Norwescon 39 Recap

Norwescon ribbons

My lowly assortment of con ribbons.

Norwescon 39 has come and gone, so here is my recap of a fun weekend. This was my first Norwescon, but hopefully not my last. There were more positives than negatives, though the negatives were aggravating. Thankfully (I guess?), most of the negatives happened right at the beginning and the con experience greatly improved once I got over those hurdles.

The main negatives: 1) Parking is atrocious. The lot at the DoubleTree isn’t small, but for a con with a few thousand people in attendance it doesn’t cut it. Being in Seattle that’s not surprising, but the hotel didn’t do anything to help the situation. The ticket booths to enter the lot were unmanned, so the poor souls that didn’t arrive early on opening day (I didn’t get there until 3pm) got to drive around for however long you could stand it until giving up or being fortunate enough to find someone leaving their spot. I get it, parking frustration isn’t a new thing, but it would’ve been nice if Doubletree had posted a staff member at the ticket booth either directing people away or putting signs up indicating the lot was full (they did start to put up signs later on during the weekend). Because the hotel is right next to the airport there was airport parking/garages available, which kinda sucks, since the con rate for parking at the hotel was $8, and parking at the airport garage was running somewhere in the $20+ range.

2) Registration at the hotel (not Norwescon reg) was super slow when I got in. This is really more on the hotel than Norwescon, since you’d think if the hotel knew thousands more people than usual would be in that weekend then it might be a good idea to have an extra person or two at the registration desk.

Again, not the end of the world or all that unexpected, but coming on the heels of the parking frustration, seeing the row of empty stations at the registration desk and the lone person trying to handle it all…

My #3 actually got fixed by the second day, but originally programming was scheduled up to the hour without a break. As in, panel A goes from 10-11, panel B from 11-12, etc. Without a break period, you’d have panels cutting into the subsequent panel’s time. At the end of each panel there’d be an awkward shuffle to get people out of the room and then to get people waiting in the narrow hall (that’s my #4 gripe) in, settled, get the speakers situated, etc. It really sucked for the authors’ who had readings where the panel before them ran over and ate into their reading time (usually 30min). This did get fixed though, and panels started ending at 10min to the hour.

4) Norwescon is so-so, in my opinion, on being accessibility-friendly. The big plus is that the elevators were decently sized, there were 4 of them, and they ran quickly. I never encountered long waits or broken elevators. The Doubletree in Spokane for Worldcon was a different story. However, the halls for the conference rooms where the panels were held weren’t very wide. I guess Norwescon can get away with it since attendance is only around the 2-3k mark, but there were times where the flow of traffic had to completely stop so that someone in a scooter or wheelchair could move forward because the halls weren’t wide enough to accommodate a lane of traffic moving in both directions.

There also wasn’t a lot of seating available if one needed to sit while waiting for their panel, and what seating there was could end up being a long way from the room where the panel you wanted to attend was located. I know there were volunteers running around, but I’ve been to cons in the past where each room has a door attendant who usually handles getting someone with accessibility needs into the room without fuss or fanfare. I didn’t really see that at Norwescon, but that’s not to say they weren’t around. I’m also not sure if people were issued accessibility badges or stickers or whatnot to access rooms ahead of time.

I went solo to Norwescon and am fortunate to be in a position where most of the accessibility issues don’t impact me anymore, but having been in the situation where they once did I tend to be sensitive/aware of them or the need. Norwescon isn’t the worst with regard to accessibility, but it isn’t the best either. Some of that isn’t its fault in a direct way; they can’t control the physical width of the hallways. But these are things to consider for non-able bodied people.

Now that I’ve ranted about all the negatives (oops. I’ll cut some of it down in post), Norwescon really is a fun con. I think of it as Worldcon Lite. Lots of programming dedicated to the many aspects of SFF fandom, writing, cosplay, etc. An eclectic mix in the Dealer’s Hall, and a nice-sized art show. It was great to be able to meet up with friends that I rarely see otherwise, and to meet some in person that I’d previously only conversed with via social media.

Oh, and the DoubleTree’s food is actually pretty good. Not inexpensive (not surprising), but tasty, and they re-worked some of the items on the menu to cater to attendees with dietary restrictions. Example: the roasted cauliflower soup apparently is normally a vegetarian option, but they made a vegan version for Norwescon. And it was good. Maybe the server who told us that was making it up, but considering that she went back to talk to the chef, I doubt it. Or bravo for going through the work to make up an elaborate story. Never did find out why the bread pudding wasn’t considered vegetarian though.

I mainly attended Norwescon for the Fairwood Writers’ Workshop, which was lovely. My critique session was Saturday night with Catherine Montrose, Elizabeth Guizzetti, Tim McDaniel, and Pat MacEwen. I submitted a short story for the workshop, and was selected for an individual critique. The critiques were held at the top of the DoubleTree tower in the Mountain conference rooms, which do have a few stairs down to the table, though they were quick to note this during the workshop registration process. I imagine accommodations are made if you can’t navigate stairs. Our only gripe about the room was that we couldn’t get the lights to go above what we were calling “mood lighting.” The other room didn’t seem to have that problem, but we managed just fine. It was light enough at 7pm to get by, and dim lighting is a better trade than getting roasted by the sun with all those windows.

The workshop was great from registration to the actual critique. The guidelines were clear, and the workshop was great with communication. They make accommodations so that you don’t get put in the same group for a round robin session with someone you’re already critiquing with outside the workshop if that applies.

My critique went well, and I’m all squeeing inside because overall my story was well-received and doesn’t need a complete rewrite. They gave suggestions for ways to tighten it up and other revisions, and it was pretty nice—and telling—that all four agreed on what the structural flaws were. Onward to revisions I go, and hopefully can get it out to markets in April.

The novel’s progress is steady if also a bit slow. I’m past the first act of the rough draft and wading into the soggy middle. I think I said last blog post that I was hoping to have a post about the novel/my writing quirks…well, maybe next month! It’s only a few days away after all.

I was able to get a crash course on pitching as Jennifer Brozek offered to teach a 2hr class for the workshop participants on Thursday night. My takeaway is that the cobbled together logline I had for the novel was actually decent, but my title needs work. Brozek is a big proponent of titles not being generic, and fulfilling a promise to the reader in that it tells a little something about what the book is about. So I need to work on that. I’ll be attending the one-day workshop hosted by Cascade Writers next month covering the business of writing and will be doing some more pitching there, so this was a nice starter.

SIWC 2015 Recap

Last weekend was my first time attending the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, held in Surrey, BC at the Sheraton Guildford Hotel. This was its 23rd year, and first time selling out!

It was amazing.

It’s a professional conference geared at writers of fiction and/or nonfiction, all genres, and at all levels, though it does assume a level of dedication. Beginners are certainly welcome, but the workshops and content covered are designed in a way that expects you to have a basic understanding of the craft, and really, the dedication to improve. There were plenty of unpublished writers in attendance, but everyone was there to get better. I don’t mean to dissuade newbies from going because the bar isn’t high. If you have the enthusiasm (and can park your ego at the door) and the desire then I highly recommend going. It’ll help if you have a basic understanding of things like plot and character development, but the point of the workshops is to learn and ask questions about how/why/what. There’s a different vibe than the writer panels you’ll find at cons like PAX or Worldcon (no cosplay, for one). Not a bad vibe, just different. Still fun and friendly. But all the offerings are aimed at the craft and business ends of writing. No panels on games, geekdom, or fandom.

Masterclasses were offered on Thursday, the day before the official start of the conference. I was fortunate to get into the class on short stories taught by the fabulous Mary Robinette Kowal. Mary is awesome, and a great teacher. She’s a professional puppeteer as well as an award winning author, and the way she integrates her experience as a puppeteer to writing is unique and informative. The masterclasses were 3 hours, and it was a lot of information to cram into a relatively short window, but I felt that I got my money’s worth. It was nice to have a class dedicated to short stories that looked into their structure, and how they’re similar and different to novels.

SIWC restructured the days for this year’s conference to fit four workshops in a day: two in the morning and two in the afternoon. The day started with the morning session at 9am and a keynote speaker, then attendees had two mornig (and afternoon) sessions comprised of four 90-minute workshops to choose from. You could leave workshops that didn’t work for you and attend others if you wished, and every room had a door monitor to make sure entrances/departures weren’t disruptive (so nice!). This was one of the most organized cons I’ve been to ( a sentiment I heard echoed by several pros in attendance), with lovely volunteers to keep everything running smoothly. There were several hundred (I heard numbers from 400-700) people in attendance and I didn’t run into a single problem. Well, small and slow elevators, but they can’t really change that.

The Sheraton staff were also polite, helpful, and kept the banquet hall running like a well-oiled machine. I purchased the “full conference pass” which included lunch and dinner (full conference and single-day passes included lunch, dinners were only for full passes) all three days in the banquet hall, though there are options to skip the meals if you so choose. But, then you miss out on the keynote speakers, and they were amazing. The food was great too, and the kitchen staff were polite and accommodating for people with dietary restrictions.

Everyone was friendly and inviting, and I didn’t run into a single snobbish person. I went solo (sort of, husbeast came along but went to see his family/friends during the days) to the conference, which is always a bit nerve-wracking. Fortunately, SIWC had a hashtag going and I tweeted a “first timer going, anyone want to meet up?” message a few days before the conference. Got plenty of responses, because that’s just how friendly this conference is, and I found a “tribe” of people which included first timers like myself as well as veterans of several years. I hope to attend this conference annually in the future.

Some particular highlights/things I really liked: the depth of workshops and the time length. Four options every session offered great variety, and with 90 minutes to work with the presenters could really get into some substance. It did make for some really long days though, in chairs that weren’t the epitome of comfort. Due to personal issues, it was a bit rough on my knees.

Keynotes at every meal (aside from breakfast because that was on your own). Variety in speakers who represented different genres, backgrounds, ways to approach the craft, all were motivational in their own ways.

The Saturday luncheon was the “This Day We Write” meal where each table would be joined by a randomly assigned presenter. They didn’t come in until most people had already sat down so that you didn’t know who would be at your table. My table was graced by C.C. Humphreys, and he was wonderful. There were 8 or so of us at the table and he chatted with all of us. He also has a lovely English accent.

Really, all the pro writers I encountered were kind, encouraging, and pretty laid back. Terry Fallis joined my group briefly for drinks after the afternoon session on Friday, and was so at ease with us that it felt like a bunch of friends chatting, not a bunch of unpublished newbs making nervous chitchat with a Published Author.

Door monitors. Enough said.

Blue Pencil and Pitch appointments included in your registration fee. These were fifteen minute sections that you signed up for during registration, and the list of pros available to choose from was amazing. I didn’t do a pitch since I don’t have a novel ready, but I did have a Blue Pencil with Mary. These are quick critiques where you can bring up to three pages of a story, and I was amazed at how constructive Mary was able to be within such a short timeframe. Plus, she uses fountain pens too, so I have huge amounts of geek love going on. There was also an option this year to wait in line for second/third pitches and Blue Pencils if someone dropped out, and from what I heard it was successful.

Things I didn’t love/could use improvement: the armless chairs. OMG, my neck/shoulders/back were sore after every workshop from the hunching over to take notes on my lap. This isn’t really something SIWC can fix since there probably isn’t the space or availability to put in tables, but it sure made me appreciate the Cascade Writers workshop having tables for every group. To be fair, the CW workshop is much smaller, but that has its own set of pros/cons. If you’re in the area go to both, as they’re quite different experiences.

It’d be nice if there could be a first time attendees meet and greet, or a mentor/mentee event since there were a lot of returning attendees as well as many first timers (I think this was the most first timers in attendance) either as an informal event on Thursday night, or on Saturday night since there isn’t anything slated after the dinner banquet.

That about sums it up. Great event and I plan to go next year.

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.