Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Con

I know it's regarded as something of a failure to blog about a Con in rather less than real-time, but I don't really give a shit. This is, as ever, a personal record, and that I share it is less a measure of my belief in its worth, and far more a measure of the fact that having an audience keeps me writing.

I finished up the ROR meeting greatly encouraged. Having a bunch of professional writers and readers go over the libretto material was extremely helpful. The heavy, complex language appropriate to the era in which the opera was set came lightly and easily to them, and I could 'hear' the sense of the work, and the underlying rhythms of the language, and I was very pleased. There's still work to do, but I think it's fair to say the final piece that goes to Outcast Opera will be rich, textured, layered, evocative, and laced with powerful themes. At least, I hope so. I can certainly say, at least, that the lines will be feasible for the singers!

In any case, it looks pretty decent. I probably shouldn't get too excited yet – it is an Arts project, after all, and they're pretty damned difficult to bring home – but when this gets on stage, I'm going to be absolutely delighted.

Thus for ROR. Thursday morning, I left my bag with friends who were on their way to the Convention Centre, and I caught a very farkin' expensive cab out to the airport, where I collected Elder Son. As you know, he's turned 10 this year, and I figured that a really good tenth birthday treat would be his very own membership at Worldcon. I also figured, of course, that if/when he got tired of it he could go out to visit his friend, the reknowned Weapon of Barnesm.

I also thought that the very large and complex environment of the Worldcon would also provide a fairly safe and enclosed environment so he could run around on his own, manage his own time and experience to a degree, and still be under observation. I walked him into the dealers room and introduced him at the Twelfth Planet table, where he already knew Alisa, and we agreed that if he lost track of me, Elder Son – now wearing his very own 'Jake Flinthart' (his idea!) Con ID badge – would come and wait there, and they'd help him find me. I did the same at the ASIM table, to improve the odds a bit, and then I walked around and introduced him to a few friends.

He took it all in pretty well. Finally, I dropped him at the first session of the kids' program so I could go to one of my assigned events. Young “Jake” wasn't sure he wanted to be at an event aimed at helping kids learn how to design games, but when I explained what a 'Kaffeeklatsch' was (my event) he took the lesser of two evils.

An hour later (an hour in which I met Sarah Parker and Russell Kilpatrick, and we amalgamated our tables and had a really good session) I went back to check on Jake. You know: just to see. I knew their next session was all about ice-cream making, so I figured he'd like that, but I wanted to see how the game design thing had gone.


I should never have worried. Duck to goddam water. I came in, and he was clutching a couple of home-drawn cards to his chest, in the midst of a group of very intent youngsters. I couldn't get more than three words out of him. He was totally, utterly uninterested in Dad, and completely fixed on his new friends and the game.

So I just walked off and left him. And that was it.

He never looked back. Next time I saw him, he was talking so fast, trying to tell me so much about his adventures that I could hardly shut him up. The only way I managed the feat was by telling him that Phil and Kaja Foglio were operating a Girl Genius stand in the dealers room. Once he heard that... whoa.

I've got a little winged trilobite badge that represents the Heterodyne Dirigible Corps, courtesy of the Girl Genius series. It's a nifty little piece, and I like it, and young Jake coveted it something shocking, so our goal was to get him a new one from the Foglios. Sadly, all they had on sale was comics. Even more sadly, we already had all the comics they were selling. That was no problem for the ever-obliging Phil, though: he grabbed a pen and a piece of paper from a bystander, and in short order young Jake was the pleased-as-punch and proud as hell owner of one bona fide sketch of Agatha Heterodyne, Girl Genius signed by the artist and author.

Oh, and he's got my goddam badge, too, I have to order a new one.

So that's how his Con has been going. We caught up with Rob Shearman, whom I met a few years back in Perth. Rob was the writer of the first 'Dalek' episode of the revived Doctor Who – the story with the manky old Dalek languishing in some American billionaire's collection of space oddities – and since then, he's gone on to write quite a number of nifty, provocative, elegant stories. Jake didn't give a shit about Rob's chops as a story writer, though; he was too busy goggling at someone who had ACTUALLY WRITTEN ABOUT DALEKS ON DOCTOR WHO! Result: Rob grabs some paper and a pen, and draws a Dalek with a speech bubble about 'exterminating the Jake-thing'... which signed sketch is now in the same clear plastic envelope with Agatha Heterodyne.

My Con has been good too. They had me signed up for a little over half a dozen events over the five days, including the kaffeeklatsch and the inevitable reading. Enough stuff to feel involved, not enough to feel rushed. I've been catching up with friends, and dealing with the usual feelings of mad delight at seeing so many wonderful people again, coupled with the despair of not being able to go to enough places with enough people fast enough.

One treat: I finally got the chance to sit down with Paul Haines for a while. Paul just scored himself a Ditmar (o add to a ridiculous swag of plaudits for the piece... very nice work) for one of his recent works 'Wives', and he looks a lot better than I feared. I didn't ask him how the treatment for his cancer is going – the stuff he's written up in his blog has been horrific enough, and I figured it would be nice to talk about something else – but his eyes were clear, and he's picked up a bit of weight. We swapped a few stories (I had to explain the bandage on my nose... I banged it on a window trying to make silly faces at Kate Eltham, eating breakfast in the Hilton, but I'm telling everyone it was all about ninja) and had a laugh – and whatever lies ahead of him, he's got a lot of strength. I'm going to keep hoping.

Dave and Barb Freer turned up at my reading. That was a bit tragic, actually. I turned up at four, to sit in on Will Eliott's session, because he was reading before me. That's etiquette, apparently. No problems. Trouble is, Will didn't show. I wound up doing a quiet little reading to about half-a-dozen people. I chose to read my new piece 'Best Dog In The World', from the 'Worlds Next Door' anthology out of Fablecroft. The anthology is for kids, yeah, but Best Dog is actually quite adult in its theme and development, if not in language. Basically, it's a story of a boy who loves his dog, but has to give it up, and I've been getting a lot of feedback on it. I wasn't trying for sentimentality; I just wanted to portray the kid, the dog, and the feelings.

Apparently I succeeded. Half the people I meet who've read it want to kick me for being so nasty to the dog (it's not nasty, honest!) and the other half are prone to bursting into tears when they mention it.

I suppose that's good. What's not good is that... well, it was the first time I'd tried to read the thing to anyone. And I wound up sniffling sadly when I read it. It's embarrassing, crying over your own goddam story. Fortunately, I didn't know anyone in Will's audience, so I figured it would be okay. Half of them were crying as well, in any case.

Unfortunately, as I was packing up... well, that's when Dave and Barb and a few others turned up. And they were there to hear ME read,

I gritted my teeth. Figured I had practice now, and I could do the story without, you know, going all wet and mooshy.

I almost made it. But Dave and Barb are dog folk... and they were visibly responding when I looked up, and that sent me off again, and by the time I finished, everybody was having a bit of a cry.

So much for my manly, heroic image. I've been wandering about ever since, telling the damned story on myself so that nobody else gets to turn it into one of those “hey, guess what I heard!” things. But I swear, I'm gonna practice reading that story until I can do it without choking up...

Just for the record, the dog in the story is a black Kelpie named 'Scout', owned by a boy called 'Kevin'. And those of you who know me well will be aware I grew up with a best friend called Kevin, and Kev had a totally marvellous black Kelpie dog by the name of Scout. That dog kept us in and out of trouble for a couple of wonderful years, but he came to a sad, bad, tragic end. And yeah, I wrote the story with that dog in mind. I guess the real Scout won't know, but it feels nice to find a way of remembering him, thirty-five years later. He really was a wonderful dog.

And what else? Oh, I've met Peter Watts, and he's tall, and smart as hell, and impulsive, and curious, and he loves a good, reasoned argument, and I think Cat Sparks did a really, really good thing getting him over here. Peter Watts is the author of several books in SF, at least one being the wholly remarkable Blindsight, which I had the chance to discuss with him. He's also the man who fell afoul of the notoriously power-happy cretins of the US Border Authority a while back, resulting in a conviction for – apparently – assaulting the officer's Taser with his face. Or something equally believable.

Like a lot of us, Cat was unimpressed by the US treatment of Dr Watts. She also knew that his legal fees cost a bomb, so she pulled her finger out, and organised a fund to bring Peter over for the Con. He's been fantastic to have around, and I'm pleased to have met him – but more, I think it's a nice, small, personal way of saying to the uglier elements of US governance that we're tired of their shit. Gandhi would have approved: it was a very civilised measure, an effort to behave as human beings should, in the face of an organisation which has clearly forgotten what 'civilisation' means.

What else? Oh, dinner with the gently simmering Angela Slatter, the steamy L. L. Hannett, and the positively smokin' Amy, as well as Peter The Horn, and the wonderful Tehani, complete with grizzly baby Max. Drinks with more writers than I can possibly remember. Post-Ditmar celebrations with Rob Hood and Cat Sparks and Kaaron Warren – whom I have finally, finally met in the flesh. Oh, and Thoraiya Dyer: I met her too, and that was great. In fact, I caught up with quite a few alumni of Canterbury 2100 (hi Matt! Hello Trent!), and took the opportunity to say thanks... they were a wonderful crew to work with, and I'm still very proud of the accomplishment that anthology represents.

I've done panels on The Fermi Paradox, and on 'How to Review', and 'Ghosts around the World'. I've taken in talks on e-publishing, alternate history, and YA fiction. Oh – and I sat in on a 'Girl Genius' radio play enacted by the Foglio clan and sundry selected members of fandom, with help from the audience... and it was flat-out hilarious. Definitely a high point of the Con, there. Young Jake and his friend The Weapon laughed so damned hard they were falling out of their seats.

So, now it's Sunday evening. I've finished my commitments, but Jake has just started a session on making art and illustrating, with the remarkable and esteemed Shaun Tan. Naturally I had to buy one of Tan's books so Jake could get an autograph, and since Shaun's work is so very evocative, just as naturally I wound up buying two.

One of the real joys of any of these conventions, for me, is meeting new people: Amy, Stephanie (have you read Bulgakov yet?) Stephen Paulsen and his daughter... there were many more. Putting faces to names... after the panel on reviewing, Jo the Dragonfly found me and we had time for a brief handshake, but I was on my way to sign up Jake for the Lego event, and I didn't have time for more. Mark Curtis? You out there? Same thing: I had Dad duty, and I had to run. Martin Livings... dammit, this is the first time I ever actually got close to the man, and he had a story in Canterbury, and all I could do was give him a hug, say thanks, and hit the road.

Lack of time is a really big theme at these things. For those I bumped into but couldn't catch for a real session. (Nyssa!)... I'm truly apologetic. I get to these events maybe once a year, twice in a good year. In between, I have an ongoing Inernet correspondence as friend and colleague with maybe twenty, thirty people who I only ever see in person at these events. The math is hard: five days. Seven scheduled events. A variable number of events I'd love to attend... and thirty people I'd really like to take some time with. Add to that the complications – those people are also attending stuff, and trying to catch up with others – and while it's an utter joy, it's also very sad. I'd really like to take a month and spend it in the company of these people, but they can't do it, and I can't either. Of course, most of them have at least one or two others around them, where they live... and I'm a little isolated, yeah.

Apologies, too, unto my friends in Melbourne -- Bob and Jon and very much to Barnesm. I did the best I could, but there just wasn't time, especially with Jake in tow. I am particularly indebted to the House of Barnes, who kept Jake for two nights. 'Sgreat that he and the Weapon have enough in common to get on so well. We have to keep up the exchanges!

More apologies: there are people I meet at these events who I talk with, and who are splendid company, but – if I don't get to keep up with them via the Internet in-between times, well... dammit, it's hard to remember names of people I've met for just a few hours at conventions a year or more in the past. I try. I remember faces. But the names kind of slip away, and so I find myself in the embarrassing position of introducing and reintroducing myself again and again. So – if you bumped into me, and you remembered me from Perth or Canberra or Brisbane and I didn't remember you... I apologise. I can only cite the long, incredibly busy interludes in between, where I expend enormous energy at being a dad, and a martial arts instructor, and a cook and a gardener and a writer and so forth. I don't mean to be so forgetful, and I've got a pretty useful sort of memory, but it has its limits

Well, they're about to shut down the Green Room, which is where I'm sitting, typing away. I guess I'll slink outside and settle down somewhere Jake can see me when he emerges from the session with Shaun Tan. We'll go and find something to eat, and then hopefully we'll have the energy to attend the Hugo Award ceremony. Or not. Possibly we'll just filter back to our little room and get some sleep.

Added note: Peter Watts got himself a Hugo – and had to accept it in a daggy T-shirt 'cos he was convinced he wasn't going to win, so he didn't dress up. Yaay. Peter – and cheers to Cat Sparks!