Potlatch Recap

March 8, 2010 – Back from the Potlatch con.

Their Web site describes Potlatch as a place where SF readers and writers meet on common ground. And that’s pretty much what it is. You don’t necessarily know, at first, whether the person you’re chatting with is a reader, a writer, a published author, a bestselling author, a bookseller, or an editor.

This is a little disconcerting, but overall, I really like it. I’m what you would call an author early in her career – a few short story publications under my belt, but no published books. I really need other authors to hang out with, and an informal setting is a nice way to do it. Some of my favorite times are when I’m in a circle of readers and writers talking about something a little tangential to writing – we may be trashing Star Wars, for example, discussing imaginary children, or commenting on how the sentence “I have to turn off my phone or it will take pictures of the inside of my pants pocket” would not have made sense twenty years ago. I also had a couple of wonderful in-depth conversations with people I like.

Here are the events I attended:

Friday afternoon writing workshop:
I took a writing workshop with author Ellen Klages (author of Portable Childhoods, The Green Glass Sea, and others). I’ve taken a lot of workshops, and I have to say, she was a breath of fresh air. There was general respect for all the stories (all of which were quite good and two of which – not mine – were nearly publishable) and a lot of laughs and running jokes. (“Three dyslexics walk into a bra.”) We took her for a beer afterward and talk ranged from the development and use of the first atomic bomb to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and googling one’s grandfather. I appreciated most of all that she had genuine enjoyment for stories and admired writers whether they were published or not – she told a story about a manuscript she had once read that was lovely and lyrical and wonderful but which the author never intended to publish, and how much she respected that.

Friday evening panel:
Authors Nisi Shawl, Ellen Klages, David D. Levine, Eddy Smith, and Natasha Oliver gave a panel on writing the “other” – how to responsibly portray characters whose ROAARS (race, orientation, age, ability, religion, or sex) differ from your own. For background, you can check out Nisi Shawl’s article “Transracial Writing for the Sincere.”

Saturday morning reading:
I went to a reading by Ellen Klages. She read some stories about interactions with her imaginary eight-year-old daughter. (Related stories have been published in her collection Portable Childhoods.) Nobody believed her at first when she said she has in fact no children whatsoever. “But it’s so spot-on!” all the parents said. “How did you know???” She attributed it to having been a child, but I personally think some of it must come from reading Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Or the child was an actual ghost. Or both.

Saturday morning panel:
I attended a panel on electronic publishing, presented by Vonda McIntyre, John D. Berry, and Janna Silverstein. It was a pretty high-level talk for authors and editors. Some topics included: the dreadful typography in ebooks; the cost of buying ISBNs for each version of ebook reader; a wish list for readers of ebooks; whether or not ebooks could do without graphics; and a question of whether e-publishing will destroy livelihoods for authors.

Saturday evening auction:
The auction at Potlatch benefits scholarships for the six-week Clarion West writing workshop – a fabulous cause, because it means that writers can participate regardless of income, which in turn means that upcoming novels will be more diverse class-wise. One of the high points: Ellen Klages auctioned off a dramatic reading of a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle story, with the phrase “Don’t touch D___.” Also auctioned off was a lock of hair from someone who, sadly, is undergoing chemotherapy. I scored, among other things, a book autographed by Vonda McIntyre and a lap blanket she knitted. The auction ended right on time, which was good because folks had run out of money.

Sunday morning readings:
Short-story author Vylar Kaftan gave a reading of a story she had written the night before. She had donated the writing of a 750-word flash fiction piece on whatever topic the auction writer desired. It turned out to be disturbing and squicky, but with an orange tree and a happy ending, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Eileen Gunn, author of the collection Stable Strategies for Middle Management, gave a reading of a hilarious time-travel story she had finished that morning, along with the funniest story I’ve ever heard about the writing-of.

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