I attended several panels at Balticon! Here are some pictures and a few quick words.
Weird Medicine with Dr. Katz
Dr. Robert I. Katz gave a presentation about some strange medical cases he'd heard about and some he'd personally worked on. Not only were the cases fascinating, but it really opened up for me how demanding surgery really is. He talked about patient who went blind after spending eight hours face down during spinal surgery (Case 15 slide below) and I was really struck by the idea of a team of people spending eight hours concentrating on a single painstaking task, with someone's life on the line. What an incredible labor to take on, again and again. I'll have to keep that in mind the next time editing seems hard. (While I'm celebrating not being suddenly paralyzed, struck blind, and robbed.)
I've been on a bit of a medical fiction kick lately, (you may remember my article about the Sector General series //plug). There was an interesting aside about how institutional memory begins to falter as highly-trained specialists retire or move to different organizations, and some safety precautions are relaxed or ignored because the new people don't see the need until the problem occurs again. Definitely something I've run into over and over again consulting, but in my line of work, no one dies from it (usually).
Overall a really great panel, I'm always happy to see people with such fantastic experience taking the time to share what they know.
The Fine Art of Rejection
Moderator- Joshua Bilmes, Brian Koscienski, Lauren Harris, Gail Z. Martin, Scott Edelman, Nobilis Reed
This was a panel where editors, literary agents, and writers came together to talk about the process of rejecting stories, what they reject, why they reject it, and times they'd been rejected themselves. It was a very solid panel that represented a wide range of experiences, plus I spotted the amazing cover of The Real Beyond in front of Brian Koscienski, and immediately bought a copy from the dealer room after the panel.
The panel talked about the "Rejectomancy" some authors will use in over-analyzing their rejection letters, they talked about some common themes that caused them to reject stories, and how many stories got rejected not because they weren't good, but because they weren't good fits for their publications.
The general theme was on personal growth and gracefully taking suggestions, but they also stressed the need to stand up for your work. Horace Gold's infamous recommendation that Daniel Keys add a happy ending to Flowers for Algernon was mentioned as a warning against any notion of editorial infallibility.
Overall each panelist had something useful to add.
- Joshua Blimes cautioned writers against ever using the "but X famous writer does it!" excuse to an editor. The reply is always: "You sir, are no X famous writer."
- Brian Koscienski talked about automatically dumping any manuscript that didn't indent paragraphs, and about his "reverse slush pile" where he has his girlfriend read truly terrible stories so he can see her reaction
- Lauren Harris talked about how if a story didn't explain the motivation for the characters within the first 10-15%, she didn't care about the action and dropped it.
- Gail Z. Martin talked about how if someone couldn't take feedback, they were unlikely to make it in the industry
- Scott Edelman remarked that a story that doesn't work is like software that's incompatible with the reader's brains
- Nobilis Reed bemoaned traditional authors who would bolt on one or two science fiction elements into their mundane stories to try and get them accepted as SF.
Josh Edelman told a story about how he received a rambling threat via letter from what he presumes was a rejected author. Lauren Harris hopped in and chided the letter-writer for not establishing a clear motive in the first 10-15% of his death threat. He took the letter to the FBI who advised him not to accept any mail or packages from people he didn't know. Rough advice for an editor accepting dozens of unsolicited manuscripts a week.
Edelman also talked about finally getting a story into a magazine (Asimovs?) after more than 40 submissions and rejections, to applause from the whole audience. Someone chimed in with the old gem "What do you call a writer who never stops sending out submissions?"
Thanks for reading my panel writeup! Still to come is my final in-depth writeup of the panel I found MOST VALUABLE during the entire con. Join us next post for more!