A Writer Experiences Arisia

This convention write-up by NEHW member, Kendra Saunders, for the Pure Textuality wesite.

A Writer Experiences Arisia

by Kendra Saunders

Arisia in Boston has a longstanding history for being the conference where geeks, nerds and steampunk enthusiasts can party and battle snowstorms. Arisia 2012 was remarkable in many ways, but most strikingly, because the skies overhead were blue and snow-free.

Your intrepid reporter (intrepid? No, that’s a lie. A bit overtired, over-excited and over-caffeinated), left snowy and icy New Hampshire on Friday morning with about three bags full of clothes, writing supplies, books and her well-travelled Loki action figure, and hit the road for southern New Hampshire. After connecting with a considerably more famous author, Elaine Isaak (The Singer’s Crown, The Bastard Queen), the journey continued southwards.

As soon as we hit the MA border, the ice and snow disappeared and the skies turned blue and the clouds fluffy, as if we had stumbled across a lovely summer afternoon. Well, maybe not summer, as the temperature was freezing and the winds quite raw.

The convention geared up late in the afternoon as participants threw their belongings in hotel rooms and rushed to get in line for registration. The lines were a bit long and crowded, and the whole matter was disorganized, but once registration was finished, the guest was free to wander at will. A Starbucks and bar/grill stood guard on either side of the hotel’s lobby, providing caffeine or beer, depending on your mood.

Costumes on Friday night were muted compared to the rest of the weekend, but even so, you might easily find yourself sipping coffee with Robin Hood, a Jedi and three young Victorian chaps. Bowler hats and goggles popped up more frequently as dinner-time loomed, and panels about role playing, writing, corset-design and gender gave way to several spectacles on the ground floor of the hotel. A disastrous but amusing showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show held my interest for ten minutes, but I soon joined the crowds of people that flooded out of the room due to DVD malfunctions (yes, really). Wandering down the hall from the movie room, I heard pounding Goth synths and investigated only to find a dark room of dancing witches, Vikings, teenagers, middle aged steampunk guys and a few curious passersby.

It must be said that if you will ever, ever, ever feel comfortable in the knowledge that you can be dressed in PJs and have curlers in your hair, and you won’t be the weirdest thing on the dancefloor… it’s probably at Arisia. I found myself dancing (badly) to songs by Lady Gaga and Blutengel. The DJ was phenomenal.

After passing out at 2:30 a.m. and waking up around 6 a.m., getting dressed in my diesel punk outfit (20s crossed with futuristic/steampunk inspired fashions) and wandering down into the hotel lobby, I discovered rather quickly just how creative the people who attend these conventions really are. Everywhere I looked, women strolled by in Victorian garb, giant hats, skimpy lace outfits and elaborate animal costumes. The men were dressed in a variety of fashions, though many of them seemed to stick close to the steampunk aesthetic. It was gorgeous. And most of the costumes were made by the people who wore them.

Early in the day, the women of Broad Universe hosted a book reading for women writers in the organization. I was among the readers, and after a bout of nerves, I managed to deliver a chapter of my book with all of the glee and grade-A ham that any of us frustrated actor/entertainers harbors inside. Everyone laughed when they were supposed to, clapped when they were supposed to. KT Pinto gave a spirited reading that had everyone nearly in tears with laughter.

Most of Saturday was dotted with various panels for attendees, but perhaps the greatest draw was the never-ending parade of fabulous costumes in the lobby. Batman posed for pictures, Sherlock Holmes wandered the halls, the 10th and 11th Doctor made multiple appearances, a Dalek drew gasps and Tony Stark smirked while he posed for pictures with hot women. The masquerade ball was allegedly one of the best in the history of Arisia and was talked about loudly for the rest of the weekend.

KT Pinto’s book-signing that evening culminated in one enthusiastic fan kneeling in front of the author’s table for a copy of her upcoming book (shhh!) A cancelled party sent hordes of too-sober nerds back into the lobby, most of them choosing to drink and mope and converse in grumbles about their party being cancelled. A few found solace in watching the football game. And let me tell you, there’s nothing like a bunch of men in Ren-fair clothes yelling at a TV screen and cheering on their favorite football team.

Another late night rolled into a somewhat later morning than the one before it. Sunday at Arisia boasted just as many costumes, but a bit less energy as the alcohol and lack of sleep caught up to the attendees.

Broad Universe and Spencer Hill Press hosted a hugely successful book launch for the Spencer Hill Press anthology, UnCONventional. A dragon cake was consumed, fans were able to get autographs from many of the anthology’s writers and much conversation floated around the crowded room.

Arisia attendees were fed a steady diet of somewhat appropriate food offerings—dry, stale bread, butter, a few bruised fruits, assorted cheeses and crackers and endless tea, coffee and hot chocolate. The food was laid out on multiple tables and left to be picked over by the sleepy maidens, grumpy young peasant children, stiff anime characters and confused men in crumpled business suits. I couldn’t help feeling that it was fitting and, for that reason and that reason alone, clever. So yes, I mostly lived off of stale loaves of bread, warm butter and cups of black tea… just like any good waylaid steampunk girl stuck in a great valley of dragons, street vendors and magicians.

And then more than once I hit up the bar/grill in the lobby for their delicious curry. If you stay at the Westin, try the curry. It’s surprisingly addictive, with or without the suggested French fries. Don’t mix it with Guinness though. I already did that for you, so I could warn you. Awfully kind of me, yes?

JA Starr was on hand to take lovely professional photos and he generously shared some of his honey mead with me. Delicious!

By Monday, most everyone was scurrying about to hug their new friends, say goodbye to old friends, get contact information or just figure out what the heck they did with their (keys, bag, purse, child, etc). I had fallen victim to a nasty bout of vertigo, thanks to the elevators and far too little sleep, so admittedly I was rather happy to see things winding down.

All in all, I suggest Arisia highly for fans of fantasy, fans of role-playing, costumers, steampunk enthusiasts, and writers in the Northeast. It’s a great chance to meet fans, make friends, meet heroes, dress up in your old ballgown (everyone has one, right?) or just gawk at the most creative people in the world (fans, of course!) While I didn’t find the panels to be quite as interesting as I was expecting them to be, the pure spectacle of the costumes and fandoms and vendors are enough to justify attending. And the conversations! Oh, you’ll have conversations with all sorts of people.

Included are pictures of the event and some of my favorite costumes from Arisia. Enjoy!

For more about Broad Universe, a world-wide organization that supports and promotes female writers, visit www.broaduniverse.org.

For more about Spencer Hill Press or UnCONventional, visit www.spencerhillpress.com.

For more about one of the incredible vendors at the show, visit www.etsy.com/shop/EmrysFynery.

For books by Tim Lieder visit http://www.amazon.com/Dybbuk-Press/lm/R1LB59CKVHK136.

For more information on me, visit my fancy-dancy, newly updated website, www.kendralsaunders.com

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