Out to StellarCon and Back to Normality, or What Passes For It
What a great weekend we had at StellarCon 35! Rachael and I packed up the car on Thursday night and were out on the road to High Point, NC, bright and early (uh, for us) Friday morning. Getting on the road for a con always makes me feel like a kid playing hooky. With two drivers the 5-1/2 hours on the road was an easy trip, and we’ve driven up and down I-85 enough times that we’re familiar with the territory. We descended upon the con hotel like a twin-funnel tornado, commandeered a luggage cart, and disgorged the contents of our car into our hotel room and our booth in the Dealers Room.
Actually, Rachael did much of load-in to the Dealers without me, assisted by the many so-helpful Stellar volunteers, because I had to race upstairs and change out of travel clothes in time for my first panel, at 4 pm: Making Sausage, in which we discussed small press life. (The title is my fault; when I pitched the idea to Davey Beauchamp, I didn’t expect him to keep that title. Apparently Davey & I were the only ones who think it’s funny…)
Talk about starting the con with a bang! I couldn’t believe how many people turned up for a 4 pm Friday panel. Elizabeth Campbell of Darkcargo was the soul of kindness and operated the camera for us so we could film. (Look for it on our YouTube channel in a couple of days; we’ll post the link when it’s up.) Allen Wold kept us focused but not limited with great expansive questions; Theresa Bane delivered a lot of cogent thoughts on what it takes to get a small press up and running; Laurel Anne Hill brought perspective on the experience of an author at a small press. And I talked a lot, as usual. But you’ll see that on the video.
After stopping in to the Dealers to see the magnificence Rachael had wrought at our table, spend a bit of time hanging out with the folks from Mystik Waboose (whose booth adjoined ours), and watch the parade of young men who stopped by to drool on our books because Rachael was behind the table (note to self: bring paper towels next time) I went around to the Opening Ceremonies. They were nicely done! The various GoHs looked very impressive up on the dais, and the Q&A had the crowd laughing. I had the rest of the evening free, which meant I got to wander around and talk to people. We had a great time with our friends at Mystik Waboose; I finally got to meet the Stellar committee members with whom I’d been emailing, as well as Torch Scp and Teresa Frohock, in person. I spent a little time catching up with Debra Killeen and Allen Wold, and hung out in the bar with Rachael, Elizabeth and Duncan Campbell, Eli Goldberg and Morgan, whose last name I never did get. Or maybe some of those conversations happened on Saturday. It was a con, and it all blurs together.
What I know is that Rachael and I were back up early (for us) Saturday morning so we could eat before opening the Dealers Room again. (Here’s a tip: if you ever stay at the Best Western in High Point, DON’T EAT THERE. But there’s a perfectly passable if tiny Greek Diner down the street, which no doubt I enjoyed as much as I did on Sunday because the horror of the so-called breakfast buffet for which I paid way more money on Saturday was so fresh in my mind.)
Afterward, I was off to the first installment of Allen Wold’s Writing Workshop. I sat on the panel with Allen, his daughter Darcy (the designated Reader Advocate), Debra Killeen, and Danny Birt. Allen assigned the workshop attendees the task of writing an opening hook, in 100 words or fewer, in 10 minutes. No pressure! Afterward participants read their opening hooks, and we discussed what was good about them and what might be improved. It was a huge treat to hear so many different voices and ways of looking at story, and I admire all of the participants for completing that assignment. The opening of a story is the hardest part of all, in my opinion, and having to nail it in 10 minutes, even trying to arrive at a workable first draft in 10 minutes, would make me crazy.
Saturday afternoon I shared a signing slot with Danny Birt, which gave us a nice opportunity to chat with one another and with convention-goers who came by the table. I actually signed far more books incidentally over the course of the weekend than I did at that session, and I get the sense Danny did too. But the practice of having authors stationary at a table for a while seems to be a convenient way for readers who might not otherwise be aware of a given author’s work or presence at the con that day to cruise through the Dealers Room and meet them by chance. Did I just make it sound similar to being a sideshow exhibit? That’s not what I meant. It was a lot of fun.
After closing down the Dealers Room, Saturday evening I slipped out for a quiet dinner with my bff Rachael, so we could catch up. (Yes, we were there together all weekend. But we were both very busy at our separate things.) And then back to the hotel for a quick freshen-up and back out to another panel, this one for writers: on digging deeper into fantasy story development, so we might find the wealth of ideas that are available to us in this genre if we take the time to think past the obvious, tropic story components. If that sounds like some sort of scholarly retreat, be not deceived. We were next door to the room in which someone had organized a karaoke party. There’s always something for everyone at a con. .. 🙂
After that, more delightful unplanned conversations in the hallways and a few quiet minutes with Allen Wold and his family, drinking the potent, mysterious, positively peat-boggish elixir Laphroaig and talking about esoteric things. After which I fell into bed so we could get up in time to check out of the room and eat breakfast someplace with real food before opening the Dealers Room again.
Sunday morning found me at the second meeting of Allen Wold’s Writing Workshop, where we heard second drafts from participants who had written opening hooks on Saturday. The improvements between the Saturday and Sunday versions were amazing. There was a lot of talent in that room, and I hope some of those openings I heard are developed into full stories. Afterward I shared a reading session with the delightful Laurel Anne Hill, and enjoyed hearing her read from her work. She really does some cool things with alien characters, making them both truly alien and sympathetic.
At noon I sat in with Ed Schubert, Faith Hunter, and Debra Killeen on a panel titled “Finding Your Path to Publication”, at which we discussed the relevance of writing and selling short stories, the importance of beta readers and professional editors, the esoterica of book wholesaling and how it impacts a writer’s career, and the challenges self-publishers face. All very interesting and informative, but if you don’t think that list of topics bears much resemblance to the stated charter of the panel, you’re not alone. I don’t count it wasted time for anyone involved: audience and participants alike learned from the conversation. And this is the nature of cons: conversations scheduled for one topic can easily veer off in other directions, and what audience members get to hear is often as dependent on luck as on the panel description. This panel was recorded, too: by the Pendragon Variety podcast. We’ll post the link to that podcast when it’s available, so you can hear the things we discussed. And Pendragon’s L. “Scribe” Harris plans to interview me on the topic in a later podcast, so there will be more, and perhaps more on-target, discussion on the topic to follow. Meanwhile, we’ve got a couple discussions of the topic up on the Mercury Retrograde site to get interested readers started.
The con wound down, as cons will. We loaded out of the Dealers Room and made our goodbyes, already comparing notes on our respective con schedules with friends old and new, planning our next meet-ups. And after a brief detour for Chipotle burritos, we got back on the freeway south: tired but already spinning plans for the next con we’ll do.
We’ll be at MidSouthCon next: March 25-27 in Memphis, TN. We’ve never been to Memphis before, and we’ve got to figure out where to eat. But we already know we’re going to have a blast at the con. Hope to see you there!