Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Room 6 at the Hostel International, Madison
My room at the Madison Hostel, seven blocks from WisCon at the Madison Concourse Hotel.

After five years away from flying, and having only recently returned to conventions, I was a little nervous getting back into the circuit. WisCon was the first of my three "fly to" conventions this year (to be followed by Readercon in July and Denvention in August). I'm posting this entry during the two days I have to relax before I make the eight-hour drive to the Florida panhandle and The Wrath of Con.

I had four days of wonderful re-entry....

I flew into Madison on Thursday the 22nd and checked in at the Madison Hostel and this neat little room. The hostel has a shared fully-stocked kitchen, shared bath, and is dedicated to resource conservation and recycling. This is an old house that reminds me a little of the house that was converted into the Cambridge Women's Center. To decrease wear and tear on the property, guests are asked to go shoeless (leave shoes in cubbies at the entrance or carry them up to the room). There's a key code that changes daily, because the front door is locked after hours -- and events at WisCon went late into the night. WisCon provided free Union Cab vouchers to convention members needing transportation from the conference site to any location in Madison between 10:30 PM and 4:30 AM, which was terrific.

On my first night in Madison I got dinner at the Costa Rican cafe next door to the hostel (and located in the same house) -- a delicious Caribbean-style burrito with a slice of fried plantain for dessert. I'd have eaten there (great decor, great music, friendly people), except that there was only one table free, and it's a small place. So I took takeout to the hostel's kitchen. I would have a proper sit-down dinner at the cafe my last night in Madison.


My room had a double bunk bed; a doorless closet with a four-drawer dresser and a place to hang clothes; a wood-base lamp on a white night table shaped like a Corinthian column; a round mirror edged in blue mosaic; a high shelf on the wall; silver radiator; and two windows with bright yellow curtains. It was a cheery, no-frills place, and that's all I needed. Mauve walls. I'd happily stay here again.

I roomed with a lovely spider, who was almost constantly on the move. We got along fine.

My Roommate, with whom I get along fine

I'm guessing it was some kind of wolf spider. With my story "Arachne" getting reprinted and released the first of June, I considered it a good omen. Unfortuately, my contributor's copies of Riffing on Strings didn't arrive before I left, so I didn't have one to display, but I brought and distributed flyers.

Some highlights:

1. Meeting a man at the hostel who drove to Madison from west of Chicago to get his car converted from diesel to biofuels. Apparently there are people in Madison who are expert at this. The conversion unit was flown in from Germany.

2. Meeting Jean Roberts, another WisCon "virgin," who also stayed at the hostel. Turns out Jean met and remembers my friend Belea Keeney, whom she met at last year's Saints and Sinners convention in New Orleans. Jean has the distinction of having been published in 60-some anthologies. In addition to enjoying long talks over coffee and a couple of meals, we shared the cab back to the airport and the flight to Minneapolis, from which Jean returned to Saskatchewan and I returned to Tampa for the roughly 80-mile drive home.

3. Speaking with Suzy McKee Charnas, whose novel Motherlines I read back in the 70s.

4. Seeing Covenant on the shelves of A Room of One's Own bookstore's dealer table. I had copies for sale at the Broad Universe table, but I'd signed up to do that. Seeing my book being sold by an independent bookstore I didn't approach myself was a supreme thrill. In fact, when I bought three books from them I asked them -- in my furrowed-brow, somewhat deferential way -- if they might be interested in carrying Covenant, to which they replied, "I believe we already do!" and pointed me to my place on the shelves.

Covenant at A Room of One's Own Bookstore table

Second shelf down, about a third in from the left. Two copies are on display. They'd brought five altogether.

5. Using the hotel's WiFi to e-mail that photo to Aisling Press, and to e-mail other shots to people I photographed. (Another shot of the A Room of One's Own table is below.) Cameras can be good ice-breakers.

Wiscon-A Room of One's Own Bookstore

6. Meeting Eric Heideman, who published my fiction and poetry in Tales of the Unanticipated way back when, and who will include my story "Cog" (TOTU #4, Fall/Winter 1988) in a "best of" anthology from the magazine's first ten years).

7. Meeting John Klima (below), who published my story "Hermit Crabs" in Electric Velocipede #14 and placed it at the top of the lineup.

John Klima, Electric Velocipede

8. Getting excerpted in a neat little EV flyer folded to look like a miniature version of the magazine (and shown below beside my badge for size comparison). Issue #14 contains 12 short stories, 1 novelette, 3 poems, and 4 nonfiction pieces. The flyer contains six excerpts.

WisCon Badge and folded EV Flyer

9. Meeting Deborah Layne of Wheatland Press (below), who on Sunday sported a badge-holder commemorating a quarter marathon she'd run.

Deborah Layne, Wheatland Press

10. Performing my poetry with SFPAns Sandra Lindow and Jeannie Bergmann, over at Michelangelo's Cafe in downtown Madison. The photo is posted here at the Science Fiction Poetry Association site.

We'd been scheduled opposite the panel on women in speculative poetry (oops), so we cut the reading short and arrived fashionably late to the panel. The reading continued on Sunday along with the Goblin Fruit poetry reading. My last panel of the day and subsequent conversations kept me from getting there in time to join in.

11. Telling Catherynne Valente how much her poem "The Seven Devils of Central California" blew me away and that I nominated it for a Rhysling Award (for best speculative poetry of the year).

12. Talking with Daisy on the phone. She was meowing for attention when I called Mary, who put her on the line. I said hi to Daisy, Daisy meowed at me, and then she walked away, seemingly satisfied.

13. Quaffing some excellent home-brewed dark beer at the Electric Velocipede party on Friday night. And, on Saturday, sampling Viking Hot Chocolate, "Beer brewed with cocoa powder and cayenne pepper," from Viking Brewing Co. in Dallas (!), WI. That one now tops my list of thoroughly awesome beers.

14. Getting to pontificate on four panels, three on Sunday and one on Monday morning. (Panel descriptions are in this entry.) I'd attended what remained of the speculative poetry panel, along with panels "It's Not About Identity," "Does It Have to Get Boring Before it Gets Good?" and, "The Brave New World of Twenty-First-Century Publishing;" plus a reading by Mark Rich, Richard Bowes, James P. Roberts, and Kimberly A. Blanchette. I wanted to attend more, but scheduling conflicts and the need for sleep kept my activities down to a dull roar.

15. Doing a two-hour stint at the Broad Universe table on Saturday morning. I intend to help out at Readercon and Denvention as well.

16. Talking nutrition with Cecilia Tan, in the Green Room between panels, then noticing her badge and realizing whom I was talking with.

On Friday morning I took a stroll through town and picked up groceries, which gave me a chance to take some shots of Madison itself:

Madison, WI, Capitol Building

Capitol Building. When Jean and I shared a cab back to the airport, our cabbie told us that Madison's is the tallest capitol building of all 50 states.

Madison, WI, Capitol Building Statuary 3

Statuary hailing a cab.

Madison, WI, Capitol Building Statuary 2

Statuary waiting for a bus.

Downtown Madison Column, close up

My vote for neatest columns in the neighborhood.

Freethought Hall in Downtown Madison

Freethought Hall. What's not to like?

Downtown Madison Mexican Food Cart

"A Taste of Mexico" food cart.

After stashing my groceries in the hostel's fridge I proceeded to The Gathering at WisCon on Friday afternoon.

WisCon, The Gathering 3

The Gathering included an African dance demonstration; Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab sniffing; Interstitial Arts Foundation "Coffee, Tea, and Subversion; clothing swap; DIY face painting and tattoos; ARC (advance review copy) galley proofs sale to benefit WisCon; henna; "How to Fold [your towel into] An Elephant" demo; making your own curry powder; massage; numerology; Odd Con Cow Tipping (no real cows were harmed during this event); palm reading, Reiki; Renaissance and Fancy Hair Braids; tattoo contest "Show Us Yer Tats!"; tarot card reading; Tiptree Auction Preview (to benefit the James Tiptree, Jr., Award); ballroom dance crash course; and WisCon Fiber Guild.

Madison is a neat city. Bicycle-friendly, progressive college town, walkable. Weather was gorgeous through most of the weekend, and although we got some rain we missed the severe weather that rolled through some of the surrounding states.

On Saturday the grounds and streets surrounding the Capitol Building became the local farmer's market.

Madison Farmer's Market 1

Madison Farmer's Market 2

A bit of bluegrass...

Madison Farmer's Market 3

... and a bit of jazz. When Jean and I walked to the Concourse Hotel from the hostel that morning, we passed a musician playing Star Wars themes as though they were part of a violin concerto. Took me a few minutes to place the tunes.

Capitol Reflection

The lighting was perfect for this Saturday morning shot. The building to the right of the Capitol reflection caught my eye because of how it uses a small space in a way that maximizes use of natural light. Reminded me of a National Geographic Channel program about Tokyo architecture, which focuses on space and light efficiencies.

At my Saturday morning stint at the Broad Universe book table, I met Morven Westfield and Alex Bledsoe (Alex and I were on the Sunday afternoon panel, "Revealing Your World"). Contrary to what the light quality suggests, I have not gone blonde. Photo credit: Phoebe Wray, who coordinates the BU book table.

With Morven Westfield and AlexBledsoe

And at this SF convention, there were attendees who understood what my "Sin Big" T-shirt was about. (I got it at a benefit for Mary Daly during her battle with Boston College over her refusal to admit a male student to an all-women's class. What many news items didn't mention was that gender aside, the student had not taken any of the prerequisites for the course.) Daly's radical feminist philosophy makes much use of etymology, and she points out (I forget in which book) that "sin" stems from the Sanskrit root for "to be."

Broad Universe Book Table

Broad Universe book table. Phoebe Wray is on the left. Morven Westfield is on the right.

Having gotten four hours of sleep Friday night (if I was lucky), I reluctantly skipped the late-night panels and parties on Saturday so as to be coherent at my three Sunday panels. I turned in early on Sunday night as well, in anticipation of my 8:30 panel on Monday morning.

I'd have attended the Guest of Honor speeches save for a call from Mary, who's been dealing with some health issues. She felt better on Sunday than she'd felt on Saturday night, and better still on Monday. As we spoke, I used the WiFi at the Concourse here to check on potassium and sodium levels in both pomegranates and cranberries for her. I hadn't realized they were so different. Pomegranates have a pretty robust potassium level, whereas cranberries are very low in potassium. In Mary's experience and with her physique, she does better with pomegranates.

I also enjoyed some hijinks courtesy of a trio of tween girls. I sat across one of the panel room entrances during my conversation with Mary, and no panels ran during the GoH speeches. The girls were having the time of their lives playing around in "the chair room" and performing on mics -- singing, speechifying, giggling. I assured them they weren't bothering me (they asked), and they seemed very relieved that I was hearing only the music and not the words they were singing. At first one and then another of them would leave the room, listen from the other side of the closed doors, squeal, and then call back inside, "I can hear you from outside!" Running around in very pretty dresses and bare feet.

The WiFi made me feel like a Jetson. At home we have one phone line and I'm on dial-up, so being able to talk to Mary on my cell and check nutrition information on the Web simultaneously was just sweet.

I went to bed Saturday night at 9 PM, and a good thing, too. For one, I'd had only about four hours of sleep the night before. For another, there was some drama from around 2:30-4:00 AM. A baby at the hostel wasn't having a good night. After a while the wails stopped, but then -- it being Saturday night in a college town -- some youths outside were whoopin' and hollerin'. They set off the baby again, who answered with a long spate of heartbreaking howls as though his/her world were coming to an end. Finally I guess the kid became convinced the world was sticking around for a little while longer, and I was able to get back to sleep until my alarm went off.

Memorial Day Flags at the Concourse

On Sunday night these flags hung from the stairway railing at the Concourse. The sign in the center, to the right of the Earth flag, reads, "Memorial Day 2008. Let's stop killing each other, OK?" Cool.

More highlights from WisCon include my meeting Mark Rich, who published my poetry back in the 80s when he co-edited The Magazine of Speculative Poetry and who read from a terrific collaborative work; being asked for my autograph at the Sign-Out (always an ego-booster); and attending the Mid-Career Writers Gathering, especially since I came into the group admitting that I didn't know what I was. (I was told I qualified.) I introduced myself as someone trying to be a Comeback Kid.

That gathering was a real shot in the arm for me because it gave all of us a human face as we compared notes about dealing with the confluence of Writing and Life, telling our real-life stories and sharing pointers and strategies. We agreed unanimously that a writing career is not at all linear.

I attended some marvelous performances, and was awake enough and had a great time speaking at the 8:30 AM panel discussing the "isms" (racism, sexism, etc.) in written works. I write socially relevant material (not always, but much of the time) because I love reading it, and because it was that kind of SF (New Wave) that galvanized me in the late 60s and early 70s. Fellow panelist Gregory Rihn's report is here.

There were a couple of low spots that I did not experience directly but heard about. Some nasty posts following the "Joy of Fat Sex" panel. And a bout of stomach flu -- the first medical snafu in WisCon's 32-year history, from what I heard in the Green Room.

For me, there was a great difference between attending a major convention in the 80s and attending it now. In the 80s I was a newly-professional writer in my mid-20s, finding it very hard to believe I'd gotten as far as I had. I was a deer caught in the headlights. Now that I'm 20+ years older, with more life experience in general, I can still maintain my sense of wonder that comes with the craft, but I think I can look at the industry more dispassionately. Heaven knows I'm still learning.

Back on Thursday, about an hour before boarding my plane at Tampa International Airport, I checked my e-mail and learned that my story "Houston, We Are the Problem" has been accepted to The Drabbler #11 (theme: "SETI Calling").

Covenant, the first volume in the Deviations Series, is available from Aisling Press, and from AbeBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Territory, Borders,,, DEAstore,,,, Powell's Books, and Target. The Deviations page has additional details.


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