Boskone is among the most venerable SF/F cons, but while I have known many people who attend regularly and I did live in Boston for a number of years, I somehow never got there until lucky number 44. The shiny new surface of the Westin Waterfront Hotel was matched only by the sheen of ice left over from the recent storm that coated the verge of the highway like wedding cake fondant, but things seemed to be in working order for the most part. Considering the last disastrous con hotel was still fresh in our minds (Wyndham Fort Lauderdale Airport Hotel), it was a welcome relief.
We arrived a bit later than expected, so I did not have to choose between the Religion in Fantasy panel and John Langanís talk on Lovecraft, but instead missed both. Sigh—but we did get registered and had our first peek at the Con Suite: Best. Con Suite. Ever. Not only was it centrally located rather than in some obscure room whose number you keep forgetting, but it was always well stocked with not just coffee and goldfish but real tea! Tea drinkers are so often slighted, youíll forgive me shedding a grateful tear on behalf of a con that gives you tea that ainít Lipton and plenty of it. There were many different snacks, even healthy things like apples and satsumas. Sunday morning the cheery folks from Viable Paradise Writersí Workshop appeared with fine baked goods like wished-for elves. Knowing you can stop by the con suite and refuel during the day makes a world of difference when youíre trying to pack in as much experience as possible.
In contrast, the hotel bar sucked rocks—we sat for half an hour without getting a server interested and finally gave up to go to the Trivia for Chocolate panel. Truth in advertising: Mark and Priscilla Olson bombarded successful respondents with Andes mints. Winner was the person with the most chocolate left at the end. Well, I was surprised to get a few answers (yay, Graham Joyce) but I ate all my chocolate because I was clearly far outclassed by the other competitors, some of whom had huge mounds of green wrappers in front of them.
At dawn, in honor of GOH David Gerrold, the Great Tribble Hunt began, but we did not rise until much later. The little critters multiplied throughout the day until the grand Tribblefest that night, and one could see tribble hunters stalking the corridors with a mad gleam in their eyes. I even found three of the critters myself later in the day. At 10 am, though, I was on my way to see Jane Yolen read, and she favored us with some short poems and two stories in the fairytale vein, although she did not have time to finish the second—to the general groans of us all. From there I ran down to the Fantasy, Folklore, and Myth panel already under way, and to my dismay, quite crowded. Breaking through the outer fringe by the door, I was able to find a spot to enjoy the animated conversation with Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Esther Friesner, Greer Gilman, and Artist GOH Gary A. Lippincott. I was excited to hear Josepha Sherman mention a thirteenth century analogue to the "hook" story, and everyone laughed at Friesnerís sage advice to give kids challenging books, because "A confused child is a quiet child."
Next we headed over to the Fantasy in Graphic Novel Form forum with Michael A. Burstein, Bruce Coville, Timothy Liebe, and Jane Yolen. It was hard to believe that Yolen, self-identified Queen of YA, had to toil away for ten years to get someone to buy a graphic novel idea she had, but as Coville pointed out, "Itís easier to sell a good book than a great one." As a writer who constantly crosses genre boundaries, I would add that itís much easier to sell if you stick to genre conventions, too. We grabbed some lunch in the lobby (tasty and, at $7, not too gouging), then headed back to more panels. As a medievalist I was tempted by the panel title Those Terrible Middle Ages, but because it had no description, I instead veered over to the Humor in SF and Fantasy panel. Experience has shown me that itís better to pick panels by the people than the titles, and this one featured Ellen Asher, Esther Friesner, Craig Shaw Gardner, and GOH David Gerrold. It was a good choice, with plenty of chuckles from all and more bon mots from Friesner, who name-checked everyone from Beaumarchais ("I hasten to laugh at everything, for fear of being obliged to weep") to Walt Kellyís Pogo and even Dork Tower. Gerrold offered the opinion that people without a sense of humor were inevitably revealed to be serial killers, which provoked a lively discussion.
My first panel was next, The Many Genres of YA Fiction. Our first order of business when Bruce Coville, Sarah Beth Durst, and I arrived was to try to avoid being moderator since Tamora Pierce was not there (and Jane Yolen was delayed at lunch). We started to make our way through the endless permutations of sub-genres, but I found myself arguing against this kind of endless categorization, which led to Coville teasing me mercilessly about which categories I belonged to because of my refusal to adhere to the divisions, parsing every response into a new categorization. Yolen arrived and we took the opportunity to elect her moderator, and the whole discussion evolved into everybodyís best recommendations for books. After chatting with some folks in the hall after the panel, I headed over to How to Sustain Creativity When Writing is Your Second Profession. This is always a great panel, if only for encouragement. Darlene Marshallís comment that "The people who love you will sabotage your writing," still surprised many, but itís good to be prepared to deal with those intrusions. Itís a little easier if your partner shares the affliction, or so I have found, but many writers struggle with this touchy subject even from partners who mean well.
One of the drawbacks to being a small press writer is having your reading immediately after someone like, oh letís say, George R. R. Martin. As the huge crowds move out into the hallway to continue their autographing session, you feel a little bereft and unloved. You try to tell yourself that the crowd is not small but select, but who wouldnít want the mad throng instead? Especially because I love reading and do my best to choose stories that prove to be entertaining out loud. Oh well—it was still a reading and I did get to meet an online pal I was supposed to meet ten years ago at DragonCon, both of us surprised to find the other at Boskone. After that, we were off to see Chris Couchís talk on the wonderful Will Eisner, then finally made our way to the art show and huckstersí room for a little reconnaissance. The temptations were legion. Hands down, the coolest cubicle in the art show was Hilary Scottís corner of wildly imaginative pieces—no wonder he received the GOH choice award. The Hubert Rogers exhibit, curated by Couch, was also a wonderful experience that dropped the viewer into the pulpy past with all the vintage cover art.
Itís always important to get out of the hotel (when you can—the worst-case scenario is the dreaded airport hotel with nothing but tarmac around), so we left the bustling con to visit the No Name Restaurant and enjoy a bottle of wine and some fine, no-frills seafood fresh from the boats. We got there early enough to miss the worst of the crowds—the line was out the door when we left. After that my husband decided to veg out in the hotel room, but I decided to attend the two evening horror panels. The initial panel on Horror in the First Half of the Twentieth Century was conspicuous for the complete absence of any female writers on either the panel or their list of recommendations (although perhaps they mentioned one or more in the first few minutes of the panel; I arrived late). Comments in the second panel on the "incestuous" nature of the genre were ironically underscored by the return of three of the same panelists, as well as in the recommendation of Stephen Kingís son Joe Hill without identifying him as such. (Iím sure heís made a big media splash strictly on his own merits, just like Tori Spelling.) On the whole, the second panel had a wider array of recommendations for the audience which, one hopes, will bring a little more attention to less well-connected writers. Horror seems to have recovered a lot of its power now that itís no longer the marketing ghetto it had become.
Sunday started off with the welcome baked goods and more Earl Grey (particularly welcome because housekeeping had not restocked our roomís supply of tea, grrr) and the fun (and informative) Pirates in Petticoats panel, which I did not realize was also the name of Jane Yolenís first book, sold on the basis of two paragraphs and the novelty of the topic. Darlene Marshall and Victoria McManus, with Yolen, provided lively conversation on the topic—Marshall, in fact, had a great deal of research to share about the true histories of women buccaneers, as well as mentioning a nineteenth-century female pirate novel, Fanny Campbell, by Maturin Murray Ballou. Yolen argued that the big revelation of Pirates of the Caribbean 3 will be that Captain Jack is really a woman (you heard it here first!).
It was back to work after that, sitting on a panel about language and speculative fiction entitled Sapir-Whorf Wasnít a Klingon, Was He? I got to talk about Anglo-Saxon poetry and Icelandic sagas, so that was good, and I had a nice chat with fellow panelist Shara Zoll afterward while I was sitting at the book signing table. Wisely, the Boskone folks put the book signings right outside the huckstersí room, so people have to go past when theyíre already in the mood to spend money. I managed to sell a few books, mostly to people who had seen me on panels, which is of course ideal. Small press books donít always make it onto the dealersí shelves. My husband/agent/manager/sherpa has demanded that I now prepare pithy one sentence descriptions of my books for panel sessions rather than just pointing mutely to them. Promotion does not come naturally to us native Midwesterners, but as I overheard Laura Anne Gilman advise another author while they walked past the signing table, "Being a writer means running a small business."
So my first Boskone, I hope, will not be my last. I sold a few books, enjoyed some panels from both sides of the table, and met some interesting folks. Itís more fun to attend a con where you know lots of people, but Iím sure Iíll get to know more people there—itís a friendly con. Really the only negative comment that I would make is that the program book had no bios beyond the GOH; this is a bit annoying because when you see someone interesting on a panel, you canít just check the book—you have to wait to get home to Google them to find out more about what they do and what they have written. Plus itís essential to read along with the program listing to figure out where you want to be. All things considered, thatís not a huge criticism. Boskoneís veteran status shows in its organization, great signage (a rarity in Boston), and welcoming atmosphere. Experience pays off.