Nevermind the fact that the hotel was unfinished. Nevermind the fact that there was no bar, and some of the panels took place inside cramped hotel rooms. Nevermind the fact the hotel’s layout was horribly confusing even with a map in hand. It’s still impossible to go to a Con these days and not have just a little bit of fun.
We started out at a panel on “How Editors Think” which was held in the impressive top floor of the hotel. Colored lights and concert speakers had been set up around the stage, but strangely the three panel guests were not miked in any way. And, even though it was bright and sunny (or perhaps, because it was bright and sunny) the curtains were all closed giving the large place a kind of damp, cloistered feel. The panel ended up being more of a discussion of the current trends in novels (i.e. trends of publisher purchases), in which the panelists suggested that urban supernatural (a.k.a. contemporary vampires, witches, warlocks) are selling like hotcakes, while traditional strong sellers like science fiction are a hard sell now unless you are a name or (in the editors’ words) writing space opera or military SF.
At noon we waddled into “Jujitsu for Writers and Artists.” After about five minutes of the very stocky and intimidating (not in a burly kind of way but the way a bus is intimidating when it’s headed your way ) host telling us (in case we didn’t know) that martial artists and boxers do not have to register their hands as a deadly weapon and also that if you punch someone in the jaw ungloved you will most likely break all the bones in your hand, I politely snuck out while my companions Mercurio Rivera and Paul Berger stayed. I should have stayed with them for reasons forthcoming.
I slid very late into a panel on the powerful themes of the science fiction films of the mid 60s which, though interesting at points, quickly diverged into a list of all the movies the hosts had seen along with lots and lots and lots of trivia about these films which, to be quite frank, I wasn’t really interested in. Case in point: In response to one of the panelists suggesting that people don’t go to films for ideas anymore and instead they go to be entertained, I asked the reason for this change. The answer was a list of movies that had good ideas, then a divergent conversation based on one of those movies, and… well, you get the idea.
I met Paul and Mercurio out in the hall where they told me the wonderful lessons I missed. Their “Jujitsu” host (who was very Caucasian and not at all shaped like your stereotypical martial artist) had said to them: “Everyone of you in here has a razorblade on them.” They had all looked around nervously at one another until the host held up his Lunacon badge and pointed to its sharpened ends. They also learned how McDonald’s straws can be folded into sharp points rather quickly, and when placed between the fingers of the hand, happen to match precisely the separation of the human eyes. Their host had been stabbed multiple times. I was sorry (or grateful) I missed the panel.
We next saw “Ask the Editors” with Douglas Cohen, JJ Adams, Marvin Kaye, Darrell Schweitzer, and Mike Penncavage. No one asked any questions in the first few seconds of awkward silence so JJ pointed to me and said, “Matt Kressel, ask a question.” “We’ve all heard what makes editors reject a story,” I said. “But what makes you keep reading? Is it a visceral or emotional reaction? Is it intuition?” I thought it was pretty good for an on-the-fly answer. Of course, I’m partly cheating here. I’m an editor myself, so it wasn’t too difficult constructing a question that I thought others might want to know the answer to.
We next broke for lunch in the hotel cafeteria which had two waiters, a hostess, and at least two busgirls but yet somehow could not keep up with a load of about eight tables. We waited 45 minutes for mediocre food and snuck out with a bad tip on the table. Paul and Mercurio thought a man in the corner was Harlan Ellison, but they were soon disabused.
We split up and they went to a panel on Noir SF/F while I walked very late into a panel on the state of small press. I started asking the panelists on the state of small magazine press, on marketing and advertising, and a whole load of other questions. I paused to let other people ask questions, and one raised their hand and began to address my questions. I then divulged, “If it’s not already obvious, I edit a small press magazine called Sybil’s Garage.” As it turns out, Neil Clarke of Clarkesworldbooks was in the audience and he came up and introduced himself.
Next I took a tour of the dealer room where I saw William Shunn, whose excellent essay was in Sybil’s Garage No. 2. He informed me that his novella was recently published by Asimov’s. Congrat’s Bill! I also bought two books by Lin Carter, whose fantastic imagination I admire.
We ended the day in a small hotel room/panel on psychology in SF with the host Lawrence M. Schoen, who has an interesting resume containing such gems as being adept in the Klingon language, having once taught Japanese, a Ph.D. in Psychology, and also he happens to be a talented writer. The conversations that went on in this small room are too detailed to discuss here, but essentially we talked about character motivation and plot. Lawrence suggested that a character can never walk away from the plot, otherwise your plot is flawed. A character, he said, must act or react, and this is not a choice. But how he responds is his choice. We went over our one hour allotment as we were all engrossed in conversation. Lawrence said, “I’d ask you guys to come join me at the bar, but there is no bar, and this con is very, very strange, so I guess we’ll just stay here.” And we did.
We finally waddled out of the room at 6:30 or so and hit the elevators where we ran into Carol Pinchefsky and her husband Peter. There was a very boisterous and talkative woman, short but with big brown eyes that kind of held you in her gaze as she talked. Beside her was her very tall Asian husband with the kind of glasses very serious folks wore in the 80s. The woman said of her husband, “We met during a murder trial.” And I said to the man, “You were the attorney for that case, I hope?” She turned to her husband and said, “Next time we tell that story, honey, you’re the attorney okay?” We talked with her for several minutes while “Jujitsu” man from the earlier panel waited behind the talkative woman for the elevator. It was very surreal standing there in that moment, with a man who could clearly kill me with his Lunacon badge on one side, and on the other side a man who was involved in some kind of murder trial I really didn’t want to know about, all the while people in strange period costumes filed out of the elevators and the stairwell. Cons really are the only kind of place where these things can happen.