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Joanna Russ was awarded a posthumous Solstice Award at the 2015 Nebula Awards, which serves as a kind of Not Quite Grand Master Award to professionals who've had a great influence on the field. There was another one awarded to former Analog editor Stanley Schmidt too, but since he's alive to receive his, he got to speak for himself. Joanna's, on the other hand, consisted of a memorial letter written by editor David Hartwell, read by author Mary Anne Mohanraj. My objections are entirely about the content of that letter, for the record. We got about a minute and half of "Yep, she was a genius. Brilliant." Followed by several minutes of the great tragedy of her final years, illness, electroshock, loss of self, loss of genius, etc. With a sidebar anecdote assuring us that even though she was a super-angry lady (I'm not sure the word "lesbian" was uttered; if it was, I don't remember it), she didn't hate the menz.

At this point, I spotted erstwhile Tor editor and serial sexual harasser Jim Frenkel at the back of the room and thought Really? I'd love to have seen the list of exceptions to that.


My thoughts then and now pretty much boil down to: Fuck that Noise. Seriously? This is one of the finest minds in the genre, incredibly groundbreaking for her time, a woman who paved the road for many of us who came after her, a brilliant critic and we get sad, sad, sad, but no worries, she liked guys too. Not one word about her works being largely out of print. Not one word about what they were or how we could bring them back or how to honor her legacy. Not. One.

One of the books that Russ wrote (when not busy being sad and sick) was a book called How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983). In it, she catalogs many of the ways that women's voices are silenced, their writings and opinions devalued and forgotten. She talks about the barriers we face, the cultural obstacles consistently placed in front of women as writers and artists to prevent them from being read and remembered: She didn't really write it. She wrote it, but she's an anomaly. She wrote it, but she only wrote one of them. It is still horribly, horribly accurate today, 32 years later. When I think about that, I feel sick and sad.

Which is why I then turn to her writings (I shall always love the Alyx stories, among others) and to writings that truly celebrate her brilliance. For instance, Annalee Newitz wrote this excellent piece for I09 on Russ:
How to Remember and Discover Joanna Russ. Brit Mandelo's essay We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-Telling and Farah Mendlesohn's nonfiction anthology On Joanna Russ talk about her work in detail, what it meant and what its impact was. These are real memorials and this is how she should be remembered, by being read and discussed. And let's get her oeuvre back out there; works of sfnal genius are too rare to be wasted.


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Saturday

This was intended to be my morning at the Printers Row Literary Festival so, inevitably, I woke up with a migraine. I managed to stagger down to breakfast, then girded my loins for the multi-block walk under the big hurty thing in the sky. I found the Festival without any trouble, but found it a tad underwhelming. Mind you, I found the PM Press booth and immediately picked up a couple of books and a Utah Phillips CD, then wandered down the row of tents. I left with a murder mystery set at Hull House, a history of women business owners, Edward Gorey ephemera, Daughters of the Revolution and the CD. It was decently well-trafficked but I couldn’t but notice that the Fair organizers thought it was more important to have an Acura dealer and several other nonbook related vendors rather than any SF ones. I didn’t see anything affiliated with RWA either and I was told that every SFWA author in attendance at the Nebulas who tried to get on Lit Fest programming was turned down.  I gather the mystery writers had a good weekend though, so yay on that score.

 

From there, I wandered back to the hotel and lunch, then quiet time. I went downstairs just before my afternoon panel and ran into Lee Martindale and signed the program book and my story in a copy of Obsession for a nice gentleman who was hanging about waiting for me to turn up. (This is, incidentally, super flattering J). My second panel, this one on diversity in SFF began shortly thereafter. This one didn’t go as well as the first: too many disconnects, one panelist delayed on a train and in later, and there was me with my lingering migraine. So we talked a lot but I can’t say that I felt like we connected with each other or the audience. Not the worst panel I’ve been on, I suppose, but definitely in the lower half.  After that, it was icing my head until the Nebula Reception started.

 

I came down and soon realized that had been something of a mistake and that I should have stayed in my room until the banquet because I got wiped out pretty quickly. I ended up taking my juice (I don’t drink alcohol) to a quiet cul-de-sac and answering emails for a half hour until things got started. I had failed to realize that we had assigned tables, so I didn’t get to sit with the folks I wanted to, but I did end up sitting with a man I’d met earlier and some new folks, including some international fans so it was perfectly fine. The banquet food was good. Nick Offerman was probably hilarious if your sense of humor runs to jokes about sleeping and drinking with Nick Offerman. As an aside, if the point of getting him in to MC was to draw in a younger crowd, cheaper tickets and more outreach for the nonbanquet tickets probably would have helped.  As it was, I think he offended some people and baffled a fair number of others.

 

The Russ speech was awful; more on that soon. But Stanley Schmidt’s speech was rather charming and most of the winners were either not present and had proxies or gave good to okay speeches. I will admit to being surprised by Jeff VanderMeer’s win simply because I hadn’t heard much award buzz about his book, but I’m sure it’s good and his speech (also by proxy) was quite good. I gather there were some other issues (one finalist was left off the onscreen list of titles, and there were connection issues) but from my standpoint, it seemed to go reasonably well.

  I popped by the signing to say hi to a few people and tried unsuccessfully to find a friend’s book. I had to settle for schmoozing, then trotting off to pack and sleep. Sunday, I got to have breakfast with Lee Martindale, then hiked over to Union Station and caught the Amtrak for an uneventful ride home (except for the minor bomb scare which was quickly resolved).  And thus ended the weekend. I know I’m leaving some things out; I’ve never been a Larry Niven fan and our paths never crossed, for instance. Connie Willis was there, but was always deep in conversation. Jim Frenkel put in an appearance at the Awards but that was the only time I saw him (and I haven’t heard about any incidents, just for variety). There’s a certain level of manic cliquishness at all these sorts of events and this one split out pretty heavily along age lines and known quantities vs. unknown quantities, divisions made a bit rougher simply because it wasn’t a big crowd. I was actually more surprised that I did get as much time with some of the folks I either wanted to see or met over the course of the weekend. Overall, good event with useful info acquired and some down time achieved, so I feel like I got my money’s worth.


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Okay, so the Nebulas Weekend Trip was pretty good and a lot happened. I’m breaking it down into three posts: the first two on the general happenings, and a third that will be about the speech “honoring” Joanna Russ at the Nebulas, which I disliked intensely. More on why as soon as I get around to writing it up, but the condensed version was that it was like a primer on How to Suppress Women’s Writing.
 
But first, the fun stuff.
 
Wednesday dawned bright and excruciatingly early with a trip downtown. I had the brilliant notion of taking Megabus out to Chicago and Amtrak back because I didn’t feel like driving by myself (Jana went on her own trip to the bookbinding conference in Dallas and I wanted to get to Chicago a day early for workshops). All was comparatively well, for values of well, until the bathroom on the bus imploded and filled the bus with noxious fumes. This happened right outside Milwaukee and continued all the way into Chicago rush hour traffic. A woman sitting near me decided to pass the time with a very loud, expletive-laden fight with someone on the phone and I had trouble breathing due to the chemical cloud. It was…not fun. Unsurprisingly, I followed it up by getting slightly lost and walking a mile or so out of the way in the opposite direction from the hotel, hauling my luggage.
 
But I was rescued by a friendly Chicago jogger and repointed in the right direction and eventually arrived at the Palmer House unscathed (other than losing my water bottle somewhere along the way, which hardly counts). After that, the hotel was lovely, my room was comfy and I found a nice little pub around the corner, where the cute waitress flirted with me while plying me with mint tea and edibles. Then I went back to the room and had a wonderful hot bath, read Nnedi Okorafor’s The Shadow Seeker and went to bed early.
 
Thursday:
I spent most of the morning at the self-publishing workshop, listening to the first presenter. He was quite knowledgeable and I found the info he presented to be pretty valuable. But I needed a break after his session so I bailed and went to the Art Institute for a few hours. Once there, I got to see a good exhibit on Irish Art, ate lunch, looked at the miniatures and generally enjoyed myself wandering around.
 
Then it was back to the publicity portion of the self-pubbing workshop. The presenter for that one didn’t cover much that I didn’t already know so after an hour, I took off for an editing panel with Sheila Williams and Jacob Weisman. This was okay, but could have used a few more panelists for perspective (the third one was delayed in transit, I believe). After that, I headed back to the self-publishing workshop for another hour on costs and got some info which I think will come in  handy. By then, I had burned out so I took off before it ended to go to dinner at Vermillion. Vermillion is my favorite Chicago eatery; it serves Indian/Latin American fusion cuisine and it is glorious. I got there early and was the only customer for a bit, which got me lots of staff attention until it began to fill up and I could get back to my reading (Carole Nelson Douglas’ Irene Adler books on my ereader for the reread).
 
I wandered back to the hotel to relax and do some story rewriting until the Welcome Reception started. I talked to Matthew Foster about Eugie, who I’d met a few times but I didn’t see a lot of other people I knew. Then Steven Silver (Nebula Event Organizer) stopped me and talked me into herding cats on the Baker & Taylor Tour the next day. I agreed to be tour monitor, chatted with some other SFWA folks and was sneaking off when Steven Gould and Laura Mixon showed up. I’d never met them in person so it was delightful to finally do so. Laura and I chatted for a bit and made breakfast plans for the next day. She also introduced me to a few more folks, after which I bailed to go sleep. (Full disclosure: I met a lot of people last weekend and I’m not always spectacular with names, so not being namechecked in this narrative is not significant. I’m sure you were wonderful and that I enjoyed whatever we talked about
J).

Friday dawned early and lively with a field trip to Baker & Taylor Book Distributors. It was a small group, which made for easy cat-herding, and I chatted with writer Brenta Blevins and her husband while the tour bus driver took us off into the wilds of Illinois (the warehouse is about an hour and a half drive outside Chicago). Once we got there, and I tracked down the responsible parties for our tour, it was pretty interesting. They were very nice about answering questions and showing us some of the high points of print book distribution and I think we all learned a few new things about the process. We also had a good group with good questions who were willing to do lots of walking without complaining or getting lost. Other than some sandwich problems when we got back on the bus and tried to eat lunch, it was a good trip and I’m really glad I got to go on it. And we made it back into town in time for me to go find tea!
 
I like tea, preferably the fancy fruity high quality stuff. And I like munchies with my tea. I think afternoon tea is one of the finest elements of Western civilization and I try to partake of it whenever I can.  That said, the Palmer House does have its own tea in their spectacular lobby, but for that I needed to make reservations 24 hours in advance and I had failed to plan that far ahead. But, conveniently enough, I had noticed the cafe Russian Tea Time around the corner, so I gave them a call and headed over. Their version of afternoon tea was pretty splendid: good music, yummy savories and sweet and a lot of caffeine. I had a fine time and was wired for sound by the time I left.
 
Which came in handy for our panel on Gender and Sexuality in SFF.  This was lively and interesting, with a very engaged audience, and we probably could have filled a longer timeslot. We covered some general things about sexuality and gender, then specifics as they pertain to the field (lack of T representation, for example), then followed up with a short discussion on Asexuality.
 
I have no idea what I did after that. I probably chatted with folks in the hallway, then ran into the two things I’d been ignoring up until then: my level of exhaustion coupled with not having planned that well beforehand for those times when I actually was feeling social. Over the course of May, we moved my mother yet again and crammed all her remaining stuff into our house and dealt with all the attendant issues. I finished a complete novel draft and wrote an article, all while working full time under circumstances that are, shall we say, growing increasingly frustrating. All of this got done while dealing with other parts of my life. So I hit a wall for a bit, went to dinner on my own, came back, rested and went to the Nebula Reception.

 

The above, of course, makes what happened shortly after I arrived sound utterly improbable. I was meandering around the reception chatting with a few folks here and there when I ran into Cat Rambo, the new SFWA President. I’d met her a few years ago at World Con in Chicago while volunteering for SFWA and we interact occasionally online. None of which quite prepared for: “Hey, you want to meet Chris Kluwe?” Wait, that would be former Vikings player Chris Kluwe, hometown hero in my part of the Minneapple for speaking out against the marriage and voting amendments that we defeated a few short years back? “Sure, that would be lovely,” says I, knowing none of you would forgive me if I said no.

 

So I got to meet Chris Kluwe and embarrass him horribly by thanking him for all his efforts on our behalf. He actually looked down at the table and shuffled his feet. It was adorbz. He is quite cute in person, FYI, and built like a basketball player (I was expecting him to be broader and wider). At any rate, there was a certain amount of fanboying that kicked in as it registered that we had an actual pro athlete in attendance, one with his first science fiction novel out, so I took off as that kicked in and went to go check out the con tables. But hey, I can say I met my favorite Viking.

 

I talked with a number of other folks, including Cat, Lawrence M. Schoen, Sarah Pinkster and some other folks, and got in on the group photograph with the presentation check to the NIU Archives. Then I got a text from my spouse informing me that she’d won a big book award so I headed upstairs soon thereafter to congratulate her. And there was much rejoicing. :-)

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Okay, confession time. When I got an email about this awhile back, I just figured that it was a general sort of pro-level con invite and expressed interest in 2 panels, thinking I might get one, maybe. Not because of professional or personal inadequacy, mind you, but because there's a lot of high-powered and famous people at this particular gathering and I'm fairly realistic about my level of fame and glory in the field at the present time (for perspective, apparently the Printer's Row Bookfair LitFest declined to accept anyone from SFWA for programming, so there you go).. But low and behold, just saw the new schedule and I got on both panels. In any case, there's a lot of great programming and field trips and other good stuff. I've been to one previous Nebula Weekend, and it was great for networking and learning, so if you're in the Chicago area next week, I recommend it.

Full schedule: Nebula Weekend 2015

My schedule -
Friday:

4:00-5:00

Writing Gender and Sexuality–Gender is more complex than the Western cultural norm of binary gender (female and male); there are more sexual orientations than just the L and G in QUILTBAG. People who don’t fit into narrow conceptions of binary gender and monosexuality exist in our present, have existed in our past, and will exist in our futures. In this discussion panelists explore how this affects character creation, common plot pitfalls, and the use of language. Panelists: Alexandra Duncan, Catherine Lundoff, Michael Thomas (M), Alyssa Wong

Saturday:

3:00-4:00

Diversity in Short Fiction—One of the pieces of advice writers are given for avoiding tropes is to have more than one representative in a story, This gets challenging in a small cast. The panel will look at how to create a diverse world even within the confines of a short story. Panelists: Anatoly Belilovsky (M), Catherine Lundoff, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Neil Clarke,  Alyssa Wong


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