Tag: Genevieve Valentine

Reading 2015: Final Roundup

MyRealChildren_Jo-WaltonI never did a Reading2015 post for December, but I only read one book during the month, My Real Children by Jo Walton, which I consumed on Christmas day. I adored it. It’s the story of a woman who, in her old age, can remember living two distinctly different lives, stemming from a single choice in her youth. It’s an alternate history of alternate histories, with chapters alternating between two very different life courses that, in the end, ask you to make an impossible ethical and aesthetic judgement, what Ursula Le Guin on the back cover calls “a sort of super Sophie’s Choice.” I’m always a sucker for branching narrative, the way the space between the threads opens room for new resonances and emotions, just as a paper towel doubled over can absorb more than the same sheet applied flat. This book might just be my new go-to example of the form.

So here’s where that leaves my stats for 2015:

  • 67 total books
  • 35 prose books
  • 32 graphic novels
  • 26 women authors (writer or artist)
  • 44 books authored or co-authored by women
  • 33 male authors (writer or artist)
  • 28 books authored or co-authored by men.
  • Best month: September (12 books – all GNs)
  • Worst month: December (1 book – prose)

As with last year, here the the books (not counting re-reads) that stand out in most my memory (which isn’t exactly the same thing exactly as how much I liked them):

  1. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
  2. My Real Children by Jo Walton
  3. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  4. On Wings of Song by Thomas Disch
  5. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  6. The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
  7. Tenth of December by George Saunders
  8. Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
  9. Two Girls, Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskill
  10. Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman
  11. Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
  12. The Wilds by Julia Elliott
  13. Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce

Some interesting things include the presence of only one graphic novel, despite the form making up nearly half of my reading. That’s largely due to my having re-read all of Dykes to Watch Out For, all of which were ineligible for this list.  Another is which Mary Gaitskill book made the list. I think that in many ways the collection Because They Wanted To is the stronger of the two Gaitskill volumes I read this past year, but it’s her first novel my mind alights on more easily. And I can’t do anything about the wiring of memory, and what it may have to do with two books I read in just the last two month making my top 5.

It was my resolution for 2015 to read 100 books, and I fell short not just of that mark, but of my 2014 mark of 73 books read. I attribute this primarily to having started doing some work for television, which prompted me to massively increase my television watching. I would say the TV I’ve consumed, added to the hundreds of hours of Fallout 4 I played in November, is easily equal to 33 books. But since I don’t have any better ideas, I’m going to go ahead an roll over my 2015 resolution to 2016, and aim for 100 books read in the year to come.

Reading 2015: April

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As predicted, I fell way behind on my reading goals in April. This was because I spent way more time watching television than I did in books. I’ve sold an option on the television rights for “The New Mother” to Plan B Entertainment, and since then have been giving myself a crash course in narrative tools that work on the screen, on the off chance I get to do some TV writing. Good news for me, bad news for my new year’s resolution. Perhaps I can catch back up over the months to come, though balancing writing time and reading time is a zero-sum game.

  1. Persona by Genevieve Valentine – Whereas her last novel was a fairytale retelling, Genevieve’s newest is a psychological action thriller about fashion, expectation, and international politics. Reading this, it occurred to me that Geneveive is sort of reclaiming the Heinleinian Competent Man archetype. She is writing Competent Women, whose superhuman adroitness isn’t grounded in the technical, but the interpersonal. The national Faces of Persona are people–mostly women–who can size up situations instantly, piece out the hidden motives behind every smile, and spin intricate strategy on the fly. Within their areas of expertise, these people are basically Batman. Persona made me even more excited to eventually read Genevieve’s ongoing run on Catwoman, and I look forward to the sequel that the end of this novel strongly implies.
  2. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark – When I realized how badly I was going to fall behind schedule this month I decided to solicit a list of people’s favorite short books by women. I have no shortage of volumes of all different lengths by men on my shelves, but my selection of women’s work is narrower. (Hence the gender parity project.) The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was the most widely recommended book I didn’t already own. I thought it very good, but perhaps enjoyed it less than some of those who recommended it to me. Many of the folks I’ve told I was reading this have exclaimed, “Oh, I love The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie!” I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I thought it was psychologically incisive and structurally clever, using repetition in a manner similar to Catch-22, where scenes and exchanges recur verbatim but with ramifying meaning each time. But it is still my impression that it didn’t touch me as deeply as it has many. Do you love this book? I’d like to know what you love about it.
  3. Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan –A slim collection that I nonetheless took a long time to finish. My favorite story in here was “Monkey’s Paternoster,” a tale from the point of view of a monkey at an Indian temple as the group’s patriarch dies and is violently replaced. I also liked “Forever Upward,” in which a young girl rediscovers the techniques for speaking to old gods, gods that have been displaced by those of a colonizing group. Many of the others, though, I thought forgettable. Lanagan writes dark-toned, thick-voiced tales that explore their speculative premises from deeply embedded point of view. When all the elements are working the result is unforgettable–stories like “Singing my Sister Down” and “An Honest Day’s Work.” But other times her stories strike me more as B-sides or exercises. Never bad, but not memorably compelling. This collection had more of the latter than the former.
  4. The Lagoon by Lilli Carré –A lyric graphic novel with thick black art that reminded me at times of a less photorealistic Charles Burns. Three generations of a family live next to a lagoon where a creature lives and sings haunting songs. All three have vague relationships of sorts with the creature. Symbols and images stack atop one another, but don’t seem to add up to much. If there is a coherent metaphorical framework under this narrative, it was too deeply buried for me to find it. If someone wanted to propose a reading of what this story meant I’m sure I could be persuaded that they were right. But I enjoyed this only as a gnomic dreamscape, and my feeling is that finding coherent meaning in The Lagoon would take more effort than can be reasonably asked of a reader.
"We're not the bad guys," Li Zhao said. "Well, not the worst guys. Work with us. Keep a few rich people honest. Scare some good behavior into the wicked. It's honest work, as lying goes." –from Persona by Genevieve Valentine

Reading 2015: March

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Sickness and travel and long books; March followed in the footsteps of February, pace-wise. I managed to hit my eighth book on the last day of the month, but only by sprinting through some graphic novels. And, since two of those GNs were authored by two men, I need to triple up on books by women to start April to get the gender parity back on track.

  1. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – Naturally, having resolved to increase my reading rate from February, the obvious thing to do was start March by rereading an 800 page novel. But oh, what a novel it is. I started thinking about it after having written in my previous reviews how resistant I am to fairies. It occurred to me that there was one (huge) book in which I found them delightful. I first read this back in 2007, and loved it, but hadn’t returned to it since. If anything I liked it even more this time. As it was an international bestseller and TIME Magazine Book of the Year and will soon be a BBC television series, there’s little new I can say about it. But it’s one of my favorite books, and I think maybe the most intellectually playful fantasy novel I know.
  2. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine – Genevieve’s third novel, Persona, was released this month, and while I’d owned her second novel since the day it came out, I hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. I wanted to fix that before Persona hit stores. Now that I’ve read The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, I regret waiting so long. It’s a goddamned glorious book. I enjoyed Genevieve’s first novel, but this second one dazzles. I felt run through, and in the middle of the book had frequently to pause within chapters because the writing was too heartbreaking for me to continue. It’s a realist retelling of the folktale of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” set in Prohibition-era New York City. But it’s more than that too. It’s a story of love between sisters, networks of support between women. It’s about resourcefulness and compromise and the weight of expectation. I suspect I’ll be thinking about this book for years.
  3. We Are Become Pals by Joey Comeau and Jess Fink – I have long been a fan of Joey Comeau’s writing, and my favorite thing about it is the way he creates uniquely tattered interpersonal relationships, full of sweetness and violence and earnest impulsivity. An illustrated book about paldom from him was a treat. Jess Fink I was previously familiar with from Chester 5000 XYV (NSFW), and her illustrations expand the story and create an extra dimension for emotional engagement alongside the frequently understated text. This is the story of two girls who meet, get arrested, lie, succeed, make secret codes, grow up, separate, and maybe live forever. Recommended to anyone who likes friendship.
  4. Book of Da by Mike McCubbins and Matt Bryan – I picked this up at Staple!, the Austin indie comics convention. It’s a beautifully constructed book, and Bryan’s artwork is dark and evocative. I confess, though, that I think I like it more as an object than I do as a narative. The story is frequently opaque, and while each panel is excellent, the sequential composition is sometimes confusing.
  5. What Makes The Book So Great by Jo Walton – I quipped on twitter that Jo Walton writing about her comfort reading is my comfort reading, and it’s close to true. I’d read many of these essays before when they were originally published on Tor.com, but tearing through them all at once was a distinct pleasure. She has a very complete aesthetic of how she appreciates books, and it’s one I find fully seductive. When she articulates her appreciation for a book I also love, I nod along, thinking, “Yes! That’s it exactly!” When I come to an essay for a book I’ve bounced off of, I feel moved to give it another chance. And I finished this volume having dogeared ten pages to mark books I hadn’t heard of, but now must read as soon as possible.
  6. Babel-17 by Samuel Delany – Continuing my project of reading all the Delany I somehow missed as a child. With Nova and The Einstein Intersection I felt like it might have been just as well that I came to them as an adult, as much of what those books are doing I wouldn’t have appreciated when I was young. This book, though, would have blown my mind, and I regret that I didn’t read it back then. (I checked, there is a copy in my parents’ library, I just never pulled it down.) It’s a classic SF adventure story, only, in what I’m discovering to be typical Delany fashion, at least twice as smart as any of its obvious contemporary comparisons.
  7. Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan – I walked into the local comic shop asking for a recent, non-superhero graphic novel written by a woman. There weren’t many, but eventually I found this. Set in Israel, it’s about cab driver and a wealthy young woman who work together to figure out the identity of a body rendered unrecognizable after a suicide bombing.  A compelling and cleanly-drawn story of the different ways people process loss.
  8. Big Hard Sex Criminals, vol. 1 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsk– Matt is the best and Chip is the best and Sex Criminals is the best squared. It’s about folks who stop time when they orgasm. I was reading it in issues, but missed one when I moved from Iowa to Texas and never managed to track down a copy, so I’d only read half of this before. I’m pleased to say that the second half of the book is perhaps even better than the first, retaining all of the humor but deepening the characters and world. The only question now is if I’ll be able to hold out until the second hardcover collection to see what happens next, or if I’m going to be buying this story in multiple formats.

My Friends Write Things

Fiction

  • I Can See Right Through You” – Stop whatever you’re doing now, because Kelly Link has a new story out in McSweeeny’s. This one’s about celebrity, old relationships, and ghost stories. But you didn’t need to know that. All you needed to know is that there’s a new story to read by Kelly Link. That’s all anyone ever needs to know.

Nonfiction

  • The Abyss” – More from Rebekah Frumkin, this time writing for Granta about her experience working as seasonal labor in a haunted house. Also, have you been keeping up with her column in McSweeney’s? You should be! The latest installment, “I Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” is about her stint in a psychiatric ward in 2013.
  • Double Dare: Point Horror” – A new column from Meghan McCarron and Alice Sola Kim, in which they assign each other reading to review. In this first column they revisit a couple volumes of a classic tweenage horror series.
  • Checklist” – Genevieve Valentine with a caustic and heartbreaking and infuriating piece about the pressures brought to bear on rape victims.
  • Going Aboard” – Ben Shattuck took a trip on a recreation of a ship much like the one in Moby-Dick, and wrote about how time has altered the experience.
  • Tasers, Drones, and Cold Chicken: Inside the Multibillion-Dollar Business of Keeping Me Out of America” – Jose Orduna visits a border security expo and writes about it with powerful, deserved rage.

Poetry

Recent Writing by Friends of Mine

Nonfiction

  • “So This Is New York” – Another personal essay by Evan James, on his first trip to New York and how it doomed the relationship it was intended to strengthen. Includes passages such as, “The image of Martha Stewart gliding into the open-plan work area, trailed by a trotting Chow and two French bulldogs, peppering the air with profanity, made me smile. I still dreamed of working in magazines back then, and hoped to say “fuck” a lot in an editorial office of my own one day.” If you haven’t, also check out his previous Observer piece, “From Brooklyn to P-Town for Bear Week.”
  • “Live Nude Girls” – Genevieve Valentine wrote a crucial piece on the relentlessness of modern attacks on women, as evidenced by the recent attacks on women in the games industry and theft of personal pictures of celebrities. No one cuts to the heart of things quite like Genevieve does.
  • “The Next Generation” – Jonathan Gharrie with a personal essay on bonding with his father over Star Trek, and how the different installments mirror aspects of their lives.

Fiction

  • “Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying” – Alice Sola Kim’s story in the current issue of Tin House (I have no idea how long it will be available online) about a trio of teenage Korean adoptees and what happens when they try to use magic to connect with the parents who gave them up. Stick-in-your-skull creepy and beautiful, like all of her stories are.
  • “Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology” – Theodora Goss with a Borges-inspired story in Lightspeed. I heard her read part of this at ICFA, and was enthralled. Glad it found a home in Lightspeed so I can learn how it ended.

Poetry

The Next Twenty Books of 2014

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When I did my roundup of the first 20 books I read this year, I noticed that only three of them were written by women. I wanted to even up that ratio a bit, so made a point of bumping books by women to the top of the stack for this group.

  1. Technopriests: Supreme Collection by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Zoran Janjetov, and Fred Beltran. This was the last major branch of the Jodoverse that I hadn’t read. Jodorowsky remains one of my favorite writers, for his sheer bonkers extravagance, and having recently re-read the Jodoverse books added an extra layer of delight when I recently saw Jodorowsky’s Dune.
  2. Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck. For such a slim volume, I loved the tonal breadth of this collection. These were stories originally published in Swedish and translated by the author, and they are weird and wonderful. A brief, delightful read.
  3. Crash by J. G. Ballard. I found this difficult to finish. For about the first 80 pages I was engaged, but it became punishingly repetitive by the end. The fetishistic novelty wore off long before the book ended, and there was little else to recommend it. Many people whose opinions I respect are fans of Ballard, but I’m still trying to cultivate an appreciation for much of his work.
  4. Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine. I read this on an airplane and hardly noticed the time passing. It’s kaleidoscopic steampunk with gorgeous images on every page, fragmented into short chapters that build momentum like an avalanche. Genevieve’s second book is coming out tomorrow, and I can’t wait to read it.
  5. The Einstein Intersection by Samuel Delany. This book is… odd. Good, thought provoking. But very strange. It’s surprising to me–in a positive way, mind!–that it’s considered a classic of science fiction. I doubt though that I’m going to be revisiting this book as often as I will Nova.
  6. Saga, vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. It’s been a long time since I’ve been as excited about an ongoing comic series as I am about Saga. Each new trade is an insta-buy.
  7. The Adventures of Alyx by Joanna Russ. I’m glad I read this, though on the whole I enjoyed it less than I thought I would. A couple of the pieces here I found compelling, but the majority was coldly intellectual with an efficiency of prose that I found tiring even as I thought it admirable. I liked We Who Are About To better, but will still be reading more Russ.
  8. The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne. Monica is a Clarion classmate of mine and a dear friend, and so it is a delight to report that her first novel is an explosive debut. Ambitious and engrossing. I consumed it in two days and then spent the next week of my life thinking about it, wandering store aisles and taking unconscious inventory of the provisions I would need if I woke up in the future Monica created. It’s not so far away. We all might wake up there yet.
  9. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I’d been meaning to read Shirley Jackson’s novels for years, and decided to start here. Ho-lee shit. It’s as brilliant as everyone said it was.
  10. A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip by Kevin Brockmeier. Kevin’s a teacher of mine and a friend, so it was a pleasurable but unusual experience to read his first foray into memoir. He has evoked the seventh grade so keenly that I felt my own bubble up as I read, which, as I later told him across a lunch table, put me in the weird position of feeling possessive of someone else’s childhood.
  11. Camp Concentration by Thomas Disch. I think, were it not for Flowers For Algernon exploring some of the same ground first and more accessibly, this would be considered a classic. I thought it an excellent book, though one for which I had to look up many words. I also felt unsure about the ending. It was convincingly rendered, but somehow didn’t fully satisfy. Still, I recommend the book. I think this is the most fully-imagined 1st person voice of increasing intelligence I’ve read.
  12. Unexpected Stories by Octavia Butler. I’d been waiting years to read these stories, and finally getting to do so was both thrilling and bittersweet. This was, so far as I know, my last unread Butler fiction. I wrote about it more here.
  13. Blame by Michelle Huneven. Though she was never one of my teachers, Michelle was on faculty at Iowa when I applied, and is I think one of the people responsible for me getting accepted there. This is the first of her books I’ve read, and I greatly enjoyed it. It’s a novel that sprawls decades and resists tidiness, catching something that feels very true in its tangles. On the strength of this book I’ll be picking up her new one soon.
  14. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. My first time reading Wyndham. He was clearly brilliant, and the book is good, but I’m not sure I approached it from the right frame of mind. As is sometimes the case with classic apocalyptica, Triffids belabors ideas that have, since it was published, become cliche. The combination of that and the antiquated, one-note masculinity of the main character kept me from enjoying the novel as much as I otherwise might have. There’s a lot to appreciate here, but I wish I’d gone in with a more historical literary curiosity.
  15. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. It’s a great book that I had problems with. I wrote about them at some length.
  16. Liar by Justine Larbalestier. After The Sparrow I was in the mood for some YA. This hit the spot. It’s like a young person’s introduction to the unreliable narrator. Great fun.
  17. The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi. I got an ARC of this novella at the Tiptree auction a couple of years ago. When I read it, it was immediately obvious how I would want to use it pedagogically if I ever teach my Fantasy Writing class again.
  18. Osborn: Evil Incarcerated by Kelly-Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios. I enjoyed this, but suspect I would have liked it more had I been previously familiar with the characters. With the talent at Marvel these days, having been a DC kid is feeling more and more like having backed the wrong horse.
  19. The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman. More YA, and more wonderful reading. This book is like Octavia Bulter’s Kindred, but for young readers.
  20. Self-Help by Lorrie Moore. I had read stories from this, but never the whole thing. As I recently wrote some fiction in the second person, I wanted to finally fix that. A deservingly famous collection.

WisCon 38

MoxieNot going to do a full con report this year, but I attended WisCon38 and had a generally lovely time. I got to see Karen, Pär, and Jeremiah, all of whom I’m going to miss terribly when I move away from Iowa City and can no longer easily visit. I roomed with Keffy Kehrli and Sunny Moraine, and also spent time with Ted Chiang, Marica Glover, Jen Volant, Meghan McCarron, David Schwartz, David Moles, Ben Rosenbaum, Will Alexander, Genevieve Valentine, Valya Lupescu, Nancy Hightower, Alice Kim, Liz Gorinsky, Richard Butner, Barb Gilly, Marco Palmieri, Greg Bechtel, and a bunch of my friends from the Clarion 2012 class.

The most notable thing for me this year was that I had my first reading at the con. Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe had to cancel their attendance at the last minute, and I got to take one of their places in at the Death-defying Feats of Moxie reading. I read the first three sections of my novella “The New Mother,” and got an enthusiastic reception. Hopefully by next WisCon it will be published.

On Readercon’s Failure to Enforce Their Harassment Policy

The sequence of events: Genevieve Valentine got harassed at Readercon and bravely came forward about it. The man who harassed her did so repeatedly despite very clear communication that his attentions were unwelcome. Genevieve did not initially name her harasser, choosing instead to address the issue with the Readercon board of directors. Apparently she had interacted with the board in 2008 after a similar incident of harassment (of someone else) by a man named Aaron Agassi, and found their response–banning Aaron for life–appropriate. In the aftermath of the 2008 event the board instituted a zero-tolerance harassment policy. Today Genevieve revealed that the board chose not to enforce their own policy, and are instead suspending the perpetrator, Rene Walling, for two years. The board has issued a statement explaining their decision. They say that Rene was found to be “sincerely regretful of his actions” and that “[i]f, as a community, we wish to educate others about harassment, we must also allow for the possibility of reform.” They also state, “[w]hen we wrote our zero-tolerance policy in 2008 (in response to a previous incident), we were operating under the assumption that violators were either intent on their specific behaviors, clueless, or both.”

In 2008, Aaron Agassi was banned from the con for life, and in 2012 Rene Walling was put on 2-year probation. Also notable, Aaron Agassi was not a well-regarded member of the community, whereas Rene Walling is a frequent blogger for Tor.com and has previously chaired a Worldcon.

I have several thoughts.

1) The establishment of a harassment policy is something to be taken seriously.

Why did the need to allow for the possibility of reform not enter the board’s minds when they were originally establishing the harassment policy? Likely because Aaron Agassi was an apparently super-creepy guy with no friends in the community, and the proximate goal of the harassment policy was to exclude him specifically. That is, to put it mildly, irresponsible. I am actually somewhat sympathetic the the board’s position that their harassment policy should allow for the possibility of reform, but the time to consider that was when they were instituting the policy in the first place. They could have written a tiered policy, with explicit levels of punishment for specific kinds of trespass, and attendees could have then decided whether the punishment schedule made them feel comfortable. But instead they instituted a zero-tolerance policy, and allowed congoers to believe they were governed by it.  So let’s call this Big Mistake #1: instituting a policy that they lacked the conviction to universally enforce.

2) Retroactively changing the policy is a bigger deal than any one incident of harassment.

By retroactively changing their policy, the Readercon board becomes complicit in pattern of well-connected men getting special treatment when they harass women. It doesn’t matter if, absent of other policies, a 2-year probation seems a proportionate response. If the policy is zero tolerance, the facts of the harassment are not in dispute, and tolerance is nevertheless extended, then the harasser has gotten away with it. He was exempted from normal system of punishment. The message that this sends is that the feelings of a harasser are, or at least can be, more important than the feelings of the harassed, and that systems which claim to offer redress in the event of harassment cannot be relied upon. It takes what was an isolated event and elevates it to the level of systemic problem: harassers will get special treatment if they are somehow important and express contrition. (And, while not being at all personally familiar with Rene Walling or his motives, I would note as many others already have that false contrition is a common attribute of a serial abuser.) This will serve to make women feel more at risk, more powerless. Genevieve herself says, “the results of reporting my harassment have been more troubling, in some ways, than the harassment itself.” So, Big Mistake #2: turning an isolated problem into a systemic problem by extending special treatment to a harasser.

3) What the board should have done.

So the board found itself in the position of having a case of clear harassment, but not wanting to issue a lifetime ban to the harasser, despite a zero-tolerance policy. The right course of action would have been to avoid Big Mistake #2 by following the policy, and then, after dealing with this specific circumstance of harassment, begin a process reforming their policy. This would have meant opening up a discussion about harassment and punishment with the Readercon community. It could even have resulted in the creation of an explicit appeals procedure that Rene Walling could have, at some point in the future, availed himself of. Doing this would have been transparent, responsive to the needs of the community, and resulted in a policy that the board could thereafter enforce with conviction.

4) What the board should do now.

I’ve never been to Readercon, so other people may have a more incisive view here. But my answer is: what they should have done in the first place. With the added step of apologizing for fucking up, and promising to take their own policies so seriously in the future that no one can ever suspect they are being applied selectively depending on how much of a Big Name Fan the person in question is.

WisCon 35

My con badge

After a year away I returned to my first and favorite SF convention, WisCon. I last attended in 2008, and had such a good experience that I sent Nalo Hopkinson flowers as thanks for having convinced me to go despite my incredulity. As good as 2008 was, this year was even better. A big part of the reason why relates to that pink thumbnail.

Day 1:

Jen Volant, sky buddy.

My WisCon began before I even got to Madison. While still in DFW airport I met up with Jen Volant, just parted from Meghan McCarron after flight delays forced them to take separate planes. Jen had been assigned the last standby seat on a direct flight to Madison, whereas Meghan had already boarded a plane to Minneapolis, where she would get a ride into Madison from Haddayr Copley-Woods and David Schwartz. Fortunately for me, though, Jen’s flight was the same as my own, and we got to sit next to each other chatting about interesting research in psychology and physics all the way to Wisconsin.

We were picked up at the airport by Karen Meisner. She took us to her (amazing!) house , and introduced us to (amazing!) Amal El-Mohtar. We chatted for a while in Karen’s library, then went to the Madison Concourse Hotel to check in to our rooms. Then it was off to the Guest of Honor reading at A Room Of One’s Own, one of the last remaning feminist bookstores in the country. The event began with the reading of Joanna Russ’s story, “When It Changed,” and then WisCon Guest of Honor Nisi Shawl read an excerpt from a story that was, I believe, published in one of this year’s WisCon publications. It involved oracular dreams about Michael Jackson, who would also be a subject of Nisi’s Guest of Honor speech on Day 4. (UPDATE: Karen points out in the comments that the story, “Pataki,” was originally published in Strange Horizons and can be read here.)

After the reading Jen went off to find Meghan, and I met up with roommates Keffy Kehrli and Liz Argall (who was to stay with us unti Liz Gorinsky arrived the next day). We ended up going out to a Japanese fusion restaurant with a group that included my former teacher Mary Anne Mohanraj, Kat Bayer, as well as a man named Alex. (Unfortunately, no one had name tags yet, and I didn’t get Alex’s last name written down. If you read this, let me know who you are!)

After dinner it was back to the hotel, where Keffy and I had a pleasant reunion with Geoff Ryman, our other former Clarion teacher who was at the con. We ended up in the bar, where Geoff bought us drinks, and I finally got to meet Rachel Swirsky and her husband Mike. Rachel is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and was extremely generous with her time when I emailed her out of the blue some months ago to ask about her workshop experience. It was lovely to finally meet her, and I ended up spending a long time at a table chatting publishing with Rachel, Keffy, Liz A., Kater Cheek, and Julie Andrews. Eventually the gin that Geoff poured into me had me feeling extra social, and I introduced myself to Gwenda Bond and reintroduced myself to Annalee Newitz, whom I had met previously when she gave a lecture at Trinity University. We discussed our favorite extinct megafauna. Eventually the bar began to empty, and Keffy, Liz A., and I went up to our room and crashed.

Day 2:

Spent a long, lazy morning in the room chatting with Liz A. and Keffy. Our phantom fourth roommate, Michael Underwood, had appeared sometime during the night, but was gone again before the rest of us got up. Eventually we got up and left the room, immediately running into Cat Valente who had the room across the hall. We ended up heading to lunch at a noodle place with Cat and several of her friends, whose names I failed to write down. (Were you at that lunch? Let me know who you are!) After lunch I went to the WisCon gathering and poked through stacks of ARCs. A little while later I got a call from Rachel, who wanted to introduce me to several of her students from when she was at Iowa. I met L Savich, Ryan Leeds, An Owomoyela, Jei, Sam Larsen-Ferree, and Jai Marcade. I also met Ann Leckie, who was not one of Rachel’s Iowa City students, but seems lovely all the same.

From there I went to a panel on autism and Asperger’s syndrome in fiction. Curiously, no one on the panel was actually on the autism spectrum. Haddayr commented on this and offered to give up her panel space to any audience member on the spectrum who wanted it, but no one accepted her offer. That turned out to be for the best, as Haddayr ended up being the most insightful of the panelists. There was another panelist who was woefully uninformed about autism issues and frequently made statements that were ignorant to the point of being offensive, such as characterizing autism as a mental illness and equating Asperger’s syndrome with psychopathy. Fortunately, Ryan Leeds, who is on the spectrum, was in the audience and called her on her more outrageous pronouncements, giving a much-needed insider perspective. Rachel Swirsky also was not shy with her displeasure, for which I was grateful. It was, as Haddayr later noted, a panel where the audience was educating the panelists.

Stylin' in a piece from the McCarron Collection.

From there I met up with Liz A., Jen, and Meghan (safely arrived in Madison), and went out to another Japanese restaurant with Ben Rosenbaum, Susan Marie-Groppi, and David Moles. Liz A. and I spent most of the dinner talking with Ben about Maimonedean Judaism, and attempted a positive construction of atheist principles.  After the meal we walked around Madison until we found a FedEx store to make copies of the posters for the Genderfloomp Dance Party (about which, more later) and the We Have Always Captured the Castle reading (ditto). On the way we talked of generational shifts in feminism, SlutWalks, and things from childhood that fail to age well. On the way back I mostly talked about how I was cold and getting rained on, so Meghan, who was wearing many layers, lent me her jacket.

Back at the hotel it was time for the karaoke party. Liz A. sang “I Wanna Be Sedated,” and goaded me into finding something on the list to sing. None of my usual karaoke songs (i.e., songs that merely require speaking to a beat rather than singing) were on the list, so I ended up giving a first-time performance of “I Am The Walrus.” Ben, Amal, and David queued up “Like a G6,” but ignored the lyrics on the screen and instead performed “Roll a D6.” Meghan offered an astonishingly great rendition of “Born This Way,” complete with contextualizing editorial against theism and biological essentialism. Then I got to serve as one of several lascivious backup dancers for Liz A.’s performance of “I Touch Myself.” By that point it was pretty much equal parts karaoke and dance party, and it didn’t let up until well after midnight. When it was over I went up to the party floor and spent a while chatting with Rachel among the wreckage of the FOGcon party, but soon discovered that three hours of dancing had left my legs unable to keep me upright for extended periods of time, and so took them upstairs to bed.

Day 3:

Began my day by following Keffy down to the “Journeyman Writers’ Group” event, largely because it was being run by Vylar Kaftan, whom I wanted to meet. There was an interesting discussion of query letter verbiage, but overall I didn’t get a lot out of it. After that I spent some time in the lobby with Rachel who introduced me to Sarah Prineas, who lives in Iowa City and who let me know about the local SF writers’ group she’s involved with. While I was in the lobby I ran into Kelly-Sue DeConnick and Laurenn McCubbin, who I had been looking forward to meeting at the con, and planned a breakfast date for the next day. Then it was back upstairs for an important cosmetics appointment.

Karen Meisner: making my stuff prettier since 2009.

In response to my saying that I was not very good at it, Karen had the day before offered to paint my nails for the Genderfloomp Dance Party. I went up to my room to retrieve my cosmetics, and found Karen and Susan chatting at the 12th floor computer desk. Karen offered to do my nails right there, and produced some varnishes of her own she had brought for the purpose. We ended up doing a layer of bubblegum pink (mine) under a layer of glittery clear coat (Karen’s). It took me a while to internalize that I couldn’t use my hands normally right after my nails were painted, and Karen ended up having to redo a few of them, but eventually I figured it out. While my nails were drying I chatted with Karen and Susan about the distinctions between editorial vision and editorial bias, and as other people walked by they were drawn in by the salon atmosphere. Jen, Cat Valente, Gwenda Bond, and Theodora Goss all paused a while in the hallway to discuss fiction and cosmetics with us. Eventually my nails were dry and the next round of programming about to start, and the salon dispersed.

I went with Jen to the “…And Other Circuses” reading by Gwenda Bond, Richard Butner, Genevieve Valentine, and Christopher Rowe. Gwenda read the beginning of her circus-themed novel in progress. Richard read a story called “Backyard Everest” which was not circus themed in any way, but was great fun. Genevieve read an excerpt from Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, her novel which just sold out its first print run (I went to the dealer’s room an grabbed a copy immediately after the reading). (Side note: before the reading started I finally got to let Genevieve know that she seems to be the only other person on the planet who understands the fabulous wonderfulness of Flight of Dragons the same way I do. I agree with every letter of that link. Until I found a clean digital copy of the movie, it would have been impossible for me to justify having children.) Christopher read a circus-themed excerpt from his D&D novel, and then a non-circus-themed excerpt from another novel, the title of which (if it had one) I failed to record. After the reading I chatted with Christopher, Meghan, and Alice Kim, whom I had met 2 years ago and of whose writing I have since become a great fan.

I went to dinner with Keffy, Sunny Moraine, and Liz Fidler. We went to a pub food and beer restaurant, where the food was quite good, as was the company, but I unfortunately had to leave the meal early with a minor bout of Crohn’s issues. I went back to the hotel and read in my room for a couple of hours until they passed. When I was feeling better I headed to the Governor’s Club lounge to snack, and ended up hanging out with Kater, Nayad Monroe, Michael Thomas, Lynne Thomas, and Seanan McGuire. Seanan and I figured out that I had met her once before, when I was in elementary school and she was playing Little Red Riding Hood in the touring company of Into The Woods. This set a new life record for known delay between two meetings with the same person.

I caught the end of the always entertaining Tiptree auction with Keffy and Liz A. I got there just in time to see Geoff get held down while a Space Babe temporary tattoo was applied to his cheek. (A cheek on his face, as opposed to elsewhere, thanks to a $100 intervention by the Tiptree Motherboard.) I made a late, winning bid on an ARC of “The Alchemist” by Paolo Bacigalupi. Then I went up and fluttered around the parties on the 6th floor for a while. I ran into Meghan, Jen, and Alice in the hallway, and as we discussed physical fitness a group began to nucleate around us. Eventually we grew too large for the hallway and bounced around floors for a while looking for free couch space. Eventually we ended up in Meghan and Jen’s room with Kater, Geoff, Gwenda, Christopher, Richard, Karen Fowler, Ted Chiang, and Barbara Gilly. We talked about primatology, and played with some of the Genderfloomp party favors, and I won a dollar bet with Ted. Eventually people began to droop, and we all retired to our rooms.

Day 4:

I slept poorly and had a few seriously disturbing dreams. But this resulted in my being awake earlier than normal, so I was able to join Jen for a light breakfast in the Governor’s club lounge. Jen let me know that reservations for next year’s convention block of hotel rooms opened that morning, so I headed down to the lobby and booked a room for 2012. Then I waited for Kelly-Sue and Laurenn.

Ten years!

This breakfast was ten years in the making. I first interacted with Kelly-Sue on the Warren Ellis Forum when I was 17 years old. She was already one of the cleverest and most well-liked people in that community when teenager-E. J. first got there, looking to impress. Laurenn I don’t think I had ever previously interacted with online, but I remember that not long after I joined the WEF, people started talking about Laurenn’s book XXXLiveNudeGirls, and I soon became a great fan of Laurenn’s artwork. Kelly-Sue got married to a man she met on the forum and had children and became a comics translator and writer, and Laurenn kept making art and became an illustrator and comics artist. I became, well, me. Finally, after a decade: coffee, tea, and scrambled eggs.

This is my "I can't believe I'm really having breakfast with Laurenn McCubbin" face.

Laurenn told me about her experiences getting an MFA, and about the visual media program she’s going back to grad school for, and told me that, based on our conversation, she thought I would do well as a grad student. Kelly-Sue congratulated me on Iowa and told me that she and her husband Matt had followed some of the younger WEFugees online over the years and that I hadn’t disappointed, which is one of those absurdly generous compliments that comes out of nowhere to knock your world slightly askew. We talked about Kelly-Sue’s career, and her children, and I got to tell her how an interview she gave while pregnant with her second child was crucial to helping me crack open the emotional core of a story I was writing. It was a delightful meeting with people I’d admired from afar for years, who turned out to be even more impressive in person. I hope I don’t have to wait ten more years for our next encounter.

After breakfast I went to the panel, “How to Respond Appropriately to Concerns About Cultural Appropriation,” and listened to Geoff, Rachel, Victor Raymond, and K. Tempest Bradford speak intelligently on the subject. Geoff had a comment I especially liked that cultural practices and artifacts are embedded in cultural context, and that severing them from their context to serve as set dressing in a story is a hallmark of poor writing. After that panel I stayed in the room for the next bit of programming, “Sibling of the Revenge of the Not Another F*cking Race Panel,” with Tempest, Amal, LaShawn Wanak, and two other people whose names I neglected to write down. (UPDATE: The other two were Candra Gill and Isabel Schechter.) This was almost all good fun, but was pretty much ruined for me by one guy who went up and made an ass of himself. His name was Ben, and he had already revealed himself as someone prone to boorish behavior at the karaoke party. He went up to ask a question, and my stomach twisted into knots at the car-crash-seen-through-a-window feeling that something bad was about to happen and I was powerless to stop it. Sure enough, he spent a few minutes with a microphone in his hand doing little other than harassing Amal. She handled him with great aplomb, but I, who frequently watch awkwardness comedies like The Office through the cracks in my fingers, had my face buried in my hands the whole time. Eventually the audience booed him and Tempest called him on spouting entitled nonsense and sent him back to his seat. After that the panel proceeded normally, but I was too keyed up to really enjoy it.

After the panel I left the hotel and went to Michelangelo’s for the “We Have Always Captured the Castle” reading with Ben, Jen, Meghan, David Moles, Amal, and Geoff. Ben read an excerpt of his novel in search of a title, in which multi-bodied humans of the far future scoff at the notion of colonizing other planets. Jen read a lyrical story of a fisherman with a magical boat. Meghan read an excerpt of her novel-in-progress, which was fantastic. (I’m just going to pause here to reiterate: Meghan McCarron is writing a novel. Get excited, tell your friends; this is a big fucking deal.) David read a story called, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Giant Robots.” Amal sang a song, recited a poem, and read a story. Geoff, being a gifted performer as well as a brilliant author, was made to go last. He read a monologue-style story about a man whose job is to collect evidence for war crimes trials in areas where rape is being used as a weapon of war. He embodied his main character, and the whole room was stone silent, and when the story ended it took us a good 15 seconds to remember to applaud. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I had to remove my glasses because watching him perform while I listened to him became a little too overwhelming. It was a deeply disturbing and powerful piece.

Between the unpleasantness at the panel and the affecting end to the reading, I ended up a bit dazed. The sequence of events evoked a surge of social anxiety, and I wandered around feeling oddly insulated from my environment. Back at the hotel, Karen Meisner found me and asked, “Are you feeling a little lost?” She gave me a huge, unprompted bolus of acceptance and reassurance, and cemented my perception of her as one of the kindest and most gracious people I’ve ever met. I headed up to my room to wait out my already ebbing funk, and commiserated with Keffy, who was also feeling shaken after an unpleasant encounter with someone possessed of a very poor understanding of how to be a trans ally. We chilled for a while, talking and reading. Then I went to have a dinner of snacks from the Governor’s lounge before heading down to listen to the Joanna Russ memorial and the Guest of Honor speeches, both of which were moving. I did not, though, stay to watch the Tiptree Award presentation, because it was time to prepare for the Genderfloomp Dance Party.

Genderfloomp:

*pout*

Meghan had told me she was planning the Genderfloomp dance party with Liz G. some months prior to the con, when we were hanging out in Austin. The mandate: “We seek to explore and expand our concepts of gender via booty-shaking.” The motto: “Fuck the binary, let’s boogie.” When she told me about the event, Meghan also mentioned that all the guys she had told responded with something like, “Sounds fun, do I have to dress up?” and preemptively assured me that I could attend even if I was unwilling to do drag. By implicitly doubting my commitment to sparklemotion, Meghan ensured that I would go absolutely overboard. I gave myself a $50 budget and spent two weeks putting an outfit together, getting lessons in fashion and cosmetics from hand-picked representatives from the San Antonio community theater crowd. I color-coordinated my accessories and bought ankle boots. I grew a beard just so I could shave it off before the dance. I was shooting for dazzling.

The dance was easily my favorite con programming. It was joyous and human and enthusiastic and exhausting. People made shadow puppets, twirled feather boas, kicked off their shoes and pasted on mustaches. There was a dance contest, which Keffy won after an epic one-on-one battle with Ben. I won Best Dressed, along with another fellow whose name, I believe, was Tom. At some point Liz A., Keffy, Amal, and I went up to the photobooth on the 6th floor and posed for floompy pictures. As the winners of Best Dancer and Best Dressed respectively, Keffy and I had to pose for a fight picture:

Cynthia Sparklepants vs. Charles Beauregard

While up in the photobooth, we stood in a circle and gave each other new names. I named Liz A., “Lionel Cho, disgraced patent attorney.” Liz A. named Keffy, “Charles Beauregard, construction worker at large.” Keffy named Amal, “Gus Wrigley, accountant to the stars.” Amal named me, “Cynthia Sparklepants, party princess.” These names have been immortalized in the WisCon 35 Photobooth Flickr stream. That silliness done, we went back to the dance party and boogied until we dropped. The crowd did eventually begin to thin out, but there was a group of post-floomp hardcore who stuck around until 5:00 am, which included myself, Anthony Ha, Karen, Ben, Liz A., Liz G., Amal, Alice, and Meghan. But even we had to, eventually, call it a night. Hopefully there will be more floomping at future WisCons. For more pictures of Genderfloomp, you can view my Picasa album, or Meghan’s Flickr album.

Day 5:

Travel day. After packing away my cosmetics and jewelry, I had a quick breakfast in the Governor’s lounge with Keffy, Mike Underwood, Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders (both of whom had cut up the dance floor something fierce the night before). Then checkout, a sprint through the airport to catch my plane, and a lot of sitting around until I found myself back in San Antonio, WisCon behind me, the Texas sun sparkling off of my fingernails.

Home.