Okay, wow.

Did I really not blog at all from the first of the month, when I announced that Secret Sisterhood of Superheroes was launching, until the end of the month, when the first issue is wrapping? (Final update goes live tonight at 10:30 eastern.) I knew that I was stretching myself a little thin and time was slipping away from me. I didn’t realize I’d gone quite that quiet on this channel.

I had big plans for the month, and some of the longer-term and behind-the-scenes ones ate up more of my time than I’d expected. I’m also going through a few personal things. And I’ve had some big decisions to make, which I (as is my custom) spent a lot of time feeling pulled in every direction on and not taking action.

The good news is that with all of that going on, I still published several thousand words of original fiction, since S3 was running. I didn’t push it very much because I feel very self-conscious pointing people towards a serial story without much to read.

Anyway, here’s the semi-short version of some of those decisions.

1. Most of my blogging about career/work stuff is going to be going on at Patreon now, where I’m found at http://www.patreon.com/alexandraerin. I don’t really like that stuff crossing over with my Facebook, but I’ve decided to keep the Facebook crosspost from this blog live and just have a different place for my “state of the me” work updates. This’ll help me remember to use Patreon more and communicate directly to those who are specifically supporting and/or following my work. Note that you don’t have to pledge money to follow someone on Patreon, though it is appreciated.

I just always feel awkward about having a space that’s not quite fish and not quite fowl when it comes to work/life stuff.  I don’t naturally feel inclined to keep up two entirely separate blogs, but I also *need* to get more in the habit of updating my Patreon and interacting with it, because the alternative is I forget it’s there and I never wind up fulfilling the specific obligations I lay out. So this will be my personal blog, that will be my work blog.

There might be some gray areas, like long, rambling thought processes about stories or game design might go over here, while the results go over there. Like every decision I make, this is both an experiment and a work in process.

I’m putting a version of this post up in both places, just so everyone knows what is what.

2. Future issues of Secret Sisterhood of Superheroes will come out with one update a day for *part* of the month rather than being stretched out over the course of the entire month.

I had some problems with the pacing of the first issue when I realized belatedly that I’d removed some parts of it to form the prologue issue and hadn’t adjusted my count, hence the kind of erratic gaps in the middle there. It was every other day at first, every other day towards the end, and just kind of higgledy-piggledy in the middle. “About every other day” is not a great update schedule to begin with, and with many of the updates being kind of short (some being the length of a microblog post!), making people wait between them is not a great solution.

So I think daily updates with a period of downtime between them to build anticipation is probably the best way to go. If you’re worried you’ll forget to check, you can subscribe to Secret Sisterhood for email updates, in the side bar on the front page of it. I will also be debuting a Twitter account for the second issue.

July’s issue will start on July 16th, as I’m about to go on a family trip and after that I’m going to need some time to set it up and also work out the format for how my patrons will get to read the completed issue at launch, something I did not pull together in time for issue 1. The issue after that will start early August, in order to give a short break between them. And then issues after that will start on the first of the month.

3. I’m going to be setting a small amount of time each day to both write fiction (even if it’s just exercises) and to read the news for my political commentary career. I’ve been having a really hard time balancing those things, so I’m going to take an approach that lets me keep my hand in both, whatever else the demands of the day are.

4. I’m adjusting how much I rely on small to moderate amounts of alcohol to manage writer’s block and other anxieties/inhibitions. I’m not giving up on drinking as long as drinking doesn’t give up on me, but I’m trying to lean on it less. It takes a lot more effort for me to fill a blank space with words and then put them in front of people without a little word processing fluid to grease the wheels, so please bear with me.

I’m not looking for (and will not appreciate, trust me) overt shows of support, advice on this subject, or most especially other people trying to help me regulate my usage without being asked. I’m letting you know that if I seem even more distant or subdued than normal, there is a reason and it’s not a problem.

I’ve got a few more decisions to talk about, but they can wait until I’m back from my Fourth of July family excursion, which will be the week after next.

Secret Sisterhood of Superheroes Launch!

So the party I threw at WisCon started out purely as a retrospective celebration of Tales of MU. By the time it came around, though, I was thinking more of the future than the past, and it coincided with the time where I was ready to launch my new project, Secret Sisterhood of Superheroes.

I set the first part of the prologue to go live during the party, and then I read it aloud. It’s now available to read, along with the other three parts of the short “Issue 0” prologue that ran through the end of May. The first part deals with the divergence points of history in this universe, where a star fell and changed the shape of the eastern seaboard of what is now the United States, creating new land that became the cities of Star Harbor and Calvary Crossing, in the state of Hamilton.

When I was writing stories in this universe before, I always said that Star Harbor was in the great state of *cough*mumble*cough*. I kept its exact location vague for two reasons. One was the DC comic book trope of adding imaginary cities in unspecified locations. The other was that, as a Midwesterner, I didn’t really know the eastern seaboard well enough to locate the story in a particular place.

I’ve been living in the mid-Atlantic region full time for a few years now, following even more years of splitting my time between them, though, and I have a much better feel for the geography and political psychology of the region… good enough that I felt confident anchoring the story in (or at least adjacent to) a real place.

After my reading, someone told me I had done a great job of capturing the region in my description, which was really validating as I am a fairly recent transplant.

I also received high marks for the references to Alexander Hamilton. It might seem a little like a slow take on the popular zeitgeist, but Alexander Hamilton and (to a lesser extent, Aaron Burr) have always loomed large in the secret history of the Star Harbor superhero universe. I think the closest I ever came to referencing it was a mention of a portrait of Hamilton in the lobby of a certain shadowy government agency. The rise of Hamilton as a pop culture phenomenon is part of what convinced me it’s time to go back to this story verse, and also to bring the alternate history element out into the forefront.

The other thing about the reading is: it went really well. I have never given a reading before that went well, at least from my point of view. I’ve always had severe stage fright-like anxiety when I try: shaky legs, shaky voice, desperately trying to control my pace from a panicky gallop, etc. The fear even tends to creep in when I try to record myself reading something.

This time? Nothing. None of that. I’m sure it’s no one thing but a confluence of reasons that reached a critical tipping point, but I just… hit my stride. Found my voice. Was in my element. It went well. It went so well that I’m planning on doing an actual official programmed reading next year.

Anyway. Issue 0, short as it is, is now live. The first chapter of Issue 1 goes up later tonight, and Issue 1 will continue to run throughout the month with new updates about every other day.

On The Throwing of Parties

Last year we made the decision to host a party at this year’s WisCon. At the time we did not know what all that would entail or how to go about making it happen, but we were willing to learn.

And we did. And there were some bumps along the way (for instance: we not only ordered more of certain materials than we needed on the principle that if we could fit it in the budget it would be better to have more than we needed than less, but we found out as we were setting up that we had more than we’d even ordered, and no clear plan at the time for what to do with it all), but there were also some happy accidents and serendipities and flashes of inspiration, and all in all, the whole thing came off rather well.

I may have another post up later today that’s more analytical about what we did right and wrong, less for purposes of self-recrimination than for the fact that this way we won’t have to remember all of it for a year.

This post is about why we threw a party, and what it meant to us to be able to do so, and how much it means that it went well.

The proximate cause for the party was the realization, a year ago, that this June was going to be the tenth anniversary of the start of my most successful story project to date, Tales of MU. That was a milestone that meant a lot to me and that would be significant to the subset of the con that’s been fans of my fiction writing.

(I’m forever in a weird place where far more people are fans of my existence, of what I say and what I bring to people around me, than my actual work. Which is not a terrible place to be! It’s just surreal sometimes.)

But the deeper cause was the desire to do something for the con, to give something back to it. As I said in an earlier post today, I’m not suited for committee work. I can’t run the con. I don’t have the wherewithal to communicate directly with specific other people on a regular, frequent basis. I have barriers to traveling on my own. I work best when I just… do things, because the mood and muse have struck me. That’s not how you run a thing as big and complicated as a con.

But… I could throw a party.

The actual function of parties in the framework of the con is pretty important. This is the part where a lot of people would say something about “networking”, but I’m talking about what the parties do for the con as a whole.

See, when you throw a party, you’re helping to distribute the load of keeping people entertained, engaged, and fed. You’re taking on a portion of the catering bill and meal/snack planning. You’re providing an on-site space for socialization that’s not one of the bars, a narrow hallway, or noisy lobby, and you’re taking responsibility for that space so there’s always someone accountable even in the moment that Safety is not making rounds through it.

It is an important function. A vital function. And yes, the people who throw the parties are usually promoting something (I sure was), but I also approached it as an important trust and responsibility, and a chance to give a gift to the con that has become my home in fandom.

I would like to thank a few specific people who really helped make it happen:

Sooshe and Gretchen from the WisCon party committee who were quick to answer questions and fulfill our requests with precision and professional aplomb. The answers we got were timely and detailed.

Lynne let me borrow her expertise and a few moments of her time, giving me some advice that helped lessen my second-guessing and sooth my pre-party jitters at a time when I was really worried.

Theo showed us a different vision of what a con party could be last year with their chill, laid-back launch party for the coloring book The Robot’s Guide To Love. It was just such a different scene from the typical industry-oriented wine/cocktail party (which of course is not possible under the current rules binding the con and the hotel), and it gave us the confidence that we could pull together a party that would be more enjoyable for more people.

Cabell provided logistical support in receiving party supplies and arranging transportation to the Concourse.

Sarah, who was not in on the planning with Jack and myself, but pitched in on the execution in a big way and helped straighten out a hitch in the catering plans.

And last but not least Kit, for providing an impromptu conversation piece that was surprisingly on-theme.

Then, of course, there was everybody who showed up, and everybody who didn’t make it (to the con or the party) but who wanted to. The good news is we’re going to be doing something very similar next year, with refinements and improvements. I seriously think that now that we have experience and firmer numbers we could do the even better with half the budget, or less.

So if you’re bummed that you missed the party, or you didn’t know that there was even anything to miss… don’t sweat it. You’ll have another shot next year, and honestly, we’d love to build this into a WisCon institution.

I’ve spoken before (most often while in the planning phases of this) about how the WisCon party culture is changing, the convention party culture as a whole is changing, and how this isn’t a bad thing. There’s still a bar right there in the hotel for social drinking and people still have the option of throwing their own private shindigs and providing whatever legal substances they feel like providing. Grousing that the officially programmed parties can’t fill this need anymore is counterproductive and unnecessary. I honestly feel a lot safer to drink and enjoy drinking in the spaces that are left for it than I ever did on the party floor. That’s a bit of a tangent and might be worth its own post.

The point is: we looked at what is possible and permissible and built our party concept around that, and I think that’s got a lot to do with how much we just hit it out of the ballpark on our first time out.

I wasn’t sitting there with a clicker counting people coming in or anything, but I know for a fact we went through just under 100 serving glasses of drinks (with most guests only having one), and our food supplies that were calibrated for somewhere between 75 and 100 people were all but wiped out. (There was a bit of the juicier fruit tray selections left, probably because I blanked on getting forks.)

There were some people who came through and sampled the wares and left, and I count that as a success, again, part of the function of the party is to feed some portion of the con some portion of their daily intake, shouldering a bit of the burden of that task. There were people who stayed for however long it took them to eat a plate and drink a drink, or as long as the craft table kept them occupied. And there were people who were there for an hour or more, going between talking to me about my work and my life and talking to each other, or even just talking quietly in a corner with the same friends they came in with.

Every single one of those people are part of the success story of the party. None of them were ~*partying wrong*~. My goal was to provide a space that was safe as it could be and structured for people to be entertained, and I think I delivered.

All in all, I think the future of WisCon’s party culture is on a solid footing. It just takes a different mindset than “buy booze, set booze out, commence boozing”.

The Uncanny Magazine party was a great model of what’s possible and what works. They had a theme (SPACE UNICORNS), an attraction (sparkly unicorn cakes!), and an activity (balloon sculpting). Again, Lynne Thomas helped reassure me about my catering levels, but it was also just reassuring to look at their set-up and note they had the same basic sorts of elements we’d aimed for: a theme (which had become superheroes by the time the con rolled around), an attractor (the mocktail bar), and an activity (the mask crafting station).

I’d say anybody who wants to throw a party at a con with an open party floor should try to include those three things. It’s a great formula. It gets people in the door and it gives them a reason to stick around for a while, and something to talk about.

I’d guess the fourth element would be something visible and distinctive for them to carry out onto the larger floor. For a lot of parties it’s the craft element (like the crowns and tiaras that come out of the Carl Brandon Society party), but for ours it seemed to be the fancy glasses we brought even more so than the superhero mask. I was just looking for something that looked more like a real bar glass while being lightweight and safe, but it really did the job of getting people out in the hall and other rooms asking our former guests what they were drinking and where they’d gotten it from.

 

Friendship: It’s Like Sandwiches

What even are friends? Like sandwiches or gender, I think we’ve all got *some* kind of idea what a friend is. We certainly have strong reactions to recognizing what a friend isn’t. But trying to come up with a definition that is anything more than rough description is sort of a fool’s errand, and trying to come up with a test…

There was a turning point in my childhood where my definition of “friend”—the people I saw everyday and enjoyed talking to, a class of people that contained basically all the people in my class—underwent a sudden shift when an older kid taunted me for having no friends and when I asked my classmates to refute him, I discovered that was painfully close to true. At the very least, I had nobody in the room who was a good enough friend to say as much in front of the others.

As formative experiences go, that… wasn’t great. I had amicable relations with some of my classmates, there were ones I spent more time hanging out with and goofing around with during classes or extracurricular activities, but it was never the same after that. And the whole concept of friendship became fraught for me. My working definition was shot and I never really got a better one.

As a result, I’ve always pulled back from people if I feel like we’re getting too close, out of a mixture of the fear that I’ll be hurt or that I’m inflicting my presence, unwanted, on them. WisCon has been good for me in this regard in that it’s a space where more people are more frequently open and honest and explicit about their feelings and intentions than in outside spaces, and because there are so many structured times and activities to practice interaction.

It’s weird. Most people at the con we see once a year, twice at the very most. We’re trying to improve that a little, particularly with the people who are vaguely local. (If there are any other WisCongoers from western Maryland, I haven’t discovered them yet, but we do know of a few in the state/region.), and we certainly keep in touch through social media, but by and large it seems like it should be a glancing association.

Yet these are the people I feel about the way adults in TV shows feel about their friends from high school or college. Some of them I have shared quite intense and deeply personal moments with, in the weirdly compacted and dilated continuum of convention time. Some of them it was just moments. My friendship with each of them is probably different in at least one important way from my friendship with anybody else, because, again, friendship is like sandwiches or genders or any other noun/concept outside of the abstract and theoretical: even while there are clearly things that are friendship and things that are not-friendship, there are as many ways to friendship as there are friends, and none of them are wrong.

This year, a man saw me in a hallway and came bounding down the steps towards me, saying something like, “Hello, FRIEND!”

I’ve had only a handful of conversations with this friend, all of them memorable. I’ve only known him for a year, or really, a few hours out of a few days, since we were at three conventions together and nowhere else. I know his partner even more in passing. But, man, I am delighted to see them, and I never need to doubt this man’s friendship the way I distrusted my classmates’, because I can see how his face lights up when he sees someone there to support him in the audience of an event and because he didn’t just say he was my friend, he yelled “FRIEND!” in a hallway with other people.

There’s a family that I basically had one meal with some years ago and since then I’ve followed their work and interacted with them online, and they were absent from the con for a while and recently came back. The first time I saw them back, I said that I was so glad they’d returned, and I hadn’t thought about what I was feeling until it popped out of my mouth and I knew it was true. There’s a feeling of relief that they’ve returned, that their absence was not permanent and the them-shaped hole in the con has been filled.

There were old friends, new friends… people I’ve known for what seems like ages online who I met face to face for the first time this year, and people I never knew. There’s a line that comes to mind every year: “There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met.” This year, someone who’d seen or heard me saying it even quoted it back to me. It comes from The Muppet Movie, Gonzo’s surprisingly introspective number “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday.”

There were people who didn’t make it to the con this year for reasons financial or personal or the pull of scheduling, and there’s sadness on both ends about that. It happens every year. If I and the con both live long enough, the year will come where it’s me who has other commitments or inadequate opportunities.

Friendship is complicated. You don’t become friends by the physical act of sharing a drink or a meal with someone, but it can be through that act that you suddenly realize that perhaps you are.

“Welcome to WisCon”

Well, last weekend was WisCon. Very late last night or very early this morning, I made it home from there.

I told a dear but distant friend who was at the con for part of it but whom I missed in both applicable senses of the word that I was having a silver/gold situation this year: lots of old friends, lots of new ones, and not enough time to go around. Another very good friend told me that she did not even go to any official programming this year, which surprised me until she laid out how she was prioritizing her time and I realized that if I had the same constraints and I had to choose between programming and seeing my con friends, I would have made the same choice.

In fact, I largely had. For years I’ve dealt with the problem of too many panels/not enough time-turners by setting my priorities around which people I wanted to who I hadn’t seen yet. This year, every single programming item I attended had one or more person on the roster I was there to see. I also realized that the general trend for me has been to attend fewer formal programming items over time.

The first years, when I knew few people, fewer of them well, and fewer still from anywhere face-to-face, attending panels and readings and speeches gave me a structured way to participate, to interact, and to meet people. A lot of the people I’m now unabashed fans of and even friends with, it started with seeing them on panels.

And a lot of my friends have had a similar arc.

A con is, at its core, people (most things are, babies), and if you keep going to a con long enough, then past a certain point what you’re really going for there is the people, both the individual persons whom you know and the amorphous, energetic, memetic organism that is generated by the interactions of these people in large numbers.

So there is always the danger (and frequently, from what I hear, the reality) that a long-running con will grow insular at its core, reach a tipping point where it’s pulling inwards more than it is reaching outwards. It’s not an absolute (few things are, babies), and there have certainly been shades of that at WisCon. There likely still are, in places.

While the con was ongoing, though, there was a conversation that kept happening from two different ends, which I kept or hearing or having.

From the one side, it always started something like this, “Every time I tell someone this is my first WisCon, their face just lights up. Like they’re really happy to see me. Like they’re really happy for me.”

From the other side, it went more like this, “There are just so many new people this year, I’m so excited for them. It’s such a great energy this year.”

And it’s such a great feeling, to be part of a con that can be so warm and welcoming, that doesn’t hold with the idea that people have to “pay their dues” in some fashion other than literally paying the actual membership dues before the con is “for them”… and I know there are gradations of this, I know there are multiple factors at play and that there are still doubtlessly a few people who cling on to the con with both hands while grumbling about how all these newcomers are changing the tone, but in the terms of trends and prevailing factors: I like where this is going. I like the way the wind is blowing.

One of the secrets of congoing is that whether anyone is going out of their way to make you feel unwelcome or even if someone has gone out of their way to make you feel welcome… a lot of the time, you do have to kind of stick with it a bit before it’s really actually as fun and rewarding as you feel like it should be. There’s impostor syndrome, and there’s also just not knowing how to navigate the event in a way that you get the most out of it… believe it or not, going to cons is a skill. In fact, I’d say each con is its own skill.

And some cons will never be worth it for you personally, so you’re taking a risk by putting the time, money, and effort into it. And the hypothetical best con in the world might not be worth taking that chance for a year or two or three, when it might never pay off and the harm you suffer in the meantime is still real.

And there’s really no way around that, just like there’s no way to make a space filled with people safe in an absolute sense rather than safer, always a little safer than it was or would be without the effort. But I like to think that at WisCon, we’re doing what we can to speed people through the adjustment period, invest them with the skill of being at WisCon, and give them a softer landing into con culture. It’s both a formal effort by the people doing the hard work of running the con (the volunteers and the committee members) and it’s part of the feeling on the floor, as it were.

I tried the committee thing a while back and found that it’s outside my strongest skill sets and current level of ability, but nonetheless, I’m doing what I can to be a good member, a good representative of the WisCon brand, a good guide for newbies, and a good ambassador between the con and the world outside. And while I can hardly take credit for the still ongoing improvement myself, I feel confident I can say I’ve been helping. It’s part of why I was so committed to throwing a party for the con this year.

Last year, when I was talking to a new friend about the almost inevitable impostor syndrome that almost everyone feels their first year, she told me that she must be weird because she didn’t feel that way at all. I thought this must be something special about her (and she is pretty special, to be honest), but maybe that was also partly just a sign of our progress as a con, because I heard from a lot more people saying the same this year.

This was also the year I had the most people coming up and talking to me, instead of finding Jack when I’m not right by his side and telling him that they’d wanted to do so, but were too intimidated. Maybe part of that is the fact that I spent an entire year, off and on, telling the internet “I’m going to be at WisCon and I’m there to see people and this includes anyone who wants to see me, for real for true.” Maybe part of it is the con’s increasingly welcoming atmosphere making the whole experience less scary. Maybe I’m just figuring out how to be more approachable.

I’m sure a part of it was the fact that more people than usual this year were there specifically to see me, but the thing is, the heartbreaking thing about the people who tell Jack (or tell me later, online, after the con) that they were too afraid to say hi is that some of them have always said that.

This is so far the year where I have heard the least stories of how the con as an entity egregiously failed, harmed, or let someone down. It’s not perfect. It will never be perfect. But a science fiction convention of all things should never let the impossibility of reaching the heavens prevent it from reaching for them.

Mikki Kendall has a post up about her own complicated relationship with the con. In her post (which you really should be reading in full), she pushes back against the too-prevalent idea that people of color attending the convention aren’t investing in it, a notion which baffles* me as women of color in particular (including Mikki herself) have saved the body and soul of the con often at great personal effort and cost.

But as she also notes: new people are coming in all the time. They bring with them new ideas and new energy. And a con is, at its heart, people. New people make a new con.

And as I said up above: I like where this is going.


(*I mean, it doesn’t really baffle me, because I know that racism and sexism, and their painful intersection, exist.)

 

Thursday Report

So, Thursday got off to an interesting start.

Jack and I committed to going to the guest of honor readings (something I haven’t done since the year N.K. Jemisin and Hiromi Goto were our honored guests, as the venue, though charming, is also not very large) to support Amal El-Mohtar. This is the first year the guest of honor has been someone I’ve known in person before they were guest of honor, and while she was already Kind Of A Big Deal to me during my first WisCon, there’s still that little sense of “Hey, I knew you when!”

But Sarah, who was arriving separately, was travel-delayed and was arriving after an exhausting day right about the time we’d have been heading over. We stayed in the lobby to meet her shuttle coming in, then saw her up to the room and settled in, went over plans for the evening (hers were to sleep, and possibly eat a food at some point).

WisCon was running an accessible bus between the guest of honor reception (the largest and most significant off-site event on the schedule, and also the farthest away, in local bookstore A Room Of One’s Own), and we were quite possibly the last people to take it over, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have made it. As it is, it was standing room only when we got there. There might have been some disability reserved seating up front, but it was so crowded and the introductions had started, so we didn’t want to press through and disrupt things and then maybe have to do it again if the seating was all in use.

But it worked out okay. We found a place to sit in the front of the store (the back of the reception) where we could hear, if not see, and we were out of the press of people. Amal’s reading was as amazing and powerful as the one that moved me enough to overcome my wallflowerishness and step forward for an autograph all those years ago. Kelly Sue DeConnick had some A-plus-plus remarks on writing, creator responsibility, critique vs. hate, and fan entitlement.

We ducked out at the end before the receiving/autograph line formed, in part because we had a prior social commitment and in part because the bench we’d grabbed was directly behind the table and chairs set up for that.

Prior social engagement was something I’ve never done before: karaoke. There’s almost always at least one unofficial-but-traditional karaoke party before WisCon, and this year the event’s organizer (the fabelous Cabell) looped us in directly on the invites and asked us to boost. This kind of thing always sounds like a terrific time to me, in both the classic and the modern connotations of the word. Luckily for me I felt obliged to say yes due to the fact that I’ve been using her house as a dead drop for party supplies all month, because I had an amazing time. I did four songs, two solo, one with Jack, and one with Cabell.

WisCon is the kind of time and place where I spend a lot of time getting over my everyday social and emotional inhibitions. Some years it still takes me till Saturday before I’m really enjoying myself and not faking much of it. This year, despite what was at first a very tense and uncertain afternoon, I think I managed it in record time.

The con proper starts today with the Gathering and the opening ceremonies. I’ve never been much for the ceremony, but I might go this year just so as to have line of sight on our guests of honor. A lot depends on how I feel after the Gathering.

Find Me @ WisCon!

Hello, babies! I meant to do this on the train but internet signal was intermittent every time I had the wherewithal and physical space to do it. So, here goes.

My official WisCon schedule includes four items this year:

  • 10 a.m. Saturday — Direct Payment and the Creator/Fan Dynamic (Panel): About the social dynamics of things like crowdfunding, a topic I know a little bit about. (Room: Caucus )
  • 8:30 a.m. Monday — Starting the Story (Panel): About wrestling with writer’s block and the inertia of starting a story, another topic I know a little bit about. (Room: University B)
  • 8:45 p.m. Sunday — TALES OF MU 10 YEAR REUNION/WEB SERIAL PARTY (PARTY!): We’re hosting a celebration of serialized fiction on the web, revolving around the 10 year anniversary of the start of Tales of MU, and because of happy timing, will also serve as the launch of my new web serial project, Secret Sisterhood of Superheroes.
  • 11 a.m. Monday — The SignOut: A sort of last hurrah where authors and artists assemble for people to have things signed and such. I’ve never participated because I’m an all-digital author; what have I got to sign? (But wait for next year.) But so many people have told me they wished there was a scheduled “meet the author” time for me where they could just say hi and I finally realized last year that’s part of what the SignOut is: a structured time where it’s officially cool to do that. So come! Print out your favorite tweet of mine and I’ll sign it. Bring your WisCon program, if nothing else. I’ll sign it like a yearbook!

Wisconsin State of the Me

So, we are in Madison, and checked into the Concourse. Don’t know yet who else is in town. Right now it’s just Jack and myself; Sarah arrives sometime tomorrow. At the moment, we are waiting on room service (haven’t eaten more than a small, bus-friendly snack since early breakfast on the train, due to train delays rushing us through Chicago Union Station in all of 10 minutes) and decompressing. We might look for other congoers to link up with later tonight, particularly if anyone’s in the lounge

The train ride was a bit of a test run for future train rides. It was our first one together and the longest train ride either of us has been on lately. It had its ups and downs. I had expected to be able to do some creative work, but everything about the experience was just on the edge of being comfortable/convenient enough for that to be realistic.

Among other things, my presentation has changed quite a bit since the heyday of my previous train rides, which made it a lot harder to be left to my own devices in the lounge/observation car in the wee hours of the night. We’re looking at options for future trips like getting a sleeper roomette for slightly more privacy.

Training Day

So, we just spent basically the entire day at the historic, picturesque train station of historic, picturesque Harpers Ferry because our historic, picturesque inn had an 11:00 a.m. checkout time and our train had a 5:16 p.m. departure and historic, picturesque train stations don’t have any place to check or stow your luggage.

We’d come prepared. We had things to read and our electronics and sufficient battery power to overcome any historically picturesque lack of outlets, and as long as one of us stayed put to watch our things it wasn’t hard to go up the hill into town in search of takeout lunch and drinks.

I’m glad that we did have so much time there, because when we’d reconnoitered the station I had completely missed that the tiny station had two platforms, one on the far side of the tracks inside a much smaller, slightly less picturesque historical shelter, with no obvious way of reaching it without (crossing the tracks.

Now, this historic, picturesque station has a historic, picturesque lack of signage indicating things like which platform is for which direction, or how the other platform is reached. I knew that trains follow the keep right rule in the U.S. (or at least, I *thought* they did, but that knowledge had never been important to me before), but I didn’t know which compass direction was which, or if the trains passing through on this stretch would be strictly going east-west at the moment.

So I searched online to see if there was any mention of the platforms. Amtrak’s website informed me that the stairs to the other platform were under the tracks and not wheelchair accessible (their official advice, enshrined in their website, is to board at another station.)  So I knew what to look for, and I found a smaller shelter at the end of the main building with stairs leading down into the tunnel where Slenderman lives, which came out the other side in the small platform. I looked around for signage; there was none.

By sheer chance we were there when the Capitol Limited to D.C. went through on the near tracks, which was a pretty good clue that they were the eastbound lane. I’d been on the Twitter horn with @Amtrak, who confirmed that my train would be on the opposite side, and that they do follow the right hand driving rule in these parts.

At the same time, Jack had the bright idea of opening Pokemon Go, which helpfully includes a compass. and let us find east and west. So we had triple confirmation.

Almost enough to quiet my anxiety, so I carefully noted that every train heading east was on the near track and every train heading west was on the far track, just in case they didn’t have some weird track switching thing going on or had harnessed the power of ghost trains that can go through each other,.

Remember, babies, we showed up in town a whole day early in order to make sure that everything went according to plan. My first train trip (Omaha to Chicago, Chicago to Memphis and then New Orleans) I did something similar, staying overnight in Chicago just to make sure I made my first connection on my first train trip.

When I’m anxious about something, I give myself plenty of time and I seek out information, from as many angles as possible. (This might be why I’m so relatively well-informed about politics these days.)

So we made the decision to mosey on over through the tunnel where Slenderman lives at about 4:30, which was well more time than we’d need but would ensure we could take it nice and slow with our bags up and down the steps and not feel like we were cutting it close.

Right around about 4, other people started showing up for the same train, including a gentleman with a bike who had apparently *also* scouted the location the day before. “Don’t worry, the train is on time as of now,” he told me.

I have phone alerts, so I’d known this, but we thanked him. He’d checked the day before and it had been delayed by more than an hour. We told him we were getting ready to go move over to the platform, and this is when he told us it was impossible to know which track it would be on.

“Amtrak doesn’t own the tracks, so they are at the mercy of the freight train companies.”

I tried to explain that this might be true, but the tracks are still directional so there was in effect only one track here, with two lanes, but he wasn’t interested. He’d talked to Amtrak and they’d told him that “The only way to know for sure is to look down the tunnel when you see the train coming, and see which side it’s on.”

I told him we’d also talked to Amtrak, but he wasn’t impressed.

So we took our luggage down the stairs and into the tunnel where Slenderman lives and we hauled them up the stairs and settled in for the 30-40 minute wait, while he stood with his bike on the other side looking smug and self-satisfied. Two other guys showed up while we waited, and the guy quizzed them about what side they thought the train would come on, and each time they assumed it would be the near side and he called across the track to tell us “This guy’s pretty sure it’s over here.”

“On what basis?” I asked the first time.

Didn’t really get an answer, but it seemed like all three guys thought this was hilarious. It kind of felt like the biggest reason they thought they were right was that we thought otherwise.

Being questioned usually doesn’t do much for my anxiety, but in this case it just hardened my resolve to know that this guy Had Been Told By Amtrak.

Babies, I have done enough customer service and customer service-adjacent work to know that the answer he got was the We Are Not Responsible answer. There are a lot of stations, a lot of stations with a lot of tracks, and a CSR on the phone cannot tell him in advance which track he’s got to be at because They Are Not Responsible for that.

Very possibly he expressed disbelief that they couldn’t tell him, at which point he would have been given the explanation that Amtrak doesn’t own the tracks or make the decisions. Very possibly he would have asked them what he’s supposed to do, and would have been told that he could watch the train as it approached. And very possibly, he filed away this hard-won knowledge as gospel writ, because he had prised it from the stubborn jaws of a lazy, no-nothing phone rep.

Of course the westbound train came on the far tracks, the northern side of the station, the side we were on. And of course the gentleman with the bike and the other two gentlemen (both apparently cis and white) who chuckled along with him at our stubborn foolishness made their own hurried treks through the  tunnel where Slenderman lives to join us.

Sometimes, it’s nice to be right.

 

The adventure begins!

Well, as so often happens in life and in game design, our attempts to make things simpler created a few complications. The inn in Harper’s Ferry has a great view of the train station, but the direct route from point A to point B would involve many steep stairs, so we’re going to have to take our luggage the long way around a dog leg. Speaking of steps, the inn (housed in buildings that predate the Civil War) has staircases that were not built with modern luggage in mind.

We’ve decided we definitely would like to stay here in the future for an overnight or weekend getaway, but whatever difficulty lining up a ride to the train station would be will still be easier than our solution here. And of course as I type this up it occurs to me that for the money we’re spending on a night here plus the added meals, I could have hired a car.

Still, it’s not like the money is wasted, because the night in Harper’s Ferry and the meals are experiences that wouldn’t have come with the car ride. Also, even if this was more of a ~*learning experience*~ than I was looking for, “live and learn” is preferable to either of the alternatives.

There are things that are going our way. The weather is perfect for a day of unnecessary exertions: cool and cloudy, but not humid or rainy. Our inn room is very nice. The inn itself is very nice.  And of course the town is nice.