Well, JordanCon was certainly a fun time. I definitely recommend attending a con to other budding speculative fiction writers – if for no other reason than the fact that you will enjoy yourself!
Before I go into detail about what I learned about writing during this convention, I wanted to do a short recap of what I did – complete with pictures! (Alas, I am in none of the pictures, as I always faced my camera away from myself, not thinking that it would be good to be in them.)
The hotel where JordanCon was held this year was pretty swanky. As evidence of my assertion I offer a picture of the hotel lobby. I’ve been in a few very nice hotels before. None of them have had a jungle in their lobbies. This is my new measure of what it means to be a swanky hotel. Obviously, it impressed me enough to warrant taking a picture, and I offer this in lieu of a “view from the hotel room”.
My first stop on Friday was a signing with author Brandon Sanderson and editor Harriet McDougal. Brandon Sanderson, as most by now know, is the author chosen to finish highly popular “The Wheel of Time” series that was begun by Robert Jordan but left unfinished by his untimely passing. Harriet was his editor at Tor Books, and his wife. Brandon has done a fantastic job with the final volumes in Jordan’s books. And of course, in part thanks to this assignment and in part thanks to his own talents and skills, Brandon has become one of the Big Names in the field of fantasy fiction – especially Epic Fantasy, of course.
For myself, I took only one book to the signing – a hardcover copy of Brandon’s newest venture, The Way of Kings, the first in his own new series. It’s a gorgeous book, and I expect many delights in reading it (though it must regrettably come after some other books that are already in my reading queue). I started my “learning things” right away when asked by one of the attendants whether I wanted my copy personalized. I choked. Personalized? What message would I, should I, ask the author to print in my book? I jotted down some preposterous line. I am eternally ashamed of that. In the future, my personalization requests will be simple: “To Stephen”. Anything else would be ostentatious. (More importantly, asking for anything else would be embarrassing.) This is in direct contrast to the novel Dear Wife got personalized for me (also by Sanderson) – in that case the personalization makes sense, because I know the message is from my wife. But a message essentially from myself to myself only with another person’s signature makes little sense at all.
From there, I snuck into the “Writing for a Younger Audience” panel – a little late but still eager to get my learning on – with authors Eugie Foster and Jana Oliver – both Atlanta area authors publishing the speculative fiction genres. I was sorry to miss part of this panel. I stayed through the remainder of the day’s writing track panels, and Eugie and Jana stayed and added author David B. Coe for a panel on the state of “The Industry”.
After “The Industry” I made sure to go up and introduce myself to David Coe. David is one of the bloggers contributing to “Magical Words“, a blog on writing fantasy that I often read and sometimes comment on. It was very gratifying when he recognized my name and associated it with a few of the comments I’d made there (as well as with a positive opinion of those comments).
And that was the end of Friday.
Saturday started early with the Peer Review session – to which I did bring a copy of “PFTETD”. Attending the Peer Review turned out to be a boon in disguise – because those of us who were there early enough were able to get prime seating for one of the top events of the day, the “Fantasy Writing” crash course with Brandon Sanderson. This wasn’t really a panel discussion – it was Brandon talking about whatever he wanted to discuss. Each year for the past three years his talks have been posted to YouTube – so I expect this year to be the same. I’m likely to appear at least peripherally in some of those videos for 2011. Then it was time for lunch – I went to lunch with a Canadian Wheel of Time fan named Leslie (who sat down next to me for Brandon’s talk and said “Hi, you’re my friend now”; it was the allure of the front-row seating, of course) and a married couple the husband of which I also met during Brandon’s talk (and whose names my name-forgetting brain have already forgotten because I suck and forget names).
I barely made it back in time for a signing by David Coe with a hardcover of his first novel, The Children of Amarid. I stuck to my newly-minted rule for signing personalizations (i.e. just “To Stephen” and no requests for fancy messages) – and got a genuinely personal signing just the same (after Coe jested that the book would be worth more on Ebay if it wasn’t personalized – to which I replied it would be worth more to my kids and grandkids if it was). I’m getting pretty proud of my small but growing collection of signed novels. I also decided that I’d like to add How to Write Magical Words to my list of “books about writing” that I’d like to own – this one is by the group of authors who contribute to the Magical Words blog. The blog has been very informative, and I expect the book will be valuable as well.
Then I slipped in to catch the tale-end of “Keeping a Long Series Fresh” with Jana Oliver – a topic of potential interest if I ever amass enough skill in writing to make another attempt at “Project SOA” (almost all my other novel-length ideas are, presently, stand-alone ideas, rather than trilogies or series). Next was “Business Realities for the Aspiring Writer” with David Coe – where our collective bubbles about making it big were burst. The last panel was followed by dinner, and then the “Darkfriend Ice Cream Social” – an ice cream and costume party. The costumes at the party were amazing – many of the characters instantly recognizable from the Wheel of Time series, even many of the minor ones. There were devious villains, legendary heroes, memorable side-characters, and generic inhabitants of the world of “The Wheel of Time” – and there was even someone dressed as the original series author Robert Jordan himself (in the person of con Toastmaster Richard Fife, I am told).
As much fun as it was, large parties aren’t really my scene, so I called it a Saturday and retired early.
Sunday began early again – this time with “Crafting the Perfect Villain” with David Coe and Eugie Foster. This very useful panel was followed by a panel on “Rewriting History” with David Coe and Jana Oliver. This was probably the panel I was least interested in attending, overall – because I don’t often write alternate history stories. But then I realized that my story “PFTETD” is a “present-day real world plus fantastical element” story, which can in theory involve an alternate history (assuming that fantastical element has been present throughout history, which in the case of “PFTETD” it was), and I remembered one of the early and most frequent criticisms of “PFTETD” involved the desire of my first readers to see more of the world – which would have meant a more detailed alternate history.
JordanCon concluded with another marquee event – at least, it was a marquee event for those of us in the writerly class – “JordanCon’s Got Talent”: an “American Idol”-esque opportunity to offer up our 30-second novel pitches to the critique of real writers and editors. The panelists: Harriet McDougal, Brandon Sanderson, and David B. Coe. (David B. Coe was “Simon”, which he demonstrated with a sneering critique of Sanderson’s introduction of the panel. “You call that an introduction? I’ve seen better introductions by ring-tailed lemurs introducing diseases to the general population.” Coe’s real critiques of the participants were much tamer, of course.) Brandon and David, of course, are authors. Harriet, meanwhile, was once the primary editor at Tor Books – as well as being the editor for the Wheel of Time series. But, we were assured, Harriet was no longer an acquiring editor, so our crappy and unrehearsed (or perhaps overly-rehearsed) pitches during this panel would in no way impact our chances at a future in publishing.
The purpose of this last panel – added to the con schedule at Brandon’s suggestion – was to give us as-yet unpublished writers an opportunity Brandon didn’t have: to practice our novel pitches and have a safe-zone to get a critique from professionals in the industry. This way, we can flub it and stumble over ourselves safely – and learn what works and what doesn’t – instead of screwing up in front of a real acquiring editor or agent if we ever get that chance. Of course, I presented my novel pitch – this one for the project I’ll be starting on this summer, “The Book of M”.
Next time I’ll share more about what I actually learned at JordanCon, sitting at the feet of masters…
For pics from another perspective, hit the aforementioned Leslie’s flickr set.