The World Fantasy Convention 2012 has wrapped up. It took place in Toronto, ON, which is within driving distance from Bostn, but it's a pretty long drive. The convention was a great chance to meet people, old friends and new, and to catch up on what they're doing these days. The publishing industry in fantasy and science fiction is smaller than most people realize. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It's quite possible to go to conventions, and meet most of the important people in the industry. But it also tends to be pretty insular, and sometimes tends to look inward rather than outward. I like to think that we're less insular than some folks, but there's a definite danger of groupthink, especially when it comes to things like politics and religion. Most of the folks in the industry tend to live on the east or west coast, and tend to absorb the attitudes there, which are usually secular and politically liberal. The irony is that they then write fantasy, often set in pre-industrial societies, without fully appreciating the sort of cultural and spiritual attitudes that such societies tend to have. That was one of the topics we discussed in our "The Real World in Fantastic Fiction" panel, which Kristin and I were panelists for. The moderator was Ian Drury, and we also had Geoff Hart, Kenneth Schneyer, and Christopher Kovacs on the panel. In addition to the role of religion in most societies, ancient and modern, we also discussed the importance of reading the literature of a society in order to get an idea of how it viewed itself, and of doing research in technical topics such as medicine and engineering, in order to get things straight. For example, conking someone on the back of the head with a brick does not, usually, knock them unconscious so they revive a short time later.
Of course, I firmly believe in the importance of research. But I'll also be quick to point out that you can get away with certain tropes (such as knocking someone out via a blow to the head), because they're well accepted. I've used that one myself, though advisedly. (It's tried multiple times in my story, and only works once.) And frankly, research can be exhausting, and you can end up as far away from a usable answer as when you started. That's why it's important to have beta readers--folks with expert knowledge whom you can show your stories to, and who will get back to you and point out those sorts of problems. A writing critique group also helps, though it's often the case that they too lack the expertise you need.
Anyway, that's getting rather far afield, since I wanted to talk about the convention as a whole, rather than just a panel. The bottom line is that it was fun, and I really enjoyed it.