conventions

After Action Report: Vandalia Con

It’s Tuesday!  Yeah, I know, I’m shocked, too; who knew I could post on not Mondays?  But apparently the Internet still exists between my blog posts, even if I haven’t bothered to climb out of my suspended animation chamber to witness it personally.  You may be wondering why I’m posting today, instead of yesterday.  The answer is that I spent all day yesterday recovering from my weekend.  It’s been a long loooooong time since I was as active as I was this weekend, and my body decided to register many, many, many complaints.  But it was TOTALLY WORTH IT!

Vandalia Con was this weekend.  As you may recall, Vandalia is a very cozy little convention held in Parkersburg, WV over Memorial Day weekend.  I approve of cons, as a rule, but this one is extra special.  Its motto is, “Saving the Mothers of Invention,” and they mean it:  all proceeds go to help needy women get mammograms and cervical cancer screenings.  I approve wholeheartedly; women’s health is a serious issue here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, and anything that improves the chances for a woman to be diagnosed and treated successfully, I’m behind it.

My word, such pretty scenery!

My word, such pretty scenery!

I have women in my own life (you know who you are!) who would not be here, were it not for screenings and early detection/treatment.  At least one sister who, thanks to a mammogram, had her cancer detected at stage zero.  Do you know how great that is?  Yes, she had a mastectomy.  But she didn’t have to do the chemo, she didn’t have to suffer with the radiation and the sickness.  They caught it early, they were able to treat promptly, and thanks to that, I still have a big sister now.  That’s what Vandalia does:  it makes it possible for people like my sister to live.

I don’t see why more cons don’t do this.  It’s not like there’s a shortage of nerds.  Every time you turn around, we’re congregating to dress in bizarre clothes and enjoy being geeky together.  Why not take advantage of our natural nerd migrations and use it to raise money for women’s health?

Speaking of bizarre clothes and enjoying the geeky life, I should probably get on to

Front view

Front view

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Rear view. Isn’t that cool?

the after action report, huh?  Short version:  I HAD A BLAST!!!!  No, I have never been to a con before, so I have no ideal frame of reference.  But I have attended enough SCA events to know the difference between a good event and a bad one.  This was one of the gooders:  you can tell by the number of smiles to be found.

And this is just the lobby! Wait until you see the rest of the place!

Venue:
The venue for Vandalia was the Historic Blennerhassett Hotel in downtown Parkersburg, WV.  I myself wouldn’t have guessed that Parkersburg would have enough traffic to make a midrange hotel like the Blennerhassett profitable.  But apparently, they do, ‘cuz the place is thriving.   If I understand correctly, it’s a “non-smoking, pet friendly” hotel.  I do know that several people were there with dogs.  The hotel’s over a century old, and has gone the extra mile to preserve the Edwardian character of the place.   It is gorgeous.  I don’t mean in a “oh, cool wallpaper” kind of nice.  I mean gorgeous as in (to quote a fellow attendee of the con), “I was half asleep after driving in from North Carolina [that’s an eight-to-ten hour trip through the mountains, depending on route and traffic] and all I could think of was to sleep.  I came into the lobby and I was like, “Just point me toward the be- oh my God, how beautiful!” and like that [snaps fingers] I was wide awake and exploring.”

Ma Clarkson and her Gang of Miscreants! (aka my daughter Sarah, my son Levi)

What I’m saying is that this place is not the Holiday Inn.  Our room — which was 100% wheelchair accessible, including showers — was beautiful and absolutely huge.  I seriously doubt the furniture was antique, but it sure looked it.  Four of us (Jan, me, my daughter Sarah, my son Levi) slept in that room for two nights, and not once did we feel crowded.  There was room service, complimentary ice delivery, the housekeeping department was scary-efficient, you name it.  Oh, yeah, and they were nice.  Every staff member were smiling and friendly and glad to help, even to the point of pushing the chair of an old cripple like yours, truly when I got stuck and couldn’t get up a ramp.  They were not even slightly fazed by the weirdness factor a bunch of Steampunks brought with them, which made me very happy.  While I enjoyed occasionally “freaking mundanes” in my SCA days, there is a level of diminishing returns; I can only be looked at like a lunatic so many times before it stops being funny.  The staff here never flinched, and good on them for it!

The hotel allowed the con to use a bunch of their conference and meeting rooms.  The rooms were generous, good lighting, good acoustics, you name it.  I liked the fact that there were little conversation pits (metaphorically speaking) outside the conference rooms.  If you were waiting on somebody in a class, or just wanted to pass the time, you had a place to sit and talk with your compadres, rather than having to constantly stand and block hallway traffic.

Downsides to the venue:  You know, I can’t really think of anything except little quibbles.

  • Because the building is so old, I’m betting they got grandfathered on a lot of the Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.  To wit, the halls could be a little narrow for a wheelchair and a person to pass one another.  But wheelchairs are the exception, not the rule, so it’s not likely to come up for everybody.
  • The hotel has a private parking lot, but it’s a little hard to find, and it’s not that big.  On the other hand, their staff was glad to come all the way out to your car in the lot and help you transport anything you needed transport, so there’s that.
  • There’s an in-house restaurant in the hotel, which is wonderful. But I would like to have had other eating options.  Okay, to be fair, there were other options, sandwich shops and the like.  But my kids and I had never been to Parkersburg before, and Google Maps isn’t always user-friendly, so it took us some effort to find the nearest Jimmy John’s.  Maybe a quickie listing of walking-distance restaurants could be in the works for next year’s event?
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Could this steampunk family be more adorable?

Event Organization:
Very very good.  I give them an A+.  Then again, both Bret and Shelly are old hands at SCA events (and getting SCAdians organized is like herding cats), so I expected nothing less.  Let me tell you something:  anybody can be a good organizer when things are going well.  The way you tell the pros from the hacks is how they react when things go wrong.  And yes, there were hiccups, no shows on commitments a couple times, minor schedule juggling, and of course the inevitable “SCA time” (things getting started five or ten minutes late).  But Bret and Shelly were on top of things so well that all it ever became were hiccups.  The average attendee barely noticed, and I personally didn’t hear a single complaint.

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Well, actually, yeah they could! How precious is that! Squeeee!!!!!

I don’t know if this is a common thing at non SCA events, or if it’s just a Vandalia thing.  But the schedules/programs for Vandalia were printed up to look like Victorian broadsheets, which was a brilliant period touch, one I appreciated a lot.  And even more, I appreciated the fact that they were everywhere, stacked outside the elevators on every floor where things were happening.  This is good, because I have a tendency to lose programs; I must have collected half a dozen of these broadsheets over the course of the weekend.  They were easy to read, too.

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Even more pretty scenery!

Another good thing was that the schedule was well designed.  I’ve been to SCA events where the schedule was packed so tight you felt like you were racing against the clock; it’s hard to have fun when you’re frantic with worry over the clock.  I’ve also been to events where the schedule was so loose that there were huge chunks of downtime (otherwise known as boring parts).  Vandalia struck a nice balance on this score.  They had nothing scheduled before eleven in the morning, so you could wake up at your own speed, grab some breakfast and generally pull yourself together before the fun begins.  The schedule had enough classes, panels and events planned out so that you could keep busy through the day, but still have time to visit the vendors, check out the scenery walking past, or just kick it with your friends.  Most of the stuff was between lunch and dinner; after dinner there were a couple things scheduled, but was mostly left pretty loose.

Complaints:  Umm, really, none that I can lay at the feet of the organizers.  They had a couple no-shows that ended up cancelling classes I was looking forward to, but that wasn’t Bret and Shelly’s fault.  One class was a serious disappointment; I was hoping for a lot more information than I got.  But again, that was the teacher’s fault, not the event’s.

Highlights:
I loved the classes (as if you didn’t already know I’m a hopeless nerd).  There were too many that I wanted to attend, and some were cross-scheduled, so I sent my minions — err, I mean, my darling children — out to take the classes I couldn’t get to.  I think my son’s head asploded when he went to the Airship Regatta.  The Regatta was kind of a wet firecracker, thanks to too few participants.  But there was enough to make my son start foaming at the mouth, and agitating for his dad and he to get some supplies and start building their own.  Shelly, if you or your sweetie are reading this, be ready for a grudge match in the airship line next year; I’ll be bringing my own homegrown rivalry to spice things up!

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a kid-oriented presentation on Johnny Appleseed. It was very adult-friendly, and I enjoyed sitting in on this one very much.

I liked the fact that several of the classes were not just kid friendly, but actively aimed at kids.  I don’t know if this is standard con practice, but I approve, regardless.  I attended at least one of these classes, and was gratified to see that I was not the only adult who wasn’t embarrassed to attend a kid’s class.  “Interesting” doesn’t have an age limit.  There were other classes flagged as definitely not kid-friendly (the only one I attended of this kind was about ghosts), which again, I approve of.

There were several ticket events, I guess you’d call them, where an extra fee (ten dollars) was required to take part.  I didn’t get to any of these (I had a ticket for it, I just got busy elsewhere).  My kids attended a couple of these, tours of the hotel, local museums, etc.  They enjoyed them very much.  I didn’t get to the Tea Dueling event, darn it!   But I did get to the fire breathing show.  It was way cool!  They had a couple of members out for injury, so they decided to team up with a gentleman who did a bubble show for the kids.  The result?  Pure gold!  Here, take a peek!

There was a music show starting a little bit after dinner on Saturday and running until pretty late.  I caught pieces of it and it was good.  I was very happy to see that Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings were there.  Here’s a brief clip of their performance (you can just see the top of my be-laced hat on the right hand side, half hidden by the chick in the boater hat).

There was storytelling later that night, in the same area.  I was probably too tired to fully enjoy this one, but I had promised to interpret this particular gathering for one of my deaf friends, and I couldn’t renege.  Again, I was glad to have attended:  who doesn’t love singalongs and scary stories and ballads and poetry, all shared by handsome men?

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See what I mean? Such pretty pretty pirates (and a dieselpunk to keep things interesting!)

Gosh, I’m leaving out so much!  There was a small vendor area (I love this place, all the pretty scenery wanders through that area eventually), a casino night (I made a killing at blackjack, thanks to my misspent youth).  I gave the parade a miss on Sunday afternoon (I’m not a big one for parades, and with my wheelchair, I’m more of a float than a participant), but I was there for the farmers market; they let us take part and it was more fun than I anticipated.  That’s where Bonnie’s Bus was, which provides mammograms to all comers, no woman over forty turned away, regardless of your ability to pay.  There were the very young, very VERY handsome pirates who put on a show for the kids, told stories, and generally improved both the tone and the scenery of the whole con simply by showing up.

Final verdict?  SUCH a win!  I’m so going back next year, and bringing more money, more pretty clothes, and more memory cards for my camera!  Seriously, anybody can have a good time at an event like this.  But how often can you have a good time and serve a good cause at the same time?  It’s a win win.  MARK YOUR CALENDARS!   We had people from as far away as Rhode Island and North Carolina (as well as one fellow originally from Yugoslavia, but I’m doubting he made the trip just for us).  If they can make the trip, you can!

Quick note on another subject:  Tanith Lee, British author of science fiction and fantasy, died on Sunday.  She was not a particular contributor of steampunk, dieselpunk or new pulp.  But still she was a science fiction author, and the world is a little less bright for her absence.  Thank you for your stories, Miss Lee, and enjoy your final jaunt into the stars.

Okay, with that said, I know it’s Tuesday instead of Monday, but the same drill still applies:  comment, tweet, share, write.  If you have a contribution to Fun Friday, give me a shout at ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net.  If you don’t have a contribution, but you wanna just shoot the breeze, ask a question, send me a million dollars, same email addy.  Now that the sewing frenzy is past, I am hoping to get back on schedule.  So the next time you’ll see me is tomorrow.  Until then, be good!  And if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

(totally not kidding about the million dollars; I have bills to pay!)

Categories: conventions, Steampunk | Leave a comment

Fiction Monday: When the Cat’s Away Part Three

So it’s Monday morning again, and I can’t say I’m thrilled.  My weekend was rather up and down:  good times, bad news, stressful necessities and pleasant surprises all warred for my attention.  Sometimes life can be a roller coaster, even here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  That’s not necessarily a good thing.

However, that’s my problem, and nothing you need to worry about.  On the Steampunk, Dieselpunk, and New Pulp front, things are all coming up Clarkson!  I have a sparkling new sub-pile on the To Be Read Mt. Everest that lives inside my Kindle (and Amazon wish list), and that’s always a treat.  More importantly, we’re now officially less than a month out from Vandalia-Con!  I know, I know, it’s a small con in an out-of-the-way town in Appalachia.  But I am really looking forward to it.  Generally speaking, I prefer small events over large ones; small ones mean you can sit down and talk, actually interact with people, places, things, etc.  Large events become too frenetic, overwhelming and less fun, at least for me.  Seriously, if you’re within driving distance of Morgantown/Parkersburg (hi, Pittsburgh readers, I know you’re out there!), make an effort to come on down and join the fun!  It’s going to be the best kind of small event, and all the money raised is going to a terrific cause.  Fun AND altruism, together in the same Steampunk package?  How can you beat that?

Okay, I’ve stalled long enough.  I owe you the next installment of April Tyree, Girl Detective.  Will she avoid her fate as sacrifice?  Will she free the girl, save the day and escape from the secret pyramid?  What happens next?  Well, you’re about to find out….


When the Cat’s Away…

by
AJ Clarkson

Part Three

Damn it, where was Charity Rostavitch!?  For that matter, where was the stupid exit?  The inside of this insane wooden pyramid was a maze of intersecting corridors, rooms, open chambers, secret passages.  For all I know, that crazy twit Patricia Blumenthal had smuggled in her own honest-to-goodness minotaur.  All I know was that I’d try a door, tiptoe further down the hall, turn a corner, hide in an alcove when I heard footsteps or voices, (both of which echoed so much there was no way of judging which direction it was coming from), then start the whole ridiculous mess over again.

At one point, I could hear shouts and pounding; I guess Patty and her flunkies had gone back to the chapel and found where I had wedge-jammed the door; it may have been un-openable from the inside, but a few good thumps from out here in the hall and my little jamming trick was toast.  Three loud bangs let me know they’d figured that out; the echoing bang and then voices and scurrying feet told me they’d gotten Mercedes and company out.  Which meant there were now at least seven people looking for me now, and all of them knew the layout here better than me.

Then I turned a corner.  There was only one door down this little cul-de-sac.  It had a symbol smeared on it, in a dark brownish-red substance that looked like dried blood.  The marking looked like this:  y

I recognized it.  I told you already, the weird hangs out on my side of the street; there’s money to be made in knowing how the underground magic scene works.  In this case, that mark was a warding sigil, a powerful one.  Nothing could go in or out of that door unless you either had the countersign or knew how to break the sigil.

What?  Yeah, you heard me right.  Magic is real. Well, some of it is real.  Some of it is pure hokum.  There are such things as wizards, people who do nothing but practice magic, and I’m ambivalent about those sorts.  On the one hand, wizards embrace a level of nerdiness that makes that annoying kid in your high school math class look as suave as the Dos Equis guy.  On the other hand, that much power is a whole new world of scary.  Patty — or whatever’s sub-letting her brain pan — is a practitioner.  A good one, too, if this sigil was any indication.

Most people aren’t at the wizard level of magic-slinging.  Most of us don’t bother with any of it, because magic is generally difficult, dangerous and expensive, even for the wizard nerd types.  Most spells require blood.  Or rare and/or precious minerals, objects, what have you.  Or all of the above.  And that’s in addition to you needing to know how to read and write a couple of dead languges, and to follow the recipe for a particular spell.  If you don’t get it letter perfect, well, the backlash is a world class bitch.

Yeah, I can cast a few spells.  Nothing on the level of Patty’s work, though. Or Herek-al-Hootchie, or whatever her name is, whoever is sub-letting space in Patty’ brain pan.  Luckily for me, breaking this sigil didn’t require that much magic.  I wasn’t casting a spell, technically.  I was just ruining somebody else’s work.  It’s always easier to destroy than to build.

Normally I would have used the kris knife to cut my hand.  But I already had a steady supply of blood, thanks to Patty and her crazy altar of doom.  I pressed my fingertips to the gouge Patty had cut in my forearm.  Okay, that hurt.  Bad.  I had to steady myself against the wall; my knees wanted to buckle from the pain.  I found myself panting hard, waiting for the lightheadedness to pass.  Wow.  I must be hurt worse than I thought.

Anyway, when I could stand up without falling over in a heap, I began muttering, not too loud, so Patty and her minions couldn’t hear me.  I would tell you the words to the incantation I used, but there are rules about that sort of thing.  Besides, I can barely pronounce them, much less spell them.  You think speaking German is hard on the throat, try reciting the thirteen forbidden names of the Sleeper at the Edge of Darkness.  Not fun.

I hate the feeling of magical power building up.  You ever touched an electric fence, or stuck your finger into a light bulb socket when the power’s turned on?  it doesn’t precisely hurt, not the way a cut or a burn feels.  But it’s so not nice, either.  To me, it feels like a fistful of gravel, just under your skin, rolling up your arm.  That’s sort of like what magic feels like as it builds up in your system, waiting to be released.  Only the gravel is hot (sometimes icy cold, but usually hot), and instead of following the nerve paths from your fingertip to your brain, it’s just moving in tight circles, bracelets of not-pain swirling around and around at lightning speed until you want to scream.

Those bracelets of not-pain were spinning around my hand and arm as I finished the incantation; the last syllables (I hesitate to call them words) came out in a harsh whispering rasp as I actively fought to keep from screaming.  Instead of that, however, I slammed my hand down on the sigil, daubing my blood onto the wood and smearing the blood of the sigil.  The magic crawling under my skin zinged out;  there was a whiff of scorched wood and a pop! that I felt more than I heard; that almost-sound was the wards, whatever they were, dissipating.  When I reached for the doorknob a second later, it was almost too hot to handle, a side effect of the broken ward.  I was lucky; if it had zigged intstead of zagged, it would have grounded out through my hand, and I’d be a crispy critter.

Magic is dangerous, boys and girls.  Don’t let anybody tell you different.

But whoever had laid the sigil hadn’t bothered to lock the door — idiot! — so the knob turned easily in my hand.  The room beyond was lit by a single bare light bulb dangling from a wire in the ceiling.  A single, stained mattress lay against the far wall.   On that mattress was a thin, narrow-hipped girl with blonde hair, wearing only a camisole and flower-print panties.  She was lying on her side, her back to me; I could see where the handcuffs that held her hands behind her had dug ugly, bloody gouges into the flesh of her wrists.

She was still alive; I could see her breathing.  But beyond that, nothing.  The girl didn’t move, not even a flinch, at the sound of the door opening.  “Charity?” I hissed.  No reaction.  I glanced back over my shoulder; so far nobody had noticed me.  I closed the door behind me and spoke a little louder.  “Charity?  Hey, girl, wake up!”  Still no reaction.

I didn’t have long before Patty or one of her kooky followers got the bright idea to check in here.  I knelt beside the mattress and felt her neck for a pulse; it was there, but slow, like a sleeper.  I undid the handcuffs (yeah, I carry a handcuff key with me all the time; it comes in handy at times.  Don’t judge me!) and rolled the girl over onto her back.

It was Charity Rostovitch all right; the face matched her photos.  But her eyes were wide open, staring, the pupils narrowed to the tiniest pinpricks. They were keeping her drugged.  Great.  Just great.  I shrugged out of my jacket and started forcing Charity’s arms into the sleeves.  “Charity, honey, come on, up and moving!” I said, as loud as I dared.  “Come on, girl, pull it together!”

Those bizarre pinprick eyes rolled over slowly in my direction, tried to focus, then gave up the effort.  “Mom?” she sighed.

“Nope.  I’m April.  Your mom sent me to bring you home.  You wanna go home, then you’re gonna have to make an effort and help me!”

“Sleepy,” Charity moaned, and tried to roll back over.

“No no no!  Now’s not the time for another nap, Charity,” I said.  I grabbed her shoulders and pulled her up to a sitting position. I jumped up, got behind her, wedged my forearms under her arms and levered her up onto her feet.  Not easy, because A) she was taller than me, and B) her legs were as bendy as Laffy Taffy.  AND she complained the entire time, giving me half-sleeping moans of “I don’t wanna go to school!” and “five more minutes, Mom, please?”

The reason I plan to never reproduce is those cute little babies eventually turn into whiny teenagers.  Blech.

Anyway, I finally got her to stand on her own, more or less, and I braced her against me, her arm around my neck, my own tight around her waist, half holding her up.  We got a whole three steps before the doorknob rattled.  The door swung open and Patty walked in.  I stepped back in reflex; unprepared for the sudden change in momentum, Charity stumbled and reeled backward, sitting down hard on the mattress.  She nearly pulled me down with her; the backs of my heels hit the edge of the mattress and I windmilled wildly, barely managing not to sit down on top of Charity.

Patty watched this graceful drama play out without a word.  When I had finally regained my balance and turned to face her, she smiled and gave me a slow clap.  “Very entertaining, Miss Tyree,” she said.  “But now that playtime is over, shall we get on with business?”

I slid my hand behind me, where my pistol was tucked into the back waistband of my jeans.  But there was no pistol snug against the small of my back; I felt only the wrinkled cotton of my shirt. Idiot!  They must have taken my gun when they tied me to that stupid altar!

Patty must have understood my gesture, and the expression on my face. “Looking for this?” she said.  She reached into the sinus of her robe and came out with my 9mm Springfield X.D, still in its holster; it dangled from her forefinger, thrust through the trigger guard.  Clumsy.  Dangerous. And useless to me, because I still had to get past Patty, whatever was sub-letting her skull (if there really was anybody in there besides a buttload of crazy), and her kook-buddies before I could get this stoned teen home to her mom and collect my pay.  And I had no tools to do any of it; I was well and truly stuck.

I sighed heavily. “Well, shit.”

To Part Two

 


 

Well, that’s it for me for now.  What happens next?  Will they escape the pyramid?  Will Patty turn out to be even nastier than she already appears?  Will April end up a sacrifice to some dark god?  Tune in next Monday, same Pulp time, same Pulp channel!

In the meantime, you know the routine:  tweet, comment, share, write.  My email is ajwriter@ajclarkson.net if you want to ask questions, share goodies for Fun Friday, or just shoot the breeze.  I’ll be back on Wednesday to share my love for all things Punk and Pulp.  Until we see each other again, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: conventions, Pulp, short fiction, Steampunk, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fun Friday: Vandalia Con

And it’s Friday again.  Busy week here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  I’ve had a busy week, as if you couldn’t guess.  Another doctor visit, but this one didn’t involve my guts or being sick.  No, I ordered new glasses!  Yay!  I don’t do this nearly often enough, mostly because glasses are obscenely expensive.  But it’s been five-ish years since my last exam.  Plus, I broke my glasses back in January (they’re currently being held together with black duct tape.  Thank you to my hubby for his jerry-rigging, but oh, dear heavens, I look ridiculous!).  So it seemed I was gonna have to bite the bullet.  Luckily, we have vision care on our health insurance this time, so the cost did not break the bank.  I’ll probably post a picture of me and my new specs on my Facebook page (no, I’m not posting a picture of Duct Tape Glasses!  No way I’m giving y’all blackmail material! 😀 )

I also finally got back behind the wheel of a car again.  It’s a testament to just how ill I was last year when I say my family has not let me drive since October or so.  They were too scared something bad would happen.  Yeah, it was frustrating, but they were right; I had no business behind the wheel, sick as I was.  But now I’m not sick, and I can’t depend on being chauffeured everywhere.  So I whinged and complained and argued until I got the keys to the car again.  YAY!

Finally, it’s Holy Week, for those of us practicing the Christian faith.  Maundy Thursday was yesterday, Good Friday today.  Two church services this coming Sunday.  Lots of running back and forth to church (a half hour drive one-way for me).  Busy busy busy.  But I derive a lot of comfort from church, so it’s worth it.

Okay, so I’ve mentioned VandaliaCon before.  It’s a Steampunk con in Parkersburg, WV founded by some old friends of mine.  It’s a small con — last year had an attendance of 300 — but that’s a selling point, in my humble opinion; smaller, more intimate gatherings generally are more fun, less hectic, and less intimidating to the introvert and chronically shy (like me!).

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good party.  But Vandalia is extra special:  the tagline for the con is “Saving the Mothers of Invention.”  A big point of the con is to raise money so women of Appalachia can have mammograms and cervical cancer screenings.  See, the thing is, Appalachia has a dreadful record about women’s health.  Part of it is the culture:  we mountain women just don’t talk about that, not with our families, not with our doctors, not amongst ourselves.  But most of it is about being poor.  Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, well, it ain’t playing out so well here in the trenches, not in 2015.  Lots of women don’t have the money for these exams (which are expensive, don’t kid yourself); I have fairly good insurance, and even I’m daunted by the out-of-pocket for a mammogram.   Last year, Vandalia raised  over $5,000 cash for their war chest (no pun intended).  It doesn’t sound like a lot, but you’d be surprised how far that can be stretched, and how many women it helps.  This year, they’re hoping to raise more.

So as I recall, when I last mentioned Vandalia, I said I was gonna attend this one.  I’ve never actually attended a con before, and I wanted this one to be my first.  It was gonna be epic.  Of course, then surgery happened, and doctors and prescriptions and oh, my God, do you know how much all that costs?  A crap-ton of bills pretty much told me that, in fact no, I was not gonna get to do the con thing this spring.  The disappointment, it was huge.

But this week, I got a message from a friend of mine, who goes by the name of Jan.  I met Jan around the same time I met Bret and Shelly (the founders of the con), and we were all friends together.  It helped a lot that Bret, Shelly and Jan are all genius fencers and, while I am NOT a genius fencer, I do know the basics and, before I landed in my chair, I really enjoyed the sport, regardless of how sucky I was (yeah, not kidding, fencing as in “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya” fencing.  Quick tip:  don’t piss these folks off; they have sharps and know how to use them).

Jan is a wonderful person, a teacher, a photographer, a wife and mother, and just generally a kind and gentle soul (who, nevertheless, knows how to use a long pointy object to carve a big “Z” into your backside with a simple flick of the wrist.  Humans are a mass of contradictions, no?).  She and I bonded over a passion for fencing (her teaching me), sewing (me teaching her) and American Sign Language (just sharing with one another).

Gosh, I’ve wandered far afield, huh?  Anyway, Jan and I had planned to do the con together.  But then life got in my way, and I had to back out.  Until I got the message this week from Jan.  In short, she’s paying my way to Vandalia.  She’s paying my entrance fee.  I’m riding up with her.  She even changed her reservation to a wheelchair-accessible hotel room so I could bunk in with her!  All I have to do is pay for my meals and any extras I may desire.

BTW:  did I mention, she’s also paying for my daughter as well, because said daughter helps me in my day-to-day mobility and functioning?

Apparently it’s a birthday present (I turn 49 in just shy of three weeks).  How do you thank somebody for a gift like that?  No, I can’t answer that one, either, but I’m open to suggestions.  I’m getting together with this saintly woman this weekend, to do a marathon of sewing (I’m sewing a small project for her, and we’re going to see about doing some fittings and mending on her Steampunk outfit for the con).  But knocking together a blouse / smock, and taking in a few seams on some existing outfits (both things I can do in my sleep) doesn’t begin to cover it.  Gonna have to put my thinking cap on for this one.

So yeah, looks like I’ll be at Vandalia Con.  If you live in driving distance of Morgantown or Parkersburg (I’m looking at you, Pittsburgh, PA people; I’ve done that run before, it’s not that far), I STRONGLY urge you to come up to Parkersburg on May 22-24, at the Blennerhassett Hotel.  Entrance fee is only $30 (dead cheap, guys, you can’t do better than that!) and there are a ton of activities:  a concert by Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings, a tea drinking tournament, children’s activities (how cool is that?!?), competitions, classes and panels, you name it.  There’s even going to be an RC aircraft regatta!  Costumes are encouraged but by no means required.  AND!  Bonnie’s Bus will be providing on-site mammograms.  Most insurances are accepted by Bonnie’s Bus, but no woman over forty will be turned away for a lack of ability to pay.

If you like this blog, please come find me at the event.  You can’t miss me:  I’ll be the woman “of a certain age” wearing a headscarf with whatever Steampunky garb I can cobble together (cosplay is a relatively new thing for me), in a wheelchair.  I’ll have a mini-entourage (my daughter and at least one friend), probably doing sign language interpretation at the occasional class or concert (not officially or professionally; I’ll just have people with me who need the service, and I don’t know if they’ll have a licensed ‘terp on-site).  Just come up and say, “Hey, AJ!” (I’ve also been known to answer to “Junely;” how I became an adverb is anybody’s guess).

I will be taking pictures and hopefully some video, and I will definitely share those here.  I’m particularly looking forward to the airship races and the costumes.  I’ve seen pictures from last year, and OH MY GOD I”M JEALOUS OF HOW COOL EVERYBODY LOOKED!!!!!!  In the meantime, I’m trying to score a guest post or  interview with either Bret or Shelly Dusic, the founders of the feast.  Even though we’re old friends, it’s difficult, as they’re both busy busy people, and twice as busy now with the run-up to the convention.  If I can make this happen, I’ll be posting it here.

Okay, so that’s it for me today.  You know the drill:  share, tweet, comment.  You can email me at ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net, if you have a suggestion for a future Fun Friday spotlight, or just want to talk about steampunk, dieselpunk or New Pulp.  Enjoy your weekend, y’all, and seriously, check out Vandalia Con; it’s gonna be epic!  Be good, y’all, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: conventions, Fun Friday, Steampunk, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Getting Back in the Game (Can you say “Cons”?)

Hi hi hi!  Promised you I’d be back!  In case you’ve missed my last couple of updates, the reason I’ve been absent since October is because I’ve been ill.  Not the flu; serious, in and out of hospital, bed-fast, specialists and surgical procedures and “is my will in order?” ill.  For the record, being ill sucks, and we’re still not finished.  I have another procedure next week (we’re still trying to diagnose the problem), and who knows what happens after that?  But I couldn’t bear the thought of another month of idleness; new meds mean I’m starting to feel froggy again and ready to do something besides lie in bed and feel crappy.

So here I am, once again sending dispatches from the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  And what’s happening here?  Well, now we’re in the throes of winter, mostly we’re doing a lot of reading, and lots and lots of planning for later in the year.  Conventions. My year seems to be just filled with cons.  This is a good thing.

You can blame my kids; they got the whole mess started. My two daughters are planning to go to ComicCon Louisville this fall.  If you don’t know what ComicCon is, well, you’ve probably been living under an anti-nerd rock all your life.  It’s a hugely popular series of cons (there are more than one) celebrating all things pop culture and the best of geek-dom.  That definitely includes we denizens of Steampunk, Dieselpunk and New Pulp.  The biggest of these cons are in San Diego (the largest fan con in the world!) and New York (naturally).  But there sub-cons over, in Asia, in Europe and the UK, and in dozens of towns, big and small, in the U.S. and Canada.

A promenade at Louisville ComicCon

2015 Louisville ComicCon is November 6,7, and 8 (that’s a Friday, Saturday and Sunday), and the cost for all three days is just shy of $80 (it’s cheaper for only a day visit, but obviously, only if you’re close enough to not need hotel accommodations).  What I like is that Bruce Campbell — yes, Ash himself!– will be at the con this year.  Not precisely Steampunk, but that’s okay, for Ash I’ll make an exception.

Next up:  My girls are going to ComicCon.  My sons are going to Origins. It’s also not precisely Steampunk, Dieselpunk or New Pulp, but incorporating all of those and more under a wider umbrella.  Origins is one of the largest gaming conventions in the world.  It’s held every year in Columbus, OH.  This year it’s the first weekend in June; last year had something like 17000 attendees (including my brother-in-law, my elder son, one of my nieces and a generous handful of my friends).

Now back in the day, I was a hardcore RPGer.  My sister and I used to co-GM, we wrote our own massive campaigns for AD&D (back before Wizards of the Coast f***ed it up), World of Darkness, you name it.  Heck, one of my very first regular writing gigs was as a contributing editor for a small press gaming magazine.  My job on that gig was to try out new games, play test them a bit, and then review them.  The game I fell in love with (and was pretty much my introduction to the concepts of Steampunk) was Cthulhu by Gaslight (this was the early 1990’s, don’t judge me!).  I don’t game as much now (the changes wrought on D&D ruined a lot of it for me, plus just getting busy with other parts of my life), but I can still recall how much fun it was.  And Origins is a con where you can let your Punk flag fly and find some fun games.

So that takes care of my kids and what they’re conning this year.  What about me?  Well, I have two cons I’m looking at.  The first is PulpFest, and its focus should be obvious from the name.  It’s August 13-16 at the Convention Center in Columbus OH (the same site as Origins, coincidentally). I actually don’t know much about this con; I only heard about it a few weeks ago, and I only know what I can glean from the Internet.  But I like what I see so far:  a serious focus on classic pulp as well as new, more emphasis on discussion and art,  with less on cosplay and partying (cosplay and partying have their place, don’t get me wrong, but for the amount of money and effort I have to spend to get to one of these cons, I want a little more than just a geek orgy).  If I get to go to this one, I’ll be sure and do a full write up, report back from the trenches.

BTW: if any of you have been to a Pulp Fest (or any of the cons discussed here), DO DO DO contact me (my email addy is on my About page) and let us know about it.

Last on my list is Vandalia-Con, a very small, intimate little Steampunk con. This one is close to my heart in several ways.  First, it’s closest to home, in Charleston WV.  Second, I am old friends with two of the founders ( I have asked one of them to guest on my blog; we’re still working out details on that). Third, and most important, Vandalia is subtitled, “Saving the Mothers of Invention” because the proceeds of the con go to support breast and cervical cancer research.  My sister had breast cancer, I have two more sisters besides her, plus two daughters and one granddaughter, so, yeah, I’m totally invested in protecting women’s health.  This one looks like it will be fun.  Lots of cosplay, yeah.  But small and intimate has charms that other, larger events sometimes lack.

Okay, I think that’s it for me today.  If anybody has a con they want to promote, do contact me via my email addy.  I don’t know when I’m going to get back to the fiction installments here; let me get my sea legs back, metaphorically speaking.  IN the meantime, you can contact me through Facebook, Twitter, email, all of which you can find on the About page tabbed at the top.  Comment, tweet, share, let me know what’s going on.  And if you have an idea for Fun Friday, send it along!  I’ll be back Wednesday!

Categories: Classic pulp, conventions, Dieselpunk, Games, Pulp, Science Fiction, Steampunk | Leave a comment

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