Part 5: "I am nailed to the hull"
My final scheduled event on Saturday, August 1, 2015 was "Special Event: Writing Excuses Podcast Recording LIVE!"
This is the second time I've had the good fortune to attend Writing Excuses recording sessions. The first was at the inaugural "Out of Excuses Retreat" in 2013. If you get the chance I highly recommend it -- you get to hear the information and feel like an insider at the same time. (I also had the chance to listen to Cory Doctorow doing some of his "With a Little Help from my Friends" recordings live at WorldCon 2009 in Montreal -- again you feel like a real insider. That one featured Neil Gaiman in the role of "friend" so was doubly special.)
Only Dan Wells and Howard Tayler were at GenCon this year so they pulled in multiple guests from the Con to record the several episodes. These are starting to show up now in the podcast stream, for example the September 13 episode is "Being a Good Panelist and a Great Moderator, with Susan J. Morris and Marc Tassin"
By the way, Marc Tassin is the director GenCon Writer's Symposium and does a great job -- you will see him in and around the seminar rooms all the time keeping things running smoothly. He also has a great speaking voice so listen for that.
A handful of us retreat alums also got to help out in a couple ways, either facilitating the audience microphone during the Q&A episode or packing up some of the recording equipment after the session. We then got to go to dinner with The Dan Wells at California Pizza Kitchen where we toasted the event and each other with maraschino cherries. The folks at CA PK were very gracious.
I had a couple regular sessions ticketed for late Sunday morning but I see I took no notes from those. I'm not even sure I went to the final one. Sunday morning's first event had drawn my full attention: "Read & Critique".
I've read my work in public before: critique groups, open mike nights, and such -- but never in front of a panel of pro authors for the express purpose of telling me what's wrong with it. And in front of a (small) group of other aspiring writers to boot. I assure it gives one pause.
There were about 24 of us writers that were there to be judged, split into 3 different rooms with 3 different panels of young but well-published authors. You want your work to be well received but you know that you need the negatives, too, however hard it may be to hear.
We are there to get better, for us this is A BIG DEAL. And most of us are sensitive.
So I prepared a couple of possible things to read -- one fairly safe and one that I felt good about but that needs to be better, and I showed up. The moderator for my session was strict. Disciplined. We readers drew numbers for order. I think I was number 5 of 8. Three minutes only to read. The moderator commanded stop -- mid-sentence or not -- and we stopped. You can read only about two pages in this amount of time. Not much! Then each of the four critics provided a couple minutes of feedback -- with no commentary from the reader. As promised they served up mostly "crap sandwiches": something good then some bad things and then something good again.
I chose to read my piece that needs work. The first author said some nice things then thought the tone of a metaphor I used was a bit off. The fourth author also noted the metaphor, but felt quite strongly that it was well done. Which just goes to show that there are no absolutes.
Due to the rigor of the timekeeping we had about 15 minutes left for questions and answers at the end. I kept quiet, content with the mix of praise, "I'd keep reading if I was a slush reader", and pointers for improvement, but one reader was quite upset -- she felt she hadn't read far enough to assuage some of the criticisms and she asked her questions and made her points through her tears. "Ignore these," she said, "I just get emotional but I want to know." And she soldiered on with her questions.
I talked to participants in other sessions -- mine was not the only one with tears. We are better for the experience, I'm almost certain of it.
Some of us made one last trip to the dealer room. I wanted to buy a souvenir, something with "GenCon" on it. The T-Shirts were expensive and I'd been eyeing the gamer mats. These look like oversized dinner placemats but they are padded and soft and typically have gorgeous fantasy artwork printed on them. I settled on one with the show's signature art, the ship and three fantasy people despite them looking a bit "uncanny valley" to me. But the one I really wanted was more expensive and luscious: it featured Sandara's "A Party of Cats 2". Now I've got non-buyer's remorse. Maybe next year.