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!