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May 30th, 2011

The Goodness of Cons: Imaginales

We're back in Paris, wrung out like sheets in a mangle (can you tell I've been reading Dickens?), but very happy from four wonderful days with the folks at Imaginales.  My French has gotten a work-out, even though everyone who had even a passing acquaintance with English was kind enough to allow me to speak English when my brain froze (which happened mostly in the afternoons), and my comprehension, anyway, has improved exponentially.  I am the proud owner of a wonderful bande dessinee about Irish immigrants to NYC called Tir Na Og, with glorious art by Elvire De Cock.  She also did the art for a BD about the 60's steamship France, upon which Ellen and her family sailed to France when her father moved the whole family there for a year when he was on sabbatical (which is why she speaks French so well).  Which we also bought.  Elvire drew a perky little France 60's hostess for Ellen on the frontispiece.  In pen.

Great happiness.

Also, something happened that mostly happens at cons.    Appropos of something I said about a story I was working on, Trudi Canavan's husband made a remark over lunch, our first day that set off a chain reaction in my brain that had me walking around in one of those irritating wonderfully creative dazes, where there's so much going on in your back-brain that you keep walking into people and lamp-posts and staring at people you've known for years as if you've never seen them before.  It's fixed the central problem of my plot and my heroine's motivation--not to mention changed her social class and her backstory and completely changed the way I'm thinking about my next novel but one.  Yes, I thanked him.  And I realized (again--it's one of those sunrises over Marble Head that happen fairly often) that talking to people you don't know, whose minds work differently from yours and whose world-view is slant or perpendicular or in another plane altogether from your own can only help your writing.  You can't expect an insight like the one I got this weekend, and it doesn't happen every time, but it's one of the reasons I love going to cons.

The town of Epinal is charming.  While Ellen signed books and wowed everybody with her faultless French accent, I went to the basilica--a church somewhere on the cusp between Romanesque and Gothic, with arches that were thinking about being pointed, and lovely little curlicues at the top of the columns inside. Not a lot of decor or fancy carving or acres of stained glass, just a serene space of high, grey arches and flickering votive lights before chaste stone altars.  You could tell it was a working church, both in the practical sense of charity and community, and the spiritual sense of a place where people prayed regularly.  I was glad to see it.

There was an abbey attached to it, surrounded by houses in which noble ladies once lived (their names are posted above the doors) in the 17th and 18th Centuries.  What they were doing there, when the abbey was founded, for what purpose, and with whose money, I don't know, because the musee was closed, with no times posted on the door.  I sniffed around the old walls of the town, though, and poked into little back streets where the modern had trodden very lightly indeed.  I bought a hank of remarkably beautiful silk yarn, recycled from unraveled saris, from a tiny and very practical-looking knitting shop on a street behind the church.  And then I went back to the convention.

The con itself was like nothing I've ever attended.  It was set up as a kind of perpetual signing, with each author assigned a space at long tables arranged in a hollow square.  All Ellen's in-print titles were arranged around her space, and she was officially scheduled for a "signing" after each panel, giving readers who had been charmed by her intelligence and French accent a chance to come and buy her books and get her signed without having to count on running into her.  Seasoned French pros pretty much spent  the whole con manning their spaces.  The books were provided by one bookseller, who handled all the transactions.  It was exhausting for the pros, but they sold a hell of a lot of books.  And the readers were very happy, too.  Not sure if it would work in America, though.  There were a few other booksellers, mostly second-hand and small presses with their own tables.  One t-shirt booth.  One Goth splendor booth.  A body-painting booth.  And that was it for the hucksters' room.  The attendees were legion--7-8th grade age kids on a school trip with their teacher (!), AARP-age couples and singles in split skirts and sensible sandals, Goth girls in black lace, corsets, and sky-high heeled boots, Goth boys with manga-length hair and sweeping black coats, young couples with strollers, plus folk of all sexes, sizes, ages, and fashion opinions--not fans, necessarily--the con (panels and all) is funded by the city council to bring tourism into the town, and so is open to everybody who wants to come in.  But readers, certainly.

I didn't mean for this to get so long.  Tomorrow, while we're waiting at the airport (or maybe on the plane), I'll write some more.  Right now, Paris is beckoning.

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