NorWesCon 2010 After Action Report

So, I had my first real exposure to Norwescon. I’d had limited visits in the past. Several years ago I attended on Thursday only and sat in on, like, one or two panels. (I remember one with Mike Pondsmith, whose words encouraged me to pursue game design. Hm.) Another time I dropped in to have drinks with friends who were attending. And one year I lucked into having a table in the dealer room.

But this was my first year buying a full membership, staying in the hotel and attending a crap ton of panels. So, here is my general commentary on the experience.


The Venue

The hotel was something of a mixed blessing. Our room was nice, much better than the rooms I’ve stayed at for other conventions. We lucked out and had a room right on the small lake that bordered the hotel. Google Maps tells me this was Bow Lake, which makes me do a double take because I know from working at the County that there’s a recycling and transfer station there. Huh.

Anyway, the room was comfortable, the view was nice. The whole place was clean and professional. And yet we were faintly miserable. Our room was on a high traffic area, so we had loud con attendees walking past our room at all hours of the night. I guess we were also between the big party wing and the center of the hotel, so people had to go that way to get their drinking on. So it wasn’t the most restful experience.

Plus, food at the hotel was ridiculously expensive. In order to save money, we just tromped across the street and ate at one of the smaller, less expensive restaurants nearby. Even grabbing something pre-made at the coffee shop cost an arm and a leg. We dropped $25 for two sandwiches, two juices, a muffin and a mocha. That just strikes me as a bit much. But then, a sit down breakfast at their restaurant cost us twice as much. Even without my snooty expensive coffee.

Panels

I won’t do a blow by blow of the panels I attended. I sat in on over a dozen panels, and not all bear detailed mention. Overall it was a very different experience from RustyCon. I expected them to be bigger, but the difference was staggering. The panelists at NorWesCon had a bit spiffier credentials. Which makes sense. But while panelists would often outnumber attendees at RustyCon, that was definitely not the case at NorWesCon.

Broadly, the panelists were professional and friendly and came off as knowledgeable. There was only one author who annoyed me deeply. There was one bigwig who scared people off from his panels. Otherwise the panelists were great.

The writing panels were, almost universally, PACKED. Standing room only. There were a couple notable exceptions, like the “Gender Queers in Urban Fantasy” and a panel on creating believable religions. But otherwise: PACKED. What was extra surprising was that most of these panels were in the smaller of the rooms the convention had to offer.

Overall, though, I felt like I got something from almost every panel I sat in on. I’ll admit to getting a little tired of the pat phrases that gets dispensed to new writers. I’ve heard “Show don’t tell” and “Kill your darlings” so many times over the past four days that I’m surprised I don’t have people repeating them in my dreams. But the volume of good advice provided beyond that outweighed a bit of exasperation.

The halls between panels were also a zoo. There was no system for lining up for the panels. It was just kind of a clusterfrag. If you were at all claustrophobic, this wasn’t the place for you. It also sucked for the relatively high volume of wheelchairs that had to get down the hallways. From talking to a more experienced con-goer, I gather that this is typical and she defended the fact that it was an all volunteer organization in the largest hotel in the area. (As opposed to PAX or SakuraCon, which are for-profit events in dedicated convention space.) Her feeling was that there’s an all-night weekend-stay culture for NorWesCon that the other conventions didn’t have. PAX doesn’t have their current schedule up, but SakuraCon looked like it had stuff going on most hours of the night. But then, the person I know is prone to being argumentative.

In addition to the always excellent KC Ball, I also really enjoyed the stuff I heard from Mary Robinette Kowal. Her explanations of stuff through her experiences with puppetry really gave me a lot to think about.

Eileen Gunn was awesome in the one panel I saw her in. But then, I’m biased. When someone in the audience told her, “You have to know the rules in order to break them,” she responded with, “I’ve broken plenty of rules without knowing what they are.” Having been called on breaking rules I didn’t know existed, I felt a little vindicated. This isn’t to say I break rules well, but it’s always frustrating to stumble over those things on accident. Of course, I say that right after having a friend who has been writing urban fantasy without knowing or reading any urban fantasy. So my moral highground is kinda low.

Other authors I liked hearing, whose names I jotted down, included John Pitts, Alma Alexander, Joshua Palmatier, Jack Skillingstead, Darragh Metzger, Jason Henninger, Cat Rambo, Randy Henderson, Kevin Radthorne… I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.

Readings

I sat in on the readings of a few friends. I sadly hadn’t read any of the authors that were doing readings at the convention. I’m, like, a decade behind the curve I guess. I haven’t even read Cory Doctorow. (*gasp*) Going with that, I only asked three authors to sign a book, and they were all people I already knew personally. I have a bunch of authors to seek out next year that I saw at the con this year, but my panel schedule didn’t allow for that this time around.

Nathan Crowder, who is part of my every-other-week type-and-gripe, read his short story “Deacon Carter’s Last Dime.” Even though it had been published in Crossed Genres Year One with my own short story, I hadn’t read it. (Yeah, I’m a lousy friend.) I feel like an extra big heel because his story was amazing. It was, by far, the best thing I’ve heard from him. It nearly brought me to tears. Holy macaroni it was good. Nate had a great reading voice to begin with, and the story was just heart breaking.

A.M.Dellamonica taught my recent writing class and I was able to meet her face-to-face, and her charming wife, at the convention. She read from her upcoming book Blue Magic, which seemed like it had a lot of interesting ideas but I was utterly lost. I hadn’t read the first book, so an excerpt from the sequel was a little confusing.

Rosemary Jones, who I play D&D with, read from her story from Realms of the Dead. Since her excerpt was relatively short, she shared her space with fellow writer in the anthology, Erik Scott de Bie.

I had wanted to go to KC Ball’s reading, but it was a the same time I’d be on the hotseat for the workshop. But my girlfriend went in my stead and enjoyed it.

Fairwood Writers Workshop

Sunday morning I was on the hot seat, where three professional writers and a moderator would give me feedback on my novel. I was only entirely terrified. The panel consisted of Rosemary Jones, John Pitts and Andrea Howe of Blue Falcon Editing. The moderator was Rhiannon Held of the Fairwood Writers Group.

I’d been vocal about how nervous I was about this since, well, December when I sent off the manuscript. Rosemary had been alternating between trying to assure me that it would be fine and cracking jokes about making me cry like a little girl.

The morning started off poorly. The room where I was to have my workshop experience was on the 14th floor of the hotel, just off of the nightclub that they have up there. Since I was the first workshop person that morning, the elevators were locked from going up that far. The only saving grace was that two of my critique panelists were also in the elevator having the same problem. We headed over to the front desk, got someone to unlock it, rescued Rosemary from the ninth floor and made it up there in one piece. The fourth person arrived a little bit later after having even more problems with the elevator than we did.

The room was quite nice, and had a lovely view.

I think the thing that I had genuinely not expected was that all four reviewers liked my writing. And I very nearly started sobbing out of relief when the fourth person said the same thing. This isn’t to say that they thought it was perfect and that I should submit it to an agent on a bed of flower petals. In fact, the feedback they gave suggests pretty heavy duty revisions. But having them all speak highly of it made me feel a lot better.

I’ve learned enough about what not to do (if not how not to do it) over the last year that I’ve been very self-conscious over the flaws I know exist in Red King. So I was surprised that they liked it. Best of all, their feedback helped me look at changing it differently. Since the book grew sort of organically, I’ve been uncertain how to change it without the whole thing tumbling apart. But the workshop tilted things around so that I could look at the thing differently and really see what was necessary.

I had suggested the possibility of a second POV. They were pretty strongly against it, feeling the story would work better with just a single POV. They felt that the POV provides a character that readers an identify with easily, and shifting POVs will weaken that emotional connection.

As with RustyCon, I didn’t have note taking material with me. So I jotted notes into my iPhone. When I have a chance, I’ll transcribe those notes in here, so you can see what books were recommended to me and other thoughts that came up.

17 thoughts on “NorWesCon 2010 After Action Report

  1. zdashamber

    I like having your comics articles to read. If you actually want people to find them, read them, and comment on them, though, you should fucking link them. Unlike the rest of your (unlabelled) LJ links (which have lead me to nasty places I don’t want to go for the last fucking time), I’d actually appreciate links to your own content. :)

  2. simonepdx

    It’s so awesome that you actually got to workshop your novel a bit with unfamiliar (and respected!) readers.

    It sounds like you really got a lot out of your experience there :-) Sorry to hear about the hotel noise issue though; scarywhitegirl mentioned the same thing. I hate that aspect of big conventions.

  3. tatterdamelion

    Dude, I’m blushing here. Glad you enjoyed “Deacon Carter’s Last Dime.” You’re forgiven for not reading it. Hearing it read out loud is much cooler. :)

    I may excerpt some of your review as a blurb on my site, if you don’t mind.

  4. admin Post author

    Don’t mind at all. If I’d known you wanted an excerpt, I would have said more than just “ZOMG.” =)

  5. admin Post author

    It bothered more than me. I’m more indignant on her behalf. I’m the one who could sleep through the end of the world. =)

  6. Anonymous

    Told you this wouldn’t be painful

    See, I was right, your writing is just too good to be buried on the computer.

    Rosemary

    PS And I will make you cry like a girl if I don’t get read the finish of this story!

  7. danicia

    Hello! I am just catching up on the NorWesCon Twitter and reading people’s reviews of the event. Sounds about like our experience, although this is my 2nd as a pro and 3rd all around. I grok the whole “near the partiers” thing.

    At any rate, this stood out to me:

    “Her feeling was that there’s an all-night weekend-stay culture for NorWesCon that the other conventions didn’t have.”

    Oh, how wrong can one person be. :) Some of the PAX parties are way more all-night crazy than a NorWesCon party can ever be. Or rather, way better than any party I’ve seen at NorWesCon.

    Thing is..they’re simply different geek/nerd cultures. I much prefer the PAX atmosphere, as I don’t have to worry about getting groped or having drunks throw up in front of my hotel room door.

    Apologies for barging in; it caught my eye and I get a bit tired of the “zomg I must defend NWC and never admit it isn’t as good as other cons” kind of thing. If that wasn’t really the attitude she was conveying, then I read it badly. *curtsey*

  8. admin Post author

    No need to apologize.

    I’m not really sure what attitude she was conveying. Her stated reason was that she had had the same complaints I had when she started attending, but as she attended more cons and got to know people on the con-com (is that how you write that?) the more she saw that they were doing the best they could with their resources. She also said she didn’t want it getting around that she had defended Norwescon (hence me not saying who this was). But there was a tone of, “This is the best convention in the area of its type,” so it may have been a bit knee-jerk.

    But overall her feeling was that Norwescon couldn’t get any bigger and couldn’t do any better. Your input has left me doubting that, but I don’t know where they would go with Sakura Con having the Washington State Convention Center staked out for Easter weekend. Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue?

    I’ve never done late night at PAX or SakuraCon, and I’m not a big party-goer over all, so I couldn’t speak to either of them when it came up. (I’m more of a “drink with my friends” than “go to a random place filled with drinking people” sort of guy.) My only interaction with either of them has been drop-in visits. So thank you for this insight.

  9. danicia

    It’s interesting, because there was a lot of chatter about the “bigger/better”. I’ve been attending/volunteering at conventions since I was 13 and while it might “ruin” what NWC is for many people if it was larger, it can certainly get *better*.

    A lot of the problems NWC has are related to people who do not want change. They don’t want someone to come in and run a more efficient way. I was very disturbed at the way many people acted during the medical emergency on Saturday. There is a huge sense of entitlement about many attendees at NWC; which includes not moving the *EDIT* out of the way and clearing the hall.

    There are a lot of stupid decisions that people make running this convention. Sure, it’s all volunteer run. But so are a lot of conventions. I’m the Games Chair for the national Mensa convention which will be in Portland next year. We’re going to have the same amount of people that NWC brings. We’re taking all the con space in our main hotel, and are using up space in TWO nearby hotels.

    Mostly for the reason that NWC suffers. It’s incredibly hard to get to see panels when you try to shove that many people into a space too small for it. A lot of people who come to the con for well…the con, have a much worse time of it than the “Party Crowd”.

    I’ll schmooze at official parties, like the private ones hosted in the hotel by the Sponsors. But I don’t understand why there is so much focus on the room parties and the special big drunken fests which have nothing to do with sci-fi/fantasty/fandom.

    One of the reasons why I hate it is that at my age, I have a very small fuse when it comes to being groped or flat out propositioned by a drunken frat boy.

    NorWesCon could not be a convention like SakuraCon or PAX. It’s a “folksy” type convention. It *could* be more than it is, but people are set in their ways. They don’t want to be successful; they want to be comfortable. And they’re all comfortable at the way it is now, putting on blinders.

    I’m also involved in Steamcon, the steampunk convention here in town. We had a very strict rule about no room parties and did not allow Biohazard and other groups to crash our event. Sure, people can cut loose and have a good time. But the whole reason for fandom is…well..to experience fandom with other people. Steamcon last year (our first year, mind you, which was half the size of NWC.) was full of people who wanted to talk, to share, to gain knowledge about a variety of topics. They didn’t come to the con to act like high school/college frat drunks. People were polite, helpful and welcoming. The hotel said we were not only the best dressed fan convention ever, but the nicest and most polite.

    Bah. I’m sorry; I’m rambling again. It is one of my hot topics and one I tried to address in the panel “Fans and the Effects of New Technologies on Fandom.”. Your post has triggered my desire to create a panel and pull information together.

    Are we chasing away people from literature & art by being so insular and putting on an air of elitism? For a gaming focus, it’s more of a “Why do we chase people out of our hobby? Why are we not more welcoming to new players?”.

    Thank you for the trigger on the topic; I think I shall flesh it out. I’m already pondering a similar one for Mensa. Overall, the people who drove it in the 70s/80s are too old to continue to run events. The younger generations can’t be bothered to help (for the most part). Is that because the people who started it all refuse to embrace technology? Is it because younger generations don’t actually NEED Mensa as a way to meet other smart people?

    Hrm. At any rate. Thanks for being kind to a stranger invading and doing a brain dump.

  10. admin Post author

    Thank you for the insight. Prior to this year my main convention exposure was to very small conventions (80-100 people) where it was possible to know all the regulars or just dropping in briefly. Now I’m curious to see what Steamcon is like. We had paid for the convention last year and didn’t manage to make it. It would be interesting to compare my experiences with Rustycon and Norwescon with this.

    I’m a little curious about your involvement with Mensa. I had considered trying to join in the past, but never quite understood the appeal. What brought you into joining it yourself, if I may be so bold as to ask?

  11. danicia

    I think you would absolutely enjoy Steamcon. The focus on literature, art, hands-on building/modding and fashion makes it quite the gorgeous event.

    I am not a member of Mensa. My mother has been involved since I was 13, so I’ve pretty much done everything with her as my sponsor. I’ve actually had more hands-on experience with Mensa around the country than a lot of actual members.

    The biggest appeal when Mensa first started was being able to connect with others who are smart and have similar interest in science, maths, literature, philosophy, physics and…well..typical nerd pursuits. :)

    The conventions, called gatherings, were created as a way for people all over the world to connect and share very brainy subjects and meet the people you’ve met via letters and publications to be social.

    Back then, it was hard for smart people to meet other smart people. Nowadays, there are so many ways to meet smart people (conventions,, social networking, meetup.com and all) that a lot of the reasons Mensa was so successful, no longer exist. Hence my desire to do panels for Mensa which are more topical and welcoming to new people of all generations, instead of focusing on “old people” stuff. :)

    As example, one of my frustrations with gaming at Mensa events is that to many Mensans, gaming = Scrabble, Chess, Quiddler. I’m going to be bringing in a lot of newer card/board games, electronic gaming, role-playing games and miniatures wargaming.

    I’ve already got some of the games up on the Steamcon website:
    http://www.steamcon.org/games.php

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