What? It's Thursday already? There was a convention this past weekend? Who knew?
4 Pi Con is one of my favorite conventions. It's a small, local convention that takes place every year in Western Massachusetts and offers a great deal of programming for the small total headcount. Pi Con is about geekery -- part geek lifestyle convention, part science fiction, fantasy, horror, and gaming convention. Whatever Pi Con is, it caters to people like me, who hit every overlapping demographic in the geek Venn diagram.
Instead of a lengthy description of the con, I'll just say, "Go." You'll see geeks of all stripes and denominations, cosplay people, LARP people, board game people, sweaty, stinky people playing way too much Rock Band, Joss Whedon worship, polyamorists, belly dancers, and techno-nerds. It's one of the only conventions around where you'll have to decide between watching a BDSM demonstration or a live-actor Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight. This year, they did Repo! the genetic opera.
I took notes during some of the panels. Here they are.
August 21, 6 pm: Question Gender
Recommended reading list: The Left Hand of Darkness (Le Guin), Middlesex (Eugenides), Orlando (Woolf), the Lois McMaster Bujold "Miles Vorkosigan" series, Stone Butch Blues (Feinberg), Transgender Warriors (Feinberg), Body Alchemy (Cameron), Self Made Man (Vincent), She's Not There (Boylan), Trans-sister Radio (Bojalian), The Sand Child (Tahar Ben Jelloun and Alan Sheridan), Dress Codes: Of Three Girlhoods (Howey), S/he (Pratt), The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (Erdrich). And we all agreed that following the bouncing ball using Amazon.com's "if you liked this book, you'll also like ..." is a good way to find more books on topic.
August 21, 9 pm: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (a reading of the work)
We read parts of the book aloud (mostly the bits with the pictures). There were bad accents. Pantomime. Nerf props. Enthusiasm and vigor, and lots of laughter from the studio audence. Hopefully, we'll do it again next year.
August 22, 4 pm: Gender in SF/F/H
You'd have thought I would have taken notes on this panel. Sorry. I'll do better next time.
August 22, 8 pm: Tech Tools for Writers
We talked about YWriter, Scrivener, Writer's Cafe, Storybook, Dramatica's Writer's Dreamkit, Plotbuilder, Storyview, Letex, and Page 4. There was large-scale geekery and excitement. We talked about notecards, random Wikipedia hits, the speed-loader for a revolver, cats, and migraines. The cool Ubuntu guy was there. I hope he says hello in my comment thread. Hi, cool Ubuntu guy. Next year, if you hated Mary Doria Russell's book, The Sparrow, I really WILL buy it back from you. If you'll read it to me while I eat Oreo cookies. Like your typical American girl, I find UK accents (any UK accent) really sexy.
August 23, 10 am: Reading (with Yvonne Carts-Powell)
Yvonne read from her really cool book The Science of Heroes. It's a nicely written pop science book that relies on the television series Heroes for its premise. During the reading, I said, "Wow," several times, because the book is THAT cool. I read the first half of "Black Annis," from the Stoker Award Winning anthology Unspeakable Horror. People seemed to like it. It may just have been my enthusiasm and vigor, though.
August 23, 12 pm: Genre Bending in Fiction
Mary Doria Russell was on this panel, so I spent the whole time paying close attention instead of taking notes, and not only to make up for not noticing that she checked me into the convention. I was so worried about getting my badge and my schedule, that I didn't even see her sitting there. When she autographed my copy of the The Sparrow, she wrote, "I forgive you for not noticing me at registration. Sniff."
August 23, 2 pm: 10 Ways to Polish Your Writing
This was probably the most fun I had at the whole convention. Together, we thought up 10 ways to (get this) polish your writing! Surprise! We stayed on topic. Here are the 10 things we came up with:
1) Have someone proofread your manuscript. You can do it yourself a million times and still not notice an embarrassing mistake.
2) Read books about technique. Some proposed works: 20 Problems of the Fiction Writer (Gallishaw), Character and Viewpoint (Card), and some books by Pat Cadigan. I would add Writing Fiction (Burroway), and Writing the Novel (Block). It doesn't matter what or who you read. Just read, find the common threads, practice the techniques and then figure out for yourself what's the best way to write.
3) Use proper manuscript formatting. Read the submission guidelines and adhere to them or don't bother submitting.
4) Learn how to get your point across with grace and subtlety, not with a hammer.
5) Be aware that story structure is an important element in writing everything from poems, to short stories, to novels. It's as important as characterization, mastery of the language, world-building, or plot crafting.
6) Learn from critiquing other people's work. Learn how to use other people's critiques of your own work. Develop a thick skin and seek out readers who will be ferocious with your work, but not cruel. Life's too short to put up with assholes.
7) Learn mastery of the language. Learn how to make the language do exactly what you want it to do. Understand where you are on the language learning curve: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, unconscious competence, conscious competence. Strive to improve.
8) Tell the right story. If your story lacks fire, or meanders, or has other problems, it may be that you're not telling the right story. Consider that your story might be improved if you ask yourself, "Is this the most significant moment in this character's life? If it isn't, why aren't I writing about that?"
9) Push your boundaries. To give your writing an edge, you may need to write about something that makes you uncomfortable, and thus has special meaning to you. Learn to write complex villains, even though it means you'll necessarily have to get into their heads to do so. Take risks.
10) Let your conscience be your guide. Ask yourself what effect you intend to have on the reader, and ask yourself, "How would one act if one believed what my story says?" Read Berthold Brecht's "The Doubter."
That said, it's time to make plans for Arisia.
P.S. A special nod to old friends and new: my dear Scott and Nicole (who bravely schlepped the two rambunctious kids out for the weekend, Jim Cambias (who read his short story "Murder in Messidor" from the collection, "Of Dice and Pen", Jennifer Williams (the Pi Con Goddess), Trish Wooldridge (www.anovelfriend.com), Morven Westfield, Yvonne Carts-Powell, Aradia from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst University Store, the cool Ubuntu guy (call me!), a really nice carpenter playwright guy named Tim, and his son Eli (really great anime hair and my favorite brand of vamp teeth). Eli's friend gets a nod for dressing like a bright blue bunny rabbit, with bright blue body paint, and bunny ears, and a long, pokemon-like tail. That's the spirit.