So, Orycon ’23…

Let me share the sorrows and the joys and and the triumphs and the tragedies of this year’s Orycon, now that it is in the rear view mirror.

Orycon was the first “local” convention that Deck and I began to attend when we moved into the PNW area back in 2003, and (always excepting the benighted Covid years and that gap) I’ve pretty much been to most every Orycon since then. In the beginning it was two of us and people knew both of us and he loved it – the whole con thing – as much as I did, trundling up to random people in the corridors and offering my bookmarks if he so much as glimpsed them near a book, always in the audience for my panels, my one-man cheerleading squad, promoter and publicist, first reader/editor, wingman, and general SUPPORT.  But in later years he just stayed at home to keep the home fires burning and take care of the house and the cats (this year the con expenses included $$$ for a cat sitter…) and he was always there to come home TO with stories of the con and the panels and the travels etc. I’d walk into my house with a “honey I’m home” and there would be coffee and supper waiting, and a man who had missed me and was interested and eager to hear all the stories I had brought back and accounts of my panels and my social butterfly occasions, there to curl up against and just chatter at him while he listened and smiled and understood it all. This… was the first Orycon I went to without him anywhere in the picture. Yes, I had come on my own before – but I had never come home from Orycon to a house empty of love. This con – meeting people I hadn’t seen since Deck died who came to tell me how sorry they were to hear it – was harder in some ways than I thought it would be. He was neither here nor at home in physical body – but his ghost was with me all the way when I hobbled down empty hotel corridors at night on my little cane. It’ll be three years on Nov 16 that he left home never to return and I miss him I miss him I MISS him. so, in his absence… y’all get to hear the con recap.

1) travel

Lawks a mercy it’s been a while since I’ve done Amtrak and they have gone BACKWARDS. I usually splurge a little extra for BUsiness class and it used to be that for this you got a little more room, a dedicated restroom to your carriage, curtains on windows, overhead racks, and general comfort – all kept nice and quiet and itself with automatic glass doors that opened and closed at a touch and kept the carriage private and warm and cocooned – well, apparently, no longer. The “new” business class carriage has grim metal stairs like an industrial cattle car, a restroom that looks like an outhouse on rails with an unusable faucet, ripped leather seats (which all face in one direction and cannot be turned so that at least one whole 6-hour trip I was obliged to travel “backwards” all the way which I intensely dislike and it makes me a tad queasy), none too clean floors, forget the glass doors (this car was separated from the bistro car only by a dinky half-height and badly velcroed curtain, letting in all the noise and the busyness of all that into the business class section) and worst of all, for some reason the REALLY HIGH CEILINGED car with plenty of headroom had apparently been completely divested of overhead racks giving you the option of holding your coat in your lap for six hours or parking it on that oogy floor. Also I was put into a bulkhead seat for part of the journey (I simply switched, later) and THAT seat had NO footrest, NO actual table to put food or a coffee or a laptop on, I mean, what was I paying premium Business Class fares FOR, here, exactly? One of the worst travel experiences I’ve ever had with Amtrak. I ought to write them a stern letter of rebuke or something. Also, I always do have a slow boil of resentment when we, the passenger train, are forced into some siding while an interminable freight train just gets right of way and we spent upwards of a quarter of an hour and sometimes more twiddling our thumbs waiting for them to pass – particularly if iti happens (as it did this time) within spitting distance of my home station after a long day of travel and it’s getting late and all I want is to get HOME and take a hot shower and go to bed. And no, Amtrak, the business class $3 vouchers for the bistro car don’t hack it in context, not any more – especially since they BARELY cover a coffee, and you have to fork out more in order to get anything to eat (which on this trip was difficult enough with several items on the wall menu with prominent SOLD OUT stickers over them – the cafe car was apaprently less than adequately restocked at whatever the last stop had been…) But anyway. ENough kvetching from a cranky old broad on a cane who was – oh, i don’t know – expecting to be COMFORTABLE on this journey. Suffice it to say that Amtrak got me there, and got me back.

2) Friday

Friday was evenful at the hotel in unexpected ways. I met up with friends in the lobby and the bar, went to my room to divest of my luggage and that wretched coat which I had to keep carting around, picked up my badge and the con ephemera, and came back down to socialise. After a little of that with a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in years, I kind of retired to my room to take my pain meds – or that’s what I thought I was doing. I went up to the fourth floor, hobbled to my room on my cane, waved my electronic key at my door… and it flashed red. This was repeated several times. Of course there is no house phone in the corridors any more so I used my cellphone (which badly needed charging but of course the charger was in the room…) to call the hotel’s front desk and tell them that I was locked out. Oh, no problem, they would bring another key. A young woman did so, but her new key also flashed red and refused to let me in. By this stage they had to bring a chair for me to sit on, while a maintenance guy came up to literally break into my room to let me in. I said I wanted a different room. (But of course they had to get in to get all my things out…) THey moved me to the room next door which was also empty, and in due time my belongings followed – and I did get a couple of free breakfasts out of this plus a 50% rebate on my room for that first night but oh lord really I could have done without this extra fillip of welcome. As it turned out the new room had not had the clock changed for the whole DST shenaningans which had just occurred so I had to do that myself, the room was at 72 degrees which is way too hot for me to sleep in but lowering the thermostat resulted in a lot of NOISE but it took damn near all night for the room temp to dip below 68 degrees, and I hated their bed (wasn’t the only one heard chatter on this during the entire con, later). The beds were way too high – which in itself isn’t a problem because I have a high bed at home too and am used to that – but they were also too SOFT, with some kind of floofy mattress topper, which meant that it kind of ate you when you lay down (like a marshmallow swallowing you as one other attendee put it) – it was difficult to get onto the bed (because there was no “Edge” to sit on you kept sliding down off the topper) and difficult to move once you were on it (and with my hip trying to turn in bed necessitated waking up completely because it was  A PROCEDURE…) A corollary to this was a set of long narrow and very artificial pillows which had no give at all leaving you with a crick in the neck after sleeping on one for the hours of the night. And for some reason whcih I could not run to ground the lights in the room came on automatically at a quarter to eight every morning which was ANNOYING (*I* want to be the one to decide when to get up dammit thank you).

But that was Friday.

Saturday was BUSY.

3) Saturday

signing/autographing at 11 – and I shared a table with a writer friend whom I hadn’t seen in some time so time was pleasurably spent in catching up – and by the end of that hour, which flew by, I had also sold five books and had several other people dropping by with things for me to sign. These events can be dicey but this one was a glowing success – and at the end of it I parked several remaining volumes at a huckster room table to be hawked to other attendees who might be passing by and divested myself of a heavy book bag, and plunged into the con proper. I went to at least one interesting panel before it was my turn to panelise, and as it turned out it was a three-person panel but only two of us turned up for it so it turned into more of a discussion with the audience, which was also fun. The topic was lost histories and how they can vanish from the human story – and a lot of fascinating digressions were had, and of course at the end of the panel someone asked a brilliant question which would have been a whole other panel just by itself but we had to vacate the room and I had to hobble my way to a whole other wing of the hotel (up a level – across the lobby – down a level in the second wing – and there was no way of getting there directly without this detour – and the elevators were all too far away to really help so it was a question of stairs, with my cane, and I am afraid I was just holding a lot of people up….) the second panel was about using science in writing and of course I had a ball with that what with the genetics in the Were Chronicles. Then I had to go right back to the other wing, for my third panel, but at least it wasn’t back to back so I could take my time to get there. Turned out we did not have a specified moderator so after a small tussle of you do it no you do it no you do it I just took over and modded the panel – it was on writing villains, and on evil, and it was an incredibly interesting discussion – and at the end of it someone came up to me and said they had been to all three of my panels that afternoon and that they had all been “disturbingly thoughtful”. Hey, it’s a high compliment. I’ll take it.

After the final panel it was a thoroughly lovely and mirthful dinner with friends (you had to be there…) and then I crawled and hobbled back to my room again. This time it let me in without a fight, and the temperture in the room was finally liveable, and (uncomfortable bed notwithstanding) I could retire for the night…

4) sunday

Sunday started out with breakfast with a friend I don’t see nearly as often as I would like and who is an incredible person with great insight and compassion and someone I really value in my life. Then I had a reading scheduled for 10:30 and because it takes me time to get to things I was there well before, and I was there to be present for the reading of the author slated before me… who had aparently been late to her own reading and was somehow still explaining the book she wished to read from to her audience when I walked in and then ran out of time to read and kind of started to and then kept going, oh, sorry, I’ll just skip this part, leaving a ragged narrative with ripped edges – I have seen this particular author at cons and functions before she is definitely not any inexperienced newbie to whom something like this might have (and probably has) happened before – but these things are at something of a premium, you don’t get a lot of a time to present yourself and your work, you need to find something coherent enough and interesting enough to fit into the time slot, and you have to be aware that you are on a conveyor belt with people scheduled to do the same thing that you are attempting to do before you and after you so you have to be cognisant of the fact that you literally have to hand over the room at the end of your session and it doesn’t matter if you’re “finished” or not. It all takes a little bit of prep and courtesy. I had three stories in hand I could read, all of them chosen because they fit into the time slot allotted, and i had a choice to offer my audience as to which story they wished to hear.. In the end it went well but I felt like a churl when it came to my time to read and I felt as though I was kind of evicting my predecessor and being almost cruel about it which is a feeling i don’t particularly like.

Still. There you have it.

Did my reading, went well, handed out the story printouts to people in the audience (I always do that – it fosters a connection and if they like the freebie they might be moved to actually BUY more from me…)and then visited with an old friend who had brought his granddaughter to the con (yay, fresh blood!) and swung past the huckster room to pick up whatever unsold books there were and had the granddaughter pick up two more of my books right there, and one had been sold previously, so that out of the eleven books I had brought to the con I came home with two, which was a good con, and which Deck would have so loved to have heard when I returned from this successful outing with the story in hand. So now you get to hear it. I sold pretty much everything I had on me which – given that the dealers room had no dedicated bookseller that I could see – actually wasn’t bad at all over the spread of what was literally just a day and a half of presence there. Then another friend came by the hotel with her giant dog and we spent some time together (while fending off constant inquiries of passing people who wanted to know all about the dog and my friend patiently answered the same questions over and over again…) and then I was greeted unexpectedly in my OWN language as I was passing one gentleman seated at the bar and it turned out that he had seen me on a panel years before where I had spoken about the Balkan wars and he was also from the old country and we spent a very interesting few hours just chatting away together. Then it was time to tackle the marshmallow bed again.


5) Monday

had the last of my free breakfasts from the hotel (the apology about the room incident generated these) with a couple of friends who had also lingered past the weekend – the empty hotel the morning after a con has ended is a sad and somewhat eerie place and I was glad to find them. Then I was regaled by the drama of a woman whose car had been broken into in the hotel parking lot (apparently there had been a spate of those break ins on Saturday and SUnday) and her trying to file a police report and mourn her desecrated car and her newly broken window and the prospect of a $500 repair bill – and I had left my own car in the long term parking lot at the Amtrak station in Bellingham and now I was getting really antsy about that. Then a (very late) cab arrived to take me to the station, and I picked up the train, and IT was late, and the car was fine (but cold and fogged up and alas very bird be-shat, which I will have to do something about), and then I got home and being me had to spend another hour and a half straightening up the house that the cat sitter had left in a “disturbed” condition, putting things back where I wanted them, putting away the dishes in the drainer, that kind of thing. and then I crawled into MY OWN bed and the cats both piled on top of me and I passed out for the night.

And that was Orycon.

If you’re reading this and you were there, it was great to see you if we connected and I’m sorry to have missed you if we did not. If you’re reading this and weren’t there but know the con, sorry you couldn’t make it and I really missed a couple of friends who could not be there this year). If you’re just reading this… let me just say one thing. *I NEEDED THIS*. I needed my community, my tribe, the affirmation of my own identity… especially in the light of the fact that it is a solitary one now, without Deck to share it all with. Orycon… I am grateful. May you ever prosper.

And now I have work to do. Playtime is over.

Until next time.