gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

Women's History Month - Sharyn Lilley (and Flycon)

I have different memories of Flycon to Sharyn. I got to work directly with the SFF (who came to the party with a chatroom, a discussion board and much assistance from Pat), which taught me a lot I hadn't known about online communities and the work involved in maintaining them. It struck me that one of the reasons we have insider knowledge for fandom (in any kind of fandom) is because it all looks so obvious when one is in a system or group, that one forgets what it's like to be outside the system or group. The comfort levels that make so much possible create a sub-culture. Pat and Monissa led me through the tech side of our particular sub-culture, and gave me much food for thought - outsiderhood in fandom is not always the same as outsiderhood elsewhere, I suspect. It's less that someone doesn't want to speak to me because I'm female, as that they want to speak to people who share their interests and they can't see that I do.

Sometimes, getting seen is purely technical. Knowing where to go, what to do. For the very first Women's History Month (in 2000), two of us spent a lot of time on what the three of us spent so much time doing at Flycon: we walked participants gently through what seemed obvious. "What is a mouse?" asked one of our guests, that first WHM, "And why does my computer have it?" "How are you getting this place to do things?" I was asked often at Flycon, "And how do I even get started?"

One thing I noticed when other attendees and I were chatting was how many people who came just for an hour or so were there because they had young children and could get an hour at their computer when they couldn't get out to a normal convention. We had students, we had young mothers, we had new writers feeling the water. There was a higher proportion of women being active than I see at live cons.

Sharyn wasn't the only ill committee member, but, as she points out, we simply had to get it done. And we could, for no-one noticed how bad we looked or knew when we emailed each other "Am being raced places for medical reasons - can you take over?"

If there are more posts this WHM, I'll bring them to you (there are people who have yet to report in, but they may decide not to post, given the date), otherwise, this is not a bad note to end on, because women fen both old and new congregated at Flycon. I keep meaning to analyse panels and chats for women's involvement, but my general impression was that, because Flycon borrowed its structure from Australia's online WHM celebrations, it mimicked it a bit, which meant that women had very strong voices. Participation reflects structure and history - normally this leads to quite different results to Flycon's.

Flycon came about owing to a throwaway line in a conversation on lj talking about how many different conventions there were around the world, and how the tyranny of distance meant most of us could never get to them. In this particular case we were talking about Worldcon. “I wish there was a way we could have a real online convention," Sherwood said, "but most of the fun bits come from the socialising between panels." Now fandom on the scale of the Internet was new to me, but as a specfic fan for decades, I was used to the committees and knew the sheer hard work required to keep even a local book club going, so it wasn’t without trepidation that I replied “Well, if you are serious, I know how it could be done.” ...

I was, of course, leaning on the work of others. Gillian Polack had been a prime mover in setting up and help run the back of house at online conventions with Women’s History Month; she’d parleyed her knowledge from those sessions into the wonderful Conflux mini-Cons. What I was proposing was a three day world wide web Con. We put out a call for volunteers, and I kind of ever-so-gently coerced Gillian into being part of the core committee. She and Sherwood brought in Paul, Monissa and friends for the real time chat sessions; Pamela made the wonderful Flycon logo and set it so we could have the globe showing our own part of the world. Nyssa set up forum space for forum sessions; I organised an lj page for the Ball, and set about contacting authors to fill the sessions.

The idea of a Flycon Ball came from cyber celebrations in the purple zone, we used to regularly set occasions where we’d all gather on the forum, and be whatever character we’d set for ourselves. We had Solstice Balls, Halloween Balls, any excuse to gather as a group. You had to keep refreshing the board as conversation flew thick and fast, and I usually provided the cyber food – a menu with foods to cater for almost every taste. For Flycon I devised the following menu:
Mini pizzas, including vegetarian option
Soft pretzels
Nachos, with guacamole
Mini Quiches
Cheese platters
Salmon and cheese canapés
Strawberries Harlequin (white and dark chocolate)
Toffee grapes
Bowls of Belgian truffles

Lasagne (beef, chicken and vegetarian varieties
Chicken parmigiana & pumpkin parmigiana
Chicken in cabernet and dark chocolate sauce
Steak Normandy
Three cheese tortellini, in a tomato, white wine and basil sauce
(all served with salads and wedges)

Chocolate Bavarian
Mud Cake, soaked in Irish Whiskey, with raspberry coulis& whipped cream to serve.
Home made ice-cream, dark chocolate, honey, mint choc-chip, rum and raisin & macadamia nut flavours.
Chocolate Platters
Orange cheesecake
Sherry trifle
Apple Danish
Sticky Date Pudding
Tia Maria flavoured Chocolate roulade
(I admit to being glad it was cyber food and I didn’t really have to cook all that, though every dish was drawn from my recipe book collection – not quite as extensive as Gillian’s collection but still somewhat impressive)

But that was still to come, back at the coal face ... as in all committees dealing with any big endeavour, real life intervened. For me, I was still collapsing without warning with the heart issues, and two of my children were going through the diagnosis process for their autism. I know the others all had their own major health/life issues going on, but our core committee were mostly all used to what being on a committee entailed, so we stayed on track throughout it all. When one of us couldn’t do something, the rest of us picked up the slack. It was exhausting, but it was exciting too. We had such an incredible list of guests. Far too many to list everyone, but a small selection of those included:
Lisa Mantchev
Tony Shillitoe
Rob Hood
Megan Lindholm
Marty Young (who opened it)
James Enge
Kate Forsyth
Elizabeth Moon
Kate Elliott
Alma Alexander
Marie Brennan
Sarah Zettel
Jennifer Fallon
Pati Nagle
Dave Freer
Julia Rios
Jack Dann
Sara Douglass
Chaz Brenchley
Sonny Whitelaw
James Enge
Kaaron Warren
Devon Monk
Sarah Zettle
Simon Haynes
Karen Miller
Jeri Smith-Ready

And I remember Gillian falling apart in a fangirl moment when she got to introduce Geoff Ryman. Yes, that would be Gillian the unflappable committee member; Gillian the former team captain of a University of Melbourne debate team, member of a Grand Finalist Australasian Inter-varsity debate team; Gillian the squeezing fangirl. Although, to be fair, I remember opening my emails one morning to find responses from thirty authors whose works I had admired for years, and in Roberta Gellis’s case, my own personal fangirl moment, decades!

I co-ordinated the program across multiple time zones, if you wish to retain your sanity, this is something I do not recommend, I didn’t have any sanity to save, however, and thankfully I had help with that close to the date from someone used to working with spreadsheets. I was dealing with concussion and lack of sleep, and that was only going to get worse. Someone asked about workshops, I’d had an idea you could do this well with a private chat room, a course for writers was an idea I’d toyed with for Eneit Press. I had the space available, and I like being proven right so I was delighted when the Flycon workshops, one for poetry and a fairy tale workshop, worked so very well.

And our guests blogged a lot about it, this one made some extremely tired committee workers smile gratefully:
And I’ve put up one of the chat sessions from Flycon, I’ll be posting more over the next few days, but I started with Jennifer Fallon’s chat because Jen’s work led me to the purple zone, where she was our Evil Overlady; I was always a fan, but her work led me to active fandom, and her chat had so many purple zone regulars attending it.

Flycon remains a sleep deprived, pain-filled (the core committee was too small to allow dropouts, so I had to operate through a migraine caused by the latest concussion) blur. Several things stood out for me though: the late Sara Douglas talking about potting cats; Jennifer Fallon and Dave Freer talking about lions in Alice Springs; and an in-depth discussion on cosmic horror.

I made some very good friends working on Flycon. And we keep being asked if we are going to do it again. And it remains a really good idea. We should ... some day.

ETA: from Gillian - you might want to wait until 2 April before clicking through to the Flycon chat on Eneit Press' website, for there are coding issues.
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