Detroit (DTW) en-route to Wiscon

This year, instead of going through Chicago or Denver or Minneapolis to attend Wiscon in Madison WI, I flew a Delta red-eye via Detroit (DTW).  It got me into Madison around 10.30 a.m, a pretty convenient time that allowed for a nap before the Guests of Honor readings at “Room of One’s Own.”

approaching Detroit at dawn

I hadn’t expected much of Detroit airport, given the image of the city. But I was pleasantly surprised.

Dawn was breaking as we descended.The land below was so green and lush that, half-asleep, I  mind-slipped into thinking we were landing somewhere in Southeast Asia.  As we deplaned, the gate agent was waiting to provide directions. Walking toward my gate,  I found neatly folded blankets and airline pillows scattered in the seating areas.

Express Tram Detroit airport

I was delighted by a shiny red train, inside the terminal. It looked like a life-size toy zooming back and forth overhead. The Express Tram is apparently enough of a thing to have its own wikipedia article.

Then I saw this dancing fountain.

dancing fountain - detroit airport

The air was filled with the chirping of birds. At first, I thought it was recorded bird-song to go with the faux trees decorating the concourse. But no – there was an actual flock of free-flying sparrows. They were tough to photograph, tiny against the immensity of the concourse, but I got this blurry shot of one poking his head out of a ceiling vent.

sparrow in ceiling vent

All in all, quite a charming airport.

On the return journey, however, there were no blankets and no sparrows. I hope it was only the time of the day – late in the afternoon – that accounted for the absence, and not administrators and exterminators.

 

African-American Shakespeare Company’s ‘Much Ado’

Beatrice smSan Francisco is lucky to have the African-American Shakespeare Company. It’s  pretty much what it sounds like: African-American actors, doing Shakespearean and other plays. (Their motto is “Envisioning the Classics with Color.”) They have their own performance space – an intimate and attractive theater at Fulton and Webster, and they even provide free parking in an adjacent lot.

And they’re good. The artistic director L. Peter Callender stages performances with a lot of energy, vitality and color, and including songs and dance. His stagings are often period pieces, but not Tudor. Today, I went to my third play by this group: Much Ado About Nothing. It was a delightful comedic romp, framed by the music of Ella Fitzgerald, and played in post World War II modern dress.

Hero brideI really liked the casting. Leontyne Mbele-Mbong played Beatrice with confidence, humor, and pride; she’s a tall woman, with a strong stage presence. It was entirely believable that she’d get away with saying anything she wanted. For me, she really carried the play. Benedick (Ryan Vincent Anderson) was her perfect match.

Danielle Doyle had fun with the gentle, wide-eyed Hero, the wronged bride; and Twon Marcel was charming as an emotional Claudio, first desperately in love and then furiously betrayed. I did think he took the discovery that Hero was innocent and he had in effect killed her a little too lightly. (Then again, that may be more in the lines than the acting of them.) Dwight Dean Mahabir was a dignified Leonato.

All the actors in supporting roles gave the impression that they could readily have taken on more (and probably have, in other plays) but were having a good time nonetheless.

If you saw the Joss Whedon 2012 film version and liked it, you’d probably love this play. And if you’re in San Francisco, and are here next weekend – you can. The last two performances are coming up on Saturday May 24th at 8pm, and Sunday May 25th at 3pm.

I’m surprised this group doesn’t get more publicity. I found out about them entirely by accident some years ago. SF Chronicle, where are you?

Shopping the Con: FOGcon 2014 Dealers Room

I co-ordinate the FOGcon Dealers’ Room, and really liked how it turned out this year. Like FOGcon, it’s compact, friendly and accessible – and tempting! It’s only got 20 tables – enough for variety, not so much that it overwhelms. For the first time, we had so much interest that we actually had a waitlist. (So if you’re interested in selling at FOGcon 5 in March 2015, email us early at dealers@fogcon.org – and make sure you have your paperwork!)

Dealers Room at FOGcon 2014

We had a nice mix this year: Three regular book-stores selling speculative fiction (Book Universe, Cargo Cult, and Other Change of Hobbit); some specialist booksellers like PM Press, Damnation Books, and the Rejected Quarterly.

bookstall in Dealers Room at FOGcon 2014

Author Valerie Frankel
Author Valerie Frankel

As publishing moves to a variety of different options for reader and writers alike, we welcome them all – traditional bookstores, specialist small presses and micro-presses, individuals.  So we were pleased to have authors who brought their own books: Stephen Brophy and Lester Milton; Bret Alexander Sweet (who also was showing off some great illustrations produced by young people he’s associated with); SteamPunk authors Emily Thompson and Janice T;  and Valerie Estelle Frankel.

We had jewelry from Springtime Creations and Featherweight Finery, costumes from KrakenWhip, and interesting steam-punk creations from SteamyTech.
And we had a chair massage therapist, Keri Denney of Massage Garage.

Aside from the requisite pile of books (I think around 10 this year!) I picked up some ear-rings as a gift, a very cool little clock enclosed in a spherical pendant, and a set of coasters containing functional wooden gears.

FOGcon 2014 – The Writing Workshop

I co-ordinate the writing workshops at FOGcon. These are small critique groups, led by published authors who volunteer to provide their insights. This year, we had a great line-up of leaders: Cassie Alexander, Jed Hartman, Ellen Klages, Rachel Swirsky, and Mike Underwood.

HOW IT WORKS

We get the manuscripts from participating writers about six weeks in advance. The writers are split into groups of three or four, and we put them in touch with each other by email and each group gets all the manuscripts for that group. At the Con, they meet for a roughly one-hour session (which can sometimes go to two hours!) There’s a workshop fee of $20.

The workshops look to be increasingly popular. About half the participants return. The number’s been growing, and so we’ve been experimenting with ways to accommodate them. This year, we had 19 participants.  Instead of having all groups meet over Saturday lunch hour in the programming space like last year, we had it in a room behind the Consuite, spread out through Saturday and part of Sunday. We also tried to set it up so if a group wanted to run over the hour and fifteen minutes allocated, they could do so.

It was also an experiment with the new format. We got positive feedback about this, and I think we’re going to run with it. That means we can actually add some more participants next year, though it’ll still be limited.

FOGcon 2015

If you think you’ll be coming to FOGcon 5  (It’s March 6-8, 2015 at the same hotel), and would like to join the Writers’ Workshop – we’ll have a late January deadline for manuscripts (under 10,000 words and in rtf format). We don’t have any experience requirements (though if you’re under 18, we’ll need parental approval because you could encounter work aimed at older people). Email us at workshop@fogcon.org to let us know!

FOGcon 14 – and onward!

Usually, I like to blog about Cons when I’m there, like for Wiscon 37 last year. With FOGcon 4, this didn’t happen – in part because I’m on the ConCom (for the Dealers’ Room and the Writing Workshop), and in part because I’d been traveling and was jetlagged. I didn’t want to use the time to blog, I wanted every spare minute for the Con itself.

Panel at FOGcon 2014

I actually made it to quite a few events, mainly by being ruthless with myself about what was and wasn’t feasible. I didn’t take notes, though, so this is from memory.

The Invisible Disabilities Panel discussed the particular issues of dealing with disabilities that are not apparent to others, especially others who do not know you – and even those who do. They may not understand, or even believe you. And in some cases, it’s tempting to hide the problem and attempt to pass – which may be useful in some ways, but can be costly in terms of energy and openness. Some issues: Potential employers will generally avoid people with disabilities, so it may be useful to hide them at interviews; friends may not know how to make allowances. Some people don’t want to admit their disabilities even to themselves until forced to do so. Allies and friends should take the lead from what the person indicates they prefer; some want friends to check in how they’re doing, but others find that intrusive. In general, recognize that all disabilities are not evident, and even hidden ones can be painful and/ or crippling.

When is your Heroine Finally Going to Be Raped?  This is a question that Guest-of-Honor Seanan McGuire was actually asked – and her response was, never. Seanan said that she’d been told she was being unrealistic and unfaithful to her story. She wasn’t buying. This panel looked at the use of rape in stories – often as a quick way to give a hero something to revenge or a heroine a grim backstory. Too often, it’s either misogynistic or lazy. Sometimes, it’s meant to be titillating.

My Baby’s Got a Secret talked about genetic tests, and the risks and benefits of genetic analyses and what they could forecast. Topics included the risk of misinterpretation, employer and insurance company discrimination against people who might have genetic predispositions to illness or disability, and privacy. What would be the impact on reproduction: Would parents try to produce the “best” baby they could get, with the result that some genetic variation across the population would be lost? Someone in the audience pointed out that genetic privacy would eventually be obsolete because the cost of testing was falling rapidly, and it took hardly anything to get a test. We should be preparing for that day, rather than trying to prevent it.

Just because she’s a manic pixie in black leather doesn’t stop her being an angel in the house. This panel looked at two popular tropes for women, often in supporting roles to the hero: The “manic pixie,” who encourages him to break away from the normal workaday world; and the “angel in the house” who inspires him to the male role of protector and provider. The panel looked at characters who transition from one to the other – manic pixies who marry and settle down and become house-angels. It also looked at movement away from these stereotypes, notably Katniss in Hunger Games, and the princesses in Frozen.

The Seanan Show was Seanan McGuire answering questions and telling stories from her life. Ask her about the time she was bitten by Claude. She’s certified to handle venomous reptiles, and Claude was one of them. She’s superb and very funny. Even about life-threatening events.

Passing for Normal. This panel addressed the whole issue of “passing.” It looked at it primarily through the lens of sexual orientation and identity. It discussed being out, peoples’ reactions, and when passing is useful.

Juliette Wade and Vylar Kaftan’s readings. This was a pleasure to attend. Vy’s story was about portals and crossing into fantasy worlds – deliberately or not. Juliette’s was about a stressed out kid in Tokyo trying to study for her college entrance exams and encountering two yokai in her backyard that interfere with her efforts – one a thrown-away bicycle, the other an umbrella and tea-pot.

Then it was time for the feedback session. Everyone seemed to have had a great Con, and there were some good suggestions about making it better.

On Sunday afternoon, I went up to Consuite for the dead frog party. FOGcon has a really nice Consuite, managed this year by Alyc Helms. It’s small and friendly, and has a good (and constantly-replenished) selection of pretty healthy snacks, including fruit, vegetables and cheese and crackers as well as candy and cookies. It often has fascinating conversations going on, with an inclusive attitude to people joining in. In some ways, it’s the heart of the Con.

And then FOGcon 4 was over. I’m looking forward to FOGcon 5 already!

I’ll write about the two areas I coordinate – Writing Workshop and Dealers’ Room – separately.

Homeland, by Cory Doctorow

I read Little Brother soon after it came out. I’d heard Cory read from it during Clarion before it was published, and found it both exhilarating and shocking. It was still the Bush era, and my first reaction was, Have you talked to your lawyer?

cover-homeland by cory doctorowWell, the book came out and it was a hit. Homeland is the sequel, and somehow I just got around to reading it. I don’t know why I waited. I loved it.

The premise is that though the President has changed, the government hasn’t really – surveillance continues just as it had before. I guess it’s always more difficult to dial back powers once any organization has them…

So M1k3y is back under his real name, Marcus, and he’s fighting again. When an old friend hands him a dangerous USB that will allow him to access over 800,000 damaging documents about government and corporate wrong-doing, he’s got to decide how to handle it. The ethical and practical dilemmas that result drive the story.

The book opens at Burning Man, and that grabbed my attention. I’ve always wanted to go to Burning Man, but given the logistics and conditions on the playa, it’s increasingly unlikely that I ever will. This took me there with clarity and atmosphere.

The book seemed to introduce a cool new tech every chapter, in a way quite accessible to non-techies. It took every new technology or idea  I’ve found intriguing – from 3-D printing to quadricopters to People’s mic – and wove them into the plot.

Though this isn’t really a character-driven novel, I felt I’d got to know Marcus and the others well enough to be involved with them. And I found the plot gripping, leaving me wondering what I’d do in his place.

The book is intensely political, in the same way as 1984 is political. If you think Edward Snowden is a hero, you’ll probably enjoy it. If you think he’s a thief and a scumbag, the political values will probably make it unreadable.

FOGcon is Coming! (March 7-9, 2014)

I’m on the FOGcon organizing committee, and things are getting exciting. The year’s turned, and there’s only a few weeks left for FOGcon. It’s from March 7-9th, in the San Francisco Bay Area. The theme is Secrets!

FOGcon header pic

I LOVE THIS CON

  • We have awesome Guests of Honor. This year, it’s Seanan McGuire, Tim Powers, and the Late James Tiptree Jr. (There’s a great interview with her on the FOGBlog.)
  • It’s a great size – large enough that there’s always something going on, but small enough that it’s easy to meet up and move around without getting over-tired. It’s a lovely gateway Con for people who are new to Con-going. It could be addictive. There’s a nice mix of new people and regulars.
  • (Still and all – I’d recommend this excellent article by Amy Sundberg on the FOGblog: Amy’s Personal Con Survival Guide. Wish I’d read it before going to my first Con, and glad to read it now.)
  • Programming varies from excellent to awesome.
  • It’s user friendly. It has anti-harrassment policies in place, and provides childcare. I don’t see myself needing either, but I really love that we’re serious about access, safety, and being welcoming.

The Walnut Creek Marriott is a good venue, and have been responsive hosts. This will be our third year at this location, and it feels like coming home. I personally never leave the hotel, there’s too much going on, but for those who’d like to explore – downtown Walnut Creek is nice, and San Francisco is 45 minutes away.

THE DEALER ROOM AND WRITING WORKSHOP

I co-ordinate the Dealer room and the Writing Workshop for FOGcon.

The Dealer Room is sold out this year, and it looks like it will be fun. We have several experienced book dealers, some people selling unique jewelry; some artists; and the ever-popular Massage Garage massage therapists. And we’re recognizing a changing publishing world, welcoming indie authors who are promoting their own books in genres from science fiction to steampunk. Come buy!

We have an excellent line-up of published authors who’ve kindly agreed to lead groups in the Writing Workshop. Every year, participants tell me it’s a really worthwhile experience; and many return.  We try to keep the group size small – about 3-4 people plus a leader – but we still have a few places. The deadline for manuscripts (up to 10,000 words) is fast approaching – Jan 31st. The Workshop is open to people who have bought Con memberships – whether new writers or published ones – and there’s an extra fee of $20. All the details are here: FOGCon 4 Writing Workshop

COME WHILE IT’S YOUNG

FOGcon’s a great little Con, and this is only the fourth year.  The thing about great little cons is they eventually grow into great big cons with membership caps. That’s also lovely and certainly eases the burden on the Treasury.  But there’s a special intimacy to a small Con that we still have at FOGcon.  Come and see!

Owl Mask

The doorbell rang this morning, with the distinctive “Package drop-off” sound that delivery-men use. I went to the door and brought in the box.  It was medium-size, and quite light, and it came from my friend Kater Cheek: author, artist, and Clarion-mate.

Inside was this gorgeous thing.

Kater Cheek  - Owl Mask

With it was a note, folded into a little Japanese-paper envelope. It said in part, “I wasn’t sure why I was making this until it was done, and then I realized I must be making it for you.”

Kater knows I have a weakness for owls. This mask is utterly awesome.

Thank you, Kater. It’s beautiful!

Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen’s Anti-love Letter

Warning: Spoilers!

Blue_Jasmine_posterI’d never been particularly drawn to Woody Allen movies. But then I saw To Rome with Love, followed soon after by Midnight in Paris. Both of them were delightful, a mixture of romantic travelogue, appealing characters, and a satisfying story arc. So last year, when he was spotted filming here in San Francisco, I hoped to see something in the same vein in America’s most romantic city.

Last week, I saw Blue Jasmine, and that story definitely wasn’t it.

If the first two movies were love-letters, this was the kind of snarky missive someone might write to an ex while still counting grievances. Woody Allen seemed to dislike all his characters, and San Francisco. It was a mystery to me why he even bothered, unless he’s a little in love with Cate Blanchett. You know the movie has problems when the only thing you can say is, “Cate Blanchett really acted well.”

In brief:

Jasmine, a beautiful self-centered housewife, has had a nervous breakdown when her marriage to wealthy Hal comes to a very sticky conclusion, with his imprisonment and suicide.  Penniless, adrift and mentally ill, she lands in San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger, who has a nice little apartment in the Mission despite working mainly as a grocery bagger. (Perhaps she lucked into something rent-controlled.)  Jasmine ditched college to marry Hal, and has only her looks and poise going for her.  Since she’s not stable, she can’t make it work. She breaks down, lies, and talks to herself. (Lots of people do, these days, but a cellphone or earbuds are a useful prop.)

I spent the whole movie waiting for something to actually happen. Nothing does. It raises false hopes that there’ll actually be a story arc, but they all collapse.

Jasmine can’t get it together because she’s having a nervous breakdown, and no one addresses that. (Presumably she lost her health coverage together with her previous wealthy-chick life.) Ginger, encouraged by Jasmine, has a brief fling but gets back together with the same guy she intended to marry when the movie started.  Nothing’s changed.

It might as well have ended with “It was all a dream.”

A disturbing thread of misogyny ran through the whole thing.  The choices it makes are unpleasant. Hal, the husband, is apparently modeled on Bernie Madoff; it would be interesting to explore the impact of the implosion of such a career on his immediate family.  But this movie focuses on Jasmine as a despicable character whose only redeeming feature is perhaps that she loves her step-son.

Ginger, the grocery-bagger sister, has an affair with an apparently successful man who seems to admire her. She’s punished by finding out that he’s married, and finds redemption by returning to the working-class fiance she started with.

Woody Allen definitely didn’t leave his heart in San Francisco either. Maybe his liver.  There were no glamor shots. Even the ones that were meant to be beautiful were just blah. Ginger’s neighborhood is rundown and grotty.  This is not the San Francisco visitors or even residents experience. This is a city with spectacular views, but you’ll probably find better ones on Youtube than in this movie. Instead, the movie celebrates the Hamptons. Charitably, you could say it’s interpreting it through Jasmine’s POV, where the Hamptons represent the luxurious and happy life she lost; and San Francisco the unpleasant present. Or you could blame Woody Allen.

This movie was the equivalent of those dreary literary efforts where Miserable Character Stays Miserable in a Dismal Setting.

Clearly, most people don’t agree with me. It has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I guess seeing a beautiful woman fall apart has a certain allure.

“We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” – Karen Joy Fowler

we are all completely beside ourselves - Karen Joy FowlerWhen I finished reading this book, I felt I had to share something, somewhere. I wasn’t ready to write a review yet. I was still too rapt. So I went to Facebook, and posted:

Just finished reading Karen Joy Fowlers “We are all completely beside ourselves.” Coming up for air now. It’s a masterpiece. The voice is comic, sprightly, delightful. The story is dark and layered… so much so that midway, I thought it might be too much for me to deal with. I’m glad I continued.

I lucked out on the way I came to this book.

WHY KINDLE IS BETTER

At  Wiscon, where Karen read from it, I’d hoped to get her to sign it for me. I didn’t know anything about it then, but Karen was one of my Clarion instructors and I love her writing. But the book wasn’t actually coming out until two days after Wiscon. Nor could I attend any of her Bay Area signings, where I’d undoubtedly have bought it.

I’d wait, I thought. This is San Francisco, she lives not too far from this city, and would undoubtedly be here for a reading some time. But before that happened, my author friend Kater Cheek wrote a review that made me feel I couldn’t put it off any longer.

I sometimes feel guilty,” Kater wrote, “about all my average “liked it” star ratings in a world of grade inflation, and have thought about re-scaling all my books so that they all have 4 or 5 stars. But then a book comes along like this, where it really was amazing, and I’m glad that I so rarely give out 5 stars, because then people can understand that 5 stars means that this book is really something special, and not merely good.

The rest of her review was general – as this piece will be, and for the same reason. There’s a surprise that hits you well into the book that makes everything you’ve read thus far fall into place. If you know what that surprise is (and I think many people do by now), it’s still a superb book, but it loses – that.

So anyway, after reading Kater’s review, the Kindle edition of the book was only a couple of clicks away.

And that’s where I got lucky. The paper version of  the book actually has the surprise on its dustjacket. (I still haven’t bought the paper version, though I intend to do so the next time Karen can sign it.) In fact, it’s even in the description on Amazon, which thankfully I did not read. So when I started in, the revelation burst upon me as the author intended, with just the right mixture of shock and comprehension and satisfaction of curiosity and revising of mental images.

And that’s why this isn’t really a review of the book, but more of a reaction to it.

WHAT I LOVED

I would have read the book for the voice alone. The protagonist, Rosemary, is a college student when we first encounter her. She’s just been arrested for getting involved in a cafeteria incident where the girl at the next table is breaking up with her boyfriend by breaking things. Her descriptions are smart and witty, the turns of phrase utterly wonderful.

But it gets even better. It’s not just the voice, it’s about reality. And perhaps the motto of this book should be ‘Nothing is as it seems.’ There’s a deeper meaning to everything, and even that keeps changing. The plot twists like a snake in a maze.

And it gets worse, especially if you take families, love, and animals seriously (and all these matter to me). Difficult political themes emerge, confronting us with the whole issue of the homo sapiens and its relation to other animals – including power, love and cruelty and confronting Rosemary with a confusing set of choices. The story inexorably darkens. As I wrote in my immediate reaction, at one point it was getting so depressing – despite the witty tone – I thought I might stop reading. But I didn’t.

And it gets better again, pulling all the disparate strands into a bitter-sweet ending that was a lot more satisfying than the fashionable grimdark things where life slides into an inevitable decline and a book’s beginning is the best part of it.

The technical virtuosity is breathtaking, leaving me-the-writer undecided whether I should tip my hat and bow profoundly, or dig a deep hole and pull the turf over me in despair. Also – she makes it looks easy.

It’s brilliant.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Cultural User Manuals

This evening, I attended a reading at our local San Francisco bookstore: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose new book Americanah has just come out. She read a few pages from it, enough to make me think I really needed to read it. (For those who aren’t familiar with the author or her work – she’s Nigerian, and divides her time between Lagos and the US.)

chimamanda ngozi adichie reading in San Francisco
But she really spent more time just talking about her experience.  Someone asked her what she noticed as the largest contrast between Lagos and the US.

“Fast internet!” she said. The internet in Lagos is slow, and when she returns to the US, one of the first things she does is go online. Having gotten accustomed to that, she becomes impatient with the poor speeds of the Nigerian connections.

(It seems so trivial – and yet it’s not. I feel the same way when I’m traveling. The internet is so integral to communications, research, writing, everything.)

“How about electricity?” someone else asked.  Nigeria, like many developing countries, has power shortages.

“I have a really good generator.” She paused. “When I’m in Lagos, I don’t have any expectation that I won’t have to deal with a generator and getting diesel for it. I just do it.”

A friend visiting from London arrived at night, and she met him at the airport. As they drove back, he commented on how dark it was. “Well, of course it’s dark,” she said. “It’s night.” That wasn’t, of course, what he meant. He meant there were no street lights.  She hadn’t noticed. “If I landed in Washington, and it looked like that, I’d freak out! But in Nigeria, it’s normal.”

“You’re different in Lagos,” a visiting friend told her. “You’re loud.” She laughed and said she needed to be, in Nigeria.

“When I get off the plane in Lagos, I become my Nigerian self,” she explained to the audience.

*****

Everything she said resonated with me, from the power shortages, to the loudness, to the local resentment against people who return from a few years of living in the West and then find fault with Lagos because it isn’t London.

That’s exactly how I feel when I go to India. On a superficial level, it’s the slow internet, the need for a generator, the disorderly traffic, the plethora of little shops and colorful clothes and butterflies and untamed urban wildness.

But there’s a deeper sense of knowing and comfort with the world that I don’t get visiting other countries, even ones I’ve lived in, of being inside and outside the culture at the same time.  It’s code-switching, barely conscious. I expect different things of people, of the environment, of objects. It’s another world.

Someone offered me an interesting analogy:  Each country or culture comes with a different User Manual. That’s what you need to pull out, learn, update.  I have to say I feel privileged to  have access to multiple user manuals – even if it makes me a master of none.

Wiscon 37 Ends: May 27, 2013

Last day at Wiscon 37.

sunset msn-den flight

I made it to the panel on Tumblr, which was interesting because it’s a platform I haven’t used. What I gathered: The platform deliberately discourages discussion, but discussions happen anyway; it’s better to post pictures than links, because links get truncated; it’s dominated by teens, 14-18, and as a result has a lot of brashness; there’s a lot of cute animal pictures and porn. (As someone there said, it’s like “Corgi, corgi, hedgehog, porn.”) It’s apparently pretty compelling; one panelist described it as a huge time-suck. I wasn’t entirely clear why it’s better than Pinterest/ Facebook/ Twitter.

The hotel wasn’t giving late checkouts, so I needed to be out of my room by noon. I checked my email one last time before shutting down my computer – and found a message from United. My 7.30 p.m. flight to Chicago was going to be an hour late, which meant that I’d miss my connection. The hotel reception found me a phone number for United (I am embarrassed to admit my phone is Not Smart) and I called them on my plain-vanilla cellphone. It seemed they could give me an earlier flight… no, wait, that was an hour late too and would also be problematic. “It looks like Chicago is a problem,” said the agent, and she routed me via Denver on another 7.30 flight.

I didn’t go to the sign-out. The whole airline-wrangling thing broke the mood for me. Instead, after lunch I went to the Post Mortem, which gave me an even better appreciation for all the organization that goes into making Wiscon happen. It’s really tremendous. The only real complaint was that most parties ran out of beer by 11.30 p.m. on Sunday night, which really depends on the party-givers. (Last year, the problem was the opposite – there was a lot of alcohol left over that had to be removed during the move-out.)

I had dinner at the airport, an unexceptional sandwich… but the place had these signs on a side wall. They’d have been fun any time, but especially after Wiscon…

 

 

Signs at a beer n burger place at Madison airport

Caught my flight, slept on the plane, and woke to an announcement that we’d be landing about 20-25 minutes late. Ouch. My transit time at Denver was about 50 minutes, and I expected to miss the flight. But that flight was about an hour late, too, so it all worked out. Got home well after midnight, which was fine.

 

Wiscon 37: Sunday, May 26th 2013

Sunday’s bittersweet at Wiscon. It’s a day of awesome programming, but also the last full day before it’s over for another year.

I found I’d highlighted about 4 things for each time-slot, but decided against trying to get in more than one thing in each. I continued my exploration of class that I started at yesterday’s panel at “Class Markers: The Obvious and the Subtle.” This one focused more on patterns of speech, closeness to family (apparently working class folks tend to be closer to their families and see more of them) and such things as decorating styles. Working class people tend to talk in terms of stories and anecdotes and examples; middle class people in terms of abstractions and statistics. There was a passing mention of politics; one panelist thought that the Republican party knew how to relate to working-class speech patterns and therefore were easier to understand, while the Democrats tended to be boring and unrelatible.

After a foray into the Dealers’ Room, I went up to the Strange Horizons tea party. I found a lot of people I knew, including one of my Clarion classmates I didn’t at first recognize because he’s a man now. It was good to catch up. I also finally met one of my online critique group, whose work I’ve enjoyed without actually knowing who she was. Wiscon’s a wonderful place for meetings.

I went with Julie to “Cousin of Return of Sibling of Revenge of Not Another F’ing Race Panel.” All the panelists were people of color, but it was *not* about race. This was set up as a game show, with a huge yellow dice and questions from the audience for the panel to respond to. I bailed fairly soon, though it was raucous good fun. I don’t watch TV and see few movies, so I didn’t get most of the references and kept going Huh? Who?

We met Karen Joy Fowler for an hour or so, up in the Governor’s Club, where Karen, Kater and Julie are staying, (but I am not). It’s a limited-access “executive floor.” We talked about what we’ve been doing and caught up since we met last.

capitol building madisonDzombie on the back of her headinner was at a burger place on the far side of the Capitol Building. It was crowded; we sat at the bar so we could eat quickly and return for the Guest of Honor speeches. Just before we left, someone told Kater he’d really enjoyed her first book (“Seeing Things” – the first book in the Kit Melbourne series) and so had bought all the others in the series. (She has them available both as e-books and as paperbacks.)

We walked back past the Capitol building. A statue on the steps appeared to have a zombie face on the back of her head. But on closer inspection, it was just a chignon.

joan slonczewski GOH speechAfter the Guest of Honor speeches, the Tiptree Award speech and celebration, and the announcing of next year’s Guests of Honor (Hiromi Goto and N.K. Jemisin!) it was time for the parties.

[Read Jo Walton’s speech here: Characters, Complicity and Caring: My Wiscon Speech ]

jo walton GOH speech

But rather than party-hopping, Kater and I settled in on the couch at the quiet but energized Clarion West party, and talked all evening. We hadn’t had a chance to catch up properly since the last Wiscon, and a lot’s happened since then.

I ran into Ellen Kushner, who was sporting a fine mustache. She said the Genderfloomp party was still on, and I should swing by because the costumes were amazing. So I did, and they were. The music was so loud that my tolerance for the room itself was about 5 minutes, but the hallway outside was full of people I knew, and I stayed and chatted for a bit before calling it a day.

Now it’s time to write this and pack and plan for tomorrow’s activities and departure.

Wiscon 37: Saturday, May 25th 2013

Tired, happy and in dire need of a Time-Turner…

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I’d vaguely hoped to get to a 10.30 a.m. panel, but that didn’t happen. Instead, after lunch I ended up dividing my time between a reading by some of my favorite authors (Madeleine Robins, Nisi Shawl, Pat Murphy, Annalee Newitz, and Karen Joy Fowler) who called themselves “A Confederacy of Troublemakers” and a panel about the “Attack of the Fake Geek Girls.”

The reading was – as you might expect – superb. The room was crowded, and though I was only minutes late, there were no chairs left. Madeleine Robins has a new book out, “Sold for Endless Rue“, as does Karen Joy Fowler, “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.” Nisi Shawl has recently edited a collection of stories, “Bloodchildren“, and Annalee Newitz has a non-fiction book called “Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive Mass Extinction.”

The Fake Geek Girl panel discussed the question of being geek and female – or even more, being black and geek and female. The gaming community in particular has developed a reputation for misogyny and putdowns of women, as though they can’t actually be real gamers.  One woman said she’d been playing Dungeons and Dragons since it first came out, and she didn’t want her credentials questioned. She didn’t want to be the black gamer, or the female gamer, she just want to be – a gamer who might be black or female, but why was it relevant? I came in at the end of the discussion, but I’m glad I made it especially because of the comments from the audience.

Then I went to a panel on Class in SF and Fantasy (Ian Hagemann, Alisa Alering, Eileen Gunn, Madeleine Robins). This is something I haven’t really heard discussed much, not nearly as much as race and gender.  Eileen Gunn suggested that sci-fi has working class origins; someone else said that they probably was true of earlier science fiction, but in this generation it’s more middle-class. I have to say most sci-fi comes across as “middle-class” to me. There was discussion of “middle-class” as the unmarked state – people who are middle class are unaware of class issues, while working class people are clear about the distinctions. The talk turned to class markers – accents, whether the kitchen trash is under the sink or elsewhere in the kitchen, clothing, Myspace vs Facebook, and then circled back to accents.  Markers are socially defined, and if you’re writing of a future society, the actual markers are not so important – what’s important is how other characters react to them.

In the next slot, I again divided my time between two panels: “Steal Like an Artist” and one on self-publishing.

Steal Like an Artist discussed the ethical and artistic boundaries between “stealing” and creating something using and based on others’ work. It also touched lightly on cultural appropriation.

I went late to the Self-publishing/ Traditional publishing panel, again just in time to catch some of the audience questions and the panelists’ summation. They differed on the value of Kindle Direct, Twitter, Pinterest, and various other specific platforms; but they all agreed that authors should expect to do a lot of heavy lifting in promoting themselves (even if they have a traditional publisher). They should have websites; and possibly their books also should have websites. Everyone agreed social media are important, even if they didn’t agree on which specific ones.

I joined a  group of 10 Wisconians (Wisconites? Wisconners?) for dinner at the Fountain, opposite the hotel, with Tempest leading the charge. Some of them I’d met before, others I hadn’t. They were all interesting and a pleasure to hang out with. I had to rush off, unfortunately, so as not to miss the Big Event.

ellen klages auctionThe big event of the day was the Tiptree auction, with Ellen Klages as the auctioneer. It’s always an amazing performance by Ellen channeling her interior comedian. She did sell the t-shirt off her back (BAD GIRLS READ).

cake drowning girlThis year, a kid in the audience kept piping up… maybe Ellen has an apprentice! The most interesting item to me was a hip flask with a Space Babe design. (The picture is up at the top, standing in for a Time-Turner.)  The bidding quickly went far beyond my budget. There were also two cakes representing books by the Tiptree award winners, which were bought by the house as a whole (and enthusiastically consumed in the ConSuite later).cake ancient ancient

Afterward, I drifted through some parties, said Hi to a lot of people, sat and chatted with Kater for a while, and met Nisi Shawl’s mother – a charming lady who’s been to 3 Wiscons. I also met someone for whom this was her first Con ever. She’s a writer, a mom, and very socially aware – she was loving Wiscon’s openness and diversity. And everyone was so friendly…

I reluctantly gave up hanging out at the parties and ConSuite when I realized my energy levels were tending to zero. In my room now, writing this post.

Wiscon 37: Friday May 24, 2013

silver pin by Barb MoermondI got up late, went lunch-hunting and after wandering around State St for a while, came back and ate at the hotel. Then on to The Gathering. This event is one of the things I love about Wiscon, and a lovely place to hang out and talk. I met Delia Sherman, who was surrounded by students from various Clarions she’d taught at, and she talked a bit about her new projects (which sound great!)  Also met quite a few other people, waved at Kater who was busy giving Tarot readings, dropped off clothes for the Clothing Exchange, picked up too many books at the Galley Ho table, and bought a lovely little silver pin at the Auction preview table. (It’s by Barb Moermond, who will also have things in the Art Show.[Edited to Add: Maybe? No, in the Dealers Room])  Then I swung by the Dealer Room, just to get a little taste of what they have there. It’s neat – books and jewelry and wooden jigsaw puzzles… I will spend more time (and I guess, money!) there tomorrow.

The first panel I attended was “Stop Killing All the Minority Characters!” (Na’amun Tilahun, Lisa Bradley, Lauren K. Moody, Nisi Shawl) It was held in a relatively small room – and we soon ran out of chairs, standing room, and aisle space. The problem is that minority characters are too often killed off  – either dying heroically as “redshirts” or tragically to traumatize the main character. The discussion focused a lot on TV, which I don’t watch; but the same problems exist in movies and in books. We debated whether it was because the minority characters are usually also secondary characters, not the protags; or whether it was because they are sometimes inherently tragic figures. We also discussed characters with disability, and how they’re often miraculously cured before the action starts, as though they can’t be useful without such a cure. People also mentioned some series that do it well; again, it was mostly TV and I hope someone got good notes! What I recall is one panelist saying that Seanan McGuire’s books get better and better in this regard. The early books are a little problematic, but the later ones are awesome. Great panel, and I think I learned a lot.

After that, I went for the People of Color dinner, which was great company, as always.  Then on to the Opening Ceremony, where I hung out with Julie Andrews. Later, I swung by the parties but gave up because they were so well-attended I couldn’t hear anyone speak – it was just too loud. Happy loud, but loud.

I went for the “I’m not Your Metaphor” panel (Ian Hagemann, Jesse the K, Josh Lukin,  Kate Nepveu) – about whether or not it’s okay to use other oppressed groups as metaphors. The one we see most today is about Gay Marriage and whether it’s analogous to “miscegenation.”  Compared with the passion of the “Stop Killing…” panel, this was very intellectual. We discussed why such metaphors are used, and why some people might consider them appropriation. I’m not sure we reached a conclusion exactly, except that it might well make sense to use such metaphors to convey an unfamiliar concept to mainstream audiences. It does get the message across.

Met Kater Cheek’s daughter, who was looking for other teens – but the Teen Programming room was closed and nothing seemed to be happening there. She decided to go elsewhere. Kater stopped by later, but we gave up on hanging out at a party because of the noise. I did get to talk to Eileen Gunn, who’s working on a novel about Mark Twain, and to Catherine Schaff-Stump, who’s recently written a short story about him…

I hadn’t planned to go to any more panels, but Julie Andrews and I landed up at “The Female Soldier in SF and Fantasy.” It was really good. Since it started at  midnight, it was not overcrowded, and there was more audience involvement. We talked about soldiers vs warriors, about female soldiers in fantasy (not much) and in science fiction (a lot more), about a fully integrated army, which was a sci-fi concept. We considered differences – strength, sexuality, and contraception – as issues for female soldiers. Various books were mentioned; I lost track because I wasn’t taking notes.

I went back to the ConSuite for a while, then called it a day.

(I don’t have pics because Wiscon’s policy is to always ask permission – good policy, but I end up not taking pictures.)

Wiscon 2013: Guest-of-Honor Readings at ”A Room of One’s Own Bookstore”

I’m back at Wiscon! This is Wiscon 37, and kudos to the team that’s delivered it all these years. It’s only after my involvement with FOGcon that I’m beginning to comprehend the huge amount of work that a Con entails.

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The traditional kick-off is a reading by the Guests of Honor, hosted by “A Room of One’s Own.” Though I’d been there before (twice) I thought to check that I remembered the route. Just as well, because it’s moved, a block down. The new premises are lovely, with a traditional frontage and interior arches.

A room of one's own Bookstore

I went in to find quite a few people already gathered. The reading space felt smaller than the backroom they used to have, and most of the chairs were taken. Still, I found a place to sit, then left my coat there while I mingled. I found Laurie Toby Edison at the snack table, and she described her new “Discworld” sculpture: the turtle and elephants and the Discworld (which is a boulder opal). Also a silver Fantasy map she’s working on. It all sounds quite magical. She may have some photographs. I’m also looking forward to seeing her other work; she listed them on her LiveJournal and they sound gorgeous (she didn’t have pictures of those).

Also said Hi to quite a few other people. It had this lovely “First day of school after summer” feel to it.

GUEST OF HONOR READINGS

Piglet introduced Jo Walton with a humorous verse. Jo’s reading, from her current novel,  was hilarious. Apollo’s confused because Daphne becomes a tree rather than mate with him, so he asks his sister Artemis to explain. She directs him to Athene, who says something about “volition” and gets him involved in her own project: Recreating Plato’s Republic before it was even written. [Here’s a link to her blog, Bluejo’s Journal]

jo walton reading at a room of ones own bookstore in madison

Joan Slonczewski reading at A Room of One's Own BookstoreJesse the K introduced Joan Slonczewski, and even though she had apparently rehearsed it, she stumbled over the name. Joan took it in her stride. “My students call me Dr Zeus,” she said, and explained the background of her science as well as her fiction: Western diets have disrupted our bacterial ecosystems, which must be corrected with inputs from the uncorrupted intestinal flora of people in places like Africa. Someone near me mentioned fecal transplants, which are ingested. Then she read an excerpt in which the heroine, who has been attacked for hosting sentient bacteria, is moving to a new house – which is also sentient, and is decorating itself.  [Joan’s blog, Ultraphyte, is linked here.]

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After the readings, I made contact with Kater Cheek (and daughter) and J (who has a book out: The Flaming Geeks Book of Geeky Trivia) and picked up my Program Guide. I started marking off all the things I wanted to attend. As usual, there were between 2 and 4 “Can’t miss” events in each time-slot. You may see me darting in and out of rooms a lot.

Fantasy Art, Serendipity, and Daniel Merriam

Today was a bright day by the Bay, after a series of rainstorms, and we decided to celebrate by driving over to Sausalito. We thought we might see Bill Dan, the rock-balancing performance artist, who’s often there on weekends. (He was, but more of that another time.)

We had the perfect Sausalito afternoon – we stopped to watch the rock-balancing, strolled over to Spinnaker for coffee and a snack, we wandered back looking at the bay. A sea-lion arfed on a jetty, and a harbor seal and a few Western Grebes swam near the shore. A flock of pelicans landed in perfect formation.

We were heading back toward the car when I saw a large sign that hadn’t been there the last time I visited Sausalito. Daniel Merriam, it said. Bubble Street.

“Daniel Merriam!” I said, and went in. It was like magic.

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Last September, someone had posted this picture on a Facebook page, with no background or explanation. It grabbed me so much that I downloaded it onto my hard drive. Who, I wondered, was the artist? For some reason, I expected it to be someone in Russia or Eastern Europe.

Daniel Merriam painting

But it wasn’t. With some help from Google, I discovered Daniel Merriam and his website. (I also discovered that searching Google Images for “Daniel Merriam” yielded a page of gorgeous thumbnails. A few were available for sale, but they weren’t cheap.  I spent an hour or two or three browsing through them.)

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Bubble Street is his new gallery. As I wandered around, admiring the art,  the manager told us that the artist was there, right outside.

“Does he live around here?” I asked.

“Upstairs,” she said with a smile.

They had a calendar and a couple of books for sale, together with the prints. We bought the calendar and a book, and she asked if we’d like him to sign them. Of course we would, but should we disturb him? She gave him a call, and he came right down I was impressed, especially considering he’s a new dad. His twins came home from hospital – yesterday.

He wrote a couple of thoughtful personalized inscriptions. I was delighted.

Serendipity.

Time to Activate this Thing!

I’ve been toying with this WordPress site for a while, planning to consolidate my website (which is hosted by Goddaddy) and my blog (on LiveJournal) into this place. There’s an installed base issue. I’ve been blogging on LiveJournal since 2007, and generated about one novel’s worth of words. Ideally, I’d like to copy them over here.

Instead of procrastinating further, I’m going to activate this site. Gradually, I plan to make this my primary site and blog, though I’ll copy new posts over to LiveJournal as long as people are hanging out there.

Shakespeare’s Thumbnails – Artistic Experimentation

Some months ago, a Facebook link led me to this site, which had extremely elegant minimalist posters for childrens’ stories. To give you an examples, I’m going to steal one off their site to show here (it’s at the end of this post); but do go and check them all out. They’re clever and amazing.

So, inspired by these, I thought I’d try to do some thumbnails for Shakespearean plays. I’m no artist, but I like to fool around with Paint. So I decided to see what I could come up with using these parameters:A simple dramatic image…
… that is instantly comprehensible by someone who knows the story…
… but doesn’t try to tell the whole story…
…using only Paint and Microsoft Office Picture Manager…
…in a rough square of 400 pixels.So I started with Macbeth and Merchant of Venice and Hamlet.

What I discovered:
(1) I’m not nearly as creative or daring as SquareInchDesign
(2) A new time-sink
(3) It’s fun!

And here’s Hamlet:

Like this one below from SquareInchDesign! (I particularly love this one.)


Maybe I’ll post more someday!

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Prospera’s Tempest

Julie Taymor’s Tempest isn’t showing anywhere in San Francisco at the moment. but I’ve been keen to see it since I heard about it. I’m a sucker for Shakespeare, The Tempest, and Helen Mirren. So off I went to the only theater I could find, the not-for-profit Rafael in San Rafael. For those who haven’t been keeping tabs on this particular film, it’s the Tempest with very few alterations… except that Prospero is played by Helen Mirren as Prospera, a sorceress instead of a sorceror.

So, what did I think?

The gender-change does wonderful things to the film. It felt so right that — and I found this weird — it’s the Shakespeare version that felt contrived.

But it also changes the story in unexpected ways. Instead of being a story essentially about revenge and forgiveness, it’s about a dying, powerful, mother making provisions for her sweet but rather dim daughter. Oh, sure, Prospera gets in her revenge, but it’s a very modified one. Why? Well, these are people who her daughter will be allied with after her time. She doesn’t have the luxury of chopping them into small pieces of begging near-corpses. It may be the goodness of her heart, but she’s proven capable of being pretty tough not just with Caliban, a reluctant slave, but Ariel, whom she loves. But they’re her network, the only people of power she still knows. And she has her darling dim child to take care of. (It reminded me a bit of Mama Mia, the movie. Same dynamic between a Mom who’s competent and a star, and a daughter who’s young, cute, and in love.)

Why do I feel Miranda’s not very bright?  Well, she shows no signs of having any power herself. In the original, that was easily explained — she’s female, she doesn’t get to learn all this arcane stuff. But in this version? Her mother is in no position to leave her her ducal heritage; but she can give her a wizardly one. She’s got the books. She has the staff. It’s what she does, and what she could teach her daughter to do. Any smart kid would *want* to learn all that — but this one doesn’t. Instead, she bounds around the island doing, apparently, nothing much. (Unless the sandcastle in hand in the opening credits was some evidence of magical ability — but if so, the point wasn’t pursued any further.)

Miranda has no future here, and Prospera’s dying. So, working with the material at hand, Prospera grabs an opportunity and betroths Miranda to Ferdinand, the son of the King of Naples. The very King who conspired with her brother to exile her and 3-year-old Miranda, but she confronts him just enough to create a feeling of regret and obligation, not of revenge. She’ takes back her dukedom from her rascally brother, but not for herself — her every 3rd thought is of the grave, which sounds like she’s knows she has something that will kill her in a few months or years.  What that does is makes Miranda into a princess again, a sole heir to Milan. It gives her clout with her new in-laws, cementing the alliance. This is pretty important because once they get back to the mainland, the King of Naples will be the bigger shot. Milan’s been paying him tribute, after all.  I’m pretty sure dear brother has a very short life-span. Shorter than his sister’s. He may, regrettably, never make it back to Milan, poor chap.

Theoretically, Prospera could just have taken Miranda back to Milan with her. But the kid hasn’t been trained as a lady of the court. She hasn’t been trained as a magician. She’s pretty much been running wild on the island. The only way Prospera can secure her future is a good marriage, and there’s no time like the present to achieve it.

THE MOVIE REVIEW

As for the movie itself: Helen Mirren was pitch perfect as Prospera. She owned the role. I thought Djimon Hounsou did a great job with a difficult part; his Caliban was more than a nasty stupid monster. Everyone else was okay. Ariel looked rather too manly for the role; when Prospera calls him “my delicate Ariel” it’s a hard sell. So also the sleeping in  cowslips.

The costumes were brilliant, all black leather and zips for the formal court costumes, and rustic cottons and linens for what they wear on the island. Caliban’s “costume” — make-up, actually — was also superb. The setting was beautifully done, too; and I think Prospera’s cave was marvelous with long floating staircases cantilevered from the wall. But the pine (in which Ariel is supposed to be trapped by Sycorax) was actually a banyan tree (ficus bengalensis). Which I wouldn’t have minded if she hadn’t clearly referred to a pine and then threatened to shut him into an oak.

The special effects… not so much. Ariel had this sort of Tinkerbell glow going on, which made him difficult to take seriously. He’s naked (or in a body suit, I don’t know) and in the first few scenes adopts these very contorted positions so we don’t get full frontal nudity. (I read somewhere they digitally removed anything that showed, so I don’t know the contortions were necessary. They reminded me uncomfortably of early girlie magazines in which models adopted strange poses to convey nudity without actually showing anything the censors would block.)  It made me wonder if they auditioned for the ability to twist one’s body into pretzels.

The sky scene — where Prospera makes amazing images in the sky to entertain the two youngsters — just wasn’t amazing. It didn’t have much impact, a missed opportunity to do something mind-blowing.

All in all, though, Prospera more than carries the film. It’s worth seeing.

 

 

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