Mediawest con May 1997

Report by Judith Proctor

Having stacked up enough air-miles (courtesy of my husband's business travel) to attend another overseas convention, I plumped for Mediawest. It's a large fan-based convention with no guests, but lots of zines and the deciding factor was that many of my friends were going.

I booked a dealer's table and suggested to Kathryn Andersen that we share when I discovered she was also going. A few weeks later Pat Roberts asked if she could share too as she was selling copies of Sheelagh Well's book and audio tapes. Why not, I thought. An English/Australian/American table had a certain appeal and having lots of B7 stuff together made sense (well Kathryn's zine, Refractions, is multi-media, but there is some B7 stuff in it)

I arranged a room share with Linda Cook whom I've shared with at several previous US cons. We originally shared blind after I asked for a room share at Visions, but we got on with each other, and now I always like to share with her if I can. We had a four way room share on a pair of linked rooms at Mediawest and it worked very well. I'm one of those people who prefers to share, rather than room alone. Not only is it cheaper, I like sharing with fellow fans. I like to have company and people to share my obsessions with. Time spent alone at a con is time wasted.

Donna, bless her, invited me to come over a few days early and stay with her before the con. She lives in East Lansing and thought I might like to see a little of the US. She was right - Most cons, I never leave the con hotel and the USA is a totally strange country to me.

I started my convention by getting up at a moderately ungodly hour to catch a coach to Heathrow, then a flight to Detroit. The flight went fairly well. I am firmly convinced that this was because I gave my afternoon scone with jam and clotted cream to the man in the seat beside me. He thought I just wasn't hungry; I didn't tell him that I had strong memories of an identical scone being the last thing I ate before I was badly airsick coming down to Newark for Ecclecticon (although to be fair to British Airways catering, there was some extremely bad turbulance that day). Do you realise, it costs $1.50 to hire a luggage trolley at Detroit airport? They are free at Heathrow!

Donna met me at the airport and I got to look at the scenary on the way back. The five hour time shift hadn't really hit me yet. My brain still agreed it was daytime. We tried out a collection of filk songs that I'd brought with me, but the car's cassette player tried to eat the tape, so we saved that for later on.

Donna took me out for a Chinese buffet. Fascinating how even Chinese food is subtly different in different countries. Far less bean sprouts than I'm used to. We talked about all sorts of things. You know what it's like when fans get together. In fact, we talked so much that my voice gave out (my voice has been dicey for the last six months or so. I took inhaled steroids for my Asthma for 6 days back in October, and this is what happened). I resolved to be a lot more careful with my voice for the rest of the con. Next stop was food shopping. It's always the little things that make you laugh. (Even with my voice gone, I was riding high. I was in the kind of mood you can get into with a friend you haven't seen for wages - it's like being drunk without having consumed any alcohol) I rememer the 'cart corral' where the shopping trollies were kept - I thought that hysterically funny as it made me imagine cowboys with shopping trollies. Lots of brands of food are the same, but subtly different. eg. Kellogs still sell cornflakes, but the packet design is slightly different. Fruit is much larger - the apples looked enormous. On the way out, I gave into temptation and took a ride on a mechanical pony for 1 cent. I'm sure the woman watching thought I was totally nuts. I probably was <grin>. I seem to recall waving a non-existent cowboy hat in the air and would probably have been shouting 'yee-hah' if I'd had any voice to shout with.

In the evening, we went for a walk. According to Richard (my husband) exposure to daylight in the morning and evening is the best way of adjusting to jet-lag. The area where Donna lives is lovely. Another American difference from the UK. The housing estate had no pavements (that's sidewalks to you colonials <grin>) and no fences between the gardens either. There were lots of bungalows too. Overall, it gave the impression of a country with a lot more space and a much higher dependency on cars than the UK. There were also all those little mail boxes that you see in American cartoons. I was delighted to discover that they even had the obligatory little flags on them. (All our mail comes through a letterbox in the front door of the house). Red fire hydrants on every street corner too. (Ours are hidden underground and marked by a small plaque on a nearby wall) I must have still been hyper as I can recall doing a polka step down the middle of the the road while whistling Garry Owen!

Finally went to bed around 11.30 (ie. a totally ungodly hour in UK time)

Woke up around 6.00 on Tuesday which wasn't that bad and suggested my brain was already half adapted to local time. Had an interesting time figuring out how to operate the shower. US showers have the controls low down so that you can't turn them on without getting your hair wet. Had breakfast. Muesli is called müslix... After breakfast, we went for another walk to help finalise the jet-lag. This is really a beautiful area of Michigan. There are trees everywhere and many of them were in bloom. We went around part of MSU (Michigan State University) which has lovely grounds and spent a long time just sitting by the river. What with mallard ducks and sparrows, I felt quite at home. On the way back, I spotted an American robin (the state bird of Michigan), a blue jay and a cardinal. I though of Neil Faulkner (who is a keen bird-watcher and who would have doubtless spotted many more birds that I missed). I now know what a 'frat house' is. It's a sort of student residence, but men only and they can have ties to frat houses of the same name at other universities. All names consist of three Greek letters, eg. phi beta delta. Women have sorority houses instead. We spent a happy hour looking at throughly indecent literature in a bookshop, but I managed to wreck my shoulder in the process (I've been having a lot of trouble with it in the past month and reading always aggravates it) The voice was still pretty bad, but I was taking care of it a bit better now and following all the rules my speech therapist gave me. (Don't talk while walking, keep body upright while talking, don't shout, stop as soon as voice gets rough, etc. I was also to add one of my own which proved to be a life-saver later on - never compete with background noise)

After this point, my diary notes get very bitty as I coudn't write much due to the shoulder. However, we went out to some very interesting places to eat which completely revised my opinion of American food. When it is good, it is extremely good - don't judge the US by MacDonalds. I managed to introduce Donna to the delights of peanut butter and Jarlsberg cheese sandwiches (it has to be Jarlsberg - trust me, I've exerimented) I met Donna's friend Jim and also Karen River. Nice people. I remember looking at an atlas in a bookshop with Jim and trying to get him to pronounce British place names like Llanelli and Reading (the first is Welsh and is a bit like 'clanethli', but only a bit, and the second is pronounced 'redding') He retaliated with Kalamazo, but I'm not a Glen Miller fan for nothing <evil grin>. I got that one right. We managed to listen to the filk tape (Linda Short singing a batch of my songs - and she does most of them far better than I ever could - some day we hope to make it generally available, but we haven't quite finished working on it yet) We also hunted in the book shop to see what US folk songs I could filk. We managed to find around 30 UK folk songs that I know and I happily drew on them during the con. I wanted to look at possible books for Richard as his birthday is close, but shoulder wouldn't let me. (I had to skim the folk song book on the floor as I couldn't lift it or turn the pages easily.)

Filks tend to fit the company I fit. Let's just say that being around Donna, and later Sarah, produced some of the sumttiest filk songs that I have ever written. Sarah is a delight to compose for as she blushes and bursts into giggles when reading them. Woodie Guthrie would probably turn in his grave at what I did to 'This Land is Your Land', but believe you me, the one I wrote to "These are a few of my favourite things' was far far cruder. Then I actually did a nice clean one about Tarrant to 'My Wild Irish Rose'. I felt I owed a decent Tarrant song to Carol if I was going to the 'Tea For Tarrant'. 'Tom Dooley' and 'She'll be Coming Round the Mountain' suffered far worse fates. I think most of these will get submitted to Dark Fantasies because I can't imagine any other zine wanting to touch them with a barge pole.

I woke up a few times in the night as jet-lag cought up with me, but always managed to get back to sleep easily. (At previous cons, I've found myself wide awake at 4 in the morning, so the walks definitely helped)

Discovered a new type of cafe (or new to me at any rate). A complete buffet of fairly ordinary meals, with a very wide range. Like having the menu from half a dozen cafes all in one place with total self service. An excellent idea. No wonder Americans eat out so much more often than we Brits do. Went to East Lansing zoo and saw some meerkats face to face as well as some very cute pygmy goats.

I really enjoyed these few days with Donna. I hope she can make it over to the UK someday as I'd love to show her some of my country in exchange for the lovely time she gave me.


On Thursday I moved into the con hotel. Sold a few zines from my room. Friday morning I went out with my room mates (Linda, Mary and Jill) to have breakfast at 'Flapjacks'. A flapjack in the US turns out to be what I'd called a Scotch pancake or drop scone, but a little larger. Basically, a thick pancake. In England, a pancake is much thinner and crisper, closer to what Americans would call a crêpe. An English flapjack is a type of cake, mainly consisting of oatmeal.

I found it very hard to get used to the American custom of tipping everywhere. One of my first ever jobs was in a department store and we had a strict 'no tips' rules: the belief being that everyone should get equal service. I gather that wages in catering in the US are very low, which explains the necessity for the custom, but I'd have been a lot happier paying a higher fixed charge. (I suspect an American would simply feel that a tip rewards good service, but to me, it will always smack of bribery and condescension. Just a difference in upbringing)

Gathered minor entertainment from the way Americans use forks. This seems to be fairly universal, but I still love the way that people use forks right handed until they need to cut something and then shift the fork into the left hand so that they can hold the knife with the right. British people keep the fork in the left hand which saves all that shuffling back and forth.

Another cultural difference. Americans use travellers cheque a lot. Brits, in their own country, never use them. My best guess is that this is due to the total absence of the cheque guarantee card. In England, the bank issues a card to customers they trust stating that a cheque written below a certain amount will always be honoured even if the customer does not have funds to meet it. (It also provides a specimen signature which provides protection against fraud) In the US, there seems to be no method of backing a cheque or of telling if the chequebook is stolen. Thus, (here I'm assuming that many shops are reluctant to take cheques) it's a choice between cash and travellers cheques. Travellers cheques are insured against theft and are thus preferred if large amounts of money are needed. (Richard says it is also due to the fact that there are no national American banks. A lot of places won't take cheques due to the difficulty in clearing them).

Leah's Cartoon
I stuck to hand signs and written notes while in cafes. The background noise level was too high for anything else. If I had a pound for every person who has told me I ought to learn sign language, I'd be rich by now. What they haven't figured out is that they have to be able to understand it. I can fingerspell in British Sign Language, but I've yet to meet a fan who can read it. And American signing is different again, and probably Australian too. Leah Rosenthal met me while I was voiceless at the dealers table and drew me the cartoon above.

Mary O'Connor as Avon I spent a lot of Friday in the dealer's room and sold a fair number of zines, especially Jabberwocky. Most people bought the set, but about a third bought to fill gaps in their collection, so I was quite glad I'd made the decision to publish in sections to help people reduce duplication. (Many people bought just part 14 and/or the adult stories - that was something I'd anticipated) The surprise sells of this con were Star Three, which had a Fan-Q nomination (the zine had presumably been impossible to get from Peg Kennedy) and The Other Side of the Coin. I'd greatly underestimated how many Americans had The Totally Imaginary Cheeseboard, but not its sequel. I'll just have to remember to take more next time.

Mary O'Connor
as Avon (25K)

I missed a lot of the panels (which covered a wonderful range of fandoms and topics) because I was busy in the dealers' room, but I did go to one on researching actor's credits. That was quite interesting even if rather US based for my purposes. It's amazing what people can come up with in the way of theatre reviews, old photos etc. once they begin looking hard. There was some very solid information from people who had had a lot of practice in credit tracing. Some useful tips that I noted down:- When looking in photo collections, look under the names of better known actors from the same program. There are often several people in a photo and your guy may not be the one it's catalogued under. There are many publications that reference libraries may own that list theatre performances of years past, there are indexes to periodicals, your actor may be listed in Who's Who, theatres sometimes keep photos from past productions, local newspapers may have pictures/reviews, local photographers may have taken photos of their own, the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) sell old photos, there's a shop in London called 'Dress Circle' that sells old play bills etc., many actors record audio books, agents may provide career resumes, there are magazines that specialise in theatre memorabilia and they may have useful adverts, and hotbot is reccomended as a search engine on the web.

Collected a fair number of outstanding zine orders from Peg Kennedy and managed to fill in a lot of the missing ones from second-hand boxes. Mediawest is a wonderful con for buying and selling second-hand zines. Many people leave their bedroom doors open and sell zines out of their rooms.

The Blackmail Photo Went to the 'Avon Without Guilt' party in the afternoon and caught up with many old friends and made a few new ones. Good food, good company, who could ask for more? One poor fellow wandered in from outside dressed in Star Trek costume and was greeted with shouts of 'Federation!'. I enjoyed the party, although I couldn't join in very much. The voice was pretty low, and I had to drag people into a quiet corner if I wanted to be able to talk to them. I was dressed as Avon and Kathryn Andersen had an outfit reminiscent of Verliss (the slave dealer on Domo) We staged a suitable pose for the cameras. It has been suggested that if I pay sufficient blackmail, maybe copies won't be circulated...

The "Blackmail" Photo (118K)

I've corresponded with Kathryn for several years over the Internet, but this was the first time we'd met in the flesh. I was pleased to discover she's just as nice in person and we ended up spending a lot of time together along with Mary O'Connor from Canada.

Went to a filk writing session in the evening. That proved to be a bad mistake. I turned out to be the only person there with any filk writing experience and thus ended up talking too much and being reduced almost to a whisper. A filk session followed afterwards, but I left before too long, it was simply too depressing not being able to join in. I avoided all filk sessons for the rest of the con. Even the concertina wasn't enough to lift me out of that particular doldrum.


Kathryn as Avon and Tarrant Conversed in notes for part of the morning as the voice was very bad. Left me feeling rather alienated as people never stop to chat for long when you can't talk back to them. Sold more zines. Voice picked up a bit later in the day. Went to the Tea For Tarrant. I was dressed as Blake... I think Kathryn was Avon this time. - I remember now, she had the black leather tunic that both Avon and Tarrant wore and a Liberator bracelet and a Scorpio bracelet, so that she could be either Avon or Tarrant at any given moment. I seem to recall a photoshoot of Blake trying to kill Avon... Another good party. They were playing music vids, but the sound wasn't working for some arcane reason. I must confess I was rather pleased by this as it kept the sound level to a point where it made it possible for me to talk. Half-way through we were raided by two guerillas who held us up with a wonderful collection of home-made weapons. (Alison and Kat, I think)

Calling Liberator,
Calling Scorpio (25K)


Guerillas (42K)

Tried a sign language workshop, but it wasn't any help for what I needed even though learning the signs for various TV shows could have been fun under other circumstances.

Mary as CAlly About this time, Mary got caught by someone who was looking for entries for the Masquerade - she was dressed in a very good Cally outfut (from Redemption, I think). She refused, but mentioned it to Kathryn and me. I looked at the three of us. I was still Blake and Kathryn was Avon. It was simply too good an opportunity to miss. We sat down, wrote a script and entered as a trio.

"Cally" (33K)

In the evening, there was the Blake's 7 discussion session. Apparantly some years this is good and some years, it just fizzles out. This year, it was good. A guy came in and commented on Terry Nation's death and how much we all owed to his writing and character development etc. I pointed out that B7 actually owed as much to Chris Boucher who did an enormous amount of work on all the first season scripts and then we were all off discussing the source of the darker influences in B7 and soon after that we were off onto Star One and the morality of that, and a good argument was generally had by all. It can be very frustrating when other people can interrupt you, but you are unable to interrupt back again (Trying to talk louder than somebody else is a mug's game in my condition). People were pretty good about letting me get a word in edgeways when I stuck my hand in the air, but it did take a while for everyone to get used to it. It's hard for twenty people to all be quiet at the same time. Most people are unaware of how much they interrupt in the course of a normal conversation, and I did find it rather frustrating as the only thing I can do when interrupted is to shut up and wait until the other person has finished talking. Still, like I said, it was a good session and you can cover ground face-to-face than would take a month on-line. It's far more stimulating.

In the evening, Kathryn, Mary and I, went to see the plays. These were an absolute scream. Star Wars, the Musical, performed to music taken from West Side Story. I can't describe it all now, but suffice it to say that Karen River made a wonderful Jabba the Hutt, dressed up in a green shower curtain and rubber gloves! This was followed by a series of out-takes that never happened. Wonderful! I wish I'd been able to take notes. I distinctly recall Luke Skywaler having trouble eating his stew, and a voice from off-stage whispering, 'Use the fork, Luke'. Then there was the one where Darth Vader strangled the director with mental force until his lines were written the way he wanted them, and Obi-Wan saying, 'You will write it this way...', and the director going off in a huff and muttering, 'Never work with Jedi Knights'.

Next, the Masquerade. As we were in it, we never got to see the other entrants on stage, but we did get to chat with them round the back. A wide range from a woman with the most beautiful embroidered gown, to a soldier with lipstick on his face.

This was our our particular routine.

The Masquerade MC: In Blake's 7, there was never any sex on screen, this fans have been left in ignorance as to what actually went on after dark. characters all contrive to look totally innocent, whistling, looking at ceiling etc. Was Avon sleeping with Cally? She slips an arm around him Or was it Blake that she really fancied? Blake and Cally briefly embrace. Or are the slash fans right after all? Blake and Avon recoil in horror. Of course, the truth actually is- MC recoils in horror and pain as she is short by Blake, teleptathed at by Cally and scowled at by Avon. Resumes speaking in a hurried tone of voice as the characters leave triumphantly arm in arm in arm.- There was no sex on the Liberator. None at all. Not once. Never. As characters leave the hall Like heck!

Blake, Avon and Cally (41K)

She also mentioned that we were from three different coutries: Britain, Canada and Australia.

I'm pleased to say we won the prize for best humorous entry. I even have the certificate to prove it. In a spirit of international co-operation it is spelt humourous. I hadn't the heart to tell André that although we spell humour with a u, humorous doesn't have one in non-American English. It's the thought that counts.


Next day, Sunday, I took in the Stiffie awards. I didn't win anything myself, but I don't mind being beaten by a good story. Much to my delight, Val Westall won a Stiffie for her art, so I collected it to take back home for her. (I missed Val - I've got used to going round cons with her.)

Went to a panel on Fanzines and the Internet which was very interesting. I'd never before considered the fact that a web-zine has an ongoing cost to maintain it. There was a fair balance of opinions all around the subject, the main worry of people who didn't post stuff to the web seemed to be the worry that their writing might be claimed or altered by other people. There were also comments on the pros and cons of the rapid feedback possible on the net.

Avon and Delenn Kathryn was dressed as Delenn from Babylon 5 today. We're open to suggestions as to what Avon and Delenn are saying to one another...


I attended an interesting session on starting writing professionally. It was a small session, and when Susan Matthews (who had ended up running the session) realised that she couln't hear me clearly from behind the table, she very kindly moved round to the front. (Incidentally, she says that a reprint of 'Mind of A Man' may not be barred for all time. She thinks her agent may relax a bit in the future. There's a hope that she could use the material in a pro novel in some way, but as Susan said, the story is so tied into the situation of Gauda Prime that it would seem impossible to adapt it to any other universe.) She recommended a book called 'The Career Novelist' by David Maass. She also recommended writers workshops and SF cons as good places to meet people and added that it was best to have a manuscript in hand rather than just an idea for one. Her new professional novel is called 'An Exchange of Hostages'. The bit I browsed looked good.

At various points in the con, I met people taking place in the Star Wars blaster battle. This a fairly large scale live role-playing game played out in fancy-dress all over the con. There were some excellent outfits. Princess Leia tried to explain some of the rules to me. Some of it seemed to be based on common sense and some on skill ratings. Each player had a card with their details.

I didn't win anything in the Fan Qs either (Star Three was nominated), but if I'm going to be beaten by another zine, I can't think of a better one to be beaten by than Gambit 14. That was quite possibly the best issue of the entire Gambit series.

Kathryn, Mary and I made a collective decision to avoid the art auction and to have tea while everyone else was at the auction. Barbara, Pat and Nancy apparantly had the same idea and we all ended up eating together and having a really interesting conversation comparing the educational and political systems of four different countries. I'd never realised they were all so different. We got onto food and language differences and the joys of trying to describe things like bread when terms like granary and wholemeal and cornflour have very fluctuating meanings as you cross oceans. It got quite entertaining as two out of the four nationalities present would suddenly find they had a word in common, only to have the ground shift as we got onto another term.

After we'd finished eating and a group moved onto the next table (pushing the noise level beyond my ability to cope with) we moved upstairs to Nancy's room. We got into a long and fascinating discussion on education within the Federation, the grading systems and how they might operate, and how underground religious groups might have existed. I really enjoyed this. I think the best parts of cons are the informal discussions. You can never tell when or where you'll get one of these in-depth sessions, they just require the right combination of people in the right mood, and then they take off. Sometimes, you never get them, and sometimes panel discussions hit the same level. It's all a matter of luck.

When some of the group were ready for bed, we called it a night, but I was too awake to go to sleep, so I ended up going on a tour of the entire hotel to look at all the door decorations (There were some fantastic door with everything from a life size Mountie to a half-size dalek and one with wisteria trailing across the ceiling).

A door The mountie The Dalek




I took a last trawl through the second-hand boxes. I was pleasantly surprised to realise that I hadn't seen any of my own zines in any of the boxes that I looked through. Saw a sign on one door inviting me in to see some Australian bearded dragons, so I duely went in a for a look. They are a type of lizard, about a foot long and quite easy to hold. The skin is covered in tiny horns and bumps. The guy owing them asked me if I was Australian - I think some of Kathryn's accent must have rubbed off on me. (She complained she was getting to sound British) Round about two in the morning, I ended up on the top floor at Tales From the White Hart and bought a tape of Julia Ecklar filks. Although they had five boxes of second hand B7 zines, their prices were very high and I only bought one. (and later discovered that I could have bought it new for the same price. If I hadn't haggled them down, I'd have paid more than the new price!)

Monday - skipped most meals as I simpy didn't feel like eating. Maybe my stomach knew what was coming later. I knew I'd sold most zines that were going to be bought by now, so I devoted most of the table to Val's art on the grounds that she needed the money (her ex-husband cut her maintenance recently). I sold several of her best pieces.

Cleared everything up and packed. Would like to have brought back more second-hand zines as they are mostly a lot cheaper than in the UK, but had no more suitcase space (our second-hand prices reflect the original US import price). Said my goodbyes (I'll miss Kathryn) and went to the airport with Donna. We managed to compose a story outline on the way. It's amazing how talking a plot over with someone can improve it. As soon as we worked out when it took place chronologically, we discovered that it actually explained a minor plot-hole in the B7 universe. It's time position also explained why Blake is slow to act at a particular point in the story. I love it when stories develop an internal logic like that. Now all I have to do is to sit down and write it. I have faithfully promised Donna and a story is small repayment for the lovely time I had with her.

The flight back wasn't too good. We left about 7 in the evening and arrived about 7 in the morning with a five hour time shift. I slept very little and there were a couple of spots of bad turbulance. Had to wait until 11.00 for a coach to Poole, so I slept a little on a bench at the coach station. I felt pretty rotten on the coach trip as I still hadn't shaken off the effects of the turbulance. Richard collected me at Poole and I was glad to get home. Whoever said 'it is more blessed to travel than to arrive' had it totally wrong in my book. I hate travelling. Give me a teleport!

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