LTUE 2021 Writeup – Day One!

Hello readers! LTUE 2021 is here! And that means, in grand tradition here on Unusual Things, there’s write-ups on the way summarizing my experience! Starting with day one!

Now, this year’s LTUE has been a bit different. Thanks to Covid-19, LTUE has been held online, entirely digital, and this has brought positives and negatives. On the positive side, people from all over the world have been able to log on and watch! I’ve seen some familiar names that I’ve not been able to see at LTUE before, which has been awesome. On the negative side, once Youtube (or local ISPs) started throttling a few of the feeds, a few of the streams got … behind. Hopefully someone can sic a dragon on the folks responsible for the throttling, because cons need bandwidth!

But there’s a positive there, too. Everything is being recorded and will be up later to watch, so attendees will be able to see it without the lag. But the lag is a shame because some of these panels are awesome!

As always. It’s LTUE. So, how did my day go? Well, let me recap! Hit the jump for an hour by hour recount/summary of what I made it to or presented!

Oh, but first, let me share this. At one point, in the chat, we were joking about “explaining books as instruction manuals” and I jokingly gave a few of mine a go, including “How a dragon could open a bank.”

Instant reaction from someone in the audience of “I just started reading that today and I love it! How did you hear about that one?”

Me: Well, I hear it’s really good! đŸ˜‰

So yeah, that pleased me greatly! I wild Axtara encounter at LTUE! She’s soaring far and wide!

Now hit that jump for the summary!

Working with Alpha and Beta Readers

So this panel was one of the first of the day, as well as one that I was on. So I didn’t take notes … and I already said everything earlier. But this was a lot of fun. As was expected, my position was a bit unique, because I use Google Docs for all my Alpha/Beta needs, and I was able to offer some alternate perspectives on Alpha/Beta work because of that experience.

I also, amusingly, ended up the odd-man out when someone asked “Can you Alpha-Beta without hiring an editor” and all three other panelists went “Oh no!” very strongly and I had to be the lone author that said “Well, actually …” But then pointed out that my Beta is editing, as is the Alpha, and the copy-edit, etc. But it was a funny moment of everyone looking right at me with “Wait what?” in their eyes.

Good panel. I had fun!

Killing Characters

Well of course I was going to attend this panel. Why wouldn’t I?

But this one was a lot of fun. We had a collection of authors who talked about the serious nuts and bolts of killing off characters, their biggest and most important point they all agreed on being “What does this do for the characters/story.” Because if it doesn’t do anything, there’s no point in the killing.

In backing this up they talked about the “death of the mentor” trope and how that’s used to push characters forward and out of their comfort zones, about how death affects the tone and permanence of the novel. Making a death mean something, to theme or plot, was a core concept here.

Oh, and the character has to stay dead. Cheating death is a very rare card to play, and hard to do right. It can be done, but they pointed out it should be an exception of sorts to the already rare “kill a protag.”

2020’s Covid-19 Response in Hindsight

So this panel was an interesting one, with several … sociologists? Historians? I’m sure I’ve goofed somewhere there but BRAIN TIRED. Anyway, they discussed the tackling of Covid-19 in the US compared to other nations, how it has compared with plagues historically, and then how we need to remember details like this when writing about plagues.

Of course the joke of “we can’t say ‘avoid it like the plague’ anymore because clearly Americans don’t came up.

Anyway, they made some interesting notes about it. One thing that stuck with me is they pulled up examples of the exact same behavior we have today—anti-masking, protests, conspiracy theories—all happened in the US during the Spanish Flu as well … But then the point was raised that what set America and its response to Covid-19 back compared to other nations is that while other nations remembered we wouldn’t, and built a bubble of ignorance. We selectively chose to forget.

From here we talked about how plague affects different classes of a stratified society unequally, how those classes react differently. We also talked about “can’t VS won’t,” with all the panelists noting that before Covid, jobs would say “We can’t do this” which, as soon as it was a requirement, they suddenly could. “We can’t do this” then was actually “We won’t do this, because we don’t want to change.”

Selfishness VS selflessness came up as well, and how that plays into quarantines and disease. Cool history of other plagues was brought up … this was a neat panel.

Oh, and a neat point from the panel was that the death rate for Covid-19 is only as low as it is due to modern medical tech. One panelist pointed out that without that tech, the death rate, based on the fatality rate from places that didn’t get care in time, would be equal or worse than the Spanish Flu. Now that’s food for thought!

The lesson for writing? People don’t always react to plagues as logically as one would hope.

Keynote – Alaya Dawn Johnson

This. Keynote. This. Keynote.

So far, if I could take ONE thing from LTUE so far and put it on my website, this would be it. And I will once it’s publicly available.

This keynote was awesome. It was all about, well, in my own words, “doing the research.” But in the speakers, it was “interrogate your imagination.” It was to look for the implications of an assumed scene (her example was ‘When I say “a bar” what do you think of. Did you know Columbia didn’t have them for the longest time?’

I’m summarizing, of course, but this was an awesome keynote about learning, being curious, stretching your mind, discovering new things, and then applying all of that to writing in a way that defines your world to people who enter it.

Basically, stuff I have been 100% about pushing on this site for years. Alaya Dawn Johnson knocked this out of the park. And again, I will absolutely make a post for this keynote when it shows up on public Youtube because everyone needs to watch it.

“Interrogate your imagination.” A great counterpart to my oft-quoted “Always do the research.”

Swords versus Plows, Soldiers versus Farmers

A panel about food and logistics. How could I not attend?

So, I jotted a few things down for this one. First, a fun discussion on pack animals and how important they are to war efforts as well as how lacking conventional pack animals can make war difficult. Which in turn means when building a fantasy world, pack animals are something to think about!

May the mighty war corgi always serve well.

Another neat topic brought up by this panel was how peasants used to change their crops during times of war. Because armies would pillage the land as they traveled, peasants would change to crops like potatoes that had to be dug up (and a moving army doesn’t have time for that) or foods that required long cook times (no time for that) or even were poisonous if not prepared properly!

Which led to the joke in the chat of “Why yes, enemy officer, these are my mushrooms. Totally edible, not at all poisonous, no siree!”

One last note from this panel … okay two. The first was how devastatingly effective it is, historically, to mess with a soldier’s food. The second: Did you know the Aztecs didn’t have pikes because they didn’t have any good wood for it? Wrong kind of trees. Ergo, no anti-horse infantry. Neat little tidbit!

Magic Employment

All right, the last panel of the day! I really only wrote down one note from this, which was in fact an observation from a prior panel last year, but applied perfectly here. With any creation, magic or science, tool or whatever, in a book, ask yourself this question:

Can someone sell this?

Because if they can, someone will, and your world and writing should reflect that. Wizardy of any kind? No exception!

And that’s day one! I’ll be back tomorrow for another grand day of LTUE, and with two panels to give. See me there, readers!

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