Week 46: Westercon

Locations: Edmonton, AB; Snohomish, WA; Tacoma, WA; Seattle, WA


Dates: 6/29/97-7/5/97

Sunday morning I did some lackadaisical packing. We went to lunch with a friend of PJ's whom I'd been hoping to meet all week; walked around afterwards, eventually decided it was time to go. Waved goodbye to PJ, headed west.

Sometime in late afternoon I rounded a curve and came face to face with a breathtaking view of the Canadian Rockies. I had a momentary flash of "oh, I'm home!" which I later figured must have just been seeing Real Mountains for the first time in a while. (Not that I spend a lot of time in the mountains, mind you, but I do think of snow-capped jagged peaks as part of the milieu of what I consider to be Home.) (Aside: my father tells me that our family took the train from Seattle via Canada over the Rockies, to Philadelphia, when I was about 1... He suggested half-jokingly that I might recognize the place as I went through in the other direction. I don't think that was what was going on, but it's conceivable.)

Getting through the national park there on the AB/BC border took longer than expected 'cause (a) I kept getting stuck behind very slow drivers, and (b) I kept having to pull over to take photos of the amazing scenery. I eventually got through the main thrust of the mountains and began heading south. Stopped around 9 in a small town called something like Blue River, home of lovely scenery and many millions of mosquitos. Found a motel—more expensive than I'd have liked, but convenient—and had dinner at the truck stop across the highway.

Continued southwest the next morning. Listened to Canadian radio; it was about to be Canada Day, so there was a lot of discussion of What It Means To Be A Canadian. Decided not to go to Victoria after all. It had been highly recommended to me by lots of people, but I was sick of traveling, and wanted to be certain to see Uncle Dobe & Aunt Kathleen before Dobe left town for a week or two the following week, and just didn't want to take the extra day the detour was going to involve. So I crossed the border (with a minimum of hassle from Customs), changed my Canadian money to American, and drove to Snohomish. (The intellectual quality, and politeness level, of the radio programs took an immediate nosedive as I crossed the border.)

Was good as always to see Dobe & Kathleen. They caught me up on tidbits of family news; I admired Kathleen's lovely and extensive garden; eventually I went to sleep in the cozy tugboat wheelhouse in their back yard.

Next day I hung out with Kathleen and a young neighbor girl who visits there regularly. Around midafternoon, Kathleen and I drove down to my grandparents' place in Tacoma, through heavy I-5 traffic.

Spent the remainder of the afternoon mostly talking with Grandma & Grandpa.

Wednesday I went to see Peter & Nancy. We had a late lunch, eventually ended up at the Lakewood Mall; wandered through Barnes & Noble (which had three copies of my book, the most I've seen in any store), went to see a movie. Then dinner. Peter and I spent a little time going over the Westercon schedule I'd pulled off the Web. I got back to my grandparents' place fairly late.

Thursday morning I checked email hoping for a response to something I'd sent the night before, and found a flood of messages. It developed that a friend had (unsuccessfully) attempted suicide earlier that morning. I'm not going to talk about that here, but it was an undercurrent in everything that I did or thought about for the next several days.

A little later, I picked up Peter and drove us up to Westercon. I don't often go to the opening day of a convention—there's usually not much of anything happening besides registration. This time, though, there were a few items that looked interesting, and Amy (from Clarion) was doing a reading so I wanted to be there for that. (I should take this opportunity to apologize for not having updated the cast list in about three and a half months. At this point I'm unlikely to go back and fill it in... Ah, well.)

Registered, then went to Amy's reading. Cool story, and nice to see Amy again (hadn't seen her since Clarion, just about exactly six years, though we'd been in touch via email now and then). Went to a panel on VR applications (it was weird—the panelists seemed to be of the "it's not VR unless you have force-feedback devices" school, while I've become used to people talking about VRML—visuals only, on a flat screen—as VR), then to another reading: M. J. Engh, author of Arslan, was reading from her new novel and from her upcoming nonfiction book, a sort of Who's Who of Ancient Roman women. Attended part of a panel on censorship and the media, then met up with Peter and drove back to Tacoma.

Talked to Arthur on the phone that night; it was a relief to get to talk about stuff. He mentioned in passing that a friend of Thida's, Mary Anne, was at Clarion West this year. So when during the Friday panel on making your first professional sale a young woman in the audience mentioned that she was at Clarion West this year, I perked up; after the panel I got a glimpse of her name tag, which seemed to say Mary Anne, so I went up and talked with her. She was indeed the person I thought she was. We chatted a bit, she introduced me to a couple of her friends (who turned out to be Omaha and Elf Sternberg, whom I knew of via the Net but had never previously talked with), and we agreed to talk more at the Clarion party that night. (Every Friday during Clarion West, there's a party for the writer who's just taught the past week of the workshop. This was Samuel R. "Chip" Delany's week (he had been one of our teachers in '91), so there was no way I was gonna miss the party.) I attended a few more panels—one with Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith on blurring genres, one on marketing short fiction, one of creating religion, one on FTL travel via Krasinokov Tubes, a relatively new concept in physics. The religion panel featured Roberta Gregory (writer and artist for the comic books Naughty Bits and Winging It, among others) and M. J. Engh, but it wasn't going anywhere I was interested in and the room was packed, so I snuck out and dropped in on the filk improv session for lack of anything better to do.

The idea seemed to be that the audience wrote song topics on slips of paper, and the performers on the stage would read off the topics and, if one struck their fancy, write and/or perform a filk on the given topic. There were a couple of entertaining items and songs. In among the various topics was "a nine-cat household"; although I like cats, most cat filks are a tad too precious for me, so I wasn't thrilled at the idea, but someone up front (in the audience) suggested that this topic could be done as a filk to a song about hunting dogs, which she proceeded to sing the chorus to. Catchy tune, and the singer had a nice voice. The performers on stage suggested that if she wanted a filk to that perhaps she ought to write one, which she happily agreed to do. Ten or fifteen minutes later she came back with a lovely filk, which sure 'nuff was about a nine-cat household—eight felines plus the author, whose name was Cat Faber. I was delighted, more so when I found out she was performing later that night.

After the FTL panel, I went to dinner with Amy at a fast-seafood place down by the water; we watched people festively streaming by heading for the fireworks. (This was the fourth of July, but I hadn't really noticed up 'til now...) We chatted about Clarions past and present, what we were and had been up to, what the rest of our class was doing, and so on. Then we drove up to Eileen Gunn's place for the party.

(Warning: I'm going to do a lot of name-dropping for the next paragraph or so, even more than above. So don't take my awestruck fanboy ravings too seriously—and if you aren't into science fiction or fantasy, this bit will probably be incomprehensible anyway. Just ignore it.)

Arrived, went around back where the party was, saw Mary Anne, said hi. Immediately heard my name being called. Turned around, and there was CJ, who (it developed) is also at Clarion West this year. Chatted with her for a bit, spotted Lucius Shepard (one of the teachers my year); went over to talk with him. Also ran into another student from our year, Dave. Was introduced to half a dozen current Clarionettes; saw Chip across the yard, followed him into the house, said hello and discovered he was just leaving. Ah, well. Went back out into the yard, spent a while being part of the cluster of Clarion folk surrounding Gordon Van Gelder, Clarion alum and new editor of Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Didn't get up the nerve to introduce myself to him—and decided later that was just as well, since I'm told he's getting a little irritated by the way beginning writers flock 'round him trying to schmooze. About this time, Mary Anne and Elf and a couple of others headed back to the con for an erotica panel they were on; I considered tagging along, but was having too much fun. (I'd originally expected to spend maybe five minutes lurking in a corner at the party; hadn't really occurred to me that I would know anyone other than Chip there...) Wandered past Connie Willis (whom I'd seen at various conventions in the past and so recognized) and said to a couple of Clarionettes on the porch, "Hey, that's Connie Willis over there." Went into the house, found Eileen, said hi to her and chatted a bit about VR games on the Web. (I never did manage to find or reintroduce myself to Dave and Leslie, the longterm organizers of Clarion West.) By the time I came out of the house a couple minutes later, Willis was on the porch surrounded by awestruck students. I hung around on the fringes of the crowd for ten or fifteen minutes, talking with others who wandered by, playing it cool and nonchalantly tossing off "well, my year we did thus-and-such" every now and then. Eventually the crowd dissipated, Willis turned to leave, and I commented that I'd neglected to introduce myself. I did so, the one remaining Clarion '97 guy said something else to her, and we soon found ourselves back in conversation with her. She turns out to be a very entertaining conversationalist. About 45 minutes later, Howard Waldrop drifted over to talk with her; soon after, Gardner Dozois came over. (He had someone with him named George; it may've been George R. R. Martin, but I didn't think it looked like him. But I don't know who else it would've been.) The conversation soon turned to Dozois' army journalism stories—those military folks seem to have found a variety of entertaining ways of accidentally killing themselves. Eventually Willis left (I almost volunteered to give her a ride but didn't, and kicked myself when Amy did so a minute later); not much later, I was no longer feeling part of the conversation, so I headed out.

Stopped back by the con, sat and listened to a filk circle for a while. Realized I'd missed Cat Faber's concert, so I went up to her as she was heading out and asked if she was performing again. She said she would be at filk circles for the rest of the con. I drove home.

Peter had gotten a ride home from a friend Friday night, and got a ride into the city on Saturday morning so he'd been there for hours by the time I showed up around noon. I went to a how-to-sell-your-novel panel, stopped by one on the technological Singularity that Vernor Vinge and others talk about, got to hear Howard Waldrop read a new story about the Charles Lindbergh, Jr. kidnapping. Delightful as usual, and he mentioned a short story collection of his that had been published in a limited edition at an Australian con; it was available at the Locus table, so I went and picked up a copy and, later in the afternoon, got Waldrop to sign it.

Spent some time at the art show (which was on the 35th floor; as the elevators were ridiculously slow, I walked up from the 20th floor, only to find that the doors from the stairwells were locked. Eventually I pounded on the door and someone came and opened it). Saw bits of various other panels, none terribly enjoyable. Got some food with Mary Anne and Kate, another current Clarion person. Went to the standard "tales from the slushpile" panel, enjoyable as always; finally managed to introduce myself to Gordon Van Gelder there, since he seemed to be in a good mood, but that may not've been the wisest place to do so. Ah, well.

Joined the Clarion '97 folks in a trek up to the Tor Books party on the 20-somethingth floor. Spectacular view of downtown Seattle (including stormclouds in the dying sunlight over the water, and a building whose lowest five or ten floors appear to be an inverted frustum). I ensconced myself on a window ledge and found myself conversing with various folks who wandered by, mostly Omaha and a Clarion guy whose name I'm blanking on. Didn't manage to identify any of the writers and editors in attendance, which was just as well as I'd only have gone all fanboy puppydog on them. Already worried a bit that I was hanging on the current Clarion folks' coattails, but it didn't seem to be a big deal so I didn't worry much about it. Eventually it was time to go meet Peter.

Found him downstairs listening to Spider Robinson (and his audience) playing and singing Beatles songs. Sat in on that for an hour or so, then went home. Didn't get enough sleep before the last day of the con.

Movies, Books, etc.

The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje
Finally finished the book version, which is rather disappointing as a book (clearly written by a poet who cares much more about odd and interesting word combinations than about, say, making sense) but utterly fascinating as a study in how to turn a slow, strange, wordy book into a superb (and very visual) film. The main story of the film is derived from about 80 pages of the 300-page novel; dozens of lines and incidents in the book are twisted slightly and assigned to other characters for the purposes of the movie.
Men in Black
Much more fun than I expected; Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones excellent as always, mostly good effects, fun and inventive story (with a much more interesting premise than I'd thought it had), and mostly just plain laugh-out-loud funny. Lots of guns and explosions and such, of course, but it's all comic-book window dressing to keep the jokes coming—and btw, many of the jokes are asides as something else goes on. (Note: It was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, director of (among other things) Get Shorty. No wonder I liked it! Further note: Sonnenfeld appears to have a movie version of The Wild, Wild, West in the works, starring Will Smith as James West. Should be interesting...)

(Last updated: 8 July 1997.)

Join the Conversation