Potlatch 2012 After Action Report

This year I went to my first Potlatch, which is a very small SF convention that has moved up and down the Pacific coastline for twenty-one years. I gather it has some degree of unofficial connection to Clarion West, but I have no evidence of this beyond proceeds from the auction going to support a Clarion West attendee. I’d heard about this for a while and, as I’ve gotten to know more local writers, have considered attending. So I finally broke down and went this year. It was February 24-26 at the Best Western Executive Inn, which is right next to the Seattle Center. Lacking a coffee shop, it earned my disdain. But it was near some neat little restaurants in that fringe area north of downtown and east of Belltown, including the Five Point Cafe.

At one point before the con, they emailed people to see who wanted to be on panels. As part of my half-assed attempts to build my marketing “platform,” I tossed my hat in the ring. I made the note that I was a novice writer, but would like to help out. So this recap will do just a broad overview of the convention and then cover the panels I sat on.

So, to say that this convention is small does not really do it justice. Foolscap and Rustycon are both very small, but they have enough going on for more than one track of panels. This convention had a single track of panels. If you didn’t want to attend the panel, you could either visit the half dozen vendors in the dealer room or hang out in the hospitality suite. Since I had no money or room for more books, I mostly avoided the dealer room. The hospitality suite had a pretty awesome spread and even had beer and wine available for those over twenty-one. On Saturday night, the people who run Foolscap hosted the hospitality suite and brought in hand made chocolates, which were entirely awesome. There was apparently a writing workshop on Friday night, which I utterly failed to realize until the last minute.

Saturday night, news was released that Mark Bourne had passed away that day. I did not know him, but he was apparently tied very closely to the regular members of Potlatch. From my perspective, it was a quiet but noticeable ripple through the convention. It was never explicitly said, but I got the impression that some of the people that did not show up for panels missed them because of Mr. Bourne’s passing. My well-wishes go out to those who mourn his passing.

Instead of a guest of honor, each year the convention picks a “Book of Honor.” Half of the panels are built around that book. In past years they have had books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, and even Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. I’m very sad I missed those books. This year it was A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. I’d barely registered that there was a book of honor, had never read it before and didn’t think about trying to read it until a friend guilted me into it.

As it was, I barely got a third of the book read before the convention hit. I was pretty luke warm towards it, not having much of a love for Cold War era post nuclear apocalypse fiction. This book was probably cutting edge at the time, but it had fifty years of books and film to compete with in my brain. More than anything I flashed back to Deus Irae by Roger Zelazny and Philip K. Dick, which I enjoyed more. However, hearing spoilers as they deconstructed the book on one panel left me interested in finishing it. Some strange and amazing stuff apparently takes place over the rest of the book.

Going with the themes of the book, the panels had themes like “Walter Miller reading,” “Collapse fiction,” “Post-apocalyptic survival skills.” In light of this, I’m extra sad I missed Lord of Light in 2010. I mostly focused on writer oriented panels and entered panic mode as soon as I saw who my fellow panelists were.

“Blocking writer’s block”

This panel was moderated by Jack Skillingstead, who filled in for the missing moderator, and featered me, Eileen Gunn and Vylar Kaftan. This first panel I was still in a state of high panic and felt like I had little to contribute. It was also hard to follow the stories from Eileen about her old friend Bill Gibson calling her up to tell her the secret of writing a couple of times. (I think one of the secrets was that writing was about getting over the revulsion you have for your own writing.) She also had a great story about a friend who threatened ominous things if she didn’t produce 10,000 words a day when she first started writing.

“E-publishing panel”

I’d signed up for this because my writing has appeared primarily in electronic magazines and I’m in the process of starting up my own e-zine. And then I crapped myself a little. Jack William Bell moderated the panel, which featured writer and publisher Tod McCoy, David D. Levine, and VONDA FREAKING MCINTYRE. Yeah, I was a little intimidated by her since she’s been publishing fiction since BEFORE I WAS BORN. And she was one of the first authors I’d ever read.

Overall, I really had little to contribute. Most people wanted to talk about ebooks, self-publishing and the latest hornet nests kicked over by Amazon. I tried to insert things when I had relevant things to say, but I had few relevant things to say. And it attracted most of the convention. I think until I start publishing ebooks I need to just avoid this panels lest I look like a bigger dork than I am.

“Short story, novella, or novel?”

This was a harder topic to fill and people were a little faded from the weekend. It was moderated by one of my local writing heroes, Keffy R.M. Kehrli. It also included Jack Skillingstead and Amy Thomson. I think between having been on a couple panels at this point and having a much easier topic than e-publishing left me the most comfortable on this. We were worried we wouldn’t fill an hour with this, but the time went by pretty quickly. And I got to mention my short story about a clock radio with existential angst.

Overall I had a good time and made some friends that I had met at some other writing events but hadn’t really connected with until now. There had been rumors milling around that there might not be a Potlatch 22 because no one wanted to organize it next year. But I know at least one brave soul who is trying to get things going. I salute him and know that I don’t dare because I’m already volunteering for too many things. =/ If it comes together, though, I will try and attend.

2 thoughts on “Potlatch 2012 After Action Report

  1. John R Worsley

    So, you can be guilted into reading books, eh? Noted…

    Good for you, being a panelist. Doing things we’re afraid of is a great way to grow. I’ve gotten to the strange point where I’m more outgoing, in a way, around strangers than I am around people I know.

    I like the Book of Honor idea. Next time Potlatch comes to Oregon, if it doesn’t drift into March like it did last year, I’ll go.

  2. Jeremy Zimmerman Post author

    I can be guilted into a lot of things, sometimes with no intentional effort from the people I feel guilt towards. I mean, I ran this Pooh game for 10 years…

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