WonderCon 2019: Day One

I feel like a real test of a good Con is one you can attend by yourself and still have a good time. WonderCon passed that test this year, with flying colors! My wife couldn’t make it this year, so I was on my own. But the panels were fantastic, the dealers in the exhibit hall were warm and friendly, and everyone in general seemed to be having a blast. I also learned a lot about world-building, dealing with fear while writing, and what to expect when trying to break into comics or TV writing. My notes from Day One are below. I’ll post Days 2 and 3 later this week!

Fantasy Set Decoration

sam sykes, mary e. pearson, tricia levenseller, kali wallace, livia blackburne, with nadine armstrong

kali wallace: has a PhD in geophysics

dr livia blackburne: wrote first novel while researching neuroscience of reading

to sam and livia: what was the first thing you did when creating new world to make it stand out and be different?

  • sam: i don’t know, i just started writing; details of a different world comes after; my worldbuilding technique is all about designing things that will inflict pain and suffering on the main character, and everyone’s pain is unique; started with the protag with a cool gun, made the gun sentient, then it just spiraled out from there
  • livia: akin to sam, starts with something really cool, had an image of snakes while hiking in san diego, thought about how people inject themselves with venom to get immunity, what about a rite of passage where you have to build up your immunity and then they inject you with three types of poisons and if you survive, congrats you’re a healer; flowed from there to what kind of society would that be, etc

to mary: how do you keep a long-running world feeling fresh?

  • map on the inside, 12 kingdoms, trilogy only explored three kingdoms, all kind of different, gives glimpse of how world works, built on ashes of bygone civilization, in the spin-off duology, set in a very different geography; geography informs a lot of how people live and how they dress, etc; every little culture on our planet builds their own mythology, and the point of her series is to explore different mythologies built by these different kingdoms

tricia: wrote two novels with lots of swordfights, didn’t want to write more swordfights in her next book, but needed an action hook, so thought of gimli and his battle-axe, so decided it’d be cool to do battle-axe fights, so from there thought “why would you use a battle axe? it’s not very practical…what if the monsters have tough exoskeletons and the only way to get through them is with a massive battle-axe?” and went from there

kali: changes her worldbuilding based on the perspective of the main character, thinks a kid would notice different things from the world than an old person would or a 12-yr-old, etc

sam: cool stuff alone is not enough to tell the story, it only matters as much as it impacts the character

livia: tends to not like reading journey novels, but then she wrote one, and needed to figure out how to deal with it; had things happening in two far apart locations across a big empire, had to figure out how they communicate, etc; in the end, pushing her characters out let her show off the empire, and created challenges for the characters that made things more interesting

tricia: had to give her character a reason to come back home, even when she didn’t want to; likes tackling problems that are really hard; thought “i’ll just have my characters kill a god,” but didn’t know how that would happen; important to keep in mind what a character’s goals are, and what problems they have to deal with

sam: people will remember gimmicks, magic systems, all that cool stuff, but it’s not what makes you go “oh!” and tell your friend about the story that hit you; it’s all set decoration unless the plot and characters pull you through it; the world-building feels more thorough when we see the impact of things on a character (or characters) that we like

mary: the world has to help carve and mold the character; if we can plop them in another world and their problems are the same, then either the character’s forgettable, or the world is

sam: magic system in most recent book has a price; it’s a deal with an eldritch creature that takes part of what makes you, you; was him being lazy, instead of having to worry about the impact of magic and the price, just made it directly affect their personality

livia: went into a series of questions to look into how people tick; like what if you lose your memory? and while it’s gone you fall in love with someone you despise? and then what if your memory comes back?

tricia: main character was betrayed by close ally; wanted to explore how do you work to get trust back once your trust has been broken?

mary: her character came to large fork in the road; even while writing it she was wondering what her character was going to do; part of the fun of writing is looking at choices and how we make them, and how we learn to forgive ourselves

tricia: had a lot of fun making monsters in her last book; took her fears and made monsters that encapsulate them

how to build a good magic system?

  • start with what your character needs it to do, and then make it cause more problems than it solves
  • pay attention to whether magic is innate or trained, because that’ll affect how your character experiences it

how much worldbuilding changes over drafts?

  • mary: has a lot of it in her head before she writes, it feels a little flat in her first draft, and gets richer from there, but nothing changes radically; most important thing is to go back and ensure it’s all consistent from beginning to end
  • sam: you can always flesh something out later, but if it doesn’t impact the characters, the reader won’t care

Pak Talk!

greg pak

grew up in dallas, tx

shows some of the earliest comics he made, from when he was a kid

went to film school, made a movie called “robot stories”, then got a gig writing comics for marvel

best-known for planet hulk, also co-created amadeus cho, who even became the hulk for a while (“the totally awesome hulk”), got to put together a superhero group called the protectors (largest group of asian-american superheroes)

also wrote “the princess who saved herself” and “the princess who saved her friends” (went to college with joco, based these on his song)

with boom! studios, done “ronin island” and “mech cadet yu” (creator-owned comics)

what he does: combine genre hijinks with real emotional storytelling

things he thinks about while working on these stories:

  • heroism: how does that work? heroes don’t do the right thing all the time; characters are trying to do their best in a complicated world; he really enjoyed writing superman, there’s something compelling about characters that are really concerned with other people
  • written several sequences where monsters turn out to not be monsters, and it’s the hero that recognizes their non-montrousness
  • diversity: he’s biracial, half-korean, half-white (his terms), very conscious of the need for justice in the world; “why isn’t there an asian kid in peanuts?”; now that he create comics, he’s consciously bringing in more representation; it’s great to get one diverse character in there, but when you get a whole bunch of them together, you get to show the diversity within the diversity, and no one character has to stand in anymore for everyone in their group (immigrants vs second-generation vs third-generation, etc); and this isn’t new, matt murdock is a great character because he’s very specifically irish catholic
  • he’s also noticed in a lot of stories with biracial histories, they become tragic backstories for someone else, or they’re always being torn by their two cultures, instead of the real experience of people that just live as 1/4 chinese, 1/4 white, 1/2 black, etc.
  • kingsway west: chinese gunslinger searching for his wife in an old west with magic

Science of Game of Thrones

dr travis langley, tamara robertson, allen pan, steve huff, jenna busch, jonathan maberry

q about joffrey: he was poisoned, and that poison seems to be similar to some real ones?

  • travis: there’s so many ways to poison joffrey; he dies fairly quickly; he’s checked with his chemist friends; can mix up different poisons with belladonna, and several others, but it seems to have been strychnine (rat poison)

let’s jump to wildfire

  • tamara: definitely similar to greek fire, but even more so like napalm, in the way it sticks to its victims and can be launched long distances; greek fire was famous for being able to float on sea water and explode on impact
  • travis: napalm was actually around in world war ii
  • jonathan: martin inspired by napalm, he thought it was one of the most horrific things ever invented
  • allen: have to address the fact that wildfire burns a very bright green; boron, for example, will burn green (borax mixed with rubbing alcohol); copper also burns green; “don’t do that, but that’s how you would do that”

let’s talk about the ice wall: could you build one? and if you did, how would it work, and could a dragon take it down?

  • jonathan: no, you couldn’t do it; it’s too big, the temp’s not cold enough for it; you’d have to sculpt a glacier
  • allen: 700 ft tall, 300 miles long; 300 feet wide; 6 trillion gallons of water; the entire flow of the mississippi river for 15 days (!)
  • tamara: u of alaska looked at this, for it to be 300 ft thick, would need to be 20 miles (?) thick at the base
  • travis: what if it wasn’t all ice? their great wall froze over
  • allen: no way, we’re still talking an order of magnitude bigger than the great wall of china
  • jonathan: also, the whole idea of a dragon flame taking it down; i know it’s dead but they had it breathe flame for 2 minutes, that’s too long; also cruise missiles couldn’t have taken that thing down, let alone a 2 min flame; but where does all that gas come from?
  • allen: dragons, breathing fire, closest actual animal is a bombadier beetle; the beetle has two glands in its abdomen, has hydrogen peroxide and ??? mixes the two together so the two react and boil, expansion of steam is enough to shoot those chemicals out of its butt at those temps (to defend itself); is lethal to smaller predators (spiders, etc); hypergallic chemicals: rocket propellants that combust when mixed; his two candidates? hydrogen peroxide and kerosene; that would work, but doesn’t cover the volume
  • tamara: can look at cows if you want it to come out of the mouth; cow produces 66-132 gallons of methane in a day; just before the dragon died we see a huge sac under the throat burst, it could be holding the gas there
  • travis: there’s a discworld book where that is how it works for their dragons: they fart fire, and it’s how they fly

dragon flight?

  • travis: dragons have 2 legs, and then the wings! no four legged things with the wings
  • allen: devil’s advocate here: pegasi have six limbs, maybe dragons and pegasi have a common ancestor?
  • jonathan: also the mass to weight ratios are completely wrong, there’s no way it could fly because it’s too heavy; for the show, they studied how birds and bats fly, so they do some cool stuff when they take off, but they get airborne way too fast
  • tamara: but it could be thermal currents, giving them extra lift?

let’s talk about valyrian steel and dragonglass steel

  • steve: idea behind valyrian steel is that it’s a sword of loss; similar to damascene steel in our world, because it was a lost art; both damascus and folded steel you’re looking at layers; different from japanese swords, which tend to be harder, with a soft core, which makes the edge brittle (so they would never go edge-to-edge when fighting); so we have methods of forging steel that’s similar to valyrian steel; and dragonglass is basically obsidian, which can be quite sharp and strong, but can snap
  • travis: what about under high heat?
  • steve: that’s where you get into the fantasy bit; a real sword should have a bit of flex, you should be able to bend it and it come back to true; but under high heat, it’ll damage the blade and it’ll become brittle or start to warp
  • allen: if valyrian steel is lost, wouldn’t melting it down and then making two more a terrible way to make a sword?
  • steve: yes; in the real world, if a sword breaks, they would just resharpen it an use it as a smaller weapon; also forged blades are stronger than anything that’s cast
  • jonathan: q about the obsidian: that’s chipped, not forged; they’re bringing in a swordsmith for those, wouldn’t you rather get a sculptor?
  • steve: definitely would want someone that has experience with knapping, not forging

what about jaime learning to use his other hand?

  • steve: he and his students train with both hands; just because we never saw jaime train with his other hand, it doesn’t mean he couldn’t do it
  • jonathan: surprised they didn’t go into that; he trained with both hands as well, with jiu-jitsu; losing one hand might make him a lesser swordsman, but he’d still have a great deal of skill
  • steve: most of combat is mastery of concepts; he’s not going to suddenly lose those skills because he lost a hand

psychology question: let’s talk about hodor; anything that would cause someone to continually repeat one word

  • travis: yes! expressive aphasia: the person has trouble with communication that they previously didn’t have, because of a brain injury; dr broca, the researcher that the language area of the brain is named for, had a patient that said “tan”; when travis was an intern, he had a patient who could only say two words: “party” and “shittin”

let’s talk about white walkers: could they exist? wouldn’t any liquid left in the body freeze?

  • allen: ok, we’re gonna talk weird animals again; like, how are the white walkers even moving around if they’re some kind of frozen? there’s a wood frog in NA, can be frozen solid for up to 7 months at a time, and when spring comes around, it’s fine; creates glucose and urea in its cells, that act as cryoprotectants; lowers the glass transition temp of tissue; main issue with walking around, is that it should not be able to move; he proposes, as part of their conversion process, they develop these cryogens in their tissues
  • jonathan: there’s a couple other squirrels and creatures that freeze like that, but they don’t move; each zombie book he writes, he has to mug a bunch of scientists to come up with different theories to make zombies make sense; closest he ever got were parasites that hijack the nervous system to operate it after the loss of intelligence; but the cold factor you can’t get around, there’s nothing that allows frozen tissue to be flexible enough to walk; they don’t act according to any laws of physics in those fight scenes
  • allen: i would like to counter, with the idea that, the temps around the wall can’t be that cold because there’s a forest there; there’s a lower limit to the temps there
  • jonathan: so as winter arrives, they should freeze?
  • allen: not if they invade westeros! i think that if you took a dead body, and reanimated it, and injected it with glucose and urea, and put it in a tundran environment, where there are still dire wolves, i think that body is still mobile

what about the psychology of evil?

  • travis: narcissism isn’t enough; you need the dark triad: sadism, narcissism, and psychopathy; people with just one of the three can be high functioning and members of society; there’s a measurable difference in brain activity with psychopaths, particularly in the p3 wave, so they think there’s a biological component, but they don’t know; current theory is that they might have some kind of very early brain injury; and the novels mention joffrey having had a brain injury early in life
  • tamara: there’s also the genetic anomaly of being born from twins; they see increased incidents of schizophrenia with incest

audience questions:

  • is there some way for daenarys to have gone into a pyre and coming out ok?
  • why the irregular seasons? tamara: a volcanic eruption, around valyria, would both explain the long winters and the sheer amount of dragonglass they have (as well as explaining what happened to valyria); reference: explosion of krakatoa in the 19th century, which erupted in southern pacific but affected winters as far away as europe