Marscon 2018

Just as much of a recap as I can manage after an exhausting weekend at Marscon:

This is the typical post-convention blog recap which is really just an excuse to plug the names of the people who I worked alongside or whose panels I attended.  A warning:  I’m writing this in a stage of near delirium-inducing exhaustion, and sometimes I have to refer to the program guide to keep straight who was on which panel.  If you are one of the panelists I worked with and you notice a name mentioned on the panel who shouldn’t be there (or a name there that shouldn’t be there), let me know and I’ll make corrections.

Friday:

While the trip down (on Thursday) was uneventful, Friday started out a little weird in the food department.  I usually make it a point to make my first meal at a new hotel a room service meal, just to settle in.  Problem:  I couldn’t get through to room service from my hotel room phone.  After several tries, I gave up and went down to their breakfast buffet.  Learning that my guest badge wouldn’t be available until noon, and remembering how that went at Ravencon (as this was only my second convention as a panelist, I had no idea if this was standard practice or not, but the badges weren’t available until after some early panels started running at Ravencon), I waited until lunchtime to get my badge and welcome packet, and when it was actually there on time I went to lunch.

I ordered a panini sandwich and — in my biggest culinary mistake of the convention — a “starter” (which I interpreted as “appetizer”) portion of calamari.  Out comes this plate of calamari (which, admittedly, was pretty good) that was larger than any TWO plates of anything else on the menu.  I needed a to-go box… and discovered that the mini-fridges the hotel provides aren’t big enough for to-go boxes.  (I still was able to put it away by repackaging it in a ziplock bag I happened to have, but still a bit frustrating).  Oh, and cold, left-over calamari is not mankind’s most appetizing meal, but at least I had dinner taken care of.

First, I attended (not as a panelist) the Fandom Generations panel. I’ll be honest, this panel — which, whatever the write-up said, basically turned into a discussion of “by what path did you become a con-goer” — was not the most interesting of topics for me, but I wanted to attend at least one panel before I started being on them, and this one had Toni Weisskopf (Editor, Publisher, and apparently even the Art Director of Baen Books… and co-author of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts, which I proudly own a signed copy of) on it. The panel seemed to have trouble sticking to the topic (or any topic, really), but it was still fun.

Next was my first panel as a panelist: Costuming in Fiction: Creating the Total Package. I had this panel alongside fellow author Pamela Kinney and Charlie Stayton, a developer of card and role-playing games who — as came out during the panel — has occasionally worked as a technical consultant for historically-set films.  I had an excuse to wear my Sherlock Holmes hat (and discovered it was too hot in the panel rooms to wear that heavy a hat for every panel), and used it in a discussion of how certain items of costuming are so iconic that the character is expected to wear it, even if (as was pointed out during the panel was true of the deerstalker) said item never appeared in the text of the book.

We talked a lot about why costumes matter in fiction, how to consider what the costume says about the character, as well, and probably several other costume-related things I’m forgetting at this time (I’m writing this while recovering from the con in my hotel room, dead tired and a little fuzzy-headed, so… don’t expect much from this blog). The panel went pretty well, I thought, but the sore spot for me was that I accidentally left all of my give-away swag back in my hotel room, and there were people who wanted to grab some from us panelists; I did have a small business-card sized thing for one book, but that was it. *sigh*

I skipped the Opening Ceremonies. Hard call, but especially in this cold and flu season (despite getting a flu shot a few weeks ago) I think it’s important not to skip meals when at public events like this… even if that meal was cold, leftover calamari.  It also gave me a chance to grab the missing swag I forgot.

Not that I needed it for my next, uh, “Panel”: Fantasy Draft League, where I faced off against Baen editor Jim Minz. According to the panel description, this was supposed to be “Fantasy football, but hold the football. Our authors assemble an adventuring party from fantasy characters and duke it out to determine the one bracket to rule them all.” Both of us “panelists” had no idea what the rules for such a thing would be, figuring whoever came up with the panel idea would have had some.

Maybe they did, but whoever came up with this panel wasn’t on the panel, so we came up with rules of our own for this “Fantasy Fantasy league” style draft: We would pick teams that fit various fantasy staple trope characters (such as the Knight Paladin, the Big Dumb Barbarian, the Wizard, the “Face”, the Rogue, the Supply Officer, the Goalie (okay, we threw that one in here as a nod to the sports fantasy element; in this case, the person best capable of defending the home base while the main party is elsewhere), and the “Substitute” (who would be able to go out and sub for any role if someone was… unavailable)). Then, once we picked our teams, the audience would vote on which character “won” that position. When all of that was done, we have a vote on whose team would work together best.

In the end, it was a tie; my team of King Arthur (legend), Cohen the Barbarian (Discworld), Lina Inverse (Slayers), Vlad Dracul (Dracula), Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit\Lord of the Rings), Xanatos (Gargoyles), McGonagall (Harry Potter), and “Wiz” Zumwalt (Wiz Biz) went toe to toe with Jim Minz’s team of Buffy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer… TV version), a Balrog (Lord of the Rings… though I nearly challenged the notion that a Balrog fit as a barbarian, here; I was prepared to argue the merits of picking Cohen the Barbarian over Conan the Barbarian, not Cohen vs. a bloody Balrog), Gandalf the Grey (again, Lord of the Rings), Achmed the Assassin (I’m afraid I missed his full name, and which series he was from), Milo Anderson (Monster Hunters International), Granny Weatherwax (Discworld), and Sauron (yet again, Lord of the Rings).

I next attended (but was again not a panelist on) the “Building a Space Station” panel. This panel had a team of scientists and engineers, moderated by Toni Weisskopf, talking about the logistics and motivations behind building a space station. I’m not going to go into my full reaction to this panel, because I probably would have to name names, but I personally thought it would have been a more enjoyable panel had there been one fewer scientist on it.

And, for my last Friday panel, I was a panelist on Research, Point of View, and Filtering, alongside fellow panelists Rowan Worth and Y.A. Guest of Honor Maria V. Snyder.  Honestly, I was a little dubious, as this was a pretty heavy topic for a 10pm panel, and one of the expected panelists (Kim Iverson Headlee) was late, and chose to sit in the audience instead of up front, when her prior panel ran long.  However, we summoned up enough energy to have a fairly entertaining little panel, energizing the audience at least a little, and (surprisingly) it ended up as the best attended of that day, for me.

Then there was Saturday.  I did not get enough sleep Friday night (sadly not because I was having fun with room parties or whatever, but because I had trouble getting comfortable on the hotel beds, which made getting to sleep difficult and woke me up way too early.  It made the whole, busy day just a touch more difficult for me.

I opened the day (after breakfast) with a seat as a panelist in the Allen Wold Writing Workshop.  I’ve participated in this workshop, before, from the “other side” of the table (as a participant), but this was my first experience as one of his other author-guests.  This workshop is an institution at many of the conventions I attend, so I was proud to be invited to be a part of it.  I was a little afraid to bring a pen and paper, or my laptop, because I was worried I’d start acting like a participant instead of a guest out of habit.  I enjoyed myself, and I think I was able to add some meaningful contributions to the workshop, so I think it was a success.

I may never know just how successful, however; there was a Part 2 to this workshop where the guest-panelists could see, roughly, how much improvement (at least in the 100 word hook paragraphs that were produced in the workshop) the participants could make based off of their comments; sadly, I was scheduled on another panel at the same time Part 2 took place, so I missed it.

After the workshop, I retreated to my room for a couple hours before my 3pm panel, “Questions to Ask before Creating a Fictional Culture,” alongside Christopher de Matteo, Jim Beall, and Donna (D.M.) Patterson.  I am not sure how this panel went, actually.  There were times I was expecting the audience to interact or make comments and they didn’t (it’s especially unnerving when you’re trying to end your point with something you think should get a big laugh, and the result is complete silence).  There was a moment where I thought that the panel had completely lost the audience and then suddenly we had a series of relevant questions related to the topic.  I think the panel went well enough, but I couldn’t read the audience reaction at all.

After that panel, I had to run back to my hotel room and dump some things off before heading to the 4:30 Baen Traveling Road Show.  This is something Baen puts on at dozens of conventions where Baen’s cover art is presented (and promoted), and bits about the artwork or the book itself are discussed.  Baen gives away a lot of books at these panels (I did not get a book, this time; ah, well) as well as other swag (I did get an interesting bit of swag, but I’m not sure how to describe it.  A… plastic logo pendant for Baen Books on a string of mardi gras beads?  I’m not sure what this was supposed to be, exactly).  I don’t always go to it, but I’ve always found the ones with the aforementioned Toni Weisskopf presenting are can’t-miss shows, so I went.

That was fun.  We got to see a piece of cover art intended for a future David Weber book that even David Weber hadn’t seen yet, there was a discussion about how a particular anthology editor\writer (Eric Flint) and his anthology’s cover artist (I’m afraid I didn’t take notes, and I don’t want to get the name wrong, but he’s the regular cover artist of the Grantville Gazette) had a friendly rivalry going where the cover artist would draw a piece of artwork (with increasingly complex scenarios) and the editor’s story contribution would be made while trying to fit the cover art into a scene of his story.  A few other things like that.

When that presentation ended, I scrambled to find a meal before my 7pm panel on “Worldbuilding 201:  Filling in the Details” about getting into the smaller details of worldbuilding.  This panel was with Maria V. Snyder, Pamela Kinney, and Chris de Mateo, all of whom I had worked with on a panel earlier in the convention.  I think that helped make this panel a little more lighthearted and fun, and I think the audience reaction was largely positive.  The panel ran a touch long, though within the margin of error.  (It’s generally a good idea for each “hour long” panel to run for 50 minutes, so as to allow guests coming in to set up and people to move between panels without having to hurry too much; we nearly hit the full hour, however.  Marscon, I will note, had a strange system this year where some panels had moderators but most didn’t, and while a panelist stepped up to take charge on every panel I either worked or attended, there was a lot of discussion about that among the guests.  Someone stepped up on this panel, too, but he wasn’t keeping track of time).

When that was done I had to immediately head to the room next door for Mapping Your Novel, at 8pm.  I was again paired with Maria V. Snyder (and it was just the two of us on the panel, this time), and we were both clearly flagging by this point (neither one of us wanted to bother with our whole “introduce ourselves” spiel, beyond letting everyone know our names), but I think we helped inform the crowd (which asked a lot of questions, was engaged in the discussion, and reacted positively when more amusing things were discussed) and I had fun.

My final panel on the day was “It Takes a Village (Traveling at 80% of the Speed of Light)”, alongside Mark Wandrey and Drew Avera.  I was absolutely totaled, by this point, and this was my third panel in a row, so I’m not sure how much I was able to contribute.  I don’t think I embarrassed myself, at least, even if I didn’t get around to discussing all of the points I had come up with for the panel.  There was a very small crowd and we ended the panel a little early because none of us wanted to keep talking, I think.  I was so tired I don’t remember much of what we talked about, to be honest.

I did have other “fun” things I was hoping to attend, after that, but between the lack of sleep the night before and all of the panels that day I was just too worn out to do much else.  I was also starting to get a little hoarse at the end of that last panel (from talking so much; I was fine by morning), so I figured I’d just call it a night.

I certainly did NOT have trouble getting to sleep that night (while I woke up a little earlier than planned, it wasn’t that much earlier), but I was still feeling a bit worn out in the morning.  Still, I had enough energy to go to the panel “Freelancing in the Publishing Industry,” presented by Chris Kennedy and Toni Weisskopf.  I might have skipped it, since I wasn’t one of the panelists, but I knew this was in the rumored “room with the comfy chairs,” and I was able to get one of said comfy chairs by getting there early enough.

The comfy chairs led to a relaxed atmosphere, and the discussion was very interesting.  It actually started with a description of the difference between hiring an employee and contracting a freelancer (including the tax and regulatory concerns, which even in Baen’s case make employing freelancers preferable to full-time employees, in some situations).  Mentally, I was comparing my purely self-publishing experience searching for and hiring freelance editors and cover artists like Keith RA DeCandido and Joel Christopher Payne with the experiences of Chris Kennedy, a self-published author turned full-fledged small press publisher who has a regular stable of freelancers he works with, with Toni Weisskopf who is a long-time industry veteran as well as the publisher, editor-in-chief, and art director for the largest independent science fiction publishing house in the country, heading a company with several full-time employees as well as commanding a much larger stable of freelancers on a regular basis.  There were more similarities than I was expecting, to be honest, which was a pleasant surprise.  (Though, as you might expect, both publishing houses have been in this field longer than I have and have larger budgets for this kind of thing than I do).

I originally had planned to follow Toni Weisskopf for a couple more panels (her next panel was Beyond Infinity, which I’d hoped to go to, and it would have been followed by the even more interesting Hard Science: Gift or Curse panel, which might have been of benefit to the Rink of War for when I get around to turning that into a novel), but without the lure of the comfy chairs I figured I needed more physical rest if I was going to be in any sort of shape for my final panel of the convention.

That last panel was at 1pm, “The Name Came First,” alongside Guest of Honor Carrie Vaughn as well as fellow panelists Tara Moeller.  At one point, there were supposed to be as many as five people on this panel…

Which would have been real overkill, as there weren’t even five people in the audience for most of this panel (for a GoH panel, attendance felt… uh… low), with only two people at the start and two more wandering in about fifteen minutes later (though several others popped in by the end, though they were late enough for me to wonder if they were waiting for the next panel).  We started not by introducing ourselves, but by asking if we wouldn’t be better off moving the whole panel over to the hotel bar.  Had it been Saturday night instead of Sunday morning, I suspect we would have.  We did, eventually, get on with the topic — which was suggestions for answers to the “what do we name our characters?” question, evolving into a discussion of naming conventions, apostrophes in names (yay or nay), etc.

And then the convention was over.  I was originally supposed to meet some family members local to the convention who I only get to see once or twice a year after that, but one of them had hurt their back and the other came down with the flu, so those plans were scrapped.

Overall thoughts:  This was only my second convention as a full-fledged guest, but I could tell there were some oddities.

  • Almost every panel I was on had a “who’s the moderator?  Oh, wait, we don’t have one?” conversation before the panel started.
  • Unless it’s a regular and long-established panel that’s a con tradition, it’s expected that the person who suggested the panel will be on it; that didn’t seem to be the case with ANY of the panels at this con.
  • I didn’t realize quite how busy I was until I started putting this together.  More panels as a guest than at Ravencon 2017, and I sat in the audience on a few others besides.  I think I’ve got a better idea on how much I can manage for the future, but I really do need to get enough sleep at night, despite the hotel beds, if I’m going to try and manage this kind of schedule at future conventions.
  • Panel attendance seemed lighter than I remember from past conventions, both as a guest and as a regular con-goer, and it wasn’t just me who noticed.  Considering the number of attendees I was expecting (the hotel sold out and an overflow hotel was needed), I wouldn’t have thought that likely; I’m not sure if it was just a case of no interest in the panels, or if the weather or something else had prevented some people from coming.  I’m honestly wondering if it might have been partly because of the flu epidemic that’s been so fierce, this year.
  • I love the Marscon Con Suite, because it provides full meals for free (which can really reduce the cost of attending a convention).  Somehow, I never went.  I also never found (or even seriously went looking for) the Green Room.  Mostly that was because of the “I  accidentally wound up with two and a half meals worth of calamari from my calamari appetizer” issue, but when the event ended and I realized I never even went looking for these rooms, I was surprised.
  • I also never made it to the Dealer’s Room.  I was just either too busy or too tired (or both) to do so.
  • I’m not going to attribute this to anyone, but I will say I overheard one of the major author guests saying:  “Is Barnes and Noble TRYING to put themselves out of business?”  (Not sure what sparked that comment, but I’ve had the same thought a time or two).
  • Several guests and\or former guests who had been planning to attend anyway were unable to because of deaths in the family or health issues.  More possible support for my “attendance was lighter than usual due to the flu” theory.
  • I wish every panel I was on was in the comfy chair room, even if that was one of the smaller panel rooms.  I was really uncomfortable sitting in some of the chairs the hotel provided, but those chairs were really nice to sit in, and made for a very cozy atmosphere for discussion.  Maybe it’s not really appropriate for every possible panel, but I think several of the panels I was on would have benefited from that room (and I know my knees and back would have).

And… that’s it.  I’ll get back to work on my regular blog posts soon.  If you would like my take on any of the panels listed above (as I had been doing with last year’s Ravencon Panels blog series) please let me know, and I’ll start on that once the “This Book Cannot Make Any Money” blog series is complete.  Until next time, have fun out there!

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