Sasquan Recap- My First Worldcon

Sasquan has come and gone, and I’m more or less recovered in time for PAX Prime this weekend. I’d never been to a Worldcon before, so when I heard that it was within driving distance (4+ hours) I was tempted. I went mainly for the Writers Workshop, but found the entire experience to be a blast.

My husband, our friend the intrepid K (he blogs mostly about gaming here), and I arrived on Thursday afternoon to hazy skies. Much of central and eastern Washington is battling the worst wildfires in recent memory right now, and the smoke often left the sun red and skies hazy.

Sasquan ThursdayFriday was the worst of it, as a change in wind direction sent smoke and ash into Spokane to the point that air quality warnings were issued and signs were posted on all of the convention center doors urging people to stay inside. The smell permeated all of the buildings, and I know several people had to leave or refrain from coming to the con because of the air quality.

Smokeane sasquanWelcome to Smoke-ane.

We stayed in the Davenport Grand (one of 4 Davenport hotels in Spokane. Confusing much?), which was the only hotel “connected” to the convention center aside from the Doubletree. I’ll get to the “connector” later, but I will say that the Davenport Grand was lovely and the food was great. A plus to being in the Grand was that a lot of other con-goers were there, including many of the pros. A braver person would’ve been able to chat with some of said-pros, but alas.

Davenport GrandOn Thursday afternoon registration was a breeze, though I’ve heard/read some horror stories about the One Line to Rule Them All that occurred on Wednesday. We got our badges, and toodled off to explore the dealers’ hall.

Dealers RoomHad fun chatting with some Cascade Writers friends at their booth, and forced urged the intrepid K to take a card on the last day of the con since he missed getting his name on the mailing list. The dealers’ hall had pretty much something for everyone: steampunk gear, lots of jewelry vendors, cosplay outfits, multiple corset vendors, and all sorts of nerdy, geeky merchandise ranging from figurines to fan art T-shirts. Oh, and maybe just a few booksellers: indie/small presses, self-pubs, and larger bookstores were well represented. I may have brought home a book or two.

Sasquan haulEven the husbeast found something.

Steve's Sasquan haul

I was surprised at the breadth of topics represented in the Sasquan programming. There seemed to be something (or many somethings) for everyone: children’s programming, multiple demos and workshops for cosplay, gaming panels, discussions on TV shows, craft demos, and a multitude of panels aimed at writers. There were also several panels running per time slot, and while that did make for a few gut-wrenching time conflicts, it also meant there was something interesting to see all day, and for the most part it meant that the rooms weren’t too crowded. There were some exceptions to that, especially (I thought) on Saturday afternoon, but overall it felt like a well-attended con that still gave you elbow room. There were also dedicated movie and anime rooms with shows or films running morning ‘til night.

The Writers Workshop was a lovely experience, and huge thanks are due to Adrienne Foster for organizing it, the pros who lent their time as moderators and/or to critique the works, and the other participants. I was a little intimidated going in even though I’ve participated in online critique groups and had a great time at the CW event last month, but I needn’t have worried. My moderator was Ed Sullivan, and the three pros were Randy Henderson, Erin Wilcox, and Laura J. Mixon. Our group only had two submissions—mine and Jenna Kinghorn, and the small size coupled with a 3-hour window for critiquing made for an intimate, friendly experience. I received critical feedback for my short story submission and came away feeling enthused rather than ripped to shreds. For $25 (you already had to have an attending membership) I think I got a lot of bang for my buck. Thanks are due to Cat Rambo who suggested I go to Sasquan in particular for this workshop.

I’m not going to comment much on the Hugos except to say congratulations to the winners. There are a lot of posts and articles going around addressing the Hugos, and I have nothing to add. It wasn’t an ideal year, but I hope this motivates everyone who was disgruntled about the outcome (on any side) to go out and nominate for next year. There’s a wikia being kept as a roundup of works folks think are nomination-worthy.

My only grievance with Sasquan was the accessibility, or lack thereof, of the convention center. On some levels, Sasquan was great: wide halls, relatively uncrowded compared to some other conventions, multiple places to sit down, and friendly staff in both the Sasquan volunteers and the convention center staff. The Davenport Grand itself was fairly ADA-friendly. We didn’t request an ADA room, and we found our “standard” room to be very accessible. The only tripping hazard was this raised divider thing between the shower and the toilet, and it was so far from the drain I don’t think it would’ve done much to block water seepage anyway.

The not-so-great side: long walks between the halls, and between the hotels and the convention center. We avoided the Doubletree after encountering the elevator scrum. The elevators inside the convention center were fine and most had a good amount of space around the entrances so there wasn’t a pileup of people clogging the halls. The connector between the Davenport Grand and the convention center was convenient in the sense that we didn’t have to go out into the heat and smoke, but it was a long walk around to the convention center, and it let you out a fair distance from any of the panel rooms aside from the theater halls. And the bathrooms…I don’t think I encountered a single bathroom entrance that was automated. That’s not generally a problem for me even if I am using my cane, but a number of attendees were using scooters. Admittedly, I didn’t even notice the lack of automated doors until I was exiting the bathroom and found a gentleman trying very discreetly to hold the door open without going inside for his female companion using a scooter. Come on, Spokane CC, that’s a problem. The doors aren’t exactly light either.

Overall though, I had a great time and would love to attend more Worldcons in the future.

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Cascade Writers July Workshop Recap

I’ve been horribly slow about posting my recap on the Cascade Writers July workshop back on July 23-26. It was a wonderful experience for my first workshop, and registration is already open for next year.

There were three highlights for me from this workshop: Networking, Critiques, and Panels.

Networking: I’m pretty bad at networking. Introvert, exudes frigid vibes, and good at being nonobservant when I don’t think I need to be, are all descriptors that can fit me. For that last one, an example would be the weekend my husband proposed—on at least two occasions leading up to him popping the question, both my mother and his mother made statements that would’ve ruined the surprise if I’d been paying attention. I believe one of the phrases uttered was, “so, was it a big ‘yes?’” when I walked in the door at my future in-laws’ house. Apparently they hadn’t gotten the memo that my future husband’s plan had changed. To which I replied something like, “no, we didn’t end up going horseback riding.” True story.

Back to the workshop. One of the great things about this particular workshop is that registration was capped at around 35-40 attendees, not counting the speakers, staff, etc. This made it a lot easier and less overwhelming to meet just about everyone. Making friends happened a bit more seamlessly, and remembering/recognizing people was made easier since often we were attending the same panels. Plus, all of the panels were hosted in the hotel. Extra thanks to people who wore the same jacket or other noticeable piece of clothing/accessory each day–it made it easier to remember names without resorting to the awkward and obvious look-at-your-name tag-trying-not-to-be-obvious. I made connections with emerging and established writers, chatted with several industry pros, and made new friends, all without encountering one bit of nastiness, snobbery, or diva-ness.

Critiques: for this workshop most of the critique groups were I think between 6 and 8 attendees with submissions capped at 3,750 words, led by an established writer. My group was fearlessly led by Everett Maroon, and was a wonderful experience. Critiques were two-hour sessions, two on the Friday of the workshop and a final one on Saturday morning. I’ve participated in critiques through online classes and with a private online critique group, but this was my first experience with the Milford style. Giving an oral recap of my thoughts within 4 minutes per submission was daunting, but we all got through unscathed (I think). My submission was up for critique first, and I received some great feedback and discovered a few patterns and impressions that were unintentional on my part. Looking forward to getting it revised so I can send it out to markets.

My only criticism of the way the critiques were run is that three of the groups all met within the same room, while two others got smaller, separate rooms. The room we were in was large enough that we weren’t cramped together, but it could be hard to hear a critique if one of the other groups had a loud moment (we were guilty of loud laughter a time or two). However, I’m not sure the workshop will be held in this same hotel (Ramada Inn in Kent) again, so that comment may be moot.

Panels: the panels were great, and usually only two ran at once so it was easy to meet everyone and not feel like you were missing out on a bunch of other stuff you wanted to see/hear because of time conflicts. They also were scheduled so as not to conflict with the critique groups or meal times (a luxurious two hours allotted for meals most days). There was great variety in the panels, ranging from worldbuilding/setting type panels (Maps and Geography) to character development, managing the publishing side (queries with literary agent Jennifer Azantian, pitches, contracts, and how to manage social media), and a panel each for long form and short form works. With the workshop being on the smaller side, it was great for the panels. They had a more relaxed, informal vibe that is harder/impossible to have when you’re speaking to a room of a hundred or more instead of maybe fifteen or twenty people. We had the opportunity to ask questions and chat with the speakers without feeling rushed or running out of time (ever been to a panel where twenty people line up to ask questions when there’s only ten minutes left?).

A wonderful workshop experience, and I hope I can attend next year. I’ll be interested to see the similarities and differences when I attend the writers’ workshop portion of Sasquan later this month.