I took 21 pages of notes yesterday, so obviously there are a lot of takeaways. In case it’s not obvious from the “punk” in steampunk, this conference is where it is at for sophisticated social discourse in speculative literature, y’all.
I met Stant Litore at MileHiCon in October, bought his Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget then but hadn’t had a chance to sit down and read it, and have been following his blog ever since, so one of the highlights of this con was the chance to take his 3-part class based on the book. I’ll go over that in more detail in a second post. I lucked out. A glitch in the program caused Stant to run the first session of the class twice, and I because I (barely) caught the first one at 9:00, I was able to take a different session at 10:00.
Language, Dialect, and Code-Switching:
- A big, lively, recursive conversation about the ideas of code-switching as a shamed and shaming act vs. code-switching as an act of claiming power. “It’s incredibly privileged,” I scribbled, “to assume that one can be ‘authentic’ in all settings at all times in safety, and also incredibly limiting to assume that there is any one ‘authenticity’.” This is not a new idea of course but it’s a useful reminder. We are each multitudes. Navigating smoothly between one social context and another is a skill, a useful one, and one to take pride in.
- An interesting discussion about interior language, and about processing and relaying memory in language other than that in which the memory was originally formulated.
- We kept going back and forth on the distinction between language and dialect. Dialects are mutually intelligible? That’s a sliding scale profoundly dependent on context and individual experience. Language is taught, dialect is learned? There’s some unpacking to do there that we just didn’t have time to do in the session, but it’s interesting. The difference between a language and a dialect is an army: languages are owned by states, codified and formalized, embedded in contexts that allow them to both defend their own boundaries and colonize others, and dialects have softer boundaries. That’s perhaps closest to my understanding of the issue, but again, more work to do than can be done in an hour.
- How communication happens in homogenous communities – “in Japanese,” panelist KT Opotnik said, “you can speak in half-sentences because everyone else already knows what you’re going to say.” You see this in action in all kinds of communities, whether ethnic, geographic, professional, or interest-based. How much of that is happening, and how self-aware the participants are of it, is an important thing to keep in mind when writing dialogue. And in real life, of course.
- I was, um, a little taken aback – and then fascinated – that we needed to spend almost ten minutes defining code-switching. It’s been such an integral part of my experience for so long in so many ways that I kind of thought everyone who walked into that room had a basic understanding of the concept. I might be fairly unusual that I’m natively monolingual (I’ve learned – partially – several languages in my lifetime, but that’s not the same as growing up multilingual) and it’s in social code-switching that my experience is grounded.
- Exchanged a bunch of business cards with other writers who are working on projects with multiple languages in the text. Hopefully these conversations will continue beyond the con.
- WE’RE WRITERS. LANGUAGE IS FUN. LET IT LIVE.
Is This a Kissing Book?:
- Biggest takeaway was a scribbled list of publishers who seem, maybe, interested in taking on romantic sf/f. And of course a big reminder that there’s a REASON the vast majority of popular fiction works contain some romantic plot. When you hit a review of one that doesn’t and it’s all OMG THANK GOD I’M SO TIRED OF EVERY SINGLE BOOK FORCING ROMANCE DOWN MY THROAT then you might have a moment of – hm, should I buckle down and write “real sci-fi?” But that is just one more flavor of shaming women. It comes from the same place as “fake geek girls” bullshit. My books are character-driven and relationship-driven, and that is why I love them. Write the books you want to read. Always bears repeating.
- I promised I’d be talking about alternative marketing models and ways of supporting artists and writers on this blog, and this workshop was the start of that. Stant Litore and Stan Yan gave a great overview of Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Patreon, the pros and cons of each and differences between them, and a lot about how to succeed (and how to fail). Stant talked quite a lot about envisioning Patreon as not so much a funding tool (although of course it is) but a community-building tool, and that fascinates me. More on this topic soon.
Saving the World After 50:
- Oh, what a great session. So much fun. I am once again assured that what I’m writing is shit people want to read; I just need to get it out there.
- The ugly, icky, bitter wife/MIL and daughter/stepmother dynamics are flip sides of the same coin: they’re about being The Most Important Woman in some man’s life. We talk a lot about independent agency for women characters and that is of course tremendously important, but the reality of life for a lot of women is our relationships with the men we love and there’s nothing wrong with that and we need to be thoughtful about portraying those relationships in fiction. As writers, we could be modeling relationships where women bond over mutual desire for the wellbeing of those men. (Cordelia and Ekaterina. Mercy Thompson and Jesse Hauptman. MORE PLEASE.)
- The roles we put older women into. The Lorekeeper, the Mentor, the Sacrifice, the Aspiration. These are unexplored archetypes. Tropes are not bad, but lazy tropes are lazy.
- I… kind of want to write an epic fantasy based loosely on the life of Jadviga, King of Poland. Put that sucker on the back burner, put a lid on it, and turn it WAY down, because there are so many other things right now.
Beyond the Hero’s Journey:
- Unfortunately the strongest of the three panelists (the other two panelists’ assessment, not mine) on this topic didn’t make it, but it was a good discussion that went a little bit of a different direction than planned. It’s, uh, really hard to break the Hero’s Journey framework. Really hard. Authors who have explicitly set out to break it have just ended up doing new and different things with it.
- Potentially the biggest single takeaway of the session and perhaps the con: #MSWL. THIS is stuff that you pick up by going places and talking to people face-to-face.
Men in the Post-Patriarchy:
- Something Paul Sizer said: We’re geeks. Geeks are, by definition, incredibly good at taking something we love, picking it apart, understanding it deeply, and drawing the people who are important to us into the things that are important to us. Use that. Put the Fourth GSF to work. Leverage privilege. When we find a piece of content that gets it right – whatever it is, female agency or non-romantic relationships or GLBTQ representation or whatever – Tell it, sell it. Dollar vote. And again, write what we want to read. Say it again and again and again.