Farthing Party con report: II
9/28 - 12 PM - Black Wine
This panel was a discussion of Candas Jane Dorsey's Black Wine, which won multiple awards (The Tiptree, the Prix Aurora, and the Crawford) when it was released in 1996 and sank without a trace commercially. It's just been reprinted by Five Rivers Press.
Candas was one of my Clarion West instructors, way back in 2000, and I read the Hawaii State Library's copy of Black Wine before going to Clarion. I recall finding it disturbing and unsettling on several fronts, though apparently not as intense as some of the panelists and other audience members did.
Black Wine can be argued to be either SF or Fantasy because it never explains itself, and doesn't provide the reader clear cues as to how it should be read. In fact, large swaths of the setting aren't described in any detail, forcing the reader to fill in the other details for themselves. It's pretty clear that this was a deliberate choice; Black Wine absolutely doesn't straddle genres by accident. The gothic and horror elements contrast with the SFnal and fantastic ones in ways that refuse the reader clarity as to what sort of book they're reading.
The original Tor cover was black-on-black, minimalist, and a clear marketing failure. Of the people in the panel and in the audience who hadn't had the book recommended to them, a good number of them picked it up by mistake. (I read it because I wanted to read at least one thing by each of my instructors, a goal which I signally failed to meet. I also managed to read The Deep, which was possibly the least representative John Crowley novel I could've read.) Many thought it would be a classical or modern gothic novel - and, to be fair, it has a fairly gothic sensibility - but the consensus was that Black Wine undermines the Gothic's conventions by having the things behind the tapestry be *truly horrible*, and not providing last-minute saves for its POV characters.
Despite all this, the pacing of revelation in Black Wine is slow, and the narrative threads join up at a leisurely pace. This leaves readers with lots of room to try to piece together its world. 7 languages are mentioned, and the inability to express ideas in a particular language is used for character development. Differences in technology and resources across cultures cut in several ways; there are cultures of airship sailors and sea-bound merchanters who don't really like each other and have different traditions. The book is full of different cultures, spread across a wide variety of climactic zones - it's a whole planet. Men can have kids together; Women too; and who knows how it works? Not the reader. Lots of things like that are mentioned and left unexplained.
The perspective on slavery in Black Wine is much closer, more intimate, and less fetishized than (say) Sanderson's Mistborn, where the darkness is both abstracted and seen through the male gaze. Comparable works mentioned included the Le Guin's Voices and Gifts, and Carla Speed McNeill's Finder, less for the slavery and awfulness and more for the sense of a rich world with real cultural barriers dividing its people.
One of the most interesting points brought up by the book and the panel: You can run away from the place you're raised, but how much of your terrible culture are you going to carry with you?
9/28 - 1 PM - Lunch
We went and got lunch at a lovely little waffle and crepe place over on Saint-Denis. The operator put fruit into the waffle batter, and I had two! Mmm. Strawberry and appple.
9/28 - 2:30 PM - Maybe it's Sunspots
Lots of people, including papersky, mrissa, and autopope (not present) have been having unusually productive time writing of late, for values of "productive" that verge on compulsion. The discussion was on process, and what sorts of things seem correlated to this outpouring of words.
Notable Conversation threads:
* papersky wrote Farthing in 19 days. But when she went back to look, she wrote her other books in not too many more days of work (20-30 odd) - they were just spread out over months and years.
* Another panelist noted that you can grind & grind & grind for years, and then you can't cross the street without bits of books hailing down and waving flaming swords at you. Wrote a novella on an iPad in the middle of her mother's disassembled house.
* Hypothesis: Story can get backed up, but will often find its way out. Happiness (or at least the lack of pain/emotional distractions) is a causal factor, rather than the result of productivity.
* It can often be difficult to talk about this kind of productivity (Mike Ford called it "Finding the Spigot") in ways that won't produce hostility/envy from other writers, even though it's far from an unalloyed good thing. mrissa's rules for surviving this period:
1) No ruining her hands.
2) No ruining her health.
3) No ruining her relationships.
All three are real risks.
* Other things go by the wayside when a writer is in a compulsive high-productivity state. Reading, watching TV, other social or writing obligations, drinking tea, cooking dinner. While reading and researching can support your writing, *needing* to do so can derail this sort of thing.
* Music (especially when you get earwormed) can be either a spur to creativity or a huge impediment to it. Buying lots of food can make keeping up momentum easier. Having food stored up, the right word processor, and/or music for the story or book you're working on are all just different ways of greasing the skids.
* mrissa had never before finished a novel and then done other things and written a flash piece the same night. Upon papersky finishing Among Others, she stopped writing for months, and had to ask herself, "What do I do when I'm not writing?"
* mrissa described writing short stories as trying to fill shotglasses from a tap one after another, while writing novels was more like filling a barrel. Writing lots of short stories all at once is potentially a liability, not just because you have to scramble for new stories to finish, but because the limited # of publications spots most markets have means you end up competing with yourself.
* Intermittent reinforcement can drive animals to superstition - superstitious pigeons! Many writers are superstitious pigeons about writing, clinging to things that worked for them last time. Some writers get their bad habits linked to their writing; it's a good idea to making sure not to link your writing to that sort of thing, or to using a particular word processor, or a particular kind of stationery.
* mrissa is a superstitious pigeon the other way; taking Sunday off is insurance. She's also trunked more stories than usual lately, because when there's not enough story there even with the spigot on...
Good or memorable lines:
* mrissa, quoting me: "The hard part of writing is the thinking."
* "If all you care about is word count, no one is more productive than Mike Resnick."
* "Strawberries, Creme Fraiche, and Brown Sugar. Eat this, young writers!"
* papersky (paraphrased) - "I resent the Romantic notion of urgency in art."