In Which Our Heroine, Despite Her Contentious Nature, Enjoyed Her First MiniCon

12 April 2004

The short version is: good con, wonderful people, panels a mixed bag. I'm totally wiped out by the con experience, though. I'm exhausted and a bit cranky, and so I wanted to say up front that it was good, especially as I am an argumentative person in an argumentative mood. Taking issue with some speech or panelist's point does not mean it was a bad con for me. Far from it. But I'm just about done with human contact for today. I will deal with Mark and Timprov and C.J., and they can be counted upon to let me be when I need it, and for that I am grateful.

So. MiniCon 2004. Right.

First thing in the door, we saw Lydy, who waved, and David, who waved us over and introduced us to the people sitting with him and pointed out who everyone else in the bar was. He said he knew we wouldn't remember a word of it, which was not particularly true: I remember many words of it, just not which people went with those words. I did then know who Joel Rosenberg was, and Joel Rosenberg greeted me a couple of times in passing in a way that I assume constitutes, "Oh, right, DDB's friend." So that was nice -- a good, friendly, comfortable beginning to the con.

We went to the Language of Fantasy panel: a critic, a next-year-novelist who didn't get to say enough, Jo Walton, and Pamela. I'd have been annoyed not to get Pam to say more, too, except that I figure I can probably get her to talk about language and fantasy if I really want to. We went to her reading next, and I'm going to reread The Dubious Hills when Timprov is done with it. I knew that before, but now I know it better.

Timprov wandered off to the end of Selling Your Collection, which we had both naively thought would be about collections you'd written and how to sell them to publishers. Aheh. Heh. Ah, no. That would be "Selling the Junk You Have Around Your House." Oh. Right then. Anyway, I had gone off to the green room to prepare for my panel. The topic was Computers and Magick. Remember how that k scared me? It should have, because the program description was mostly about paganism/shamanism and computing and only a little bit about fiction. Umm. And the panelists were neatly split down the middle: me and Lyda Morehouse in the fiction department, guys named Ken and Martin in the pagan/shaman category.

Thankfully, Lyda was as good a moderator as anyone could have been, splitting the panel neatly in half. There was a guy in the audience who was a pretty vocal skeptic. Me, I'm not really interested in arguing with other people about their religions (arguing with other people about a religion we purport to share, though, wooo!), but there was a skeptic in the audience who started out saying he thought it was all hooey or some such, and then the pagan dude named Martin got a little upset and wordy, and I piped up, "I like books!"

I feared that this was going to have to be my mantra. Happily, I only had to say it once, and we talked a bit about why computers are interesting in fantasy settings and what the pitfalls are, first panels go, it was fine. I don't think anybody's going to say, "Oh, that's right, you were on that Computers and Magick panel, you were my hero!" if they run into me at Uncle Hugo's, but whatever; not the goal.

We met Jenett and Scott after that panel, for just long enough to say "Hi, oh, that's who you are," and then Timprov and I headed to the little Vietnamese place around the corner for some quick dinner. It was tasty (and they had crab and cream cheese wontons, which are sometimes hard to find here), and Peg Kerr and her daughters were at the next table. So I fangirled Peg but not for very long (I believe what I said was, "I really love your books and your journal, but I know you're trying to feed your kids, so I'll let you be now" or something like that). Said an extremely brief "Hi, oh, that's who you are" to Elise and glanced at the dealers' room before heading to the Dystopias in YA Fiction panel. Oh yeah, and we met Ben, sort of; that is, we had seen Ben before, at a signing, and chatted with him, so I greeted him with, "Oh, hey, I sort of know you-ish!" when Jenett went to introduce us.

I was not as impressed as Jenett was with the Dystopias panel. The premise seemed to be that there were more of them now than there had been, but nobody had much data for that. Jim Frenkel, the person I felt most inclined to listen to, even said that he wasn't sure whether there were more. So. I also had a really negative reaction to the books several people were talking about as brilliant. Frankly, they (the books) sounded stupid and condescending. I know that it's hard to make up teen slang, but honestly. Writing in lots and lots of lame pseudo-teenage slang is not better than writing in very little lame pseudo-teenage slang. And I am permanently wary of grown-ups claiming that a book perfectly captures some aspect of The Teenage Experience. (That includes me: if I make a claim like that, you may call me on it. Please do. See also: claims about The Male Experience, The Black Experience, claims phrased as "what it's like to be [group I do not currently belong to]." etc.) This may just be because I'm a horrible, cynical, mean person; you should never rule out this possibility. I also think that selling teenagers despair is not in any way daring. Whatever.

So. Timprov and I wandered up to the con suite, generally got a feel for where stuff was, and then came in partway through the opening ceremonies. I am not a big fan of ceremonies. Opening, closing, banquet, award...whatever. Do your thing. If you've got Guests of Honor you want to let speak uninterrupted, by all means schedule them for speeches, I guess. Anyway, there was some stuff before the GoH speeches -- I don't know what, since we heard extremely loud PA-broadcast puns and wandered a bit first.

In his GoH speech, Walter Jon Williams said one of the dumbest things I've heard recently. He said that television flattens the affect of everything on it, so that massacres in Rwanda and sitcoms and Geritol ads all have the same emotional impact. This is such unbelievable bullshit that I was floored anyone would say it. I can only conclude that either he didn't watch the television at all for, oh, say, Challenger, or else he is a totally heartless person -- or neither, but that data didn't fit in with the point he was trying to make, which is that TV is bad. Hell, Williams is old enough that I can probably throw in Apollo 11 with that on the other side of the spectrum. Flattened affect? Uhh...riiiiight. So I would obviously have felt much more strongly about the Challenger explosion if I had read it in the newspaper, because print media don't "flatten affect." The Columbia failure would have ripped my heart irreparably into shreds, not just reparably, if I'd heard someone say that it had happened while I was walking down the street rather than watching it on the screen. It meant the same to me as an ad for cars or an episode of a game show.

Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

I would like to think that no one stood up and cried bullshit because we're all polite Minnesotans or at least polite Midwesterners, and also because when you give someone speech time, you've agreed to let him talk even if he's going to be dumb. But I fear that it's just that film media are an easy and thoroughly accepted whipping boy, and I don't know why that is. Why is it so acceptable to rip on other media? Why is it so acceptable to blame other media? This year of all years -- I know there are people like Jo Walton who aren't interested in seeing the Lord of the Rings films the way I'm not interested in seeing "The Passion of the Christ." But from what I've seen of fannish reactions, Peter Jackson could not have done better by us with these movies if he'd written a song about how much he loves us each personally. There are panels at this con about TV shows; at Ask Dr. Mike (more on which anon) there were references to all kinds of movies. Fans in general do not have to choose between books and movies, between books and TV, between books and video games -- and fans in general don't make that choice. Because it's a really dumb choice and totally unnecessary. But somehow a lot of authors seem to think that's a fair and reasonable dichotomy to set up. Williams also talked about the internet flattening affect, which I think is also stupid: I would have felt more strongly about Bear's Scifiction story if it had been printed out? Huh?

I feel funny defending non-print media, because I watch very little television, a few DVD movies/shows, and almost no movies in the theatre. I probably watch and enjoy film media much less than many of the people who nodded along with the flattened affect comment. I don't feel that, as art forms, television and film are living up to their potential on a highly consistent basis. I am disappointed in them every time I read the movie listings and notice that, once again, there's nothing I want to see, every time I read the fall TV listings and notice that, once again, there's maybe one show worth trying, and it'll get cancelled soon. Every time the season for "Monk" ends; every time an episode of "Monk" takes a stupid way out. It's not very strong disappointment, but I'm disappointed in film media a lot. But that doesn't mean that there's something wrong with the formats. It means that people need to do a better job.

To make matters slightly worse, Williams talked about the media mining science fiction and said that they thought its only use was "to see what trouble they can get Captain Janeway in this week." Captain Janeway. So, not only is television bad bad bad, but it's so bad that we're not going to bother to stay even remotely current on it to make our points about it? I mean, that's like saying, "Girls these days have no good role models; they're stuck with trying to look like Christie Brinkley." Move on; the rest of the world has. This is the sort of thing that turns younger readers off unnecessarily, makes the speaker look clueless and out of touch. It's sloppy. It's silly. And with the rest of the speech -- eh. Who needs it?

So, to sum up, I was unimpressed. Pamela liked it, so maybe if I'd seen the first part of it, the bits that came later would have hit me better, or maybe Pamela and I just disagree on this one. I don't know.

Then Sharyn and Deb Geisler gave their much shorter and more sensible Guest of Honor speeches, and then there was a toast, and then it was time for Ask Dr. Mike. I think Ask Dr. Mike was the highlight of my Friday. It's the sort of thing that could be really lame with the wrong person, but it turns out that Mike Ford is not the wrong person. (What a great compliment! "You're not the wrong person!" "Oh, please, don't gush so much, it's embarrassing....") Here's the setup: guy stands up front. People ask him questions. He answers. What kind of questions? Anything you want. Anything. And it's funny. I mean, he could take the predictable nerd questions and still give a genuinely clever and funny response; he could take the unpredictable nerd questions and still give a genuinely clever and funny response. It was a great relief, because he seemed like the sort of person who would write these books I've been reading of his -- at least generally the sort of person who would write his books, as far as one could tell from that approximation. (Pamela, I was reminded at her reading, is exactly the sort of person who writes her books. Neither substitutes for the other, but it's still a very nice thing, that not only do I adore the books and not only is Pamela special, too, but they match.)

It was at about this point that I was suddenly reminded that I am not, in fact, an extrovert. At all at all at all. I've said this before, but doing con stuff from 2 to 10 was enough to just knock me over. So: I found the Sharyn, we did the schedule meld and picked a time to get together, and then I could go home. And I barely got through some water and some ice cream and telling Mark about my day before I ran out of energy entirely, started shaking, and had to be put to bed.

Saturday morning it snowed.

Timprov was still felled by the whatever-it-was (looked like an allergic reaction, but we don't know to what), so I set off by myself. I'd never done a con sans con buddy before. It was a little daunting, but I was once again barely in the door before I ran into David. (Apparently the best trick I know for having a good con is to know this man. But hey, if it works.) So he introduced me to some more interesting people. Yay interesting people! Yay pseudonymous livejournaling restaurant reviewers and people I've seen on Making Light!

Headed off to a panel called Autism, Asperger's, and Fandom. That was good stuff, but there was one thing that nagged at me a bit. The test to see if you should get your kid screened for Asperger's had questions about following the crowd vs. striking out on your own, and the consensus seemed to be that fen, of course struck out on their own, in the extreme. Yeah. Okay. many of the people at that con were dressed nearly identically? How many of them had similar haircuts, similar jewelry, similar bags? I'll tell you how many: lots. And when someone suggested that geeks intermarrying might contribute to the rise in Asperger's cases and that maybe we should pair up with athletes, the groans of dismay and disgust were loud and fervent. Once again, people are mistaking "fitting in very well with and/or following the crowd of one's own choice" with "not following the crowd." That frustrates me. How old are we, people? Do we still have to be hostile to the jocks just to keep our own little group together? There are people I love dearly who are both athletic and intelligent, even geeky -- people like my dad and C.J. Compared to a lot of geeks, I guess I'm on the athletic side: I hike for fun, I do my yoga, I like to swim, I'm not terrified or contemptuous of people who play sports for fun. And I don't think that sacrifices my geek cred.

This is all sounding fairly contentious, I'm afraid. Maybe my buttons are easily pushed, or maybe I shouldn't write my con report when I'm still in "no more people!" mode. I did enjoy myself. I just had a few issues.

So. Went on to the "Just Us Kids" roundtable, which featured Sharyn and a Hennepin County librarian and a bunch of kids, some of them really articulate. (If Peg Kerr ever decides to sell her daughters to the highest bidder, she should tell me when the auction is. And Lord Lord, do I not want to be on Sasha Walton's bad side with a book of mine. He's not very loud, but..."It's a bit of rubbish, innit?" Oh dear.)

Hung out with Sharyn in the bar for a very cool couple of hours, some of it with other people, including Laurel Winter, who is just darn nice, and Lydy for about five minutes. (I saw extremely little of Lydy. I like Lydy. Luckily, if I decide that it was just insufficient Lydiage, I can call her up and ask her for lunch or something.) At some point, I bought myself earrings from Elise's booth, little ravens with hematite stars. They're nifty, and they're for what I think is my next book, because there'll be the little raven brother by then, just a baby named Mar, not yet grown up and returning alive from Valhalla, but someday. Yah. So these are my The Mark of the Sea Serpent writing earrings. Only I'm wearing them today even though I'm working on Reprogramming edits and the Not The Moose instead.

Also sometime in there Sharyn went off to the facilities and the bartender started talking to me: did I do this often? How did I get into this stuff, anyway? He was very nice about it, but there was an edge of bafflement in his voice, I think. He didn't seem to get the whole fan thing. Well, the person who gets the whole fan thing is probably pretty rare, as it's a pretty large thing. But he didn't really seem to get it in part, either, although he agreed that these were indeed some really nice people and no trouble at all. I couldn't tell if it was a "nice girl like you/place like this" reaction or if he was baffled by all of us. It was strange, though, feeling like I was supposed to explain the whole thing to him when I'm still figuring it out myself.

So...uhhhh...program program...oh, right. Sharyn was on a panel with Peg Kerr and Steve Brust and Jim Frenkel and Karen Cooper, and it was a stitch. It was about Talking To Pros. Good stuff. Funny. Many Neil Gaiman stories. I actually found that my problem was not talking to pros, but talking to random fen unintroduced. I started just introducing myself, but often without a person in common or a panel just starting, there was less that was obvious in the way of a conversation starter. Ah well. No panel can address all problems. I stayed in the same room for Taking Your Writing to the Next Level and ended up working a bit on the Not The Moose in the middle of it and trying to pay attention at the same time. Stupid brain. Hope that wasn't rude. I was tickled by Lyda's and Pat Wrede's responses to someone who asked about trying to write to the market vs. writing what you love.

And that was my last panel of the con. I didn't mean for it to be, but it was. I thought about the panels a lot, and some of it was good thought and some annoyed and some rambly. While my own panel was not the most fascinating entertainment in the world, I think I'd be more willing to be on them in the future. This is going to sound a little arrogant, but I think the message is that if you're looking at panel titles and think, "I'd like to be on that panel; I wonder if I'm qualified?", the answer is yes. Go for it. Unless it's a really big con and the panel is already full of fabulous wonderful people who have all won multiple awards for stories or books you adore (or the equivalent in editing or whatever), go right on ahead. If you're with people more interesting than you, you always have the option of smiling sweetly and shutting up. I heard one of the guys say that he had published twenty-some short stories, and I thought...uhh...hey, me, too. And then I did not think, "So sit down and shut up, poser!" So I think I'm doing better at being kind to people like myself. It's much harder than being kind to people unlike myself.

Also, my new philosophy of cons is that if I'm already having an interesting conversation with someone, I'm not leaving for a panel, which is at best a chance at an interesting conversation. Go with the one that's working, is my current thought. Unless there's a compelling reason not to: for example, if you promised a friend you'd show up for their panel and lend moral support or make funny faces or whatever. Or if you can guarantee you won't get a chance to see somebody other than at that panel. Or something like that. There are some pretty darn compelling panels, but if I'm laughing with somebody cool, I think that's kind of the goal in the first place. At least one of the goals. A worthy goal.

So I got dinner with David and Ctein, and then we found Rosenbergs numbering two and a fellow called Jon and we all went and looked at Ctein's photos, which may have impressed me more than they did the others because I hadn't seen any of his work before. If you'd told me I would enjoy a photo book about Christmas in California, I would have given you a very, very skeptical look. Polite, but skeptical. But it was gorgeous, and the others were, too. And then it was off to the Tor party, where I had a moment of Pamela and then many moments of Jim Frenkel and Sarah Monette, whose livejournal alias I now know, so I understand why she greeted me as if she had any notion of who I was: because she did. And I knew who she was, too, I just didn't know it. Also she was the next-year-published novelist I wanted to hear from more often on the Language and Fantasy panel clear back on Friday (yes, as much as a whole day before). Clear enough? Good. Anyway, we had good conversation and then were joined by David Levine and and and...oh crud. The very nice female person with him whose name I should remember. Anyway, it was a nice Saturday night at the Tor party, and then I got a couple of Carleton students to walk me to my car because they were going that way anyway. I was wired enough that I ended up going to Perkins with Mark and Timprov to talk over the day and get an éclair and other happy things.

Easter morning, Mark and I went to church, still a little tired but doing all right. When we got home, he made sausages and scrambled eggs and we had raspberries and bananas, and Timprov got up and had a banana and strawberries and was generally feeling a bit more human. I think the biggest inherent/structural negative to this weekend for me is that it was a meaningful religious holiday for me, and I do feel that I missed out in not getting to Tenebrae on Good Friday. And there's nothing I've been able to come up with that really substitutes for Tenebrae. Ah well.

Karina was talking about people trying to tell her she shouldn't have observances of Easter that weren't Christ-related. I don't think that's a very productive thing to say. "Don't spend time with your family if you don't love Jesus!" No. Stupid thing to say. Not very Christ-ian, either, though sadly common among Christians. My problem comes in not with Karina and other non-Christians who take the days off that sometimes come automatically and spend them with people they love. My problem comes with Hallmark and Target and other major corporations who decide that they're going to cross the boundary between marketing things like Easter candy and doing so with statements of meaning. Target upset me a few years back with the "Easter is tres chick!" ad campaign. Easter is neither chic nor about bunnies and duckies. Our local Hallmark had dozens and dozens of cards that said things like, "Easter means chocolate eggs" and "Easter is about hopping into spring!" There were a total of four or five cards marked, "Easter -- Religious." Umm. I would be fine if they didn't sell many religious cards but the areligious ones said things like, "Wishing you chocolate eggs" or "Hop into spring!" and left out a supposed philosophical relation to Easter. "Wishing you chocolate eggs and marshmallow chickens. Happy Easter!" There you go. Perfectly secular, perfectly generic, and yet no implication that this is all there is to the holiday or is the deeper meaning behind it.

(I am disappointed that the dye did not leak through the shells of the Easter eggs I dyed. I do not have particolored eggs for particolored potato salad or eggsalad or devilled eggs or anything nice. I used to think they improved the dye, but now my mom says it was probably because I was not quite so gentle with the eggs when I was small and cracked their shells accidentally. Well, fee.)

Anyway anyway. I had intended another panel yesterday morning, but Steve Brust was sitting in the bar as we came into the hotel, and we got sidetracked, and then it was an hour later, and I am totally okay with that. We went to Jo Walton's reading, and now I want to read her next book, too, if it ends up being done next and not something else she's working on instead. That reading made it clear to me once again how much it's important to me to have a professional trust in a writer. Her world has time moving at variable rates, and with a lot of people I'd just give up on that one as guaranteed to annoy me by being done poorly. But with Jo Walton, I could think about it and think about it and determine that it would probably be okay. I said hi to Jo a couple of times this weekend, probably a total of a few dozen words, and she seemed like a nice, trustworthy person, but that's not the point. There are perfectly nice people whose books you can't trust as far as you can throw them, and there are total bastards whose books are worked out so that things don't go off contradicting each other in uninteresting ways. This was in my head for the Language of Fantasy panel, too: I don't need Pamela to give me a treatise on why dragons and unicorns speak the languages they do. I need to trust that she won't suddenly start throwing Aramaic in the middle of it without a reason, that it will all continue working as it should, that Ruth will be Ruth and Ted will be Ted unless Lady Ruth or Prince Edward or some other shadowy figure is interfering. That the author is reliable, though the narrator may or may not be.

Ah well. Anyway, we talked to a handful of cool people again and then headed out home, where I was ready to collapse with a kerbumpf. I don't really like people today. Or rather, I like them just fine, over there a bit. Not here. Here is too near. And most likely too loud.

Tomorrow night we're having between twelve and fourteen people for dinner, plus a baby. Two and the baby are staying over. I'm looking forward to it, and I think I'll be ready to face people again by tomorrow afternoon late. Also I don't have to cook: Yore is bringing takeout for us all. It will be good.

Now it's time for me to go curl up with The Proof House and be very, very quiet for awhile.

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