I’ll start with Westercon, since that just finished yesterday. I’ll be honest, I’d never even heard of Westercon until this year. It has been around since the 40’s but attendance has dropped off from its peak back in the early 90’s. Dropped way off.
My main reason for attending was the writing workshop put on by Fairwood Writers. They are very generous with their time for aspiring authors and I highly recommend submitting your work to their workshops. They run one at every Norwescon and, this year, at Westercon as well. It is not a sweet and gentle critiquing, either, though that may have been due to the story I submitted. I’ll get to that in a moment.
First, the con itself. Frankly, it was full of Fail. I mean, the failtrain made a stop here and offloaded a whole car full of fail. Maybe I’m being to hard on it. It is not Norwescon. It tried to be but it didn’t make it.
There were a large number of professional authors and if things had worked out a little differently, that could have been awesome in and of itself. I did get to meet writers I’d met before, at past Norwescon or the Rainforest Writers Retreat this past March. It was great seeing Patrick Swenson, Renee Stern, Alma Alexander and others again. It was double awesome getting to see David Brin again and getting his new book signed by him. It was great meeting new authors (to me) like M. Todd Gallowglass. If the con had been set up like, say, World Fantasy, which is deliberately small with a high author/fan ratio, then it would have been perfect.
However, I think a lot of these authors expected (and deserved) a better turn out. Panels were very sparsely attended, signings were ghost towns (more ranting on that, in a minute) and even the parties were, I’m sorry, lame. People just didn’t show up in any numbers. It didn’t help that it was one of those perfect Seattle Summer weekends, the kind you see so rarely: warm, sunny, beautiful. You only get so many days like that a year and people go a little nuts flocking outdoors. I can’t blame them. But I do blame the Westercon staff for two things: lack of advertising and poor support for the readings.
Again, I had never heard of Westercon, didn’t see it advertised anywhere. If I hadn’t been on some of the Fairwood Writer’s mailing lists, I’d have skipped right over it. Just advertising the writers attending should have drawn sci-fi and fantasy writers by the car-load. But, again, didn’t hear a peep about this con anywhere. Not that I have my ear to the ground all over but still.
The readings were an even bigger disaster. They were not placed in an easy to find location, they were not even in the full-sized program, which is even more bizarre. Now, I love going to readings, even more than panels. Partly (mostly) because I love stories and a good storyteller is a great find. I also get to meet other writers this way and get ideas of what books I should pick up. Few readings are heavily attended, unless Neil Gaiman is doing them, but this year’s Westercon was ridiculous. There were many readings where I was the only person there or the only person not married or related to the reader. Unacceptable and sad. Heck our Wordslingers reading had more people in it, even if only due to the four of us showing up to do our reading.
I do want to give the Westercon organizers and volunteers the benefit of the doubt. It can’t be easy pulling off a Con (hmm, just got a story idea there) but despite good intentions, the execution just wasn’t there. I would not recommend Westercon to anyone. Save your time and money, go to Norwescon or Worldcon or Orycon…I’ve heard good things about them.
Ok, now the writer’s workshop experience. It was brutal. Deservedly so. I apparently did an edit of my story, ‘Tears from a Rite of Passage’ and everything I touched, I inserted typos and bad punctuation. Very embarrassing. Mea Culpa. I really should have proofread this more closely. I’ll have to check my blog but I suspect I ran up against the deadline, again. That’s not an excuse, just an explanation, though.
Feedback was universal: I had too much background and not enough explanation. Most writers thought it should be part of larger piece, feedback the Wordslingers had also given me. But humbling as it all was, it was the feedback I needed. I do need to focus the story more and give more depth where it’s needed: in the character’s arc and motivations. And I need to explain things more, and not assume folks did the same research on Spartan culture and military training. In retrospect, that was foolish. It did make the world seem real, I think, but it distracted the critiquers, all these world details.
I don’t know. Maybe I need to dumb down and focus my short stories more. I love worldbuilding so much that it is hard for me to rein that in. I’m still not sure how I feel about that. In a way, I’d rather play to my strengths but I also need to do what is right for the story. The story has to come first. So I’m going to go over the feedback very carefully and make changes. The story might get longer (novella length) or it might get short, if I chop out Syliva or re-write the story so it’s only from Sylvia’s POV. I knew having two POV characters was a risk but I thought the story demanded it. Well, my reach may have exceeded my grasp. I touched on what I wanted but I didn’t seize it and bring it to my readers. Or not these readers, at least.
I do have to say, the feedback didn’t hurt. I guess I’ve gotten a thick enough skin. I wanted this feedback, even though it was mostly negative. It was constructive criticism for the most part and that is always worth it. I guess my ego wasn’t engaged for this story. Enough time had passed it was like someone else had written it. That might be the difference. Or maybe I’m just growing up as a writer.
Next is to do more submissions. I’ll be in editing mode this month and I fully intend to send out a half dozen stories to the e-zines and dead tree publications. I'll have my 30 in 30 update tomorrow, I think.
Wish me luck :)