Saturday, November 05, 2005

Madison WFC Saturday 

I attended two panels today, the first about the 'Art of Review and Criticism', with Paula Guran lobbing a series of questions to panelists Gary K. Wolfe, Russell Letson, Michael Levy, and William Gagliani: what can a writer do to get a fair review? (Not a lot, but don't be a jerk.) What's the state of the art of reviewing? (There are a lot more reviews than criticism; a lot of online stuff is awful, but so was a lot of mimeo'd fanzine stuff.) Cheryl Morgan joined the panel to describe her current experience writing reviews (she's getting more PDF files now instead of ARCs), and the group went on to discuss how reviews in different venues differ (those in PW [some written by Paula and Michael] are short, anonymous, and designed for the general reader; those in Locus assume a familiarity with the genre). It's not true, said Gary, that Locus has a policy against running negative reviews; it's that reviewers are allowed to select what to cover, and often choose not to bother to finish reading a book they don't like. Cheryl disagreed with this approach, citing Dave Langford's expertise in writing effective negative reviews, and she claimed that in her case she makes a point of finishing every book she reads.

A later panel was about "The Reader: Foundation of Fantasy", which despite its complementary theme had a relatively light attendance. Ann VanderMeer posed a series of prepared questions and quotes (from Sartre, Delany, Scholes) to panelists Jay Lake, Mary Rosenblum, Hal Duncan, Matt Cheney, and (Tor editor) Liz Gorinsky. How important is the reader? If a story is never read, is it still a work of art? If a reader gets it wrong, whose fault is it? Hal Duncan, in thick Glaswegian accent, answered aggressively: the story is all-important, not the writer and not the reader. Jay Lake was more practical; Matt Cheney good-naturedly theoretical, undermining the questions by focusing on definitions (what is a work of art?). Does it take skill to read properly? Duncan cited Mervyn Peake's as books that taught him how to read them; similarly Cheney cited Absalom, Absalom. What does the writer owe the reader? To make the story work as well as it possibly can; or, said Gorinsky, it's not about what anyone owes, it's about trust. What should a perfect reader bring to a book? Tolerance; a love of words; curiosity.

In between the panels I circuited the dealers room, chatting with C.E. Petit, meeting Carrie Vaughn, catching up with John O'Neill (who thinks I should be more aggressive about promoting myself on Locus Online). And bought some books, and took notes on others. Then there was a Scotch Tasting Party thrown by the good folks at Borderlands Books in San Francisco; I sipped Balvenie, noshed crackers and smoked salmon, and chatted with Amelia and Gary and Jonathan and Justin. Then downstairs to meet Diana Gill and Charles Brown for drinks, to chat about publishing industry gossip, what we've read lately, what's coming up.

Yesterday's nice weather gave way to overcast today and then chilly rain. I hooked up with Jennifer Hall and Cheryl Morgan for dinner down the street at casual Italian place, and returned to the con hotel as the evening's artists' reception began. Taking more time than I did yesterday, and perhaps because some of the artwork hadn't been put up yesterday when I went through the room, I saw more interesting stuff than I noted then -- by Terri Windling, Kinuko Y. Craft, Mael Nohara, Caniglia, Randy Broecker, Alan Servoss, Charles Vess, Hicaru Tanaka, Paul Bielaczyc. Then I ducked in and out of a couple more panels (still going at 9 and 10 in the evening) and cycled among the several 6th floor parties and huddling spots in the lobby and bar for a while, before heading back a little earlier than usual to my room, via a con-provided taxi voucher.

Tomorrow is the banquet and the World Fantasy Awards, and given the distance back to my hotel (especially if it's raining) I'm not sure how quickly I'll be posting the results on Locus Online. Cheryl Morgan, however, plans to post the winners to her blog from the room as they're announced...
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Mark R. Kelly

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mark R. Kelly, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine.
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