A Pre-NaNoWriMo Retrospective

Well, it’s almost that time of year again: November, aka National Novel Writing Month. For the third time, I’ll be endeavoring to write 50,000 words, hopefully in a manner that resembles a single coherent story. 2009 was successful; 2010 (which was actually a continuation of my 2009 story) wasn’t. However, that story (my epic fantasy, In a Land of Wind and Sky) now has a completed 177,000 word rough draft, which means this November it’s time for something new.

When I planned In a Land of Wind and Sky, I started with a basic idea for a plot, then came up with characters who could play the roles in that plot, and then came up with a setting in which that plot could play out. So essentially, I built the novel in order of plot, character, setting. In retrospect, I may have done things backward– if I had done more worldbuilding first, and let the characters be born from that setting, it might have felt more natural to me. Instead, it often felt like I was crafting a world to match what the plot needed, and for some reason that felt like cheating to me. In my head, the world felt less real because too often I was trying to finagle things to match what the plot needed.

This time, I’m not actually starting with a single idea or plot point as inspiration. Instead, I’m starting with a general concept that seems kind of cool. So far, it’s shaping up to be sort of like Sliders meets Ocean’s Eleven in an Urban Fantasy setting.

After writing a very complicated plot, with several intertwined character arcs, with In a Land of Wind and Sky, I decided I wanted to write something simpler and more straightforward. My idea was to write it in first person, and setting it in the contemporary world in order to minimize the amount of worldbuilding I needed to do. Immediately, I thought “urban fantasy.” Plus, I’ve read a lot of urban fantasy in the past year (most notably the entire “Dresden Files” series), and something along those lines seemed like it might play to my strengths, as well as be fun to write.

With that thought, I began to let my mind wander, and began building a world and magic system. That in turns suggested possible character quirks and backstories to me; in addition, I found characters from a couple of stalled short stories years ago who fit nicely into this new world. I’m still looking for the plot, but I do see a lot of possibilities, and as I flesh out the magic and the characters more, I’m letting those be the guide for my muse. So in essence, I’m building this novel backwards from how I built my first one: this time I’m going setting, character, plot. It’s a little more touch-and-go, and I feel like there’s still a risk that I may tear up the whole thing in frustration, but if I can get it working, I think the novel will come together more naturally than my first one. Of course, I already have ten characters just on the good guys’ side… and I’m pretty sure I’m gonna have to write it in third person… so it’s probably going to end up more complicated than I originally planned… oh, well.

But even if I finish planning this novel and come up with a plot that inspires me, that doesn’t mean that I’ll be successful at NaNoWriMo. I’m on course to start a new full-time job on November 3rd, after a summer of fun-yet-increasingly-broke writing and travel. It remains to be seen how the new job’s going to affect my writing time– since I usually do my writing in two-hour evening spurts at Bauhaus Coffee, my hope is that it won’t affect my writing life too much.

It’s been a crazy past few months. I’ve done the Clarion West Write-a-thon, finished the first draft of a novel, written four short stories, and gone to three weekend conventions. In non-writing stuff, I’ve driven the North Cascades Loop, hiked in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, spent a weekend at Mt. Baker, and conducted and finished a job search. It’s been a productive four months– unfortunately, not the sort of productivity that anyone is paying me for yet. So it’s back to cubicle world for a while, starting right around the time NaNoWriMo begins.

Yup. Gonna be interesting.

A Day at GeekGirlCon

This weekend was the first annual GeekGirlCon, a new convention in Seattle dedicated specifically to the girls and women of geekdom. And even though I’m not a geek girl, I decided to spend a day there on Saturday. (After all, I go to Dragon*Con every year despite not being large, green, and scaly…) And sure enough, they let me in! I didn’t even have to check my Y-chromosome at the door.

GeekGirlCon was set up to promote and celebrate the role of women in geek culture. In a perfect, equal world it would not be necessary– however, the world, especially the world of geeks, is neither perfect nor equal. I hate to say it, but there’s a lot of sexism in geek culture– just check out the latest brouhaha over DC Comics’ reboot of Starfire, in which women’s sexual liberation gets twisted into male wish fulfillment— probably because almost all of DC’s writers and artists are male.

On other fronts, Internet culture is horribly sexist, and often claims “irony” as an excuse to be not just blatantly sexist, but racist and homophobic– this is Not Okay. And things are arguably even worse in online games.

There are serious problems outside of pop culture, too: for example, women are still very underrepresented in STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). And even outside the geek realm, societal norms aren’t helping matters.

Given all this as context, yes, we need a GeekGirlCon.

I heard a fair amount of speculation prior to the con that the attendees would mostly consist of lonely guys trying to pick up geek girls (hey, more sexism!), but in actuality that was not the case. In fact, I’d say the guy-girl ratio was about 30-70, based on a few rough counts I did at panels. Admittedly, it was kind of a nice change from normal cons, where the ratio is sometimes almost reversed. The panelists were almost entirely female (again, a reversal of the norm) and the panels were some of the most interesting that I’ve attended in years: possibly because the topics and perspectives were ones that often don’t get discussed at cons.

I attended a couple of panels: one was on Writing Urban Fantasy, hosted by Yasmine Galenorn. It’s not exactly a new topic, but it was presented in a much more systematic way than I had ever seen before, complete with a handout describing the basic formulas that a lot of Urban Fantasy is characterized by, do’s and don’ts, cliches and tropes, and the interplay of reason and magic. And I walked away with some good ideas to work into my NaNoWriMo novel next month.

I also attended a panel on Geek Girls in Culture, talking about the role of geeky women in TV and movies and books, and the good and bad sides of their portrayal, and which ones have geniunely inspired the panelists over the course of their careers. By and large, the panels I attended were some of the most fun, informative and entertaining that I’ve seen– and I’m not just saying that because I want to suck up to the geek girls. I think we did get to see things presented from an angle that is often lacking or underrepresented in “mainstream” geek culture.

By and large the con was well-organized for a first year con. There were some hiccups– like long lines in the narrow hallways prior to the panels, which occasionally intermixed. There were also some quirks to the venue– the con was held in the Northwest Rooms of the Seattle Center, except for larger events, which were held at the EMP Museum about a five or ten minute walk away. The EMP is a big place, and things were sometimes difficult to find– notably the Masquerade line, which unlike almost everywhere else didn’t seem to have any volunteers around. Someone told me that it was the line for Masquerade participants, not spectators, which meant I ended up doing another lap around the building before I figured out that yes, it was the right line after all.

Speaking of the Masquerade, this is pretty much the only area of the con I had any actual complaints. It was held on a stage at the EMP, however, the lighting was the worst I’ve ever seen at a Masquerade. The spotlight overhead was dim and orange, which made photography a total pain and certainly didn’t flatter the costumes. And despite some quick instructions from the MCs, most of the participants simply walked up, did a quick turn, and back off the stage without so much as a pause. Again, tough for the audience to appreciate your costume (or photographers to take pics) if you don’t actually stop for a few seconds. That said, there were some great costumes, particularly in the kids’ division– it’s good to see such a promising next generation of geeks.

But all in all, it was an excellent con, particularly for its first year. It’s filling a unique and (unfortunately) needed niche, and it was definitely a hit with the community. Saturday-only tickets sold out before I got there, so I had to buy a two-day pass. I had hoped to make it back on Sunday, but didn’t– probably because I stayed up until 3 am writing, then slept in until 2 the next day. Hopefully it’ll be bigger and better next year. And hopefully it’ll give more girl geeks (and young geeks in general) a taste of the community beyond what they see online.

Full set of photos from the con here.