a zoo in hell


Real Horrorshow

I tried to wear my writer hat as much as possible this weekend at the CONvergence Science Fiction and Fantasy convention in Bloomington, MN. When I was off duty from the Horrorshow, I managed to get out among the mass of geekery to get some writing done and sit-in on a few panels.

I got about eight hours of total writing time in, and about a chapter and a half on the page. Maybe more importantly, I think I figured out the final stages on one of the secondary character's arcs and how is path is now not going to intersect with the rest of the plotline. I was starting to feel like I had to build some ridiculous plot gymnastics to get him back into the mainline of the story. Happily, I don't think he needs to get back there to be relevant and effective. So, that was a worthwhile hour spent in the smoking tables on the north side of the Sheraton.

I went to a panel on beta-readers (critiquers), which covered miles of old ground but I did pick up a few critical tools for the collection, not to mention a refresher lesson in how good readers and reading is an essential part of the process of getting substantial, serious, work from head to page and back again. Got some interesting tidbits about character work by way of digression too, so while the topic lacked real heft the discussion which followed was pretty useful.

I showed up late to a discussion on the 22nd floor about world-building. Again, most of the stuff was entry-level questions you get at these sorts of things, which is fine, but there were some substantial and interesting digressions. There was some talk about how the history of alien worlds, as it is revealed through artifact and ruin, can be as important as the current state of an alien world (Of course, at this point I don't have much interest in extra-terrestrial worlds, but I think the same guides can apply to "alien" Earths). Most interesting was a discussion about the human tendency to re-use language, to name new things and new concepts by the same terms as the previously known ones. A rose by any other name may still be a rose, but a rose might not always be a red flower with thorns. Got some great tips for character-building resources, too.

I think it is a little bit funny that I've spent many years now developing this science-fiction project, yet I know that deep down inside I am really a "horror writer" first and foremost. Maybe I am just using the SF tropes to create a very elaborate and extended kind of intellectual dread or horror, and not aiming for the more Appolonian goals/thrills of most science fiction writing. Anyway, point is that the panel which covered a spectrum of local and national horror talents sparked the most interesting, varied, and perhaps professionally useful dialogue. Again, ostensibly, the topic was "writing horror in the age of Saw" (never mind that the age of Saw is pretty much over). However, the actual conversation between audience and panel covered the differences between written and visual horror, between suspense and horror, between terror and horror, and when to show and when not to show (a conversation which ironically used film language to illustrate how to write a prose scene).

Went to couple of local readings, and was very impressed with the reading Michael Merriam gave. He is quite a local tour-de-force when it comes to the short story market, and after hearing him read I can see why. He has a great capacity for landing character at the center of the story, and knows very well how to dance on the familiar just enough that you think you know what is going to happen next. While his genre isn't my first choice for reading I was thrilled with the crafty acrobatics he pulled off in his fiction.

Looking out from the Cinema Apocalypse balcony I did have a fair share of lite beer fueled musings about the state of fandom. I tend to have some appolonian thoughts of my own while wandering the halls of this four-day geekasm, this year, I found myself wondering about which side may be losing the style/substance balance. MISFITS! the parent organization of the convention is dedicated to promoting literacy and interest in science fiction. Looking over the scores of Klingons, Stormtroopers, superheroes, and other faves of the popular media, I have wonder how much of the real critical thinking which lies in the subtext of the genre is being celebrated.

So, as much as the discussion of polyamory can get real annoying in these geek fests, as much as slash fiction sometimes seems like the last resort of the sexually frustrated, and maybe some body type activists are a little too proud and interested in flaunting it for everybody to see; however it seems to me that at least, at their core, these groups are actually interested in stretching the concepts and social foundations we all take for granted as part of "reality". I hate to say it, but maybe these folks are really more interesting than the hundreds of fools running around as Dr. Horrible this year.

I don't expect CONvergence to suddenly be awash in panels about the political subtexts of cold war Soviet science fiction, or the political effects of magical realism, or even the (strangely) anti-capitalist impulse behind much of the exploitation cinema we show in our little room. However, it might be nice if we got to mix a little more high-minded conversation in between beers, Romulan strippers and geek mating season.

Please just don't do it in a faux English accent.