Several different tribes all converged upon the Rydges Parramatta last weekend for Genrecon, courtesty to the Queensland Writers Centre and their mad, ambitious plan to blend the best aspects of the science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime and romance communities for an intense and professional industry conference.
I don’t think I’ve ever had my brain so turned inside out by a convention since my very first Worldcon, back in 1999 when I was a baby author. I love SF conventions, but they have become cozy for me now that I have so many friends, and I find myself having the same conversations we have online only shorter, drunker and less articulate. Still, it’s my only chance to see many of my good writerly friends, and I do love a good old fashioned fan-run convention.
But oh, GENRECON. Suddenly all the conversations were new, or slightly more complicated, as we discovered that all the different genre communities speak different languages, and experience the industry in completely different ways. The best panels were those that acknowledged this difference, and sought to explore it in further depth. As it turned out, we also have a lot in common, and a great deal to learn from each other.
The whole event was set up so that attending the program was essential – it sounds silly, but often that isn’t the case at SF cons, where there are so many more people and we all end up streamed into our various spheres of interest with little crossover – and many times those cynical pros find that there are few panels that can offer anything to compare with the industry conversations in the bar.
Here, though, there was so much to take in, and the guest speakers in particular were very well chosen to bring us some seriously useful presentations. Sarah Wendell talking about the romance industry or social media was extraordinary (and yes, Peter, I still regret not attending the banquet in which she presented), and Ginger Clark’s single appearance on the program was a keynote speech that eloquently defended the role of the agent in the changing industry, but at the same time made an entire audience raise their standards for a literary agent so high that it rendered everyone quite dizzy. Unless that was just me?
Basically though, this was a convention in which the entire program was like the bar at any good convention – friendly, intense, and packed with thoughts and knowledge about the business side of genre.
I particularly enjoyed a panel featuring Joel Naoum from Momentum Books and literary agent Sophie Hamley – it was supposed to be on ‘Other than the Advance,’ how authors could earn a living other than the big advance check, and was both brief and kind of depressing/uninspiring on that particular topic, but turned into a marvellous discussion about the changing industry, the changing pay structures and opportunities for writers, contracts, the role of the agent, and all kinds of great, crunchy stuff. There were others on the panel too but those two made a fabulous double act, bouncing off and teasing each other – future festival runners take note!
My own panel, on how to go beyond the usual archetypes to find good cads, villains and monsters turned out very well, moderated by Peta Freestone. Kim Wilkins happily talked about Vikings, we shared squeeage over The Almighty Johnsons and dissected different ways to make the same myth interesting the hundredth time over. I talked about Greeks and Romans and asked why we can’t have sexy harpy stories in a publishing world that allowed sexy zombie stories to happen (Looking at YOU, Amelia Beamer). Also, manticores. Meanwhile the romance writer on the panel, Christine Brooke, talked about the archetypes and conventions of regency, and particularly the idea that it’s not the villain but the HERO who is the heroine’s main antagonist. All this and we managed to talk for at least 15 minutes about gender and why female villains are rarely more than one note – with bonus discussions on the best female villains out there. Cersei Lannister, anyone?
The con was very social-media-friendly, including a free Wi-Fi for delegates deal and an official Twitter hashtag (#GCoz if you want to catch up), but for next year (and other conventions) can I suggest a list of Twitter handles of convention attendees? That way we can find and follow all the people we met afterwards, even those without business cards. (Oh my gosh, business cards – I never usually remember them or give out more than one or two, but at this con I collected and gave out so many. What’s more, I plan to follow up on many of them!
After all the lunches and breakfasts and cups of tea and deep, brain-expanding conversations, the convention rocketed to a close with the best comedy debate I have seen in my life, the Plotters vs. the Pantsers. I know some of you tried to follow it on Twitter – I did my best, though Sarah Wendell was the best tweeter of them all – but honestly YOU HAD TO BE THERE. Zinger after zinger, insult after insult, as the two teams left nothing on the table in their battle to defend their own writing style. The highlights were Kim Wilkins’ elegant trash talk (for the Plotters), Narrelle Harris’s extraordinarily evangelical turn as a former Pantser who had seen the errors of her ways, and the final Pantster, Daniel O’Malley who brought it home with an articulate (and at times utterly inarticulate) argument.
Quotations, metaphors, scatalogical similes, and oh, the highest quality sledging ever seen in the Australian writing community. It was a joy to behold and meant that most of us left the convention with a grin on our face, and a throat left hoarse from screaming and laughing.
Turns out that we were all in the same tribe all along!
by Tansy Rayner Roberts
Author of The Creature Court trilogy, and Love & Romanpunk
Tansy’s Writing Blog – http://tansyrr.com
Crunchy SF Feminist Podcast – http://www.galacticsuburbia.com
Pendlerook Designs, Tasmanian Hand-painted Dolls – www.pendlerook.com