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Rhetoretician -- Fiction etc.

Phoenix Rising Report, Friday

Phoenix Rising Report, Friday

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Here I am in New Orleans!

After some flight and traffic delays (some of which I might put into my “Mary Sue” entry) I got here at about 11:30 a.m. local time, after the last morning sessions had already begun. So I went to my room, unpacked, showered, etc., then went down to register – and discovered that they’d shut down the registration desk just before I got there. But I’m really good at whining (excuse me, “whinging”) and they eventually opened it up again and gave me my conference bag.
You may be amused at the contents of the bag:
·        1 Phoenix Rising t-shirt
·        1 Phoenix Rising program (100 pages long, and pp. 88-89 contain the complete text of “The Torch!”)
·        1 name badge on a green lanyard (because I’ve been “sorted” into “Zodico House”)
·        1 wrist-band to wear in place of the badge if I dress up for the Masquerade Ball
·        2 bookmarks (one for Phoenix Rising, one for the “unofficial Harry Potter conference” in London on July 19-22).
·        3 Phoenix Rising matchbooks.
·        1 CD of “Highlights from Episodes 1-50 of the Potter Cast.”
·        1 complete audiobook on cassette of Jim Dale reading OoP
·        1 large New Orleans post card
·        1 post card, advertising a Harry Potter conference in Chicago, to be held in August of 2008 (see, Hannah, I told you so!)
·        1 luggage tag, advertising same
·        1 green lollipop
·        1 flyer advertising the Countdown to Midnight World Wizarding Watch (July 20, 2007), in Oak Park, IL
·        1 copy of the “From Ash to Flame” official newsletter for Phoenix Rises
·        1 New Orleans Visitors Guide
·        1 2007 Zagat Survey for New Orleans
·        1 Self-Guided Walking Tour for the French Quarter
·        1 tiny owl, advertising e-owelry.com
There are about 1,000 attendees at this conference – and the overwhelming majority are female. I’d say the ratio is at least 5:1, possibly 8:1. The greatest number of attendees seem to be in their thirties, but there are plenty older and younger. A significant fraction of the attendees are in “fancy dress:” Hogwarts Robes, witches’ hats, medieval or Renaissance costumes, etc. abound here. Several are in “character” – I’ve seen one Bellatrix (complete with a Helena Bonham Carter white streak in her hair) and one Tonks so far. Reminds me of the Star Trek conventions I went to when I was a kid.
But this is a conference, not a convention, and there are actually serious presentations being made. More on those later.
The conference events take up two floors of the hotel. There’s a Vendor’s Room, in which all sorts of things are on sale. Border’s has a huge display including every Harry Potter and kids’ fantasy book you can imagine, including foreign language editions. Alivan’s Wands is there, as are several other sellers of Potter stuff. There’s a break room (referred to as the “Room of Requirement”) where people can write down their predictions and memories on long sheets of paper and leave notes for each other.
The first presentation I attended in the afternoon (out of the eight I could have attended at the same time) was a workshop entitled, In Search of the Fanged Plot Bunny: Generating Ideas for Fan and Original Stories. The leader was Jenny Racek (a.k.a. Tapestry) (looking very fetching in an SCA-style dress, by the way; I took a picture but it’s not a digital camera; I’ll post it when the film’s developed), who worked us through several sound methods for story origination. (She actually had planned to discuss story complications and “hitting the wall,” but ran out of time.) The strategies included various forms of canon combing, or starting with a little known character and creating a backstory, crossover, headlining, rewriting history, etc. A lot of what she said sounded familiar, so I asked whether she’d read Nancy Kress’s Beginnings, Middles and Ends – whereupon she pulled a copy out of her bag!
Then there was a paper on Young Readers’ Responses to Harry Potter:  What We Know, and What We Don’t, by Colette Drouillard, a Ph.D candidate whose dissertation will center on how younger readers believe they were affected by reading HP. Currently she’s at her literature review stage, and she gave us a detailed summary of the many (more than 38) studies of young readers that have been done since 1999. Of course there’s a lot of curiosity out there about how kids relate to HP, because of the oft-observed phenomenon that it’s “getting kids to read” who otherwise wouldn’t be reading. She was highly critical of the literature she’s seen so far, because (1) the studies tend to draw general conclusions from highly selective populations, and (2) the observations frequently say more about what adults think the kids are experiencing than what they themselves say. Her own study, which is going to be a two-step online survey of readers born between 1983 and 1988, hopes to avoid these pitfalls.
Then I caught the second half of a paper I wish I’d seen the rest of. Annette Doblix Klemp, who teaches fantasy and science fiction at U of Wisconsin (River Falls), gave a fascinating lecture called Evil and the Loss of Identity in the Harry Potter Series. In it she shows how, in Rowling’s works, adopting evil (following Voldemort) always results in a diminishing of personality and a loss of joy. JKR’s villains (except for LV himself) don’t seem to enjoy much of anything and are driven more by fear and anger than anything else; they don’t seem to do much except plan evil. The trio, by contrast, lead full, playful lives which are not spent merely fighting the Death Eaters. I commented that this observation seemed to resemble one of LeGuin’s lines in “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” in which the narrator speaks of the “Treason of the Artist” who pretends that only evil is interesting. Klemp picked up on it immediately and said that it was one of the things she’d been thinking about when writing the paper. This was a very high-level audience, and there was a lot of crossover discussion from other works (C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, etc.). Fascinating.
Finally I saw a panel presentation called Flames or Embers: The Future of Fandom on the Internet. This was primarily an extended warning about a set of bills now going through Congress that have the potential to affect the ability of fan sites to operate and fans to interact. One of these, the proposed Internet Preservation Act, would enforce “network neutrality” and prevent cable and phone companies from charging higher fees that might price fan servers out of the market. The other two bills, the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act and the Deleting Online Predators Act, both aim to protect kids from potential abuse on the internet, but they’d have the effect, apparently, of making it impossible for federally-funded institutions (schools, libraries) from accessing any “commercial social networking sites” – which would amount to all blogs, fan sites, etc. I went to this session out of a sense of obligation (the Legal Studies Department is paying for this trip, after all), but really didn’t learn much that I couldn’t have found out in a one-page summary. I sorta wish I’d gone to Amber Charleville’s paper on HP ethics instead.
After the panel discussion I ran into  dogstar101– or I should say, she found me. She’s charming, and I’m glad Mary told us that we were going (that sentence didn’t come out right – but you know what I mean.) (I got a picture of us together, but [see above].) Apparently she and  anyaxstrindbergare sharing a room, and both of them are going to be at the “Fan to Fandom” keynote (where I’ll be too), so I’m sure we’ll hang out together there. I haven’t met Anya yet. Anyway, in the short time we had to speak we discussed our possible entries in the “You Mary Sue” Challenge, and agreed that, as a general matter, everything that happens in HP Fan Fic is Mary’s fault.
Tonight there’s a social event (Storyville) that takes place on Bourbon Street – and I’ve discovered (accidentally!) that there’s a casino within walking distance. I don’t know that I’m going to go, but I do love seven-card stud…
Tomorrow a whole day of sessions (wow) and the much-anticipated “Fans to Fandom” keynote. I’ll let you all know how it comes out.
  • Thanks for the report - very interesting! Dogstar and Anya have promised to post too.

    I'm beginning to wonder if non-reading kids are still being drawn into reading by Harry Potter. My observation (looking at friends' children and the ones I teach) is that the films, and probably the increasing size of the books, have killed that and the ones who are reading the books read anyway. But that's purely anecdotal so I'd like to know what the experts think.

    If only fanfic were all Mary's fault! Then we'd only have interesting, well-written fanfic and wouldn't have to wade through the less stellar examples to find it.

    I'm looking forward to reading further reports.

    • Hi, Bel!

      I had a similar thought to yours concerning the films displacing the books.

      All HP fan fic is Mary's fault in a sort metaphysical, philosophical, symbolic way... sort of ...
  • Oh, Thank you for the update! I've been thinking about all of you today and wondering when I would hear some news! I'm so glad Jo got there in one piece and Anya, too! That just makes me happy that some of my favorite people are all together.

    The presentations sound so interesting - and it would difficult to pick just one to attend. LOL - on the Mary Sue stories you all are spinning. Can't wait to hear *those.*

    Good luck at the tables tonight, Ken. Maybe you can finance another trip to New Orelans that way. :) I'll keep watching for updates!
    • Hi, Mary. Both Jo and I started working on our Mary Sues on the plane. Really, it's scary how much influence you have over us...

      The casino didn't have 7-card stud, and I hate Hold 'Em. But they did have crap tables, and I won some money there. (Won't go back, though; too much else to do on this trip, and one should always know when to quit. I had a fun hour or so, and that's fine.)
  • Reports from the Front! So jealous you are there and I'm not! Hey.. check that book & let me know if my fic is in it (since I won a PR contest, too!).

    Have a Hurricane for me and a blast!

    • Hey, Shel. So far as I can tell, the only actual challenge entries printed in the program are mine and Brittany's (she wrote the winning essay in the challenge I entered). I don't really understand it, as there are at least three challenges I know of that were in some way connected with Phoenix Rising.

      On the other hand, there are lots of authors giving readings from their stories here (and I'm not one of them). I gather they submitted stories several months before the Challenge I entered was even announced.

      Actually I had a Hurricane tonight -- it was the "specialty of the house" at the "Storyville" gathering. Man, that drink packs a wallop! I'm a red wine drinker, normally, and then not very much!
  • Excellent update, Ken! So detailed I almost felt like I was there with you, LOL. Thanks so much! Can't wait to hear more. I hope you have a blast.
  • So glad that you took the time to post for those of us who can't be there in person. I think I really would have enjoyed the sessions you attended today and from your description of the demographics it sounds like I would have fit right in with the general population.

    Don told me yesterday at lunch that if I had been able to manage going he was going to buy me one of the nice reproductions of Hermione's wand as a gift for the convention. Alas, now I have neither the convention nor the wand!
    • Hi, Valerie. I really missed you today. I probably wouldn't have gone to Storyville if you hadn't mentioned it, and so I kept thinking it'd be much more fun with you there. You'd surely have fit in with the demographics better than I do! (Don should buy you the wand anyway; tell him I said so.)

      And oh, your poor hand! I hope it gets fixed as quickly as possible.
  • Thank you for the report! Very interesting.
  • Wow...thanks for the report. I have never been to any of these fan gatherings. I was always courious about them. Facinating stuff. Yes, I was surprised a lot of this was so serious.

    I don't think the Harry Potter books bring kids to reading that much. If you consider the background of the kids who read them, they are from families that encourage them to read.

    I was startled by the bills in congress concerning fan sites. I'm guessing a lot of this was triggered by the HP phenomena. Than is mind boggling. For heavens sake...just entertainment.I guess congress has to get into everything.
    • Hi Rachel. Actually I don't think Congress is thinking about fan sites per se at all. They're thinking about child predators who lurk on Myspace and similar things. But the current wording of the bill is so broad that it would probably take out blogs, fan sites, etc. ...or it'd take them out of libraries and schools, anyway.
  • Hi Ken! I'm sneaking around, finding people I see at Mary's lj. I loved this report! I've always been curious about these gatherings, but haven't found a reason to go to one yet. It's a bit hard to be an avid HP fan when noone else here is, except hubby. Thank goodness for lj and the fansites. So - mind if I friend you?
    • Surely! Welcome aboard.

      Where's "here," by the way?
      • Norway, smallish community oustide Oslo. Goodness knows I'd go mad here without internet...
        • I have been to Oslo; I love the Wiegland Park.
          • Oh, you've been here? Cool. I love the Vigeland Park. When I was a student, I spent a serious amount of time lounging on the lawn, studying. Did you walk the labyrinth?
            • Well, this was 24 years ago, so my memory isn't all that detailed, but I don't remember walking the labyrinth.
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