Thursday, November 26, 2009

what did you do in the protests, Mummy?

Just realised that the WTO protests, aka Battle in Seattle, were 10 years ago, November 30 1999. Which makes it a reasonable time to post my contemporary account, lacking though it is in drama and I Was There relevance.

So yeah, here's what I did just about a decade ago, children, from the account I wrote just afterwards.

I phoned Mark from the ferry terminal coming back to tell him "I wasn't arrested, I wasn't teargassed, or peppersprayed. I wasn't clubbed. I wasn't even rained on." He said "Awww" in a sympathetic way.
The serious fighting all happened before and after the Victoria contingent was present. To the disappointment of several of the young and eager.

Monday night, found the scrap of paper with the contact number on it, phoned twice, got voice mail the first time "if you're calling about a seat on the busses, they're full" and a person the second time. True to his word, he called back within a half hour (23 min) to confirm that I had a seat on the bus and they were leaving at 5 am from outside the SUB, cost $20. Packed quickly, went to bed, slept very poorly. Cat woke me up at 3:30, said hell with it and got up.

Left house at 4:30, biked to university, arrived before 5 am for the busses, 6 of them, people count 208. I found someone with a clipboard, gave my name, and was told "You're on bus 5, counting from the front." Stood outside the bus for a while and said "This is bus 5" to several who came by and asked. Two others stand about and discuss how they got hold of gas masks, and of rumours that the WTO bought up a case of masks or airtanks. There are a few empty seats after all, and walkie-talkie communication between the busses establishes there were about 20 no-shows. Probably the 5 am departure time responsible for that. But one must rise early to be teargassed for the cause.

Reached terminal early and debarked into the departures 'lounge'. Several organizational speeches were made by people standing on the uncomfortable moulded plastic chairs, others walk around giving everyone stickers from the AFL-CIO "WTO if it doesn't work for working families it doesn't work", the boy across from me sticks it on his crotch (before reading it). I am recognised by E- of the International Socialists and invited to be part of their unit, or 'affinity group' (everyone supposed to march with an affinity group, and buddy up, so as not to get left behind in Seattle). Other people played hackysack or touched up banners. One girl has a banner involving a naked doll duct-taped to a crutch. Probably about women's victimization under free trade, but would make a decent weapon if necessary. C-'s South Park influenced banner is much admired. I suggest that the Socialist Worker run a lifestyles column on piercings, which seems to be a major fashion statement in the crowd. Fortunately the IS group had some older people. I'd been kicking myself mentally for not bringing the long Guatemalan scarf in case of teargas etc, and wondering if the extra pair of woolly socks I'd brought could function in a similar fashion. Though you never see wire service photos of activists running through clouds of tear gas with socks over their faces.

Got onto the 7 am ferry, wander about trying to find the conference room reserved for the organisers, which is reached by going through 2 doors saying crew only, whichever way you reach it. One way goes through crews quarters, and really is crew only, the other is just kidding. The organisers have to work out bus re-assignments, with several people having joined the group at the ferry terminal. The International Socialists make sure that everyone with them goes onto the same bus. 3 busses are on the ferry, others will meet us on the other side. I'm on one of the busses already on the ferry, with the IS (guess the Party members do get the perks).
Walk around with a tall fellow called B- and some clipboards asking people to sign up to help organise Access 2000, nationwide day of student action, and to support the Molsons boycott. B- given to emphatic gestures, a bit alarming when he's holding a clipboard. He is assigned as my buddy, which is good because he's easy to find in a crowd, being tall with fair hair. Then sat down and drowsed a bit. There's a fellow with cartoon-anarchist hair and beard and his lower leg in a walking cast, wearing shorts and sandals, carrying 2 suitcases and a banner with 2 long poles. I keep seeing him, and he never wants any help. Several people ask where the busses are on the ferry, and my multitude of bus crossings comes in handy as we troop downstairs, except for those who are walking off and catching the busses at the terminal.

Busses to the border. Stop once to get the busses back together, and allow one of the comrades to be sick into a ditch. I donate my kleenexes, but let someone else volunteer a water bottle. I transfer my water bottle to my jacket pocket and experiment with tying the woolly socks together. A safety pin would work better, if I had one. E- talks to me about joining IS, and I am dubious about the dues structure.
At the border everyone gets out of the busses and stands in the cold, then walks through the customs, displaying id of various kinds. Then standing in the cold again, while according to some people a dog is led through the busses. Apparently nothing was found, since everyone goes on, except for one girl. No one knows why she was held back, since everyone was warned about the criminal record thing and she says she doesn't have one. A rumour contest springs up, with heavy X-Files influence, to explain why she was stopped.
Nearing Seattle, it stops raining and the sun comes out. Cheers. The group huddled over the radio passes on bulletins, and there is cell phone communication with those already on site. The police have used tear gas to break up a group in front of the hotel. Some tear gas canisters were thrown back by the protesters. Cheers. C- of the South Park banner has brought gloves so he can throw tear gas canisters back (they get hot). I ask if he wouldn't want to go the more classic route of throwing himself on one, as with grenades. Someone else promises to take a picture if he does throw one back. A delegate is reported to have taken a swing at a protester. Cheers. The opening ceremonies have been cancelled. Much cheering. A reporter says that the police used 'flash-bang' grenades. I am one of two people on the bus who knows what those are (that they are not actual grenades), and have to explain it to the rest. Mark later says it was unlikely, since they don't make a good crowd-control weapon, and it was probably the flash from a tear-gas canister going off.
I decide to take off my sweatshirt and tie it around my waist so I can use it to cover my face if necessary. Craig has brought 3 of the dustmasks used for putting in fibreglass etc. Our onsite contact tells us that we have a route that doesn't take us near teargas. Some present seem disappointed. Those who have moisturizer or sunblock on their faces are encouraged to wipe it off, as it facilitates the teargas effect. Recommended strategy is to run away. By the time we park, word is that the teargas has dissipated and the march route is clear.

Arrive at the parking lot near the Space Needle at 12:15. Disembark, take out banners, signs, etc. M- had asked me to help carry the giant agitprop banner (bloated bureaucrat swallows earth, mosquito-nosed plutocrat sucks blood of skeletal worker, men in suits sit around table with piles of cash and weapons), but E- gives me a clipboard with the clenched fist stencilled in red on the back and tells me to get signatures for the Molsons boycott while we're assembling and waiting to march. This is a bit difficult since we can't wander too far away for fear of losing our group, and there are at least a dozen clipboards going around, so many people have already signed. Sometimes we ask each other for signatures, not seeing the clipboards. CUPE Vancouver is behind us for a while, and say I can march with them, but then they peel off for another part of the procession. IS links up with another IS and ISO, though this takes a bit of manoeuvering in turning the giant banner around and crossing the broken ground of the parking lot divisions.

There's a fellow in a wolf mask and 'royal' robes on a throne, holding a scepter with a dollar sign on the end, being carried on a platform by a dozen men. There's a fellow on stilts, all in black, with extra long fingers to his gloves and whiteface, and a WTO sign around his neck. There are people dressed as sea-turtles. There are people wearing those big-puppet outfits, done up as Latin American workers, Death, etc. There are environmental groups with banners of stump forests and puppets of dolphins and turtles. There's a tiny group with one man in a suit, carrying a sign saying "CEOs against the WTO". There are more trade unions than I've ever seen in one place, from nurses to painters.
The AFL-CIO people are the march marshalls, and they line the route wherever there's an intersection, indicating the way. They have dayglo hardhats and baseball caps, and rain-ponchos with the no-WTO symbol on the back, which later I hear they were giving away somewhere on the route. Damn, I wanted one. There's a drum band on the way, with drums made from water tanks and so on.
The End the Blockade Against Cuba people give me a placard. I get a few more signatures, but risk losing my affinity group in the crowd. Luckily the huge banner is easy to spot, so I catch up again each time. At one point I hold someone's dolphin figure while he signs. Another girl spots Glen Clark among the suit-wearing standers-by, and gets his signature on her petition.

It's a lot like being in the James Bay Day parade, in that there is almost no one on the sidewalks, everyone is in the parade. Those on the sidelines often have placards or costumes, as if they've dropped out of the march for a while to see everyone else's floats. Occasionally there are pockets of men in suits, with briefcases, who look somewhat bemused by everything. They may be delegates, since it's hard to guess what else they might be. A couple of girls get them to sign petitions, which they do with a fairly good grace.
The women carrying the giant red bucket for donations to Indonesian trade unions are interviewed by the first news team I've seen, an interviewer and a camcorder man. Otherwise, everyone with a camera seems to be part of the march, making a record of the occasion.

There is chanting. At times there are dueling chants, as one segment starts up a chant and another segment, too far away to recognise it, starts another. The Canadians encourage a French chant "Resistez la O M C", and for a while I'm marching near a latino group chanting (as far as I can tell) "El pueblo unido sera nunca derribo" which is easier to march to than the English. When I get back to the Socialists, they're singing Solidarity Forever, and I wonder where popular movements would be without John Brown's Body. Choir training comes in useful, both in faking singing the verses of songs I haven't memorised, and picking up chants quickly. The Canadians, nearing the hotel, strike up "Pettigrew, no more lies, you just want to privatise" and I wonder later if this contributes to Pettigrew's reported nervousness.

Forgot to say, as we were approaching Seattle, the skinny guy in the bush hat got up and apologised for presuming to tell us the basic guidelines of protesting, since we all knew so much more about it than he did, almost didn't tell us, but was persuaded to after all. Anyway, key point was that if asked who our leaders were, to say "We have no leaders" or "We are all leaders", not to point to someone who'd been helping organise the busses or whatever.

Had been hearing more music and drumming up ahead, apparently some gathering or turning point ahead, probably where all the street theatre had happened. This is the first part of the route I've seen to have any more disarray than is normal in the downtown of a large city. Still not much, an overturned concrete garbage container or two.
Fellow sitting on top of a van with a megaphone, says that we have the choice to go straight ahead, which will bring us in front of the hotel where it's all happening, or turn and continue with the march. Says he's been teargassed this morning. A large proportion of the students go straight, but the people in charge of the giant banner continue with the march. My avowed intention having been not to be teargassed etc. if I could avoid it, I go with them.
The march thins out a lot and consequently speeds up. More people take photos of the giant banner. One fellow is almost run down by it as he stands with a camcorder (the people holding the back poles can't see in front) but the front people lift the edge up over him. We pass a motorcycle cop and wave at him, some of the union guys stop to talk. He says that "you guys marching are no problem". I wonder what he did earlier today.
Must be almost at the end. The ISO peels off and starts dropping their signs at a parking lot. Someone is making a speech as they gather around. The second news team I've seen is standing idly, one fellow with a big fluffy mike, the other with a camcorder. People start poking through the pile of discarded signs for ones they like. We're not at our parking lot though, so we start off again, after grabbing a few signs for next week. E- is disgruntled at not knowing why the ISO stopped here.

We pass the bar near the parking lot, and the 5 black guys drinking on the fenced 'verandah' cheer us. We wave back and shout exhortations not to drink Molsons. (On the way in, passing McDonalds, there had been shouts to "unionize McDonalds!") Back to the bus, much fewer than we started out, hoping that the strays will turn up soon. Some of the banner crew are regretting staying in the march. Banner folded up, signs gathered and taped together, money for Indonesian trade unions counted, sandwiches and snacks eaten. Fumes from busses warming up and cigarette smoke from the addicts facing a long smokeless ride combine unsalubriously.
Everyone was told that the busses leave at 4:30 whether you're on them or not. One person 'Zapatista Jim' has told others that he'll be staying in Seattle. Organisers run from bus to bus, trying to track down the last few people. The busses leave.

Again, people gather in the back with the radio. Bulletins are passed to the front as we travel. The National Guard is being called in. The police are sweeping the streets. A curfew is being set. The mayor is declaring an emergency. Envy on the bus.
M- comes and talks to me about joining IS, much less of a hard sell than E-. We talk about families, work, etc. E- comes by again, when I'm looking at the handbook. I've turned to the song page, and he asks me if I know the songs (Union Maid, Solidarity Forever, and Which Side Are You On). Oh yeah, I say, and tell him the story of my grandmother and The Peoples Flag tune. Neither he nor M- know the song, so I yatter on a bit about my family background (having previously said that socialism was 'in the blood'). E- says that his family was right-wing conservative, and I wonder if they'd been atheist would he be an evangelical Christian? I've never had my economic origins envied before; it's a strange experience.

As it gets darker, the bus gets quieter, and only the bus driver's idea of stopping at a truckstop wakes people up. Almost everyone dashes in for takeout, and a couple hit the espresso stand. But it means that people are awake when we reach the border, with frantic walkie-talkie communication between the busses to make sure that the passenger lists compiled on the way down are still valid. This time we don't have to get out. The customs woman just asks if anyone bought anything, a few people say 'a cheeseburger', she says "Welcome home" and we drive on. E- makes a slightly confused speech about not being home but in an occupied country that he happens to reside in, but saves it until we've driven off.
Get to the ferries. Unload all the signs, buckets, clipboards, etc. because it's different busses on the other side. I carry the clipboard crate with E-. We all walk through and to the lounge, which is of course the furthest dock. I phone Mark and reassure him, knowing that he will have been hearing stuff on the radio. He conceals his anxiety well.
The few people whe are just taking the ferry and weren't part of the protest look a bit lost in the crowd. We walk on, find a place and put down all the paraphernalia. Not having hit the truckstop, I hear the buffet calling, and abandon my affinity group for a while to eat and read Raymond Chandler.
The ferry arrives. I discover that the clipboard box is easily carried by one (I say "I'm strong, I'm a mother") and we walk off and find the busses again. The arrangements now are looser. One bus is designated for dropping people off downtown, and it's up to people to get on and find their own seats.

Back to UVic, arriving in front of the SUB at 11:20. I abandon my bike for the night, and find Mark in the van. We go home and I go to bed. I have no scars to show my child. ("And this one I got at the barricade in front of the Sheraton")

Friday, November 20, 2009

shouty sign guy

He stands at the intersection just before Ring Road, which runs about the campus. Every day he has a different sign, and a different thing to shout. Mostly it's about who and what will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, which so far includes scientists, the United Nations, environmentalists, lesbians, sodomites, and chemicals.
Clearly his logic circuits aren't connected in the usual ways and there's no point attempting to engage him in discussion, or even ask him what his aims are--does he really think he'll change anyone's mind or heart by shouting at them that they're damned? He shouted at me two days ago about women who hated men but copied them by cutting their hair short, and I was tempted to whip my braid out from under my rainjacket, but then he probably would have gone on to my wearing men's clothing or something (rainjacket is made from chemicals?).

But I remembered the advice I'd been given for walking the picket line (these many years ago) of responding to hostility or abuse by saying "Have a nice day!" So this morning I smiled at him and shouted "God loves you! Be happy!"
And he smiled and waved, and blessedly shut up.

deathless prose

I promised you an Anne Radcliffe quote, didn't I? Here we go, from Manfrone, or, The One-Handed Monk:

The table was crowded with the principal officers belonging to the prince and the duca, who, as the minstrels swept the sounding chords of their lutes, and in their verses celebrated the martial deeds of heroes of other days, while at intervals the hollow timbrels and the warlike trumpets resounded through the hall, with stern and haughty look recalled to their remembrance their own prowess on the sanguine plains.
High was raised the goblet sparkling with the ruby draught, and joy reigned in every heart, save those of the duca and Rosalina: far different indeed was the cause, but great was the grief of both.
Affliction had found a passage to the heart of Rodolpho in the early death of the amiable duchesa, and fatally, in order to divert his grief, he had abandoned himself to every species of dissipation, which, at last, had made him commit deeds of sable hue, which darkened all his future days, and rendered him a slave to the horrors of an accusing conscience.

You'd never get away with that nowadays, which is why I want to play with it for Nano, which is like a hugely stressful adventure playground of time. It's an easy style to guy, as Mark Twain did, among many others, and it's desperately vague to a modern eye. But it's not the eye it appeals to, I think. It's the ear. It demands to be read aloud--and probably was by thousands of people.

Here's my venture:
The Count Scarlatto to Rosalinda

Rosalinda! I command you set aside that insolent air, that bold and disobedient spirit that leads you to defy me! Bow that haughty black-tressed head, lower your flashing eyes and learn obedience if you have it not!
Hear me. You will leave your craggy fastness and, attended by the virtuous Clara M--t, to H--k repair with all speed. I will allow no question, no hesitation, and above all no flouting of my will.
Child, I am not vindictive if I am not crossed. Therefore do not cross me, but obey. You think me, perhaps, grown forgetful or forgiving in my latter years, but I am still the man who brought terror to rule the chasms and passes of the Pyrenees, whose name--that name you bear--was whispered in shuddering breath by cowering travellers, whose lightest word summoned scores of brigands from the rocks themselves!
It was my strength of arm, my reputation, that has ensured your survival, as the eagle's fierce talons protect and nourish the downy eaglet in its tow'ring nursery, and think not I will hesitate to turn those talons upon you, should you prove ungrateful as the pelican's young.
I bid you go to my estate in H--k. Once there, much will be revealed, and you will be repaid in knowledge for this submission to one who must command your duty if your proud heart refuses fear. This much I tell you now, in proof of earnest: thy mother's name was Dulcinella.
Dulcinella! How the sound pierces my heart, how my rage rushes torrent-like as I recall her fate! You think me heartless, and I tell you it is because the fate of Dulcinella has torn that organ to bloody fragments.
Yet she will be avenged. Yes, and you my instrument. Haste, Rosalinda, haste, and I will unfold a tale that will harrow thy young soul and bring you to swear yourself to my cause, to devote yourself to one aim only--to bring just revenge upon the head of him who--but I say too much. Lest these letters go astray and be seen by impious eyes, I will restrain my impatience until you have arrived.
Bring with you your mourning-clothes and the locket set with jet and pearls--do not pry it open--also the small casket bound in brass. Do not pry the lock, nor drop it upon the rocks. What it holds is precious beyond your knowing.
In your absence, Arnaldo will take command, with the castellan Rinaldo as his second. Bring with you also the account-books and the morocco-bound ledger, and be sure the sums are correct. Do not allow the men to fire off their muskets into the air merely for celebration: it is only to be done in order to terrify travellers, and to cease immediately on their surrender. We have spent altogether too much on powder this quarter.

thy respected and to-be-obeyed great-uncle,
Adalbert, Count Scarletto
Castello Mont'alban

I didn't say anything about Rosalinda last time, did I? She's the bold bad twin, the Little Robber Girl to Ethelinda's Gerda. Instead of a kindly dithering clergyman grandfather-figure, she has the infamous Count Scarlatto, and instead of the redoutable Fortuna Beldam, she has the pale and mysterious Clara M--t (you may note, I also love the period convention of dashes to hide identity) of secret sorrows and sorrowful secrets.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

hitherto-ignored Nanowrimo

I've hit the stage where the intarwebz are seriously interfering with my nanocount, so I'll go all meta and write about writing (write about not-writing?) instead of writing.
Started by dipping back into some source material, picking up Evelina (by Fanny Burney), and on the Richardson side, Pamela and a (severely trimmed so that it fits into one volume) Clarissa Harlowe. I've read a severely-trimmed Sir Charles Grandison, with lovely Chris Hammond illustrations, but this is my first acquaintance with Clarissa Harlowe. That for the novel of sentiment/manners, trusting that I had Jane Austen's works reasonably well absorbed into the hindbrain, having read them all twice (okay, except for Mansfield Park, that only once) as well as most of the juvenilia and several continuations-by-other-hands.
For the Gothick, I had Clermont, Castle of Wolfenbach, Manfrone or the One-handed Monk, and The Passions by Rosa Matilda, having read the first two previously, and dipping into the second two. There's a beautiful passage from Manfrone that I will try to quote later.
For scholarly material, I had The Epistolary Novel in the Late Eighteenth Century, by Frank Gee Black and The Gothic Novel 1790-1830, by Ann B. Tracy, which is a collection of plot summaries (all hail Ann Tracy!) and index of motifs that makes for somewhat hilarious reading--one of the reasons synopses are so difficult is that summary piles on what narrative portions out, and the effect can be, um, bathos instead of pathos--as Tracy admits.

Back when I'd come up with the original concept, I'd thought of the two correspondents as being cousins, and each writing from her own coign or eyrie (look, it's already affected my vocabulary) of genre and convention. When I came to the point of needing a plot, what swam up from the depths was the old twins switching places plot (because the idea is not to be original), allowing for more explanation and observation and complication all around.
Which meant not starting in media res with an existing correspondance, but bringing the two to the same place so that they could become acquainted (because obviously they had been parted and kept in ignorance of each other, I mean, obviously!) and the switch could be effected.
Which meant they had to start out with other correspondents to whom to confide their situations, hopes and fears, and thus I had more characters all at once. As to be expected with twins, there was immediate mirroring of their circumstances. Each had an older woman companion or mentor (with her own secrets), and each had an older man who stood in as grandfather. Each was about to be removed from her home and sent to the place (London) where she could meet her long-lost twin.
Ethelinda is the good twin. As you might guess from the name, she and her circs are a hommage (as they say in high-toned literary circles, rather than copy or rip-off) of Evelina, including her fluttery old hen of a clergyman guardian (I heartily disliked Evelina's guardian, so I'm taking some resentment out on his double), but for female mentor I've given her a more redoubtable sort, Lady Fortuna Beldam (I'm so in love with that name you wouldn't believe) based on early women travellers like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Lady Hester Stanhope.

Poking through my background reading, I realised that the divide between the Novel of Sentiment/Manners and the Novel of Gothick Horror (they weren't called Gothics in the day, any more than Gothic architecture was called that in the 14th c.) was much less a chasm than a ditch. The highly-coloured and unlikely events of the Gothick, the abductions, the imprisonments, the forced marriages and secret marriages, the concealed births and disinherited heirs ... pretty well all happened in novels of sentiment as well. Richardson built his reputation on Pamela, a long series of abductions and attempted seductions, but of a servant girl instead of a heiress (Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison are about gentryfolk abducting each other). Evelina, because of a secret marriage and concealed documents, is really the heir to two fortunes, but she has been raised in rustic seclusion, just as Ann Radcliffe's heroine was in Mysteries of Udolpho.
Evidently I would need to distinguish the two storylines by something more than choice of events.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

World Fantasy last post

In which I eat bugs for research.

As those who know me know, I'm not the most social of persons. At WFC last year I would have been content to attend panels and buy books, but Mark pushed me into socialising and buying people drinks and so on. Which is also entertaining, because I will admit, yes, that whatever socialisation I possess comes from the Society for Creative Anachronism and from fandom--which is why I am such a geek.
The advantage of socialising in geek circles is that it hugely reduces the occasions on which I lie awake reviewing every word, glance, and gesture I've made for social faux pas. Because mostly no one notices.

Anyway. It's been said that the lessons of Viable Paradise are time-release processes, that they unpack over months and years (like that friend of my husband who fell out of his chair laughing in Music Theory class because he'd just gotten a PDQ Bach joke).
The friendships also unpack. VPXers whom I didn't get to know during VP itself become acquaintances and friends over time spent online and at cons. The network expands, busy little spiders sticking strands to strands to strands.

That being the long way around of saying that I got to hang out with Dru, a damn fine roomie, and chat with Zak and Sharon--one of the WFC giveaways was the latest Realms of Fantasy, with Sharon's name on the cover!--and meet VPers of both single and double digits (or triple & quadruple if you use the Roman numerals). I missed the VP dinner, because of having no watch and no sense of time, but made the gathering in Zak and Sharon's hotel room, where I had a rather nice half-glass of mead. I met some of the Fighting Thirteens, and a fine bunch they are, and well-named.

I failed to buy drinks for either Tim Powers or Mary Robinette Kowal, though both of them came and went repeatedly to the table in the bar that the VPers had laid claim to, and Mr. Powers very kindly gave me the bullet points on how he does research, in quick bursts of knowledge between dashes back to the editors & publishers table.
I learned that from the back I can be mistaken for Sherwood Smith. I don't see the resemblance myself, but then I can't see me from the back. She also dresses with far more flair than I do--but I did get Lucy's okay on the clothes I brought, which were intended to look moar srs than the usual dressed-out-of-the-laundry-basket look that's all I can usually manage.

World Fantasy has a couple of distinct features.
One is the Giant Bag of Books that attendees are given, which they can then swap and trade as they wish (there's a swap table where you can leave your surplus, and would it surprise you at all to know that almost everyone who put books on there stacked them appropriately and tidily? and sorted by type, with all the zines and journals on one side and books on the other?)
One is that there's one giant autograph session where all the authors of whatever degree sit at tables with their names and whatever display they are inclined to put together, and sign books and chat. I was able to get books signed for friends by Sherwood Smith, Tim Powers, and Jane Lindskold (the next day), and thank Garth Nix for signing Zoe's book last year. Got books selfishly signed for myself from Elizabeth Lynn and Patricia McKillip, and found myself buying Elaine Isaak's new book The Eunuch's Heir, and Dan Wells' I Am Not a Serial Killer--he had a brilliant elevator pitch, I have to say.
On my last circuit (because I am utter pants at finding people in giant rooms) I spotted Lucy sitting among the others, with a name card in front of her, but I had nothing for her to autograph for me (sob!) This year the organisers made 'tent cards' (now I know what they're called, I feel so informed) for everyone. On the way out I picked up my owny-own tent card so I could pretend I was real. Or practice for being real, however one cares to phrase it. I'm going to have to think about what looked good on the tables. A good many authors don't seem to think about presentation at all.

Wandering past the bar I stopped to take a picture of some luminaries of Canadian genre publishing representing themselves as the three wise monkeys, and ended up going for dinner with their party, which expanded as it went. Janice had come out wearing the light dress she'd put on for the Edge party, and outside was chilly. Brian Hades was taking his jacket off for her, but I was carrying my sweater, and offered that, thus becoming part of the Janice Effect, which is that when she needs something she has only to look around to have it supplied--this was explained by Mr. Hades (the princess Errigenie in Willow Knot has a similar effect, so I understood). Someone (at the Edge party?) had been singing first-aid songs, and someone else had been captioning them, so two of the women were practicing the ASL(?) sign for internal bleeding, which I now know, though I'm not sure I'm doing it with the correct hand. A party where you learn the signs for emergency medicine simply has to be a great party.
At the Mexican restaurant, Brian Hades gave us the Cole's notes version of his grandfather's life story, which really should be a Great Canadian Novel, possibly by Robertson Davies. What can be better than a boy orphaned by a fire joining the circus to become a fire-eater and magician, travelling with Gypsies, riding the rails and eventually becoming a fireman?
Two young girls were going from table to table doing card tricks, and Janice taught one of them a trick with a knife (paging Michael Ondaatje for an obligatory CanLit ref) to add to her repertoire. (you can do it with a pencil, but there were knives on the table)
The menu had grasshoppers listed, with a parenthetical yes they are grasshoppers. Unlike the eels I had in Norfolk, the grasshoppers had no immediate research application, but how often does the chance come one's way? So I was one of the three at the table who ordered the grasshopper appetiser (I also had chicken soup, to soothe me in case the grasshoppers weirded me out.) You'll want to know, I expect?
So. They come in a bowl, with guacamole and thick nacho chips. They are fried in oil, and look like a bowl full of small brown bugs. The way of eating them is to dip the nacho in the guacamole, and scoop up grasshoppers with it. This triggered my squick somewhat, because clinging to the guacamole they look very bug-like. It was easier to spoon them than dip them.
Mostly they tasted of oil and salt. The texture was crunchy. They're cooked complete (well, imagine the labour of peeling or de-legging individual grasshoppers) but the legs of the smaller ones come off when they're stirred about, so there's a scatter of tiny legs clinging to the edge of the bowl, which was also slightly squicky. When I was able to examine some of the larger ones, they were quite brown except for the abdomen(?) which was paler, more greyish or greenish. I imagine that was the actual food-part.
There were a few moments when I thought 'I have bugs in my mouth' but generally I was more conscious of just how salty they were. I expect they'd be better with beer, if I liked beer. I ate about half the bowl, and took the rest away to eat cold the next morning, wrapped in a tortilla. They aren't bad cold, but I'd like to know what they taste like without the salt and oil.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The panels, racing through.

WFC, as you may know, limits programming to one or two tracks of panels. On the surface, this makes it resemble a small fannish con, like VCon of old. Probably the limitation is to allow plenty of opportunity for business to be done in the bar, but that side is still muchly a mystery to me.

Friday I started with the Who, What or Why Done It panel, about mysteries and puzzles in ghost stories and urban fantasy, which sounded like fun buuuuutttt... when the moderator showed up (late) and then spent what felt like 10 minutes rambling on about what he'd been reading before he came, introducing the panelists (himself), giving them five (long-winded and verbose) questions to consider, talking about the etymology of 'mystery', praising another story he'd read recently, and ... Well, I left before he'd given the panelists a chance to talk. Every time he paused, and I thought 'he's done, he's going to open discussion' another clause would roll oleaginously from his lips, never a period, always a comma. I ditched. (The same moderator drove me from a panel last WFC--why is he asked to moderate?)

And headed over to Writing Human Characters, which was well underway. This was okay, going over fairly well-trodden paths. Make characters human by giving them something they want and can't have, how to make an alien/inhuman 'human', but how to make a character really alien if they're all humans with forehead prostheses? Discussion of monocultural planets and races (one of my pet peeves) and the dubious practice of using non-European stereotypes as a basis for alien races. All in all, entertaining.

Shelf Lives was a slideshow and talk by John Picacio about how he creates book covers, which I found very interesting, especially the layering of effects, and how he gathers photos and items to trigger concepts.

Non-Conciliatory Fantasy was a bit frustrating, in that the panelists (and audience) didn't seem to be clear whether they meant 'conciliatory' or 'consolatory', ie. fantasy that does not bring into harmony, or fantasy that does not alleviate grief. Because those would be different. It strikes me that most epicky fantasy is non-conciliatory because it ends with one side defeated in battle, or mostly defeated but enough undefeated for the sequel, but it rarely if ever ends with treaties, negotiation and hard-won harmony. (Adjust for ignorance--I read very little doorstopper fantasy). But generally the discussion was about non-consolatory fantasy, fantasy that doesn't leave you feeling comforted or reassured. Point made that many epic fantasists were survivors of war, soldiers, drawing on their combat experience, from Tolkien onwards. Was any fantasy classic really conciliatory/consolatory? Conclusion seemed to be that most end with loss, something small and precious saved from the general wreck. Heroes and anti-heroes considered briefly, the anti-hero not a recent development either, Jack Vance's heroes often brutal and amoral, this bearable because of his detachment.

Having missed the Round Robin Painting on Thursday, I wanted to listen to Artists Who Write and Writers Who Paint. It was fun, and convinced me that I'll have to read Seanan McGuire: when the discussion veered over to book covers and how authors are not consulted, she mentioned that she'd been asked what was the one thing she wanted on her cover and she'd said 'clothes'. That her heroine should be fully clothed, no butt-cleavage, no tramp-stamp, and that this wish had been answered. That one reader had taken Toby for a boy, and she'd wanted to hug them for that. Discussion of using art to unblock or to organise and free thoughts by painting/sketching. I was surprised to learn that no one really made sketches or paintings of characters or settings or scenes, though occasionally art echoed the mood of a story-in-progress.

Academic Treatment of Fantasy and Horror, the advance of genre studies in the last ten years. It's happening, but the 'name' universities are still resistant, and likely to continue so. Degrees in genre studies are easier to get via sociology (popular culture studies) or anthropology than through eng lit.

Know the Soup You're In, slideshow and talk by Lisa Snelling about the creative process, and how she balances art and mass production, where she finds inspiration, and finishing with a lovely playful short film made by a friend, which reminded me of early Norman McLaren.

When People Confuse the Author with Their Work was huge fun with lively opinionated panelists and lots of anecdotes. The fear of your mother (of whatever sort) reading your work as an inhibiting factor, and the decision to write deeply flawed characters. Not answering fan mail from prisons. Preconceptions about one's favourite authors, disappointment or relief? Is the confusion more likely with first-person narrative? Three of the panelists had worked in publishing and found it necessary to separate their love of certain authors' works from their increased knowledge of the certain authors' personalities.

Urban Fantasy as Alternate History, a fascinating topic: if supernatural creatures really were part of society, what would the sociological, legal, historic etc. implications be? And it started off well, with examples of how history might be changed, ways the panelists had approached the question, who did it well ... and then it veered into what's the difference between science fiction and fantasy, and the moderator made no attempt to bring it back, but in fact led it determinedly into surely one of the most trite of all genre questions. So I left.

Coarse Dialogue and Graceful Description, about balancing high and low diction in fantasy, moderated by Deanna Hoak, whom I totally fangirl. Did veer a few times into good and bad copyediting anecdotes, and notable for Ellen Kushner and James Frenkel having a set-to. I felt that Guy Gavriel Kay ran on rather when he got hold of the mike, too.

What Makes a Good Monster was okay, but in some ways was a mirror-image of the Human Characters panel. The most frightening monsters are the most alien or the most human? Humans can make the best monsters; Pennywise the Clown is vastly more frightening than the giant spider-thingy it becomes.

The Sorcerer in Fantasy was one of those panels where every panelist disavowed writing about sorcerers, but they managed to muddle through until it turned into a discussion about the difference between magic and technology, which ties with sf vs. fantasy for mind-numbingly irrelevant and over-studied question. I ditched.

Contemporary Rural Fantasy was pretty good, though not brilliant. Contemporary rural settings make for fantasy for teens and children, horror for adults, so much discussion of horror. With population more and more urbanised, perception of country changes, both safer and more dangerous. There have always been works set in the countryside, why is it not recognised as a subgenre, or so often conflated into urban fantasy? Panelists and audience name rural fantasy works, come up with fairly substantial body of works. Moderator says again that subgenre is waiting for iconic work which will establish it.

Bad Food, Bad Clothes and Bad Breath was brilliant. Just bloody brilliant. Discussion of the gritty and unpleasant realities of pre-industrial societies. I'd thought of ducking out early to catch some of Weird Weird West (which I heard was also brilliant, afterwards) but couldn't tear myself away. Must go and find Kari Sperring's academic work (under different name). Why agriculture? Unintentional germ warfare. Insect life. Positive influence of Christianity, sorry about that, guys. Why doesn't anyone in fantasy have lice or fleas (I do happy dance here, because I have, yes, a lousing scene in Willow Knot) and why do the characters have such enlightened views on medicine and slavery and so on? Anyway, I can't restrain myself, but actually do go up post-panel and brag about my lousing scene.

And those were the panels I attended.

Monday, November 2, 2009

first notes from WFC

World Fantasy Convention, that is.

Flight down
better than I expected/feared. Sent aside at Seattle--apparently I have been flagged, but the Customs person this time may have sorted it out (we'll see what happens the next time I cross). She did say it was the most confusing case she'd seen and she had to go back twice to talk to a supervisor. Obviously I don't know what the Port Angeles Customs had put on my file, but at one point she asked me if I'd ever been a customs broker (?!?), because there was apparently some note to that effect. And here I thought the problem at Port Angeles was that Mark didn't have a customs broker (it was said--not to me--that he should have one, as if a small business like his could even afford it).
So still a bit of trepidation whether this will happen every time, leaving my fate up to whether the Customs person is in a good mood or not, and what will happen the next time I travel with Mark.
The security theatre side of things was fairly well managed and relatively painless--everyone going to the States gets patted down and has their baggage gone over with a sniffy-wand, but I don't have any twitches about people seeing my rolled-up socks or sanipads, fortunately, or ticklishness about being patted down, and the staff were pleasant and efficient about it.

At the Light Rail stop in San Jose, found myself part of a cluster all going to WFC, including the (co?) chair of the 2011 con. Geekdar? Fandar? Anyway, we all recognised each other by type pretty quickly, and combined knowledge to identify the correct stop for the Fairmont (the directions having said 'stops in front of the Fairmont' without naming the stop) and to find the actual building and entrance.
The first entrance we came to didn't open to the Great Unkeycarded. What a lot of walking there is when you have Architecture and Vistas.

Today I mostly went to readings, because there isn't much programming and because I was feeling that I didn't know who anyone was, and wanted to associate works with names. Last year I missed most of the readings, though I did make it to Patricia McKillip's, where she read from what she apologetically called a first draft (dear lord, if all our first drafts were like that, books would reach print a damn sight faster).
Also, I've been wondering how a writer chooses a reading--I'll have to ask about that, when there aren't other hands waving (which mostly there weren't).
Blake Charlton read a scene from his YA fantasy where Nicodemus bargains with a gargoyle and loses control of the situation. I missed the opening, so I'm not sure how much explanation he gave, but the setting was pretty well laid in and I had no trouble following. I'm a sucker (as you can guess) for library settings, and gargoyles who reshelve books is a pretty cool concept. So his reading gave a good taste of the world and character, and left off with clear indications of immediate trouble.
Janni Lee Simner read the prologue and first chapter of Thief Eyes, another YA fantasy where a modern teen discovers that her mother's disappearance may be linked to an Icelandic legend. I missed part of the prologue, but the story caught me with the modern segment, the grieving resentful girl badgering her evasive father for answers.
Two readings from a recent co-authored fantasy novel, and I would have ducked out before the second one if I'd realised it was the same book. EFP and evidently given a pass on wordcount to judge from the flabby writing, with all the 'then's and 'too's and 'suddenly's left in, overexplaining, and the same information provided again and again. Also hitting way too many of my twitches, like bad people having bad teeth, inconsistent naming (a character named Baldric, ffs) an apparently medieval world with 18th c. architecture. About the time someone quaffed a tankard of (telegraphed as drugged) wine to the dregs, I had to ditch.
Later, Frederic Durbin read several excerpts focussing on what I would have guessed to be a secondary character, one of what seemed like winged house-elves, hitting various points of the story from a side-view. His enjoyment of the character and of sharing her thoughts with the audience was rather sweet.
Ken Scholes rolled up with a fair-sized entourage, read a fable (it had talking animals and a moral, therefore was a fable) about chimps on the moon, and took a lot of questions. I wonder if there's a fame tipping-point where you have to choose a short reading to allow time for questions? Several questions were about how he managed writing with babies, but I was most interested by what he said about moving to novels from short stories--his discovery that his short stories had novels hiding inside them.