05/07 On the Bookshelf . . . “Finch”


When I interviewed Jeff VanderMeer last October at the World Fantasy Convention, I was primarily interested in only one of the two books he’d released around the time, Booklife.  (He was on a rare double-book tour across the country.)  I’d heard about his new fiction book, Finch, and when he talked about it during the interview, it certainly piqued my interest: a small nugget of contemplation that has been growing month by month, with the Hugo Award nomination, and then an award nomination for best cover — and it truly is a beautiful cover.  Thankfully my contemplation is now done with, as I have a copy to review and am very much looking forward to reading this fascinating-looking book that has garnered many positive reviews.

World Fantasy Convention Post #2: The First Panel — Writing Human Characters, Whether or Not They’re Human

The first panel I attended, called Writing Human Characters, Whether or Not They’re Human featured David B. Coe as the moderator, along with guest writers Kate Elliott, Kay Kenyon, Shauna Robers, and Laurel Ann Hill.  While I didn’t record exactly in my notes who said what, it was a very interesting panel in which I took some diligent notes to both help me in my writing and thoughts, as well as to serve as insight for those curious about the panel’s subject.

And here are my notes, essentially verbatim.  I will add any further information where I can (depending on how much I remember) in italics.

  • Kay Kenyon books — mega universe — four book series.
  • With human and nonhuman characters, need to link them together in some way.  By this they mean to use a common feature or facet between the characters so readers can relate with both the human and nonhuman.
  • Have to consider whether nonhuman character is being treated with respect in relation to the rest of the characters.
  • Is possible to surprise the audience by upsetting their expectations when they have preconceived notions about them.
  • Is necessary when writing nonhuman characters to get as close to the character as possible.
  • Can make aspects and facets of a character become more important and respected with nonhuman characters and not with human.
  • Shauna Roberts: book is about Gilgamesh.  Nonhuman represents the wilderness and uncivilized.  Book is Like Mayflies in the Stream.
  • There’s a continuum: are you being profound or humorous?  There’s room for both.  By this they mean it’s possible to be deep and profound with use of nonhuman characters, and it is also possible to make it funny and farcical, and in some cases to create a balance between the two.
  • As humans we tend to have them as representations of us.  Because this is how we both write about them and how we can understand, empathize, and comprehend them better.
  • Emotional context is why people read the story.  If there isn’t enough of this, it isn’t enjoyable to read.
  • Important to give the nonhuman individuality.  If all nonhumans look the same, there’s nothing to make any of them distinct, and no reason to care or empathize with them.
  • Can’t have aliens be too alien or we can’t relate or understand them.  There are of course exceptions to this, but it is true for the most part.
  • Can have character experiencing the lives of aliens through their dreams.  I believe this was a story line for a future book from Kate Elliott.
  • Good example of this is Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton: nineteenth century world with dragons which we can relate to because of the society they are living in.
  • Can relate with alien race with lots of invention, development, and “coolness.” Again this relates to alien individuality, development as a character, and sophistication, perhaps possessing superhuman powers.
  • Have to develop nonhuman characters as well as human characters, or more so, and in same way, otherwise will be boring and all the same.
  • Is an easier arena to approach nonhuman characters instead of with other cultures and races, which the writer many not know and understand as well and just end up offending readers.
  • Is important to never make nonhuman characters to be stereotypes of different cultures and races.
  • Do not want character — human or nonhuman — to be stereotypical in any way.
  • With gods can get boring as they are all-powerful and all-knowing; no limitations, unless there is something wrong with them.
  • Comes down to what is your point of narration character.

It was an interesting panel to hear discussed from the various worlds created by these authors — some monsters, some strange beasts, some aliens.  Ultimately, it helped me learn some important lessons when writing nonhuman characters and the pitfalls to avoid.

World Fantasy Convention Post #1: The Grindstone

I was very fortunate to enjoy a full day last Friday, October 30th, at the World Fantasy Convention.  Little did I know it would be a long day of memorable, fun exhaustion that began in the early hours of the morning with a 90-minute drive to San Jose.  Using directions and a great website that lists parking fees for the different parking lots, I was able to find one for all-day parking at $7, the cheapest place I’ve ever found in the Bay Area!

And then my crazy day began with four interviews and four panels.  I know, I know.  I could’ve not gone to so many panels and my day would’ve been easier, but I really wanted to experience and see as much as possible.

As the schedule indicates:


each panel lasted just under an hour, each interview over a half hour.  As you can tell, I didn’t have much time in between, what with all the walking from room to room, and taking my interviewee back from the hotel lobby to the interview room which was literally on the opposite side of where the convention was being held.

Nevertheless, I had a really fabulous time that did leave me exhausted come 6PM, and why I should’ve spent it meeting authors, editors, agents and the like, I was just too tired and wanted to go home.

It was a good learning experience for my first book convention.

Ken Scholes offered some sage advice.  Don’t think it was during the interview, but he expressed how great book cons like the World Fantasy Convention are for meeting authors and people in the business, and he recommend people wishing to attend start their own special fund for conventions, so that they can attend all the days instead of cramming everything into one 9-hour period, like I did.

Next time I do plan to attend multiple days of the book convention, which ever one it might be (Worldcon is coming to Reno in 2011), so that I can spread out the interviews over multiple days, enjoy more of the great panels, and meet lots of great authors and people.

Up next on the next World Fantasy Convention Post: The First Panel!

BookBanter Update

Just got back from a very long and exhausting weekend, but had a terrific time.  Friday was spent at the World Fantasy Convention, where I interviewed –in person — authors Ken Scholes, Jeff VanderMeer, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Garth Nix.  They all turned out to be fun and fascinating people.  My interviews with these authors will be airing on the following BookBanter episodes:

Episode 20 (November 15th): Garth Nix

Episode 21 (December 1st): Ken Scholes

Episode 22 (December 15th): Jeff VanderMeer

Episode 23 (January 1st): Guy Gavriel Kay

I also attended four panels on different aspects of writing and will be doing a post on each of those panels in the near future.

For now stay tuned, and Episode 19 will be up as soon as possible — furiously working on it right now!

Finally, I would like to extend a great thank you to Cheryl Morgan, who made my attending the World Fantasy Convention all possible.  Cheryl, thank you for giving me the opportunity and I hope to see you again soon.

World Fantasy Convention


The World Fantasy Convention officially begins tomorrow, Thursday. I’ll be making my way down early Friday morning hopefully in time to make my first panel, and then a have a full, action-packed day of panels and interviews, and no doubt a lot of fun and work in between. I added the panels I’d like to attend to my Google Calendar, and there’s one point where there’s an interesting panel or a reading from Guy Gavriel Kay who I’ll be interviewing later in the day.

And here’s how the day is shaping up and I’m getting more excited by the second (the green is my interview, the red a panel or reading):