Over the years as a fan of science fiction, fantasy and comics and a gamer, I’ve been to a few conventions. I’ve been to both small ones, like the Tuscon convention where I met Jim Butcher and Gini Koch. I’ve been to large gatherings, like Phoenix Comic Con where I’ve gotten to go to panels with Leonard Nimoy and Mark Shepherd. I’ve volunteered once for a small convention but outside that, most of the time the vast majority of my time has been attending or helping my husband at our larger conventions. (He consigns books for local authors and sells books at several events during the year). This time was my first real experience being part of a convention from the beginning. Not only that but I got to be part of a convention that is brand new. It was exhilarating, hard work and I wanted to share my experience.
When I initially volunteered as a member of WesternSFA, I completely thought it would be to do something small during the convention. Instead, Dee and Hal Astell asked me to help with Fan Tables. For people who aren’t familiar, these are tables for fan groups to promote their group and help with tickets and fundraising. While it was not a difficult job, it was important and it also provided me the opportunity to be at the committee meetings. While that seems simple enough, it taught me a great deal.
First, I learned that there are a lot of people involved in their local fan groups and a diverse group. I learned that none of them are paid and all of them work hard, not only to put on a fun convention but to help promote literacy, the arts and to raise money for charity. I learned it takes a lot of communication but if you’re willing to ask questions, not only will you do your job better but you will learn from those who are more experienced. I also learned NOTHING goes as planned. But I also learned that those with experience will figure it out and get it done. One of the little behind the scenes was that the space we had for the Fan Tables was different than I expected. Between the hotel liaison, Stephanie Bannon, our co-chair Mark Boniece and I, we were able to get everyone a spot. I was proud to have helped even a little bit before the event and even more so with helping our fan groups with their space. What amazed me was how wonderful our fan groups were and how happy they were with our work! Here is one of the fan displays, Heroes United with their Throne of Swords!
Experiencing the convention from behind the scenes also gave me the chance to meet most of our guests and interact with them in a more one on one manner than I would normally. Most of the authors I knew from other conventions but I certainly didn’t know all of them, least of all our Guest of Honor Harry Turtledove. I was amazed with how personable he was, how charming and how willing he was to talk with anyone who approached him. I also loved meeting his lovely wife, Laura Frankos and observing that their forty years of marriage have made them best friends who practically finish each other’s sentences. I loved that she was as much of a geek as he was. One thing I learned was that she is a librarian. I adore that as a writer, librarians are amazing. Having also been a teacher at one point, I also appreciated her because I know how hard school librarians work to promote literacy for their students. She is also a mystery writer. See what you learn when you chat up the spouses!
I was also given the opportunity to attend a few panels and a concert. Let me start with the concert. I love music. I used to perform in college and I love Filk when it is done well. Cheshire Moon is filk not sublimely well. Lizzie Crow is a phenomenal singer with an amazing vocal range. She slips from soprano to alto with ease and on top of that, she plays the fiddle like a woman possessed, possessed with skill I have seen in few others. Her partner in crime, Eric Coleman, is equally talented, playing multiple guitars, none of which I can name but all of them beautiful. Their sound is a mix of rock and folk, with songs twisting Disney tropes to lovely lyrical dark pieces. I know they converted one Filk disbeliever during the convention and they were a highlight of the event for me. I can’t wait to listen to all of their music!
So many panels, so little time. Since there were a lot of panels, I want to focus on one in particular, Magic and Mayhem-Trickster Stories. The authors on the panel were our local guest of honor, Beth Cato, author Jamie Wyman Ready who has stories with trickster gods, Jenn Czep writer of pirates and trolls, and Ashley R. Carlson writer of steampunk fantasy. The group was fantastic, snarky and hilarious, especially with moderator Edward Pulley directing questions. As they dubbed themselves, Beth and Ashley were lawful good cleric and paladins while Jamie and Jenn were the tricksters and rogues of the group. The best part was how easily they delved into the topic, shared what tricksters are and provided insight into what makes these type of characters tick. I loved it because I love this type of character from Coyote to Puck to Loki. All of them fascinate me but I loved the humor and knowledge each author brought. Even better was Ashley’s expression when Edward said the word writing and it was her turn to speak…..There was teasing but also a sense of community between all four. I didn’t want to leave the room.
From beginning to end, this was one of the best conventions I’ve ever attended. The panels were well thought out. The workshop that I went to, on how to make steampunk hair clips, was well attended. I came away with a beautiful clip at half the price I’d pay at a store and with way more love.
I loved dinners out with my friends, Ben and Keith from TG Geeks as well as the convention committee members on Monday. I got to sing in the Filk room which makes me want to join in at more events. I helped with registration and learned so much from Craig Dyer on how to keep it all organized. I listened to experienced authors, like Marsheila Rockwell, Jeff Mariotte and Tom Leveen share their wealth of knowledge.
I laughed along with friends and froze in the dealer’s room with the other vendors. (Next year will be much warmer.) I got to experience ribbon wars, and collect ribbons for various activities and groups. Whoever collects the most, wins. I think it might have been Dee Astell’s granddaughter Ivy this convention!
I also have to say, for someone not at the convention, Gini Koch was one of the most mentioned authors and I’m pretty sure quite a few of us are plotting how to get her to join us. Most of all, we raised over 2,000 for Y! Achievers and the convention was a total success full of hard working volunteers and our participants are already planning for next year. I can’t wait and am looking forward to volunteering again! Also a quick shout out, Edward Pulley and his partner Joseph Gaxiola, head of publicity, were two of the hardest working volunteers, making our guests happy and keeping the author panels and spotlights running smoothly. This convention could not have happened without all of our volunteers but they were especially great.
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