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WFC, Again – Panels and Stuff

November 16, 2013

(Be warned: monstrously long post and walls of text ahead!)

I’m a little sad that I didn’t get to go to a single reading, because the ones I wanted to go to were always at the same time as other stuff I wanted to go to, but oh well. I can go to readings here (theoretically. In practise, there’s hardly ever anyone interesting.) And I have been to readings before. I don’t get to see funny and interesting panels that often.

And I guess I could have gone to readings of authors I didn’t know yet (always too many books, too little time!), but honestly – when the choice is between spending time with my friends and listening to a story I don’t even know I will like, I’d rather sit in the bar and talk with my friends.

During the panels, I didn’t always take as many notes as I wish I had. Especially if we went to two or three in a row, my brain got quite exhausted – I wondered how I ever managed to survive school, but then… I can’t say I paid that much attention in school! Also, English is not my first language after all, and I don’t get as much practise hearing it as I do reading it, and always getting used to new voices and accents is hard, too. And sometimes I thought I would remember important things and just write them down later, but the later was always filled with too many other fun things to sit down and write.

But, anyway. Here’s what notes I do have. The names following the panel’s name are, of course, the panelists – italicised names are authors I have actually read (too many books, too little time… *siiiigh*) Some lines might be verbatim, but most are probably paraphrased, and for all I know, in some cases I might be entirely misinterpreting my notes and turning them into something nobody ever said…. I had entirely forgotten how hard it is to keep up with taking notes when people are talking!



Living in the Past: Writing Historical Fantasy

(Aidan Harte, Helen Marshall (mod.), Sophia McDougall, Mark Charan Newton, Tim Powers, Kari Sperring)

– Reading history books is kind of like a horror novel: everyone dies at the end.
– Tim: Research is good. Not just so you get your facts right, but because you get so many other interesting facts for free. “You just have to be clever enough to recognize cool bits in your research.”
– Sophia: “I didn’t want to set it in the Roman Empire, because we know what happened there.” (In her books the Roman Empire survived to the present)
– Tim: “I like to think my books are all irrelevant.”
– Don’t write about your area of expertise. Because there are too many details that “should” be added. (But which might bore your readers.) But knowing a lot about a certain time/place helps with how people think, getting the language right.
– Always remember that e know what is going to happen to historical figures, but they don’t know.
– Sometimes you find interesting things in your research but they don’t fit into the story. – “That’s what short stories are for.”
– Try not to judge people in history with our 2013 values.

Strip Search (on comics)
(Mike Carey, Mike Chinn, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Golden (mod.), Joe Hill, Maura McHugh)

This is one of the cases of brain-overload/exhaustion. (And we pretty much only went there because Neil Gaiman was on it.) I have nothing except:

“Forbidden Planet, which looks like your childhood threw up.”



Guest of Honour Interview: Joanne Harris
(Muriel Gray (mod), Joanne Harris)

We were only there for the second half or so to make sure we got good seats for Neil Gaiman right afterwards.

Lovely line on movie adaptions and authors’ input, though:

“The cow is integral to the steak, but you don’t ask it how to cook it.”

Guest of Honour Interview: Neil Gaiman
(Jo Fletcher (mod.), Neil Gaiman)

I didn’t actually take any notes during this one, because of a combination of “oh, nice voice, must concentrate on listening” and “I’m sure I will remember these stories later.”

By the time I got around to writing them down, though, I could only remember a few. I think at the time I wrote them down, I actually remembered more, but I was tired, so I only wrote down the bare bones, and now I don’t remember anything else. So I will just type up what I wrote in my journal.

I think one of the first questions (possibly the very first) was if Neil had been in Brighton before, and he told a story about the first time he had been there, also for a convention, and at the very same hotel… 30 years ago, I think. And he, being young at the time, spent the entire night in the bar talking to interesting people, after dumping his stuff in his hotel room. Then he had a panel and stuff and when he finally got back to his room for a shower, his key didn’t work and he heard voices inside, so he knocked and there were people in there and his stuff was gone.

So he went to complain and the manager basically said, “Well, the bed didn’t look like it’d been slept in, so we gave the room to someone else.” And they didn’t have another free room.

And for some reason Neil ended up talking to someone from Titan Books, and that person went to the manager and told him, “We have lots of people here, we’re taking up most of your rooms, and when this con is over, we’re going to owe you about 50,000 pounds. But if you don’t get this guy a room right now, you won’t see a penny of it.”

Neil quickly got his room, but his stuff never turned up again.

Then he talked about his quest to become a comic writer. When he asked some sort of advisor at school about it, he was told, “Have you ever thought about accountancy?” and nobody could tell him how to become a comic writer. Someone told him most of them had been journalists first, so he did that, which is how he ended up writing a Duran Duran biography (which is selling for hundreds to thousands of dollars now, being Neil Gaiman’s first published book) and interviewed people like Douglas Adams. And eventually he just went up to a comic writer (at a con?) and asked him, “so how do you write a comic?” and that person taught him how to write a script.

And also something about how he was at a con and suddenly thought, “do serial killers have conventions too?” Apparently he used that idea in one of the Sandman comics (of which I only have read the first one. I may be repeating myself, but too many books, too little time…)

The End is Now (on apocalyptic stories)
(Kathleen Ann Goonan, Peter F. Hamilton (mod.), William F. Nolan, Samantha Shannon, S.M. Stirling, Tricia Sullivan)

Another case of “we were only there to save seats” (because Terry Pratchett was on right afterwards). Still, I wrote down a few things.

– Apocalyptic settings make characters do more interesting thingsa
– Short stories can have sad endings, but in a book, you owe the reader a happy ending. But it has to derive from what you put in the book, you can’t just tack it on.
– A lot of people already live in “apocalyptic” conditions – what effect would the apocalypse have on them?
– “When the going gets weird, the weird get going.”
– Reality is already so science-fictional, so apocalyptic fiction is a way of saying, “there isn’t a future, I can’t imagine it.”
– And things, like fixing cars, have become so complicated you can’t do them yourself any more.
– It’s harder to predict social changes than technological ones.
– “Basically, they were a bunch of fanboys in armour.” (I have no clue what this was about. Sahi says it was about conquistadors, but nobody seems to remember who they were a fan of.)

Sir Terry Pratchett – In Conversation
(Terry Pratchett, Rob Wilkins (mod.), Rod Brown)

Again, no notes. Partly because I needed to focus on listening, and partly because Terry Pratchett is not really my thing. I mostly went there because, well, whether I like him or not, he is a huge name in fantasy, and I’m pretty certain I won’t ever have the chance to see him again.

The few things I remember is that the voice recognition software Terry uses to write now occasionally does things like write “pioneer” as “pie on ear” (which, now that I think about it, sounds like something that would happen in a food fight) and that his reward for finishing a book is starting a new one.

We also got to hear a part of Raising Steam, which seems to be about the invention of trains in Discworld.

Mostly, I must say, the whole thing made me feel a little uncomfortable and sorry for Terry – the way it was mostly the others talking and Terry only giving short answers made me picture my grandpa up on that stage, who would decidedly not like it. What do I know, Terry could have enjoyed it, but that mental image just made me too uncomfortable.

Broads with Swords (on women writing heroic fantasy)
(Trudi Canavan, Laura Anne Gilman (mod.), Robin Hobb, Juliet E. McKenna, Gaie Sebold)

Um. We were there, that’s about all I can say. We arrived late, because Terry Pratchett was exchanging hats with someone in the hallway, and you don’t just push past Terry Pratchett. (Instead, you take pictures.)

No notes, since most of it (as far as I can remember) was a list of author recommendations that I couldn’t hear properly, and couldn’t have spelled if I had been able to hear them, because English spelling just makes no sense at all, and even less when names are involved.



The Best of All Possible Worlds (on worldbuilding)
(Hal Duncan, Robin Hobb, Ellen Kushner (mod.), Patrick Rothfuss, Robert Silberberg, Adrian Tchaikovsky)

So many notes from this panel. I think it was everyone’s favourite.

– Introductions: Pat feels like a newbie. “I have been doing this for five years, not that you could tell from the number of books.
Adrian also feels like a newbie.
“I’m Robin Hobb, and I feel like a dinosaur.”
– Pat: “talk to the geeks, not the scholars.” He is a geek for currency.
– Adrian starts with the setting.
– Robin starts with the characters, who just introduce themselves to her, and everything falls into place – first family, then economy, then government and religion. Characters are shaped by the world, and if you work backwards, the world falls into place around them.
– Robin: “There is no wrong way to write.”
– Hal also starts with the characters, but he is really hard to understand. (OK, I’m sitting here laughing at my notes right now. This is actually what I wrote down during the panel.)
– Ellen: starts in character’s head, she only sees what the characters see; writing with a partner made her explore other parts of the world.
– Ellen: “It’s all smoke and mirrors” – “What are you just faking, and what are you a geek about?”
– Hal: language geek
– Robin: biology/biology and magic – dragons (there was something about red and white roses that I didn’t quite hear? Something about white roses turning red when planted close to red ones, maybe? Which is somehow related to dragons and Elderlings.)
– Adrian: science geek, no real smoke and mirrors
– Pat: languages – having lots of them is inconvenient, so he wanted to have something like the Roman Empire, but only if the Romans did it right and really squashed all the other languages and cultures.
– Hal: something about terraforming Mars: science – “I can’t be arsed.”
– Pat: there is a spectrum of worldbuilding. At the one end, you have the “set builders”, like Hollywood, where you only create what will actually be seen, and on the other hand, the model train set builders, who create everything down to the last tiny detail, all the things that no-one sees – “the deep rabbit hole of my madness.”
– Pat’s “smoke and mirrors”: languages. He keeps them minimal so he can’t be caught out.
– Pat: “I don’t care about clothes, so I don’t talk about what people wear. You guys can fill that in.” Adrian: “They are all naked.”
– Ellen: Just drop little details and people fill in their own images. She has been praised by readers for how well she describes her characters clothes, but she never actually does – she just puts in little hints and the readers imagine the rest.
– How does the culture you grew up in influence your worldbuilding?
– Pat: “you absorb language and culture.” The danger is, you bring in implicit understanding (like that land can be owned) and it all gets samey.
– Pat: vulgarity shows lots about a culture, because it shows what is taboo. When he taught, he had “favourite curseword day” – most of them are pejorative towards women and/or sex.
– Pat: his first high-school novel didn’t have a single woman in it, because he grew up reading Tolkien (not a single female character in The Hobbit)
– Adrian: we don’t have to be chained to history, or what we are taught about history (on the subject of having women in books)
– Robin: What trips you up is not what you don’t know, but what you don’t know you don’t know.
– Robin: the moment you name a character, people expect to see them again.
– Robin: details are clues to what’s important
– Robin: characters pay attention to what’s extraordinary. Don’t overexplain what’s ordinary
– Adrian: in his book, magic was there from the start, but it’s unusual even to the characters.
– Pat: I don’t go into details about currency – that is just for me. Writing the book is my job. “[Kvothe] doesn’t get a room full of money, even though he is an orphan.”
– Robin: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Arthur C. Clarke) – and any reliable magic becomes science.
– Robin: magic is like a spice in a cake (don’t use too much of it)
– Adrian: magic is inpredictable
– Pat: there are two kinds of magic: poetic magic, like in The Lord of the Rings, which has implicit rules, and scientific magic
– On idioms and proverbs:
– Robin: they have to be specific to the world
– You have to be careful not to let things like sports idioms creep in
– Pat: “rubbery” sneaked in, but could he use that word in a world where there is no rubber? So he decided, “they actually have vulcanised rubber in my world.”
– Hal: Scottish words are “strange and wonderful”
– Adrian: he has gunlike weapons, but they don’t “fire” them
– Pat: don’t use words that are going to throw people out of the story. Like “comrade” which sounds too Russian
– Hal: or calling a character “Mozart the barbarian”
– Pat: can I use the word “poultry”? Because there was no Norman invasion, there was no French, oh my god you have to draw the line somewhere

I took more notes during this panel than during any other one – I almost feel like I took as many notes during it as during all other panels put together – and now that I look at them and type them up, they feel like little more than random, disjointed fragments and I wish I could have written even more. Or gotten a video, but I was saving my memory card for Tad’s panels.

Robin Hobb kaffeeklatsch

My notes for this one feel even more disjointed and random. Which I guess was partly due to the nature of the event (with about twenty people sitting around a table and asking questions the conversation is bound to meander all over the place) and partly to my own nervousness, which probably impacted my note-writing abilities (because oh my god I’m in a room with Robin Hobb and I should probably say something, too! I’m pretty sure I felt this way before meeting Tad, too, but it’s hard to remember now. And you would have thought that knowing Tad would have taught me that authors are just people too and not scary at all, but no.)

(And Vanessa, I’m sorry I didn’t get to ask the question you suggested, it was really hard to make myself speak at all.)

Anyway, so here goes – I’ll just type up the notes I have, and not worry too much about whether they make sense.

– Robin’s editor also reread the Fitz books to catch all details. (If you haven’t heard, there’s going to be another Fitz trilogy.) It’s hard to get the voice right.
– When she was working on the Liveship Traders trilogy, her editor once told her, “you do realize you have a dead man rowing the boat”
– The new Fitz books will be set after the Rain Wild Chronicles
– While writing, Robin lets the story rest when the characters rest, and goes away to do something else before starting the next scene.
– “I don’t need it fast, I need it right.” (Which was apparently said by George R.R. Martin? If my school notes had made as little sense, I would never have passed a single exam.)
– Robin has a timeline on paper (which I think she said was the most important part of her notes. But I might be making that up.)
– She is “terrible” at maps.
– But the maps are based on second-hand accounts of travellers – how accurate are those?
– She knows the arcs of all characters’s stories, but not all of them may be worth telling. (This was probably the point when I should have asked Vanessa’s question – what keeps her coming back to Fitz? But I was sitting there and could not make myself open my mouth. Being shy sucks. But I suppose she just knew there was more to Fitz’s story, waiting to be told.
– Exchange of DNA by proximity. Which she talked about on the worldbuilding panel, something about white roses turning red when planted close to red ones, and this is what happens with dragons/humans/Elderlings. I should probably look into this, especially since my customers are always talking about sweet peppers turning hot when being planted too close to hot ones, which I didn’t think was possible. Hm. So far my googling has been unsuccessful.
– Biology is what is most likely to throw her out of a story. (I think this was the point at which ylvs leaned over to me and whispered, “Apples in Maia” – a reference to a discussion on the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn group reread on the Tad Williams message board, where I pointed out that a character was finding apples too early in the year.)
– Robin’s spirit animal used to be a frog, but now it’s a wolf.
– Soldier Son trilogy: a mix of American frontier and the British in India; mingling of cultures
– Liveship Traders: Robin’s husband has a lot of stuff about sailing, like old charts and logbooks
– Research is important, especially the sensory details
– The Farseer Trilogy was originally called “Chivalry’s Bastard”, but she was told, “you can’t have ‘bastard’ in a book title.
– If everyone could do magic, it would not be magic any more. If everyone could look into their cup and scry out the next hour, we would be doing that instead of checking our cellphones.
– First person is the natural voice for storytelling, because it is what we use to tell stories about our own experiences; it gives a feeling of immediacy
Piebald Prince: the difficulty was finding the right narrator. (Damn it, another book I need to buy!)
– You have to let go of all your own perceptions/prejudices and see the world as the character you’re writing sees it.
– “Which character would you like to have a cup of coffee with?” – Lady Patience
– “Which character would make you walk out of the room immediately?” – Queen Desire
– Ylvs’ question (based on a question that Tad was asked in Stuttgart, and his response to it): “Do you ever write yourself into corners, and do you enjoy it?” Yes, Robin does that often. She knows the beginning and end, but not the exact order of events, so sometimes she realizes that something isn’t going to work So sometimes she has to take out 50 pages and start over, maybe she can salvage some of the dialogue.
– “Edit as you go vs. finish first draft and then revise?” – “edit as you go”. Sometimes she gets writer’s block and has to go back and fix something in an earlier part and then it flows better. She also has a “go back file” with notes for earlier chapters.
– If you get someone to edit – get someone who doesn’t know you, who doesn’t know what you’re talking about. I think (I didn’t write this part down) she used an example that was something like this: if you tell someone who knows you well, “I went to the store”, they will know exactly what store you are talking about. But if you talk to a stranger, you will have to specify, “I went to the grocery store on so-and-so street, which has particularly delicious whatevers” – readers come to the book not knowing the same things as the writer does, so you have to make sure you put all the information in there.
– At some point Robin was talking about the French translations of her books, which are apparently rather good, and about how translators have to take certain liberties with the text, like the French one turning several short sentences into one longer one, because this way it sounds more natural in French. I made myself jump in at this point (heart racing, but I managed to make myself talk, yay.) with a comment on how German doesn’t have a word to adequately translate the Wit, and about the mess they made of translating the characters’ names in the Farseer trilogy. The link has the full rant, I managed to not recite all of it at the kaffeeklatsch (I may be shy, but when I’m annoyed about something I tend to forget that.)

Elvish Has Left the Building (on the future of traditional fantasy)
(Joe Abercrombie, Trudi Canavan, Scott Lynch, Stan Nicholls (mod.), Adrian Stone, Tad Williams)

I have a video of this (because it has Tad in it, and after posting the videos of the question & answer session in Stuttgart this summer, I was sort of expected to do that again) but I still have to chop it up into youtube-sized chunks and I don’t have time for that right now. I can already tell you that it might be hard to watch/listen to, because the panelists are rather quiet compared to the audience’s laughter.



Californian Sorcery
(Peter Atkins (mod.), Nancy Holder, Richard Christian Matheson, Terence McVicker, William F. Nolan, Tad Williams)

We only went there because Tad was on the panel – was supposed to be on the panel, but was sabotaged by a combination his phone and the end of American daylight saving time and only showed up for the last few minutes. I have a video of part of it, because I decided to start filming anyway, in the hope that Tad would show up, but then the camera batteries ran out and I didn’t bother changing them and start filming again.

And honestly? With Tad not there, it was a bunch of people I didn’t know talking about more writers I didn’t know, 1950-60s writers from the Los Angeles area. And I don’t know if I have the patience to even watch/listen to the video.

The only note I have is a line from Tad, when he had finally turned up and explained why he was late: “We are the state that people go to when they’re done with being somewhere else. You can’t go any further, we end at the ocean.”

Since Tad didn’t fit in with the group of writers being discussed (Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Rod Serling, William F. Nolan, George Clayton Johnson, Robert Bloch, Ray Russell, Jerry Sohl and Harlan Ellison, according to the programme… Ray Bradbury is the only one I sort of know) – Tad may be from California, but not the right part of it, and also certainly wasn’t an author in the 50s and 60s – we asked him later, over lunch, what he would have talked about if he had made it to the panel on time.

I don’t remember the exact details of the story he told us – I think it happened at a con, but when or where, I don’t know. It was in a building that wasn’t quite finished yet, so some of the railings had dangerous gaps in them.

Tad was up on one of the higher floors, where a couple of people were playing ball or something (or just tossing around some random object), and not noticing that they were forcing a man ever closer to one of those gaps in the railing – a man who Tad recognized as Ray Bradbury.

Tad told it a lot more dramatically than I can, but he was the only one who realized what was happening/was close enough to act, so he pushed through the crowd, grabbed Ray Bradbury and pulled him to safety. As Bradbury was led away by his assistant, people were turning on Tad for rudely pushing them aside, and he told them, “You do realize that you almost killed Ray Bradbury?”

… and they just said, “Who?”


All in all, I may not remember as much as I wish I did, but I had a brilliant time, and going through all these notes again has been both interesting and fun, and if I felt uncertain about spending this much money on the trip… between this and spending time with my friends, it was definitely worth it. Plus, so far I’ve written over 14,000 words about it (not just here on the blog) that I’m counting towards my NaNoWriMo wordcount.

I’ve decided to go ahead and buy my membership for next year. I’ll figure out the details of going to Washington, D.C. (and do the inevitable terrified hiding-between-the-couch-cushions) after NaNo is over.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2013 14:02

    That sounds so awesome! The worldbuilding panel is my favorite too, after that comes the kaffeeklatsch. Don’t worry, my questions weren’t that important, you had lots of other interesting things in there.

    Also, now I want to read the other trilogies by Robin Hobb, although originally I wasn’t really drawn to them. We’ll just blame the German translation. (Still reading the third Farseer book and noticing things. Damn word repetitions!)

    • November 18, 2013 18:48

      They’re definitely more worth reading in English.
      I bought the first trilogy in German for my best friend, and I was so tempted to go through them with a pen and scribble in corrections, especially for the names.
      I must stop thinking about those names, they make me want to beat my head against the wall – or better yet, the translator’s head.

      • November 18, 2013 21:52

        Haha, so true. I just hate if words are repeated in the same sentence, but I already caught a few of those in the third book.

        Btw, I think Dailymotion lets you upload longer videos. I know a friend uploaded her 20min report of a book signing with Neil Gaiman there. 😉

        • November 18, 2013 23:13

          I’m afraid I won’t be able to post much of the video anyway – after te first few minutes, the sound is absolute crap. I really hate my camera right now.

  2. November 18, 2013 21:35

    The English language is really impossible when it comes to spelling, especially names, even when you’re a native speaker.

    Thanks for all those notes on the world building panel, that one would have been my favorite too. I’m always interested to hear from successful authors about how they do what they do. I’m on the extremely amateur end of the writing spectrum, and tips on writing and storytelling are always useful.

    I will patiently await your video. Take your time, and thanks again for the report!

    • November 18, 2013 21:46

      The video… *sigh* It turned out that the sound on most of it is utter crap. I may be able to post the first few minutes, and type up a bit of what was said a bit later, but most of it is an unintelligible nightmare. And of course my friends didn’t take notes because they all relied on my video.
      I’m feeling pretty depressed about that.

      But oh well. At least I have lots of other notes, and the Ray Bradbury story.

      • November 21, 2013 18:31

        Awww, that’s unfortunate. Technology isn’t always as cooperative as we’d like it to be. I loved your notes, and the Ray Bradbury story. Thanks for taking the time to blog about it all. 🙂

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