Ravencon Recap

A word of warning before we begin — I am typing this post up DURING the convention, sometimes during breaks between panels that give me only a few minutes at a time to recount something. I’m going quickly, and I’m not likely to be in any shape to do much editing when the convention is over, so there (probably) be typos here.

To start with, I left for the trip to Williamsburg on Thursday, in the middle of a wind storm, with dark and ominous clouds overhead that dumped rain on me for about a third of the trip.  Traffic was horribly slow, and I never could figure out why, but I do know that if I’d been going the other way along the same stretch of road things would have been worse:  Traffic was backed up for miles following some incident that I (after searching the web) couldn’t find out about involving two limos, an expensive-looking wrecked sports car (which looked as if it may have hit one of the limos, but the limo itself didn’t look damaged), and about thirty police cars all flashing their lights.

About the time that the CD in my car stereo started switching over to the Volga Boatman’s Song, the skies started clearing up.  Odd, that — the way things work, you’d think it should have gone the other way around.  The rest of the trip to Ravencon went smoothly, though I had the nagging sense the whole time that I’d forgotten a particular bag that had all of my toiletries, food, and similar supplies in it.  (Turns out I hadn’t forgotten that bag, but it was distracting me the whole rest of the drive).

I spent the rest of Thursday prepping for my moderator duties — I actually typed out the questions I wanted to ask so I’d have them ready for the convention, as well as copying in the selection of the upcoming book I plan to read, a copy of my schedule, etc., and used Scrivener to turn them into a .mobi file, which I uploaded to my Kindle.  And then I turned in (kind of late, because that chore took me longer than I’d thought it would), confident I was ready for the rest of the convention.  (As I’m typing this on Thursday, we’ll see how well that goes)

Now, I’d scheduled the Thursday trip expecting to be on a couple Friday panels.  It only made sense — my first Ravencon I asked for five panels, I gave them a list of my five favorites, five alternates, and three reserve alternates.  I wound up on seven panels, which (once they removed redundant panels, and factoring in the impossibility of being in two places at once) was all of the panels from my list that I could have possibly done.  For Marscon, I said I wanted to do six panels, again gave a list and an alternates list, and wound up on all of the panels and alternates I could have been on — a total of nine panels and a 2 hour workshop.  So, for this Ravencon — where they set the schedule before asking authors which panels they wanted to be on — I figured I’d ask JUST for the eight panels I wanted, expecting to be named to all of them and fearing that if I gave an alternates list I’d be on the alternate panels too.  Instead, I was only put on four of those panels, and got neither of the Friday panels I’d signed up for.  So… I guess I just don’t know what to do in order to sign up for the exact number of panels I want to participate in, with no fewer panels and no extra panels.  Sigh.

That said, I did go to attend a few Friday panels in the audience.  The first was the Independent Publishing panel, featuring John G. Hartness (expect to see his name again a few times), Ashley Voris, FT Lukens, Laurel Wanrow, and John (JC) Kang.  The intended moderator was absent (traffic, apparently), so John Hartness (who arrived late, himself) took over the role.  There was a moment of humor when he initially introduced himself as “The Late John Hartness,” and then let JC Kang know that “Hey, wait — you can’t be John, I’M John!”  I suggested (from the audience) that they instead refer to themselves as Late John and Early John (which they did a time or two).  The panel itself was interesting, though nothing I hadn’t heard before.

The next panel I went to, at 6pm, was Worldbuilding: Crafting New Worlds, with Michael Thompson, Jennifer R. Povey, Mark H. Wandrey (who has grown a rather impressive beard since I saw him, last, at Marscon), and Jean Marie Ward.  It was an interesting enough panel, but I did get the impression it needed more time.  The moderator, towards the end, was cutting the other panelists off noticeably, because he was trying to preserve time, and some topics which were raised “for later” but never discussed (Jean Marie Ward, during the first question, had mentioned avoiding “White Rooming”, and said she was expecting the moderator to bring that up in a future question, so she’d talk about that later; no such future question arose).  As big of a topic as this is (seriously, you’re talking about BUILDING WORLDS, here), it might justify a longer-than-standard panel.

I’ve been to dozens of conventions, and I think I’ve been to only one opening ceremonies (though it’s hard to remember, for sure, with some of my earliest ones).  Most of the time, that’s because it seems to be the best opening in my schedule for dinner, and this Ravencon was no exception.  So, I had an unremarkable dinner (the period of time was unremarkable, mind you, not the food.  The food was pretty good, for hotel fair), and then I returned to my room.

I didn’t have anything else I wanted to attend until the Eye of Argon reading at 10pm. Well, I’d PLANNED to go to the Eye of Argon reading — I got lost in a book, lost track of time, hadn’t thought it necessary to set up an alarm, and missed the start.

Oops. And that was it for Friday.

The first panel where I was sitting on the OTHER side of the table — the “Package Your Book to Sell” panel, where I was scheduled alongside Gail Z. Martin, Kim Iverson Headlee, and Alex Matsuo, was also my first panel on Saturday, period. I tried to get there early but arrived late (I have an excuse, involving the elevator and someone putting up signs for a party, but it’s a boring story so I won’t go into it here). Even so, I didn’t think I was that late, but I still felt as if I was playing catch-up with the other panelists for the whole panel. At least I was able to make a few points, at times, and the panel was well-attended, so I think it was successful.

After that, I went to lunch in the “Ten Forward,” a light fare station (with a cash bar, though I didn’t partake) set up in a meeting room. I needed something quick and light, and it was advertised as having “light fare,” but it was a little disappointing. The food was fast, but not very good (I had a luke-warm McDonalds-level hamburger, chips, and a warm canned soda. I had been told they also had pizza, but I didn’t see any while I was there).  There was supposed to be entertainment as well as food (fitting the theme of it being 10-Forward, they were supposed to have a series of Star Trek movies playing), but instead there was just a video projector and a group of people who were trying to get it to work and failing (as the movies were supposed to have started two hours earlier and run for at least six hours, I was wondering how long they’d been working at trying to get the thing to work).  Just as well — I wouldn’t have been able to stay until the end, anyway.

But it allowed me to have lunch in a hurry, which was important as one of the panels I REALLY wanted to be on (and wasn’t) was up next: “Ignore This Advice: Writing Tips that Aren’t So Great” with Greg Smith, Darin Kennedy, Misty Massey, and Michael A. Ventrella. I generally agreed with what they said, and they talked around it a bit, but they never quite said the point I would have loved to make: That just about EVERY generalized platitude you hear on writing should be “ignored,” because most writing advice is over-generalized. It’s usually good for addressing a specific problem that SOME writers have, but should not be used for EVERY writer, and applied to some writers it will weaken their writing rather than strengthen it.

After that, I had planned to attend the “Medicine in Fantasy” panel, because I’d applied to be on it and wanted to know what they were going to talk about for my upcoming “Ravencon Panels (I WASN’T on)” set of blogs… but I happened to also want to watch the Washington Capitals playoff hockey game, which was happening at the same time. As I did not HAVE to go to that panel (I can say quite a bit on that topic for my blog without attending the panel), so I skipped it to watch the game.

I had to leave before the game was over, however, so I missed a thrilling overtime goal by Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals to win the game in sudden death overtime.  Sigh.  Instead, I went to what was supposed to be a book reading.

Except… no-one showed.  Outside of the other author, Ken Shrader, there wasn’t anyone there.  Honestly, between the hockey game and the Clue murder mystery dinner theater performance going on at the same time, I probably would have skipped my reading, too, but I was hoping SOMEONE might pop in, curious to see what was going on.

I talked with Ken for a bit, then I decided to read a bit of Detective Hummer to see if anyone would come into a more active room (plus, sitting in silence was getting to be a little creepy), saving the clip from my next Law of Swords book until I had an audience.  Once I reached the end of the first scene, however, we’d been waiting there for a half-hour with no-one stopping by, and we just gave up (without me ever reading that clip).  I packed up my books and was about to leave when a teenage girl popped into the room, asking to see one of the stuffed Fennec foxes I’d brought to the con as swag.  I had plenty, so I let her have one of them, and then finished packing up to return to my room.

So I dropped my stuff off and updated this blog post to recount the reading.  And then it was dinner time — earlier than I’d planned, because I’d not expected the reading to end that early, but what can you do?

Turned out to be a good thing.  The restaurant was heavily backed up, warning people at the door that there was a one hour wait time.  I remember such wait times at the first Ravencon I went to at this hotel, which is why I usually planned my meals around 2+ hour breaks in my schedule, but this was the first time at this year’s convention it was an issue.  The food at this hotel always seems to be either good but slow (from the restaurant), or fast but barely edible (from their other eating stations).

But having started dinner early, I had enough time to return to my room, freshen up, and pick up my swag before my next panel — the Writer WithOUT a Day Job panel, alongside Guest of Honor Chuck Wendig, John G. Hartness, and Chris A. Jackson (the absence of Gail Z. Martin, who had lost her voice earlier in the convention, turned this into a “men with beards” panel, as someone in the audience suggested).  This was a fun panel.  John Hartness was cracking jokes in answer to every question, Chris Jackson talked a bit about having not quit his day job to become a writer but instead to spend his life sailing, and all of the panelists had a laugh when, in answer to the question “What are the things you like most about being a full-time writer as opposed to one with a day job,” they said (almost in unison) “Not having to wear pants all day!” (I forget which of them said it, but one of them added something like “Pants are the work of the oppressor!”)

I did burn through all of my planned questions a little fast (partly because two of them were rendered moot through the answers given to other questions), but the audience was full of follow-up questions, and I wish we’d had more time to answer them all.  I did give away another of my foxes after this panel (to one of the incoming panelists, I think, though I don’t know which one) once it was over.

That was pretty much it for Saturday.  Sunday was actually a little busier for me, however, at least at the start of the day.  To begin with, I overslept — I accidentally set my alarm for PM, not AM, and so… oops.  I didn’t miss my first panel of the day, but I also didn’t manage to fit in breakfast, either.

The first panel was “Promoting Yourself as a Writer” with John G. Hartness (moderating), Samantha Bryant, and Shawnee Small.  I was a bit flustered, having gotten up so late, and forgot my nameplate — not a good thing for a panel on self-promotion — but I had several of my books for display, my cards, and my foxes.  I started the panel by giving away yet another of those little guys, which may have been a SUCCESSFUL bit of self-promotion as it encouraged several people to come up and grab some of my post cards when the panel was over.

I found that the Hotel restaurant was still serving breakfast after the panel was over, and so in the end I did manage a late breakfast (even though I told the panel audience I was heading out to lunch).  And then back to my hotel room, to find my missing nameplate and swap around some of my display items.

After that was my final panel for the convention, “Self-Publishing on a Budget” with John G. Hartness and Michael G. Williams (who, in addition to self-publishing, writes books for Hartness’s Falstaff Books imprint.  Like some other veteran self-published authors I’ve met, such as Chris Kennedy and Martin Wilsey, Hartness’s self-publishing outfit has turned into a small press in its own right.  I’m still a few years away from that, even if I decide to go in that direction).

A fourth panelist (who I had never met, before, and who wasn’t listed as having any other panels at the convention, and whose name I couldn’t remember) no-showed, but the three of us handled the panel well enough without them.  John G. Hartness goes to dozens of conventions each year, and has a theater background, so he really knew how to play the crowd (which was true of all the panels we shared, but with fewer panelists it really showed here).  The only disadvantage to having so few panelists, though, was a lack of diverse viewpoints; I would have liked a different answer to “How do you go about setting a budget?” than “Well, I don’t set one,” but it was a valid answer to the question; I just think with more panelists we might have gotten some different answers.  It was pretty close to the last panel of the convention, however, so just having panelists with enough energy to keep the people in the audience entertained was a good thing.

And that was it for me.  I might have gone to the Dead Dog Dinner (a post-convention dinner gathering of guests and con staff; I went last year) had I known it was happening this year (just as there was no meet-and-greet for the guests this year, I figured there was no Dead Dog Dinner when I wasn’t informed about it in the various e-mails I’d gotten from the convention), but I didn’t find out about it until I received my author packet on Friday.  By that point, however, I’d already made other plans and couldn’t reschedule.

Overall, I enjoyed myself.  I think things went relatively well, with one or two hiccups along the way.

And this time I steered clear of the calimari.