Readercon 17 (or, Now It’s Time for the Flossing)

The Gas GuzzlerSix writers found themselves trapped in a giant SUV for six hours on their way from Manhattan, New York to Burlington, Massachusetts for Readercon 17. Chaos, love, and happiness ensued. There were panels, there were panelists, there were books, and there was (of course) mafia. This motley cast of characters included Mercurio D. Rivera, Paul M. Berger, Lauren McLaughlin, Devin J. Poore, Fred Cataldo, and myself, Matthew Kressel. Arriving at the Marriott hotel at about 2pm, we sat in on our first panel a 3pm, “Short Fiction Markets You Should Know,” hosted by Jennifer Pelland. Jennifer listed some of the lesser known markets as we all warmed up to the wonderful atmosphere that is a con. Readercon did not disappoint.

After the panel we trotted over to the dealer’s room where I met JoSelle Vanderhooft in person for the first time. (Her poem, The Tale of the Desert in the Rain was in Sybil’s Garage No. 3). At the Star*Line table she gave me two excellent issues of SF poetry, and there I bought her novella, The Tale of the Miller’s Daughter, which she autographed for me. At that time I dropped several copies of Sybil’s Garage off with Gavin Grant, host of the Small Beer Press table. Gavin had a staff of young, eager-faced interns working the table, and for good reason. Their table was one of the busiest, and thanks to them we sold about twenty copies of Sybil’s Garage over the weekend. Plus, who can resist the free candy and “Got Zine?” pins they were offering? (Not to mention the fabulous Icelandic licorice which I will elaborate on later.)

Friday DinnerAt 5pm Fred and I visited the “Fantasy, Neuroscience, and the Semantic Apocalypse” panel hosted by R. Scott Bakker. From what I understood of Bakker’s thesis, scientism is the best authority we have on the world today because it is the most consensual. What I did not understand (and perhaps many of the audience members did not either) is why this was a bad thing. The quote of the evening (voiced by an audience member in front of us): “We’ve got about eight minutes left and I still don’t know what the Semantic Apocalypse is.” After the panel ended, I still wasn’t sure.

Poore, Berger, Cataldo, RiveraAfter that we mingled in the hotel restaurant, dealer room, and hallways with such people as John Adams, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Stephen Segal, who is the new general manager and creative director of Wildside Press’ magazine division, among many others. Alcohol was soon consumed as we anticipated the “Meet the Pro(se)” party, where each Con participant handed out quotations from their works. My quote, from my just completed novel, was “I don’t care what universe you’re from, it’s not polite to ask a woman her age!” It seemed to please. Later, though, Lauren McLaughlin felt that no such proscription existed for her. I still do not feel it appropriate, however, to ask her age.

I had some very nice conversations with a few first-time Con attendees, and I watched Paul Berger and Mercurio Rivera chat up a pleasantly surprised Will McIntosh whose story, “The Soft Apocalypse” from Interzone they had both read and enjoyed. I spoke with William Shunn, who wrote an oft-read essay for Sybil’s Garage No. 2, and whose excellent novella Inclination I happily discovered is being expanded into a novel. I also got to hear an impromptu rap by Doug Cohen of Realms of Fantasy. (I highly recommend it if you are afforded the opportunity.) Although we repeatedly tried to get Gavin Grant and Kelly Link to form a mafia quorum, it never gelled, and we went to bed with our hackles down and our egos intact, sans-mafia. (The following night, however, we grew wise and did not wait for our former mafia Dons to start the mind-altering game.)

The Horror PanelSaturday began with an interesting panel called “From Within Us It Devours,” about the nature of horror stories. Jeffrey Ford and China Miéville were among the panelists and there I first heard China speak. (His eloquence and erudition quickly became renown at the Con.) Though I wanted to stay, I had to leave ten minutes early to prepare for my Small Press panel at 11am.

Four of the editors of Sybil’s Garage, Devin J. Poore, Mercurio D. Rivera, Lauren McLaughlin, and Paul Berger joined me in front of a packed room as I discussed the merits of sending to small press markets in the panel entitled “Small Press for Writers and Would-Be Publishers.” I also detailed the necessary steps needed to start your own small press magazine. We received some excellent audience commentary by Stephen Segal and Mary Kowal, both editors/publishers themselves. The panel was very well received and highly-regarded, which gave me a fuzzy feeling afterward and gives me incentive to do it again.

Small Press PanelistsAfterwards I spoke with Mary Kowal and we exchanged magazines. She edits for Shimmer, and is also a successful writer herself. (She and Paul Berger have a story in David Moles’ Twenty Epics.) She billed herself as the “Icelandic Puppeteer” and gave away strips of fantastically delicious Icelandic licorice. Icelandic licorice is slightly better than crack and tastes nothing at all like our American Red No. 5 ersatz candy. Think anisette poured over a blackberry fruit rollup.

At 1pm Fred and I sat in a panel discussing the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, the posthumous guest of honor at Readercon. I’m a huge Borges fan and was particularly interested in the “Borgesian” statements such as “Borges’ influence on Shakespeare.” And, as happened to a lot of writers at the con, I got an idea for a short story while listening to a panel. We breathed in creativity from the recirculated air.

I spent the rest of the day mingling with various folk about the Con. I met Hannah Bowen who has a story in the latest Fantasy and Helen Pilinovsky who, much to my interest, crafted her own silver jewelry. Several of us even got to relax poolside and recover from the intense atmosphere of the Con, and there Paul Berger skulked off to the side to practice for his evening reading from Twenty Epics.

John Scalzi & Lauren McLaughlinWe joined John Scalzi for dinner, and at the table I met Dave Edelman whose first novel Infoquake has just been released by Pyr Books. The plot? Dune meets the Wall Street Journal, or a startup dot com some four hundred years from now. I was sold on the pitch, and I had him sign a copy for me.

Mary Kowal, Twenty EpicsThe highlight of the evening was the Twenty Epics reading. It wasn’t on the schedule, but Paul Berger diligently spent a busy twenty-four hours tracking down Eric Van (who, on Friday, had sliced his finger open and had to go to the hospital) in order to organize the reading. Six of the twenty authors attended, reading from their respective stories. Alan DeNiro heroically attempted and succeeded to read excerpts of all the absent authors’ works, going so far as to take on their characters’ voices. We marveled. Yoon Ha Lee, a Sybil’s Garage No. 3 contributor, read her piece “Hopscotch”, and I was absolutely astounded by her beautiful prose, even if I admit I didn’t understand her story completely. I will most definitely be buying this book and reading it cover to cover.

Mafia!And what would a weekend at Readercon be without a game of mafia? I am a terrible liar, but by the executive skill of my other mafia members we managed to win the first game by killing off the unsuspecting innocents. Mercurio didn’t fall for my wavering deception and spotted me instantly, but he was killed soon after. A spectator after the show told me I had him so deceived he would have cast me in his movie. In another game and in another room Lauren McLaughlin exclaimed “You bitch!” when pinned as a mafia by the constable. In defense, it was Lauren’s first game ever played, but it was difficult for her to keep up the ruse after that. I moderated the last game of the evening, a long and grueling duel of deception that winnowed down to three people from an initial seventeen. The villagers, however, won this one in the end.

And, much to my chagrin I discovered that I had missed a fascinating conversation on who was eminently f*ckable and un-f*ckable at the con. Anyone care to elaborate?
Interstitial Arts Panelists
Sunday I joined Ellen Kushner and other panelists for a discussion of the Interstitial Arts Foundation. Among other interesting art projects, such as books made of leaves and puppets performing Shakespeare, we learned that people can be interstitial too. I saw China Miéville again in a panel titled “Social Class and Speculative Fiction,” a fascinating discussion where China again floored us with his eloquence and where we learned from James McDonald that SF which ignores social class isn’t utopian but “fucking oblivious.”

The TravelerAll in all we sold about twenty copies of Sybil’s Garage over the weekend, had a brilliant time schmoozing and boozing, and went home with sated smiles. But a trip to Readercon wouldn’t be complete without a homeward stop at “The Traveler” restaurant on I-84, a quaint little place where each patron gets to take home three free books. Our bellies full, we smiled unapologetically.

Readercon is perhaps one of the best and most intelligent Cons I have been to, and I just want to thank Eric Van for putting the whole amazing thing together.

Also, if you would like to see more pictures from the con, please check out my Yahoo photo album here.

15 Replies to “Readercon 17 (or, Now It’s Time for the Flossing)”

  1. Ooh, great picture of me and Paul Tremblay getting into a heated discussion about who was Mafia. As I recall we were both innocent, virginal villagers that game. Lauren later asked me, with a sad faraway look in her eyes, why she’d been targeted both games. “Trust me, I know the feeling,” I replied. I had you pegged, Kressel, and I WILL exact my vengeance against Devin, if it’s the last thing I do. I *swear* it!

    Overall, another successful ReaderCon, folks. (Any yes, that Doug Cohen can rap!)

  2. Wow, it seems so odd to see the entire weekend compressed into words and photos. A great time, as usual, that I’m still trying to recover from.

    Mary- Very excited about the Pirate themed issue coming from Shimmer next year! It was great meeting you and hearing you read.

    -Devin

  3. Great meeting you as well, Matthew, and hope you enjoy Infoquake. Very glad I got to see Sybil’s Garage, Shimmer and the Twenty Epics reading (I thought Christopher Barzak’s piece was especially good).

    (FYI, the publisher actually spells it Pyr — though it is pronounced like there’s an “e” on the end — and they’re an imprint of Prometheus Books.)

  4. Thanks D.E. I changed the spelling in the post. I’ll be reading Infoquake shortly.

    I also forgot to mention Paul Tremblay, who witnessed our mafia mayhem last year. Much to our amusement we learned he plays the psychologically damaging game with his high school students. I asked him, “What kind of teacher are you?”

    He has a blog post of Readercon here.

  5. I’m so jealous…. =(

    My one question: If I hadn’t been sick, and had been able to drive up with you to Readercon, how the hell were you going to be able to fit seven of us into a car? Would I have been stuck riding on the roof?

  6. Hey guys:

    It was great meeting your group during the Mafia games. I hope to catch up with you all at the next Readercon…

    Laird

  7. Laird,

    I am most impressed with your Mafia skills. Tremblay has taught you well…

    It was great to meet you too. Looking forward to next year.

    -Devin

  8. Hey all — had a great time as always. Who else is there with whom I can share simul-thoughts about Star Blazers?

    Good luck with the radio show — hope to catch up with you in New York soon.

    Stephen

  9. Thanks for the update! I’m sorry I missed out, but I’m glad you all had a good time and met so many wonderful people. At the very least it sounds like it was more fun than being eaten alive by mosquitoes, which is what happened to me at the wedding I attended in PA instead of going to Readercon. I’ll definitely be at the con next year, though!

  10. I’m reading all these fantastic ReaderCon reports and dying of jealousy. Any chance you’ll be at WorldCon or WFC this year?

  11. Samantha, I don’t think I’ll be making it to either of those conventions, but some members of my writers group might be there.

    Craig, it was nice meeting with you too! (You have the best poker face I have ever seen 😉

    Stephen, I’d like to talk with you about Star Blazers season I and the odd near-rape scene (implied) on the planet Iscandar. Is this a show for kids? 😉

    Laird, you can join my Mafioso anytime!

    Mary, just read Shimmer and enjoyed it! I realize you are the Art Director and not an Editor, so please excuse my mis-titling of your name.

    Hope to see all of you soon!

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