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Camera Obscura

Baycon, 2008

Baycon is a commuter event for me, which is good, because I don’t have to spring for a hotel and can sleep in my own bed. It is also bad, because it allows me get away with not schmoozing, and I miss any and all evening events. This year was worse than usual, because I haven’t been entirely well (though nothing compared to the Wiscon plague!). Also my oldest son was home from college for the long weekend and I wanted to spend time with him. So, my attendance was pretty limited.

I arrived Saturday around noon, in time to register and grab a rather nice grilled chicken sandwich out by the pool. Then headed off to the 1pm panel on "Plot Point Research." Panel members were: Kage Baker, Tim Powers, Irene Radford, Walter Hunt, Lisa Goldstein, and Tony Todaro. Although I didn’t learn a whole lot that was new to me, it was good to have confirmation that I’m not going about it in some blinding wrong way. Nor am I the only one who has a problem with getting so involved with researching minutia that the writing gets neglected. Except that this bunch manages to get stuff written somehow... I was hoping for an answer to "Considering that you’ll never know everything knowable about your subject, how do you decide when enough research is enough?" Tim Powers admitted that he used research as a procrastination technique, which was not something I needed to hear.

Irene Radford mentioned a yahoo group, "joysofresearch," that operates something like little_details. Tim Powers said he does most of his research using books, and typically makes his own little index on the flyleaf for the weird stuff he wants to keep track of. I was unduly pleased by this, as I typically use post-it notes with indexing notations to do the same thing. Not surprisingly, each writer had their own unique means of organizing research materials. A couple used electronic systems, but most of the group expressed a preference for notebooks or index cards. Above all, what left me happy in the end was hearing how Tim Powers and Lisa Goldstein both tend to work by reading up on stuff that interests them, and then sparking off unexpected connections or coincidences; mining the intersections, as it were. I love doing exactly that, and it’s nice to know that in the right hands it really can lead to something.

I had planned to stay for the Tim Powers interview at 4 pm, but was feeling so lousy that I decided to leave early instead. I did spend some time catching up with my dear friend Nora, who was working at the art show this year. Went home around 3:30, and went to bed.

Sunday morning, I felt a bit better, so I headed out and made it in time for an 11:30 panel on small press. This one was moderated by Marty Halpern, who edits freelance for Tachyon Publications, Nightshade Books, and other small presses. Other panel members were Margaret McGaffey Fisk, Derek McCaw, Jennifer Brozek (Edge of Propinquity), and Norman Sperling (Journal of Irreproducible Results). The session was generally aimed more at small press book and anthology publishing than short stories in print or ezines. Again there wasn’t much new to me, but it’s always good hear what’s going on first hand. The panelists were in agreement that for selling a first novel, it’s no bad thing to have published excerpts or spin-offs as short stories. It helps to convince publishers that your work already has an audience that can be built upon. Margaret Fisk said something which did surprise me: that a short story in an anthology published as a book "counts" as a book publication in the eyes of publishers. Norman Sperling emphasized that in working with non-traditional publishing methods (small press, POD, even self-publishing) there are a number of elements or tasks which must be done, but do not necessarily need to be done by the same company (as they would be by a traditional publisher). These include copy-editing, printing, and marketing. He advised looking closely at what a publisher offers, and making sure you can fill in any gaps by other means (i.e. either do it yourself or pay someone else).

The last panel I attended was "You Don’t Even Know!" which started at 2:30. Panel members were Kage Baker, Leigh Ann Hildebrand, and Sandra Saidak. The somewhat cryptic title was referring to writers creating characters of a gender, race, culture, religion, or sexual orientation other than their own. Bad idea or good idea? What is needed to do this well, as opposed to cringe-worthily? I thought the panel was somewhat hampered by consisting strictly of white women, but then maybe it was a good thing as these three white women were clearly quite different from one another. Again, nothing startling: pay attention, be respectful of your characters and their different backgrounds, do your homework, and remember that at base we are all human with human concerns (even our alien characters, as they are written by and for humans). Long after the panel was over, I did think of a couple of questions/comments I wish I had made but didn’t think of in time. Age never came up, and I think it should have. Obviously, no matter how old we are, we’ve been younger, but what about young authors trying to write accurately from the POV of older people? Also, I was trying to think of an author, any author, who fails utterly at one sort of character (cardboard women, for example), but who writes other types of characters well. I couldn’t think of any examples. Writers either seem to "get" the art of writing rounded, realistic characters...or not.

And that was pretty much it for me. I visited with my friend, Nora, some more, and checked out the art show and the dealers’ room. Beautiful costumes for sale, as well as lots of tempting books. I resisted on the grounds of no room/not much call for costumes. I have already hit the library, however, and have resolved to do more reading in genre.

All in all, I think I did get the kick in the arse I was hoping for. I’ve also requested a couple of the books calico_reaction reviewed favorable in her quest to identify good books for recovering from procrastination/block. The former of which is much more my problem than "block" per se. I do have a lot of competing interests (work, family, horse), but I also am inclined to fritter, which is what I need to stop doing if I’m ever going to get back to producing more than a few scribbled notes now and then.