ICFA--Friday: Death March Pilgrimmage to Crab Shack
Grimly grimly marched the hammers down the newsprint on the tables. Stamping, arbitrating, finalizing the disposition of crustaceans, unyielding yielding carcasses piled high in bits and bleats.
Wooden hammers. Really. Violence to crabs. For sure. Where? Here.
But 'twas the trek that ballads may be sung of in the future (or not). For, we set out in high spirits, hungry and bellies empty it is sure, but certain Crab Shack we would see before too long. But long it was, and treacherous the journey. We were, among others, moi, my wife Ann, Cheryl Morgan, Graham Sleight, Jennifer Stevenson (direct, no-b.s., knows tons about author PR), Mark Wingenfeld (and his two charming but, as it would turn out, bloodthirsty children, and his mom, less bloodthirsty), Mary Anne Mohanraj (charming, fun, knowledgeable, and we seemed very much on the same page writing-wise, which was really exciting), Irma Hirsjarvi (honestly? my favorite new friend--cannot wait to have a chance to talk more to her in Finland), and several additional brave souls who also cracked crab.
The trip was fine, if boring, until we turned down the street, sidewalkless, at the far end of which stood the Rustic Inn Crab Shack. As we walked down that street, we passed broken glass, a dead bird, cars whistling by at deadly speed, and an ambiance that was half prison yard, half town-gone-bad. There was an abandoned school bus by the side of the road. Mark said, "Look, kids--a school bus." They frowned and said, "That's not a school bus--it's black!" Yes, it was black. Burned black or painted black, I could not tell.
Finally, however, we did make it to the restaurant and proceeded to have a wonderful dinner, all sixteen of us, although I was throughout the whole experience feeling a bit guilty about having perhaps misrepresented the journey there as short and safe, to Mark and his kids. But worse was to follow in that regard as Jennifer, myself, and Mary Anne, along with a few others, proceeded to have a conversation about sex in fiction--with the kids just barely out of earshot. It was an interesting discussion, with many stereotypes bandied about--for example, that men prefer a quick fuck to being seduced, that women are more into the slow stuff. I have been curious about sex in fiction for a few years now, since the Ambergris novel I'm working on after Zamilon File is part detective story, part erotic novel. How do you incorporate graphic sex without losing your balance in your narrative? I.e., the sex overwhelms the text, the reader seeing the sex as standing out from the rest of the text. How does one convincingly use sex to speak to character? What is the best way to describe sex in a fiction? Etc. Like I said, an interesting discussion and one that I was glad to enter into with other writers as opposed to just thinking about it.
Luckily, I needn't have worried about Mark's kids--they were happily using their wooden mallets to bang on the table quite cutely, even though they had no crab.
The crab itself was a revelation, since I'd actually never had crab in that form before. Mary and I traded a bit of food (she'd ordered the crab while I'd ordered shrimp stuffed with crab as a way of cheating...) and I was soon happily smashing away at the crab, too, even if I did halt for a moment when a bit went flying and hit Graham in the cheek. "I'll never review Jeff VanderMeer again," he said in mock outrage, while I replied, with a wink, "Is that all it takes?" Graham had wisely chosen the steak, but still got to participate in the crab experience.
Revelation also the birthday custom: to ask all customers to bang hammers on table rapidly, creating a vibration and loudness of mallet-smashing sound that stunned me each of the five or six times it occurred.
At the end, it was just a table piled with the alien remains of some extraterrestrial creatures who had beamed down to Earth only to discover that we find them delicious!
It was a great meal and I made new friends, for which I was very happy. Many thanks to Cheryl for suggesting the trek in the first place.
So the Ambergris Rough Guide presentation went well, despite some miscues on the music side. Still, all day today people kept coming up and saying how much they enjoyed it, so they must not have noticed the little snafus. Irma came up and gifted me with a bottle of Finnish vodka right before I started; was much tempted to drink some, but was good...
It was a hell of a day, just truly wonderful. It started out with interviews of Charles Brown and Peter Straub for the documentary--just lovely stuff. Great stuff, in fact, from both of them. And then sitting with Farah M. at the banquet lunch for Inge, the scholar guest of honor. Inge talked about the influence of Mad Magazine artists within the larger context of post-50s culture. Of course, this was after being served cabbage and corned beef and bread pudding, so it was only natural a few people fell asleep despite the interesting topic. Andy Duncan was scribbling something in a notebook, presumably a story.
Followed by an interesting and relaxing afternoon talking to people, then the panel on Landscape and Fantasy, which I unfortunately thought was only an hour long and so opened up to questions after 45 minutes. But it went well enough. Brian Aldiss was pretty entertaining even when he wasn't on topic. To be honest, I don't remember much of it. I was so exhausted by that point it could have been crap and I wouldn't have noticed. After that, we interviewed Jennifer Stevenson.
Then it was the expedition to the crab shack, followed by a lovely time in the bar talking to Irma and Mark and later Michael Arnzen and Jennifer Stevenson and her husband, along with Liza Groen Trombi from Locus and a brief but nice conversation with Jim Kelly, who I hope to see over the summer. Ann and I had a great time. The whole Friday evening experience was probably my favorite of the whole three days, to be honest.
I like ICFA a lot. My initial reluctance to get with the swing of things was mostly just the effect of back-to-back trips and being kind of mentally tired. But I did enjoy it more and more as it went on and thought it was well-organized and had a lot of meat to the content. I think I'll start going more regularly.