Westercon – The Good Bits Version

I spent my Fourth of July weekend at Westercon in San Jose, commuting from home but nonetheless spending enough time there each day to not only participate in and attend a number of panels, but to enjoy the pleasure of many stimulating conversations. I felt sad that despite a rich banquet of panel topics and many wonderful panelists, the convention was so sparsely attended, it felt as if we were all rattling around in a new-empty hotel, rubbing elbows with the International Tae Kwan Do Competition folk and a slew of teenaage soccer players. Rather than deliver a blow-by-blow description of each panel and conversation, I’ve excerpted the “Good Bits” for your delectation. I’m not putting forth these tidbits as gospel fact, just things that caught my attention.

A bunch of us did a panel on Book View Cafe, which was of course splendid, but as I was on it, I wasn’t taking notes.

From “History Is Written by the Winners:”

  • Not only do the winners lie about what happened, the losers lie to the winners and so participate in shaping the understanding of the conflict.
  • Lies are interesting to me as a writer; even more so, their consequences.
  • Wikipedia: “History As Written By The Loudest.”
  • Waiting until all the generals are dead so you can write the real history without embarrassing them.
  • Male anthropologists ask only the men of the tribe about hunting; when women anthropologists entered the field, they asked the women and discovered that each contributed to supplying food “discovering a previously-unguessed source of calories for the tribe.”
  • History and fiction are both narratives; what is the obligation of the author? The historian?


From “Formidable Women” – I came in late, so I missed the discussion of choice and agency.

  • Traditional story: mothers in search of stolen children, later versions substitute sisters, which makes the quest less urgent.
  • Power figure: dowager (not the wicked stepmother)- – the mother of the king, able to advise influence him, old enough to know where all the bodies are buried and how things are done.
  • Tales remove mother (or both parents) to force the child to leave home for adventure and places the child at risk.
  • Triads: 2 boys plus formidable girl, often “softened” into “minority gender side-kick.” 2 non-protagonist friends can represent hero’s anima/animus.
  • Coming-of-age tales can work regardless of age.
  • Reading Jane Austen as satire.
  • Using sf/f to subvert cultural and gender stereotypes. The “man with boobs” is a problem only if gender is an issue (more likely with male authors; female authors are often given the benefit of the doubt).
  • Most of us grew up reading male characters as written by male authors as a model of how to do it; have fewer good models of writing female characters.

From: “Getting the Details Right:”

  • “Some things you just can’t look up” — cultural details not in Wikipedia, like “A woman wouldn’t do that.”
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions (but do have a question); use reference librarians, universities and museums as well as the internet.
  • Be sensitive to the power of expectation and use details to shoot down preconceptions/stereotypes, details borrowed from other fiction (“phasers on stun!” “Shields up!”)
  • RE: Infodump. People use metaphors for conceptual shorthand to describe everyday events; when they argue, they use “As You Know Bob” to hurl facts they both know at one another.
  • Consider the use of ignorant characters and broken devices.
  • Spread out exposition by weaving it into story so it’s not in a lump.
  • Pick key objects, described in depth, to condense information presentation.
  • It’s as important to know when to leave out details as when to put them in. Beware of tech and specifications (like computer memory) that become obsolete in a few years. Vocabulary can bind you to a specific time and world, which can be good or bad.

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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Westercon – The Good Bits Version — 1 Comment

  1. History isn’t only narrative. It’s primary documents which includes statistics, without which you can’t get to the bottom of things. Woe to a historian who doesn’t have a grasp of the metrics involved!

    Love, C.