Two letters to the convention community

Dear Convention organizers and volunteers,

You are the beating heart and wise soul of the science fiction convention circuit. Your involvement, planning, enthusiasm, and just plain super-hero energy are what makes the con world go ’round. I can’t even run my own life — I don’t think I could run a con. And you guys do it every year. You have to deal with hotels that forget to tell you they have a 110-decibel Christian rock praise service at the same time you are running panels, and you have to organize guests, fans, meeting rooms, con suites, and logistics that would make any mortal a gibbering idiot.

I salute you.

But. And you knew there would be a but. Because I’m a butt. But I digress.

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind for programming.

Not every panel idea is a good idea. If the programming committee can’t think of three good areas of discussion for a panel topic, it’s probably not a good panel topic.  Don’t necessarily rely on the guests or the moderator to salvage a vague panel thesis. If there’s no clear idea of what the panel is about, it’s probably not going to be an interesting panel. Floundering Panelists may be a good name for a band, but it makes for a lousy panel.

Know your guests. We all fill out the questionnaires, but they don’t go that in depth. However, at a regional convention, we all know the usual suspects. So for example in Texas, for outrageous enthusiasm, you have the Four Redheads of the Apocalypse. For the curmudgeonly contrarian, there’s A. Lee Martinez. For Strong Opinions on Feminism, there’s Stina Leicht. Etc. Use your superpowers for good, and put the opinionated people on the opinionated panels. If you are running a con in Texas, you know who is likely to be there, and what their strengths are. Play to those strengths and even, dare I say it, reach out to these people outside of the questionnaire.

And that brings me to:

Don’t play it safe. Safe panel topics are boring. Con panels should be thought provoking and even provocative. They should be loud, with lots of debate. Maybe even raucous. After all, we — panelists, guests, fans — go to cons to have these conversations. We want to get into meaty discussions.

There’s a lot of competition now from media cons. I happen to believe cross-pollination is a great thing, but it means that traditional cons have to bring their A game. ConDFW was faced with a difficult situation this year as Dallas ComiCon was programmed against it. One way to get fans excited about traditional conventions is to have stellar programming. We have, what, a 75-year history or more of science fiction conventions? Let’s bring back the excitement for fans.

Dear Authors, Editors, Artists, and other Panelists,

Come on, guys. Being a pro means working a bit harder on panels. Yes, many of us have done this for a while, and it’s hard to gin up excitement about some panel ideas. But being a creator isn’t a right, it’s a privilege, and going to cons is how we give back to the community. So please, a little more enthusiasm. Engage with the audience. Be a performer. Yes, we are all a bunch of introverts, yeah yeah. In your heart of hearts, though, you know you want to steal the show.

Have you been tapped to moderate? Well, come up with questions about the panel topic and try to make them provocative and challenging. Don’t know some of the people on the panel? Look them up. Tailor questions. Make it interesting for everyone.

Panelists, remember the first part of this letter? There’s excitement, and then there’s hogging the airtime. Don’t be that panelist. Let everyone have a turn in the spotlight. We are all guilty of this one, but it’s just basic courtesy.

Have you ever been assigned to a panel that isn’t your area or you find dull as dirt? Tell the programming committee. Don’t suffer through a panel you aren’t interested in, because you sure won’t be an interesting panelist.

We’re all in this together. The pressure from media cons and the aging of fandom means that cons are threatened as never before. We need to bring in the anime fans, the cosplayers, and the media fans and show them that they can have as much fun here — and for far less money — than at a big ComiCon or Comicpalooza. For most of us, we were fans first. Let’s remember the excitement of our first cons and try to recreate that. It’s not always easy, and I will be the first to admit I didn’t exactly bring my game this weekend. But let’s try to get our mojo back, hmm?

Because the alternative is not that much fun — boring conventions with a dwindling fan base.


My ConDFW Schedule

I will be arriving late to ConDFW on Friday night and have a pretty full schedule beginning on Saturday. I’m looking forward to it — see you there!

Saturday, 12pm: This Book Should Be A Movie!
Panelists: Patrice Sarath (M), Sabine Starr, Chris Donahue, Angeline Hawkes, Paul Black.
Ever read a book and the universe just fades from around you? Ever read a book and wish you could watch it on IMAX with a bucket of popcorn? We put a bunch of authors behind a table and get them discussing just why their book would make a great series or movie. This could get ugly, so bring popcorn.

Saturday, 3pm: Q&A with Rachel Manija Brown
Panelists: Patrice Sarath (M), Rachel Manija Brown
We put our Guest of Honor to the question!

Saturday, 6pm: Rie Sheridan Rose, Patrice Sarath

Saturday, 9pm: Pornography vs Erotica – You Got Erotic Romance in My SF! [Adult]
Panelists: Melanie Fletcher (M), Rachel Manija Brown, Bradley H. Sinor, J. Kathleen Cheney, Patrice Sarath.
Our popular late night panel returns with a twist! With the explosion of erotic romance’s popularity, a lot of SF/fantasy writers are now taking a crack at the genre. Come hear these crossover writers discuss their experiences. Warning, this may be spicy, and is definitely adults only!

Sunday, 11am: No Excuses!
Panelists: Patrice Sarath (M), Paul Black, Aaron de Orive, Katherine Sanger, Sue Sinor
Here’s your chance to get out of writer’s block. Tell the panelists your reasons and excuses for NOT writing, and we’ll tell you how to ignore them and get unblocked! Be prepared to participate.

Sunday, 1pm: Escape from the Slush Pile
Panelists: Chris Donahue (M), Tex Thompson, Patrice Sarath, Michelle Muenzler, Julia S. Mandala,Katherine Turski
The perennial panel returns as we tantalize people with mistakes and errors you should try to avoid. Beware: someday you may end up here if you do not learn from your mistakes. Come and learn from our editors what to avoid so you don’t end up on – the slush pile.

ConDFW recap

The mystery panel. From left, me, Lilian, Stephen, Tracy

Excellent time at ConDFW this year. As always, a well-run operation. I had a lot of fun, the panels were informative, con-goers in excellent form (smart, funny, engaging, intelligent, handsome, etc.). Tim Powers and Brandon Sanderson brought the star wattage, along with Brad Foster and Jack McDevitt. How’s that for star power?

Arrived on Friday afternoon, checked in, and got ready for my panels. First up, the movie panel, which was a bogus topic, so the panelists decided to talk about trends in fantasy and science fiction in general. Hanging out and trading opinions with Brandon Sanderson, yay!

Martha Wells and her latest novel, The Cloud Roads

I went to the short story panel to meet up with Michelle Muenzler, and although Michelle and the other panelists are absolutely correct, don’t simsub your short stories, I did pipe up from the audience to say, if you want to live on the edge, go ahead and simsub, if one market is notorious for not responding in a timely fashion. I also related the anecdote of such a market, which shall go nameless, Interzone, which sent me a rejection for a story a year after it already appeared in another magazine. Look, editors — if Gordon Van Gelder can do it, so can you. Stop holding our stories hostage, and everyone will be happier.

Michelle still spoke to me, though, and a few of us went out to dinner at a great Taiwanese restaurant on her recommendation. Stina Leicht and William Ledbetter, wonderful company all con long.

I was on the Talking During Movies MSTK mashup and it was … it could have been fun. But listen, one guy hogged the mike, and his bon mots were pretty lame. Dude, when the only thing you think is funny is that the actress is wearing a leather bikini and all you can talk about is her tits, it’s not funny. There were a lot of things that were funny in the movie. Mark Finn had plenty of great quips. You sir, on the other hand, were drunk, sexist, and not funny. So I bagged out of there, and went to the bar.

Saturday morning was the mystery panel with me, Lilian Stewart Carl, Stephen Patrick, and Tracy Morris. We rocked. I do love mysteries and we talked about our favorites, what makes a good one, and why we like them.

I almost won the spelling bee. Went down on homunculus, dammit. I was one of the cohort who came in second and took home the Tasha Yar action figure. So here’s the difference between me, say, and a true blue fan. I was thinking, hey, I can take her out of the package and bring her to work where she can join my Qui Gon Jinn action figure, my horse figures, and my little guy from the Asterix comics. Then I remembered that my husband wouldn’t let me open the package. So she’s on the bookshelf in the living room, still in the packaging. Stay mint, Tasha. Stay mint.

The creating languages panel was full of smart! Funny! Wonderful! people! In the audience and on the panel. Robert Stikmanz, who has created a language, Jack McDevitt who at first wasn’t sure why he was on the panel but hey! His latest book, Echo, is out and it’s a perfect example of why. And Taylor Anderson, author of The Destroyermen series was also on the panel. I love those books. They are so much fun. And as he pointed out, language is also a function of physiology, and that segued into body language, and how understanding the unspoken language is as important as what is spoken.

I shared a reading time with A. Lee Martinez, which was hilarious, because Alex was cracking his own self up with the excerpt from his novel Monster, so he had all of us laughing. Then I read from GWIII and signed a few books and talked with fans, and heard someone say that the excerpt made them excited for the book, and you know what, that made my day.

Other readings were Stina Leicht from her new book Of Blood and Honey, Martha Wells from her new book The Cloud Roads, Paul Black from a kickass new novel that I think was untitled (the chapter title was Bitchslapped), and Michelle Muenzler from a dark dark fairy story.

Michelle Muenzler, reading from a dark fairy story.
Moonbase vs. Mars -- to infinity and beyond will require very smart people to get us there

I finished up with attending the Moonbase vs Mars Colony panel, and was reminded once again why I love science fiction. Smart people talking about exploring space in very intelligent, exciting and interesting ways. There are people dedicated to establishing humanity on other worlds. These are solvable problems. Hugely difficult, but solvable. The optimism and intellectual curiosity of space enthusiasts is unparalleled. There’s a lot of crap going on in the world. And the message is, science can lead us to great things, science and the spirit of exploration and adventure.

We gotta solve a few things first, but you know, start somewhere.

On Saturday night I fell in with a group of new friends and old, and before you knew it, we had melded into a comfortable group. It seemed as if we all knew one another for a long time. It was a wonderful experience, all too rare, to have that kind of connection with other people. So thanks everyone, from organizers to attendees to panelists, for a wonderful weekend.

Yes, even you, Talking during Movies dude. I’m over it already.