aedifica (aedifica) wrote,

About that 4th Street (con report in general)

I had put this note at the end, but it's a long post and I think the note stands better at the beginning: One thing being surrounded by writery types all weekend did was make me think about my intended audience for this post. And I decided it's me, several years from now when I can't remember what this weekend was like--hence the amount of detail here. If other people enjoy reading it, I'm happy about that too! (Also, I hope to post soon about the experience of being on panels for the first time and what it showed me about myself. I'd thought I would do that this afternoon after I finished this post, but this one took longer than I expected.)

I've promised myself that once I finish writing this I can re-read what I wrote about last year's 4th Street, but not until then. So, since I have some time and feel well-rested enough to be able to string multiple sentences together, here's a pale shadow of what 4th Street was like for me:

It started Thursday night, when there was a play-reading and pre-con work party, only the work had already been done so it was just the play-reading. Close to 50 people showed up at the convention hotel, most armed with the same version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. (Did you know it's possible to print out the whole play, legibly, on only nine sheets of paper?) skylarker gave me a ride there and back, which I appreciated. papersky had come up with a plan for how to distribute roles to any number of people between twenty-some and fifty-some, splitting large roles and combining small ones to make the number of parts come out right. I played Demetrios for the first three acts, and enjoyed it. It occurred to me afterward that it was the sort of thing I would often, in the past, have skipped and then would have felt I'd missed out on, and it was nice to notice that that didn't need to be the case.

Friday morning I worked, but I left promptly at noon to rush home, pack, and bike to the hotel. The online tool I usually use for planning out bike routes (GMap Pedometer) doesn't know bike paths so if I wanted to take bike paths, I had to plan my own route and take my chances that the paths would connect to roads in useful places. I packed in less time than I'd anticipated and left home at the time I was aiming for, and off I went, enjoying a pretty ride along the Midtown Greenway, around Cedar Lake, and points west... where I found a tall chainlink fence prevented me from switching from the bike path to the road I had planned to take up to the hotel. (Had I been able to switch to the road, I'd have had about half a mile left of my journey.) The person I asked at the nearby auto parts store gave me directions, but either I misunderstood the directions or he misdirected me, because I got no closer to finding a way onto the road. Finally I got back on the bike path heading further west, figuring it wouldn't be too much farther before I found a place to exit the path to the north and east. Two or three miles later, still having found no northward or eastward trail exits, I came upon a man out walking a child in a stroller and asked the man for directions. He suggested I watch for Louisiana Avenue; he wasn't sure if the trail exited there, but if it did I could take it over to Cedar Lake Road and from there to Zarthan. And that's what I did. I saw a bridge carrying a major road over the bike path and guessed it might be Louisiana, so I cut across some businesses' lawn to a side street, got onto Louisiana, and made it the rest of the way to the hotel without further incident. My planned 8.3 mile ride had turned into 12.8 miles, and I missed Opening Ceremony, but I was there in time to check in to the hotel, take a quick shower, and make it to the first panel! And all told it was a pretty ride, and my legs were up to it--I just would have allowed more time for it if I'd known.

And I was glad, because I was particularly interested in attending that panel: "How to Sound Smart on Panels." (Steven Brust moderating, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Debbie Notkin, Jon Singer, Elise Matthesen.) I took lots of notes at this panel, because I was going to be on two panels myself for the first time ever and wanted tips!
- Say "hmmm."
- When complimenting something, be detailed: use anecdotes, imaged.
- If you have no idea where a question is coming from, say "That's an interesting reading." If you've never read an author's work and don't want to admit it, say "I respect his earlier work," thoughtfully. (That became one of the con's running gags.)
- If you've been researching something and want to make a statement about it, "The first ____ I've been able to locate in my research is ____." (That way if someone hearing you knows one you haven't found, they're likely to tell you about it which assists your research; also, they know you actually have researched and aren't just making blanket statements.)
- Let other people look smart!
- Personal reactions are inarguable.
- Never say, "Well, in MY book..."
- To draw someone out, ask them "What don't you get asked about in your subject?" or "What do people usually get wrong about your subject?"
- As a moderator, sit at one end of the table so you can watch all your panelists for physical reactions to things they hear.
- Know where to bullshit AND where not to.
- Come with questions for your fellow panelists.
- Moderating: if someone on the panel who's a relative beginner in their field is monopolizing the conversation and/or laying down the law about something, turn to someone with more experience in the same field and ask "Did you feel that way when you started, and how has that changed as you've gained experience?"
- It's OK to say "I don't have a comment at this time."
- Don't be scared of your fellow panelists.
- Moderating: If someone is deserving of a smackdown, don't whack them so hard they're stunned or they'll gain audience sympathy instead of losing it.
- If you say something stupid, acknowledge it and apologize. (This assumes you've noticed it, of course.)
- Back to covering for not knowing anything about the topic: If discussing a critic, say "I'm not altogether comfortable with his latitude of interpretation, but he's done some interesting things with images."
- Distraction technique: If you aren't sure where a questioner is going with his or her question, "What is it that interests you about that?"

The next panel was "How Has Fantasy Changed in the Last 20 Years?" (Tom Whitmore moderating, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Sharyn November, Magenta Griffith, Jenett Silver, Laurel Krahn--except I don't think Laurel was there?) I enjoyed the panel but I'm not sure any of the notes I took are from it.

After the panel I saw a chance to introduce myself to papersky, which I'd been wanting to do because I've been enjoying (and commenting on) her reviews on She told me she enjoyed my comments, by which I felt enormously flattered, and invited me to join the dinner expedition she and others were planning. (Some people might have introduced themselves right before dinner out of a desire to be invited along. I did it out of obliviousness to the timing, but I felt retroactively awkward for a moment when I realized it.) So I went off with her, jonsinger, pnh, lydy, and I think sdn to the hotel restaurant where prettymuchpeggy joined us and we all had supper. The chicken and wild rice soup was very tasty, possibly the best thing I ate there all weekend. Also, something I didn't order but two others at the table did: they had a dish which was little crackers shaped like spoons, with the spoon-bowls filled with some sort of lobster salad. It was startling to me, I think because I'm not used to the idea of edible silverware. At this point I don't remember much about the conversation, other than enjoying it but not having much to add.

After dinner was another panel, this one on "Reasons Things Go Wrong (in the crafting of stories)." (Catherynne Valente moderating, Marissa Lingen, Pamela Dean, Sarah Monette, Jo Walton.) As a non-author it was fun to sit back and listen to five interesting, intelligent and personable women talk about their writing. Many seem to be seduced by "pretty words"...

At this point I should mention, since I haven't yet in this entry, that one of the things about 4th Street is that the panels happen one at a time, instead of five or ten at once like many conventions do. This means you never have to decide between two or more interesting panels happening at the same time (like I'll have to do for CONvergence next weekend) and it means if you run into someone later and want something to chat with them about, you can say "What did you think of the point X brought up in panel Y?" and there's a good chance they'll have an opinion which can lead to a conversation.

After the final official panel of the evening (well, actually starting during it) the hotel restaurant put on a buffet of appetizers. I sat with seabream and we were joined by Ginger and later by txanne and kitryan.

Evening events split into two: "Beer and the Moral Philosophy of Fiction" in the smoking consuite and a tea party in the panel room. I wandered into the non-smoking consuite for a little while before going back to the tea party, but I really didn't like how the consuite was laid out in this hotel: it was two adjoining sleeping rooms, each cleared of beds to make room for tables etc, but each room was subdivided (with walls) into two smaller rooms, leaving two small rooms of couches and chairs and two small rooms of food tables. I found the layout inhospitable; one of the things I've liked about other consuites has been the ability to sit and enjoy being near others whether I'm part of their conversation or not, and to join conversations when it seems suitable. In the little rooms we had this year it nearly always seemed like the rooms were either already full or completely empty, and neither state appealed to me so I usually just ducked in long enough to find a snack and then left again.

I enjoyed the tea party for a little while and then went to bed. I shared a hotel room with kitryan, txanne, and carbonel this year, and it worked out very well. The bed was comfortable enough, there were soft pillows, and I threw an extra pillow over my head to block out light and noise (not that there was much light or noise that needed blocking).

Saturday morning things didn't start too early as apparently the organizers like to sleep in too. :-) The first panel was at ten, which was a nice comfortable time to start as far as I was concerned. "One Night Stand vs. Round Two," or writing standalones versus series work. (Debbie Notkin moderating, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Lois McMaster Bujold, Catherynne Valente (only she wasn't there), Patricia Wrede.) It was interesting to watch LMB and PW interacting, you could tell they were old friends.

Then "Children's and YA Fantasy--It's Not Just For Kids!" (Sharyn November moderating, Kathryn Sullivan, Laura Krentz, Beth Friedman, Jenett Silver, Elizabeth Lavelle.) After which there was a lunch break, in which an enormous number of us trooped down to the hotel restaurant for a tasty but very delayed lunch (I ended up bolting the last of mine in order to be on time getting back).

Then I got to be on my first panel ever! "Fantasy and the Family," moderated by Beth Meacham, with Kelly Barnhill, Marissa Lingen, Debbie Notkin, and Kit Gordon. And me! From the program: "Talk about families as represented and misrepresented in fantasy. And just what do we mean by family, anyway?" So we talked about different types of families, and why so many authors choose to have their characters be orphans, and what are some fictional families that have some verisimilitude. And I learned that it's worthwhile to take notes even when I'm on the panel in question, because Kelly said something I wanted to talk with her about afterward, only afterward I couldn't remember what it had been.

Then we had "Embracing Exposition" (Teresa Neilsen Hayden moderating, Sarah Monette, Lois McMaster Bujold, Jo Walton, Catherynne Valente, Pamela Dean) and "What is FanFic?" (Debbie Notkin moderating, Lois McMaster Bujold, Anne Gwin, Reesa Brown, Steven Brust.) By this point I was a little tired and would have been happy to skip a panel, but every panel had either a topic that I wanted to hear or a combination of panelists I wanted to hear, so I kept going to each one--and I did enjoy them!

After a dinner break (back to the hotel restaurant, but meals are running together and I can't remember with whom I ate--remind me? was this when the other appetizer buffet was?) there was one more panel, "Food, Fashion, and Fornication" (Jo Walton moderating, Karen Anderson, Magenta Griffith, Sarah Monette, Catherynne Valente, Jon Singer.) This panel title was a repeat from last year, but the panelists were different and so of course the panel was too.

I spent that evening as substitute hotel liaison so the main hotel liaison, [info - personal]jenett, could leave the site for a little while. It was entirely uneventful, nothing at all happened on my watch--which was fine with me! A very gentle way to ease into volunteering for the con.

I remember thinking several times during the weekend that the main thing that made this convention different from last year's 4th Street was that last year's was marked by deep conversations with people I'd never met before, while this year's was full of shallow conversations with people I already knew to some degree. Partly that's because this year I knew so many more people already (not a bad thing at all!), and I think partly it's because of how the consuite was laid out, and I'm sure there were other factors as well. But as the weekend went on it did get better.

Saturday night I went to the song circle. I'd been to morris sings, which are a similar beast but not identical, but I'd never been to a song circle at a con. I had a lot of fun there. I don't even remember what song I chose the first time the circle came around to me [oh, yes I do: it was "Ilka Moor Bat At" (sp?), otherwise known as "Up the Ducks!" and I'm glad elisem knew the same version I do because she took the tune and made it stronger], but the second time I got to lead the Tree Song! This is one of my favorite camp songs, and I don't get to do it very often because it requires having a group of people who are willing to do a kids' song with gestures. :-) There are pictures here--just look for the pictures of a woman in a burgundy t-shirt waving her arms around!

So I got to bed rather late, and woke up slowly on Sunday morning and what with one thing and another I missed the first panel. I was sorry to miss it, because mmerriam was on it, but it wasn't a bad morning either. I made it down in time for the "Decadent Brunch," which was very tasty but I'm not quite sure a brunch can be decadent if it doesn't have Brie cheese, and sat with a tableful of people I either didn't know well but liked, or didn't know at all and liked once I got to chat with them a little (mostly the former). And there were bagels with herbed cream cheese and sheets of smoked salmon, and now I understand. That was pretty decadent, yes.

Then there was "The Different Panel," which is a neat idea and very typical of how 4th Street rolls. ("At every convention, some really interesting idea gets thrown out on a panel, and then everyone says “but that’s a different panel” and drops it. Make a note. Tell us at brunch. We’ll hold that different panel RIGHT NOW.") This year it was a panel on narrative pacing, and I don't remember who-all was on it. The memorable part was when the moderator (was it Beth Meacham?) decided partway through the panel that the panel membership should rotate, so she named several people out of the audience as the new panel members and retired the old ones.

The last panel of the weekend was "The Stuff of Fantasy," which I was on. (Jo Walton moderating, Elise Matthesen, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Patrick Nielsen Hayden only he decided there were too many people and took himself off the panel, Kathryn Sullivan only I don't think she said a word the entire time, Sarah Monette. And me!) I really enjoyed this panel. It was about how the items in your world tell you about what the world is like (have lace? who makes it? have birth control? what does that tell you about the society?). My list of books to read grew more during this one panel than the whole rest of the weekend!

And then of course there was a closing ceremony, which mostly consisted of people standing up to be thanked for various things they'd done for the con (hooray!) and the introduction of the three people who'll be putting together next year's 4th Street. But even after that a lot of people stuck around the hotel; there was another song circle that evening, and I went again. I stayed in the hotel that night again, though I did step outside the hotel long enough to have supper at the nearby Indian place with kitryan, seabream, txanne, and Ginger.

Monday after the convention there's a tradition of going for a sushi lunch at Sakura in St. Paul. I didn't know about it last year in time, but this year I did, and had taken the day off partly to sleep in and partly to be free for sushi. carbonel gave me, Jo, and Eric a ride there. I had a roll named after a hockey player (at least I assume Adam Hall is a hockey player?) and it was delicious! And the conversations were good, it was a little like what I'd been wanting out of the consuite. Then there was a mass migration to the Pumphouse Creamery, which has Bailey's-flavored ice cream. :-)

All told I'm very glad I went again this year. I got to talk to lots of people I like, and while there were others I would have been happy to get a chance to spend time with, I'm inclined to think it's a good thing that there were even more people there that I'd have wanted to talk to than that there was time for. Among the people I was happy to talk to for at least a little bit were seabream, txanne, kitryan, pameladean, arkuat, mmerriam, careswen, cloudscudding, mrissa, skylarker... (the problem with listing names is that one is nearly certain to omit a name and possibly make someone sad. If I forgot to mention your name, I apologize! I'm quite likely happy to have talked to you too!) And people I hadn't met before but very much enjoyed included papersky, jonsinger, and porphyrin. And then there were the people like suzanne, brooksmoses and braddr whom I just didn't get much time with, but I was happy to see joeboo_k while I was awake enough to know who I was talking to (unlike last year).

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Tags: 4th street, conventions

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