Coming up for air after Conflux (the Canberra SF Writer’s Convention), I looked back on the first article I wrote on Conflux and Cons in general a couple of years back. Things have come along quite a bit for me since then. Mostly for the good. Bunch of short stories published, London-based agent, rocking a writer’s beard; being sequestered in my writer’s nook at home wearing the same pair of tracksuit pants for weeks on end, watching fail videos on YouTube.
Four years in and the Con experience is changing for me. Previously it’s been about absorbing everything I can, both on the craft of writing and how the industry works. This time there’s slightly less for me on those counts – I still have shitloads to learn, always, of course – but the learning curve is a little less steep after four years than it was after two.
(click on PDF icon, above right, if you prefer to read black script on white)
Friendships (aka, Barcon)
Enjoying writer friendships is a larger part of the equation now. I have a 6-month old son, a 4-year-old son, and I’m a writer. Which is another way of saying I don’t get out of the house very often. Cons are an opportunity to peel off the tracksuit pants and ugg boots, pull on jeans and a Blade Runner shirt, and walk out, blinking, into the light.
The toxic cesspool of the internet is not the easiest place to cultivate friendships. Nor is it the best place to seek considered advice or balanced opinion. With real humans, face to face, however, these things can happen. I noticed many of the writers – whose conversations (like me) about writing have largely existed inside their heads – positively vomiting conversation about the field. As vomiting goes, this is the best kind.
So it was a pleasure to make that annual reconnection with geek friends at the Con.
Conflux did the bar proud, I should add. As Dave Farland said during one of his panels – and I’ve heard it said many a time before – the bar is the single best place to be at a SF convention.
True for Conflux. After midnight in the hotel bar the only people that remained were writers and bar staff busily trying to provide enough drinks for said writers. Around the room I saw a bar full of con-goers engaged in passionate discussion. I managed to have a series of intense conversations about existentialism, cyberpunk, socialist activism, and getting beat up by police. I also, apparently, made a proposition bet that involves redistributing the wealth if any of us make it big.
At some point, it’s useful for people to know who the fuck you are. The best way is your writing; yes, obviously. But being seen as a human in real life rather than just a name on a page doesn’t hurt.
I only got back from Vietnam earlier this year, so I’m slowly moving from who the fuck is he? To I think that’s the loud drunk who interviewed Dave Farland.
Interviewing Dave Farland / Wolverton, I should add, was hugely enjoyable. He has an endless supply of anecdotes from his decades in writing, ranging from crooks offering him large bags of cash for rights to his work; to choosing an obscure novel to become The Next Big Thing for a publishing company (heard of Harry Potter?); to the travails of having his Runelords series bounce around Hollywood for nearly twenty years. A generous, kind, interesting man.
That Writing Thing
During the con I was reminded of a few things I’d let slip. World-building, for example, after 20 short stories and a novel in the same world, was something I’d thought less about, content to ride on the world-building of stories past.
A panel on language reminded me, again, not to rely on the neologisms and foreign words of previous stories, but to continue to build. More importantly, to interrogate why I want to use this foreign word or that; whether I’m adding texture and layers to the Southeast Asia cyberpunk setting, or whether I’m using cheap tricks to add a splash of exotic colour to a scene (I don’t believe I’ve ever done the latter, given I’ve lived in the region for so long. But still, this is a spot that must be approached strategically and with consideration).
A lengthy conversation about fight scenes over burritos made me think hard about my approach there, as well. I write a lot of fight scenes, so this matters. There were some persuasive arguments for a minimalist approach – just showing the lead-up and aftermath of the fight, for example, rather than the gritty detail of the fight itself (and this from a fellow writer who has fought in actual MMA fights).
Overall, it’s self-evident, really: hours of conversations with writers about writing will yield useful thoughts about the craft.
I learned a lot of other things as well. Sneaking that bottle of single malt into the hotel bar seemed like a good idea at the time. But by god the two days that followed told me it was a terrible one.
I learned sci-chi (science fiction Tai Chi), invented by Sean Williams, which made me groan when I first heard about it, but a believer when I saw it. ‘Neo shakes the dust off’ is my favourite move, but they’re all nerdalicious.
I learned writers really don’t like the NRL. Actually, I knew that already. But it was made painfully clear when Alan Baxter and I went to watch the Storm V Cronulla grand final, and we were the only two in the entire convention that apparently did. Just a mention of the footy at any other time usually resulted in an eye roll and an attempt to leave the conversation. I mean, I know writers don’t like sport, but don’t act like I’ve just said I’m going to go out and shoot an elephant. It’s footy, not the ivory trade.
Though, for all that, genre conventions are the only place I can wear my Star Trek uniform with absolute peace of mind, knowing I’ll never get an eye roll or an insult, but rather a compliment and a Facebook photo op. So there’s that.
Finally, I learned from veterans of the con scene that Conflux is perhaps the best-run and friendliest on the Australian calendar. Certainly felt like it. I’ll be back next year.