Let me pick up where I left off last, in my con and travel adventures.
Our train rolled into Pasco on Wednesday night a little later than originally scheduled – more like 9:25 PM rather than the 8:57 PM which was on the timetable. radconbob met us at the station, in shorts and a t-shirt. “I promised you it will be shorts-and-t-shirt weather,” he said… and then proceeded to tell us the approximate temperature outside, as he could best judge it from the thin layer of frost forming on his legs, and which was probably just a tad below freezing.
Off to the Red Lion… and a suite.
Well, yes, I was the Guest of Honour. Still. Blown away. Just a tad.
Turns out that they had us in the only wing of the hotel (which is an odd arrangement of several wings distinguished by the fact that they bear no architectural relationship to each other at all) which lacked elevator access. So they left us in place for that night, but told us that We Would Be Moved In The Morning, to a place closer to the Green Room in the tower wing which had elevators.
Come Thursday morning, we had logistics problems – we could not pack up and move until we got back from the scheduled visit to the Enterprise Middle School in Richland where I was due to hand out the prizes to the winners of the short story competition that the school and I had collaborated in running. We had breakfast with radconbob who bewailed the very very few entries in the student writing workshop at Radcon itself, and offered me a bunch of free student passes for my own contest kids if they wanted to come and attend the con. So, armed with those and the prizes (which included the “ABCs of Writing” booklet that I had prepared)...
...we got picked up by the school librarian around 10 AM and whisked off to the school where they would be having a special edition of their Readers Café in my honour.
They had gone to town, the kids. The library was decorated with a huuuuge sign up front which said “Welcome Alma Alexander” in foot-high letters of charming lack of symmetry or regularity, flanked by a silhouette of a witch complete with pointed hat in one corner (no, I don’t think they meant to draw the parallel) and posters drawn by the kids stuck up all over the sign, and fake cobwebs festooned over the ceilings, and spiders hanging over bookshelves, it was a Witch Theme Party in honour of my books which are apparently checked out a lot at this school. So, while the kids had their lunch, we had a lively Q&A about writing and books and reading and all sorts of cool stuff, and then I handed out the prizes to the competition winners.
The girl who won second prize glowed with it. She was handed a prize which consisted of a signed paperback copy of “Gift of the Unmage” but she had not opened it yet by the time the main event was over and came up shyly with the book asking if I would sign it. When I pointed out that I already had she scuttled back to her friend and they both craned their necks over the inscription, and then she looked up at me with this proud wide grin that would have melted a glacier.
The boy who won the competition is an eighth grader who was first astonished at the fact of his win and then genuinely and utterly enchantingly gleeful about it. He seems to be quite a character, and when the librarian gathered up the kids to take a group photo instead of the usual “cheese” my young winner suggested that we all call out “Chinchilla!” So we did, caroling out “Chinchilla!” with gusto several times while the photos were being taken, by the end of which I was giggling like I was one of the kids myself.
One of them came up after and said, at once mournful and expectant, “Are you running the competition next year? Because I MISSED it this year…”
I think I may have to. It’s the second time I’ve visited this school, and the welcome both times was heart-warming – I love the school and its kids and the enthusiasm of its librarian, a lovely, dynamic lady who loves books and reading and who is clearly one of my own kind. She has organised a literary event for the kids in April, a “cavalcade of authors”, to which I’ve already been invited and I look forward thoroughly to returning here.
Back to the hotel, after, and a quick pack-up and move from the one hotel wing to the other – into another, even nicer, suite just down the hall from the Green Room. We hung out in our spacious new quarters for a while as I answered interview questions emailed from the Bellingham Herald (where the interview is due to come out on March 1) and then we had dinner at the hotel restaurant, joined later by ramblin_phyl and her brother.
Friday morning, I hit the ground running.
The school liaison for Radcon, a lovely lady by the name of Liz, had organized myself, nisi_la and Patty Briggs to visit the Pasco High School. The school boasts some 4000 students, is sprawled over a campus that is a small labyrinthine city, and has a demographic a little different than I usually meet – in many ways it resembles an inner-city school in demographics and its attendant problems. We were to have two Q&A sessions there – one before lunch, with some 100 sophomores, and then another after lunch with twice that many freshmen who were also five times squirmier and wanting to get out of there and do their own thing on a Friday but who were also wildly enthusiastic about the whole thing and applauded us visiting authors, even before we ever said anything, down below on the auditorium stage with spotlights in our eyes so that we couldn’t actually SEE our audience and which had nisi_la shading her eyes and peering out at the serried ranks of kids as though she were up on a pirate ship mast spying out sails on the horizon. We were actually given the Whistle of Approval at the end, the kind that audiences give favoured acts at rock star concerts or stadiums bestow on basketball stars. It was all very exciting and gratifying. One of the freshmen came down later and asked me shyly, “How do you put emotion into your writing?” So I told him that he had to get his readers involved and empathetic with his protagonist, so that whatever happened to that character the READER was feeling too. “Oh!” he said, a light breaking on his face. “Thank you!” I don’t know if he completely understood, but he got an inkling and hopefully the rest will follow. I am thoroughly enjoying these school visits, because it feels like I’m giving a little of it back, that gift that a visiting writer once gave me. Perhaps some time in the future another writer will be standing in front of a class of young people and telling them, as I tell my generation of young people today, that I was inspired to start on the writing path by someone who came to talk at their school and who clearly would not choose to do anything different with their life than this thing which was already a part of their soul.
But we were running very late, and my first Radcon panel, the by-now-traditional “Tea with the Duchess”, was due to start at three. We rolled back into the hotel at ten to three, and I sent in the Duke, rdeck, to hold the fort while I raced upstairs to collect my badge and other paraphernalia. The Tea attracted some 25 people in a medium-sized boardroom which was comfortably FULL of a friendly audience who seemed happy to engage in dialogue about everything from filk to history to cats and who had the grace to laugh at my jokes.
The Opening Ceremonies were at seven, so we went to those – and apparently my Enterprise kids did turn out for the party but some well-meaning but officious so-and-so had decided to shepherd them away to a Harry Potter panel rather than attending the opening ceremonies where radconbob specifically called them out to be honoured and which they would probably have thoroughly enjoyed.
Dinner, and then I hit some of the parties on the circuit over in Wing 2. It’s kind of odd and strange being carded for entry to parties serving alcohol, with hair the colour of mine and with the GoH badge dangling from a lanyard. I suppose they have to be careful but really, do I LOOK sixteen?...
Speaking of those badges… the Radcon people had them nanowired in some strange way because every time I approached an elevator while wearing said badge the elevator would obligingly pop open just as I got there. I don’t know if the other GoH people had the same experience but I swear they must have used special ink or something that broadcast my impending arrival in advance so that the conveniences were always rolled out for the the Guest of Honour precisely as and when they required them.
Saturday dawned, and my laptop lost its tiny mind.
“Battery incompatible with the laptop,” the error message said. I turned it off and brought it back up again and again and again and it gave me the same doomful dialog box again and again and again. We had a somewhat frantic breakfast while I tried to get the thing fired up properly again muttering darkly about how could something that CAME with the computer and that worked perfectly the day before suddenly become “incompatible” hardware overnight. Finally it was time to look for someone more versed in tech than I was, so I invaded another breakfast table full of computer gurus who proceeded to perform brain surgery on the laptop right there and then and it seemed to hiccup and settle back into its usual groove. Damned if I know what happened. But it was a heart-attack sort of beginning to the day, anyway.
It was in this state of mind that I went off to my first panel at 10 AM, fetchingly entitled “My teeth twinkle” – all about whether it is possible for a hero entirely too squeaky-clean and all-powerful for words to have any kind of adventure which could remain interesting to an audience. We wound up discovering all over again that the hero is not necessarily the obvious bloke out front duking it out with a magic sword. Sometimes the hero with the twinkling teeth is Sam Gamgee, or the guy obstinately sticking to his principles in the face of passive-aggressive response or even outright overt retaliation when he stands firm and straight over something that somebody else has already decided was easier left bent... or the guy willing to give up his own leisurely breakfast in order to help out a hyperventilating damsel in distress who’s wringing her hands over an ailing computer…
It was straight into the two-hour multi-author booksigning after that, and I had a gratifyingly constant stream of people at my table. One guy told me that he had picked up “Gift of the Unmage” in paperback and enjoyed it so much that he immediately ordered all three books in hardcover from Amazon. I gave him signed bookplates for each book. Someone else turned up with a set of clearly well-read, worn, wrinkled and loved set of the “Changer of Days” books and asked if I would sign it to him and his wife because they had both enjoyed them so much. Someone else, a guy who came to my Duchess panel and whom I subsequently saw several times in various panels I was on or visiting throughout the con, actually brought in their love of a dog to meet me - a Golden Retriever who was very excited, very happy, and very cute.
And then there were the kids – several of “my” kids came over – the girl with the lovely smile who had won second prize at the middle school and who had taken up the offer of a free pass and had been at the con all day Saturday with her mother in tow. She brought the mom to meet me. The serene dark-haired woman gave me the kind of smile which was a twin of her daughter’s and said, “I’ve been hearing about YOU all week.” Another kid, one who had been sitting at the back of the Reader’s Café next to the boy who won first prize in the competition, came over to tell me that he had enjoyed my visit to the school, and was I coming back for the Cavalcade of Authors, and that he was looking forward to that. Another of my competition kids brought her entire family along, mom and dad and two sisters. I got a few for fandom, dang it. I hope the bug stays with them. This is a great community that I am a part of, and it is always been wonderful to see it infused with fresh enthusiasm, new faces, bright keen eyes, and a rising spirit.
The book signing wound to a halt and then they were setting up for the COOLEST THING EVER – they had a visiting raptor rescue and rehabilitation center bring in some of their birds for a demonstration and display. From a cute tiny kestrel whose weight is measured in ounces, through a series of hawks (peregrine, harrier, red-tailed) and owls (barn and great horned), to a jaw-droppingly imposing golden eagle with a seven-foot wingspan who filled the room when she spread out those magnificent wings. She had been a victim of an accident, hit by a car while feeding on roadkill, and had been left with severely impaired sight which means that she can never be released and expected to survive in the wild again. So now she has become the pride and the focus of their educational group, and she was AWESOME. They talked a little about all the birds and each had their charms – the little kestrel was human-imprinted and could never be released and he was cute and he knew it, preening and posing and generally assuming that HE was the star of this damned show and don’t let anyone forget it (while the eagle mantled in the background…) The peregrine – and this was the first time I had seen a peregrine falcon up close and they are BEAUTIFUL – was a talky bird and kept a running commentary on the various things that were not to his satisfaction during the show and tell. The harrier, on a long line, stole the whole show when he suddenly flew off into the audience amidst an audible gasp and landed on some unsuspecting guy’s shoulder or the back of his chair, I couldn’t see which, and was then recalled to the front and went straight for the peregrine’s perch instead of his own knocking the smaller falcon off and leaving the peregrine on the ground with his chest out and his wings back looking as aggrieved as it was posible to look and emitting loud squawks that just HAD to mean, “You MORON! What do you think you are playing at?” The owls were funny – the barn owl had caught sight of her own reflection in the ceiling mirrors of the ballroom and was posturing aggressively at… itself… trying to assert its primacy over this odd rival up in the sky. And the great horned owl gave an impressive demonstration of the birds’ ability to turn their heads a full 270 degrees, looking literally behind its own shoulder when the presenter went to the back of him.
And the eagle. Oh, the eagle. I couldn’t take my eyes off the eagle. When they said there would be a photo op with the eagle I was first in line clutching money. I wish I could have held her, but I am not certain I could have handled her; I wish I could have had a photo holding that peregrine, though, Peregrine the Beautiful and the Ornery. But I have a photo standing next to a golden eagle, I have looked a golden eagle in the eye. My GOD, this was AWESOME.
Then, about an hour after this, we had a star-studded panel which featured three current Guests of Honour (me, Sarah Clemens the Artist GoH and Michelle Johnson the Science GoH) and two past GoHs, ramblin_phyl and Patty Briggs. The topic (listed on the program as “Proper proportions of pork and beef in a meatloaf” really had to do with how we all juggled our professional responsibilites with our personal lives, and what had to give where. All the writers on the panel screamed “CLUTTER!!!” and then added darkly, “But don’t touch my clutter. I know where everything is. Really. Well, it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” Patty's husband talked, from the audience, about her "Archaeological" filing system for the layers on her desk - if he asked for a particular form or document she'd apparently respond, "Oh, that was back in January" and then delve down into the pile until she reached the appropriate layer. It was a far more fun panel than it had any right to be and I think I have discovered a pair of true sisters in Irene and Patty…
Dinner was in the company of Jordan, a con-going friend whom I run into on a regular basis at these events, a friend whom HE had in tow, and nisi_la, who joined us later. Let it just be said that I finished the evening telling one of maryrobinette’s puppetry stories (if she hasn’t told you the spindle tale from her production of Sleeping Beauty, and you run into her, beg her to do it…) and reducing nisi_la to crying from laughter so hard that she had to retire to restore her make-up and Jordan practically unable to rise from his chair because every time he managed a half-upright position something would hit him again and he’d collapse back down howling. I don’t know what the rest of the restaurant must have thought but if it was that the people having dinner with the writer GoH were having way too much fun, I can live with that (thanks, maryrobinette!).
Sunday morning was my GoH talk spot, “On Writing”. I talked for an hour about writing, the Universe, and everything – read a few scenes from the Changer books – talked about projects past and current – answered questions from the audience. If I had stage fright I was enjoying myself too much to notice. This was followed by the GoH interviews – originally supposed to be of me and kenscholes by his wife, jens_fire, but because they had to leave early due to personal family reasons the interview turned out to be conducted by jaylake with me and the editor GoH casacorona. It was a lovely hour, where we swapped stories about our lives and our backgrounds and our careers, and then, when it was over, it transpired that casacorona and rdeck and I would all still be there for dinner that night and everyone else seemed to be gone or on the point of going so we arranged to have dinner together later.
I had an hour’s break, and then it was into the final stretch, the last two panels. The first one was surprisingly packed for a Sunday afternoon at a con – the “Because I Can” panel on the nature and motivations of villains (given that my first panel was about twinkly-toothed heroes I wonder what that says about my own ethical progression…) The discussions were lively and often veered into directions unexpected, and the panel was a howling success. We then closed off the convention with a panel on YA literature, which was nicely calming after the villainy of the one that came before. And then the con was, for all practical purposes, over. My badge summoned the elevator for me one last time and deck and I went up to hang out in the Green Room before dinner, and offered our profuse thanks to the volunteers who were present and who had given so much of their time and effort into the smooth running of the con. Then it was time to share holiday photos as laptops came out and people shared pictures taken from various trips, until the hour drew close to six and we descended down to the restaurant area to meet casacorona.
*All the restaurants were closed except for the sports bar*.
This was… vaguely annoying. What the heck is the point of having two restaurants in a hotel if you shut both of them down at a time when people might be actually interested in, you know, EATING? We wound up at a table in the sports bar – with the menu from the closed-up restaurant next door which probably meant that the kitchen was running somewhere and made the closure of that particular restaurant even harder to comprehend. But we made do, casacorona and rdeck with halibut fish and chips and me with chicken pasta. Then casacorona and I decided that we wanted dessert. We reached an early consensus on “something chocolate” but when time came to order our server said that they were out of the chocolate tower cake that we had both been eyeing because, well, “Radcon ate all our chocolate”. But she offered a suggestion that somewhere under lock and key in the shuttered fine-dining restaurants there was an alternative offering and in case that failed gave us a third option, so we said fine, and waited. She was quickly back with the news that they had actually FOUND some chocolate tower cake and did we want that after all. So we said yes. So she went away again… and returned with two plates on each of which was a MONSTER-sized offering of quadruple-decker rich chocolate cake with frosting half an inch thick on the outside. casacorona and I both regarded these items with horrified fascination, realising at once that we were utterly unequal to the task of attempting one of these apiece. So the server took pity on us and let us share one of the slices – and deck had a few bites of it too – and we STILL only finished two thirds of it. But it was a very satisfactory chocolate cake, as cakes go, and it proved to be a nice conclusion to a very pleasant meal.
We retired from the Dead Rabbit Party (the one known as the Dead Dog in other con circles, or the Dead Cow at Wiscon) early, because we were due to catch the train at 5:35 AM the next day. We were in bed and pretty comprehensively asleep by 9:30...
...only to be up at 4:10 AM the next day, to catch the hotel shuttle to the railway station and from thence the train.
The train, which had suffered a rail breakage before it and was unable to proceed before this was fixed... was an hour and a half late.
I was CRANKY. No coffee (I was NOT going to drink that machine stuff with fake “lightener” in it thank you), the oh-dark-hundred rising, I am SO not a morning person and this wasn’t helping at all, at all. The train finally limped in at something like 7:10, and off we went. We got breakfast on the train – cold ham and cheese croissants, nothing spectacular – and I even got ungrumpy enough, after a cup of real coffee, to continue enjoying the Columbia Gorge scenery on the trip. The place really is spectacular - the reservoirs held back by a number of hydroelectric dams had uncanny reflective qualities, and mirrored mountains, and twisted trees, and the towering columns of volcanic basalt which looked like the brooding ruins of ancient towers, and the patchily cloudy sky. There were whole flotillas of ducks, practising a strange and oddly graceful kind of waterballet where numbers of them would rise from the water or land on it in choreographed perfection; there were lone geese flying low over the still water; there were rafts of other, smaller, water birds which looked from the train as though they were peppercorns cast on the smooth water. We saw a whole flock of swans. We saw eight eagles, at least three of them on the wing, at least one of them on the wing close enough to the train to clearly see the majestic beak and the splayed wingtip feathers catching the updrafts. It was kind of hard to keep up the grumpy in the face of that. But I was still sleepy and tired and was looking forward to having a nice lunch at Wilf’s resturant at Portland station when we finally got here.
Not my day. “Closed for the holiday,” a handwritten note in the restaurant door cheerfully informed me. “See you Tuesday!”
Well, no, actually. Really. GRUMP.
It looked as though we were doomed to three hours out on the hard wooden seats in the Portland station waiting room – but one of the redcaps took pity on us and sent us into the more comfortable lounge area, where I am sitting right now writing this blog post and yet again unable to post it because there is no accessible wifi in the vicinity. GRUMP. But on the bright side we’re warm, we’re comfy, there’s coffee, and we’ll be on our way home very shortly.
Home. To cats, to deadlines, to real life.
With memories of beaming kids, and eager smiles, and open brand new books being handed to me for signing, and the spread of an eagle’s wings, and laughter with friends old and new, and inspiration, and the way you all made me feel special this weekend.
In summary – I have now stood on the summit of the GoH mountain, and the view is magnificent. Thank you, Radcon, for the opportunity. This was my first time as GoH and everyone knows the firsts are always special – and Radcon has earned a deserved and enduring place in my heart. From the con chair to the last Green Room volunteer, you all made it a very special place to be, and I am very grateful for the honour you have bestowed upon me. May the Con Gods smile upon you all, always.
And see you next year.
PS - there may be pictures. Later. When I've actually downloaded same. Watch this space.