Nerdcon: Stories 2016

I bought my ticket for Nerdcon: Stories on impulse this year. It was after I knew I was going back to school but before I knew the schedule and I didn’t tell anybody for  while because I was on the fence about contacting Nerdcon and returning the ticket. I am so very happy that I decided to play hooky with school and attend this wonderful event. I was lucky enough to, totally by chance, end up in the same Airbnb as a fellow attendee of the conference. I went by myself last year (read about that here) and fully planned on flying solo this year as well, but it was so nice to have someone to nerd out with. I also loved that I could count on my new friend to tell me about the interesting panels and events that she went to and I missed. I think there is value in attending events like this one alone but part of that value is that you get to meet great new people like my new friend, Michelle!

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Some of you may know that Hank Green put up a video explaining that, from a business perspective Nerdcon was a failure. Tickets didn’t sell as well as they planned, and some other things, but honestly, just go watch the video. I haven’t attended a ton of other conferences (i.e. I haven’t attended any other conferences) so I have no point of reference, but I think that part of what makes Nerdcon great is that it is so small. In the most selfish (self destructive?) way possible I’m happy that they didn’t sell all the tickets. I don’t love dealing with huge crowds for even just a few hours much less an entire weekend. I was never elbowing or getting elbowed for the sake of making it to a certain panel, I knew that I would get in and it would be calm, and if I ran into someone awesome once, chances were I’d run into them again.  That’s my kind of conference. To let the hippie version of me take over for a moment, I dig the chill environment, man. I understand that, ultimately, the business aspect of a con need to be profitable (or at least break even) in order for it to continue, but if this was a failing con then it was the most successful, lovely failure I’ve ever witnessed.

This year the con felt smaller than last year and I’m not sure if that’s because there may have actually been fewer people or if the vibe was just more intimate. Playing into this intimate feeling was the very cool opportunity to go to a kaffeeklattsch with various panelists. The kaffeeklattsch that I was given was with Daniel José Older (whose book I talked about recently here). It was me, nine other wonderful people and Daniel José Older in a conference room talking about books and writing for an hour. (If you were wondering this is, essentially, my idea of what heaven must be like, conference room after conference room filled with coffee, tea, and smart people talking about writing and books.) This was such a wonderful opportunity and experience. What was extra awesome was I happened to sit next to one of the ladies in the kaffeeklattsch during a panel later that day! Friend goal of the day: accomplished.

There were several panels and conversations throughout the weekend discussing inclusion of minorities in various genres and how important it is. It astounds me a little bit that anybody gets pushback when they try to write a character that they and others will relate to. One of the more heart wrenching moments of the weekend was hearing author Cindy Pon talk about how her second book got rejected by several publishers because they already had an Asian fantasy book. This is so mind boggling dumb to  me that I think I actually sputtered and harrumphed out loud when I heard it. It was mentioned that those with established power (white/male/able bodied) see someone as the protagonist that doesn’t mirror themselves they get scared. To those people I posit, do you really want look in the mirror and see what you’ve got memorized already? Wouldn’t it be so much more interesting to look in the pond and see some new worlds? It’s so easy, no matter the story, to find common ground with the characters, no matter their life experiences, they are still human (depending on the story this may not be true but there are usually some human traits and qualities stuck in there somewhere). At the risk of overextending this metaphor, I think it’s so important to look into the pond to see how your reflection plays out in unfamiliar worlds. The whole learning empathy from stories doesn’t work if you only read stories that you recognize from your own life.

With this in mind, I recommend going to the NerdCon website here to find the names of all the wonderfully kind and talented authors that participated in NerdCon, buy their books, read their stories, and support their art. Happy reading!

Shadowshaper

I’m going into this post with two things on my mind. The first is I went to NerdCon:2016 this past weekend (Post about that is coming soon!) and, as it did last year, it’s made me think about the books that have influenced me. It didn’t take any time at all to start reminiscing about the good ole days when I was devouring anything written by Tamora Pierce and then running to the park to practice being a knight like Alanna in The Song of the Lioness series. Mix those beautiful memories with the fact that at Nerdcon: 2016 I had the wonderful privilege of sitting down with the author of Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older, and nine other curious and intelligent story nerds to have a conversation about books and you’ve found my happy place.

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Shadowshaper is set in Brooklyn and follows Sierra as she discovers a magic that lets spirits inhabit her art and bring it to life. After chatting with Daniel José Older for a while and seeing him on multiple panels throughout the weekend it is easy to see how his life and experiences have influenced his writing. While having this knowledge doesn’t change the book, it feels a little like I’ve been let into the greenroom of this story. It’s interesting to me to consider how stories are not just influenced but also often created from perspective. This perspective allows the reader insight into new worlds to explore, understand, and consider. If this book had been around when I was growing up alongside Tamora Pierce’s I imagine I would have been an artistic knight running around Brooklyn (the park across the street) fighting sexism with my sword (really long stick) and art spirits (chalk).  It’s exciting to me to think about how the stories like Shadowshaper, and others that are being crafted now are influencing young readers.

The story itself is rich with familiarity and feeling. It’s interesting to be plopped into Sierra’s world  that she knows so well and watch how she responds to her surroundings change both physically and magically. The relationship between the familiar “real” world of Brooklyn, that is in a state of flux, and the Shadowshaper community, that is experiencing the growing pains of turning power over to a new generation, provides an intricate set of obstacles for Sierra to weave her way through. Daniel José Older sets this stage one floorboard at a time and maintains an exciting storyline that pulls the reader through some of the more complex ideas presented via Sierra and her adventures. From what I understand, we’ve got two more books following Sierra’s story to look forward to, until then I think I may go reread The Song of Lioness series to keep me in the badass lady hero mood!

 

NerdCon: Stories

This past weekend I attended NerdCon: Stories in the Twin Cities at the Minneapolis Convention Center and geeked out at whole new levels of geeking out.  The conference was attended by about 3000 people that were all there to learn about storytelling in different medias.  There was also a group of panelists that appeared more than happy talk about various facets of their work in front of the attentive and engaged audience.  Full disclosure, I didn’t attend any of the signings so I can’t really speak about how that went.  While I respect these people a lot and want to learn from them, I have a hard time placing value on a signature. I learned at a very young age how easy it is to replicate one (sorry mom and dad) and after that I always figured I’d rather find out what someone has to offer that I can’t do myself.  Luckily for me this conference had some wildly successful and intelligent storytellers attending, who all had a lot to offer.

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As this was my first Con I didn’t have too many expectations going in. (That’s a lie actually.  I’m pretty sure I went to some sort of leadership/learning convention when I was in high school. But if the title is convention instead of con they seem to be very different things. Which makes no sense because con is short for convention.  I’ll have to get back to you on this. I suspect Con is what the cool kids say and convention is what the teachers that are trying to make the uncool kids feel cool say.  I wonder if this distinction is pointed out in the OED…)  I don’t know if you know this but 3000 people is a lot of people.  According to various articles I’ve read this is actually a small con which is a tad mind boggling to me.  In general the Minneapolis Convention center had plenty of space.  The room where the MainStage events were happening was always plenty big enough to seat everybody but some of the panels in the side auditoriums overfilled.  It didn’t seem like they expected this because on the first day they let people sit and stand in the aisles, but by the middle of the day they were monitoring the capacity more closely.  This is when being there by myself came in handy.  I never had to look for more than one seat and I’m happy to say I was able to attend every panel that I wanted to attend.

The theme throughout the weekend was why stories are important.  At the MainStage events they always had two separate speakers discuss this topic.  This is something I feel very strongly about and I loved hearing expert storytellers reenforce what I’ve believed for as long as I’ve understood stories.  Stories and narratives are what people relate to.  They’re how we learn how to empathize and as a result listen to people instead of shouting at them.  I sometimes fear that as a society we’ve gotten so caught up in our own stories that we forget to look out for others.  The most important thing we can do is listen and get swept up in someone’s story and let them be swept up in our own in return.  In that order.  I realize that the attendees at this particular con were probably the choir in the hypothetical story church, but it’s comforting to know that the storytellers and creators that were on the panels are consciously using their platform to, quite literally, spread the word.

My intention was to write about my favorite panels but I truly don’t think I can narrow it down.  The panels I attended discussed truth in storytelling, the craft of storytelling itself, the benefits of diverse stories, how to stay true to your stories after success, storytelling through song, and the moral responsibility of storytellers.  I could write a separate piece on every single one of these panels.  Not only were the panelists thoughtful and interesting in their conversations but the attendees that got the opportunity to ask questions asked thoughtful and intelligent questions.

I’ll admit going into this I was concerned that the Con would be more of a fans freaking out type of event. There’s nothing wrong with that type of event but I really just wanted to walk away having heard interesting people give me new perspectives and ideas to think critically about, and that’s exactly what I got.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all panels with serious questions.  The MainStage got goofy and I’m so glad it did.  Both days were jam packed and very long so it was a relief to get the MainStage and laugh.  We watched the panelists play some games that I fully intend on forcing my friends to play with me and we got to see some very impressive performances (what’s a story telling convention without a little storytelling, after all?).

The very last event was a performance of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind by the New York Neo-Fututrists.  It honestly deserves its own post, but I plan on seeing it performed again so I’ll do another one then.  For now I’ll say it’s a spectacular and moving show.  I usually leave theaters trying to make sense of what I saw in relation to what I know (and sometimes in relation to what I know I don’t know) and it gives me three or four arenas to think about.  This performance in which they attempt to do 30 plays in 60 minutes left me with more to think about than any other performance I’ve ever seen.  Putting aside the content of the plays, the set up of the show is fascinating.  It embraces and injects a shot of adrenaline into what people love about live theater…every show is always different.  Remember the content that we just put aside?  Bring it back in and you’ve got beautiful performances that touch on everything that’s relevant in your life and some things you never knew were relevant until the Neo-Futurists presented it to you.

Overall my NerdCon experience was better than I could have hoped it to be.  I have a huge list of authors, podcasts, musicians, and performers to look up and enjoy, and I have some new thoughts and ideas to consider.  Having that many people all in one place loving and appreciating the art and importance of storytelling was inspiring.  I left feeling newly motivated to carry on writing and telling my own stories, and, more importantly, seeking out and listening to other people’s stories.