Archive for May 31st, 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.