WorldCon 75 summary post

It seems we’ve exchanged hurricanes and mass shootings for wildfires and floods. Wherever you are, whatever has come your way, please find safety.


Welcome back to the ongoing tale of my European adventure 🙂

This instalment will be the penultimate one. Next week, I’ll cover my takeaways from the trip.

Since I’d made the decision earlier in the year to stop blogging my session notes … I didn’t take any during the whole of WorldCon (!) It was very freeing. I relaxed and enjoyed.

Something I forgot to mention in my last post is that I also enjoyed the hotel’s Sauna on Tuesday night. I had a nice, naked conversation with some Finnish ladies who were curious about all the Americans in town … but it was helpful for the cruise crud.

Wednesday, August 9, was the first day of WorldCon, and at breakfast that morning, I met up again with the Tracy’s, Heather and Bill, and their mom, Becky, who’d been my roommate on the WXR cruise. Bill was also attending WorldCon, while Heather and Becky did the tourist thing in Helsinki.

After breakfast, I strolled down the pedestrian underpass to the train station, bought my ticket at the kiosk, and caught the train to Pasila.

I want to take a moment here to express just how fabulous the Helsinki trains were. Clean, spacious, and efficient. My registration for the con included a train pass for the week, because they knew most of us would be staying in the downtown area. There are a couple of hotels in Pasila, but they were booked quickly, and blocks of rooms were reserved for those who needed accommodation (or so I understand).

The only other city train I’ve been on that comes close is Vancouver’s, but at the time I travelled on it, the number of passengers made the journey (with luggage) uncomfortable. In Helsinki, there were two main lines, the K and the I (though there were more) that ran north and between the two, one left every ten minutes.

The first day of WorldCon was a bit disappointing, to be honest, because I think the organizers underestimated the interest of casual attendance (day passes). Except for the academic stream session I attended, nearly every room was full and they were very strict about the numbers because fire regulations. I don’t blame the organizers, but it was a frustrating first day.

The convention centre did have a great food court, however, and I ended up meeting a couple of friends of fellow Sudbury Writers’ Guild member Andy Taylor at the cafe. Tim Boerger and Nina Niskanen had both attended Viable Paradise with Andy and he wanted me to connect with them. I’d actually seen Nina at WorldCon last year, but I didn’t know who she was until after her steampunk panel was over 😦

While there, I also met Lara Elena Donnelly, author of Amberlough 🙂

I also saw a number of WXR cruise mates, and fellow member of SF Canada, Su Sokol.

That evening, I met up with a group of Canadian SF fans and writers, including Su, Eric Choi, and Jane Ann McLachlan, to have dinner at Zetor.

Thursday was a more productive day. I attended sessions on the Kalevala (which I was geeky enough to be reading at the time), Nalo Hopkinson’s Guest of Honour interview (I kind of stalked her sessions throughout—I’m a fan), a presentation on the sauna, the live taping of the Coode Street podcast with Kelly Robson and Walter Jon Williams, a panel on secrets in SF that Jane Ann McLachlan was on, how to start a podcast with Howard Tayler, and the live Ditch Diggers taping.

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That night was a meet up with Writing the Other alumni and K. Tempest Bradford. We went to a Nepalese buffet that was only a block or so from the convention centre called Mero-Himal. A number of alumni had also been on the cruise, and so it was a very enjoyable evening.

Friday’s WorldCon line up included a panel on artificial intelligence, one called Building Resistance, on which where Nina Niskanen and Kameron Hurley, one on female friendship in fiction with Navah Wolfe and Amal El-Motar, another Nalo Hopkinson GoH presentation, a panel on Austalian fantasy with Juliet Marillier, more Nalo Hopkinson (I said I was stalking her), a panel on how science really happens with Eric Choi, one on weird fiction with Helen Marshal, and one on alien language in SF with David J. Peterson, creator of the languages for the Game of Thrones series.

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Friday night was the night of the Hugo Awards Ceremonies and, still suffering from cruise crud (it didn’t completely clear until I was back home), I thought I’d catch the ceremonies on YouTube from the comfort of my hotel room. They were supposed to be webcast.

As I headed out on the train, the skies grew ominously dark and by the time the train arrived back in Helsinki, it was a full-on torrential downpour. The forecast had said that the weather would hold until evening … and so I’d left my umbrella in my hotel room.

While I waited some time at the station for the rain to stop, I eventually had to make it back to the hotel and got completely soaked. I got in and changed clothes, waited until the weather cleared a bit, and then strolled around the block—with my umbrella—to a little sushi restaurant for supper.

When it was time for the Hugos webcast … I was unable to connect. When I hopped on social media to see what I could find out, it turned out that there were technical difficulties and the webcast was a no go. I watched the Twitter feed for a while and ended up calling it an early night.

Saturday began with a science panel on planets beyond the Goldilocks zone, a panel on worldbuilding without ableism with Fran Wilde and Nalo Hopkinson (yes, I know), one on maintaining your scientist character’s credibility with Karen Lord, a panel on Octavia Butler (with you-know-who), I checked out the author signings where Mary Robinette Kowal and Margaret Dunlap were at side-by-side tables, a panel on fairy tale retellings with Navah Wolfe and Karen Lord, one on bad-ass female leads in young adult, and one on crafting a fantasy tale from mythology with Juliet Marillier.

I decided to call it an early night because I’d be heading for the airport in the morning for my flight home. I had supper at a sports bar, packed, and got a good night’s sleep.

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My flight left just after 8 am. I watched the sun rise on the train (at—bleargh—5:30 am) and, after a three hour flight to Iceland, watched the sun rise again 😉 Because I was travelling back through time zones, another five and a half hour fight brought me to Toronto before noon (!)

I hung out in Toronto for five more hours as my flight home was delayed, but I was home in time to watch that night’s Game of Thrones episode and then crawl into my own lovely bed.

I spent the next day resting and catching up on the television I’d missed during the trip. I could have used the rest of the week off to resent my internal clock and fully recover from the cruise crud, but it was back to the grind on Tuesday.

And that was how my European adventure ended.

Thanks for hanging with me on this journey!

As I mentioned off the top, next week will be my lessons learned/takeaway post but, because next Saturday is the launch of Kim Fahner’s latest poetry collection, Some Other Sky, I may not get the post up until Sunday. The next week, I’ll probably dedicate some time to writerly events (including the launch) and other happenings in this writer’s life, and then I’ll be on my annual blogging hiatus for NaNoWriMo!

Holy cow! This year is disappearing!

In the meantime, dear friends, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

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The Writing Excuses Retreat, part 4

Part four of the Writing Excuses Retreat (WXR) begins on the morning of Thursday, August 4, 2017, day six of the cruise.

This was our day in St. Petersburg, Russia, and our third port day in a row. In every other port, the tours ranged from three to five hours and there was always the option to take a taxi and wander around on our own if we wished. In St. Petersburg, the tour was all day. In fact, it was two tours with a brief break in between.

The rules were fairly strict in Russia. Our passports would be checked on the way out and on the way in. We would be issued visitor’s visas for the day. We were not, under any circumstances, to leave the tours, as our visas only covered us for the cruise-related excursions. There would be no wandering around St. Petersburg.

It was also an early-rising day. We’d have to get up, get ready, and eat in time to report for our 8 am (ish) departure.

The morning would be spent at Catherine’s Palace. Sweet lord that place is huge, and we only got to see a relatively small part of it. The sprawling courtyard is bounded on all sides by buildings or iron gates. And all that yellow-painted detail? It will eventually be gilded, like the domes.

 

Catherine’s Palace is part of a city-wide restoration. Scaffolding was erected around several sections of the palace grounds as buildings were repaired and painted, only awaiting the gold leaf.

Inside, it was the same. Every entryway glittered. There were 14 different kinds of wood, imported from all over the world, inlaid in intricate patterns on the floors. And, of course, we had to don booties again to protect the site from plebeian tourist feet.

TheGildening

Just as in the royal reception hall in Copenhagen, each room was designed based on the style in one of the European capitals. There was the Versailles room in red, games rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, studies, art galleries, and lots of cabinets, painted in toile designs.

And there was the legendary Amber Room, which we were forbidden from photographing (though our tour guide did encourage us to take surreptitious photos at the doors, to and from the room—the babushkas were quick to discipline those who tried, though, so I refrained). Amber is one of Russia’s special resources and it’s considered an extravagance to cover an entire room in the petrified resin.

The Amber Room itself is considered a national treasure and that’s one of the reasons we weren’t to take pictures of it. They don’t want cheap replicas of the room appearing elsewhere.

TheGrounds

After the tour, we were taken out into the palace grounds and took the long way back to the tour bus past what looked like a Roman aqueduct, through the gardens and forested grounds, and one of Catherine’s personal outdoor retreats, or bowers.

On the way back to the pier, we stopped for shopping. The cruise crud I’d contracted had (literally) reached a fever pitch, and I availed myself of whatever over-the-counter remedies I could find. Of course, I bought souvenirs and gifts, as well, but coughing until my chest and gut were sore was getting tiring. Immediate comfort was my chief concern.

SpilledBlood

Forgive the intruding phone strap at the bottom. I’m a terrible photographer.

The afternoon tour took us into St. Petersburg and to the Spilled Blood Cathedral. The cathedral was built on the site of the murder of Emperor Alexander II as a monument to his greatness, by his son, Emperor Alexander III. It took 24 years to build, which, once you see the mosaics inside, is absolutely mind-boggling.

Every inch of the walls, arches, and domes is covered in mosaics. These few pictures will just give you a taste of its magnificence. Really, there are no words.

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After the cathedral, we did a walking tour of St. Petersburg, during which we saw Senate Square and the Winter Palace.

Peter the Great wanted to build Russia a capital like Venice, a canal city on the Baltic. Really, Russia needed a naval port, and St. Petersburg served that purpose too, but its true purpose was to be the jewel of the Baltic.

canal

Though there are canals, St. Petersburg never achieved its architect’s dream of becoming a canal city. Every street is lined with grand houses, palaces, though, because all of the Russian nobility moved in and set up house, each family trying to outdo the others in terms of grandeur.

And there was a second shopping stop 🙂

I had time upon my return to devote some time to revision, and then take a cruise crud induced nap.

JasperFforde

That evening, Jasper Fforde delivered his talk on the last 5%, that ineffable quality that most writers lack: magic fairy dust. He promoted a lifestyle of creativity and joie de vivre so that, when we wrote, we couldn’t help but infuse that little something extra into our work. And he was hilarious.

At supper, I sat at Piper and Matthew Drake’s table. They are such an adorable couple, I couldn’t help but do an internal squee. They also had fascinating stories to tell.

Friday was our second day at sea as we sailed at top speed back to Kiel, Germany. The wind became progressively fierce throughout the day, eventually causing the water park and on-deck bar to close. All the deck chairs were stowed and the tables and chairs were crammed up against the rail and Plexiglas wall because the wind was blowing them around the deck. It was our only stormy day and even then, I barely felt the roll of the ship.

At the giant Q&A session, I sought out Thomas Olde Heuvelt, as I’d missed the early part of his presentation, and Emma Newman, because I wanted to get some help with my interminable burnout. Both were extremely helpful.

WXRecords

After lunch, we attended the on-board recording of the Writing Excuses podcasts. The first one featured one of my new friends, Mike Stop Continues.

Then, after another stint of revision, I had to crash. Cruise crud was getting the better of me.

At supper on this final night of the cruise, though I was not scheduled to sit with any of the instructors, there were enough absences, perhaps due to the cruise crud, that I got to sit at Emma and Peter Newman’s table. I think it was my second most enjoyable night (next to dining with the two Sarahs and the two Laurens).

The Newmans gave equal time to everyone at the table and it was the meal at which I learned the most about some of my fellow WXR participants.

Saturday was debarkation day, and so … yes, there was more queuing 😉

Fortunately, the process was handled as efficiently as embarkation and we were back at the Atlantic Hotel in Kiel by noon. Not all the rooms were ready for occupancy, however, and so a group of us gathered out front and His Majesty Dan Wells led us to a local laundromat.

Once everyone got their wash on, we strolled two doors down to a döner restaurant for lunch—yum! The owner had to call in extra staff to help with the crowd (!) Afterward, while we waited for our clothes to dry, Mary and Dan recorded Patreon special episode of the WR podcast. Then, we trouped back to the hotel.

Kiel

After checking in, I spent the afternoon wandering around Kiel’s mall and open market, meeting up with some of my fellow cruisers to head to supper. There was some disagreement over where to go, and we ended up splitting, some choosing a German restaurant, and my group opting for Mexican.

I must say, the German version of Mexican is … interesting.

And that is where my WXR adventure ends.

Next week, my journey to Helsinki, and how I spent my time until WorldCon began.

Until Tipsday, be kind, be well, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

The Writing Excuses Retreat, part 3

We resume the tale of the WXR Baltic cruise on Tuesday, August 1st, day four.

I woke up at ridiculous o’clock and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I dealt with the morning’s email, social media, and blog reading, got up and dressed for the day, and went out onto the balcony with my lap top to work on my revisions.

We were approaching Stockholm, having sailed all night, and I was struck by the landscape. It looked just like northern Ontario. I could have been on Georgian Bay or in the Nipissing Narrows. So, of course, I took some pictures 🙂

JustLikeHome

It was the second of four consecutive port tour days and the early rising was a good thing as I had to get ready for my day in Stockholm.

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Our tour took us into the old town (every major city in Europe has one, apparently) for a walking tour. We saw the parliament and a couple of old churches, had the opportunity to get some souvenirs, and then we were off to Skansen.

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Skansen is basically a Viking pioneer village. We toured some of the old farms there, saw a windmill, church, and old pillory (the pole they chained miscreants to for public punishment—like stocks). While we didn’t have time to see them, they had heritage craftspeople, and reindeer, which a group ran off to see—and were almost too late to catch the bus to our next destination (!)

Skansen

We then went to the Vasa museum. The Vasa was an enormous war ship, commissioned by the then king of Sweden. Against the advice and better judgement of his shipbuilders, he ordered a third deck of gun ports. This severely overbalanced the ship and the gun ports were too close to water level.

VASA

The Vasa’s maiden voyage lasted 15 minutes and she sank in the silty harbour where she sat for 300 years until salvage crews were able to raise her. The ship was remarkably preserved by the silt and the Vasa museum has been built around the salvaged ship to tell the tragic tale of one king’s hubris.

We got back to the Fantasia a little late and, after dropping my goodies off at my stateroom, I ran down to catch most of Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s presentation on maintaining a writer’s life. It was about setting and tracking writerly goals, not word count goals, but career goals.

First, he said to blue sky a goal. His included a house on the French Riviera 🙂 Then, you scale down to five years, then one, and finally break your year up into monthly goals. The important thing is to assess your progress.

At the end of each day, review what you accomplished, and what you didn’t, without judgement. Adjust your goals accordingly. Unexpected things are always going to happen. The point is to adjust course in a way that will facilitate success. Always take the positive view.

Thomas’s presentation appealed to an organized, goal-oriented person like me. I didn’t dive in and create a plan immediately, but I think I’m going to work on one for next year, taking account for how my experiments of the past couple of years have gone.

At dinner that night, I sat at Dan Wells’ table, and again, I enjoyed getting to know one of our hosts, more of my fellow participants, and the conversations we had about our work and goals.

After dinner, I went to the upper deck to take a picture of the sunset as we travelled to Estonia.

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The next day was our tour of Tallinn, which I think was one of the port cities I enjoyed the most. We started with the amphitheatre where the annual song festival takes place. Apparently choirs from all over the world perform there, as well as many popular music bands.

We drove around the harbour to walk on the shore, saw a war memorial, and an old abbey which was being restored.

The centrepiece of the tour was the old city. In the case of Tallinn, the old city is completely surrounded by a wall, which still stands. It’s a place you have to walk through to appreciate. All the old buildings, the narrow, winding, and ascending laneways, the churches, the old merchant houses, the excavated headstones of Estonian notables.

And the market square. After the walking tour of the old town was complete, we were given thirty minutes to wander and shop. I bought most of the gifts I brought back for family and friends there and a few things for myself.

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Back on the ship, I attended Ken Liu’s presentation on how to work with your translator.

That night’s dinner was dubbed the elegant night. I sat with a table of other participants, most of whom I hadn’t yet met, and had another enjoyable night of camaraderie and conversation.

Once more, I took a picture of the sunset.

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The next day was our day in St. Petersburg, Russia … which I’ll save for my fourth and final instalment of my WXR cruise adventure 🙂

I hope everyone in Florida is safe, tonight.

Until next time, be kind, be well, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

The Writing Excuses Retreat, part 2

Copenhagen and day at sea

In this instalment, I’m covering days two and three of the Writing Excuses Retreat (WXR) Baltic cruise.

On day two, I was up fairly early, mostly because I hadn’t yet fully adjusted to the time change. Then again, daylight savings messes me up twice a year and the two times I travelled west, I never adjusted to the time change at all. I just got by on a sleep deficit for the week I was in Vancouver and Calgary, respectively.

It was a good thing, though. Day two was our day in Copenhagen and I had a tour to catch.

We went straight to the Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid has always been one of my favourite Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. This is probably due to the 1975 animated version narrated by Richard Chamberlain. It was faithful to the tale Andersen popularized, including the attempted murder of the Prince and suicide of the heroine.

LittleMermaid

Of course, I know it’s a terribly misogynist tale that entrenches some vile stereotypes of feminine agency, or the lack thereof. But it’s still one of my favourites.

Fountain

We then stopped at the Fountain of Gefion, the goddess who created Denmark. The Swedish king Gylfi promised her all the land she could plough in a night. She turned her four sons into oxen and the land she ploughed was thrown into the sea to become Denmark. Next to the fountain was the oldest Anglican Church in Denmark.

Christianborg

From there, we visited the Christianborg Palace courtyard (our tour did not go inside) and saw the opera house, the canal, and the new incinerator. Our tour guide proudly pointed out that Copenhagen imported garbage to incinerate from all over the EU and that 100% of private residences ran on renewable energy.

canal

Interestingly, the new incinerating facility was built like a mountain and the plan is to have a ski hill on its slope. Denmark is a flat land and citizens have to travel elsewhere to ski.

Next, we toured the royal reception hall. Though once the place of all royal business, the hall is now only used to entertain visiting dignitaries.

Some intriguing facts about Queen Margrethe: she’s an artist. Under a pseudonym, she illustrated an edition of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. She designed one of the carpets in the reception hall. For her 50th birthday in 1990, the queen was presented with 17 surrealist tapestries depicting the history of Denmark.

Tapestry

My picture does not do the tapestries justice. They were breathtaking. My favourite room in the reception hall.

Well, I was rather fond of the library, too.

library

The history of the Danish kings (either Christian or Frederick) reads like Game of Thrones. Our tour guide intimated that George R.R. Martin drew inspiration for some aspects of Westeros from Danish history.

The tour returned to the Fantasia just after noon and I had time to grab lunch before John Berlyne’s presentation on the purpose of an agent.

JohnBerlyne

Then, Aliette de Bodard presented Worldbuilding in the Smallest Parts and it was time for dinner.

That night, I was seated with other attendees, but our table was short one. At the table next to us, one lone participant sat. We asked him over, but he was waiting for his spouse, so two of our table went to join him, instead. And it wasn’t too long before another table of two was asked to join us. Yes, it was musical chairs night, but it was one of the best evening meals I had with the two Sarahs and the two Laurens 🙂

Unfortunately, that was also the night my throat got sore, heralding the cold that was to become known as Cruise Crud. I’m still clearing out the trachea, three weeks later … at the time, I thought it was just the wine and the continual gales of laughter.

That night, we once more passed under the Øresund bridge, but I didn’t get another picture.

On day three, we crossed the Baltic heading toward Stockholm, Sweden.

I just want to digress for a moment. I’d never been on a ship the size of the Fantasia before. Sure, I spent many summers on my uncle’s houseboat. Yes, I’ve been on ferries like the Toronto Island ferry and the Chi-cheemaun. I was fairly confident that I wouldn’t be sea sick, but I had no clue.

The truth is, I barely felt the ship’s movement. When we departed or approached a pier, yes. The ship had to employ engines on the sides of the ship. There’s not enough pier to glide in like a smaller ship might. So the ship moves parallel and sidles up. That’s when you feel the chop.

So I’m happy to say my constitution did not let me down. In that respect, anyway.

I got to sleep in a bit on day three. Not that I actually did, but I didn’t really have anything to get up early for. Every morning, the instructors gathered for office hours, but I didn’t have any specific questions to ply them with … yet.

After the breakfast buffet, I headed down to the breakout session. I was group cake, but I’d signed up for the lightning readings in the afternoon and attended Mary Robinette Kowal’s foreshortened How to Present workshop which was squeezed in at the beginning of the breakout session.

MaryRobinetteKowal

Then, I hung out until my one-on-one with Tempest, which was scheduled in the middle of the breakout session. Day three was my first real opportunity to do any writing and the first day I felt like my body had adjusted to being seven hours in the past 😉 I lugged my laptop around with me so I could use what opportunities I could.

WesleyChu

Back to the buffet for lunch, and then it was time for Wesley Chu’s Deep Dive into Action presentation, which was followed by the lightning readings, at which I believe I acquitted myself well.

Afterward, Margaret commented that she wanted to read the novel when it came out. I think I blushed. The reading was from a short story, but I guess that’s just more confirmation that my story ideas tend toward novel-length projects.

There were a lot of interesting pieces and I’m looking forward to reading some of the resulting projects, whether story or novel, as well 🙂

Day three was the evening of the costume contest. I didn’t have room to pack one, but there were some very clever costumes. Ann Tagonist and Professor Tagonist had the pages of a book incorporated into their costumes. One young man was the Excuses Monster, onto which people were invited to write their writing excuses on Post-its and stick them to his cape.

There were a number of flappers and a number of Regency costumes. Waldo and Carmen Santiago made an appearance, as did Nanny Og.

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That night, I sat at Mary’s table at supper. It was another night of fascinating conversation at which I got to regale the group about my malignant hyperthermia (Google it).

The Cruise Crud was blossoming, so I once again called it a night after supper.

And that’s where I’m going to pause in my tale.

Next weekend, we enter a new month and it will be time for my Next chapter update.

I’ll pick up with our arrival in Stockholm on the weekend of the 9th.

Until my next blog, be well, be kind, and stay strong, my friends 🙂

The Writing Excuses Baltic Cruise, part 1

I’m baaa-aaack!

Did you miss me?

As you might be able to tell from the title of this post, I’ve decided to break up my Writing Excuses Retreat (WXR) experience into parts. There was just too much writerly (and other) goodness going on for me to pack into one post, even in summary.

And that is what I intend to provide for you here: a summary. An event like this really has to be experienced to appreciate the impact it can have on a life. Not just a writer’s life, either. Any life.

I’ve never been outside continental North America before. Simply going to Europe and getting a taste of seven different countries changed me as a person. If you haven’t travelled, I highly recommend it. Even if you think you can’t afford it, save up (preferable), ask for financial assistance, or, if you have the means (i.e. stable employment) and aren’t too far into debt already, commit to some medium term debt and a reasonable strategy for getting out of it. Planning is everything in this last instance.

It was so worth it for me.

As you may remember from my last post, pre-departure, anxiety was having its way with me. I knew once I got in the air, I’d be fine. Once the first plane is boarded, there’s really no turning back. Even my anxiety can’t argue that point.

The journey was nonetheless fraught.

I got up at 5 am, so I could get to the airport by 6:30 and check in to board my flight at 7:30. The usual Skycheck service wasn’t available, but Air Canada checked my baggage (I only had the one, carryon-sized case) at no extra charge.

I arrived at Pearson International at 8:30, retrieved my bag, and had time for a leisurely breakfast. I had time to search out the Iceland Air registration desk and find out when it would open. It turns out that contrary to the general advice to be in the airport three to four hours ahead of your departure time that you can’t even check in or start the security process until two hours before boarding.

Still, I’m glad I gave myself a wide margin. I could have caught the next flight if the first one had been cancelled. I would have had the time to take an Airporter to Pearson, if necessary.

The journey from there was similarly without incident. The eight hour layover in the Reyjavik airport was, if anything, a little boring. I worried a bit about my flight not showing up on the information board until about an hour before departure, but there was no real problem.

KeflavikAt3am

HamburgAirport

When I landed in Hamburg, I wandered around for a while before I found a group of  WXR cruisers and caught the shuttle to Kiel. I made friends right away on the shuttle (virtual hugs to Margaret Dunlap), while I fought the exhaustion of travel. We arrived at the Atlantic Hotel, checked in, and I met my room mate (more hugs to Becky!).

AtlanticHotelinKiel

I did not nap. I kind of got my second wind in the afternoon and made some more friends (waves at Mike, Oliver, and Alex—Strumpwaffle bonding!), met Mary Robinette Kowal again, Kathy Chung who, in addition to being Security Officer for the cruise, is also the Coordinator for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC), and K. Tempest Bradford, with whom I took the spring offering of Writing the Other.

A group of us went to Vapiano, a popular European chain of Italian restaurants, for supper, and then returned to the conference room for the evening orientation session and taping of the Tea and Jeopardy podcast (!) featuring His Majesty, Dan Wells 🙂

At this point, I’d been up for nearly 30 hours, and, after a much-needed shower, I collapsed.

The next morning, after breakfast, there was the embarkation information session, during which we were divided into groups for our first event—a scavenger hunt, we collected our baggage, and prepared to board the MSC Fantasia.

The thing I dislike most about travelling is all the queuing. There are line ups everywhere: to check in, get through security, and to board (for each flight), for the shuttle, and to check in to the hotel. Cruise embarkation was no different.

We were bussed to the pier in shifts, based on our scavenger hunt groups, and, once there, had to relinquish our luggage to the handlers, prepare our boarding documents, and—you guessed it—queue up for embarkation.

It was like an amusement park line. Looooong.

MSCFantasia

But once aboard, I located my stateroom, outside of which my luggage had been left, got unpacked, and got my credit card registered before it was time to gather for the scavenger hunt.

MyStateroom

WXR instructors hid throughout the ship, and each team had to solve riddles to find them, hopefully ending up in the buffet at the end, in time to have lunch. My group was a little late starting out and we missed the final check-in point, but we had fun solving the riddles and did bond over the experience.

There was an afternoon workshop that I ended up choosing to miss, on writing through distraction. My more pressing need at the time was for some food and I acquainted myself with the buffet 🙂

I had time to sign up for a wi-fi package for the trip before muster, which is the emergency drill for the ship, and returned to my stateroom in time for our departure from Kiel.

FearAndWritingEmmaNewman

That evening, I attended Emma Newman’s (yes, she of Tea and Jeopardy) presentation on Fear and Writing. Mary intentionally organized Emma’s presentation for the first evening, as fear is every writer’s worst enemy. It was hoped that Emma’s presentation would allow us to set appropriate goals for the cruise. I’ll just say that it was brilliant, and one of my favourites of the cruise.

SunsetDay1

At supper, I sat at Howard and Sandra Tayler’s table. It was a great first night getting to know a couple of our hosts, and some of my fellow WXR participants.

Normally, for a cruise, the passengers sit at the same table every night and the serving staff is able to develop a relationship with them. For the WXR cruise, we would be assigned different seating each night at supper so that we could get to know one another better. It made for more difficulty for the serving staff, but a better experience for the retreat’s participants.

Supper that first night was a late sitting (9:30) and by the time I got back to my stateroom, I was just in time to watch the ship (it’s huge—18 storeys I was told) pass under the Øresund bridge between Sweden and Denmark. Other cruisers went to the uppermost deck of the ship to take pictures, but I didn’t have time to get up there (!)

UnderTheBridge

And that’s where I will leave my journey for now.

In my next instalment, I hope to cover Copenhagen and Stockholm. After that, it will be time for my Next Chapter combination update for July and August, and then I’ll continue with my adventure through Tallinn and St. Petersburg. Then, I think I’ll write a couple of posts to cover my Finland adventure and WorldCon, before I turn to other topics.

Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday will resume through to NaNoWriMo when my next blogging hiatus takes place.

Recent events in Charlottesville, Barcelona, and Turku have my heart aching. Still, the battered thing goes out to all of those affected by extremism and terrorism. We can resist, heal, and make a better world.

Until next I post, be well, be kind, and stay strong, my friends. The world needs your stories now, more than ever!

Why you should enrol in Writing the Other

Disclaimer: I’m a total newb at trying to express my thoughts and feelings on diversity and cultural appropriation. If I inadvertently write anything offensive or harmful, I invite you to let me know. But I have to start somewhere, try and fail, or I might never improve. Thank you, in advance, for your time, attention, and kind intervention (if required).

I’m not rolling up content as I have in other posts of this nature.

Out of the gate, I’ll recommend Writing the Other (WtO) to any writer concerned about writing inclusive fiction with respect and dignity accorded to characters unlike the authorial self. If you’re not concerned with these vital aspects of craft, then stop reading this post now. There’s nothing for you here.

K. Tempest Bradford and Nisi Shawl deliver an amazing and thought provoking course, the point of which is not to police creativity, but to ask authors to examine their fears, context, and assumptions, and to do their best to write inclusively. WtO will give you the tools to write characters of other ROAARS (race, sexual orientation, age, ability, religion, and sex) characteristics with integrity, and the resources to deepen your knowledge and understanding.

The point is that writing well is hard work, and writing well and respectfully of otherness takes effort and practice, like any other aspect of the craft. You have to be open, willing to learn, willing to practice, and willing to think critically about the creative choices you make in your fiction.

Those of us who come from a background of privilege (white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, etc.) and those of use who align fairly closely with the unmarked state, still want to write inclusively. If we do so without due consideration, education, or research, we run the risk of harming the people from the same communities as the characters we write from sheer ignorance.

This can take the form of tokenism. Only have one character who is a person of colour? Why not include two, or even three, so readers can see that these characters are, first and foremost, people? Explore the experience of these characters in a fully-fleshed and respectful way. Give them voices. Compare and contrast them. Give them as much attention and thought to them as you give your main character. They may not have as big a role to play in your story, but they deserve to be real.

If your one gay character just happens to be the antagonist, you may inadvertently send the message that you think all gay people are like the antagonist. If your one trans character is the sidekick who gets killed, they become disposable, and that is another negative message you may unintentionally send.

If you have a disabled character who is “cured” by technology or magic, you effectively erase the character’s identity and struggle. If the character has to be able-bodied for the story you’re telling, then tell the story with an able-bodied character. Think about why you want to write a disabled character. If it’s to honour their struggle, then honour it. If you just think it’s cool, that may be true, but your choices may bear more thought.

Recently, in Canada, there was the “appropriation prize” debacle. [I’ve been curating articles and posts on the issues, in Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday, for the past few weeks. Peruse, if you’re so inclined.]

Last year, there was the Lionel Shriver controversy. [And yeah, I curated that one, too.]

Cultural appropriation happens when you take a story that belongs to a culture other than your own without permission and consultation (both are required) and write about it in a way that dishonours the originating culture.

This can happen in any of the arts.

The word diversity has been thrown about in publishing and writing so much in recent years that the word has almost lost its meaning. I’ve heard of speakers who have retreated from panels on literary diversity because they are often attacked or their statements taken out of context for the sake of theatrics or sensationalism.

Diversity, to me, means that people of colour, of other sexual orientations, of differing ability, age, religion, or sex, should write their own stories. And they should be welcomed into the publishing world. We need more editors, agents, and other publishing professionals who are from different backgrounds, too.

This doesn’t mean that no one should write a character that doesn’t share their background. If they do, though, they should be prepared to take the time and do the research to represent that character authentically.

For myself, I’ve decided that I won’t write a protagonist that is significantly different from me. That’s my personal choice, though. I won’t prohibit anyone else from doing that. And there are some writers who have written the other brilliantly, so I won’t say that it can’t be done. I choose not to.

But I want to write inclusively about a world that’s like the one I see every day. To do that, I have to educate myself. And WtO was a first step on that path.

As always, be well, be kind, and stay strong.

Muse-inks

Story Masters: May 11-14, 2017

This lovely workshop came to my attention last year through Jenny Madore, a writer friend. It was put together by Lorin Oberweger and Free Expressions. Jenny sent me a notice last spring, yes, that was waaaay back in March of 2016, with the notification and a special early-bird discount.

The notification? Christopher Vogler, James Scott Bell, and Donald Maass would be coming to Toronto to present their Story Masters workshop. Needless to say, I registered on the spot.

Fast forward to May 10, 2017, and I was on my way to the Crowne Plaza Airport and excited to learn from these three masters of story.

Day one: Christopher Vogler

ChristopherVoglerI’ve read The Writer’s Journey (and Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey and The Hero’s Daughter, as well as watching Campbell’s series with Bill Moyer, The Power of Myth), and I was looking forward to meeting Christopher Vogler in person.

One thing I’d forgotten, having read his book years ago, was that Vogler is a screenwriter. He’s been working with the hero’s journey for forty years, since his film school days.

Highlights of the presentation:

  • A knowledge of structure will help you see the bones of a story.
  • The map is not the journey.
  • Get all five senses on the page – Ray Bradbury.
  • They won’t remember your words but they’ll remember how you made them feel – Maya Angelou.
  • Economy of language.
  • Make invisible things visible.
  • Use dissonance.
  • Theme – boil it down to one word.
  • The chakra system can be used to orient where your story comes from. There’s a parallel between the chakras and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
  • Vogler’s rule – the story’s good if two or more organs are leaking fluids. Visceral, but accurate (blood, sweat, tears, vomit, pee—from fear or laughter, and, erm, sexual fluids—it’s true; a well-written sex scene gets the juices flowing, doesn’t it?).
  • A story should be focused, “in alignment with the grid,” a term from dance.
  • How your protagonist/main character enters the story is critical. Classically, protagonist means the first person to struggle. Now, that’s your hero or main character.
  • A story should evoke catharsis. The classical definition of catharsis was vomiting. Now it’s an emotional cleansing.
  • How stories work: want vs. need. Want is generally external or physical. Need is internal or emotional. There are two story questions, one inner and one outer. It creates suspense. There’s always a price.
  • Every world/milieu is polarized. The hero brings synthesis.

Vogler also showed us a number of movie clips to illustrate the 12 stages of the hero’s journey, discussed the two founders of screenwriting, Aristotle and Syd Field, three-act structure and how the hero’s journey works with it, storytelling aesthetics, and his own meeting with Campbell.

Day two: James Scott Bell

I’ve read some of Bell’s writing craft books and followed his collective/blog – Kill Zone. Again, I was looking forward to meeting JamesScottBellsomeone I’d only ever known as a virtual presence.

  • A writer needs to have an edge. What is it? Unforgettable writing. Seductive believability.
  • Write from the middle. The mirror moment. What’s happening to the character at that moment is what the story’s about.
  • The mirror moment can focus on one of two things: 1) Who am I? What have I become? What will I become? [emotional/spiritual struggle] Or, 2) I’m going to die. [Physical] The death can be metaphorical. Both result in the transformation of your character.
  • Once you know what your story’s about, you have your focus, your theme.
  • Pre-story psychology. Does your character have a moral flaw to overcome? Do they change or get their comeuppance? Is your character ordinary? What circumstances force the character to change?
  • Short fiction is about a shattering moment rather than a mirror moment.
  • Bell’s golden triangle: pre-story psychology leads to the mirror moment, which leads to the transformation. It can be applied in an individual novel, or over the course of the series, or both.
  • The shadow story – what’s happening elsewhere?
  • Keep a story journal to keep track.
  • Great characters jump off the page. They’re unpredictable, burning, wounded, complex, resourceful, courageous, noble.
  • Bell’s corollary to Vogler’s rule: you must have a fluid fight inside your character.
  • Ways to develop character: 1) The closet search – what’s the skeleton? 2) Throwing the chair (out the window) – why do they do it? 3) Best day/worst day. 4) What tattoo do they have, where, and why? Or, why would they never get a tattoo? 5) what would they do or think about in jail?
  • Opposition character: you must know what they yearn for, why they deserve it, and then make your closing argument (convince the reader).
  • Cut the boring parts, or, make them interesting.
  • Fear is a continuum. It raises the stakes. Fear of the known. Fear of the unknown.
  • Scene structure: every scene must have an objective, obstacles, and an outcome [yes, but/no, and].
  • SUES = something unexpected in every scene.
  • Every scene has a reaction: time for thought, perception, emotion, backflash (short remembrance), or flashback (full scene – use sparingly).
  • Dialogue: every character has an agenda. If those agendas are conflicting, even better. Dialogue creates conflict/tension, subtext, sets the tone for the scene, and sets the tone for the characters. Specific concerns: vocabulary, expressions, syntax. They should vary between characters. Dialogue should be unpredictable and compressed. Dialogue should reveal character webs, backstory, and theme.
  • Tools: Orchestration, transactional analysis (Google it), curve the language.

Bell, also from a screenwriting background, showed us clips from Casablanca and Now, Voyager and cited a number of novels (ranging from Gone with the Wind to The Hunger Games) to illustrate his points, linked to Vogler’s hero’s journey, and set us up for Donald Maass’s presentation on the next day.

Day three: Donald Maass

DonaldMaassI think Donald Maass was the story master I was most excited to meet. I’ve bought and read all of his books (except The Emotional Craft of Fiction, which I bought at the event), and I’ve read and shared all of his Writer Unboxed contributions.

I’m such a fan that when I met him in the elevator, I blurted out, “I’m here to see you!” like a total fangirl.

He paused. “Do I know you? You look familiar …”

“We’ve never met in person, but you may have seen me online—the white hair’s distinctive. I share all of your posts. I’m a big fan.” And then, mercifully, we reached the lobby and debarked. I was completely mortified, certain Maass thought I was a stalker.

It reminded me of a recent post by my friend, Kim, who said she becomes so distracted in the presence of a writer that she says the most inappropriate things. Happens to me all the time.

For those of you who haven’t been to a Donald Maass presentation, it’s a bit different from what you might expect. He presents a topic, speaks briefly, and then, he begins to ask questions. The questions are intended to guide you into the heart of your characters, your scenes, your story.

It’s very meditative, very zen. And totally effective.

Unfortunately, after a few hours, the brain stops working and you just write down the questions for future review and examination. At least, that’s what happened to my brain.

I just wanted to give you a flavour of Maass’s style.

Openings

  • Too many novel openings are written objectively despite the prevalence of first and close third person narration.
  • Where does the story truly begin?
  • Story does not equal plot.
  • What’s different and how does your protagonist know things will never be the same? What symbolizes this? What do they do differently? What needs to be explained? What expertise does your protagonist have? What do they know that the reader needs to know? How does the trouble come? Why?

Voice

  • Writers adopt a voice that suits the genre, but not the story.
  • What happens? What’s unique to the setting? What anchors you? What wakes you up to your reality? What’s unique to the character? Name, role/occupation, what task/goal/purpose do they think they have? What’s on the “to do” list of your character?
  • [We then did an exercise in which we rewrote the beginning of our works in progress with three different voices: ironic, academic, and spiritual.]
  • The inner life of the character is the true story.
  • Plot does not equal story.

Emotion

  • You have to write with emotion about emotion in a way that deeply engages readers.
  • What makes you angry?
  • Your protagonist feels a new emotion. Pause. Slow things down. Go deeper. How does that change your protagonist? What will they never do again? What will they never feel again? What will they never feel the same way about again?
  • How do you create the sense of an evolving human being rather than someone to whom stuff happens?
  • Does your character have flaws?
  • My Writer Unboxed colleague Lisa Cron wrote a book called Story Genius that I highly recommend. She states every character has a misbelief that shapes their story. What is your character’s misbelief? Who will be hurt because of their misbelief? What does the character get wrong? What do they believe that will cost them dearly? Who will walk away from them because of the misbelief? What will they lose? What can they do that shows they’ve changed? Is it big? Symbolic? What’s the secret they’ve never told anyone? Is your protagonist concealing something from someone else?
  • What’s the character’s origin story?

Other facets of novel construction

  • Summary. Lorin Oberweger posted on Writer Unboxed about this. When should you use it?
  • Scene structure. Things have changed by the end of the scene. Subvert expectations. Show the inner shift in the novel. Scenes must change either the plot or the character.
  • Enhancing the story world. What’s the environment? What does your protagonist see that no one else sees? What does your antagonist see? Is there a class structure? How does that play out with your characters? What historical events have shaped the world? What are the political structures? What is just not done? Is there a code of honour? How do you make a deal? How do you pay respect?
  • Telling and showing. Both have value.

What do readers want?

  • They want an emotional experience. They want to engage with your protagonist. They want a satisfying payoff. They want aesthetic value. They want a challenge. They want to figure it out. They want a feeling of success.
  • Readers have their own journey.

Third level emotion

  • Pick a pivotal scene in your novel. What is the character feeling? What else are they feeling (cancel out any similar emotions)? And again, what else (that is like neither of the first two)?
  • Use the third emotion you identify to frame the character in the scene. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s very effective. Readers use cognitive evaluation.

Mythic roles (archetypes)

  • What fairy tale character is your protagonist most like? Shakespearean? Biblical? Greek or Roman mythos? Indigenous or other cultural figure? Urban legend?
  • What symbology have you built around your character?

The four things your story must do

  • The macro level: structure/plot/character arc.
  • Scene level: structure and goals.
  • Microtension: every page, every line. Court cognitive dissonance.
  • Subvert reader expectations.

The big event

  • Think of the event that changes everything for your protagonist and the story world. What causes people to think it’s never going to happen? Think of three reasons why. How do we know it will happen? Think of three reasons.
  • Take out foreshadowing. Include misdirection. Manipulate expectations.
  • Choose a secondary character who is good. Invent a way to create doubt. Cast suspicion.
  • Make the reader wait for the payoff. What are three reasons it might be the wrong thing for your protagonist to do? Build a case for doing something different.
  • Every story has a moral map. Point the reader down the path. What makes a reader care even when nothing is happening? Hope. What is good? What can be saved?

StoryMasters

Day four was an analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird in which all three story masters brought their individual strengths to bear.

My brain was mush by the end, but I brought a lot of awesome back with me and twice as many pages of notes as what I’ve shared with you here.

RobertJSawyerOther writerly goodness: I met Jenny Madore in person, saw writer friends Jeanette Winsor and Sue Reynolds, and hung out with Robert J. Sawyer for a bit. It was comforting to know that someone I consider a story master in his own right is still learning 🙂

I had a fabulous time and suggest you check out the Free Expressions web site if you’re interested in attending one of their workshops.

As always, my friends, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

Muse-inks

WorldCon 2016: The state of feminist fantasy

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

FemFant

Panellists: Julia Rios, Ann Leckie, Dr. Janice M. Bogstad, Tessa Gratton

Joined in progress …

AL: In science fiction, feminist authors and novels are being recognized. Why isn’t this happening in fantasy?

JMB: In a culture where everyone is equal, can there be feminism? We’d have to step back and compare.

TG: The feminist conversation is very dynamic right now. Feminism is a tool for dismantling the patriarchy and the conversation is complicated by sexism, ageism, ableism, racism, etc. We can’t talk about feminism in isolation. There’s a lot of intersectionality. I think Kate Elliot and N.K. Jemisin are feminist fantasy authors.

AL: When someone looks at the genre from the outside, feminist fantasy isn’t identified as a sub-genre.

TG: Science fiction is more overtly political.

JR: When people talk about science fiction, everything gets lumped together. Aren’t the classical texts fantasy? Aren’t fairy tales fantasy? What happens when women authors retell myth and folklore? I’d put forth Catherynne M. Valente and Angela Carter as feminist fantasy authors.

JMB: People outside the genre depend on the frame. In academic circles, they call it the literature of the fantastic. Robin Hobb’s novels have feminist themes. Game of Thrones can be read as feminist. Does it have prominent female characters? Yes. Is it feminist fantasy, though? Perhaps that’s another discussion. How do we define fantasy separate from science fiction? Patricia Briggs and Kij Johnson write feminist stories. We’ve had realistic fiction for a very short period of time, relatively speaking. We’ve had fantasy forever. What else is Beowulf?

JR: Who influenced you as a writer?

TG: I have two big influences: Kate Elliot, because she interrogates the issues I want to explore, and Katharine Kerr.

AL: Andre Norton was a big influence on me. There’s a question as to whether she was feminist. C.J. Cherryh doesn’t consider herself a feminist. I didn’t identify as feminist initially.

JR: If an author identifies as feminist, are their novels feminist?

JMB: People describe a feminist author in relation to their work. Are there feminist themes, gestures, sentiments expressed in the work? We need to define our terms first. Is there a canon of feminist fantasy?

TG: I’m uncomfortable imposing a definition of feminism that doesn’t address intersectionality. You can’t talk about sexism in isolation.

JMB: The same people who wrote science fiction also wrote fantasy. Russ was a lesbian. Intersectionality was part of the discussion. We just didn’t call it that.

TG: Explorations of young adult feminist fantasy aren’t interested in anything before Twilight. It’s the opposite problem.

AL: In science fiction, all of the classic feminist authors are from the 70’s. But current novels are being used to say that this is a new conversation in isolation from history. We need perspective regardless.

And that was time.

This was the last of my session notes from WorldCon 2016.

Next weekend: I’m going to talk about changing things up on the blog a bit and reasons 🙂

Until then, as ever, be kind, be well, and stay strong. Tell your stories. We need them.

WorldCon 2016: Terraforming Terra

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Terraforming

Panellists: John DeLaughter, Elizabeth Moon, Laurel Anne Hill (moderator), Gregory Benford, Patricia MacEwen

Joined in progress …

LAH: Haw can we reduce carbon dioxide, or eliminate excess carbon dioxide?

JD: Increase conservation.

LAH: It’s difficult to motivate large numbers of people to conserve, though.

PM: Hit people in the wallet.

EM: Stop killing plants to put in asphalt. Plants eliminate carbon dioxide.

JD: Green roofs.

EM: Green roofs are a good idea, but existing structures can’t support the extra weight or handle the water. Support the creation of parks, green space, city gardens as part of urban planning.

GB: The US is the only country in which tree populations have risen. It’s also the only industrialized country that’s reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

JD: Going for a clean energy solution means more nuclear power.

LAH: What about ocean iron fertilization?

JD: Life growth is based on the amount of the rarest nutrient in the ocean. That’s iron. So far, things haven’t worked out as well as they’ve hoped.

PM: California has lost an entire youth class of sea lions for three years running. It’s happening all over. Stop over-fishing. Lower polution.

LAH: There’s a great book, Stung, about the unprecedented increase in the numbers of jellyfish. They could be a vehicle for carbon capture and storage.

GB: Thirteen years ago there was a study done on farming waste and disposing of it underwater. There’s a place, 3.2 kilometres down just off Monterey Bay. CO2 is trapped in particles. Crabs eat them and it gets bound in their shells.

JD: In Louisiana, they burn their excess silage. They have ash fall. They call it “Cajun snow.”

GB: There is no will to do the necessary research.

JD: It’s going to take a long time for global warming to become serious enough for people to care.

LAH: Are efforts to reflect sunlight back into space effective?

GB: DARPA has a project. They want to pump sulphuric oxide into the atmosphere over the arctic. It will screen out enough of the sun to slow the melting of the polar ice cap. There is no will to proceed.

PM: There are 50 to 100 mile wide gaps in the ice in the arctic. We’re heading for a crisis.

JD: NASA is involving student observers in their S Cool project.

GB: They could also look into reflective paving materials and roofing mats.

PM: 95% of our living reefs are disintegrating.

And that was time.

Next weekend, I’ll be sharing the notes from my final WorldCon 2016 panel: The state of feminist fantasy.

Until then, be well, be kind, and stay strong, my friends 🙂

WorldCon 2016: Two suns in the sky

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

TwoSuns

Panellists: Eva Elasigue, Courtney Schafer, [Mel’s note: Joe Haldeman was unable to attend.]

Joined in progress …

CS: Kepler discovers exoplanets by observing the subtle signs of a planet passing in front of its star. It’s focused on a small area and it’s only covered 3% of that space in detail so far. The number of exoplanets discovered is large, but only a fraction of circum-binary systems have planets that might be habitable. The planets discovered in those systems are massive, though. It’s exciting that so many planets have been discovered.

EE: One of Larry Niven’s conjectures is that a planet in a binary system would have an off-center core.

CS: It’s possible that a planet in a binary system could have a figure eight orbit. It could also be more easily ejected from the system. Since circum-binary systems are fairly common, there might be a large number of rogue planets out there. To discover the composition of a planet, you need to use spectroscopy.

Q: Is there publicly accessible software for fact-checking the plausibility of an invented system?

A: There are solar system simulators.

CS: You can also check with your local amateur astronomy club.

Q: Is Alpha Centauri A, Rigil Kentaurus, a binary star?

CS: That’s the current understanding. One thing to keep in mind is the force that would be exerted on planets in these systems. If we look at the moons of Jupiter, they need to have their own magnetospheres to maintain an atmosphere. Otherwise, Jupiter strips it away.

EE: You should check out Galaxy Zoo. It’s a citizen science initiative.

[At this point, the ideas starting coming fast and furious. To be honest, I’m not sure who said what.]

The most favorable binary systems for planets are those in which both stars are around 80% of the sun’s size. They’re also fairly close to each other. The minimum stable radius for a planet in a binary system is 2-4 times larger than [… sorry didn’t catch this. I think it’s Jupiter. Wikipedia indicates this would be correct. If the planet is a gas giant, it may not support life, but its moons might. Smaller stars would accommodate smaller planets, but the planets may not be habitable, depending on their orbits and the relative light and heat they receive from their suns.]

They probably didn’t form in their current orbit. There’s an instability in binary systems which could result in the planet spiralling into one of the stars, or being flung out of the system. Planets in binary systems would move around unless they could find a stable orbit.

There are also mismatched binary systems. A blue giant with a red dwarf, for example, or a sun-type star with a black hole.

And that was time.

For more information: If you Google the term circum-binary systems, you will find a lot. Navigate to dependable sources, like NASA, or Space.com (unlike yours truly). Or head for fun but dependable sites like Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy column, currently hosted by Blastr.

Next week: we’re terraforming terra 🙂

Until next I blog, be well, be kind, and stay strong.