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[Today a Month Ago] An Intense Day

December 7, 2014

There isn’t much in my journal to help me remember 90% of the day, and a lot about two conversations we had. But looking at the program and my notes, oh yes, I remember how intense that day was. We went to the first panel at 10 AM (and again, I hadn’t been able to eat a lot of breakfast) and then there was one interesting thing after another and never enough time to get any food.

So be prepared. It’s a long post. No, it’s not all notes from panels, although it looks like it for about half of  the post. There are some actual whole sentences, too.

Languages and Linguistics in Fantasy

Lawrence M. Schoen (moderator), C.D. Covington, Matthew Johnson, Sofia Samatar

What does the writer gain?

Sofia: creating atmosphere
immersing yourself more fully in the world – how do people talk, by not assuming they think in English

C.D.: culture can shape language

Matthew: makes it easier to come up with consistent names, place names
having a system helps
this guy seems like a Peter → Peter means rock → what’s rock in that language?
language as an obstacle
→ also dialects, accents; gender, age influence how people talk

Lawrence: new metaphors/clichés, setting the tone

Matthew: differences between different cultures
→ different-sounding names

Sofia: different phonologies, not being able to pronounce names

Matthew: iceberg effect:
only showing the top part, the illusion that you have created everything
don’t spell out all the connections

What’s in it for the reader?

C.D. can be fun, but also frustrating
like having random sentences in French
(real languages can be just as frustrating as made-up ones when you don’t speak them)

Embassytown (book)

Sofia: “language is the closest thing to smell”
to create the feel of a place

Matthew: similar sounds to your native language are going to sound familiar and friendly
learning vocabulary stimulates the same brain areas as sex, drugs, gambling, good food

people who read genre read differently
→ learn to deal with unfamiliar words

How much of a language needs to be in the book? When?

C.D.: depends on what you want to do
if you just want atmosphere, you just need a consistent phonology
words that don’t exist in English (that mean things you can’t express with a single English word)

Matthew: how does it affect the story?
if everyone speaks the same language, you don’t really need it, beyond names

Sofia: if you have a consistent phonology, other people can create the language
→ Dothraki: was expanded for the HBO series, the guy who did it runs a Dothraki haiku competition on his blog every year. One guy from Finland has won it for the last three years.

if you study another language, you gain insight into your own language

study Comanche, because you need a dual case!

language as a character – as a sidekick

language that has agency

Matthew: real-world languages have agency
→ culture, politics
he is Canadian → French in Canada
renaming places, people (Ireland, America)

Sofia: Dothraki language → lots of stereotypes
→ everything is about swords or horses

Matthew: overconsistency
real-world languages aren’t that consistent, they have loanwords

Lawrence: real-world languages change
in fictional languages, there’s resistance to change

“New Anus Road” in LA

I want my alien speech impediments, the Martian “um”s

stereotypes about “friendly” and “unfriendly languages”
→ certain sounds

slangs: steal from other languages, or look at what’s important in the culture/group
→ create group identity, “secret code”

“Everybody Was There” – Diversity in Fantasy

Sarah Pinsker (moderator), Mary Anne Mohanraj, Kit Reed, S.M. Stirling, K. Ceres Wright

Conan killed people from every possible background

“Tolkien had a better sense of geography than Howard and realised how big the world is.”

people of colour as background characters

Enterprise → “one of everything”, stereotypes
→ Uhura
→ Martin Luther King Jr. called the actor and asked her not to quit
→ Whoopi Goldberg: “Mom, there’s a black woman on tv and she isn’t a maid”

fist level is just: put some of them on the page/screen
then you can/have to work on characterisation

writing fanfiction helps

your culture is like water to a fish, you don’t see it, you assume it’s the same everywhere

Benjamin Franklin: “German weren’t white people” (nor Swedes) → “crowding out the white people”

race is a social category

if you walked to Korea, you’d not find a dividing point between Europe and Asia
→ but it’s different if you get on a ship and just go to the end, there’s a big difference

being able to distinguish the Other from your own people is a biological drive

fantasy → pseudohistorical, scarcity
science fiction → future, wealth

prehistory/tribal society:
30% male and 15% female deaths from violence
→ xenophobia

race, nationality etc are myths
they exist because we think they do

damned if you do, damned if you don’t – erasure vs. cultural appropriation
just try, fail better

access to western publishing industry
→ in other countries, publication is not that easy, financially, politically

culture is a performance act
what you do, not what you are

Adoption and Fostering in Fantasy

Susan Dexter (moderator), Tina Connolly, Delia Sherman, Edward Willett


Edward Willett, Susan Dexter, Delia Sherman, Tina Connolly (embarrassingly blurry picture, which is not the camera’s fault, but my own. I think I had the flash off, because I find camera flashes distracting and annoying even as an audience member, and I don’t want to distract or annoy other people.)

low self-esteem/not feeling wanted – compensation, over-compensation
→ in modern stories, not historical ones

also lots of fairy tales:
reasons to leave home, ejected, sent to find their fortune (but usually only male characters, girls run after husbands)
humility, the willingness to be helped, kindness
→ there was no self-esteem, only good and bad behaviour

low self-esteem vs. “my parents are so ordinary, how can they be my real family?”

Tina: the only geek in the family – changeling experience

Susan: you want the outsider for your point-of-view character

Tina: Diana Wynne Jones
Delia: Mowgli → strong feeling of family with wolves → people who can’t possibly be your real family
Susan: some werewolf thing
Edward: Taran

Delia: adolescence is difficult, so you give kids to other people (historically – fostering, pages, apprenticeships)
→ later leads to boarding school

in higher classes, most kids were raised by other people

Susan: “why do only kings have bastards?”

Delia: it’s “cooler” to write about kings/queens

Patricia McKillip
“What is the crown doing under your bed?”
(okay, this is in my notes, but I have absolutely no idea what it means.)

Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire – fostering as hostages (Theon Greyjoy)

orphans: complex emotion to start with
→ how did it happen?

Edward: You have to get the parents out of the way so the adventure can start
(says his daughter)
→ the only way kids can be free agents

searching for lost parents

“your dad was a god” – living up to that

groups of kids without parents
→ exploring how societies work

runaways → orphaning themselves

does finding out where you came from make you happy?

finding out you’re going to be king, that’s when it gets complicated

feral children
→ Mowgli, Romulus and Remus
→ making up stories to reassure yourself tht exposing children is OK
also real-world reports about feral children
baby in LA saved by a street dog

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (book)

Tina: thGare amazing orphan coming into the regular world vs. normal kid going to the amazing family

coping skills for dealing with exceptional children

“blood will out” – villains
→ Voldemort, Theon Greyjoy, Heathcliff
Victorian trope
→ they were very fond of the plucky orphan

societal change, adoption becoming more normal and open
→ how does that change fiction?

happy well-adjusted characters don’t make good point-of-view characters

The Reading that Never Was

Guy Gavriel Kay


I didn’t take any notes during this. I’d only read about a hundred pages of Under Heaven by then, which is my first book by GGK, so I wasn’t very familiar with him yet. I kind of remember the story he told, about how, 30 years ago, as a newly published writer, he had a reading at that year’s World Fantasy Convention. And nobody showed up. There were two people in the room when he arrived, but they were playing cards and were quite annoyed to be interrupted with a reading. Later he found out that Stephen King had a reading at the same time, so that was where everyone else was.

And there was also a story about how there were only five copies of The Summer Tree at the time, but I forgot why. The printers being on strike or something? (I might be making that up.) I think it was a funny story, so it’s a pity I don’t remember. What I do remember is that a lot of people who were involved with it were present as well, and GGK asked them all to stand up, and they spent some time figuring out who these original five copies had gone to.

And then, 30 years later, he finally got to read from The Summer Tree.

(I do have a little problem with his voice, though. It is a very nice voice, but I also found it kind of monotonous. That, on top of being kind of tired after three back-to-back panels meant I found myself zoning out quite often, and heard very little of what he actually read.)

Ecology in Worldbuilding

James Morrow (moderator), Julie Czerneda, Rachel Neumeier, Geoff Hart


Geoff Hart, James Morrow, Rachel Neumeier, Julie Czerneda

everything interacts, how can you have anything without ecology?

“I love to have a lot of slime going on” – Julie

ecology gets more attention in SF
→ Rachel: Fantasy relies more on mysticism

McKillip, Riddle-Master (I think. I didn’t hear the title properly.)

Julie: you need ecology to make it read well

fantasy worlds are much like ours, so we can’t get away with things (horses running for days)

everything interacts, you have to understand it somewhat
whether your rules are science or magic, you need to understand your rules

GRRM: nobody is farming because of all the wars, where’s that going?
seven-year winter? How’s that going to work? (binary star system is a theory)

what would happen if all humans were gone?
→ tv series (of which, I think, nobody remembered the title. I certainly don’t have it.)

wolves in Yellowstone → youtube

Fantasy is a natural human activity
– Tolkien
(if my notes say, “google the rest”, then I’d better google)

scientific magic vs. fairytale magic

Julie: don’t make magic too scientific, I want something different from the everyday

Elizabeth Bear – alternate Tibet

why does nobody ask, “how does this work?”
(how does magic work?)

“It would be interesting to have a world in which belie trumps science, and science is the disrespectful thing”

“Another drink?” Descartes says, “I think not,” and disappears

what fibers are used? Where do they come from?

how does ecology affect language? Words to reflect the environment

James: “So unlike the Eskimos, we have one word for fantasy. But maybe that is because fantasy isn’t a form of precipitation.”

“Go outside, experience the weather”
“observe consequences” – change one thing, see what happens

Naomi Novik – dragon ecology makes no sense – “but who cares? There’s dragons!”
People who want scientifically sound dragons should look for different books

people don’t question “how things work” if that’s how it’s always been.

After this panel, I  decided to pass up the interview with Guy Gavriel Kay. We’d already been to his reading, we were going to a kaffeeklatsch, I barely knew his books, and most of all: I was starving, five hours after a rather small breakfast.

So I went back to my hotel room for a bit, where leftovers from dinner were waiting for me, to eat and rest and look out the window.

view from the Marriott

Looking from one hotel, between other hotels, to the con hotel.

Before this holiday, it had been a long, long time since I was as high up as the 11th floor. Possibly ten years. There aren’t a lot of high buildings around here. And I’m still laughing about the fact that the hotel really didn’t have a 13th floor. I’d read about that, but hadn’t expected it to be real.

Fed and rested, I returned to the con in time for our art show tour with Michael Whelan. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about or looking at art, so it was nice to actually take the time to look at the many amazing pieces that were displayed in the art show, and have a knowledgeable person talk about them. We ended up staying much longer than planned, until we were kicked out because they were locking the room up for the night.

Ylvs, Cyan, Firsfron and I are all Tad Williams fans (Tad, I’m sure, would say, “you’re not fans, you’re friends.”), and for me at least, the cover art for Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is mostly how I’m familiar with the name Michael Whelan.


Did I ever tell you that when “The Last King of Osten Ard” was announced, some asshole stole my picture for his post about it? A quick snapshot like this isn’t worth getting upset about, but still, what an asshole.

These days, he doesn’t do much cover art any more, and he also talked about why that is. In the past, he got to read the whole book before starting to paint, so could actually paint scenes from the books. But now, the cover art needs to be finished much earlier, to be used in online marketing, so often he only gets to read parts of the books. And then there’s always the chance that the scenes he got to read end up being cut from the finished book.

After we had to leave the art show, we found him a table so he could sign some stuff for us, and talked a bit more.

Michael Whelan signing


Ylva is in heaven – Memory, Sorrow and Thorn in hardcover, courtesy of Firsfron, and getting them signed just days after receiving them.


My book really can’t compete with Ylvs’…


… but it has a shiny signature anyway.

That evening, we took advantage of having hotel rooms with a kitchen, and invited Marian over for dinner. And since Tad, who brought us together, couldn’t be there with us, we called him on the phone. Ah, I feel so sorry for all the people who are fans of anyone else, because they’ll probably never have this.

After dinner, we returned to the con hotel once more for the Mass Signing. I hadn’t brought many books, and one of them was already taken care of. Guy Gavriel Kay was nowhere to be found (because it was his 60th birthday, and he was off celebrating), and it took us a while to find Rajan so we could get Falling Sky signed. (Which I still haven’t started. Oops.)

And for our final awesome conversation of the day, we were introduced to Betsy Wollheim of DAW books – a name that’s been familiar to me for even longer than Michael Whelan’s, from Tad Williams thanking her in so many books. It was an absolutely fascinating conversation, full of interesting behind-the-scenes bits about Tad’s books, and also things about Patrick Rothfuss, that take up many pages in my journal (and I’m afraid I’ve forgotten just as much), but I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t write about them here. I don’t know how public Tad or Betsy would like these things to be, and so the decision to post them online should lie with them.

The one thing I suppose I can say is this: I’ve been saying that, for me, Pat Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle is the only thing that comes even close to being as good as Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. It might even be just as good, but I’m withholding judgement until I’ve read book three. But that has always been just my opinion, based on vague feelings more than anything – I could not tell you exactly why I think the books are so good – so it was so gratifying to hear Betsy say that she had not seen such a quality of writing since Tad.

And then there also was some gushing about The Slow Regard of Silent Things, which I really want to read again and review (I haven’t reviewed any books in so long, it’s very embarrassing.) And about Otherland. I think I should reread Otherland, too, so I can gush about it. Because it really deserves to have more people talking about it.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2014 04:11

    Ylvs looks so happy in that photo with Michael Whelan! As happy as I felt. Which was very, very happy.

    • December 8, 2014 12:56

      I think we all felt the same. I’m grinning so broadly again just thinking about it.

  2. ylvsladuchesse permalink
    December 8, 2014 08:07

    Great post and a lovely pic of Michael and me. I don’t even remember you taking it. Can you pleaseplease send it?

  3. lvdpal permalink
    December 8, 2014 19:44

    I get what your saying about Guy Gavriel Kay’s voice.

    I went to a presentation by Maurizio Manzieri at LonCon (how could I resist?) and he told us that he refused to draw if he couldn’t read the whole story.

    • December 8, 2014 20:16

      I much prefer Tad’s very animated way of speaking!

      • December 8, 2014 22:41

        It’s funny. When I first met Tad in Summer 1999, he had (just as now) a very animated voice, but it was also very high-pitched that day, perhaps the result of a cold or something. I was still expecting that voice last year in Baychester, but that wasn’t the case, and hasn’t been the case on the phone or in video recordings. As you say, Tad’s voice is very animated.

        GGK’s voice was fine, but it was no Tad Williams voice.

        • December 8, 2014 22:50

          As I said, it’s a nice voice, but difficult to pay attention to.

          I’ve met Tad once when he had almost no voice (at the end of Brighton), and apparently he told the entire plot of Otherland to the guy who made the German radioplay while also having almost no voice, so a cold doesn’t seem unlikely.


  1. [Today Yesterday a Month Ago] – Dothraki and the Dogly One | Letters & Leaves

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