Thursday, December 01, 2016


We spent the Friday through Sunday noon after Thanksgiving at ChessieCon in Timonium (just north of Baltimore). I'm thankful for its location, so that we can drive there and back easily; if it required a flight or a long drive, we probably wouldn't go on a holiday weekend. The author guest of honor was Sarah Pinsker, and the musical guest was S. J. Tucker. In addition to her concert, I attended performances by Cade Tinney (who sang a song from the STEVEN UNIVERSE animated series with heart-wrenching beauty) and filk veteran Roberta Rogow. Highly impressed with Roberta Rogow's historical and SF filk, I bought two of her albums in the dealers' room. I especially like her "Schindler's List." And this piece, which she always closes with:

Fact and Fiction

I appeared on two panels, about "The Care and Feeding of Critique Groups" and STEVEN UNIVERSE. My contribution to the discussion of critique groups came from belonging to an online group of around fifteen people, who interact by e-mail. Weekly critique slots are available, and members who want feedback can send their work to the group after reserving a slot. In practice, only a few either submit or critique regularly; many of the fifteen or sixteen members seldom participate, and there's no requirement or penalty. The typical experience described by other panelists was more often with face-to-face groups of fewer people. We talked about the logistics of organizing a critique group, how to give useful feedback, and the importance of the authors in a group being at about the same level of development.

If you haven't watched the STEVEN UNIVERSE series, you'd be amazed at the depth of emotion embodied in what looks, at first glance, like a humorous superhero cartoon for kids. Steven is fourteen-year-old boy (who looks younger, and there's a plot reason why) living with the Crystal Gems, three feminine-identified aliens who fought with Steven's no-longer-present mother in a long-ago rebellion against the Homeworld Gems, who intended to use Earth as an incubator (thereby destroying all life on the planet). Steven is half Gem and half human. His human father remains involved in his life, but it's the Gems who have to protect Steven and teach him to use his nascent powers. They live in Beach City in the state of Delmarva; their home is an alternate version of Earth, the prehistoric Gem War apparently having knocked the planet's history off the course our primary world followed. The panel naturally spent a lot of time on gender issues, a central focus of the show, but there was much more to discuss. One of the series' dominant themes is reconciliation and redemption. We decided Steven's main "superpower" is empathy. Though still a child and far from perfect, he tries very hard to heal even the most unprepossessing "monsters." The very cartoonish art style belies the underlying seriousness of this animated Intimate Adventure program, so its complexities sneak up on the viewer. Do give it a try. The individual episodes are only about twelve minutes long after the commercials are stripped off. Be warned of "continuity lockout" after the first few episodes; the story really needs to be viewed in order.

My husband, Les, also appeared on two panels, one on submarines in science fiction and one on the phenomenon of high-tech magic, fantasy with scientific underpinnings or science so advanced it looks like magic. We attended another panel on submarines, a slide show presentation on real underwater craft of the nineteenth century (and a bit about Jules Verne's Nautilus). One session that delved particularly deeply into its topic tackled the challenge of creating realistic characters with PTSD. There was also a panel on "Writing Outside the Lines," about constructing characters unlike oneself (in gender, race, etc.), a complex and contentious issue.

Les and I participated in the group author signing and had fun talking to people, even though we didn't sell any copies of our books.

ChessieCon is highly book-oriented with lots of sessions slanted toward writers. It also has a full music track. If you live in or near Maryland, do consider joining us some year.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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