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(Wiscon: Part The First) entirely too much information arranged in a semi-linear fashion (updated)


For the uninitiated, Wiscon is the intersection of Feminism, Science Fiction, Wisconsin and bake sales that takes place over Memorial Day weekend every year in lovely, historic Madison (seriously, historic, the Capitol is right behind the hotel). (Bring back the clothing swap!) There's a corollary convention that takes place in the Governor's Club Lounge, which is where no programming is held and they serve free drinks until 10:30 p.m. The sixth floor is where they serve free drinks after that.

I give you: A Tourist's Guide to Wiscon.

First, you arrive late Friday afternoon. You arrive at the same time as a friend, delayed by an ineptly handled chemical almost-spill, both of you making noises to the desk clerk about having rooms near each other. You are assigned rooms on entirely different floors anyway, but no hard feelings, the Madison Concourse has some of the most lovely staff in the world. (It's certainly the best convention hotel I've ever been to, most pleasant, etc.)

You bring inside your three bikes, something the people on the elevator don't quite approve of. You shower, for the smell of the road clings.

The phone begins to ring. Plans are made.

Oh, fuck this. Too hard to stay in the POV.

We stopped by the Small Beer party set-up to grab people for dinner. By lucky accident we were not only able to get a table at the good Thai place for all nine people in our original group (Kelly and Gavin, Barb and Richard, me and Christopher, Jennifer Stevenson plus one and another friend), but to add on a table for the welcome, happy foursome of David Schwartz (this man is a librarian), Elad Haber, Doug Lain and Kristin Livdahl. The nice lady who took our orders frowned skeptically at my claim I wanted my beef salad done medium hot, and the testimonials around the table of weeping brought on by medium heat the year before prompted a quick wuss-out to mild-land.* Beef salad is a word that frightens some.

Then we meandered to various corner stores that were either closed or didn't have the things we were trying to pick up. Dave kindly agreed to go with Barb and I to a grocery further away in the car, even though I was going to get eye drops because of near-blindness from allergies. Sort of success was achieved on that mission, but our trip to the liquor store to lay in some emergency supplies was thwarted by another evil early closure. (What gives, Madison? If you're going to be hip, you've got to extend your hours.) A guy sitting outside asked us for money, but didn't seem to have any alcohol in exchange, so we went back to the hotel and the safe environs of the Governor's Club Lounge.

We ran into Scott and Justine (whose new glasses look totally fab) and they introduced us to the Scalzi of Legend. Meeting John and his gorgeous wife Krissy was definitely a highlight of the weekend. Scott also introduced us to their friends Lauren McLaughlin and Andrew Woffinden; meeting these two was another high spot. Lauren, Andrew and Mr. Butner all had fantastically bright green and yellow shoes, meaning that such shoes are the new black and also that it was only safe for two people to wear them at the same time. And adding to the parade of excellent new faces, we also met Doselle and Janine Young, the coolest cats in town. Ted Chiang also showed up around this time.

Many others were said hi to and I inserted myself into Susan Groppi's conversation with Meghan McCarron, whose recent story "Close to You" on Strange Horizons you should go read immediately. Meg is moving to Los Angeles. Be nice to her out there.

The pirate party and the Small Beer parties were just across the hall from each other, which was the most convenient wandering in, wandering out situation of the entire weekend. We ran into David Moles and Matt Withers and Alan DeNiro** and Ben Rosenbaum and Karen Meisner and Hannah Wolf Bowen (of the excellent tennis shoes and endless procession of cute T-shirts) and Jim Munroe, who promised to replicate his classic karaoke performance of "Pay My Bills" (something which was, sadly, fated not to occur). And tons more people who I'm forgetting (Emily Pohl-Weary, Jenn Lackey, Stephanie Burgis and her brother, Jim Minz, Craig Gidney, to remember just a few). And Sonya Taaffe, whose name is pronounced TAFE, not taffy or toffee at all; I felt shockingly terrible about saying it wrong all these years but Sonya was very nice about it.

Apparently at some point after we went to bed, some clueless guy wandered into the pirate party and made inappropriate gestures and nonsensical claims involving his crotch that creeped everyone out. (If you are this man, turn yourself in to the proper Wiscon authorities next year.)


I actually got up in time to make the Governor's Club breakfast, something which had never happened before (and isn't likely to happen that frequently). Usually, Mr. Rowe just snags me something and brings it back when I start making awake noises. This time, he'd darted out early to go work the Small Beer table, since everyone else was in one of the heavily programmed slots that make it almost impossible to decide what, if any, programming to attend.

Aside: Say... have you heard this one? did make it, and looked lovely and copy-editing flaws aside (ahem), is a phenomenal issue. We sold enough copies to fund Monday night's hotel and the trip home. Subscribers and remaining contribs will get yours probably this weekend, early next week latest.

Anyway, I couldn't find Ted, who picks the best panels. So I just skipped that morning's. Of course, I believe observing aloud the fact that Ted always picks the best panels may have altered this, since later in the afternoon we ended up at what could only be called a train wreck of a panel and will be referred to here as The Panel That Shall Not Be Named. (Maybe it was me who picked that one, actually.)

A group was gathered for a lunch of mild hangover cure bar food, assembled of many of the folks listed above, plus Sarah Prineas. A Ms. Pacman instruction manual was coveted but not stolen and my disappointment at not being able the play the game of the original feminist superhero was not lessened by the fact that our waitress was apparently the victim of a rare disorder that makes you respond to all outside stimulus by offering it fries. Not just offering, insisting. At one point, there were eight separate giant baskets of fries on the table. There are pictures if you doubt. And remember, even though the beer-battered fries are a whole dollar more than the regular ones and you may question the price difference: the first basket of fries costs $800,000 to develop. It's all about the R & D , baby.

Then Ted and I slipped into the back row of The Panel That Shall Not Be Named, joining Matt. Painful is the only word to describe this panel, although later it would fulfill Mr. Rowe's wise adage, "It makes a better anecdote than it does an experience." This would be my sole panel of the convention (bring back the forensic panels), since I skipped even my own, leading to the proclamation (somewhat sadly a joke) that the panel is dead. Draw your own conclusions. I believe we need to put some of that french fry R & D money into the genetic engineering of the Perfect Moderator, or SupraMod. The SupraMod will have an iron will and be faster than the hardiest blowhard. SupraMod, we need you. Please, help us.

Then to hear Kelly, Carol Emshwiller, Dave (reading in Mark Rich's place) and Susan Palwick's reading. Carol's reading was one of my favorite parts of the weekend -- an excellent piece poking fun at herself, the audience and writers in general. Plus, you have to love the fact that she's in her eighties (I think), has a new collection and a new YA coming out and chooses to read from a work in progress. Carol, simply, rocks. Kelly read from "Monster," which will be in the upcoming McSweeney's YA anthology.

Christopher and I caught up with Scott and hung outside the Governor's Club doors, awaiting its sweet free booze for awhile, chitting the chat. Then we got all dressed up. Justine and Scott took us to L'Etoile for one of the dining experiences of a lifetime as a wedding present. We had much fantastic drink, including the dessert wine of the gods, and unbelievably perfect food (I can still taste the seared tuna) and ceaselessly wonderful conversation. I reflected afterward that I've been incredibly lucky to have so many fantastic meals; this one will stay high on the list.

When we got back to the hotel, I knew there was a substantial possibility I was hammered, even though I just felt perfect, so I tried to limit further drinking. Which was actually more or less successful. This was the day that the sixth floor took on an odd smell. Which led to lots of end of the halling and stairwelling. We met back up with everybody at the Ratbastards party and I'm sad to say missed the call to Mr. Barzak (you were most missed, sir!) and most of the karaoke and also missed a couple of kick-ass readings I wanted to go to. Just remember: dessert wine of the gods.

Mr. Rowe hadn't gotten to sing karaoke and so he kept bursting into country western standards and bringing along the surprisingly lot of people who knew the words. There may have been seventies music too. Gavin did a hilarious imitation of a serial killer blogging the evening. Jim Minz didn't disappoint, breaking out the single malt exactly when it was most needed. Craig Gidney proclaimed he was vegan. The Name of the Rose is a hard song to sing, I'm told. Gavin and Ben danced an actual jig of some sort.

Then we went to bed.

I'll do Sunday and flickr the pictures later.

*My favorite hot food story remains that of a dinner with Mr. McLaren (who belongs at Wiscon) and a couple of his fellow Canadian programmer buddies at the Sunset Grill and Tap in Boston years ago. They ordered Jamaican Jerk Wings, which were supposed to be insanely hot. They could barely eat them. Tears ran down their pale Canadian faces, their eyes the red of hot coals. Mr. McLaren, on the other hand, takes a proffered wing and scarfs it calmly. Their hot coal eyes fill with admiration, almost worship. He chews. He swallows. He takes a sip of beer. He looks at me and says under his breathe, "I'm dying." Or something to that effect. But did his buddies ever know? Not until now.

**The most exciting, wonderful news of the weekend was the announcement that Small Beer Press will publish Alan's premiere short story collection Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead in June '06. Yay! (More at Alan's blog.)



  • At 2:12 PM , Blogger Celia said...

    (Maybe it was me who picked that one, actually.)

    I think this is a clear case of revisionist con history, since when you explained the Ted Chiang method to me on Sunday (or maybe monday, but obviously after the fateful panel), you said you'd broken from it to make him go to that panel, and now regreted doing so. Poor Ted. Falsely maligned for someone else's poor choice in panels.

    But on the plus side, at least the method may still be safe.

  • At 2:18 PM , Blogger gwenda said...

    But can one really "make" Ted do anything? Perhaps what I told _you_ was the revisionist history? *g*

  • At 8:17 PM , Anonymous Sovay said...

    Nobody has ever been struck by lightning for pronouncing my last name wrong (or if they have, I'm not sure I want to know about it), so you are no longer permitted to feel terrible! Meeting you was cool. Now I just need to start attending more cons, so I can keep up with all the other cool people . . .

  • At 8:40 PM , Blogger Chris McLaren said...

    It's not easy being the Alpha Male, I tell you. But the worshipful looks were only partly for the jerk tolerance--I think they were also impressed that I could produce a sassy Southern Belle more-or-less with one phone call.

    (And God, do I love the Sunset. Well, I love beer, which makes the Sunset kind of like my Mecca. We should get the gang to a con in the greater Boston area sometime so we could have a group outing to the Sunset.)

    I totally should go to Wiscon sometime--I'd love to hang with you & Christopher (and Richard, and Barb, and Gavin, and Kelly... etc) again.

    I actually thought about going this year, but the combination of my work schedule and Trish's return to work put the kibosh on that.

    I am seriously thinking about WFC this year though. Are you guys going?

  • At 8:31 PM , Blogger gwenda said...

    Well, no lightning is good.

    I will definitely be at World Fantasy; Mr. Rowe probably will be. So, yes, yes, yes, you should definitely come! And book your room immediately in the governor's club, just in case. You can always cancel.


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