4th Street Fantasy

4th Street Fantasy is a small con in Minneapolis, a little over 100 people attending this year. Unlike most SFF cons I’m familiar with, it is much less business-focused but very interested in craft. Most con panels I can take or leave, it’s mostly things I’ve heard before, but at 4th Street the panels are fascinating, riveting. Even better, the whole weekend is like an extended conversation, and everyone is delighted to launch into further explorations of the topics over meals. One of the ways it accomplishes that is with one-track programming, so everyone has a shared vocabulary of how to talk about the subjects outside, and also by keeping it small.

If you go to cons only to make connections with editors and agents, this con isn’t for you. If you want to improve your craft and think about the hows and whys of story writing, then it absolutely is.

Last year, I was mostly silent in the corner, listening and absorbing. Not so this year. Partially because I’ve relearned how to interact with people in group settings, but more because I understood what kind of con this was.

By which I mean, it’s the kind of con where I can get into the nerdiest of arguments. Argument is the easiest way for me to learn about my own thoughts and others’ ideas, and I found people at 4th Street happy to oblige me. I’ll expound on something we came up with over dinner in a few days, when my brain has recovered from con.

So anyone who knows me well is going, “No wonder Casey had a good time if she got to argue with people and nerd out!” Seriously, best. Everything from story structure, to investment in relation to suspension of disbelief, to voice as charisma in characterization, to the relative merits and definitions of genre distinctions, no subject was too sacred.

4th Street is not just about improving fantasy, though; it’s also about building community. Minneapolis hosts an active fandom, but this con (by which I mean Elizabeth Bear and Steve Brust’s powers of word-of-mouth) draws fabulous people from all over. Favorite authors and Twitter friends descended, and multiple Viable Paradise classes invaded this year. For me, that meant a mini-reunion with VP classmates, who are equally ready to fence about storytelling into the wee hours of the night or to collectively retreat to make words together. Even better than the discussions is reveling in the feeling of Tribe.

Arun Jiwa, Nicole Lisa, me, Aliza Greenblatt

VP 16 Mini-Reunion: Arun Jiwa, Nicole Lisa, me, Aliza Greenblatt

I ran out of braining capacity Sunday afternoon, but I had a good run until then. Best people, best conversations. Wonderful con.

Now to sleep the sleep of the just.

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Norwescon Wrap-Up

Last weekend was my first Norwescon, and it was a blast. Norwescon is one of those old-school SFF cons: this was year 37. Aside from Anime Boston, this is also the biggest con I’ve attended to date, with something like 5,000 attendees (I don’t know where that estimate came from, but I believe it: I waited for about 40 minutes just to get my con badge). It was held in the same hotel as FaerieConWest, so I wasn’t quite as lost as I could have been, and I kept meeting and running into people happy to help me out.

My favorite panels were on completely disparate topics: Viking era clothing and directed energy weaponry. The writing track panels are geared toward beginning writers, and they weren’t particularly useful for where I’m at. I’m finding this to be a trend at most cons, with the glaring exception of 4th Street.

From the dealer’s room I came away with tea from Friday Afternoon, which specializes in blends for nerds (she’s got D&D, Firefly, and BSG themes). I got cards from a couple of other shops I would have liked to patronize, but — PRO TIP — if your website is inaccessible, poorly navigable, or requires me to change obscure coding in order for it to function, I’m out. Don’t make it hard for me to give you money.

The best part of Norwescon for me was talking with friends and meeting people in either the hotel bar (which is really not set up for ease-of-bar-con) and the parties. I helped host a get-together for Cascade Writers, and I got to hang out with folk from Rainforest and from the SF2W meet-ups. It’s strange to realize I’m actually starting to know a fair number of repeat offenders at SFF events in the area; maybe I’m finally starting to put down some roots in the Pacific Northwest. Or maybe I’m just beginning to learn my way around SFF-dom and cons.

It bears mentioning that there are sort of two separate worlds at Norwescon., which helps me understand a little better why RustyCon and FaerieConWest weren’t the right fit for me. There’s one world where most of the writing industry pros frequent, between their panels, the bar, and the presidential suite, and they tend to be pretty low-key.

The other world is for the fans and for fan culture. Having not come up through cons and fandom, this world is the one that to me seems wondrous and strange. For instance, evidently the Red Gnomes (so discerned by their pointy hats) and the Cult of Scott Bakula (“Because His Career Died for Your Sins,” you see — they have a life-size cardboard cutout and everything) have merged. There are also yearly room parties where people have collected strobe lights and blacklights and lava lamps, brought in their own DJs and sound systems, covered suites floor to wall to protect from damage, moved beds elsewhere to set up a bar (with a bouncer at the door to check IDs and stamp) and a dance floor, and people arrive in varying degrees of undress or elaborate costumes. And I’m not talking about a single party occurrence here. The parties I popped into were all awesome and welcoming — I also want to give props to Norwescon for posting signs all over that read “Cosplay is Not Consent” — but those gatherings are otherwise Not At All like those of the other world.

My main regret is that I missed most of the singing. I got to hear some of Vixy and Tony’s concert, which was gorgeous, but I missed Seanan McGuire’s entirely. I also find it irritating that apparently SakuraCon and Norwescon are intentionally scheduled for the same weekend every year, because apparently you can’t be a fan of both anime and books at the same time. -_-

I did skip Sunday entirely for my sanity, and really it’s a wonder I remained mostly coherent and socially competent for that long, since I had total novel brain. On Monday I finished the rough draft of the Novel of Doom, so named for how it has been weighing on me for so long. The first draft clocks in at about 147,000 words, making it the longest I’ve ever written.

I’ll save comments on quality and experience for another time, and I do want to do a writing statistics post at some point (because numbers and metrics are fun!), but for now I’ll just say that since going part-time, in a little over two months I wrote nearly 100,000 words. I’m not wasting any time with this. I beat my end-of-April deadline (so no indiscriminate punching: you’re all safe), and I refuse to even look at that monster until June. In the meantime I’m getting back to all the many things (XD) I pushed in March and April and starting a New Shiny story.

A Sirens Reunion

The theme of Sirens this year was reunion, which is important, because there’s a reason I, and so many others, keep coming back.

Sirens was actually the first con of any kind I attended, and I had no way to know how much it spoiled me. The more involved I get in the SFF community, the more I hear about the kinds of exclusion and harassment going on at other cons, and people talking about how that’s “just the way it is.” And that’s all kinds of problematic, but it was particularly confusing and jarring when I compared those accounts to my experience at Sirens. Because the very idea of that sort of thing going on at Sirens is actually laughable, and I think that’s wonderful.

Sirens is a safe space. More than that, it’s an open, inspiring, and caring one.

Understand, I’m an introvert. I’m not scared of meeting new people, but I’m sometimes awkward about it. Sirens starts out with a dessert reception. I walked in my first year about ten minutes early and was lingering awkwardly on the side of the ballroom for a few minutes until I eventually decided to just plant my purse somewhere and start loading up on dessert and tea. By the time I returned to my table, it was inhabited by other people, and I was minutes into a discussion of a lesser known manga called Saiyuki and what makes it awesome before I realized I was talking to Sherwood Smith, one of the guests of honor that year. And that’s normal at Sirens: anyone will just walk up to someone they’ve never met and casually start arguing about art. Like you do.

Here’s an interesting statistic for you: almost half of Sirens’ attendees are involved in programming in some capacity.

Think about that for a second, because I think it really gets to the core of what makes Sirens work. Programming is screened, but it comes from the attendees, because it’s for the attendees.

We come back to Sirens over and over because it’s a community. It’s a community of academics, agents and editors, authors, readers, people who are passionate about books, games, expanding fantasy’s horizons, women, issues of representation, and just about everything under the sun, but people who are interested in things, people who care. It’s a community where no one person’s ideas are given more weight than another’s, where everyone is encouraged to share their ideas and those ideas are considered seriously.

Ideas I’ve bounced around with people at Sirens have gone on to be seeds for panels and novels. We share books, career advice, apartments, experiences. Support. I see Sirens friends once every couple of years, and every time, even the first time, it’s like coming home.

Sirens is held in a mountainous location, like a retreat. No one is just riding into town periodically; we’re all together somewhere magical. And it is magical to be with people who share your passion, smart and fun people who approach everything differently and are actively interested in what you think.

Sirens is beautiful, mind-bending, empowering. Next year is ghost year, and I hope you can make it.

Reunion in Vancouver

Indulge me, if you will, in a rare moment of travel photo-blogging.

Once upon a time, six old friends, the oldest of friends, graduated high school and then went gallivanting in Europe for a month, somehow managing not to kill each other nor raze Europe to the ground in the process. How neither of these occurred remains unclear to me still.

THESE LADIES, freezing together on the Eiffel Tower.

THESE LADIES, freezing together on the Eiffel Tower.

Seven summers later, they found themselves in the same country at the same time, a rare occurrence indeed, and so naturally decided to leave it. I may or may not have instigated that part of the scheme.

I do love traveling, and I would have loved a chance to visit some folk I know in Vancouver, but this three day weekend was about reuniting and exploring how we had changed, how our friendships had changed as we explored the city.

That exploration was not the sort of epic story where our heroes go on a quest, encounter obstacles, defeat evil and return home in triumph. It was just an explore, as my mother would say, and epic for all that. And it’s not even the kind of explore that changes who I am, that returns me with newfound knowledge or hope or anything else.

What bemuses me most is that while as people, we’ve grown and changed, our dynamics as a group haven’t shifted all that much.

For instance, this? This has always been pretty typical.

Balcony Shot

Now, this is what it looks like when six people pile in to sleep in my studio. (This is the only picture here that I actually took; with friends like these, I don’t usually bother to take out a camera.)

Seattle Camp-In

And really, sometimes, the only way to fit and get the shot right is to smush.

SMUSH

This is how you get to fortify yourself for a road trip when one of your oldest friends is The Chai Master.

Fortifying Chai

As a group, we tend to end up with lots of pictures taken of ourselves from behind.

Back-Shot

But sometimes we turn around, and it’s like, WHAT NOW.

WHAT.

This is what breakfast time looks like. By which I mean, everyone else is drinking, while I’ve only just dragged myself out of bed.

Breakfast.

I’m told this time of day is the magic hour, because all pictures taken in this lighting can only turn out perfectly. As you see.

Magic Hour

This is what we look like balanced together on the edge.

On The Edge

And this is who we are.

Us.