Monday, August 18, 2008

ArmadilloCon 30

Judy and I left for Austin on Thursday of last week to attend ArmadilloCon 30. I was not a little nervous, considering I'd accepted the honor of being the toastmaster, and I'd be following a long people who'd done great jobs in that position. I had a slideshow planned, though, and I figured the slides would carry the day.

When we arrived at the Doubletree on I-35 North, we got the welcoming cookie (always a treat for me) and checked into our room. Just before dinner, we met in the lobby with a group of folks and planned our assault on Threadgill's restaurant. Since we had a car and knew (roughly) how to get there, we provided transport for a couple of the con guests, David Lee Anderson and his wife, Carolyn. We'd seen David at conventions for years but had never talked to him much. He turned out to be a great guy and interesting conversationalist. His wife, Carolyn, was equally fun to talk to, so Judy and I enjoyed the short trip much more than we would have if just the two of us had made it.

Dinner was (for me) chicken-fried steak. I can't resist having it at least once a year. Judy and I were seated near Ed Scarbrough, Scott Bobo, and Sam Hudson. Somehow the talk turned to the Sweet Singer of Michigan, Mrs. Julia A. Moore, of whose works Sam is a fan. I am, too, so we had quite a chat about the wonderful poems she created.

After dinner, some of us (including the Andersons; Judy declined) walked a couple of blocks to see the bats emerge from beneath the Congress Avenue bridge. As always, it was quite a sight, though I was too far away to see as well as I'd hoped. The Andersons and I went back to Threadgill's after the sighting, picked up Judy, and drove back to the hotel.

Friday was a big day. I had a panel on "westerns and SF" at 5:00. Then I had an hour's break before the opening ceremony and my big toastmaster gig. Charlie ("Little Chuckie") Siros had set things up with my computer and the projector earlier, and things worked out pretty well. I introduced the major guests (Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov's; Kelly Persons, fan GoH; David Lee Anderson, artist GoH, Joe and Gay Haldeman, special guests; and John Scalzi, GoH. They all took my slideshow like the good sports they are. After that, there was the Meet the Pros party, with some great 30th birthday cakes, one of which was designed to look like the cover of John Scalzi's The Android's Dream (photo at left). This was also the logo the con used on its homepage. I don't think I've ever been to a convention with a slate of more personable guests. I was lucky enough to get to talk to all of them at one time or another, and I enjoyed every minute. John Scalzi was an accessible and entertaining GoH, as everyone had hoped he would be, and his signing line was loooooong.

Saturday was another big day, and the big events included the Fannish Feud, with me as the Richard Dawson figure. Fans and pros have teams, and the game's played pretty much like Family Feud. This year, a high-tech Internet survey got fans' answers to such things as "Name an SF/F movie directed by Steven Spielberg." Since you're dealing with people who might or might not give a straight answer, six repsondents said, "Star Wars." As you can guess, this kind of answer did a good bit to screw with the panelists. In the end, the pros were victorious. I think. Rene Babcock (thanks, Rene!) ran the high-tech computerized program that looked just like the board on the TV show. Whether her score-keeping was accurate is another question. However, the score-checker who worked beside her with pencil and paper said the pros won, and I believe it. But it was a squeaker.

Later that evening we had Campfire Tales. Joe Lansdale, Joe Haldeman, Scott Cupp, and I gathered around a campfire (really) and told stories to the assembled multitude. Well, the two Joes told stories. Scott and I mainly listened. Compared to those two, Scott and I have led dull, boring, sheltered lives. (I don't know about Scott, but I've lived a dull, boring, and sheltered life compared to pretty much anybody.) At any rate, Scott and I had a word or two to say, but mainly we were fascinated, like the crowd, by the two Joes. I believe there's video, but you probably won't ever see it.

Sunday was an easy day. One panel, on fanzines. No problem. At 4:00, the convention closed with a tag-team reading of Howard Waldrop's "The Ugly Chickens." Howard closed the very first ArmadilloCon with a reading of that story, and he'd have closed this one had he been there. Owing to medical problems, he couldn't attend, so nine writers, including me, read the story. The big surprise of the day was that Brad Denton had arranged a phone hook-up that allowed Howard to read the concluding paragraphs. The loud, enthusiastic, sustained applause that greeted this treat did at least a little, I hope, to speed Howard's recovery.

After the reading, about 45 people went out to the County Line bbq place on the lake. This time our passengers were Gay Haldeman and Rusty Hevelin, so we were as lucky in our companions this time as we were on the first trip. Rusty is a legend in fandom, and Gay's as warm, wise, and charming as you'd expect. Dinner was served "family style," which in this case means baskets of warm homemade bread, bowls of beans, potato salad, and cole slaw, followed by huge platters heaped high with barbecued ribs, brisket, chicken, and ham. It was positively medieval, and I think some people (*kaff* John *kaff* Scalzi) consumed at least 16 pounds of meat. Then we were served bowls of homemade ice cream. Yum.

After dinner some of us strolled out on the deck and tossed left-over bread to the dozens of turtles that had gathered there in expectation of their own evening meal. They seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.

Then it was on to the Dead Dog Party. I didn't stay late. I was sleepy.

Besides the people I've already mentioned, I got to see James Reasoner, which is always a pleasure. How many people besides James do you think wrote fourteen pages of a novel one morning before the panels began? I'd bet the answer is: None.

I saw lots of other people, too, far too many to mention, but I'll take a stab at a few names: Martha Wells, Jayme Lynn Blashke, Mark Finn, Don Webb, Scott Zrubek, Caroline Spector, Karen Lansdale, Kasey Lansdale, Willie Siros, Nina Siros, Rick Klaw, Rie Sheridan, Jessica Reisman, Maureen McHugh, Lawrence Person, Carrie Richerson, Chris Roberson, John Picacio, Paul Miles, Karen Meschke, C. J. Mills, Stina Licht, Kathy Kimbriel, Jennifer Juday, Janice Gelb, Mark Hall, Rhonda Eudaly, A. T. Campbell, Neal Barrett, Kurt Baty, Paul Benjamin, Lou Antonelli,
Cynthia Leitich Smith and her husband, Greg, and Kimm Antell. Probably others. Judy and I also managed to have three meals with our son and one with my sister.

All in all, it was a great weekend. Thanks to all the ArmadilloCon folks for making it so.

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