This weekend represented the first convention I attended in which I got to appear as a panelist. RustyCon is one of the smaller conventions in the Seattle area that caters to the general fan community. The impression I got is that they consider themselves a bit more of a family friendly convention compared to Norwescon. According to their site they have membership of about 500-600. It didn’t seem that crowded to me, but then there were parts of the convention we just never went to.
I sat as a panelist in four of the panels over the weekend. They varied pretty widely in quality. I think there were a few things I struggled with the most as a new panelist. The first was that I am not used to giving a bio for myself in front of people, so I fumbled it every time. I was also not as assertive as I needed to be, so stronger personalities dominating things more. And I found that I’m not used to having those sorts of dialogues, so I wouldn’t think of the best responses right away and I didn’t try to steer conversations where I wanted them to be. For the most part I tried to request panels where I figured I had some sort of input on the topic, but I found that my input was not always relevant to the discussion on hand as I’ll illustrate below.
The panels were often very small. Most of the panels I attended as a listener often turned into round-table discussions just because there were so few people that came to the panel. For the most part that seemed to work out, but the facilities were often much bigger than they needed to be for the crowd that showed up in the events.
Crossing Genre: My first panel I shared the table up front with Shoshana Glick. We had a third panelist, but they didn’t show up. Shoshana had been involved in the Genre Evolution Project at the University of Michigan. She had a lot of knowledge of theory involving what genre means, the tropes that are involved, and how many things that get filed as one genre often don’t fit the classic structure of the genre. Me? I tend to cross genres when I write, partly influenced by having published most of my early stuff through Crossed Genres magazine. I felt very out of my league as Shoshana blazed a trail of commentary on genre right off the bat. So, my debut as a panelist was pretty heavily fumbled by me. But I think Shoshana really injected a lot of insight into the topic.
How to Make the Most Out of Gaming: I shared the table with Dustin Gross of Dragondyne Publishing, which publishes a d20-based “omni-genre” roleplaying game. I figured this would make a good fit for me since I wrote for some roleplaying games, blogged about roleplaying game ideas and have experimented with a lot of things over the years (with many failures on my part). I came to this thinking about GM/player communication, player contributions, making a wiki, etc.
Not counting my wife, we had one person in the audience for most of it who was very vocal, mostly played D&D and hadn’t been happy with a game since Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. His biggest concerns were game balance and how D&D always gets broken. I had really very little to contribute to this conversation. This was really a place for Dustin to shine, so I tried to seed in some questions to establish some ideas about what makes a game fun. I also tried to interject indie game design ideas into this, since one thing that came up was how everyone has a different idea of what makes a good game. But that one got lost in the initial response pretty fast and I’m not entirely certain that they understood what I meant.
The Rise of Indie Publishing: This was my favorite panel of the weekend. There had been some trouble in keeping a writing track clear in the programming. So earlier in the day there had been a two hour panel about Workshops and Writing Groups that ran against Writing Battle Scenes in the first half and Agents: Are They More Necessary Than Ever in the second half. Similarly, the panel on indie publishing ran opposite a panel on Self-Publishing. K.C. Ball was with me on the Indie Publishing panel. Tod McCoy, who recently published K.C.’s short story collection Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities through Hydra House, was on the self-publishing panel with Jax Hix of Literary Underground.
Since it seemed weird to have those two panels at the same time, K.C. and Tod coordinated to combine the two panels. This turned out to be the best attended panel of the ones I was on. The downside was that there was a lot more emphasis on self-publishing than indie publishers so I had less to say on the topic. But some great discussions were had and I learned a lot.
The Return of the Radio Shows: I requested to be on this believing that I’d be closer to writing for Cobalt City Adventures Unlimited, but work on Kensei overshadowed that. So I felt like I was going to be completely at a loss for this. But the other panelist was the same panelist missing from the Crossing Genre panel. This could have been very awkward for me, but no one else showed up for the panel either. A big empty room with just my wife. After fifteen minutes we gave up. I could have been extra responsible and went to one of the volunteers and seen what we could have done. But I’d heard from others that there had been other panels that day with no one attending. Since this was the last thing we planned on doing, we just bailed. If there’d been some sort of last minute room change, I didn’t hear about it. If I’m actually the person who was absent from where I needed to be: Sorry?
Beyond these panels and the excellent people that showed up, I had some really excellent experiences with other attendees at the convention. I ran into the lovely and talented Danika Dinsmore a couple times and may get to review an advance copy of The Ruins of Noe (FAIRIES!!!).
Also, one panel led by Ted Butler turned into a cozy roundtable discussion with me, my wife, Melina Gunnett, and Anna Sheehan. All of us were authors in varying stages of writing YA books. The panel started out as “Morality in Youth-Based Fantasy,” but turned into a general discussion of what is appropriate to include in YA fantasy in terms of moral lessons, violence, language, etc. And then we got into general talks of the writing industry, agents, publishers and other career oriented talk. It was really wonderful and I’m happy to have met them.
Overall it was a good time, even if the small size of the con sometimes defeated the intentions of the panels. But I look forward to attending this convention again next year!