Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dragons of different sorts

On the way to WisCon, Lisa and I slayed a dragon. That pretty much set the tone for the weekend.

It was a Thursday morning, and the MagiQuest in Wisconsin Dells was deserted, a dim four-story labyrinth of painted tree murals and fake treasure chests. We left our shoes at the base of a rope stairway and ran around like unsupervised kids, casting spells, going on quests, and using the slides instead of stairs whenever possible. Our last adventure was defeating the dragon, a cave-dwelling CGI beast you have to freeze and shoot ice arrows at. MagiQuest is intended for small children, but there's something satisfying and addictive about playing pretend on such a massive scale. Which explains why, had anyone wandered into that location around lunchtime on Thursday, they would've seen two grad students dancing a jig in a fake cavern, yelling, "Suck on that, motherfucker!" at the dragon on the projector screen.

Maturity WIN.

After an epic road trip sequence, we arrived at WisCon...only to skip across town and go hot tubbing with the Black Hat Collective (Lisa's comic group) at a smaller convention across town. We did this a couple times throughout the weekend, because we knew more people at the smaller convention. I've never before had the opportunity to cheat on one convention with another, and it was...interesting, visiting Nakamacon while in the WisCon mindset. WisCon is a thinky convention - you're constantly encouraged to examine books, TV, culture, and yourself with a critical feminist eye. It's hard work. In comparison, Nakamacon - a fledgling anime, steampunk, and furry con - seemed to be about buying into geek culture.

Looking back now, I realize most cons I've been to have been about buying into a culture rather than examining it. That's what makes WisCon unique - at this con, you're not just there saying, "Hey, we have these things in common! Let's enjoy these things!"; you're there to say, "Why do we love these things? How do they work? Where are they failing us and what can we do to make it better?"

In large part because of that questioning attitude, the atmosphere at WisCon is also unlike that of any con I've been to previously. It's intellectual, obviously, but with an undercurrent of "SQUEE!" that colors even the most serious conversations with fangirlish glee, and an openness that fosters earnest conversations and a sense of welcoming. People launch into meaningful discussion with strangers without preamble. I had a conversation with someone in the hot tub where I was tempted to say, "So, now that I know how you were conceived...what's your name?" (Hello, mystery stranger, if you're reading! It was lovely talking with you.)

Friday morning was the writing workshop, which was useful and full of awesome people. I've been in a masters program for creative writing for three years and have had about the same amount of luck finding other genre writers to geek out and trade manuscripts with as I found in one day at WisCon. Between the workshop, the post-workshop cake and coffee, and the first-timers dinner that evening, I feel like I actually made some friends. I've met con-friends before - those wonderful folks you see and adore for one weekend a year but don't interact with outside of 2AM overcaffeinated Battlestar Gallactica conversations - but never people I might consider friends outside a convention setting.

As awesome as the people were, I still found much of the convention programming intimidating at first glance. The description of many panels boiled down to: "We all know and/or love Subject. But is Subject a win or fail for feminism?" I find it difficult to pin down feminism, and personally, I kind of suck at putting my own thoughts about gender and related issues into words. I only spoke in a panel once the whole weekend, and it was about fan fiction. But still, the panel discussions wormed their way into my brain, and hours later I found myself still mulling over and engaging int casual conversations about them.

And drawing things from them. I mean that literally - in the Fat Sex panel, one of the panelist asked, "Why aren't there any fat butch characters in space?" and I wound up drawing a fat butch in a space suit. And then other fat ladies in scifi getups. Now I have five pages of fat scifi ladies in my sketchbook and one (the original space butch) gifted to the aforementioned panelist. When I showed the sketches to people, they said, "OMG YOU SHOULD MAKE A COLORING BOOK OF THESE."

So I am.

(That's the space tourist, totally bored by my notes. I think each of these ladies needs a story to go with her, but I'm not sure if it's going to be a single-sentence caption beneath her image or a 50-100 words short on the opposite page. I suppose that depends partly on whether I do the whole thing digitally or find a place that will print a coloring book cheaply enough that I could sell it.)

Peer pressure works amazingly well on me, especially regarding creative projects. I have to thank Marianne and Julia for this particular round of peer pressure (and also for the totally fab makeup on Saturday night).

The people, the programming, and the atmosphere of WisCon were all amazing, and I will definitely be back next year. But for me, the highlight of the whole con was the reading.

Oh god, the reading. I was prepared for it to go so wrong. I couldn't read my story all the way through without stumbling over words, so I figured in front of a roomful of people, it would be ten times worse. A hundred times worse. I half expected myself to be struck with a sudden anxiety-induced inability to say anything but the most embarrassing possible words. (And, when I first started reading, my brain tried to sabotage me with a lovely sing-song refrain of "Cocks cocks cocks cocks cocks!" It didn't work, thankfully.) I read last in a group of four writers, and even when I was absorbed in the other writers' stories, my heart was hammering against my ribcage so loudly I couldn't believe the whole first row didn't hear it.

But when it was my turn to read, I sat up straight, opened my mouth...and rocked it.

You guys, reading aloud to a crowd is SO MUCH FUN. A crowd responds immediately. If they like what you're reading, you can see it in their faces and posture; if they think it's funny, they laugh. You can read the audience and adjust your reading style to their response - drag out the tension slower if they're getting into a dramatic piece, pause for laughter on a humorous part, vary your tone to fit the piece better. If you've got a theatrical storyteller hiding under your everyday introvert like I do, it's surprisingly easy to let that part out and really get into the reading.

And everything is funnier when you're in a roomful of people. Lisa (who read just before me and also rocked it) read an apocalyptic short story about the sun dying, and the audience picked up on subtle humor in that story that Lisa hadn't even realized was there. Having that response to react to influenced the way she read, and in the end, that story ended up with a whole 'nother layer of depth read aloud.

Immediately after the reading, she and I started scheming about other opportunities to do public readings. Next year's WisCon readings. Arranging some sort of readings at upcoming cons. Standing on street corners and reading to passers by and squirrels. Anything. It's a thrill. A victory.

Not unlike slaying a CGI dragon. (She says, doing a jig.)


  1. Just stopping by to say that I loved your story and your reading of it! :)

    Also, glad you enjoyed your WisCon experience. :)

  2. Sophy, thank you so much! :D

    WisCon is fantastic, and it's definitely going to become a yearly thing for me whenever I can get out to Madison.


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