Category Archives: Conventions and Events

Wiscon 38, Day 4 – Sunday May 25th, 2014

Standard

lasercornflier1-1-232x300I’d meant to wake up on Sunday in time to go to the Clockwork Lasercorn reading. Several Codexians were reading, and the poster was awesome.  But the accumulated sleep debt got me, and it didn’t happen. Instead, I  joined two people I’d just met – Nancy, and Eric – for an enjoyable Mexican lunch at Diego’s bistro, just across the street. They’re both from Minneapolis. Eric, aside from his library day-job, puts out a beautiful spec-fic magazine.  It’s had 33 issues in 28 years.

After lunch, I had a little time to play the tourist, and went to the Capitol observation deck. It had great 360-degree views. (More about that, with photographs, in a separate post.)

IS SFWA RELEVANT?

Then it was back to the hotel and “Is SFWA Relevant?” SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. It has quite specific membership requirements; I don’t personally qualify, and with my current publications strategy, probably never will. But some writers make it a point to earn SFWA qualification, and I’ve sometimes wondered whether it’s worth doing. Meanwhile, there have been endless kerfuffles of various kinds emanating from the organization, and I’d sort of written it off – except that Mary Robinette Kowal, who I respect as feminist and writer, had been Vice-President and seemed to care a lot about it. So I thought I’d find out more.

The panel were committed SFWA people, and they talked about the Legal Fund, the Writers Beware warnings, the Grief Com to help authors who had problems with editors and publishers, and even a Medical Fund for members. In their view, SFWA was a Union for professional writers. They explained what had gone down with the kerfuffles, most of which was – to me at least – understandable as a clash of old and new value systems.

We discussed member qualifications, comparing SFWA with the Romance Writers’ Association (RWA), which offers membership to anyone who wants it. RWA has a huge base, and thus provides a lot of services. One person in the audience pointed out she has skills and energy and experience that could benefit SFWA, but she doesn’t qualify – and probably won’t, because, self-publishing. (SFWA is looking into a self-publishing standard for qualifying, but hasn’t got there yet.)

My own take on it is that SFWA is shooting itself in the foot with strict membership qualifications. The vast majority of writers don’t make a living from spec-fic, straining the definition of “professional.” It’s not a Union because it’s not in a position to bargain collectively. Its power and influence come from its resources – membership numbers and  funds. Why does it make sense to limit that? If its base grows, it can provide more resources for new writers or hobby writers, and thus make membership even more attractive, setting up a positive feedback loop. It may never have the huge base of RWA, but with a much larger membership and more funds, it could do much more.

The main argument for joining seemed to be that it’s an organization worthy of support. That I agree with; but then if I don’t qualify, all I can do is wish it well. From the outside.

The next panel for me was ‘Selling Yourself: The Journey of Self-Marketing.’ This was very useful and insightful, and I have a separate post with notes from this and the previous day’s ‘Reaching Readers: Best Practices for Writers.’

READINGS, SPEECHES AND PARTIES

I just made it to the ‘Questionable Practices’ reading: Karen Joy Fowler, Eileen Gunn, Pat Murphy, and Nisi Shawl. Michelangelo’s, the cafe across from the hotel where they held this event, was packed. I’ve no idea why they didn’t realize that this would draw a large audience and schedule it in the hotel. Anyway, the readings were brilliant. Karen read part of a sharply-observed and creepy story, called Nanny Ann and the Christmas Story (and you can read it all here).  Eileen read a story from her new book, Questionable Practices – ‘Michael Swanwick and Samuel R. Delany at the Joyce Kilmer Service Area, March 2005.’ It’s a very funny recounting of the two authors out for a burger as recounted by a story-telling  robot (and here is Michael Swanwick’s intro to it on his blog). Pat read a bitter-sweet tale set in a future Oakland where nearly all the men have died in a plague.  Nisi read a book-excerpt so strong that the audience protested when she stopped – and were disappointed to learn the book’s not even been sold yet let alone published.

The Guest of Honor speeches this year were eloquent, stirring, and hard-hitting. Hiromi Goto spoke about minority voices, and made a strong statement against Cultural Appropriation. N.K. Jemisin spoke about her horrible experience of being attacked and called a savage after her speech at an Australian convention, and issued a call to action – to fight back, and not tolerate racism and the rape culture.  Both speeches are online.

Then they crowned the Tiptree Award winner: Nike (pronounced “Nicky”) Sulway for Rupetta, about an artificial intelligence constructed of cloth, leather and metal with a clockwork heart.

Congrats to Nike Sulway for Rupetta - Tiptree winner

model dalekLater, at the Aqueduct Press party, there was a cake honoring the book, and Nike kindly posed next to it for a few of us to take snaps. I swung by the other parties, just checking them out. A large Dalek cruised the 6th floor hallway.

Outside the Floomp party where many people were wearing gender-bending costumes, I met Cath Schaff-Stump just as she left, looking tired and happy. Others I knew were hanging out in the corridor, and I stopped to chat.

Then I went to the second floor, found another game of Telestrations in progress, and joined that.

LINKS TO ALL THE POSTS

Here’s a set of links to all my Wiscon 38 posts.

  • Day One: GoH Readings at “A Room of One’s Own.”
  • Day Two: Economics in video-games, The Gathering, PoC Dinner, Poverty, Transphobic feminists?
  • Day Three: Non-romantic endings, Time and Memory, Outer Alliance reading, Tiptree Auction without Klages, Telestrations game
  • Day Four: The Capitol, SFWA, readings, GoH speeches and Tiptree winner, parties.
  • Day Five: The End. ‘Hard Chargers’ reading.
  • Note on Reaching your Readers/ Selling Yourself.

Madison Capitol – Visiting the Rotunda and Observation Deck

Standard

The local free paper, Isthmus, listed the observation deck of the Capitol as one of Madison’s best sights. During Wiscon 38, I took a little time out to explore.

capitol building madison

I walked up the broad shallow steps to the Capitol building. Inside, the corridor was tall-ceilinged and shady, and opened onto a splendid rotunda, with mosaic pictures and lovely light.

madison capitol rotunda 1

A few tourists wandered around. Two people lay flat on the floor, the better to appreciate the ceiling.

madison capitol rotunda 2

Though I couldn’t quite make out the picture from where I stood, I could record it.

painting on ceiling of madison capitol rotunda

I found the elevator that took me to the 4th floor, and then walked up to the observation deck.

Unfortunately, there are access issues, starting with the broad shallow steps from the street up to the plinth on which the building rests. Then, to get to the observation deck, you would need to take the elevator to the 4th floor, get out and climb two flights of stairs. At the top of this, there’s a narrow spiral staircase (where you’re supposed to check if someone is coming down before you go up). You can’t even take a stroller past the 4th floor landing area, much less a wheelchair.

From the observation deck, I got a closer look at some of the statues below the dome.

statue above observation deck - madison capitolIt provides 360-degree views of Madison.  It’s rather nice on a pretty day.

view 1

view from observation deck - madison capitol

view 3

Trees make so much difference to the city’s beauty. This street has no mature trees yet; the saplings are quite young. It looks strikingly bare and boring compared to the streets all around that have a lovely canopy.

view 4

On the way back, I saw black birds wandering around the lawn. I think they were grackles. I tried to take a photo of one, but the bird moved on. I got its shadow and a black winged smudge leaving the picture on the left.

departing grackle

departing grackle 2

 

 

 

Wiscon 38, Day 3 – Saturday May 24th, 2014

Standard

Saturday started with hotel restaurant breakfast with Catherine Schaff Stump and other Codexians who came and went. As usual with Codexians – good company, great conversation. Wiscon’s a terrific place to catch up with people who you don’t usually get to see, or who you’ve only met online. Except that very often, they’re rushing in one direction, and you’re rushing in another, because Wiscon has so much going on that there are three things you want to attend in every time-slot. So it was nice to get to actually sit and chat.

I caught half of the ‘Feminist Endings’ panel, which discussed the romance reader expectations of a Happily Ever After in which the protagonists pair off at the end. “Many speculative fiction novels include a romantic subplot with often a paired coupling at the end… How can feminist writers resist or re-imagine different kinds of endings if a large sector of the reading public has been encouraged to expect romance?” One panelist described her experience of being asked by editors to switch genres – from Romance to SFF and then back to Romance in a multi-book series. It didn’t work, which highlighted the different norms in the genres. The discussion was interesting, but expectedly inconclusive.

Reaching Readers: Best Practices for Writers‘ was really useful, especially in a market that is changing so quickly. More and more authors are self-published; many others are published by small or micro presses. The internet provides readers with the ability to interact with authors. “The old advice about writers remaining aloof is outdated… Aloofness is a privilege that writers can’t afford.”  On Sunday, I went to a related panel, ‘Selling Yourself: The Journey of Self-Marketing.‘ “Today, authors find they must become part of the marketing machinery if they want their work to succeed… Is social media all there is? How do you stay professional while engaging in ways that sell your work?” I have a separate blog post to capture these discussions.

Time, Contingency and Memory centered on the artwork of Laurie Toby Edison, whom most of us know best as a jewelry artist and photographer. But this was different; it was artworks made on the iPad with assemblages of meaningful photographs and objects. She’s starting a project to reflect her life through a series of such images. The discussion centered on memories, retrieving them, sharing them, validating them. Many of us – including the panelists – who are older have lost people with whom we shared memories; in some cases, they may have been the *only* people with whom we shared that memory. It was bittersweet.

The Outer Alliance reading was excellent. (In fact, all the readings I attended at Wiscon were excellent.) My only quarrel with readings is that sometimes people only read fragments, and I’m left hanging… Anyway, my friend Julie read a piece that she’d actually written during Wiscon. It was smart and funny and I wish she’d write more stuff so I could read it.

Then it was time for the Tiptree auction. This is one of the highlights of Wiscon for me, and it really should be called the Ellen Klages Saturday Night Live Tiptree Auction Show. Ellen Klages is always the auctioneer and she’s hilarious and outrageous. Except, this time, she’d injured her back and could not make it… could they even have an auction without her?

Ellen Klages video at the Tiptree Auction 2014

They did. Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy and a team of volunteers dug out their suppressed comedic sides. People like Ellen Kushner, and David Levine, and Nisi Shawl. Who knew? It was very funny, perhaps slightly less crazy and unpredictable than Ellen Klages, but had us roaring nonetheless. They were ably assisted by a couple of young kids, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the limelight and clearly are Wiscon NextGen. Ellen Klages sent a video with the theme, the Show Must Go On. It did, Ellen, and brilliantly. But we still want you back next year. With a healed back.

I won a galley of Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (which I wrote about in an earlier post).  Of course I have it on Kindle, but this was for her autograph. It was a bit more special than just a bookstore copy.

I made a round of the parties; the Haiku Earring party seemed the best attended but they were all quite quiet. What drew me in, unexpectedly, were the game tables – new this year. Vylar Kaftan, a friend from the Bay Area was at a table of a dozen people playing Telestrations, and when someone retired from the game I replaced them. It’s sort of like the old game of “Telephone” in which each person whispers something to their neighbor, who whispers what they think they heard to their neighbor and so on. Only, this is done with paper and pen (or rather a dry-erase booklet and a marker). Each person writes a word or phrase, and passes it to their neighbor. The next person draws it, and passes it on. The next person writes what they see in the picture, and passes it on to their neighbor, who draws that phrase. This continues until the booklets are back to their originators. Then you have a show-and-tell of the booklets, and it’s just ridiculously funny to see how each sequence went. The game’s best played with at least 6 players, but is better with maybe 10-12. And it’s probably best played with people you don’t know very well, because they become predictable and so the sequences wouldn’t diverge as much.

Another group were playing Slash, but I didn’t join that one.

LINKS TO ALL THE POSTS

Here’s a set of links to all my Wiscon 38 posts.

  • Day One: GoH Readings at “A Room of One’s Own.”
  • Day Two: Economics in video-games, The Gathering, PoC Dinner, Poverty, Transphobic feminists?
  • Day Three: Non-romantic endings, Time and Memory, Outer Alliance reading, Tiptree Auction without Klages, Telestrations game
  • Day Four: The Capitol, SFWA, readings, GoH speeches and Tiptree winner, parties.
  • Day Five: The End. ‘Hard Chargers’ reading.
  • Note on Reaching your Readers/ Selling Yourself.

Wiscon 38, Day Two – Friday May 23rd, 2014

Standard

This year, the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA – “Siff-ra”) also had its annual convention in Madison, at the Inn on the Park. This is Wiscon’s alternate hotel, a short walk away from the Concourse (which is the main hotel). Wiscon and SFRA co-ordinated, so those attending either event could also go to the other one. This worked really well; the academic offerings deepened the whole experience.

Unusually, I found myself awake early Friday morning, eager to get started on the Con. After a decadent breakfast at the Dayton Street Grille, I attended a couple of SFRA sessions – presentations of academic papers. Walking up to Inn on the Park, I noted with sadness that a wonderful antiquarian bookstore (“J Taylors Antiquities, Notable Books & Rare Maps“) had closed down and the space was for rent.

antiquarian bookstore closed

One SFRA paper I found particularly interesting was an analysis of the economic system within some questing-type videogames (“Bind on Pickup: The Virtual Economics of Digital Science Fiction” – David M Higgins). Though I’m not a gamer myself, I thought the design of these alternate universes – and their parallels with capitalist ideals – quite interesting. “Bind on Pickup” refers to the way in which treasures/ weapons/ etc that players achieve in the course of the game “bind” to the player, so they cannot be sold or given away within the game and thus prevent a secondary market from arising or stronger players unfairly helping weaker ones. Within the real-world capitalist system this would be ideal for profit-maximizing. It in fact applies to some kinds of electronic products that cannot be sold or given away.

I got back to the Concourse in time for lunch and The Gathering, which is like a fair in a large meeting room. There’s free coffee and cookies, a clothing swap, tarot readings, fabric arts, paper arts, hair-braiding (and we saw the pretty and complex results on people for the next several days!), and Galley Ho! offering pre-publication book galley for a one-dollar donation. I tried to avoid this table, which is overly tempting, but when I met up with Julie, she had an armful of  books and I couldn’t resist going over to check it out. In about five minutes, I had acquired more books than would fit in my suitcase.

Dropping the books off in my room, I decided to attend a panel before I was tempted to return to Galley Ho: Class in the works of Hiromi Goto.” In some ways, it focused more on the immigrant experience and cultural issues than just class.  Hiromi Goto attended, sitting quietly in the back of the room. Though it was interesting, I think I’d have got more out of it if I had read her books first.

Friday evening’s ‘People of Color’ dinner, organized by LaShawn Wanak and Tempest Bradford, was awesome. There’s just so much cameraderie and enthusiasm and general noise!  I found some people I already knew, including Nisi Shawl’s mother, a gentle and engaging lady who I met at Wiscon 37, as well as some new and interesting people. Then I went on to the Opening Ceremonies. It’s always nice to see and cheer for the people who make Wiscon happen. Especially after I got involved with the FoGcon committee, I’ve developed a sharper appreciation for what it takes to make a Con.

opening ceremonies - wiscon 38

I picked panels over parties. “The Politics of Being Poor” was excellent. A couple of panelists spoke from direct experience about the difficulties of poverty. It’s worse when it happens suddenly, in one case owing to a disability that not only cost medical bills, but prevented them from working. Very quickly, the family went from solidly middle-class to impoverished. They didn’t even know what services were available or how to get them. Panelists spoke of the patchwork of services available, but the paperwork – and effort – required to access them is daunting for someone without a car and maybe with some mobility issues.  Being poor, one said, is a full-time job. This whole system needs to improve, but the poor are so busy with survival that they cannot always agitate for change. They discussed the embarrassment of depending on Christian charities if you’re not Christian. They also spoke of the problems with food pantries. One suggestion:  If you’re donating to a food pantry, donate some cake-mixes that don’t need any additional ingredients except water (none needing eggs, for instance) and birthday candles. Poor moms also want to celebrate their children’s birthdays, and baking a cake is a good way – if it’s available.

Can You Be Transphobic and Still be a Feminist?” was a wholly new topic for me; I had no idea that some people who consider themselves feminist object to trans women being considered women – or that this had started in the 1970s. Everyone on the panel was trans, and so they could speak to the direct effects of this kind of exclusion. Bottom line: a person’s gender depends on their own definition and what they identify as. No one else has the right to tell a trans woman what gender she is.

After that, I did swing by the parties. They seemed very quiet, perhaps because it was nearly midnight.  Also, this year,  some of the 6th floor party rooms were converted to regular guest rooms. The parties were split between the 6th and 2nd floors, making it difficult for people to drift back and forth.

LINKS TO ALL THE POSTS

Here’s a set of links to all my Wiscon 38 posts.

  • Day One: GoH Readings at “A Room of One’s Own.”
  • Day Two: Economics in video-games, The Gathering, PoC Dinner, Poverty, Transphobic feminists?
  • Day Three: Non-romantic endings, Time and Memory, Outer Alliance reading, Tiptree Auction without Klages, Telestrations game
  • Day Four: The Capitol, SFWA, readings, GoH speeches and Tiptree winner, parties.
  • Day Five: The End. ‘Hard Chargers’ reading.
  • Note on Reaching your Readers/ Selling Yourself.

Wiscon 38 Day One – Thursday May 22, 2014

Standard

booksI like to blog about Wiscon while I’m there, one day at a time, and that’s what I did last year at Wiscon 37. That plan was defeated this year by the really bad internet at the Concourse Hotel. I could barely get on enough to look at my email before the signal collapsed. So instead of the immediacy of same-day reporting, I get the pleasures of reminiscence about Wiscon 38.

THURSDAY, MAY 22ND, 2014

The Concourse hotel’s shuttle arrived 15 minutes after I called for it. Three of us boarded, all Wiscon-bound. We had each taken a red-eye to get there and we were all sleepy, but we still chatted a bit. It felt like the Con had already started.

Usually, my Clarion friends Julie and Kater attend Wiscon. Kater wasn’t coming this year (and we missed you, Kater!) Julie had gone Facebook-silent, so I had no idea if she was coming or not. But after I checked in and called, I was pleased to find she was, and in fact had already arrived. We decided to meet at the A Room of  One’s Own bookstore for the Guest of Honor readings.

One of the things I appreciate about Wiscon is the familiar rhythms: the predictable time and place, the kick-off GoH readings at A Room of One’s Own, the Gathering.

Jemisin_FifthSeason-TPMy laptop computer’s mouse had somehow died in transit, and I needed a new one. I had no idea where to go, since I didn’t recall any electronics or stationery stores around the hotel. But all the way down State Street, near the University, I came upon a Walgreens. Chain stores are under-rated. I love quirky neighborhood stores and mom-and-pop shops, but when you need something in a hurry and you’re far from home turf, a predictable Walgreens or Target or Safeway is excellent. The Case Logic mouse I got isn’t as ergonomic as my old Microsoft one, but it’s better than a touchpad.

After a quick satay snack at a Thai cafe, I headed to the bookshop. Julie had saved me a seat, and we had a few minutes to catch up before the readings. Hiromi Goto read from her 1994 book, Chorus of Mushrooms. It was an affecting and funny account of the old Japanese grandmother, living in the US and displaced from her familiar world; and her grand-daughter coping with the old lady’s disappearance. N.K. Jemisin read from the first chapter of her new book, The Fifth Season. It was lyrical and harsh and surreal. Later, Julie and I registered, had some dinner at the hotel bar, then called it a day.

Here’s a set of links to all my Wiscon 38 posts.

  • Day One: GoH Readings at “A Room of One’s Own.”
  • Day Two:  Economics in video-games, The Gathering, PoC Dinner, Poverty, Transphobic feminists?
  • Day Three: Non-romantic endings, Time and Memory, Outer Alliance reading, Tiptree Auction without Klages, Telestrations game
  • Day Four: The Capitol, SFWA, readings, GoH speeches and Tiptree winner, parties.
  • Day Five: The End. ‘Hard Chargers’ reading.
  • Note on Reaching your Readers/ Selling Yourself.

Detroit (DTW) en-route to Wiscon

Standard

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.

 

Shopping the Con: FOGcon 2014 Dealers Room

Standard

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

Standard

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!

Standard

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.

FOGcon is Coming! (March 7-9, 2014)

Standard

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!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Cultural User Manuals

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

pix 21 007

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

Standard

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”

Standard

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.

————————-

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.]

————————-

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.