Musing on a moment at the Gathering of American Gods at the House of the Rock, Halloween Weekend 2010

(Edit: Welcome to all the Cracked.com visitors. This was part 1 of my time at the House of the Rock. You can read more at Part 2.)

There was a moment.

There were many moments, in fact. The moment on Friday when, as Neil sat in a chair and read the House on the Rock chapter in American Gods, the wind billowed through the tent we sat under, causing the sides to heave and flap, as if we sat in the belly of a living, breathing beast.

There was the moment when on Saturday, after the costume contest and the raffle tickets had been called, and the rest of us headed down the ramp into the house proper, everybody dressed in feathers or make-up or robes or, in my case, billowing tea-stained wedding dresses, so full of bubbly giddiness we couldn’t even run, we glided, laughing and cheering and calling and gasping, full of terrible anticipation of the night before us.

There was the moment that happened that wasn’t even at the House on the Rock, when I drove home from the reading and turned onto 151, seeing the half moon hanging before me, and just then, just then, a streak of light pierced the moon and fell before I had a chance to blink.

There are all these delicious little moments. I haven’t even dwelled on the ones that happened with Neil. I’ll get to those in a bit.

But there was this one moment. One moment that I keep replaying in my head over and over since the Gathering. It’s the moment when I stepped into the Carousel room to watch the contest winners ride the carousel.

Now, see? Those words above, it doesn’t do it justice. It won’t mean anything to you, the reader, unless you’ve been to the House on the Rock, at which you’d know exactly what I’m talking about. But even then, even then, if you have just gone as a tourist, it can’t really touch upon the electricity and emotion I felt that night when I went through the doorway and saw the Carousel spinning in all its gaudy glory, with people on it.

On my camera I have a video I did as I entered the Carousel Room. You can see the lights, the drums, the carousel itself spinning. What you won’t see is me tilting my head back to look up at the myriads of full-sized mannikens with angel wings plastered all over the ceiling. The video doesn’t capture the full experience of the room. The lighting was dim and the music too loud and my hands too jittery. But you can see the Carousel.

How can I describe it? How can I described how a whole bunch of us, too many for me to count, dressed in costume, pressing around, watching our favorite author climb onto the carousel and mount the exact eagle/tiger he described in his book? To see lights that go on and on, the different creatures that loom out: elephants, satyrs, minotaurs—creatures too primal to be on a typical merry-go-round. And the music plays and the carousel turns, and you whoop and hollar with everyone…

It’s a moment I shared with hundreds of people.

It’s a moment no one else will experience ever again. Even if the House on the Rock do decide to open up the house again, it won’t be the same.

Today, I’ve been thinking about moments. I have a friend who spent the last two weeks in Capetown for the Lusanne Conference. Watching her updates on Facebook made me think back to when I went to Mozambique, and how we drove through a cornfield and I heard voices singing. We stopped and those voices surrounded us, until women appeared out of the corn, clapping, stomping, dancing. A similar type of joy.

Okay. Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about Neil. And the cheeseburger.

But for now, I give you a taste of that moment. It’s not the real deal, but it’s close enough.

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This is the first time I’m reviewing a book after I met its author. In this case, I met Rothfuss at this year’s past Oddcon. It’s one thing to read a book, review it, and not meet the author until several years down the line, if ever. It’s another thing to meet someone, learn they have a best-selling novel, then go out and read it.

But read “The Name of the Wind”, I did. And as I did, I realized something. This is a book that shouldn’t have gotten published, much less on the New York Times Best-seller’s List.

According to epic fantasy writing convention, it’s now considered bad form to start an epic fantasy with a prologue. There are no grand quests. It’s not a standalone, which also seems to be current trend among fantasy books nowadays. There is magic, yes, but it’s standard, mundane magic. The main character goes to “university” (shades of Harry Potter, anyone?) There are times when the POV switches from first to third person—right in the same passage. To be honest, not a whole lot happens in this book that can be considered “epic”. And, oh yeah, it starts off, of all places, in an inn.

So how? How did this book do so well when it looks like it broke nearly every rule newbie fantasy writers first learn about the craft?

It’s this line. This first line of the book: “It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.”

Against my will, this line it pulled me into the story of Kvothe. Kvothe has many names: Kvothe the Arcane, Kvothe Kingkiller. But when we first meet him, he is Kote, keeper of the Waystone Inn. How this man goes from a mighty figure of legend to a mere, humble innkeeper is not known—in fact, I’m going to tell you up front: we don’t find out in this book. In a sense, The Name of the Wind is really a prologue of sorts. But it’s a prologue that’s needed.

In the beginning, the story basically follows Kvothe as he putts around in his inn. He appears to be a shadow of some former glory, but it’s hard to tell. You know that something horrible has happened to him. You don’t know what, though. The only person who knows his past is his servant/companion/best friend Bast, and he keeps his mouth shut—mainly because he’s got his own secrets, one of which is that he’s not all that human as he looks.

One night, someone gets attacked by a big, black spider-like monster, rare in those parts. Almost reluctantly, Kvothe goes out to see if they are any more and runs into a man with the auspicious name of Chronicler. Turns out that Chronicler had been searching for Kvothe for years, hoping to get his story out of him. Kvothe resists at first, but then he agrees, and from there, we get into the story proper—told in Kvothe’s own words.

And it is engrossing. Kvothe is a master storyteller, and you can’t helped getting sucked in as you see the events of his life through the distance of his memory. We see Kvothe growing up with his family of traveling performers, being a too smart-for-his-own-good brat, whose own cleverness sometimes lands him in deep trouble. We see him through the trauma of losing his family and spending several years as a street urchin. We see him pull himself up and attend the University, where he gets whipped for insubordination, makes enemies with a noble, makes friends with a money lender, falls in love but doesn’t know what to do with that, and tries to gain money playing his lute while maintaining his studies. And, through interludes, we learn a little more about Bast, and we see more that the darkness that had (probably) pursued Kvothe is stirring again.

Like I said, this isn’t a book that takes you on a grand-sweeping country-traveling quest. Instead Kvothe is presented with little goals. His main one is to avenge his family’s deaths. But in order for him to do that, he needs to get into University, which is a trial within itself. Then he needs to find a way to get into the archives that houses the info on the dark beings that slew his family….and most of the time, the obstacles to his goals is Kvothe himself. If only if he wasn’t such a thick-skulled, arrogant bonehead…

But that’s what I like about The Name of the Wind. Rothfuss does an awesome job of taking this brash, arrogant character and turning him into someone likeable, even fun. You just can’t help rooting for Kvothe, even when he makes boneheaded decisions. Part of that, I feel, is that most of the story is in Kvothe’s own words. It’s like you’re sitting there in the inn, with Bast and Chronicler, listening to him spin his tale. Also, because most of the story is told in first person, you don’t wade through long descriptions of scenery and naval gazing.

That doesn’t mean Rothfuss slacks in the writing. There are these wonderful literary bits that reminds me a little of L’engle writing. For instance, advice from Kvothe’s father: “Call a jack a jack. Call a spade a spade. But always call a whore a lady. Their lives are hard enough, and it never hurts to be polite.” And then there’s that POV change I mentioned. There’s a scene where Kvothe plays the lute for the first time after living on the streets of Tarbean. It’s a very emotional moment for him, and you can feel it as Kvothe narrates. As he nears the end, Kvothe switches from speaking in first person to third, as if the memory of that night is too much for him, and he must distance himself by withdrawing from the story in third person. It’s a brilliant, beautiful use of POV change, and it totally blew my mind.

Of course, not everything is perfect in this book. There is a dragon chase that comes out of nowhere, and there’s a point where we have to suffer through a character with an accent barely readable on the page. But still, I really enjoyed reading The Name of the Wind. Rothfuss knows the rules. He breaks the rules. And he does it well. This book gets four iron drabs out of five. And I can’t wait for the next book, when we learn how Kvothe gets expelled from the University. What? You ask? You’ll have to wait for the next book to find out.

And speaking of which, Rothfuss is running a contest for his next book, The Wise Man’s Fear. You can be one of the lucky ones to get your name, or any name you want, into the book. All contributions go to Heifer International, a very good charity indeed. Check out the link for more information.

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.