Readercon 22: In Which the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (well, some of them) Encounters Cannibal Towns, Dirty Limericks and Googly Eyeballs
The thought that preoccupies me is, “How the heck am I going to find enough pictures to go with this post?”
Unlike that one time when we crashed a Zeppelin into Madison, we did not document our epic journey across America with anything so practical as a camera. No!
Instead, we marked the miles in the bellowing of bawdy (need I say, alternate?) lyrics to “There’s a Hole in My Bucket, Dear Liza,” the scrawling of character notes, place names and plot devices for a story about a stolen moon, the counting of times the word “Beloit” was mentioned in the back seat (Brendan Detzner being an alum and S. Brackett Robertson, or “Brackett,” a current student), in Billy Joel sing-alongs and idle speculations about the nature of certain malevolently leaning shacks in Guilderland, New York.
“Meth shed?” Patty postulated.
“Cannibals?” I countered.
“CANNIBAL METH SHEDS!” we roared together, with, perhaps, more delighted gusto than was strictly necessary.
“So… Do the cannibals eat the meth heads?” Brendan asked. “Or are the cannibals themselves meth heads?”
The conversation went on. I will not trouble you with further details. By this time we had been driving approximately ten hours and still had nine to go.
Readercon 22: Thursday
There were four of us, in a black Saturn. Brendan brought his jambalaya, Brackett brought her Pringles, I supplied peanut-butter-chocolate-chip granola bars, and Patty Templeton supplied the wheels. (With GREAT STYLE.)
We started out at 7:30 PM on Wednesday night (after, I might add, working all that day) and drove through night, dawn, and noon, crossing time zones and possibly parallel universes.
I say “we” drove, but really PATTY drove, with me taking the helm for a spit’s worth of hours on the way there and back. In Ohio. Patty lets me drive in Ohio, because it is flat, and because I tend to go the speed limit. Just the speed limit. Nothing but the speed limit. And because she sometimes needs to sleep, no matter what the rumors tell you.
Not that Patty slept very well, with me at the helm; I was happily warbling Les Miserables to myself at 3 in the morning, (to keep awake, you know) which, as you might guess, prevented her from doing much more than hovering at the brink of unconsciousness.
“DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING?
SINGING THE SONG OF ANGRY MEN?”
And so forth.
Well, heck. We arrived in Burlington at about 5:30 PM on Thursday. Which, in New York, was 6:30, I do believe. Brackett found her hotel roommate. Brendan, Patty and I found ours, writer ERIK AMUNDSEN, who was awaiting us in the lobby. (You will no doubt remember Erik from his Fantasyscapes posts at Black Gate, the latest being about the Dark Places.) Erik Amundsen wrote of that infamous meeting:
Templeton, Detzner and Cooney
found me all dreaming and moony,
with incredible powers
they drove 20 hours
and huzzah! I was equipped with roomies!
Yes, thank you. We inspire poets!
Then, in our hotel room, split four ways with minimal fuss, we all got gussied up. Okay, so Brendan changed his T-shirt and I broke out the purple velvet and Patty did that lime green slinky thing with the skeletons on it. And at 9:30 that night was my reading.
I had a READING. At READERCON!
This was my very first con I’ve been invited to as a GUEST. To that end, I signed up for readings, and also for a PANEL, even though I had never done such a thing before and was quaking in my sandals. But more on that later.
I’d invited my friend Fetch (A.K.A., Nicole Kornher-Stace, author of Desideria and The Winter Triptych) to read with me on Thursday night, because I was afraid that if I read by my lonesome no one would come!
It was good she was with me, for FOLKS CAME! And lo, there was an Audience! There were the mighty Shira Lipkin, and the doughty Julia Rios, and Moss, and Judah, and all our nice friends, being nice, and it was really, really NICE!
I read from Jack o’ the Hills: the first bit of Stone Shoes, and then the first bit of Oubliette’s Egg (which got, I have to say, a lot of laughs, BLESS ‘EM!), and Fetch read from The Winter Triptych, the part about the ghosts, and the part about the dead queen, and the part about the huntsman and more parts than that! After which, we took questions!
Readercon 22: Friday
Friday morning, we explored the con suite, which yielded 1.) Very nice Con Suite Hostess 2.) Tea bags and electric kettles… aaaaand a defective surge strip — DOH! and 3.) Peanut butter.
We also registered and got our cool name tags. Do I tell you the part wherein we stood in the wrong line for 10 minutes? And then I had my First Panel Ever.
The thing about panels is… I like to go to them. But the idea of sitting behind a microphone with a bevy of brilliant and established writers and editors and having to use terms like “agency” and “exegesis” correctly in sentences is MIGHTY intimidating.
A few months ago, when the Readercon guests were given the panel topics and invited to choose the ones we’d most like to be on, I quailed. I felt that there was nothing I could intelligently add to any of these topics. And then I saw this description:
The Readercon Classic Fiction Book Club: Howl’s Moving Castle. Diana Wynne Jones’s death earlier this year gave rise to a seemingly endless series of blog posts extolling her many books. Howl’s Moving Castle, first published in 1986, was one of the most frequently mentioned titles. This powerful story of magic, riddles, and romance is packed with allegory, clever subversions of common fantasy tropes, metafictional humor, and meditations on the nature of change. Such a work is necessarily slippery, but perhaps 25 years of analysis will help us get a grip on it.
And I thought to myself: SELF! YOU HAVE ONLY READ THIS BOOK TWENTY BILLION TIMES! SURELY YOU COULD DISCUSS IT WITH A FEW LIKE-MINDED FOLKS IN A FRIENDLY WAY!
And straightway I signed up for it. Later, when I received the names of my fellow panelists, I almost set fire to my hair in an effort at self-effacement of the extremest sort. (Self defacement?)
What was I getting myself into? Sonya knows, like, LATIN and stuff! She has her Masters in Classical Studies! From frikkin YALE! She’s so smart she makes my brain fizz. And then, THEODORA GOSS. Like, Dora Goss. Like, the first time I met her, I gave her the pearls right off my neck because she admired them. The author of In the Forests of Forgetting, World Fantasy Nominee, and winner of the 2004 Rhysling Award. The lady who, Cat Valente told me once privately, is “one of the greatest short story writers of our time.”
And then, of course, Kelly Link. About whom, you might remember, I already sort of geeked out not so very long ago.
When I entered the Howl’s Moving Castle room, a good sized audience had already accumulated, but none of the panelists were there yet. I skulked against a wall. Then a woman with a very friendly face and an Aura of Laid Backedness caught my eye, smiled, and put her stuff down on the panelists’ table. She had the same goofy hardcover copy of Howl’s Moving Castle that I’d gotten from the library. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’d registered that Friendly Face = Kelly Link, but I don’t think I was actually conscious of anything but the relief of being smiled at. It was going to be okay. And it was!
Kelly was a great moderator. She seemed to notice everything — from the person at the back of the audience who’d had her hand up the longest, to the panelist who’d make a little noise at the back of her throat when she wanted to get a word in, but was too afraid of interrupting. She made notes on her manilla envelope as the conversation progressed, tied everyone’s experiences together with her own observations, and gently veered the discussion into more coherent pastures when it started to buck and writhe.
I loved being on a panel with these women, talking about Diana Wynne Jones, and how much we love Howl, and why. I’m not sure that I contributed in any significant ACADEMIC way to the conversation, but I spoke with some enthusiasm (hard to imagine) about Sophie (“she was remorseless, but she lacked method”), the great wit and kindliness in Jones’s writing, and the satisfaction of re-reading such a book every year, cover to cover. And sometimes even back to back. With itself.
At 2:00 PM we attended a read-through of K. Tempest Bradford’s radio play “Until Forgiveness Comes,” based on her Strange Horizons story of the same name. It is a shatteringly good piece, and I’m going to interview her later for Black Gate Magazine, because it deserves its own dang post. Radio plays are so cool.
At 3:00 PM, we went to a panel called Whatever Remains, No Matter How Improbable: Horror and the Scientific Method. This was a bit disappointing. Two of the panelists never showed up, and mostly the discussion was mired in whether or not horror was a genre or just an emotion… Oh, and analysis of the movie Alien. I never thought of Alien as being the ultimate horrific pregnancy movie. Cud for thought, for sure! Still — not my favorite panel ever. I was reduced to doodling bad cartoons in my notebook.
Things began to pick up after that. At 4 PM, there was the Mythic Delirium/Goblin Fruit group reading. I’ve attended this one for the past two years. In my head it’s just called “The Goblin Delirium” reading, and there are antlered boys and fanged, maned girls and red ribbons and dancing. But that’s just in my head. The reality is not all THAT different, really, only there is also POETRY RECITAL!
Poets previously published in either of these magazines are invited to read their work. There was enough time for everyone to read at least one piece, and for several of us to go ’round a second time.
Nicole Kornher-Stace read “The Witch’s Heart,” published at Apex Magazine. Our traveling companion Brackett read “Song of the Bogs” from Mythic Delirium 23. Sonya Taaffe read “Ovid’s Two Nightmares” and “Wisdom.” (MD 23 and 24.) Dora Goss read a VERY COOL poem called “The Gentleman” (MD 21) which reminded me in the best way of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I read “Ride of the Robber Bride” and then got to spring up and rattle off “How to Flirt in Faerieland” at the very end. There were many others, but alas! I did not take notes!
The Steam-Powered I & II group reading was next. Steam-Powered is an anthology series of lesbian steampunk stories edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft. Several contributors to Steam-Powered 1 read their stories: Shira Lipkin, Matthew Kressel, Mike Allen, among others. Those of us whose stories will be appearing in Steam-Powered II, due out in September, were also there. With GOGGLES on! (Metaphorical goggles. But you can imagine otherwise if its warms your cockles or greases your cogs, or whatever.)
It was at this reading that Black Gate Magazine’s very own Patty Templeton shone out like the Supernova she is! Her story “Fruit Jar Drinkin,’ Cheatin’ Heart Blues” is a dram of liquid lightning on a thirsty night. Patty had folks moseying up to her at the convention telling her how much they loved her story particularly and how they were going to buy the anthology just for hers. In an essay on writer’s voices, Nicole Kornher-Stace wrote of Patty’s that it is:
“…One of the most distinct, no-frills, knock-you-on-your-ass voices I’ve ever read… You’ll want to keep an eye on her.”
Nyah, nyah, Fetch. I found her first!
From 6-8 PM, Mike and Anita Allen hosted a book launch for The Winter Triptych and Jack o’ the Hills. Fresh basil and tomatoes from Anita’s garden, snarfed up with the sweetest, most delicious balsamic vinegar and olive oil, along with Fetch’s cookies and Fetch’s caramels and some little pizzas from Trader Joe’s really made my evening.
Even though it was partly my party, I did steal away with Patty to attend Ellen Kushner’s reading of “The Man With the Knives.” She read the whole dang thing. 28 minutes exactly. I own the beautifully illustrated, limited edition, and have GOBBLED it up already. Regardless of previous exposure, I just about died right then and there.
Now, Patty has only ever read Swordspoint (SO FAR!) and it dawned on her about halfway through whom the story was about. She turned these big starry eyes on me, made a gurgling muppet noise and mouthed, “I THOUGHT SO!” at me.
The Interstitial Arts Party!
What can I say? We made passports out of construction paper and stamp kits and our thumbprints and those big plastic googly eyeballs and markers. There were dirty limericks and tarot card readings and I don’t even know what. It was grand. Julia Rios, who hosted the thing (and CONCEIVED of it in the first place) is the bee’s knees and the cat’s pajamas. She puts the awesome in possum.
Sometime thereafter, I fell asleep.
Gee whiz, this is getting long. I’ll save Saturday and Sunday for later. Many exciting things happened, not least of them that thing with Mark Twain. Stay tuned!
(Or TUNE IN, even, now that I’ve written Part II.)