Tag Archives: costumes

Writing: Marketing at Cons

Literaryliaison sent me this question:

cosplay, fantasy conventions, fans, SF, marketing writing

Dressing like this might get you the attention of an editor. Creative Commons: Florian Fromentin, Flickr

This year, I will be going to my first con. My sister and I will be dressing up as characters from The Hobbit, but we were wondering if a con is a good place to market fantasy. Have you had a lot of success in the past? Do you dress up as one of your characters? We thought that might be a creative idea.

I thought I’d actually write a post about cons and marketing your writing. First, there are three “world” cons. There is World Fantasy Con, World Horror Con and Worldcon. All three move from city to city and sometimes country to country. The first two are what is called a professional con. These conventions are mainly for the publishing industry. The industry is composed of writers, editors, artists, agents and publishers. Therefore your percentage of professionals to fans ratio is very different than Worldcon or any other fan cons. While fans may attend WFC or WHC, they are small in number. But yet, there are still fans but in this case those fans are writers of differing degrees, from the new writer with a first story to sell to the seasoned pros who come to mingle, be on panels, check in with their agents and publishers in person.

Professional cons tend to not have any fan tracks. There will be no gaming, no movies going on, no costume contest, etc. Therefore, there will be no costumes. What has been a somewhat snobbish view in the publishing industry is that if you show up at a pro con in costume you’re just a fan and not really a writer. I don’t agree with this and it’s my pet peeve that WFC is held around Hallowe’en every year and they don’t do costumes. Except last year, in Brighton. I’m also not all knowledgeable in this and it could be attitudes are changing. Those of us that go to the pro cons might affect weird contact lenses, flamboyant clothing and jewellery. I’ve been known to wear a pink brocade tricorn hat. It’s not a costume; it’s my clothing. 😉 It’s sort of a subtle way of circumventing the costume rule.

Now I should say I’ve only attended one Worldcon and that there are other very large conventions in various cities, such as Dragon Con in Georgia or Comic Con. The last, while more comic oriented is huge, filled with media stars and people wearing cosplay. I don’t know what writing/pro tracks they have but the norm is costuming.

fantasy authors, writers, professional conventions, World Fantasy Con

Do you think George R.R. Martin cares what you’re wearing? No. But he might not buy your novel either. Creative Commons: dravecky

You could always do a combo at the cons. Definitely dress up, have fun and, if you can manage it, do go as one of your characters. While agents or editors might look askance, or be drawn to your outfit, the other fans will eventually be your reading audience and they count. Writers won’t care. Maybe editors won’t care, especially if you’re wearing one of the skintight outfits of female superheros, or the bare-chested brawny male hero version. Also if they have panels to do with writing and marketing fiction, attend them, even in costume. These panels can give you a wealth of info and you might get a chance to talk to an editor or agent and see what they want. Sometimes there are publisher parties. Another good place to chat with editors and find out what they’re looking for.

If you’re self-publishing, use every gimmick you have to spread the word. Bookmarks, free giveaways and dressing as one of your characters is a good way to make people aware. These days, there are thousands of books and authors, and not everyone who is successful writes great works. Some have good publishers, agents and marketing. Marketing matters, even for people with large publishing firms.

I’ve not dressed up as one of my characters but then I haven’t written a character that I look like at all, but it’s a great idea. If you do happen to go to World Horror or World Fantasy, you might tone down the costuming because you’ll stick out like a sore thumb but with all other cons, you’ll be part of the fun. I do hope though that a good editor or agent would not miss the opportunity to find a great writer just because of a costume. Good luck!

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Filed under Culture, entertainment, fantasy, fashion, Publishing, science fiction, Writing

Are Hallowe’en Costumes Racist?

Hallowe'en, costumes, racism, culture

STAR's campaign against racism

If you’re on Facebook you might have seen this picture all ready, circulating all over and many jumping on the politically correct bandwagon and saying, don’t do this. Don’t be insensitive. It was a poster done by STAR (Students and Teachers Against Racism) out of Ohio.

I’ll probably get shot over what I’m going to say here. I’m very much against racism and bigotry but I believe this is a case of mixing apples and oranges. First let’s look at Hallowe’en, All Hallow’s Eve, when it was believed that the veils between the worlds thinned and that ghosts and creatures of the underworld walked the night. It was a time when the world grew dark, lands were bereft of food and animals slaughtered for the winter larders. Back far enough, primitive peoples probably wondered if the sun would come back, if they had offended it somehow. That’s why there were always festivals of light on the winter solstice, when the longest night arrived and then the days grew longer. No one knew if it was gods or not.

Hallowe’en’s Celtic name is Samhain (sow-en) and as time went by it became a time to dress children in costumes; scary creatures, ghosts, goblins, skeletons and other things that go bump in the night. It evolved to other costumes but there is a long and complex history of Hallowe’en, with trick or treating, guising, asouling or in costume. Masquerades have existed for centuries.

So dressing up is part of Hallowe’en and has been so for a long time. Now the pictures above have a child of (I’m presuming) African-American, Japanese, Mexican and Arab ethnic groups. They each hold up a picture of a cartoon or a person in costume and it says “This is not who I am and it is not okay.” The top says We’re a culture, not a costume.” And indeed all cultures are very complex.

costume, Halloween, stereotyping, racism, racial stereotyping

Creative Commons: Dutch regional costumes...is this racist?

This campaign was started to stop racial stereotyping, which is a good thing and all airports and police should really pay heed to that. Now the Arab costume has the guy wearing a bomb, as a terrorist I suppose. That is extremely in poor taste, just as dressing like the World Trade Center with a plane flying into you would be. So that costume needs to be tossed. The other pictures have a guy on a donkey, and a Geisha girl. They are indeed stereotypes. They are of earlier eras when in fact there were some people who dressed this way. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t unusual, it was the way it was. They were part of the culture of the time. Just as wearing a dress with a white linen apron, a cap with tips out and wooden shoes was a traditional Dutch costume. Stereotypes start as types.

I doubt there are few people who would put on a costume of a sailor, or a turbaned Maharajah, or of a witch (image from here) and presume that is the way people dress now and that all of a race are like this. Yes, I add witch because branches of neopaganism (Wicca) have members called witches. While there might be a few pagans who get upset at the stereotypical green-skinned witch dressed in black with a wart on her nose as a costume, most will keep a level head and understand that people don’t see them this way.

witch, costume, racism, racial stereotyping

Creative Commons: Is wearing this witch mask racism or bigotry?

I think we need to understand that dressing up in a costume from cultural history (whether a Hawaiian hula dancer, an Aztec king, a French prince, a Viking, a Chinese Mandarin…) does not mean we presume that all people of a particular race look or dress this way. It is part of history and traditional dress used in various festivals to this day imitate those costumes of long ago. Of the four pictures above, the terrorist one is wrong, the other two are historical aspects of a culture, and the last one is what in terms of racism? A person should not be bitten by a vampire? Is it racial stereotyping of vampires or black people because vampires only go after them? I don’t think I understand that one and would it be better or the same if a white person was being bitten? Dressing as a member of the Ku Klux Klan would be very tasteless and downright dangerous in some ares, though it would indeed be scary.

So what is right and wrong here? Hallowe’en does not say to treat all costumed people as bigots or racists, nor does it support racism. It doesn’t emulate racial stereotyping. It does let a person dress up. If First Nations went as a cowboy, and a white person as an Indian, would that be wrong, or just having fun with stereotypes of old?

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The Problem With Supervillains

Earlier I talked about The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Superhero Fashion, and touched on the bad guys as well. But I think they need their equal time. Just as I listed the general aspects of the costumed hero, it applies to the villain, but there are a few more points.

  1. They have perfect or godly physiques. Even if slim, or buxom, superheros are muscular and perfect. (There are exceptions like

    Galactus, Marvel Comics (and the Silver Surfer)

    the Blob.) Villains on average might look more weaselly, be of thin or obese proportions, or not as attractive as the good guys. A sinister slant to the eyebrow and angular lines define the alien or evil.

  2. They have powers or abilities beyond the normal human.
  3. They are superbly fit and agile, as well as being able to withstand physical abuse that would disfigure, cripple or kill most other people (they never lose teeth for instance).
  4. They’re arrogant or megalomaniacs. After all, if you’re running around stealing and destroying things wearing wild colors and skintight clothing you obviously like the attention, even if it will get you caught.
  5. They rarely get paid so they steal in fantastic ways. If they have money, then they’re power mad or crazy. If they’re from another planet they may have alien concepts and like to eat worlds, as with Galactus of Fantastic Four fame.
  6. If they’re not crazy, they’re stupid or have a compulsion to be caught. After all, would you flaunt your crime wave by donning really bright tights to rob a bank? Wouldn’t stealth be better? Maybe the guys that get the powers are like the bank robbers who rob with their names on their motorcycle helmets.

Marvel's Dr. Doom

Villains might have once been good guys in the superhero world. There are often ambiguous moral lines that they cross back and forth. Those characters are less likely to look evil or bad. The X-Men’s Havok has played both sides. His costume and demeanor do not indicate bad or evil. Dr. Doom is disfigured from an experiment and he’s mad, brilliant and rich so he’s a bit like a primitive Darth Vader. The villain might be misguided by an evil leader and therefore can be swayed.

The female villains, no matter how crazy, are usually still dressed sexy. They tend to straddle those

Mystique from Marvel's X-Men

moral lines a lot more. Poison Ivy is mad but protects plants. Catwoman only steals from the rich, Harley Quinn is humorous but mad, sort of like a softer version of the Joker who is scary looking while she is cute. Mystique who is probably more right out evil than some of the others is still made to look sexy. Her dark skin and skull at the hairline are symbols of her darkness. But no matter how nasty her sneer, she is still dressed in ways that indicate eroticism, the breasts outlined through the costume, the hips bared to the waist. Godlike in her evilness.

There isn’t a female villain who is ugly that I can think of. Of course, I’m not up to date on every comic but if there is an ugly female villain she is most likely a minor character. I do recall one thin female in Mystique’s gang who was elderly, Destiny. But from time to time she is neither super thin nor old. Villains and heroes tend to morph a lot.

DC's Catwoman (from the movie) Men would love her to steal from them.

Sometimes a villain might wear something armored as does Dr. Doom or as the hero Iron Man does. When that villain is a woman the armor is decorative as opposed to functional and often exposes the stomach and/or midriff, a really soft spot on the human body. Obviously the supervillains only sometimes dress for function. Catwoman’s catsuit is suited for scuttling about and it’s black so she blends into the night. But she often wears heels and most women know how hard it is to run, jump or do other martial arts in heels, but then they are superhuman. On the whole, the reason the supervillains lose more than the heroes is because they must be stupider and crazier, which tends to affect judgment and of course heroes have justice on their side.

Still I’d love to see some common sense in costuming that’s pretty hard to duplicate and in most cases, in real life, would probably look really goofy. I suppose using sex to stun one’s victims into a stupor of immovability is one way to win but I think one might just go farther on stealth.

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The Work Less Party Works Less

In BC, the Work Less Party was a group of slightly organized people who wanted to move the work week to 32 hours. They began in 2003 and actually had a few candidates in 2005, but after that the Party dwindled. Part of the party’s mandate was to have more fun. And like our Rhino party of yesteryear they were never taken that seriously, even by themselves. They were de-registered this summer and no longer exist as a political party, but the party goes on.

It is now a big party. If you check out the site with the lofty ideals, it hasn’t been updated since 2008. http://www.worklessparty.org/ And if you find the party site, it hasn’t been updated since March. Considering they just had a party this weekend you can see how working less doesn’t always work. http://www.worklessparty.org/party/party.htm I imagine there is a Facebook page, with most of the details but I try to avoid too much FB as being a great resource suck when it comes to parties.

I had gone to two parties before and they were definitely an excuse to dress in wild costumes or work on your Hallowe’en outfit before the big weekend. But what do you get? They take place in a giant auditorium–you know the style, from your school days–with a stage and a big empty hall. There are no chairs so don’t dream on sitting down. There are usually a few completely lame booths that nobody seems to attend. I’ve seen the hugging booth, the spanking booth, the chillout booth, etc. You must buy tickets to get your booze and then get in the lineup and hope there is any.

There is usually a costume and body painting contest, and  while this is on the stage, if you’re not six-feet tall you’ll probably only see the back of someone’s head or glimpse the outfits. What I have seen of the body painting is quite stunning and may involve dancing, skits or acrobatics. There is also an upstairs area that is smaller and more festive in look, with a DJ.

I found after two of these parties with 500 plus people that it was just a crush of incredibly rude and self-serving party-goers. There are  stairs to the other floor and people stop and chat or just get stuck in the jam. I said excuse me as I tried to squeeze past the people coming down. I mean, it’s what people do, right? Try to be polite? But no, I was dissed for doing so and someone said nasty things that I won’t repeat.

As for the alcohol, if you drink only beer, you’re okay. But last time they ran out of wine and cider by 11:00 pm. The lineups are long and everyone is out for themselves, suspiciously eying the person behind them who is pushing forward. Most of all you can expect a crush of costumed humanity at this party. After two of them I left feeling quite bored. I swore off of going to the giant cattle pen.

However, a friend was having a birthday and she really wanted to go with a group of people. There were probably about 15 of us and I finally buckled and went. I made the mistake of wearing a dress that had a train, and even though I had that pinned up it began to drag through the night. The floor was a morass of slimy mud from the rain. Slippery and treacherous, so one had to be careful moving through the crowds. And crowds. There is this narrow hallway that you must enter through and as we first arrived, we stood off to the side as many people do. But that did not stop people from bulldozing us down. I had to fix the pin on my dress and someone pushed me. I said hey, and the guy told me I was taking up too much space. Really, I can only take up the space that my body requires. Not even five minutes into the place and the attitudes began. I called him an asshole and pushed him out of the way telling him that he was too tall and taking up too much space.Yeah, I gave it back but I’d already been pushed five times.

That’s one reason I hate the Work Less party, because any thin excuse for manners goes out the door. To complicate matters, the disorganizers chose to put the ticket sales on one side of the entry door and the tables for getting your alcohol on the other, causing long lines that people must push through. When I got to the alcohol , I stood there for almost ten minutes with a whole bunch of people as every server was juggling getting drinks. Granted those poor folks are volunteers but some foreplanning would have helped, like a couple of people pouring and others serving. And when I asked what else there was besides beer there was only rum or vodka, with no mix, served in giant cups. Very mickey mouse.

The dancing was fun with pretty good DJ action, and we planted ourselves in one spot to help avoid the giant crush of people. But some doofus must have thought it funny to pull the fire alarm. Try to get over 500 drinking people out of a hall where at first we couldn’t hear the alarm. But we had to exit, with no place to put your drink. The bouncers said, you have to exit but you can’t take your drink so chug it. Pure rum or vodka? No thanks. Then the alarm went off and everyone went back in but the firemen had not been through, so then we got to exit again. Good fun, that.

I can’t say that the lack of adequate alcohol, the more and more disorganization, the giant crowd (and I hate crowds) and the uber rudeness encouraged me to ever go again. The Work Less party could do with a bit of working better.

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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Superhero Fashion

Marvel, X-Men, heroes, capes

Could Mystique’s outfit even be called a costume? Or is it just skin?

When looking at superhero fashion, there are several things we must remember:

  1. The heroes have perfect or godly physiques. Even if slim, or buxom, superheroes are muscular and perfect. (There are exceptions like the Blob.)
  2. They have powers or abilities beyond the normal human.
  3. They are superbly fit and agile, as well as being able to withstand physical abuse that would disfigure, cripple or kill most other people (they never lose teeth for instance).
  4. They’re exhibitionists. This goes for the evil fellows too. Everyone wears flamboyant clothing, even if it’s subdued, flamboyant clothing. That type of style doesn’t make you invisible and suggests a certain level of arrogance.
  5. They rarely get paid unless it’s by the government or supported by benefactors, or they’re millionaires (Batman, Iron Man).

With these suppositions it’s obvious that superheros might not have their wits about them, evidenced by outfits both form-fitting and often more provocative than the sane person would wear. But if in fact there were people who fit the above paradigms in our world today, what would these costumes do for them?

First, capes. I mean, seriously, they were once great for the people of the middle ages, before coats came along, because they could keep a person warm or wrapped up for the night. And okay, vampires. The Bela Lugosis out there need a nice big cape to wrap their victims, and just in case they can’t turn into a bat, well it gives the impression that they can. And speaking of bats; let’s look at one of the more famous superheroes.

Batman, superheroes, hero, supervillains, costumes, fashion, leotards

DC’s Batman by Neal Adams. That’s a lotta muscle to see through a suit.

Some would call him vigilante, some would call him hero, all would call him dark. Batman. The dude is caped and hooded, unlike the caped but barefaced Superman who somehow naively believes that glasses and dashing his hair to the other side will confuse everyone as to his identity. But let’s look at the capes. Whether long and voluminous, or short and sparse, they are not used in most every day criminal or do-gooder capers (get it?). The capes flow behind the hero, denoting movement or speed, but should you have to battle someone or whip around the corner you risk the criminal element grabbing your cape or getting choked, or worse, tripping over your costume and looking stupid. How bad would it be if the bad guys laughed at Batman? Pretty bad for them I guess.

The picture above of different DC superheroes shows Batman, the Martian Manhunter (guy in green, doncha know) and Shazam in capes. Oh and Robin in a little demi cape. But really, if your cape is flowy, it’s only good for show but not for battle. And if your cape, like some of the versions in the Batman movies, is stiff and ribbed, well, you won’t trip over it or have it flap in your face but you’re as likely to have trouble going through doorways and windows as getting into a car. Unless every caped hero is stupid, even the most arrogant wouldn’t want to limit the chances of just taking down the bad guys. And these guys do it for truth and justice and because it makes them look good.

Now we can leave some aspects up to artistic expression, but you have those old pre-60s costumes and the morality codes that once ruled the comic world bringing out those shorts over the tights look. If some guy dressed like that and yes, I’ve seen some women do this, it’s a bit of a geekathon fashion nightmare. But you will notice that these guys to a one have great tailors and their clothes are form-fitting, so tight in fact that I wonder that their butt cracks never show nor underwear lines.  And we have to hope that, like dancers, these guys are wearing a dancer’s cup or codpiece underneath, or you’ll know whether they’re circumcised or not. Flash, in the background, is superfast and his costume is okay because it won’t get in his way.

Hawkman wears a harness of wings and can fly so his costume makes sense, unless he’s in the Arctic. Actually most of these guys would freeze in inclement conditions but that’s part of their powers. They can wear barely nothing and still survive. Hulk wears an abomination of torn purple pants, always. Bruce Banner is certainly a science geek with a limited wardrobe. Utility belts and other paraphernalia make sense if you’re scaling walls and swinging from rooftops. Gadgets are especially the guys’ domain, as is the real world.

I would think though, should these heroes walk/fly down the street in broad daylight, no one will miss them. And they will have

capes, heroes, superheroes, Storm, X-Men, costumes, fashion, skin tight

One version of Marvel’s X-Man Storm, with cape. By Greg Land.

to have something of steel to withstand the catcalls, wolf whistles and propositions they’ll receive for such outfits. Hell, they’d be noticeable in a total eclipse. I’ve only mentioned the guys so far but the women have costumes painted on in a much more provocative way. Not all artists go to this extreme but the pic to the right shows navels and nipples through their incredibly thin and skin-tight suits, what there is of them. High cuts, bare asses, low-cut bustiers; really every female superhero is a wet dream or perhaps just a call girl gone wild.

I already talked about capes and how they’re a bigger problem than not. Some exceptions are the X-Men’s Storm. She’s a weather witch and her cape buoys her on the elements she stirs up. Banshee has a sonic power which buoys his wings on the power of sound. But on top of capes some of these gals wear skirts, short short skirts. Of course they all have matching pants underneath, like tennis players, but it’s just something else for your supervillian to hang onto. Perhaps distraction is a diversionary tactic.

superheroes, female costumes, Wonder Woman, Zatanna

Female superheroes show a lot of butt and cleavage and wear high heels.

The gals above have been modernized a bit but Wonder Woman (far right) and Zatanna (right) are wearing fairly tight corsetlike tops. Corsets restrict breathing and movement and should they be made of more supple material, the adequate to the amply endowed gals would pop out of their tops, especially doing acrobatics or hanging upside down. Some accessories, like Wonder Woman’s, serve a functional purpose. Her armbands deflect bullets, her head band is a boomerang (long before Xena’s) and her lariat binds and forces truthful answers (not just for bondage). Very few of these heroes worry about armor or weather with their outfits.

I’ve already touched on the overtly sexual nature of the women’s costumes. They are as sexual, maybe a bit moreso than the men’s, but when you define every indentation and muscle, well, the costumes are just like paint over nekkid bodies. And perhaps their beauty is one way to stun perpetrators. If archvillian Doctor Doom gets mesmerized wondering if Power Girl is going to pop out of her top, that does give her an advantage. I won’t bother going into the high heel boots and the fishnets. We know what it’s like to run and kick in those. (For more on this see The Problem With Supervillains )

Suffice to say, superheroes really aren’t dressed for action, unless in the bedroom. Send Prince Namor or the Angel my way and I’ll find out if their costumes are painted on. I’ve looked at the functional aspects of the costumes but if you want another take on the style, check out the links below for Tim Gunn of Project Runway’s opinion, on Crazy Sexy Geeks.

Part 1 with Tim Gunn

Part 2 with Tim Gunn

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Orycon 31 Wrap-Up

I just got home from a weekend at Orycon, Portland’s Science Fiction convention. Since I didn’t really attend Vcon I can say that this is the first fan con I’ve been to probably since Worldcon in Toronto. Orycon is a midsized convention I think, neither as large or Dragon Con or Worldcon  but not as small as Vcon.

I can only speak to my experiences from being there as a pro, in writing and editing. My early experience was with the committee in charge of organizing the panels. First, they found me through this blog as my email had changed since the last time I was down (probably a dozen years ago), and sent me an invitation to attend. They then sent out a list of possible panels and asked which ones I might like to be on. This form allowed for submitting a bio and a bio picture at the same time.

A couple times I needed to contact the committee to clarify some things (such as was the reading at midnight Saturday meaning midnight Friday because that’s technically Saturday) and they got back to me promptly. Thanks to Kami Miller and Rick Lindsley for all their help and organizing the panels well.

I did notice on site that there were no bios at all except for the guest of honor so I’m wondering why we needed to submit it. A bit disappointing that but the panels were listed in the large program book and the little pocket booklet. It would have been better to put some bios in the program book and left the panels to the booklet but then they needed room for describing them. I had offered (beforehand) to fill in on a couple more panels if needed but I never heard back and I did notice several panels only had two people on them. However, there were panels offered on art, editing, writing, costuming and other fan-oriented activities so that there were about five panels or more on at all times.

The booklet listed panels by room or by time and basically you could cross reference any way you wished. The kept all the readings off of the main listing though and had them separate which means many people missed them because they weren’t listed in the regular schedules. And I guess they were several hundred programs short in the printing.

I went to the art show, which was so spread out in a very large room that it look kind of empty. It might have been better to put the art panels closer together. The show ranged from the professionals like Lubov (the artist GoH), Alan Clark and a few others to the amateurs. There were fewer pictures of characters from Star Trek and other shows but it almost seems as if the unspoken theme was that of dragons.

That theme of dragons carried over into the dealers room, which was quite large. From what I could see I’m predicting Steampunk is on a huge rise and it will be flowing into mainstream fashion soon. There were many steampunk items from hats and goggles to other mysterious items and corsetry. There were very few books at all in the dealers room and the only presses selling their publications were Apex Book Company, Bizarro Fiction from Eraserhead Press,  and Talebones/Fairwood Press. I meant to go back and by one of the Bizarro books but forgot (and Apex too).  Darn. But the dealer’s room had gadgets, toys, comics, books, clothes, jewellery and all the goodies that people love to buy.

I missed taking a gander at the dance or masquerade and though there were few room parties they were fun and casual. The Pirates of the Columbia hosted one and I think they just do it for fun, plus there was the Radcon party, the hospitality suite and IRoSF, which my brain is blanking on right now.The costumes I did see were quite fun, from women in baroque dresses (complete with ship on the hair) to steampunk farmers and the Joker.

The hotel itself seemed fairly nice, and new from the Jantzen Beach hotel of previous Orycons. It was an extremely cold hotel though and they could have done with turning up the temperature a couple of degrees. I didn’t eat much but the food seemed all right and the hotel very apologetic when they screwed up our reservation. The rooms were quite spacious and nice with small balconies.

I’m notorious for not getting to panels at cons. Because I arrived at 6 I don’t think I attended a panel Friday except to do a reading at midnight in conjunction with Darklady Reed, Kal Cobalt and Tami Lindsley (hopefully I have those names right). Saturday I moderated the “Drowning in Slush” panel and attended one on Steampunk and on neural interfaces.  That’s a better average than usual. The Steampunk panel was quite interesting and well balanced. The neural interface panel was in jeopardy of being dominated about people talking about their disabilities but was save by the other panelists extrapolating into what’s being done and where it might go. And I managed to chat with the physicist so that I can worked out the logistics of a virtual environment story I’m working on.

Overall, I enjoyed the con and would consider going again. I also lucked out on driving weather, which was perfect. With stopping to visit friends, it was a pleasant (if long) drive.

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Theme Parties

Here’s something light to balance out the dark thoughts about our police. It’s spring, finally, in Vancouver with rumor of our temperatures getting up to 22 (centigrade) today. The cherry trees finally burst their blooms full force. Daffodils, weeks late, are now out and tulips are on their way. Everything is late this year because of all the cold weather so we are relishing the warmth.

And thinking of parties and barbecues of course. Over the years I’ve been known for having theme parties, much to the annoyance of a few friends. These themes have nothing to do with a particular time of year but more to do with having fun. Adults should get to dress up too. Here are a few themes I had.

  1. Nothing But the Blues: everyone was required to wear something blue. Easy enough for the blue jean people, and an excuse for me to wear a vintage 50s dress in blue satin.
  2. Come as Your Favorite God: open to people’s interpretation of god. There was a football player, someone’s personal god. My landlords came as household gods; she was dressed in apron, 50’s hat and full dress, rubber gloves with lace on them. He was dressed in underwear and tool belt. Then there was a smattering of other gods, Greek, Roman, Celtic.
  3. New Year’s come formal from any century or place: Although most people opted for your traditional fancy dress I had one goth, kilted, black booted friend, one very drunken guy in a toga that ended up in the shrubbery, and three Atlanteans dressed in shimmery blue-grey with glitter everywhere.
  4. Bad Boys Bad Girls: you guessed it. There was a manga, tousled schoolgirl (with panties in hand) and a bad biker dude. And there was a priest. Anyone not dressed up got handcuffed together, including my landlords.
  5. Mad Hatter: this was by far the most elaborate and the most fun. My partner at the time and I both had a fair number of hats. We made it Alice theme. Anyone who didn’t show up was  given a hat to wear. But people went all out and the costumes were fantastic. Here is a list of a few that we had: Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the walrus and the carpenter, Charles Dodson, two caterpillars, a griffon, a card, a flingo, a male, female and child Alice, a male, female and child cheshire cat, a mad hatter of each gender, and I think a mad queen.

I haven’t always had themes nor remembered all of them. There have been some people who do themes based on paintings. They send out an invite with a picture of the painting to be recreated, find and decorate a space and then everyone comes in costumes suitable to the recreation. I would presume that if one goes to the much effort they’re going to party afterward as well, because partying before might be too chaotic for the picture. This would be fun to do and some day I’d love to do that.

Then there are murder mysteries. They’re harder to find these days but the few we had friends would come and play the part, dressed to resemble the particular character. Those tend to be limited dinner parties of about eight people but the roleplaying makes it way more fun.

My few disgruntled friends can come to my parties dressed normally but everyone, even the big kids should get a chance to have fun and dress up as a space alien or a squid. It’s great to see what imaginations can create. I’ll be interested to see what people do for the next theme party and here are just a few ideas for the summer, where gods really should be wandering.

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Afraid of the Dark

In 2000 I wrote monthly columns for an online magazine titled Fearsmag. I was paid to write whatever I wanted. This was a lot of fun for me. I decided to write on fears and would pick a different one each month. I started in October. Unfortunately, I only wrote four articles before the dotcom crunch swept away the magazine.

As a child were you ever afraid of the dark, of the things that lived in your closet? I was. I would always imagine the devil lurking beneath my bed and I had to try to look under it to dispel the notion without letting the devil grab my hair and pull me under. What of the dark of the great outdoors: I would sing as I checked on my rabbit whose pen was around the side of the house. In the dark where creepy unknowns leered and watched I would bravely sing my way through and thus conquered my fear.

We’re approaching that time of the year traditionally known for facing fears and shadows and for fear of shadows. The dark and night have always been associated with the unseen, both physical and spiritual. It represents fears, hidden desires and the underworld where anything is possible. One never talks of a lover’s sun but a lover’s moon, the brightness that lights the way on emotion’s dark swirling sea. Vampires can’t abide by sunlight, werewolves howl at the moon and roam only at night. All that is feared and evil and able to overpower our rational minds and our frail bodies crawls and creeps and flutters through the night.

It is an old fear, the dying of a season, the coming of the dark months, but one that has hit almost every culture and stayed with us in our traditions to this day. To the ancient Celtic people this time of year was known as Samhain (sow-en)*, or Summer’s End, the turning of the old year and the birth of the new. It was the darkest of times, the sun grew ever more reluctant to show its diminished face, the fruits had long abandoned the trees, and even the leaves fell in their death dances. Cold winds blew over the heath, rain fell like mourning tears and people filled their root cellars with preserves, the sheds with wood and they knitted warm clothing for the oncoming siege of winter. Who knew if the sun would ever return?

What could they do to coax back the sun? Samhain was the turning of the great wheel of time, but was there any surety that that wheel would continue to turn, or like a well worn wagon, would that wheel topple, never to spin again? Sensible people filled their larders, prayed to the gods and did what they could to appease the forces of nature.

From this fear of the never ending darkness came Samhain or the celebration of Hallowe’en (All Hallow’s Eve). As the wind moaned through the standing stones and waves dashed unheedingly into rocks, people knew that the souls of the dead were wandering closer to the land of the living. The underworld was nearer than ever, the veil that separated the living and dead drew apart and souls could once more traverse the land. And woe to the person who had caused a wrong. Everyone dreaded the departed returning for reparation.

As the earth grew brittle with cold and streams could numb limbs blue, it was only natural that such souls as had died that year might stop at the hearths of their loved ones to warm themselves before that final departure from the lands above to the underworld. Or perhaps they had already passed through that chilling veil and were stopping by for a visit, some attachment remaining still for the corporeal world.

 Many were the precautions that people used to keep the dead at bay. Some souls were friendly or helpful, yet others were malicious. One could sweep their thresholds, clean hearths, hang strands of herbs or leave something out for the wandering spirits. Not many people would travel on a night like all Hallow’s eve, and if they did, it was in groups. What better way to fool the spirits that might be looking to lick up another live soul than to act like you were already one of the crowd? Some of the earliest Samhain celebrations involved men dressing as women and women as men. Ghosts and skeletons, then ghouls, goblins, witches and nightmarish beasts—these were the first costumes of Hallowe’en.

Hallowe’en was a time of fortunes, to find what the year ahead stored in its larders for you. Who better than to let you know what the year held than those who were no longer snared by time’s net? That which lay barren in the ground would rise up with the soft kisses of the returning sun and would grow in the new year. By having one’s destiny foretold there was at least a certainty that the year would turn and the sun shine once again. Yet, it was with dread, I’m sure, that some people faced their auguries. Who wanted to be told that their loved one would die or they themselves? Yet, that knowledge was tempting. The future’s seductive lure of revealing what was in store has enticed many people to its bedside throughout the centuries.

One could prepare if the future opened its eyes to you. All this to stave back the impending dark, whether it was that of waning days or the black abyss of death that everyone knew lay somewhere “out there” for them.

Always one of the best ways to push back the veil of night was to light Jack o’lanterns, a practice that came in some time after the early Druidic festivals which included lighting large bonfires upon the hills. Jack o’lanterns, originally carved of turnips, kept those spirits or demons that lurked within the folds of darkness’s cloak at bay. Bonfires didn’t hurt and keeping one’s spirits up in large groups helped scare away any fears.

If you had done no wrong to the one who had passed on, you had little to fear from the souls of the dead who would visit at Samhain. Through most of Celtic culture a “dumb supper” would be held. There, people would lay out a meal of bread and honey and perhaps some cider or ale for the departed who were sure to stop by. A good and substantial meal helped one move beyond the world and at the same time made sure that the spirits weren’t slighted.

Gypsies during the Middle Ages used a similar custom. If they could not cremate the dead to pass the soul on its way, they would bury the person with all of their possessions. It wasn’t worth it to keep a treasured trinket only to have a mulo (ghost) come traipsing after you and demanding it back. To further keep the dead spirits happy, Gypsies would party and feast around the gravesite for several days, eating and drinking and leaving enough for the deceased to make sure the soul was appeased.

A guilty conscience might have been the reason many people left food for their deceased, but the underworld was beyond normal senses. It was dark and the unknown. Many people felt it better to err on the side of caution than to become the unwelcome host to the angered dead.

Besides warding off and appeasing the spirits, Samhain marked the time of stillness, of summer’s and sun’s and harvest’s and herding’s ending. Herdsmen killed off the weak, sick and old animals that wouldn’t make it through the winter and salted and preserved the meat.

Darkness left little to do besides mending and repairing and sitting around hearthfires telling tales, drinking and singing songs. When the revelry was done, or couldn’t be sustained the dark time of the year was a time of introspection. When animals burrowed into their lairs, the sap returned to the roots of the trees and sun drew farther away, it was only natural to contemplate life and one’s role, to think out new paths for the year ahead, to plan and to seek one’s fortune.

With all the activity—bonfires, costumes, auguries, dumb suppers and Jack o’lanterns, people had little time to think about their fears or actually encounter them. I bet there were more conversations with the deceased two thousand years ago or even one thousand years ago.

As Hallowe’en and the darkening months approach maybe you’ll have time to reflect upon them. The next time you encounter the ghost and goblins and things that go bump in the night, maybe you will have the sense to be afraid. Maybe you will have no reason to fear anything. If you’ve wronged no one, especially those who have died, then you might be safe. But don’t forget the darkness that can be the most frightening, is the darkness within yourself that can consume you.

 

*Samhain, the Celtic Feast of the Dead. Ducking for apples in water came from souls in the cauldron of regeneration.

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