Wiscon 38, Day 5 – Monday May 26th, 2014 – The End

Monday. The last day of Wiscon, the time to tie up loose ends and say good bye. Actually, a half-day, as I was scheduled to leave the hotel at 3 p.m.

Unlike Sunday, when I didn’t make it to the 10 a.m. reading, I did get out to Michaelangelo’s for the “Hard Chargers” reading. I came in as my friend Juliette Wade was reading from “Mind Locker,” her new story in Analog – a story I’d been privileged to see as a work-in-process, since we are in a critique group together. The other writers reading their work  – who were also pretty damn awesome – were Kat Beyer, Kimberley Long-Ewing, and Marguerite Reed.

Drifted back to the hotel to make a last pass at the Dealers’ Room and Art Show,  and pack. This is when I actually realized the folly of book acquisition at Wiscon. I could only fit about 3 into my suitcase, and the rest went into my backpack, which then felt as though it were loaded with bricks.

The hotel gave me a late check out this year, many thanks Concourse Hotel! This left me with time to  grab some lunch at the bar and help Julie remove the blue tape indicating disability access areas from meeting rooms that weren’t going to be used later. (Julie’s on the Access committee.) We swung by the end of the Sign-Out, where we said Bye to a few people. A life-size cut-out of Ellen Klages had been turned into a Get-Well card for her, and was waiting for a few more signatures.

The Post-Mortem started at 2.30 p.m., and I joined in for half an hour. Then it was off to the shuttle and off to the airport. There, I discovered the second flight would be two hours late. I called home to let them know, then settled in to wait. It all worked out, and I landed in San Francisco to twinkling lights at 11.30 p.m.

jewel box of lights - landing at SFO

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.

Edited to Add: Sophy(gurl) kept excellent notes on some of the panels. I saw them on LiveJournal, and am linking to her round-up post that links to each write-up.

Reaching your Readers, Selling Yourself – Wiscon 2014 Notes

Two panels I attended at Wiscon 38 were so closely related and important that I decided to merge my notes and put them all in a separate post. This is that post. First, the panel descriptions.

Reaching Readers: Best Practices for Writers. The panel description said: “Whether a writer is self-publishing ebooks, serializing fiction online, or promoting traditionally published books, modern technology is rife with opportunities (and pitfalls) for connecting with readers. The old advice about writers remaining aloof is outdated – especially in marginalized communities. Aloofness is a privilege that writers can’t afford. But should writers participate in “readers only” spaces like Goodreads? What should writers do to foment their own fandom, if anything? Facebook has throttled pro pages – has anything replaced them? What are the do’s and don’ts of serializing as part of a web presence? Do mailing lists work? What do readers want from authors online and how can authors benefit from that relationship?” [Panelists: Sally Wiener Gotta, Wesley Chu, Liz Gorinsky, Melissa F. Olson, Trisha J. Wooldridge]

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. You need to sell yourself to agents, to publishers, and then to booksellers and readers, and beyond. Signed and aspiring writers can both struggle to find a balance. Is social media all there is? How can you stay professional while engaging in ways that sell your work? Can you keep a private social presence separate from your professional persona? [Panelists: Jim Leinweber, Ellen Kushner, Katya Pendil, Jesse Stommel. Mary Robinette Kowal was supposed to be there, but she had to miss Wiscon this year.]

So, to my notes.

1. Is social media all there is? What about book-tours or signings or Conventions? Ideally, you want to do everything but you can’t do all that and write as well.  In terms of return for the effort, social media give much more exposure. According to one panelist, when you’re writing Middle Grade (MG) books it’s different. This is because MG books are bought by gate-keepers – parents, teachers, librarians – rather than by the kids themselves. This means that to connect with your audience, you have to go through them, and that may mean a physical presence instead of an internet one.

2. Which social media? Ideally, be on every platform you can. If you’re a newbie at this, just get onto all of them and see which works best for you. One of them can be your primary platform, and others feed off that one. Facebook is possibly mature. Twitter and Tumblr are currently active; and Youtube is a good option; it’s “sticky” which means people come there and stay for a while.  Reddit is a possibility. And if someone wants to “friend” you – do it. What have you got to lose? If they turn out to be terrible in some way, you can ‘unfollow’ or drop them.

3. Are blogs dead? A few years ago, authors were encouraged to have blogs. Now, it seems no one’s reading them any more. Individual blogs – unless you are John Scalzi – may be more trouble than they’re worth. (Hmmm!)  Multi-author blogs that are magazine-substitutes (with multiple contributors, and significant following) are useful, and blog-tours with the writer contributing to, or interviewed by, such blogs are a good way to gain exposure. But every author does needs a website or blog as a sort of landing site, so they can be found on the internet and provide up-to-date information. It’s important to be easy to find. But you need to use other social media to connect people to your blog.

4. What about multiple pseudonyms and multiple accounts? Many do it. It’s definitely more work, but may be needed for “branding” if you have different audiences.  The question is, who are you trying to reach with each separate account? But if you are present as more than one “person” – reblog yourself. If you’ve written something as John Smith, reblog it on your Joanna Jones site as well – if it’s relevant to John’s following as well as Joanna’s. You can save some work that way.

5. You need to be visible. “Presence is promotion” – Jesse Stommel, one of the panel. Do you have an interest people would like to hear about? He recommends finding your enthusiasm and sharing it, using it to build a persona. Ellen Kushner mentioned a radio show, Sound and Spirit that she did for a number of years that brought her a following even though it had nothing to do with her writing. You need to create an illusion of intimacy with your audience, so they’re interested in you and by extension your work. It’s a constructed relationship. It’s important that an internet presence should not be all about selling your book; people get turned off by obvious sales pitches.

6. It’s a long game. Constructing the relationship takes time, and you may not see an immediate impact on book sales. Google analytics does help to see what impact your site is having, but how it translates to purchases is not easy to estimate. One panelist said it takes 3 exposures before people decide to buy a book. They may see a review and file it away in their mind, then hear a friend talk about it and still not respond. But if they then see the book somewhere online or in a store, they might decide to buy.

7. Effective reviews. Someone mentioned research that showed that reviews influenced book purchases only if they included a picture of the book.  Author pictures also had an influence. The recommendation was – always try to get a picture of the book into a review; and always have an author picture.

8.  Have a press kit. If you’re trying to get reviews, or visit bookstores, or practically anything – you should have a press kit. It should include a photograph (head shot) with high enough resolution to print.  It should include a list of publications, and something interesting about the writer. It should have a press release about the latest book.

But do NOT have a database of questions with every possible answer somewhere out on the web. It makes interviews less interesting.

9.  Book tours and personal exposure shouldn’t be written off, even if you focus on social media. Local bookstores, especially indy stores, are a good place to start and to build a relationship. Traditional book tours solely for promotion may be too expensive for individual authors. But – if you are thinking of travel for some other reason (say visiting family) – see if you can layer on book-signings and similar appearances. It’s fun, it’s exposure, and it makes your trip tax deductible.  Ask someone else to make the call on your behalf,  don’t make it yourself. (They should sound professional.)

10. Book panels and book clubs can be good ways to get exposure. If they like you and your book, they can become fanatics and your best supporters. “Sell your book by not selling your book” – people are more interested in hearing about the author than “Buy My Book!”  Hiring a publicist doesn’t necessarily work, for that reason. Consider having questions and study lists with your book, if appropriate.

11. If you’re self-publishing:

  • Get your own ISBN number for your book. Don’t rely on Createspace or Amazon’s ISBN. (Not sure why the panelist gave this advice.)
  • Make sure your cover is professional, attractive, works as a thumbnail as well as full-size. And that it signals the right genre.
  • Hire an editor, especially for the back-cover material. Typos there can kill the book.

12. Some panelists recommended BookBub. It’s a site that charges for promoting a book that is on sale to its genre readers lists. It doesn’t accept all writers, though.

13. Make friends with other writers and show up for them. If they have a new book, help them get the word out. This helps when you want their help in getting the word out about yours.

14. Consider having a monthly newsletter. Develop an email list of supporters and fans. If you’re keeping a blog, it can be a round-up. One panelist includes things like Deleted Scenes from her book, photos of locations where her book is set, and other interesting material. Make sure it’s entertaining.

15. How do you stop outreach from eating your writing time? Use time-fragments. One panelist needs uninterrupted time for writing, but in five minutes while waiting for a bus or 30 minutes during a kid’s activity – she can write a Tweet on Twitter, or a note on Facebook.

16. Do get on Goodreads and on Amazon. Every writer is a reader. Write reviews of books you enjoyed. Avoid reviewing books you dislike; it’s not worth the effort, and can just make you enemies. Also, try to get people to review your books on these sites. It’s a necessary evil. Many reviews may not boost your sales much, but a lack of reviews can kill them.

17. Serialising – mixed reviews. Some people serialize the first part of their book – as a teaser, or a sample – and charge for the remainder. Someone mentioned a site called Patreon to do this. One author puts out her chapters as she writes them to her list, with a warning that it’s a draft and could change in the final book. This engages readers, and also encourages them to buy the book later. Some serialize their books publicly in the hope that readers will want the whole book in once piece later, or that they’ll buy subsequent books in the series or by that author. But some panelists didn’t care for the idea; it provides too many opportunities to lose the reader.

18. Back list matters. If readers discover a book by you, they want to buy more. If there’s a body of related work, it provides that many more entry points for potential readers.




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

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.)


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.’


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.


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

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

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.


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

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.


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

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.


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

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.