My Report from Sasquan: Mostly Glorious and So Many Thank Yous

Picture of Cat Rambo

And we’re off!

For once I’m going to try to write a con wrap-up while it’s still (relatively) fresh in my head.

Caren and I arrived Wednesday evening and checked into the Davenport Grand, which was the same hotel as the SFWA Suite. We headed up there immediately after dumping up luggage to consult with SFWA Volunteers Extraordinaire Cat Greenberg and Terra LeMay. Heading out for food, we ran into the inimitable Ken Scholes, which was unfortunately just about the only time I saw him other than in passing at the con. After that I hung out in the SFWA suite for a while but we went to bed pretty early, since I knew it was going to be a long convention.

Thursday morning started with early AM swapping back and forth of mail about SFWA stuff and then I wandered down to Stroll with the Stars, where I saw some of my very favorite people in the world and met lots of new friends. Spokane was beautiful along the river — lots of visual interest and pretty things. Stu Segal led the amble while David Gerrold, Vonda N, McIntyre, Lawrence M. Schoen, Stphen Segal and Tom Smith were fellow walkers.

After that I went off to the board meeting. Thank you for coming, Jenn Brozek, Susan Forrest, Matthew Johnson and Susan Pinkser, as well as to Kate Baker and Bud Sparhawk for being willing to attend virtually. While the SFWA board meets sort of continuously in the form of a discussion forum on the SFWA boards, it’s nice to meet face to face and get to talk about things quickly. Because there wasn’t a full assemblage of us, we just did it in one of the SFWA suite rooms, which seemed to work well and saved us money, which I always approve of. I had to duck out of the meeting and go off and talk to the con folks after lunchtime about a table issue (this was not the smoothest con we’ve ever had, particularly with hotel difficulties, but we muddled through.)

Cat Rambo and David Gerrold.

Rainbow power!

Later that evening Caren and I wandered over to the Doubletree for a party and I finally got a chance to talk to David Gerrold, who I thought was SWELL. He had generously donated an extra booth to SFWA, which was very kind, as well as donating auction items for the Charity Auction here as well as the upcoming one for the Nebulas, so I wanted to get a chance to talk to him. As a longtime Trekkie it made my inner fan flail in helpless happy but he also is just sweet and nice and I’m a fan of his other work, particularly nonfiction The Martian Child.

We had a great time hanging out, including with Charlie Finlay, who is the man who finally allowed me to crack The Mag of F&SF, and Gay and Joe Haldeman, and watching Connie Willis hold forth on Primeval 🙂 from her perch, along with other illuminaries like Bob Silverberg and Larry Niven. Sometimes I have OMG fangirl moments and they were coming fast and furious.

Friday morning I did the Writers Workshop with Toni Weisskopf and Tex Thompson. An advantage of groups like that is getting to hear other people’s takes on the same material, and it’s always educational, particularly when it’s a chance to listen to someone who has been in the industry as long as Toni has. That was lots of fun and I think our three participants had a great time and (hopefully) learned a little. Bud Sparhawk was originally scheduled for this and I missed seeing him at this con, since usually we hang out a lot, along with SFWA staff Kate Baker and Steven H Silver, who were sorely missed.

Picture of Rebecca Moesta, Cat Rambo, and Kevin J. Anderson

With Rebecca Moesta and Hugo nominee Kevin J. Anderson, whose WordFire Press tribe consistently rocked the convention.

I had a baseball panel later that day with Rick Wilber, Louise Marley, and Bradley Lyman. The panel was jam packed with people and had plenty of lively discussion. I had to confess my own odd take as a sports fan: I don’t really root for either team but rather whoever is up at bat, which may be the legacy of growing up in the vicinity of the Chicago Cubs.

I do adore baseball novels and will here append some of my favorites: Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop*, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover*, The Southpaw and Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris.
* means it’s speculative fiction and heck yeah I’ll claim that Coover for the genre whether he meant it to be or not because it is. The Harris book, particularly the second, just hits its out of the park in terms of dialogue and plot and structure.

I’m ordering Rick’s Field of Fantasies: Baseball Stories of the Strange and SupernaturalField of Fantasies: Baseball Stories of the Strange and Supernatural right now, which he had there and which contains stories by T.C. Boyle, Ray Bradbury, Gardner Dozois, Karen Joy Fowler, John Kessel, Stephen King, W.P. Kinsella, Louise Marley, Kim Stanley Robinson, Rod Serling, Harry Turtledove, and others, holy smokes what a lineup!

Mike Resnick and Cat Rambo

Admiring Mike’s rocket bling.

Met up with Mike Resnick, who has appeared on the Hugo ballot a breathtaking 37 times, winning 5, after the panel. We ventured out into the hazy afternoon along the riverwalk to talk about some SFWA stuff and came out of that excited about some prospects. I’m a longtime fan of Mike’s, not just of his excellent work, but of the way he helps newer writers, consistently extending a hand by collaborating with or publishing them. As SFWA President, I’m trying to make sure that the org’s moving forward in a way that makes (almost) everyone happy, so I wanted to talk about how we could use some of SFWA’s new marketing resources to help with the committee that Mike has ably headed for so long, the Anthology Committee. I’m looking forward to working with him on the SFWA projects we discussed.

I read that evening, and decider to do “The Subtler Art” from the Blackguards anthology, because it’s short. It was a little too short, actually, and I probably should have gone with my original choice, the Owlkit story, which appeared on Patreon. Overall, though, I thought it went very well and there was decent attendance. I was so fried at that point that I don’t think I did my best at reading. For people who enjoyed that story, there’s another Serendib one coming out soon from Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

This was about the time the smoke got positively post-Apocalyptic and I texted Wayne not to come, since he is asthmatic and I’d heard of other people having to leave. Jilly Dreadful and I went to the Broad Universe Rapidfire reading run by Marta Murvosh (so great, and such a smorgasbord of talent!) but had to duck out because of air quality issues. We found there weren’t many refuges, so Jilly headed back to her hotel and Caren, Danielle, and I went to hang in our room and talk for a while.

Dangerous smoke!

Dangerous smoke!

We had a couple of key personnel drop out at the last minute, but our Operations Director Kate Baker did her best to provide resources from afar. (The hotel wasn’t sure of what to make of the constant flow of boxes to my room, but they were very good in general about bringing them up and being friendly and ready to help. Similarly, between the convention center staff and the Sasquan volunteers, there was always someone who knew which way to point me (which was good because it was a slightly bewildering complex and there were four! Davenport hotels.

I’ll provide some public highlights of the SFWA Business Meeting in another post. For now, I’ll just say that it was swell, the the chocolate covered rice Krispy treats were delicious, and everyone seemed to be in pretty good spirits. It was at this meeting that I learned of one stupid attempt to harass SFWA and there were a couple of minor things later on, but generally I think people understand that a) SFWA doesn’t run the Hugos, that b) we have members all over the spectrum and that c) we were there to see old friends, meet new ones, and find out what the org was up to.

Mainly we were able to report on some very real things we’ve done to help professional writers over the course of this year, including the model magazine contract that will be released this week, which not only includes a sample contract but which explains each clause/set of clauses and talks about why it matters. Efforts like that, aimed at protecting the rights of writers, showcase how SFWA works for the benefit of writers.

Other new stuff mentioned include the mentorship program that is in the works, the New Release newsletter, more SFWA chats, a membership manual, and enough other stuff that I’ll stop here and just leave it at what I said there, “It’s one month and 22 days into my time as leader, and I think we are doing pretty well overall.” We also reported some progress on some past frustrations. Many people came up to me over the course of the convention to say they felt as though the organization was on the right track and a number of folks indicated they had just or were about to renew their memberships (sometimes to use the SFWA suite, but that’s as valid a reason as any, IMO).

Cat Rambo and Jo Walton

With Jo Walton, pre Kaffe Klatsch

The Kaffeeklatsch was tons of fun, and I got to have a pic taken with Jo Walton just beforehand, yay!

Saturday night Caren collected me at the WordFire booth and she, Danielle Gemballa, Camille Griep and I scampered over to Azteca in time for happy hour margaritas. After that we retired to the SFWA suite to watch the Hugos up there — the stream was going in both rooms, I opted for the quieter one, which did seem to be lagging a few seconds after the other one. We’d hear a shout and then the next moment find out a major moment had happened.

It was a different experience up there somehow, and reinforced the feeling of community that is one of the things I love about F&SF fandom. Congratulations to the winners, to the nominees, and to the voters. Congratulations to the Sasquan organizers for making it through this far with no one’s head exploding.

Cat Rambo and Eric Flint

With Eric Flint.

The autographing the next day was a lot of fun, and I got to hang out and chat with Eric Flint (another fangirl moment), Carrie Patel, and Dan Wells. Afterwards I ran around like a nut for last minute SFWA Auction details. The auction, auctioneered by the amazing Ellen Klages, went well, and raised money (considerably more than previous auctions) for SFWA’s Givers Fund, which is exactly what we wanted, so hurrah!

A last swoop by the booth to pay for my auction purchases (earrings by Elizabeth Anne Scarborough and a print of the SFWA honey badgers by M.C.A. Hogarth and Ursula Vernon!) and then Caren and I gradually made our way out of town. We’d thought to grab food along the way, but the sky was ominous and the smoke pressing, so we just pushed through, fueled by more beef jerky.

For me, it was the best Worldcon ever and part of that was a chance to get some good work done, to talk with so many of you and get your impression of how SFWA is doing this year. So many people came up to say they were pleased with the org or to volunteer to help with particular initiatives. The overall experience was particularly surreal after seven weeks in CA seeing only a few people each week but it was survivable.

As for the controversies, here is an expansion on something I said elsewhere:

My impression is that the asterisks were intended to mark this as an extraordinary year — which it was, at least I think we can all agree it was way outside of the norm. Much later someone mentioned the sports interpretation to me, and FWIW, I don’t believe that was the original intent. It was a year that should be marked — a record number of Worldcon memberships; five kerjillion words of blog posts, including some people who should have been working on their fiction; and new heights of media attention for genre fiction.

I agree that the gesture was hurtful to people who read it that way and that somewhere along the line even up to the last moment, someone should have realized that interpretation and said woah, wait a minute, let’s think a little harder about this. But there have been incidents throughout on all (not both, because there aren’t two sides, there are a lot, all with varying stakes) whee people needed to be saying that. I found the flyer attacking SFWA that was distributed in the freebies area (and I will point out for the 500th time this year that SFWA has nothing to do with the Hugos) a wee bit eye-roll-evoking myself, as I’m sure the several people on the Hugo ballot that are SFWA members or board officers did as well.

Perhaps the best lesson is for all sides to take the need to think things through before we post or talk or whatever and make sure we’re saying what we want to be saying before we put it forth. I know that I always try to go take a long walk before I post anything in anger. We need more kindness and forbearance to get past what’s happened unless we want that schism to last and by we I mean everyone working or reading in fantasy and science fiction. I’ve been heartened by the number of people who’ve spoken out to say that maybe it would be a good idea to ignore the trolls and outliers in Crazyland and go ahead and celebrate the commonalities that 99% of us have.

There were a lot of unifying moments in the con. Jenn Brozek posted a gracious and reasoned tweet: “I didn’t win a #HugoAward but I am pleased people voted as they believed they needed to, There are other years and other nominations.” And Jenn can say, I think, no matter what, that she belonged on the ballot, because her book Chicks Dig Gaming was long-listed.

So. There’s my two cents worth. Thanks to everyone who made my con awesome.

Shouts out to my beloved tribe, especially to:

  • Rachael Acks, who was dapper and resplendent simultaneously, and who rocked the hizzouse as a volunteer.
  • Quincy J. Allen (one more apology for forgetting my banner, and it will be there at Rose City Comicon!)
  • Kevin J. Anderson, always unruffled and resplendent and whose Tribe was as ever functioning like angelic clockwork machines.
  • Bob Angell, with hugs and squeals of delight. Looking forward to seeing you in September.
  • Annie Bellet – you are so beautiful and I cannot wait to see the rest of the sleeve filled in.
  • Carol Berg, who is the match of anyone else currently writing big fat fantasy novels. You should read some of her stuff if you’re not familiar with it.
  • Lou Berger – Mr. We Are All SF, who is brave enough to nudge me when I go too far.
  • David Boop – my apologies for being so scarce but we will talk soon about the book.
  • Jonathan Brazee, who introduced himself as the 2nd person admitted under the new indie-published qualifications – it was such a pleasure sir!)
  • Jenn Brozek, who has my admiration for her class and professionalism.
  • Dave Butler, who calmly explained every historical inaccuracy in his book with a fan and was as ever dapper and charming.
  • Wesley Chu – thank you for introducing me to your wife!
  • Neil Clarke, who has been kicking ass in multiple ways lately and who is always pleasant SFWA suite conversation.
  • Brian Dolton, who put up with a chaotic auction scene with cheer and good will. I love you now go write a story, Brian
  • Jilly Dreadful, you are amazing and we are going to conquer the world.
  • Eva Eldridge, I am looking forward to continuing to work with you as well as talking about fermenting with your husband!
  • J.T. Evans, I’m looking forward to check out the Pikes Peak conference, nice chatting with you.
  • Cynthia Felice, who explained the Ombudsman position that she has been so capably filling for five years
  • Eric Flint, who I amused with my hippie badge ribbons and provided great conversation during the autographing.
  • Danielle Gemballa, who was an integral part of an awesome con
  • David Gerrold, for graciously giving us a booth as well as contributions to the SFWA Givers Fund and for just being as charming a man as I have ever met.
  • Cat Greenberg, thank you for running the SFWA suite with your mad skillz and coping with the ups and downs of a particularly recalcitrant hotel (we will do a physical run-through of the space next time.
  • Camille Griep, who savored the surrealness of the monstrous margaritas at Azteca
  • Caren Gussoff, the best roommate ever, who kept my head from exploding on more than one occasion
  • Gay Haldeman, who has graciously stepped up to be the new SFWA Ombudsman and is just the sweetest woman ever
  • Joe Haldeman, who ruined Caren for all other fangirl moments.
  • Jean Johnson, thank you for the books, I loved the first one and am looking forward to the read so much!
  • Sharon Joss, I think your card is the coolest of them all.
  • Ellen Klages, OMG talk about above and beyond and who put up with my surliness when I thought she was sending me across the street and up into the Grand for a $3 donation. Ellen, you are composed of awesome and stardust.
  • Anaea Lay – apologies again for not recognizing you at first in the hazy Spokane light
  • Vonda McIntyre, who has more presence in her little finger than a thousand emperors
  • Christie Meierz, lovely to meet you in person! I hope you and your husband had a good time in the SFWA suite.
  • Rebecca Moesta, we did not get enough time together, but I appreciated the moments we did.
  • Nina Niskanen, looking forward to seeing you in Finland!
  • Carrie Patel, great to share the autographing with you
  • Sarah Pinkser, so awesome to finally meet your wife. I was playing your song “Too Many Questions” for Caren in our room because it is one of my all-time favorites.
  • My (not-crazy aunt) Nona Rambo and the always charming Carl and Lyndall
  • Mike Resnick, who put up with one of my fangirl squee moments and is just the most amazing and gracious man ever.
  • Dave and Teri Robison – lovely to share the stroll with you and get to hear Dave’s familiar voice for the first time in person!
  • Bryan Thomas Schmidt, I’m looking forward to hearing more about the exciting projects you’ve got going, sounds like this should be a great year.
  • Arley Sorg, we WILL have our wine next time, Arley, I swear.
  • Ramon Terrell, always the smoothest dressed man at the con
  • Tod McCoy, who made Caren swoon with a hand kiss.
  • Tegan Moore, looking forward to seeing you in the writing group!
  • Elizabeth Anne Scarborough, who was so kind and gracious in the face of Danielle, Caren, and I fawning on her.
  • Alex Shvartsman, who is always a pleasure to talk to and who is doing great things with his publishing house
  • Janine Southard, who shared time at the SFWA table in the Dealer’s Room with me
  • Tex Thompson, whose book I am looking forward to enormously
  • Jeremy Tolbert, who keeps the SFWA website and forums running and sometimes answers emails even before I’ve sent them
  • Alexi Vandenberg, who is always several steps ahead of things when it comes to Wordfire wrangling
  • Tamara Vining, who not only filmed the SFWA Charity Auction but bid on several things 🙂
  • Josh Vogt, who generously shared his beef jerky with me so I could spent more time at the Wordfire Booth
  • Peter Wacks, the rockingest editor around, imo.
  • Sean Wallace, one of the minds behind the SFWA cookbook (we sold a bunch, and if you didn’t get yours, hold tight, I’m about to send out a mailing tomorrow to find out who still needs one)
  • M. Darusha Wehm – thank you for the book, I am looking forward to the read!
  • To the short dark woman glowering at me near the dealer’s room on Sunday afternoon, I hope your day got better.

With some of the Wordfire Tribe. Thanks, everyone!

With some of the Wordfire Tribe. Thanks, everyone!

And for so many people I only got to see in passing: Charlie Jane Anders, Astrid Bear, Greg Bear, K. Tempest Bradford, Aliette de Bodard, Scott H. Andrews, Brenda Carr, Beth Cato, Ximena Cearley, Brenda Cooper, Katie Cord, Janet Freeman Dailey, Wendy Delmater, Bill Dietz, Steven Gould, Elyse Guttenberg, Randy Henderson, Travis Heermaan, Patrick Hester, Leslie Howle, Kameron Hurley, Christy Johnson aka the mysterious Folly Blaine, Karen Junker, Kan Kenyon, Scott Lynch, Nick Mamatas, John W.S. Marvin, Nancy Jane Moore, Mike Navrati (although I do have a great beard pic), Raven Oak, Sunil Patel, John A. Pitts, Matt Rotundo, Erica Satifka, Dave Smeds, Eric James Stone, Michael Swanwick, Mike Underwood, Gordon van Gelder, Jo Walton, Yang-Yang Wang, Blaze Ward, Martha Wells, Fran Wilde, Christie Yant (SQUEEE TY for the shoutout and viva la revolución.)

To all the people I missed, my apologies. It does not in any way mean I do not hold you in high esteem but only that I keep remembering your names when not at the keyboard.

I am writing a separate volunteer and auction donor appreciation post as soon as I get all the lists of volunteers but cheers to our auctioneer Ellen Klages and to all the generous SFWA Charity Auction donors. Any sense of order about the auction is due only to Kate Baker, who valiantly coped from afar, Brian Dolton, Ellen Klages, Terra LeMay and the other volunteers who stepped forward at the last moment. We made roughly twenty times what SFWA has made at previous Worldcons, and the auction money goes to tyhe Givers Fund, which feeds SFWA’s Emergency Medical Fund, Legal Fund, and other grants programs.

To former students Rachael K. Jones and Usman Malik you should check the Hugo long list if you haven’t because you appear on there. So much love for you – I am proud and unsurprised. Congrats to the others appearing in the long list.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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