My Geysercon 2019 Report by Paul Mannering

I can count on one hand the moments in my life where the Universe shifted. Pivotal points where something happened and things changed forever. How I became a dad at 19 was a series of unconnected events that led me to meet Ash’s mum. How I met Damaris, another weird series of unconnected events. All these things culminated in a moment of singularity. Coming together and looking back I wonder if somehow I stepped from one Universe into another each time. Quantum Physics of course tells us that we do this constantly, so noticing it is what is weird, not that it happens.

GeyserCon 2019 was another singularity.

I arrived in Rotorua on Wednesday night. Not staying at the Geysercon hotel, but across town. The first events were kicking off on Friday morning – so I had a few beersies with the locals in a pub that made me feel like I had walked into the set of Once Were Warriors. Fortunately, I was staying upstairs so that was a short walk home.

Thursday, walking the streets of Rotovegas; a thousand cafes and empty store fronts. A ghost town for a cup of tea. Around and around, I toured shops, library, tourist information centre, petrol stations, bars, and places (Cobb & Co, Valentines) that haven’t existed for decades outside of the pocket Universe of Rot.

The Stephen King story, “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band,” could have been set in Rotorua.

By Thursday night, people were arriving. By now I’m feeling like the guy in the movies when the new recruits arrive, all green, fresh-faced and innocent. I’m standing there, scuffed, scarred, cigarette hanging from the corner of my mouth (hypothetically because I haven’t smoked in over 20 years). Three days growth on my face and eyes that have seen some shit you wouldn’t believe.

The lobby of the con hotel is like an airport arrival area, lots of people arriving and those of us already here excitedly meeting old friends and being introduced to new people.

It’s getting cold in Rotorua now. The bad weather rolling up the country is coming and for a geothermal resort town where the smell of hydrogen sulphide is ever present (you can fart in Rot and no one will notice) it’s fucking freezing.

We sit in the bar area, drink and know stuff. Meet some new folks and catch up with some con friends. People I mostly know online and see at these annual events.

A group of us head out for dinner. We’re drinking, then have ramen noodles and katsu for dinner. Back to the hotel, drinking until late. I head home, get a ride with Yahn Darkwood.

Friday, I catch the bus from outside my pub-hotel to the con-hotel at 8.30 AM. It’s still fucking freezing. I am questioning my decision to pack books and resources instead of every warm jersey and jacket I have.

I am wearing a Hawaiian shirt in honour of Guest of Honour in Absentia, Jonathan Maberry. Today is the Young Writer’s Day. I’m to present a session on “Stories Are Everywhere” for 11-12 year olds.

We start by processing them at registration. 270 odd kids, all keen writers, and damned talented. They come along way for the Young Writers’ Day – it’s a famous event and always over-subscribed.

Ten minutes before my session starts, I’m at the back of a room filled with a hundred kids. The previous presentation is wrapping up. PowerPoint slides, good informative teaching being done.

I’m bouncing from foot-to-foot like a boxer about to go ringside. Voice in my head saying, Send in the clowns. I have a page of notes. Six lines. Five points about how creative people think and the word, Archimedes. Yeah I have no idea what I’m going to say, but I’m going to wake these kids up.
Send in the fucking clowns.

I start with a loud, GOOD MORNING ROTORUA! They look a bit startled. They’ve been sitting for an hour at least. I get them to stand up and wiggle. Just shake it out a bit. Move on the spot. Wake up and hold on. Please keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times. And may the gods have mercy on us all.

Stories are everywhere, I tell them. I talk about research into how people think. How creative people think and how as writers, they need to be open to ideas (point 1). They need to be prepared to receive ideas, because stories are everywhere.

Point 2: Pay Attention. They need to recognise those ideas when they present themselves.

Point 3: Be curious. Be open to receive ideas. Be attentive to ideas presenting themselves and then be curious about the story they are telling. What if…? Is the most important question any writer can ask. The kids are wide-eyed and watching this come pouring out. I’m writing on a whiteboard. I’m preaching the good words. Plugged into something that screams deep inside. If you stop running, the anxiety will catch you and it will devour you.

Point 4: They need to do the work. Put in the effort. Take those ideas and build the story. Write the thing.

Point 5: Serendipity. Luck. It’s a big part of the creative process. People who work hard (they are open to ideas, paying attention, putting in the effort…) are lucky. It’s because they worked hard.

Archimedes. I ask if anyone knows who Archimedes is? One kid says he was a demigod and philosopher. I’m like fuck yeah. I talk about baths. I talk about Archimedes. He had a job to do. And because he (point 1, point 2, point 3, point 4) then he ran through the streets naked screaming EUREKA! Not ‘You Streaker!”

I’m so far removed from reality now, I can’t tell you what’s coming next. I’m talking about growing up. The death of our television. The books I read as a kid. The terribly inappropriate books. The need to tell stories. The way I got into writing. Then for the first time in 45 minutes, I take a breath. Any questions?

Fuck yeah, they have questions. Am I on medication? Should parents let their kids read books that are not for kids? Our library has different sections and won’t let us read the older kids books, until we are in that year of school. Solution – break into the library at night, completely randomise the shelves. Put books everywhere. Read what you want. Read everything.

They are laughing and engaged. This is not what they expected. But they will take it. They are taking notes.I have no notes for most of this.

We burn an hour and my voice is gravel. I thank them and get applause. Standard. I walk out and stand in the cold air outside and evaporate for a bit.

I float for the rest of the day, being there if needed and talking to friends, Gerry Huntman of IFWG publishing, I only see him at cons and we talk for hours. He’s travelling with Silvia Brown, who I know through the Shadows Awards judging (she coordinated them and does heaps for the AHWA). Turns out she is a wee Spanish – Australian lady and one helluva horror writer. The three of us end up hanging out for most of the con.

Kids from my class find me and ask me to give advice on their stories. I sign autographs.

Friday night, the opening ceremony for the con. People arriving. More talking. More drinking.

One of the guests of honour; Australian horror writer, Kaaron Warren. I get to tell Kaaron that her book, Tide of Stone, is possibly the best book I have ever read. She was quite touched. Got to meet Alan Baxter, I’ve been reading his stuff for a long time and know will interview him on Saturday.

By the end of Friday night, it’s clear these people aren’t my tribe. They are Whānau. A larger part of a family unit. I get home on Friday night. Can’t sleep. No one can. People are chatting on social media until early hours. I call Damaris and then get some sleep. Get up at 6.00 AM, no fucking hot water in the room. Even fucking colder than it was yesterday.

Catch the bus across town at 7.20 AM. Only person on the bus. Cheapest taxi-ride ever. People are emerging, blinking in the daylight. We have breakfast. We have more chat. 9.00 AM, I’m on a panel moderated by Lee Murray. MAKING MONSTERS. Alan Baxter, Ronnie Wood, myself, Kevin Berry, and Peter Hassell. Peter is a stuntman, horror fanatic and researcher into some deeply weird shit. He’s a fascinating panel member and with Alan Baxter, whom I know is fucking brilliant, we have a great panel discussion and people attend which was great.

Later that day I’m doing a one on one chat with Alan for an audience. We had discussed the chat points earlier – so that went well. Alan is a great conversationalist and is full of stories that entertained.

The hotel lobby is a hive of activity. People in costume and people being people going in all directions. I hear someone say it is like a train station. Fuck yeah and if we stop, we will derail.

Like fusion, we come together, exchanging energy in the form of ideas and discussion. Formal groups, informal groups, chats over coffee. We go to the supermarket and buy a cabbage. It’s a necessary evil for the radio play being performed on Sunday night.

Saturday night, I’m still flying. Few beers, mostly sober, but totally energised by the people around me and knowing that I’m going to crash, probably Monday. Monday could be a hundred years away of course. Right now, I just don’t want this to end. The Universe is shifting.
Masquerade Ball –Silvia gives me a mask and I get dragged into be a prop. There are some people who do cosplay to an astonishing level of detail and they are showcasing their amazing talent. I am not one of those people.

Our guests of honour all the way from the USA, Laura Van Arendonk Baugh, and her sister Alena Arendonk are cos-players, authors, voice actors and really interesting people to talk to.

Sunday morning, another panel I’m moderating this one – ZOMBIES – BEYOND ROMERO. We get more audience members than panellists, but only just. It’s a great discussion.

COL the Emotional Support Cabbage, is becoming popular. They are also starting to look a little wilted. We are all COL.

All weekend I have been tweaking and rehearsing STAR WRECK, the radio play with a stellar cast. We are going to perform it on Sunday night’s closing ceremony. Friday night, the auditions got flash mobbed. I expected a few people to show up, I got over 20. There are nine roles. We sorted it early and then there was unhappiness because when people showed up for the scheduled audition time, it was well over.

*Shame! Shame! Shame!*

Will my laptop survive the performance? Will I?

Sir Julius Vogel Awards. I’m nominated. I don’t win. I’m relieved, there are so many better stories in my category. The people who win, well deserve it.

We do the performance of Star Wreck. It’s live so there are issues. None of them inexcusable. People laugh. There is audience participation. There is COL.

The closing ceremony goes on too long. We applaud and thank and sing. We want to get onto the post-con party. Finally it ends. I have to attend the SFFANZ board meeting, having been to the SFFANZ AGM and nominated myself for a board position. I say little.

Finally back to the bar. Have a drink, medicinal. When the stars are right, we head up to Kaaron’s room for a post con-party. Drinking whisky. Talking the evolution of language with Alena, mostly just nodding as she educates me.

Friends join us. There is an intensity to the space. A thousand conversations going on. I’m hearing sides of stories. There’s been personal politics. Both political and fraternal. Thankfully I avoided it all and I’m friends with people who are going through stuff. The Universe is shifting and like Roland the Gunslinger, the world is moving on.

Room *I wore my The Exorcist T-shirt this weekend. Ironically, **did a lot of demon exercising as well.

Party was insane as only a room full of drunk creatives can be. I got involved in some kind of coin-toss which ended up with the other guy doing a strip and streak to the hotel pool. There was a quest to find thermal mud (successfully) there were international phone calls and mass voice messages left on voice mail like a Greek chorus.

I did not sleep. Stayed up all night talking with Silvia. Got a taxi back to the pub-hotel in time to catch the shuttle to the airport. Flew home at 7.00 AM. Wouldn’t have wanted to drive a car – pretty sure I could have flown the plane though
*– but would have blown an alcohol breath test.

Hungover as hell. Walking new ground in my head and processing the weekend. So good to be home with Damaris again. I slept a lot yesterday. Got my head and body straight. This morning I went to the gym and sweated out the last of the hangover.

With the rest of the week off, I’m going to be focused on a thousand writing projects. New and current.

I came away from Geysercon inspired, intrigued, elevated, reset and kinda psychologically cleansed. I didn’t expect to have an experience like that at the con. Glad I did though.

I’m ready for whatever the rest of the year holds. It’s been a long time since I felt this kind of calm and resolute.

Kaua e mate wheke mate ururoa
*Don’t die like an octopus, die like a hammerhead shark*

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