Convention weekend

I’m heading to a new science fiction convention! I’ll be at Confluence in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, July 27-29. If you’re there and looking for me, I’ll be spending a lot of hours in the dealers’ room at the Fantastic Books table. The dealers’ room will be open 5 to 8pm on Friday, 10am to 6pm on Saturday, and 10am to 3pm on Sunday.

I’ll also be on programming:
Friday at 7pm in the Commonwealth East room: “How to Self-Publish” with Larry Ivkovich, Andi O’Connor, Jay Smith, and Karen Yun-Lutz

Saturday at 2pm in the Solstice room: “Private Enterprise in Space” with Kenneth B. Chiacchia, Lawrence C. Connolly, Herb Kauderer, and Mark Painter

Sunday at 10am in the Commonwealth West room: “Small Press” with S.C. Butler, Brian Koscienski, Joshua Palmatier, and Christopher Pisano

I’ve got a hotel room reserved for those two nights, but as yet, no roommate. So I’m looking for someone who wants to split the room. Also, I’ve been plotting out the trip. I’m realizing that, in order to arrive in time to set up in the dealers’ room and be ready to sell by the time we open, I’ll probably have to leave home about two in the morning, which will be a LONG day. So now I’m thinking of making it a two-day trip. Anyone in the middle of Pennsylvania looking for something to do Thursday evening, looking to put up a poor little traveling publisher for the night? Or, on the other end of things, want to give me a way-station on the way home Sunday night? Let me know.

American Mensa’s Annual Gathering: exhaustion at full speed

Looking (mostly on Facebook), it looks like a lot of my friends were posting fairly regularly from the American Mensa Annual Gathering. And bunches of them were taking pictures.

I’m home, and I see that I didn’t comment on the events while I was there, and looking at my cell phone, I took precisely zero pictures. In part, that was a conscious decision to experience it all, rather than try to document the experience. The other part is that I was too damn busy.

So this is going to be a fuzzy-memoried recap of four and two-half days in Indianapolis at something that many are calling NerdCamp (though I don’t like that moniker).

After planning for a full night’s sleep before my departure, I of course didn’t get it. Was up way too late preparing for the trip in a variety of ways, so that my last pre-AG night was the same three hours of sleep I was expecting to get each night I was out there. Nevertheless, I made it out to the car in time, to the airport in time, walked the two miles to the gate (seriously, check out this picture https://www.google.com/maps/search/delta+airlines+delta+terminal,+jfk+airport/@40.6368693,-73.7818626,718m/data=!3m1!1e3 . The Delta terminal is the one pointing south, all the way out to the corner of the terminals section, and I was on one of those smaller planes all the way out at the end, at gate 51). Megan Williams and I wound up on the same flights both going and coming, without planning it. And as I’m typing her name, I’m thinking I shouldn’t name names, because there are so many that I know I’ll leave some out, and don’t want to slight anyone.

Anyway, we landed in Indianapolis. My sister and brother-in-law’s flight landed five minutes later, and the four of us took a car into the city and the hotel. After checking in, and settling into my room, I was off to my first session: “How Can Mensa Be Improved?” It was a round-table discussion of the organization, with about half the AMC present and taking notes (for you non-Mensans reading, AMC is the American Mensa Committee, the national board of directors, on which I sit as RVC1 [RVC1 is Regional Vice Chairman of Region 1, a cross between governor of the northeast region and a member of the national governing body]). Hoping it results in some good things. I followed that up with a Communications Committee meeting: very productive. And then the Firehouse Meet-and-Greet (Firehouse is a social group formed on Facebook and growing very large in the lives of its members), which kicked off with a four-piece brass band, a version of Hollywood Squares with audience participation, and a lot of welcomes to people I’d previously only known as tiny little online pictures. Immediately after that was the Chairman’s Reception, a somewhat more elegant gathering for people volunteering much of their time and efforts for the organization. Then I ran into a friend I’ve known a long time, who I only see at Annual Gatherings, and with whom I share a love of fireworks. She had a room on the 31st floor, with a great view of all the fireworks around town, and the main show, just a few blocks away! And since we were inside, it was air conditioned: very nice. I then wandered downstairs, chatted with a few people, and made my way to the poker game (always a good time). Before we realized, it was 2:30 in the morning, and the game broke up, but still, there were people around, and I didn’t get to sleep until nearly 4, which meant (you guessed it) three hours of sleep.

Thursday, I woke at 7 (ugh!) for a morning swim (in that tiny pool!). I’d figured a big hotel like this would have a decent pool, but nope: seven strokes from end to end. So I did a lot of turning to get a little exercise. After a quick breakfast, I scurried in to the AMC meeting (one of the four quarterly meetings we hold to transact the business of this 50,000-member organization with a $4.5 million annual budget). We broke for lunch for LocSecs and other local group officers (drawing on Mensa’s British roots, a LocSec is a Local Secretary, the president of a local group, of which American Mensa has about 130). Then back into the meeting, and a business meeting which was scheduled for 9am to 5pm finally adjourned about 7. It was long, it was tiring, it was productive (I’ll be sharing some of the results in my next RVC column, which will be going out the end of this month). That evening, I’d scheduled an HQ Trivia meet-up, since the trivia game seems to be growing in popularity, and I figured it would be a fun thing to do. Also, it was the only 9pm I had unscheduled. Six or eight of us gathered to talk and play, though none of us won, and we didn’t get the shout-out I’d been hoping for. Then I spent more time with friends I didn’t yet know and others I’ve known forever, and that socializing wound down about midnight, so of course I… headed for the poker game. They had room for me, and I got to play a bit, again, until like 3 in the morning. So once again, to bed about 4.

And once again, Friday morning, up at 7 (three hours of sleep!) for some time in the swimming pool. Friday morning was the Annual Business Meeting, where the leadership of Mensa reports to the members, and the members have a chance to have a say in the direction of the organization. Unlike the AMC meeting Thursday, the ABM was a little less contentious than I’d expected, and ended in time to grab some lunch in Hospitality (the main room for socializing and noshing). Then I got pulled into the cribbage tournament, played one game, and managed to lose it. At 3pm was the Region 1 Meet-and-Greet, and members from all across my region gathered to hear me encourage and laud the efforts of my local group volunteers, to interact with each other, and share their secrets for success. As an AMC member, I attended the Foundation Reception (the Mensa Education and Research Foundation is the non-profit arm of American Mensa, the group that offers research grants and awards scholarships), followed by the Gala Banquet and Speaker (astronaut Dr. David Wolf), followed by the dance. I really enjoyed the dance, spent some time actually dancing, didn’t wear a mask (it was supposed to be a masked ball, but when you wear glasses, masks become very awkward), and I was in the action until 2am. After a quick visit to the SIG suites (smaller versions of Hospitality sponsored by individual special interest groups; a relatively new feature of the AG), I checked in the games room to discover the poker game had long since ended, and I got to bed, once again, about 4.

Saturday, however, I did not have a first-thing-in-the-morning meeting, so I slept in, and actually got about 6 hours of shut-eye (gasp!). It felt good to get a little sleep, but bad to have missed out on a few hours of seeing people. Nevertheless, lunch in Hospitality was my breakfast, and then I sat in on the Awards Ceremony. That was followed immediately by two program items I wanted to attend, so I had to choose one, and opted for the Writers’ Round Table, where a bunch of writers discussed the craft and pain of writing. That was followed immediately by a session on the Changing Face of Regional Gatherings (smaller versions of the Annual Gathering, hosted by individual local groups, attracting a few hundred people), which was a discussion of how to run them, and a sharing of ideas. Then I took a break, because at 7:30 Saturday was my own talk. With Laurie’s able help, I made my way to Ballroom 8 early enough to get the computer set up (and for Laurie to set up the books), and be ready to talk about “John Kennedy’s Grandma, Bill Clinton’s Mother, and John Tyler’s Grandchildren: Familial Oddities of the Presidents of the United States.” It was a new talk for me on a familiar subject, but with lots of new data. I was a bit nervous going in, but the 100 or so people in the audience (which I thought was great, considering it was the last night of the AG) seemed to enjoy it. They didn’t leave early, and after I talked for an hour, they had questions to keep me going for another half hour (though I cut them off a little earlier than that). But it was a very gratifying session. Then I grabbed a little bit of food, and headed up to the SIG suites for a slightly longer stay. My evening (evening? It was after two in the morning by the time I got there) culminated in a visit to the games room, with a long, deep conversation with a few friends (thanks for your points of view, Tara and Chris), and then two games of Splendor, after which we realized it was 4:20, and I made my way to bed.

And you guessed it, woke up Sunday morning after about three hours of sleep, packed, made it to the brunch, and then checked out. I had a few minutes before departing for the airport, so sat in on the “hiss and kiss” session (I don’t like that term much, either), at which attendees tell the AG chairmen what they liked and didn’t like about the AG, along with suggestions for the future. Then it was back to the airport with Megan, back to New York, and about 12 hours of sleep.

Monday would have been completely shot but for a freelance job in the evening, so I had to follow it up with another 10 hours of sleep last night. But now, I think I’m fully rested… just in time to leave New York on Thursday for a convention weekend in Massachusetts. After sleeping every night in June in my own bed, I expect to be home for only 14 of the nights in July. That’s a lot of traveling I’ll be doing.

And yes, I know this is a fairly dry reporting of what the heck I was doing all those days. As I said, to mention the people I interacted with would slight those names I skip, and I don’t want to do that, because they all played significant roles in my enjoyment of the AG. There was a lot of business/work, but I filled the other hours with enough friends and fun to make up for it (and to be honest, I enjoy the work of volunteering, too, so it wasn’t really a struggle). Now I’m home, missing the people I was with, and kind of disappointed I don’t have any pictures. But I’ll survive that disappointment. And after two science fiction conventions this month, I’ll have two Mensa conventions in August, so it won’t feel like a long gap until then.

Upcoming Mensa Convention

I always post my schedule for upcoming science fiction conventions, but I usually note that I spend most of my time at my dealer table for Fantastic Books. Next week, however, I’m going to a different kind of convention, where I won’t have a dealer table. I’ll be at American Mensa’s Annual Gathering in Indianapolis, and over the 94 hours I expect to be there, I’ll be seriously scheduled. If you’re coming to the AG, and want to know where to find me:

Wednesday, July 4
3pm: “How Can Mensa Be Improved?” In the Debate Room
6pm: “Firehouse Meet-and-Greet” Ballroom 1
Night: hoping to see fireworks

Thursday, July 5
9am-5pm: “American Mensa Committee Meeting” Ballroom 10
8:45pm: “HQ Trivia Meetup” Hospitality

Friday, July 6
9am: “Annual Business Meeting” Ballroom 3/4
3pm: “Region 1 Meet-and-Greet” Room: 314
7pm: “Gala Banquet and Speaker” (ticketed event) Ballroom 5
10pm: “Dance the Night Away” Ballroom 5

Saturday, July 7
1pm: “Mensa Awards Ceremony” Ballroom 1
4:30pm: “Changing Face of RGs” Room 209
7:30pm: “John Kennedy’s Grandma, Bill Clinton’s Mother, and John Tyler’s Grandchildren: Familial Oddities of the Presidents of the United States” Ballroom 8: this is my talk, so you ALL better be there!

Sunday, July 8
10:30am: “Brunch” (ticketed event) Ballroom 5

So that’s at least 25 hours already booked, and that doesn’t include an additional five hours of already-scheduled committee meetings (plus inevitable unscheduled Mensa governance activities), and another four hours of friends speaking that I’d like to attend.

Over those four days, I hope to get about 20 hours of sleep. Add in a little time for showering, exercise swims in the mornings, a couple of quick meal breaks, and it looks like I have 30 hours unscheduled over the four days I’m there. In other words: I’m going to be running. Hope I have time to run into you!

And, for the tl;dr crowd: at the Mensa Annual Gathering next week, make sure you come to my talk, Saturday at 7:30pm in Ballroom 8. If you live in Region 1, come to the meet-and-greet Friday at 3pm in Room 314. If you’re interested in how Mensa operates, come to the AMC meeting Thursday from 9am to 5pm in Ballroom 10. And if you’re a member of Mensa, come to the Annual Business Meeting Friday at 9am in Ballroom 3/4.

Harlan Ellison (1934-2018)

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A terrible picture of me with Harlan, probably the only shot of the two of us together, from 2008.

I just heard that Harlan Ellison died, in his sleep, at the age of 84. To my mind, he wasn’t one of the grand old ones (Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein), but he was of the very next generation, the very next tier.

In science fictional circles, he was known for writing kick-ass short fiction (such as “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” and “A Boy and His Dog”), as well as television episodes (Star Trek’s “City on the Edge of Forever”). He also worked in other genres, both in print and for television and film. And he was a ground-breaking editor, putting together the iconic anthology Dangerous Visions. But within the science fiction community, at least by the time I was working in the field, he was known more for his larger-than-life personality. He could be abrasive, obnoxious, and egotistical, but he was an incredible presence.

My relationship with him was atypical, because I never saw that harsh personality (although I was one of those at the magazine who proofread his “Xenogenesis”). With me, he was always polite, professional, and friendly. And I know that’s because of the way we met: I was the editorial assistant as Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, and he was a writer who always showed great respect for my boss, Managing Editor Sheila Williams, and he was great friends with Isaac Asimov, for whom the magazine was named. So when Sheila introduced us, that set the tone for our relationship.

One encounter I always think of when I think of Harlan took place at I-Con (a science fiction convention at SUNY Stony Brook) soon after I met him. I was sitting with a friend in the loud, crowded Meet The Pros party, when my friend looked up and said, “It just got a lot more crowded: Harlan and his ego just walked in.” Moments later, Harlan walked up to me and said, “Hi, Ian. Are you having a good time?” We chatted for a moment, and then he moved off. I looked back at my friend, and said, “You thought Harlan’s ego filled the room? He just came over to say hello to me. How big do you think my ego is right now?”

I rarely attend panels at science fiction conventions if I’m not one of the panelists, for a variety of reasons. But those early years at I-Con, Harlan would do panels that I simply had to attend. And I never could figure out why they were set up as panels. A typical panel is three to six people, theoretically experts on the topic, who are gathered to discuss a specific topic for the amusement and edification of the audience. But the panels Harlan was on, though designed the same way, inevitably turned into hour-long Harlan monologues, frequently with references to his co-panelists and their shared histories. Harlan was a wonderful story-teller, and his co-panelists would usually sit there, mute, with bemused expressions on their faces, letting him run. He was an incredible showman.

And now he’s gone.

Why we hire professionals

When there’s a leak in the walls, you call a plumber. When the car breaks, you find a mechanic. But for some reason, when it’s words, everyone thinks “I know how to speak and write. I don’t need to pay a professional.” And then something like this happens, and I reiterate the need for professional editors, professional writers, who actually know the tools of their trade.

Atlantic City Hard Rock Casino Installed a Giant Guitar With a Misspelled Word

Locus reviews The Bend at the End of the Road

76ee412223ff59f82b7e32b3f1ee1014-w2041xIn an essay as long as those in the book, Russell Letson has reviewed Barry Malzberg’s The Bend at the End of the Road for the June issue of Locus. He says, in part:

“…it is very hard not to argue with Barry Malzberg’s The Bend at the End of the Road—and it was just as hard to stop reading it.

“The Bend at the End of the Road is no more cheerful, though, like the earlier books, it is often strikingly written and shot through with sharp observations of and confrontations with the marginal culture and economic status that has often constrained the field’s (and Malzberg’s) aspirations. It is this merging of the interesting and insightful with the depressive and depressing that makes the collection as exasperating as it is fascinating.

“So what kept me reading these thousand-word lacerations and laments? On the purely literary and historical side, Malzberg has a considerable knowledge of the history of American SF, much of it acquired at first hand from the late 1940s onward, and he has also paid attention to modern literature in general, from the great New York newspaper sports writers to Raymond Carver, Philip Roth, John Cheever, Reynolds Price, and George P. Elliott (his mentor at Syracuse University). Line by line, the writing is dense with allusions from all over the literary-cultural landscape, products of a mind that frantically connects everything to everything. A single page of one essay (“Misunderstanding Entropy”) contains a crescendo of references: nine writers, four composers, four books, two media franchises, plus Donald Trump, Tammany Hall, and ComicCon. Prose like this can be, despite the general atmosphere of futility and disappointing, exhilarating.”

A sweet new level for Release the Virgins

67a1aed9c92c450084264e6f9058456a_originalThe Release the Virgins Kickstarter project is $608 away from being fully funded, and with 11 days to get there, I’m getting excited about seeing this anthology actually be published! Today, I added a new pledge level, just to sweeten the pot a bit, the “Sweet Releaser” (check it out).

I’m also thrilled that 170 people have pledged to be a part of it. That’s a really good turn-out. So now I’m asking all my friends to help spread the word: just copy and paste the post, or copy the url to your social media account. Something simple. It would be really great to see, and I know everyone involved in the project (the editor, artist, authors, and even me) would really appreciate it. Thanks!