Saturday, November 3, 2007


AN interesting issue came up on this week among the
chatty chat group, the subject taboos that moderators make.
Mistakes at the mic. Errors in ethical thinking. Foolishness
behind the podium. Extravagances and ostentations of the
moderator, which happen often enough that even I, Rob Walker,
have been on hand to witness against. Yes, let's all witness
against the BAD moderator, and trust me, as a moderator myself,
I've made blunders such as getting a simple name wrong (I was not
well at the time, but that's no excuse), and I've pushed my own
work on an audience (but never mine own alone). In fact, I
believe I've done well overall in my own moderating duties over
the years.

The circulation of a manifesto for moderators written by
disgruntled but in control authors at a bar in Chicago has made
the rounds now since B-Con Chicsago, what two, three years ago.
Love is Murder considered adopting it in a digest form to send
out to propsective moderators, but I've not seen it since it
raised its angry head. Authors who are short-changed on a panel
have a right to be angry, especially when the moderator, one way
or another, sabotages the panel. Often it is not entirely the
author-moderator's fault. Often this unsuspecting person is
asked by a harried conference organizer at the 13th hour to run a
panel. Sadly, too often, the organizer has selected the worst
choice for a moderator of the existing panelists. And this
begins a downhill run. Once such a thing happened at Malice
Domestic--my one panel, my one shot. The person chosen to
moderate worked extremely hard behind the scenes, and this nice,
wonderful person collared all of us on the panel ahead of time.
We took pity on the new moderator, and all of us contributed a
list of questions, which all of us agreed were dynamite
questions, and we thought we were making lemonade with the lemon
of little time given us. Then when the panel got off to an
awful, terrible start due to technical difficulties "beyond"
anyone's control except the organizers -- a partician was not in
place -- the new moderator launched into a series of lame
questions that did not reflect any of the behind the scenes work
that we all did for this panel. The result was the dullest, most
awful panel I have ever served on.

Everything in moderation--even the idea that a single question
ought to go up and down the table until that horse is beaten to

Perhaps a dream panel for the authors is to have no moderator at
all. One that accepts the fact that the grownups on the panel
are smart enough and quick enough to raise questions of concern
to each of them. To not have to act as the dummy--the mouth--for
the moderator. This is an extreme example, and most moderators
act as wonderful facilitators. But then you get GodZilla
moderator or Princess for a day moderator, or mealy-mouthed,
unable to take the egomaniac author in hand moderator, while
other panelists take over the job or not. There are other
authors I refuse to be on a panel with to be sure, but there are
also moderators I refuse to work with as well.

There were lists and more lists on DorothyL that made for fine
itinerary for a moderator--the do's and the don'ts -- but chiefly
a moderator needs to take the advice of "God" -- that is the
Bible! All things in moderation, including your ego while on a
panel. You can assuage your writer's ego later at the bar where
you can say anything and be as outrageous as you like, and
someone might buy you a beer for your trouble. Finally, a
moderator ought to look up the word in Webster's before
moderately moderating as the root word definition might just help
in the gray matter of the moderator who becomes the terminator,
terminating any hope of a fine panel. There are films populated
with fine, wonderful actors that are total flops, even laughable.
Whose fault is that? The prop guy or the director? Directors
are like moderators and moderators diret the flow of discussion
without becoming the focus of the discussion. That is enough for
me to know. I don't need a page-long list to know the job of a

Rob Walker
Veteran moderator

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