Monday, April 2, 2012

Aliens, Readings, and more Aliens! (#FogCon Report)

So I went to FogCon this weekend for the first time. It's a new convention, and this was its second year. I had a really good time, despite the fact that it involved much driving in pouring rain!

Saturday I went up for the morning panel called "Best Alien Ever." This was a really fun one, as it turned out. Not only did we get to talk about our favorite aliens from books we'd read, but we also discussed what aliens are for. My fellow panelists were terrific - Theresa Mecklenborg was a great moderator with cool things to say. Anne Wilkes has obviously thought a lot about aliens and what makes them great. Chaz Brenchley came with a lot of great examples from he literature, and well-articulated opinions. Essentially we agreed that aliens are great for metaphor and allegory, allowing writers to take on social issues that might be too close to home and uncomfortable in a realistic setting. They don't have to be intelligent, necessarily... Chaz mentioned the sandworms of Dune, and we all agreed they were brilliant and universe-changing. They can resemble actual Earth species. I mentioned Alan Dean Foster's grasshopperlike aliens in Nor Crystal Tears as well as the aliens that I typically create for my stories. They can also be very very alien - even a whole planetwide consciousness, as one finds in Alan Dean Foster's Midworld or in James Cameron's Avatar. Essentially the rule of thumb we came up with was that the more you are trying to identify with the alien point of view, the more it's important to have them resemble familiar species and to have humanlike motivations. Otherwise, no one will want to follow their story. If you're working with extremely alien aliens, then those work best in a story where a human is trying to "figure them out" - whether to figure out whether they are intelligent or not, or try to communicate, or something of that sort. In any case, it was a terrific group and the discussion was great.

Saturday afternoon I watched my son get his gold belt in Kung Fu, but then I was back at the convention in the evening. I had a great dinner out with a very large group of people, including Rachel and Mike Swirsky, Na'amen Tilahun, Steve Boyett, Lisa Eckstein, and others (whose faces are clear in my head but whose names are defeating me for the moment - argh!) After that I did my reading of the first chapter of For Love, For Power. I was reading alongside Steve Boyett, who is an awesome reader and gave us a sampling of his latest work that was moving and also rather gory and horrible (in an effective way!). We had an audience of four, but they seemed to enjoy what they heard! That got me energized so I had no trouble with the long drive home.

On Sunday I came out and had a lovely morning panel with Madeleine Robins, Anne Wilkes, Greer Woodward and Mickey Phoenix about how to make your reading a performance. There were a lot of great tips that I took as inspiration (and quite a few I took as comfort, given that I'd just had my reading the previous evening!). It was really cool to see how Madeleine and Greer integrated their drama experience with their reading experience. Some of the points mentioned were making eye contact with your audience, projecting your voice, modulating your volume and attack, and not reading too quickly. We also talked about the value of "doing voices" versus just giving more subtle cues to differentiate characters and character points of view (like voice pitch and tension but not full accents). A fabulous group and a great discussion! As I had suspected going in, Mickey was a friend of mine from college whom I hadn't seen in 20 years, so that was an unexpected kick!

My last panel was "Let's Create Some Aliens" and we did exactly that. We started by picking out climate and environmental details and then came up with some aliens who would live in that environment. It was audience-participation, and my fellow panelists were Vylar Kaftan, Erin Hoffman, and Phyllis Holliday. Phyllis actually did some sketches of the aliens as we created them, Vylar moderated, and Erin had her iPad at the ready to do online image research to give Phyllis additional inspiration. I had fun taking the environmental and physiological aspects of the aliens and brainstorming about their lives and culture, etc. We had one low-intelligence salamanderlike creature, one shrimplike creature that lived near underwater volcanic vents, and one tundra tortoise sort of creature (that I think was nevertheless warm-blooded!) which kept records of its history by carving them into its shell. A good time was had by all, and I think I'll be going back in the future!

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