We had an excellent Thanksgiving weekend at this year's ChessieCon (held just north of Baltimore in a hotel that used to be a Holiday Inn and is now a Radisson). It's small, friendly, and highly book-oriented, with many sessions directed specifically at writers. The main musical guest, Heather Dale, sang some traditional ballads plus her own original songs. She has recently completed an Arthurian musical play starring the women in the legends, from which she performed several songs. I was delighted with her voice (clear and mellow, and I could understand every word!) and her vivacious performing style. It would be great if she'd become a regular member of the program. I also heard filk by Roberta Rogow, mainly on scientific topics, e.g. the latest discoveries about Pluto ("It's a Strange World After All"). And some former members of the disbanded folk and filk group Clam Chowder, for many years the highlight of the con, got together for an hour of singing old favorites—quite a thrill. Seanan McGuire, author of the October Daye urban fantasy series, was the author guest of honor.
I participated in three sessions: In the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading (about seven minutes allotted to each author in the group), I read from my quasi-Lovecraftian paranormal romance novel SEALING THE DARK PORTAL.
I was on a panel about attracting female readers that generated stimulating, sometimes heated discussion. We agreed that female readers are, fundamentally, READERS first; however, we also agreed on some valid generalizations, e.g., that women look for solid character relationships in their fiction, not simply "action" with nothing behind it. The YA author on the panel mentioned her experience that young readers of either gender enjoy a good story regardless of whether the protagonist is a girl or a boy. Not surprisingly, most of the hour focused on the portrayal of female characters in SF and fantasy. Much was said about the sub-par representation of women in movies and TV, which tend to lag behind print fiction in that respect. Gratuitous underwear and shower scenes came in for particular disdain. One panelist remarked that in any medium, it's not that submissive women, domestic women, or female characters who use their sexuality for manipulation shouldn't exist, since they do exist in real life, but they should be complex characters integral to the story, not lazy stereotypes. The familiar demand for "strong heroines" was called into question, although we didn't get into precisely defining the term. When the moderator asked us to name well-crafted female characters, of course we went blank. I mentioned the first who came to mind, Claire in Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER series and, outside the genre, Harriet in the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. I thought of Paks, the soldier-turned-paladin of Elizabeth Moon's trilogy, but the right moment to cite her slipped by. We discussed the premise that male characters are allowed to be "unlikable" while female characters aren't, and I completely forgot an obvious counter-example—Eve Dallas in J. D. Robb's futuristic mysteries, who is abrasive and foul-mouthed yet a fascinating and sympathetic heroine.
My husband, Les (Leslie Roy Carter, primary author of our four-book Wild Sorceress high fantasy series), and I appeared on a panel about collaboration, along with one other male-female writing team. We had a productive discussion, among ourselves and with the audience, about methods of co-authorship and writing methods in general. Since the moderator worked as a developmental editor, a different type of "collaboration," we benefited from varied angles on the topic.
On his own, Les took part in a session on military SF versus the real-life military. We heard lots of interesting "sea stories" about the panelists' experience in military service over the course of discussion about right and wrong ways to portray a military background in fiction. They never got around to citing and discussing as many specific examples of movies and books as I'd hoped for, although there were some, especially in audience comments.
Other sessions: The panel on complex villains and anti-heroes veered into nonfictional territory and wandered in that wilderness for over half the hour before being dragged back on topic, mainly by audience questions. The moderator began by asking how cardboard villains in a context of stark "good against evil" affect people's attitudes in real life. The panelists waxed eloquent on that subject, sometimes getting overtly political, and for a while the subject of fictional villains threatened to get lost altogether. They never did get around to one subtopic implied by the panel description, how a writer can create believable villains. I attended half of an enjoyable discussion on Terry Pratchett, beginning with the question of how we first encountered his work. A fascinating panel on "ethical non-monogamy in fiction" was very informative, although again spending almost as much time on real-life examples as on fictional ones. In that case, though, balance between the two was maintained.
The one thing I miss is the costume contest. There's a fair amount of hall costuming, and a "time travelers' social" on Friday night attracts people who dress up, but the formal Masquerade was canceled for lack of participation several years ago. With all the steampunk participation in the con in recent years, it seems the time to reinstate the Friday night contest has come. If it returned, the con would be almost perfect. Well, aside from the need for a time-turner to avoid missing all the alluring events scheduled opposite other alluring events. In my opinion, a time-turner should be automatically included in the registration fee at every convention.
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt