My badge. Complete with wine stain. Actually, I think it's martini stain.
After a harried night of packing--and then a harried morning, at the end of which I was shoving might-needs into a tote-bag and praying that I had everything--I was about to leave work at 1PM when I got a text from vidensadastra to say that she and iuliamentis were running a smidge late. But eventually it was all sorted, and they and splash_the_cat and I met up at China Gate for a grand reunion lunch. Somehow, we didn't leave Ann Arbor until after 4...
Things I did right this year: overbought water (I never regret having extra water; I always regret not having it); remembered toothbrush, toothpaste AND floss; brought extra jackets for weathering the arctic blasts in the lobby; remembered my lanyard; and recalled that scarves and lanyards don't mix.
I'm trying to remember what I did before my first panel at 10. There was lots of chatting in the lobby with the usual suspects. The usual suspects include everyone I've mentioned so far, Dave Klecha (daveamongus--OMG, that's "Dave Among Us" not "Really Large Dave" (as in hugemongous--because that would be daveamongous".... Don't mind me, I'm just figuring out something I was supposed to know already)), tappu, and Steve Buccheit. earthgoat stopped by a couple times, and brought Doselle Young with her, and I don't know who all else... Then the usual suspects went to dinner. cathshaffer has an amusing scoring system for convention dinners. By my reckoning, I scored a 7, but I feel my average should be raised because of the BNFs in my group. Also, I'm not sure I understand the rules. But anyway.
And perhaps my score should be lowered because we went to Red Robin and I had a salad.
L to R: Mary Lou Klecha (vidensadastra), Julie D. and me
We came back and there was much wandering around. I scored the last copy of The Stepsister Scheme in the dealer's room, and told jimhines about it, which caused him to Go Find Out What Was Going On (tm). Ran into John Scalzi and Toby Buckell and writerswife and suchlikefolks. Failed to find anything yummy at the dessert reception. Ran into jeffreyab. I went to my panel at 10, and ended up moderating. David Rozian, Kelley Armstrong, Anne Harris, Violette Malan, and I decided that smut was A-OK by us. We did get some good discussion in (courtesy Anne) about the differences between the male and female gaze, and we discussed porn versus erotica... I'm not sure any new ground was broken, but I did learn that Kelley Armstrong is an extremely nice lady. I also managed to stick my foot in my mouth and mention something about the Anita Blake books, but I don't think it's a secret that they've become totally smut these days... Anyway.
We pretty much decided that the question of whether or not smut has a place in literature is about 35 years out of date. It clearly does. Sex scenes are valuable if they illuminate something about the character, the plot, the setting, etc., but get boring if they are mechanical recountings of meaningless sex.
Afterwards, my friends told me how to improve my moderating skills, and we went to the Canadian cons party and drank scotch, which I came to later regret, as it nauseated me so much that in the middle of the night I had to eat crackers and annoy my roommates. We also dropped into the bar at some point and met up with a few of the usual suspects, plus catrambo, who I've internet-known through Codex and LJ, her spouse Wayne Rambo, plus some new writers from the west side of the state (including Jonathan E. Rock? Is that right?). Everyone was talking lots, and I remember almost none of what was said. Did I mention that scotch that the Canadians had?
In the morning, we did... stuff? Hm. I'm bad at this game. I attended splash_the_cat's Fanfiction 101 panel (which she was on with vidensadastra and Anne Harris). It was a first panel for my two buds. I thought they did VERY well. I didn't learn anything new, of course, but I've been listening to them talk about fic for years now. The audience was seriously into it, and there was a nice mix of people there, with lesser or greater knowledge of fic. Including two young teens who were super interested. Get 'em while they're young, eh? I realized, during the panel, that it takes a certain amount of love for something to be on a panel about it. You have to be very invested in the art of whatever the panel issue is, and bringing newbies into the fold--otherwise, it's just frustrating to explain things that everyone you talk to regularly has known for a thousand years (or at least since you told them, or they told you). It was an interesting revelation.
Fanfiction 101 Panel: Anne Harris, Splash The Cat, and Mary Lou Klecha
I had a panel at 12. I'll note that this is the first convention where I haven't had to screw my face up real hard and think about how to present myself at each panel. My schpiel just rolls off my tongue now. And it is becoming second nature to introduce myself as Merrie Haskell when I'm in front of an audience. This is all to the good. Your friends might laugh as you flub your name and exhibit newbie nervousness, but I'm not sure it's amusing to anyone else.
Of course, because I've gotten more comfortable, and don't check and recheck everything 40,000 times, I also managed to forget my name tent for this panel. So, I was the mystery guest. Probably doubly so, because splash_the_cat said I (we?) were all very quiet in the panel and needed to be miked. Naturally the acoustics of the room were weird, and I thought I was being over-loud, because the ceiling was throwing my voice back at me (and not out to the audience). We need to develop hand-signals or something.
In any case, this was a hard panel, because it's not like there are answers to what the people are really asking. (The panel was on selling short stories.) The audience wanted to know the magic formula. You can tell the same advice over and over--and it's the same advice you got--but people don't understand it until they understand it. At least, that's how it was for me. Further, even when you understand all the advice, you still don't know how to do The Thing. The Thing that makes the story brilliant and compulsively readable. I mean, my own strategy at the moment is to write what I want to read. That's literally it. If I heap a bunch of "supposed to" craft over it, I inevitably kill my stories.
Anyway, our panel was composed of Cat Rambo, Jim Hines, William Jones, Steve Buccheit and me. Cat, William and I did our best to share slushpile secrets, such as they are... One worrisome moment was the writer who suggested that editors would steal his brilliant ideas out of the slushpile. There were many answers to this, including "trust us, your idea isn't original anyway." I brought up the issue of ethics. While editors, to my knowledge, do not possess a written code of ethics like doctors, nurses, lawyers and librarians (I mean, I pretty much live my life by the ALA's Code of Ethics), there is a certain level of ethics I feel is common to editors, which includes not stealing work.
There was a point where we discussed what is the thing that keeps the slush editor reading... I explained my revelation about tension. Tension is what keeps me reading. It is not terribly hard--certainly not impossibly hard--to understand, diagnose in others' stories, and learn to replicate good literary tension. I don't know if that will be helpful advice to anyone else--and it's not too different than the answer "conflict" that I think someone else gave on the panel--and yet it is. Conflict gets understood as "blow shit up on page one" at times. I think the word "tension" reveals that the conflict can be much more understated.
Anyway. I felt like it was a good-enough panel. We said what we could say in an hour. There's so much more to explain, though, on this topic, there always is.
After this, splash_the_cat and I threw over other possibilities in favor of lunch. A $2 baked potato from the cheap lunch buffet, followed by $12 creme brulee from the Shula's Steakhouse. I have standards, I guess. They're just impossible to codify. Cat and Wayne Rambo were wandering by at that point, so I offered some of my immense brulee to them (I had extra spoons), and we chatted a bit. Can I just say? Cat Rambo is amazing, down-to-earth and friendly, and just the loveliest. She and her husband were just a great presence at the con. There was a hilarious moment when Jess (you know... JESS) came over and introduced Cat's nose twin to her. No lie. They had the same nose. Identical. It was uncanny. The nose-twin had outed herself as a Batman comics fic writer during Fanfiction 101, so it was all very friendly and fun.
I had to moderate the paranormal romance panel at 3, with Kelley Armstrong, Melodie Barker, and Steven Harper Piziks. Using my friends' advice from the night previous, I did a better job keeping the audience wrangled, and we discussed paranormal romance. I got Kelley to discuss the issue of the possible peak, and she did admit that maybe the peak was here, because now people who don't love the genre are being asked/urged to write in it, which is not dissimilar to the horror bubble in the 80s. This inevitably brings the quality down, when you have people who don't love it writing it, and certainly readers burn out on it when they're no longer assured of getting what they want. I thought this was all very astute. Melodie Barker brought up some interesting early paranormal romance predecessors, including one I'd never heard of: Carmilla I'll be hunting that down, I think. We had an interesting disagreement with Steven, who thought Dracula wasn't a sexy book. Just about every woman in the audience gave him the 0.o face. (Actually, everyone in the audience was a woman.)
I totally failed to attend the autograph signing, as I meant to get Cory Doctorow's signature on the copy of Little Brother I bought my stepdaughter for her birthday... because I went to splash_the_cat's panel on shows that have jumped the shark (I think it was really called "personal shark points"). Candra Gill was also on that panel, and she's just awesome. I met her at Nisi Shawl's reading earlier this year, though we didn't have much of a chance to chat. I could listen to her talk about Fringe and Lost all day. And I don't even watch Fringe. She's just super-intelligent and really enthusiastic. I am particularly amused by her theory that on Fringe, Joshua Jackson and John Noble are basically playing their characters from Dawson's Creek and the Lord of the Rings. She calls it The Pacey Denethor Show. I like imagining this far too much to actually go watch Fringe now, but still.
The usual suspects went out to dinner again, in a long, agonized trail of decision-making that I won't repeat here, and I learned that I can indeed throw peanut shells on the floor if I have to. We did get Steve to explain how the Logan's menu rated, graphic-design-wise, and got quite a dissection. It was fascinating. I'm going to get him do that again.
L to R: Tarri and Dave Klecha, Yanni Kuznia
After we got back, we pretty much hunkered in the bar. I think some of us may've had more panels at that point, but attending all of mine and all of splash_the_cat's had paneled me out. I don't know that I actually looked at the convention guide with an eye to attending anything else. I'm looking at it now and seeing all the stuff I missed... I really like science panels.
Our second round of drinks. The "martinis" pictured taste like Astropops!
vidensadastra bought me a drink as a late Christmas present, and Splash had lost a bet with me earlier in the day, so I drank for free for a while. Anne Harris dropped in; earthgoat dropped in; I think other people dropped in, too... There was much impassioned talking... The masquerade came by... I ran off to witness the Ladies of Steampunk vs. The Pirates, and that was amusing. The night went on, and a good time was had by all.
Some Steampunk Ladies
The next morning, I headed off to the gadgets panel, which I'm not bolding because I have almost nothing to report there. We talked about gadgets. Other than discussing the Antikythera Device (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism), I don't know that I remember much else.
I hit Splash's last panel, which was a SF TV season recap, and then we had lunch in the bar, said our farewells, and headed home.