The Double Standard

The 2016 MCWC Short Story workshop had a get-together on Saturday, in Oakland. Lori Ostlund, our teacher and her partner Anne Raeff hosted, and Blaze coordinated it. Blaze and Lori’s niece checked out venues and came up with the Double Standard, on Telegraph Avenue, which was perfect for the group and the weather.

If you’re in the 2400 block of Telegraph and can’t find the Double Standard for some reason, go across the street to the odd-numbered side and scan the even-numbered side’s roofline. Seriously. When you see the tops of two towering redwood trees, you will have located the Double Standard, at 2412.

This post will be mostly about the bar and Adventures in Oakland, and less about the reunion. I will say that we had thought Nyla, who lives in Port Townsend, Washington, was going to be able to attend, and we missed her; we missed Nancy who planned to attend but couldn’t make it. I would have been surprised if Doug had driven down from Fort Bragg, even in his high-tech car, and Hunter had to work. It was great catching up with the other writers. We had two picnic tables in the corner of the yard (under the redwood trees!) and there was some switching off going on so we could talk to everyone. Even so, I missed an opportunity to talk to Chivvis!

Traffic in Sonoma and Marin County was awful; once I got across the Richmond San Rafael Bridge it lightened up. Directions to the bar were excellent. I was stymied by a mound of pea gravel right at the corner of Northgate and Sycamore, where I had to turn. Good news, bad news; road repair for the city of Oakland (yay!); navigation difficulty for visitors (boo).

I parked in the 2800 block and was initially baffled by the parking spaces because they look like they’re in the middle of the street. There was a parking meter on the sidewalk; to the left of it a bike lane, then another narrow lane (street-sweeping?) and then the marks for the parking space. I nearly parked in the bike lane, which would have been bad. Next I had to figure out the parking meter, which took credit cards. It wasn’t that complicated. Parked and paid, I walked back to check that my car was locked when a Fit pulled into the space behind me. The driver waved at me, but I didn’t recognize her. She got out, a slender, elegant gray-haired woman a few years older than me. I still didn’t recognize her and that’s because I didn’t know her. She looked very pulled-together, kind of how I always imagined I would when I got old instead of how I do. “Is this the way to park here?” she said.

“I think so.”
“Does that parking meter work?”


“Mine did,” I said, at last recognizing a kindred spirit.

“I parked in the bike lane! But a man told me I’d get in trouble. How does the parking meter work?”

“I just did it, so I’ll show you.”  I helped her out, since having done it a minute and a half earlier I was practically a pro.

The walk down to the Double Standard was nice. There seems to be a line of demarcation at about 25th Avenue. Higher numbers than that, and the storefronts are empty. Once you hit 25th you start seeing cafes, businesses and bars.

The Double Standard is not fancy, but very pretty, and the back yard with the trees is perfect. They don’t have a kitchen but they invite in local chefs and eateries to provide a “pop up” kitchen, and a vegan place (Nono?) was serving wontons, lotus leaf wraps and tofu bao. I grabbed two orders of won tons for the table. The filling was mushroom; warm and savory. The wrapping was not twisted or tied in a little pouch as you often see, it looked more like a pastry or a wrap, and the dough seemed firmer than usual wontons. The did not skimp on the filling.There was a dipping sauce with them that I didn’t try, but others around the table enjoyed. The lotus wrap was mostly a savory sticky rice. Inspired, we got an order of bao for the table, but I didn’t try one.

Mimi sprang for dessert; pumpkin doughnuts with maple icing. An order was one large doughnut cut into quarters. She brought back two. The pastry had a crunch on the surface and was light and airy (the lightest doughnut I’ve ever eaten) with a subtle pumpkin pie flavor. The “icing,” dolloped on top, was about the consistency of crème fraiche, not overly sweet, with a clear maple flavor. Bits of caramel corn sat on top.

I had a sidecar, and it was delicious. The lemon juice had obviously been squeezed that day, and the proportions of brandy, triple sec and bitters was ideal. The bartender used a stirrer to taste the drink. I asked him if it wasn’t up to his standards, would he have thrown it out. Yes, he said. It didn’t have fancy “call” ingredients but it might be the best sidecar I’ve had.

Many of us had to get on the road, so the group broke up about seven. There was more foot traffic as I walked back to the car; the dinner crowd coming out, I guess. As I walked past a store front a Korean-looking couple, maybe in their fifties, came out. They were talking. A young black man was walking toward us. As he passed them, they pivoted and watched him. They watched him walk all the way to the end of the block (I know this because, of course, I did too.) Something in their body language said that this scrutiny was personal, specific to that man. I have no idea what it was about.

Anyway, I’d go there again, just not a lot, because it’s a drive. Still. If you’re in Oakland and want to spend an evening at a pleasant bar, check out the Double Standard. And if the weather’s good, sit outside!


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To Hawaii

On September 14 of this year I turned 60. To celebrate, I got up at 4:10 in the morning so I could catch the 5:30 Airport Express bus to the Oakland airport. From there I caught a 9:30 Hawaiian Airlines flight to Kona. The flight lasts about five hours, but because of the magic of time zones and a rotating planet, I got there at about 12:30 pm local time. The air was moist, hot and smelled of jet fuel and plumeria.

Lighthouse at Marin Headlands from the air.

I wave goodbye to the west coast.

My friend Marta Randall met me and soon we were in her car tooling north to the Kohala Coast, specifically the Muana Lani Resort and Hotel, where Marta was a VIP at HawaiiCon 2016.

I really enjoyed HawaiiCon, but to be perfectly honest my favorite parts were spending time with Marta, who is a writer, editor teacher and friend, and Linda Kane, artist, film-maker, writer and friend. Marta and I shared the table at the panel on the “The Language of Writing Science Fiction” and it was great fun. To my surprise, nearly 30 people showed up for it – and they were an engaged, interactive audience, with lots of good questions and comments. And, the Con provided leis to panelists!

Multiply reflections of the vanity in hotel bathroom.

Help! I’m trapped in an infinity loop and… oh, sorry, it’s just the bathroom.

I was also pleasantly stunned by the opulence of the hotel. When we got to the desk to check in, the desk clerk handed us each a moist cool washcloth. When you’ve been out in the humidity, this is pleasant little perk. My familiarity with island resorts ended with the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and the Muana Lani was a lot like that place. You could schedule expeditions; you could snorkel, there were three restaurants on the resort grounds (and you could charge everything to your room if you wanted). There was a nice beach for early-morning walking and evening spectacular-sunset viewing. It even had those chaise lounges with the blue cushions like you see on TV. It had a coffee shop. And our room had that infinity-mirror thing that is so cool.

Palm trees and the ocean at daybreak.

My morning view.

And none of that really addresses the actual convention.

Hawaiian woman with orchid leis for the panelists.

She gave a lei to every panelist.

HawaiiCon started as a media con. This was its third year, and their media tie-in was Star Trek. They had Nichelle Nichols, Jonathan Frakes and Walter Koenig as guests of honor, which, I have to say, I found pretty impessive.

Marta Randall by hotel's interior fountain.

Marta by the hotel’s interior water feature.


A couple of things make HawaiiCon special. One is that it’s in Hawaii. The other is that they have a robust science track, with a lot of physicists and astrophysicists because of the observatories on the islands. In past years they’ve have geologists and volcanologists and I’ve sure marine biologists would be a welcome addition. My favorite three panels were all astronomy or astrophysics based.

Author John Scalzi at autograph table.

John Scalzi at the signing table. They had him scheduled there a lot.

The Con has a solid gaming/cosplay track, and a writing track that is in its infancy. This year’s Writer Guest of Honor was John Scalzi. Once again, Scalzi impressed me with his professionalism and generosity on and off the dais. He is witty, funny and informative on a panel and he also makes sure all participants get time to speak. In one panel he was on, he was next to a person who was, er, well, chatty. An audience member asked a question that seemed obviously directed to Scalzi. As he leaned forward to answer, Chatty Person grabbed the ball and bolted for the end zone. Scalzi could have slumped back, could have sighed, done some small thing to make it obvious he had been interrupted, or at least pre-empted. He did not. When Chatty Person was done he added his observations. He could have exercised a tiny bit of star-ego and shown up Chatty Person as oblivious and a little rude. He opted not to.

The first day of the convention I ran into John and his wife Kristine in the coffee shop. Except for the barista there was no one else there. I was wearing my Con lanyard. I recognized them and I choked –not from nerves, but from writerness warring with politeness. They were sitting at the coffee bar enjoying a cold drink; isn’t this a private moment? On the other hand, the Con has started, aren’t they (or at least he) fair game? While I dithered, John said, “Hi, how are you?” It was a nice ice-breaking moment that I appreciated. And then of course I peppered him with questions.

A fun and lively group of astronomers and astrophysicists.

A fun and lively group of astronomers and astrophysicists.

HawaiiCon also had some medieval cosplayers and SCA members who demonstrated medieval combat. These stalwarts deserve some kind of special award for dressing and engaging in active exercise in eight degrees with eight-five percent humidity… or maybe they deserve psych-evals. I don’t know which, but they were informative and interesting.

My biggest disappointment? For a variety of reasons, I never connected with fantasy writer Kate Elliott on a panel or during signings, and that had been one of my goals. I did get her fantasy Black Wolves, though, and that was a great read, so maybe it’s not a total loss and maybe I’ll meet her next year.

I would also like to see more conventionally-published writers included. Right now, the small population of writers skews toward indie and self-published. That’s great, but it’s not the only way to go, and conventionally published writers in the speculative fiction field have a wealth of knowledge to share. Marta and I are doing some groundwork to reach out to traditional writers and see if we can’t lure them to the glorious island of Hawai’i.

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Your City; a Helpful Guide

Super-powered people are everywhere now. They are so pervasive that you might live next door to one, or be one, and not even know it. Your city might be crawling with the cape-and-mask folks. These notes are designed to help you decide if you live in a super-power city. If more than six of these match your home town, you might want to figure out your sidekick name.

1–Your city’s name has two words, and the second word is City. For purposes of this essay, I will refer to your city as Your City.

2–Your City has about 300,000 to half a million inhabitants depending on the day of the week. It has three power plants. One of the power plants is nuclear. The location of the nuclear plant ensures that if there were a serious accident or deliberate attack on it, everyone in the city would die.

3–Your City has between seventeen and twenty abandoned plants and/or factories. One was a former pharmaceutical plant. Surprisingly, these long-derelict plants all still have electricity.

4–Your City has an elaborate underground subway system with intact tracks and even hidden stations. This seems odd, because Your City has never had a subway system.

5–Your City has one state-of-the-art hospital and one hanging-on-by-its-fingertips clinic in the low-income, designated Bad Part of Town, which may have its own clever name.

6–The only real weakness in the state-of-the-art hospital seems to be its morgue, because they routinely declare people dead who later turn up alive.

7–Your City has a supermax prison and a high-security, supermax asylum for the criminally insane (whatever that actually is). One or both of these institutions has a successful escape at least once a week.

8–Your City has a vibrant, thriving waterfront.

9–Your City has a defunct, ghostly waterfront.

10–These might be the same waterfront.

11–Street drugs in Your City are almost always intravenous. They glow green, bale-fire yellow, or less frequently, danger red.

12–The syringes used to inject the street drugs are the diameter of a quarter and the plungers have huge rabbit-ear handles. While these fail as covert delivery systems, they make the glowing liquid look awesome when the back-lit villain is threatening to inject a hostage.

13–Your City has a defunct amusement park and probably a toy factory. See #3 above.

14–Your City has very few working class or middle class neighborhoods, but you grew up in Your City and have fond memories of the 1940s bungalow that was the family home; playing ball in the street with your friends; and exploring the little woods behind the house.

15–Your City has one ultra-high-end rooftop restaurant, one other fine dining restaurant, one bar (maybe two if there’s a pub that doubles as a cop bar) and one coffee place. Fortunately, the coffee place is right on your way to work.

16–No baristas are ever injured in any of the many super-powered fights that happen in the coffee shop, with one exception. If the barista tells you, “Wow, I saw this really weird thing last night, when I was out walking my dog in the abandoned amusement park, you know where all those mutilation murders happened? I’ll tell you about it when I get off work,” then the barista will be dead before the shift ends.

17–Your City has a world class university with a physics department, an expert in Ancient Languages, an Applied Sciences program, history, archeology, geology and volcanology experts, a particle accelerator and a large radio telescope.

18–Your City is somewhere in the continental United States, but there are no county, state or federal offices in Your City, and when you have a problem no state or federal aid is likely to show up, unless a Senator makes an appearance. If a Senator makes an appearance, the Senator will turn out to be a supervillain.

19–Even though there are three power plants, every precinct of the Your City Police Department is lit in a dramatically shadowy manner. The darkest areas are the interrogation rooms.

20–Your City has one “alderman,” and sometimes it has a mayor. Usually not for long. It does have a lot a elections, though. Usually for mayor.

These are just a few of the elements that exist in towns loaded with super-powered people. While this list is not exhaustive I hope you find it useful. Don’t forget to dry-clean your mask at least three times a year, and remember, capes are a safety hazard.

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Morning at the Lake (A Writing Exercise)

(This is original fiction by me. It’s okay it you want to link to it. If you quote it, give me credit for it and cite this post.)

This is my version of the Contentless Dialogue exercise. I didn’t include the scenario I chose in the examples in my previous post, so I will put an explanation in the Comments. For the record, these characters, James and Blaise, are not siblings. I’ve made a few small changes since I wrote it on September 24, but not many… for instance, it is not a complete “story” and does not have an ending.


The sunlight gleamed off the lake surface and Blaise was a dark shape against that light. James stopped, one foot turned sideways, poised to turn, to run. Instead, he made himself lean forward, and finished his step past the willow trees.

“Hi,” he said.

She didn’t answer right away. He cleared his throat, ready to say it again.

She said, “Hello,” without looking around at him.

“How’s… everything?”

“Fine.” She didn’t move, sitting cross-legged on the gravel near the edge of the water, her shoulders hunched, a waif in a dark hoodie. “I guess.”

It was quiet. Far away, an eighteen-wheeler sounded its horn. The mournful sound slid over them. The sun had been up for over an hour. It had been nine hours since he had started looking for her.

“Do you know what time it is?” he said, taking another step closer. He started to reach down to touch her shoulder. Then he stopped and drew his hand back.

“No.” Her voice sounded thin, empty of low notes. “Not exactly.”

He edged over so that he stood at her side, with a clear space through the trees to the walking path right behind him. “Don’t you have a watch?”

Blaise turned her head and stared at him. Her eyes were shadowed by the curve of her hood. A shudder slipped down James’s spine. “Not on me,” she said.

He waited. She continued to stare at him with no change of expression.

James shifted his weight to his right leg. “Well?”

“Well?  What?”

He blinked. His throat was dry. He swallowed saliva and said, “What did you do last night?”

She turned away and he tensed, but she just stared out over the water. “Nothing.”


She was on her feet in one smooth yoga-like motion, turning toward him, and James took two steps back before he could stop himself. She stared, and her eyes were wide now. Her panting filled the space around them. “I said nothing.”

He held his ground, kept his expression open, made his voice sound calm. “I’m sorry I asked,” he said.

She shifted away. Hands went deep into hoodie pockets and she took three steps down closer to the water. Her back was to him. The walking path was about eight feet away.

She stared down into the glaring silver, ripples teasing the toes of her shoes, shoulders straight now, her feet pointing straight into the water. The flat surface bounced her words back to him. “That’s all right,” she said.



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“Contentless Dialogue;” A Writing Exercise by Daryl Gregory

“Contentless Dialogue” is a challenging and eye-opening writing exercise that writer Daryl Gregory gave us at his one-day writing workshop last Saturday. The workshop was sponsored by Locus Science Fiction Foundation (and magazine) and held at their editorial offices. It was the first one, and I hope they do more.

Some of us, and by “us” I mean “me,” rely heavily on dialogue to provide information. It’s tough to do that in a naturalistic way and the risk of dropping into clunky expository speechifying is high. Gregory pointed out that physical description, physical responses and action can deliver as much information, and create as much tension, as the spoken words in a scene with dialogue. Then we put that theory to the test with the exercise.

(By the way, if you haven’t read anything by Daryl Gregory, you are missing out. I recommend his near-future thriller Afterparty, his novella We Are All Completely Fine and his debut novel Pandemonium.)

Gregory gave us a page, about twenty lines, of bland dialogue between Character A and Character B. When I say “perfectly bland,” I mean:

  • Hi.
  • Hello.
  • How are you?
  • Okay I guess.
  • Do you know what time it is?
  • No.

And so on. Seriously. Farther down, one or two questions with meaning emerge, but they are neutral.

Then we were given seven scenarios. Each one described a relationship between A and B, and noted a recent event. These included:

  • Character A is a teenager, coming down for breakfast. Character B is A’s parent, fixing breakfast. (I think that’s pretty tense right there.)
  • Character A and Character B are room-mates, each seriously attracted to the same third party, and neither one is willing to step back for the other.
  • Character A and B are siblings. Character A has just been released from a locked ward after a suicide attempt, and Character B has just tracked them down at a bus depot.

Then we were to write a scene that would allow the readers to intuit which scenario we had chosen, using only the lines of dialogue we had been given for speech between the characters. We were prohibited from any interior monologues or direct dialogue, (“He loves me, dammit!” or “Why are you holding that butcher knife, Sammy?” were out of the question) that would reveal the scenario. We could however use physical reactions and action, and description of the setting, to reveal clues. And we could use close third person, we just couldn’t reveal the scenario from that character’s POV.

A couple of things make this work as an exercise. One is that the pool of readers (the class) have the range of choices already. This also worked because Gregory gave us half an hour to work on it. Too often writing exercises are so time-limited that it’s hard to get anything meaningful done.

This exercise is really hard, and really, really good.

It reminded me to think about physical responses, and pacing, and how glances, tones of voice, and dialogue emphasis — use of italics — can change the meaning of an otherwise neutral line.

In my next post I will include my exercise. Since I didn’t include the scenario I chose in the list above, you probably won’t be able to figure out what’s going on. Maybe we’ll see.




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Make a Scene, by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Writer friend Terry Connolly introduced me to Jordan E. Rosenfeld at this year’s MCWC. Rosenfeld has a craft book called Make a Scene; Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time.

“Scene” as a narrative choice had been a big part of the discussion in the short fiction workshop. There is a lot of energy in a scene, much more than you find in indirect narrative. I was intrigued. I had never thought much about scenes, the same way I don’t normally think much about air, because I tend to write in scenes. I was surprised to find out that many people don’t.

Rosenfeld, who is a contributing editor to Writer’s Digest as well as a freelance writer, defines scene this way:

“Scenes are capsules in which compelling characters undertake significant actions in a vivid and memorable way that allows the events to feel as though they are happening in real time.”

I like several things about that definition. The feeling that it is happening “in real time” is what gives a scene – and the story it’s in – energy. The other important clue for me personally is in the phrase, “significant actions… in a memorable way.” I’ve gotten much better, but far too often I indulge myself in a scene where characters I like sit around sipping cocktails and ruminating on the nature of existence. That’s fine, only it might not have anything to do with the story. Unless the world is running out of tequila, sipping a cocktail is usually not a significant action. My “characters hang out” scenes can still exist, but they could (and should) be shorter.

Rosenfeld lays out the architecture of a scene; the Scene Launch, the Scene Middle, the Scene End. It seems obvious, doesn’t it, but in our workshop Lori spoke extensively about the scene that starts, not with the scene, but with a “preface” or “thesis statement.” Rosenfeld gives some tips on how to make a scene launch an actual launch.

She covers types of scenes; conflict scenes, contemplative scenes (sipping a cocktail, the Main Character…) and the so-difficult action scene.

The book is very well laid out. I read it cover-to-cover, but the Table of Contents is well set up to allow you to browse, which is probably how I would use the book in the future. Like many Writer’s Digest books, this one makes good use of examples, of bullet points, sidebars and graphs to break up the text on the page. A graph in Chapter 3 (page 23) lays out the elements of a scene with a goal of rising tension. I put a sticky-flag on it, because it’s a compact visual of what should happen in a scene and in a story.

I consider myself an experienced writer but there were plenty of good reminders for me in this book. The person who would greatly benefit from this book, though, is the emerging writer. Lots of new writers don’t have confidence in their scenes, or a dependable sense of when a scene would work better than indirect narrative (or the reverse). Make a Scene lays that out in a clear, accessible manner.

Make a Scene is a good book for any writer’s bookshelf… or even any reader who wants to delve more deeply into the structure and function of narrative. It’s a valuable resource for the emerging writer in your life. If you need to get the new writer you know a gift, consider Make a Scene.

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Kansas City; In Which We Go for Barbecue

We went for barbecue! We were in Kansas City, Missouri, so we had to. Kat and her husband Rob, Kelly and Kip, Kate and I went. Bill is a vegetarian and it just didn’t seem like it was going to be as much fun for him, so he passed on this excursion.

As it turned out, we actually went for Barbeque; specifically Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, complete with the variant spelling.  Over the rest of the trip I had two people inform me that we had picked the “wrong” barbecue place and the only real barbecue was Gates Barbecue; thus capturing the passion and partisanship this type of meat cooking excites among the folks of Kansas City.

The Arthur Bryant restaurant we chose was in a slightly run down neighborhood. It’s an old-fashioned two-room storefront with the menu on a sign above the counter (you can see it there) and a line that after we got there snaked out the door and around the corner in to the parking lot. Apparently Bryant’s process is more sauce-based, and Gates is more spice-rub based. You couldn’t prove any of that by me.

Arthur Bryant's Menu

Arthur Bryant’s Menu

The tables have pristine white linen tablecloths and crystal vases with — ha! Just kidding! What’s one thing a BBQ place won’t have? Linen (or even cloth) table coverings, because who could afford the laundry costs? What’s one thing they will have? Lots and lots (and lots and lots) of paper napkins.

I had the pulled pork sandwich because I almost never have pork and I was curious. It really does come on white bread that is the consistency of Wonderbread. Since the bread is mostly a staging area for mounds of succulent, sweet-tangy, tender meat, and since I didn’t eat it, I didn’t really care. I ordered coleslaw as a side, and a peach iced tea because I had never had one and it sounded regional.

The meat was… well, succulent, tender, all of the above, and way too much for me to eat. This was the only time on the trip that I regretted the lack of a fridge in the room. The coleslaw was crunchy, with a creamy dressing that was also tangy. It provided a counterpoint to the pork and allowed me to rationalize that I was eating “vegetables” so it all okay. About the peach tea, well, now I can say I’ve had one.

Kate had a beer and I think that was the right choice. I’ll know for next time.

Taking pictures of the cooks and food preparers seemed to be a regular thing, and this lady was engaging and funny… and pretty expert at what she was doing.

This lady made my pulled pork sandwich.

This lady made my pulled pork sandwich.

Kat ordered the burnt ends, which don’t sound great, but will surprise you. They are the charred ends of the tri-tips. She gave us bites, and they were delicious. If/when I ever go back, I will try some of the beef-based selections. And when I go back, I will check out Gates so that I have given BBQ a fair appraisal.

The food comes in plastic baskets like you used to get at A&W, for anyone who ever went there. The joint was packed and loud. Forget having a serious conversation… but I was too busy eating to really miss that. I looked out the window and saw the street light up. A few minutes later it did again. I said, “Is there a storm?” Sure enough, it was lightning. We couldn’t hear the thunder over the crowd noise in the restaurant.

My one secret hope on the trip was that I would get to experience a Missouri thunderstorm. We went outside to a downpour of dime-sized drops of warm rain, arabesques of lightning and the slow rumble of thunder all around us. I was thrilled. And I would say I was the only one of our party who was.

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The Aladdin Hotel

The Aladdin Hotel

The Aladdin Hotel

The Aladdin Hotel was built in 1926. At the time, it was probably huge (sixteen stories, I think they said), and luxurious. It is still luxurious, but now blades and cylinders of glass and steel tower over it. It doesn’t look majestic, it looks charming.

It is right across the square from the Convention Center, and there is an underground tunnel from the lobby through the parking garage, so if there is a thunderstorm you can make it to the Convention Center (or the Little Theater, theoretically, at least) without getting your fancy duds wet.

Inside, lots of red, black and gold. The floor has marble tiles and there are those pillars. My room had black and red furnishing against a neon-lime-green wall. “What? Yikes!” you say. Well, first of all, that high-contrast thing was a big part of art deco, and secondly, since it was the wall behind the bed, I wasn’t constantly being reminded LIME GREEN! LIME GREEN! The bed was tall. This hotel offers a “pillow menu” and the bed had four pillows, a sampler, ranging from soft to very firm.

The lobby, from the Martini Loft

The lobby, from the Martini Loft

When I checked in they offered me a complimentary glass of champagne. I didn’t say no to that! My room was on the third floor, and they upgraded me to a corner room just because they could. My view due west was stunning; my view south was blocked by the parapet of the Budget Rent-a-Car roof and a large air conditioning unit, but above that, both the Crown Plaza tower and the Power and Light building were visible.



They’ve redone the place recently, probably as part of the whole downtown refurbish. So the room was not huge, but it was well laid out, and the bathroom was not “quaintly” genuine 1930s bathroom, but fully modern, done in a black and white style that looks 30ish.

The hotel has a spa somewhere on the premises and a ballroom, probably on the top floor for the view. It is a long narrow building and the stairs (I like to use stairs) were a bit strange. From at least the seventh floor down to the third, they ran down one staircase; on the third floor



that staircase ends. You must walk to the other end of the building, to a flight of stairs that look more like they were meant for kitchen and housekeeping staff, and it goes down to the second floor. To get out onto the second floor, which includes the Martini Loft, the hotel bar, you walk through the employee locker area. Then there is one more fancy flight of stairs that takes you into the lobby.

The Aladdin also has a restaurant called the Zebra Room. Guess the color scheme! Go on, guess! It has a limited menu which is the same as the room service menu, of course, but the food is well-prepared and tasty. Breakfast is part of your room cost, and you get a voucher to take with you into the restaurant. The voucher is good for up to $15 worth of breakfast (if that makes sense); if you are going to order enough food to go over that you pay the difference. I never came close. In addition to a straight breakfast menu, the hotel offers a breakfast buffet with eggs, meats, cold cereal, fruit and pastries and a customized omelet station with an assigned omeletteer (I just made that up). I usually ordered off the menu. My personal favorite was the mini-malted waffles.

My view west near sunset.

My view west near sunset.

The kitchen was slightly understaffed for the number of guests they had, I think. Food was slow, particularly in the morning. The server would usually bring out toast first if you ordered it, so that you had something to nibble on while you waited. The morning I ordered the waffles, when they came out, decorated with strawberry slices and fresh blueberries, I said, “These look wonderful!” My server said, “I made them myself.”

Lunch and dinner entrees are not California cuisine. Kansas City is meat country, although there was chicken (I can’t remember if there was a fish option). Our reviewer Bill who is a vegetarian was able to put together a dinner of starters, basically hummus and pita bread with a quesadilla. The hummus was pretty good. The last night I was there I had the hamburger sliders in my room and they were good.

The appointments of the Martini Loft, far better than the drinks.

The appointments of the Martini Loft, far better than the drinks.

There were a few limitations. The building is old; even though the bathroom had been modernized and redesigned, I do not think they re-plumbed the entire building. I can’t imagine the cost of that. At the height of the Con, when they place was full, I noticed the toilet flushing a lot more slowly. It did flush, but it was a noticeable slow down. Fortunately, this part of Missouri was not in a water crisis and has a great aquifer, so I didn’t feel bad about multiple flushes. And by Sunday, my last night there, the problem had disappeared.

The rooms do not come with mini-fridges, but if you request it they will bring one in for you.

The biggest lost opportunity I saw for the Aladdin, though, was its bar, the Martini Loft. The place really is a loft, a mezzanine on the second floor looking down onto the beautiful art deco lobby. The views from the tables near the windows are nice; there are comfy couches and overstuffed chairs along one wall. The bartender who was working both nights I tried out the bar was untrained and not inspired. I asked for a sidecar and he asked what was in it. When I gave him the ingredients he improvised and has the distinction of giving me the first bad sidecar I’ve had. I thought maybe he just didn’t know that drink, which would still be odd, but would be an explanation. Kat asked for a Cape Cod, which is vodka and cranberry juice with a lime slice, and it came with no lime. She said it was all right, but I suspect the proportions weren’t quite right. This is sad because it’s a glamorous little bar.

This is a working mailbox, original to the building, and I mailed my friend Linda a letter from it.

This is a working mailbox, original to the building, and I mailed my friend Linda a letter from it.

Other nights we went over to the big fancy Marriott which has a huge bar that pours out into the lobby, with a water feature and alcoves; lovely but modern… and they had a squad of bartenders who knew their drinks. The difference was immediately noticeable. I think the Aladdin is missing a bet; they’ve got an historical building, why not specialize in glamorous cocktails? Or at least invent a signature drink. “The Aladdin?” What could be in it?

Last, and best, was the staff. From the housekeeper to the concierge to, well, everyone, everyone was friendly, cheerful, knew what they were doing, and helpful.

At least twenty-five percent of the fun of WorldCon was seeing parts of Kansas City, and half of that was this vintage hotel. Holiday Inn did a good job with this one.

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From WorldCon: SFF As Protest Literature

One of my favorite panels at MidAmeriCon II (WorldCon) was “SF as Protest Literature.” It had a great set of panelists: Jo Walton, who wrote Among Others and the SMALL CHANGE series in alternate-history Britain, where Hitler triumphs and England is a den of fascism; Bradford Lyau, a bookstore owner and scholar whose non-fiction book The Anticipation Novels looks at the influence of French science fiction; Alex Jablokow, author of the novel Brain Thief and a number of short stories that have appeared in Asimov’s; Ann Leckie, author of the IMPERIAL RADCH series, and Mark Oshiro, who blogs as Mark Reads and Mark Watches, and who said in his introduction that he reviews with a social justice slant.

The topic appealed to the nostalgia-lover in me because it made me think of the 1960s and 70s, when protest literature and music were a big part of my life, but it ended up being much more than that. Whenever I hear Jo Walton speak, I come away with at least three more books on my TBR list and this panel was no different.

What is protest literature? Is it a stance, a style? Something else?

Oshiro commented that he has just finished a novel that will be out sometime in 2017. He said he realized his “whole opening scene was a protest.” Reading SF, he had trouble finding himself – brown, gay – in the work.

Bradford’s view is longer, and he noted that early HG Wells works, like When the Sleeper Wakes, which critiqued capitalism, were works of protest. I liked Bradford’s long perspective; it gave a good context to this topic.

Leckie pointed out that almost by definition, since SFF creates other worlds, it is giving a critique of this one. “Even if you don’t mean to give a social critique, you almost can’t help it,” she said. She also pointed out that there are some people who choose to read her Imperial Radch series as a “naked political polemic,” when she did not intend it that way; you can’t control how readers will interpret your work.

Walton mentioned that inherently, SFF says, “The present doesn’t have to be like this.” She believes that the social critique has to be in service to the story, and that it works best when the polemic happens in the reader’s mind, rather than on the page.

Are there currently right-wing writers engaging in SF protest literature?

Jablokow mentioned The Turner Diaries, published in 1978 by white separatist William Luther Pierce under the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald. Walton felt that G.K. Chesterton was basically a protest writer in many ways; she pointed out that John C. Wright is a current example of someone writing protest literature from the right.

How do you write it? Are you worried about it becoming dated or silly?

Jablokow talked about the “technique” of protest literature. Create, he said, a “steel man” adversary instead of a “straw man.” In other words, make your protagonist face the strongest argument for the thing you are protesting, not the weakest and silliest; then play that out. Leckie followed up, saying “Very often we don’t see the mismatch between the narrative we’ve been told, and what is really in the world.”

Walton named two books she felt really did change the world: 1984 by George Orwell, and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin.

Walton also said that people comment that she puts many gay characters in her work. She says that this is partly because she knows a lot of gay people. Even in creating a different world, she is drawing on what she knows and experiences. She isn’t “making a point,” she is drawing on her own social circle.

Someone from the audience asked about a protest work becoming dated and Walton nodded vigorously. The world does change, she said. “You do the best you can and if the world gets better you’ll be embarrassed.” That was a good outcome, as other panelists pointed out.

Lyau mentioned another book he thought gave critique of society: The Man Who Awoke by Laurence Manning. It was serialized in 1933. Manning uses the trope of cryogenic suspension to have his main character travel forward in time in 5,000 year leaps; each period is the “age of” something. From sexual freedom to “green” politics and recycling, to supercomputers that guide humanity, the book is also predictive. Lyau pointed out that Laurence was using a “if this goes on… “ approach.

Oshiro said the challenge is to balance your protest points with the need to make a good story people want to read, echoing Walton. “Fiction has a great power to teach without the reader knowing they’re being taught.” I wish protest writer John C. Wright had been in the audience to hear that advice.

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Kansas City, Mo

Nearly half a million people live in Kansas City, Missouri. The city hugs a curve of the Missouri River, and it’s close to the Kansas border, which makes things confusing for a tourist like me.

Kansas City Center

Kansas City Center

Riding in a shuttle from the Kansas City Airport, sometimes abbreviated as KCI for Kansas City International, or MCI, for… I don’t know, really, I watched the city grow in the view through the windshield. We went past railroad tracks with long freight trains, the cars gleaming with multi-colored graffiti. We went over the river and past some old brick buildings, some in use and some that looked abandoned. The shuttle took a freeway exit and drove through city streets. I was going to write “wound through city streets” because it sounded picturesque but remembering back, while there were a lot of right-angle turns, there was very little winding. Kansas City is not a city of curves.

Power and Light Building

Power and Light Building

And then we were in a square surrounded by spools, needles and boxes of glass. Between them, like decorated cakes, were much shorter masonry buildings festooned with trim; designs, mythical creatures, geometric (gasp! Perhaps… Masonic?) symbols, friezes, ginger-breading. There was a large plaza (there is a parking garage underneath it) with a fountain, a string of jets, water rippling down a set of steps. On one side rises the large Bartle Hall Convention Center. Diagonally across it, looking transplanted (maybe) from Las Vegas, is a huge block of a Marriott Hotel, whose face dances with colored lights at night. There is a skybridge to another Marriott, on Wyandotte Street. It’s actually the same Marriott. The Marriott Annex, perhaps? Actually, the less-flashy Marriott is the former Muehlebach Hotel, with a door onto Baltimore Street. It’s an older hotel with a storied history, known for a press conference given there in September, 1964, by a new British music group called the Beatles.

Power and Light Building Detail

Power and Light Building Detail

And on Wyandotte Street, next to the less-flashy Annex Marriott/Muehlebach Hotel is a sixteen-story spire of a building, the Holiday Inn Aladdin Hotel. My hotel. More about it, with photos, in a subsequent post.

Book spines make up the walls of the Main Library parking garage.

Book spines make up the walls of the Main Library parking garage.

The Convention Center is technically in the Library District of Kansas City (which I love) and the library, on 10th street, is both large and whimsical. The center, and the Aladdin, is close to a newish nightclub district called the Power and Light District, with the old Power and Light Building, with its sparkling prism centerpiece, as an icon. The Power and Light District has coffee shops, restaurants, pubs, and a Whole-Foods-like grocery store (locally owned) called Cosentino’s. There is a club called Kill the Devil, which specializes in “cane spirits.” Yes, it’s a rum bar. I don’t think I’ve seen that before. The district is mostly older architecture, and it is beautiful.

Reflection of the gold leaf spire of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Reflection of the gold leaf spire of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Within walking distance of the Convention Center (which boasts 800,000 square feet) there are at least three theaters, the library, numerous nightclubs and music venues, the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and an Episcopalian Cathedral. Downtown is clean, with wide sidewalks and crosswalks that talk to you. “Wait!” they cry when you first press the button. Then, “Walk sign is on across… 13th Street.” It’s not that they talk, that’s nothing new. It’s that every one of them works.

Downtown looks very gentrified. Here are some things I didn’t see during the day while I was walking around in between panels and WorldCon events; homeless people, trash, traffic. Here are some things I did see;  the Missouri Jazz Bicycle run; people making right turns across crosswalks and ignoring pedestrians in those crosswalks; many people playing Pokemon.

If you venture out of the Power and Light District you start to see a different city. More about that in a subsequent post.

Convention Center Fountain

Convention Center Fountain

Art Deco Building

Art Deco Building

Detail from Art Deco Building

Detail from Art Deco Building

Mural on Library Wall

Mural on Library Wall

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