Got there without drama (but then all y'all already know that, seeing as I posted something fairly inarticulate from the Governors Club computer when I arrived, see previous post). Minneapolis is definitely WAY better in the airport stakes than Chicago. Sorry, Alaska Airlines. If you flew to Minneapolis I'd be using you. As it is I can still apparently use the miles I racked up on Northwestern. So it all works out in the end. Anyway - got there, got registered, said hello to the elevator, and had a very nice dinner shared with Susan Palwick where we talked about stories and the horrors of junior high and loving ghosts and had a thoroughly lovely time. The new hotel restaurant has this new three-sauce thing, where anything you order comes with a choice of three dipping sauces or relishes - I lucked out with the Carolina bbq peach, which I recommend to everybody, but rdeck picked something rather more piquant which he made the mistake of trying a whole spoonful of at once - and spluttered a bit, afterwards, because the thing was HOT... Not much more going on (ran into marykaykare in the registration area, said, "Oh, hi, it's you, must be a con"...) and, after a brief stopover in the Governor CLub bar where I found carl_allery and matociquala and a few other folks I had to wave hello to, retired to bed.
We started out by one of those accreting breakfasts which entailed having tables attached to each other as numbers increased - we started out with plans for breakfast with carl_allery and wound up with a table of six including Pat Wrede whom I had not expected to see and who was a particularly wonderful surprise. Then we hung out - I THINK it was on Friday, but things blur now - with madam_silvertip over coffee. Then I went to the Gathering and had a tarot reading, and a cup of nice lemonade from the Interstitial Arts Foundation people, and generally hung out and mingled and then went for a first pass of the Dealers Room when it opened.
Then we hung out some more and then had a thoroughly enjoyable dinner with carl_allery in the restaurant with the sauces, where rdeck was able to caution her about the hot sauce he had had there and its cautious use in small carefully measured amounts.
Then I had my first panel - "Elves and Dwarves:Racism in Fantasy". Good turn-out, lots of passionate opinions. It turns out that one of the central questions of the panel according to the program blurb - "Do responsible authors owe it to their readers to avoid using simple biological imperatives instead of carefully developing alternate cultures" - is a bit of a non-sequitur because all cultures, no matter how carefully developed or alternate, started out somewhere with the evolutionary equivalent of the lizard brain and its biological imperatives and no work of fiction has the scope or the attention-holding span (we'll leave Michener out of this, thank you) to start out explaining its world from the first heady moments of the local equivalent of the Big Bang and then on through the trilobite and dinosaur phase and into "civilization" as we know it. It would be nice to imagine a complete Utopia but no reader ever quite believes in one and every society humankind has ever known has been fraught with its own kind of problems inherent in stratifying that society - from the caste system of India to the tzars-and-serfs of Imperial Russia to the plantations of the Antebellum South, humans have found a way to make one human being better or worse than themselves, with a greater or lesser degree of complete obliviousness to that fact. The strength of our days, our place in history, is that at least some of us are capable of shedding that obliviousness and of being aware of what was, what is, and what (in a scary dichotomy of God forbid/God willing) might yet be, depending on what road we take from here. Yes, fantasy is full of elf-and-dwarf cliches. When Jackson made the LOTR movies he could not resist a tip of the hat to dwarf-tossing jokes. But nobody could say that Tolkien's Middle Earth was not a carefully developed alternate culture, and it still had all of our human baggage in it. I think that if an author developed something sufficiently "alternate" (s)he risks one of two things - making the thing being created so bland as to be instantly forgettable even while one is reading it or impenetrably incomprehensible to the human group-mind which just hasn't GOT there yet. But there's a happy little discussion of this panel already going on elsewhere on LJ, so I'll stop there. It was a good panel, but it did ramble a bit into what might have been considered uncharted territories and it did wind up somehow being not about the Elves and Dwarves but rather about ourselves, as we are today. Which perhaps was not entirely unexpected.
We went (briefly) to the Clarion party, after, where one of the recipients of the scholarship money I've been tithing to Clarion over the past four years told me that attending the workshop had changed her entire way of looking at her writing, that she had gained confidence and purpose, and thanked me for helping make it possible, and said that she hoped to do the same thing for somebody else when her own ship came in. I was glad to know that I had played some small part in the light of angels that shone from her eyes - the committed writer, finding her feet. Knowing what I know of other Clarion graduates I have met so far, I have no doubts that somewhere, and soon, I will see this woman's name in print.
Then, because I had woken up at oh-dark-hundred the previous morning and could not get back to sleep and was thoroughly tired by this time, we waved goodnight and went to bed - paticularly because...
...I had an eight-bloody-thirty-ayem reading slot on Saturday morning.
Four readers, four (briefly five) members of the audience - and we thought it decent for that hour of the morning. One of my fellow readers' husband turned up just before we started with a bunch of lilacs from the farmers market - I stole a sprig from the bouquet and spent most fo the day walking the halls with my nose buried in it, and it's a pretty good way of meeting people, apparently, because complete strangers kept coming up to me and asking to smell my lilac...
Then I had an entertaining panel called "Strong or Stroppy? Annoyingly Feisty Female Protagonists" where we spent a little while defining our terminology and concluded, somewhat anatomically (and probably politically) incorrectly that the "stroppy" female character was a strong woman with strong opinions with the cojones to stand behind them and carry them out - while "feisty" really meant the kind who stamps her feet and declares "I won't be rescued" and then waits for just that to happen, preferably by a strong alpha male with good prospects.
Then came a lunch break, and then I had a panel I had added myself onto - "Curious BOundaries of YA Fantasy" - we had to start by defining the concept of YA fantasy (it helps when you have sdn on board) and then lit into what is or is not expected, permissible, or frowned on in that genre. We had three writers (sarahbethdurst, tammypierce and me), one high-powered editor, and one self-confessed reader on the panel and it was a good one which I really enjoyed.
Straight on to another panel - "Fairy Tales for a New Generation of Girls", with elizabethcbunce, sarahbethdurst, tltrent and calepin (this sounds surreal - a panel with five disembodied LJ entities...) and this is probably my favourite panel of the con, and obviously a lot of people agreed with me because more people than I swear were in that room came up afterwards at some point at the con and told me how much they had enjoyed it and at least one of these people I met in the dealer's room later clutching a copy of "Jin shei" and telling me that she had enjoyed what I had to say on the panel and that she had to come and buy a book in the aftermath! We had five articulate and opinionated young writers all of whom had taken fairy tales and did things to them in the context of their own work, and the attitudes ranged from the bright light of hope (lj user="sarahbethdurst"> to the two self-confessed Queens of Darkness (tltrent and me, and we were promised crowns for the next Wiscon. So there. Tiffany, if they aren't forthcoming I'll MAKE them.)
Later on that evening we made certain we had prime seats for the Tiptree auction, as we always do, and thoroughly enjoyed it, as we always do, and then we made a brief appearance at the Tor party later that night and flaked again relatively early because...
...there was yet ANOTHER reading at please-god-eight-thirty this morning, and it was our Clarion reading posse, including carl_allery and debtaber, so we wanted to attend that. It was enjoyable, as always, and Charlie delivered a story that had me cringing as I remembered high school exams (and wondering why MINE weren't as interesting as her protag's turned out to be) and Deb read a powerful story set in the world of her current novel which had strong mytological underpinnings and made the little hairs on my arms stand straight up. Then we all went down to a late breakfast, a whole lot of us, including 1crowdedhour and various assorted friends from rasfc who came along for the ride, and only broke up the gathering because, well, some of had places to be and besides they were already putting away the breakfast things and setting the place up for lunch.
After lunch we went to the Karen Axness memorial panel which this year featured books by lots of friends (lmarley and bjcooper, and a whole lotta people from the SFNovelists group, you were all mentioned and recommended by name). Then on to my last panel, "Revealing your world", which was essentially five writers turned loose to talk about how they write - that, and a few questions from the audience, made this one of the fastest hours of my life, it fairly flew by, and even then we found it hard to extricate ourselves from the room as people buttonholed us to elaborate on some point or another or ask a last question on our way out. A SFNovelists bargathering followed at 5-ish, and a bunch of us sat and discussed (amongst other things) the state of the publishing world, the merits of aged scotch, and lunch plans for the next day. We left after about an hour so I could get changed for the Desert Salon and the GoH speeches.
Timmi du Champ's speech was poignant and erudite, if a little lengthy, but I confess that I was a little at sea as to the subject matter of Maureen McHugh's speech which seemed to imply that the future of science fiction is a sort of interactive Internet almost role-playing experience with stories begun in blogs and forums and websites and hidden easter-egg URLs planted in places where the receptive and observant might notice them and then relying on viral spread and word of mouth to propagate around the Internet and the story gets created rather as more people join the "game" than as any potential "author" of the original theme might have intended. She said this was the future of science fiction. I rather hope not, for my part, I love the feel of books and stories well told far too much for that and I am not precisely likely to jet off to a large American city in order to search out a trove that's broadly hinted at in some weird Internet collaborative effort. But then, deapite all evidence to the contrary (you're reading this on a blog, remember?) I can be SUCH a traditionalist, really.
There were several parties and other interesting sounding panels late at night, but by this stage there was already a pall on the proceedings - sometime during the day, perhaps as early as Saturday night, there were signs that said "Warning - stomach flu at Wiscon". By Sunday night it was an epidemic, with people dropping like flies - there were several, as I heard, who had to beat a hasty retreat from the GoH speeches because of the scourge (which has since been dubbed WisCholera by matociquala). The LJ party was cancelled because at least one of the hosts was laid low with the thing. And so we kind of snuck off to bed early and hoped for the best...
We were very brave and went to an early panel called "How much is too much?" which asked if we need to include things like racism or sexism in order to tell a believable story and if so whether we, as authors, are guilty of perpetuating the -ism in question in real life. It was really a cold-light-of-day look at some of the same issues that were discussed in the elves-and-dwarves panel, and the final conclusion is that the responsibility of the author is to tell a good story and that once it's out there, written, done, it's beyond our control how the reader receives it and what the reader does with it. Free will is a wonderful thing - and the things any human being does are, in the end, that human being's own choice and responsibility, and cannot be laid at the door of some book that (s)he had once read, let alone some work of fiction. If we had to write worried about what words will incite in some other mind, which is so alien to us that we cannot begin to understand it, the train of thought which leads to some unspeakable destination which we never intended because we could not conceive it - well, nothing would ever get written at all. And we all live in the real world and know the things that surround us are not always gentle and just and merciful. There are ALWAYS the shadows. And unless somebody shines a light on them, they will deepen and deepen until they are stygian dark and will never be dispersed at all. Mistakes will be made, sure - but we should all be open to learning something new, to understanding the things we did not understand before, to listening to the things we could not have heard before. As Timmi Duchamp said in her GoH speech, there are stories that are comprehensible now which were simply not comprehensible before, when the ideas about women in public spaces and public positions were not even conceivable in society as we knew them. Had we not spoken and written about this, had there not been a herculean effort to learn and teach and enlighten and sometimes force change on an unwilling world - there would still be women today who would be told, as Timmi was when a young and earnest music major who wanted to be a composer, that her work was only performed because the musicians wanted to sleep with her (and told this by her own immediate superior who then proceeded to attempt to push his own suit). A mutual respect is necessary, and a willingness to understand a misstep and correct it so long as the other party in the conversation is willing to commit to doing the same thing. We are human, warts and all. We live and die as that. We cannot turn into angels overnight, it's taken us centuries, millenia, to get to where are NOW. Granted, we may not have the luxury of that much time left to us to metamorphose into that newer, bigger, better thing... but if time runs out on us then we will vanish and our legacy will be what it is today. ALL the pain of it. ALL the fury. ALL the waste and the frustration and the hubris. And it simply cannot be laid at the door of those of us who make a living by telling a story.
Well, fortified by that, it was on to another social meet-up - a catch-up over coffee with ksp24 - and then it was into the Sign Out, the big Wiscon come-one-come-all signing session where folks mill around with double handfuls of books and meander amongst the tables looking for favourite authors. I finally had a chance to touch base ever so briefly with maryrobinette, my successor as SFWA secretary, and we bounced a little at the prospect of Laramie and the astronomy workshop in August to which we are both going. I signed books, chatted to people, exchanged emails and Myspace details and LJ URLs (as though there weren't enough LJ people namedropped in this post...) and then it was over and I hung around for a while waiting for the 2:30 mid-career writers gathering... only to discover, at close to 2PM, that it had been rescheduled for 1 and had already been running for almost an hour. Caught the tail end of that, and then it was pretty much all over bar the shouting.
Or so we thought.
At about 2 AM Tuesday morning, I woke up with an uneasy feeling in my middle. I barely had time for a heartfelt "Oh NO!" before I had to head for the bathroom - yes, the dreaded WisCholera had got me. I spent most of the rest of that night worshipping the porcelain god, and by morning I was drained and miserable - so much so that we seriously considered rescheduling flights and leaving on Wednesday instead of about 3 PM Tuesday afternoon as originally planned. But by this stage I just wanted to go HOME, we only had an hour, maybe less, layover in Minneapolis, and I thought I could tough it out whatever it took. I drank copious quantities of peppermint tea, a sovereign remedy for anything stomach-roiling in my family for years, and somehow managed to drag myself - feeling rocky and queasy all the way - to the airport and into the first plane.
All went well until, sometime halfway through the Madison-to-Minnesota flight, the damned thing hit rdeck. He spent the Minnesota-to-Seattle flight looking like death warmed up, occasionally breaking out into a cold sweat, and then we had an hour and half still to wait in Seattle for our Bellingham shuttle, and then two and a half more hours in THAT. We got home, wretched, and collapsed into little whimpering heaps.
We're a little more human today. But neither of us has eaten more than a few mouthfuls of bland gentle-on-the-stomach food for more than 24 hours, and this morning I woke with a galloping headache which eased only after I gambled on irritating the stomach and had a cup of coffee this morning. I hadn't had any of THAT for 24 hours, either. Stop and thing about that for a moment, those of you who know me. I'm still feeling a little bleah but I'm on the mend. I'm not doing anything too strenuous today, though, unless you count writing this mammoth post...
...and with that, I take my leave.
See you next year, Wiscon. I already have my hotel reservations (I think I must have snagged the last available GOvernors Club room) and my membership. I sincerely hope that the bug will not be invited back in 2009.