Tag Archives: DragonCon

Writing-Tip Wednesday: The Quickening

Okay, writers, raise your hand if any of your characters have ever done things you didn’t expect. Yeah, I figure that’s most of us. Now raise your hand if your characters have ever done things you really didn’t want them to do. Yep. Also most of us.

Of all the things I tell non-writers about what I do for a living, this is the one that always draws the most interest, surprise, and skepticism.

“But they’re creations of your imagination! You control them. How can they surprise you, much less disobey you?”

I control them?! Hah!

At the end of the first book of Winds of the Forelands, a series I intended at the time to be four books long (it wound up being five), one of my characters told me she was pregnant. I swear. I typed the words, sat back, and said aloud, “Freaking hell, she’s pregnant.” Except I didn’t say “freaking.”

I had the other books planned out. I knew where the plot was going and what the character arcs for the rest of the series were supposed to look like. There was no room in there for a kid. None.

“So,” a non-writer might ask, “why not delete that sentence from the manuscript and write something else? They’re your characters, inhabiting your world, right?”

Well, yes, but no.

Because while I didn’t want her to be pregnant, I knew as soon as I typed the words that she had to be, that it made far more sense with all that had come before. And the rest of the series, as eventually written and published, bears this out. It was a much better story with the child than without her. I just needed to be led there, and my character did that for me.

There is an old term, coined originally by midwives — the quickening. This is when a fetus begins to move, showing its first signs of life in the womb. And that is the term I use to describe the evolution of a character from a creature purely of our imagination, to a person capable of making decisions that surprise us and help to shape our narratives.

At my very first DragonCon some twenty-plus years ago, when I was still the newbiest of newbies, I got into an argument with a VERY famous fantasy writer about this very thing. (We were on a panel — this was in front of a crowd.) I won’t give this person’s name. Some of you have heard me tell the story, and so know. The rest of you have my apologies. But this was a BIG name, one of the very biggest. And this person swore up and down that we are the gods of our worlds, the masters of our stories, and if our characters were doing things we didn’t expect then we were doing this wrong. And at last, in my frustration, I said what I believe to this day to be the single wisest thing about character development I have ever offered: If you write them like puppets, they’ll read like puppets. (I patched things up with the Big Name afterwards. This person was gracious and kind, which is why my vehemence, and the implied criticism in my remark, did not wind up ruining my career.)

The quickening is a good thing, a great thing. When our characters begin to behave in a way that feels independent, as if they have agency and will and spirit, they become more real to our readers. They go from being words on a page to being three-dimensional beings.

Now, of course, they really are words on a page. And I have no doubt that someone versed in the workings of the psyche would tell me what is happening has nothing to do with the characters and everything to do with the mechanics of my imagination. At the moment of the quickening, they would likely say, my belief in my characters and my comfort with them reaches a point where they begin to work on my subconscious and influence my thinking about my narrative and my world. Whatever. It’s much easier to say that my characters are surprising me and guiding me. Because that’s how it feels, and in all ways that matter, that’s what’s happening.

I can’t think of any advice that will help you get to this moment with your characters. I would guess that most of you get there on your own, in the normal course of writing your stories. The truth is, the moment when our characters begin to surprise us is the moment when writing becomes really fun. When I’m writing and enjoying the process most, I don’t think so much as I describe things my characters are seeing, and document things they’re doing and saying. Writing dialogue becomes more like stenography — I’m writing down the conversations I hear in my mind.

But I will offer this — to carry the childbirth analogy a bit further…

Dealing with characters who have come alive in our minds is a bit like parenting. We want to give them the freedom they need to become the literary equivalent of living, breathing people. We want them to grow, to be independent, to have that agency I mentioned before so that the stories we’re telling feel organic and true and immediate. At the same time, though, as with real children, we don’t want to give them absolute free reign. That big name author was right in part: This is still our creative work, and while characters have to be allowed to take our stories in unexpected directions, they shouldn’t take over entirely. We wouldn’t want a five-year-old running our household, and we don’t want a fictional character, or even a set of them, making every meaningful decision in our narrative. Put another way, we don’t want to stifle the character’s growth, but by necessity we have to maintain some control.

The quickening is magical and affirming and inspirational. It’s that moment in Frankenstein (or, if you prefer, Young Frankenstein) when the doctor cries out “It’s alive!” It carries our storytelling to another level, transforming writing into something akin to discovery. But we must always remember that it does not absolve us of our creative responsibilities.

Enjoy! And keep writing!

Monday Musings: Missing DragonCon

Like so many of you, like so many of my fans, my colleagues, my friends, I was supposed to be in Atlanta for DragonCon this Labor Day weekend. Yes, I have taken part in several online panels and visited with a writing workshop group – all through Zoom – and those appearances have been enjoyable. Let’s be honest, though: Even the best Zoom panels – and all of those I participated in were well run – cannot replace a live DragonCon. Missing the con has left me frustrated and sad, and I know I’m not the only one.

To state the obvious, the tragedy of this pandemic can be measured in lives lost, in lingering medical issues, in economic dislocation at a level not seen since the Great Depression. People have suffered and are suffering still. And in that context, the cancellation of a science fiction/fantasy convention is a tiny thing, barely worthy of mention.

And yet, it is indicative of so much that the Covid crisis has cost us on several levels.

For those of you who don’t know about DragonCon, it is, as I say, a SF/Fantasy convention that takes place every Labor Day weekend in the Peachtree section of Atlanta. It draws anywhere from 75,000 to 90,000 fans and professionals to the city, including artists, writers, editors, agents, actors, directors, costumers, make-up specialists, and others connected to science fiction and fantasy and horror in all their manifestations. The convention is particularly famous for its costumes which are on display during a well-known and much-anticipated parade along Peachtree Street on the Saturday morning of that weekend. DragonCon is, for lack of a better analogy, Mardi Gras for geeks.

For me personally, and, I know, for many friends as well, the absence of the convention leaves a hole in our emotional lives. Most writers work in relative isolation. We spend our work hours researching and writing on our own, communing with the characters who inhabit our imaginations. In normal years, interactions on Facebook and Twitter and other social media platforms supplement the personal experiences with colleagues and fans we expect from workshops and conventions and signings. This year, of course, social media is all we have.

And while the cancellation of each convention this year has been a disappointment, DragonCon is more than just another convention. For me, and for countless others, it is THE convention. It is the centerpiece of my professional year. Everything else I do builds to DragonCon. I reach more of my audience in those four days in Atlanta – through well-attended panels and readings, through signings, through the simple act of walking from one venue to another with so many people – than I do at all my other events combined. More important, I get to see a great number of my writing friends and associates. Every meal is a chance to catch up with an old friend. Every evening in one of the many hotel bars (usually the Westin) my friends and I gather to talk shop and laugh and share news good and bad. It’s very much like a family reunion.

DragonCon also offers countless opportunities for making new professional connections and finding opportunities for work, for collaboration, for broadening our careers in any number of ways. I’ve been attending the convention regularly for the better part of a decade, and over that period I have met with my agent many times; I have had discussions with lots and lots of editors – both those I had worked with already and those I hoped to work with in the future; I have been invited into anthologies; I have worked through plotting problems or character issues or world building conundrums with fellow professionals; I have sold a TON of books. Missing out on those sorts of professional openings, particularly this year, when business is especially tough, serves only to deepen my sense of loss.

DragonCon is famous as well for its dealers’ exhibits, which fill three or more warehouse-sized floors in the America’s Mart in downtown Atlanta. Book sellers, gamers, jewelers, knitters, woodworkers, metalworkers, costumers, and artists in so many other crafts build their years around the convention, just as we writers do. I can hardly imagine what a blow the con’s cancellation must be for them.

As I mentioned before, the convention fills bars and restaurants throughout that part of the city, not to mention all the hotels. I have no doubt that with this event, and ones like it, called off, service industry workers are suffering. It must be harder to find work. Few if any will be earning overtime pay. Cancel an event that brings 80,000 extra people to the city, and it HAS to have a devastating impact, and that impact will be felt most by those who can afford it least.

Exacerbating personal isolation, limiting professional opportunities, deepening economic dislocation – the cancellation of DragonCon offers a view in microcosm of what the pandemic has done to our society. We miss our friends. We begrudge the loss of professional interaction and book sales. We worry for those who need the con’s economic benefits even more than we do personally.

I hope to be back in Atlanta at this time next year. I say that for selfish reasons, for professional ones, and, yes, out of concern for those who depend on the convention for their livelihoods. DragonCon’s cancellation may be a small matter in the constellation of concerns brought on by the pandemic. But as with so much else that has happened this crazy year, its impact is more widely felt than one might expect.

Wishing you a great week.

My Schedule For DragonCon!

I am delighted to present my schedule for DragonCon, which begins on Friday in Atlanta. I will be appearing as D.B. Jackson (and that’s how I’m listed in the program), but will be talking about work written under both of my pen names. I have lots of panels, a reading, and a couple of signings. And if you can’t find me at one of those events, I will also be in a dealers’ room booth — Tairen’s Lair/Author/s Lair — selling and signing books. Can’t find me even in the booth? Check the Westin Bar. I’m probably there. So come by and say hello. Details below:

First off, my panels:

Title: Race and Gender Issues in Alternate History
Description: The treatment of race and gender in the Alternate History genre.
Time: Fri 11:30 am Location: Augusta 3 – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)

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Title: The Plot Thickens: Mystery & Suspense in UF
Description: How mystery & suspense characterize Urban Fantasy.
Time: Fri 02:30 pm Location: Chastain ED – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)

——————-
Title: Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow
Description: Readings, music, & more from a motley band of costumed authors, plus swag!
Time: Fri 07:00 pm Location: A707 – Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)

——————-
Title: Blending History & the Fantastic
Description: Challenges & advantages of using historical settings & events in speculative fiction.
Time: Fri 08:30 pm Location: Chastain ED – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)

——————-
Title: World Building—Part 1: Building Alternate Eras
Description: Alt-world creators tell secrets of building brave new worlds, from research to history deviations.
Time: Sat 04:00 pm Location: Augusta 3 – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)

——————-
Title: Magepunk: Sorcery as Technology
Description: Alchemical rules or arcane industrial revolution? We focus on media depictions of magic as technology.
Time: Sat 05:30 pm Location: Augusta 3 – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)

——————-
Title: Spellbound: Magic Systems in UF
Description: Authors in the genre describe the characteristics of the magic that serves as the underpinnings of their worlds
Time: Sun 08:30 pm Location: Chastain ED – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)

——————-
Title: Realms of the Dead: Ghosts and Spirits in UF
Description: Panelists discuss the various types of ghosts and spirits found in the genre
Time: Mon 10:00 am Location: Chastain ED – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)

My reading:

Title: Reading: D.B Jackson/David B. Coe
Time: Mon 11:30 am Location: Marietta – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)

My Booth Appearances:

Once again this year I will be in the Tairen’s Lair/Author’s Lair booth in the dealer’s room. That is booth # 1223-25 on the first floor of the American’s Mart, Building 2, West Wing

I will be in the booth . . .

Friday from 4:00pm-6:30pm

Saturday, 10:00am-12:00pm, and 1:30-pm-3:00pm

Sunday, 10:00am-12:00pm, and 4:00pm-5:30pm

Monday, 1:00pm-3:00pm, and 4:00pm-5:00pm

Finally, I will also having signings at The Missing Volume, also in the America’s Mart, booth 1301-03, 1400-02.

My signings at The Missing Volume:

Sunday, 6:00pm-7:00pm

Monday, 3:00pm-4:00pm

DragonCon, Here I Come . . . Again

This is one of those announcements that I just love to make: I am very pleased to say that I have been invited back to DragonCon as a guest (as D.B. Jackson, but I’ll be there promoting work under both my writing names). I will be speaking on panels, (perhaps) reading from my latest work, and selling books in the exhibitor’s hall in the Tairen’s Lair/Author’s Lair booth.

DragonCon is one of my favorite conventions, and each year a centerpiece of my event calendar. I am grateful to the folks at the con for having me back again this year. It offers me a chance to catch up with friends, interact with fans, and see all sorts of stuff I don’t see anywhere else — the weird, the impressive, and the unexpected. (As in the Chick-Fil-A zombie cows in this photo from a few years ago. . .)

DragonCowZombies

So, I’ll be in Atlanta the weekend of September 4-7, Labor Day weekend. Hope to see many of you there. For more information about my 2015 appearances, please go to this page.