Well, as Rabbie Burns would say, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”
I had all these wonderful, these glorious, these SUPREME plans to fly from Rhode Island to Chicago on Monday, October 29th, 2012 and spend a few days there among folks I hadn’t seen since I moved last November.
But a little storm named Sandy had other ideas. Oh, I won’t go into the details. They’re not gory enough; besides, it would sound like I’m complaining.
And really, I spent a very pleasant Monday in my attic apartment — which trembled — looking out the windows at sideways trees, contemplating putting on my ruby slippers in case the house fell on me, writing romantic letters by candlelight and reading Diana Wynne Jones’s Enchanted Glass. So that was all right.
But fly to Chicago? See family? Spend Halloween among friends, with soup and bonfire and creepy literature? Drive in caravan to Toronto(ish area) where the World Fantasy Convention was located?
CAPTAIN, IT’S A NO-GO. Halloween has been canceled, repeat, Halloween has been canceled.
However, my story does not end with the storm. No, it is just beginning.
See, there’s this writer named Julia Rios (who also happens to be one of the editors of Strange Horizons, awesome magazine, FOLLOW THE LINK!), and she’s amazing for a number of reasons I won’t go into here. Suffice to say that she and her partner Moss invited me to drive to Canada with them. All I had to do was get to Boston.
“Pas de problème, chéri,” sez I, because Julia lived in France at one time and my patois doesn’t so much irritate as it amuses her. “Boston ain’t no thang.”
I mean, I was just excited that I still got to GO to WFC! Plus, ROAD TRIP!
I particularly liked this, not only because she is my LEEEEETLE LUVCUFF, but also because she knows a lot of the lyrics to LES MISERABLES, and I was determined to have an epic, three-hour, FULL SYMPHONIC sing-along in the car. Which we did.
Other cool things I was introduced to in the car: Magnetic Fields, particularly the album “i”, and Mark Lanegan — only I didn’t remember I liked his music until later, when Adam Mills emailed me a YouTube link of “Ramblin’ Man.”
Apparently, Julia said that I said, in the car, that Lanegan’s voice was “growly and sexy.”
But of course I have no recollection of uttering such delici… crass words.
So we spent Halloween on the windy, rainy road, singing our wee hearts out, and eventually, quite early the next morning, we arrived at the Richmond Hill Sheraton. We all piled into Julia and Moss’s suite and found places to fall asleep.
A Brief List:
1.) Swimming in the morning
2.) Chinese food brunch from the food court in the Underground Mall below
3.) Registration — followed by the picking of our BOOK BAGS, which were full of BOOKS!!! — and then our con truly began.
At 2 PM, I went to see Patrick Rothfuss read. Now, a group of us had met Patrick Rothfuss at a party last year at WFC — probably not something he’d remember — but he was so kind to us that we all came away with a good impression of him.
Except for Patty Templeton.
Patty Templeton had already read Patrick Rothfuss’s novel (unlike the rest of us, at the time). Patty Templeton does not have a merely good impression of Patrick Rothfuss. Patty Templeton has a radioactively adorable reaction to Patrick Rothfuss. She gets into a room with him, she acquires a sort of sordid halo and starts grinning all over her face. It is a privilege to witness.
(I imagine I’d do much the same in the presence of authors I’ve been longing to meet for years — especially ones who’ve been kind to me! You should’ve seen me at that breakfast with Sharon Shinn which John O’Neill arranged last year. “Radioactive” probably only just begins to describe it.)
But Patty hadn’t arrived yet (she was with the Chicago contingent), so I had to content myself with going to the Rothfuss reading without her. Nicole (or “Coal” as I like to call her) came along — for she’d heard his name too and hadn’t read anything of his. He read a short story quite unlike anything he’d yet written, called “How Old Holly Came To Be,” and told us stories of book signings and spontaneous singings and answered questions. I very much enjoyed myself and vowed, yet again, that I would read his book before the year was out!
After this, in the same room, Aliette de Bodard had a reading. Now, I’d not heard of her, but Julia Rios sort of lit up when she saw her name. I’ve learned, over the years, to pay attention to that certain fervent luster, so I stuck around.
I am SO GLAD I did. Aliette de Bodard is… is… Well! I want to read ALL her writing! It is so exquisite, so finely tempered, with such elegance and gravity and a subtle, sly, almost caustic sense of humor. Where has she been all my life??? Why hadn’t I heard of her??? Thank the gods for Julia Rios.
I also want to say that de Bodard has such a beautiful reading voice, lilting and precise, rich with the influence of several languages. Some voices are like tapestries you could stare at forever, with colors and stories and silk all woven in. Her mind-boggling brilliance aside, it was pure pleasure to hear her read, just aesthetically. Gorgeous stuff.
After this, our hotel room was ready, so we checked in. Also, Amal El-Mohtar, Caitlyn Paxson, Patty Templeton, Shawna Flavell, and Katie Redding had arrived — with Jeanine and Bek following not long thereafter.
We spent a long time wandering the long labyrinths between Sheraton and its connecting sister, The Best Western (overflow hotel, and we, my dears, were the overflow), trying to hook up with people whose cell phones stopped working once they crossed the border.
At 5 PM, I went to go see “The Fantasy of the Wilderness,” which promised to be an interesting discussion about rural VS urban settings in fiction — although it was pointed out, early on in the panel, that “rural” and “wild” are not at all the same things. I went to it because Jeff VanderMeer was a panelist, and he’d consistently impressed me last Readercon, as panelist, moderator, and reader. He did not disappoint, but the panel sort of disintegrated, I thought, when Stephen R. Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane was introduced as an example of Wilderness and Mother Nature and Man. Blargh. And that was that.
One thing I took away with me was VanderMeer’s idea of being lost in the 21st Century. How difficult it is. How important it may be to humanity to retain that ability — to be lost, yes, but then to find your place again. How a hiking path through a preserve that’s existed in one form or another for hundreds of years, might, in the span of a 15 minute rainstorm, lose all familiarity and place you in an unknowable wilderness again — and you alone at its center. What that does to you, to your perception of the world, the universe, yourself. How necessary the experience might be.
This led to a discussion about predators — the importance of a wolf, for example — both in reality and in metaphor. These are things I am still thinking about. Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing was suggested reading.
Dinner that night was “The Fox and the Fiddle.” The food was okay, but the company superb. I was happy in the presence of my friends. Jeanine and Bek had arrived.
(This is my artist friend, Rebecca Huston, who doodled many beautiful things while listening to panels.)
I think I went to bed early that night. If I did, it was the last time I did.
I… don’t exactly know where I was or what I was doing on Friday morning. I know a lot of ladies got up and did “GymCon” with Amal El-Mohtar, and worked out, and were Amazonian goddesses. But I also know it wasn’t ME.
The first thing I remember doing is attending Lawrence Santoro’s reading at 11:30.
Oh, wait! No, let me back up a bit. At 10 AM (yes! it’s all coming back!), Amal, Caitlyn Paxson, Patty Templeton, and I had a rehearsal. For what, you ask? Why pray didst thou need to rehearse?
I’ll tell you!
Our AWESOME “Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours” reading, which was to take place the NEXT DAY at 2 PM!!!
Caitlyn got us organized. She’s Artistic Director for the Ottawa Storytellers, so she’s frikkin faboosh at that kind of thing. She also baked Mrs. Bakeman’s Non-Fictitious Molasses Cookies, and brought her banjo.
Caitlyn’s friend Betsie Withey had made our poster art.
Patty’s friend had painted a back drop with moon, outhouse, banjo and skeleton tree.
Patty even made mixed CDs to give away to the first 15 members of our audience!
Amal brought her harp.
I had… done nothing.
(I could use the excuse of a hurricane, but that would be paltry. I showed up. With a crinoline. That was about it.)
Okay, so we had our rehearsal, and then I went to see Larry’s reading. I met Lawrence P. Santoro at Twilight Tales in Chicago. I really like his stuff. I read his book Just North of Nowhere on a roadtrip from Chicago to Toronto to World Horror in the year 2007.
He’s a great reader too, funny and theatrical. He does a lot of audio work with Starship Sofa. His reading, I believe, was from a novella called Lord Dickens’s Declaration, an alt-history, steampunky extravaganza that had everything from interdepartmental bickering amongst scholars of a university built on Salisbury Plain — where Stonehenge never was — an elopement between Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria, and an appearance of President Poe. Yes, as in, Edgar Allen. Fabulous.
Right after that, Andrea Hairston and Pan Morigan did their reading/banjo act. I’d seen this same act earlier this year at Readercon, but it was so dang fine I had to see it again. Andrea does these incredible excerpts from her book Redwood and Wildfire and Pan Morigan plays music she composed to the songs that appear in the book. They’re pretty dynamite and I’m excited to read her novel, which I bought after the last time I saw them.
I’m pretty sure I ate lunch after that. Oh, and at lunch I believe I met up again with writer and editor Scott H. Andrews, and He Who Became Known as “The Beer 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 party.
I like those guys! I’d forgotten how much! But there they were at lunch, being all sweet and friendly over sandwiches. It was totally nice to catch up some with them.
I didn’t know where any of my friends were at that point, but I was happy enough to wander about by myself.
Glory of Glories, and then I wandered into John Joseph Adams’s reading of his new anthology EPIC. Not only did I get to hear Patrick Rothfuss and Aliette de Bodard read again (and different stuff, even!), but I heard Brandon Sanderson read, too, and also Mary Robinette Kowal — who, due to being Professionally Awesome, is always such a pleasure to watch and hear.
Trained actors! They’re badass. Especially when they’re also writers reading their own stuff. Or anyone else’s. Kowal’s Titania, to my recollection, is a devious Southern Belle. Shakespeare never sounded so good. I greedily anticipate reading the rest of her story in EPIC, with the lady who can manifest black armor, and the time travel, and the enchanted sword, and the children playing a ninja-like hide and seek.
At 3 PM, I went to the Bibliofantasies panel, where Nicole Kornher-Stace napped on my shoulder, and I watched with delight as Helen Marshall, Tina Connolly, Jennifer Crow, Michael DeLuca, and Don Pizarro discussed the “mysterious, exotic, arcane, or potentially threatening books or collections of books” in fiction.
Everything from the Necronomicon to The Name of the Rose, from The Book of Three to The Neverending Story, from Princess Bride to Jasper Fforde’s mighty metafictions and footnoter phones, books within books and about books were discussed. DeLuca did a write-up here of some of the things he talked about. Very fun panel.
Julia Rios’s reading is the next thing I recall with certainty. It was 5:30 PM, and all my carnival of friends arrived in all their finery. Julia was dressed in one of her princess dresses, with a jeweled clip in her hair. She read from a BEAUTIFUL story, called “Ghosting,” currently making its rounds in submissions.
She held us all enthralled, and had she been selling the novel that will, hopefully, spring from the seed of that short story during my lifetime, I would have bought it then and there and ignored all my friends for the remainder of the con just so that I could finish it.
And I don’t think I’d’ve been the only one either.
Dinner that night was… stressful.
It was VERY TASTY, don’t get me wrong. Fabulous Indian Food. Only… Service took an hour and forty minutes before even the appetizers were out. (I won’t even tell you how long drinks took.) We lost several of our diners to their duties in the autographing room, and to set-up for events that were to be taking place later that evening. Many of us got a bit cranky in the middle.
But at the beginning, and then at the end (post-prandial), the conversation was WONDERFUL, and it was so, so GOOD to be eating with my friends. Some of whom I’d never met until that day (Ceallaigh S. MacCath)! Some of whom I only get to meet at cons (Mari Ness, Leah Bobet)! Some of whom I’d only known on Facebook (Her Most Serene and Gracious Majesty JENNIFER CROW)!
Once we were replete, we made our way back to Julia and Moss’s suite, where they hosted a reading and open mic.
Nicole Kornher-Stace was featured reader, with a chapter from her new book, Archivist Wasp (currently making the rounds with agents). We all got up and did about five minutes of something we had on hand. It was a lovely time.
Thereafter — the Tor Party.
Holy Moly, this is a long frikkin post. Somebody stop me.
Okay. Here we go then.
I think we all changed clothes before going party hopping. Or at least refurbished jewels and maquillage. We arrived together and then promptly were pulled apart by the current. I fought my way through the hordes to get a glass of wine. Oh, just a wee little glass, lads and lasses, just enough to make my face bloom into roses and my tongue learn the speed of light. Ain’t it always the way?
I found an escape route through the crowded bedroom, however, and then hung out in the hall. I always like the hallways of parties better for some reason. Nevertheless, I told myself I was being anti-social, so in I went again for a second round. (More wine.)
And out again, so I could re-learn how to breathe.
But the second time around I got to chat with Liz Gorinsky some — always very genial. When I burst into the hallway a second time, my dearest Jeanine Marie Vaughn found me and suggested we go to the Circlet Press’s party.
“They’re celebrating their 20th anniversary!” she said. “They’re an erotica press! They’re giving away books!”
“Oh,” I said, “I could always use some new science fiction erotica!”
There we met with Mari Ness again, where I famously spilled wine upon her knees and got her wet. Well, this led to the sort of conversation you’d expect at an erotica party, and I was thoroughly red in the face by the time she asked me, “Claire, do you know Dominik?”
“I don’t believe I…” As I was turning to shake hands, I caught sight of his name tag. Dominik Parisien. He was my friend on LiveJournal. “Oh!” I exclaimed. “POET DOMINIK!” (This is in an example of how I pigeonhole people and give them titles and ALL-CAPS in my brain.)
He introduced me to his beautiful red-headed wife Marianne, and we all settled on the floor of the erotica party to chat, and somehow Mari and Dominik talked me into reciting poetry (JUST TWIST MY ARM), so I gave them a carpet-account of “Love Song to Beowulf,” and was deeply gratified for the opportunity. Because I love to perform. I’d do it for a dollar. I’d do it for free. Even on the floor of an erotica party. Maybe especially then.
Downstairs, Charles de Lint and a group of musicians were playing in a little alcove. The girls (or as I like to think of us, the MAENADS) and I went down to listen, and we ended up having a dance party.
I did this for a while, but was feeling slightly anxious about our performance the next day. So Amal and Caitlyn and I found an alcove of our own, and practiced the two songs we’d be singing.
This turned into a sharing of songs and a sing-along (our group grew slightly, so we had a smattering of audience, including the tech guys setting up in the ballroom next to us), and it was a wonderful, quiet, intimate part of the con for me — unplanned and unexpected. And I loved it.
I wanted to go to the Fritz Lieber panel at 9 AM the next morning, so I could tell Howard Andrew Jones I did so… But sleep and breakfast turned out to be more important. (SORRY, HOWARD!!!)
I did, however, make it to “The Future of Cover Art in Fantasy,” mainly because I always like it when John Picacio talks about ANYTHING, but the panel turned out to be really interesting as a whole. There were Richard A. Kirk, Artist Guest of Honor — Irene Gallo, Art Acquisitions Editor for Tor — and two very funny artists who’d been in the game for decades, Todd Lockwood and Gregory Manchess — and all of them lively and thoughtful by turns.
Here is what I learned that I’d like to share with you.
Any time you can give an artist a credit, do so. If you like the cover art of a book you’re reading, MENTION THEIR NAME in your blogs about the book. If you’re an author, talking about your book, GIVE CREDIT TO YOUR COVER ARTISTS!
If you’re producing an e-book, put their name in the Metadata, and also right up there with author, put in illustrator. It takes two seconds. Some people are fans of certain artists the way we are fans of certain authors. It can only help you, your book, and the ARTIST to share this information.
Anyway. I thought that was important is all.
At 11:30 I went to John Joseph Adams’s reading – this for another anthology, A Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination. There was one particularly funny, and also strangely plaintive, villain’s post-mortem confession; but I cannot recall the title or author at the moment. Still, I’d’ve bought the anthology just for that. Oh, and for Genevieve Valentine’s “Captain Justice Saves the Day.” My face hurt from laughing.
Gemma Files read directly after this.
Oh, Gemma Files. Gemma Files, Gemma Files, Gemma Files.
Why should I write EVER AGAIN when I could be reading GEMMA FILES??? Especially when she writes about sea-rascals and captured selkie men and SORCERERS, and WHEN will that story be published so that I can FINISH it???!!! That’s what I want to know.
There was lunch, which I remember little of — except that this year’s Con Suite was EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD and that the people who volunteered there were GREAT! — and then a flurry of preparation for our BANJO APOCALYPSE CRINOLINE TROUBADOURS reading.
This was the highest and also the lowest point of the con for me. The low came first (thank goodness!).
Five minutes before our reading, as we were preparing to enter the room it was to be in, a gentleman of the con came up and told us that no food and no music were allowed in the reading room.
We offered to leave the cookies outside.
We were told again, firmly, no music was allowed. The room was just a reading room. (I had seen, the day before, a reading in that same room, with music — but I didn’t recall this until later, when my head was clear again.)
We all looked at each other, aghast. HALF OF OUR SHOW was music — music that we’d written, that had appeared in anthologies or were relevant to future novels. This was kind of terrible.
Thankfully, the man offered us a Presidential Suite for the performance. It was on the 10th floor (we were on the 1st) and a considerable hike besides, but what else could we do? Coal stayed downstairs to re-direct everybody, and the rest of us trooped up to do set-up.
We were very, very grateful for the space. We put up the back drop, propped open the doors, invited people in, passed out cookies, but we were all a little shaken by the upset.
However, as Geoffrey Tennant says in Slings and Arrows, “Well, my friends, it is my belief that the best things happen just before the thread snaps.”
This proved particularly true when the backdrop kept falling off the wall behind us. Eh, it got a good laugh.
So, the show started out with Caitlyn Paxson singing “The Ballad of Rare Annie.” This will be appearing in a future edition of Mythic Delirium. It is from a fictional collection of such music called “Ballads from a Distant Star,” which songs will be appearing in a novel that Caitlyn and I are going to write one day, about a group of miners who were transported to a far galaxy, and the music they took with them. And also, there will be an ethnomusicologist space pirate. And it will be GLORIOUS. But that’s for a different day.
Patty Templeton bounced up in her rust-and-black stripy dress to read from her novel, “There Is No Lovely End,” which is her Haunted America Ghost Book about Sarah Winchester and her strange mansion. God, she’s so good. You have no idea. Unless you’ve heard her. Unless you’ve seen her. Unless you’ve read her shorter fiction… (For example, “Fruit Jar Drinkin’, Cheatin’ Heart Blues,” and “The Bee Charmer of Beckett Falls.”)
I went next. I read an excerpt from my novella, “Martyr’s Gem,” which will be coming out with GigaNotoSaurus sometime after March of 2013. Amal and Caitlyn and Patty all participated, as the section I read tells a story within a story, and there is a call-and-response part from the audience.
I… I had a great deal of fun reading. I did. I had a WONDERFUL time reading. That particular piece is one of the best things I’ve ever written. I hope.
Amal stood up then, and read from VanderMeer’s Bestiary Anthology. Her section was “W” for “Weialalaleia.” The combination of her scholarship and her poetry is heady, and when she finished, there was a great groan from the audience, as of release.
Caitlyn came next, with a dramatized section of her YA Work-In-Progress, Unquiet Lands. Patty, Amal, and I each played the characters — reading their dialogue while Caitlyn did the narration. There were Ouija boards and buried towns and lake monsters involved. Very fine stuff.
After that, we cleaned up the room and went on our merry way. We estimated that about 50 people showed up to our reading, which is NOT BAD for a reading, no? Not bad at all.
I went to Garth Nix’s reading at 3:30 (His voice! And a new book coming out in the Sabriel series!!!), followed by Patricia Briggs (I remember liking her books, but it had been too long since I read them; mostly I just sort of enjoyed the banter between her, her husband, and her fans).
We went back to chill in the room after that, and made reservations for dinner in the hopes that Friday night’s fiasco would not be repeated. It wasn’t! We ate BEAUTIFUL ITALIAN FOOD at a place called Alice Fazooli’s, and the service was excellent, and the food was sublime, and the company was… unsurpassable. I had perhaps decided, before eating, to go to the bar and have a civilized drink with my friend Caitlyn Paxson. Gili Bar-Hillel Semo joined us.
Perhaps my Chardonnay was rather more powerful than I’d anticipated, or perhaps it was just more potent on an empty stomach, but after one glass, I was flying high — and I loved EVERYBODY! — and the Italian food tasted better than anything that had ever come before it.
I’d wanted to drink in that bar because…
Well, they say at cons that all this MAGICAL STUFF happens at bars. But it’s like parties, right? The bar is always crowded. Everyone always seems to know everyone else. I feel awkward at bars. Not my element. So I wanted to do something grown-up and bold. But all that happened was that I got a little dizzy and started crying when Gili told us a story about meeting Diana Wynne Jones, and about how Jones’s sister read from an unfinished manuscript at her memorial. If I hadn’t been in all that company, probably I would have sobbed. With or without the wine.
Death sucks. Death of a favorite author? Sucks EGGS.
There was a beautiful party that night in the Con Suite, hosted by the VanderMeers and their Cheeky Frawg press. It celebrated the release of Jagananath by Karin Tidbeck, and Ann VanderMeer’s Steampunk III, Steampunk Revolution and Holly Phillips’s At the Edge of Waking.
I met all sorts of interesting people there. Some of them included a woman who used to run a vintage clothing store in New York, Lisa L. Hannet from Adelaide, Australia (via Ottawa); Jeff VanderMeer (I’d been introduced to Ann already, earlier that day in the art show); and Grace Ogawa, an artist.
There was an anatomically-correct stuffed bunny. There were all kinds of giveaways. There was more wine. And top hats. And floor-sitting. And lovely visiting. And it lasted until the wee sma’s of the morning, and was thoroughly satisfying. Best party experience I’ve had at a con.
Patty and Shawna showed up in sequins. What more can anyone ask for, really?
We left. I drove back to Chicago with Patty and Katie — so that I could spend a day with my family and catch the last leg of my flight that had not been canceled. We listened to many things in the car, but particularly “Give It All” by Rise Against — which I think should be the opening credits for the film version of Mira Grant’s Feed. What do you think?
Zombies are cool.
Well, not really. But they can sometimes be interesting.
And on that note, farewell.