Convolution: What makes a good con from an author’s point of view?

conversationFor the last few years, I have rarely attended a convention where I couldn’t commute from home, and they are few, so I was delighted to invited to attend Convolution, a fairly new convention, held at the Hyatt Regency near the San Francisco airport. It was a bit of a drive, but Dave Trowbridge, my lovely spouse, was invited to be a guest, too, and that meant help for the long, late trudge home over twisty mountain roads. For both of us, the convention was an enjoyable, stimulating, and worthwhile endeavor.

The first thing both of us noticed was the quality of the programming: interesting topics over a wide range of interests. Every event (panels, autographing, reading) that I was included on was something I wanted to be on. The logistics were supportive, too: when I commute, I often face the challenge that the programming folks do not listen when I ask to have my panels grouped together. These folks paid heed, and gave me a wonderful lineup of events. The panels were scheduled every 2 hours, with half an hour for break or wending one’s way along the loooong periphery of each floor.

Registration for guest panelists was smooth and uncomplicated, despite the fact we got there early on Friday afternoon, when chaos typically reigns over convention organization. The Green Room – often a place I dash into and out of because of the loud monologs by a few folks who treat it as their private preserve – was a welcoming place, in no small way due to the warmth and friendliness of the volunteers staffing it.

As a result of having many panels at the same time and the remoteness of the locations, many events were sparsely attended. (Not all, as Dave told me that one of his panels – Religion in SF – was packed.) At first, I found this a bit disappointing, until I wandered into the GoH klatch (informal discussion) and found myself in a room with 4 other people and Tanya Huff, so I have decided it did have its compensations!

A few downsides: There were a number of errors in room locations for various events; some appeared to be scheduled in two places at once with no signage as to which was the correct location. The hotel itself was suboptimal. Few spaces created natural meeting places or “community centers” for the convention. Instead, it felt as we were rattling around in a much larger, mundane place. Many of the panels and other events were in conference rooms located along room corridors. This exacerbated the problem of confusing or inaccurate locations.

The hotel restaurant seemed ill-prepared to serve hungry convention-goers, particularly on Friday night. Then the restaurant was closed and only a few tables afforded dining in the bar area. Our party of 5 (BVC folks and allies) was told to wait until one of these limited tables opened up, until we asked to speak with a manager. The food, although good, was quite pricey, even by hotel standards. Most other convention hotels offer lower-priced fast-food items as an alternative to elegant, leisurely dining. Parking was expensive, even with the discount, which is only to be expected for an airport hotel.

My scheduling began Friday afternoon with a panel on Classics of SF with Dave, moderator Brad Lyau, and Artist GoH Jeff Sturgeon. Instead of listing the same old Golden Age repertoire, we dived into a lively discussion of what makes a classic, where do we draw the boundaries of science fiction, what were our gateways to the genre, what works should every literate person be familiar with, and what works might be retrospectively added. Brad brought his academic expertise, particularly in the area of international science fiction, for added perspective. And the rest of us were brilliant.

Next up was “The UnPanel,” an event Dave and I began a few years back. It’s a facilitated listening workshop that turns the notion of a panel inside out. Everyone gets a chance to speak without interruption on a topic chosen by the facilitators after learning how to really listen. Because the group was small, each person got ample uninterrupted time to explore their experience of the first book they fell in love with.

I had the delightful experience of sharing a reading slot with Helen Springer, Setsu Uzume, and Juliette Wade. The selections reflected the diversity of our field – dramatic, humorous, fantastical, tragic, romantic, and combinations of all of them. I wanted to run out and buy works by them all!

Then came our dinner adventure, as described above, with Book View Café members and allies. Dave and I drove home (he drove, I slept), fell into bed, then got up and did it all over again.

I began Saturday morning with the Book View Café panel, with Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Amy Sterling Casil, Madeleine Robins, Dave, and me, which turned into a sort of impromptu BVC meeting, since Kit and Howard Kerr were in the audience as well as the panel. One non BVC audience member was a customer, and we pelted her with questions about her experience buying books from us. Next time, we really should rope in more of our book-buying audience!

My friend Juliette Wade and I overlapped autographing sessions, so we hung out together, talking shop. The table was outside the dealers room, always a good idea.

My last panel was one I’d been looking forward to: Handling Rejection in Writing. I moderated fellow panelists Gail Carriger, Juliette Wade, Jon Del Arroz, and Matthew Marovich. Actually, moderating was unnecessary with such an articulate group. We told funny stories, heart-breaking stories, considered the fine art of rejectomancy, and offered support and encouragement to a member of the audience who was struggling to break in with a first sale.

Following that, I snuck into Tanya Huff’s klatch for an hour, enjoying her spin tales of Martin guitars, life in the country, and many other things. Then a group of friends braved the one nearby restaurant, rather than the overpriced if quite good hotel restaurant food (where the prices were low, but the food quality was even lower), a nice ending to my stint. The convention continued for another day, and I wish I had been able to sit in on a few of the many panels that interested me. For a closer hotel, I might have come back.

I’ll return to Convolution next year and hope you’ll check it out, too. Hopefully, some of the hotel problems will be resolved, but the programming and great conversations will continue.




Convolution: What makes a good con from an author’s point of view? — 5 Comments

  1. What impresses me about conventions is that they are entirely volunteer-run. Nobody is being paid to do this! Which makes titanic events like Worldcon just amazing. And it says something about the genre, that it inspires people to devote hundreds of hours to do this. The conventions of mystery or romance fans are very different.

  2. I have never been to an MWA event. But I have been to an RWA convention, and also the various comic and media-oriented conventions. All of the latter are run by businesses, for profit.
    RWA events are (as far as I can see) much lighter on the actual readers, although there are plenty of readers there. What there are many, many more of are novice writers. People shopping a manuscript, or learning to write, or whatever. Where an sf con is I would estimate maybe 80 or 90 percent fans and 10-20 percent writers, an RWA convention is easily more than half wannabee writers. And the events and programming reflect that. There are many more panels on ‘how to find an agent’, ‘The ins and outs of British Naval uniforms in Austen’s time’ and so on.