Your Message Here: SPR at an SF Con

We are pleased to present an essay by operative and forthcoming SPR author David Sklar, about his experiences wearing Berit Ellingsen’s story (Issue Sixteen) last week at Arisia, a popular sci-fi convention held each year in Boston. Enjoy, and feast your eyes:

“Your Message Here: SPR at an SF Con”

by David Sklar

This is the start of my modeling career. Somewhere in America, a talent scout is looking for a graying, overweight forty-something to model baggy pants. This scout will see my spread in Safety Pin Review and draft me into service.

Hostage Situation by Berit Ellingsen. A Norwegian author on a vest from New Zealand on an American author. Sometimes a story just gets around. Photo by Frood.

Nah, probably not. But I’ve long had a fondness for exploring the boundaries between literature and other art forms. I’ve experimented with threading poetry into necklaces,

“a star is what you cannot keep inside”—final line of my poem “When I Grow Up” from Bull Spec issue 3 ( Necklace by Rachel Young. Photo by David Sklar.

and with cutting names into paper snowflakes.

Folded, it makes a great gift tag, but when you unfold it, you can barely read the name. Read between the lines to find my middle name.

When I first heard of the Safety Pin Review, I was thrilled with the idea, and immediately began writing twitterfic (and converting old poems into the format) in the hopes that I would get a story onto somebody’s back.

At Larry Smith Booksellers in Arisia Dealers’ Room. Photo by Rachel Young.

It did not occur to me that they would ask me to model a story. But when the acceptance arrived for my story “Fisherman’s Widow,” editor Simon Jacobs added, “And if you ever have a desire to wear one of our stories around for a week, consider this a standing invitation.”

With Meredith Schwartz, program director for LunaCon ( and now News Editor for Library Review. Photo by Rachel Young.

I was thrilled. I would be part of this kooky experiment, wearing somebody else’s words on my back. I was also kind of nervous. The SPR Web site describes their operatives as “a collective network of punks, thieves and anarchists.” I am none of these. Not lately, anyway. I don’t even own a leather jacket—unless you count a camel-colored suede coat that might no longer fit. Would I look out of place? Would I like the way I look, photographed from behind?

Puzzling out directions. Photo by Rachel Young.

Oh—and I e-mailed Simon to tell him that I sometimes attend science fiction conventions, which might be a good setting for pictures.

Chatting in the lobby with the White King, the Cheshire Cat, and the White Rabbit. Photo by Rachel Young.

Hey, if I can’t look really cool, I might as well let my geek flag fly.

With Alex Franklin as Squidguy. Photo by Rachel Young.

I sent my best guess of a schedule for this year, with the pros and cons of each convention I’m likely to attend. He picked Arisia, which I think is a wonderful choice. Arisia, which is held every January in Boston, was the first convention where I was ever invited to speak, back in 2002, and to this day it remains one of the most fun.

With the dread pirate KT Pinto ( Photo by Rachel Young.

So Arisia set the timing, and the timing determined which story I would wear. And until the story arrived and I saw what it said, I didn’t realize that what I bring to SPR is something ordinary, beautiful, and plain, which­­—for this particular story—is far more effective than leather and chrome: I’m a dad.

Guiding the next generation. Photo by Rachel Young.

When a college student wears a patch on his or her back about a family that communicates by shouting all the time, well that says one thing. But when you wear it to the playground, or dropping your kids off at school, that’s something else.

Other hostages. Photo by Rachel Young.

My wife and I explored this in the first set of pictures we staged, and Simon shared his thoughts in Issue Sixteen.

Do people think I wrote it? Or that I wear it because I believe it? I don’t know. I’ve seen how readers can see a word on the page and read it completely wrong. Or worse yet, read it right, but get the reason behind it wrong, so that something presented as shameful is seen as glorified or condoned. This seems especially true for darkly humorous pieces like the one I was wearing on my back.

With David Silverman, president of American Atheists ( Photo by Hildy Silverman.

Of course, an artist must take risks for beauty.

Wings (with Ananda Rosen ( ). Photo by Rachel Young.

And I suppose an “arts operative” takes risks for the beauty of someone else’s work.

With gifted photographer Coelynn McIninch. Photo by Rachel Young.

In a sense, wearing this story was a penance for me.

Author Genevieve Iseult Eldredge (, punching me out for dancing with her wife. Photo by Rachel Young.

Because as a father I do find I yell at my kids more than I believe I ought to. And with this patch on my back I think I was much more likely to think twice before raising my voice.

EXTERMINATE!!! Photo by Rachel Young.

Nobody stopped me at the schoolyard or the playground to ask what was on my back. The convention was a different story.

People were jostling around in the elevator so they could take turns reading my back. I got comments like, “That’s my family completely.” When I introduced myself at the start of a panel, my listing of places I’ve been published would end with, “And this week, the Safety Pin Review is published on me.”

With Hildy Silverman, publisher of Space & Time magazine ( Photo by David Silverman.

And I got compliments on the story. When I explained that I couldn’t take credit for it, people complimented me on my choice as an editor. When I explained that that wasn’t me either, they mostly just looked at me blankly.

I didn’t have time to get all the pictures I wanted. Conventions are hectic, and so is parenthood. I got some with people in costume, though I missed out on the most elaborate costumes.

TARDIS corset by MayFaire Moon ( Photo by Rachel Young. See how it looks on a person:

Almost all of the pictures were posed.

Stargazing from close up. Photo by Rachel Young.

Some were downright silly.

Wait! You left the parking brake on! Photo by Rachel Young.

I photographed the local fauna, though the patch wasn’t in the shot.

I think this is a langostolphin.

Some of the best moments didn’t make it into the camera.

My panels went well. My readings went better. I don’t have pictures of either, but I think I can say I knocked ‘em dead at a sparsely attended fiction reading scheduled during the Masquerade, and a well attended poetry reading where I was a last-minute addition. (For future reference, fairies on rollerblades geting their wings tattooed will draw an audience, but A drag queen takes over Hell draws a bigger one.) Within minutes after the poetry reading, I’d had work solicited by two journals. But I was there for the rush. For me, the energy I get back from a live reading is one of the great rewards of the craft.

Although it also feels pretty good when someone comes to my signing and buys a book.

Signing a book for avid fan Julia Rios (also a talented writer and interviewer in her own right ( Photo by Moss Collum.

Pictured above is Julia Rios, who caught my reading last year and then showed up at my signing to buy one of everything I’d brought. She’s also a writer, though I didn’t realize how good a writer until I caught her reading this year.

The book I was signing: Triangulation: Last Contact from ParsecInk ( If you think I’m stealing free advertising because I’m not getting paid for this essay, think again. I would’ve done it even if they’d paid me. Note my name on the cover, after the famous SF author and the one who’s been published in the series since their second volume, above the woman who just signed a 3-book deal with Tor.

I also got a visit at my signing from Melina Gunnett, who offered me a free book because my critique may have helped her story get into the UnCONventional anthology.

The book cover on cake. Yummy.

So I showed up at the book release party to pick up the book.

At the UnCONventional book release with (from right to left) editors Trisha Wooldridge and Kate Kaynak, contributing author Anthony Francis, and Rich Storrs. Photo by Rachel Young.

And after the party, I helped with the takedown before heading off to bed.

Helping move furniture after the UnCONventional release party. Photo by Rachel Young.

And that was Arisia. Next morning, I drove home exhausted and broke, and looking forward to doing it again next year.


6 Responses to “Your Message Here: SPR at an SF Con”

  1. That is some nice modeling and a great and touching report on wearing the story! Brave with so many people around.

    Very cool to hear that people noticed what was on your back, even though they got confused when you said you were neither writer nor editor, but model. 🙂

    It’s a great coincidence that you write speculative fiction and showed the story at an SF con. Both are things I can connect with and enjoy doing too. Also cool to hear you got a few submission invitations!

    I’m looking forward to reading your SPR story.
    And if I wanted to read one of your other stories that are available online, where should I go?

    Thank you again so much for wearing the story and many thanks to Simon for making it all happen.

    Berit Ellingsen

  2. Hi Berit,

    Thanks again for the opportunity to wear your story. If you want to read my work online, you can go to . Or you can click on my name above. Which works the same if I click on your name, by the way. I like the design on your Web site, and “The Astronomer and the King” is a compelling read. I’ll have to check out the rest in a while.

  3. I hope you enjoy the anthology. I finally got to read it on the plane ride home.

    I’ve been following your comentary on the SPR, what an intersting and unique project. It will be fun to see where this goes.

  4. […] The Broad Universe table was also well visited with many sales, and we had a great showing on many fun panels.  For a more comprehensive review, check out these blogs by my buddies, Justine Graykin, Kendra Saunders, and David Sklar. […]

  5. […] Your Message Here: SPR at an SF Con « Safety Pin Review Be Sociable, Share! Tweet Widgets […]

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