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Con Survival Guide, Post #12: Behind the scenes at a modern con remembering the past Or A view from the trenches

Con Survival Guide, Post #12: Behind the scenes at a modern con remembering the past

Or

A view from the trenches

               Walking through the con areas last night in the dark before setup I was remembering cons gone by while looking around with a sensation of stumbling upon the remains of a con in a post-apocalyptic word. (Yeah, I think that the rule that all sentences should be 7 words, or 9 words depending on who you talk to is crap)  [There you go, kicking down the fourth wall again.]  {Damnit, Jim, I’m a writer, not an English teacher.}  (And now back to our regularly scheduled program.)  So here I am at ChattaCon, and they’re doing setup. I ran into Brent, Kirsten, and about ten other people while checking in to the Choo Choo. One of the first things I found out was that someone had forgotten to bring the bag of 300 screws to set up the art room, so a couple of guys were on a run to get screws, but they needed more people to help set it up. Now I haven’t officially worked a con in about 20 years, although the last time I was a guest at a convention was last year. Still the old timers all really know that I am part of the con family and in a pinch I am one of the people they will come to.

So, I headed back up to the art room with Robyn, Raven, and Storm. Yeah, I’m aware that they all have the names of superheroes, but those are really their names. Robyn had forgotten his room key, so I went back to get it for him and Cynthia and I ordered pizza for dinner. Walking by Ops, I noticed that they had left a large number of wooden easels outside. The clouds for the soon-to-start freezing rain had already rolled in. I took the time to walk in to Ops and talk to old friends who immediately tried to recruit me for security.  So they are a little short, and I’m working on recruiting them some staff, but as of right now in my story I haven’t decided about myself.  I reminded them of the freezing rain and easels, and they immediately pulled them inside and thanked me for reminding them.  They had gotten distracted, as always at a convention, by conversation.  That’s where Cynthia caught up with me, still talking to the guys in Ops, because my pizza had been delivered and the driver was waiting for me to sign the credit slip.

Now, ChattaCon, at least in the Southeast, is the first con of the year, and it is a SMOF con.  When conventions started reemerging, this is where they got together and started planning their rebirth and recruiting staff.  ChattaCon was, of course, started by Uncle Timmy, who also started LibertyCon and therefore is the guy responsible for two of the best conventions in the Southeast.

Years ago, I started going to conventions as a paid member, but somewhere down the line I got recruited to be staff.  I was DAGR member number 96 back when they were on Memorial Drive in Clarkston.  People ask me if I was part of DAGR when they were at Stone Mountain, and I say “no” because DAGR never was at Stone Mountain.

After a while of running tournaments, I decided to try other parts of the convention, like con suite.  Eventually, I settled into security which I had been working outside of Science Fiction conventions for a decade.  I had already worked things like COMDEX and the great advantage to security is that, unless you get posted in one spot, you see more of the convention, and even if you do get posted in one spot, you get to talk to people more.  Later, of course, I showed up as a dealer all the way from Dallas, TX to Orlando and Pensacola, FL to Baltimore, MD and Rosemont outside of Chicago, IL.

Inside of conventions there are several overlapping but separate communities, which include but are not limited to Fan Community, Staff Community, Pagan Community, Drunk Celt Community, Steampunk Community, Gamer Community, Computer Gamer Community, Martial Artist Community, and the Dealer Community.  Now, the Filker Community is one of the communities most unique to Fandom.  They are devoted to Science Fiction folk songs, or just filkthy folk songs, which is probably why they were Banned from Argo.  The basic Fan Community itself is further broken down by genre and media.

So as soon as the art room was assembled, we all sat down and devoured the pizza we had ordered.  Now, there was staff pizza available for those helping assemble the art room, but it didn’t even go as far as the one we ordered for ourselves and some of us have too many food allergies to eat anything that isn’t special ordered.  As a matter of typical conversation last night  (as of when I was writing this part), we were discussing the fact that one of the uniting features of Fandom is that a majority have not just health problems, but really unusual health problems.  As a matter of fact, an awful lot of the people I know at cons have been written up in text books as, for that matter, have some of my relatives.  Richard Gurley was used to help develop the MRI because his bones are so thick they stop X-Rays.

Now, if you are a con-goer, and you’re having to go too long without going to a con, and you want to get that feeling of having gone to a con, I highly recommend reading Bimbos of the Death Sun, which is a murder mystery set at a science fiction convention.  It has always seemed weird to me that it is in the mystery section because it isn’t actually science fiction.  It is an awesome book.

Friday morning and cold, drizzly, freezing rain has descended on Chattanooga.  A significant number of the security staff are believed will not make it because of iced conditions.  We went to the City Café Diner Restaurant (as it’s called on their menu), where I first dined with the guys from Marietta Publishing a few years ago, for breakfast.  Yes, I know the diner’s name is horribly redundant.  The food is reasonably priced with more than generous proportions and rather good.  A really important feature for us was that they had no trouble accommodating the food allergies of all five of the people at our table.

The guys in Ops were joking about how the guys in computer gaming probably wouldn’t even get up until 3:00 PM when registration starts, and were ignoring stacks of pizza, which they had clearly already had for breakfast.  They were, of course, joking about themselves earlier.  I definitely would not trade my Eggs Benedict made with turkey sausage for their cold pizza, but the pizza was definitely better priced, being free.  I didn’t have any because I was stuffed, mind you.

Later, of course, we got hot pizza in the middle of the night.  To kill some time before a panel on Friday, we went to the con suite, where I got a free massage and picked up some free hard cider instead of the free beer or Coke.  That’s where I managed to hook up with Gregory Nicoll, who is hopefully going to join my writers’ group.  I also talked to Emily Hunter and Harry Coburn, as well as seeing Chloie.  On Saturday, I spent half the day standing in the Dealer’s Room talking to the beautiful and intelligent M.B. Weston, whose new book Out of the Shadows just came out, and Allan Gilbreath.  Then I had a brief conversation with a young lady named Poppy Jackson who has just written a vampire romance trilogy, but she promises they don’t sparkle.  Geoffrey Mandragora, who we talked to about his steampunk novel, The Thunderbolt Affair, that we picked up last year at LibertyCon, and his wife, Lillian Price’s new book which seemed to involve black, carnivorous unicorns.  I also talked to Uncle Timmy about conventions and engineering, and strangely enough the relationship between these two things, as well as talking to a few other people like Paul Cashman.  So, despite the fact that it may look like I was talking business all weekend, and in a sense I suppose I was (that’s certainly how I would answer the IRS if they asked), really we were just hanging out and talking to our friends about whatever, including Grizzly Dan, and Aegis Steampunk.  It may be sad, but we go to the dealer’s room mostly to socialize with the vendors rather than to shop.

Now, of course, there are also the room parties.  Friday night is never a big night for room parties, and there were only three.  Two of them were better than the third, but were not entirely spectacular.  Gary Poole had the party which may well be considered the best, but I didn’t actually make it there.  I meant to go check out the room parties, but I got embroiled in a conversation with Reverend Bob, who is the resident MIB from Steve Jackson Games.  (Steve Jackson was not at the convention this year, but he has been known to attend in the past.)  To be honest, over the last couple of days I’ve missed every panel I was planning to check out and honestly had no interest in making it for the Robot Wars.   Instead, like many con-goers, I reveled in being home with my tribe and being able to use a proper vocabulary without any obfuscation.  Saturday night’s parties are always much better, and more ubiquitous.

The Steampunk Stag Party, having been followed by The Steampunk Wedding, where R2D2 was the ring bearer, and a Dalek was…..a “pretty flower girl”, gave birth to The Steampunk Reception.  The reception had by far the best food including, but not limited to, moving gears made from chocolate covered Rice Crispy Treats that had the various cakes on top.  Unfortunately, I was hungry when I entered this room and, thanks to the peanut butter and chocolate cake, I may have gained a few extra pounds.  They also had real food including chicken with basil rice, chicken enchiladas, beef stroganoff, etc.  We’re talking real food, and clearly homemade with a limited amount of time and budget, but not limited imagination or skill.  The chicken enchiladas were particularly good.  There was the Viking Vs. Pirate party, which involved alcohol but no food.  Someone released a Kraken at that one.  Nevertheless, since it did not have food, it was over-crowded, and the lights were turned down too much, it was generally not that good a party, and it was where people went to get drinks, which is ironic because there were two other parties with more and better alcohol, including The Steampunk Reception.

The JordanCon Party had, as usual, the best selection of alcohol and it had good conversation, though it was drunker than usual, as well as having a Trolling Geordie LaForge.  Don’t ask!  Still, the very best party was a book release party (for and by Gail Z. Martin).  The best conversation by far, plenty of seating, enough people but not too many, and a good cause, with snacks and drinks.  She even had real Coca Cola instead of store-brand swill.

Meanwhile in the gaming room, Robert was having a conversation with someone else about Robert.  Neither of these was Robert’s father Robert, or any of the three MIBs named Robert.  Currently there are too many Roberts.  Other names have gone through this process in the past as well.  Generally speaking, there are many Roberts, Saras, Chrises, Krises, Cindys, Jennifers, etc.  Fortunately, there’s only one Uncle Timmy; or rather, unfortunately.  We could use more Uncle Timmys.  There aren’t enough people voluntarily working conventions, let alone running them, and never have been.

There were 997 guests at the convention, with half the staff and presumably half of the guests not being able to make it from the Nashville side because of weather conditions.  Let it be made clear that some people made it anyway, either coming first or braving the weather conditions.

On the darker side, there was a dweeb with a small Tesla coil on a hard hat on his head with about a two-inch Jacob’s Ladder coming of it, and while that, in and of itself, was kind of cool, he did not seem to understand that this is not an excuse to harass people because they have a phobia.  This is not a method of hitting on someone, but it does have a fair chance of getting you killed or beaten until someone thinks you have acquired some sense.  Despite two additional people telling him it wasn’t cool, he backed her into a corner not far from the balcony door.  If he had gotten any closer, he might well have “jumped” off the balcony.  Fortunately for him, two people got between him and her and he eventually had the sense to back up.  Then he wandered off to look for more alcohol.  I do not know or care what happened to him after that.

Before leaving the hotel, we stopped by and purchased our con memberships for next year.  I always preregister because, very frankly, it’s much cheaper that way, and the lines are shorter.  In fact, it took us maybe five minutes for five people to get their badges when we checked in on Friday because we were slowed down by me not being able to find my ID at first.

After the convention, we went to McKay’s Books in Chattanooga, which is the largest used bookstore I have ever seen.  It is definitely the biggest still existent.  I have occasionally seen ones that had a better stock in the past, but they no longer exist.  After making our purchases, we headed to India Mahal, which has by far the best Malai Kofta I have ever had, and then headed home only to realize that my little cadre of friends were all coming down with Con Crud.  After medicating them with our travel kit, I started the long drive home with my co-pilot passed out at my side.  By the time I stopped for gas, my co-pilot had somewhat revived and I was clearly coming down with the affliction myself.  We traded seats and I took the medicine and passed out.

I hope this gives you a little bit of an idea of what it’s like to go to a convention.  Follow my blog for more of the Convention Survival Guide.

Copyright © 2013 Julian Thomas Reid III

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Convention Survival Guide, Post #2 – How to Select What Convention to Go Attend

So sometimes you wish everyday was Halloween and want to go live inside your favorite book or movie. If so then conventions are the place you want to be. Once you’ve been to Serenity you can never leave, just like Hotel California.

When selecting a convention there are a lot of things to consider. Are you a fan or some kind of professional working in the field? Note; if you’re a professional working in the field and you’re not a fan, there’s something wrong with you. That’s just my opinion, but how can you be any good at writing, acting, or doing anything else in the genre if you don’t like it?

This is a very different question for fans who are not professionals than it is for someone whose livelihood depends on the right choice. There are several questions that you should probably ask if you are new to conventions and want to start trying them out:
1. Do I already have friends who go to conventions who can give me advice about what cons they like?
2. Is the convention centered around a genre that I like?
3. How much does the convention cost?
4. How big is the convention?
5. How far away is the convention?
6. How many days is the convention?

If the convention, for instance, is in the town in which you live, is free, is a one-day event, and is on your day off then it would be worthwhile to go to even if it isn’t in your favorite genre and is only expected to have 100 people attending. However, for a convention that you’re going to pay for then you probably want to start with the convention that has 1000 to 1500 members, is less than 100 miles away, is dedicated to your favorite genre, and is a three-day event. Note; the term three-day event is a bit of a misnomer as most people will arrive on Friday evening and leave by noon on Sunday. Some people may show up on Thursday and not leave till Sunday night but not many. Most of what happens will be on Saturday. Still these conventions are much better than one-day events.

I do not recommend starting with a huge convention like San Diego Comic Con, Dragon con, or WorldCon. They’re just way too big and unless the only thing you’re looking for is sensory overload and to lay out a large amount of money to go shopping there’s really not much point. These conventions typically have thousands of people, complex schedules, and it is impossible to find anything. Once you are used to convention maps and schedules then they are definitely something to see at least once. If on the other hand you are a professional trying to promote yourself, network, and do business these are often the places to be. Please note that in my opinion anytime you have the opportunity to go to WorldCon you should.

I’m not saying that these can’t be great conventions to go to; I am saying they’re not where to start. Similarly I don’t recommend the little conventions that are under 500 people as a general rule as a place to start for a number of reasons. The small conventions are frequently disorganized and they may be just starting up which frequently is a good thing or they may be dying which is usually depressing but they’re just not the best introduction to fandom.

Another important thing to consider is whether or not the convention has a con suite. A good con suite with real food is preferable but free sodas and snacks are an essential part of a truly good convention. Most Anime conventions do not have con suites. I consider not having a con suite to be one of many symptoms of not really caring about or respecting the fans. Anime conventions on the other hand tend to not really exist after the official schedule times of the convention and generally don’t have room parties. In fact most Anime conventions are not even in hotels.

If you are a dealer then Anime conventions and the really large conventions like WorldCon, Comic Con, and DragonCon are probably the best places for you to make money but even a small convention can be profitable especially if you have the right products for the right convention and stick to doing one job well.

If you are a professional, one of your big concerns is always going to be: do they want you as a guest? Another big concern is whether they’re willing and able to pay you. Furthering your career is not really relevant to conventions unless you’re going there to network with other people in the industry or meet up with your agent. I used to go to Dragon Con to meet up with my agent but he’s been MIA for a while now.

Literary conventions are frequently the best ones unless of course you are going expressly for the purpose of partying. Media conventions are more popular and can be fun but really, read a book.

If the convention doesn’t respect you then why should you give them your money?

I can’t think of a single reason.

The other two possible methods are taking names of all the conventions you know about, put them in a hat, and draw one out, and the much more reliable method of waiting until your friends abduct you by telling you to “get in the car, we’re going somewhere” and look up from your cell phone, book, or Game Boy five states later and say, “hey where are we?”

One of the big difficulties when going to conventions is that just when you’re getting used to being able to use your whole vocabulary you have to go back to Mundania where they don’t understand any word with over five letters.

Once you’ve gone to a convention, of course, there will be flyers for lots of other conventions on the freebie tables. You just have to find the freebie tables. Whether you are an Anime fan headed out to Anime Central or a steam punk fan in search of Anachrocon there is a convention out there for you and if there isn’t here is your chance to start a convention. Just make sure that if you go to Necronomicon that you say all the words. So until next time have fun and stay safe.

Copyright 2012 Julian Thomas Reid III

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