Ravencon Con-Report

I’m back from Ravencon, rested, and finally ready to type up my experience attending.  A wrap-up of events, if you will.

I will start by listing panels that I wanted to attend, but for one reason or another (usually a conflicting panel, but not always) couldn’t:

  • Genre Blending: The New Weird
  • The Portrayal of Nuclear Power and Engineering in Fiction
  • Urban Fantasy: Using Real-World Settings and People in Your Fiction
  • Critiquing: The Right Way
  • Indie Publishing: Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing
  • Just Line the Last Time, Only Different (a panel on sequels)
  • The Science Behind Science Fiction
  • Alien Worlds and Races
  • After the First Draft:  The Next Step for the Aspiring Writer
  • Finding the Right Publisher
  • Elementary, My Dear Watson
  • The How and Why of Short Stories
  • The Art of the Book: The How, When, and Why of Development
  • Collaborative Writing
  • How to (Not) Ruin Your Writing Career
  • Why Editing Matters
  • Allen L. Wold’s Writers’ Workshop
  • Tips for Aspiring Writers
  • You Did (Not) Attend this Panel in an Alternate Universe
  • It’s Only a Flesh Wound!  Realistic Injuries in SF and Fantasy
  • Why Science Fiction Matters
  • The Business End
  • Baen Traveling Road Show
  • Shooting a Movie Short on a Shoestring
  • Authors vs. Artists Pictionary
  • Successful Indie Publishing: Trick and Traps
  • Writing Critical Hits
  • Plotting and Pacing a Short Story
  • Webcomics/Manga: How to Write a Story
  • Ask A Scientist (this one really hurt to miss)
  • The Eye of Argon (this makes the third time I intended to go to this panel and missed it)
  • Laser Tag
  • Indie Publishing: Marketing Your Work
  • No Right Way to Write: Techniques for New Writers
  • Making Magic Work
  • Things Fantasy Writers and Movie Directors Get Wrong About Horses
  • Webcomics/Manga: How to Find an Artist
  • Let’s Build a Space Habitat
  • Pantsing vs. Plotting
  • If Mary Sue if So Awesome, Why Does Everybody Hate Her
  • Stupid Superhero Powers

There were enough programs in on that list to equal the number of panels I normally find interesting at two (and then some) average conventions.  So, Ravencon is pretty densely packed with programming.

Now, about the panels I actually did manage to attend…


I made it to the hotel in time for a belated lunch… which, unfortunately, I couldn’t have in the restaurant itself.  Apparently, the hotel decided that their restaurant should be closed between 1:30pm and 5pm no matter what.  They sent me to a back room (technically a dance club, but there was no dancing at the time) where lunch was slow serviced (they were short-staffed that afternoon, according to the only person working there) but the food was pretty decent.  As was the conversation —  had a chance to chat with a couple other early-arrivers.  I don’t think I ever got their names, and nothing all that memorable was said, but it was nice to start the convention with good company.

After lunch and a quick rest, however, the convention itself began.  The first panel I attended was called “Playing God: Building Your Own World,” with Kate Paulk, Kevin Kelleher, Lawrence Ellsworth, and Mike McPhail.  For a Friday 4pm panel, it was VERY well attended, and quite informative.  I was able to ask a question (which was, effectively, “When mixing together mythologies that each require significant worldbuilding background, how do you put them together without your book becoming bloated?”  The consensus answer was to focus on one mythology per book.  As I was referring primarily to the struggle I had with The Kitsune Stratagem, which features alliances between a family of (Japanese mythology, though I also drew slightly from Korean and Chinese variants) Kitsune and (Shetland Island folktale-based) wulvers, a battle between the aforementioned Kitsune family and (aborigonal Australian folktale-based) Bunyips, and included a quest to find a particular type of (Scandinavian mythology-based) Väki Haltija, I wasn’t able to do that.

Then I went to the Allen Wold Plotting Workshop (distinct from the Writing Workshop, which — as mentioned above — I had to skip).  This is a fun thing to do at most conventions he attends, and I’ve found it is constantly evolving and improving.  At this particular plotting workshop, I came up with the plot for a future book (or maybe just a novella; we’ll see) around the inspiration line of “It all began when he brought a trebuchet to a sword fight.”

Following that was a workshop entitled “Living the Dream: Planning a Sustainable Creative Career,” presented by Rob Balder of Erfworld fame.  Now, when it came to my own career planning, it was largely recap… but he went through how to come up with these plans from different business models.  While my own would be a self-publishing model, he described a so-called “Free Content Model” of artistic-oriented business which brought to mine my mother’s own quilting business.  What notes I took and the worksheets that were handed out I am turning over to her, because I think they could help her with her own business plan.

That turned out to be my last panel of the day (dinner break leading into a longer-than-planned break leading to me just missing the rest of the panels I wanted to go to).  Unfortunately, an “early night” didn’t wind up helping me rest up, as I thought it would — I learned that the hotel’s beds were soft.  Very soft.  Too soft for my comfort; I tossed and turned all night.  Worse, I had set up a morning room-service breakfast so that I would be SURE that I had time for breakfast before the first Saturday panel I wanted to attend at 9am.

That breakfast never showed up.  The hotel staff said I filled out the time on the card wrong (I am suspicious of this, as I was referencing the filled-out card when setting up my wake-up call in the morning, but I won’t argue).  So, on top of almost no sleep, I also had no breakfast.

I rushed into the Science of Cryptozoology panel; given that I write with so many creatures which might be considered cryptids, this panel (presented by L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright, Randy Richards, and Bob Blaskiewicz) should have been very interesting, but I was distracted (I still hadn’t straightened out that issue with room service) and wound up leaving almost twenty minutes early.

Still without breakfast but with things now straightened out, I went to the 10am panel on Writing Dialog.  This was presented by Kate Paulk, Lawrence M. Schoen (accompanied by “Plush Guest of Honor Barry Mantelo“), Lou Antonelli, and Noah McBrayer Jones.  I was most intrigued by the discussion of dialects and how to depict them, and having someone whose background was in acting and screenwriting (Noah McBrayer Jones) in addition to the novelists (two of whom had, or were raised with, very regionally distinctive accents) gave an interesting perspective on the subject.  I have to admit that my attention was wandering at the start of this panel, but by the end I was finally alert enough to follow along, and eventually found myself laughing as the panel became a series of amusing anecdotes on the differences between regional dialects.

I had originally planned for a late lunch, but after missing breakfast I skipped the next hour to attend part of the Tangent Artists room party and nibbled on the snacks they had left out to get me through until then.  There I met someone who I had sat next to during the Hobbit movie trilogy back at the Alamo Drafthouse back in December.  We had an interesting conversation about Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trivia during that marathon (before, during the intermissions, and after), but unfortunately I never got her name.  Despite continued interesting conversation, I STILL never got her name before I had to leave.  Ah, well.

I rushed off (a touch late) to head to a panel entitled “Indie Publishing: The Economics of Self-Publishing.”  It was presented by Chris Kennedy, Christopher Nuttall, Robert Sommers, and Stuart Jaffe.  I probably should have stayed at the Tangent Artists party, or have gone to a different panel, or maybe should have just gone to lunch.  This panel had a lot of good information, but unfortunately all of it was too basic for someone at my current level.  I continue to believe there needs to be some sort of panel for self-publishers that are at an intermediate stage of their career — they’ve successfully released a book or three and know the basics of getting good covers and finding an editor, but they don’t yet have enough books to enact the strategies (“make the first book in a series free and it’ll help sales for the entire series”, for example) that veteran self-publishers with dozens of titles to their name use to attain success.

Following this panel, I went to a workshop entitled “Ignite Your Worldbuilding,” presented by J.T. Glover.  While advertised as a workshop on worldbuilding, it felt more like a discussion of research (and the application of research).  They can be related fields, but they aren’t quite the same.  Ah, well — I suppose that’s what I should have expected from a research librarian.  (Note: My late father was also a research and acquisitions librarian for most of his career.  This is not said to disparage research librarians.  That said, much of his advice was stuff I learned at my father’s knee).

After that workshop, I returned to my hotel room.  I intended to have lunch while watching the Washington Capitals’ playoff game (we lost that game, but later won the series).  Instead, I turned on the game and let my lack of sleep from the previous night catch up to me, falling asleep.  I woke up just in time to see us lose.  *sigh*  I also decided it was high time for me to eat something more than the few snacks I grabbed at the Tangent Artists party, and didn’t get back to the convention proper until 8pm.

The next panel I attended was, um, a mistake.  It isn’t that I didn’t like the panel (I actually was quite interested in the subject matter), I just mixed up which room I was going to; instead of the “Writing Critical Hits” panel in Cove, I wound up at the “Star Wars: Not the Tropes You’re Looking For” in York.  This panel was presented by Darin Kennedy, Genesis Moss, and John C. Wright (there was supposed to be a fourth panelist, but IIRC he never showed), and it was quite interesting… but it wasn’t what I wanted to go to.  By the time I figured out I was at the wrong panel, I decided I might as well stay and enjoy it.

I did promptly rush to my next panel when it was over, which was in the same room of the panel I had INTENDED to go to the first time.  This panel, “Schmoozing 101,” was moderated by Kevin Kelleher and included Ian Randal Strock, KT Pinto, and R.S. Belcher.  Here, I learned the importance of getting booze for other writers.  (Okay, okay — there was actually quite a bit mentioned about socializing and interacting with writers and editors at conventions and the like… but the first piece of advice, and once that was repeated at least twice, was “buy them booze.  Writers\Editors\G.R.R. Martin\etc. never turn down a free drink.”)

After the panel on drinking — I mean Schmoozing — I went to one with the intriguing title of “The Villains Journey,” with a panel of D. Alexander Ward, Emily Lavin Leverett, Jean Marie Ward, and Kate Paulk.  I was sort of expecting a discussion of John Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, and comparing and contrasting it with various well-known villains’ portrayals in books and movies, but that wasn’t what I got.  Instead, it was a more general discussion of how much backstory a villain needs to be a really good villain.

That was the end of my Saturday.  I had planned to attend more panels, but despite my nap in the middle of the day I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stay awake through any more.  I returned to my room, and actually managed to get one good night’s sleep despite the overly-soft hotel beds.  (This was the ONLY night I slept well, mind you; I stayed a day later so that I would be well rested for the return trip, but I wound up tossing and turning most of that night as well).

I slept so well Saturday night that I was late for Sunday morning’s panels.  Between that and not wanting to miss breakfast that day (or rather, “brunch.”  The hotel restaurant switches its normal schedule so that it only has a Sunday Brunch buffet, and then it closes; after that, you can only get room service), I didn’t get to the panels until noon, where I attended a panel called “Visibility 101.”  This panel, with D. Alexander Ward, Gail Z. Martin, Meryl Yourish, and Michael A. Ventrella, was on the all-important authors’ skill of marketing (you know it’s important because there were three panels on the exact same subject, just all with different names).   There was a discussion of whether writers should present their political views (I’m in the camp of the possibly apocryphal Michael Jordan quote, “Republicans Buy Shoes Too“, but I do recognize that many authors have built a following through their politics), suggestions for ways to build interest in the author through blogging and facebook (I need to increase my blog output and find ways to cross-promote with other authors), and a little bit about advertising on Facebook (it has mixed success, at best, though one of the panelists was quite enthusiastic about it).

And then my final panel for the convention, “The Best Critique Group for You.”  Everyone on the panel, and a few people in the audience (note: There were five panelists and six attendees.  The panel got increasingly less formal as it went on), were on previous panels I’d attended (Darin Kennedy, J.T. Glover, Lawrence M. Schoen, Meryl Yourish, and Robert Sommers were the presenters; I recognized and briefly talked with Jean Marie Ward in the audience).  This was mostly a bunch of “bad critique group incident” anecdotes, which were quite amusing, and a few suggestions for things to look for to find a good such group.  (I am familiar with two local critique groups\writers circles.  I THINK one of them would be a good one — I know who runs it and he’s a good guy — but it meets at a time I can’t possibly attend.  The other one… well, let’s just say that I could have contributed to the silly critique group anecdotes if I’d been asked)

The convention trickled to a close after that.  I walked through the dealers room looking for last-minute deals (I didn’t buy anything; probably a good thing, as I’d spent far too much on the convention already) and looked through the lounge to see if anyone interesting was lingering behind (sadly, by the time I got around to it the lounge was empty).

Overall, I had a few problems, but it was a great convention.  Next convention for me:  CapitalCon DC.