To HELIOsphere and beyond!

. . .a convention report by Sharon Lee

So, along about last Wednesday Steve and I loaded up Skylark the Subaru and, after taking on breakfast at Governor’s, got on the road to New Jersey.

In keeping with our new philosophy of “Don’t Kill the Authors,” we had already decided to make the trip in two stages, staying Wednesday night at Rutland, Vermont (our next door neighbor was horrified to hear that we had actually chosen to go to Rutland, but, hey, we’re easily amused).


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Having taken the decision to split the journey, it was easy go make the follow-on decision to eschew the Big Road in favor of Routes 2/4/5/7 and Bob’s your uncle.  It was a delightful drive through a New England just starting to stir toward spring.  We were escorted by daffodils, roadside waterfalls, and tender tree-buds.  For some time, were were privileged to drive in the shadow of Mount Washington — it was snowing on Mount Washington, and we stopped at a handy pull-off to get out of the car and take pictures.

Thursday’s drive did migrate to the Big Roads, because — we were going to New Jersey.  Absent the Episode of the Garden State Parkway, of which the least said, the better, it was largely non-dreadful.

We rolled into the hotel mid-afternoon on Thursday, unloaded and went in search of food at the Longhorn Steak House on Centennial Drive (apparently Everything is on Centennial Drive in Piscataway).  Pro Tip:  If you ever find yourself in a Longhorn Steak House, the sweet potato is to die for, and the asparagus is heavenly.

After the meal — dunch? — we grabbed a sandwich for the evening meal, returned to the hotel, did a little bit of exploring, but basically vegged out — this being why we had brought ereaders and embroider, after all — until next day, when we arose to find that the hotel was filling up nicely with fans.

We saw and talked with many people we hadn’t seen for years over the weekend, and that was so very good.  We missed you all.

Our first event was Friday evening — a reading in the Library.  Because we had a whole hour, we were able to read the whole of “The Space at Tinsori Light,” to a gratifyingly attentive group of +/- 20.

My first panel was immediately after the reading, “Introducing new characters into existing story arcs.”  It was a lively panel; my copanelists were Chuck Gannon, Walter Hunt, Emily Munro, gently moderated by Lancelot Schaubert.

The last event of the evening, for us, was the Ice Cream Social — always a favorite.  And so to bed.

Saturday was our Big Day.  Late morning was the Guest of Honor interview.  Kathryn Sullivan, our interviewer, was prepared, calm, and unflappable, and I think we managed to be informative largely due to her capable steering.

Next up was a conversation with David Mattingly, who has done fourteen Liaden Universe® covers for us — so far!  It was a wide-ranging conversation, and once again we were fortunate in our moderator, in this case, Michael A. Ventrella, who moved us along at least within sight of the road, and kept us out of the tall weeds.

Immediately following our conversation, was the highlight of the convention — the Teddy Bear Tea.

The Teddy Bear Tea is something Steve and I try to schedule, whenever we are Guests of Honor.  It turns out that many fans travel with their stuffed friends, who usually stay in the room, ready for comfort and conversation, when their companions come back from panelling and partying.  We thought it was a shame that the plushies never got a chance to socialize, and that was the inception of the Teddy Bear Tea.

The Teddy Bear Tea is Vastly Flexible, depending on the understanding of the programming folks about what, exactly, we were doing here.

HELIOsphere did us more than proud.  A full British High Tea awaited the plushies and their human friends — cucumber sandwiches (finally! I have had a cucumber sandwich), chicken salad, and egg salad, all cut into triangles and the crust trimmed off.  Cookies!  Biscotti!  It was just marvelous.  All of the plushies and people I talked to were impressed.  Just a very good time, indeed.

My last panel was Sunday at 2:30 — “Cut the Boring Parts” — with Michael A. Ventrella, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Ann Stolinsky, kept down to a low(ish) roar (because, really, there was no moderating any of us by that point) by Elektra Hammond.  A raucous panel, but still informative, that raised a couple questions I’m still thinking about, and which I may address here in future days.

We left Piscataway not-so-early Monday morning (by design, in order to miss rush hour).  Because of unruly weather, with news of washouts and downed trees, we opted to come up Route 91, which was not at all crowded, and made good time.  We did get off onto Route 2, so that we could see Mount Washington again.  That route did give us a good view of wild, rushing water, flooded parking lots, fields, and parks, which was all very exciting, and made us doubly glad that we had opted not to leave in the teeth of the storm on Sunday night.

So!  We’re home, mostly unpacked, and the laundry is more-or-less finished.  I’m looking at getting back to work on Ribbon Dance, if not today, then tomorrow — and life settles down to a writer’s pace once more.

In case it wasn’t clear, Steve and I had a terrific time at HELIOsphere.  Here’s proof:

l-r Michael A. Ventrella, David Mattingly
Sharon Lee, Steve Miller

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