First things first, one of my favorite flash fiction stories is currently up at the wonderful Flash Fiction Online. Even if you’ve already read it, be sure to stop by and check out all the other fabulous stories featured at this excellent venue!
I’ve spent this week resting up and catching up after a wonderful Armadillocon 37. This is a small literary con, which makes it extra friendly as you keep seeing the same faces at panels, readings, in the audiences, and passing each other in the hallways. The guests, James Morrow and Ken Liu, were super friendly and fun to talk with, which really set the tone for the weekend. The programming was excellent this year, and I had to make a lot of tough choices. Here’s what my con looked like.
THE WRITERS’ WORKSHOP
The Writers’ Workshop went well. We spent the morning in two in-depth panels (the topic varies every year). First we discussed how to structure your work. Questions and comments covered works of all different lengths and types. Later we talked about how to go about assessing what you’re working on, with larger thoughts about managing projects and the writing life. Between these two panels, the workshop attendees broke out into small groups for a quick and quite entertaining writing exercise.
We broke out into our assigned critique groups for lunch, so that we could get to know each other a little better before diving into the critiques. Martha Wells and I had five bright new writers, all with interesting stories or first chapters. Even the newbies did well, both giving and taking critique like pros! Covering five manuscripts in three hours is a tad exhausting, but so rewarding.
Another big benefit for workshop participants is that they get so spend early Friday forming connections with their fellow workshop attendees, so they already have a couple dozen familiar faces going into the rest of the weekend.
I think the concom’s commitment to this workshop, which feels like an integral part of Armadillocon (and not just a tacked on event as it can at other cons), is one of the reasons that Armadillocon continues to have a well-deserved reputation as an excellent literary/writerly con.
The hard part about being on programming is that I now have commitments, and can’t get around to see all the panels that are scheduled at the same time as the ones that I’m on!
I was a little nervous about my first panel, “The Work of James Morrow.” While I have loved everything of his that I’ve read, I have only read a fraction of his books! Luckily, I was in the company of some great minds such as Jacob Weisman, Chris Brown, and Claude Lalumiere. As with all good panels, it became a conversation that covered Morrow’s works and their universal themes of human nature, theology and philosophy. James Morrow and his wife attended the panel, and were darlings, heartily rooting our conversation on! It was a delightful hour and such a pleasure to meet the man whose works I’m so enjoying!
I attended the “Silkpunk: Asian themes and influences in SF/F” panel. Ken Liu, Jake Kerr, Wesley Chu, and Justin Landon among others discussed the use of Asian themes, and the nature of cultural difference between east and west as we might see it through genre literature. The take away was that we are all more alike then we might assume, though there are some interesting differences between story forms and the expression of common themes via fable and various mythologies.
Ken Liu also gave a fascinating talk about the nature of translating literature titled “Betrayal With Integrity: Conformance and Estrangement in Translating Chinese SF.” As the title suggests it was full of thinky thinks. As someone only tangentially interested in the nuts and bolts of translation, I was completely fascinated and gained insights that will forever change how I view translated texts.
I thoroughly enjoyed the panel I was on titled “How Would the Discovery of Alien Life Affect Us?” moderated by the lively Aaron de Orive, with William Ledbetter and Patrice Sarath among others. We discussed the effect of confirmed contact with alien life might have on international geopolitical scene, then tracked back to talk about the problem of recognizing alien life and communicating withbeings that may very well be unimaginably different from us.
Then it was on to an excellent panel on the hot button topic, “The Hugo Award’s Struggle for Relevance” expertly moderated by Michelle Muenzler, with Lou Antonelli, Justin Landon, Marguerite Reed and Jacob Weisman. This curated discussion about the Hugos, slate voting, and the Sad Puppies. The discussion was both passionate and illuminating.
Then I was up for “SF as a Survival Guide.” (Personally, it was more about me surviving in a conscious state for a 10:00 p.m. panel!) We discussed a variety of different apocalypses featured in popular media, including Zombies, nuclear war, and natural disasters. We also covered Kaiju (e.g. Godzilla); stay out of urban centers was the take-away there. Long-term survival would look pretty pastoral, and we agreed that this might be part of the appeal of these kinds of stories – a chance to hit the reset button.
My last panel of the con was “Short Fiction You Should Have Read Last Year” with K. B. Rylander, Eugene Fischer and myself. After discussing our favorite stories, and stories that made a splash this year, we talked about great venues to find, read, and listen to great short fiction. I will post a list as soon as I locate my scrawled notes from Sunday morning.
I heard Patrick Sullivan read a fantasy story of magic, love and zoomorphic calligraphy. I also listened to a suspenseful excerpt from Patrice Sarath Bandit Girls novel.
Jacob Weisman, founder of Tachyon Press was back with his usual selection of great books. When not at panels or readings, I spent some time chatting with him in the buyers’ room. He's another very approachable pro with lots of good insight into the business. I love that Tachyon publishes short stand-alone novels (call them long novellas if you prefer), as that’s my favorite reading niche. I picked up Shambling Toward Hiroshima by James Morrow, and We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory. In the buyers room, I also finally got my hands on a copy of Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor, a book I’ve been waiting to read for a while now. Hopefully, one day I’ll see her on ArmadilloCon’s guest roster!