The Big-Ass Australia Recap: Wonders From Down Under
Apropos that it is 4AM on Holy-Crap-I-Don’t-Even-Knowsday, where I am wide awake and besieged by the vampire known as “jet lag.” As such, seems high time for my Australia recap!
Understand now that getting to
the Island from Lost Australia is no easy feat. Going to the country required, for me, one 16-hour flight, and coming back featured a 13-hour-flight — which is obviously shorter but you have the added punishment of coming through LAX, which, translated, is actually: “the added punishment of flying into and through the Devil’s panopticon-shaped demon sphincter.” And once in LAX, you have to get off the plane, go through customs, get your bags, go through the agricultural check, then exit the goddamn airport, walk 451 miles to a connecting terminal only to give them your bags again and re-enter the Sisyphean drain-swirl that is security. It’s really efficient.
Anyway, point is: if you’re flying to Australia, have something to do. I brought a lot of pornography and a couple cross-stitch samplers. Entertainment for days.
You should go.
End of story.
Okay, For Realsies
Listen, I like to keep my expectations in check. I got off the plane and talked to my wife and she was like, “So, is it worth it? The long flight through eternal darkness to get there?” And my first response was, “FLABBA JABBA MUZZA WUZZA,” because I had just been on a 16-hour flight through eternal darkness. But translated, I wasn’t sure. Brisbane seemed nice enough, I guess?
Then I had a flat white.
The flat white is kind of a nuanced latte — espresso, yes, but less milk, definitely less foam, all of it kind of incorporated together in a very perfect way, and it fast became my favorite coffee drink that you don’t really get in many other places (definitely not here). And I sat there with New Pal Emily Craven (what a great name!), drinking my coffee and eating poached eggs at 6:30 in the morning and it was sunny and birds were chirping and then there was a beach right in the middle of the city and I could smell flowers and I settled right into it. There came a click like I was a bone settling into its socket — and suddenly all was right in the world.
Here, then, are some things I noticed in Brisbane:
• Everybody is really fucking friendly. Warm, hospitable, laden with humor. Generous in a way that surprised me constantly.
• When you get to the country and go through customs you have to fight an increasing series of Australian animals. First, a koala. Then a kangaroo. Then an emu, cassowary, great white shark, and finally, Rupert Murdoch riding a giant redback spider. I was informed that the secret is always to let Rupert win. He is a very sore loser, that guy.
• The dollar is favorable there. But shit is occasionally ‘spensive.
• Sometimes I felt like I had entered a weird off-kilter version of the world I knew because you see these brands you recognize but with products you don’t — the Mitsubishi Pajero! The Toyota Aurion! The 7-11 Fruit Salad slurpee! Honeycomb Kit-Kats! Target-brand raisin bran flavored with TAIPAN VENOM. Everyone drives on the left! The liberal party are the conservatives! I felt like I was with the ka-tet in King’s Dark Tower series slipping into a strange mirror world.
• Bears repeating: THE FLAT WHITE.
• Brisbane is its own creature but if you really need the American comparison, it’s like if you took a nice Floridian city and drop-kicked it to Hawaii. I got vibes of both places while there. Which is not a bad combo, really, if you’re looking for good subtropical fun-times.
• Sydney and Melbourne are at odds with one another. The people of these given cities are the Champion Avatars of each, and they do battle in front of unwitting Americans. Seriously, this is a conversation I had every 20 minutes while in Australia: “I’m from Melbourne, it is the best city ever. It contains the coolest people. Unlike those uppity shitbirds from Sydney.” Then, later: “I’m from Sydney, it is the best city ever. It contains the coolest people. Unlike those soggy hipsters from Melbourne.” Then you pit them together and watch the fun. Note: nobody ever includes Brisbane in this fight, which is potentially unfair: it’s a really cool little city, and damnit if I don’t like underdogs. (But if I had to guess: I’m a Melbourne dude.)
• Actually, I think folks view Brisbane as a kind of backwater rednecksburg — Queensland being the Australian version of Texas or, again, Florida? Cattle country, cowboys, conservatives. Or so goes the feeling I got.
• I actually saw no spiders save one while there. It was a cute little jumping spider. IT WAS THE SIZE OF A PONY. No, not really. It was itty-bitty, and did not deign to fuck with me or mine. (Joke’s on me: my head will suddenly crack open and spill out funnel web spiders.)
• Australia has a sweets-loving culture. I saw more dessert cafes in a single radius than I ever have anywhere else — hell, nearby the hotel was a CHOCOLATE CHURRO PLACE. Let me just say that again. CHOCOLATE. CHURROS. *jaw loosens, drool emerges*
• Also has a strong coffee culture — but not drip coffee, as noted. Everything is espresso based. (Though I’m told they often use the espresso pull with various roasts, not just the espresso roast.) They actually pretty much kicked out Starbucks — that snooty mermaid showed up and Aussies were like, “Nope, we have great coffee already, thanks,” and then punted her back into the ocean so she could swim back to Seattle.
• I was routinely mocked for my mispronunciations of Australian things. Kookaburra is pronounced “KUCK-a-burra,” I guess? Emu is “ee-MYOO.” Australia is “STRAH-lya.” Tony Abbott is pronounced “the Devil incarnate who has manifested to set back society 100 years and also he hates women and gays and I’m pretty sure he kicks infants, that shitty motherfucker.”
• Australian politics are weird. (Says the guy whose government shut down.) They have 100+ parties? And some of them are political parties based in part on… hobbies? Like, there’s a racing party? A fishing party? A sex party? Wait, why don’t we have a sex party? Goddamn Puritans.
Okay, onto the reason I was actually there.
Here’s why I like both of these conferences:
First, they are genre-inclusive. They love writing in general, and are agnostic to the type of writing you do. No judgment. Nobody makes frowny faces when you tell them you write romance, or sci-fi, or pornographic Jurassic Park fan-fic.
Second, they’re small and lean and provide short, sharp, intensive programming.
Third, the love and energy is palpable. BOOKLOVE, BABY.
Fourth, I experience more people asking about writing than publishing. This is a problem with a lot of conferences where folks want to know how they get published before they care about how they actually write a good book. Not to say publishing shouldn’t be discussed or on the agenda — but the horse needs to be firmly thrust in front of the cart on this one, and for many, it ain’t. But at these two conferences I feel that the priority is just right.
Fifth, each is just well put together. Feels casual but professional. Loose, but capable.
GenreCon was really very amazing. It took place at the Queensland State Library, which is amazeballs — wait, the kids aren’t saying that anymore, are they? What are they saying, now? Majesti-testes? Fine. That works. It was majesti-testes. Truly beautiful library, unlike any I’ve seen in the ol’ US-of-A.
Oh, also? People knew me! How exciting that they were excited to meet me. That felt really good. (And really weird — it’s like, what’s wrong with you people? I have to live with me all the time, this should not be an exciting moment for anybody.)
At the “juggling act” panel, we got to discuss how to juggle several writing projects with the vigors and burdens of Real Life.
At the “antagonists” panel, we got to discuss what makes a kick-ass antagonist (and Pam Newton and I got to fanwank over The Wire because, how can you not?).
At the banquet, they actually let me get up twice and speak — once to offer up a presentation of 25 Reasons Genre Fiction Fucking Rocks, another to answer a 25-Question interview put forth by the intrepid Kate Cuthbert, who asked some hilarious questions. (My favorite involved her starting a question about “writing tools” before ending the question by asking, “So who are some of the biggest tools in the writing industry?”) Oh, and yes, I will be posting the 25 Reasons here at the blog in the next day or two (slightly edited to make it more bloggy and less speechy).
Bonus: a workshop on story structure — presented by Rebekah Turner and Charlotte Nash using 80s/90s action movies to detail narrative architecture (Die Hard, Terminator, Speed, Predator, Aliens, The Matrix). Aw, yiss.
It was just a great conference. I knew it was great because when I was done I was all frowny-faced and maudlin over it being over. I wanted to pout and punch things and demand MORE GENRECON PLEASE NOW THANK YOU BYE.
High-five to the many Genrecon Ninjas who welcomed me and a host of writerly types — Meg Vann, Peter Ball, Emily, Sophie, Aimee, Stacey, Simon, and more.
(Images of the GenreCon folks here, photos by the wunderbar Cat Sparx.)
Upon arriving, Emily Craven picked me up, gave me TimTams, took me for coffee and breakfast.
Then at the venue I got to meet Lois Spangler, a transmedia acolyte who was immediately like, “We are going to go to have chocolate churros and strawberries now with my friend Kevin,” and I was like, YES OKAY HELLO. She’s one of those people who, like Emily and so many others there, I can legitimately point to and say, “YAY NEW FRIEND.”
We did indeed get chocolate churros and strawberries with voiceover guru Kevin Powe, and while there I discovered that I had inadvertently stepped into the nexus of a weird Venn diagram of People I Already Knew. Lois knew Christy Dena, who I know from Cool Transmedia Stuff. Kevin was rooming with Patrick and Nicole O’Duffy — Patrick I’ve known for over fifteen years when we both did work for White Wolf way back when. Then Kevin talked about me to his friend Colin, who is partners with Kelly, one of my Flickr contacts also from way back when. Later other connections would manifest: Aaron Rosenberg, Nick Fortugno, and more.
At the reception I got to meet a whole host of awesome humans, including two of my favorite people in the whole world, Emma Osbourne and Eliza Rose. Both talented authors. Emma with her first pro sale. Eliza a student of Clarion West. Sometimes you just click with people — and these are my people. Trust me when I say you’ll be reading the stories of these two in the years to come. They will own your ass before you know it.
Kate Cuthbert is smart and funny and Canadian, and did a kick-ass job at the banquet — she’s so awesome I hope America can import her, shhh. *steals her*
Margaret Atwood said, “Go and meet my friend Cat Sparx,” and lo, I did, and it was good. Cat is rad people. (Doing a PhD in climate change themes found in YA fiction.) Cat’s the one who schooled me on the weirdnesses of Aussie politics.
Crime gurus John Connolly and Kathryn Fox: great energy, epic talent, easy conversationalists.
Clewdd (pronounced “Cleweth” or, also, “Lord Thornoflox Spangdiggler”) knows what he did.
I got to meet Imelda Evans! She brought me TimTams!
Ingrid Jonach was there! A new Strange Chemistry author, woo hoo!
And yes, I did indeed meet the mighty motherfucker known as Patrick O’ Duffy. He is a tall, magnificent specimen of Ron Perlmannishness, and he turns in a throaty, disturbing karaoke performance of Total Eclipse of the Heart. In fact, that’s actually how I met him — the first night of the event, a bunch of people said, “We are now going to karaoke,” and I’d never done karaoke before, and so after drinks at the bar (aka karaoke lubrication) they wrangled me into a taxi and suddenly I was in this dark brothel-esque room with half-drunk Australians performing karaoke — and suddenly the door opens and light floods in, framing the O’Duffy shape in the door. And he came in and sang and then there was more drinking and I did a horrible mumbly-mouthed version of “Thrift Shop” with Emma Osbourne and LIFE WAS GOOD. And drunk. And good. Point is: Patrick is fine people, and his wife Nicole is doubly awesome, if only for being able to keep him in line — a task of great peril, I do believe.
And I finally got to meet Christy Dena! Holy crap. She’s a storyteller on the edge, man.
Smarter than all of us.
So many folks. Joel Naoum! Kim Wilkins! Alex Adsett! Anne Gracie! Dean Peterson! Angela Slatter! Alicia Burke! Dave Versace! J. Michael Melican! PM Newton! Lisa Hannet! Jodi Cleghorn! Narrelle Harris! Rosie from Fangbooks! Cathryn Hein! Gemma Smith! And others I’m forgetting because I have a brain like a moth-chewed cardigan! I swoon with jet lag!
Goddamn Jet Lag
Jet lag is some real shit, man.
See, I got duped. I went to Australia, and did everything you weren’t supposed to do — I had a beer at the airport, a gin on the plane, I got there and had coffee, took a nap on the first day, then the first night of the conference (Friday) I got liquored up and did late-night karaoke.
And for the most part, I didn’t really get hit by any lag. I slept pretty well. Got up at normal times. My sleep pattern snapped right into place.
Then I came home.
I got cocky.
And I got throat-punched.
The first day was mostly just tired, but now I’m in that weird state where I feel like I’m on a boat and the world is moving beneath my feet and I don’t have insomnia so much as I lay down to sleep and vacillate wildly between DEEP SLEEP WITH VIVID DREAMS and PERIODS OF TOTAL ALERTNESS, and I do this for the entire night, creating a kind of swimmy fever-dream state where I never really know if I’m awake or dreaming?
It’s very bizarre.
I assume this is going to take a few days to escape.
But jet lag, man: it’s some sinister business.
TimTams bear a mention.
I’d heard about TimTams — a cookie, or “biscuit” where two wafers surround a chocolate filling and are themselves dipped in chocolate — and I was intrigued but expecting little. I mean, it’s not like we don’t have cookies here in the States. We have a whole slave circuit of Keebler elves churning sweet treats out of their little tree factories. And we have Twinkies, too. So I was like, sure, okay, I’ll try your TimTams, and I’ll smile and nod and be underwhelmed.
I WAS WRONG.
I’ll admit that now. I have to admit it, because my face is smeared with chocolate.
TimTams are an amazing little cookie. Addictive in the way that I’m pretty sure they are Blue Meth sandwiches. The first morning there Emily gave me a sleeve and I ate half that sleeve before 10AM and I already knew that I had a very real problem that only MORE TIMTAMS COULD CURE GOBBLE GOBBLE RAAAH
Aussies are enablers in this. They made it rain TimTams upon me. I came home with an armload of these things, and now my family is hooked, too.
They’re trouble. Stay away.
*eats TimTam, cries*
The Rest Of The Trip
The days following GenreCon passed in a blur. I moved hotels. I ate emu and alligator and lilly-pillies and was forced to do the TimTam slam on video and then I took a cruise up the Brisbane river and tried to get a selfie with a kangaroo and dicked around with koalas (no koala chlamydia, relax) and had an owl touch my hair (no, really) and drank a wine called Squid’s Fist and drank a gin cocktail that was so sweet I now have a brand new Type of Diabetes (Type VII, aka “Diabeedus Rex”) and hung out with Clwedd and ate Moreton Bay bugs (think Facehugger xenomorphs) and saw Gravity (holy fuck) and ate Mexican food (I’d call them “tacos” but yeah no not really) and ate a chocolate waffle concoction that gave me another new Type of Diabetes (“Diabeedus X: The Diabeedus That Destroyed Manhattan”) and and and –
I probably did some other shit, too.
But I don’t even know what day it is.
So I’m going to go ride my wombat mount and go find a flat white.
In my dreams.
*eats another TimTam, cries more*
*dies from jet lag*