Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Au Contraire 2013: 50 Shades of Awesome

So here I sit and type, con crud approaching, wondering did the weekend actually happen? Cuba Street and a bevy of happy faces seems like it all happened in another dimension.

I entered Au Contraire weekend in two competing states of mind. First, I was laid back about attending things on the fly outside of my have-tos and hoping I'd end up having wonderful conversations in the bar. Secondly, I was apprehensive (but prepared) about being part of the security team and running my first ever panels in an official capacity.

But I need not have worried. The whole weekend was made of fifty shades of awesome (no, not referencing the book...but it did become a running gag through many panels).

As I was rawring to go last week about con harassment issues, I'll get this one out of the way first. I'm really pleased with the support I received from the concom, and it was fantastic to find we were all on the same page. Having things written down and clear from the get-go made dealing with the issues that did arise quick and efficient. While I ended up not making a speech at the opening ceremony, I did disseminate information at Con101, and appreciate everyone's attention to the matter.

I have to say a HUGE thanks to Matt Morris for being Super On The Spot Securitah Person. Of the issues that arose, he actually dealt with them quickly even before intervention or report taking from me was required. He had a great instinct for judging a tense situation, and with consultation between myself and others we were able to diffuse them quickly. I would work with him again at any con. Plus, since he's Mr Arty Bees, he's now dubbed my book addiction pusher.

Also, thanks to Brett for being super quick about one other issue. I really appreciated the quick attention to detail.

I'm really glad the concom listened to my concerns and suggestions regarding harassment. We have a paper trail, and will be writing up a post-con report. This is a great example of how things are handled well when you have a good policy in place.

Of course, I couldn't be in every place at once. If you were at Au Contraire and experienced a situation you didn't feel comfortable reporting at the time or was not dealt with, feel free to contact me. 

Regeneration Launch
Teh Awthurrr at the Regeneration Book Launch,
looking rather proud.
Photo Credit: Matt Cowens
I posted yesterday about the book launch for "Regeneration: New Zealand Speculative Fiction II", but I wanted to say again what a buzz it was to attend my first ever book launch. I was surprised at the number of non-author audience members there were, so thank you thank you for the support.

The. Book. Is. Gorgeous. It's a privilege to hold one of these beautiful books in my hands, and I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into all the stories. I've picked up snippets of discussion, from the weekend and on social media, about how much people are already enjoying the book.

I was awestruck from all the lovely words from people at the launch, which carried on throughout the weekend. There was a fantastic atmosphere of support. NZ speculative fiction authors write on so many different themes and in many different ways, and we may not always agree on political and philosophical things, but this weekend was one great big group hug. Thank you for the kind words from everyone - I know my work is not everyone's cup of tea.

Congratulations to I.K. Paterson-Harkness for taking first prize in the short story competition, which Regeneration was in aid of, as judged by GoH Jennifer Fallon. I'm also rather squee that my friend and con roomie Liz Gatens got an honourable mention.

Thanks to Matt Cowens for the neat photo from the book signing. I'm not the most photogenic of people, and he had a great eye for candid shots all weekend.

I was involved in two panels. The first was "Non-Normative Bodies in SFF" with Anna Caro on the Saturday morning, and the second was "Trends in Short SFF/H Fiction" with Marie Hodgkinson and Dan Rabarts.

After the previous night's buzzy start to the weekend, I went into my Saturday morning panel feeling pretty good. I had lots of notes that would hopefully hold me up for the hour...and I didn't get through them all! Anna and I mainly spoke on disability, fat bodies, and genderqueer/sexuality in SFF. I would have liked to speak more on fat bodies more, but I got a vibe from the audience that they weren't overly comfortable with the subject so we moved on quickly. I know in our body shaming society it can be hard socialization to break, so I understand the feelz there.

My take away from the panel, for my own academia, is that I need to study more about disability in SF. We encountered a few derails about disability, eugenics, and the construction of gender (and the intersections thereof) but I was being too nice early on the weekend and cognisant of time to challenge them fully. Thanks to Anna for her support, and her wonderful academic knowledge of such things. She has posted a reading list up on her blog of books and media discussed, for anyone interested in further discussion (comments welcome here too).

My second panel on the Sunday about Trends in Shorts (Bermuda, hot pants, or knickerbockers?) was more a dissemination of things I've picked up over the last few years of submitting, and simply watching the way markets and short publishing in general has been going. Again, I don't know everything about it, and I would have liked more time to discuss certain themes and their popularity (eg: slipstream, bizarro etc). Thanks for the support Marie and Dan. Between the three of us we managed to give a general overview of the way traditional vs electronic short publishing is going. If anyone wants to discuss further, drop me a note in comments.

SpecFicNZ Meet Up and AGM
Simon Petrie and his fabulous
hat and slippers
Photo Credit: Matt Cowens
On the Sunday, I was part of organizing a mixer for SpecFicNZ members and taking part in my last meeting as a committee member at the AGM.

Once again, more thanks required. To the rest of my committee members, thanks for the support throughout the year - it's been an interesting learning experience. And thanks to those who turned up to the AGM, in person and online, creating a lively discussion about the direction we will be taking our little squad for the next year.

Also, I have to thank Simon Petrie (He Who Will Be Editing Mine Piece in ASIM Next Year). In our monthly online meetings we'd share virtual drinks and biscuits, and he made a passing joke about bringing biscuits to the AGM. I thought nothing of it...until he turned up and presented me with three packets of delicious Tim Tams! Simon, you're a star, plus you looked pretty awesome in your safari hat and lion slippers (I wasn't quick enough to steal his Star Trek communicator badge).

Photo Credit: Matt Cowens
Outside of running panels and securitah running around, the weekend was resplendent with conversations. In other panels and workshops, in bars, in cafes, and in my hotel room. There seemed to be a mini dinner party/drinks trolley in my room every night, which was just wonderful. I had so many fantastic in depth conversations with people, my brain was popping with awesomeness by the time I dragged my poor tired body home (through the wind and rain) on Monday. Thank you most of all to Anna Caro and Liz Gatens for being minders and elbow benders.

The weekend was also a great time putting faces to names and online personas. I had many lovely moments going "Oh, it's YOU!" and having little squee moments celebrating the successes of the last year or so with other people.  It made me realize that New Zealand speculative fiction writers are quietly and steadily doing great things on the world stage, and with national cons like this, our support networks, and groups like SpecFicNZ backing us up, I don't feel alone any more. I felt comfortable owning my success this year with so many other happy faces around me.

There was much laughter all weekend. One special moment involved Sunday lunch. About 40 of us gathered in the reception area and squeezed our way out onto a cold, stormy Cuba Street (thrrrrp-POP through the doors), splitting two ways like a sentient amoeba, Twittering like crazy back and forth as we invaded various cafes. Thanks to Heaven pizza for accommodating my group of rowdy geeks - the "oh shit" looks on the staff faces when we piled in were priceless. Top marks, it was most excellent pizza and service.

I also enjoyed the panels I sat in on as part of the audience, including Philip Mann's short story prompt exercise. It was an off the cuff attendance, because I was there in an official capacity, so I was more absorbing than taking part. I liked the "Whedon's Women" panel but would have liked to take some of the conversations further (because of the readings I have done on Whedon's work and problematic aspects of his feminism). Jennifer Fallon's GoH speech and panel on Characterization and Dialogue was very interesting to listen to from a professional's perspective (oh, the woes of the old school publishing industry that refuses to change!). Apologies to Darian Smith and Beualah Pragg for bailing on their Psychology panel, because I was so hungry post-mental effort of my first panel! Plus there were a few things I unfortunately had to miss because I was otherwise occupied or unable to do early morning starts (like the NZ in 2020 discussion, Open Access spaceships, Lyn McConchie's talk, and SF and Climate Change). Maybe next time.

It was lovely to see Debbie and Matt Cowens winning two SJV awards, Simon Petrie winning for Best Novella, and Lee Murray for Best Short Story (full results here), and Stephen Minchin's Steam Press getting the recognition it deserves for the incredible hard work he puts into indie-press publishing in New Zealand.

This is the end, my friends
Au Contraire wasn't just about celebrating and bettering ourselves as writers. The concom did a wonderful job of bringing together the writers, artist's track, cosplayers, filking, and fan track. It was an intense and busy time all weekend, with everyone merging and sparking off each other in one glorious explosion of creativity.

I worried a little that Au Contraire wouldn't be able to top the success of 2010 (when there was a huge attendance, with overseas authors and fans coming on their way to Worldcon in Australia), but it was a success with about 200 people in attendance, and in many different ways. A lot of hard work had gone in to make everything look like it was running smooth, and the atmosphere laid back. If Au Contraire III takes place in another three years time, I will be there with bells on.

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