This one’s super-long. I’m reporting back on four days of convention. Grab a sandwich and come back, you’ll need it.
BayCon 2014 was a great experience for me. I’ve been going to Sci-fi/Fantasy/eclectic conventions since I was literally in the womb. I love the panels, the dealer’s room, the costumes, and the wonderful exchanges between fans and pros. This past May was my first time coming at it from the pro side, and there were some delightful and eye-opening surprises.
I had originally proposed four panels, expecting to be on two. I spoke on seven. Here is my roster, including the brilliant minds I had the pleasure of speaking alongside:
- Give Me That Old Time Religion – C. Sanford Lowe, Griffin Barber, Randy Smith
- Building Your Writing Community: Adrienne Gormley, Beth Barany, Dan Hope, Dario Ciriello, Laurel Anne Hill
- The Creative Process: C. Sanford Lowe, Matt Maxwell, Maya Kathryn Bohnhoff, Tony N. Todaro
- LARPing for Beginners: Kyle Aisteach
- Writing Compelling Fight Scenes: AE Marling, M. Todd Gallowglass, Marty Halpern, Sydney Thomson, M.D. and Jeremy Tavan
- Creating Family in Fiction and in Fandom: Brad Lyau, Carrie Sessarego, Colin Fisk, Tory Parker
- Women & Warriorship: Deborah J. Ross, Margaret McGaffey Fisk, Sandra Saidak, Taunya Gren
The biggest thing I got out of this experience is that it never goes as I expected while I was preparing. I have pages and pages of notes I wound up not using; but was still grateful to have. The whole conversation is a balancing act between the panelists (obviously), the moderator, and the audience. We wound up in some really unexpected places.
Religion: I really enjoyed this one and it was a great way to kick off the con. I grew up Pagan, and it was easy to speak from my own experience. The panel took on a largely anthropological bent. Learned about the Lateran Council, Alogencians and how we can move past tolerance into celebration of the Other.
Best Quote: “You said something very powerful in the beginning of that explanation: I See Myself As…”
Community: Actors, it seems, give rougher critique than writers. This panel was a lot of fun, but focused more on critique than — for example — how to find other writers and artists in the first place. Best of all, I met two members of Broad Universe, an organization that promotes sci-fi, fantasy and horror works by women. Also, Dan Hope, the managing editor for Fiction Vortex had great insights from the other side of the submissions desk.
Best Quote: “A beginning is raising a question that must be answered.”
Creative Process: Took place in a boardroom! It was a great, intimate setting to talk about writing, sculpture, graphic design, metalwork and other arts.
Best Quote: “There are three things that will block you from your work. Your skills aren’t up to par, your tools aren’t up to par, or your idea isn’t up to par. Sit and think about where the disconnect is occurring, and that will tell you how to find your way through the block.”
LARPing For Beginners: I had done extensive research into this one, including local games, common challenges, and how to run your own game. One experienced LARPer passed by, saying she’d been playing for twelve years and didn’t think we had anything for her. My cohort gave great info on one-shot games like murder mystery dinner parties; but I was out of my element.
Best Quote: “A tabletop game follows the players, no matter where they range. A LARP centers on the setting. The GM knows everything; the ST does not. Start with your setting.”
Writing Compelling Fight Scenes: We were joined by two members of Saint Michael’s Salle d’Armes to talk about what makes fight scenes compelling. This was a challenging panel for me, even though I was looking forward to it the most (fights are kinda my thing). All of us had different opinions on what made a fight scene work — from brevity to intense detail. It was great to see how subjective it all was.
Best Quote: “The technical details don’t always serve you, and will probably confuse the reader. Fiction isn’t meant to be a manual.”
Family: The whole reason I went to BayCon in the first place was to deliver a painting. A few months ago, I put out a call on social media. Tell me something that’s bothering you, and your two favorite colors. From there, I came up with some drawings, and turned one or two of them into actual paintings. “When to Stand Strong, When to Let Go” was so happy with her painting that she offered to buy it. I didn’t feel comfortable shipping it, so I thought I’d arrange to speak at a con we would both attend and deliver it in person. A lot of work for something small and heartfelt — absolutely — but that’s kinda my thing too.
Side note, “When to Stand” also wrote new lyrics to Les Mis “On My Own” to describe the process of writing. We should YouTube it one day.
I also spent a good chunk of the con hanging out with her daughter. It’s great when parents can incorporate their kids into their lifestyle.
We all shared stories of our own families, good and bad, and how our friends come and go as our lives change. I recommended HackerMoms to new families looking for gaming/craft groups now that their normal crew saw a baby and fled.
Best Quote: “Sometimes the best way to express love is distance. Give yourself time, so that when you’re ready to renew the relationship with your mom, your brother, or whoever, you’re in a position to be honest and present with them.”
Warrior-women: My crowning achievement. I moderated this panel, doing my best to set my own goals aside and facilitate these other writers and producers. We only covered 60% of my questions, and I had to reluctantly open to the audience for questions. It turns out that this will be the theme of next year’s BayCon — 2015 is for Women of Wonder!
Best Quote: “There’s a difference between a warrior and a hero. Two firemen go into a building to rescue a puppy. One does it because that’s the job; the other does it to get on the nightly news.”
“If you can’t tell a noble story, tell a cathartic story.”
And now for fan-experiences, rather than pro-experiences.
As soon as I dressed up in a pretty gown for regency dancing, the first comment I got was: “Are you going to be a slave at the auction tonight?”
I bit back the urge to growl “fuck you,” at this person.
Then I thought about it, realized I’d never been to a slave auction and I don’t know what it entails. I decided to go and participate anyway. It turned out to be an interesting thought experiment. Bidding on women started at $20, and all proceeds went to the Make A Wish Foundation. The contract we signed was very explicit that we didn’t have to do anything we weren’t comfortable with. I was not forced into this situation, and faced my discomfort with open eyes.
I heard afterward that a singer sold for several hundred dollars. Me, under fifty. I was first up, and didn’t realize that you were supposed to vamp, or how. It was, for lack of a better description, something of a low-key burlesque.
Willingly placing your value — especially comparative value — in someone else’s hands is something we do every day. In this case, I was able to look folks in the eye while they assigned a value to me. I recognized some of the people who bid on me from other cons. I suspect they had no idea who I was.
We judge so deeply with such little knowledge of each other.
I don’t have it in me to be a slave, playful or otherwise. The experience tainted my con enough to know never to do that again. As I said on the fight panel, it’s important to acknowledge what your protagonist goes through — especially with an intense experience like a first kill. No one comes out clean from that. Ever.
A convention is a great place to meet people. You can network and make friends to your heart’s content. The slave auction seemed to distill the experience. We judge each other for performances, costumes, how we speak on panels — how we represent ourselves. Somewhere between our own choices and others’ judgements is our path. No man’s an island, as they say.
I’m glad I had the chance to practice a public face in this arena. I learned a lot.