Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Reading and Writing at ChiCon 7

Day Two of Three from the ChiCon 7 diary. Tomorrow I want to touch on disability issues at the hotel, the Hugo Awards, and seeing Saturn for the first time. Today is devoted to the public readings and private writings that go on at these sorts of conventions.


I went to my share of readings over the weekend, and saw some very talented writers. The one that rocked me back in my chair was Mary Robinette Kowal, sharing “Locked In” from Apex, at the Broad Reading meeting. It’s a piece of flash fiction that captures Science Fiction, Horror, Tragedy and the Medical Thriller without succumbing to nearly any niche’s expectations, and it’s a great reminder of why Apex Magazine is a top resource in the industry.

I managed to make a total ass out of myself afterward by congratulating Kowal on that story and not realizing she was the same Mary Robinette Kowal up for a Hugo for the superb “For Want of a Nail.” It’s great when you realize the two people you’re a fan of are the same person. Not so great when you realize you're an idiot.
This is not two people.
Some people have a harder time learning this than others.
Broad Reading was a neat setup, housing over a dozen quick readings from individual members in an all-female writing group of all levels of expertise. Most official readings were for one person. Jo Walton, who won the Hugo for her touching tale of adolescence in Among Others, read from her work in progress about teens in space who want to party on the ship forever instead of land. George R.R. Martin’s reading room couldn’t have been packed any more hopelessly if he’d written it.

Friend and fellow #fridayflasher Emma Newman showed the chops she’s honed recording audiobooks in a fine reading from her short story collection and the upcoming Split Worlds. Probably the highlight for all readings for me was when she read of a curse being cast on our hero, and somewhere outside our walls, a pneumatic hiss went off and filled the room. You couldn’t pay for better publicity than that, though the hotel should check that elevator.

There’s a lot you can learn from a reading, even a bad one. Maybe especially a bad one, because you can study how authors psych themselves out. One author, who I won’t name, kept stumbling over her excerpt. At first I felt bad, but then I started constructing narration in my own head, and realized her errors were highlighting how strong the voice would be on the printed page. It was kind of uncanny, and reaffirmed a couple of things I suspect about how plot progression works. One of my recent hobbies is listening to readings or audiobooks and testing how it would sound in my head, as opposed to how it’s intended.


These are an institution at WorldCons, and will hopefully be for the foreseeable future. Oz Drummond and Lou Berger organized at least eighteen different groups of three aspiring authors (“victims” is the official unofficial name). These trios were joined with two professionally published authors, forming critique groups of five, to hone the victims’ craft. I had the pleasure of working with Martha Wells and Gregory Wilson, who treated all three of us with total professionalism and consideration.

Typical writer reaction in workshops.
Our session lasted two hours, and we spent about forty on every victim, myself included. Your mileage will vary, but we were all serious about craft and I don’t think a minute was wasted. This workshop was a big test for my thoroughly peer-read The House That Nobody Built, as I thought it was near publishable an wanted to see how it would stand up to scrutiny. I left jubilant, having retained more of the positive feedback than the negative. But just as important, the negative feedback was all reasonable, like the desire for a few details, or how to streamline the synopsis. Reasonable, and addressable in just a few minutes of word processing.

So it was the positives I lingered on, which is rare for me. One of my pros asked if I’d already queried it, seeming to think it was ready. One of my pros also described it with what I wish to God will be a cover blurb: 

“This is like Dungeons & Dragons, except awesome!”

There were some other developments at the convention I can’t speak on yet, but cross your fingers for me. I’m doing everything I can with what luck I get. I can’t praise these workshops enough, if you have the fortune of attending a convention that runs anything like it. If I turn “pro,” I’d be happy to help operate one.


  1. Fascinating John and good for you for retaining the positive and GETTING IT! WOO HOO! Very happy for you!

  2. Sounds like it was a really great investment of time and money!

  3. Aw thanks John, I'm glad you enjoyed the reading. Mary is amazing isn't she?

  4. I had no idea you'd brought the novel out to this event. So excited! I'm so glad that you got positive and constructive feedback! IT'S GONNA BE AWESOME when it's published. ^___^ *hugs*

  5. *crosses fingers* You'll make it, it's only a question of when.


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