Wednesday, November 21, 2007

John's OryCon 29 Adventure

Or Work Hard, Play Hard, Get Sick.

Well. I survived. I think this year I learned several things.
  1. Being a panelist is hard. It's not enough to figure out what you're going to say ahead of time. You have to come prepared with a bunch of questions.

  2. Panelists come in several flavors.
    1. Buy my Book.
    2. Mismatched by the Panelist Committee.
    3. Excruciatingly Well Read.
    4. I Have A Theory; It's My Only Theory; And My Theory Is This.
    5. We're Making It Up As We Go Along.
    6. Plays Wells With Others.
    7. The Very Rare Strong Moderator.

  3. At some point I looked out at an audience and I thought to myself, "Oh my God, these people want us to BS; they don't want ideas, they just want to hear what stories and articles we've read."


My adventure started out with me driving Mark's truck to Portland. I'm grateful that we're a two car family, because of the flexibility; however, the truck has a heater that's either subfreezing or inferno. Also, despite my best efforts to leave earlier (thanks Dad!) I really didn't leave the Eugene area until 2 PM, which means I hit the traffic jam that is I5 between Wilsonville and Portland. (Note to self: just take the train.)

Ursula Le Guin Reading (5 PM)

I missed the Balancing Writing with your Real Life panel, which was a shame as several of my friends were on it. But I did manage to hear Ursula Le Guin read her response to the statement "Science Fiction is dead" and excerpts from her latest novel. I thought she was funny, down-to-earth, and friendly.

She didn't even scowl when I goofed and made my camera flash (luckily between her readings).

While we were waiting for Ms. Le Guin to begin, a woman came up to the empty seat next to me and asked if it was taken. It was Ellen Eades and I recognized her before she recognized me (she was in 2nd Gen Star Trek and I was in street clothes).

Endeavor Awards (7:00 PM)

I ran into a bunch of Wordos at this event; Nina Kiriki Hoffman was one of the nominees, but someone else took the award. As soon as the awards were handed out we ran off to choke on the dinner prices at a Very Expensive Restaurant With A Cool Name and then backtracked to ...

Chinese Food and Language

We sat down, ordered food, and then tried to come up with new words for fornicate that communicated both some of the (ahem) action without the violence conjured by the usual four-letter-word. Ursula Le Guin wrote about how making love was like making bread in "The Lathe of Heaven", and I guess I could say, "Let's kneed each other tonight..."' but A) it sounds codependent when you say it that way and B) Stephen Sondheim has done it already in "Sunday Morning in the Park with George." No, no one was sitting near our table when we started, and; yes, we G-rated ourselves when a family with preteens was seated next to us.


Wordos Breakfast (8:30 AM)

We had our same wonderful waitress as last year! She's a hoot. Alas, we weren't joined by Ellen Datlow... and although I thought about inviting Ursula from a few tables over, I figured she'd rather have breakfast with the people she was already with. There was lots of catching up with Wordos I haven't seen since last year's OryCon.

WOTF Panel (10:00 AM)

Well, this was sort of funny. I kept running into other WOTF writers at OryCon (say, from volume six or eight), but for some reason, Stephen Stanely and Damon Kaswell were the only ones listed on the panel. Luckily we were joined by others and got to talk about the WOTF contest and what to expect.

Autograph Session (11:30 AM)

This was sort of a comedy of errors. No one really knew where the autograph table was, there were no signs, and in the schedule folks were listed for either table 1 or 2. Authors kept coming by and asking which table it was. "We don't know," I said. "Right now it's in a superposition state with equal possibilities that it's either." Ellen Eades stopped by and bought three of my books, and I wished that I had brought more than the five I hastily shoved into my media box. Damon Kaswell appeared and signed Ellen's books before she got away.

I found myself sitting next to Stoney Compton, a WOTF Winner from long ago. We had a nice chat, and he agreed to sit for a photo.

It was interesting to watch how different authors carried themselves at the table. Since there was some room, I declared myself the head of the Waiting for Ursula Le Guin line, and continued to sell my last remaining book. The crowd appeared and someone made them snake around the side of the escalators to clear the elevator foyer. I'd brought three books for her to sign, but when I saw how many people were there, I scaled back my beat-up copy of "The Lathe of Heaven" that I bought sometime in the early-eighties.

In a moment of complete fan-boyness (and knowing that people probably try to gift her with all sorts of things at these conferences), I asked Ms. Le Guin if she would like a signed copy of the WOTF XXIII anthology and she very graciously accepted.

It was only later that I realized that it was the last copy of the anthology that I had with me and that I'd need to do something about that before my reading on Sunday.

Building a Balanced Mythos (1:00 PM)

It was too bad that there weren't more folks on this panel. As it was it was fairly well attended. What I had to say was that a mythos is a story that a character uses to interpret his or her world.

How Writing Workshops Changed My Life (2:00 PM)

This was the best moderated panel I attended. Basically, we took turns telling new writers about Wordos, Clarion, and the WOTF Workshop.

Writing Art and Making Sales (3:00 PM)

Basically what this boiled down to is that Ursula Le Guin feels very lucky that what she writes pays her so well, and that she and other writers write what they want to write. If you are writing for the money, take up plumbing; you'll start to feel contempt for your audience and it will show. Don't try to write "the next Harry Potter" because by the time your novel gets out you'll be out of date. And Steve Perry shared a saying he once hung over his desk: "It's better to be the world's worst artist than to be the world's best critic." (But then later the panel conceded that the best critics were also the best writers.) And if you want to get paid for writing, write a novel.

Disco Nap

Not much happened here, except that I put on The World's Most Fabulous Shirt. It's a very fun shirt, but I have to remind myself that the first thing people do after they've recovered from seeing it is feel compelled to make a disco ball joke.

Paganism Panel (5:00 PM)

Sigh. I always hope that the topics discussed will go beyond, "I'm a spiritual seeker who is curious about paganism," and "Those icky, darn, narrow minded, conservative Christian folks." The presenters were obviously winging it. It made me wish I had brought my copies of "Goddess Unmasked" or "Wicca's Charm" or at least my top questions about religion, such as. . .
  • Should we be worried that there a lot of teen witch kits with love spells?
  • Does a religion need a historic pedigree to be valid ?
  • How are gender and orientation important to how you relate to your deity? Is it necessary to gender the divine?
  • Is the term "Earth Changes" a marketing ploy designed to hook into peoples' insecurities about the world and their desire to be the most highly developed organisms on the block, or is it a valid paradigm to get folks thinking about their spiritual responses to global problems?
  • Under what circumstances is it ethical to use another culture's myths, stories, and theology?
  • What is the value of fetishisizeing a locale (i.e. Stonehenge, a cathedral, Israel, or, Egypt)?
  • At what point does syncretism become appropriation?
  • Is the millenarian paradigm of a "golden age" a useful one, and how does the function of a "golden age" contrast and compare with the concept of a heaven, hell or other afterlife?
  • Must mysticism and paganism be anti-intellectual or anti-science in order to be valid?
Oh, yeah; we bitched about Llewelyn Publishers.

Publishing (6:00 PM)

This was a useful panel and it basically boiled down to, "Editors aren't out to screw authors over -- be polite, and double-check (and pad) the response time listed on a publication's web site before querying the editor about a submitted manuscript. It's easier for editors to recognize what they don't want to buy than it is for them to recognize what they do want to buy (and that increases the decision making process). Also, when you do make a sale, be sure to read (and understand) the contract -- it never hurts to ask or cross out the bits that are bad for you (they might say, no, of course...).

Dinner with Ellen Eades

We laughed, we talked, we ate, we drank, we caught up. I think I haven't seen Ellen since before 1998. I arranged to borrow her (newly purchased) copy of WOTF so I would be able to read an excerpt tomorrow.

Dancing Like The Wind!

I wandered about for a bit, poking my head into various gatherings and then I found the Saturday night dance. I haven't been dancing in ages, and I wanted to dance. So I did. Hard. I did veil work with a tablecloth. A magazine editor on her own danced with me once we mutually spoke about how our husbands weren't at OryCon. I danced with Jai Linnea. Later Sidney and her kids showed up and we danced, too. Jai says that I was Dancing Like the Wind.

If I had been thinking a little more clearly, I would have taken a breather at some point -- I did stretch during the slow songs -- but the next thing I knew it was midnight and we were dancing the Time Warp and then to Rasputin. I heard more cheesy 80's dance music than I ever have before, with a good mix of Nine Inch Nails and Juno Reactor.

Then I went into . . . the . . .

Post Dance Shakes

At first I was fine; I noticed as I was climbing up the stairs to the forth floor that I felt a little dizzy. I got to my room and was talking with Blake Hutchins and Gra Linnea when I started to feel a little cold. A little later my teeth started chattering and I broke out into a sweat. I ate a banana and some fig newtons and drank water. Then I crawled under the covers and proceeded to sweat and shiver the night away.

I said something to Blake, who is a marathon runner, and we concluded that I'd probably messed up my electrolytes. As I lay in the dark, listening to my heart race, and my quick breath, I wondered if I was in some kind of shock, and how waking up dead would really put a damper on things (although keeling over after a really nice dance isn't such a bad way to go, I guess).


Hotel checkout

I woke up alive and not in a hospital bed. I was sort of hungry, and I was kind of getting a headache. The fig newton package was almost empty and all the glasses of water I drank in the wee hours of the morning seemed to do the trick.

I was going to go to a panel on Wormholes, but I decided that I wanted to sleep a little longer and have a good breakfast. I made sure to have a banana and lots of orange juice. Since there's a noon checkout and a charge if you extend your stay, Blake and I settled all the room charges and put our luggage in the luggage waiting area.

John Burridge Reading (11:00 AM)

I found the room they'd put me in; there was a reading going on inside, so I pulled out a WOTF poster from my press kit and taped it up to an easel and waited my turn. I was hoping that I'd have more of my Eugene friends at the panel, but there was publishing your novel panel next door that they were either all on or at. So I had two friends from Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire, Ellen Eades, and one guy in my audience. I had decided last night (before the shakes) what part of "Mask Glass Magic" to read, and which Wordos Halloween shorts to follow up with. It was different reading to four people than it was to a room full of 30-plus Wordos; but everyone was nice and laughed during the funny parts.

Is SciFi Respectable (12:00 PM)

I missed the very beginning of this one because I got mixed up on rooms. But after a while the panel talking about Science Fiction and why isn't it as respectable as mainstream fiction -- by which I think they meant NYT Best Selling Thrillers -- I realized that the conversation reminded me a lot of the dialogue in the 90's queer community about assimilation: Is there an essential element to gay culture that should be preserved, or do queers want to assimilate middle American values. In the end, the panel seemed to some extent to be equating respectability with how long a novel ran.

Truly Alien Aliens (2:00 PM)

By this time I was cold and wearing my cloak to stay warm. I don't think I'd realized that I was probably relapsing from whatever todler-illness Arthur had tried to pass onto me last Wednesday. But even in my low-energy state I was pretty much outclassed by the other panelists. They'd read many more "Nature" and other medical journals than I had, and quickly moved away from aliens as a writer's device to some of the more biological oddities found on this planet. One high note was that I got a chance to meet Aeon's Pat MacEwen (and former WOTF winner).


Then I drove home. Now, of course, the truck's air handling system was stuck on polar -- I think if I had been feeling better I would have taken the time to stop the truck some place and put on a sweater and gloves. But I huddled over the steering wheel, glared at the other drivers as I made my way back to Eugene while a deluge fell, and every so often I'd forcefully jiggle the temperature control in a vain attempt to get back to the inferno setting I'd enjoyed on my drive Friday.

When I got home, I was shaking and sweating again. Mark only grumbled a little and took the day off Monday to watch Arthur while I slept underneath layers of blankets. Mark gets several awards.
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