Last Slice of Pi

8 08 2015

Last Slice

It was the last slice of Pi, the final incarnation of the Friendliest Little Convention in New England. Folks came from far and wide to help celebrate this sweet little gem. Why it was the last is a long and complex story, having to do with how conventions are made, and much like sausages and laws, you probably don’t want to know. But to quote from the Con Chair’s message in the con book, “Even as Pi-Con has grown and gotten better, other changes have occurred to make the event more difficult to run. A lack of viable venues caused Pi-Con to move from the Pioneer Valley into Connecticut which altered the local focus of the event. The staff has become more and more geographically diverse, which makes meetings more difficult. This year’s staff lives among 5 different states….Sometimes it is important to know when you have reached your limit.” Sad, but wise.

Kate Kaynak and Walter Hunt discuss Gods of Other Worlds

Kate Kaynak and Walter Hunt discuss Gods of Other Worlds

I rode down with Kate Kaynak, writer and publisher, founder of Spencer Hill Press and Tulip Publishing, and one tough cookie. She has an advanced degree in Psychology, and has travelled all over the world. I benefitted from her wisdom during the ride. Kate had the advantage of the example of her mom, who found herself left single with two young children, no job, minimal education, and she pulled herself up by the bootstraps. Kate’s brother films documentaries in exotic places under edgy circumstances, so the fearless and full-speed-ahead runs in the family. I absorbed her self-confidence like a pale leaf greening towards the sun. Thanks, Kate!

Tanya Huff and Trisha Wooldridge discussing How Magic Works

Tanya Huff and Trisha Wooldridge discussing How Magic Works

We got there a day early because Broad Universe was doing a Writers Workshop as a kind of intro to the con. We did Friday programming up until the con proper started at 6pm. Guest of Honor Tanya Huff made opening remarks at 9am, and then Susan Hanniford Crowley and I did a writer’s improv game in which participants drew several cards with images for cues, and tried to construct a story from them. After writing for several minutes, we shared and talked about the process of inspiration and whether having restrictions helps, hurts, and how. The discussion was lively, and the shared work interesting. One of the participants was author Bill Freedman, who came up with a story about Baa the Sheep being turned into the stuffing for a teddy bear. Never has cuddly been rendered so grim.

Justine Reading aloud workshop cropThe workshops included topics like “Promotion for Authors”, “World Building”, “Building Strong Characters”, as well as “Writing Sick and Twisted Characters”. One cool idea was a workshop given by Trisha Wooldridge (former Broad Universe president and past Pi-Con Guest of Awesome) on using the Tarot to inspire creative ideas. I did my “Reading Your Work Aloud” gig, which went very well. One of the attendees went forth to give a knock-out reading at the Broad Universe RFR later in the con. It was her first, and she nailed it. I take some humble credit for helping.

Friday night was the release party for my latest, Awake Chimera, hosted by Broad Universe. The Barfleet crew, known for their inspired and devastating mixology, was staying in rooms right across the hall from us. They came over for the food. Ours was an open party with only modest beverages, but made up for it gloriously with such treats as prosciutto-wrapped melon, garlic olives, and an assortment of dips, spreads, and savory toasts. The traffic was steady — people came for the food and stayed for the conversation, which was lively and loud. Oh yes, and I sold lots of copies of my book. The party was an unqualified success.

Awake Chimera release party with yours truly, Justine Graykin, Fantastic Books publisher and dealer Ian Strock, and cover artist Angi Shearstone.

Awake Chimera release party with yours truly, Justine Graykin, Fantastic Books publisher and dealer Ian Strock, and cover artist Angi Shearstone.

After the party we wandered down the hall to a closed party whose central attractants were bloody marys, homemade coffee liqueurs, and at midnight, the assembling of Rocket Fuel, a concoction of water, frozen lemonade concentrate, grain alcohol and dry ice. Very entertaining. As the Rocket Fuel boiled away into slush, the party dwindled into mostly SMOFs, the grizzled veteran con organizers of area SF cons over the years, such as iCon. I sipped my alcoholic slushy and listened to them reminisce and swap horror stories.

The awesome Vikki Ciaffone

The awesome Vikki Ciaffone

Saturday was a marathon. I had no fewer than 6 panels, plus attending the Broad Universe Rapid-Fire reading and a Barfleet meeting. It was a blur. Unfortunately, I don’t remember many of the scintillating details, although I recall that I and my fellow panelists were pretty damn brilliant, the audiences were good, and there weren’t any failures. We started out with a panel called “Happy Books Suck”, which I had proposed based on a comment by a fellow librarian. We were supposed to be discussing whether a book necessarily needs to be grim and serious to be good, and whether humor and optimism have a place in great literature. I recall Gordon Linzner (founder of Space and Time magazine) was on the panel, as well as Aussie author D.L. Carter. But for the life of me, what I remember was moderator and Guest of Aweome Vikki Ciaffone warning ubergeek Mario Di Giacomo (known for the generosity with which he shares his erudite opinions) not to take over the panel, and then promptly taking over the panel herself.

Running the Galactic Empire with, appropriately enough, Bill Freedman, George Claxton, Ari Alpert and Grant Carrington.

Running the Galactic Empire with, appropriately enough, Bill Freedman, George Claxton, Ari Alpert and Grant Carrington.

The high point for me was the Religion, Skepticism, and Atheism in SF Fandom panel, which I moderated with Walter Hunt and Jeff Warner. We strayed from fandom and waded far into the deepest tar pits of religious philosophy and skepticism. Walter has a strong theistic streak (being a Mason) and argued his points brilliantly. Jeff, who is a hard-core materialist atheist, balanced him out, with me, a spiritual atheist (and in fact, that was the title of a later panel I was on) toggling in between. We had some great participation from the audience, one of whom, towards the end, pointed out that as interesting as this all was, we weren’t talking much about SF or fandom, and got I steered back on topic for at least the last few minutes. I enjoyed the discussion so much it almost made up for the fact that I (once again!!) missed Jennifer Pelland doing her belly dancing demonstration. And if you think a belly dancing demonstration is a minor loss, you’ve never seen Jen dance.

Nature of Gender panel, with Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, Justine Graykin, David Larochelle, and Micah Schneider

Nature of Gender panel, with Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, Justine Graykin, David Larochelle, and Micah Schneider

In the course of that day I also dealt with the Nature of Gender with David Larochelle (who I always look forward to seeing at cons), Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert (a fellow Broad) and Micah Schneider (who worked on the first Pi-Con and has held just about every position possible on Arisia programming). Also, as I mentioned, The Spiritual Atheist, which didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I’d looked forward eagerly to the panel, it being a topic near and dear to me, and I was delighted to be on it with Ari Alpert, with whom I have sparred in the past, Kate Kaynak, whose praises I have already sung, and Jen Pelland, whose sharp wit and tongue are as smooth as her dance moves. D.L. Carter was moderating, and she kind of took things in a direction I didn’t really expect.

It might have been just that it was my second to last panel of the day, I hadn’t yet had supper and was rapidly burning out, but when I was cut off for the third time without being able to finish my thought, I got a little grumpy. Well, maybe a lot grumpy. Sorry, Dee.

Shuvom Ghose Interpreting the Critique

Shuvom Ghose: Interpreting the Critique

One of my big regrets Saturday was that the panel on Limiting Narrative Viewpoint, moderated by Shuvom Ghose, came when I was too exhausted to do it justice. I’d been on a panel with Shuvom earlier (“I Don’t Mean to Offend”, about offensive language, how to avoid it, react to it, deal with it, and be a good ally). I knew he was a Libertarian who writes military SF, which scared me a little, but my experience with him on the “Offend” panel was pretty positive. Then, dear god. He comes in to the Narrative panel with handouts, posters, chocolate and a game plan. He was organized, focused, and had way more energy than any of the rest of us. His plan would have succeeded far better if it hadn’t been 8 o’clock at night after a long day. We didn’t do him justice. Even so, it was a good discussion of the role of Point of View and how it affects storytelling. I hope I have a chance to panel with Shuvom again some day when I’m more fresh.

Mario Di Giacomo, Hugh Casey, and Frank Ney want bra-a-a-i-i-ns,

Mario Di Giacomo, Hugh Casey, and Frank Ney want bra-a-a-i-i-ns!

Saturday night was, of course, Barfleet. I’ve raved enough about Barfleet in the past, so leave us just say they did not disappoint. I have been promoted, and am now an ensign with dog tags to prove it. I spent a good deal of the party minding the door and the cash box, but did get let out for the Safety Dance. My two sons were down for the con with their friend Tate, who was eager to check out Barfleet. My younger is not yet of drinking age, and so sought out the Cards Against Humanity marathon. #1 son old enough, but he does not drink (changeling?). He came along with Tate to check it out and be a designated driver of sorts. As it turned out, this was a good thing. I lectured Tate that he needed to drink a cup of water in between each alcoholic drink, but did he listen? Medical (the bartenders) were featuring The Sonic Screwdriver and the Hurricane Irene (in honor of 6Pi-Con, a.k.a. Hurricon), both of which were delicious and went down dangerously easily. Tate also made certain to sample the other liquid delicacies, including (of course) the Horta, a special Summer Horta which was remarkably awful, and the Horpedo, which was not too bad, especially as a chaser for a truly deadly concoction the Captain coerced me into sampling, which was essentially grain alcohol infused with ghost peppers. A thimbleful is enough to make you want to go down on a fire hose at full bore. It is Satan’s own spit.

Meanwhile, in another part of the hotel, the Cards Against Humanity marathon.

Meanwhile, in another part of the hotel, the Cards Against Humanity marathon.

Anyway, #1 son watched the show (always entertaining) and Tate. At one point when the Captain was offering up something wonderfully hazardous, #1 son suggested it might not be a good idea for Tate to partake. The Captain, wisely, nodded and agreed. Tate did not appreciate this at the time. He did later. I saw them leaving the party, Tate in roaring good spirits, #1 son patiently steering him away from walls and other people. A rite of passage safely negotiated, achievement unlocked, thanks to Barfleet.


Michael Whitehouse auctions off a plush version of Crikey

Sunday was largely taken up with End Of Con stuff. There was the usual last day frantic rush to get checked out of the room and close out the BU dealer’s table while still attending panels and events. I was staying an extra day, which took some of the pressure off. I was on the Guest of Awesome reunion panel with Vikki Ciaffone (9Pi-Con), Trisha Wooldridge (7Pi-Con), and to my delight, Hugh Casey (5Pi-Con). Hugh is recovering from a battle with cancer and looked damn good in spite of it. He made it to 9Pi-Con to enjoy the last slice of Pi, much to everyone’s joy. He was the Guest of Awesome at my first Pi-Con, and I fondly remember paneling with him.


A Shmoo (but not THE Shmoo).

At the closing ceremonies the stock of T shirts from cons past were given out and mascots were auctioned off. Except for Croaker and the Shmoo. Croaker is a flat, desiccated frog found while moving furniture for an event at the first Pi-Con. The Shmoo is an abstract polished chunk of wood sculpture found on the side of the road on the way to Pi-Con one year. Both became a part of Pi-Con legend, as these things do.

And so, with much sniffling and hugs, folks departed from the Last Pi-Con. We’ll all meet again at other cons, of course, but this day marked the passing of something unique. Each con has its own character, and Pi-Con truly was friendly, accessible, and a particularly pleasing shade of geek.

Guest of Awesome Reunion panel with Trisha Wooldridge, Justine Graykin, Vikki Ciaffone, and Hugh Casey, who left his DNA all over Pi-Con.  Let him explain it.

Guest of Awesome Reunion panel with Trisha Wooldridge, Justine Graykin, Vikki Ciaffone, and Hugh Casey, who left his DNA all over Pi-Con. Let him explain it.

A few final shout-outs to folks. Kudos to Michael Whitehouse whose dogged determination kept Pi-Con going for one last time; to Lisa Hagar for keeping it all on course when the wheels began wobbling wildly; to Terry Franklin for once again feeding us and providing con fuel (and the customary delicious pie) in the Consuite; to Inanna Arthen for her Herculean efforts, designing the con book, and the final T-shirt, plus managing the nightmare juggling act of programming; Tom Traina for Heading Main Tent Events and generally using his superpowers for good and not evil; and David Silber for Tech Rescue. Hats off to all the folks who made this possible.

Also, my own grateful thanks to Trisha Wooldridge, Scott Wooldridge (husband of awesome), Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, Angi Shearstone, and Kristi Petersen Schoonover for making my release party an amazing success, as well as to Broad Universe (Broads rock!). Thanks to Lori Claxton for photojournalism (a lot of these are hers) and for the bookmark (I drew “Justice”). Apologies to all the folks I should have recognized, but didn’t. My memory is about as sharp as butter. I’m embarrassed to confess how often I smile and greet faces that are naggingly familiar, but just won’t pair up with names and circumstances. Apologies also to Mario Di Giacomo, who I meant to find some time to visit with, and it just didn’t happen. May I say I absolutely adored your bio in the con book. In fact, I didn’t get as much time as I would have wanted with a whole host of folks that I only see at cons, like the irreverent but never irrelevant Bill Freedman, Debi Chowdhury (of Steampunk Tea and Masquerade fame), David Larochelle, Jen Pelland, Roberta Rogow (the Filk Queen), and Pete Sloan of Space Cadets a.k.a. Tsiolkovsky’s Stepchildren (they throw the awesome SF-themed parties at Arisia), gadget-maker and prop-designer extraordinaire. And my fellow crewmates of the UBS Shameless. Someday I hope to spend some time hanging with you, and to be more useful at an event than I was here. Someday.

Baby jousting with Michael Whitehouse and Matthew Winn.  Geek dads are awesome.

Baby jousting with Michael Whitehouse and Matthew Winn. Geek dads are awesome.

And special thanks to Jeff Warner, Ops Head, triple threat and Ninja SMOF, for giving me the chance to ease the transition into Mundania and going out of his way to get me home while suffering the creeping onslaught of con crud. Get well soon.  You got cons to go to, science to celebrate, and fandom to be secretly the master of.

Due to personal reasons, I won’t be attending another convention any time soon. But this was one glorious note to go out on. So long, and thanks for all the Pi.

Debi Chowdhury en masque

Debi Chowdhury en masque




One response

8 08 2015
Mario Di Giacomo

Apology not required, but accepted. ((hugs))

I wasn’t on my game either… I ended up going home early on Sunday, due to sheer exhaustion. But it was fun seeing the Pi-crowd one last time. 🙂

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