For the most part, I remember the first time I read something by the favorite authors of my childhood. My reading of Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Tombs of Atuan dated from around age ten, after which point I walked around with my eyes closed as often as possible in order to find secret passages. (Number of secret passages since found in this manner: zero.) I remember Isaac Asimov from one of the years Mom was going to night school to get her college degree. She handed me a book, Foundation, from one of her classes and said I might like it. She was right. Frank Herbert’s Dune happened in middle school in California. I still associate him with endless summer and avocado groves, though Stilgar would not have approved of such water-fat on a vegetable. Firestarter was the first book by Stephen King I read at a time when I honestly wondered if I, too, might be able to start fires with my mind. (Number of fires since started with my mind: zero.)
Edgar Allan Poe was different. I don’t remember when he first showed up. He’s just always been there. It’s possible my father is responsible for that. Something in my deep memory says Dad read The Raven to me a very long time ago. I can certainly imagine him relishing making the cawing noises in a dramatic fashion, but I could just be making that up. By the time Mr. Preyss in 7th grade worked himself into a frenzy in front of the class with his rendition of The Tell-Tale Heart, I had already consumed many of Poe’s stories. I loved them. When I was a kid, the only other people I knew who read Edgar Allan Poe were adults, and they looked at me kinda funny when I said I had read lots of Poe’s stories.
So it was inevitable that on a weekend spent attending Balticon 50,* I would also visit Edgar Allan Poe’s house and his gravesite in Baltimore.** I’ve been wanting to do that for years! There was no way I was going to be disappointed. And I wasn’t! The house wasn’t much to look at. So I spent most of my time trying to imagine what that part of Poe’s life was like. It was a fascinating exercise, especially with one of two nearby Deathfest guys offering running commentary that was a little less Deathfest-y and a little more blowhard-y. I especially liked the Poe House’s loft room stairs. Twisting impossibly and ridiculously narrow, those stairs were the best Poe House example of how different life was in the 1800s.
Next stop: Poe’s gravesite about a mile away from the house. Yes, it’s cool to stand where Edgar Allan Poe may or may not currently be buried. Yes, it’s pretty exciting that I had a full five minutes by myself at the gravesite to get the most perfect picture I could. No, I’m not sure why a real-life scenic raven didn’t rise up from the earth to sit atop Poe’s tombstone, but maybe it was actually cooler in Hell that day.
As a history nerd, I quite enjoyed hanging out in the tiny graveyard and reading Wikipedia articles about all the other luminaries buried there. I couldn’t make out all the names on the tombstones though, like the ones of the dozen or so people whose eternal rest is now next to the sewer pipe under the breezeway between two church buildings. Yes, that’s what I said. To picture the breezeway area, think about what the space under a broad front porch looks like. You know, the dank, weird area where the raccoons and the wasps go to live in if you choose to dwell anywhere outside the limits of the City of Washington (this is what I’ve heard at least). Light shines into that under-porch space from weird angles and never fully illuminates the corners. There, now you’ve pictured the breezeway under which numerous people might now be surprised to find they are buried. Admittedly, that surprise would probably be secondary to the shock of cogitating 150 years post-burial. Anyway, seeing those graves under the breezeway and was an excellent surreal experience to have in Poe’s graveyard.
That was tops until this happened:
In my defense, I can’t resist answering questions posed by an eager Edgar Allan Poe devotee from Australia. Hannah Raven Smith is just such a Poe disciple, and the t-shirt I was wearing might have given away my own interest in the man. I also got a chance to chat with the Poe House curator from 1979-2013, Jeff Jerome, who seemed similarly incapable of resisting the enthusiasm of Ms. Raven Smith.
The Poe House and the gravesite were all a good time and everything I wanted them to be. I highly recommend visiting!
*Balticon was freakin’ awesome. George R.R. Martin was there doing his GRRM thing, AND I SPOKE WITH LARRY NIVEN!
**I recommend against walking the last half mile from the Inner Harbor to the Edgar Allan Poe House even in broad daylight if you are alone and wouldn’t appreciate getting your possessions stolen. It probably won’t happen, but the odds seemed higher than usual. Baltimore has Uber and taxis, and those worked just fine for me!
Eleven Things I Learned About Myself and D.C. After I Moved Here
1) D.C. gets up late. I don’t answer the phone before 9:00am, and I would never dream of calling someone that early. I understand suburban families with toddlers wake up at 5:45am ON THE WEEKEND and go to their fancy grocery stores and Target before I’m out of bed. That is unacceptable. In D.C., “morning” starts at a civilized time.
2) D.C. walks a lot. Partly, that’s because it’s a pain and costly to park a car. Also, the Metro isn’t exactly extensive. It certainly can’t keep up with D.C.’s dynamism and neighborhoods in a constant state of flux. Walking is fun though. And it provides a great opportunity to view D.C.’s schizophrenic architecture built up one layer at a time for the last 200 years. And flowers.
3) I have a “tolerate-the-heat-and-humidity” gene. It kicked in about a year after I moved to D.C. I had to help it along though. To start, I accepted the pure awesomeness of a D.C. summer. Then, I learned to line the insides of my clothes with paper towels. And finally, I had to slow down a little to a long-stride walk that achieved a nice balance between sweating and a breeze. I moved to D.C. with a well-exercised freezing-winter-weather gene. That gene has disappeared from my person. I am now a BIG BABY about the cold.
4) I love learning about history and random parts of other people’s cultures. In D.C., I’m surrounded by both, and I gorge on it. Other D.C. residents make that easy by being smart and having a lot of interests they want to share. I have thousands of ways to learn about history and culture – from government and private sector-run programs to non-profits and neighborhood interests groups. There’s free stuff like the D.C. Public Library’s constant stream speakers and programs. Every day, an author somewhere in D.C. is talking at a book store or a school or a coffee shop about something they wrote I might be interested in. If I feel like spending money, I’ll find a Smithsonian Resident Associates event or something that National Geographic is hosting. And of course, the offerings are endless from the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, and the dozens of free and paid museum across the city. Eating out means taking in history and culture, too right?
5) D.C. is an expensive town when I’m not focused on doing free stuff. The first time I saw a $16 cocktail on a menu, I wasn’t tipsy enough to actually buy it. Apparently, D.C. is the most expensive place to raise a family, and the 5th most expensive place to live in the United States. For a long time after I moved to D.C., I had to actively avoid thinking about how my grocery bill used to be literally 25% lower. But I learned a lot from the part-time job I had to find to pay my bills because my full-time salary wouldn’t cover them. Fact: dinner and drinks at home with your writer friends are much cheaper than going out.
6) The glass shards in the gutter are from car windows being punched in so that something potentially awesome can be stolen from my front seat, back seat, trunk, etc. In a nod to D.C. metropolitan area egalitarianism, thieves violated my car in D.C. (purse stolen from the trunk, and my favorite glasses were lost!) and in Arlington, Virginia (installed cd player ripped from the console), and in Gaithersburg, Maryland (passenger side rear tire stolen, but on the upside, my reaction to the theft is one of my favorite stories to tell).
7) I really like giving directions to people who need them. At any given moment within half a mile of the National Mall, twenty-five percent of people are disoriented or slightly lost. They all have the same look on their faces, it’s just deeper for the people who got off on a Southwest Metro stop instead of a Northwest one. I’ve learned to approach only the people who look like they would appreciate the help.
8) It’s nearly impossible not to volunteer for at least three activities. The level of community engagement, whether in a close-knit quadrant like Southwest or elsewhere, is quite shocking. I’ve been pressured nearly constantly since I moved here to join clubs and boards and fund-raising groups or just come to events at which the last plea will be for me to join! People in D.C. are passionate about their volunteer jobs, so much so that they sometimes get shouty in meetings. I try not to be put off by that. One day I might be them and particularly concerned that someone wasn’t taking seriously enough my perspective on President Chester A. Arthur’s attempts to make merit-based job selections at the New York Custom House in the late 1800s.
9) Every two years, D.C. calls it citizens without felony convictions to jury duty. That’s every two years. On. The. Dot. Six times so far!
10) My skills at resisting pressure to volunteer are put to good use around the entrepreneurial panhandlers who flock to Metro station exits at tourist locations. With the right shoes and backpack and look in my eye, the businessmen willing to trade directions for a dollar or two generally understand I’m from D.C., too. But on the days I don’t quite have the right look, (do they not know I’ve rescued hundreds from the L’Enfant Plaza Metro exit abyss?!?) and a service provider turns toward me, I just smile a little and shake my head. It always works. I like to think they respect the fact I haven’t harmed any of their business with paying customers.
11) I can say “How y’all doin'” properly in D.C, the southernmost Northern city. “How y’all doin'” is a statement. Not a question. “Y’all” is one syllable. No hidden vowels should be inserted and pronounced. When I say “How y’all doin'” properly, my neighbors nod and wish me a good day even if I don’t know their faces or their names. Sometimes, they will comment on the beautiful weather or the flowers or the trees in bloom. I always smile because I know how lucky I am to live in the littlest big city in the United States.
People have been coming from all over the world to take in Wonder at the Renwick Gallery. The exhibit closes in a few months, and Cake Man said I really needed to see it. He even showed me some of the amazing pictures from his visit. Usually, I don’t need to be urged to go to museums. I already swing that way, but the Renwick Gallery is slightly beyond my National Mall stomping grounds.
So with only two months to spare, I gave into peer pressure and went to the Renwick Gallery to see what everyone was talking about. And there I found an amazing spectacle outside a non-Mall museum…
A LINE OF PEOPLE TO THE END OF THE BLOCK!
I was stunned. And impressed! The Renwick isn’t the Air and Space Museum every summer day from 11am – 3pm or the Natural History Museum any day in March when my tour guide twiend @beccagrawl visits with a group. It’s a museum of contemporary craft and decorative arts. Beautiful and interesting, yes. But typically the destination for hordes of people? Well, apparently – yes.
I couldn’t have been more pleased. I was having a first-rate, unexpected, non-dangerous, quite enjoyable experience in Northwest D.C. Yes, I had somewhere else to be in the not-too-distant future, but I’m no fool who turns down the opportunity to get into a free line with something phenomenal on the other end. Twenty-five minutes later, I found out I had entered the line at the 25-minute mark. I entered the building and saw…
I so knew I had done the right thing. Wonder was clearly the place to be.
I went to the Vatican once a few years back. I wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. It turns out, the Sistine Chapel is at the end of the Vatican tour. I think something like 200 billion people visit the Vatican each year, which means about 500 million visit every day. Or at least it felt like that many. Standing in the mile-long line to see the Sistine Chapel is the only place I’ve ever considered that people could actually feel claustrophobic in a series of gold tunnels covered in antique paintings.
Being at the Renwick for Wonder, I was vaguely reminded of the Sistine Chapel minus the gold and the guards yelling “Silencio!” every 10 seconds. (Note to the Vatican: The irony of yelling for silence is not lost on me.)
The line inside the Renwick Gallery was more like an eager line clump. Followed by another. And another. Et cetera. There were lines to get into each room of Wonder. The place was overflowing! Each new room was so cool and filled with large displays – sometimes unlikely objects, but other times impressive lighting.
At some point, I started trying to peek past the guards to see the different rooms without actually having to get into another line clump. But there’s only so far you can go with peeking before the guards start giving you the eye. And I did have somewhere to be that wasn’t the Renwick Gallery.
When I entered the room where the giant line doubled back on itself like some horrendous two hour Miami-Dade Airport Immigration and Customs nightmare, I finally gave up on going any farther. To be fair, everyone in the Renwick Gallery doubled-back line seemed to be having a good time watching the lights on the walls and ceiling change color. But I did have somewhere else to be. It seemed like the end for my relationship with Wonder.
Resigned, I headed to the restroom before the next jaunt. At which point I discovered just outside the restroom entrance…
SECRET VIEWS OF ALMOST ALL THE ROOMS I COULDN’T GET INTO!
Mine may not be the best pictures of Wonder, but they were taken in the most unexpectedly-rewarding of circumstances, which is to say – generally around the corner and leaning past the ropes that separate the restrooms from the art. Admittedly, not all those restroom vantage point pictures are worth sharing, but luckily I have access to other images (like the one to the right) even though it doesn’t seethe with the raw energy of thousands of people being in the coolest museum around.
Kudos to the staff of the Renwick Gallery for managing the flow of people so well and for setting up such an interesting exhibit that really is the place to be. I highly recommend going to the Renwick Gallery to see the Wonder crowds. The art was pretty awesome, too. Wonder closes on May 8, 2016. I’m told the weekday, mid-day lines are much tamer. But where’s the fun in that?
Iceland is one of my favorite places, which is strange considering how many times the island tried to kill me in a week of vacation.
Cake Man and I had already been in Iceland a few days. On a whim, we decided to drive the entirety of the ring road – all eighteen hundred kilometers of it. Our vehicle was a poorly-built Toyota Yaris with a creaking frame. The creaking was most noticeable when the car turned. Most turns were into and out of gas stations, the only reliable places to eat outside of Reykjavík. Luckily, all the gas stations served hot dogs wrapped in bacon and one hundred types of yogurt.
My first glimpse of death-by-Iceland was not in the presence of nitrates but on the Vatna Glacier flood plain. When volcanic activity warms the earth’s crust, and the Vatna Glacier, the second-largest in the world, sits atop the heat, a wall of water 4 meters high results. This is called a jökulhaups, a glacial outburst flood and an epic Magic the Gathering card. During the 1996 Vatna Glacier jökulhaups, hundred-ton icebergs cascaded toward the ocean via a river that was briefly the second-largest in the world.
In Iceland, the vistas seem endless, though Wikipedia tells me someone my height can only see 4.7 kilometers to the horizon. In Iceland, I could see far enough to know I wouldn’t be able to outrun a jökulhaups if another suddenly occurred.
The first time the island actually tried to kill me, Cake Man and I were outside of Hofn. The night before we set off, the wind howled without stopping. I couldn’t sleep. We’d already driven 400 kilometers past at least 40 soaring waterfalls framed by bright blue skies and ridiculously green vegetation hugging the ground. My subconscious, which had already gotten a taste of “no guardrails” and “100-meter sheer drops to the rocky beach below” and “rickety cars” and “hurricane force winds,” wasn’t fooled by the beauty. My subconscious was worried. And it let me know.
Still, we set out. I stopped before too long because the road’s blacktop had folded over on itself. Yes, that’s right. The wind off the glaciers is so strong it folds blacktop over onto itself.
My subconscious knew that was coming next – the seemingly-endless cliff-side portion of the drive along a road that was being rebuilt. Think rock falling from above on the left, one-and-a-half lanes of dirt road, wind, trundling construction equipment and guardrail-free100-meter plunges to the rocks below on the right. Oh, and rain – random, windshield smearing rain unabated by the Yaris’ pathetic attempt at wipers.
The drive was exhilarating. With my eyes focused on the dubious road, I didn’t see large parts of the drive, which Cake Man said was beautiful. In Iceland, it’s pretty easy to feel lucky to be alive when you see death so close up so often. The night after that drive, I slept well.
The second time Iceland tried to kill me that week was with a boiling geyser.
Here’s one of the many cool things about Iceland – you can get really close to the action. There’s no government regulation or park patrol officer to stop you. There’s only a little, trip-height sign that says “Danger, walkways are slippery.” And by “walkways,” Iceland means rocks slanted naturally toward the boiling geysers so water and people can easily flow toward the magma lurking somewhere far below. It’s an ingenious and subtle natural design to ensure only the most intelligent with the best rubber-soled shoes survive.
Through sheer luck, I remained unboiled though only just barely. But I came away from the geyser conflicted. I was happy to be alive, but I’d acquired a strange desire to visit future geysers whose viewing areas permitted me to be in the spray zone.
The third time Iceland tried to kill me was at Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall. To get to Dettifoss, Cake Man and I drove 37 slow kilometers in 2 hours along gravel road that seemed to be surrounded by misty moonscape as far as the eye could see, a distance considerably less than 4.7 kilometers given how low the Yaris sat when it drove through a divot in the road.
Once at Dettifoss, I could not see the waterfall. I literally could not get my raincoat hood away from my face. I could barely stand up straight. The wind was insane, and skin-piercing blades of ice filled it. I was no doubt standing near the edge of yet another cliff. I know I was on slippery rocks. Soaked, I fought my way back to the Yaris. Cake Man said Dettifoss was amazing.
The last time Iceland tried to kill me was with a non-contact fear incident. The trip was just about over. We’d listened to Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin at least a dozen times (Iceland doesn’t seem to have anything on the radio for most of the ring road, a fact we were unaware of.) We’d taken a lot of pictures. Being so close to death so many times, I’d bonded with the Yaris and felt more comfortable relaxing in her presence. Cake Man had bounded away to take pictures of some giant lava protrusion or something. I decided to sit this one out. In his enthusiasm, Cake Man had left his Yaris door open.
For some, surviving brushes with death can induce a calm that lasts days. Sitting in the Yaris, I was filled with this calm. I saw neither cliff nor rain. The wind gathered its strength elsewhere. The temperature was definitely at least forty-five degrees Fahrenheit, and I could feel all my fingers and toes. My calm was so complete that an outside observer might have mistaken it for laziness. I thought I was alone but only because a human, regardless of height, still cannot see through even the balsa wood doors of a Toyota Yaris.
Bottom line: I did not lean over to close Cake Man’s door.
A sudden bleating sounded from right near the open car door. And then the deadly ungulate from whom the horrible noise erupted bleated again! Shock almost killed me. Fear paralyzed me. I had only one defense: the stench emanating from the colon-killing bacon-covered hot dog and my person.
The nitrates worked their magic. My stalker retreated to his high tower, and I survived my last brush with island death.
Iceland is awesome. I strongly recommend visiting it and driving all the way around the ring road. The adventure may be the closest you come to death until the big day. If you survive Iceland, your life will be all the better for it afterward.
For a glimpse of Iceland without the danger, visit the Smithsonian Natural History Museum’s exhibit “Primordial Landscapes: Iceland Revealed,” compliments of the Embassy of Iceland and the Feo Pitcairn Fine Art Photography.
Think about how much glitter is too much. Now double that amount and give jars of it to people in suits who don’t know glitter in sufficient quantity flows like water. Then add water. Thus the Friday after-work-happy-hour-holiday fundraiser for the D.C. Public Library played out.
An unexpected number of people in suits knelt beside tables in an open-air room at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. DCPL was raising funds by introducing the thirty-something crowd (stretch the ends of that liberally) to its four makerspaces, collectively known as The Labs. The makerspaces include the Digital Commons, the Dream Lab, the Studio Lab, and the Fab[rication] Lab.
Conveniently for the crowd, the regular denizens of the makerspaces had already pre-cut our DIY projects for us. We had only to cover ourselves in glue and paint and glitter in order to make our ornaments, holiday cards, tea-light boxes, sno-globes, etc. Tickets were $35 each and totally worth it.
For the most daring, a very large bottle of rum called from the festively-decorated drinks table. Most people stuck with wine, though, and noshed on decorated sugar cookies and Chex mix.
DCPL’s fundraising campaign is ongoing and supports not only the makerspaces but also the 26-branch D.C. Public Library system. Donations help do the following:
- Put books on library shelves
- Provide learning opportunities for children and adults
- Increase access to media and technology
- Support cultural events
- Enhance library service capacity
- Provide funds for facility improvements
I’m a sucker for public libraries. Long ago, they introduced me to Isaac Asimov’s early robot books and to Frank Herbert’s Dune series. Nowadays, public libraries give me the gift of history in the form of digitized newspapers and glorious cabinets full of microfilm. But whenever I’m in a library, I always visit the children’s area. So many books. For free. Available to all the wee ones whether they can afford to buy their own books or not. They’re so lucky.
Attention Southwest Florida,
It’s time to reduce the meds.
I submit as evidence the accident I witnessed and was nearly part of. My only fault: the decision to spend ten days in Southwest Florida with my parents. One of your lovely mud-covered Buicks travelling at speed swerved in and out of the lanes near me before finally crossing all three of them and slamming into a concrete bus bench.
First, have you not heard of sun shades? They’re nice – a thing you put up for people so they won’t keel over with sunstroke while they wait for the bus.
Second, thank goodness you don’t know about sun shades, or someone might have actually been sitting on that bench.
No one was hurt. The driver was fine, or at least I assume he was fine. He got out of the car, slammed the door, and stomped around. From a distance, I called emergency services, which is what we do in safe, quiet Washington D.C. when someone in full-throttle meds goes nuts.
In six hours of driving on your roads, Southwest Florida, I was nearly in six accidents. I doubt this was all because I drove a rented Mitsubishi Crap. Yes, I was offered a better car by a very nice gentleman, who kindly and strongly suggested I purchase an upgrade.
“This isn’t my first time at the heat!” I would have yelled if he hadn’t been older than my dad. Quietly, the voice inside my head roared, “I won’t be upsold by a rental car company!”
The nice old upseller seemed to feel bad for me. Insisting on The Crap, I was soon sweltering my way through the parking garage toward him.
The Crap is a male car. Obviously.
The car of my sub-compact economy dreams offered me false hope with a gangsta style push-to-start button. Our affair was short-lived. In his guttural, hacking, engine-idle voice, The Crap said, “I am the Mitsubishi Crap, Cheapest of My Kind. You, me, and my dubious engineering are going on an adventure. Hear me creak!”
Little known fact: the Mitsubishi Crap’s lifespan is measured in dog years: every mile driven in a Crap is like 7 miles driven in the upgraded rental car I wouldn’t purchase for ten more dollars per day. The Crap had 70,000 dog-year miles on it with nary a required maintenance visit.
In the creaking Crap, I set out. Six near-accidents later, I zeroed in on the problem: a local inability to recognize the color white. There could be no other explanation, but I was sure of the condition. Non-Craps didn’t just hug the white line on their side. They came over to The Crap’s rattle and hum side of the road. Not just over but far over. Repeatedly. At five miles per hour, twenty-five miles per hour, sixty-five miles per hour. Whatever. I honked. I swore. I tried not to freak out under the relentless assault. I endeavored not to overtax The Crap, who kept whispering, “One of my wheels is going to fall off at any moment.”
In numerous split seconds that seemed to last for hours, I contemplated repeatedly why Southwest Florida residents might not recognize the color white. Could it be the lack of sun shades caused widespread opthalmic damage. Or had the urge to watch The Golden Girls driven out basic brain competencies like the recognition of color?
Sometimes, in Washington D.C., a driver might think she’s also temporarily lost the ability to see the road’s white lines. In fact, nothing is wrong with her vision. The lines just haven’t been painted yet. The temporary lack of lines is obviously a crime in its non-codified way. But civil society doesn’t break down as a result. Washingtonians rally. We do the maths. We pray to our varied or nonexistent gods. And across a thousand feet of gleaming, newly-laid blacktop, we maintain the right distance between our vehicles. In Washington D.C., belief that the white lines will someday come stays the hand of insanity.
So here we are at the root of it. Southwest Florida residents aren’t insane just because of the medication dosages. The real problem is a lack of hope.
In the face of this tragedy, I offer something back to the crazy state that, despite its flaws, let me go to mid-day movies for $3.99.
Southwest Florida, I offer you hope. From a distance. A safe distance. A distance so great and forbidding and uncrossable by your drivers that an impenetrable Beltway stands between us. My hope comes in many colors, the ones you can find on sun shades. Cover your roads with them. And your porches. And your parking lots. And your bus benches. Let sun shades move over your lands like a puppy swarm to the face. Only then will the insanity recede and the colors return.
This time I splurged for a room. Howard wasn’t there. Neither was George. But Gordon was everywhere. So was Scott. And Sarah. And by “there,” I mean all over the Capclave 2015 program.
This year wasn’t the sweaty, packed-hallway, over-filled extravaganza of Capclave 2013 when George R.R. Martin was the Guest of Honor. Capclave 2015 was just a normal year of science fiction and fantasy convention awesomeness in the Washington, D.C. area. I had a great time. It started with a panel about Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. My love of the Dune series, even God Emperor of Dune, is well known.
February 9, 2015:
Me: Do you know what my favorite book is?
Cake Man: Other than Dune?
Me: No, not other than Dune.
Cake Man: Dune, then?
Late in the panel’s hour of Dune-chat, something went terribly wrong. The moderator started a game of f#@k, marry, or kill, and no one had Lady Jessica on the kill list. I started to doubt the room’s dedication to and understanding of Dune. Had they not read all the original Frank Herbert books? Did they not know what a horrible person Lady Jessica is? If you’re going to cause civilization to stagnate for thousands of years, and you know ahead of time you’re going to do that, you need to own your actions! Lady Jessica attempts to disown them. She’s a villain! The panel needed to know. The room needed to know!
It turned out I was in the presence of Dune purists so true they had read only the first book. Harrumph!
I was all fired up by the time the next panel started. I was able to contain myself though. Dune wasn’t mentioned. Instead, Sarah Avery, Gordon Van Gelder, Scott H. Andrews, and Sarah Pinsker talked about publishing and the writing process through the lens of “The Right Length for Your Story.”
I’m not a stalker, but I’ve been stalking Sarah Pinsker’s short story writing for awhile. At Capclave, attendees can actually talk with editing, publishing, and writing celebrities like Sarah. We also get to listen to said celebrities read from their work. Sarah Pinsker did so the following day with a mesmerizing reading of “And We Were Left Darkling” about a woman and her alien ghost baby.
Gordon Van Gelder, former editor of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and current publisher, was Capclave 2015’s Guest of Honor. His panel discussion about the history of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction was my favorite of his appearances.
This panel could have been 3 hours long instead of 1, and the audience would have stuck around to hear even more quirky, entertaining tales about former editors and past goings-on. There was “The Unperiodical” – the newsstand version of one issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that was missing all its periods. An enterprising, inexperienced proofreader removed all those “stray marks” from photocopies of the text before it went into production. There was also the magazine’s longest-lived subscriber, who bought a lifetime subscription in 1951 for something like $50. Every year, the king of good deals (the subscriber) sends a letter to the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction to tell them he’s still alive. I believe he signs it “The Immortal.”
In a convention that often found itself discussing how old paid publications were adopting to a modern era of free content and how modern publications could still get good content to publish, this panel offered hope at least on the first count. Fifteen years ago, magazine sales were slumping. By 2007 or so, sales had bottomed out across the publishing industry. Amazon’s kindle turned that around by providing a platform and a pricing mechanism to deliver electronic content. That discussion was in contrast to publishing industry’s concerns about certain Amazon services.
Oh, and there was the Saturday night production of Bill Powell’s “The Punctuality Machine, Or, A Steampunk Libretto.” I was invited to play Jacquenette, Personal Automaton to Lady Cadence. French. Mobility Somewhat Restricted by the Hose Providing her Steam Power. My hose was invisible, but everyone still knew it was there. I killed it and not just because I almost caught Villager 1 as he leaped off the stage or because I collided spectacularly with other cast members.
Capclave 2015 was a whole weekend of interesting topics, varied discussion, unique perspectives, and occasional outbursts. There’s a lot to love.