I'm in the Madison airport, listening to the attendant as every fifteen minutes they announce another delay. My original flight was for 4:20 -- it's now almost six, and the plane still hasn't left Chicago to come here, so I doubt I'll be home anytime soon. Jed's coming to pick me up; it's a good thing he's a night person.
It's been a marvelous convention, though I caught a cold on Friday and have felt pretty awful ever since. At any other convention, that might have been enough to make me thoroughly miserable, but this one was so well-organized, and the panels so interesting, and the people so nice, and the authors so accessible -- I couldn't help but have a good time. A brief recap of the highlights:
Thursday: I arrived late-ish, missing the authors' meet-and-greet. That was fine; I checked in to the room I'd be sharing with Cliff, Leah, and Cecilia Tan, then wandered off to see where everyone was. In the lobby, I ran into Debbie Notkin, who had originally recruited me for the convention. She pointed me in the direction of the bar where everyone was hanging out, and I set out through the Madison night.
I didn't see much of Madison during my stay, but it seems like a sweet little town. State Street has much the same feel as Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, or parts of Shattuck; lots of charming little stores, great restaurants, some streetside selling. There's a beautiful lake we drove by on our way from the airport to the hotel, and lots of trees and flowers. A pretty place. I hear the winters can get pretty bad, though -- almost as bad as Minnesota. I don't know how well I'd handle that. I'm a cold wimp.
So after walking a few blocks, I found the place, hooked up with my roommies and chatted for a while. Then I came back, had some dinner at the hotel (way overpriced, of course), and proceeded to stay up talking to Cecilia until 2 a.m. Lots of fun talking to someone else who really understood about poly and writing and publishing and relationship frustrations and ethnic stuff, etc. and so on. She really has her head together on things; maybe (hopefully) 'cause she's a few years older than I am. It was helpful exchanging war stories, and I might have even learned a few things about how to handle insecurity and such-like. Great night.
Friday: This was a very mellow day. I slept in for a change, and I honestly don't remember so much of what I did that day. Helped out with setup a bit, checked out the art show and dealers' room, might have attended a panel. In the afternoon, I spent a couple hours in the pool, which were terrific (there isn't a convenient pool near me, and I miss swimming, even though I'm not a very good swimmer (understatement)). This may well have been my downfall, though, since it meant I went through the rest of the day with a wet head (it takes a long time for my hair to dry), and by nighttime, I was starting to feel sick.
I nonetheless really enjoyed the poetry circle, run by Elise Mattheson of alt.poly fame (she wrote How to F*** Up Relationships), who turned out to be an absolutely sweetheart who makes gorgeous jewelry, some of which have their own story titles. She generously gave me one I fell I in love with ("(It takes) three for the blues"), which I certainly couldn't have afforded to pay her a fair price for, in exchange for my pledging to write a poem or story for the piece with that line in it. It was funny -- it wasn't the most beautiful of her pieces, nor the fanciest -- it wasn't even in colors I normally wear. But it reminded me so much of Kevin and Karina (the beads were the colors of their eyes) and somehow about what it was like being a triad, and why I missed it...I couldn't stop thinking about that piece.
Also tons of fun was the Mafia game, which would take too long to explain, I think. Many of Zed's Clarion classmates were at the con, and I guess they played the game a lot while they were at Clarion, so we played it for much of Friday night. The last game of the night ended in a very tense situation, where somehow I and this other girl who were pretty sure we were both villagers, tried to decide if Lori was a member of the Mafia (which Jonathan had been pushing for) or if it was Larry. The game was won by Lori giving an impassioned defense of her villager status, and by my being convinced, just barely. It had been an incredibly convoluted game, and I don't think I could do it any kind of justice if I tried to explain it. All I can say is not to trust Jonathan Lethem if you ever play Mafia with him. You'll want to believe him, but just don't.
Saturday: Woke up feeling miserable, but in good time for my 10:00 panel nonetheless. In fact, early enough that Leah and I went out to the Madison farmer's market, a several block affair held every Saturday morning in the summer. Lots of yummies, and we picked up some spicy sausage and hot sauce for the party that night, and I got some irises for Debbie, 'cause they were just so lovely. It turned out that irises were her favorite flower, so that was clearly the right thing to do. Back to the room, finished getting ready (which included putting on Elise's necklace which I got several compliments on later), then off to panels.
Umm...let's see what I had on Saturday. Oh, right. The BDSM in SF panel first thing, which I wasn't sure I had anything to say on, but turned out to. That was with Lori Selke (who I knew from Chicago and who is now an associate editor for the rejuvenated On Our Backs), Cecilia, Victor Raymond, and a nice moderator whose name I'm blanking on. Then a break for lunch, where I wandered around a bit. Then reconvening for the feminism vs. erotica panel, which was much fun, again with those four people plus someone else I'm forgetting.
After those two I had my signing, where I got to sit in between Mary Doria Russell (author of _The Sparrow_) and Ellen Datlow (co-editor of _Year's Best Fantasy and Horror_ and Event Horizon magazine), which was way exciting (with Michael Swanwick just a few seats down). They were both sufficiently chatty in between signing big heavy hardcover books from adoring fans that I felt pretty lucky, even if I did only have about five people come up in an hour and a half. :-)
Then followed my reading, an hour and a half that I shared with Richard Chwedyk (who I hadn't heard of before, and who read a very nice story) and Joan Vinge (who appears to be just as nice as Cliff describes her; she kindly laughed at all the appropriate points in my story). I read "Kali" and "Fleeing Gods" -- as usual, people seemed to really like the Zeus story. I'm not sure why it's so popular, but I won't complain.
Then dinner with a bunch of Chicago-ites who'd come up for the convention, including Heather Blair and Aaron and Alex (f.) and Eric, plus Cliff, of course. We had some trouble finding a place where everyone could eat (food allergies galore), but eventually managed with sushi. I probably spent a little too much there, but it was so nice getting a real meal; I'd somehow been subsisting on Green Room and Con Suite munchies until then.
It occurs to me that I should perhaps define what these are -- I bet most of you don't go to sf conventions. The Con Suite is a room open to anyone attending the convention, with drinks and munchies and a place to sit and rest for a bit, or chat, or play games, or whatever. It often stays open quite late, if not all night, and some broke attendees end up eating and napping in the Con Suite. I wouldn't recommend this -- the food is generally just chips and veggies, though this one also had hot dogs, veggie dogs, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The Green Room is a room traditionally reserved for panelists -- much the same as the Con Suite otherwise, but it's almost always quieter, and sometimes has better food. This is where you gather before your panel to meet the other members and ideally discuss what you're about to do on the panel. Also a good place to hang out and schmooze, though it's best to do so very tactfully, since some writers come here to get away for a bit from slavering fans.
Then I ran off to get some more groceries for the party to add to what Leah and Cecilia were picking up, ran back, showered, and went to help with setup. The party went pretty well -- we finished selling the rest of the copies of Torn Shapes that I'd brought with me (I'd sold a few at the signing), and I talked up Clean Sheets some. People seemed friendly and interested. I held out until 1:30, and then I crashed.
Sunday: Up again early, this time barely in time for my 10:00 panel. Really feeling pretty cruddy by this point, but I managed to be energetic for the panels, even if I looked terrible the rest of the time. The first one was lovely and contentious -- "Can it be Magical Realism if it's Not Written in Spanish (or Portuguese)". Jonathan Lethem played gadfly on this one, and I think we managed to thrash a few things out. Karen Joy Fowler was on this, and it reminded me that I mean to read more of her work. I've liked the few short pieces I've read, and Kevin really likes it. (She also played Mafia, though sadly not quite as persuasively as Jonathan).
Then the People of Color focus group over lunch, where we discussed how to bring more people of color into sf as readers and writers and others, and how to make sf/f a more welcoming community for those who are here. And a bunch of other stuff. Some very exciting stuff out of that discussion, which you'll undoubtedly hear more about. We're setting up a listserv to plan some of it -- if you're interested in participating and helping, drop me a note.
That brings me to one of the highlights of the convention -- meeting Nalo Hopkinson (who ran the focus group). I really like her. She's smart and funny and vibrant and poly and passionate and she wrote a really good book (_Brown Girl in the Ring_). Okay, maybe I developed a minor crush. Did I mention that she has killer fashion sense (and does *not* dress to just blend in). Between meeting Elise and Nalo, I was feeling a bit giddy.
Then a break, where I wandered for a bit (pestering Elise in the dealer's room in the process), and then another panel, this time with me moderating -- "Why Wasn't This Book Edited", which I think went pretty well; we disseminated a lot of information about the editing process to the audience, following a book from manuscript turn-in to the bitter end, and I think everyone learned something.
My last panel (and oh, I was glad it was the last, even if I had enjoyed every moment of panelling) was "Appropriation of Voice". Huge room, packed crowd, and I'm not sure how it stayed as calm and reasoned a discussion as it did -- I've seen this one explode in other areas -- but it was a great discussion. One of the panelists was Suzette Haden Elgin, who I hadn't run across before, and she was just delightful. I'm going to have to go hunt up a copy of her book, _Native Tongue_. She's a hillbilly from the Ozarks with a Ph.D. and a really neat attitude.
Dinner with Nalo and Ian Hagemann and Cecilia and Leah and Victor and a friend of Leah's whose name I'm blanking on. Nepalese food, quite yummy. Then back for dessert and the Guest of Honor speeches, which were wonderful -- Terri Windling gave a serious and detailed talk on fairy tales, spiced with lots of quotes from poem versions, and Mary Doria Russell managed to be both hilarious and touching (mostly funny, though). I usually skip the GOH speeches at a con, but I'm glad I didn't this time.
Then one more party, this time a book party for Delia Sherman. I'm very excited that Circlet Press is reissuing Delia's first book, _Through a Brazen Mirror_. You may remember how much I enjoyed her second one, _The Porcelain Dove_, and it was almost impossible to get a copy of the first book up 'til now. I have a copy of the reissue in my bag, and I'm looking forward to reading it this week. I did get a few minutes at the party to chat with Ellen Kushner (Delia's partner), who kindly inquired after what I was working on. Delia and Ellen are awfully sweet to young writers. Then I went to bed early, exhausted.
Monday: I had no commitments Monday, so I slept late. Spent some time in the Green Room drinking my morning tea (they had Stash Chai, the angels) and chatting with Suzette Haden Elgin (I can't just call her Suzette; she's not a young lady and it just doesn't seem respectful) and Delia. They both advised me seriously and strenuously *not* to get a Ph.D. unless I absolutely had to -- they both did it, and say that it wasn't worth the pain and misery. Hmmm. Still thinking on that one.
Watched the Terri Windling slide show for a bit -- Terri does beautiful desert-influenced fairy paintings as well as writing and editing; she and Elise really made me feel like I wanted to find some art-type-thing that I could do. I suspect I'd need to take some classes, though. Hmm... Then I checked out, stopped by the post-mortem panel, went to lunch with Nalo and Cecilia and Ian, exchanged hugs all around, and got in the shuttle to the airport. I'm finishing this on the plane to San Francisco; it's 10:30 SF time, and we'll be starting our descent soon, so I guess it's a good thing that I'm finishing up.
I've probably sounded pretty effusive about this con -- it really was the best con I've ever been to. I met some wonderful people (Elise introduced me to Neil Gaiman!!! I think I almost fainted), and all the important writers were so friendly and accessible. The con had both a serious (because of the feminist slant) and friendly tone; it really felt like a welcoming community of people, rather than the huge jumbled chaos cons so easily become. If I can possibly afford the time and money for Wiscon in the future, I'll certainly attend. It was a lovely experience.