Ravencon 2017 Recap

I’m going to start this recap with something that happened after the convention ended: I got con crud.  I’m usually very good about avoiding that, but somehow it hit me this time.  Ugh.  If this blog is less coherent than normal, well, that’s why. But for now… back to the beginning.

THURSDAY

I left for the convention on Thursday.  It’s about a 3 hr drive from my home to Williamsburg (a little less, actually, if you drive non-stop), and I got to the hotel a little before 2pm.  I found a full parking lot, because the previous event (some sort of meeting for Greenway planners, I think?) hadn’t broken up, yet, and my room wasn’t open right away.  I was told to try again an hour later, so I ducked into the hotel bar to wait it out.

You may recall, if you read my post on last year’s Ravencon, that my biggest complaint was the dining.  The food wasn’t bad, but it was slow.  I made efforts to prepare for a repeat of that experience, actually buying a microwave and lugging it down to Williamsburg with me (complete with a half-dozen cans of soup) so I’d be sure to be able to eat something as the convention was going on.

But, until I had my room, I couldn’t pull out that microwave, and I was trying to kill time anyway, so I figured I might as well have lunch.  The bar was empty, save for the bartender.  I let her know I was there for Ravencon, and asked whether they would be opening the restaurant this time.  I was told that it would, with buffet dining and a special Ravencon menu for most of the weekend.  “We learned our lesson from the last time,” she told me.  As it turns out, she was right — I never wound up using that microwave during the convention, and the food was actually much better than I remembered from last year.

After lunch, my room was ready for me to check in.  I let my Facebook friends know I was there, then unpacked, and rested up a bit.  I tried to make contact with some family who lives in the area to see if we could meet up, but that proved impossible.  I also tried to get to my e-mail, but found that the hotel wi-fi servers and the webmail access for my usual e-mail server were incompatible.  This proved to be important (as I’ll discuss later), but I spent about an hour trying to get things to work unsuccessfully.  So, with nothing else to do, I decided to try and find the spot where Con Ops was being set up.

I’d received an e-mail saying Con Ops would be in “Room M.”  I checked the hotel map — there was no Room M.  I checked the hotel’s posted activities list, and saw there would be set-up in Room J… but that room was empty.  I tried a few other locations I thought it might be at, but couldn’t find any evidence of the con set-up.  I finally gave up and (my settling-in having taken several hours) decided to have an early dinner.  So I was back to the bar.

Dinner was fine, but uneventful… until I was on my way out the door, where I ran into another Ravencon guest (and fellow panelist), Jennifer R. Povey.  I mentioned that this would be my first convention as a professional guest, and we traded stories about travel and conventions past.  I then joined her to again try and find Con Ops.  Which we did find… but only after Con Ops had shut down for the night.  It was in Room 8.

And that was it (for the con-relevant part, anyway) for Thursday.

FRIDAY

I learned why there was so much confusion about the rooms early on:  The hotel’s convention rooms are nice and laid out okay, but the normal room number system was confusing.  The Ravencon staff, after the problems from last year (another thing I mentioned in last year’s Ravencon Recap), decided to re-label the hotel’s room numbers to make things less confusing.  Which is fine, but they didn’t have those new room designations up Thursday… so Con Ops was in Room M, but only after the rooms had been relabeled on Friday.  The new room numbers made a lot of sense, actually, but that didn’t help on Thursday.

Badge pick-up was supposed to start at 1pm.  I met Jennifer R. Povey again at Badge Pick-up about five minutes before then, and started waiting.  And it did open at one… but not for guests.  The “guest packets” hadn’t been put together, and so we couldn’t pick up our badges.  While frustrating (and somehow tiring; I was more worn out waiting for my badge to finally be made available than anything else that I did over the weekend), the time wasn’t a total waste; instead, I learned a few tips about being a panelist from someone who had been on a few panels, herself (the aforementioned Jennifer R. Povey).

It was about three hours later that I was finally able to pick up my badge.  The guest packet included our badge, a copy of the programming booklet (which is the same whether you’re a guest or an attendee), a few letters to welcome the guests, our “final” schedule, and a folding paper nameplate.  Following one of those tips, I’ve kept the nameplate for future conventions which might not be quite as well prepared.

Now armed with a badge, a schedule, and a nameplate, it was time for the convention to begin.  The first event was authors-only:  A meet-and-greet in the Green Room.  I had high expectations for this, but it started out a bit dull; there wasn’t as much meeting and greeting as I had expected (possibly because there wasn’t enough seating for everyone to eat while they met and greeted one another, or possibly because several of us just trying to get something to eat before our panels).  After having a few snacks, however, I noticed a couple of people that I thought (correctly) would be on my first panel sitting — Jeanne Adams and Nancy Northcott — and went to introduce myself.  I was scheduled to be moderator (again, my first panel as a professional and I’m moderating?  Ack!), so I took the opportunity to briefly go over my plan for that panel (as Ravencon’s moderator instructions recommended.  I will note that, in the five other panels I was on, the moderator only did this once).

The meet and greet was interrupted (for me, Jeanne, and Nancy) for that first panel of the evening:  Swords Not Required, a discussion about arming your fantasy characters with weapons other than swords.  The three of us were joined by Chuck Gannon, the Literary Guest of Honor, adding just a touch of star power to my first-ever panel.

Now, over the next few weeks (health and time permitting) I intend to write blog posts on each of the panels I worked at Ravencon, so I won’t be covering the contents of each panel today, but I AM really looking forward to covering this one.  As moderator, it was my job to manage time while keeping the panel on topic and direct questions (either my own or the audience’s) to the panelists.  I figured I would let the panelists introduce themselves, then go through four or five of my own questions, and try to preserve about ten minutes for audience questions.  I was keeping a very close eye on the time.  While the panelists had plenty of time to come up with answers to my questions, there was no time left for me.  I was willing to cut people off if time was going to be an issue, but I wasn’t going to cut people off just so I could speak.  So… I never got to give my own answers.  Well, that’s partly what next week’s planned blog post is for — I’ll be answering giving my own viewpoints on the questions I asked my fellow panelists.

I think the panel went well enough.  My fellow authors, as well as some of the people from the audience, all gave me kudos for handling the moderation duties well.  I… well, my own case of imposter syndrome has me thinking that most of that praise was just people being polite to the newbie, but I’m willing to accept that I didn’t mess things up too badly.

After that panel it was time for the opening ceremonies.  Now, this may have been my first ever convention as a pro, but obviously I’ve been to conventions as an attendee (and, many years ago, as a fanfic panelist) many times over the years, having attended a few dozen conventions all told (I stopped counting at twenty or so).  However many conventions I’ve been to, however, I’ve ALWAYS skipped the opening ceremonies; they’ve never held any interest for me.  But I was a guest, and they were expecting me to attend, so there I went, not knowing what to expect.

Ravencon has over a hundred guests most years, and they promote a lot of guest turnover from year to year.  I figured I might have to stand up and be seen, but with so many guests — many of whom were, like me, first-time guests — I was NOT expecting to have to say anything.  But no, there I was, being asked to introduce myself (alongside twenty or so other new Ravencon guests) to a crowd of people interested in the convention guests.  I drew a complete blank about what to say, only mentioning the basics (that I was a self-published author and would be doing several panels that weekend), and was very glad when it was over.  Of course I thought of a million things I COULD have said, far too late to say any of them.  Next time I’m a guest at a convention, I’ll have to remember to be prepared to speak at the opening ceremonies, even if it seems like it would be impossible for me to do so.

Off the proverbial hot seat and with opening ceremonies (thankfully) over, I rushed off to the restaurant for dinner.  I’d had some snacks at the meet-and-greet, but those were just to tide me over.  I only had two hours until my next panel, and remembering last year I was afraid I barely had enough time to eat.  As it turns out, I had plenty of time:  I got to the hotel restaurant, and was shown a nearly empty buffet with no lines and almost no wait time for the staff.  The food was excellent (I had both the fish and the chicken; neither were overcooked, neither were dry, and both were well-seasoned and flavorful; you can’t ask for more than that from a buffet) and I was done with much more time to spare than I thought possible.

So, I went to attend my first panel on the “fan” side of the table, the “Economics of Self-Publishing” panel.  Ravencon has had this panel for several years, now, and it was moderated (as it had been last year) by the inestimable Chris Kennedy.  Now, for a very long time, the draft schedule for the convention had me listed on this panel; it was only in the last few weeks before the convention started that I was dropped from it.  That was fine, as it wasn’t my favorite aspect on the topic of self-publishing to cover (I was scheduled for a different panel on self-publishing later in the convention, which I figured was more my speed), but I’d been mentally preparing for this panel for weeks.  Most of what was covered by the panelists were things I was already well acquainted with, and there were a few things I’d thought of that I never heard mentioned during the panel.  It kind of made me regret not pushing harder to be on this panel; I think I could have contributed.

And then it was time for my Mythology as the Basis for Speculative Fiction panel.  Again, I will discuss the contents of the panel in a later blog post, but here are a few off-topic comments on this panel:  This was my panel alongside Guest of Honor Mercedes Lackey.  That was a great experience, but it’s entirely possible that I caught the con crud from her:  She had a cold (well, I gather it was a little more serious than a mere cold), and was warning people that she would be our “patient zero” for the convention.  Even the moderator said that we should keep at least two seats between her and us while we were setting up.

Other than Mercedes Lackey, my fellow panelists included Jennifer R. Povey, Christopher L. Smith, and moderator Bishop O’Connell.  The difference in experience between the Guest of Honor and the rest of us panelists became stark when we started talking about our publication credits.  A few short stories and anthology credits for a couple of them, four books for the moderator, three books for myself (and an anthology story theoretically coming out at Balticon in May, and one more novel I nearly had ready before Ravencon.  I mentioned a simplified version of why I didn’t get that book out in time during my panels, but the full story of what’s going on with that is worth a blog post on its own).  Then Mercedes Lackey mentioned her book total:  128.  (Well, she pointed out, 129, but the 129th wasn’t yet available for sale)

At any rate, all of the panelists had something to contribute to the panel, and the audience seemed to enjoy themselves, so I’d call it a success.  And as for me, it was the end of my evening.

SATURDAY

I started the day by ordering a room service breakfast that actually arrived in time for me to eat it (another sign that the hotel learned some lessons from last year).  I needed it fast, because I had a panel first thing that day:  Using Tropes to Tell Stories.

The panel consisted of myself, Bishop O’Connell, and Jim Bernheimer.  We were short a panelist (someone must have cancelled at the very last second), and it started a bit slow — we all needed coffee or something, I think — but we rallied, and in the end it was a success.

I went back to my room after that and had that cup of coffee (hotel room coffee… which wasn’t as bad as what I’ve had from some hotels, but still wasn’t great), spending the next hour getting myself better prepared for my next panel:  Building Worlds for Fiction with Dave Joria, Rob Balder, Mark Wandrey, and myself.  It was an interesting panel, though I kind of wish I had been moderating this one for one reason:  Two of us panelists were novelists, two were in webcomics.  I was hoping to get more about the different perspectives on building a world when writing prose versus when you could use illustrations for a portion of your worldbuilding.  I don’t think that topic was touched on, much, during the panel.

I had a long break after that panel, and decided to go to the hotel restaurant for lunch.  I almost chose to use the buffet, as the dinner buffet from the night before had been so good, but I wasn’t all that enthused by the buffet menu and went into the bar, instead.  This may very well have been the most fortuitous decision I made during the entire convention.

The bar waitress was showing me to my seat when, from what was the largest table in the room, I heard someone call, “Hey, are you here by yourself?”  I wasn’t sure they were talking to me at first, but once I was sure I indicated I was.  “Well, then, get your butt over here!”  I was being invited to sit at his table.

The person calling me was Baen Books‘ consulting editor, Kelly Lockhart.  Also at the table were Baen Books science consultant (and proponent of scientific outreach) Dr. Tedd Roberts, and Baen authors Mike Massa, Kacey Ezell, and Christopher L. Smith.  (There were also a couple other people at the table who I have yet to identify).

There were discussions about a number of things — other Baen authors, other conventions, a few scientific anecdotes from Tedd Roberts, and far too many other things to discuss in this post.  There were interesting conversations going on all sides of the table, and it was hard to keep track of everything being said.  Needless to say, this was an unexpected and welcome event in and of itself.

But lunch eventually broke up, and it was back to the convention proper.  I’d signed up for a wine and cheese tasting at 2pm, largely because the wines involved were coming from Three Fox Vineyards (as my self-publishing company is called Fennec Fox Press, you might guess that I have a bit of an interest in foxes), so I went straight there.  Unfortunately, things were horribly disorganized at first — I was “carded” three times, by three different people (twice by the panel organizers, once by someone sent down from Con Ops just to ensure everyone had been carded), they didn’t have the cutting board they needed for the cheese selection, they had to get the hotel staff to find them a couple pitchers of water before they could start, and so forth.  With the tasting running long, I wound up having to leave in the middle to make it to my next panel.

That panel was Self-Publishing 2017, with fellow authors Thomas A. Mays, Toi Thomas, myself, and (replacing the two expected panelists I mentioned in my last post) Christine McDonnell along with moderator Jim McDonald.  Now, as I’ve said before, I’m not going to be discussing panel content in this write-up; that’s for follow-up posts over the next few weeks.  There’s not much to say about the content of this panel which wasn’t mentioned somewhere in my Self-Publishing Roundtable blog series from a couple years ago, anyway.  There was something I wasn’t able to discuss at this panel, however, which will be in that topic:

In preparation for the convention, I had contacted my local library system about resources they were making available to self-published authors.  My local library is very supportive of the local author scene, and I wanted to know if there was anything they particularly wanted discussed.  I got an e-mail with all of that information… on the 28th, when I was already at the convention and couldn’t read it.  So, in place of a “Self-Publishing 2017” blog post, I’ll be making a “Self-Publishing and the Local Library” blog that week.

After the Self-Publishing 2017 panel, I had a brief break.  After my lunch at the “Baen table,” I very nearly stopped by the Baen Books Traveling Roadshow (a regular panel at many conventions I go to).  That panel wasn’t supposed to actually start until 4:30pm, though, and I had a panel at 5; I would have had to leave shortly after they started.

My 5pm panel (my last as a panelist, this convention) was on the Mechanics of Magic in Fantasy & Science Fiction, coming full circle with fellow panelists from my first panel Nancy Northcott and Jeanne Adams.  Along with us was Joe Wetmore, one half of the Instant Replay Live Youtube channel, which does lets-plays and game reviews (an odd panel for such a guest, but it worked out well for us).

Now, I had planned on attending a bunch of other panels after that, but I was exhausted.  I went back to my hotel room, rested up a bit, had dinner, rested up some more, went to sleep… and overslept the next morning.

SUNDAY

Well, “overslept” may not technically be right (I didn’t set an alarm, or have any particular place I had to be that morning, so I didn’t miss anything; had I been scheduled for a panel, I would have had alarms set and room wake-up calls going before I went to bed the night before), but I woke up so late that I couldn’t go to any of the morning panels.  After a much less eventful lunch than Saturday (skipping breakfast because I woke up so late), I went to a final convention panel as an attendee:  The Mad Scientist’s Revenge!

This panel consisted of Carolyn O’Neal, Samantha Bryant, Tedd Roberts, and his grad student going by the psuedonym of EvilPenguin.  Two writers, two mad scientists.

I felt a bit sorry for the writers.  The moderator (who was one of the writers) didn’t seem to recognize that this wasn’t going to be a different kind of panel.  She was trying to ask questions as if this was a standard writer’s panel, but based on the write-up (“Presenting preposterous theories for world domination and evil conspiracies”) it was intended to be more of a silly, story-telling humor panel to close out the convention with rather than “education for creatives” like so many of the other panels were.  Tedd Roberts and EvilPenguin, however, had such strong personalities and such interesting anecdotes that the panel worked more as I believe it was intended than it otherwise might have.  The other writer, caught between the two big-personality scientists and the moderator who didn’t understand what kind of panel she was on, barely got a word in edge-wise.  Still, from the audience’s perspective, it was fun and entertaining…

And then the convention was over.  Well, for most of the attendees, anyway.  There was one more event:  The Dead Dog Dinner.  Basically, as you might guess from the name, it’s a dinner, at which guests and staff who were staying at the hotel for the night could get together and chat about the convention.

I wound up sitting at a table with the programming director, the assistant to the con chair, and several other staff members; there were other panelists at the dinner, but somehow all of them wound up at different tables.  Still, it was nice to be able to have a conversation breaking down some of the things that happened during the convention with the staff.  (And I got some “gossip” about the state of the convention which I won’t discuss here, because I’m not sure how much of that was in confidence).

And then I was done for the day.  I spent the rest of the day packing and resting up, and then returned home on Monday.

And by Tuesday I knew for sure I had come down with con crud.  *sigh*

Health permitting, next week I’ll start my next blog series on Ravencon Panels (I DID do).  Until then…