Sunday, February 20, 2005

Morven Goes to Boskone

I've known about Boskone for ages. A good friend, an artist, was an active member of the New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA) when I first met her and I remember her talking about the con, the fen, NESFA publications -- everything. Yet I never went, not even the ten years it was held in Framingham, where I grew up.

I thought I wouldn't find anything interesting. After all, I've never read more than a handful of SF books, get bored with talk of rocketry and space travel, and am generally too lazy a reader to ingest, understand, and absorb complex fictional universes. Yeah, I did love the original Star Trek TV series, but Star Trek is not what Boskone is about.

And yes, I knew there was a Fantasy aspect to the con, and though I've read more Fantasy than SF, my reading experience still numbers only a dozen books or so. I think the last time that I read Fantasy was around the release of Wizard of Earthsea or Mists of Avalon. Regardless, it was a very long time ago.

Somehow it totally escaped me that there was any Horror connection. Imagine my surprise when fellow members of HWA/New England Chapter told me that there were interesting horror panels at this year's Boskone. Some of them were even panelists. Well, that settled it. One can't leave one's horror buddies flapping their jaws at an SF con with no moral support, can one? Around 11 pm Friday night, after the con already started, I decided I'd go.

Doesn't sound like a big deal, does it? Boston, 30 miles away, train just a half mile from my house? Well, except that it's winter. And the train doesn't stop near me on weekends. And I'm not sure if I should drive or take the train from another station. And... Not very good excuses are they? No. So I went. And had a GREAT time.

I knew that the con would be well-organized. Any organization that manages to have its own clubhouse and publishing arm has to be able to manage a con. No disappointments there. The programming was excellent, from my point of view. Too bad I missed going Friday -- I missed a panel on "Vampire-Romance-Fantasy-Humor Crossovers and Others," one on weblogs (of course -- how timely), one called "Beginning Anime" (would have helped me communicate more intelligently with my anime-loving nephew), and one on writing groups! I wouldn't have had a blank spot all evening! DARN!

Saturday morning, after a nice cuppa Starbucks off the hotel lobby, I attended a panel on "Publishing Realities," with professional editors and an art director. They talked about what happens after a publisher buys your novel. It was fascinating, and the first time I had heard an art director speak on the topic. Briefly mentioned was "sophomoritis," a very real phenomena where writing the second novel seems so much more difficult than writing the first... (wonder why I homed in on that?)

Next for me was "Literary Horror vs Commercial Horror," a panel with F. Brett Cox, Craig Shaw Gardner, John Harvey, and Darrell Schweitzer. I know them all either from the HWA/New England Chapter or from Necon, a very small horror writer's convention I've been attending for 5-6 years now. As always, they were very informative and entertaining. They discussed current and past authors and why some might be considered literary and some commercial. The lines aren't as clear-cut as one would think. Craig Shaw Gardner pointed out that it's more along a continuum. John Harvey noted that the designation of commercial or literary probably has as much to do with Marketing needs as with the actual writing. Just as interesting were some of the side notes. Did you know that "Psycho" was originally presented as a "crime drama"? It seems that a lot of horror novels and films were, way back when Horror didn't have its own designation.

Next panel I attended was "The Halloween Business" with Charles Lang, F. Brett Cox, and Craig Shaw Gardner. Are you noticing a pattern here? Our poor HWA/Necon pros got picked for most of the horror panels. I attended all of them, and although there was -- naturally -- a little repetition here and there, I was still impressed with how fresh they remained and how much new information they added each time. In this panel, moderator Lang (someone with whom I was not familiar) led a discussion about the popularity of horror and asked if pop culture has diminished the field. One comment was that we might be having a horror boom because of terrorism. It seems that when people feel that things are out of control (as they did after WWII), they turn to horror to express or exorcise their fears. As someone said in a later panel, people get more superstitious in uncertain times, which could mean a boost in supernatural horror movies and novels. (Yay!)

"Finances for Freelancers" seemed to be the least coherent of the panels I attended, but I still walked away with good information and a better idea of what it means when you quit the day job... sigh.

I was late for the Guest of Honor speech, and though even I, ignorant of SF writers as I am, know who Orson Scott Card is and know it would have been valuable to hear him speak, I didn't feel right muscling my way through standing-room only real fans to hear him. I sat outside the room for a few minutes, listening through the open door, but couldn't catch enough of it to stay focused. From the laughter I could hear through the walls, though, I can guess it was a fabulous talk.

"Tropes of Horror" was on at the same time as "What New Writers Need to Know"! Damn! I would have loved to attend both, but I felt drawn to listen to F. Brett Cox, Craig Shaw Gardner, and Paul Tremblay. Though it was encouraging to hear Craig say that "No trope is done to death if done properly," the warm fuzzy feeling was balanced by more than one of the panel saying that they had a hard time forcing themselves to read yet another vampire novel.

"Building Characters" was a good workshop for any writer -- not just SF or Horror or Fantasy. I think that's what surprised me most about Boskone -- there was just so much for me as a writer! Of course, the panelists did talk about aliens and space ships, but I was so busy jotting down notes from other threads in the session that I didn't even have a chance to go brain numb. Paul Tremblay was on the panel, but the other two writers were SF writers, and I enjoyed listening to their viewpoints and experiences.

"As You Know, Bob..." Ah, once again, another good one for any writer! This one was on the problem of getting background information into your novel without it being obvious or contrived. Very good panel with Greer Gilman, Kelly Link, and Juliet McKenna, authors who I wasn't familiar with, but who were very knowledgeable and articulate.

Having learned on Saturday that there isn't a break in the program for lunch, I decided to skip the noon panel about J. R. R. Tolkien's modeling of the Rohirrim on the Anglo-Saxons who were the original English. DUMB, DUMB, DUMB idea. Had I looked at the panel list -- which I didn't, because I figured I didn't know any of these SF and F people -- I would have seen that the friend I mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog was on the panel! Arggghhh!

The last horror panel on the agenda was "Undying Horror," a discussion of horror flicks, especially some of the newer Japanese films and their Hollywood knockoffs. I was a little late for this one, having run into another friend of mine just before the panel began, and got caught up in catching up...

For the last panel, I couldn't decide between "Exotic Mythologies" (positioned to give one ideas to draw on other than the standard Celtic mythology) and "Interviewing an Art Director." Since I knew less about how art direction and cover design work than I do about different mythologies, I opted for the Art Director. DUMB, DUMB, DUMB! Had I gone to "Mythologies," I would have run into my friend that I mentioned in the first paragraph.

After the panel, I made one last pit stop before leaving the warmth of the hotel for the cold outside. Nearing the escalator, I took one last look around, hoping I could run into my Friend from Paragraph One, and who did I spy leaning on a railing, looking down over the escalator? Yup. Said Friend from Paragraph One with her son and husband.

All in all, it was an unbelievably good con for me, and I can't stop kicking myself for not going sooner! Well, I will. Just long enough to pencil in the date for next year!


What I'm Reading Now...
  • Page After Page by Heather Sellers
  • How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style by Laurie E. Rozakis
  • Perfect Trust by M. R. Sellars

Copyright © 2005 Morven Westfield

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