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Confluence 2010 con report, part one

Thomas and I drove out to Confluence 2010, in Pittsburg (which is to say: Thomas drives, as I can't) on Friday morning. I'd intended to keep up with at least Twitter while I was gone, but as it happened, I forgot to take my phone charger.

I used to be much, much more organized. I think all the brain cells that once went into organization had been absorbed by the Cast novels; I can apparently write the equivalent of two books a year - but not without dropping a bunch of the non-writing balls I'm trying to juggle.

It was very, very hot in Pittsburg. It was actually very hot in Toronto as well. (I woke up and Thomas said: The weather forecast says thunderstorms and 90 degree weather. I said: How the heck can it be 90 degrees during a thunderstorm? Sadly, this is one of those questions you don't really want answered, because I went outside at this point and it was a) raining heavily and b) disgustingly hot at the same time).

Heat these days isn't generally a problem, but the air-conditioning was partially broken in the hotel. This meant that the function rooms on the basement level were very hot, very humid. The humidity from the pool apparently didn't help. My brain tends to shut down when it overheats, and I was moderating my first panel. Or I was supposed to be moderating it--I honestly glazed over for the last part =/. Luckily, the rest of the panelists didn't suffer from this unfortunate intermittent brain function.

The Friday 5:00 p.m. panel was: Depictions of Women in fantasy - is this the place for the strong female heroine? The panelists were Wen Spencer (wen_spencer, Kathy Morrow and Gail Z. Martin -- but Tamora Pierce was also there, so we dragged her up to the long table and saddled her with another panel, because this one happened to be about Women in Fantasy, and well. Tamora Pierce (tammypierce). (She said she would have attended this one anyway possibly because of the question posed in the panel's title, so I didn't feel too guilty.)

It was interesting to me because we all took such different things away from our early readings. We were all mid-forties or older, but clearly our cultural contexts were all very different. When I read as a much younger person, I didn't really gender identify. I wasn't looking for girls in books, because it didn't occur to me that I couldn't be Batman (or robin) or Jack or Philip or Frodo or Bilbo. If you'd asked me if they were girls, I would have of course given the correct answer -- but I didn't see at the time that the answer was relevant.

Tamora Pierce wanted active -girls- and -women- in her fiction (and felt very let down by Eowyn's retirement in LoTR). Kathy Morrow read a little more like I did, in that she identified with the characters who were doing the interesting things -- although I think she was much more aware than I was that those were mostly male. I love Wen Spencer -- she just wrote men in her early fiction/fanfic.

I don't have a more coherent panel report, sadly, because my brain had gone into troll mode. Pratchett's trolls, not internet trolls. I left it feeling that I really hadn't done a very good job about keeping either the panel or myself on track as moderator (and if you were there, and agree, I apologize profusely). But Tamora Pierce is always entertaining, and it's a panel on which everyone had some fairly strong opinions, so really, it was only me that was full of fail.

I actually fell asleep like a normal adult on Friday night, which is to say, before 5:00 a.m. It was heavenly.

Saturday I had only one panel: Why not make it unusual?, about Worldbuilding. This one had me as moderator, Gail Z. Martin, John DeChancie and… Peter Beagle. I am probably not the moderator for Peter Beagle, because, honestly? PETER BEAGLE. The first impulse is to give him the microphone and then shut up. And make everyone else shut up, too. (The part where I shut up is the part where I don't want to squeal like a fifteen year old girl and then babble about his writing in incoherent words.)

He was wonderful. He has a lovely voice, and no ego; he has strong opinions, and some things to say about worldbuilding (and about his first encounter with Lord of the Rings), and Terry Brooks (which was sent to him prior to publication by Judy-Lynn del Rey). His take on world-building was interesting, because it's not something to does beforehand; it's not something he's felt drawn to previously. His bits of world exist as he needs them for the story. There was an aside in which he told of a shorter piece in which one character was a bard; he'd come up with snippets of nineteen songs that were relevant to the character and the story. And his agent was demanding all nineteen *songs*. I laughed. andpuff had this happen to her as well, although it was the snippet of a national anthem, and it was only one.

But he said the world of the Inkeeper's Song tugs at him; bits and pieces of it draw him back because there are stories to be told in them--and he said this was new.

Gail Z. Martin is a worldbuilder--she loves the creation of the world, its cultures, etc., etc. She had a lot to say about reading and research, much of which I agreed with (in the main: read everything, learn what you can, and then build on those elements that speak most strongly to you. These are my words, but that was the gist of it). But John DeChancie was funny because he does writer's digest correspondence, and his advice was to do the structural worldbuilding first, and then write. This is only funny because, as he later said, it's not what he actually does; it just seems, from the vantage of experience, to be the smart or sensible thing.

I've tried his smart and sensible thing--with the West universe--and what I found, two hundred and fifty pages of world-building later, is that I tend to throw it out or change it a lot as I write. There's something--for me--about the actual writing of story words that shifts and alters my perception of the world in which the story takes place, and better things suggest themselves through characters.

Which is to say: Worldbuilding is, like any other aspect of writing, entirely individual. Yes, there are whole elements of that process that it would make sense to do in a very practical way -- but writing is not the most practical of professions to begin with. Some people who love worldbuilding love the ideas that arise from it; it's part of their creative process. Others, not so much. In the end, it's not always clear to me which is which when reading, and in the end, that's what counts.

(I did ask John DeChancie if worldbuilding for a humorous fantasy world was intrinsically different, in his opinion, than a non-humorous fantasy, and he said, "funny thing is I didn't realize at the time that I was writing humorous fantasy. I thought it was straight up action/adventure fantasy and all the reviews kept pointing out that it was funny.")

I was not so hot that my brain had gone on hold on this one.

The last joint item on the schedule was the Confluence Kaffeklatch, and it was interesting. Gail Z. Martin was (possibly still is) a marketing person in her non-writing life. It was her career. She's written a book about how to market yourself once the book is published. So the opening part of the panel was: If you care about your writing at all, you of course have to learn how to market it. The marketing was the focus. It wasn't bad advice, fwiw. She talking about making connections with people, about outreach, about other things.

But it's not my take home in my own experience. If I care about my writing at all, I write. The idea that not heavily marketing is a failure of the writing is something I see a lot on-line, and again, in my observation of decades of various writer careers, it's hit and miss.

Alternately, it's possible that I just suck at marketing. Or at outreach. Or at leaving an impression. No, I mean an impression that makes people want to read my books.

My highest number seller to date was launched when, for personal reasons, I wasn't on-line at all. I wasn't at conventions. For a year and a half I was completely and entirely invisible. It's possible that it was my absence that had this salutary effect, but regardless. When I pointed this out, I was told "Well, you got lucky, then. Some people get lucky. But you're not pouring your heart into your work just to count on luck."

Well, no. No, I'm not. I'm pouring my heart into my work in the hopes that it will do what books have often done: touch and reach readers who will then mention it to other readers they know. Yes, it involves luck, but I'd like to think--for purely selfish reasons--that it involves more than just luck.

But it occurred to me after that I have something a lot of people who are writing don't: I've worked in bookstores (chain and independents) since I was sixteen years old. I've seen expensive marketing campaigns that utterly failed. Does anyone remember Ushurak? Dragonworld? Gone. But the money spent on those was equal to the money spent on Wizard's First Rule or </i>Eye of the World</i>.

Writers remember the successes. Heck, people remember the successes. If I had a dollar for every writer who's ever blamed lack of success on lack of marketing dollars, I'd be rich. But I've seen those marketing dollars spent. I've seen them fall flat on their behinds. It's never just about the marketing.

It's never just about the book or the brilliance of the book, either, and that was a harder truth for me to absorb.

It was interesting, though. Gail Z. Martin did have almost everyone in the room by the end of the kaffeeklatch. She did her job, she did it well. She was friendly, she was engaging--certainly more, imho, than I tend to be--and I'm certain that people there who didn't read her will at least try now.

ETA: proper LJ tags and, of course, catch the typos I didn't catch on the first two reads


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 1st, 2010 11:17 pm (UTC)
Worldbuilding is, like any other aspect of writing, entirely individual.

Yes. That.

I was pretty much paralyzed by the thought of any sort of worldbuilding, until I realized I could apply the same work-it-out-as-I-go process that seems to work for me for everything else for that, too.

Worldbuilding in particular feels like something one needs to map out in advance, and it was a relief to me to realize that--for me--it didn't have to be.

For others it all works very differently, of course.
Aug. 1st, 2010 11:20 pm (UTC)
But it's not my take home in my own experience. If I care about my writing at all, I write. The idea that not heavily marketing is a failure of the writing is something I see a lot on-line, and again, in my observation of decades of various writer careers, it's hit and miss.

I think the idea that not-marketing is an active failure has done some harm to new writers, too, who sometimes feel like if their book fails it will be All Their Fault.

As far as I can tell, nothing guarantees anything. But also, that almost any publicity efforts from a publisher will have more impact than the author making a full-time second job of it. The amount of impact we can have is, ultimately, actually kind of limited, so it only makes sense to do those promotional things one kind of wants to do anyway.
Aug. 1st, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC)
"almost any publicity efforts from a publisher will have more impact than the author making a full-time second job of it."

THIS. Yes. Particularly when it's a fairly high-profile publisher with a recognizable name, in which case any efforts the author him/herself attempts, no matter how heartfelt or well-meant, get viewed with just a SMIDGE of suspicion by the booksellers et al - if the book in question was published by said high-profile publisher, why don't THEY care enough about it to promote it, why is the author doing that job...?
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 9th, 2010 03:45 am (UTC)
When I look at the differences between my more and less successful books, sales figure wise, the difference isn't how much time I put into promotion. I did the same things for all these books, but my publishers did different things--and also, of course, they were different books that may honestly have had different audiences.

But if it were all under my control, all my books would sell the exact same numbers! :-)
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:24 am (UTC)
No, I mean an impression that makes people want to read my books.

He he he he. When I met you I felt vindicated for loving your books as I much as I do. I think this is because I see so much of you in your books. I love that your female leads are independent, strong-willed, smart, and sassy. I especially love the sass!

In fact, so much have your female leads affected me, that when I GM a game my friends (including my wife) all make fun of me because I routinely put women in the highest positions of power and they are *all* as formidable as the Terafin or the Kalakar (with a few Kiriels, Jewels, and Kaylins thrown in for good measure). At this point I just laugh it off and go with it. I've been reading your books for half my life, and the "damage", one might say, has been done.


Aug. 4th, 2010 02:43 am (UTC)
The funny thing about this is two writers I know (so probably a lot of other people who've read these and won't say it) have told me that the women are a) very masculine or b) really bitchy. This would be Elsabet and the Terafin, for what it's worth. I don't consider them masculine, and when I was confused about having left this impression, I asked another writer friend about why people were saying this.

She said, the thing I like about your women is they're remarkably free of sentiment. I don't think they have what I would consider masculine traits -- but yes, they can be ruthless in their exercise of the power that preserves their responsibilities; they can triage, and must. But I see them as the products of their cultural context, especially the Hunter women.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )