Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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Readercon, Friday, July 18

Elizabeth Bear, "How I Wrote Dust" (from the 'How I Wrote ...' series of author sessions)

Bear's ideas about Dust date from the 1990s, beginning with the character of Jacob Dust.
When she starts developing a character, she wants to know 'what they want on their tombstone', and what they are most afraid of.
The novel has a fantasy plotline and trappings, with sfnal setting. The purpose is to deconstruct fantasy tropes. E.g., 'servant girl comes of age', the 'lost princess'. What about these is so satisfying that we have seen them many times and are still intrigued by them?
The novel contains some homages of the novels of Bear's formative years: the Elric of Melnibone novels, Zelazny's Amber novels, the Gormenghast novels. Bear characterizes Dust as:
Amber:Gormenghast::Upstairs:Downstairs in Spaaaaaaaace!
Bear writes the denouement before she writes the climax.
Bear starts with a 'character in a situation with a problem', then gets the character into trouble until she's not sure she can get her out, then gets her out.
"The more you like your characters the more you can hurt them, because hurting them means you're giving them attention."
Bear collects old characters from previous, failed novel experiments when she was much younger, and reuses them in current work. Example: Gavin, the sarcastic basilisk.

Cassandra Clare, "How I Wrote City of Bones/City of Ashes"

Clare knew she wanted to create a modern fantasy with a teenage cast. She hadn't worked out the magic system until she was inspired by a visit to a tattoo parlor.
The overall plot of the 'Mortal Instruments' series is a hero's journey down into the underworld, and up again. City of Bones is the 'descent' leg of this journey. This is emphasized by 'descent' imagery and quotes throughout the novel.
Clare didn't outline; learned about the story as she wrote it. The book was sold on the basis of ten chapters and an synopsis of the rest. "All I wrote for the end was, 'Evil is defeated'."
Research: Clare and friends snuck onto the grounds of the abandoned smallpox hospital on Roosevelt Island, and were caught and briefly detained by police, who eventually accepted Clare's explanation.
Characters tend to be based on people the author knows, historical figures, and character archetypes; most are a mix of all of these. Jace is a teen version of the worldly hero/anti-heroes, such as Dorothy Dunnett's and Dorothy Sayers' heroes, or Rick from Casablanca. Simon is based on Clare's male friends. Clare tried to distinguish her protagonist, Clary, from herself by making her an artist. This is reflected in her perceiving the world through colors and textures, and in the way the character compares things to art she has seen.

Under the Rainbow: Multiculturalism in Young Adult Fantasy

This panel, like many others this weekend, never seemed to develop a direction, or a head of steam, although some interesting things were said.
Alaya Dawn Johnson said that her family doesn't quite understand what she is doing. They want to know when she is going to start writing about 'real' stuff.
Vandana Singh said she gets similar complaints from Indians that her stories don't reflect 'Indian themes', but she's not quite sure what those would be. Arranged marriages? Spicy food? [laughter from the audience]
Singh: when she was young, she and many of her friends read, and loved, a series of young adult novels written by an Englishwoman [didn't catch the name], until the moment when the author makes fun of a character disguised as an Indian. It felt like a betrayal, it hurt badly, and it made Singh realize that to the author, Singh was an outsider, that the books 'weren't written for her'. [This is an interesting subject, and probably a universal human experience (we are all *somebody's* outsider); maybe more in a later post]
Anil Menon: I didn't realize I was 'black' until I was in college.
Jean-Louis Trudel: Tokenism is the 'dangerous middle ground' between abstinence (no non-white characters) and full multiculturalism.
Johnson: she has heard the view expressed, especially on the net, that non-white characters should be used only when there is a specific reason that the character be of a specific race/ethnicity/culture. She strongly disagrees with this: 'A character is not a Chekhov's gun'.
[I agree with this: if every white character isn't there because a white person is specifically needed, why should every black character have to meet that standard? But -- how *does* one then pick the race/ethnicity/culture of one's characters? Racial quotas? 10-sided dice? I'm still puzzled by this one.]

Tom Disch's Winter Journey

I wasn't sure I was going to able to take this, but I did last through it, as did the rest of the audience. The sound had problems, partly on account of limitations with the original sound recording, partly with the speaker system in the room, and we had to strain to hear. The film was very simply done, and effective. It was harrowing. Thankfully, no one clapped at the end.

It's impossible not to compare this film with the one from the evening before, with Samuel Delany. Two aging New Wave SF writers living in tiny rooms in NYC, but how different: Delany, effusive, outgoing, funny, absurd, rambling the streets of New York; Disch, harshly lit in a tiny room, bitter, excoriating, sardonic.

Disch had originally planned on committing suicide upon completing this project. The videographer, Eric Solstein, talked him out of it, with some success: Disch's suicide didn't come for another three years. I suppose we can thank Charles Naylor that Disch didn't kill himself decades ago. You can find intimations of suicidality as far back as Camp Concentration.

BTW, it's repeated several places that these poems are in Disch's blog, but I have been unable to find them (although his lj has many other poems in it). The 'Winter Journey' cycle was completed a year before tomsdisch started, so I'm not surprised they aren't there.
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