Archive for May, 2006

5/30/06: Wiscon

Back from Wiscon. And what a treat it was.

This was the 30th annual gathering of the fans and creators of feminist science fiction, and for this special anniversary they pulled out all the stops. Just about all of the previous guests of honor were present, including Ursula Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany, Nalo Hopkinson, Mary Doria Russell, Emma Bull, and many more. This surfeit of wonderfulness brought the fans out in droves, so that the convention (usually about 600 people) had to be capped at 1000 members.

1000 members was a good choice for this hotel, the always-wonderful Concourse, giving the rooms and corridors a bustling and energetic feel without being overcrowded. Even the Tor party offered a reasonable amount of oxygen to its attendees. The one event that seemed to exceed the hotel’s capacity was the Guest of Honor speeches, where I found myself in a back corner.

My own personal Wiscon began on Wednesday, when we flew to Milwaukee to have dinner with my parents at Mader’s. This turned out to be excellent planning, because when the spectacular thunderstorm hit we were lying in a hotel room gawking at the lightning instead of running through a duck-drowning rain or sitting in an airport lounge somewhere wondering whether we’d ever arrive in Madison, both of which happened to far too many people.

First thing Thursday morning we drove to Madison, taking picturesque back roads to avoid freeway construction. This provided some bucolic views, but made it surprisingly hard to find a good place for breakfast. But we arrived in plenty of time for the writers’ workshops, where I served as “guest pro” for four talented new writers. It was interesting to see how much I’ve learned about critiquing in the past five years. It’s not that the other participants didn’t have useful comments to share, but I found that I was the only one to mention some problems that seemed really obvious to me. I hope they found my comments useful.

Friday morning we blew off the con for the morning to visit Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and school, along with Australian bookseller Ron Serdiuk. Some of the spaces were really spectacular, particularly the theatre and the student drafting room; I was particularly intrigued how intimate these spaces felt considering how large they were (the living room in the Wright residence, for example, felt no bigger than mine though it could easily have seated fifty people). On the other hand, Wright’s signature low ceilings and lack of doors/walls made me feel rather uncomfortable in parts of what was supposed to be a private home, and the level of craft (as opposed to design) was surprisingly low. Wright’s buildings were often built on the cheap, and Taliesin in particular was built by apprentices working for free. No wonder Wright’s roofs always leak.

On the way back to the con from Taliesin we stopped for lunch at a hippy-dippy general store and organic cafe, then hit Candinas Chocolates in Verona for a box of their amazing truffles. Somehow there were still three truffles left in the box when we got back to Portland. They really are best when they’re fresh.

We arrived at the con in mid-Gathering, and this is where things start to get a little fuzzy. I deliberately decided not to take notes at this con, in deference to being in the moment, so I can’t tell you all the panels I attended or who I had dinner with.

I can tell you that I didn’t attend much in the way of programming, per se, nor did I hit the dealers’ room or art show until the second or third day of the con. Mostly I engaged in conversations, in hallways and at parties. For some reason this con most of my conversations were one-on-one rather than in groups, and largely with people I hadn’t met before (or hadn’t seen for years, or knew mostly from the net).

The programming I did attend was definitely up to Wiscon standards, but none of it stands out. Most of what I remember was the programs I was on.

Saturday was my big program day, beginning with a reading at 8:30 in the morning. I had put up posters all over the con encouraging people to attend in their jammies. Only a couple people came in sleepwear — and I’m not sure it wasn’t their normal hall costume — but an amazing (for that hour on Saturday morning) 18 people came to hear me and Meg Turville-Heinz and P.C. Hodgell read. I guess the posters paid off. Saturday afternoon I had back-to-back panels on class mobility (with Chip Delany) and animals (with Ursula Le Guin) which were sprightly and well-attended. Sunday morning I appeared on a Battlestar Galactica panel at which I may have been trying too hard to be funny.

Saturday evening was the Tiptree auction, which only Ellen Klages and I knew was a program item for me. I can’t believe I let Ellen talk me into appearing in a chicken suit, but it was for a good cause and I got money stuffed into my drumsticks by Elizabeth Bear, Freddie Baer, Jane Yolen, and I’m-ashamed-to-admit-I-don’t-know-how-many others. Plus a kiss from Geoff Ryman. (Pictures here.) The auction itself was a hoot too, especially the part where Mary Doria Russell chased Geoff Ryman around the hall with a bright pink underwire bra.

Having started off Saturday in my jammies and ended it in a chicken suit, on Sunday — the night of the guest of honor speeches and the traditional Wiscon fancy dress party — I wore my tux (the whole deal, with tails, vest, black tie, starched shirt, and collapsible topper). This got me up on stage again, to help with the singing of the traditional Tiptree song, and another kiss from Geoff Ryman. The tux also got a great deal of (quite welcome) attention at the parties afterwards, easily repaying the discomfort of wearing it and the hassle of carting it back and forth across the country. Truly is it said that a tuxedo is the sexiest thing a man can wear.

I kept hoping that the tux and the chicken suit would cancel each other out and everyone would think I spent the whole weekend in ordinary clothes. But no such luck — it was chicken jokes the whole evening.

By Monday I was in a befogged state combining equal parts “I’m not ready for the con to be over” and “I’m ready to go home now.” I packed up in a rush in order to make the “Writers in Mid-Career” group session, which turned out to have been rescheduled to another time, but enough people hadn’t gotten the memo (including Ursula Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, Terri Windling, Elisabeth Vonarburg, and Naomi Kritzer) that we still had a valuable discussion. Ursula said that the publishing business was worse than she’d ever seen, but it had never been good, which was curiously reassuring.

Lunch. Hugs. Drive to Milwaukee. Plane to Minneapolis. Another plane to Portland. No problems on any of these — which, I learned the next day, was a miracle — but didn’t get home until after midnight.

Sleepy now.

5/18/06: Wiscon!

One week until Wiscon. Must do critiques for writers’ workshop. Must double-check on plane, hotel, and car reservations. Must reinforce hat box. Must remember to breathe. The final convention program has been posted. There are so many cool people! on it. My own personal schedule is:

Saturday, 8:30-9:45 a.m.: General Reading Session 6, Capitol A

Patricia C. Hodgell, David D. Levine, Meg Turville-Heitz

Saturday, 1:00-2:15 p.m.: Myth of Class Mobility?, Wisconsin

Research indicates economic mobility decreased in the United States between the 1970s and 1990s, and that France, Canada, and Denmark have more mobility than the United States. Software programming used to be a clear career choice for people looking to move into the middle or upper-middle class. But in an era of outsourcing and offshoring, is it anymore?
Avedon Carol, Matthew H. Austern, Samuel R. Delany, David D. Levine, Victor Jason Raymond

Saturday, 2:30-3:45 p.m.: Animal, Human, Alien, Wisconsin

Let’s talk about books which explore animal/human boundaries as a way to explore gender and, often, race. Books where women become animals, or animals take on a narratively feminine gender role. Examples would be Carmen Dog, Troll, Mister Boots, books like that. What roles do we project on animals? The trope of the telepathic companion animal as perfect Wife, or as the externalization of the heroine’s object position and disempowerment. What are the boundaries of sentience? In fact, animals, aliens, and AIs all explore this idea.
Elizabeth Bear, Liz Henry, Tom La Farge, Ursula K. Le Guin, David D. Levine, Lisa Tuttle

Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m.: Battlestar Galactica: Starbuck Ain’t a Boy Now!, Capitol A

Battlestar Galactica (the new series) has taken scifi TV by storm. Let’s talk about the mythology (Greek Pantheon, the dying leader, a cost in blood) involved along with the religion (monotheism vs. polytheism) and the fact that women play key roles in this series (President Laura Roslin, Starbuck as a woman).
Bill Humphries, Heather Galaxy, David D. Levine, Juliana B. Perry, JJ Pionke

Yes, my reading is at eight thirty in the A-freaking-M. Please come anyway. I will be in my jammies and I encourage everyone else to do the same. Will probably also have coffee and donuts if I can swing it. In other news: my story “Tk’tk’tk” is now available as an MP3 file for your listening pleasure. Thanks to the fine folks at Escape Pod for creating audio versions of all the Hugo nominees on such short notice.

5/15/06: Back from Vancouver

Just got back from a delightful long weekend in Vancouver BC, staying with square dancing friends Grant and Will.

It was a weekend filled with serendipity. For example, our morning amble along the shore turned into a trip to Granville Island when we happened to notice the water taxi. This kind of thing happened over and over — it was wonderful to be so free of agenda that we could indulge the fates. It was also a weekend filled with ducks — flying in the air, paddling on the water, stuffed and mounted on the wall, floating in the soup. Wherever we went, there they were.

The weekend began on Thursday night, when we got out of Portland right after work and hit the McMenamins’ Olympic Club Hotel & Theater in Centralia, just in time to see the movie Inside Man and have a bite to eat. The next morning we zipped up to Vancouver and avoided both the border crush and the rush hour traffic we meet when we leave Portland first thing Friday morning.

We usually only visit Vancouver, which is one of our favorite cities, for the square dance fly-in on (US) Thanksgiving weekend, and it was a real treat to a) not have to try to cram in visits and touristing around the dancing, b) have more opportunities to sample Vancouver’s fine restaurants (the fly-in provides several meals), and c) visit during warm dry weather.

The weather was, in fact, even better than we could have hoped, with record high temperatures making for shirtsleeve weather almost all weekend. We walked on the beach; we walked in Stanley Park (twice); we browsed antique stores; we took a water taxi to Granville Island and browsed the market there, also taking in an outdoor orchestra concert. And we ate — oh my, how we ate. Fine French cuisine. Excellent dim sum. Marvelous gelato (two different places). Singaporean. Japanese. Pub grub. Fresh bagels (of the Montreal rather than New York variety).

We got to spend more time than usual with Grant, though Will was away much of the weekend due to various responsibilities. We seem to amuse them. We also met square dancer Jan and her partner Deb for dim sum, which we might have missed out on (due to Mother’s Day brunch crowds) but for Jan’s persistence and familiarity with the staff. Thanks, Jan!

We introduced our hosts to the joys of polenta. We had a nice conversation with a vendor of intriguing knitted items (would you believe a knitted seaweed hat, knitted vegetables and flowers as brooches, and knitted teapot and French press cozies with such patterns as skull and crossbones?) at Granville Market. We met various dogs and cats. We walked through Mole Hill and other neighborhoods we’d never visited. We selected from among 218 flavors of gelato at La Casa Gelato, an amazing Disneyland of frozen treats, with an international clientele, hidden away in the middle of an industrial wasteland. We dropped in on Grant’s weekly knitting group. I picked up a couple of CDs at a rummage sale.

I didn’t blow off the writing completely. I spent a half-hour here and a half-hour there and completed the edits (after a month of work, jeez) on my “Heaven as bureaucracy” story from Clarion, now titled “Joy is the Serious Business of Heaven.” It goes in the mail to F&SF tomorrow. I considered sending it to my critique group to get their feedback on the revisions, but after spending so much time revising it I just want it out of my hands.

And, speaking of serendipity, my next writing project just fell in my lap. I got a long email from a friend last week, describing a recent adventure of hers, which had almost everything — curious incidents, rich setting, telling details, unusual characters — all it needed was a fantastic element and a little plot structure to be an incredible story. She’s given her permission for me to turn it into a story, and I’ll start in on that tomorrow.

5/10/06: Busy life

I haven’t blogged properly in weeks. Sorry about that. Life’s been busy but not particularly interesting. Or, actually, interesting but not notable in a blogworthy way. I went to a square dance in Palm Springs. We saw Assassins, the musical, which Kate commented was a mixed bag of a play but the production was top-notch. We saw guitar god Richard Thompson’s “1000 Years of Popular Music” show — teriffic. We hosted a Tupperware party, of all things; silly fun, much plastic was purchased. At the day job, we lost one person (gone off to get his MBA), hired another, and interviewed several more… we have at least one and possibly as many as three more positions to fill. I looked for a copy of the soundtrack CD of Star Trek II, without success so far.

As for the writing, I’ve been grinding very slowly away at rewrites of one of my Clarion stories (the “Heaven as bureaucracy” story, for those with long memories). Should have this one ready to submit within a week. It was amazingly painful to read over the critique comments and remember the emotions of that time, but I’ve gotten past that point and am diligently trying to make the story the best it can be. I now think that 17 critiquers is too many… you get too many comments pulling the story in different directions, and any problem so obvious that half of more of the people comment on it makes you really feel hammered, no matter how kind the individual comments. I may produce an essay about “Clarion as viewed from six years later.”

Must sleep. Early meeting tomorrow.