Tuesday, March 12, 2013

ConDor Convention Report

This weekend I flew down to San Diego for the ConDor convention. If you've never been, this is a small but very friendly convention with a lot of fantastic guests. I was very impressed with the whole thing, and encourage others to attend. One high note was the ConSuite, where they had such good food (both tasty and satisfying) that I never had a hunger crisis the whole weekend. Very impressive.

Now to the exciting parts.

I arrived just in time for my first panel on Friday afternoon, "Retelling Old Stories: The New Fairy Tales." This was a great way to get started because the panelists were all friendly and intelligent - something I found to be true through the whole convention. One of the main topics here was what exactly we lose when we're updating old fairy tales - whether there is a core value in the stories that can be lost, or whether the relevance of the stories changes with the culture around it. There were good arguments on both sides, and much discussion of "cracked" fairy tales, feminist or gender-reversed versions, etc. We also talked a bit about folk tales across cultures. I was really happy to meet Cecil Castellucci on this panel - she's a YA writer and editor with a lot of incisive things to say.

Immediately thereafter I went to "The Inadvertent Time Traveller: What to do when dumped in another era." Lillian Csernica, one of my roommates, did a terrific job of moderating, even though we were both awed by the presence of Connie Willis on the panel. It was a great discussion. There seemed to be a binary consensus that while actual time travel was likely to be quite deadly because of microbes, if not a myriad social problems, that theoretical and fictional time travel was irresistibly interesting and seemed like it would be a lot of fun. I suspect I was most remembered for suggesting that taking off one's clothes upon arrival might help one avoid social entanglements due to anachronistic clothing (until they could steal some local clothes), and might conceivably get a person sympathy if they were discovered without in the meantime. Connie Willis thought it was a plausible idea, so I felt vindicated! I came away thinking that Ms. Willis was quite an impressive thinker and speaker, and wanting to check out her books Blackout/All Clear.

That evening I went out to dinner with David J. Peterson, the inventor of Dothraki for Game of Thrones (and more, which I'll explain in a minute), his wife Erin, and authors Leigh Bardugo and Sylvia Sotomayor, as well as my two roommates, Lillian Csernica and Pat McEwen. We had some great Mexican food and hilarious conversation, and nearly got caught in a chilly rainstorm (which was surprising, for San Diego).

Saturday morning was my first chance to visit the Con without actually being on panels for a little while. I bought a couple of books - Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, and Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky - and subsequently got them autographed by the authors. Thank goodness I'm allowed a little time to be a fan as well as an author! I met internet friend Calvin Johnson for the first time, which was a real pleasure, and also ran into my author friends Stephen Blackmoore, Sheila Finch, and Erin Hoffman.

I also attended David Peterson's talk on the languages he's been designing. That was terrific, because I've heard about Dothraki before, but he's also got some new languages he's working on for alien characters in the forthcoming TV show, "Defiance." I'm really looking forward to seeing that. David is modest, but incredibly knowledgeable about his linguistics, and clearly has a ton of fun with it. Nothing like watching an expert at his work.

My own Saturday panel was "Worldbuilding 2: Biology and Sentient Races," where I was joined by friends Sheila Finch and Pat McEwen, both of whom are super experts on topics of this nature. This was a wide-ranging panel which ranged from discussing the physical conditions on planets and how those would influence sentient species, to asking whether it was possible for more than one sentient species to coexist on a planet (I thought it probably would be, provided that the evolutionary niches were not too competitive), to the plausibility of actually encountering a sentient species of aliens. We had aspirations to build an example species, but those served more as drivers for the fundamental questions we were discussing. There were just too many ideas flying around to end up with a single model at the end.

I spent the afternoon hanging out with friends, and went out to dinner at one of the many hotel restaurants with Lillian and Pat before returning to my room for a nap (for good reason!). That night we went out to a great party which had taken as its theme the photo I used in this post about strong female characters. Yes, that's right - it was a "tiaras with weapons" party. Make your own tiara, and include (if you like), guns, ninjas, toy soldiers, etc. Small figurines of Disney princesses with heavy weaponry had been arranged around the room. I thought the atmosphere was great, and because it was a crafting party, it wasn't so loud that you couldn't hear each other speak. I really enjoyed talking to the folks there.

Sunday was a bit disorienting for everyone as a result of the time change, and I arrived at my 11am "Worldbuilding 3: How might you go about creating an alien culture?" panel with a smile, looking forward to talking about my favorite topic, but also figuring the audience would be small. Was I surprised! Just before the panel was due to start, the room filled to the brim with an entire class of young people (I'm guessing early high school) who were with their teacher, researching an assignment in which they were to add to the stories of Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man. Soon it was standing-room-only, as more convention-goers straggled in, and we all got super jazzed up by the idea that we could potentially contribute to the ideas of these young people (or I know that Lillian and I did). Also on the panel were David Peterson and Eldon Thompson. Eldon did a great job moderating and keeping us talking with interesting questions, as well as talking a little about his own epic fantasy novels. I think I was most excited when I got a chance to talk about metaphors and similes, and how they can both portray a world and contribute to a character's inner voice.

My last lunch was with David Peterson and Sylvia Sotomayor. Sylvia has this great bag she uses for her belongings that has the created language from her novel written on it in two different ways (one that looks like an alphabet, the other like a sort of maze) - super cool. Partway through our meal we were joined by Nancy and Trevin (I apologize if I've gotten that one wrong; David, comment and correct me?). I was already checked out by the time I hit my first panel, in the name of reducing stress, so when the time came to go to the airport I was all ready to go (thank goodness). Super thanks to Erin Peterson for agreeing to be my ferry to and from the airport; it made my life so much easier!

I got home tired but feeling like it had been a wonderful weekend. There's nothing like going and hanging out for a few days with people as geeky as I am! So many wonderful intelligent conversations. It really makes me feel motivated to write!


  1. It was great to finally meet you too, Juliette! (Thanks for the shout-out.)

    Connie Willis is wonderful. I highly recommend all her stuff. My favorite novel is "To Say Nothing of the Dog," which is very funny and turned my wife into a Connie Willis fan as well. Her story "Firewatch" is a classic and is available online, although for me her most memorable short story is "All My Darling Daughters;" be aware it is definitely R-rated and not a comfortable story, especially as it lures you in one direction and then pulls the rug out from under you. With a mutual friend I got to go to lunch with Connie which was fabulous!

    I was sad I couldn't go to as many of your or David Peterson's panels, but I did enjoy the one on culture building (the one with all the high school students) and got some great tips.

    1. Thanks, Calvin! You had a great deal of stamina standing up there in the back during the culture-building panel. Much appreciated. I hope we can cross paths again sometime!

  2. You got the names right. Always a delight to see you, Juliette. :)

    1. Thanks, David. Great to see you and Erin, too!