Wiscon, Day 3: The Slow Fade

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This is the picture of the artist, pickled. Taken by Wiscon’s Web Guru Larry Sanderson, it captures the roseate cheeks of a man addled by drink, the glassy stare brought about by feverish half-sleep and the indolent hallway posture that tries, vainly, to hide the fact that the subject is, indeed, propping himself up against the wall.

I woke up at 9.00am and went off for a stagger around the Capitol building, leaning to the left the entire way. I think I was probably still 4% alcohol by volume at this point. Once I felt like I could walk in a straight enough line to pass for human, I went over to Michelangelo’s for the 10.00 reading. I arrived late and, discovering the room was full up, lurked near the back and heard more of the espresso machine than haddayr‘s reading. Everyone else appeared rapt and I was too self-conscious to elbow my way to the front and lie down at the feet of the readers (which was about the only space left in the room). I also realized I would most likely have fallen asleep and started snoring. Not a widely recognized sign of appreciation.

So I went back to the room and called darinbradley at 11.00am, waking the dead. We staggered up and down State St like zombies until we found a liquor store. No, wait, we were out doing something else. The liquor store was an accident. Pure circumstance. Our livers, overwrought and overworked, weren’t crying out to be put out of their misery. “Just finish poisoning us. Just do it. Put us out of our misery.” Truly.

They sell alcohol on Sunday in Madison. It’s like being in a foreign country. The one liquor store back home closes right before the supper hour. Barely enough time to get home to discover that you can’t make that pre-dinner White Russian. Certainly not enough time to get one’s pants back on and down to the store before they close. Anyway, Badger Liquor (Did I tell you that, in Wisconsin, they use badgers to harvest the cheese off the trees. No? Well, they do.) carried a variety of scotch that Darin had never tried. To cries of “Thank you! O, sweet poison!” from our livers, we picked up a bottle for later that evening.

After wandering through the dealer’s room a last time and poking in on a few panels, we lit off for the other side of the lake to have BBQ at Agent Kris’ house with his and Jesse’s family and attendant dogs. In an atmosphere of brats, mosquitoes, beer, kids and dogs we finally sat down and went through the notes for SOULS. After turning in a rather underwhelming draft in December, I had been having a little difficulty getting perspective on the book during the last few months and am very happy to hear that it didn’t suck as much as I feared it might. Some nice things were said about the work and I’ve got a list of about eight minor details to poke at, which means there’s a good chance this book will be out making the rounds while I’m changing newborn nappies. Nothing distracts one better from the interminable wait for a book to sell than a newborn child.

This explains the vaguely beatific expression on my face in the above picture. I got notes. I took a perfectly fine novel, stripped out all of the urban fantasy framework, replaced it with a whole slew of philosophic deconstruction and nightmarish occultism, and got my agents to admit the book was better for it. I have, apparently, learned a few things in the last decade. Just a few.

The bulges in my pockets (thanks, Larry, for capturing this moment of the con) caused a New York editor to ask, “So, Mark, is that a bottle of scotch in your pocket or are you happy to see me?” As it turned out, there was a bottle of Springbank 12 in my left pocket. Me and the rolling keg of Spotted Cow were the mobile liquor stations on Sunday night. As the bottom of the scotch bottle approached, Darin got a wild hair for one last beer before daybreak and the posse (dragging squirrel_monkey with us who, thankfully, survived the experience) lit off for the Plaza for a final pitcher of Spotted Cow. The Plaza (with their very own Beer Nazi who shouted us at at closing) was running The Venture Bros (thanks to Chris Roberson for educating me on what I was seeing), which made the whole meat market bar experience just a bit more surreal.

We ended up back at Darin’s room where he began to whine about the lack of a comforter on his bed. “Put the damn blanket back on the bed,” he kept saying to me. “You’re not leaving until you put the blanket back.” He kept poking at me about it and so I finally did. But not before stripping everything else off the bed. This is the way chaotic monkey children escape: leaving everyone dumbfounded long enough for them to climb out the window and scale down the drain pipe.

Traveling home on Monday was as uneventful as a cluster-fuck weather situation at Chicago’s O’Hare airport can be. I left Madison early enough to miss most of it. I just had a two and a half hour wait on the tarmac at O’Hare before lighting off for Seattle. Made me only four hours late instead of some of the dreadful arrival times I’ve heard from others.

And now: sleep, writing, and, in a few weeks, pictures of the new kid. Back to normalcy. 🙂

Wiscon, Day 2: The Salsa Incident

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There are two things about darinbradley‘s Early Wiscon report that need to be clarified:

(1) I wasn’t as hopped out on caffeine as he implies. Actually, I was down from my regular dosage.

(2) The superhero team of “Pancake” and “Butter” is a fabrication of his alcohol-soaked brain. You’ll have to ask him why he cast himself as the sidekick.

His memory of the later part of Friday is spot-on as well as are his notes about the scotch tasting at the Flatiron. We’re going to have to go back and do flights next time, damnit.

Okay, Saturday. My room was on the sixth floor, sandwiched between one of the party rooms and the kids programming, which meant that as long as I stayed up past the party to the right, it would be dead quiet until about 9.30 in the morning when the kids would start gathering for their Take Things Apart! panel. Sure enough, I was woken up by running feet and cries of “Don’t touch me! He touched me.”

First up was a reading at 1.00 with barthanderson, Darin, Liz Henry and Charlie Anders. Charlie read an excerpt from a hilariously damaged piece about Social Security Implants; Liz entertained us with snippets from her history of Feminist Utopias; Barth read the chapter from The Patron Saint of Plagues that followed the virus through its lifespan in a human host; and Darin read “Two,” his contribution to the Scribe chapbook that was to be given away that night at the Book Launch party. Afterward, we milled around a bit, caught bits and pieces of other panels, and then headed off to pick up supplies for the party.

The Scribe Posse Smackdown and Book Launch Party was to be the second time the lads were to demonstrate their prowess at homebrew. They had done so at World Fantasy back in November, and it was such a successful venture, they opted to do so again to celebrate the release of Patron Saint of Plagues. They brewed up six styles, had each of their clients name them as well as write a viral-themed story, working in the named beer. The collection became the give-away party favor of the evening. The flavors were: Paul’s Big Hard Cider (Paul Bens), Cold War Cream Ale (Darin Bradley), a root beer named Aguirre’s Ephemeral Elixer (Forrest Aguirre aka experimeditor), Daddio’s the Decider (Barth Anderson), Dirty Belgium Ale (Timothy Miller aka timothymiller) and dunkelweissen named Ye Old Saturnine Toade (Mark Teppo). The two ciders were the same recipes, though with “regional differences.”

[“What sort of regional differences?” I was asked. “The difference between Kris’ bathtub and Jesse’s bathtub,” was the reply.]

Like an idiot, I started with the cider (both of them so as to be able to talk..er..”intelligently” about the differences). Harder than last year, this stuff really demanded your respect and I was already having trouble with hand-eye coordination by the time I got to the Toad. (My story, “Upon Drinking a Half Glass of the Olde Saturnine Toade,” features the Metaphysical Detective character from last year’s “Flower” flash piece. If you missed the chapbook, let me know. I have a few I can send out.) The Toad was very rich and wheaty, like a stout without the metallic aftertaste or the heaviness that pulls at the tongue. The Belgian Double was the sharpest of the bunch, while the Cream Ale was deliciously golden with a silky creamy flavor to it.

They brewed ten cases all together and it was all gone in about three hours. Seeing as how the lads brewed very strong stuff (the cider, especially), I think the evening made a quick left turn for a number of people. I had a very good time tending the bar, chatting everyone up and generally saying nice things about books I had recently read to their authors as they dropped by. (Hal Duncan, when asked if he was going to leave me hanging at the end of Vellum — which I’ve been savoring and haven’t quite finished yet — laughed and replied, “It depends on whether you like resolution or closure.”) After we had run out of beer and nice things to say about books (my reading list failed before my enthusiasm), we switched to tequila and scotch (both graciously donated by Mr. Anderson), received several serenades from our favorite South America-traveling chanteuse, and finally drove everyone off about 2am so that we could clean up.

The best bit of business done that evening was the conversation with a well-known small press editor and myself over a bit of scotch where he loudly upbraided me for not having sent him any short fiction. Those are the moments where you politely say, “Yes, sir” and immediately start working on the cover letter when you get home.

During the wind-down in Darin’s room after the party, we had the Salsa Incident, which is entirely Darin’s fault. He didn’t know that hotel comforters are the nastiest pieces of polyester fabric in the known universe. Dude, they are never washed. Never. The salsa stain will still be there next year. Anything he tells you about what happened must be taken with a grain of salt. He was, after all, wrapped up in the damn blanket for a good part of it.

Wiscon aka the Scribe Posse Drinkdown: Day 1

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While the Scribe Posse Weekend Retreat offers career-building opportunities, it is, ultimately, an exercise in building character. Collecting 2/3 of the posse (plus agents), the central event of the long weekend was the Book Launch Party Saturday night (celebrating the release of barthanderson‘s Patron Saint of Plagues). Beyond that, darinbradley was supposed to teach us about scotch, experimeditor was to lend us a little grace and class, and I was to…well, tend bar, I suppose. (No, actually, I was there to get notes on SOULS and generally celebrate a successful completion of the draft. Widget is due in three weeks, so this was the last chance I would have for some time to decompress. My darling wife, bless her, is a very tolerant woman.)

Anyway, after a long redeye flight from Seattle (yeah, good and fucked by United on that one, but that’s another story), I stagger into the hotel with a few other stragglers. Check in, get a little liedown, and then find Darin for coffee at Michelangelo’s (the neighboring coffee shop). We meet up with agent man Kris and head over to the Great Dane Brew Pub to begin the drinking. Kris shows up in black combat boots, black t-shirt, bent straw hat and utili-kilt. It is an entrance that will only be upstaged by his partner several hours later. Pursued by cat-calls and horns honking for the burly man-skirt, we stroll around the Capitol Building to the Dane.

This walk is, as best I can remember, the last time the entire weekend that there is no alcohol in my bloodstream. It is barely 1.30pm.

After lunch and the genial “how you doing?” conversation, we wander back to State Street where a local fellow is completely flabbergasted by the sight of a man in a skirt. Standing next to our party, he coughs and sputters out a series of incoherent sentences (punctuated by hand gestures that are, I think, intended to be disparaging about the skirted one’s sexuality). Kris gives him a hard stare and he flees across the street, lurching and staggering and talking to himself as only the homeless can. Our destination is the local ice cream parlor where we meet up with the rest of Kris’ family and he introduces me to his son as “this is the guy who will be providing your college education” and Darin to his daughter as “this guy will be putting you through school.” While nicely supportive of our respective writing careers, it is a bit daunting to have a four year old stare at you with those big innocent eyes and realize that flaming out after one book isn’t really an option. No pressure there. At least we’ve got twelve years or so to hit our strides.

Nap after ice cream and then it is time for dinner. We collect Barth and Forrest and wait for Jesse, the other half of Scribe Agency, in the lobby. Now, we’ve been building up Darin’s expectations for Jesse all day and the man’s arrival manages to live up to the hype. Jesse’s day started fourteen hours earlier in Canada where he was coming off a two-week fishing trip and, just as we’re starting to wonder if he made it back across the border, he comes staggering/sauntering in. Tousled hair, heavy layer of stubble, flip-flops, barely pressed shirt and staring at his cell phone like he can’t quite remember what it does, Jesse’s entrance is a thing of unorchestrated beauty (Ah, Paul, it would have made you weep.) We repair to Old Fashioned’s, a relatively new Madison restaurant whose menu is the high cuisine of Wisconsin.

After dinner (and several old fashioneds), we wander back to the hotel, hit a few of the parties, and when we discover that the hotel bar closes at 12.30am, we venture out to the Flatiron Tavern to try their scotch list. I have the Glenmorangie 12 Sherry Cask Finish, the Scribe lads have the Talisker 10 and 18, Darin and Barth had the Lagavulin 16. We had been indoctrinated into the world of single malts. This was, if my memory can be trusted, the earliest night of the con. To think I started the day with the redeye from Seattle (which was only 15 hours after I was *supposed* to leave.)

(More as I remember it. I’m still trying to recall what we did for dinner Saturday night.)

A Mole Among the Ruminations

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Well, let’s see. What things were delivered unto me over these last few days? Call them the Universe celebrating the day I was born. Today, I came home to see the cat doing the silly feline dance out in the backyard. The spring-leap-cavort paw-at-the-ground dance. At first, I thought it was just a mouse or a big slug (who are out in force these days) the cat had found, but, after watching him shove a paw into the ground and make the earth wiggle about six inches away, I realized we had our first mole of spring.

Now, I’ve only got a strip of grass about as wide and long as a box of unwrapped twinkies laid end-to-end and it seemed somewhat wrong that said small patch of grass (which, by the way, I am still managing to kill), was going to get rutted through by a mole. Being chased by the cat.

So, I grabbed a pair of gloves and a spare box from the garage (an empty Huggies box, of course, which is the only sort of spare box I have in the garage on a regular basis these days), levered up a slab of sod and found myself finger-to-nose with a tiny mole. Swooped him in the box and, like all triumphant trappers, went back into the security of my house to contemplate the next move while the little fellow scrabble-scrabbled at the cardboard.

I have, truth be told, never actually been that close to a mole before. They are pretty fascinating creatures. Soft little pink noses that are like the tip of a elephant trunk in how they quest and touch objects. Big strong claws and shoulders. Strange little cry that isn’t like a cat wailing but more like the sound of metal grinding on metal.

Anyway, I took him out to the big lot beyond the warehouses across the road from us where land is still undeveloped and released him. He scrabbled on the ground, getting his bearings, and I could almost see him realize, “Ah, wait, soft mud.” He scampered over to the shade of a clump of crab grass and, within five seconds, had burrowed under the ground. Five hippopotami. Gone. I can’t even — shit — I can’t do ANYTHING in five seconds.

Was lazy most of yesterday as can be expected of being King For a Day. While the lovely wife was off doing birthday shopping and the little dude was sleeping, I read Bakker’s The Darkness That Comes Before and wandered through a few stages of an old video game I had never finished, all the while dodging family and friends who were trying to call and interrupt the King’s Solitude. Later, I had ice cream cake.

Lovely wife returned with a copy of Pinchbeck’s 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, a very nice surprise. Much more so that Bakker’s book, which was tough going. Big herkin’ first volume of a philosophically rich fantasy trilogy that was, unfortunately, 500 pages of setup. The word that came to mind mostly while slogging through it was “fretting,” as in the characters seemed to be doing a lot of it. I’ve got the other two on the shelf and, frankly, not quite as excited to be tackling those. I’ve also got Erikson’s Memories of Ice up there. In 500 pages, Erikson accomplishes a good deal more. That’s not to kick Bakker too hard in the teeth. The Prince of Nothing is his first trilogy and there are some delightful things he’s doing there, but…there’s a lot of “fretting” going on.

Speaking of first books and commentary, my thoughts on barthanderson‘s Patron Saint of Plagues have been posted at Strange Horizons in a cage-match grudge-fest between myself and Paul Kincaid. Kincaid, eh, kind of got hung up on Anderson’s copula-deletion (he discusses the rationale of his choice over at jlundberg blog) (and, no, I don’t really know that fancy linguistic term, I’m stealing it from another fellow who can actually pull terms like this from his ass at a moment’s notice).

Me? I enjoyed the book thoroughly. Of course, I was trapped in an airplane for four hours with nothing other than this book and the SkyMall catalog. So, in a way, Barth Anderson saved me from making some rather embarrassing purchases at 35,000 feet.

(We will be savaging Mr. Anderson endlessly this coming Saturday at WisCon and drinking more of the fabulous Scribe Agency beer so if you are in the neighborhood, you should drop by.)

Productive Monkey

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Well, things things things. Finished up the first half of the paint in Widget’s Room (aka Unnamed Child #2) tonight while letting the final bits settle on “Upon Drinking a Half Glass of the Olde Saturnine Toade.” Now that is off to the Scribe Agency Lads and out of my hair.

I am dunkelweissen, by the way. That’s curious info for about six of you. The rest (including me) are going to have to drop by the Scribe Posse party on Saturday night at Wiscon (May 27th, in room, er, 634?) to find out what all the hoopla is about. Ostensibly it’s a book release party for ‘s Patron Saint of Plagues, but as per usual, there is madness afoot.

I had some thoughts about Patron Saint of Plagues but they are still in Internet quarantine. Soon, I think, they’ll get released to the world. But, in the interim, here are some thoughts on the latest release from the Positron Records Kompound, Komposi003. I had just come off the novel rewrite and verbose mode was still engaged. I go on a bit. Fortunately the folk at Igloo are forgiving.