Trip Reports

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It’s been a very busy summer and autumn. How busy? Well, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to blog here at all! But this is okay; I’ve been doing lots of writing instead—and I have the books to show for it!

 

RotationTwoCoverSmFirst, there’s the second installment of Driving Arcana stories, Rotation Two, which is out from Heliopause and available on all channels. You can pick it up from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Nook, Kobo, or have your local bookstore special-order it. (And yes, for Christmas shoppers, it’s available on Amazon Prime!)

07DogsofCanarySmSecond, “The Dogs of Canary Island” which debuted this summer in Aphelion 2015 is now available as a single! Search it on any of your preferred online book vendors, or find handy links over on it’s Heliopause page.

Also worth noting: I now have a Red Bubble shop! You can find the original cover art for Odd 7 there as a print, along with many more pieces! Do take a look!

On the convention front I attended Sasquan earlier this year, which was a blast. The WM and I took a road trip up through Oregon to get to it (we’re in California) and I got to visit some old friends on the way up and down. The greatest highlight of that con was probably Helsinki’s win for WorldCon in 2017, though the whole weekend was delightful—Mordor-like weather notwithstanding.

All that seems a long way away now, and never more so than last weekend when I was in Chicago for Midwest FurFest. This was a mind-boggling experience as I got to meet several artists whom I’ve long admired, as well as reconnecting with old friends. I took a short holiday in the city itself to visit the Shedd Aquarium, the results of which can be found on my tumblr, here, here, and here. Chicago is a wonderful city and I cannot recommend the Shedd enough. Also, Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. and Smoque are two excellent choices for food.

Looking forward I have the usual Holiday tasks still in front of me, as well as the impending release of Perihelion 2016 next month. Also next month I’ll be traveling to Boston for Anthro New England, where I’ll have a table and will be dealing next to my partner-in-crime art, Mary Capaldi. I’ll also be doing a reading, and probably running around as Tachyon a lot.

So many things! Oh, and I’ve got the second Sir Camilla novel to finish in the mean time. Better get crackin’. I’ll leave you with the newly-unveiled Perihelion 2016 cover, and the usual reminder that twitter is the best place to follow me these days, and I post WIPs and other pictures to my tumblr.

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I am currently installed at Mary Capaldi’s house, enjoying an extended vacation after the amazing hecticality that was AnthroCon. It is very wet and green and there are fireflies. It is nice.

This AnthroCon was both the shortest and longest weekend of my life. It was short in that things flew by so quickly, but extremely long in that I spent so much of it awake. One of the things I wanted to do this year was take more at-con commissions, which I would complete by sitting up late and drawing with the other night owl artists. Which I did. With abundance. Between Friday, Saturday and Sunday I managed approximately four hours of sleep, and twelve colored or shaded pictures. That’s not counting the numerous sketches I did at my table during the day.

The result was that, though this was by far my most lucrative AnthroCon ever, I spent much of it running on pure willpower, and by Sunday evening I was little more than a drained shell that somewhat resembled a human being.

Nevertheless, when asked what my favorite part was, I find myself so inundated with happy memories I am unable to answer. So I have done my best to compile a brief list.

1. Walking through Pittsburgh to visit the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. It was interesting to see the different sides of the city, the overgrown houses and cracked sidewalks and slick university streets and the walking paths that disappear into forests in the middle of the city. The museums were cool, too. There was a quetzalcoatlus northropi skeleton, and I found a Van Gogh original.

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2. Setting up my dealer’s table with my dear friend Susan. They turn off the AC in the exhibit hall so they can open the loading bay doors and people can drive their cars directly onto the floor, and by the end of it we were both hot, tired and sweaty. So we took a break before going on to the art show and went and got ice cream.

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3. Suiting as Tachyon with Graham, another Angel Dragon. It was so much fun running through the con and playing with people; Graham is an excellent companion for Tachyon and they make an adorable couple.

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4. Going into the rave dance, as Tachyon. Being in suit allows you to be even more flamboyant and obnoxious, and though everything is harder and hotter in suit, getting to play with the other dancers more than made up for it.

5. Running along the Three Rivers Heritage trail. It was good to get out of doors, and Confluence Point Park was a beautiful place to go. Several times I crossed the Allegheny and continued on to where the USS Requin, a Cold War-era submarine, was docked.

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6. Getting absolutely hammered in the Dealer’s Room after opening on Friday. I have never filled my queue so fast—and I’d doubled it’s capacity from last year. Having Susan to help with taking orders was a massive help. I honestly don’t know how I’ve managed alone in the past.

7. Attending 2’s comedy show on Friday night. 2 got caught in a little bit of a social media snafu right before the con, but he came out firing on all cylinders and didn’t pull any punches. It was marvelous.

8. Sitting up late drawing with Diana Stein and company. The feeling of being in a room with other artists all concentrating on drawing, drawing, drawing is one of the best in the world. How good is it? It kept me up until 5:00 AM finishing all the orders I took that day.

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9. Learning about Parkour. At 7:30 AM the following morning. You’d think two hours of sleep wouldn’t be enough to allow you to go running and jumping around on rocks and things, but I felt surprisingly good and only scraped my knee a little bit.

10. Having the people who said they’d come back and commission me later actually come back. It was heart-warming and so encouraging. Thank you.

11. Ditching the Dealer’s Room briefly to go as Tachyon to the Dutch Angel Dragons meet. It was great to see so many other cute suits, and to join up with my beloved Graham again.

12. Crashing Matthew Ebel’s show and starting a conga line during “Normal is Not for Me.” It was fun last year when I went as myself. It was even better in suit.

13. Staying up until 5:00 AM again drawing and finishing commissions. I might have finished earlier, but I got into a fascinating discussion of Unschooling with another artist.

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14. Getting to talk to and draw inspiration from the other late-night artists. I am particularly indebted to Brenda Lyons and Dark Natasha, who helped me more than they probably know. And of course to Diana Stein, who got everything started.

15. Getting to draw in the same room as Ursula Vernon, who was kind enough to put a dragon in my Drakendillion. Also a highlight.

16. The Sunday Charity Special I concocted, on the spot, to raise money for the Western PA Humane Society. It gave me a chance to have fun with my new brush pen, and people liked it enough I was able to raise $70 for the con charity.

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17. Live-drawing 2 and Uncle Kage’s charity show. On stage. This was a phenomenal experience and a dream come true. I’ve admired 2 and Kage for years, and to be able to share a stage with them—and the main stage of AnthroCon, no less—was an overwhelming honor and one of the greatest pleasures of the convention. That I got to do it with my trusty friend Mary at my side was even better. I owe a great debt of thanks to Alector Fencer, who supplied the Cintiq for Mary to draw on, and bowed out of the show so she could participate. Vielen Dank, meine Blümer.

IMG_3746 IMG_3747 IMG_375018. Getting invited to the security after party, and getting to sample so many different single malts. I can now say with assurance that I find Jura extremely appealing, and Aberlour is an excellent starter. Irish whisky tends to come on sharp and acidic and finish fruity, and Lagavulin is still the best thing ever.

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19. Witnessing Ursula Vernon finding out she had been nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Live the dream woman, you deserve it all.

20. Getting to sleep for over five hours on Sunday night.

Despite all that, I have left so many things out. There were so many people I wanted to see who I didn’t—or didn’t see enough of—and things I wanted to do (suit as Tachyon) that I didn’t get to do as much of as I’d have liked. Yet taken altogether this was perhaps the most exciting AnthroCon ever, and I will treasure the memories I made last weekend for the rest of my life.

And for everything else, there’s always next year…

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Goldeen Ogawa is a writer, illustrator and cartoonist. To keep tabs on what she is doing you can follow her on twitter @GrimbyTweets, and on Tumblr. You can also contact her directly.

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Note: I wrote this report on my journey home from World Fantasy 2014, but I’m posting it from the comfort of my room, with a hot cup of tea in one hand, and the knowledge that I don’t have to fly anywhere until well into next year.

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I am writing this in Reagan Airport, waiting for a plane to take me home from World Fantasy 2014. I grabbed some interesting-looking candy from the Hospitality Suite that I thought would be the hard, sugary kind one sucked on, but it turns out they are really fantastic chocolates. One has mocha and coffee bits, and the a Kahlúa-caramel center. I am eating them while drinking tea in a miraculously-free charging booth at Gate 16.

Which has more or less been the theme of this convention for me. Which is to say: it was very, very good.

In no particular order:

The location (The Hyatt Regency Crystal City) turned out to be much better than I expected. Next door to Reagan airport, it also had good access to streets filled with restaurants and the Mt Vernon pedestrian trail, which the Wonderful Mother and I made good use of in our morning runs. Except for Friday, when we took the Metro to the National Mall and ran around in it, but that’s another story.

Of the nearby eateries, my favorites were undoubtedly Enjera Ethiopian Restaurant and Bistro 7107—the latter being my first taste of Filipino (Philippine) cuisine, and I’m afraid they set the bar very, very high. Both are on S 23rd St between Eads and Fern and if you are ever in Crystal City I highly recommend them.

All this was a complete and delightful surprise, as I had feared that the Hyatt would be in the typical Freeway Wasteland that often surrounds airports. (There were a lot of big roads, to be fair, but it was more of a jungle than a desert.)

The hotel itself was lovely: spacious and airy with comfortable rooms and an extremely helpful concierge. Though one of the charms of World Fantasy is that it moves around, I find myself wishing that I could be coming back to this location next year.

This World Fantasy is my fourth, but it was a first in many regards. This was the first time I actually sat in the Mass Autographing session on Friday night, since this was also the first year in which I had actual books which I could actually sign. I had them (or rather, other people had them) because this was the first year some very kind sponsors donated several boxes full of Professor Odd singles to the World Fantasy book bag. The result was that this was the first year I had people running up to me all weekend, in varying levels of excitement, clutching various assortments of Professor Odd. We had donated several hundred of them, but as this included five different issues, there was something of a collection game going on, made more interesting because there were more 1s than 2s than 3s than 4s, and only twenty-five copies of 5. Happily, several people managed to collect the whole set, and I was able to give each one an extra prize on top of it. Mostly, I was just happy people seemed to like them so much.

An Aside: one of the highlights of the con was Brenda Cooper running up to me at the banquet to get her copies signed. I had only known Brenda as the author lucky enough to have John Picacio put a fantastic picture on the cover of her book, The Creative Fire. Which I had nearly bought before purely on account of that, but stopped myself since I really didn’t know anything about her writing or her style. After attending her reading on Friday afternoon, however, I decided I wanted to read more of her work, and the next day spent a good half hour in the Dealer’s Hall asking around for Creative Fire. I finally found a copy, and promptly got Brenda (who was fortuitously wandering into the Hall just as I was leaving with my prize) to sign the title page. Then I ran off and got John to sign the cover. I haven’t gotten past the first page (purely because of time restraints!) but I think Ruby and I are going to be great friends, and I’m looking forward to reading it very much.

My double-signed copy of Creative Fire is only my second-most treasured prize of this convention, however. That distinction must go to the first (US) edition of The Lives of Christopher Chant, signed by the late, great, Diana Wynne Jones herself.

I try to acquire a Jones hardback at each genre con I attend—since, though my Jones collection is more or less complete, many of them are paperbacks—but have usually failed on account of nobody ever having any. Of the handful of dealers I asked this year, one did not have any, several did, but had not brought any to sell at the con, and one had two.

No, actually they only had one (the other had sold at their last con).

The one they had was a signed, first edition hardback of The Lives of Christopher Chant. It was carefully wrapped in a plastic envelope, and for its price I could have filled another World Fantasy book bag.

I went away biting my nails.

I told myself the signature really didn’t matter. I already had Diana Wynne Jones’s autograph. Three times over, in fact, on the three letters she’d written me over the course of the 00’s. What I wanted was a nice, hardback edition that I didn’t yet have (which Christopher Chant was)—but preferably not for a triple-digit price.

The signature really didn’t matter.

It didn’t.

I told all this to my Wonderful Mother, who listened patiently, then walked me back into the Dealer’s Hall and bought the book for me.

Later, when I was packing up my book haul, I took Chant out of its envelope to for a group photo. In the process of doing so I flipped it open, in the way one does with newly acquired books, and happened across the title page.

And would you believe, despite the stickers I had just peeled off the jacket protector proclaiming that it was so, I had forgotten it was an autographed copy? Perhaps the signature really hadn’t been important—until I actually saw it.

You hear about people’s distinctive handwriting in stories all the time. But never before had I been struck by just how much of a person is left behind in their writing.

Diana Wynne Jones passed away in the spring of 2011. The only connection we have to her now is things she left behind. But for me, who never got to meet her in person, the only connection I ever had with her was through her writing—both her books and her handwritten letters—so seeing a piece of that writing that I had never seen before was like seeing a loved one come back from the dead; this person who I thought I would never see again was suddenly there before me, whole and alive and full of energy, in a squiggly line of blue ballpoint.

At which time I’m afraid I melted down into tears and had to spent the next ten minutes sobbing uncontrollably. I’m crying now, writing this. I’m on a plane to Chicago (yes, we’ve moved along since I began this account) and I’m not even ashamed. If I learned anything from Diana Wynne Jones it’s that it doesn’t do to keep your emotions bottled up inside.

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This weekend was also my first time moderating a panel. It happened by accident, really: I pointed out to Colleen Cahill that I might be a good person to have on the Animals in Fantasy discussion, and after having been placed on that panel I was then asked to moderate it. I said I would, if no one else wanted the job. Turned out no one did.

I have been on panels before, and I have also run panels insomuch as they were solo shows, but never before did I have the job of actually moderating conversation between a bunch of other people whom I barely knew. So I did what I always do when faced with a new discipline: I copied people who were extremely good at it (like Peter Sagal); I did the things I’d seen other people do which I liked (like communicate with the panelists beforehand, made sure the panel started and finished on time, and repeated questions from the audience into the microphone); and I tried not to do what I’d seen other people do which annoyed me (like obviously have no idea who their panelists were and talk more than the rest put together). And while it was certainly a learning experience (for example, I learned that repeating an audience member’s question is really hard), judging by the overwhelmingly positive feedback I got from the audience and my panelists over the remainder of the con, I think I did okay. I’d like to give thanks once again to Dorothy Hearst, Judi Fleming, Jeff VanderMeer and Garth Nix for being lovely and interesting and agreeable, and on the whole making my job pretty darn easy. It was a fantastic experience, and while I do like to run my mouth, it was a fun challenge to play the roll of moderator. And of course I’d like to thank the audience, who seemed (it can be hard to tell from behind the podium) engaged and polite and generally to be having a good time.

For those of you who missed the panel, I can recommend you go read Ursula K LeGuin’s essay, “Cheek by Jowl: Animals in Children’s Literature, which pretty much covers everything we did, but with better punctuation.

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Animals in Fantasy panel, l-r: the author, Dorothy Hearst, Judi Fleming, Jeff VanderMeer, Garth Nix. Photo by Monica Herald.

Aside: Some observances from my experience which may be of use to future panelists/moderators: It is incredibly helpful to talk to your fellow panelists beforehand. Even if it’s just an email correspondence, you want to get a feeling for what the other people are interested in, where their strengths are, who needs encouragement and who might need a little reining. If you can, make face-to-face contact before the panel. Ideally get everyone together in the same room and discuss how the show will be run, what topics are important to people, and what topics should be avoided. At the very least, if you see them beforehand, go up and introduce yourself—which I actually got to do with all four of my panelists, though I didn’t see Jeff until our paths converged en route to the location of the panel. Dorothy and I managed to get a meal together on Thursday night, which was nice since we’d never met before, and though I didn’t get a chance to visit with Garth or Judi beforehand, I had met Garth at previous cons, and Judi and I bonded over the course of the panel as fellow horse-people. We are also both artists (though of very different mediums) and so our paths kept crossing in that regard. In addition to her writing, Judi also makes wonderful decorated gourd art—from fanciful animals to elegant vases and ornaments—and is altogether a delightful character.

In many ways, however, this con was a little like revisiting old favorites. I got to see John Picacio, who is a bit like my artistic fairy godfather, as well as Lee Moyer (who improves any weekend), and my friend from Toronto, Angela Keeley (ditto). John’s assistant, Tara, was also there, and it was good to see her again. I don’t understand people who do not appreciate assistants. They work just as hard as their employers (in some areas, even more so) and are the people you actually want to talk to if you want anything from said employers. This was how Tara and I met, and now we’re friends as well.

Lee has an assistant too. Her name is Venetia Charles and, along with myself and Angela, we formed the unofficial Mohawk Ladies group. People were forever coming up to me and Angela, or me and Venetia, or (I assume) Venetia and Angela, and saying “Did you know there’s another woman with that haircut around here?”

My favorite, however, was when Ginjer Buchanan came at me and said, “You didn’t tell me you were in the art show!”

Which was confusing, since I had told her exactly that the night before at the ice cream social (where we had met).

No,” she said, when I expressed this confusion. “I mean you,” she jabbed a finger at my chest, “are in the art show! There’s a picture of you by Ruth Sanderson!”

By which I realized she meant the “Stealing Time” scratchboard piece featuring yet another young woman with shaved sides and a long mane of hair.

I had to explain to Ginjer that that was not, in fact, me, and that there also were two other women running around with similar haircuts.

It was decided, eventually, that we needed to get a group picture of the three of us, with the picture. Which we finally managed to do at the Art Show Reception on Saturday night, with Ruth herself present to witness it. It was exactly as ridiculous and amazing and hilarious as you can imagine.

I still do not know who the model was for the picture, but I hope this story gets back to her eventually.

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l-r: the author, Angela and Venetia, who’s lovely hair got eaten by the shadows. Lee got better pics, but I don’t have them at the moment.

The Art Show this year was run by Michael and Elizabeth Zipster, and it was a powerhouse of a show. Big names like Sanderson, GoH Les Edwards, Greg Manchess, Charles Vess, Picacio, Michael Whalen; World Fantasy Award nominees Galen Dara and Kathleen Jennings, but also with relative unknowns such as Sharon Sasaki and Matthew Mrowka. Really, just go through the list of exhibiting artists and prepare to be blown away. It was both daunting and gratifying to be counted among them. But while the overall level of quality was uniformly high, the styles represented ranged from epic fantasy and science fiction, to dark, macabre horror, to whimsical and colorful, bright, shiny, understated, and fine mixes of any combination.

I know this, because I had to go through the entire show, panel by panel, piece by piece, while I filled out my ballot for the Virgil Finlay Centenary Award. This award, which was essentially a Best in Show with a thousand dollar cash prize attached, could only be voted on by attending artists, which was both a blessing and a curse. Too often I think art—particularly visual art—is judged by non-combatants, as it were, and I thought it was a handsome acknowledgement of the different perspectives of fellow artists that the vote was put exclusively to them. The winner turned out to be Greg Manchess, quite justifiably, for “Above the Timberline.” I only caught a part of his acceptance speech, in which he was understandably taken aback, and said something along the lines of “I don’t understand how I could have won, when there were so many other amazing works to vote for!”

Which I can sympathize with. In my voting I had eight pieces which I all liked equally, and picking three from them, and then picking the order of those three, was a long and agonizing process.

Later, on Sunday, I was talking to one of the World Fantasy nominees who wondered aloud what the judges were thinking when they picked the winners. I sympathized, and offered that, for what it was worth, I knew for a fact that the thoughts of one of the judges for the Virgil Centenary were: “What the actual *@^&! This is so *@^&ing hard I *@^&ing hate having to choose—what the %3!!!!”

Having had my fill of judged competition over ten years ago, when I swore off horse shows, you must forgive me if my feelings toward these sorts of awards are a little mixed. On the one hand, I think they are a lovely gesture showing appreciation for the contributions artists (both visual and literary) make to our culture. The cash prizes doesn’t hurt, either. However, I feel they sometimes bring a flavor of competition to a field whose strength lies in the fact that it is not a competition.

Which I firmly believe art is not. Artists may be pitted against each other for awards, writers might compete to see who can write the most words in a day, or for a spot in an anthology, but ultimately, as Molly Crabapple once said with far more eloquence than I am doing now (currently at Gate B9 in Chicago O’Hare): we artists are all we have, and we are the only ones who can save each other.

I would add that we are not participants in a competition or a sport: we are fellow warriors in a battle that is nebulous and vague, fought in shadows against invisible enemies such as depression, discouragement, bigotry, and our own inner demons. We need all the help we can get.

When I say artists here I mean, of course, everyone who creates art. And when I say art I mean art as Scott McCloud defines it: anything that is not one of the three essentials to our species: getting food, reproducing, or running away from danger. Which is a long way of saying I mean illustrators and writers. I’m making this distinction because a lot of people hear “artist” and think “painter” or something similar. But I don’t see the visual medium as being much different from the literary one. Perhaps because I learned to write and draw simultaneously, to me the two art forms are intimately connected; a symbiotic relationship between two animals, which are themselves different beasts than that wonderful melding of the two: comics. For me, much as science fiction, fantasy, horror, weird fiction—and what-have-you—stand under the same umbrella—so too does writing, drawing, painting, illustrating, and cartooning, and doing both—or all—comes naturally to me.

So I find it extremely interesting when I sit in on panels like “Artists who Take Up the Pen” and hear luminaries such as Ruth Sanderson and Charles Vess talk about how hard it is to be an artist/writer (or, it is implied, a writer/artist).

I know what they’re talking about, though. It is always difficult, when you have developed a highly advanced skill set in one area (as they have), to move to a different area in which you do not have such power.

It’s horrible. It’s worse than when you’re a kid and everything is difficult. Because you know how good you are at this one thing, and you know how far you have to go on this new thing. I think this towering precipice between mediums is what stops a lot of writers becoming illustrators, and vice versa.

Then there is the business element, which ruins so many things. From what I heard on that panel (and later from GoH Les Edwards at his kaffeeklatch), it seems traditional publishers are very stiff when it comes to making way for things they do not already have avenues for—and writer/illustrator creators are one of those things. The lingering stigma attached to comics doesn’t help.

So yes, there are definitely hardships when it comes to being artistically ambidextrous. But the advantages are staggering. If you can write and draw it more than doubles your creative capacity. A story can be words, or it can be illustrated—exactly as you want it—or it can be a comic, or it can be a painting! I liken it to those actors who were termed the Triple Threat: they could act, sing, and dance. Of course, that’s not such an advantage now as it was in the days of Kelly and Astaire, and perhaps that is the problem with the industry at this moment: it simply doesn’t know what to do with Double Threat creators. But I’d like to point out, just as the movie industry has moved away from musicals, our publishing industry might one day get to a point where having both these skills is an unmitigated advantage.

One can hope, and as a Double Threat myself, I certainly do. In the mean time, I can take advantage of the fact that I never have to worry about finding an artist to do covers for my books—or stories for me to illustrate.

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Getting back to the theme of old friends: I found a lot of familiar faces from my last World Fantasy (two years ago, in Toronto). Or rather, they found me. Apparently the impromptu badges I made people on Wednesday night in Toronto left an impression, which is both touching and flattering.

One face, however, didn’t need help. I was overjoyed to see Adria Laycraft, the co-editor of the Urban Greenman anthology, and it was only made more fun by the strong contingent of Greenman alumni present in Arlington. A few of us managed to meet for breakfast, and more showed up at Adria’s reading later that day.

Speaking of reunions, it was also good to see two of my Cut by a Girl friends: Nancy Greene and Keyan Bowes. Cut by a Girl is a little-known work, though I think more people will be interested since I had to retell the sword story that spawned the whole thing, and the topic kept cropping up. I fancy it has become the World Fantasy equivalent of the Noodle Incident, but unlike that mystery, you can find out what happened by simply reading the anthology.

All this, and I have not even scraped the surface of the many wonderful conversations and happy accidental meetings that made up the weekend. So many names, and I can barely remember half of them. Nina Niskanen and her fine Finnish friends. Patrick, the marine who shared a pizza with me. Greg, and his book about a hollow earth filled with imprisoned gods. Mari Ness, who has opened my eyes to what the world looks like when you have to roll everywhere (and kindly shared her dessert with me). Ellen Vartenhoff, the Marvel comics survivor. And so many more who’s names I cannot recall at the moment. It was lovely meeting all of you (and I really mean that: I don’t think I met a single creep at this entire convention). I want to thank Stuart David Schiff and his lovely wife Susan (and their son whose name I sadly did not get) for being kind and insightful luncheon companions at Sunday’s Award’s Banquet. Maybe you won’t believe me when I tell you that the editor of Whispers was entertained that day by an aspiring author telling him and his wife all about the process of making kefir, but that’s what happened. In return I got the hear the World Fantasy Awards presentation as annotated by Stuart David Schiff, and what was said then shall go unrecorded here, except to say that it made the whole process that much more entertaining.

I also want to shout out to all the wonderful readers who came and got me to sign their books: C.J. and both Seths, Kat, Cat, Amy, Apurva, and Alec, who was the first one to find me at the con (before Opening Ceremonies, no less) with his copy of Professor Odd #1, and was the last person to ask for an autograph, at the tail end of Monday’s breakfast, with Professor Odd #5. Because of the relative scarcity of 4 and 5, not everyone managed to complete their set, and I know for certain that only five people have complete signed sets. But anyone who’d like to complete their set can do so by going to the Professor Odd page at Heliopause Productions, selecting their chosen issues, and ordering them from their retailer of choice. Getting them signed might be a bit more difficult, but I’m working on a solution to that as well. Watch this space and my twitter (@GrimbyTweets) for an announcement regarding that.

A few people also asked how many Odds there were total, to which the answer is technically six, though the latest episode won’t appear until the Perihelion edition of Apsis Ficiton comes out this December, and it won’t be available as a single until January or February. Beyond that, however, I have twenty-four episodes planned, and am currently in the process of writing the twelfth one.

I want to thank the hotel’s staff, who were excellent; especially Woody at the concierge who pointed me in the direction of Bistro 7107 and told me to order the adobo (pro tip: go to Bistro 7107 and get the adobo). Also Sally and Larry, booksellers who gave me insight to what the business looks like from behind the dealer’s table, and who set me up with my copy of Creative Fire. Thanks to everyone who brought prints and cards and originals—you help make my dream a reality! I must mention John Picacio once again in order to thank him for being unfailingly kind, helpful, inspiring and generally awesome, as well as Charles Vess, who was generous enough to put a dragon in my Drakendillion.

Aside: I brought the doorstopper of a book to his table on Friday night, told him that his artbook/doorstopper had been a fixture on our coffee table for a month when it was meant to be changed out after one week, explained what the red and gold monstrosity in front of him was and that I would like him to sign the guest page, and had gotten as far as “…and one day I would be honored if you would put a dragon in it—not now, of course, I know you’re very busy—” when he snorted, grabbed the book, opened it to the first blank page, and started to draw.

Once I picked my jaw up off the floor I bummed a piece of scrap paper off the person in line behind me, and drew him a small, cramped thank-you card. It seemed the least I could do.

Finally, I’d like to thank Mary Robinette Kowal and Guy Gavriel Kay for hosting the Scotch tasting on Wednesday night. It was informative and tasty and introduced me to what will likely be a new favorite (Highland Park). It might seem strange to mention it here at the end, but it ties in to Sunday night, when I attempted to make a bottom-of-the-barrel blended whiskey edible by cutting it with water, coffee, and cream. Which turned it into something that was rubbish for whiskey, but rather good coffee. In future, however, I think I will stick to my Ls (Laphraoig and Lagavulin) if I’m going to be drinking alcohol. But it wasn’t a bad way to end what was an exceptionally good convention.

2014WFC15

Looking to the future: I got asked a number of times about Saratoga next year, and it pains me to say it is highly unlikely that I will be going. I will, however, be in Spokane for WorldCon 2015, and I am adding Wiscon and DragonCon to the list of Cons I Really Must Go To Yes I Know It Makes My Year Really Crowded But They Look So FUN.

In the more immediate future: I swerve back into the Furry Fandom in January for Further Confusion in San Jose, where I will have art in the show and feet firmly planted in Tachyon’s paws, and after that it is the Long Push for AnthroCon in July. For more information about my 2015 convention appearances, check my About page, which should hopefully be updated soon.

I am on the plane to San Francisco now, and we have a few hours yet before we land, so I think I will end this now, and see if I can’t pick of the threads of the twelfth Professor Odd novella. Now I know people are really liking the series, I have more motivation than ever to write it.

~G

Goldeen Ogawa is a writer, illustrator and cartoonist. To keep tabs on what she is doing you can follow her on twitter @GrimbyTweets, and on Tumblr. You can also contact her directly.

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I am typing this from the comfort of my hotel room in Arlington, VA, where the current World Fantasy Convention is being held. It’s been a long day of travel, sight-seeing, book-bag stuffing, good food and good scotch, but I thought I’d post here and let you guys know what’s up!

So tomorrow (Thursday) I am hanging pieces in the Art Show and then bumbling around the con. I have nine pieces in the show this year, including Riding and the Wolf and the Professor Odd covers for “The Elder Machine” and “Dragons of Geda.” Needless to say, I’ll be at the ice cream social after opening ceremonies.

Friday is a mostly free day for me, save in the evening when I’ll be at the Mass Autograph session. If you got a copy of Professor Odd in your bookbag, please bring it by and I’ll be happy to sign it for you. I’ll also have very limited numbers of Apsis Fiction: Perihelion 2015 proofs available for sale/barter/trade.

Saturday I am moderating the “Animals in Fantasy” panel first thing in the morning (10), along with Judi Fleming, Dorothy Hearst, Garth Nix and Jeff VanderMeer. Should be an interesting hour! After that I have the day free to my own devices, but I will be present for the Artist’s reception that evening, beginning around 9 outside the Art Show.

Sunday is wide open—I will be at the banquet, but other than that do not have much planned.

Anyway, if you’re at WFC, do come and say hi if you see me! I may doodle on your badge and/or give you an origami flower!

And now, to sweet, sweet sleep. See you in the morning.

*

Goldeen Ogawa is a writer, illustrator and cartoonist. To keep tabs on what she is doing you can follow her on twitter @GrimbyTweets, and on Tumblr. You can also contact her directly.

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Yes, that is a Tiki Dalek. Photo by my Awesome Aunt.

Yes, that is a Tiki Dalek. Photo by my Awesome Aunt.

So LonCon3 was pretty awesome. I haven’t had a chance to write about it yet since I had to rush off to another con, but I’ll try to dredge up some memories now.

The venue (the ExCel center in the Docklands of London) might well have been called Spaceball One for how long it took to walk from one end to the other. I got to do this several times, since my hotel was on the opposite end from the one which hosted the events of LonCon3.

The programming, through intimidating in size, seemed to be of pretty good quality. Even the less glamorous panels (such as the FanFiction 101 panel which had been scheduled against George RR Martin and Connie Willis) were reasonably well-attended and had interesting panelists and competent moderators. The fan village was great, and the exhibit hall was fascinating. I particularly liked the Tiki Dalek and the Diana Wynne Jones bench.

The author resting on the Diana Wynne Jones bench. Photo by the WM.

The author resting on the Diana Wynne Jones bench. Photo by my Wonderful Mother.

I’d like to give props to the Art Show directors, Colin Harris and Serena Culfeather, who did so much to promote the show and its artists, and who, along with Sara Felix, put together a lovely Artist Showcase book. I gave one of my complimentary copies to my Wonderful Mother, while I took the other around getting as many of the attending artists to sign it as I could. This led to me getting acquainted with Anne Sudworth, SoMK, and (surprisingly) GoH Chris Foss himself.

I also got a chance to visit with John Picacio and his lovely assistant Tara. John and I originally met at WFC 2009, when the art show directors, in their infinite wisdom, chose to put our panels side-by-side. An intimidating prospect for any artist, but 2009 was my first time in an art show—ever. John was exceptionally kind, however, and has become a major influence and inspiration on and for my own work. I have written effusively about him before, and can only reiterate my recommendation that everyone go look at his site and subscribe to the Lone-Boy mailing list.

At the Loteria demo on Sunday morning: this kid won one of the awesome prizes—a pack of six "grande" Loteria cards!

At the Loteria demo on Sunday morning: this kid won one of the awesome prizes—a pack of six “grande” Loteria cards!

I had a really great time participating in the Diversity in Comics panel—so great, in fact, that I fear I talked a little too much. But I got to catch up with some of the attendees afterwards and we had fun conversations. I want to thank my fellow panelists, Jenni Hill, Dev Agarwal, Michael R Underwood and Kurt Erichsen—I wish I’d had more time to chat with all of you. Also thanks to our brave moderator, Megan Waples.

Tachyon LOVES getting his picture taken.

Tachyon LOVES getting his picture taken.

In a strange mix of genres and personas, on Saturday I also took part in a Meet the Furries panel, where I demonstrated fursuiting and later took Tachyon out around the fan village. A harrowing experience, since practically nobody at LonCon3 had any idea how to treat a fursuiter, but the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. It was wonderful playing with the ambient kids and posing with the model TARDISes they had set up. Big thanks to my Wonderful Mother and Awesome Aunt and to Mikepaws, for saving me from the more aggressive kids. Also thanks to the staffer who gave Tachyon a Hall Cosplay Award—we will cherish it always.

Tachyon 1

That’s it. That’s World Con.

The highlight of the weekend was, however, the Diana Wynne Jones fan meet and greet that I hosted (with the help of WM and AA) on Sunday evening. When I realized that LonCon3 was taking place over what would have been her 80th birthday, I wrote to the organizers asking if they had any DWJ programming on the books. They had not. This was in early June. I volunteered as tribute to host such a programme, and was given the Fan Activity Tent for an hour and a half on Sunday evening as a result.

One of the prizes for the book giveaway, with bonus sketch by yours truly.

One of the prizes for the book giveaway, with bonus sketch by yours truly.

For me, the event itself was a bit of a blur: between greeting people, running the book giveaway, and drawing last-minute sketches to put in said books, I had little time for any actual visiting. However, from what people told me during and after, everyone had a great time. I must thank the WM and the Laura Cecil literary agency for sponsoring the books, and my AA for organizing the refreshments. Also thanks to Gili Bar-Hilel who helped promote the event and being awesome in general. And to Meredith MacArdle, whose contribution to the DWJ fandom is incalculable. Thanks to Shana for the brilliant Archer’s Goon-inspired ribbons, and thanks of course to everyone who came—even if we only exchanged a few words, I think of you all as my friends and comrades-in-fandom. It is my hope that we “Wynners” can continue holding such meets, if only because it’s fun to talk to other fans, but also as a way to remember DWJ and all she did for the genre. Now that she’s gone, I feel it is really up to us to make sure her work stays in print and keeps being introduced to new generations.

If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to email me—just put “DWJ meet” somewhere in the subject and I’ll be sure to see it. I hope to write up a more detailed report, including more photos, in the near future.

In the mean time, here’s the group photo with the bench (and a computer showing the google.co.uk doodle for August 16th) from Saturday. Thank you all!

Sadly I can't name everyone here. We're all DWJ fans—that's pretty much all you need to know.

Sadly I can’t name everyone here. We’re all DWJ fans—that’s pretty much all you need to know. Even the dragon (especially the dragon).

In closing, here are some things I learned from LonCon3:

  1. People are generally delighted to sign things for you, be they authors or artists.
  2. SoMK is awesome. (John Picacio is also awesome, but I knew that already.)
  3. PAs are interesting people. Befriend them.
  4. Always be polite to staff. Always.
  5. Never underestimate the unbridled joy of a child confronted with what appears to be a stuffed animal come to life.

More stories from LonCon3 will no doubt trickle out of my brain as events settle, but for now I think this is enough to be going on. I have other stories to write, not to mention a report from the con that came right on the heels of LonCon3: Eurofurence in Berlin, Germany.

~G

Obligatory Iron Throne pic. No Targaryens here: Dafydd is the real power.

Obligatory Iron Throne pic. No Targaryens here: Dafydd is the real power.

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As you may have noticed from the break in scheduled tweets and tumbles, last weekend I was in Pittsburgh for my sixth AnthroCon. I was there as a dealer of art and merch, an exhibiting artist, and, for the first time, as a fursuiter (costumed performer)! It was an incredible and an incredibly busy weekend, and so much happened I cannot possibly fit it all into one blog post. Instead, I’ll be tumbling interesting anecdotes from the con over the course of the next couple of weeks, so if you haven’t already, go follow me on tumblr. This post will deal with a general overview, and a peek as to what’s coming next.

View of the David L Lawrence Convention Center (with tiny AnthroCon flag), and the adjoining Westin hotel. Rachel Carson bridge is in foreground. Taken from the Andy Warhol Bridge.

View of the David L Lawrence Convention Center (with tiny AnthroCon flag), and the adjoining Westin hotel with Rachel Carson bridge and Allegheny river in foreground. Taken from the Andy Warhol Bridge.

One thing I did differently this year, was I made it a point to do a lot more exploring of Pittsburgh itself. It’s a shame it’s taken me six years to actually look around the host city of AC, but better late than never, right? It helped that I have recently taken up jogging, and so I was able to use my morning runs as an excuse to check out the city—mostly the river trails running up and down the shores of the Allegheny. I also finally got to visit the National Aviary, which turned out to be even more wonderful than I’d hoped. Their exhibits and staff are great, the birds are beautiful, and I cannot recommend them enough. It was fitting, too, because they were the con’s official charity this year, and so I got to see rather a lot of them over the course of the weekend. Still, if you’re ever in Pittsburgh, I highly recommend you set aside a day to see the Aviary—I can especially recommend their daily Soar show. Also, they had hyacinth macaws.

Dafydd regards the Aviary's Hyacinth Macaw.

Dafydd regards the Aviary’s Hyacinth Macaw.

This year was also special because I got to share a room with one of my oldest internet friends: Susan and I met on a Pokémon forum back in 2003, and have since rediscovered each other, first on deviantART in 2004, and then in the furry fandom in 2009—though we did not actually get to meet in person until 2010. Since then we’ve kept in touch, but this is the first year we’ve really gotten to hang out together, and it was a joy. Susan is an amateur mascot performer with two amazing costumes, and it was a lot of fun suiting with her at AC. Our third roommate (and mutual friend) was Mary Capaldi, who is wonderful and amazing and draws the most adorable bugs.

Left to right: Susan as Rin the Dragon, Mary Capaldi, and myself as Tachyon the Elk Angel Dragon. The bandanas were made after a design by Mary.

Left to right: Susan as Rin the Dragon, Mary Capaldi as herself, and myself as Tachyon the Elk Angel Dragon. The bandanas were made after a design by Mary.

I mentioned Tachyon in the caption of that last picture, so I suppose I’d better tell you about him. He is a character designed by a legendary fursuit performer/maker better known as Telephone, who created a species she called angel dragons. These have since expanded in number as other artists have come up with their own angel dragon characters. Aside from Telephone and her mate, Radio, there is also Torch, Tumbleweed, Pearl, Alabaster, and Echo—who to my knowledge were all designed by different people. Tachyon was created by Telephone herself, as a feathery, horned, antlered beast inspired by a bull Elk. She put up the design back in December and auctioned off the custom-built suit to the highest bidder… which turned out to be me. Six months later I was finally able to step into his shoes (and legs and body and hands and head) and fully bring him to life. This was my first experience fursuiting extensively, and I enjoyed it immensely. It is very hot, very hard to see, and you can easily trip over things, but the power and presence of these costumes is incredible. It brought out all my old love of performing and playing with people, and I had a blast.

You can see me (as Tachyon) in action in the video below (taken by my friend Jesse, who had never used an iPhone before; bless her.)

I did not get to play around as Tachyon as much as I would have liked, but that was because AnthroCon is a working convention for me. Like last year, I had a table in the dealer’s hall and panels in the art show, and the work attendant on those things prevented me from taking part in all but the late-night fursuit shenanigans.

Not that being a working artist at AC is boring. Oh ho no. AnthroCon is the largest anthropomorphic fandom (furry for short) convention in the world, and one that many people save up all year to attend. As such, I do more commission work at AC than I do for much of the rest of the year, and most of that is done at my table. So from noon to six on Friday, ten to six on Saturday, and ten to four on Sunday, I am working, working, working.

Oh, but it is fun work. One of the great things about the furry fandom is how creative and colorful its members are, and they are so very generous when it comes to commissioning artists. I haven’t found another group of people that is so supportive of its artists and artisans, and I am warmed and humbled every time I go to AnthroCon and people practically line up to get to me draw things.

(Okay so no lines were actually formed. But there were knots of interested parties. Globs, you could say. It was great.)

Of course, the downside is I can only do so much work at my table, what with actually selling things as well (this year I brought an assortment of Heliopause books, and they all sold, amazingly) and this has always put a limit on how much work I can take at the con… and since most people want their pictures done at the con this means a limit on how much I can take in—because I do like to get out and about in the evenings; see above paragraphs regarding fursuits.

This year, however, I was fortunate enough to be invited to work after hours with several other artists, and the experience of sitting in a room with half a dozen extremely motivated people, who also happened to be amazing artists, just drawing, was an incredibly encouraging feeling. You got to say “ding!” when your piece was finished, and then you could show it around to the rest of the room.

And here is the remarkable thing that might come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t met a working artist: there was no critique, no critical feedback, whatsoever. Basically everyone paused in their own work to “oooo” and “ahhhh” over the finished piece. This was not a critique group. These artists were not there to improve their craft; they were there to work. But being able to see the amazing stuff they created also helped me up my own game. It was a nurturing environment, and being allowed to work in it with them was an honor and a pleasure.

The picture that kept me up until 2:30 AM Sunday. But Dark Natasha (darknatasha.com) had kind words to say about it, so that was worth it.

The picture that kept me up until 2:30 AM Sunday. But Dark Natasha (darknatasha.com) had kind words to say about it, so that was worth it.

On the subject of professional artists and critiques, one of the highlights of this AC was getting to hang out with Alector Fencer, who does breath-taking digital painting. Like Giger if Giger had a thing for plants instead of phallic skeletoids. She is utterly amazing and utterly gorgeous and indubitably German in the best way possible, and while we were touring the art show at the Artist and Dealer’s reception on Friday night, we stopped by my panel and she took me by the arm and said, very quietly, “May I give you a little constructive critique?”

I felt my heart sink. I do not like getting constructive critique on my finished work. Most of the time it is either something I already know about (and was hoping would not be noticed) or it is not so much critique as it is a negative statement.

But Alector had been nothing but kind to me so far—and besides, have you seen her art? If she had a critique, I wanted to hear it!—so I smiled and said, “Sure.”

“Okay,” she said. “Here is my critique: your work is fucking amazing.

Now imagine that being said in a sexy Berliner accent.

It was like getting a shot of concentrated happy straight to the gut. I was floored. It was the best critique I’d ever gotten. Especially as it came from the person who painted this.

Alector is currently crowd-funding an original graphic novel project, called Myre (pronounced mi-ré), and you can follow her on Twitter for more updates.

The author with Alector fencer, or: a portrait of two jet-lagged artists.

The author with Alector Fencer, or: a portrait of two jet-lagged artists.

There were so many cool people at AnthroCon this year, I will try to mention as many as I can. Shoutouts of course to my friend Renee, who was working Reg and Dealer’s Den staff and could not be my table assistant but it’s okay, I forgive you; also to Jesse for following Tachyon around on Saturday night and taking pictures—thank you so much! I missed seeing Fox Amoore’s release of his new album, sadly, but I have the CD and listening to it on my drive home made the traffic bearable. So many thanks to my friends Mary and Susan for putting up with my wet athletic clothes hogging all the towel racks—you are both saints! Getting to eat bagels and vegemite with the Aussies at Dr Jenner’s party and having a look inside his personal portfolio was lovely, as was meeting his adorable wife Nonna (thank you for returning the bandana I left in your room!) In fact, all the Aussies were great. I want to go visit you guys so bad. Thanks again to Diana Stein for her support and encouragement, and best regards to all the other SkyPro fursuiters and fellow angel dragons—we will meet again!

Angel dragons, l-f top: Pearl, Telephone, Radio, Tachyon, Alabaster, Echo | l-f bottom: Torch, Tumbleweed. Photo by Justin Cheetah: http://justinthecheetah.tumblr.com

Angel dragons, l-f top: Pearl, Telephone, Radio, Tachyon, Alabaster, Echo | l-f bottom: Torch, Tumbleweed. Photo by Justin Cheetah: http://justinthecheetah.tumblr.com

And of course I have to shout out to my dear friend, 2 the Ranting Gryphon, who got me into this mess in the first place, and continues to deliver top-notch stand up comedy, even in the face of extreme stress (he moved house weeks before the con) and high expectations. It is really hard for me to describe his AnthroCon show; it is somehow bigger and better than any other performance he does, and the kind of laugher he generates is unique. It’s visceral, cathartic, and consuming. Like getting your body cleaned out with the kind of humor that scorches a little, but leaves you feeling better afterwards. All I can say at this point is: go buy his DVDs, and if you are ever in a position to see his live show, do it.

To all the friends I met, however briefly, even if I don’t mention your name here—even if I don’t remember your name—know that you are in my heart, and I will think of you fondly, and look forward to the day when, like a comet to the sun, we all come streaming back to Pittsburgh.

Fireworks over Confluence Point Park, 4th of July, as seen from the docks by the DLLCC on the Allegheny river.

Fireworks over Confluence Point Park, 4th of July, as seen from the docks by the DLLCC on the Allegheny river.

Every time I land in PIT for AnthroCon, and I tell my shuttle driver how happy I am to be back, they usually give me odd looks. I know that Pittsburgh isn’t glamorous the way San Francisco, Chicago, NYC or even Philadelphia is, but to me it will always be special—and now that I’ve had a chance to explore it, I can categorically say that it’s got something to be proud of—even without us funny furry people taking over downtown every summer.

Looking forward… July is going to be a hectic month for me, but hopefully I’ll have some art to post for you. I’ll be busy with take home orders from AC, and then in August I am traveling to World Con via Scotland, and thence on to Berlin (Hallo Alector!) for Eurofurence. I’ll have art in the show at LonCon, and I’ll also be hosting a Diana Wynne Jones fan meet and greet. I may have art for sale at Eurofurence, but there are no solid plans as of yet.

On the book side of things: we are overdue for another issue of Apsis Fiction, but I hope to have that out the door soon. There is also another episode of Professor Odd, and the first dedicated issue of Driving Arcana. Lots to look forward to. Lots to do. I am currently thrashing my way out of a Bouragner Felpz novel, and Corianne has been giving me ominous looks since I’ve been writing this instead of her story. Time to sign off.

Auf Wiedersehen!

*

Goldeen Ogawa is a writer, illustrator and cartoonist. She goes by Agent Elrond (or variations thereof) in the furry fandom, and also answers to “Rondie.” To keep tabs on what she is doing you can follow her on twitter @GrimbyTweets, and on Tumblr. You can also contact her directly.

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Approaching the Westin from William Penn Pl., Downtown Pittsburgh. 2013.

Approaching the Westin from William Penn Pl., Downtown Pittsburgh. 2013.

  • What: AnthroCon
  • Where: Pittsburgh PA
  • When: July 5th-7th 2013

Those of you who have followed this blog long enough may remember my report last year of AnthroCon 2012, and if you are new you may refer to that post if you ever become confused. However, if you are familiar with fantasy and science fiction cons, what comes next should not be at all surprising.

AnthroCon is a furry convention—loosely, a term applied to fans of anthropomorphic animals as they appear in fantasy, science fiction, comics and cartoons—held every summer in downtown Pittsburgh, PA. This year marked my fifth in attendance and my fourth as a Dealer.

At furry conventions the dealer’s hall is affectionately known as the Dealer’s Den, but since AnthroCon has expanded to take up more and more of the David L Lawrence Convention Center (DLLCC) it has become closer to a Dealer’s Cavern. It is a huge hall with a high arching ceiling held up with cables. Natural light filters down to the smooth concrete floor, which during AnthroCon is covered by tables under white cloths. Further to one side is a closed-off area for the Artist’s Alley (where artists may sell art through the convention, thus avoiding having to collect and remit PA sales tax themselves) and the Art Show. For three days over the weekend it serves to house hundreds of dealerships and dozens of artists.

As a dealer, AnthroCon represents a huge investment of time and energy for me. The first six months of the year are dominated by AnthroCon prep, and the final weeks are downright hectic. This year was made even more frantic because of Year of the God-Fox‘s launching the week before. When it came time to pack everything into my suitcase there were a few bad moments where I worried things wouldn’t fit. But they did, and when I arrived in Pittsburgh early on Wednesday morning I came hauling a suitcase packed with art and art-making tools.

Wednesday, July 3

Tyrannosaurus skeleton pointing the way to Baggage Claim at Pittsburgh Int. Airport. It has gotten to the point that I can navigate it with hardly any help from the signs.

Tyrannosaurus skeleton pointing the way to Baggage Claim at Pittsburgh Intl. Airport. It has gotten to the point that I can navigate it with hardly any help from the signs.

Even though AnthroCon technically runs Friday to Sunday, people begin showing up a few days early. I arrived Wednesday morning, as did my friend 2 the Ranting Gryphon, while my roommates slowly turned up over the course of the day.

However, in the early hours I was left to my own devices, and so I did what I always do when I am bored at a convention: I volunteered.

AnthroCon has an attendance of over four thousand, and this year we were expected to break five grand—which we did. When I volunteered I was put to work stuffing bags with a dozen or so others. We worked as an assembly line, passing the red plastic bags stamped with AnthroCon’s paw-print logo from person to person, each one stuffing an item of swag into it, while staff members walked around refilling our supplies. It felt like a never-ending task, but after a while the lead staffer made us stop and come over to another table, where we found this laid out for us:

Volunteers are not paid. Except in sugar.

Volunteers are not paid. Except in sugar.

After cake we went back to work. I eventually ducked out with a friend, ostensibly to go find food, but I believe we just went back to our room and napped.

Wednesday night our other roommates finally arrived. They had driven up from North Carolina and had suffered a major setback early in their trip that involved a tow-truck. A back-up car had to be acquired, and they didn’t arrive at the hotel until after 10 PM.

Which was okay, because many of the best parties at AnthoCon happen after 9. We went rambling out to the curb and hung out with a crowd outside a local pub, where we were joined by more friends.

This is me (left) with Dafydd, and my friend Susan.

This is me (left) with Dafydd, and my friend Susan. We both have mohawks!

I met Susan online in 2003 when I joined my first ever internet forum. We kept in contact off and on for years, rediscovering each other first on deviantART, and then on FurAffinity. In 2009, the year of my first AnthroCon, we both attended but never met in person due to bad communication. We later discovered that we had actually gone to many of the same panels, and I had even taken a picture of Susan in the fursuit parade without knowing it. We resolved to do better in subsequent years, and we have. However, since I am often stuck behind my dealer’s table and Susan is busy suiting, we haven’t had a good chance to really hang out until this year.

From left: my roommate Ryuu, Susan, a nice German lady named Onai, and fellow-artist Nyomi.

From left: my roommate Ryuu, Susan, a nice German lady named Onai, and fellow-artist Nyomi.

Nyomi is an artist I met online, and who was an absolute delight to get to know in person. Ryuu was one of my first friends from AnthroCon 2009, and as he is moving to Australia later this year this will be his last AC for a while. He was also kind enough to help me out with my table this year, for which I am eternally grateful.

Thursday, July 4

Ryuu and I consolidated our dragon paraphernalia to create the Dragon Bed.

Ryuu and I consolidated our dragon paraphernalia to create the Dragon Bed.

Since so much of my weekend is taken up with work, Thursday is my best chance to mingle and visit with people. After a delicious breakfast of instant oatmeal brewed in the hotel’s coffee maker we ventured out onto the streets of Pittsburgh. Even though Pittsburgh in summer is warm and humid, the convention space is kept at a temperature meant to cater to people wearing thick, heavy costumes, and so leggings and long-sleeve shirts are a good idea. I might have looked a little foolish when I went outside, but I was glad of the covering later.

I tried a new style for this year. My mother says I look like some sort of superhero robocop. But of course she would say that.

I tried a new style for this year. My mother says I look like some sort of superhero robocop. But of course she would say that. She is a Wonderful Mother.

There is no programming Thursday morning since the con is not technically open. This does not mean there is nothing to do: every year AnthroCon rents out the Westin’s largest ballroom and turns it into the Zoo. This basically becomes social central, where people can go to eat, draw, play, and generally hang out. At full swing it is a roaring cave filled with people, but on Thursday morning it was still fairly quiet. Even so I still got to see some interesting characters:

Dafydd with Aizui, a glowy-eyed green tanuki-ish thing. This is fairly normal for AnthroCon.

Dafydd with Aizui, a glowy-eyed green tanuki-ish thing. This is fairly normal for AnthroCon.

I also got to meet Kittiara, an extremely talented artist who does cool, Byzantine-style portraits of people’s characters. Susan, Nyomi and myself each commissioned one this year, and we had a great time comparing our new portraits. Mine is shown below, while the entire batch (including Susan and Nyomi’s) can be found here.

Byzantine Badge of Agent Elrond (w/ bonus Dafydd) by Kittiara.

Byzantine Badge of Agent Elrond (w/ bonus Dafydd) by Kittiara.

Then around mid-morning Sardyuon wandered in. Sardyuon is a Japanese acrobat/juggler who performs near-Cirque du Soleil-level manipulation and hand balancing in fursuit. He was a guest of honor last year and was invited back by popular demand—for which I was glad, since I was unable to see his performance then. By the grace of Ryuu I was able to make it to his exhibition on Friday night, for which there are no words. But here is a YouTube video from a part of his Sunday performance to give you an idea of what he does:

Needless to say I had to run over and get a picture. Sardyuon does not speak any English, and my Japanese is extremely limited, but with the help of his translator I think I was able to communicate how excited I was.

Myself, Dafydd, and Sardyuon, a Japanese acrobat/juggler who performs near Cirque du Soleil-level manipulation and hand balancing in fursuit.

Myself, Dafydd, and Sardyuon in his casual suit.

Sardyuon also, I later found out, created the artwork for the AnthroCon badges.

My AnthroCon badge, art by Sardyuon, with all the ribbons I had collected by the end of the con.

My AnthroCon badge, art by Sardyuon, with all the ribbons I had collected by the end of the con.

When not fangirling fursuiters I set up with some friends at a table and doodled in sketchbooks until Susan showed up in her suit.

Mingchun the Sundragon, as performed by Susan.

Mingchun the Sundragon, as performed by Susan.

The Sundragon is a suit crafted by Qarrezel and her team at Clockwork Creature which Susan has been performing in since about 2010. I have long been a fan of “Q-suits” as they are called. The fine craftsmanship aside, I love their design aesthetic, and the way they appear to be real, thinking creatures rather than a frozen-grin mask.

AnthroCon2013063

Q-heads have remarkably good visibility for a fursuit, but drawing can still be difficult.

So when Susan took off the head I asked if I could try it on. She most generously said yes and what followed became known as the brief appearance of the Dark!Sundragon, who went trolling around the Zoo surprising people and messing with them. I was amazed at how attracted people were to the character, and didn’t seem to realize it was the same person inside who had been sitting only tables away for the past two hours. I could barely get two feet without being accosted for a picture, and I have to say I quite enjoyed the experience.

Dark!Sundragon with a rather surprised Dafydd.

Dark!Sundragon with a rather surprised Dafydd.

Q-Suits usually run into the thousands of dollars, due to the fact that they are unique and hand-made. It is my dream some day of commissioning a partial version of my Elrond character, but until then I shall have to satisfy myself with borrowing bits off my generous friends.

Thursday afternoon consisted mostly of setting up in the Dealer’s Carvern, after which I was called away to dinner with friends. Myself and a few hundred others attempted to watch the 4th of July fireworks from the roof of the convention center, but were forced to vacate when mother nature rolled in her own fireworks in the form of a thunderstorm. After the rain cleared I took my annual walk down the fountain path which runs beneath the DLLCC. This year they added colored lights, which made the place look particularly wondrous.

The "fountain path" beneath the DLLCC. It leads to a dock on the Allegheny River.

The “fountain path” beneath the DLLCC. It leads to a dock on the Allegheny River.

Friday, July 5th

My dealer's table as it appeared on Sunday. It was the first chance I got to actually take a picture.

My dealer’s table as it appeared on Sunday. It was the first chance I got to actually take a picture.

Friday morning was a cramped thing. I had to shower, breakfast, and get my art hung in the Art Show all before noon. This may not sound like a hard thing to do, but when you have stayed up past midnight the night before it can really eat into your morning. Also, to make things interesting for us dealers, members who had bought a Sponsor or Supersponsor membership were allowed into the Cavern fifteen minutes early. I did not find this out until it was 11:45 and they opened the doors while I was still getting signed in to the art show. Fortunately I had signed Ryuu up as my assistant, and he was able to open shop in my place while I hurried from the corner of Hall B (where the Art Show was) back to my table (which was conveniently located as far as was physically possible from the Art Show).

Fridays at AnthroCon are always busy, as people hurry to grab commission slots from their favorite artists. I had never really noticed this before, until this year when several people decided I was one of their favorite artists. It would be the start of a very busy weekend.

Dealers do not get a lunch break. We are obliged to bring a lunch to our table or rely on the generosity of fursuiters who lend us their fake bacon plushies.

Dealers do not get a lunch break. We are obliged to bring a lunch to our table or rely on the generosity of fursuiters who lend us their fake bacon plushies.

For a dealer, busy means good. Despite the fact that I received very few pre-AC orders, once AC was actually happening they came thick and fast. I became quite good at navigating the route between my table and Lizard Laminations, who did a great job laminating all the at-the-con badges I made.

 

A "Standard Badge" for a young man who goes by Glelin in the fandom. It was his first con badge and the first commissioned rendition of his character. I tried to do him right.

A “Standard Badge” for a young man who goes by Glelin in the fandom. It was his first con badge and the first commissioned rendition of his character. I tried to do him right.

Badges are unique pieces of art furries use to identify each other at cons (sort of like real-life avatars), and they are frequently laminated to protect them from food and drink or being bent, crumpled, or crushed. Lizard Lamination uses super-thick laminate, much better than the stuff you get at FedEx/Kinkos, which can actually take the abuse a working badge will be put through. For this reason I only offer laminations on my badges if I’m going to a con where Lizard will be operating.

AnthroCon is interesting in that it is primarily a fandom-con. People go who are fans of anthropomorphic animals, fantasy and science fiction. You do get professionals like Ursula Vernon, Peter S. Beagle, Stan Sakai and others (guests of honor this year were Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon), but for the most part everyone who is there is there to 1: have fun and 2: have more fun. It does not have the commercialized feel of ComicCon or the “I must make contacts!” undertone of World Fantasy. Nevertheless I seem to make more contacts at AnthroCon than any other con. I makes me think the best way to make contacts “in the biz” is to just put yourself out there and do your own thing as best you can—and the people who want to work with you will come and find you.

After a whirlwind day at my table I stuffed some pizza (courtesy of Ryuu) into my face and ran off to catch Sardyuon’s show. Afterwards he came and sat by the edge of the stage and signed cards, con badges, and anything else that was handed to him. In the crush by the stage I glanced over and saw Larry Dixon, whom I’d met briefly at WFC last November, and I said hello to him.

Larry Dixon is quite a character. In the somewhat stiff and professional atmosphere of WFC he was like a breath of fresh air. He seemed perfectly at home at a fur con.

Mr Dixon, usurping the Chairman's Throne, flanked by the two Logistics Crew leads.

Mr Dixon, usurping the Chairman’s Throne, flanked by the two Logistics Crew leads.

Directly after Sardyuon, was one of the main attractions at AC: 2 the Ranting Gryphon’s perennial comedy show. This usually causes a line to form outside the doors to the (monstrous) Spirit of Pittsburgh Ballroom that stretches the length of the convention center, and so I was eager to go get in line. I was prevented, however, by 2 himself. He came in just as I was leaving, and I ended up sitting with his friend DJ Ear while he entertained some other early birds who had managed to sneak in.

2, with his iconic shaved head, is a true furry celebrity.

2, with his iconic shaved head, is a true furry celebrity.

2 is a consumate performer and a dear, sweet man who makes truly horrible things somehow funny. This year he told a dramatized version of the time his apartment was raided by the FBI and made it sound hilarious. I don’t know how he did it. This is why he is the professional comic, and I am not. Anyone interested in his work can check out his official website.

Afterwards I wandered over to the artist and dealer’s reception, which is basically a meet-and-greet for dealers and artists since the latter especially don’t have much time to socialize. After that I went back up to my room and worked until 1 AM getting badges done. And then it was…

Saturday, July 6th

Saturdays are interesting. The Dealer’s Cavern is open the longest (from 10 to 6) but often business is the slowest. 2 and I share a hypothesis that this is because Saturday is when people look in their pockets and realize some of that money must go toward food and travel, and so most of the shoppers who come through the hall on Saturdays are of the window variety. Even so I still managed to make sales, and the slower business allowed me to get work done on my commissions from the day before.

Since 2010 I have occupied the table space adjacent to 2. I do this partly because he is my friend and I enjoy spending time with him, but also because he attracts the most interesting people.

My friend Zylana (in back) and the fursuit performer Telephone, at 2's dealer table.

My friend Zylana (in back) and the fursuit performer Telephone at 2’s dealer table.

Telephone is a fursuit character performer. She is a terrific dancer and this is what she sounds like in person.

Saturday was also the day I met Shi. What happened was this:

Wandering the den before opening (which is the only time I get to wander) I came back the table directly behind mine and saw perched there three incredibly cute hand-made sloth dolls. I particularly liked the black one, but the dealer was not there at the time. A few hours later, when she eventually showed up, I asked how much the sloths were. I then died a little inside and went back to my table.

A few hours after that I looked around and saw that several of the sloth dolls had been purchased. Furthermore, the black one (my sloth) was currently being ogled at by a couple of girls. I found that my dead bits inside were now reanimating themselves as angry zombies. Clearly something had to be done.

As soon as I saw black sloth was back on the stand I ran over, whipped out my card, and bought it.

And that was how I acquired the newest member of my family: Shi the Death Sloth.

Shi being held by her maker, Nevask.

Shi being held by her maker, Nevask of Icy Paw Studios.

Shi was originally a him and named Ryuk after the death god from the manga Death Note. However, after due thought I decided he was actually a she and named her Shi, which is Japanese for “death.” Nevask agreed this was a suitable new identity.

Shi and Sally (last year's addition) quickly became friends.

Shi and Sally (last year’s addition) quickly became friends.

On Saturday (thanks to Ryuu) I was able to briefly escape my table and go see Matthew Ebel’s show. Matt is a madly talented performer, singer and songwriter, and this year he was encouraging people to dance along. After a day and a half of sitting at a table this was a pleasant change.

Dafydd insisted on coming. He is adamant about keeping me as his Assistance Human. I say to him, do you see me making twitter accounts for Sally and Shi? Of course not! (Yet.)

Dafydd insisted on coming. He is adamant about keeping me as his Assistance Human. I say to him, do you see me making twitter accounts for Sally and Shi? Of course not! (Yet.)

After that came what felt like a waterfall of events. I went back to my table to relieve Ryuu, did a couple of badges, packed up, and then ran (literally) up to the fourth floor to catch the last half hour of Whose Lion is it Anyway?

Whose Lion, as it is known in the fandom, is a furry version of the popular TV show hosted by Drew Carey. In the past it has been run by a pair known as Alkali and Sema, who are active improv folk. It has been my favorite panel every time they host it and was the place where Ryuu and I first met. (I did three musical references in a row, he was the only one who got them, we went for drinks, the rest is history.)

This year however there was a bit of a kerfuffle, and the panel was set to be hosted by someone else. Then there was a further kerfuffle, and the panel was re-scheduled to Saturday afternoon with Alkali hosting (Sema not being in attendance). I knew I had to go, even if it meant sacrificing any chance of getting a decent seat for Kage’s Story Hour (which started the moment Whose Lion let out).

I ran out of the Dealer’s Cavern, up the escalators, across the sky bridge, up more escalators and then into a theatre-style room filled with chaos.

As it turned out, I had entered, with perfect comedic timing, a lightning round of Scenes From a Hat. People kept coming up to me for the rest of the con complimenting me on my performance, when all I had done was walk in at the right moment and act surprised.

The highlight, however, was getting to play Film Noir with a truly anonymous fur (seriously, his badge was blank). Film Noir is a fairly advanced improv game with more complicated rules. I am not a very good improv actor, but I wanted to play and I’d missed most of the panel. Alkali called me up, probably because I’d only just walked in and was very enthusiastically waving my hand, and we proceeded to do a very bizarre scene involved cheerleaders and broken escalators (which eventually became covered in fish). People laughed, though, which was what mattered.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Kage’s Story Hour, performed by the chairman of AnthroCon, Dr. Samuel Conway, is always a treat. I worried that I would not get a good seat, but a funny thing happened: even though I was one of the last people into the room, because I was on my own I could walk to the front middle section and pick one of the single seats that had been left open by the audience’s dislike of sitting near strangers. I squeezed in between a large man with a leopard tail and a tall middle-aged man with a prominent adam’s apple and found myself close to front and very nearly center.

Something a little different this year were the ASL translators for 2 and Kage’s performances. Watching them try to keep up with the fast-talking performers (not to mention keep a straight face) was entertainment in its own right.

Against all good sense I spent Saturday night hanging out with friends, first in Con Ops (much to the chagrin of the staff there), and later in a very crowded suite at the Double Tree. It was a rather unique experience for me, sitting in a crowded room filled with conversation and just getting to be. I didn’t feel like I had to engage anyone—I already knew most of the people there—and I was able to sit and enjoy listening in on snatches of speech while eating M&Ms.

Dafydd prefers candy to booze. He is a responsible dragon.

Dafydd prefers candy to booze. He is a responsible dragon.

After the party got too loud I wandered back to my hotel. I have been warned about walking in that area of Pittsburgh after dark, but that night all I saw were gaggles of happy, marginally drunk furries. Perhaps it is a dangerous place to walk alone in the middle of the night, but not during AnthroCon.

The intersection of William Penn Pl and Liberty Ave, midnight on Saturday.

The intersection of William Penn Pl and Liberty Ave, midnight on Saturday.

Once back up in my room I worked until 2:30 on badges, and then passed out.

Sunday, July 7th

Self portrait of Sunday's outfit, tea in hand.

Self portrait of Sunday’s outfit, tea in hand.

Sunday is a bittersweet day. On the one hand, if I’ve made it to Sunday I am fairly certain I will survive, but on the other I am sad the con is coming to an end.

This Sunday, however, I was actually a little glad. Three nights of less-than-optimal sleep was taking its toll, and my body was beginning to protest. I sat down and worked straight through, churning out the last of the badges. The final one was a standard I made for a young man going by the name of Kizzneth. He had placed the order Friday morning and came by on Sunday just as I was starting to color it. Since Ryuu was absent I had him come sit behind my table and watch me work. That was fun; I like having the commissioner on hand to bounce ideas off of. It was also fun listening to his reactions as the drawing slowly took on life.

Then it was a whirlwind of packing (Ryuu swooped in and picked up my stuff from the art show, bless him) and another dash to get into the Charity Show. This is a double act that 2 and Kage do every year to benefit the con’s charity, which this year was an equine rescue service.

And then…

Then something marvelous happened. I managed to organize seven of my friends and we all went out to dinner together.

Anyone who has tried to organize a meal at a con knows how rare this is. We dubbed it DinnerCon, and it was the perfect capper to the weekend.

Susan, Nyomi and Ryuu on the way to DinnerCon, which was held at a little Indian place on 6th. One of the few restaraunts open Sunday evening.

Susan, Nyomi and Ryuu on the way to DinnerCon, which was held at a little Indian place on 6th, one of the few restaraunts open Sunday evening.

Monday, July 8th

And then it was Monday. I saw my roommates off one by one, stuffed everything back into my suitcase, and checked out.

Then I went and found Nyomi and Susan sitting in the Westin’s coffee shop, and we had LobbyCon for three hours until they had to get on a bus. Susan is from the Netherlands and wants us to come to Eurofurence—held in Germany—next year. Nyomi, who is rather like me and lives in an isolated community for the rest of the year, wanted to try to go to more cons a bit closer to home. For this reason we are now planning on attending Midwest Furfest in Chicago this November.

Dafydd meets Susan's new friend.

Dafydd meets Susan’s new friend.

After walking them to the bus stop I had one last lunch at Fernando’s (which had been my go-to place all weekend), bade a tearful good-bye to the staff, and then headed for my hotel to meet the shuttle.

But was that the end? Of course not! AnthroCon is so huge you will still run into furs clogging up Pittsburgh’s airport on Monday afternoon. So I had AirportCon with a couple of fursuiters (out of suit) at my gate until my flight left. This was very nearly a disaster since I get terribly airsick unless I am heavily medicated. As I had learned to my distress on my outbound flight, Dramamine does not work. I know that Scopolamine does, but that is rather hard to get a hold of in the US. Thankfully my aunt came to my rescue and told me to try Bonine, which she used when she suffered from vertigo. After phone hunting on her part I was able to locate some in a RiteAid within the airport, and to my intense relief it worked like a charm.

I am relating this on the off chance that there are other Dramamine-resistant people among my audience. Do try Bonine (active ingredient Meclizine Hydrochloride). It works on different channels than Dramamine, lasts longer, and does not make you as drowsy.

Passing by the T-rex skeleton again, now heading home.

Passing by the T-rex skeleton again, now heading home.

All told this was a very good AnthroCon. Even though I didn’t sell much in the art show, the proceeds from my table more than made up for that. Based on a casual elevator conversation with Ursula Vernon this appears to have been the case for most exhibitors.

Next up for me is the aforementioned Midwest Furfest, but before that I have a lot of work to do for Heliopause Productions—not to mention personal commissions and the continued release of Year of the God-FoxBusy busy busy artist/writer will be busy busy.

And of course it’s never too soon to begin preparing for next year…

Shi, Dafydd and Sally say I should get back to work.

Shi, Dafydd and Sally say I should get back to work.

Goldeen Ogawa has been active in the furry fandom since 2008, where she is better known by her furry handle, Agent Elrond. Her fursona is a chimera, and she keeps an active art blog on her FurAffinity page. If you have any specific questions about furries or the furry fandom, you can send Goldeen an email at goldeenogawa@gmail.com or peck at her on Twitter @GrimbyTweets

 

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Or: Can you hear the bottles sing?

020 Bottles Header

Author’s Note:

This week I am sharing the notes I took on a recent trip to Death Valley National Park with my friend Rose. You can read my report from Day One here, and Day Two here.

My trusty bike, leaning against the "No Fun Allowed" sign at the head of Mosaic Canyon.

My trusty bike, leaning against the “No Fun Allowed” sign at the head of Mosaic Canyon.

Thursday, February 7 2013

Driving, it seems, is the way to get around Death Valley. To mitigate the effect this has on my brain I determined to go out for a short ride this morning, almost before breakfast. (I say ‘almost’ because I had a snack of kefir and cereal before I left.)

I rode up the two and a half mile gravel road to the head of Mosaic Canyon. It is a deceptively steep rise, and felt longer than it actually took (under forty minutes). I started off cold, so I put on tights and my long-sleeved shirt. Then I got warm riding up the hill in the morning sun, but before I got too hot I passed into the shade of a hill and got cool again. I paused at the top to take some pictures, and then rode down—fast. I knew there was a reason I brought my mountain bike! And even though I did stop a couple of times to take more pictures, I still made it back to the room in fifteen minutes.

Dafydd riding dashboard on the drive to Beatty. Photo by my companion, Rose.

Dafydd riding dashboard on the drive to Beatty. Photo by my companion, Rose.

I ate a proper breakfast, showered, and then we packed up some lunch and piled into the car. The plan was to drive the thirty-odd miles east to Beatty, NV, where we could buy fuel for under four dollars a gallon, then drive back and see the ghost town of Rhyolite. I confess I worried (unnecessarily) about getting there on the same tank I’d filled back in Lancaster, almost 300 miles away—but I needn’t have. We made it to Beatty with room to spare, and found a gas station which started at under $3.50. Joy!

Gas at under $3.50! It's a Nevada Miracle!

Gas at under $3.50! It’s a Nevada Miracle!

The car successfully refueled (and the windows washed of the dust they had collected yesterday), I made Rose walk around Beatty with me.

Beatty seems a bit like my hometown: they are both gateway towns, both built along a stretch of highway. Unlike my town, however, it is high, dusty desert. I confess both towns have their share of eyesores and curiosities. In Beatty I saw broken down campers and dilapidated clapboard houses right up next to the road, and it made me feel right at home.

View of Beatty, NV, from the gas station.

View of Beatty, NV, from the gas station.

Walking up the main drag we passed what was little less than a junk yard with some rather creepy statues and a very friendly gray and white cat. One of the statues was a robot sort of fellow, but with real old running shoes stuck on its feet. They looked wilted and bleached, like they had been out in the rain and sun for too long. The other statue was a metal cast of a rearing horse, which was not so bad… except that it had the tail and mane from a real horse sewn on. I know they were real because I went up and touched them, and I could see the pieces of hide from the late horse’s neck that had been used to bolt the mane to the statue’s crest. The effect was a little unsettling.

Dafydd rides the Creepy Horse.

Dafydd rides the Creepy Horse.

We walked up to the Beatty Historical Museum, where a very talkative docent gave us maps and pamphlets about Rhyolite (I had told her that was where we were going next), and took pictures of me and Rose in silly hats.

Me, Dafydd, Mr. Creepy-but-harmless-Mannequin, and Rose in the Beatty Historical Museum.

Me, Dafydd, Mr. Creepy-but-harmless-Mannequin, and Rose in the Beatty Historical Museum.

The museum itself was very interesting: it had a lot of old antiques and some very creepy mannequins—some of which looked to be hand-made. It also had a stuffed wolf and bear. The bear was made to be standing up and snarling, but the wolf was posed normally. I don’t know whether it was the taxidermist’s intention or my natural aversion to the whole thing, but I couldn’t help thinking that the wolf looked rather sad.

I had thought about stopping for lunch in Beatty, but after putting my head in the two nearest saloons and finding them too full of country music and cigarette smoke, we opted for the little coffee house across the street.

I liked it at once. As we walked in I saw at once that it was made up to be a sort of casual lounge-y sort of place, with little tables by the windows and a large, low, glass-topped table surrounded by comfortable armchairs in front of a disused fireplace. There were stuffed animals and memorabilia on the walls, and a Wii sitting on top of a VCR on the mantle piece.

A plump girl in an apron jumped up from the couch as we entered. I asked her if she had any pastries without wheat, for Rose. She explained she hadn’t, since she would be “closing in two days.” I didn’t ask what that meant, and ordered a muffin and a cup of tea. Rose ordered a sort of milkshake.

While we sat and ate, a few more customers came in (it had been completely empty). One appeared to be a regular, and he teased the full story out of the girl:

It came out that she was closing sort-of for good. It wasn’t that she was going out of business; business was good, but the owners of the property had reneged on their agreement to sell it to her cheap, and were doubling the price. After putting several thousand dollars of her own money into the property itself (not the business) she refused to keep the shop and “make it look pretty”, while they tried to sell it to someone who would kick her out. She was understandably upset, but took it with good spirit: “I’m only twenty-two,” she said. “I’ll outlive them.”

I think she is the sort of person who doesn’t need or expect any help from the universe. I imagine she has quite a life in front of her.

I’m sorry her little shop is closing; I liked it. Perhaps I will be able to immortalize it in a story some day.

View of the coffee shop from the outside; it is the little square building in the foreground.

View of the coffee shop from the outside; it is the little square building in the foreground.

After the coffee shop, we drove back to Rhyolite. The lady at the museum had given me a map and an informational pamphlet, but I hadn’t read it. I did take out the map, which seemed to show the cemetery on the way to the town.

It turned out the cemetery was down a gravel road off an offshoot of the offshoot that led to Rhyolite. I was not eager to take the TARDIS down yet another bumpy gravel road, and so we continued on until the pavement ended. Here we found a few ruins and an old red barn with a bold “No Trespassing” sign on the door. It was otherwise deserted.

After climbing around on the ruins for a few minutes, I became aware of a faint hooting, humming sort of noise, buried deep in the pervasive gusting of the wind. This wind blew strongly out of the south the entire time we were at Rhyolite, and at this point it was blowing up the gentle slope towards the barn. Looking that way I saw there was a fence made of—not chicken wire, but the sort with bigger, square holes. It looked like there was something hung all over that fence that glinted in the light and made a faint chiming noise.

All at once I realized what I was seeing—and hearing: bottles.

The bottle fence.

The bottle fence.

Dozens of empty glass bottles had been strung from the fence, and the wind was playing them like so many flutes. The chiming I was hearing was caused by the bottles, jostling in that same wind, clinking against the wire.

Entranced, I walked over. It was an amazing sight: the bottles were all different sizes, but they were all glass. Some were green, a couple brown. Mostly they were clear. They were arranged neatly in a square tile formation, with a few empty spaces where bottles had broken and fallen away. The ground by the fence was littered with broken glass from these bottles.

Being a fence bottle is apparently dangerous. I blame the wind.

Being a fence bottle is apparently dangerous. I blame the wind.

Standing right next to the fence, the hooting was louder, and the chiming came from all up and down the fence in waves as the wind fluctuated and played upon the bottles. Mixed with the buffeting roar of the wind, it almost sounded like some mad kind of orchestra. The wind also muted the sounds from the bottles so that, if I detached my mind from reality just a bit, it sounded as though there was a conversation being held in a musical language, somewhere in the distance and very close at the same time.

Rose got bored I’m afraid and went back to the car, but I had to stand there for several minutes, soaking it all in.

The bottle fence by the red barn. Felt like a magic place.

The bottle fence by the red barn. Felt like a magic place.

After that I was almost afraid Rhyolite would be a disappointment, but it wasn’t. The ruins are spectacular: skeletal, and built of the same pale salmon stones as the mountains around them, they are at the same time striking and camouflaged.

Rose biking the back roads of Rhyolite.

Rose biking the back roads of Rhyolite.

The town is built on the slope of a hill, and the main road runs up to the top where the pavement ends, and a network of dirt tracks begin. At the summit is a wide lot for tour buses and campers to turn around in, with bathrooms at the end, and at the tip of the pavement is what remains of the town’s casino.

Unlike all the other buildings, this one is muted gray with weathered green trim. The windows are boarded up, and there is an unfriendly chain link fence topped with barbed wire all around it. A sign by the locked gate warns tourists that the site contains materials that may be hazardous to their health.

Seems legit.

Seems legit.

Rose and I agree that it is probably haunted.

Opposite the casino is an abandoned railway caboose. I had already climbed inside it before I found the sign (tacked to the back) asking that I please not enter. Oops.

The sign said nothing about climbing on top of it!

The sign said nothing about climbing on top of it!

I suggested we leave the TARDIS at the top of the town, and then bike down the dirt roads through the ruins to the bottom, where I would leave Rose, bike back up, get the car, and come down and collect her. This worked beautifully: we got to go off the main road and see a lot of ruins that were not fenced off. There was a two-room structure marked as “Residence” on my map, and as “Brothel” by the sign in the window. The front door was locked, but the back door was wide open. Inside the floorboards were cracked and broken, and the walls were covered with graffiti. Beside the inner door was written “IF ONLY THESE WALLS COULD TALK.” I could resist getting out my sharpie and adding “They do!” beneath it.

These walls, they do speak. But do you want to listen?

These walls, they do speak. But do you want to listen?

We went and saw the prison, which was half fallen down in front and filled with rubbish in the back, and then biked back to the main road where there were the remains of the general store, the jewelry store, and the bank. It was fun getting to look through the empty windows, getting to see more empty windows of other ruins through them.

View of the bank through the school's windows.

View of the bank through the school’s windows.

I walked around the ruins of the school, which was a fittingly monstrous building, and finally we rode down to the Bottle House.

This was a house with bottles embedded in its concrete walls. There was also a little mosaic model of a town (not Rhyolite) in the back yard. The entire affair was very beautiful, and because it was fenced off, pristine.

The bottle house. Not as cool as the bottle fence, but still pretty.

The bottle house. Not as cool as the bottle fence, but still pretty.

I have to admit, I did not find it as impressive as the fence with the bottles singing in the wind.

I left Rose by the bottle house and rode back up the hill to get the car.

By this time we were both getting hungry, but I determined we go see the art installation just outside the town. Here were some rather interesting statues that we took pictures of: very much Arte and not the sort of thing I would usually be interested in. But I’m glad I went. I also ran the stone spiral that had been set up, so that was fun.

This is a sculpture call The Last Supper. Here I am being typically irreverent.

This is a sculpture call The Last Supper. Here I am being typically irreverent.

Then we went to the cemetery. Rose was happy to skip it, but I know what it’s like to go all the way for something and then miss part of it (Hi, Stanton Drew!) and I knew I wouldn’t be able to come back for a long time.

The road was bumpy, and the cemetery was not as cool as the town or the Singing Bottle Fence, but I’m glad I went and saw what it was like.

You gotta respect them. They did it without TARDISes.

You gotta respect them. They did it without TARDISes.

We decided to try a short cut, continuing to take the gravel road all the way to the highway. We were nearly flummoxed at the end when we encountered a rather steep dip, but having seen a couple in a Mustang do it before us, I decided the TARDIS would probably be fine. Which she was. She has been an absolute champ this trip, though she’ll need a good wash when I get home.

From Rhyolite we drove back down into Death Valley and then north some thirty-six miles to Scotty’s Castle, which is located in a steep river canyon that contains some of the few trees in the area. We ate our packed lunch on a half-dead lawn and watched the shadows creep over the Spanish-style mansion. Tours were over for the day, but we still got to walk around and take pictures.

Scotty's Castle, with Dafydd shown for scale.

Scotty’s Castle, with Dafydd shown for scale.

Then we drove out to Ubehebe Crater, which was less then ten miles west across the valley. Doing so we passed out of the oasis, and into a whole other sort of desert: one strewn with volcanic debris. For Ubehebe is not a meteorite crater, but a volcanic one. The hills all had a rolling, molten quality too them, black from all the volcanic ash and rock.

Driving up the narrow entrance to the parking lot, we passed the turnoff for the Racetrack, home of the famous Sailing Stones. It is twenty-five miles out a notoriously rough, rocky road. Rose says that if she ever gets an SUV, we will go see them.

The sun had set by the time we reached the crater, casting everything into a blue twilight. I parked the car, and Rose opened her door—only to pull it shut again against the wind that tore into the car. Now we looked and saw the bushes that lined the rim of the crater being blown practically side ways.

After stuffing all the loose papers into the glove compartment, we got out into the wind.

How shall I describe such wind? Perhaps I can say this: that I have not felt such force exerted upon my person in such a direct way since I last found myself braced against whitewater. I had to lean into it to prevent myself being blown over, and I gripped my phone tightly to prevent it being ripped from my hands. It blew so hard I had trouble breathing when I faced directly into it.

Fortunately, it blew out of the crater, and so I was able to creep to the edge for a better view (and pictures!) But you can understand why most of what I remember is the wind pounding into and stretching my skin. The crater was quite impressive: huge and wide and very deep, with heavily eroded sandstone cliffs leading down to a sandy bottom dotted with creosote bushes.

Ubehebe Crater. Not picture: high winds blowing up out of it, threatening to rip my phone/camera out of my hands.

Ubehebe Crater. Not pictured: high winds blowing up out of it, threatening to rip my phone/camera out of my hands.

The landscape to the northwest was also impressive: a wide valley strewn with black flecks of rock and sand, with the distant mountains blue silhouettes against a pink sky, streaked with clouds.

After a few minutes in the wind I got used to it, and even performed experiments; seeing how far forward I could lean, letting the wind support my body; or jumping from the curb and feeling the wind blow me a few feet before I hit the ground. Rose waited patiently in the car until I was done.

Plains to the northwest of the crater, just after sunset.

Plains to the northwest of the crater, just after sunset.

We drove the forty-five miles back to Stovepipe in growing darkness, where Rose cooked dinner and I sketched Year of the God-Fox.

Tomorrow we leave first thing, so Rose can get home in time to meet her son as he gets home from school, so this is essentially the close of my Death Valley trip.

My bike, at rest in the ruins of Rhyolite.

My bike, at rest in the ruins of Rhyolite.

I have lots of material to work with, and lots of photos to sort through, but I also have ideas for things I’d still like to do.

I’d like to see the Sailing Stones, of course. And I’d like to go back to Ubehebe Crater when there is more time and actually hike around it. I would like to bike down Titus Canyon. And I feel I really should visit Badwater. It is the lowest point in the United States and probably the thing most people think of when you say “Death Valley.”

~G

2.7.2013

Goldeen Ogawa is an avid mountain biker, equestrian, whitewater guide, and all-around outdoorsy person who also writes stories and draws pictures. This week, she has been posting notes from her trip to Death Valley National Park. You can email her about the things in your head at goldeenogawa@gmail.com or peck at her on Twitter @GrimbyTweets

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Or: A land of rock and wind.

006 Dafydd Header

Author’s Note:

This week I am sharing the notes I took on a recent trip to Death Valley National Park with my friend Rose. You can read my report from Day One here, and Day Three here.

Highway 190 West, across the valley from Stovepipe Wells.

Highway 190 West, across the valley from Stovepipe Wells.

Wednesday, February 6th 2013

I did not make it to Titus Canyon. I blame the wind.

What happened was this: after a good breakfast of bacon, eggs, bread, kashi and kefir I left Stovepipe Wells on my bicycle and started the trek across the valley floor. At first it was marvelous: gently sloping, slightly downhill, with a weak tailwind. I made good time past the Mesquite Sand Dunes, even allowing for stops to take pictures. I crossed the bottom of the valley, through the Devil’s Corn Field, and then climbed the rise up to the junction with Scotty’s Castle Road. There I had to turn north—left—to begin making my way up the valley.

Looking north (and straight into the wind) along Scotty's Castle Road, Death Valley.

Looking north (and straight into the wind) along Scotty’s Castle Road, Death Valley.

It felt like turning into a gale. Wind buffeted me, roaring in my ears and slowing me to a crawl. I was riding directly into its head, and on occasion it was so strong I felt like I would be blown backwards if I stopped pedaling. I had to pedal, too, even on the downhill stretches. Every time I stopped I became aware of just how strong the wind was; even standing still the wind whipped my hair back and roared in my ears.

View back towards Stovepipe, across the valley. The white stuff at the base of the mountains is not mist or clouds, but sand from the dunes being picked up by the wind.

View back towards Stovepipe, across the valley. The white stuff at the base of the mountains is not mist or clouds, but sand from the dunes being picked up by the wind.

I kept going bravely for ten miles, at which point I gave up and turned around. I was tired and I did not think I could count on the wind to hold. I certainly did not want it to back around and trap me. Luckily it didn’t, and I got to enjoy ten miles of the strongest tailwind I’ve ever experienced. For bicyclists: the tail wind was so strong that, on some stretches, I was on my highest gears, spinning out, and getting hot—because even though I must have been going almost thirty miles per hour, so was all the air around me and was therefore offering no wind-cooling whatsoever.

The proof! Ten miles! (From the turnoff at 190 West.)

The proof! Ten miles! (From the turnoff at 190 West.)

The ride, however, was spectacular. I really got to see the mountains, and the desert, the way the scenery slowly crept by, revealing range upon range or eroded sandstone cliffs. At the same time I became more aware of things close by: the cracked dried mud beside the road; the salt deposits, and the rare wildflowers.

Wildflowers along Scotty's Castle Road, Death Valley.

Wildflowers along Scotty’s Castle Road, Death Valley.

Riding north along Scotty’s Castle Road I passed by a string of salmon-colored cliffs, which came right down to the road’s edge in sweeping curves. I kept peering up into the canyons they revealed, half-expecting to see carvings of dragons or dinosaurs, like in Dinotopia, picked out in the rock.

Sand cliffs near Scotty's Castle Road, Death Valley.

Sand cliffs near Scotty’s Castle Road, Death Valley.

After I turned west again, on my way home, I lost my tailwind and had to slog the last seven miles back to Stovepipe. It was strangely hard: all the vast, open distances are oddly taxing on my mind. In total I estimate I only biked thirty-six miles, yet I am both mentally and physically tired.

My trusty bicycle resting against the sign for Stovepipe Wells after the ride.

My trusty bicycle resting against the sign for Stovepipe Wells after the ride.

Rose was not in the room when I returned, so I lunched, showered, and was just setting up to do some drawing when she got back. After she ate we crossed the street to the general store in search of chocolate. It was more of a gift shop than a general store, but it did have chocolate. They had the usual T-shirts and mugs made in China, and a few rather beautiful stone-ware mugs and bowls, as well as medicine wheels and dream catchers. In the end, however, Rose and I just got chocolate.

I broke down and took the car: it seems the way to get around DV. We drove out to the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail and walked around on the boardwalk. It is called Salt Creek because the water is more saline than seawater—due to the fact that it evaporates as it flows, leaving the salt and minerals behind. It is one of the habitats of the super-rare pupfish—though we didn’t see any. We did see lots of salt, though.

 

Dafydd at Salt Creek. The white stuff is salt. I know, I checked.

Dafydd at Salt Creek. The white stuff is salt. I know, I checked.

After that we drove on to Furnace Creek, where there is a proper visitor’s center and a Chevron (gas starting at $5.28 a gallon). I didn’t buy gas (I think I will have enough to get us to Beatty tomorrow), but we did go into the visitor’s center where Rose bought a mug, and I got a bandana with a topographical map of Death Valley printed on it. I also had cell phone reception, surprisingly, so I took advantage of it to call my mom, just for fun.

We then drove back to Stovepipe, and up the gravel road to the bottom of Mosaic Canyon, which I had wanted to bike up to yesterday evening, but Rose hadn’t been up for it. I think I will bike up there again tomorrow.

Jawa country if ever I did see it!

Jawa country if ever I did see it!

By this point my sandals were giving me sores and we were losing the light, so we didn’t hike up all the way. Still, it was a pleasant walk: the rock is all jumbled, mixed between cement-like amalgamations and smooth, polished sandstone. In some of the steeper places there are even grease-stains from where people have put their hands, just like in the Tower of Pisa. It looked, altogether, rather like Jawa country. I had fun climbing around on the walls of the canyon and taking silly pictures.

In addition to being Dafydd's Assistance Human, I can also function as a bridge!

In addition to being Dafydd’s Assistance Human, I can also function as a bridge!

Tomorrow we drive out to Beatty, and then to the ghost town of Rhyolite. After which, if we have time, we’ll make the schlep back up north to Scotty’s Castle, which Rose wants to see, and then to Ubehebe Crater, which I want to see.

~G

2.7.2013

019 Sunset out of Canyon

Sunset, viewed from the depths of Mosaic Canyon.

Goldeen Ogawa is an avid mountain biker, equestrian, whitewater guide, and all-around outdoorsy person who also writes stories and draws pictures. This week, she is posting notes from her trip to Death Valley National Park. You can email her about the things in your head at goldeenogawa@gmail.com or peck at her on Twitter @GrimbyTweets

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Or: Driving through nowhere to get to somewhere.
Death Valley Header

Author’s Note:

I recently took a trip to Death Valley National Park, which lies on the eastern border of California. I went there ostensibly to do research for a story, but also because I’ve always loved the outdoors and I really wanted to visit.  I went with my friend Rose, who lives east of Lancaster, and whose house provided a midway rest point on my drive. (As the dragon flies I live very close to the valley, however we are separated by the highest mountains in the continental United States, so in order to actually get from my house to the park I had to drive south almost to Los Angeles, and then north again, and then (finally) east.)

We stayed at the hotel at Stovepipe Wells for three nights, from Tuesday, February 5th, to Friday, February 8th, and visited most of the places of interest in the northern half of the park. Rather than writing up one monumental report, I’ve chose to share the notes I took during the trip. What follows are my notes from Day One.

The report from Day Two is here, and Day Three here.

002 Crowely Vista

View from Father Crowely (really) Vista, overlooking Panamint Valley. Western border of Death Valley National Park.

Tuesday, February 5th 2013

The thing about Death Valley is it is not all empty space; it is filled up around the edges with sharp, spiky mountains; purple and blue when they are in the distance, gold and red when up close.

I know this, because I got to drive through many of those mountains to get here.

At first it was all space. The high desert north of Mojave, with sandstone cliffs and miles and miles and miles of tumbleweed-strewn plain, dotted with Joshua Trees. We drove through that landscape for two and a half hours before we even saw our first sign for Death Valley. From there we cut across the southern edge of some salt flats, with the snow-capped Sierra mountains marching away north of us.

There is a lot of uphill to get to Death Valley. Up, up, gently up the sloping rise… then down, down tight, twisty roads, across the narrow valley floor, and then up again. The final stretch winds its way through the mountains that border Death Valley’s western side, up, over, and finally down, down, down. Down from nearly five-thousand feet, to sea level. I know, because there is a sign that says so about fifty yards down the road from here.

Sign fifty feet from Stovepipe Wells hotel, Death Valley.

Sign fifty feet from Stovepipe Wells hotel, Death Valley.

Here is Stovepipe Wells, a way station in the northwest area of Death Valley National Park. There is a rambling sort of motel with a bar and saloon attached, and across the street a general store with a gas station. There is also a camp ground, and a small, seldom-used airport beyond that.

View of Death Valley, looking north from Mosaic Canyon Road, west of Stovepipe Wells.

View of Death Valley, looking north from Mosaic Canyon Road, west of Stovepipe Wells.

Gas here is frighteningly expensive. Passing by Panamint Springs Resort I saw the gas listed as starting at $6—something a gallon. I think. Anyway, it was over $5. The gas station here does not have its prices listed, but I shudder to think what they are. With luck, I will not have to buy gas here: on Thursday we plan to drive out the other side of DV and stop in Beatty NV, where hopefully the gas is more reasonably priced.

Death Valley is very dry—as is to be expected. The dirt is find powder, mixed with stones. I can’t seem to get cold water from the tap here: it is either luke-warm or very hot.

We are “camping out” in the hotel room. Food is also pricey here, so Rose has brought her hotplate and supplies of eggs, bacon and meat. I have bread, some veggies, and snacks of dry cereal and fruit. Also kefir. It has all been packed into Rose’s big cooler with lots of ice. We’ll see how long it lasts.

Our food supplies for the week. Can you find Dafydd?

Our food supplies for the week. Can you find Dafydd?

I brought my bicycle and tomorrow I am going to ride over to the bottom of Titus Canyon, and then see how far up it I get. I was warned at the ranger station that is is 1) very steep, and 2) very busy with traffic going the other way. So I will bring my lights, for visibility.

Rose is not up for very much biking, so after my ride we may take the car over to Furnace Creek and do some of the easy trails from there. Or stuff. And things. I will write of it whatever.

~G

2.5.2013

My companion, Rose, looking at the sun setting on the eastern mountains of Death Valley, over the buildings of Stovepipe Wells.

My companion, Rose, looking at the sun setting on the eastern mountains of Death Valley, over the buildings of Stovepipe Wells.

Goldeen Ogawa is an avid mountain biker, equestrian, whitewater guide, and all-around outdoorsy person who also writes stories and draws pictures. This week, she is posting notes from her trip to Death Valley National Park. You can email her about the things in your head at goldeenogawa@gmail.com or peck at her on Twitter @GrimbyTweets

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