LonCon3, A Retrospective

This weekend I've been to LonCon3, my second WorldCon. I went last year and had a lot of misgivings. This year erased those misgivings entirely.

What a great experience. What a great con. Let me count the ways.

Diversity

Last year, I wrote about how LoneStarCon3 made me feel... uneasy. At pushing 40 I felt young there, and to be honest, I felt like I didn't entirely belong. Some of that is me and my own baggage and social anxieties, of course. I don't for a second think that there's an intentional xenophobia wherein the Powers That Be are trying to aggressively chase away the gamers and the younguns. It's just that established social groups and institutions behave in ways that over time can feel that way. The only cure is to aggressively work toward inclusivity -- or as I called it last year, a "certain mindful attention."

LonCon3 hit that target for inclusivity, and they hit it hard. I felt welcome at LonCon, even when I was at a loose end and alone. I had any number of lovely conversations with people I didn't know, outside of any context where they'd have any reason whatsoever to care who I might be, and I never for a second felt edgy or defensive about whether I belonged there.

This might just be me, but it wasn't as lonely around the edges.

There was a fantastic gaming track. There were people across a tremendously wide age spread. People of all body types and abilities. People from a pretty broad variety of interests and fandoms. It was still pretty white, and I'd like to see that shift more, but I could tell the con had worked very hard to invite people in.

Respect. Mad respect. Progress has been made. I hope future cons work that hard.

No Room Parties ZOMG

My #1 favorite innovation of LonCon3? The fan village. Traditionally, in the evenings, a convention retreats to the hotel. Publishers, cities bidding to host a future Worldcon, and various other interest groups book hotel rooms and suites specifically to host parties. So the night life at an SF/F con happens in hotel rooms. 

Last year, I made a list of how to make newcomers feel more welcome at a con, and #3 was getting parties out of the hotel rooms. In retrospect I'd change that to #1.

At LonCon 3, they took over a huge exhibition space in the convention center and scattered a bunch of tents, tables, and seating areas across it to create a number of open but contiguous social spaces. It was open and welcoming. There was never a sense that you might be intruding on something that maybe kinda you hadn't really been invited to. It was less crowded, and less hot, and less awkward.

And best of all, if a creeper was bothering you, it was super easy to make an escape without climbing over a bed, or making a scene trying to push your way through a packed ear-to-elbow room or hallway. (This did not happen to me, but I do look for my escape routes, because doesn't everyone?)

Having seen the fan village concept, I think it's a great idea. The BEST idea. If we had a vote, mine would go toward "always do a central fan village, and abolish room parties for big cons for all time."

Room parties served a great purpose a long time ago -- when your con is for a hundred or so people who more or less know each other already, it's a great way to save money while still creating designated con-specific semiprivate festive spaces. They were a great innovation for the time, and solved a lot of problems fairly elegantly. But they don't scale very well to environments with many thousands of people who don't know each other and may have strongly differing views on what the social contract says is acceptable behavior.

Seriously, conrunners, pay attention to this. That fan village was a million times more inclusive and safer than a room party could ever be. If it's not in the budget, find a way to make it work.

People

And by way of addendum, it's people. WorldCon is made of people.

Special shout-outs to Naomi Alderman, Adrian Hon, Mur Lafferty, Zalia Chimera, Justin Landon, and Chris aka Cerulean Selachian, who all went above and beyond at various points to make me feel incredibly welcome and taken care of, in some cases far more than I actually merit.

I'd also like to name-check all of the frankly spectacular people I met, but such a listing would be prone to failure, amount to obnoxious humblebragging, and would probably only interest me anyhow.

Mostly, though, memory is human and fallible, and I don't want to hurt someone by leaving them out.

I met very, very many people. Authors and bloggers I admire, Twitter friends, co-panelists, people who have played my games, friends of friends, colleagues, total strangers. I gave hugs to a lot of them, and would've hugged more in retrospect. There were people I missed entirely and regarding whom I now feel a wistful regret. There is never enough time for all the wonderful people. Even at a bad con, most of the people are wonderful.

LonCon3, I love you. Let's hang out again sometime.

Twitter Scavenger Hunt Rules

What's a birthday celebration without a party game to playtest? Tonight starting at 9pm Eastern, we'll be having a Twitter Scavenger Hunt. Here are the rules:

• Every so often, I'll post a challenge for you to find with the hashtag #andreatsh. Each challenge will also include a unique hashtag, starting with #tsh1 and moving on. I'll be posting new ones as I see fit, and not on any particular schedule, so keep your eyes peeled. 

• You find an image that fits the bill. You can search for something already out there on the interwebs, or you can photograph or Photoshop something of your own. Some things will be easy to find, some not so much. Part of your strategy will be deciding which challenges to go after, and which to skip over in order to rack up the most points.

• When you've found (or made!) something, link it on Twitter with the hashtag for what it's a response to, so I know how to credit the points. Also use the hashtag #andreatsh so bystanders can keep track of the game if they like!

• First response in gets ten points, second gets five, all others get one point. From time to time, I may also award style points for an exceptional entry -- up to fifteen, especially if an entry obviously took a lot of effort to create.

• The game will be over when I run out of challenges or I get tired and have to go to bed, whichever comes first.

• There will be prizes! The prizes are candy. When the game is over, email me your post address to andrhia@gmail.com and I'll send out your winnings and/or a participation certificate sometime later this week.

Right. We're ready? We're set? Let's have some fun out there! :D :D

Happy Birthday to Me!

I'm turning 40 today! I am so excited! And it turns out this is a big birthday in more than one sense. I have a super awesome piece of news to share:

My novel Revision will be published by Fireside Fiction Co. in spring of 2015. You can read the official announcement for yourself! 

That's put me in a, how do you say, a celebratory mood. So...

  • The Complete Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart are on sale for $4 today only with coupon code HAPPY40. I may never offer the Adventures for a price this low again!
  • If you don't have money to spare or Lucy just isn't your style, I've put my short story Bone and Blood up for free a little ahead of schedule. Read it now!
  • There will be a Twitter Scavenger Hunt tonight at 9pm. There will be fabulous prizes! I'll explain the rules when we all get there. Probably you need to follow me on Twitter for that to work out. C'mon, it'll be a fun party!
  • And finally, if for some reason you want to give me something (jeez, who does that?) remember that every author likes to get reviews of their work. ...Just sayin'.

This has been a spectacular decade for me, and a lot of that is because of a lot of you out there  reading this right now. You're the best. Seriously the very best. So... thank you. All the hugs.

My Schedule for Loncon3

Huzzah! I'm going to WorldCon this year! And I'll be talking about memes, and games, and ROMANCE in games. I get to complain about TED! I get to do a workshop about expanding your story with transmedia tools! It's going to be super fun! You can tell I am enthusiastic from the exclamation points!

I will probably spend a lot of time hanging out with The Authors in whatever bar The Authors are hanging around in. But if you want to catch me doing programming, here's my schedule, all official-like:

LOLcats in Space: Social Media, Humour, and SF Narratives

Thursday 12:00 - 13:30, Capital Suite 16 (ExCeL)

This panel will focus on the challenges science fiction authors face in dealing with the plot and setting implications of social media. How do these tools affect the way stories unfold? Can writers represent the playful and ever-changing conventions of social media discussions without writing a novel that looks hopelessly dated before it even hits the shelves, and if so how? Put another way: would Kim Stanley's Robinson's 2312 have been greatly improved by a GIF of a spinning asteroid with a cat in it saying: Asteroid kitteh sez yur lint trap'z fulla cat haerz? So panel. Very discussion. Wow.

Jean Johnson, Dan McKee, Andrea Phillips, Charles Stross, Adam Roberts

Love in Games

Thursday 21:00 - 22:00, Capital Suite 9 (ExCeL)

How do we design love in games, and what does this mean? Creating meaningful relationships in games is becoming something of a holy grail, and there are many ways of representing love in, for and around games. From the heart symbol that empties as Zelda dies, to giving Morrigan presents in Dragon Age, love is a difficult thing to understand, let alone simulate it within games themselves. Yet we 'love' games - sometimes too much, and this is key to our relationship with them. Here, we look at the importance of representing and expressing such a complex concept within games. 

Ashley M.L. Brown PhD, Nicolle Lamerichs, Andrea Phillips, Mel Phillips, Ian Sturrock

Zombies Run! New Ways of Understanding Games

Friday 13:30 - 15:00, Capital Suite 2 (ExCeL)

Not all of us think of ourselves as gamers, yet it's quite likely that we've got a number of games or apps on our tablets and phones, or sneaking a quick game of solitaire between breaks. Purchases of games on apps are a huge part of gaming culture, yet many players don't like to be seen as 'gamers'. Perhaps this is because of the sterotypes that surround the image of the gamer, but app purchases also allow alternative groups of players and play style. This panel looks at app gaming, including the interactive running game, Zombies, Run! Writers and developers will discuss not only why Zombies, Run! has become such a success, but what this means in terms of the identity of the gamer.

Ciaran Roberts, Naomi Alderman, Elizabeth Bear, Andrea Phillips

We need to talk about TED

Saturday 15:00 - 16:30, Capital Suite 15 (ExCeL)

TED talks began as a way to communicate "ideas worth spreading", and have since spread to encompass a wide range of TED conferences across the globe. How well does TED do at communicating their ideas to a generalist audience? Are we missing out on interesting science that can't fit into a slick 18-minute presentation?

Chad Orzel, Sarah Dillon, Vanessa Harden, Andrea Phillips, Nickolas Falkner

Using transmedia in your writing

Sunday 12:00 - 13:00, South Gallery Pgm Room (ExCeL)

A writing workshop led by Andrea Phillips. Spaces are limited for this item and advance sign-up is required: a sign-up sheet is available at the Info Desk.

Andrea Phillips

 

Reglutening and Science

This is the end of the story, I think.  A twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan in high fettle; a Rashomon-style reframing of everything that has gone before. In order to understand where I've been, it would be best to start at the beginning, with the deglutening. You have to understand how sick I was, how desperate for help. You have to understand how transformative the deglutening was for me.

Or... how it inevitably looked that way, at least. Because I think I was wrong. The whole time, I was wrong. Gluten may have never been the problem at all. And yet the evidence was insurmountable. Every time I was a little daring, the result pointed to the one deadly culprit. How could I have been so wrong, for so long?

Vitamin D

This winter past, my mental health took a nose dive and stayed there. It was a long and brutal winter, and various personal stresses made it worse than just the weather. I made an appointment with my physician with every intention of talking to him about medication.

The day before my appointment I realized I'd been there before, exactly there. This was a familiar feeling. This was me crying in the parking lot after the endocrinologist told me that having my boyfriend take me out to dinner would solve all my problems. Oh, right, you again.

Instead of asking for benzos, I asked for him to check my Vitamin D levels. He did so, surprised at the request, but willing to humor me. My D3 was on the very low edge of normal.

I started taking ridiculous quantities of Vitamin D and was reborn. 

I've long known that many of the problems I suffered before the deglutening were the result of my appallingly low D levels. The hair loss, the anxiety, the menstrual irregularities. But celiac disease and gluten intolerance are very frequently comorbid with vitamin deficiencies -- malabsorption of vitamins, right? The course of the disease wears away at the finger-like lining of your intestines and makes it difficult for your body to absorb the nutrients in your food. (I have a long-standing B12 deficiency, too, for all that I've never been a vegan.)

So while I was aware that many of the symptoms were fixed by those lovely D3 pills and not by removing gluten from my life, the fact of the D deficiency in the first place was suggestive of a gluten problem.

And D3 couldn't explain why my stomach aches went away, right?

Surprise Abdominal Surgery

Earlier this month, I got a really, really bad stomach ache. Long story short: within four hours of onset I'm at the emergency room and on opiates en route to being admitted and having my gall bladder out. I was in the hospital for about three days, in all.

Afterward, the surgeon told me that not only was my gall bladder completely filled with stones,  the bile in it had turned white. There was a lot of scarring, to the extent that she had trouble cutting through the bile ducts to remove the damn thing. My gall bladder clearly hadn't been doing anything useful for a long, long time.

Quick biology lesson: Do you know what your gall bladder does, exactly? It stores, concentrates, and releases bile from your liver into your small intestine. Bile is the substance that allows your body to digest fat and absorb the nutrients from it. Nutrients like, oh, I don't know... vitamin D. Without bile, many unpleasant digestive things can happen to you when you eat fat. I won't spell them out for you, because it's gross, but... yeah.

Now, in the post-glutened era, my stomach aches were tremendously better than they had been, but they were never really gone. We all kind of shrugged and thought it must be Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is one of the diagnoses a doctor will give you to explain away digestive problems that don't appear to be killing you but that they aren't sure what else to do about.

I knew I'd always had problems with too much dairy fat. My mother fed me skim milk as a toddler because I couldn't tolerate full-fat, and though I love coffee with cream, I suffer for it.

The day after I came home from the hospital, gall bladder newly removed, I ate a bowl of ice cream with hot fudge. And I was fine. Huh.

Clues and Evidence

Even before the gall bladder surgery, I'd formed a theory that my gluten tolerance had improved, or, or... something. I'd eaten a few things that were known to be cross-contaminated with no apparent ill effect, and so I'd been "chancing it" in restaurants more and more. And it was OK. I also wasn't getting sick when I forgot to put foil down in the toaster oven. The theory was that my intestines had finally healed enough to tolerate some small amounts of gluten.

But then my gall bladder came out, and suddenly I had a new lens with which to look at everything that had come before. And I formed a new theory, that I will now share with you: it was never gluten at all. It was fat the whole time.

Consider what you give up when you go gluten-free. You eschew fried foods, because in a restaurant, the same oil is going to be cross-contaminated with flour from the battered chicken tenders or onion rings. Creamy sauces (thickened with flour!) are right out, as are cream-based soups. Gravies are gone, as are most desserts. When you give up gluten, you eat a lot of salad, a lot of grilled stuff. Sorbet and fruit. At home I made roasted chicken, spaghetti with corn pasta, pancakes, curry, grilled fish, rice and beans.

So I went gluten-free, and I felt a lot better right away. My first gluten challenge was the night I ate a ton of bite-sized Halloween chocolate. I felt terrible again. But it maybe wasn't the malt syrup in the candy, it was just the cocoa butter.

I tested again some months later, trying some chip dip made with Lipton's Onion Soup Mix and just a few cookies a friend had made for a party. And I felt awful for a week. But it wasn't the barley in the soup mix, it was the sour cream.

I would eat the tortilla chips from Moe's or the French fries from Wendy's and feel like death for a day or two. But maybe it wasn't the cross-contaminated oil, maybe it was the oil itself.

I felt sick after eating my own home-made gluten-free pumpkin pie. I couldn't work it out, until I realized I was using a cookbook with wheat flour still covering the pages. A-hah, cross contamination! But maybe it was the butter in the crust the whole time.

And when I felt ill after a meal at a friend's or relative's house, despite my hosts' best efforts, maybe that wasn't accidental but inevitable cross-contamination at all. Maybe it was just the richness of a celebratory spread, too much for my feeble and diseased gall bladder to tolerate.

You see how easy it was to arrive at the conclusion that it really was the gluten? You see how the evidence supports either theory equally well? This, my friends, is why science is never set in stone. Sometimes you aren't asking the right question.

Maybe it was never the gluten at all. Maybe it was always, always the fat.

Saturday night, we ordered pizza from my old favorite pizza place, the one with the most delicious chewy crust you can imagine. I followed it up with a Cinnabon roll. And I was... you know, OK. The next morning in a fit of jubilance we went to Cheesecake Factory, where I had sourdough and French toast. There has been no moderation. And I have been... you know. Fine?

I have not been suffering. After that chip dip and cookies incident, I was so sick I felt like I had the flu for a week straight. But it looks like... well, you know.

I am having a very strong emotional reaction to this turn of events.

Looking Forward

Food isn't just food, or we'd all be happy with Soylent. Food is love, it's belonging, it's joy. Food limitations are hard, because those limits end up restricting so much more than simply how you fuel your body.

I'll be honest, I'm a little bitter about the doctor who suggested gluten-free, for all that he was my savior at the time. And bitter about the several doctors who shrugged at my vitamin deficiencies and never thought to investigate further. The ones who were disinterested in anything related to my stomach or my bowels, who actively discouraged me from investigating, some dozen years ago when I still remembered it wasn't normal.

In my three years and eight months without gluten, I was known to say at least a couple of times a month that I wished I could give food up entirely as a bad job. And you know, sometimes I pretty much did give up. At WorldCon, I ate the same nachos from the hotel bar four times in five days because it didn't kill me outright the first time and I was too afraid to chance anything else.

And I'm afraid now. I'm really, truly, super-duper afraid that I really was right the first time, and that it really was the gluten. That my gut has healed up for now, but by eating poison again, I'll abrade it away bite by bite until one day the penny will drop and I will not be fine any more. I'm afraid to hope. I'm afraid to get used to this in case it's not real.

But for now... for now, I have a corpus of data, and all I can do is interpret it the best I can, and make decisions I think I can live with.

Yesterday I realized I could have chicken nuggets from McDonald's if I wanted to, and reader, tears sprang into my eyes. As I wrote this, I suddenly realized I could have any kind of sushi I like, not just the shrimp California or the plain salmon and tuna rolls I've been reduced to. When I wrote about that bowl of ice cream I realized I can have a waffle cone again.

Ramen noodles. Soft pretzels. Bagels. So many, many sandwiches. This isn't really about food, this is about liberty.

There were some crumbs on my table this morning, and I hesitated a good long moment, then swept them into my palm to throw away.

This is going to take some getting used to. But I think I'm... fine. Better than fine. I'm free again.

I really hope it lasts.