Tuesday, January 20, 2015

After Arisia!

This was my fifth Arisia and as such, kind of a milestone. Five years seeing all of my friends, going to panels, and having great conversations about the genres I love.

So, I had high expectations for 2015 - expectations that were met. 

Waiting to start the "True Detective" panel.

First off, the three panels I was on, each of them very different from the other. Friday night I got to talk about Speculative Fiction in 2014 with writer Gillian Williams and online book-reviewer Tegan Mannino. I was still shaking out the cobwebs, so to speak, from teaching in the afternoon but I felt happy that I was able to talk about the five or so novels I most cared about from last year, and the dozen or so short stories I most enjoyed. Plus, I collected so many other novels to check out this year that I missed or flat-out never heard of. I will be putting this panel on the must-join for next year. 

Saturday I had my True Detective Panel with Shira Lipkin, John P. Murphy and Steve Sawicki. Everyone was very chill on this panel, very intent on discussing this one tv show, investigating just want made it, despite its flaws, so compelling. I have to say this was probably the longest I’ve had a chance to talk about this show, which, as I mentioned last week, was a major touchstone for last year. A lot of the conversation had to do with the nihilism of Rust Cole’s character and whether or not the show is a genre show. I personally think it is not. It is not intended to be a genre show, it’s intended to be exactly what the title suggests - a True Detective story. While I’m not sure I think those elements are exactly ‘window dressing,’ I was okay leaving them as allusions to a certain type of story. In the end, I don’t think I really had my views of the show changed at all, but I was struck by how much one show can be seen completely differently by four people and still be enjoyed.

Mondays are always hard, but I felt good about how this convention ended. I had a great time talking shop in the Running Good Games panel: any time I get to talk up systems like Mouseguard, Dungeon World, I feel like I’m starting a day ahead. The questions by the audience, in particular, really made this panel special for me. Someone asked about how to run one-shots and that just launched into a great discussion of how to match systems with players and jump into the action of a story. Great stuff.

Then I went to my reading. In addition to hearing Keith R.A. DeCandido and Kevin Schneyer I got to read two stories: Belongings and War-Zones. I love public reading, don’t get to do it enough, and felt like I finally had a story - Belongings - that really came together for me when read aloud. I could really get into doing a lot more of these. 

Of course that wasn’t everything in Arisia. I saw a bunch of panels and went to the Belly-dance show to see my wife perform along with her dance partner Wendee Abramo. I may be a tad biased but I thought their performance was fantastic. The ladies put on a haunting, creepy performance inspired by a character from the most recent American Horror Story season. 

The things that really stick out to me now a few days later are the conversations. I caught a dinner with my good friends Alex LaHureau, Matthew McComb, Rachel Wentz, and Melanie Griffiths on Friday and caught up about our favorite topics - gaming and Arisia lore. Really this convention has been around so long, it’s history could be the subject of a convention.

Sunday night, while watching the Masquerade, I hung out with Wendee Abramo and Dan Toland, ate some Chinese takeout and generally tried to sum up what was amazing about the convention. 

In terms of panels, I saw a bunch from the head-liners NK Jemisin and Lee Moyers and was really impressed with both. Their “The Map and The Story,” panel in particular got me thinking about the role and purpose of cartography in books. I enjoy maps, find them essential for certain fantasy series, but I thought Jemisin’s point that a poorly-executed map can often spoil the events of the story a valuable one. Hopefully I’ll keep that advice in mind if I should ever be called upon to draw a map for a story.

Jemisin was in the “Erasure is not Equality” panel Saturday morning with Daniel José Older (who’s an amazing author), Matt Oshiro, Nisi Shawl, and Victor Raymond. The topic was the tendency of certain speculative fiction works to omit people of color in invented worlds. The quote that stuck with me came from Jemisin who pointed out that a writer that can speak in the perspective of an alien from another world but can’t empathize enough with a person from another culture on this planet to include them in the story should probably stop writing. 

Also saw Dan’s panel on “How Not To Be Awful,” or ways to avoid being a jerk to new fans. I thought the discussion touched upon a few things I’ve been concerned about recently - namely how can fandom become more welcoming to newcomers. This is not a natural inclination in myself or probably many people who’ve been into geeky interests since the beginning. But the fact is, geek culture is now mainstream culture, movies involving comics, science fiction, and fantasy are bringing in more fans everyday, and really its time for fandom to find ways to welcome this trend, not fear it.

New this year: free arcade games!!!

And that’s about it. Arisia 2015 left me with a lot to think about, many amazing memories, and the crazy desire to repeat the whole thing next year. See you then!
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