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Day in the Life of an Idiot

The Journal of Lyda Morehouse

March 10th, 2014

Final MarsCON Thoughts @ 01:49 pm

My Sunday was good, though I got really exhausted by the end of it.  Only later did I realize that my problem was that I was over-caffeinated and under-fed.  I’d been trying to go on the cheap, as one does on the last day of the con, and, every time I went to get food, I’d managed to arrive at the con suite only in time to find the one lone carrot and the last scrapings of dip.

So, I was kind of… zombie-like when I finally got home at 5:00 pm.  It was only after dinner perked me up that I realized, “Oh, d’uh.  Food.  That would have helped.”

A rookie mistake from a long-time con goer like me—for shame!

I had two panels on Sunday, “Timing and Pacing” (which could have been boring, but was actually, thanks to the amazing chemistry between the panelists, my best panel all con), and “Dull, Realistic Characters” (which, unfortunately, lived up to its name.)

The concept behind “Dull, Realistic Characters” could have been an interesting one.  The idea proposed boiled down to: in reality, in a crisis, the best people to have on your team are the cool-headed, pragmatic ones.  How do you write someone like that in a way that they don’t come off as dull and uninteresting?

You write them well, is the answer, of course.

I’d wanted to be on the panel to argue the premise.  That those characters are dull.  Or that you can’t show reality in a riveting way, ala, say, a movie like “Apollo 13,” which while it may have had some inaccuracies, basically portrayed real people in a real crisis acting calmly—and yet was an utterly heart-pounding and mesmerizing film.

We ended up instead, rather boringly, meandering around the subject.

Which is a shame, because there’s something kind of intriguing about this that we never got to—like, why is it that some people can write about what they had for breakfast and you think, “Wow, what a fascinating insight into their lives!” and other people do the same thing, only in a different way, somehow, and you think, “OH FOR GOD SAKE GET OFF MY FEED, YOU DULLARD!” and start hunting around for the “hide” button.

Because it’s true.  I was once in a writers’ group with Terry Garey who wrote this whole scene about canning tomatoes.  It should have been dull, dull, DULL, but it wasn’t.  It was amazing.  I don’t know if it was because I learned some esoteric bit of canning lore from it, or if there was a pivotal character moment that was subtly woven into the narrative, or if was just a kind of ‘cult of personality’ that can happen when someone just has a really good writing voice.

On the other side, I’ve read fight scenes where people are spewing buckets of blood and I think… f*ck, when is this OVER? Because it was just THAT dull.

To me, that’s a more interesting question.  How does that work?  What are the mechanics of voice?  Does adding arcane knowledge (expertise about a certain subject) make dull stuff interesting, too?  What are the other ways you can make narrative sparkle?

That could have been a panel worth being on.  Alas, that was not the panel I was on.

Ah well. Speaking of questions unanswered, sometimes panelists click and sometimes they don’t.  This was one of those where I felt like any energy I injected into the conversation got sucked into the great void.  It happens sometimes.  It happens sometimes with really fascinating panelists.

But otherwise, I had a great time catching up with jiawen, haddayr, and naomikritzer.

Oh, the only other thing I wanted to note… when Mason and I came into MarsCON on Saturday, I looked around the little lounge area by the door for one of our tribe (which is to say the nerdest looking person) to ask for directions to registration.  I go up this older gentleman in a top hat and I say, “Excuse me, but do you know where registration is?”  Some other guy behind us answers me, and off we go.  It was only later, when I was leaving the dealers room and I heard someone yell out, “Last call for autographs from Dr. Demento,” and I turned, curious to see what Dr. Demento looked like, did I realize… yep, I’d asked Dr. Demento for directions to registration.

You gotta love cons.

Oh, and here's a picture goinked from Baron Dave Romm's Facebook page  (photo credit to him!) of me on the "Getting into the Mind of a Fanatic" panel on Saturday:

Could be subtitled: "Author at Work."  (I look very engaged, don't I?)  My folks know... I get kind of a buzz from "smart talk" which is why I enjoy cons and panels so much.

Oh, the only other fun take away from MarsCON was a line from one of the Guest of Honor this year, Esther Friesner, on a panel about fostering imagination, in which she said, "I have a special relationship with 'What If?'" which struck me as both insightful and kind of funny--because, of course, my mind started writing the slash with "What If?"

Because I'm a dork.

Oh, and speaking of that, I spread word of the cult of "Moon-Moon" all weekend, as well as tried to convince everyone I met that they really needed to watch "Free!" aka the gay swimming anime.

Oops, one last thing!  My fellow Wyrdsmith, Adam Stemple, is interviewed on our blog today.  Go check it out! http://wyrdsmiths.blogspot.com/2014/03/q-adam-stemple.html
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Date:March 10th, 2014 09:08 pm (UTC)
The idea proposed boiled down to: in reality, in a crisis, the best people to have on your team are the cool-headed, pragmatic ones. How do you write someone like that in a way that they don’t come off as dull and uninteresting?

I love those sorts of characters, and often find them way more interesting than more emotive characters. The entire cast of the TV series Flashpoint (about a Canadian SWAT team) is like that. It's by far the most realistic series I've ever seen about police (and also about therapists, sort of), and doesn't lack for drama. The civilians may be hysterical, but the cops are calm.

Also see: virtually every character ever played by Tom Hanks, once he started doing drama. Also, to a large degree, Denzel Washington.

To me, those characters are interesting in all sorts of ways: there's the pleasure of seeing how they'll figure things out, there's seeing them keep cool under pressure with the suspense of wondering if they'll ever crack, and there's wondering what lies beneath the cool exterior.
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Date:March 10th, 2014 10:31 pm (UTC)
That's pretty much what we ended up talking about to one degree or another (although with less verve than I'd have hoped! :-)

I mean, there are a ton of characters who are cool--as in have a restrained, calm exterior--who are awesome characters. What was interesting was that mostly we kept coming up with visual representations from movies, graphic novels, and Anime, etc., and I think that frustrated the moderator/panel proposer somewhat, because he'd been getting rejections that his characters weren't active enough. His response was, "But this his how people behave at NASA!"

Which makes me think that maybe there was more going on with his writing, but, you know, it's still an interesting writing question. How do you show the tension when your main character is cold and calculating. I mean, Ian Fleming managed to do it, but not all of his novels read all that well to a modern audience. For instance, I tried FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE not that long ago and it was not rip-roaring to me... and honestly some of the Tarzan books I've been reading are the same. They both have a certain old-fashion style that's kind of distant to a modern reader, you know?

I don't know. Clearly it's an interesting question... it was just a weird panel.

Day in the Life of an Idiot

The Journal of Lyda Morehouse