Radcon Report Part I: Corrupting the Young

This weekend, my convention-going career attained two firsts. I went to Radcon (in Pasco WA) and it was my first gig as Writer Guest of Honor. For me and for many other writer guests, Radcon’s program began the day before the convention officially opened. This con has a long history of outreach to young people in the community: scheduling authors at local schools and libraries, running a young writer’s contest (with every entrant receiving a free membership), as well as a writer’s workshop. Not only did I donate autographed copies of my books for the prize winners, but I spent a delightful hour with a room full of 7th graders. I’ve done this before, and appreciate that it is both inspiring and terrifying.
The kids, selected from a number of classes for this special event, were clearly on their best behavior. I introduced myself and talked a little about how I came to be a writer. I told the story of the cover for the print version of Jaydium. (It goes like this: when the book was in production and I had not yet seen the cover painting, I realized that there is a scene in which my heroine is naked and being approached by a gigantic silver slug. I thought, “Oh great! They’ll put that on the cover and none of my women friends will ever speak to me again!” Instead, I got an extremely phallic spaceship.) One kid wanted to know what phallic meant. “Shaped like a penis,” I said. “What?” they cried in delight — my god, she said “penis.” That certainly perked them right up. So I repeated the definition to make sure that everyone who was going to giggle had gotten it out of the way.

I asked what they would like to do: I could focus on writing as a career, I could read them something I’d written, or we could write a story together. They couldn’t decide between the latter two, and I thought I could do a bit of each. I had come prepared to read “What the Dinosaurs Are Like,” from Bruce Coville’s Book of Magic II. I think dinosaurs are ultimately cool, but the kids informed me they are Not Cool or rather, No Longer Cool. The only other thing I had to read from was my author’s copy of the (soon to be released as) paperback Hastur Lord. I said, “I’m not sure I can do this, as it might get the grownups upset.”

“Why?” they wanted to know.
“It’s got gay characters, bi characters, characters with more than one lover, and religious nuts running amok.”

That settled it. So I read a chapter near the end, where Regis Hastur is rescuing a bunch of kids from where they’re being held hostage and brainwashed by aforementioned religious fanatics. The kids listened surprisingly well, and the room got very quiet when it looked like one of the children in the story had been killed. “Wow!” the kids said, “I’ve got to get that book!”

Seducing the young, that’s me.

Okay, I said, let’s use something from that story to get going on our own. What should we use?

Kidnapping!

And who shall we kidnap? Anna!

Who are we? Movie stars!

Where are we holding her? At the zoo!

Why are we kidnapping her? For ransom money so we can make a movie! A zombie movie! No, a ninja zombie movie! (I am not making this up.)

Okay, what happens next? Rosie, her best friend, er, trusty sidekick, decides to rescue her! (Now both Anna and Rosie are getting into the act.)

So Rosie sneaks into the zoo…what goes wrong? She lets the Siberian tiger out of its cage!

About this stage, we ran out of time, which was really too bad because the kids were on a roll. A couple of kids, usually boys, kept wanting to kill off characters, which is something to watch out for if you try this collaborative writing yourself. They don’t yet have the sense of a whole story unfolding with rising tension and complications, but they respond pretty well if you show them how that just ends the story before it gets going. They also get it that it’s more fun to torture characters than to just kill them.

I’d love to see more conventions do this kind of outreach, plus the young writers program. True, many of the teens spent the weekend gaming, which isn’t a bad thing in a community where there isn’t much for them to do. I hope that eventually all the book mania vibes have an effect, but I also recognize that storytelling comes in many different forms and one must begin somewhere.

Look for Part II of my Radcon report next Tuesday.

Deborah J. Ross has been writing science fiction and fantasy since 1982. Her novels Jaydium and Northlight are available as multiformat ebooks here on Book View Cafe. Her most recent print publication is Hastur Lord, a Darkover novel with the late Marion Zimmer Bradley.

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Radcon Report Part I: Corrupting the Young — 5 Comments

  1. Those kids must have loved you.

    When my daughter was in 4th grade I did a six week writing gig with her class; each week I talked about a different aspect of a story, with an aim to getting everyone to write an SF or fantasy short story. And I promised to write a story based on a trope they voted on. I was expecting aliens or robots. Trust kids not to give you what you expect. They wanted mind control. Which gives you an interesting view into the 9 year old brain…

    The refrain in that class, each week, was “ask the next question.” About the plot, or the setting, or the characters. It seemed to be the single most useful advice I could give. And the stories they wrote were astonishing!

  2. Kids are so full of energy and enthusiasm, especially if you don’t try to ram “litratyur” down their throats. They’re not at all afraid of hard stuff and they have strong ideas.

    Corrupting young minds to the Imagination side of the Force, and empowering them to tell their own stories, that’s us!

  3. I had the high school version of this. Amongst the 5 classes I spoke to was the creative writing. We plotted a story about a short, wiry gladiator who had to win on skill rather than brute force so he could afford to buy his family free of slavery.