On Saturday, my husband, The Gryphon, and I wanted to get to Philcon before a game set to start at 10 a.m. in the Gaming area. The Gryphon was running the gaming section, having agreed to fill in at the last minute.
We stopped for breakfast, which was our undoing, and we didn't make it until about quarter after 10. Fortunately, the game was being run by somebody else, and The Gryphon's tardiness didn't affect much. Sadly, no one showed for the game anyway, even though it had been announced in the Philcon Rocket, which announces schedule changes.
This would be a recurring circumstance.
A sign outside the children's area.
I headed upstairs to sit in on the panel called "Native American Culture and Mythology in Fantasy." It happened to be another panel that Stephanie Burke was on, along with Josepha Sherman, Scheherazade Jackson and Walter Hunt.
As I walked in, they were discussing the trickster character, identifying him as an agent of change. However, they felt that a character like Han Solo in Star Wars was more of a rogue than a trickster.
They also discussed the chupacabra, and how this creature was a Native American version of the vampire, along with snow demons. And they also addressed contemporary myths, such as Geronomo's vision of a white buffalo which would unite the tribes. Currently, it's believed that the white buffalo has been born, and unity will result.
In addition, they spoke about the portrayal of Pocahantas in the media, as compared to the truth: that she was a preteen who was taken to England by the British and died of smallpox.
When they opened the panel to questions, I asked about women in Native American mythology, and Scheherazade Jackson pointed out that the Eastern nations were more matrilineal, such as the Iroquois, and therefore offered more positive portrayals than the Western nations, which were more patrilineal. Josepha Sherman mentioned the character of Yellow Corn Woman, who was a strong-willed creator figure.
(from left) Josepha Sherman, Walter Hunt, Scheherazade Jackson
(from left) Barbara Karmazin, Stephanie Burke, Josepha Sherman
Afterwards, I went up to say hi to Josepha Sherman, who was on a vampire mythology with me years ago, and to tell her I finally finished reading her book, Greasy, Grimey Gopher Guts. I also assured Stephanie Burke that I wasn't stalking her just because I'd shown up to three of her panels so far. We first met at Philcon several years ago, and I usually attend at least one other panels. She gave me a gift bag that included all sorts of CDs and giveaways.
I stopped briefly in the Gaming area to say hi to The Gryphon and then sat in on a panel called "The Fiction of Tim Powers," with panelists Stephen C. Fisher, Walter Hunt again, and Roman Ranieri.
(from left) Roman Ranieri, Stephen C. Fisher, Walter Hunt
They talked about how Tim Powers' Roman Catholic religious background might have helped him to create an intricate world of spirituality and hidden magic. They lauded his diversity of stories and themes and said that they think he likes to discover new territory, to come across something interesting and then evolve a conspiracy theory that fits it.
Finally, they noted that his books have a timelessness because they don't include excessive references to pop culture. They said he also achieves this by making his characters feel real.
The panel gave me some insight into how readers look at the work of Tim Powers, which I thought would be useful for when I interviewed him.
At about noon, I met The Gryphon to grab some lunch. We drove to a nearby Pei Wei, which we knew would be cheap and fast but relatively good. I had an Asian chicken chopped salad, of which I had to box up half.
When we returned, we stopped in the Gaming area to talk to The Game Designer, a friend of The Gryphon's whom he only sees at Philcon. We mentioned that we wanted to head up early to speak to the other panelists, to see if they minded if The Gryphon joined. The topic was "Virtual Worlds: Is Cyberspace the Final Frontier?" It was supposed to discuss how social networking was changing as the computer interface changes, and to suggest what might be coming. The Gryphon plays the online game EVE, and we both agreed that he'd be a valuable addition.
What do you know? It turns out that Bud Sparhawk, one of our fellow panelists, was sitting at that very table! So we asked him if he'd mind if The Gryphon joined, and he said that was fine. We still headed up early, in order to talk to the other panelists, who included The Horror Film Buff and the moderator, Ef Deal. When we asked them, neither of them minded.
Earlier that morning, I'd run into The Green Man and asked him to attend my panel. He hadn't promised anything but said that he might. When he did show up, before we got started, I had him get a picture, as did The Horror Film Buff. We took one normal and one silly photo.
(from left) Ef Deal, The Gryphon, me, The Horror Film Buff, Bud Sparhawk
The panel was quite interesting, because we came from a variety of backgrounds. Ef Deal plays Second Life and is also interested in using virtual worlds for educational purposes, to create an interactive classroom. Of course, The Gryphon plays Eve, a multi-user space game with a graphic interface. I've played MUSHes, been involved in a number of different online social networking communities, and am currently involved in Live Journal and have a MySpace page. The Horror Film Buff is another Second Life player and Live Journal user, and Bud Sparhawk is very involved in Second Life. One of his characters writes for the newspaper in Second Life.
We addressed a range of topics. Ef got us started, asking us all to give our first impressions of the subject of the panel. Then we opened up the conversation. I asked everyone if they felt that advances in the interface were changing the nature of social interaction. The general consensus was that, while the mode of communicating was different, the communication isn't that different. For example, if you're a woman online, you will probably get hit on by guys, just as if you were in a local bar.
If interaction is changing somewhat over time, it's simply because more and more people are involved in online networking. Fifteen or 20 years ago, only people with government jobs or university students could interact online. Now, nearly everyone can. So you end up with the same positives and negatives as interacting face-to-face.
The advantages, we agreed, were the opportunities to be creative and to connect with a support network of people who you might not otherwise meet. I spoke about how Live Journal serves as an unofficial self-help group, where people write about their concerns and other people give them support.
We had a question from the audience from a boy who looked about 13. He wanted to know our thoughts on crime on the Internet and what restrictions there should be. Here again, we agreed that, just like you'll have every other kind of interaction online, you'll have people who try to take advantage of others. But our laws have not kept up with the technology, which can lead to jurisdictional concerns. You have to prosecute a crime where it's committed, but cyberspace is not a "real" location. There are no cyberspace cops. We agreed that you have to be careful with your interactions online, just as you would in real life. When we asked if we'd covered his question, he said we had.
We also talked about the positive aspects of virtual worlds and what we feel we've gained from our online interactions. We noted that communication online is often more informal, but that doesn't change our face-to-face interactions. If you've ever met someone in person whom you initially met online, you'll probably notice the difference.
Our audience consisted of about 10-12 people who seemed engaged and interested, and I thought it went well overall.
Following that, The Gryphon and I discussed what to do next. We agreed to go to, appropriately enough, the Live Journal meet-up. First, The Gryphon had to take care of something, and I had to return a call from my mom, who had sad news. She informed me that she'd have to put her dog, Sunnie, to sleep on Monday. Sunnie has been suffering from end-stage cancer. I promised that we'd be as much help as possible on Thanksgiving and told her to imagine I was there hugging her, since I wouldn't see her in person for several days.
When The Gryphon arrived, seeing me sitting in the hallway, he waited until I was ready before entering the Live Journal event. It was already well underway, with people deep in conversation. At first we just talked to each other, but then we mingled. I met Popfiend, who is friends with a number of my friends. I can see why: he seems to be a very relaxed, friendly, thoughtful individual. When we arrived, he was talking to The Horror Film Buff.
Following that, I attended the principle speech by Tim Power. I was also hoping to connect with him about setting a definite interview time, and I got lucky, since he was standing in the hallway, signing books for people, including The Green Man, a big Tim Powers fan. When he was done, I spoke to Tim Powers, and we agreed to meet on Sunday during the time scheduled for his reading, during which he intended to sign books instead.
I sat right behind a woman who had a baby, about six months old. She was adorable, and was actually fairly well behaved, although she became restless and started climbing the chair and trying to get at her mom's coffee. Near the end, during the Q&A, her mom quietly left, presumably to allow her daughter a little freedom.
His speech was entertaining, as he spoke about the secret histories genre of SF, where magical conspiracies underlie real historical events. He posed the question of why do we read SF and suggested that the popular view of SF is that of fiction that predicts the future, which is seen as being more respectable than fantasy, which he writes.
According to him, mainstream fiction is like a straight highway between a blur of trees, depicting only things that "could" happen. SF/Fantasy are on a different plane, a plane of imaginary numbers that runs perpendicular to the plane of mainstream fiction.
He also related colorful stories, such as the fact that his parents gave him Simon and Garfunkel albums at the same time as they gave him a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories, and now they are inextricably mixed in his mind.
SF and fantasy have a challenge to overcome, he said, as our society no longer believes in mystical, paranormal phenomena. Still, while someone might say he doesn't believe in ghosts while standing in a sunny outdoor market, he will almost surely believe in them when alone in a dark, creaky, abandoned house!
Near the close of his speech, he said that he felt SF authors should avoid overt commentary about the present day, which he finds interferes with the telling of a story. During the Q&A, an audience member took issue with that, suggesting that some great SF does just that. But all she could up with was George Orwell's 1984.
Finally, he spoke about his writing method, how he discovers ideas, whether through reading books or articles, or having a conversation or watching TV and movies. He begins to research that topic and allows the underlying structure of a plot to develop. From that, he determines his characters and his overall plot. He also spoke about the value of free writing to get past writer's block, with the entire thought process caught on paper.
Next, I attended the panel called "In Their Own Words: The Business of Voice Acting." I attended this primarily because I'd promised a fellow WPSU alumnus earlier this year that I'd find out how he could get started in voice acting.
The panel consisted of Kristen Nelson, Amy Howard Wilson and Dave Wilson III (no relation), all of them experience voice actors.
(from left) Kristen Nelson, Amy Howard Wilson, Dave Wilson III
They advised those interested in voice acting to start meeting people and networking. Other tips including taking acting training and producing a resume and demo. The demo, Amy Howard Wilson said, should demonstrate different kinds of voices with a minimum of special effects.
According to them, more and more voice work is being freelanced, now that digital recording is available. They recommended investing in equipment such as microphones and sound editing tools in order to produce sound at home. But don't spend a fortune, Kristen Nelson cautioned. Stay without your budget, since you can always upgrade later.
They also cautioned prospective voice actors to make sure that any auditions are on the level and not to give anybody money in order to do something for them. Finally, they suggested looking for opportunities to get experience in unusual places, such as for a real-estate Web site or a local restaurant's outgoing phone recordings.
Following the panel, a group of people were interested in going to dinner, including The Dormouse, The Pop Junkie, the three voice actors, and a couple members of the anime panels, such as Robert Fenelon. I called up The Gryphon, who agreed to go with all of us to a French Thai place that The Pop Junkie recommended.
As we were pulling out of the parking lot, I mentioned that I wanted to return in time to make an appearance at the book launch party being held by The Anthology Editor. The Gryphon warned me that we probably wouldn't return in time, but I remained optimistic. Between appetizers and desserts, and the kitchen dealing with a table of 13, we overshot the time by a long shot.
I had a good time at dinner, having conversations with the people at my end of the table, including Robert Fenelon and Kris Nelson. We talked about everything from anime series to unusual food to stories about pets. I had met both of them at previous Philcons, and they're great people.
When we returned, I went looking for The Anthology Editor to apologize for missing her event. Sure enough, we ran into her, striding purposely across the lobby from the elevator. When I asked her how it went, she said not as great as she'd hoped. She'd had more prizes to give away than books sold, she said. However, I'd bought my copy earlier and asked her if she'd sign it. She said she would, gladly, if I'd accompany her first on an errand.
She and a friend were delivering the grand prize from the event, a claymore, which was in a very large, flat cardboard box. I followed her to the main ballroom, in which the masquerade was taking place. One of the tech people was the winner; she'd had a friend stand in for her at the drawing. Right inside the door, I spotted wombat wearing a tuxedo. At first I didn't even recognize him: "You clean up well," I said.
He replied that it's fun to exceed people's expectations.
On stage, the featured musical act, The Chromatics, were performing. I was surprised to see them, because I thought they weren't supposed to perform until 10. I found out later that they were performing to fill time while the judging was taking place.
Finally, The Anthology Editor got the technie's attention. She was extremely happy that she won the sword and gave The Anthology Editor a huge hug. I didn't feel so bad about having missed the drawing, because she appreciated it more than I ever would have.
I followed The Anthology Editor back upstairs to the Con Suite, where they had held the book launch party. There was still leftover cake, but I restrained myself. When The Anthology Editor found a pen, she signed my book, telling me and The Gryphon to "dream often and dream large." Sweet. She looked tired, so I left her and her husband, the Military SF Author, to finish gathering their stuff.
I thought about attending the Chromatics concert, but I ended up socializing with people in the lobby. The Brownshirt, who was wearing a peasant skirt and a laced-up bodice, mentioned she wanted to see the end of "The Big, Bad Zombie Panel," which featured The Horror Film Buff. I tagged along, as did another woman I didn't know.
We came in right near the end, and they were in the middle of an animated discussion. The audience seemed to be having a lot of fun. I snapped a couple pics.
(from left) Matt Black, Jennifer Williams, D.E. Christman
(from left) D.E. Christman and The Horror Film Buff
They ended by talking about some upcoming projects they were looking forward to, such as a sequel in the 28 Weeks Later franchise and another movie by George Romero.
At the close of the panel, I said hello to Matt Black, a fellow Penn Stater who was friends with The White Rabbit and had videotaped some of our Monty Python Society events. Sadly, he said he doubts he still has copies of them, but we exchanged cards. I told him he looks just the same. I had no trouble telling it was him.
Then The Browncoat told me she knew of a party taking place for guests and panelists only, and she asked me if I wanted to attend. I told her sure, and I texted The Gryphon the info, asking him to join me.
We each got ourselves a drink at the bar and then mingled with the other guests. I spoke for a while to Bud Sparhawk about Second Life. He entertained me with the saga of how he created his first female character. Until then, he said, he never understood why women love to shop: there are so many things to think about! I told him that I'd love to play Second Life, but I'm afraid I would never accomplish anything else. He agreed it can be addictive.
Then I got into a very spirited conversation with Josepha Sherman, J.J. Brannon, and a Philcon volunteer, about topics ranging from literacy to politics and feminism. J.J. Brannon had a lot of interesting thoughts about those topics, and we agreed that it's sad that there's an anti-intellectualism in today's culture.
The Gryphon and I excused ourselves in time to make it to the "Bad Anime Bad!!" panel, which would feature our friends The Pop Junkie (as moderator), The Dormouse and The Cheshire Cat.
(from left) The Pop Junkie, The Cheshire Cat, The Dormouse
They do this panel every year, showing anime scenes that are laughable, talking about them and poking fun at them. I knew I was in for a good panel. But one thing I wasn't looking forward to was seeing, once more, the anime adaptation of Frankenstein, which is simply excruciating. I had asked The Pop Junkie at dinner to please not play it, and for good measure, had also asked The Cheshire Cat and The Dormouse to tell him not to. I promised them I'd buy them coffee if they did.
He was merciful and didn't play Frankenstein. He did play something called Vampire Wars, which is a nasty bit of business but at least I hadn't seen it as often. They also showed a number of things I hadn't seen before, along with a clip from Attack of the Super Monsters, which was one of the selections for Mystery Anime Theater 3000, back when my friends were still running it at Otakon. That was especially fun, because The Cheshire Cat and The Dormouse remembered much of their script, and they had us all rolling in the aisles.
The panel ran over the time it was supposed to, but I slipped out about 12:30 to look for The Gryphon, figuring we ought to get some sleep this time. I found him in the bar area, hanging out with The Game Designer.
The Game Designer and The Gryphon
I hated to interrupt them, but we promised to meet up with The Game Designer for breakfast in the hotel restaurant the next morning.
There's only so many times you can laugh at a painfully bad video.