9:00am - 6:00pm: SFWA Board Meeting
No, that’s not a typo on the time. Although the SFWA Board is constantly “in session” electronically, we meet face-to-face only twice a year. Should you happen to see me Thursday evening and I look a trifle tired, this is why.
10:00am - 11:00am: Reading: Lee Martindale
I’m still mulling over what to read, but likely to be included is some time for Q&A, conversation, or the like. This year’s reading will be in memory of Cynthia Dickinson, who passed away Aug. 9th.
4:00pm - 5:00pm: 3D Gun Printing - When Yo 3u can Print Your Own, How do You Regulate it?
From the write-up: “A 3d printer has recently been demonstrated to create a workable, plastic gun. While primitive, the way has been shown forward. What are the implications for society? Could they ever be controlled? When you can print your own, how do you regulate it?” Panelists: Arlan Andrews (M), Clayton Mann, Lee Martindale, Richard Morgan, and Taylor Anderson.
I expect this one to be lively.
10:00am - noon: SFWA General Business Meeting
All members of SFWA welcome and encouraged to attend.
5:00pm - 6:00pm: Autographing: David Boop, Leslie Fish, Lee Martindale, Jack McDevitt
4:00pm - 5:00pm: Who's Working on Gay Issues and Themes in SF/F? Panelists: Lee Martindale (M), Scott Bobo, Matthew Johnson, Julia Rios, and Paige E. Ewing.
Good panelists with much to contribute to a solid topic. I’m looking forward to this one.
11:00am - noon: The Left Hand of Darkness. Panelists: Jo Walton (M), Laurie Mann, Liz Argall, and Lee Martindale
The write-up: “Le Guin's work about a stranger in a strange land (a male human on a world of aliens with shifting genders) is widely regarded of one of the best works of fiction about gender. Longtime fans of the books talk about what The Left Hand of Darkness has meant to them, and if their views of the book have changed over time.”
Anytime the topic is “one of the classics” and/or portrayals of gender, things could – and often do – get spirited. I have a hunch this one is going to be just that.
Noon - 1:00pm: An Armed Society is a Polite Society. Panelists: Toni Weisskopf (M), Leslie Fish, Lawrence Person, Lee Martindale, and Clayton Mann
The write-up: “Will an armed society be just polite? What other aspects, positive and negative, will this type of society exhibit? Will this make for a truly free society?”
This one could get *very* interesting.
A good spread of panels that also leaves me plenty of time to spend time in the Dealer’s Room, enjoy the exhibits, visit with friends and fans, and catch the occasional meal. I’m quite pleased.
First, it’s in my old stomping grounds. I was born and raised in Kentucky, and misspent many happy hours of my college years in Louisville. Second, while it’s primarily a media and horror convention, it boasts a truly fine Literary track with excellent programming and fun folk to play with. Third, it’s held in the Galt House, one of the legendary hotels in Kentucky and providing a number of amenities, like comfortable bars, a variety of good restaurants, and a 24-hr coffee bar/deli that make it a favorite convention venue of mine. And fourth, being a primarily a media and horror convention, it boasts a significant number of actors from movies and series I enjoy. If this year is anything like last year, I’ll come home with pleasant memories of unexpected and delightfully casual little encounters at odd places and times with some of them.
But it’s the Literary track that is the main draw for me, and my schedule is a thing of variety and beauty. Here’s what’s in store:
2:00pm - Meet and Greet. An informal hour in which attendees and Lit. Track panelists can say hello, learn a little about each other, and set the stage for the coming festivities.
3:00pm - The Art of Being A Good Panelist. A special session for first-time panelists and those who want to pick up tips for being an effective panelist. I’m either giving this one solo or moderating – not sure which yet – but either works.
5:30pm - Putting Together A Winning Anthology, with T.Lee Harris, Lee Martindale, J.L. Mulvihill, Michael West, and Becky Hollada. Anthology-experience authors and editors on what’s involved in the process of taking an anthology from concept to finished project.
7:00pm - Choosing The Right Path in Publishing, with Janet Harriet, Lee Martindale (M), Eric Beebe, M.B. Weston, SB Knight, and Georgia L. Jones. An exploration of self-publishing, small press, and major press, and the pro’s and con’s of each avenue.
11:30am - Authors Interview Authors, with L. Andrews Cooper, Selah Janel, Lee Martindale, Michael West, Georgia L. Jones, and J.H. Glaze. Something new, different, and it looks like fun. Three of us will interview the other three, and then the tables will get turned.
1:00pm - Contracts: An Overview, with Janet Harriet, Lee Martindale, Charlie Kenmore, and
Eric Beebe. We’re not lawyers, we don’t play them on TV, and we can’t offer legal advice. But we do not what a good contract looks like, what clauses and paragraphs raise alarms, and how we judge if a contract is a good one for us. We’ll share that info.
2:30pm - Genre Fiction As An Effective Aid To Those With Disabilities, with T. Lee Harris, Lee Martindale (M), J. L. Mulvihill, Joy Ward, and Marian Allen. Speculative fiction has long addressed disabilities in story themes. We’ll discuss those, as well as how genre fiction finds way to inspire those with disabilities and special needs.
4:00pm - Game Of Thrones, with Tony Acree, Lee Martindale, Ian Harac, and Lisa Morgan. George RR Martin’s *Song of Ice and Fire* books series vs. HBO’s *Game of Thrones*: we could probably talk about it for hours! What we like about each, what’s different, how one may be handling something better or worse than the other. Expect spoilers...and controversy! Bring your own popcorn!
5:30pm - Improv Storytelling, with Tony Acree, L. Andrew Cooper, Selah Janel, Christian Jensen, Lee Martindale, J.L. Mulvihill, and Susan Roddey. Watch us fly by the seat of our pants in a lively session of off-the-top-of-our-heads collaborative storycrafting. It probably won’t be pretty, but it will be fun.
10:00am - Screen-Writing, with Ginny Fleming, Pamela Tuner, M.B. Weston, Lee Martindale(M), and Dave Creek. Panelists discuss the myriad difference between writing prose and writing scripts, why they’re different, and how to work with those differences.
11:30am - Successful Self-Publishing, with Janet Harriet, Amy McCorkle, John Dawson Jackson, Travis Surber, Lee Martindale (M), and John Mulhall. Anyone can self-publish their work, but successful self-publishing involves a number of key elements. We’ll discuss these, and what makes self-publishing work.
I think I’m going to have a lot of fun at this one. For more information about the whole gathering, http://www.fandomfest.com
For me, the hardest part of convention travel is not the travel itself or the convention; it’s the packing. The days of being able to pack for a week in a backpack and in thirty minutes ended about twenty-two years ago when I ended up on wheels. Nowadays, it takes at least several days, one or two suitcases, my rolling office, and several days. That’s packing for one convention, mind you. Now multiply that by four conventions and you get the picture.
Due to a heady mix of timing, promises made, and a temporary lapse in my sanity, there are four conventions in five weekends on the immediate schedule, three of which involve two-day turnarounds. That’s just about enough time to pull things like make-up and toiletries from one set of luggage, replenish consumables, throw them in the set of luggage packed for the next trip, kiss the hubby, scritch the cats, and head for the airport again. So the majority of this week has been devoted to lining up the ducks that will make that battle plan possible. As of this morning, two of the four sets of luggage are packed, labeled and lined up, with packing of the remaining two sets set for the coming week. And I am sorely – in every sense of the word – in need of the aforementioned masseuse, hot tub, and rack.
In other developments, the modifications to BattleChariot II are almost done. The custom footplate arrived at the shop and I’ll go over this coming week for its installation. Hopefully, the issue of finding a programming unit that will talk to the controller will have been solved by then, and we’ll be able to tighten the responses. And then she’ll be fully ready for her debut.
About a year and a half ago, American Airlines established a new, centralized system for repairing wheelchairs and scooters damaged in transit. So, instead of dropping the wounded Invacare off at my trusty technician’s shop a few blocks away from home, I spent a goodly portion of the next day on the phone with an account manager from Global and a supervisor from the shop, 25 miles away, Global had selected to do the work. I spent three of the next four weeks with my confidence in that shop’s level of competence decreasing with every interaction.
Things started sliding downhill with the initial evaluation, done not in a facility with testing equipment, tools, and a good workspace, by a technician, but by the aforementioned supervisor in the front entrance of my home. With me scrambling around for an old blanket (to protect the tile) and a big old textbook (to use as a “jack”). With me pointing out that grinding noises from the wheel and seat lift motors were, most definitely, not “normal”, and that landing as hard as it had didn’t bode well for the frame, on-board charger, batteries, or controller. With the supervisor telling me that the seat lift mechanism was hydraulic (no fluid reservoir), then pneumatic (no air compressor). And me having to email the serial number of the beast over the weekend because he “couldn’t find it” when he had the chair dismantled.
Delay followed delay, and with each one I became increasingly thankful that my next scheduled travel wasn’t until the end of April, and that I was in a position *not* to be dependent on the current circus playing out for everyday mobility. To her credit, the Global account manager had offered me a “loaner”, but I had my late mother-in-law’s Jazzy (nicknamed “Junior”) as a light-duty backup. And, during this time, we had been working with my regular shop, had a new platform-style lift installed in the Cripmobile, and had ordered a new heavy-duty Jazzy that could be customized to my needs. Things could have been far worse.
The last straw arrived in the form of a series of phone calls from the Global-designated shop. First, a call from their office person informing me that the parts had arrived (a full week earlier than expected) and that someone was a few minutes away from picking up the Invacare. I told her that wouldn’t be possible, since I was on the way out the door. (Which was true; Himself and I were heading over to my regular shop to pick up the new Jazzy.) She didn’t take it well, arguing with me that it *had* to be picked up immediately. I told her I’d be happy to be available anytime the next day, but I was not going to cancel an appointment because they couldn’t follow instructions. That was followed within a minute by another phone call, this time from the supervisor enroute. Same thing, but much ruder and with an implied threat that *not* picking it up today could cause a unspecified but multi-week further delay. Another call beeped in at this point, I got off the call with the supervisor advising him that “not today means not today”, and took the other call.
In a case of fortuitious timing, it was the acccount manager from Global, checking on things. I advised her of the calls just fielded, and her reaction could not have been more appropriate to the circumstances. She asked if I would be willing to talk to her supervisor about it. Ohboyhowdy, you betcha. Again, the response was appropriate. Not only was the repair pulled from the folks who had it, it turned out that my regular, trusted, and practically-next-door shop *had been on their list all along*. (Ahem.) By the time I headed out the door to pick up the new Jazzy, arrangements had been made, we dropped off the Invacare at the same time, and the parts to repair the latter were on the way.
As expected, the repair was done quickly and well, and I got it back within a couple of days. I ran it through its paces yesterday and it’s been completely restored to top form. It’s still not a chair I could comfortably travel with, but it’s going to be perfect for the person who ultimately buys it from me.
There’s still some work left to do to make my new Tardis-blue Jazzy worthy of the name BattleChariot II. The new seat we had built for its predecessor fits superbly, and is in the process of getting the hardware needed for installation of the arms. A bigger footplate is on order, and will hopefully be in before the next round of travel. And there’s some fine-tuning to be done to the controller programming. But the end is well-and-truly in sight.
And there’s a dialogue that needs to be started with a VP at American regarding chair-handling procedures.
It was Saturday at AnachroCon, and I had no programming. But I did have plans. They began with sleeping in, having breakfast, a leisurely roll through the Dealer Pavilion with an eye toward committing commerce, and spending time at my table spot visiting with folks and selling books.
I was heading for the convention floor, the door having just shut on my room, when a sudden shift in the powerchair’s stance signaled trouble. I picked up the back wheel that lay in the middle of the hall, let myself back into the room, and limped the chair into its parking spot to assess the situation. It was not, as I’d originally thought, a repeat of the lost cotter pin problem that had occurred at the Nebula Awards last year. It was the back wheel on the other side, and its half axle had sheered completely through. The kind of thing you see with metal fatigue resulting from landing hard one too many times. SuperGlue and duct tape were not gonna fix this one. I was, as they say, in deep and serious kimchee.
There was no getting around it, yelling for help was my only option. At a bit before 9:00am, hating the fact I’d gone from relatively no-maintenance to emergency drill, I dialed the number for AnachroCon Guest Services. Mark and Theresa Curtis responded immediately, showing up at my door within minutes. Theresa brought coffee, then went off to find a manual wheelchair and recruit pushers. Mark started making calls, in search of a repair facility. I quietly gave way to a case of the shakes.
The odds were seriously against it, but on the second or third call, Mark found a facility that was open on Saturday, willing to help, and close by. I got on the phone with Ralph at Access Wheelchairs and talked tech, then sent him pictures. By the end of the second call, we had a Plan A (replacement of the back wheel assembly if he could find one to fit) and the beginnings of a Plan B if Plan A fell through. Ralph promised that, one way or the other, I’d be up and running by the end of the day. Then I called home to let Himself know what was happening, fine-tune Plan B, and come up with a Plan C in case nothing could be done until Monday.
There was nothing I could do while Ralph was trying to find parts, so I called the wheelchair and volunteers Theresa had found into service and went down to sit my spot on Fan Alley. Visited with people, explained why I was not in the Venerable BattleChariot to the surprising number of people who asked, and waited for a call from Ralph. When it came, around 4pm, it was not good news. The BattleChariot was so venerable (3 years beyond the outside-average-lifespan of 10 years) that a replacement part – new, used, or cannibalized – simply could not be found. Ralph and I talked over the details of Plan B, I called home and talked it over with Himself, then called Ralph back and pulled the trigger.
Ralph delivered Plan B to the hotel a bit after 6pm that evening. A late-model, fully-reconditioned Invacare M61 powerchair. The price would have been quite reasonable, even without my back being against a wall and, even though it wasn’t the optimum configuration for my particular longterm use, it would let me finish out the convention and get me home. And Ralph even paid me a small amount for the BattleChariot, with an eye toward salvaging useful parts and saving me the several hundred dollars it would have taken to ship her home, assuming I could have found a way to do that.
As I watched Ralph limp the old girl to his truck, I recalled the many miles and many conventions that piece of equipment had carried me through since 2000. I also thanked the Gods of Timing that we’d delayed installation of a new seat until after AnachroCon, and that I’d been in Atlanta when all this went down, instead of a city without as many resources and where I was a relative stranger.
The day had been stressful, and it was going to take either some industrial-strength unwinding or the judicious application of a baseball bat to get me to a level where sleep was even remotely possible. Dinner with the delightful Regina Kirby took care of quite a bit of the stress. But apparently not enough, given that, later in the evening, I was coaxed into drinks by Edward DeGruy and Aubrey Ball, who plied me with Maker’s Mark and enjoyable conversation on all manner of fun topics. It must have worked, if the state of my sleep that night was any indication. (A huge thank-you for knowing what I needed and making sure I didn’t argue.)
Traveling home with the new chair was a bit of a challenge. Its footplate was minuscule, and my usual practice of putting my computer bag between my feet, leaving one hand free for the joystick and the other for my suitcases wasn’t going to work. I ended up relying on skycaps to get the luggage to the ticket counter and pulling the computer bag behind me. Awkward, especially in tight places.
The flight out of Atlanta was delayed a bit over an hour due to high winds in Dallas, but eventually we made it in. I scooted over to the window on the other side of the aisle to watch the unloading of the new chair, which meant I was in a good position to see it come down the conveyor belt, watch three guys pick it up by the seat, and watch the base of the chair I’d owned for less than 48 hours fall three feet and land hard enough on the tarmac that pieces went flying.
It had been four months, two eye surgeries, the holidays, and the start of an unusually nasty SFWA election season since I’d stowed the suitcases after ContraFlow, and I was more than ready for a convention. This would be my first Anachrocon – a fan-run Steampunk/Alternate History convention in Atlanta – and I’d already been charmed and delighted by the folks with whom I’d been in contact. And any convention that encourages guests, as well as attendees, to indulge in costuming has a head start on win!
The weather was Spring-in-Texas ominous in the early morning of Feb 21st. We’d been watching a storm system moving out of Colorado, dumping blizzards and ice in its path as close as Oklahoma City to the north and the Panhandle to the northwest. It was a toss-up which would get to the airport first, the Cripmobile or the line of severe storms barreling down on the DFW area in the hours before dawn. The Cripmobile won the toss, and I checked in just before the first round of thunderstorms broke over the airport.
Thunderstorms played their usual havoc with flight schedules and gate assignments. But one terminal change, two gate changes, two ground holds, and close to an hour later than planned, I was on the MD80 that would take me to Atlanta. I’d visited with Evalini, who’d taken over for the legendary Sherry “Squeaky” Jackson as American Airline’s Special Assistance Goddess when the latter retired, and we’d discussed various and safer methods of loading and unloading powerchairs (this is called foreshadowing, folks) before she’d seen the BattleChariot safely onto the plane. Another on-the-plane-at-the-gate delay of about a half-hour while a mechanic made a repair and the pilot kept us amused with “progress reports”. But we eventually made it into the air, where the pilot poured on the ponies and, despite it being seriously turbulent a couple of times, got us into Atlanta no more than thirty minutes later than scheduled.
The Atlanta side of ground transport went as smoothly as could be wished. I had the same driver I’ve had for the last three years of at least two trips per year, and he’d apparently been keeping tabs on the flight. Within minutes of arriving at the designation pick-up spot, I was tucked into the cab with my baggage and headed for the Marriott Northwest. Check-in went just as smoothly, and shortly thereafter I was unpacked and settled into a comfortable, wheelchair-accessible room with the added bonus of a nice little balcony that overlooked the ballroom pavilion. That it bore more than passing resemblance to a convention-themed airship I considered an aesthetic bonus.
And now to the convention itself, beginning with...
Years ago, someone asked me what made Southern conventions different from those in other parts of the country, and I replied, “If I roll in to a convention I’ve never been to before, and I’m greeted like a long-lost member of the family, chances are better than even I’m at a convention in the South.” And so it was at AnachroCon. I’d met Con-Chair William MacLeod and his wife Cindy at another Atlanta convention last year, and some of the other con staff were familiar faces, again from other conventions. This was my first AnachroCon, but a casual observer would have thought I was a longtime regular, given the warm welcomes and flat-out niceness of everyone I encountered. Theresa and Mark Curtis, with whom I’d been exchanging emails in their capacities as Guest Services, met me with a 6-pack of My Personal Convention Fuel – Mt. Dew in handy, bottle-cozy-sized bottles. (And later, took Guest Services to a whole new level when an emergency cropped up...yes, more foreshadowing.) Friends from the concoms and staffs of DragonCon, OutlantaCon, TimeGate, and ConTemporal, guests with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working before, such as Cherie Priest, Tee Morris, and Marc Gunn. Friendly, enthusiastic attendees who made every panel and conversation delightful. And meals shared in the exceeding good company of folks like Stephanie Osborn, Regina Kirby, Kris Harder, Edward DeGruy, and Aubrey Bell. My thanks to all.
As I said above, any convention that encourages its guests, as well as attendees, to indulge in costuming is a win, and I’d done what I could along that line. But it was a pale reflection compared to the absolute brilliance of the efforts I saw everywhere I looked. An ongoing visual treat, and confirmation that imagination and skill thrives in the Steampunk community.
AnachroCon celebrates Steampunk, History, Alternate History, Science, Music, and Classic Sci-Fi Literature, not to mention some truly fine costuming. Programming is organized in tracks that include History, Culture & Media, Fabrication, Fashion, Etiquette & Indulgence, Science, and Horror, and, as a writer and editor, I was on the Culture and Media Track. Track Director Austin Sirkin put together a fine line-up of panels and, as I discovered, is one of the best moderators with whom it’s been my pleasure to work.
I had three panels over the course of the weekend, beginning on Friday afternoon with “The Underappreciated Role of Pulp Fiction”, examining the influence of adventure fiction once found in Sunday newspapers, “penny-dreadfuls”, Saturday afternoon matinee serials, and genre magazines in the first half of the 20th century on well-known authors and current culture. To say that the discussion ranged widely and enthusiastically would be an understatement. Great fun!
Later that evening, I took part in a panel on “Eroticism: Sensationalism, Escapism, or Revolutionary”, discussing the titular subject’s extremely long history and role in history and “alternate history”. This may well have been one of the best panels on the topic that I’ve had the pleasure of being part of.
I finished out my programming duties on Sunday with “Journalism and Science Fiction”, which touched on subjects such as how well – and poorly – scientific discovery is reported in the press, how science news stories spark story ideas, and what influences come to bear on science journalism. Another fine panel that I greatly enjoyed.
The Dealer Room
Upstream, I described the outside of the Dealer Room. On Sunday afternoon, Regina Kirby took me in hand and not-quite-dragged me there. Three things struck me hard and fast as I rolled in the door. First: that the impression of an airship from the outside was greatly exceeded by the impression of same on the inside. It was close to magical. Second: a lovely aroma that permeated the large space, one that flashed me back to a lot of time during my childhood spent in my favorite sanctuary. Or, as Regina put it, “You can tell your at a Steampunk convention by closing your eyes and inhaling.” Leather. Really good leather, and lots of it. Olfactory bliss. Third: the sheer volume and quality of a whole gamut of merchandise available, from clothing to costuming items and supplies to gadgets and beyond. Had I had unlimited funds, I’d have needed a U-Haul to get everything that tempted me home.
Regina was a woman on a mission, however, and that mission involved introducing me to the fine folks at Aegis Steamworks, crafters of fine leatherwork and the like. In due course, measurements were taken, designs discussed, and commerce committed. I look forward to having the results delivered to me at either OutlantaCon or TimeGate, either of which will be entirely appropriate venues to debut them.
An Unexpected Honor
During the course of Sunday, I was advised by William MacLeod that my presence at Closing Ceremonies was requested. The purpose, as it turned out, was the announcement that I was being inducted into....and here I’m going to hold off trying to recreate the name because, quite frankly, I’ll butcher it badly if I try to go from memory that was too busy being gobsmacked by deer-in-the-headlights surprise. What I know, for a certainty, is that I am tremendously honored to be included in their company and look forward to contributing to the community in the manner such induction implies.
This was my first AnachroCon but, the travel gods willing, it will certainly not be my last.
It will be the first trip with my new credit-card swiper widget, and the (I sincerely hope) last trip for the original-equipment powerchair seat. (The new seat needed bracket modifications that didn't get done in time.)
The weather gods seem not to favor me this time around. A big spring-like storm system is due to hit about the time I head for the airport, which means making the drive in high winds, rain, and possibly golfball-sized hail. The front is headed, you guessed it, toward Atlanta, so I'll get to play with again on Friday and Saturday. But the Rubber Duckie (the yellow hooded poncho that covers me and the powerchair and makes me look like the name implies) is packed.
Anachrocon encourages costuming, and the suitcases are stuffed with appropriate garb. I'm fully prepared to send up the "Is there a corset-puller in the house!" call as the need arises.
Mostly, I plan to have fun. I've been "off the road" for a longer period than I'm used to, and I'm ready for a good convention.
Bring it on!
And if you happen to be a SFWA member residing in the South-Central region, one of the entries in "What's New?" may be of interest to you.