Tag Archives: Fantasy

American Idol: On WorldCon, My Journey into Fandom, and Meeting Your Heroes

I’m back from my first foray into the world of science fiction and fantasy conventions. My lips are chapped from too many days in the desert, I have mysterious bruises, and it will probably take me a week to catch up on sleep, but it was all worth it. I feel like I just left summer camp. We shared meals! We slept on floors! We made friends that will last a lifetime! Cue music. Cut to sunlit shot of pier with Klingon standing in silhouette.

HOW I GOT THERE: On a whim! (Also, a plane.)

A few weeks ago, I went to a George R. R. Martin signing in Los Angeles and met a bunch of people from his fan club, the Brotherhood Without Banners, who encouraged me to attend the con. Anyone who knows me or has visited this blog knows that GRRM and Game of Thrones have brought out my latent fangirl, so why not? Besides, I’m a fantasy author. I have a book to promote. It’s tax deductible! Let’s go to WorldCon!

But first a word about the BwB and that word is delightful.

1. They’re absurdly welcoming and generous. There’s none of the proprietary “we liked him first” nonsense that some fans indulge in. They genuinely love GRRM’s work and they want other people to love it as well.

2. For all of the idiots (I’m looking at you, Gina Bellafante) who like to claim that science fiction and fantasy are the sole provenance of pasty whiteboys who can’t get dates, you might want to take a moment to actually meet the fans. This is an insanely diverse group of people– young, old, gay, straight, male, female, white, black, Asian, Latino. I met lawyers, nurses, artists, bookshop clerks, a physical trainer, a winemaker, and yes, a few guys who work in IT. It was like some perfectly cast campaign commercial.

And now back to the con…

Day 1

The first night I get upgraded to a “Jacuzzi Suite”. It is both fancy and sleazy. The giant tub is next to the bed so you can, I assume, go right from the tub to the bed– or the bed to the tub. I guess this is supposed to be sexy but it just strikes me as potentially dangerous. And damp.

I take the looooong walk from the casino through the “air conditioned Skybridge (the future is now!)” to the convention center, then register and wander around the Dealers Room, nab a signed copy of Teeth, and ogle one of the steampunk displays.

I have wisely volunteered to man the SFWA table and, in the space of an hour, I meet a Nebula award winner and a Hugo nominee.

<– Here I am with Mira Grant, author of Feed.

I sell some books and have a chat with a geologist. Then, I hurry over to the GRRM reading from The Winds of Winter, pausing to waylay Cory Doctorow for a photo opp.

I call this “Portrait of Bemused and Tolerant Author with Enthusiastic Fan”–>

I fortify myself with coffee and hit “Understanding Dothraki” with David Petersen, the linguist who created Dothraki for the HBO series. It is a fascinating look into language creation and, though there were obviously experts in the audience, completely accessible for a novice like me. (You can download the presentation here.) I also got the opportunity to make an ass of myself (this is a recurring theme over the weekend) by volunteering for a Dothraki demo. I still have no idea what I said except that it involved cutting off someone’s braid.

Pirates and privateering panel. Tor party. Night Shade party. Many hours at one of the ugliest bars I’ve seen.

Day 2

John Picacio's Bran Stark

A bit hungover (this will also be a theme), I miss the chance to make my own raygun, and head to a presentation on fantasy art. Then, I have to buckle down and get some work done on the first pass pages of SHADOW & BONE before it’s time for me to guard the door a the SFWA suite. (For some reason, every time I’m in the suite, people seem to want to talk about food allergies. Is this some kind of code?)

That night, at the BwB party, two marvelous things happen:

Artist John Picacio actually takes the time to hang out and chat about covers and be generally awesome.

And… I get to meet George R.R. Martin. I’m sitting and chatting with a delightful fellow named Stego, a longtime BwB member with an encyclopedic knowledge of science fiction and fantasy who spends his free time entering strongman competitions. I mention how much GRRM has inspired me and he asks if I’ve had a chance to meet him and I sputter, “No, oh no. I couldn’t do that” and Stego is like, “Come on.” I protest and try to get him to sit back down (not a likely proposition what with the throwing tires around and pulling trucks and all), but he’s having none of it and the truth is I really do want to meet GRRM. So I let myself be dragged over to where he’s relaxing in the corner. Stego tells him about my books and Martin, all kindness, motions me over.

He’s nice enough to ask about my trilogy and offer words of advice and encouragement. I tell him that after I read ASoIaF, I didn’t write for two months and he says that Tolkien had a similar effect on him. Then he sends me off with a hug and “I’ll do my best to remember you” which, really, is about all you can hope for when meeting one of your idols.

(There’s a rumor going around that I may have shed a few tears before, during and/or after this event. I cannot confirm or deny. Fine, I may have cried a little. So what?? It wasn’t like Bieber Fever or anything, just a slow, dignified leaking. Anyway, I thanked Stego but I’m thanking him again here. That’s just not an experience I’ll ever forget.)

Day 3

The hangover theme continues. I’m not even drinking that much, I’m just miserably dehydrated. I drag myself out of bed for the panel on Victorian Warfare with Taylor Anderson. Okay, I love this guy. He wears a cowboy hat and cowboy boots and has this fantastic drawl, and he says things like “Everybody loves a cannon” and “Personally, I think dueling between two consenting adults should still be legal. With a cooling off period, of course.” I’m quite smitten.

Then it’s off to a screening of “The Pointy End” with live commentary by GRRM. Fun fact: The fight between Khal Drogo and one of his riders (one of my favorite moments in the series) was suggested by Jason Momoa who pointed out that, though we often hear about what a badass Drogo is, we never actually get to see him in action.

I hit a few more panels, browse the art show (some gorgeous stuff including some brilliant little wooden spaceships that I wasn’t allowed to take a picture of, but also… a lot of boobs), then it’s back over the skybridge (which by this time every day smells profoundly of foot) to the hotel. I drop by the SFWA suite where I run into my fellow Apocalypsies member Lissa Price and get to eat free cake.

The rest of the evening is madness. A rushed dinner then party hopping from floor to floor. There’s dancing, people in marvelous costumes. (Prize for best decor and flat out commitment goes to the Klingon party.)

Then we rush back to the Brotherhood suite for the Quest. Every year, GRRM sends willing newbies out on a quest, usually to obtain a local delicacy. This year, we’re tasked with obtaining something called the Awful Offal Burger, a specialty of the Little Nugget in downtown Reno. I end up with my friend Yalen in a minivan with a couple of Reno locals who we met just minutes ago at an auction. (This is what happens at the con. You stand next to someone, start talking, next thing you know, you’re careening through the streets of a desert town with murder on your minds. Okay, not that last part.) We snap a pic before we get back in the van. (Other than Yalen on my left, I have no idea who these people are, but I do remember liking them. Thank you, Reno locals!) Back to the suite where we present our prizes and I am dubbed Ser Leigh the 2nd (the boy Lee made it back first) and celebrate with my fellow questers. I make it to bed sometime around 5:45.

Day 4

My luggage is weighted with signed books. I look and feel a bit like death with a duffle bag. On the way to the airport, I ponder my first con. There were some strange odors, too many men in kilts who should not have been wearing kilts, some awkward pauses. But mostly, I met people who are truly passionate about fiction and who love to get together to express that. They love their authors. They love their artists. They love their characters. Whether magical or technological, they embrace possibility. That’s a beautiful thing and I’m sorry to leave it behind.

Best. Summer. Ever.

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There Can Be Only Some

When I was a kid, we had pirated cable. We had a wacky box with about a thousand buttons that meant we got all kinds of channels for free– the long defunct Z Channel, Cinemax, HBO. I was an only child and a latchkey kid. I watched A LOT of tv with very little discrimination and I was happy to settle for whatever was in heavy rotation. For better or worse, I saw the same films again and again and again.

Occasionally, the results were edifying. (I remember repeated viewings of Bernadette Peters in a delightful production of Sunday in the Park with George.) But at some pivotal stage of my development, I subsisted on a steady diet of Ralph Bakshi’s Rock & Rule, Helena Bonham Carter in Lady Jane, and the staple starch of my nerdpop cuisine, Highlander.

Highlander tells the tale of a race of immortals destined to battle it out for the future of humanity. It’s a century-hopping, epic battle between good and evil with a soundtrack by Queen and, really, that’s all you need know. For many, Highlander comes down to Christopher Lambert in a kilt, Sean Connery as a red-velvet dandy, and the famous phrase, “There can be only one.”

But for me, Highlander is all about this image—>

For those of you who don’t know, that’s Clancy Brown as the Kurgan, the eeeevil warrior who will pursue the hero across time until they battle it out for The Prize. LATER, we’ll learn that the Kurgan is a rapist and a murderer and he’ll spend the rest of the movie as a gross, sweaty skinhead who wears atrocious leather vests.

But that’s later.

In this moment, he is something spectacular. I used to wait for this shot– the lightning strike that first reveals the Kurgan in that mad armor and gruesome helm. Honestly, everything after was a bit of a letdown.

The Kurgan makes a great first impression. Tricked out in truly wicked style, he is an EPIC adversary, a perfect foil to Connor MacLeod’s initial oafishness. Sadly, as the heroic Connor becomes more dour and brooding, the Kurgan just gets goofier and, by film’s end, he’s a silly, sleazy bit of caricature. (To be fair, not even the hero escapes 80s styling unscathed; Christopher Lambert looks suspiciously like a highbrow flasher in his London Fog overcoat and white sneaks.)

Bad.

Very bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When people ask me how I got interested in fantasy, I should probably start with Tolkien or Tamora Pierce or Idylls of the King. All of those more reputable answers are true– to an extent. But my lifelong love of fantasy really began on that rocky hilltop with a mysterious figure on horseback, part monster, part man, broadsword in hand.

The Kurgan never lived up to the potential of those few storm-lit seconds, but in the end, I owe him. He was my first dark knight.

Superbad.

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Writing YA: My Response to Slate

The most recent YA dustup revolves around author Katie Crouch’s take on “Writing YA Fiction” for Slate. It’s a cringe-inducing and infuriating read, not only because it is almost aggressively unprofessional (YA readers don’t care about good writing! Writing sex scenes makes us squirmy!), but also because it smacks of minstrelsy: “Hey, world. I don’t take myself seriously, so feel free not to take me seriously either.” Crouch doesn’t seem to have read widely in the genre. She’s a litfic author, and though she claims “there’s no shame in Y.A. these days” (was there ever?), she seems almost giddily desperate to let us know that, for her, writing YA is just a lark.

Poor Crouch has already been taken to task (most brilliantly by Courtney Summers), so I’m going to leave off beating her about the head and shoulders. But I’m often asked about the appeal of writing and reading YA and Crouch’s answer is so very far from mine that I need to offer another opinion.

Crouch suggests that the driving force behind the writing and consumption of YA is wish fulfillment: “Writing Y.A. as an adult is a chance to rewrite being a teenager… It’s way better than prom.”

(I’m going to assume that Crouch is only referring to her own work and so therefore felt free to completely disregard issue-driven YA, horror, much contemporary YA, and the darker YA so railed against by Meghan Cox Gurdon in the last YA clamor.)

I’m not going to deny the pleasures of wish fulfillment in my work. I love great clothes, a makeover, and awesome powers as much as the next girl. Possibly more. But that is not what drives my writing.

In the world of YA fiction, particularly in fantasy, the darkest parts of being young can move from metaphor to reality. The external world becomes just as dangerous and dire as the internal world, physical stakes attain parity with emotional stakes. As adolescents, we get our first real glimpse of power and come to our first real understanding of powerlessness. In fantasy, those personal and the political struggles can be made manifest in the paranormal. You feel like the world is going to end? Well, it just might. You feel like this guy is using you? Turns out he’s literally trying to steal your soul.

YA fantasy isn’t just about pretty people doing naughty things in mansions or sparkly vampires who love you longtime. It’s about the inevitable conflict that arises from learning to be yourself in the world. It’s about the havoc our decisions can wreak, the damage we do and the damage done to us. Sometimes the world is a post-apocalyptic dystopia, sometimes it’s a glittering palace full of schemers, sometimes it’s Brooklyn. But the goal is almost always the same: survive, become better, live unafraid.

That’s why I write fantasy. That’s why I write YA. And for the record, my prom sucked.

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