crocheting


I think at this point I should just accept that I’m not going to get around to blogging about Readercon back in July or the World Science Fiction Convention in September.

So … World Fantasy!  This was the first weekend in November plus a bit on either end.  Donald and I drove up to Toronto for the convention with Max Gladstone, a member of my writers group BRAWL.  (None of us remember what BRAWL stands for anymore, so don’t ask.)  It took us about 11 1/2 hours.  An hour and a half of that was us sitting in Toronto rush hour traffic, hardly moving.  We weren’t even going through the city, we were driving on a highway around the perimeter, but the traffic was still insane.  Much worse than anything I’ve ever seen in Boston.  Although I’ve never commuted regularly in Boston via car.  Apparently that time there was an afternoon snowstorm here and the plows couldn’t clear the highways fast enough because of all the traffic and people were stuck on the road for 4 hours and ran out of gas, that was pretty bad.

The convention was at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North, which isn’t really in Toronto but in Richmond Hill, half an hour away (without traffic), because it’s cheaper out there.  We stayed at the adjoining Best Western, because it was even cheaper but still connected to the Sheraton so we didn’t have to go outside in the cold to get to the convention happenings.  I definitely had the sense that we were in the budget hotel.  The lights in our bathroom flickered for several seconds whenever I turned them on, and the decor seemed chosen with the aim of convincing the hotel guests that they should have stayed at the Sheraton.  Or maybe it was supposed to make us feel virtuous, reminding us how much we were saving.  Everything was clean and comfortable, though, and you could charge meals in the restaurant at the Sheraton to your Best Western room.

Here’s a list of the panels I attended:

Faith and Fantasy
My friend Matt Kressel was supposed to be on this panel, but he was delayed getting out of New York due to the aftermath of the storm and his original flight being cancelled. I’m still glad I went, as it turned out to be my favorite panel of the con. I hope it’s not just because two of the five panelists were Christians, like me, but honestly, most of the various faith and speculative fiction panels I’ve attended at past cons didn’t have any panelists who self-identified as Christian. (The other three panelists here identified themselves as agnostic.) The panel was ostensibly about how the religious beliefs of writers “inform their treatment of supernatural matters”. But the panelists also touched some on how people’s religious beliefs inform their responses to fantasy fiction and gaming, such as the silly (IMO) paranoia that many Christians used to have about Dungeons & Dragons. “Any kid who developed an interest in the occult through playing D&D would have been quickly disappointed the first time they tried casting a spell. ‘I rolled a 2d6 and nothing happened!'” And it was one of the agnostic panelists who complained about the common fantasy trope of the evil patriarchal religious people oppressing the good, peaceful, matriarchal people who all live in harmony with nature and have completely safe and reliable birth control based on drinking herbal teas. Or secondary world fantasy with pre-Industrial technology where no one is particularly religious at all, which the aforementioned agnostic panelist, who has a background as a historian, doesn’t find very believable.

The discussion of faith informing fiction probably did have kind of a Christian slant, so it’s really too bad that Matt, who’s Jewish, couldn’t make it, as he might have helped broaden the discussion. It was still a good, entertaining panel.

They Call Me the Wanderer
My friend Rajan Khanna was on this panel. They talked about the wanderer archetype in fiction, distinguing it from the traveler archetype. A wanderer was defined as someone who either doesn’t have a home or can’t get to it, whereas a traveler is a character who’s temporarily away from their home. So, Odysseus would be a wanderer, because the gods are preventing him from returning home. I can’t remember whether Gandalf is supposed to be a wanderer or a traveler.

Oh Brave New (E-Publishing) World
Publishing is changing faster than anyone can keep up. Earlier this year, I attended a panel, I think it was at Arisia, where most of the panelists pretty much agreed that self-publishing was the dumbest thing anyone could ever conceive of doing, and if your first self-published novel isn’t a success no traditional publisher will ever consider working with you. But it’s getting harder to pretend that initially self-published authors aren’t getting picked up by major houses. Or that more people aren’t experimenting with self-publishing in some way. No one on this panel was overtly negative about self-publishing, they just encouraged authors considering it to do a professional job and hire people to do the parts of publishing that they aren’t good at (such as cover design, for most authors).

The panel wasn’t just about self-publishing. Panelists talked about how, at small presses, ebooks are outselling print books 10 to 1, but it’s still important to make a professional-looking print book so that you look like a legitimate publishing house. And small presses were suggested as a more author-friendly alternative to the big New York publishers, one where the author doesn’t have to do all the work and front all the money (any of the money, for that matter; if you want to self-publish and do a good job, it behooves you to hire people for cover design and copyediting, but if a publisher ever asks for upront money to publish your novel, you should run as fast as you can in the opposite direction).

The Real World in Fantastic Fiction
Donald and I were on this panel, so of course it was good. Actually, I can’t judge whether it was good or bad. I wasn’t as nervous as I was on my first panel at last year’s World Fantasy, and I felt like maybe I actually knew what I was talking about. But I think I probably talked more than my fair share, unfortunately. Donald and I met someone later at a party at the convention who said she really liked the panel, so that’s encouraging. I wondered if maybe we (all the people on the panel, not just Donald and I) sounded a little too much like we considered ourselves experts trying to give advice to the audience members on how to do good worldbuilding. I know that I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on worldbuilding, even though I’m fascinated by the subject. Most of my worldbuilding effort goes towards trying to cover up or explain away things about my fictional worlds that I made up a long time ago and have now realized don’t make any sense. I’m hoping that if I avoid mixing Old World and New World flora and fauna in the same imaginary setting, people won’t notice that my imaginary country is sort of rectangular looking with unusually straight rivers. I’ll wow them with impressive facts about ancient Roman cooking so they don’t ask me about the plate tectonics of my world.

Diversity and Difference in YA Fantasy
My friend Eugene Myers was on this panel. I don’t actually read much YA fantasy (though I probably should, so I can recommend books to my nieces and nephews as they get older). But much of the discussion was relevant to writing adult fantasy as well. I know that when I’m starting a new story, it’s easy for me to default to choosing characters that are like me (white, straight, female), and it’s good to try to think more broadly about the protagonists I choose. One aspect of diversity that I don’t think the panelists mentioned was religious diversity, and that’s something I’d like to see more of in fiction and hear more discussion about.

I also went to hear Max Gladstone from my writers group read from his new book Three Parts Dead, and he didn’t just read exactly the same parts he’d read at the Harvard Book Store reading I attended a month before, so it didn’t feel like I was only there for moral support. I’m very much looking forward to reading the novel, but right now I’m still trying to finish Don Quixote, and I really should read the Imaginarium anthology that has my story in it…. Too many books, too little time. I went to the SF Canada business meeting, too. It wasn’t very business-y, which I consider a good thing. Mostly cake and champagne, and chatting with people.

As always, at a convention, I got to have a lot of great conversations with a lot of interesting people. I hung out with members of the NYC writers group Altered Fluid–Rajan Khanna, Matthew Kressel, Mercurio D. Rivera, Eugene Myers, and Alaya Dawn Johnson. Ken Schneyer, one of Donald’s and my co-panelists, turned out to be very friendly and interesting. I also talked with Scott Andrews (the editor of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a really cool–and free!–online fantasy magazine that you should absolutely check out if you like fantasy stories set in imaginary worlds), Ted Chiang, Tina Connolly, Neile Graham and Leslie Howle from Clarion West, Liz Argall, Robert Runte, Colleen Anderson, Al Bogdan, and many, many others.

While at the convention, I went to the worst Chinese restaurant I’ve ever eaten at in a large North American city.  The caveats are important because (a) I grew up in rural Nova Scotia, and if I’d eaten this meal in, say, Truro, I wouldn’t feel so betrayed, and (b) the worst Chinese restaurant I’ve ever eaten at was actually in Beijing, but that’s another story.  The bok choy was okay, if unremarkable and oily, but the “Kung Bo beef” consisted of beef, green peppers, onions and almonds in generic brown sauce.  No chili peppers, no Szechuan pepper.  Donald is really tired of hearing me complain about this meal, but I’m still indignant.  The restaurant, Golden Hoy, was listed in the World Fantasy Convention restaurant guide as “the best Chinese & Szechuan foods in Richmond Hill”.  It was a 15-minute drive from the hotel, and the hotel was across the street from a Chinese shopping mall and surrounded on all sides by Chinese restaurants.  So I figured this restaurant must be good, if it was so inconvenient and they recommended it anyway!  Moral of the story:  never trust a science fiction convention’s restaurant recommendations.  After we got back to the hotel, we saw that Golden Hoy had a 2-star rating on Yelp.

Other restaurant meals during the trip were very good.  We tried two of the Chinese places near the hotel, one large place with an extensive menu including sushi and dim sum (yes, I know sushi isn’t Chinese), and one small dumpling place.  Max, who has lived in China, said the dumplings were the best he’s had in North America.  Donald and I went to the dumpling place with him and Tina Connolly, and we all just let him order for us, since he knows dumplings and speaks Chinese.  We went to the other Chinese place with Ken Schneyer, and two other cool people named Christian and Tiffany, whose last names I don’t remember.

Donald and I also went to a good Japanese place within walking distance of the hotel.  Donald had steak, which he said was good but rarer than he’d expected (he ordered medium rare, and there wasn’t anything medium about it), and it came with rice and miso soup.  I had an assortment of smaller things:  grilled skewers of chicken and leek, beef tongue, and gingko nuts; and some sushi and sashimi.  I thought the restaurant was better than most if not all of the Japanese places I’ve been to in Boston.

The hotel restaurant at the Sheraton had decent food.  The first night we were there, I had a steak with roasted potatoes, mushrooms and green beans, and Donald had ribs.  The steak was good, and they let me substitute the roasted potatoes for the mashed on the menu.  But they said the steak came with wild mushrooms, and while I eventually found a couple of mushrooms in the mix that weren’t either white button or crimini, they were few and far between.  Another day I had the seafood chowder, which had very fresh seafood that wasn’t at all overcooked, but the base was a bit lackluster.  Not terrible, just not very exciting.  The breakfast buffet was one of the best I’ve seen at these sorts of hotels.  They had all the usual fried potatoes, bacon, sausages, eggs, etc., with an omelet bar and an adjoining stand where someone could make you a fresh waffle.  But they also had broiled tomatoes, tofu, sauteed mushrooms, and congee available in the hot dishes section, and a nice selection of smoked fish and cold cuts, and more variety of fresh fruit than you usually see (plums!  mandarin oranges!).  And their coffee was good.  My one breakfast annoyance was that when I ordered off the menu instead of getting the buffet, I ordered something described as smoked salmon with bagel chips, daikon, sprouts, and Greek yogurt.  What I got instead was smoked salmon on bagel chips, sliced tomato, a big pile of chopped hardboiled egg, and a small bowl of vanilla yogurt with no spoon.  When I pointed out that what I got didn’t match the menu description, the wait staff acted like I was being difficult and tried to tell me that this was exactly what the menu had promised.  Which makes me wonder if I somehow had an old, outdated version of the menu?  Anyway, when I explained that I hate eggs and wouldn’t have ordered this if the menu had warned me about the eggs, they grudgingly took it back into the kitchen and then brought me what they pretended was a new plate.  But really, they’d just scraped the eggs off, because I could still see bits of yolk sticking to the salmon and tomatoes.

The bar wasn’t that great.  They did have Rickards Red on tap, a good, reliable Canadian beer.  But their “cocktail list” was all vodka cocktails with melon liqueur and crap like that.  And they didn’t have enough staff working, so it took forever to get a drink.  One night I just gave up.  That same night, a lot of other people were sneaking their own whiskey into the bar and drinking it at the tables, and I think they would have happily ordered from the bar instead, but they didn’t have the patience to wait 45 minutes and stand at the end of the bar next to the cash register that whole time.  It wasn’t at all the fault of the bar staff.  They were wonderful and friendly, and doing all they could (with harried, desperate looks on their faces).  Entirely the fault of whomever decided how many people to have working at the bar during a convention of several hundred people.  Fantasy writers aren’t quite the lushes that chemists are, but we do like to drink.

I’m sure that what you really want to hear about is my latest crochet project.  I started a green scarf at Readercon and finished it during a visit with my parents in Nova Scotia.

Here’s a close-up, so you can see the pretty scalloped border.

A picture of me wearing it.

My, what frizzy hair I have. Note the intent look of concentration as I try to hold my iPhone just right.

The scarf still needs to be blocked and the ends trimmed and woven in. Blocking is where you wash the item and let it dry flat. This will make it less “curly”.  Although double crochet, the stitch I used for this scarf, makes fabric that isn’t as curly and twisty as single crochet, which I used for my last scarf.  I’m not entirely happy with this one.  It’s skinnier than it should be.  This is because I’m a very uptight person, and tend to hold the hook and yarn with a much firmer grasp than I should, which makes my stitches too short.  Theoretically, you’re supposed to switch to a larger hook until you can achieve the stitch length and height that the pattern calls for.  But, even if I use a larger hook and get the length of the stitches right, they’re still too short.  My sister, a much more experienced crocheter, said that she has the same problem.  She told me just to add extra rows.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to ask her about this until I’d finished the skinny green scarf.

My latest project has been a black shawl. I started that during the Nova Scotia visit, continuing at Worldcon, a visit to Donald’s parents, and World Fantasy. It’s almost finished now. I just need to add pompom ties to the front.

The picture is blurry, isn’t it? I was too lazy to get my camera out, and the iPhone camera isn’t as good. Here’s a better picture, of me wearing the shawl.

I had to throw out most of the work I did at Worldcon on this shawl. It’s a good thing I bought four skeins of yarn instead of the three called for by the pattern, because it’s a largely mohair blend, and the yarn strands stick together, so it’s hard to pick apart your work if you’ve made a mistake. I was following my sister’s suggestion of adding extra rows, but there are two rows in the shawl where you need to add a certain number of extra stitches to expand the width gradually so it fits over your shoulders. Because I’m so uptight, I needed to make 3 rows of double crochet for every 2 rows in the pattern. But I initially made the mistake of expanding all 3 rows instead of just 2, and instead of a nice flare, I got a ruffle. Fortunately, I was starting at the neckline and hadn’t gone too far. I re-did it, and now it looks fine.

I should also mention as part of this post (and this is the very last thing, I promise!) that we stopped at Niagara Falls on the drive back to Boston, because neither Donald nor I, nor our passenger Max, had ever been.

It’s hard to convey how impressive the Falls actually are just from still photographs.

Niagara Falls used to be Canada’s top honeymoon destination, so I feel I should include a romantic shot of me and Donald. It may not have ever been a popular destination in early November during snow flurries, which is when we visited.

And that’s it! Join me again this winter, when I hope to report on my experiences at Arisia and Boskone, and on my next crochet project, a flower scarf.

crocheting


Donald and I went to Boskone in February, over a month ago, and I’m so woefully behind on my blogging that I haven’t mentioned it yet.

Boskone is Boston’s other annual science fiction convention.  Arisia is much bigger, and a lot more people show up in costume.  Besides books, there are also movies, and gaming, and fan lifestyle panels, and panels to discuss TV shows.  Boskone is pretty much just books and an art show (okay, there’s some gaming and filk, too).

Since I’m more interested in the books than in any other corner of the science fiction and fantasy universe, I’ve usually enjoyed the scheduled programming more at Boskone than at Arisia.  This year was an unusual exception.  Arisia is doing a better and better job of putting together a great literary program, and I found that there weren’t as many panels at Boskone this year that I was really excited about.  Of course, panels during the day are only a small part of a science fiction convention.  I usually go more for what I sometimes euphemistically refer to as “networking”, but is really just sitting around drinking with friends.  (Although my theory is that effective networking probably should consist mostly of socializing with people in your chosen field with whom you have common interests and whom you like, unless you want to be a tiresome bore who never stops promoting their own work and can’t be bothered being nice to anyone who can’t help advance their career.  But I digress.)

Boskone was from February 17th to 19th, the Friday through Sunday of President’s Day weekend.  Things got underway at 5:00 pm on Friday, and mostly finished up by 4:00 pm on Sunday.  Here’s a list of the panels I went to (Donald also went to most of them):

How to Read Aloud
If you’re a writer, sometimes you have the opportunity to read your work aloud at a convention. Donald and I both feel we need all the advice we can get on this. We became writers so we wouldn’t have to talk to people in order to communicate. I thought the panel had some useful bits of advice about focusing your voice in different parts of your head and chest in order to differentiate character voices, though I’m not sure if I could actually keep this up for an entire reading. I didn’t find the exercises where they made the audience members stand up and try using their voices in different ways to be all that helpful, but that might just be because I don’t like going along with what everyone else is doing in public. I do think those sorts of exercises are probably more useful when it’s just you and a voice coach working together, though, because you can’t even really hear what you sound like when everyone else in the room is trying to make the same noise at the same time.

How Much Steam Is There in Steampunk?
Neither Donald nor I is really all that into steampunk (vaguely Victorian era or themed fantasy and/or science fiction, for the uninitiated. Although Donald has written a short story (as yet, unpublished) that could be considered steampunk. But Margaret Ronald from my writers group was on this panel, and also Stephen Segal, whom I know from other cons, so I wanted to go and hear what they had to say. (Maggie has written a bunch of steampunkish short stories that I really like, despite saying I’m not a big steampunk fan.) It was an interesting panel, though I’m still not convinced that the recent Scorcese film Hugo counts as steampunk just because it has an automaton and a lot of gears.

How Not to Produce An E-Book
Like many authors, Donald and I have self-published reprints of our own stories in Kindle format. Also, given the direction in which book publishing seems to be headed, I at least wonder whether at some point in the near future the only viable option for publishing a book will be self-publishing. So we hoped we might learn some tips about the e-book side of things. Unfortunately, I found the panel too advanced and technical to be of much use to me, but I think that’s my fault, not the panelists’. There’s a reason I’m using a standard WordPress theme for my blog and website instead of desigining my own.

Misuse of Weapons in Movies and on TV
Donald wanted to go to this one more than I did, but it turned out to be pretty entertaining. Some people from the Higgins Armory presented this, with video clips from Dr. Who, Star Wars, and The Princess Bride, among others. The only problem was that the lights in the room needed to be turned down low in order to see the video clips properly, and every time the door of the room opened, the lights would go back up. If you’ve ever been to a panel at a science fiction convention, you’ll know that people don’t put a high value on punctuality, and are constantly walking in late. If it were me running the panel, I would have stationed someone outside the door and not allowed any of the latecomers into the room, once it became clear that they were ruining the presentation for everyone else. But maybe that’s why people don’t let me run things.

Discarded Images: Astronomical Ideas That Were Almost Correct
This was a solo talk by planetary scientist Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory, discussing earlier theories about the solar system and universe, what assumptions the scientists and philosophers who came up with them made, and why they were wrong. Very interesting and informative, and often humorous.

Importance of Book Covers
This was another panel that Donald and I thought might be useful for any self-publishing we might need to do, but it turned out to be more about showing the recent cover art of some famous fantasy and science fiction artists whom we could never afford to hire, and giving them a chance to discuss how various covers developed from initial concept to final image. I thought it was still pretty interesting, though.

How Not to Lose the Plot
Donald wasn’t as interested in this one, so I went by myself. I think plotting is one of my weaknesses as an author. I have a tendency to make things happen for reasons of plot convenience, sometimes having the characters ignore really obvious issues or problems in the process. I don’t think I learned any helpful tips about how to not do this, though. But the panel was entertaining.

Surviving the Apocalypse
Another panel Donald wasn’t interested in. He went to What Every Dog Should Know About Quantum Physics instead, because he did his PhD in that area, and one of his pet peeves is misuse of quantum mechanics by science fiction and fantasy authors (especially the ever-popular multiple worlds theory). Apparently, the guy presenting the panel made reference to some of Donald’s PhD work, so that was cool. The apocalypse panel was all right, but not what I’d expected. I’d been hoping to learn about useful resources for authors of apocalyptic fiction, not useful tips for surviving an actual apocalypse.

It wasn’t all panels, of course. We went out for the annual Legal Sea Foods dinner with other members of the Brotherhood Without Banners (George R. R. Martin fan club), and stayed up at parties on Friday and Saturday nights later than Donald wanted and not as late as I wanted. Of course, the advantage of staying at the hotel for a con rather than driving back and forth each day is that we don’t both have to leave at the same time. But that gets really expensive, so we don’t do that for local conventions. At parties and elsewhere, we also ran into most of the members of my writers group, BRAWL, various local friends who are into science fiction, and out of town friends like former Worldcon chair Rene Walling and my Clarion West classmate Jim Stewart.

I did think that Boskone this year had better parties than Arisia, but that may have been because I knew a higher percentage of the people there.  But, like I said, I was less impressed by the panels.  Which was surprising, because in the past, I’ve often liked the programming at Boskone better than that at any other convention, including Worldcon and World Fantasy.  I’m not sure if it was me, or the programming, that was different this year.

One thing that I continued from Arisia was my new habit of crocheting during panels.  I found that I can still pay attention while my hands are occupied, and I’m less likely to be annoyed if the panel gets boring for a while.  I finished the scarf I’d been working on for a while.  This is very exciting for me, because it’s the first crocheted item I’ve actually finished.  Here’s a picture:

I’ve read that it gets less curly once you wash it and dry it flat. But I haven’t done that yet, because the label on the yarn says I’m supposed to use this special soap that I haven’t gotten around to buying. I’m also finding that I tend to make the foundation chain too tight, so one edge of the fabric ends up noticeably shorter than the other. Hopefully I’ll get over this habit with practice.

Here’s another view, so you can see the fringe at the end. Each end has a fringe like this. They need to be trimmed, though.

Here you can see the fringe

That scarf was made using all single crochet, which is the first stitch you learn. I think it’s supposed to be the easiest, but it’s smaller and tighter, and it takes much more time to produce a given area of fabric. For my next project, I’m going to make something with double crochet. So now I’m learning the double crochet stitch and making a test swatch, to see if I should use the hook size recommended by the pattern, or something larger or smaller.

My next project

Our next con will be Readercon in July, here in Massachusetts again.  I look forward to catching up with friends, meeting new people, finding out about interesting new books, and, of course, getting some work done on my new green scarf.

crocheting


A couple of weekends ago, I attended Arisia, one of Boston’s local science fiction conventions.  I usually think of Arisia as more of a party convention than a writers’ convention.  I’ve attended Arisia in past years without sitting in on a single panel.  (Though I may have done this at Readercon, too; panels aren’t my favorite thing about cons.)  And I tend to run into more non-writer than writer friends.

This year was different, though.  For better or worse, I was fighting off a cold the entire weekend, so I was a lot more careful about trying to get enough sleep, and ended up not going to nearly as many parties (I didn’t feel I could justify the cost of staying in the hotel for the weekend, since home was a T- or cab ride away).  And, oddly, there were actually panels and other items on the program for which I was willing to show up early in the morning!  Often there isn’t much on the program of particular interest to writers, except maybe for absolute beginners (e.g., “How to Get Your First Story Published”).  This year’s program was definitely an exception.  And I ran into plenty of writers and editors, too.

I didn’t take any pictures to liven up my post, so I’ll try to make the paragraphs short instead of one long, mind-numbing block of text.

Here’s a summary of all the stuff on the official program that I actually attended:

The Super Robots (Beast King Golion)
I was going to go to a panel that someone from my writers group was on. Then I realized that there was a screening of Voltron in the original Japanese (with English subtitles) going on at the same time! Sorry, Jen. I was obsessed with Voltron as a child. I even sent away for membership in the official Voltron fan club (sadly, I threw out all the posters and stickers once I thought I’d outgrown them–but they live on, in my heart). My sister and I wrote Voltron fan fic (again, sadly, I don’t think any of this has survived through the ages). Voltron was “re-edited and re-recorded for American audiences” from a Japanese show called Beast King Golion. Golion as in Goliath, the Biblical giant. Only with lions. (“I wonder why they changed the name” my sister quipped.) Beast King Golion hasn’t been damaged by the Suck Fairy as badly as the American version has, though there are numerous plot points that don’t pass adult scrutiny (like the whole escaping from the tower by using vultures as hang gliders sequence).  There’s a lot more swearing, though, which apparently was edited out for the American audience.  And I’m pretty sure the Voltron we watched as children wasn’t so violent and bloody (my parents were allowing my 5-year old sister to watch this, after all).  But the animation was the same.  They showed several episodes, but I had to leave before we got to the one where all the 5 lions join together to form Voltron.  I mean, Golion.

That was a long paragraph, wasn’t it?  That just shows you what a special place Voltron has in my heart, even after all these years.

A Roman Legion: Legio III Cyrenaica
Those who know me well and have read various drafts of my novel-in-progress know that I love Romans as much as I love elves. Maybe more! So, even though I had to be at the convention at 11:00 am for this (don’t laugh, it’s a long commute and it takes me a long time to get ready in the mornings), I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see these representatives from a Roman reenactment group, in their lorica segmentata and caligae. It was very exciting! They were only on the program for 30 minutes, but they should have had a longer time slot, because they went over time and people in the audience still had questions. It was a small audience, but an enthusiastic one. I learned that the legionaries started carrying the gladius (i.e., sword) on a baldric over their shoulder instead of on a waist belt around the same time they switched to the segmented plate armor from chain mail. The reenactors theorize, based on trying out different bits of equipment, that they started doing this because the waist belt slides more over the plate armor than over chain mail, and it no longer held the weight of the gladius without slipping down.

That was a long paragraph, too. I probably love Romans even more than I love Voltron!

Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Since I have quit my day job (actually, my day job quit me), I found this of interest. Also, Jennifer Pelland from my writers group was on the panel. The authors on the panel were all pretty much against the idea of quitting one’s day job, which I suppose fits with the title and description. I’m happy not to have a day job for right now, but I think I have a pretty realistic set of expectations about the fame and fortune I’m likely to achieve as a result. Also, I went into it pretty carefully. I’d been saving money for several years before I was laid off, and don’t intend to use my retirement savings or go without health insurance. I’ll try to find another job long before it comes to that, or at least move back in with my parents. (Just kidding, Mom!)

Winter is Coming
A panel discussing George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire, of which I’m a huge fan (though I still like Romans better). It was a fun and interesting discussion, with plenty of audience participation. Though there a lot of Johnny-come-latelies jumping on the bandwagon with the immense popularity of the HBO series, I have to say. Two of the panelists (the purported experts) admitted that they’d only read the books for the first time within the last year! As someone who has been a member of the Brotherhood Without Banners fan club since 2006 (and even that’s not very long, relatively speaking), I’m a little shocked that such newbies are getting to be on panels as experts on the series! (Okay, I’m not the most active member in the world. I do have a cool secret identity name though! (it’s said that there’s a fine line between cool and dorky)).

Plot and Structure
The panel description reads “It is often remarked that there are only six original plots. How then do you make the plot of your story stand out?” Which sounded interesting enough, but the actual panel was even more interesting than I’d expected, a lot of talk about writing craft, outlining stories vs. making them up as you go along. A counterpoint to the “Don’t Quit Your Day Job” panel, in some ways, with one of the panelists coming right out and saying (more or less) that you needed to write stories people wanted to read if you were going to pay the mortgage. Whereas on that other panel, one of the main reasons given for not quitting your day job was the freedom to write whatever you wanted.

2,326 Worlds And Counting
A science talk on planets outside our solar system. Science is getting better at detecting smaller planets around other stars. The latest research suggests there are probably a few billion Earth-sized rocky planets in our galaxy that are capable of supporting intelligent life (i.e., at a distance from their sun such that liquid water could exist on the surface). Scientists used to think planet formation was rare, but now that we have techniques that can detect planets, it turns out that most stars have them.

Why You Should/Should Not Self-Publish
This probably ought to have been called “Why You Should Not Self-Publish”. Or “Why Would You Even Think of Self-Publishing, You Idiot”? Everyone on the panel (including one panelist who had self-published) basically said you shouldn’t do it except as a last resort. I have mixed feelings about that message. I do think that a lot of writers who are just starting out need to hear the things that were said. That trying to go with a traditional publisher can keep you from embarrassing yourself by putting out a crappy book that you’ll be horribly ashamed of in 10 years. That most customers aren’t going to give you a second chance: if they read a book of yours and it sucks, they’ll probably never buy anything else you ever write (unless they’re your mom). That most self-published books are awful, and most people will assume your book is awful if you self-publish it. That if you want to self-publish and you want your book to have a chance, it’s not just formatting your book on CreateSpace and clicking on a button; it’s expensive and time-consuming, because you have to pay for cover art and design, copyediting, and formatting. And you have to do all your own marketing. No random stranger is going to choose your book out of all the millions of others out there. That self-publishing will probably ruin any chance you had of getting a different book published by a major publisher later on, because (my analogy) publishing is like a medieval marriage in that the publisher expects the author to be pure and unsullied, and views self-publishing more or less as a medieval husband-to-be would view premarital prostitution. These things are all true, and yet…. Not everyone wants a book deal from a major New York house (not if they have to sell their soul and change their name to get it). Some writers can do all the tasks of publishing on their own. Some people aren’t willing to have their manuscript sit on an editor’s desk for 5 years with no answer. And just because you play the traditional publishing game doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed success. Authors are dropped by publishers all the time because their first or second book didn’t sell well enough, and if that happens, you probably will have to self-publish subsequent books (see medieval marriage analogy). As far as I’m concerned, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with self-publishing your work as long as you have realistic expectations for how much work it will be, how little money you’re likely to make, and how unfamous you will be. Hey, just like writing!

That was a long paragraph, too. I don’t love self-publishing, but I have strong opinions.

Stitch ‘n’ Bitch
I recently started crocheting after reading some of my sister’s crocheting and knitting books. I was also envious of the beautiful sock she was knitting, and wanted to be able to make stuff like that. I decided to start with crocheting though, because I’ve heard it’s easier. The book I used to teach myself is from the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch series. My sister has a copy, and I ended up getting my own. Anyway, there are Stitch ‘n’ Bitch gatherings where you meet up with a bunch of other knitters and/or crocheters and work on your stuff, and chat. (Stitch, and bitch. Get it?) And they had one at Arisia. So I went, and worked on my scarf. I’m making a striped scarf as my first project ever. It’s all single crochet.

I should mention that I was taking my crocheting to Arisia pretty much every day and working on the scarf while I was sitting in panels. Oddly, I find it easier to pay attention overall if I have something to occupy my hands during the boring bits. Hmm, I wonder if it would look bad if I took my crocheting to church….

The Future of Religion
Honestly, I don’t know why I go to these panels, because I just get annoyed. (Though sometimes I feel the same way about church.) According to a show of hands, I was the only audience member who considered themself a monotheist (one of the panelists was also a monotheist). That wasn’t the annoying part; it felt awkward to have identified myself as a minority, but it’s good for all of us to be in the minority sometimes. The things that did annoy me were: (1) the extreme anti-religious attitude of one of the panelists, who was often pretty condescending about how religious people are weak-willed, etc., etc. (an audience member did respectfully call him out on it); and (2) predictions of religion’s future were very western-focused (societies will become less religious as they become more technologically advanced, etc.) with no reference to how religion actually has been changing in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Except for an anti-Muslim comment from one of the non-monotheist panelists.

I thought the monotheist on the panel (a Unitarian / United Church of Christ minister) did have some very insightful comments, about the nature of the Trinity and other things, and was constantly responding to negative caricatures of religion from the anti-religious guy by saying things like “That’s not what religion is for me”. And it was interesting to hear about the pagan panelist’s journey of faith. Even my irritation is probably a useful thing. It occurred to me when I was so irritated by the anti-religious guy’s comments about how only weak people need religion, and religion is harmful to society (etc.) that it’s probably also very irritating for people who aren’t Christians, the way Christians will often go around telling them they can’t possibly be happy or understand what it’s like to love someone without knowing Jesus. Not that avoiding offending people should be priority number one. But people are usually less likely to want to listen to anything you have to say if they feel you’re being condescending towards them.

Consistent Magic Systems in Fantasy
This was sort of the same panel as the one I was on at World Fantasy, at least from the panel description, only this one didn’t get derailed into a debate between a pagan and an atheist as to whether magic really exists. Margaret Ronald from my writers group was on this panel. Interestingly, these panelists were much less insistent on magic in novels having to fit into consistent “systems”. One of the panelists said, “When someone says to me, ‘I’m going to write a fantasy novel, I just have to work out the magic system first’, I start to hear the dice rolling.” Which is exactly (exactly!) my issue with what I see as excessive emphasis on magic systems. (I think it was Joshua Palmatier who said this. One of the disadvantages of writing a con report 2 weeks after the con is that I have trouble remembering who said what on which panel.) One of the panelists (David Sklar, I think) even came out pretty strongly against having magic systems, and felt that that makes the magic feel less authentic (others were more for magic systems, though not as strongly as the other authors I was on a panel with at World Fantasy). (I should say that none of the authors were advocating having the magic conveniently do whatever the plot seems to need at any given time, because that feels pretty fake, too.)

Among the Ruins
About how in fantasy novels there are all these ruins from civilizations with better technology, and why does no one in these novels ever seem to wonder overmuch about who these vanished civilizations actually were, except when they’re picking up a jeweled dagger lying in the middle of the street or something. More fantasy stories about archaeologists! Like the religion panel, I thought this one also suffered a bit from assuming that all possible human societies are just like ours in every significant way. I mean, most people in most cultures (real and imagined) are probably too busy working to spend a lot of time trying to understand Those Who Came Before. Look at Rome. The old forums with their temples were buried under centuries of rubble and garbage, and mostly the only attention that got paid to the ruins by the people who lived over them was to scavenge good marble from old buildings. Though I suppose most people in most cultures are also too busy and/or impoverished to become rogue adventurers or set out on a mission to save the world. (Damn you, realism!)

So, lots of good panels; or at least, panels that sounded interesting enough in the program book to lure me there even at the expense of partying/staying-up-late time.

There was some drama about the Barfleet party getting shut down on Saturday night (Barfleet is an organization that exists solely for the purpose of throwing parties at science fiction conventions).  I heard various things from different sources, but as far as I can tell, even though Arisia’s contract with the hotel specifies that the hotel will not put non-convention guests on floors designated as party floors, they had a last-minute cancellation and stuck a non-convention attendee in the room right next to Barfleet, and this person complained to hotel security about all the noise Barfleet partygoers were making at 8:30 p.m., so hotel security went and shut the party down.  Rumor has it that they weren’t very gracious or polite about it, either, and confiscated all the alcohol, citing violation of Massachusetts state law, even though I think Barfleet is pretty careful about that sort of thing:  it was a closed-door party and wasn’t advertised at the con, so I think it qualifies as a private party, which means serving alcohol should have been fine, at least as far as I understand things.  Also, in my experience, Barfleet won’t let anyone into their parties without proof of ID.  Anyway, everything I’m saying about what happened at Arisia w.r.t. the Barfleet party is hearsay and speculation.  But a lot of people were really upset about the incident.  (I’m sure the poor hotel guest stuck in the room next to them was also justifiably upset, but the hotel knew that there were going to be parties on that floor and really shouldn’t have booked them there.  This hotel is generally kind of lame about that sort of thing.  I know of people who’ve been put in rooms on the party floor at Boskone after requesting a quiet room.  Also, some of the staff are really rude and snippy.  Most of them are actually very gracious and helpful, but it’s always easier to remember the mean ones.)

The next convention on my schedule is Boskone, the 3rd weekend in February (Presidents’ Day weekend).  Also here in Boston.  So, if you’re there, I hope to run into you!