Archive for August, 2011

Fragments of Worldcon

I spent the last week in Reno at the annual World Science Fiction Convention. I think.

Usually I take notes at these things, but this time I didn’t. I also can’t look back at my Twitter or email or blog to see what I said I was doing, because I barely even read any social media, never mind writing it. So I must have been busy doing something.

I didn’t make it to the art show at all. I visited the dealers’ room and the SFWA suite only briefly and just as they were closing. I only hit about three parties, and saw just a few panels that I wasn’t on. And there was not the usual endless hanging around with cool people in The Bar, because this convention didn’t have a The Bar. Between the convention center and the two hotels there were dozens of bars, but the ones that were open were noisy and smoky and the one that was comfortable, quiet, and smoke-free closed at 10pm. Despite any other snark in this post, the lack of a The Bar was the only major problem I had with the convention.

The one thing I am certain of is that I appeared on programming. A lot. I can tell this from the “program items you are on” sticker on the back of my badge, which is crammed with tiny type. I spent a lot of time looking at the back of my badge to figure out where I was going next. I did this while I was walking to the next program item.

I did a lot of walking. That part I remember. The convention center, which measured 2.68 x 10^5 Standlees from end to end, was connected to my hotel by a skybridge that was long enough to show the curvature of the Earth. But my hotel was closer than the other hotel, which was approximately ten parsecs away and was the site of the Masquerade, Hugos, writers’ workshops, and a few other important program items. We had rented a car for pre-convention travel, with the intent of returning it at the beginning of the con, but once we understood the layout of the con we called Hertz and extended the rental for the rest of our stay. Made a huge difference.

That pre-convention travel, by the way, included a visit to Virginia City with Janna Silverstein and Madeleine Robins — we had tons of fun touring an old print shop, school, and silver mine — and a trip to a famous Basque restaurant in Gardnerville, 50 miles away, with Glenn Glazer and his sweetie, where we found ourselves driving directly toward a 300-acre wildfire (which, fortunately, did not engulf the restaurant while we were there). The meal wasn’t quite worth the drive, but it was very good and we had a lovely evening of scenery and conversation.

The program items I was on were all well-attended and fun. I had a great spectrum of programming from serious panel discussions (The Necessity of Reviewers, Fans Turned Pro, Wild Cards) to solo presentations (a reading, my Mars talk, and a kaffeeklatsch) to wacky entertainments (Ask Doctor Genius, Liar’s Panel, Whose Line is it Anyway?). I also co-led a writers’ workshop section with Walter Jon Williams, which went pretty well.

I had about twenty people for my reading, where I read the first bit of my “Ned Kelly in power armor” story. I was a little nervous doing an Australian accent in front of Liz Argall but she said that, although it wandered a bit, it was quite good. There were about a hundred people at my Mars talk, which was well received as usual, though it’s been a while since I last gave it and I ran out of time before I ran out of slides. Still, I covered the most important bits.

The Liar’s Panel was probably my favorite single program item, with Jay Lake, James Patrick Kelly, Connie Willis, and me answering questions from a large, packed hall. Best moment: to a question about bad reviews, Connie replied “What’s that?” (big laugh). I said “Here’s an example: ‘You call this a book? It’s only half a book!'” (bigger laugh). Connie actually shook my hand on that one. Thanks so much to Jay for inviting me onto the panel when another panelist had to drop out.

Whose Line also rocked, where I joined Ellen Klages, Madeleine Robins, Dave Howell, and (fresh from her triumph at Just a Minute) Seanan McGuire for two hours of improv hilarity. I was afraid that no one would attend an 11pm-1am panel following the Masquerade, but more and more people filtered in as time went on and we ended with a fairly full house. My favorite bit was when I played a dragon, suffering from an inflamed flame gland, visiting Doctor Seanan. Who, by the way, was wearing candy corn underwear. Don’t ask me how I know that.

And then there was the Hugo Awards ceremony, where I was thrilled to present the Best Short Story Hugo to Mary Robinette Kowal. You can watch a video of that presentation. I got a lot of compliments afterwards on my speech and on how snazzy I looked in tails. Hugo night also included a pre-Hugo reception (with a giant ice Hugo) and a “Hugo Losers’ Party” (actually open to all nominees and guests, though the winners had to make an announcement about how they were actually losers in some way) where I got to mingle with the movers and shakers and explain the complicated Hugo vote-counting process to Phil and Kaja Foglio. (If you’re confused yourself, take a look at this great explanation of the voting system, using the Muppets.)

So that was the Worldcon. I had a great time.

I think.

The things we do to annoy our antagonists

After seeing Les Miserables last week, I keep thinking about the song “The Confrontation” in which Valjean and Javert sing hard at each other for ten minutes about how wrong the other guy is.

Javert, the police inspector who has been pursuing Valjean for years already and will keep doing so for years more before the show is over, sings to Valjean “Men like you will never change.” But of course it’s Javert who never changes, and when in the end he does change he kills himself immediately because he can’t cope with it. (Oops, spoiler, sorry.)

Valjean, on the other hand, sings to Javert “I’m a stronger man by far,” yet Javert in his dogged pursuit displays undeniable strength and determination; he is, in his way, even more indefatigable than Valjean, the hero of the story. Javert does, in fact, catch Valjean in the end, and it’s only Javert’s change of heart that lets Valjean escape. It’s Javert who is the stronger man, and after running from him for so long Valjean can’t help but know this.

You know how the things we don’t like about ourselves are also the things that drive us completely bats when we see them in other people? This is, I think, a technique that we writers can use to tie our protagonist and antagonist together. If each one sees in the other his own flaws magnified and despises him for that, that deepens and strengthens their relationship and makes the climactic confrontation more inevitable and powerful.

Latest writing news

I just got back from the bimonthly writers’ lunch (FYI, the baked squash side dish at the Old Spaghetti Factory, plus a small salad, makes a very nice light lunch) and I was kind of stunned at the amount of writing news that’s come down the pike in the last 60 days. Then I realized I hadn’t posted much of it here, so here’s an update.

  • Analog is about to publish its first anthology in Kindle digital format, titled Into the New Millennium: Trailblazing Tales from Analog Science Fiction and Fact 2000-2010, and Stanley Schmidt has selected my novelette “Pupa” to appear in it!
  • The anthology End of an Aeon, including my novelette “The True Story of Merganther’s Run,” is finally here! I wrote this story in 2003, rewrote it in 2006, revised it in 2007, sold it to Aeon in 2007, then Aeon folded in 2008. You can order the anthology of all the stories Aeon bought and couldn’t publish, in paper or Kindle format, from Fairwood Press.
  • My story “Zauberschrift,” originally published in Apprentice Fantastic, has been podcast at PodCastle, with a fine reading by Wilson Fowlie.
  • The awesome Alpha Workshop class of 2011 has posted their official class video!
  • I have been added to the Liar’s Panel at the Worldcon: Thursday 20:00 in A03. Jay Lake, James Patrick Kelly, Connie Willis, and me! (And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.)
  • Issue 100 of Realms of Fantasy has been reviewed by Rich Horton in Locus: “I particularly liked… David D. Levine’s ‘The Tides of the Heart’ — pure urban fantasy, in which a plumber specializing in magical problems runs into a special one: an undine trapped in the pipes of an historical old house marked for demolition. The plumber’s solution to the problem is personal as well as magical, and the intermixing of the two works perfectly. Recommended.
  • I sold short story “The Last Days of the Kelly Gang” to John Joseph Adams for his anthology Armored. It’s a steampunk powered-armor story set in the Australian Outback in 1880.

Les Misérables

fter a lovely French dinner (steack frites FTW) and a walk around downtown, we are just about to head into the auditorium for Les Misérables, a very significant show for us.

We first saw Les Mis on our first trip to London together, cheap last-minute obstructed-view seats, and it blew us away. We’ve seen it many times since, we own the original French concept album and a couple of different cast albums on LP and CD… we even have a documentary video on laserdisc. Okay, it’s kind of hokey and formulaic, and the music isn’t as good as we once thought it was, but it’s Our Show.

Now if I can only stop myself from singing along using the Forbidden Broadway version of the lyrics…

Presenting the Hugo, and other Worldcon news

I am pleased and proud to announce that I will be presenting the award for Best Short Story at the Hugo Awards ceremony in Reno!

Good news: I get to hang out with the other presenters, nominees, and SMOFs at the reception before the ceremony. I get to dress up in my fancy party duds. I get to be on stage. I don’t have to worry about winning.

Bad news: I have to write and present a speech. I know I won’t go home with a rocketship.

On balance: WIN!

The rest of my Worldcon schedule is below:

Wed 17:00 – 18:00, Ask Doctor Genius, A03 (RSCC)
The panelists provide authoritative (but not necessarily correct) answers to audience questions on any topic. David D. Levine (M), Paul Cornell , Sam Scheiner

Thu 11:30 – 12:00, Reading, A15 (RSCC) David D. Levine

Thu 14:00 – 15:00, The Necessity of Reviewers, A05 (RSCC)
Ten or twenty years ago, information was scarce by today’s standards. The reviews in Locus, F&SF, and other magazines were the primary source of information for readers. In today’s environment of blogs and Amazon reader reviews, what is the role of the reviewer in the traditional magazines and their online peers? David D. Levine (M), Lev Grossman, Farah Mendlesohn, Mark R. Kelly, Gary K. Wolfe

Thu 16:00 – 17:00, My Trip to Mars, A01+6 (RSCC)
David D. Levine was part of a group who lived in a simulated Martian environment. Sponsored by the Mars Society, the Mars Desert Research Station gives researchers of all kinds the opportunity to see what exploring Mars could be like. David D. Levine

Fri 10:00 – 12:00, Writers Workshop, Section K, Peppermill
All workshop sessions required advanced sign-up and are filled. Walter Jon Williams, David D. Levine

Fri 15:00 – 16:00, KaffeeKlatsch, KK1 (RSCC)
David D. Levine

Fri 23:00 – 01:00, Whose Line is it Anyway?, Naples7 (Peppermill)
Our version of the improvisational TV show. Marc Wells (M), Sean Wells (M), David D. Levine, Dave Howell, Madeleine E. Robins, Seanan McGuire

Sat 10:00 – 11:00, Fans Turned Pro, A09 (RSCC)
There is a long and distinguished tradition in the field of SF fans turning pro while retaining their connections. This tradition, dating from the early day of fandom, is alive and well today. Our panel discusses their experiences as pros and fans. Moshe Feder (M), Vylar Kaftan, Lois McMaster Bujold, David D. Levine

Sat 8:00 – 10:00, Hugo Ceremony, Tuscany Ballroom (Peppermill)

Sun 12:00 – 13:00, Wild Cards, A01+6 (RSCC)
George R.R. Martin, Carrie Vaughn, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Ian Tregillis, Paul Cornell, Kevin A. Murphy, Daniel Abraham, David D. Levine, Walter Jon Williams, Ty Franck

Hope to see you there!!

Cascade Writers

Somehow it has been a whole week since I got back from the Cascade Writers Workshop at the Washington coast, where I was one of the instructors.

The workshop seemed ill-starred at first, with author guest Jay Lake having to drop out (as it happened, he wound up having surgery on the first day of the workshop) and his replacement Ken Scholes only able to attend Friday and Saturday. A few weeks before the workshop, the restaurant of the hotel where it was to be held burned to the ground, leaving the organizers scrambling to find a new space for lectures and the Saturday night banquet; the fire also took out the stairs leading from the hotel down to the beach. And on the first night of the event, workshop organizer Karen Junker’s step-father (who was helping out) died in his sleep, an unexpected tragedy that left many people dazed and sleepless the next day.

Despite these unfortunate events, though, the workshop itself went well. Ken and I, along with editor Beth Meacham, provided critiques and Q&A sessions, with additional lectures by NYT bestselling author Bob Mayer and writers Randy Henderson and Spencer Ellsworth. The students included a nice mix of people from previous workshops and new people, and some of the stories were very exciting. And the food, all of it provided by Karen and her family, was first-rate. There was so much to do that I didn’t even really miss the fact that we couldn’t easily walk down to the beach (I did have a nice soak and conversation in the hot tub).

One incident from the weekend stands out in my mind. During my Q&A session, someone had just asked a question about creating sympathetic characters when a bird flew into the room, battering itself against the glass doors in an attempt to escape. Everyone leaped to its assistance, gently guiding it back outside. As soon as we’d settled back down I pointed out how that bird was an object lesson in creating a sympathetic character: it was a character (the bird), in a situation (the room), with a problem (an impenetrable glass door), which tried and repeatedly failed (battering itself against the door), but eventually succeeded (it got out with our help) and was rewarded (it flew away).

By taking action in an attempt to better its situation, what I call “protagonistiness,” the bird demonstrated pluck, which makes it admirable. By failing it demonstrated that the problem was significant and not easily overcome, which made it sympathetic. By repeatedly trying and failing it demonstrated persistence, which made it even more admirable and sympathetic. And then it succeeded by using a quality that had been inherent in it from the beginning (its cuteness) to solve the problem in an unexpected and yet satisfying way (getting us to help it). Kind of hokey, yes, but how could I turn down such a brilliant example when it literally flew in the door? We imagined that great bird legends would be written about the battle and defeat of the Invisible Wall.

I enjoy teaching but it does take a lot out of me; I was pretty wiped out when I got home. But the feedback I’ve gotten from the weekend has been excellent, so I will happily keep doing it as long as people keep inviting me.