it, so I shrugged and gave in. And everyone’s right. It is addictive. Which is odd because Facebook is only Twitter expanded with more features. You get the benefits of photo sharing, chat, email, groups, you name it. But really, I mainly use FB for the status updates of my friends…which isn’t all that different from Twitter, now that I think about it. However, whereas people could tweet every few seconds, Facebook doesn’t seem all that urgent. I’m happy to update my status every day or so. Some people do it more, others less.

But lately, it seems that Twitter has been growing more popular, particularly among the writing world, as the language of tweets began to evolve. You can now reply to someone else’s tweet using ‘@’ in front of their username.  Tweets that are about a certain topic are preceded with a #, so if you want to search Twitter on, say, Amazonfail, you can just put #amazonfail in Twitter’s search box and you get all the tweets on that. And, of course, you can put tiny URLs in your tweets. So it seems that Twitter has evolved from a “Hey, look at what I’m doing” to an informal message board/newsgroup of sorts. How do you think AmazonFail got exposed in the first place? If it wasn’t for Twitter, people wouldn’t have found out.

Stuff like that makes me think that it’s time for me to stop being so standoffish about Twitter and just knuckle down to learn about it. Twitter and Facebook can be powerful tools. It’s a good way to connect with writers and agents, hear about the latest writing news, and keep an eye on the marketplace. Plus, it’s a good place to get freebies. Authors and publishing houses would post free books, games, etc. And I’m going to figure out how to utilize Facebook better. I can see the appeal of Twitter, but I also really like Facebook in that it’s more personal. I’ve been leery of letting strangers become my friends on Facebook, because my friends are people I really want to keep in touch with. Twitter, on the other hand, is good for getting word out to as many people as possible. Good for short story updates and whatnot.

So what is the purpose of this post anyway? Mainly to get me excited about Twitter. I mean, for all intensive purposes, it’s still got a sucky interface (although someone did alert me to Tweetdeck for organizing both FB and Twitter, so I’m playing with that.) And there are still a lot of tweets that are mainly “just put a load of laundry in the wash” or “Awww, I’m all out of candy” and really boring stuff like that. Course, with Facebook, there’s all the “What type of Disney Princess are you” and all the “Send your Friend a Flower/Chocolate/Smiley Face/Dancing Toadstool/Mardi Gras/Cheating Alien/Moose” gifts that pile up in my request box until I sweep them all away with one click.

But I guess for using these things for free, I really shouldn’t complain now, should I?

Happy Birthday Funtime Links

So yes, it’s my birthday. Go ahead, me. It’s my birthday. And for presents, I’ll share yummy funtime links with you.

(Actually, I’m feeling a little lazy because today was a lazy day.)

There’s an interesting video at the TED website which shows what the internet could look like in the future. Imagine walking around wearing projectors that can display email and net stuff on any surface: wall, book, person. It has shades of "Minority Report", though I find it closer to Dennou Coil. Just one thing bothers me about project net info on a person. What if that person’s a woman? Makes you think.

I just did a review of Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist. If you want to read his nonfiction stuff, may I suggest this excellent essay from the New York Times? I wish I could write nonfiction as acerbic and hilarious as he does.

The Internet Review of Science Fiction has been running a couple of interesting columns by Kristine Kathryn Rusch called "Signals 19". This last issue, she discusses the attitude of how the world has responded to the economic crises, and she puts it in a perspective of a writer. Very interesting reading.

But if you want something that’s more of a fun read, then I highly suggest you read Writer’s Quest. If you’re a Zork fan, this one is especially for you.

Now, if you excuse me, there’s a cupcake with a candle in it, and it’s allllllll mine.

Book Review: The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead

I made the decision to start reading more scifi/fantasy books by people of color (i.e. black people) about a week before I learned anything about RaceFail. In February’s issue of Ebony Magazine, they listed some books to read. I usually skip over it their selections, since they usually have romance and/or memories–stuff I’m not interested in, but then I read a blurb about "The Intuitionist", a story about the first black female Elevator Inspector caught in a political war in her department. Elevator Inspector? Now that intrigued me.

Lila Mae Watson is an Intuitionist. She is part of a new breed of Inspectors who can go into any elevator and inspect it just by intuition. This pits them against the Empiricists, who inspect elevators the hands-on way, and who scoff at the Intuitionists, calling their methods voodoo, touchy feely.

Then an elevator falls and crashes, an elevator Lila Mae inspected and cleared. Lila Mae, who is never wrong, finds herself caught between the two factions’. It’s election time to vote in a new chair, and the two candidates, one Empiricist, one Intuitionist, push and pull Lila Mae to concede to their wishes. There is also much about the founder of Intuitionism, James Fulton, who hidden blueprints to the perfect elevator, and it is up for Lila Mae to find them so she can clear her name.

There’s a lot packed in this relatively short book. Whitehead (I love this guy’s last name–he’s black–did he take it into account when he decided to become a writer?) puts the setting of the book in an alternate, but close mirror of the 1930s, where mobs easily kidnapped journalists and break their fingers so they won’t print certain stories. The story has a vague steampunk feel to it with all the focus on how elevators work and the different factions of the Inspectors. It treads in the shadow of speculative fiction, though as I got towards the end, I became hard-pressed to find it.

Told from Lila Mae’s point of view, the whole subject of race is also pulled into it. We see Lila Mae breaking barriers by becoming the first colored female Inspector, but her path to get there is hard–at the school where she learns about Elevators, the only place for her to live on campus is in a janitor’s closet in an abandoned gym. And the barriers are still very much present–there is a dramatic scene where Lila Mae goes to the Elevator Follies disguised as a waitress, and she sees two of her white coworkers in blackface doing a routine. She then sees the only other colored person, who had been invited to the Follies, cracking up alongside the others. She returns to the kitchen, who are all black women, and ponder how they remain silent, doing their chores knowing full well what was happening in the other room.

When the story doesn’t linger on the intricacies of elevator philosophy, it puts us squarely in Lila Mae’s conformed-to-standard shoes. This is not a woman who stands out. What defines her is her uniformity. Her apartment is sparse, her lifestyle built on routine, until her world is shaken. We then see her life, through present time and flashback, as she begins to change from someone who follows directions, to someone who truly follows her intuition.

Whitehead’s writing is circuitous. Weaving between Lila Mae’s predicament to her past, dipping into Fulton’s long winded theories about the perfect "black box", an elevator that would transcend itself, jumping to other characters like the polite but apathetic thugs Jim and John–Whitehead’s style of writing takes a little getting used to. At times, the information on elevators get a bit much–having Lila Mae go through an oral exam was torture for me, and probably her as well. But Whitehead also surprises by showing us a slices of the 30s and 40s you wouldn’t normally see. For instance, when Lila Mae get chased by Jim and John, she escapes by ducking into a Dime-a-Dance in progress. I never knew such things existed back then. But the way he uses the venue is wonderful and touching.

The ending, for me, is ambiguous as we learn Fulton’s history and the meaning behind his invention. It feels like I need to read it over again, just to read between the lines of the whole story. But it would be something I’d would to read again, maybe even buy and keep on my bookshelf a while. Not bad for a debut book. Three 1/2 elevator cabs out of five. And watch that first step–it’s a doozy.

Celebrating Black Future Month

Remember Black History Month back in February? Yeah, I didn’t either. Sadly, my observance of the month has faded along with Kwanzaa, which my family never really celebrated anyway (in fact, it never even entered our heads to celebrate it). I do have fond memories of all the stuff we had to learn during Black History Month, and I’m a little sad that Daniel won’t have that same experience, not unless we send him to an all black school (and to be honest, I want him to be exposed to many different cultures, not just white and black).

That all said, this past March has been interesting. It feels like I’ve spent the entire month not just discussing multi-ethnic matters, but reconciling on how that applies to me as a black writer.

In the past, I really struggled on what made me a black person other than just color. I didn’t act like a "typical" black person; in fact, as a kid, I caught a lot of flack from other black people because I "acted white". I spoke proper. Always had my head in a book. Wasn’t very interested in singing or dance groups. In high school and college, I got to hear all the fun names that goes along struggling with black identity—like oreo or zebra. Fun, fun times. See, this is why I don’t like thinking about high school days.

It got to the point where I felt more "black" among my white friends than I did with other blacks. So I hung out with whites more. It was where I felt the most comfortable. The way I figured it,

Now, fast forward to this past March. I’m attending our Wiscon Book Club, Beer and Marmalade, and one of the things we decide to talk about was a racism discussion that’s been happening on LiveJournal appropriately called "RaceFail 2009". I’m not going to spell out the whole history of that; clicking on the link would give you an idea, although you can get a more detailed history of the whole mess at Ann Somerville’s LiveJournal. But anyway—I didn’t really want to do it, as any discussion about race makes me highly uncomfortable. But I dutifully read some of the essays out there, and I came across this post "We worry about it Too".

That essay hit a strong nerve with me.

You see, when I started writing, I had prided myself on being a ‘black’ writer of speculative fantasy. I figured it would make me stand out more, especially since I was writing a fantasy novel that contained black characters in it. Heck, it had a black woman who was a main character. But when I first wrote Willow, she wasn’t the main protagonist. The young man she protects, the white male, he was the protagonist. Most of the book was written from his point of view, as well as several others who were white.

I once took a draft of Willow’s Synopsis to an agent at the Midwest Writer’s Conference a while back. One of the things she said was, "It looks like the female character is stronger than the male. Why isn’t this in her point of view?" And I just stared at her, because 1) it didn’t really occur to me to write in the black female’s point of view, and 2) deep down, it scared me. Who was I, a black woman, mind you, to know what an actual black woman felt like?

(And yes, I know most of my short stories have black characters as the main protagonist—but it’s different when you write sci/fi or plain speculative, because it’s easier to picture black people in the future. But in fantasy? Most are set within Eurocentric settings; any black people would be relegated to an African tribal status.)

My sister, who has a LiveJournal of her own, puts it down the best way when it comes to her writing fanfiction: "I write about white characters because that’s what I read when I grew up." I’m the exact same way. I’ve grown so used to seeing white males in fantasy that when I started writing a fantasy novel, it was easy to fall into that same line of thinking.

My realization about my main characters came before I read that essay by Nojojojo, of course. But the timing couldn’t have been better. Because I read it just when I started my second rewrite of Willow’s prologue. And it made me seriously think. Am I writing from this character’s POV because it’s what I’m used to, or should I write from this other character to give him/her more of a voice in the book?

It’s a hard thing to juggle, but I’ve rewritten the prologue and chapter 1 of Willow, and I think that so far, both have come out a lot stronger. I’m eager to see this novel through Coren’s eyes. It’s risky, but it’s also very exciting.

That’s how I feel about this whole RaceFail thing. Sure, a lot of people on both sides have vented and/or said very stupid things (I almost don’t read comments anymore), but some very insightful and deep discussion has come because of this. And there are attempts to further the conversation. Wiscon will be holding its first Cultural Appropriation Class (I mentioned this in my last post), and luckily, I’ll be able to attend that. There’s also been a great promotion to read more fantasy and sci/fi by people of color, which I highly, highly recommend (and I’ve started doing myself). There’s also a new small press in the works called Verb Noire who caters specifically to people of color in the scifi/fantasy community. Worth checking out.

This is probably the best time to be a black speculative fiction writer. We’re forging into new territory here. It’s scary, risky and it’s never really been done before. But it’s long overdue. And I think this whole experience is helping to strengthen my own identity as a black writer. For the first time, I can own up to that and really feel like I mean it, instead of feeling like some imposter.

Of course, my hubby would suggest that’s because inside of me there’s a Japanese girl perpetually stuck at age thirteen, but that’s not true. She’s sixteen. That’s a world of difference.