Madison WFC Friday

I flew into Chicago yesterday and drove a rental car to Madison, escaping the tangle of outbound city traffic for the periodic tolls and occasional lane closures of the open road. After only one or two missed turns I found my way to my hotel, checked in, and had a late dinner in the hotel cafe… One of the penalties of making late arrangements is that I’m not at the convention hotel, the Concourse, but at the Doubletree, a few blocks away. (It’s not a fancy hotel, but it does excel in two ways– first, I can open the window, and second, the wifi is free and immediate. I turned on my laptop and poof it was there, no fuss.)

It was this morning before I was able to register over at the con hotel. As a non-pre-registrant, I was given a blank badge and directed to a table of colored pens and decals for the opportunity to complete it myself. I was tempted to write ‘Greg Egan’ on my badge and walk around the con to see what reaction I got. But I didn’t.

First thing this morning was the more-or-less-annual Locus Foundation meeting, this year attended by Charles Brown, Jonathan Strahan, Gary Wolfe, Peter Straub, and me, as well as Liza Groen Trombi, who in short order was nominated to be a board member in replacement of Jennifer Hall, who has of course left the magazine. One of the themes of this year’s meeting was succession planning, and I had to admit that, as the administrator of Locus Online, I have absolutely no succession plan in place at all. I get hit by the proverbial bus, and Locus Online instantly becomes a static site. (Actually, Bill Contento has access to the site, since he routinely updates his Locus Index pages, but I don’t believe anyone in the Locus Magazines offices knows how to access or update the site.) I agreed to create what in my day-job we call a ‘desk instruction’, a list of steps for how to go about updating the site, at least the homepage. (Full details about how to run all the databases that underlie the site would require considerably more documentation, but I suppose I should do that too, sometime.)

After that meeting, I toured the dealer room — a bit cramped, but packed with book dealers — and the art show — some nice Picacios and Dringenbergs, but otherwise not a lot that grabbed my attention — then headed back to my hotel, to drop off the books from the freebie bag that I wanted to keep and check on e-mail. A notice about the death of Michael Coney demanded immediate attention, so I posted that announcement on the website, and while I was at it, posted the ‘new magazines’ page I’d all but finished on Tuesday before I left. For that I missed the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror panel back at the con hotel, so by the time I got back there, I had a sandwich in the hotel bar and then ducked in and out of other panels.

The most interesting panel was ‘Fantasy in Unexpected Places’, i.e. fringe fantasy, with moderator Jeff VanderMeer and panelists Patrick O’Leary, Graham Joyce, Matthew Cheney, and Kelly Link… Carol Emshwiller showed up late, and though charming, didn’t have much to contribute. Jeff V posed a series of well planned questions — first, what is the ‘center’ of fantasy?; what makes your work at the ‘edge’?; what do you look for as a reader?; is your work a *reaction* to the center?; and so on — which brought substantive responses from the panelists (answers: Tolkien and descendants unto Rowling are the ‘center’; what they look for is the strange, the mood, the unique worldview; the ambition is to react against the standards, to try to do better, to disobey the rules), as well as the standard litany of recommendations of books they’ve liked (by Saramago, Lanagan, Millet, Bender, Butler, Krohn).

Later at the invitation of Jeff VanderMeer I joined a group of about 15 for a walking tour of downtown Madison led by Forrest Aguirre, who lives here and has apparently done such tours numerous times before (since the annual WisCons are held at the very same hotel). We circled the capitol building, explored the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace Convention Center (though only from landside; we didn’t see the lakeside view shown on the linked site), then walked past State Street’s shops and cafes to the University, where from the student union we looked out at Madison’s other big lake, Mendola. Along the way I actually met Matt Cheney for the first time, and chatted with the Australian contingent behind next year’s Conflux. And we all had dinner at a State St cafe that serves Mediterranean, Italian, and Mexican food, as well as burgers and salads… but was quite good, and cheap.

Then it was back to the con hotel for the Friday evening autograph sessions, with dozens of writers (perhaps over a hundred) sitting at tables ready to sign books, many of them trying to look pleasant while sitting relatively unnoticed next to the huge lines formed for the likes of Gene Wolfe and Charles de Lint. At 10 p.m. the parties started, all conveniently located on the 6th floor. Tor’s party; the con suite; an Indie Press party; a Fedogan & Bremer party. All quickly packed and noisy, but among them well-stocked, with enough cold-cuts and cheese and candy and cake to subsist on if one hadn’t actually had dinner, not to mention sodas and beer and wine and even a Highland Park single malt in the con suite (!). I chatted with Russell and Cezarija, Jenni, Ted C and John JA and John P and Paula G and Cheryl M, and met Dora G and Lou A and Chris R and no doubt others whose names have already slipped my mind. By about midnight I decided to make the hike back to my hotel, post the IHG winners (not a big chore since their site has the list itself!), and write this blog entry. (If I don’t do it tonight, I never will.)

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