04 Aug

My Whirlwind July: NASFIC 2017, Puerto Rico Vacation, and then teaching at Shared Worlds

Sometimes life moves so fast you look up and a whole month has passed. Sometimes you look up and then you realize two whole months has gone by and you haven’t posted a single blog post. And then your mother is like ‘is your website dead?’ and you realize you have neglected the site.

I’m still alive!

In the last couple of weeks of June I tried to clean on the other side of the basement across from my office with intent to turn it into a gym when I got back from my July travels. I even rented a dumpster for this purpose. I got everything cleared out and most of it cleaned, but in the process of moving an old entertainment cabinet up the stair I twisted, turned, and blew my back out. I couldn’t get off the floor for a day, it was horrific.

When I told my doctor I was going to be driving eight hours to see my family in Virginia, then fly five hours with my wife to Puerto Rico, he all but laughed and said “do you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

I did not.

But on July 1st drive out we did. Every couple hours I stopped to re-apply Icy-Hot to my back. I slept a lot at my parents, but in my defense, I was in a lot of pain.

Surprise ER VISIT!

The night before we flew out to Puerto Rico where I was to be the Guest of Honor at NASFIC 2017 (I mean, woah, right?), I was in a hotel near the airport trying to finish up edits to a story that was commissioned from me at the last minute. Halfway through the edits I was struck by a pain so intense I ended up curled up next to Emily almost unable to speak. It wasn’t lower back pain, but a kidney stone.

We went to the ER late in the night, with the flight scheduled for early in the next morning. I got fluids and painkillers, and thankfully, passed the stone while I was there and we got back to our hotel room with hours to spare before our flight!

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Exhausted, now with all sorts of interesting new residual pain, I flew down to Puerto Rico early the next morning. When we got to our hotel I did my best impression of a body pillow and spent my time watching TV.

Because… fuuuuuuuck.

I got to see Arecibo!

Early that Thursday I got up because I had tickets for a tour of the Arecibo space telescope set up by (if I can recall something that happened a month ago properly) Leane Verhulst. I’d really wanted to see this when I was in Puerto Rico with my family many years ago, but I was out-nerd-voted. Again, my back protesting much, I sat in a bus seat for the one and hour drive. Then walked up a ton of steps. Thrown out back wasn’t too happy about that, either.

It was worth it.

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As I said on twitter, this motherfucker is huge! I mean, you know it’s big from pictures and videos, and from seeing it in Golden Eye when Sean Bean is (yet again) killed.

But in person, scale can be appreciated.

What’s even wilder is that the telescope is not a giant concrete bowl. It looks like that. In the movie it even sort of acts like that. But it’s really a mesh suspended by wires over a giant sinkhole. In fact, workers who maintain it have to wear these giant snowshoe-looking shoes to not fall through it.

Underneath the mesh is foliage, and there’s this big gap between the very bottom and the ground.

I got lucky enough to be on a VIP tour and snag a photo of the underside:

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And here’s a video I took of that:

NASFIC 2017!

After some time to rest up, NASFIC 2017 formally began for me with a panel ‘Working toward Social Equity in Speculative Fiction’ which I moderated and shared with Diana Pho.

Opening ceremonies featured me walking in behind an honor guard of Puerto Rico’s own Starfleet crew with other guests of honor. Science GoH Guy Consolmagno joined my selfie here:

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It was really wild to be the Guest of Honor at a NASFIC. I never expected such a thing to happen. I was quite honored to both be in the Caribbean and at a major science fiction convention and to be the guest. I spent my high school years just ninety or so miles away to the east in the Virgin Islands. So to have known when I first started dreaming of being an SF/F author, that I would be honored by SF readers by being a guest of honor at a NASFIC just miles away from where I spent part of my childhood, that’s cool.

Here’s a Guest of Honor exhibit that Bruce Farr put together at NASFIC. He was very patient and quick to assemble this, as I had been struggling to finish a last-minute commission and deal with a thrown out back that left me on the floor when requests for material came in:

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On Friday I gave a reading which was a sneak peek of some stuff that would be coming out next year. Shaun Duke interviewed me for the convention, and also taped (we still use that word, which lives on after it’s literal meaning) it for his podcast, so hopefully I can link that sometime. I also gave a presentation on English language Caribbean Science Fiction that I hope gave the audience some new titles to read and avenues to explore.

Then, in one of the more unexpected, ‘this is really happening’ moments, went to a presentation where I was given a trading card of myself. Yes, I’m now a science fiction trading card:

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An early panel about the realities of living in extreme climate started my Saturday off. At lunch, ‘The practicalities of crowdfunding’ was accidentally chopped off the panels booklet, so we only had one person show up, but my 2pm ‘Space Access via the Caribbean’ panel, a history of space-related stuff that had happened in the Caribbean, seemed a hit. The projector and my laptop refused to talk, so the AV team was able to quickly get me a spare laptop, I pulled up pictures of the stuff I was talking about as we went along, and I used my iPhone as a hotspot to get us online.

I covered the HARP project which I wrote about for Tor/Forge’s blog here, talked a little about Beal Aerospace’s plan to launch rockets from Sombrero Island and headquarter out of the USVI for a little while in the late 1990s, back when my interest in private space launches was way out of the mainstream. I also talked about the Tektite 1 habitat in St. John, where underwater haps were built to let astronauts practice space missions.

Another panel about the singularity, and then to the last day of NASFIC where I was able to steal some time with Javier Grillo-Marxuach over coffee. I’ve been a fan of him since The Middleman, a before it’s time ABC Family show with all manner of inside geek references.

Then we held closing ceremonies by the pool, and it was all done. So thanks to con chair Pablo Vasquez (who also took us out to a Thursday night street party) and my liaison Debi Chowdry and all the other organizers and volunteers down in Puerto Rico.

EXPLORING PUERTO RICO

After NASFIC, I tacked on some extra time to re-explore Puerto Rico as an adult, as the last time I’d come through I’d either been with a class in high school or with my parents.

First things first, Emily and I passed through Old San Juan on our way to see El Morro, the great fort guarding the bay. Old San Juan has been around since the early 1500s, so the architecture is amazing. But even more amazing was that in Old San Juan, in a baker, I solved a puzzle that had been bedeviling me since I first moved to the USA.

See, in St. Thomas when I lived there, I enjoyed bread pudding that I purchased at local bakeries. It was usually cut into a cube, it was solid (you could pick it up with your fingers and none of it broke off) and almost cake-like. It was unbelievably dense. It was very tasty.

When I came to the USA and got bread pudding, it was like bread, with sweet stuff poured over it. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t USVI bread pudding.

But in Puerto Rico, I spotted BREAD PUDDING in the window of a bakery. It looked right. It looked like this:

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It’s called Budín in Puerto Rico.

I’m not sure if they gave it us or we to them, but I ate a piece almost every day I was in Puerto Rico from then on. I almost wept tears of joy, because it was the solution to a gastronomical puzzle I’d not solved in over 20 years. The consistency comes from soaking the stale bread in evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk.

And there are lots of recipes for the stuff on Puerto Rico sites, so when I get home sick and can afford the carbs, we’ll be able to recreate it.

On that note, I could have left Puerto Rico a happy man, but there was more excitement yet to be had.

We spent a day exploring El Morro:

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Which was great, because it had been a while since I’d been in a fort, and I had forgotten home much they dominate legends, landscape, and economics of an area, and it played in to some gaps I had for some worldbuilding I was doing. I’d wanted to use some of the symbology and setting of a castle, but re-experiencing El Morro helped shoot my thoughts down some new paths.

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We changed our hotels to a hotel closer to Rio Grande, near the foothills of El Yunque. I spent some time in a hammock nestled in between some rocks and near the ocean.

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We also went horseback riding on the beach, which was wild. It was my first time on a horse, I experience walking, trotting, and cantering. Cantering felt like a gallop!

Again, with the thrown out back, this was a reach, but it was fun nonetheless.

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I then worked on editing a short story:

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We also took the time out to rent a Jeep and go explore El Yunque, the rain forest. It was as beautiful as I remember from high school.

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The visitor center for the parks is architecturally amazing, built up so that it’s above the canopy:

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Lots of waterfalls and hiking:

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We finished our exploration of El Yunque with dinner at Luquillo Beach, where 60 or so kiosks run along the beach with all different kinds of food.

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I packed on a few pounds eating lots and lots of good food and lots of budín. We flew back to my parents in Virginia, exhausted. I was also pretty stressed, because at the airport in Puerto Rico a TSA agent accidentally dropped my laptop onto the tile floor, shattering the screen and warping the chassis. I spent the first day at home of a few days with my parents filling out claim reports for the TSA claim.

Because I had a non-working laptop I spent a day at the Apple Store buying a new one, which hadn’t been planned (but neither had an expensive ER visit, so there we go) because I had work to do.

After a few days with my parents, we drove home. I had three days to do laundry and find out that an electrical storm had knocked out the cable modem, our stove, and my monitor. Welcome home.

Then it was back on the road, to Dayton, to fly out to South Carolina where I taught at the Shared Worlds Writing Camp for the next week.

The campers were creative and amazing, as always, I was honored that I was invited back. This was the 7th time in 10 years I’ve been an instructor there. I did, as a result of all the travel right up to the camp, have a bit of a fight with exhaustion and dehydration through the whole week. That had a big impact on my energy levels.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed a little bit of social time with the other writers there this year. That included long time friends Gwenda Bond and Ekaterina Sedia. Kathe Koja was there, I’d met her briefly many moons ago at a Detroit event when I was a sprout of an author. Terra McVoy returned from last year and was fun to hang out with again, and I was super jazzed to get to meet Sofia Samatar for a longer set of chats as we’d only ever had a quick meeting a World Fantasy Con and it turns out that we share some social circles that overlap outside of science fiction.

I roomed with Will Hindmarch, the games designer and writer, as well as Jeremy Zerfoss, the talented artist behind the illustrations in one of my favorite books about writing, Wonderbook. I’ve known Jeff Vandermeer for so long, and it has always seemed like Jeremy was a great artistic collaborator of his. It was a total treat to spend time getting to know Jeremy.

And then, just as abruptly, as I was home and needed to finish a short story for my Patreon. I managed to get it posted just in time for the month, and as I did so I could feel I was coming down with a fever. A horrible fever. I could feel myself fighting it, that scratchy feeling on the back of the throat, since I flew out of South Carolina.

Once I had a new story posted I succumbed and spent most of this week in bed, sick, watching Netflix and catching up on a couple of movies on iTunes that I had wanted to see (neither of them, alas, adding insult to injury, were any good. I’m looking at you, Alien Covenant).

So that gets you current.

Hopefully I’ll start blogging again more regularly.

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