Oy vey, as the Yiddish say. Where to begin. The first con I ever went to as a writer was ReaderCon in 2005. Among other things, I got to play Mafia with Jonathan Letham, Chip Delaney, and James Patrick Kelly, which, for the newbie I was, was like being thrown into a pool in order to learn how to swim. (I think I may have drowned; Letham called me stupid in front of all.) Since then, much has changed, but I still have endearment for the conference I think is one of the best, if not the best, in speculative fiction. I can’t say for certain. I haven’t been to them all.
Last year I did a panel on starting your own small press and it went very well. I suggested it again, but made the (fortuitous) mistake of titling my panel suggestion “Why the Small Press Matters.” The program directors took my suggestion literally and named the panel the same. For a week before ReaderCon, I was obsessing about what I was going to talk about, being that I was the sole person on the panel. So on the ride up with Mercurio Rivera, Paul Berger, Kris Dikeman, Eugene Myers, Carrie Wright, and Alaya Dawn Johnson I was a little less like, “Oh cool, I’m going to a con,” and more like “Oh shit, I am going to bomb this badly.”
I think, however — to continue the water metaphor — it went swimmingly.
I started off ReaderCon with a Kaffeklatsch, which was intended to be a Q&A session about Sybil’s Garage. John Joseph Adams, Doug Cohen, and Raj Khanna joined me, and Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, who had a kaffeklatsch scheduled next door, decided to come and join me in my room when they saw we were adjacent (major kudos to them for that). Kelly talked about books she loved, Gavin about retelling of fairy tales, and I talked about the design aesthetic of Sybil’s. We lost track of time, and when I looked at my clock it was 6:02 pm. I was supposed to be giving a panel at 6pm.
Plus, I had to pee.
I quickly relieved myself and scrambled down the stairs to the panel. (So much for being prepared.) Neil Clarke was running out of the room looking for me and said, “There you are!” Then a man pulled me aside outside the room to ask if I wanted to moderate a panel I was on the following day as the former moderator’s wife was in labor. What a way to begin!
I settled down and got to business. I talked about why I felt the small press should not be ignored, why writers should submit to the small press, and mentioned several markets I was very interested in. Most of the members of Altered Fluid were there, joined by Joe Salvatore, a teacher and friend from the New School. They asked some great questions when I had veered off my outline and was looking for more good subjects to talk about, and I heartily thank them for that. The panel was well attended, with about fifty people in the audience.
Later was “Meet the Prose,” and people were miffed/surprised/excited/ambivalent with my absurdly long quote (the guests handed out stickers with quotes from their work), mainly because the print was so small. I also had been handing out stickers with Sybil’s Garage translated into about ten languages that people placed on their badges. It went over very well, according to David Louis Edelman. I had some very nice conversations with many, many people, and rumors started of a forming mafia game. Of course, it wouldn’t be ReaderCon without Mafia.
I will only say that, due to a terrible mistake by a newbie player (not me!) Paul Tremblay threw a chair. (No, not at anyone). We drank and gamed till 2am or so and there was much accusing. Egos were bruised. Joe Salvatore, a first time player, pulled me aside afterward and said excitedly, “Now, tell me everything you know about Mafia.”
The next morning I joined Ellen Datlow, Jenifer Pelland, and Paul Tremblay on a panel about “Obscure Small Press Markets you Should Know About.” As I said, the moderator, Adam Golaski, was absent, so I was asked to sub in his place. Again, I handed out several small press magazines, and listened as the other panelists mentioned small press markets they were either particularly impressed with or had heard were good markets. We even talked about non-English markets and non-English writers, which was, I think, timely, being that there has been much discussion lately about inclusiveness in speculative fiction. The room was so crowded people were standing.
Immediately after was the Sybil’s Garage reading with John Bowker, Leah Bobet, and Barbara Krasnoff. Jim Freund offered to record the event with his super high-tech voice recorder which looked very similar to a medical tricorder. I have to say that all the authors read beautifully, and as soon as I edit the audio file I’ll make it available online as a podcast. There’s just something about hearing a story read live that adds an element not present in the text (perhaps the author’s own emotion?). It’s worth a listen.
I walked in late to a panel called “Fantasy as Inner Landscape” with Kelly Link, Greer Gilman, John Crowley, Kathryn Morrow, Paul Park, and Michael Swanwick. Kelly mentioned the idea that so many of our modern fantasies, like video games, are a search for power we do not or cannot wield in real life.
After lunch I listened to Jeffrey Ford interview Lucius Shepard and was impressed, as I was when I interviewed Jeff, with his candor and honesty about writing. Lucius seems like a cool dude. After, I joined the members of Altered Fluid for a dip in the pool and hot tub.
Then — you guessed it — more Mafia. This time word had spread, and now the first game had about twenty people, a huge number for that game! Lies were told. Recriminations flew! I played the second game and accused and eventually voted off all the members of my writers group even though all but one wasn’t mafia. They looked so damn suspicious!
Also, apparently, I have a guilty smile.
Sunday was more relaxed for me, with nothing scheduled, so I went to a few panels. I particularly enjoyed “Horror and Social Observation” which attempted to find the similarities between Austen and Lovecraft, and “Molecular Self Assembly and the Origins of Life” where I learned in sixty minutes that where there’s water, energy, and time, there’s most likely life according to modern biology. Now that’s just cool. The last panel I saw was “Storyboarding” by Kay Kenyon, a very informative and well thought-out talk on outlining fiction.
And then we had to go.
I said goodbye to as many people as I could and we headed down the road. And got lost. Well, not lost. Just twenty five miles or so in the wrong direction. After correcting the error we made it to the Traveler restaurant at about 330pm. They give you three free books with every meal, and I picked up a Faulkner novel, a collection of Alexander Pope, a book on Bonsai trees, and (thanks to Mercurio) a book on farming. Our car rental was due at 9pm and we pulled into the garage (not the Sybil’s Garage) in downtown Manhattan at 8:56pm.
What a weekend.
I sold about thirty copies of Sybil’s, had a hell of a time, and really, really, really, can’t wait till next year when James Patrick Kelly and Jonathan Letham (both guests of honor) return.
Many thanks to the members of Altered Fluid for much support, to the Sybil’s Garage readers, and to all the people who showed up at the panels.
It was great to see the following people (apologies if names are misspelled and/or I forget anyone here):
Carrie Wright (the best Mafia moderator ever; nice hat!) Paul Tremblay (whose mafia skills are enviable), Craig Gidney (the nicest man ever), David Louis Edelman (for talking more about SG than his own novel), Jeff Ford (for two brief attempts at conversation before we were pulled away), Stephen Segal (for being cool), Tempest Bradford (for trusting me to delete candid photos of her), Sean Wallace (for attending the small press panels), Kristin Janz (for being an Altered Fluid groupie; we love you), Hannah Wolf Bowen (for mafia related hijinx), Mary Robinette Kowal (for having the coolest laptop evar), Doug Cohen and John Joseph Adams (for joining me in the kaffeklatsch), Raj Khanna (for offering to host mafia parties), and for every person whom I met and didn’t mention. We had a blast!
I hope to see all of you soon.
Until next year, keep writing.
Oh, and here’s some more pictures.