Bridget Landry (M), Donna Prior, Shubzilla, Lee Moyer
Words to Images
6:00pm – 7:00pm @ Cascade 12
Lee Moyer (M), Eva L. Elasigue, Kent Hamilton
Bad to the Bone: Villains in SF & F
1:00pm – 2:00pm @ Cascade 10
Julie McGalliard (M), Lee Moyer, Joseph Brassey, Scott James Magner
Interview and Q&A with Galen Dara
2:00pm – 3:00pm @ Evergreen 3 & 4
Lee Moyer (M), Galen Dara
Book Covers, Advertising, and Sales Tracking
12:00pm – 1:00pm @ Cascade 9
Sienna Saint-Cyr (M), Lee Moyer, Elliott Kay, Patrick Hurley
2:00pm – 3:00pm @ Evergreen 1 & 2
Caren GS (M), Lilith Dawn, Brian D. Oberquell, K. C. Alexander, Lee Moyer
Autograph Session 2
3:00pm – 4:00pm @ Grand 2
Chris Pramas, Galen Dara, Ken Liu, Matthew Wedel, Nicole Lindroos, Barth Anderson, Tina Connolly, Fonda Lee, G. Willow Wilson, Joseph Carriker, Kat Richardson, Nancy Kress, Sandra M. Odell, Tanya D., Curtis C. Chen, Dawn Vogel, Nisi Shawl, E. Lily Yu, Eva L. Elasigue, Jack Skillingstead, Joseph Brassey, K. C. Alexander, Lee Moyer, Meg Elison, Pat MacEwen, Patrick Swenson, Rhiannon Held, Scott James Magner, Dean Wells
The Belated and Incomplete Record of Baltic Adventure
Illustrated with potentially interesting photographs and maps
In which Lee & Venetia travel (widely), encounter many delays (all compensated with fancy meals and rooms), negotiate with jet lag (badly), cruise the Baltic Sea (in the company of better writers), drive through former SSRs (but not Lithuania), spend a week in Helsinki at the World Science Fiction Convention (winning a pretty ribbon for Best Body of Work), share a delightful luncheon with a Presidential candidate (who lost), and finally, spend 5 glorious hours soaking in the Blue Lagoon (which looked green).
All the Travel
The first section of our travel was meant to be the Writing Excuses cruise of the Baltics. Venetia got home from the San Diego Comic Con after she and the fabulous ladies of Badali Jewelry absolutely won the convention. She took two days to clean and get all the last minute planning taken care of and then packed like mad on the morning of the flight. Lee’s Mom kindly ferried us to the airport and all was looking good until a mysterious mechanical malady put us 3 hours behind schedule – just long enough to put the kibosh on our carefully planned 2.5 hour layover. Our flight over Washington state allowed for amazing views of the forest fire smoke and an incredible sunset. We watched the Lego Batman movie carefully synced up on our individual screens – a ridiculous process, but easily Venetia’s favorite Batman. Later, while Venetia slept, Lee admired the astonishing moonlit view of Greenland’s ice floes.
We arrived somewhat bedraggled, dazed, and confused in Iceland. Because our delay was purely mechanical, Iceland Air put us up in a Keflavik hotel with fluffy white beds and after a brief period of necessary passing-out, we walked into the brisk ocean wind in search of food. During lunch (it was lunch, right?), we watched a slow but steady trickle of children and parents walk along the edge of the inlet below our hotel and disappear around the corner. After lunch, we followed not only the path of the children, but the footprints of a Giant – our hotel was located on the coast right above Giganta’s Cave!
Venetia was literally beside herself (see below):
We were enchanted by Giganta’s cave, so lovingly constructed for wide-eyed naifs (like us). Though we were somewhat alarmed at the Pacifier Tree. Apparently Giganta really appreciates used pacifiers….
In order to make it to our cruise on time, we returned to the airport in the small hours and were rerouted through Copenhagen, finally on our way to Hamberg. There, we found the cruise line’s bus and they drove us through the green and rain-streaked German morning on our way to Kiel. We arrived just in time. We looked up at the HMS Fantasia (not pronounced like the classic Disney film – they preferred “Fant-a-Seea”), showed our IDs, checked our bags, got in line, and boarded our first cruise ship after the inescapable (and inescapably tacky) photo-op.
We’d would like to say the first thing we did was find old friend Mary Robinette Kowal and gratefully borrow of her wisdom and serenity to navigate the ship. Sadly, that was actually the second thing. Instead, the moment we stepped onto the ship we were beset by the ship’s drinks sales team (yes, that’s an actual job description). As we do not drink, they found us to be a mystifyingly hard sell. “What about tea?” they asked in desperation. “Soft drinks? Hot chocolate?!” Finally they told us if we wanted to drink any water on the ship we would have to buy the drinks tickets anyway. So we did, but once we realized water was freely available everywhere on the ship, we got our strangely-expensive water passes refunded.
Due to the surprise additional day/night/day travel we arrived with a lot more jet lag than we expected. Our cabin was comfortable and possessed of a balcony overlooking the sea which we would later enjoy. But we fell instantly into sleep and stayed fast asleep until was time to practice the ship safety drills. This was our first opportunity to mingle with the other passengers in their crisp European shirts and light-colored pants. Our grungier more-American travel clothes seemed to stand out as much as Venetia’s haircut. That evening we discovered that our assigned dining room was in the most confusing area of the ship and that the only way to reach it was to go up to Level 6 then take the stairs back down to Level 5. Anything else resulted only in failure and hunger. Hardly the Oregon Trail, but counter-indicated on a behemoth fancy-pants European cruise ship.
Though Venetia found its glittering show stairway dangerously attractive, Lee continued to grumble about its other gaudy, gratuitous surfaces, which rendered signs (such as they were) illegible. Bad design is truly international.
The first new folks we met from the Writing Excuses group were our dinner companions that night, and they were fantastic. Writers make the best conversation partners, and we felt instantly welcome. We were very late to the Writing Excuses party, and not just because we’d missed our Icelandic connection. We’d asked Mary about the cruise belatedly, and were relieved that there was still a little room for us at the inn – though we missed a good deal of the pre-cruise conversation and arrangements. When we go next year (somewhere closer to home, no doubt), we hope to be more in sync from the start.
Day 1: Copenhagen, Denmark
But!….we were just there! We inadvertently visited Copenhagen three times on this trip and that turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as we love the city. On this pass, we lucked out by joining Tempest’s group and finding that it already included Finnish writer Ninette Bahne and her husband, whose years living in Denmark had made them locals. The city was quiet on a Sunday morning, but though the real destination was the National Museum (see below), we encountered many quaint and cosmopolitan sites en route.
The Museum looked small from the outside (Lee’s decade as a Smithsonian docent clearly skewed his perspective), but housed a truly impressive collection, featuring countless local artifacts and even an Egyptian collection way up in its 4th floor attic, unlike any we’d ever seen. Oh the things we learned – from the importance of the iron-bearing meteorite in ancient Thule (sledged to Denmark the old-fashioned way decades back), to beard-braiding, to the almost intact Viking ship that had been sunk in a bog by the town that defeated it, to gorgeous gold jewelry, to rune stones, and (of course) to Disney’s two-bit Hercules figurines demonstrating what the vasty hoard of ancient figurines were really all about.
Our brains had become overwhelmed by new information, and our bodies by 10 hours of jet-lag, so we returned to the ship before our compadres. And of course fell fast asleep until it was again dinner time (this time at the table of Aliette de Bodard and her adorable family). I fear that we were too bleary to be good company, but happily we got to see the amazing Aliette later in the trip.
Afterwards, we went up to the game area to pass out Missionary Chocolates. Imagine our surprise upon learning that these unsanctioned foodstuffs were actually forbidden contraband! Strangely, for a cruise with masses of food always on offer, their policy was “No outside food or alcohol!” Happily, they never checked our luggage and we, who had joined the cruise late, had no notion of those strictures. For the rest of the cruise Venetia delighted in slyly carrying her big box of chocolates, furtively checking for any crew, and then offering contraband chocolate to our surprised new friends.
This was our introduction to bestselling author (and Writing Excuses instructor) Jasper Fforde and his wonderful wife Mari. Despite differing amounts of jet lag, Lee and the Ffordes often found themselves in the same places at the same time. Lee could wish for no better company.
Day 2: At Sea
In between bouts of sleep and scavenging for edible foods at the eternal but poorly-labelled buffet (we are so spoiled by Portland’s exceptional cuisine!), we explored as much of the ship as we could. Both of us wrote during Dan Wells’ hour of random writing prompts. Lee’s resulting story was a meta utopian mystery, Venetia’s a more diabolical tale of cults and other societal horrors. Later, Wesley Chu spoke about writing action scenes and the importance of conveying sensory information in combat, be it simple or complex.
That night, after dinner, we found ourselves on the main deck, watching our 20-story ship pass under Denmark’s massive Storebaeltsbroen (Great Belt Bridge). We didn’t have the best viewpoint, but it was a strange and unprecedented sight all the same.
Day 3: Stockholm, Sweden
We awoke to a beautiful and ever-changing view of the Swedish countryside. The sun rose behind us and the long shadows became shorter as we dined with David Levine, the Chus, the Ffordes, and many other people who came and went. In high summer, there seemed no more beautiful place than the Swedish countryside. We watched the ship dock, and then caught a bus into the city where wandered the water front.
We ignored the lure of the Stockholm and Tessin Palaces, and even the communal yoga in the King’s Garden. Instead, we chose to stray outside, basking in the glorious summer day – first to Skeppsholmen island and then, across another bridge, to Kastellholmen. The museums were closed, but the hostels and little cafes were buzzing. After a lovely idyll at the castle on the point, we wandered back off the islands and uptown into the city seeking sushi (which was absolutely scrumptious!). We saw very little, but loved the little we saw. Maybe one day we’ll return….
Back on the ship, Lee fell fast asleep while Venetia took in Mary Robinette Kowal’s excellent presentation on how to best critique other people’s work. Part of the attraction of this cruise was that we knew many of the worthies that were on it. This night we dined with Howard and Sandra Tayler – two of the very best. Howard had been a Writing Excuses podcast regular for ages, but we know him from many conventions past. Venetia is a long-time fan of Sandra’s blog.
After dinner we headed up to the deck with a huge crowd of writers. Just in time for the ship’s return pass under the Storebaeltsbroen. This time we wanted the highest view and climbed fore to as high a point as we could reach. Here again, we encountered the Ffordes – but this time they were already in good company – with Kelly. Lee had known Kelly when she lived in Portland, but she now lives quite near the Ffordes in Wales – the world may not be small, but it is wonderfully strange! Watching the ship’s lights illuminate the underside of such a massive bridge as it barely skimmed by underneath was remarkable (and yes, the extra height made a crucial difference to the spectacle). We were relieved that we were onboard only the 8th largest ship in the world. It seems that Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas has to lower its retractable twin smokestacks, ensure its ballast is correct, and that it maintains the correct speed, lest disaster strike. And that’s without considering the terrors (and higher waters) Global Climate Change will bring….
Day 4: Tallinn
Tallinn looked lovely in the distance as we surveyed it from the breakfast table at the back of the ship. But we knew that our travel plans would bring us back to Tallinn, and there were other things on our minds – mostly the group of hot tubs that dotted the main deck. It was a fascination that profoundly refused to pay off, and we were deeply disappointed to find the hot tub temperatures set at a mere 98 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s not a hot tub! That’s a body heat tub. Even a tepidarium is less tepid than that. So Lee opted for a Thai massage instead. There was no denying the talent of the masseuse, and her ability to subdue someone twice her size was amazing to experience. While Thai massage was an interesting thing to try once, it proved a little too intense and he’s glad he’ll never have to try it again.
That night we traveled to the mystery floor for dinner as usual, but the room was so loud it was impossible to even hear our tablemates. We retired to the buffet and hunted food there. It was an early night as the combination of jet lag, age, and sheer noise took its toll.
Day 5: St. Petersburg, Russia or Why the Revolutionaries Had It Right
We hope to never return to Russia. It was beautiful but also… well, sort of awful. First, there was the quayside queue. And what a queue! It seemed like the majority of the 4000 people on our boat wanted to sightsee in Russia but first every single one of those people had to stand in line to stand in front of a Russia custom’s agent. This was not a quick or convenient check-in or trip through customs. This was 5-10 minutes per person. You may think we are exaggerating but no, a person in line with us timed it. We waited well over an hour to pass from one side of the dock to the other. There was a lot of typing and a lot of hand motion below the counter where we couldn’t see what was happening , and we suspect that the border agents were photocopying every page of each passport. Lee was asked about his time in the army. He was so startled by this ridiculous assumption that he laughed out loud and shook his head. That seemed to work well. They were less suspicious of Venetia (which is a funny thing if you know her desire to have been a CIA agent).
Once we were through the idiot line (some of our shipmates with real military service were not so lucky – they were held and questioned for another hour). This seemed all the more astonishing considering Putin’s arrangements with the non-Democratically-elected “leader” of the US, but more on him later.
While other members of our group traveled together on specific Writing Excuses outings, we were thrown into the general population of tourists. The bus we ended up on had an English speaking group and a French speaking group, each with its own tour guide. We were driven around for brief stops to take picture at various picturesque locations. Then there was the not-so-brief stop at the underground tourist trap/market where “Every doll is hand-painted”. There was no way to avoid it, once in, the trapped tourists had to walk the entire U length of the market to escape again. I wondered at the percentages paid, and if the guides themselves saw so much as a ruble.
* An important note about the Minions above: The Russians have only purchased the rights to the orange minion.
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (AKA Church of Spilled Blood) was something we’d never heard of, but was hands-down the most stunning and extraordinary spot we visited. Venetia was charmed when a smooth local fellow put trained pigeons on her shoulders. Since we were in Russia such a short time, and had no cash or money, the pigeon handler decided to angrily castigate us. Apparently his charm was reserved for the birds….
The majority of our time (other than the tourist trap and our meal) was spent at the Hermitage which gave us an overly-adorned look into the Russian Royal psyche. We were not allowed to take pictures in the Gold Room, so called because it’s filled with objects made of gold – including the first known toy made out of gold and so many amazing archeological treasures. Contrary to the name, the Gold Room was not one single room, rather it was a series of rooms filled with more and more ostentatious objects d’art. The wealth got us down. Well, not so much the wealth itself, but the grotesque concentration of it. It only takes so many rooms of carefully crafted and bejeweled golden snuff boxes to understand that the Russian revolution had a damn good point.
Our tour guide proved another point of interest, mostly for how much we annoyed her and her desire to give as good as she got. She was very strict about us staying on schedule and moving along as a group but she also did not approve of us talking among ourselves or anyone not properly appreciating the priceless works of art she was showing. In our case, this meant that we got stern looks and scornful comments as we (and a similarly inclined Asian lady) took pictures of the wall paper instead of the paintings that hung on it, and marble stands instead of the the precious objects mounted there.
We were quite happy to leave at day’s end… until we discovered that the line to exit was just as long as the line to get in. What? By sheer dumb luck, we again picked the slowest line, a mistake that we only fully understood when we got to the counter and saw the same border agent who’d grudgingly admitted us hours earlier. She was unsurprisingly unamused by Lee’s “Lovely to see you again so soon!”, but she had no cause to keep us in Russia.
As we left the harbor we said a grateful goodbye to the giant phallic Gazprom Headquarters (recently moved west from Moscow) we’d first seen in the hazy morning light. Venetia thought it a rocket launcher and secret military fort, but Lee thinks it’s Putin’s middle finger to the West….
As we passed out of St Petersburg, Lee was enchanted by the odd islands, the ancient and decaying sea forts, the north/south highway that crossed the Gulf of Finland under our ship, and, most of all, the Kronstadt Naval Cathedral. Despite the wonderful viewing height that a giant cruise ship affords, Lee’s photos did it no justice. If you haven’t seen it, we recommend looking it up on a Google Image Search.
We met award winning author, translator and lawyer Ken Liu at dinner and though he was alone with Writing Excuses people at dinner, we were were utterly charmed by his wife and children when we met them later.
Day 6: At Sea
Jasper Fforde’s talk began with him reverse-engineering the opening to the Fall of the House of Usher, eventually letting us hear the original in its fulsome glory: “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.” He talked about the importance of wordplay, and play generally – about how a writer’s curiosity and engagement with the world help shape how his readers engage with his writing. The talk was a delight from start to finish.
Growing throughout the cruise, but really crystallized today, was the realization that Lee has a story to write. We had talked about it many times over the years, fun bits of trivia and notes about how the story would go but for the first time, we sat down and said, yes we are doing this. It is going to take a lot of work and a hell of a lot of research but we are both excited and motivated to make this book happen. Note: If anyone reading this has interesting tales of San Francisco from 1906-1916, please let us know, won’t you?
Day 7: The Return to Terra Firma
We disembarked the boat to a peculiar triage, as each passenger waded through the pile of baggage the stevedores had assembled, that they might somehow find their own. It reminded me of something I’d not thought of in decades – a ski swap I once attended in Colorado – a room full of slightly stressed people seeking cumbersome objects in bright colors while trying not to get run over or run anyone else over. Once the bags were sorted we boarded the bus back to the Hamburg airport. Once there we…. waited. Every half hour or so, the airline sent new employees to tell those waiting that they, the employees, were also trapped and that they also knew nothing about where our plane might have gone. Happily, Ken Liu’s children provided us a gleeful distraction (though I suspect they proved less entertaining to their parents), as they awaited their flight to Santa at the North Pole.
Eventually, a plane from a completely different airline appeared and whisked us to Copenhagen. And for the second time in a week, we missed our connecting flight. This time, there was no Giganta to distract us, but there was a retrofitted 60’s hotel in a great part of town that we would never otherwise have been able to afford. And with it came the most delicious dinner and breakfast of our entire trip.
The following morning’s plane flight went off without a hitch and though short, the flight was beautiful. As the plane banked, Lee noticed a gently winding river that ran nearly parallel to the coast, meeting it just outside Riga. And on this strip of land a series of lovely looking buildings. Upon landing, and meeting up with old friend Eric Olive, Lee asked about the landmass in question and learned that it was called Jūrmala and that it was where Eric and his young family lived. Eric drove us from the the airport and as near to our our AirBnB in Riga as he could. Parking in the old town is difficult, and using rolling bags on the ancient cobbles is as silly as it is noisy. Eric took us out for food and a tour of the astonishingly beautiful town. We were in Riga partly to see Eric and partly because it had a reputation as the home of some extraordinary Art Nouveau buildings. Both parts proved a great success.
That night in our large bed in a very short loft in our charming old town apartment, we watched the Netflix show GLOW and added many mosquito hide trophies to those already on the ceiling above us. The place was wonderful, but wow. One can only imagine the bites previous tenants must have received.
The next day we explored, venturing out in different directions, down many different streets, never in danger of getting lost because the old city is truly (adorably) finite. We shot reference of buildings – not Art Nouveau, for they are in their own neighborhood, not the older part of the city- sought out the work of local jewelers, watched our fellow tourists, craned our necks to see the details on the high towers, and admired the masses of amber and wool that Riga has on offer.
Eric picked us up after we witnessed a sketchy drug deal (really the only conclusion we could come to) and drove us out to Jūrmala. The water was delicious to Americans like us, far more used to the icy waters of the Pacific Northwest. Lee and Eric sat down at a Latvian cabana bar on the beach and caught up with one another’s lives. They also talked talked politics – really, it would have been impossible not to, amid the mistresses and children of today’s Russian oligarchs). Venetia hadn’t brought a swimsuit, but that wasn’t going to stop her from spending a blissful hour dancing through the waves in her free Batman underwear. Now that one comes to write it, “free Batman underwear” sounds even stranger than it actually is….
Later, after a brief stop at the corner store, Eric took us home to meet his lovely wife Linda and new baby. The evening was clear and fine, if a bit chilly. Eric grilled dinner while Venetia enjoyed the hammock. Later, Eric’s teaching colleagues Jamie and Veronica arrived and we spoke about art, writing, and specifically the story of Jamie’s that Lee will be Illustrating in the book Eric is producing called ‘Deep Signal’ (which will also feature pieces from friends Stephen Hickman, Mw Kaluta, Ken Liu, Aliette de Boddard, and many others). It was a great night, and we loved talking about Hamilton with Jamie and Veronica as they dropped us back in the heart of Riga afterwords.
We repacked our art show (now more awkward for a canvas printed in Riga and kindly delivered to us by Eric when we arrived) and made it to our tour rendezvous early. We had an entertaining time watching a surly bus driver smoke and pace and wondered if he was our tour guide. Thankfully a charming young man appeared right on the hour from the opposite direction and brought us over to his van. Venetia quickly claimed the front middle seat by virtue of being tiny and Lee got the front window seat. And we were off!
Venetia originally booked the tour with much skepticism as an alternative way to get from Riga to Tallinn (we found it strange that no convenient commuter train existed). But before the day was even half way over she decided it was the best tour she has ever taken. It might have been our guide’s description of the sport of Wife-Carrying, but it was probably his comprehensive knowledge of the area and its history. The first stop was the Soviet bobsleigh track, still used as a training course, though in the summer the skateboarders and wheeled-trainees take it over. We walked halfway down the amazingly long track, admiring its twists and scarps. Lee achieved a (previously-unrealized) ambition by passing the rest of the group running sideways up the wall. A location that had sounded silly in the trip description proved even sillier, but much more delightful, in person.
Later, we drove deep into the woods and walked amid the sandstone cliffs along the winding tannin-rich river below. The soft cliffs were inscribed with the names and symbols that numberless tourists had engraved in them (“feel free to add” said our tour guide). Lee found it an embarrassing embodiment of a saying he’d grown up with in the American West “Fools’ names, like fools’ faces, are often seen in public places”. Venetia picked and ate many tiny wild blueberries that grew everywhere in the meadow. She might well have continued her appreciation of nature for hours had the rest of us not threatened to leave her behind.
The restaurant where our tour guide usually took his people for lunch and his back-up restaurant were both closed, so we went a little out of our way to a beautiful countryside brewery and ate a gourmet lunch – astonishing to think it would be anyone’s third choice. We visited the small medieval fort and Cathedral in the ancient city of Cesis, and then (after we crossed the long border into Estonia) we visited the often built and too-often destroyed Pärnu – which these days hosts a jaw-droppingly large choral festival. We ended the day when our guide pulled us into a central square in Tallinn. And for all that we wanted to enjoy its sites and sights, we arrived too late and planned to leave too early the next morning. Like Stockholm, it was beautiful. And like Stockholm, we enjoyed it only in passing.
We eventually arrived at our Air B&B on foot, and were dismayed at its ramshackle appearance. It looked unsafe – all rotting timbers and peeled paint.
But when that night’s landlord arrived and let us in, we could not have been more surprised – it was completely up-to-date inside. And it featured a full BATH TUB. We stayed in that night, and bathed to our heart’s content, while considering how much our digs resembled the secret headquarters of some clandestine spy organization.
Helsinki and the World Science Fiction Convention
We took the ferry from Tallin over to Helsinki; a popular ferry, it turns out, for transporting cheaper Estonian alcohol over to Finland. We sat as far away as we could from the loud casinos and watched cartloads of duty-free alcohol pass by.
As we exited the ferry, Lee’s phone rang, and the call was coming from inside the house. Well, from inside the country really. An interview was set up for a few hours hence and we stopped by our delightfully cozy and comfy AirBnB (properly Moomin-bedazzled) before heading out to the convention hall.
Lee was especially vexed by the language. Unlike most other languages that share at least a small bit of vocabulary with the mad polyglot nightmare that is English, Finland uses the same letters but (as Steve Martin once said of the French) they have a different word for EVERYTHING! He’d have taken some comfort in completely different letterforms, but that’s just not how the Suomi roll….
The Worldcon proved a strange reunion for Lee, with no fewer than 6 members of his High School Science Fiction club in attendance! The Finnish art show was definitely a first for us, and a first for them! Apparently Finnish sci-fi conventions do not traditionally have large group art shows, and this was the first they had ever created. We were told that they don’t even have pegboard like we do (What!?! Is that even possible?) So instead, they created a gallery of pristine white foamcore (it was a beautiful and gleaming locale!) which we immediately marred by hammering nails into.
As soon as the art show was set-up, Lee met up with the man from the phone call and accompanying camera man to be interviewed. The interview seemed to go swimmingly, and after it’s completion the art show director said to Lee “I see you are interviewed by our national radio.” We had no idea.
This was a record-setting Worldcon for both us and the convention. Expecting to top out at about 3500 attendees, more than 7,000 people showed up – with many more turned away, due to the fire marshal’s regulations.
Because we had been warned after only a few hours at the conventions that it was difficult moving through the hallways on that first night, we arrived at the location of Lee’s Infamous Bad Book Cover Show almost an hour early and found the hall already packed with people. When the previous panel let out, only a few people from the room exited into the hallway, and others squeezed in as best they could. We made our way into the room using “I’m the speaker” privilege. Venetia immediately set to work on technology and when she was finished, there was still over a full half hour until the actual start of the panel. Two things seemed clear:
1. No one else was going to fit into the room.
2. No one seemed interested in leaving, despite the rising heat.
Lee said that he’d heard Finland was famous for its saunas, but suggested that the panel begin immediately. There was instant and sincere applause. All was going smoothly, laughter and groans abounding, when, five minutes after the time the panel was scheduled to start, the lights flickered back on and a convention organizer politely interrupted to inform Lee that there were still more than one hundred people outside the room wanting to get into the panel. He asked if we could possibly move to a new (and larger) room he’d arranged. Venetia quickly took the mic to tell him, yes, send the people outside to the new room but that Lee would in fact finish up his presentation here in full since he had started so early! After the first panel, Lee raised to the second, larger, room and did it all over again.
So, an interview on Finnish National Radio, a standing-room-only panel, and an immediate repeat performance of the now even-more-Infamous Bad Book Cover Show. Quite a day!
The whole convention was really great for us. Lee met with Stephen Jones and talked about art and the genius of Kim Newman. Stephen has licensed two of Lee’s paintings for his books so far, and his ‘The Art of Horror Movies’ just arrived this week.
There were many reunions with friends from earlier parts of the trip as many of the Writing Excuses writers were also at WorldCon. Eric Olive arrived and interviewed artists and authors for Deep Signal. We are very much looking forward to again listening to the conversation between Ken Liu and Aliette de Bodard which was so fascinating and so full of interesting data that Lee barely said a word! And those of you who know Lee will know just how rare such occurrences are….
Outside the main entrance to the convention hall were some extremely sexy blacksmiths (though Venetia argues, when are blacksmiths not sexy?) and it was always amazing to see what they were up to. When the extreme storm came through Helsinki their booth was smashed to smithereens but they rallied to rebuild with the best sign ever (and if anyone has a picture of the sign, please send it to us!) “Satan fucked us.”
The highlight of the convention for Venetia was seeing Daveed Diggs and his band Clipping perform live, just a few feet in front of her. She danced through the music and got to meet and hug Daveed afterwards. She was a little flabbergasted to be in total giddy fan girl mode, but he’d watched her dance throughout the show and seemed genuinely happy.
Outside of the convention, we found Helsinki to be a most civilized and beautiful city. By civilized we mean that all the modern conveniences that we admire were abundant: easy to use public transit, friendly people, easy to navigate menus for those with food allergies. Their elevation of the popsicle to gourmet status seemed peculiar – probably because we don’t (yet) have such a thing in Portlandia…. Our first trip into the city was to a grocery store where a bemused clerk got to share our joy at finding all of the lactose-free and gluten-free foods that we could eat. In fact every restaurant we ate at in Helsinki had clearly labeled menus denoting gluten and lactose. And the occasional rant against the backward views of certain grotesque Americans. We couldn’t agree more.
A perfect example of Helsinki was the restaurant we found on the water’s edge across from some park blocks. We had been walking for some time and were desperate to eat and it was the only location for blocks that wasn’t an ice cream shop. In the USA, such a prime tourist trap location would be expensive in price and cheap in quality but we didn’t have any other choice and at least we could sit and have a great view. We immediately realized our good fortune when we read the sign inside the front door which explained that this is one of the greenest restaurants in the world. The food was delicious and not any more expensive than any other place in Helsinki would have been. The view was indeed spectacular and we were well refreshed for more adventures.
Afterwards we had a surprising (and hilarious) Interview with a Vampire.
It seems that the handsome young man with the fangs and cape out wilding with his mates was not wreaking havoc on the locals. Instead, he was engaged in a sort of writing project in the form of a ‘Twilight’-themed rewrite for his young fiancée. Did we know this ‘Twilight’? Could we recall the actions of the book? Would we be willing to tell the young Edwardian vampire what came next (after the previous summation by another random person they’d encountered on the street)? Who were we not to do our part?
Iceland (This Time We Really Mean It!)
We stayed at the Dead Dog party as late as we could into the evening on Sunday because early Monday morning we were flying back to Iceland. After dropping our luggage at our hotel (the Northern Light Inn, chosen for it’s close proximity to the Blue Lagoon and its hilarious website text) we headed into town to meet up with one of our favorite authors, Andri Snær Magnason. When last we saw him, he was full of stories of his adventures and this time there were even more stories as he had recently run for President of Iceland. Sadly for us, Iceland, and the world, he did not win. But happily, his artistic output has remained fierce and prolific.
We had lunch with him and his wonderful and interesting friend. Iceland has a most amazing community of artists and we talked all through the meal about many projects and travels.
A nap was required afterwards because the jet lag never really left us and then we had one final adventure of the day: Venetia’s first float. It was a new addition to the hotel and we were both enchanted by the futuristic alien shape of the float tank. Floats, for the uninitiated, are large shallow tubs of water packed with epson salt that you can float in. Before marketers figured out how best to sell them, they were known as “sensory deprivation tanks”, and while that name is accurate – they are sound-proof, dark, and the temperature of the water is meant to be body temperature – “float tank” is just smarter. Though there was a painful period as her muscles fought not to let go of all the tension, in the end Venetia found it to be the best massage she has ever had. She now has a membership to Portland’s own Float On and can host guests. In addition to rooms and tours at Casa Moyer, we can now also offer discounted floats if you are visiting us and want to experience floating.
The last day of our trip could not have been more perfect. We got up early for breakfast, checked out of our room, and then bused over to the Blue Lagoon where we spent five glorious hours soaking in hot water. This time we discovered new regions we hadn’t explored on our last visit; Venetia in particular loved the sauna to warm up everything that was getting cold out of the water and Lee really enjoyed massage by waterfall. We tried multiple variations of mud masks and met a lot of interesting people.
We parted at the airport, Lee heading back to Portland and Venetia to Indianapolis for GenCon. We both watched Westworld on our separate flights and Venetia saw Logan as well. And thus ended our adventure. Of course, the adventure never really ends as evidenced by how long it has taken us to write this travel log! Venetia traveled with Badali Jewelry to Gencon then DragonCon while Lee hosted multiple house guests, saw the solar eclipse, and got a metric ton of work done.
In closing, an alternate map of our adventures from Venetia’s personal addiction: Civilization VI.
There have been so many good and bad comic book related movies and TV shows over the years. Let’s examine the best and worst comic book movies and TV shows and discuss what properties we would like to see adapted.
Lee Moyer (M), Dylan Templar, Scott James Magner
Escher Girls & the Hawkeye Initiative
Our heroines are too often subjected to hypersexualized poses and crimes against anatomy—for reasons irrelevant to their character or kickassitude. Jim Hines’ book cover project, Escher Girls, and The Hawkeye Initiative are just three of a number of movements humorously deconstructing these problematic images. Let’s point and laugh, and talk about how to fix things.
Jeliza Patterson-McGuire (M), Lee Moyer, Liz Argall, Marta Murvosh
Friday April 14th
Principles of Branding in Publishing
Branding applies to small presses and book series as well as to you as an author. Understanding all the details of publishing and branding will help you whether you plan to work with one of the big six or self-publish. Participants will come up with five words they want people to think of when they walk into a room and bring those to the workshop. Focus will be placed on how to achieve a persona based on those five words. Come ready to discuss how tying social media, your personal appearance, and even demeanor help create your professional persona. Presented by Cascade Writers. Ages 18+. Space is limited and advance sign up is required in Cascade 1.
Lee Moyer (M)
Art Show Tour with Lee Moyer
Lee Moyer talks in depth about his work in the show and shares his thoughts about selected other works as well. Come enjoy an artist’s perspective on the Norwescon Art Show!
Lee Moyer (M)
Figure Drawing Workshop: Models in Costume
Models in costume will do a variety of short and medium length poses (3 to 10 minutes). Everyone is welcome to come and sketch or paint. Please bring your own drawing and painting supplies. An excellent follow-up panel to the Figure Drawing Workshop.
Anita Taylor (M), Lee Moyer, Richard Stephens, Elizabeth Adams, Melissa Quinn, Torrey Stenmark, Vandy H. Hall
How to Critique Art
Critique is a valuable tool, but it’s not a skill set we’re usually taught. We’ll discuss good practices for critique, and how to most usefully apply the critiques you receive to improve your work.
Jeliza Patterson-McGuire (M), Lee Moyer, Mimi Noyes, Marta Murvosh, Laura Tempest Zakroff
Saturday April 15th
Autograph Session 1
Our attending professionals are available to sign autographs. PLEASE NOTE: So that as many fans as possible can participate, we will be enforcing a three-items-at-a-time (or single-sketch) autograph limit.
Ethan Siegel, Ian McDonald, Catska Ench, Cory Ench, Nancy Kress, Marc Gascoigne, Mike Underwood, Carol Berg, Alex Irvine, Annie Bellet, Caroline M. Yoachim, Curtis C. Chen, Dean Wells, Greg Bear, Jack Skillingstead, James C. Glass, Jeff Sturgeon, John Cramer, Kat Richardson, Lee Moyer, Nathan Crowder, Nisi Shawl, Peter Orullian, Randy Henderson, Scott James Magner, Tori Centanni, Wendy N. Wagner, PJ Manney, Julie McGalliard, Crystal Connor, David D. Levine, Susan diRende, Claudia Casper, Kristy Acevedo
Bad Book Cover Art Hall of Fame
Learning from the tragic past (and e-book present), this panel will hope to prevent future crimes against authors and readers alike.
Jeliza Patterson-McGuire (M), Lee Moyer, Jeff Sturgeon
After hearing a short passage, two artists compete to come up with a cover for the story, and the audience gets to cheer them on.
Lee Moyer (M)
Games as Art
Art and games are linked in ways both obvious and subtle, from graphics and illustration to more ephemeral concepts like narrative and form, but many people overlook the concept that a game in and of itself can be art. If art is something that evokes feeling and has meaning by its intent, then games can certainly be art. Join our panelists in this discussion of what art is, what games are, and how the two are not mutually exclusive.
Lee Moyer (M), David Fooden, Arinn Dembo, Alex Irvine
This weekend’s HP Lovecraft Film Festival brought another fine Pickman’s Apprentice. This year it involved the Great Race of Yith and kissing. And the amazing talents at their respective easels? Heather Hudson, Frank Walls and the great William Stout.
*with 20 minutes of proper formatting in Photoshop when I got home.
What you place in a scene on your canvas around your main focal point can sometimes be just as important, if not moreso. Talk layout and what to show, and sometimes NOT show, with professional artists.
Lee Moyer, Daniel Cortopassi, JC Arkham (M), Zoë Moss, Maurine Starkey
Guest of Honor Interview: Lee Moyer
Saturday 12:00 – 13:30, SandPebble B (Hyatt Regency SFO)
Join our Toastmaster Lord Blood Rah as he asks artist Lee Moyer all the questions you always wanted to hear, and enjoy a visual presentation from Lee of some of his favorite works!
Lord Blood Rah (M), Lee Moyer
How Cthulu Became Cuddly?
Saturday 17:00 – 18:30, SandPebble B (Hyatt Regency SFO)
How did the most terrifying beings of our imagination become cuddly plushies, love interests, and punchlines? We’ll look at the intersection of horror and humor, and whether they enhance or deface the genre.
Deborah J. Ross, Ms. Jennifer Carson, Laurel Anne Hill, Lee Moyer (M)
Brunch with the Guests of Honor and Featured Guests, for the Patron attendees.
Warlock aka ChairMonster (M), Anne Bishop, Lee Moyer, Zoë Moss, Kelly Swails, August Ragone, Lex Rudd, Lord Blood Rah
The Ever-Evolving Field of Self-Publishing as an Author
Sunday 12:00 – 13:30, SandPebble C (Hyatt Regency SFO)
As more and more authors find that self-publishing is their preferred method, learn from those who are walking that road where to avoid the pitfalls, and what you’ll need to do to really be prepared!
Steven Savage, R.L. King, Mark Gelineau, Melissa Snark (M), Lee Moyer
Sunday 15:30 – 16:00, SandPebble B (Hyatt Regency SFO)
Now’s the time we say goodbye to all our monster friends! It’s the end of the weekend, so we’re going to gather one more time to say thank you to our fabulous guests, and to all our attending monsters and monster admirers- for making it an awesome convention!
Warlock aka ChairMonster (M), Lord Blood Rah, Lee Moyer, Anne Bishop, Zoë Moss, Lex Rudd, Kelly Swails, August Ragone
It was my great honor to be invited to Bubonicon as their Art Guest of Honor, along with Author Guests of Honor Rachel Caine and David Gerrold, and Joe Lansdale as Toastmaster. If I could travel back in time and tell my sixth-grade-self that I would someday see my name next to Gerrold’s (author of childhood favorite Star Trek episode, The Trouble with Tribbles) I wouldn’t have believed it. And to see our names on a shirt I’d drawn? Truly unbelievable.
The flight to Albuquerque was swift – and we admired their tiny (but open and spacious) airport. After checking in to the hotel, we set out on foot seeking a new black shirt (my last was sacrificed to Garnet of the Crystal Gems). We chose among the adjacent 3 malls, and found ourselves in a windowless maze of merchandise – astonished by the incursions nerd culture has made into stores like Hot Topic (Venetia only wished it had happened when she was a teen). We helped a color-blind man pick out a new business shirt in Macy’s and the whole dressing room joined in advising us about the neighborhood and making us feel welcome.
On our way back through the concrete desert (where no one else walks), Venetia dropped her phone. The screen shattered, but all was not lost – for there, across the street, was an Apple Store. We took advantage of our AppleCare+, dropped off her phone and headed to dinner. Garduño’s made for a delicious welcome, and the sweet corn treat that came with Venetia’s dinner was especially toothsome. After dinner we retrieved her phone – good as new.
Everyone we encountered in Albuquerque was so sweet and friendly – from the workers in the mall to the employees at Trader Joe’s (who gave us the beautiful New Mexico bag we’ve used throughout our trip). After our adventures in retail, we decided the most sensible thing we could do was to binge watch the entire last season of ‘Game of Thrones’. After all, Bubonicon is Santa Fe author George R. R. Martin‘s “home” convention, and we feared accidental spoilers.
We spent most of the next day luxuriating in our hotel room, devouring episode after episode. It was glorious. After a brief break to meet with Caci (one of the convention chairs), and tour of the facility, we returned to find that our room had a new occupant! Venetia’s scream was thankfully less than ear-piercing.
That evening we drove north with Caci and her husband to Patricia Roger’s house for a chili dinner. There we met my longtime Facebook pal Serge Broom and many of the other convention committee members and volunteers. Pat gave us the tour of her wonderfully eccentric houseful of delicious objects (toy robots, faience hippos, and signed photos of so many favorites). Tales were told, and much delicious food eaten. Before we left she presented us with a small podium for displaying books. It would be the first of many delightful acquisitions (the giant skeletal rat not withstanding).
Friday was the first proper day of Bubonicon. But before the show began it was time to take the lay of the land. Geneva Schult drove us north and we took the aerial tram up to Sandia Peak.
With no memory card in the camera, we settled for the iPhone. It lasted for most of the morning before becoming impossibly clogged with photos. The trip up was smooth sailing all the way, and beauty abounded – the clouds changed every few minutes, with fog and rain one moment, and bright sun and white clouds the next. Many fat ground squirrels sat languorously on rocks eating. We also saw (and heard) the silhouettes of crows feeding their babies in a tall conifer.
Then, from inside the visitor’s center on the tip-top peak, we looked down and saw the clear highlight of the day – a ringtail (also known as a ringtail cat or miner’s cat, though of course not a member of the cat family at all). I was unable to get a picture but here are some examples we found online:
Ringtails are nocturnal, so what on earth was this one doing? He or she was on the flat roof of a small cinderblock building at the head of the ski-lift (the eastern slope of Sandia being a gradual slope that features skiing, not the violent cliff faces of the Rio Grande Rift Valley we’d travelled up), and it appeared to be licking the building. Was there something salty on the roof? We’ll never know.
Back to Bubonicon via Lyft, we moved straight to setting up the art show. It was a breeze – the staff was wonderfully efficient and helpful, and the paperwork templates were so good that Venetia couldn’t stop raving about them.
Later, Joe Lansdale was especially delightful at the opening ceremonies – there’s something profoundly dangerous about East Texas accent when wielded by a life-long pro. Later that night, I moderated a delightfully fractious panel about the ways and means by which the works of HP Lovecraft have become adorable and comedic. The highlight was an incensed panelist railing that the rest of us were “just not doing it right!”.
This segued nicely into the first of the convention’s two charity auctions. We won a first edition of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s ‘The Firebrand’, Sheri Tepper’s ‘Raising the Stones’ for our pal Tracy, and two books by fellow guest Rachel Caine – a fantastic woman who is co-writing with our friend Ann Aguirre. Venetia especially loves Ann’s writing and looks most forward to diving into Rachel’s vasty catalogue. Rachel instantly became a favorite, and her grace under pressure was amazing. Earlier, she’d fallen on the street, bled profusely and sported two black eyes throughout the convention. And to commemorate the occasion her husband Cat had taken photos of her collapse that looked like something from a CSI episode.
By Saturday we had a refrigerator in the room and had done enough shopping at Trader Joe’s that we could dart back to the room between events to eat a healthy lunch and watch the final two episodes of Game of Thrones. Goodness but they were intense! It’s clear they spent a year of production time and much of the season’s budget on that finale.
But our day wasn’t just dudgeon and dragons on the iPad. First, I led a well-attended docent tour of the Art Show – the whole show was full of amazing work in a variety of media and styles – from fractals to oil paint and featured many artists I don’t see nearly enough – from Elizabeth Leggett and Eric Velhagen to David Martin and Nene Thomas. The celadon pottery of Peri Charlifu was especially fine, and later took home a well-earned Best in Show.
My first panel of the day was about the intersection of Mythology and Comics (a.k.a. my happy place). I got to speak about ‘Watchmen’ and Alan Moore’s cunning use of Indian religion to add archetypal heft to otherwise unmoored and largely unappealing Charleston Comics characters, Walt Simonson’s literally epic run on ‘Thor’ and his Norse inspirations, G. Willow Wilson’s creation of a fantastically nuanced Islamic heroine in ‘Ms Marvel’, M. Night Shyamalan’s use of Aztec religion to personify the idea that superheroes are America’s true native religion in ‘Unbreakable’, the Golem as symbol of the people’s will in ‘The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay’, and why Superman is not really a convincing stand-in for Jesus.
The mass autographing was next, and I sat at my table with the Guests of Honor (as well as George RR Martin, Connie Willis, S.M. Stirling, Stephen R. Donaldson, and Victor Milan, among many others). Watching the lines of people waiting for Joe Lansdale or George RR Martin is a curious feeling – sympathy mixed with happiness for the attendees, and a clear acknowledgement that while fame can be a very mixed blessing, this convention is one of the very best for pros and fans alike.
I signed some books, answered questions about my calendars (yes, I hope for a 2017), and talked a little bit more about myths old and new. I met up with Facebook friend Bethany Sankot who bought my portrait of Bunnicula in the art show and brought me delicious gluten-free cookies (Thanks Bethany!), and best of all hung out with dear friends Jon and Agnes who had come down from Durango just to visit! I hadn’t seen them in more than 2 decades and it was surreal how much and how little had changed. We dined with them before they headed back north. Hopefully we’ll see a lot more of them in the future!
Sunday was the truly busy day. First there was a spot of technical trouble as the adapters between iPad and projector failed to work properly (thank heavens for the Cloud!). I squeezed two slide-presentations into an hour (a huge retrospective of my work and the Infamous Bad Book Cover Show). I also served as intermittent auctioneer in the Sunday Auction when I wasn’t moderating a panel on SF tropes through the ages. While I was auctioneering, Venetia scored a signed, numbered, limited Subterranean Press edition of Six-Gun Snow White by Cat Valente and Charles Vess. By the end of the day the only thing we were capable of doing was collapsing into deep sleep for two hours before dinner. We dined with the convention committee in a private room at El Patron and Venetia had her first (and last, sad to say) sopapilla. Gluten really is a problem, but everyone should experience a sopapilla!
Bubonicon was fantastic.
I met so many lovely people, my small gallery of art (and especially my Small Gods) was greatly appreciated. Time simply flew by and the whole show was wonderful. I hope to get back soon!
9:30pm-10:30pm Panel # 8 – LOVECRAFT AS FUNNY & CUDDLY: WHAT HAPPENED Main Room – Salon E – Jeff Benham, A. Campbell, S. Ulibarri, C. Weaver. MOD: Lee Moyer
— H.P. Lovecraft created a mysterious world of nameless dread. Then some of his contemporaries re-imagined a world where we might actually fight back. How would either group or authors view today’s world in which Cthulhu is made into a fuzzy stuffed doll? What other strange ways have we incorporated the unspeakable? Why has it happened?
11am Art Show Docent Tour with Lee Moyer Salon A-D
2pm-3pm Panel # 16 – DEUS EX GRAPHICA: ROLE OF MYTHOLOGY IN COMICS
Aaron Campbell, Andy Kuhn, John Jos. Miller, Lee Moyer, Steve Stiles. MOD: Craig A. Butler
— Is Superman a Christ figure? Is Batman an urban myth? Just how Greco-Roman is Wonder Woman, anyway? And why is Marvel’s Thor blonde? How much do comics borrow from mythology? Are these stories and themes timeless? Get the answers in a fun and creative panel discussion.
4pm-5:15pm Artist Guest Slide Show Santa Fe
1:30pm-2:30pm Panel # 23 – THE THREE R’S IN VISUAL ART: HOW DO ROCKETS… LOOK Salons A-D – J. Benham, Peri Charlifu, Jon Sanchez, Steve Stiles. MOD: Lee Moyer
— How are Rockets, Robots and Rayguns represented in SF and comic book art? Have they changed much since the glory days of pulp magazine covers? Why or why not? What is so
appealing about those pulp-era robots and rockets? Why don’t rockets have fins and look like cigars anymore? Were robots in art more menacing way back when? What about the design of a good raygun? What makes a gun look science fictional in artwork? Have certain styles & appearances become shorthand for artists now?
This month brings new work created for the convention I will be attending as the Artist Guest of Honor: Bubonicon in Albuquerque NM.
Their mascot, Perry Rhodent, has had a curious and adventuresome history and his appearance this year showcases the triune R theme of the convention: Rockets, Robots, and Ray Guns.
I’m looking forward to the convention and to seeing New Mexico, especially Meow Wolf.
Before Bubonicon however, I will be attending the Willamette Writer’s Conference. I will be there in the capacity of advising designer and illustrator so if you are going, please stop by and ask me any questions you may have about the somewhat arcane topics of book cover art, type design, and branding!
Small group discussions with authors, artists, and other interesting personalities (referred to as “hosts”). Sessions are limited to the host and a small group of attendees.
Emily Jiang, Esther Jones, Jim Minz, Lee Moyer, Liz Argall, Mike Moscoe, Phyllis Irene Radford
Crowdfunding for Artists
Sat Jul 2 3:00:pm – 4:00:pm
How to navigate a successful crowdfunding campaign to advance your personal project or career. Learn what to do, and what not to do when getting cash from an online crowd.
Jeff Sturgeon, Lee Moyer, Ley Hazard, M. Scott Hammond
Match Game SF
Sun Jul 3 9:00:pm – 12:00:am
Get ready to match the fannish stars! In this re-creation of the classic 1970s game show, contestants are selected randomly from the audience to attempt to match the panelists’ answers to fill-in-the-blank questions like “Captain Kirk has the biggest ___ in Starfleet!” All contestants will receive prizes.
Andy Trembley, David D. Levine, Jonnalyhn Wolfcat Prill, Kevin Roche, Kevin Standlee, Lee Moyer, Lisa Hayes, Lynn Gold
Years ago, when I liberated Venetia from Wisconsin in the dead of winter, House on the Rock was closed for the season. A return trip was, therefore, absolutely necessary. But when? And under what conditions? Answers: Now. And Wiscon in Madison over the weekend of my birthday. We would get to spend time with Mark Oshiro and Baize White, visit with Venetia’s old cellmate Kat Lemmer, and see as many of the surrounding wonders as possible.
As usual I worked until the last possible minute – this time on my homage to the great Steven Universe (a portrait of the Crystal Gems featuring Claire as Pearl and Mish as Amethyst) – even as our dear friend Phia sat in the next room sewing up my attempt at business-attire-cosplay. When we wrapped up, my Mother kindly ferried us to PDX, and the TSA lines were more or less as-usual. The red eye to Chicago encountered turbulence, and the airline (Spirit) featured the latest in sardine-like passenger-discomfitting chairs that didn’t recline. All told we got three hours of sleep that first morning.
Arrival: Made very welcome
We got to O’Hare as the sun came up and made our way directly to the car rental counter. There, the lovely woman asked what is likely a common question for her – “What are you here for?” So we told her the plan: the waterparks of the Wisconsin Dells, House on the Rock, Wiscon. She wanted to know what Wiscon was, so we explained that it’s an inclusive feminist Science Fiction Fantasy Convention in Madison and that Venetia would be featured on a panel about creating religion in fiction. When she asked us about our own spiritual practices, we spoke about trauma and abuse and healing from PTSD. At this point, the woman behind the counter next to us joined in, asking questions and telling us her story. They were wonderful people, and we stayed with them for over an hour, talking animatedly in the moments between customers.
Once settled into our car, we picked our destination – Lee Street Park. The drive there was dull and unappealing, until we got to Evanston where we were only a few blocks from the park and the edge of Lake Michigan. There, the lawns grew wider and the houses grander until we came to the brick mansions and small stone palaces overlooking the lake. We parked the car in a nice shady spot, rolled down our windows to enjoy the warm breeze off the lake, and promptly fell fast asleep.
Much later we awoke to hunt for food and retired to a lagoon in the park, to eat and soak our feet in the cool water. Refreshed and rejuvenated, we began to contemplate our surroundings with more awareness and discovered that this beautiful oasis was none other than Northwestern University. Though we still had hours before Mark and Baize arrived, we decided to start the drive back to the airport, but this time avoiding the toll roads completely by using surface streets. Heading due south, we soon ran into a grand and expansive cemetery. Already this trip was proving most useful and worthwhile as we took picture after picture of Celtic crosses, patina-ed copper, and deer which (unlike the rest of the inhabitants) were not dead but merely resting. After a dodgy sleepless start it was exactly what we needed.
We picked up Mark and Baize from the airport and headed straight for Madison, already ready for dinner. By the time we reached Madison we were hungry and desperate for food. Happily, Mark’s advanced Yelp skills found us a genuinely delicious (and surprisingly affordable) Venezuelan restaurant called La Taguara. Everything there was delicious – including the peculiar sodas! Check it out if travel takes you hence.
Immediate food needs met, we headed to Costco to do some longer term food shopping. En route, we were lured away by a vasty store called Woodman’s across the freeway. We never made it to Costco. As we moved through Woodmen’s peculiarly midwestern enormity, Mark and Venetia bonded over peanut butter and rice crackers. Luckily we found food we could eat, and our way out – only discovering the invaluable store map as we departed into the gloaming.
We reached the Wisconsin Dell’s as the last light faded from the night sky and were gratified to find the promised kitchen, and the room’s jacuzzi overlooking the lake. Soaking away the aches of travel was a perfect way to end to the first of several surreal days.
Day 2: Boom, like that!
Mark and Baize started the day with run along the lake where they saw an ostentatious mansion on it’s own little island guarded by door-sized black stone lions. We all ate breakfast, put on swim suits and headed out for the first day of our water park extravaganza! The Wilderness Resort is so full of different water parks it was a little confusing. We started with the Water Dome (“two swimmers enter, one swimmer leaves”) where Venetia experienced her first-ever water slide. It would not be her last! After a few trips to the top of those stairs (Ye gads! The stairs! I wouldn’t have believed I would so willingly climb as many flights of stairs!) and down the big slide, we left the overheated faux-tropical Dome for the second giant room of water slides. Waterslides (like most amusement rides) come in a small variety of possible physics-observant permutations – we tried them all. The tallest and most berserk featured a sharp drop (Venetia loved going over such falls backwards) that opened into a funnel shaped area where the riders of the raft-thing (we tried it with 2, 3 and 4 riders) soar up and down in a whipsawing motion before plunging once more straight to the bottom.
After a brief return to the hotel to dry off, we headed back to the resort – this time for drier (if no less interesting) diversions. There, Mark proved to be a well-practiced sniper whose efficiency was only matched by his glee and savagery. His massive victory was tragically (for us) inevitable. Lee found that his odds were not helped when his white shirt and socks glowed incandescent in the black light of the psychedelic wild west environs. Lee’s later first place finish on the go-carts proved little consolation – it seems that bumping, ramming or bashing was counter-indicated so those who start first tend to finish that way too.
Venetia was breathtaking as she moved through the mist-shrouded Laser Escape Room. Nimble and possessed of an amazing degree of body awareness, she escaped in…. well, it wasn’t record time exactly, but being 28th among the 25,000 without practice runs or do-overs was pretty astonishing to the rest of us. Afterwards, skee-ball, pinball, Whack-a-Mole, Dance Dance Revolution, and Kung-Fu Panda punching games fell to Mark’s might on the Midway. Then back onto the shuttle bus to the hotel.
This time we were driven the long way around the lake, and by that curious mansion (on it’s own wee island) that Baize and Mark had seen earlier. The shuttle driver told us that it was the 18,000 square foot palazzo home of Nick Laskaris (owner of Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park) and how his 9 bay garage (which held at least 2 Lamborghinis) is insured for 2.7 million dollars. What made this especially startling to me was the sheer number of trailer parks that dotted the surrounding area.
Venetia and Baize found us a place for dinner – a lovely little restaurant down on the water, not too far from the ubiquitous Tommy Bartlett’s water skiing extravaganza. Happily there was no show that night, and we watched rain roll in and out from the safety of our covered patio. The food was as average as the waiter was charming. We were exhausted from the day, and lingered a long time over the meal. So into this idyll, image our surprise as the sky went white with a Lightning strike. It was pretty much straight up and down, smashing into a cove around the lake to our left. Seconds after the flash, the thunder! We’d never heard anything so loud, and glad though we were that it hadn’t struck us – we were a little concerned it had hit our hotel. This feeling intensified as the smoke began to drift up and over the lake! We talked a little nervously about it, and I suggested that we were probably fine. After all, I was pretty sure our hotel was more to the left. Surely the lightning had hit that palazzo on the island. We left 15 minutes later, walking through the small throng of diners who had come out to watch the smoke and hear the sirens blaring, seeming to converge at the invisible spot of the lightning strike. As we left, a man on his cell phone seemed to have news, so I asked him about it. He had called friends in emergency services and they had told him – the lightning had hit Nick Laskaris’ palazzo on its little island. Don’t mess with Zeus.
Schadenfreude dictated we do a little drive by, if only to see how the locals were taking it. There was almost a traffic jam of drivers, and no shortage of neighbors peering curiously at the smoke and the mass of assembled firemen. And while little damage was visible to us, the wafting smoke suggested that some serious damage had indeed been done. And it was a comfort to know he was well insured….
After our neighborly gawking, we returned once more to the scene of the earlier amusements – this time to the rope course and glow-in-the-dark miniature golf. It amazed me how many amusements could be crammed into a finite space. The golf courses were squalid, but they fit into a couple otherwise useless caverns.
The rope course was delightful and hung over an arcade populated with similar games to those we’d seen earlier. Those playing below seemed oddly uncaring about the cat’s cradles and odd ropes and ladders that were being traversed mere feet over their heads – 2 stories of safety-harnessed fun!
Safely back at the hotel that night, Mark secured us cheap tickets for Mt. Olympus the next day.
Day 3: Ready to (House on the) Rock!
We arose Thursday later than we might have liked (but let’s face it, 3 separate visits to every water slide and attraction our feet could carry us to, and a surprise lightning strike might just require a little sleeping in!), and headed south to House on the Rock. The drive was wonderful – bucolic and calm. “Giant carousel! Too many dollhouses!” was all Venetia had managed by way of warning or explanation, so we were, as Mark often says in his podcasts, not prepared.
The House itself surprised me. I’d somehow imagined this all-American folly would have been…. older, more Victorian. Instead, it’s the embodiment of a very different era, when smarmy swinging 60’s super scientist Jonas Venture would have invited hot chicks in with a single rakishly raised eyebrow and a mellifluous, ”Hey doll, have you ever made it in the Infinity Room? It’s just delicious, kitten….”. The small bachelor pad on the Rock is filled to busting with conversation pits, cozy nooks, massive walls of books, re-purposed stained glass windows and Tiffany lamps. Oh, and a mechanical orchestra in the kitchen, natch. There is carpet on nearly all the floors (good), many of the the walls (hmm) and a surprising number of ceilings (peculiar… but then the ceilings are dangerously low). While I’m sure it prevents wear (and helpfully collects dust), I cannot imagine keeping so much carpet clean. Miles of carpet. Because these days, that original House on that original Rock is surrounded and buttressed by a veritable labyrinth of other less-photogenic structures – it seems that once punters were paying to see the great work, there was nothing for it but to add more. And more. AND MORE!
It took us 4 hours to traverse the strange pathways of House on the Rock. Highlights included:
The “Life-sized” kraken battling a giant whale with enormous teeth.
The Mikado was just one of the almost-insane and often nearly in-tune music rooms (by which we mean rooms filled with automatons that eerily play musical instruments, often to a vaguely recognizable tune. ‘The Blue Danube’ was more curdled and strange than its namesake in a winter flood!)
The giant Carousel about which we had been warned (and which readers of Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ have encountered in fiction. The staff knew nothing of the mythic Halloween carousel ride that Venetia had witnessed years earlier “Hmm… no. No one ever says anything about that”. The staff did admit some excitement at the prospect of the ‘American Gods’ miniseries being shot on site later this year or next).
As a longtime docent at the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural History Museum, I know that Museums have collections. The tricky thing about the collections at House on the Rock is that (despite the endless rows of cabinets, shelves, interactive displays, et al.) they are not a Museum – it’s history, and faux history and no-history mixed up in a pop (and popped) culture blender designed by Rube Goldberg (from napkin doodles by Nikola Tesla) and built by Ed Wood and Tim Burton.
The contrast between the Ladies’ and Men’s rooms was deeply peculiar, yet oddly gender-normative. After our own forays, I felt it only mete to invite another group of women into the men’s room. So much wonderment, surely it would be a shame to miss any!
En route back to the Dells, we stopped briefly at the Forevertron. This enormous sculpture is what the Transformers might have looked like had they invaded Earth during the Edwardian period (It seems that Rube Goldberg casts a large shadow over Wisconsin).
A quick visit to the hotel suite and a speedy change of attire later we were off to Mt. Olympus, its 3 active go-cart tracks and, of course, even more water slides.
While Baize and Venetia stuck to the ground, Mark and I climbed still more stairs. “Zeus is feeling particularly aggressive today!” These were the words that greeted us at the top of the huge wooden roller coaster. All we could do was nod. And laugh. Of course this was intended as a warning about the speed and ferocity of the juddering old roller coaster. But given the events of the previous evening, the hubris of stealing Zeus’ thunder seemed more…. topical. Of course we sat in the front, thusly:
The Dells is not a hotbed of fine cuisine, but after dinner at Noodles and Co., Venetia’s enjoyed her first custard milkshake and became a Culver’s convert. Afterwards, Mark (who has boundless energy) headed back to the Arcade while Venetia and I relaxed in the jacuzzi.
Day 4-6: Welcome to the Weekend
At noon on Friday, Memorial Day weekend began in earnest and the outdoor water slides opened. So of course Venetia and Mark had to experience all 8 of the newly-opened rides in 90 minutes’ time. Whew! While they cavorted in the sun, I spent a long luxurious morning in the hot tub catching up with the delightful Kat, who had brought us all an amazing and delicious home-cooked Indian meal. The best part of traveling (and of having people stay with us) is getting to spend deep quality time with them – and Kat is always a favorite. :)
Venetia drove Mark and Baize (and my art show) down to Madison but then frantically called me for help in setting up. It seems the art show ran out of proper hanging hardware! Happily, Kat got me to the hardware store and the day was saved. The art show had a great set-up (and kindly displayed my work front and center). You can see the last-minute piece (printed on metal in the nick of time) below:
Once the art show was set-up we left to join Kat in another delicious meal. This time the highlight was a rhubarb cinnamon lemonade so amazing we had to share it with our friends the following day as we wandered in the heat of Saturday Farmer’s Market around the capitol building.
Venetia’s panel about creating religion in fiction was also on Saturday, and I hope she shares her notes for this blog at some point. We attended a Steven Universe panel where we got some hot tips on the French releases still unaired in the US, and an extended intro animation. So of course we ran back up to our room following the panel to catch up. And then to nap. A lot. It turns out that our life of adventure compounded with masses of people is pretty tiring! Who knew? Venetia ended the day by playing multiple rounds of one of her favorite board games, 7 Wonders.
Sunday brought the best panel we attended: You Got Race On My Class! You Got Class On My Race! – a panel with Mikki Kendall, Na’amen Gobert Tilahun, and Nisi Shawl. Fascinating and nuanced stuff. But Sunday was for friends and extracurricular activities too – so we geared up for more sun and boldly set off to the Madison Zoo. Our bravery was rewarded with a nearby parking space and an afternoon with Venetia’s dear friends Sarah and Jamie and their kids. As we parked in the lot for dinner by the lake we got a surprise – water skiers arrayed like a three layer cake! And as we left? A huge rainbow that made a brilliant contrast with the lightning we’d enjoyed 3 days earlier.
When we returned and got gussied up, we were surprised by the line for the Desserts and Guest of Honor speeches. But as some of you know, I do love a line as it gives me the opportunity to chat with people I might not otherwise encounter. The dessert selection was splendid – allowing me to sample several (ok, many) desserts. We got to sit with dear friends Rachel and Phi, and watch the speeches, and the speeches were better than the desserts. Really.
All three women are astonishing, and their different approaches made for a unified and inspiring whole:
Justine Larbalestier spoke in a light accent that reminded me of that other Australian American Liz Argall. She dropped the occasional f-bomb for effect as she talked about the rejection of ‘Young Adult’ novels by her otherwise sensible peers. And she went deep into the word and concept of “teenage”, its origins, its arbitrariness and its extraordinary power.
Sofia Samatar was as stylish and poised as she had been when I watched her win the World Fantasy Award a few years earlier. She read us some of her breathtaking rejection letters, showing with great clarity how ridiculously stale and calcified the olde world of publishing is and how difficult it is for even supremely assured and powerful work to find a home with the mighty publishing cartels. The status quo needs changing, but it isn’t going to change itself, and it isn’t going to go quietly.
Nalo Hopkinson slyly lampooned the troglodytes who have spent their time in racist, sexist protests against progress and inclusion. She sang us a little Lady Bey and talked about a new award she is creating – an annual award for those in the field who are making things better – turning those lemons into lemonade. By the time I’d volunteered to work up the award certificate, 2 others had already volunteered. Wiscon is full of good people.
I wish I could find a link to these speeches on YouTube or the like, but so far no luck….
Day 7: Monday Monday
Monday was quiet in comparison, but still full of good friends and conversations. I was surprised and delighted to run into the radiant Esther and her children in the sparkling con suite. It’d been far too long since last we’d met. And so much longer since I’d sculpted Calvin and Hobbes for the top of her (and Ben Rosenbaum’s) wedding cake. While I was gabbing away, Venetia got quite the workout carrying Sarah’s eldest son everywhere on her back. She was over the moon getting to introduce him and his brother (and Sarah) to Steven Universe. I assisted in the tearing down of the artshow – not just my small panels, but the whole kit and kaboodle. Even though I’ve been exhibiting in shows since 1980, I am constantly surprised by the different mechanical and cultural ley lines that shows around the country present – in this case, coloring books for sale with the fine-art dolls, and abstract paintings and 3D papier-mâché science sculptures! My biggest surprise was the lack of inclusion in the artwork. This is endemic in most shows, but I had guessed that Wiscon would manage better.
That night while Venetia recovered from her exertions, I had a marvelous time at the final party of the convention. Travelers and friends converged – coming from as nearby as Madison itself and as far away as York in the UK. A lovely night, and new friends into the bargain.
Day 8 and 9:
The next day we were off to Chicago. Driving south we quickly saw an approaching (and very ominous) storm front. We turned east in the very nick of time, racing ahead of it. By the time we arrived in Chicago, the storm seemed well behind us.
We dropped Mark and Baize off with the McCartys and shared a wonderful lunch of Duck Egg Hash. After a hasty goodbye, and a quest for gasoline, we headed downtown. The storm broke all around us – wind tearing into awnings and spewing garbage into the streets. It was portentous as all heck! We arrived at our hotel just as the storm hit the city in earnest. But thanks to Venetia’s cunning, our car drop-off was a mere block from the hotel, and I was barely wet when I returned. We were quite surprised to find that our room (which had been booked at the last moment) occupied the top floor of the hotel, and had such a great view of the park, the museums, and the lake beyond. We ate some snacks we’d brought and enjoyed the view and, when the sun set, even some TV – a thing that never happens at home!
The last day of our trip was spent in the parks of downtown Chicago. The first ‘attraction’ was the repulsive line at the Shedd Aquarium, purposefully engineered to convince people to spend more money in an upgrade and deliberately making poorer people wait in a 45 minute line. As with the increasingly haves vs. have-not culture of air travel, it left us feeling bad for all involved. The neo-liberal oligarchy has some serious problems, and they don’t seem to be getting better.
We did a little research and discovered that we could get into the Field Museum at a discounted price if we didn’t go to all the special exhibits. It turned out we didn’t even have the stamina for all the regular exhibits! We were both impressed by the displays and the way the museum placards are recontextualizing the way people think about pre-colonized North and South America. There were many beautiful and functional displays that were educational and interesting. There was a marvelous Tibetan display with not only religious objects but also pieces of everyday clothing and the necessary items of life – from clothing to teapots. And the crowning gem for us was the astonishing and exquisite exhibit of newly-restored Malvina Hoffman sculptures. Sadly the museum was sold out of her art book. Sadder, there seems to be no book featuring the work properly – only books gassing on about it. I wish we’d taken a hundred or so photos, because…. wow!
The final highlight of this delightful vacation came from a most unexpected source. We were seated next to a baby taking his first flight, and it seemed a recipe for disaster. Instead, he the cutest and best-behaved baby on the plane. After cooing and smiling at Venetia, he promptly fell asleep for the entire flight. Awww.