The Lost Ad Astra Notes: part 1

So, it’s been nearly a month since I went to the Ad Astra science fiction convention in Toronto, but I didn’t post that much about it because that was in the middle of the A-Z challenge, and the good letters like A for Ad Astra and C for Convention had already passed. And I didn’t pull my notes out as soon as May started. So here are my somewhat scattered thoughts.

My overall impression of Ad Astra was that it was ‘more Polaris than Polaris.’ Polaris 24 was my first hotel-based convention, and in some ways it was crazier than the conventions with bigger celebrity guests at fancier venues, like Wizard World or Fan Expo, because there were so many really cool panels going on, always something interesting happening, the action starting relatively early and ending really late, scrambling to find some time to grab a bit of food in between panels that I really wanted to get to. Those are all the ways that Ad Astra was moreso than Polaris.

And it was at least as much crazy fun.

So, my Mom picked me up at work this time to drive me into the city, on the condition that I at least try to buy any of a long list of Mercedes Lackey books for her. The drive went reasonably well, except that we got somewhat lost actually looking for the driveway into the hotel, though we spotted the building quickly enough. Then there was a bit of a wait for my room to be ready when I was checking in.

I registered, started going over my program and the schedule to see what panels I thought I’d be able to make, and a friend from the Firefly fan group, Colleen, spotted me sitting in the lobby and asked if I could keep watch over her suitcase for a few minutes, and I agreed. Then she got dragged outside by her grandkids and I had to hang around for a while until she got back.

My first panel was with Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon, who were a lot of fun; that one was about continuity in an ongoing series. Then a panel on how to find good beta readers, which had lots of interesting tips. I was making notes like crazy on whatever came easily to hand – the iphone for one panel, a palmpilot for the next, and so on. I’ll put together as many of the notes as I can and share them with you all.

By the time those two panels were done, it was seven, and I knew the 7-8 window was my best choice for grabbing some food, even though that was the opening ceremonies, it wasn’t a huge draw for me. I ended up calling for a pizza from my room, and they said that it would be ready in 20 minutes in the bar, so I went and caught a bit of the opening ceremonies, left during the Left. Governor’s speech, had my pizza, finished the G blog entry, chatted with a friend online, and updated my Script Frenzy page count.

The panel on ‘how to get the most out of conventions’ was in a bar lounge, and all the chairs already taken, so I sat on the long bench next to the panelists. The big theme of this one was to get out and meet new people, which I tried to do for the rest of the weekend.

Then I headed up to the third floor for the travel and research panel, with lots of stuff about getting to see really foreign cultures, and then screenwriting, which was largely about the business side, full of stories about canadian TV business. The screenwriting talk stretched late, with one guy from the audience asking lots of questions. I left around 11:20 pm

I didn’t finish the pizza until Saturday morning.

Iphone notes from ‘Ongoing settings recurring characters’ panel, (somewhat edited.)
Avoid spinning your wheels, as in rewinding any changes from one story to recycle the franchise at the same point as it always starts
Mercedes likes ‘putting blanks all around the edges of the map to expand into.’
Mercedes doesn’t like: repetitive descriptions of the Deryni cubes, and Harry potter’s constant pains “greater than anything before in his life.”
Larry Dixon arrives late, and complains about Mercedes making it difficult for him to draw an exact map consistent with her descriptions of distances and travel times.
Authors are relying on their own fan websites for continuity checks more and more, and also actually downloading illegal scans of their own books to search for things. (And then reporting them to the publisher’s copyright infringement arm.)
Mercedes: I’ve only lost some of my oldest computer backups. The rest are safely on five inch floppies in WordStar format.
The author of the Wheel of time books was married to his editor who sentenced him to the couch unless he wrote more.
Some trek writer: “I have one brain to get it right. They have ten thousand brains to find what’s wrong.” (This was a quote, he wasn’t at the panel. Neither was the Wheel of Time guy.) Nitpickers can find something if they try hard enough
What would the army use to shoot down angels with?
Larry Dixon obviously liked telling this anecdote. He’d written something offhand about NASA not being able to get a probe to Mars, and actually got a letter from somebody at NASA putting the blame on the JPL.
A comic book guy (Howard Tayler) introduced Salient African elephants. Being asked to draw them became a hardship. He ended up with an extended fight scene involving six elephants and two people. (He was on the panel.)
Doctor Who: Howard also brought up the bit in Doctor Who ‘the time of Angels’ where the Doctor shows up in different clothes, and how he’d have liked that better if he had realized it was foreshadowing and not a continuity error.
The metaphor of the panel room: approximate thirty cast in an ongoing comic book series, but six main characters (the panelists) but one of the minors (audience) gets spotlight every so often and might get to be main later.
Feedback from fans sparks creative energy  if it’s positive.
A wife running interference sending form emails for criticism.
If a fan says “You’re so clever, you planned that out in advance” never disabuse them of that notion.
How do you pull it off? Drop intriguing little bits then revisit them later if you’re feeling dry.
In Buckaroo Bonsai there was a watermelon in the hydraulic press, which the main characters discuss as they pass by. “Oh, it’s a long story, I’ll tell you about it later.”
Or there’s ‘the long con’ where you really do plan it out in advance.
Mercedes gave a shoutout to the Save the cat beat sheet.
Mercedes mentioned a ‘little offhand bit’ from Secret World; The Alaskan meta-humans who managed to defend against alien intruder landings with more success than anywhere else on Earth.
Also, giving a snow globe to the bad guy in the Valdemar books, just to mess with him because he doesn’t know what it’s for.
Sometimes, things that you just described to fill a room, without any other intention, can have a serendipitous use later.
It’s very important to make story bibles or charts. Secret world had lots of different layers of planning.
Mercedes and Larry talked about doing interactive editing by multiple people in real time with Google Docs. Larry mentioned that it was a little like “Saturn’s Fist”, that you could tell a lot about how someone learned to use a computer, by seeing how they type new text and edit. Mercedes uses that technology to “teach in hyperspeed.”
Construct the world instead of depending on narrative, but don’t write it all out twice.
Be social, but don’t just talk about it – write it!
Having an engineer, or other professions, as a fan, can be very useful when oyu have specific questions to research.
“You don’t have to use the same process as us, but use a process.”
Never throw anything away.
This might be either brilliant foreshadowing, or a red herring. Wait and decide later.

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