Readercon 22: Meeting Mark Twain, Winning a Rhysling, and Sundry

Readercon 22: Meeting Mark Twain, Winning a Rhysling, and Sundry


(Part I can be found here.)

Readercon 22: Saturday

Now. Where was I, where was I?

Ah, yes. Readercon.

Me, Gwynne Garfinkle and My Sinister Puppet Hand
Me, Gwynne Garfinkle and My Sinister Puppet Hand

Think back. Stretch your minds back. It’s Saturday, July 16th. Where are you? Sipping ice tea on your veranda while the dog pants at your feet and the cicadas whine and the barbecue sizzles — and it’s a summery summertime stretch of summeriness — and you’ve even remembered to put on your sunblock? GOOD FOR YOU!

Me, I hardly saw the sun that weekend. I was in the Boston Merriot Burlington, where the air conditioning was fierce and the convention programming intense!

Julia Rios Makes Every Hotel Room a Castle!
Julia Rios Makes Every Hotel Room a Castle!

In the morning, Erik Amundsen and Patty Templeton and I stole away to Panera Bread, to consume an inexpensive breakfast of sandwiches and rubbery room-temperature soufflés. I was back to the hotel in time for my 11 o’ clock interview with Julia Rios.


An interview!!!

That makes me sound VERY POSH AND IMPORTANT, doesn’t it? Only it wasn’t like that, really, because the interview was recorded as a podcast for Broad Universe (called “The Broad Pod“), and it was to involve me and Gwynne Garfinkle and Mary Robinette Kowal, and if you think that I’M the posh and important one in that group, then I don’t know which current affairs rack you’ve been hanging your hats on lately, misters and mistresses!

As is often the way at conventions, there was a slight fritzing-out of communications between parties. Maybe the proverbial “little birdie” who carries the news ear to ear with its sweet song was accidentally EATEN by the proverbial kitty. Who knows? One always hears about messengers getting shot, poor things.

bgcatandcanaryAt all events, in the convention-tangle, Mary Robinette Kowal was unable to join us at the agreed-upon hour, so Julia and Gwynne and I looked at each other, all lonely and alone up there in the hotel room, with the big bad recording equipment (AKA “laptop”) staring at us with its gimlet gaze…

… And then a truly horrible thing happened. My left hand rose up OUT OF NOWHERE and formed a vaguely anatine shape.

“Why, I swan,” said my left hand in a very bad Southern accent, “I can be Mary Robinette Kowal!”

(You must understand. I saw Mary — who is a marvelous voice actor as well as a puppeteer — play the part of Queen Titania at a reading of Midsummer Night’s Dream last year at Readercon. I remember it vividly. Mary, leaning back in her chair, fanning herself lazily, a wreath of flowers on her head, and voicing Billy Shakespeare’s Fairy Queen as if she were frikkin Blanche Dubois, and I about died. I don’t know if I’m just imagining the wreath of flowers on her head or not, but that’s how good she was!!! She manifested PETALS!)

The very Magnificent Mary Robinette Kowal (when she DOESN'T look like my left hand)
The very Magnificent Mary Robinette Kowal (when she DOESN'T look like my left hand)

What ensued, then, in the hotel room that day, was an interview. Julia perched on her bed, asking us questions about the use of humor in fantasy.

(I didn’t know that humor was on the agenda, so it’s a good thing my left hand can think on its feet, or I’d’ve been left lolloping over my own numb tongue in embarrassment!)

Julia talked to Gwynne, and to me, and to my left hand — which yammered right back — and later, the Real Mary recorded for the benefit of her worshipful public that the channeling done had been approved by her. Which was very brave, I think, considering she didn’t know exactly what it was my left hand said, in its guise as Queen Titania Dubois Kowal.

I’ll be sure and link that Broad Pod episode to you, shall I, when it’s edited and out there in the world? Or maybe not!!! Yikes!

(ETA: Okay. Linked. But only because I know that most of the people who will be reading this have already done so by the time I got around to it. Phew.)

Moving on.

Do any of you know who Geoff Ryman is?

I swear to almighty Crom that before WisCon earlier this year, I’d never heard his name before. Which doesn’t mean he isn’t famous — or even INFAMOUS; it just means I am often utterly oblivious unless whacked over the head with a two-by-four that happens to be covered in glow-in-the-dark-glitter, studded with spikes, and strung with Christmas lights. But suddenly, at WisCon, everyone was like, “Have you ever heard Geoff Ryman read? He’s terrifying! He’s brilliant! He’s a genius! He not only READS his work, he EMBODIES it!”

Gwynne Garfinkle at the Rhysling Award Poetry Slan
Gwynne Garfinkle at the Rhysling Award Poetry Slan

Naturally, I bristled. Whether with curiosity or professional jealousy, I can hardly say. Alas! Alack-the-day! I did not, like the whole wide rest of the world, get to see Geoff Ryman read at WisCon (so stop rubbing my face in it, everybody!).

BUT! I did see on the Readercon programming that at 12:00 PM on Saturday, Geoff Ryman was to read from the works of Memorial Guest of Honor Mark Twain, and I knew I should not miss it for the world.

I’m so glad I didn’t.

He was there, with a laundry basket of costume pieces that included a medieval helmet (for Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court — the scene where the knights of the Round Table ride over the hill to the rescue on bicycles), a monk’s robe (for Joan of Arc, the part with the fairy tree), a straw hat for The Mysterious Stranger, which gave me funny, dreadful shivers in my stomach, and, of course, nothing but his skin by the time Ryman got around to Adam’s Diary. Yup. He stood there, bare before his audience, with only a podium  to keep him (and us) modest. It was AMAZING!


This was followed by the small-room panel How We Wrote “The King of Cats, the Queen of Wolveswherein Mike Allen, Nicole Kornher-Stace, and Sonya Taaffe discussed the collaborative writing of their epic speculative poem.

The poem, which they read aloud, truly is epic. It’s worth the couple of bucks that issue of Apex Magazine costs to read it!

After this, I didn’t even have to leave the room for the singular pleasure of watching Erik Amundsen give a reading from his “Mother&%$!ing Pirates” story. It is, as you may have ascertained from the title (euphemistic “&%$!” mine, not author’s) gleefully vulgar and blood-washed in swashbucklery. Sort of like if the Deadwood writers were doing Pirates instead of, well, Deadwood. You know what I mean, jellybean?

Okay, and now we come to it. The Rhysling Award Poetry Slan.

First I’m going to tell you what I wore. It’s apropos, I promise. Even if it IS girly.

The day before, at our wee launch party for Jack o’ the Hills and The Winter Triptych, my friend Anita Allen (of The Fairie Emporium) gave to me a bounty of the most beautiful gifts — which she made with her own hands! It was in honor of my poem, “The Sea King’s Second Bride,” which she’d heard last year at Readercon and loved. (Last year, she made me a Sea King Cupcake, the size of my HEAD, which I ate with alacrity.) She gave me a purse that was like a jellyfish, and a heavy necklace made of electric blue art glass, and also — best of all — a wrap made out of netting and glass baubles and shirring things.

This is Anita Allen, giving me my SHARK NET!!!
This is Anita Allen, giving me my SHARK NET!!!

I call it my shark net. And I wore it to the Rhysling Awards the next day, on the off-chance I’d get to recite “The Sea King’s Second Bride.” I had no real hope of doing so. A lot of poets are in the Rhysling Anthology, and many of them show up at Readercon, and as much as I love performing my own stuff, I am well aware that taking a 13 minute chunk out of the hour when everyone else gets only three to five minutes is downright rude.

Instead, I prepared my poem “Dogstar Men” which is a heckuva lot shorter (like, one minute) and tried to forget about the long one.

In case you do not know what The Rhysling Award Poetry Slan is, I will give you Readercon’s definition.

“Mike Allen (leader), David Lunde (moderator). A “poetry slan,” to be confused with “poetry slam,” is a poetry reading by SF folks, of course. The slan will be concluded by the presentation of this year’s Rhysling Awards.”

So, yeah. Basically, a bunch of us got up and read poetry. I wish I could tell you, blow by blow, how neat it was, and all the cool people who read. Mostly, I remember the names of folks I already knew (see comment above, about obliviousness and two-by-fours), but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the works of strangers too. There was this one girl, who goes by the name of teenybuffalo on LiveJournal, who did a pretty great Persephone poem. And that’s hard, given the amount of Persephone poems out there.

Forgive me, too, for my hazy head.

I was in “performance-brain” space, wherein I can’t shut off the grey matter going over and over the memorized piece in my head, both right before and right after I hop onstage to rattle off my rhymes and give my bow. I was called up for “Dogstar Men” some time in the middle.

And then, at the very end of the slan, I was summoned again to recite my very long poem, “The Sea King’s Second Bride.”

And this is me, trying to figure out how to WEAR my shark net!
And this is me, trying to figure out how to WEAR my shark net!

I did it rather well, I thought, and I think others enjoyed it too, which is very gratifying after practicing the thing for a year, walking to and from work and trains and home, and getting some very odd looks from dog-walkers and drivers-by. I could almost see them wondering to themselves:

“Does that girl have a Bluetooth or a screw loose?”

No sooner had I gracelessly scrambled back to my seat, blushing like mad, hands shaking and heart pounding (oh, I look and feel QUITE COMPOSED while performing, and don’t really get stage fright before the fact, but you should see me in the WAKE of things: what a wreck), then Mike Allen announced the Rhysling Awards.

And, lo. There was my name upon that shining (and entirely metaphorical) scroll for my Sea King poem, which I’d written because of I so loved this painting by John Bauer (a print of which was given to me on my 28th birthday by Nicole Kornher-Stace, Amal El-Mohtar and Jessica P. Wick), that I’d bought the collection of Swedish Folk Tales for myself, which had the story “Agneta and the Sea King” in it, which made me angry and excited and sad and WILD to write a sequel.

A side note: My mentor, Gene Wolfe, won the Rhysling award for the same category — long-form poetry — in 1978. Since learning of that fact in 2008, I’ve been determined to have one too. Because I coveted the… symmetry.

S. Brackett Robinson, reading her poetry
S. Brackett Robertson, reading her poetry



That was another adrenalin jolt to my overwrought system.

Once again, I tripped up to the front, made a speech blaming everything on my friends, posed for some pictures with the other poets, drank a glass of water in one gulp and scrammed outta that room.

All I wanted was a cool dark cave with a ceiling to stare at. I was very happy, but very bewildered, sick to my stomach, shaky, feverish-feeling and totally overwhelmed. Ellen Kushner told me to HYDRATE, and her wife Delia Sherman talked writing with me in lobby for a long time, and we were joined by other friends by and by, and it was lovely.

Later, Nicole Kornher-Stace,  “The Dread” Patty Templeton and I joined Ellen Kushner at The Lemon Tree for Thai food and more writerly chatter. Ellen began a long (and ongoing) process of railroading me into a fundraising project to get myself to New York City at the end of October. My short play “Selkie” is being produced at the Estrogenius Festival and she seems to think I should be there to see it. My play. In New York. EEEK! Twist my arm.

bgrhyslingAt 8 PM, there was this:

The 25th Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition.

Mike Allen, Craig Shaw Gardner (leader), Mary Robinette Kowal, Yves Meynard, Eric M. Van (moderator).

Our traditional evening entertainment, named in memory of the pseudonym and alter ego of Jonathan Herovit of Barry N. Malzberg’s Herovit’s World.

Here’s how it works: Ringleader Craig Shaw Gardner reads a passage of unidentified but genuine, published, bad sf, fantasy, or horror prose, which has been truncated in mid-sentence. Each of our panelists then reads an ending for the passage. One ending is the real one; the others are impostors. None of the players knows who wrote any passage other than their own, except for co-ringleader Eric M. Van, who gets to play God as a reward for the truly onerous duty of unearthing these gems.

Craig then asks for the audience vote on the authenticity of each passage (recapping each in turn by quoting a pithy phrase or three from them), and the Ace Readercon Joint Census Team counts up each show of hands faster than you can say “Twinkies of Terror.” Eric then reveals the truth. Each contestant receives a point for each audience member they fooled, while the audience collectively scores a point for everyone who spots the real answer.

As a rule, the audience finishes third or fourth.

Warning: the Sturgeon General has determined that this trash is hazardous to your health; i.e., if it hurts to laugh, you’re in big trouble.

For the first time in 20 years, the audience won. Mike Allen took second place.

You can imagine.

Much hilarity was had.

After this, Mike and Anita hosted a little party in their room.

bgceaselessWhat I remember:

1.) Beowulf mead.

2.) Corset envy.

3.) Meeting Scott H. Andrews. This is how the conversation went, basically, more or less over the length of a queen-sized bed. He was standing by the mirrored closet. I was lounging.

“How are things at the Black Gate?” he asked me, as if I were the Lieutenant of Barad-dûr.

“Oh, fine!” I answered breezily, squinting at his name tag. “Are you a Black Gate guy?”

He pointed to the ribbon protruding from the bottom edge of his badge. “We’re neighbors,” he said.

The badge read: Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

“Oh! COOL! Secondary world fantasy, right?”


We talked for a while, wherein I asked him just what exactly a “secondary world fantasy” means in this particular case. I learned that it’s not only other worlds than ours, but it could conceivably be this world in an alternate history, or in a Weird West setting — anything that is not HERE and NOW. Which I didn’t know. I was under the impression that Beneath Ceaseless Skies was more about alien planets and high fantasy and stuff. Which I’m sure it is — ALSO.

4.) Gruit.


I love meeting new words. Especially when they come in the form of mildly fermented herbs in a brown glass bottle.

“It may be a bit tame after that mead,” warned the gentleman who had brewed it. His name is Michael Deluca, he is a writer, (I have since Googled him), and he wrote about this whole fascinating gruit-brewing process here at Small Beer Press. Which I think you should go read.

Readercon 22: Sunday

bgfulldarkThere was the sleeping part. The waking part. The sneaking off with Patty to go eat breakfast part. (She had pancakes. I had THE LUMBERJACK. We got gas for the long drive home.) The checking out of the hotel part. The packing up the trunk part.

But then we came back to watch Shira Lipkin do her reading. Her series, Shayara, was recently picked up by Drollerie Press — and she read some of that. Shira’s a shot of exuberance with a side of innuendo. She came to my panel and was in most of the same readings I was in. How could I have abandoned her? After all, we were going to be in the car for 18 hours anyway! Did it really matter if we were getting back into Chicago at 4:30 AM or 5:30 AM?

(As dawn broke the next day, Patty told me — most emphatically — that it would have mattered very much if we’d gotten back into Chicago at 6 AM when the rush hour began. As it was we “missed it by that much,” as Maxwell Smart would say.)

So we made Shira’s reading, but we missed Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer, who were in the room opposite the one we were in. We could hear both laughter and applause. I should have liked to see Neil again, and maybe meet his wife for the first time. You know, shake hands. Civilized. Elegant.

As for Patty…

“Amanda EFFIN Palmer!” she gasped, her eyes aglow, her rhinestones all in a tumble.

We had to make do with Amanda Palmer as part of our soundtrack home. That, The World Inferno Friendship Society, and Stephen King’s latest book of novellas on audio: Full Dark, No Stars.

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Julia Rios

Oh, fabulous! I love hearing about all the bits I wasn’t there for, and about how events I attended seemed from inside someone else’s head. You were fantastic with your long form WINNING poetry recital, just for the record. That interview should go up this weekend, too. And the Shark Net! I don’t think these pictures convey the extent of its awesomeness!

Jason T

Congratulations on the win, the forthcoming production of your play…and the shark net. Well done on all counts.

Erik Amundsen

We had to make do with Amanda Palmer as part of our soundtrack home.

I’d like to say that was intentional, but it was just luck. I heard a rumor about their possible arrival a little beforehand, but not that far (and I was *sworn* to secrecy, which is why I said nothing.)

Erik Amundsen

Also Gruit! I’m glad to know someone is trying out making beers with it. I want to try beer with mugwort in it…

Erik Amundsen

A retired viking berserker who became a Madame to cushion her in her old age….

Challenge. Accepted.

Erik Amundsen

Awesome. I actually have a place for Gruit with my pirates…

Donald Crankshaw

I’ve been going to Readercon for the past three years. Living in Boston, it’s one of the three big ones in the area. It’s always a lot of fun, but reading your report, I somehow think that I’m not getting as much fun out of it as I could be.

[…] The complete podcast is roughly 39 minutes; you can find it here. And you can find C.S.E. Cooney’s behind-the-scenes on the interview (including how she managed to channel Mary Robinette Kowal) right here at Black Gate. […]

[…] Angel,” writer Michael DeLuca — who’d told me so many cool things about gruit the last time we met some years ago at Mike Allen’s Readercon […]

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