World Fantasy 2012 Report and Crochet Update

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.

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