When I joined SFera, one of the first people I met was Dalibor Perković, with whom I share the last name. (It’s a common surname in Croatia.) He had this mysterious girlfriend who would come pick him up at the end of the evening on Tuesdays, back when SFera meetings were held at a pizza place in the center of Zagreb. She used to spend her Tuesday evenings at her orienteering club meetings.
Years later, she is driving me, my kid and my husband to an orienteering competition while Dalibor is at SFeraKon. Had someone told me this would be so, I’d have laughed my head off a decade or so ago. My SFeraKon Sunday started on Medvednica where we spent the morning and the better part of early afternoon getting lost around Grafičar.
I did quite poorly at the competition – did not read the map correctly and found zero control points and also, froze my ass off, as it was really weirdly cold for the season and my wrong direction was up. I did kind of like walking through clouds, that is always awesome near Sljeme. More silver lining: my nine-year old made the same mistake I did at the beginning of the competition, so after a while we found each other and continued to be lost together.
Even with lunch on top, the drive back down and quick showers, we managed to get to the con a full 45 minutes before my 5 Stories You Simply Must Read panel. The panel grew out my adoration of Squeecast podcast, which was really a fun panel of writers talking about what they liked. I fell in love with their rule of having to bring one thing you simply love to the conversation, as I get so depressed by the Balkan style bitching and negativity that seeps into a lot of our conversations. It brings me down. Squeecast lifted my mood.
The first 5 Stories You Simply Must Read panel was held at SFeraKon 2015, and I only know who took part – Milena Benini, Ivana Delač, Hrvoje Gažo, Mirko Grdinić, Vesna Kurilić – because the SFeraKon 2015 programme is still up online. The idea behind the panel was to do away with that part of a convention conversation where anyone in any circle got called out or made fun of because they had not read something considered seminal. The tagline was “All fans are equal in how not well-read they are, and so is this panel”.
It was a lot of fun, I remember that much, even though I could not chase down all the titles we discussed then. I know Milena Benini had brought Ursula K. Le Guin’s, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, Mirko Grdinić G.R.R. Martin’s “Sandkings” and Hrvoje Gažo R. A. Lafferty’s “Nine Hundred Grandmothers”. I was moderator so I do not think I brought anything. If I did, I do not remember, and neither do
Vesna or Ivana. (Yes, I asked.)
I skipped doing the in 2016 due to being chair of SFeraKon. I skipped doing it at SFeraKon 2017 and 2018 due to not remembering I had ever done one. Milena remembered for me this year, so she, Alwyn Hamilton, Ivana Delač and Srebrenka Peregrin, as a last minute replacement for Irena Rašeta, talked about the stories we loved:
Milena brought “Silently & Very Fast” by Cat Valente.
Alwyn brought “The Witch of Duva” by Leigh Bardugo.
Ivana brought “The Call of Cthulhu” by H. P. Lovecraft.
Srebrenka brought “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado.
I brought “The Problem with Susan” by Neil Gaiman
(There, I have it documented now.)
The entire panel, other than me, read the first line of their story out loud. We did not arrange it beforehand. I also read, but not the opening line. I was also the only one to bring a story not publicly available for free online. Not on purpose. The realization did make me wonder if this should be a requirement in future panels.
This 5 Stories panel went a lot differently then that first one, and was a lesson in how well-read or not we all are for me as a moderator as well. Whereas last time, all the stories that were brought were read by all the panelists, this time it was not so. It made for a bit of awkwardness and I am unsure whether I would want to fix that, as the aim of the panel is to make people feel less awkward in a conversation just like that. Or maybe it was a severe lack of coffee, which the entire panel and some of the audience felt really badly.
Luckily, my next time was a tea party, which was just as good as coffee for me as I love all kinds of tea, but especially Barry’s. Empress of the Damned Housework Tea Party was a lot more about the tea and the party and a lot less about the anthology which is still a work in progress. But tea and cookies and conversations about writing, publishing, grants, and writing retreats, with seasoned and un-seasoned, known and less known Croatian fiction writers was just what I needed to end a convention with. I did not even notice the storm that tore up Zagreb that night.