He thinks that he’s bad, when his shit is so sad But he’s taking the bows for what he’s never had (And he never will) -Bill Champlin, “Stone Cold Hollywood”
That song lyric kept running through my head as I simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded Readercon.
Cross-reference my list of literary idols with Readercon 21’s guest list, and you’ll see a great many names in common. The thought of sharing oxygen with those writers just blew my mind. I did my best to prepare for a war against my shy, introverted nature.
For awhile, it was a war of attrition. I tried explaining to a friend, who isn’t a writer, that this was more than fanboy nerves. Because I wasn’t going as just a fan. I was going as a writer. Not that I had a clear idea of what “going as a writer” meant. Just that my worst fear was striking up a conversation with one of my idols (say, Howard Waldrop), mention I’m a writer, and get told, “Go ‘way kid, you bother me.”
I told my friend, “It’s almost like I don’t have the right to be there.” To which she responded, “What–you paid, right?”
Yes, I’d paid the con registration, entitling me to a name badge. And yes, according to Hoyle, I am a writer, insofar as I do write and have gotten published once in a blue moon. I’ve even been paid for some of those acceptances. But, none of that helped me feel like a writer going in to Readercon. The idea of walking in, declaring myself “a Writer,” and even tacitly imply that I’m remotely in the same ballpark as some the con’s guests–well, that just seemed delusional at best, and pretentious at worst.
Howard Waldrop is a writer. Mary Robinette Kowal is a writer. Junot Diaz, who came as Samuel “Chip” Delaney’s guest–they’re both writers. What was I, compared to them?
Yup, that was it. That was what I felt like. Suuuure, I was a writer… the way someone who got a standing ovation one night singing “Sweet Transvestite” at a karaoke bar can call himself a singer. And, I’m damn sure not a singer.
Oddly enough, that feeling became easier to deal with once it had a name. I could unpack it a bit: I realized that I wasn’t defrauding anybody. I certainly wasn’t going around telling people that I was in the same league as Waldrop or Kowal or Diaz or Delany or Hopkinson or Rosenbaum or Hand or Valente–obviously, I never even thought that of myself. And, just what the hell is being a “Writer” supposed to feel like, anyway?
Those realizations allowed me to be at Readercon as what I was, and to do what I went there to do. Remember that John Waters quote I fixated on awhile back? Well, I’ll be damned if focusing on my Readercon goals, rather than my personal insecurities, didn’t help me to “ignore how maladjusted [I] would be if [I] had the time to notice it in the first place.”
By the end of the con, I met almost all of my Twitter peeps I’d intended to meet. I got the one autograph I coveted. I met 98% of the idols I planned to meet and even one I didn’t. Yes, I let a few slip away (namely, ‘zine editors who’ve rejected me). And my insecurities didn’t just vanish. But the important thing was that, on at least two occassions, I was able to tell people who asked me what I did:
Here it is, the last entry in our time travel adventure back to my fourth and final day at Readercon. So hard to believe it was a mere two weeks ago. To say it was an inspiration is a massive understatement. I’m glad I already know next year’s dates–as soon as I rebuild the cash reserves, I’ll be booking my registration as soon as it opens.
So, let’s open the TARDIS doors and walk out onto Day the Fourth… 1 I got up late and didn’t know anyone’s coffee/WiFi plans. And I had my own plans before the noon checkout. I needed to check on stuff, so I let myself get buggered for another $12.95 for some quick intarweb access. Ah, well. Once I solidified my departure plans, I headed directly to my first mission objective for the day, which was…
2 …the Interstitial Arts Foundation Town Meeting. Because of my exhaustion at this point, I couldn’t fight the fanboy in me that was in awe of sitting in the same tiny room as Theodora Goss, K. Tempest Bradford, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Shira Lipkin, and others. Kathryn Cramer even stopped in. I did manage to introduce myself when they went around the room, and I managed to drop Daniel Rabuzzi’s name, as the person who suggested I go to Readercon in the first place! So besides getting to sit in the midst of their brainstorming session, I got to walk away with the submission guidelines to Interfictions 0 as well as the Interfictions 2 Study Guide.
3 With that mission complete, I moved to my main objective, the one thing I wanted to accomplish at Readercon if I accomplished nothing else: To shake Howard Waldrop’s hand, tell him how much I love his collection Howard, Who? and to have him sign my copy.
He was far from the person who used Marty Halpern to give me his line from The Moone Room and who told the crowd, “Y’all can go now.” at the end of his reading. His smile at my appreciation of his book really, really made my con.
4 Afterward, I took one step over to Cathrynne M. Valente, who was also doing autographs. I fanboyed out again and didn’t tell her how much I enjoyed The Orphan’s Tales, but I ask to play her d20 game! I’m anxiously awaiting my prize!
5 After that, it was checkout, and then waiting around to begin my indentured servitude (see #6). While I waited, I said my goodbyes to Nancy and her boyfriend, and MCM, as well as Marlin (who I hoped to see later in the day, but alas, didn’t).
The best part was finally getting to sit down with songwriter John Anealio and talk with him for a bit about our relative newness to cons (my second, his third) and how sometimes, like I did on Saturday and most of Sunday, it’s better to blow off a panel or two to just connect with people. (And in John’s case, score a free copy of his CD Sci-Fi Songs.)
I have to say, connecting with people was really the best part of Readercon–after getting Waldrop’s autograph, of course. 😉
6 I mentioned indentured servitude. It was the least I could do for Jaym for the many caffeine runs and ride to South Station, sparing me the two hour-long MBTA ride to Logan from the hotel. And so I followed Jaym and Bart Leib through the local Trader Joe’s with a shopping cart, chopped some vegetables for the dinner she prepared for Bart, Marlin, Conni, and everyone else at the Leib home (minus Kay Holt who had a death in the family)…
…oh, and I got to taste-test bits of just about everything Jaym was preparing, complete with random cooking tips that I couldn’t write down ‘cos I was too busy chopping. I got to sample large amounts of salsa. And sip some really good hot cocoa. Yes, I can hear you saying, “You poor bastard.”
7 And then it was time to leave. Jaym drove, with me in tow, back to Burlington to pick up Eric and then take us both to South Station. We said our goodbyes. And then I began the whirlwind trip back to New York and reality.
I can’t wait to go back next year. If I work things out right, I’ll still shell out for my own hotel room but I think I’m going to drive there. If nothing else, I need to pay folks back for some rides, and/or pay them forward.
Continuing my ridiculously overdue recap of my Readercon memories, we dial the WABAC Machine to Day Three, which I didn’t think could possibly be as awesome as Day Two.
I was wrong.
1 After a bit of editing, I was tempted to shell out for another day’s WiFi access for twelve ninety-fucking-five. Luckily, I was in for a second morning of coffee and free WiFi at Panera with Jaym and Eric. And by this time, there was no denying that when the three of us get together, inappropriate comments on race, sex, and drug use will be made, up to and including discussions of three-way ’round-the-worlds with literary idols.
2 I couldn’t resist the dealer’s room any longer. I wanted so many things, but I was able to “restrain” myself to two purchases. Jeff Vandermeer’s Booklife and the first of a two-volume set of stories by William Tenn, Immodest Proposals which was reprinted–and sold to me by the staff of–NESFA Press. And believe me, if it would’ve fit in my bag and not been too heavy for the flight back to New York, I’d have bought volume 2 as well. 🙁
3 I didn’t hit my first panel that day until 1:00, “Folklore and Its Discontents” with Nicole Kornher-Stace, Faye Ringel, Judith Berman, Michael Swanwick, and Darrell Schweitzer.
It was a heady discussion about the meaning folklore, how something becomes folklore (vs. fake-lore), and how it all relates to authenticity.
If I forget everything else about this panel, including some yahoo heckling a panelist because of a comment made about self-publishing, I will not forget Schweiter’s reference to something that could one day become folklore, Whitley Streiber’s “xeno-proctology mythos.”
4 Next was “The Fiction of the Unpleasant” with Kit Reed, Mike Allen, Adam Golaski, Barry N. Malzberg, Kathryn Cramer, and Peter Straub.
I confess, I spent a lot of the panel staring at how close Reed’s chair was to the edge of the platform. Still, this panel was, ironically, a joy for me. I’ve always had a reaction against folks, writers and non-writers alike, who don’t like certain books or stories because they’re “too real” or who read just to escape. The counterargument? Well, thanks to Scott Edelman, you can just watchforyourself.
5 I just had to head for “True Tales of Great Editing” with Brian Francis Slattery, legends Barry N. Malzberg & Samuel R. Delany, and Patrick O’Leary.
Gordon Van Gelder was to moderate, but he was running late and Malzberg didn’t want to keep us waiting. So he had Delany moderate until Van Gelder arrived.
Some great stories and comments here. Again, checkit!
6 I had the pleasure of Calista Taylor’s company for those last three panels. We then ran into Nancy and her B at the hotel bar where, thanks to Nancy, I got introduced to Blue Rose and a few others whose names escape me (cool people, too–I’m duly ashamed). I also had some pretty good wings, food I wished I would’ve had on Thursday night.
7 Afterward, Cali and I were going to make another trip to H Mart. But before we left, I had the chance of a lifetime. I watched as Chip Delany and Junot Diaz part ways temporarily, so I pounced on the Pulitzer Prize-winner. How could I not when (a) Diaz was all of three feet away from me and (b) I work at the institution from which he earned his M.F.A. Instant in! I spoke with him for a few minutes and quickly found out that he’s every bit the cool cat that people say he is. I even gave him directions to the next panel he wanted to attend and introduced him to Cali, whom he gave a kiss on the cheek! All I got was a lousy handshake ;).
That was the upside of that hour. The downside was that Cali wouldn’t be at the con the next day, so after hanging out at the H Mart for a bit, we said our goodbyes and parted company at a nearby Starbucks…
8 …where I met Jaym and Eric for caffeine and WiFi, where the inappropriate lulz continued!
9 I let Eric talk me into a showing of Jason Scott’s Get Lamp: The Text Adventure Documentary. I asked Eric, “Is this about MUDs (i.e. multi-user dungeons)? I know all about those!” Oh, little did I know. Although you know, I did know a little bit–I had vague recollections of the names of some of the more classic text adventures and remembered old logos and stuff. If I wasn’t so busy, I’d download all of those games right now.
10 I ended the night with Howard Waldrop reading from his soon-to-be-published novel The Moone World after having worked on it for nigh on two decades.
Needless to say, he had my rapt attention. Waldrop was reading from mostly handwritten pages. A few were typed. But all of pages I saw were a shade of brown. Yes, he was been writing the book for that long.
It was about 11:00 PM by the time the reading was over, and when he finished and saw the audience still enraptured, his final words were, “Y’all can go now.” And, I did.
Next time: A very full day, only half of which was spent at Readercon.
Sorry for the interruption of blog posts. I had my second geek weekend in a row, this time out in the woods where internet access was even more prohibitive than the Burlington Marriott’s $12.95/day WiFi rate. It did give me a little more distance from the squee-worthy events of my second day at Readercon.
This was a long day, so smoke ’em if you got ’em.
Thinking back to Day 2, I remember…
1 …thinking that as long as I was eating the entire cost of a hotel room instead of splitting it like other more sensible, extroverted people, I might as well get some early-morning editing in for my Rigor Amortis submission. I managed some the next morning, too.
2 …the early morning coffee/internet run to Panera with Eric and Jaym. In case we were wondering if the inappropriate jokes from the previous evening at the IHOP were a fluke, we were wrong. Not feeling evil enough, I thought that Jaym and I should make our friend Mercedes (who we really, really wished could’ve been there) extremely jealous.
3 The first panel I went to that day was, “Interstitial Then, Genre Now” with Theodora Goss, John Clute, Peter Dube, & Michael Dirda. This was another panel where I had to fight the fanboy desire to just sit and gape at the people sitting at the center of an artistic movement that’s intrigued me for years.
4 I took a second between this panel and the next one I wanted to attend to meet Calista Taylor again, for the first time. We’ve tweeted and emailed for ages and I felt bad that I wasn’t able to meet her as soon as she arrived at the con. So I had to say hi, at least for a second, and as much as it sucked, she was going to sit at one panel while I went to…
5 “History and Memory in Speculative Fiction” with my idol Howard Waldrop and a bunch of other folks, Andrea Hairston, David Anthony Durham, and Alan DeNiro.
This was the first panel where I was able to get my fanboy head out of my fanboy ass, and pay attention to one fascinating discussion about how history and memory merge in writing to try to generate this thing called “truth” which isn’t always “fact.”
6 I not only got to finally hang out with Calista at the “Voice Workshop for Poets and Writers” with Andrea Hairston, but I got to hang with Nancy again. There she is getting loosened up by Andrea Hairston…
I haven’t given any readings yet, but some of the tips I picked up will be very helpful in the future. Basically, they amount to relaxation, mindfullness, and preparedness. Doing yoga actually put me half-a-step ahead in this regard.
7 The next stop was at the “Non-Western Cultures in Fantasy” panel with one of the con’s Guests of Honor, Nalo Hopkinson, along with Shariann Lewitt, Theodora Goss, Cathrynne M. Valente, and Darrell Schweitzer.
Aside from the object lesson in taking responsibility for one’s own cultural sensitivity (those who were at the panel will remember what I’m talking about), the biggest takeaway for me came from Hopkinson herself. Because you’d think that being a minority myself would make me comfortable writing about “the other.” It doesn’t… well, depending on who you define as “the other.” But Hopkinson’s words about needing to feel the safety to “mess up,” especially since you’re always going to “mess up” in some reader’s eyes, were very helpful.
8 I was running out of steam by the time I got to the “Influence as Contagion” panel with Allen Steele, my idol Howard Waldrop and some other folks, James Morrow, Jack M. Haringa, Resa Nelson, and Mary Robinette Kowal.
The discussion was pretty esoteric as the panelists dissected the age-old question of the lengths writers should–or shouldn’t–go to to avoid others’ work for fear of “contaminating” their own.
9 I was more crispy-fried and hungry than I’d realized by that point. Luckily, Cali got me out of the hotel and took me a hop, skip, and a jump away to the local H Mart for lunch. I have to say, this was a very impressive Asian grocery store–with a food court. Now, I’m normally a purist about Asian food stores, having spent a lot of the Saturday mornings of my youth shopping in them with my folks–it’s not a true Asian market if it doesn’t reek of fresh (or freshly killed) aquatic life. But it had all the stuff and none of the, uh, atmosphere. And the food was to die for!
Plus, I was able to get some supplies to help me get thru the rest of the weekend. Thanks, Cali!
10 We made it back in time for N.K. Jemisin’s panel on “Brainstorming Inclusive Immersive Worlds.”
I couldn’t possibly explain the excellent content of this panel as well as Jemisin herself does. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get through it all, through no fault of hers. There were just too many people in the audience.
11 The next few hours after that were a blur, except for a nap and a caffeine run with Jaym that involved the blind leading the blind to a gas station where we got the caffeine we needed, but not necessarily the caffeine we wanted. The best part of that particular run was “The Fraud Conversation,” which put words to fears about attending Readercon that I had trouble describing to people. This is something I really need to blog about soon–don’t let me forget!
12 I had to get over those fears if I was going to survive the Meet the Pros(e) party which was after the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award. Here’s a clip from it.
13 I did, in fact, survive the Meet the Pros(e), thanks to Eric. And I have the markings to prove it:
Apparently, the tradition of this party is for each pro to carry around a sheet of labels upon which a line from their work is printed. And the idea for the rest of us is to meet as many pros as possible and get their lines in order to form a pithy prose poem. (Remind me to blog that too, one of these days.)
Of course, there was no way I was going to remember exactly which quote was whose except for Elizabeth Bear (who popped my sticker cherry), Howard Waldrop (‘cos he’s Howard Waldrop), and Elizabeth Hand (who, being the iconoclast, put her sticker on my upper right shoulder away from everyone else’s). Later on, I did pick out Benjamin Rosenbaum’s line, which came from a story I love, “The Orange.”
Anyway, I met about 98% of the author’s I’d intended to meet, even though it was only for 5-6 seconds on the average. Even Mary Robinette Kowal, who I reminded had told me via Twitter that I should come and say hi!
The red figure in the picture behind me reminds me that this was the first time I got to hang out with Marlin May a bit, not to mention Nancy and her B, and MCM.
I was already blissed out by that point. I could’ve ended the con right there and have been happy. But then, before going to bed, I realized that it was only Friday, and there were two more days left!!!
It’s taken me a week to fully process my Readercon experience, partly because I think part of me would rather just sit back for the rest of my vacation and just live inside my memories. But as the saying goes, “After the ecstacy, the laundry.” Time to move this stuff out of my head, so I can move on with the rest of my life. So, here’s a rough synopsis of my first day:
1 A week ago today, I was flying from my little patch of upstate New York, thru LaGuardia, then to Boston’s Logan International Airport. It was the first time I’d flown in fifteen years. Not a bad experience. My horrible visions of being cavity searched, despite how careful I tried to be meeting all the TSA requirements, didn’t come true.
I spent most of the trip stressing over my MBTA route. The process was fairly painless, except for being long. Excluding layover time, I spent more time riding on public transit than I did in the air.
2 Once I got to the hotel itself, I checked in, and the first person I saw when I stepped out of the 6th floor elevator was legendary editor Kathryn Cramer. She was talking while walking with someone, providing me with a convenient excuse not to say hi.
I’d tried to check in with emails and tweets during my trip. But there was no free WiFi at LaGuardia where I had my longest layovers. So, I had no choice that first night except to pay for the hotel’s WiFi at the ridiculous price of twelve ninety-fucking-five a day.
3 I managed to blow one-third of my food budget on dinner at the hotel bar. This did not make me feel good, considering the money I’d just paid on WiFi.
4 I finally meet one of many folks on my Twitter friends list I intended to stalk find. Rather, it’s more accurate to say that Nancy Brauer, along with MCM, found me. Of course, we lost track of each other temporarily, going in our own directions, but we would have time to connect later.
4 The first panel I went to that night was “I Read This Book, So I Started a Band,” with F. Brett Cox, Leah Bobet, David G. Shaw, Paul Di Filippo, & Glenn Grant.
I had my notebook open and didn’t take a lot of notes. I was too busy looking at all the folks, on stage and around the room, who I recognized from their work and/or their blogs.
5 Afterward, I went to the “Speculative Poetry Workshop” with Mike Allen. Recall that I went to a Sci-Fi Poetry panel at Astronomicon 11, which was mostly readings and a discussion, and a workshop on (non-genre) poetry a few months later. This workshop was right in between, which I enjoyed even if I didn’t read anything aloud. The piece I generated, much like the rest of my Vogon poetry, is safely stored away in a Pandorica-like box where it won’t hurt anybody.
6 After that, I was still hungry and pondering my next move. Luckily, I was found by another one of my tweeps, Jaym Gates who, along with Eric Rosenfield, had just arrived and wanted to go on a food run. After navigating our way from Burlington to Cambridge (Well, they were navigating. I was pretty much useless.), we find an IHOP, where we established what would be an ongoing pattern of abject silliness and innuendo.
I ended the day around 1:45 AM, jazzed and clueless that the best parts were still to come.
Next time*: Cool panels, meeting one of my bestest Tweeps, meeting the Pros(e), and more.
*I’m off on a camping trip this weekend, so I’m not exactly sure if “next time” will be a timed post set for tomrrow, or if it’ll be on Sunday when I get back.