Thursday, December 02, 2010

Darkover 2010

We had our usual fun weekend at Darkover. This year they added a Steampunk track, of which I didn't see much, although a session on space art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was interesting. Unfortunately, as of last year the traditional costume contest has been discontinued because the number of entries had dropped so low. Many people do wear costumes to the con, though, especially this year with the booming popularity of Steampunk. The Saturday night Clam Chowder concert continues to be the big event, followed by the Clams leading a group performance of the Hallelujah Chorus in the atrium at midnight. I made sure to ask for a room overlooking the atrium so we could sit on the floor by our window and listen.

Guest of honor was Elizabeth Bear. I haven't read her work, but having heard her talk and glanced at the covers and blurbs of her novels, I've ordered one.

I appeared on three panels: Film adaptation of fantasy novels (Harry Potter, Narnia, etc.); making nonhuman characters seem "human"; the dividing line, if any, between romance and erotica. For the last, I had a little trouble convincing one fellow panelist that the difference isn't in the degree of explicit sex, but the structure of the plot. For some readers, sexual content above a certain level of graphicness automatically makes the work "not romance." And the vexed question of erotica versus porn never did get settled to everyone's satisfaction. On the film panel, we had fun pinning down what we saw as the best and the worst of adaptations. I expressed my opinion that I don't necessarily mind having new material inserted by the movie-makers, if it harmonizes with the original story. What I can't stand is having essential parts of the novel omitted to make room for the filmmaker's own stuff. If he didn't appreciate the book the way it was, why didn't he leave the filming of it to somebody who did? (I didn't say exactly that, but that's my perennial internal rant in such cases.) As for humanizing nonhuman characters, or at any rate making them sympathetic or at least understandable, we had a lively discussion on what constitutes a "monster." One panelist strongly maintained that emotion is essential to making a character, whether human or not, viable for the reader, while another participant just as strongly disagreed (citing HAL in A SPACE ODYSSEY as a prime example). In both this session and the one on romance and erotica, readers who have trouble comprehending the appeal of paranormal romance, especially vampire romance, asked those of us who love it to explain its allure.

Another provocative session focused on monsters for the 21st century. What scares us in this era? Are the archetypal horrors still frightening? The last panel I attended before leaving was about becoming a full-time writer and how that step changes one's life for good and ill. Since my husband and I look forward to retirement in about two years (well, his retirement; I don't have anything to retire from, but I look forward to quitting my part-time day job), we plan to devote a lot more time to writing and essentially make it a second career. So I was eager to hear what those full-time writers had to say, though my situation differs from theirs because (thank Heaven) I'll never have to depend on writing for support. They emphasized taking the writing seriously as a full-time job. You can't wait for the muse to sprinkle magic dust on you if you're on a deadline. I found their messages bracing and encouraging—and I'm deeply grateful that I don't face the main problem they cite as a drawback of the self-employed writer's lifestyle: Difficulty of affording health insurance.

Fortunately, the weekend's weather in the Baltimore area was sunny even if a bit chilly, and we got home Sunday afternoon with no trouble, whereupon I took off my "guest" con badge and turned back into a pumpkin.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

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