48 hours after arriving at Norwescon, I left Norwescon and it felt like the time just flew by. I met many friends from past cons, made some new ones, did some new things, and had an absolutely great time.
What I love about SF conventions is that they are really the chance to luxuriate in being a writer person and a sci-fi person and not have to fit it in with everything else that makes up my life. I do love the fullness of my life, but being able to indulge this side of my personality is a real luxury and always a joy.
I arrived Thursday a little after 1 PM, checked into the hotel, dropped off my bags and went to get my Attending Pro badge. My first con as an attending pro. What a great moment! I felt like the kid who had been let into the teacher's lounge at school.
I needed to type up my summary notes for the critiques I was doing, so I sat at the counter next to the coffee stand, drank a latte, and successfully resisted the Internet enough to polish those off (all four of them).
Prizes were needed for the Sci-Fi Spelling Bee that night, so I cruised the dealer room for inspiration. Originally, I was going to use all books but there was a host of fun things so I expanded the possibilities. I ended up with: an "Ultimate X-Men" trade paperback; a set of Serenity action figures (Malcolm, Jayne and River - imagine the mayhem!); steampunk goggles; shot glasses to go with LIGHTBREAKER (the debut novel from markteppo, who gave me many words and definitions); and a massage gift certificate (oooo).
Back to the room to regroup, and it was off to panels and sessions. My first panel ever as a Pro was "I Just Sold My First Story/Novel". Very appropriate, as my first sale was at the start of 2008. markteppo was on the panel as well, so the old Viable Paradise roomies had a blast doing some back-and-forth riffing. Mike Moscsoe was the "old hand" who'd been around the block a few times and had much sage advice. In the end, it comes down to Acting Like A Professional - get work done, be polite and open in all your dealings with everyone who wants to help publish your work, and keep on producing.
A short break for a quick meal in the Green Room (ooo, hanging out in the Green Room) and next was my first critique session. The story was "We The Hunters, We The Hunted" and the critiquers were James Glass, Jennifer Brozek, and Gra Linnea with Renee Stern moderating. It was a good session. There was much they liked about the story, and they identified the issues with the story that kept it from being a complete, working story. I'd always felt not quite set with the one, and this session really helped me pick out the things I can work on fixing in a revision. I see "Hunters" getting revised and going out pretty soon.
Next, the Small Press Party. A big crowd, and I had a good time talking to various folks and having a couple Mike's Hard Lemonades. But after a while it was time for the Spelling Bee, so I grabbed all my stuff and headed on down to the room.
The Science Fiction Spelling Bee. I was a little nervous before it started because, after all, I was the creator and host. Would anyone show up? Luckily, people did. Many writing friends came, and in a little while we had a nice crowd of about 30 people in attendance. The game went faster than I thought it would go, partially because we had some early misses, but also because the "word - definition - sentence - answer" process was quicker than I'd anticipated. In about 25 minutes, we had our first winner. People enjoyed it enough that we did a second round with the remaining words, and that too lasted about 25 minutes. sparckl helped out with administrative items, so I thank him much for his assistance.
Overall, I felt the Bee was a success. The audience laughed at some of the sentences and cheered for people when they got words or even when they didn't. I'll certainly offer to do it again at the next convention I attend. There were some good ideas for the next Bee - have a "call a friend" option (one chance to pick someone in the audience to answer for you), and name a panel of judges in case there is disagreement over the spelling of a word (like "wookiee").
After the Bee, a few of us retired to the bar for drinks and conversation. I finally ended up going to sleep about 2 AM, after a long and successful day.
10AM Saturday turned out to be a little early for me, as I rushed to make my first panel of the day: "Creating Emotion-Driven SF/F", something that is very appropriate for me as this is what I try to do with my stories. I was definitely the newbie on the panel, so I talked about how I struggle with this and the techniques I use to try to create the depth of character that I currently think leads to having strong emotion in stories.
11AM Saturday was the LOST panel. Now here was a panel where I felt like I knew what I was talking about! It turned into a fun, extended discussion between the panel and the audience about what we enjoyed about the show (the characters), what we'd liked about this fifth season (the rapid pace, the tightness, the twists and turns), what we thought might be coming in the rest of the season, and what questions we wanted to see answered.
A quick stop by the Green Room to grab lunch-like snacks, and I hustled upstairs for the first part of Ken Scholes's talk on "Life as a Writer". Ken is a very entertaining speaker who is also very willing to talk about his life and the things in his life that helped make him into the person and writer he is today. If you ever get a chance to hear him talk, go! His sessions are great, audience-driven, and cover a wealth of valuable information for the writer.
I left Ken's session about halfway early because I had to hustle off to my next panel, "Early Computers". While this is a great interest of mine, I don't know a tremendous amount about it. Luckily Burt Webb, the moderator, had prepared a presentation on the subject that covered not only the Antikythera Device and Babbage's Difference and Analytical Engine, but also abaci and counting machines from the 1300s to the 1700s. It was a really well-done presentation, and I just chimed in occasionally when I had information I thought was useful.
A short coffee break and it was into my three hours of critiques (2 for other people, one for me). Being my first critiques as a "pro", they went well enough. It's nice when you go first, then someone who has sold a bunch of novels and stories says "I'm agree with most of what Jeff said". Hey, ma, lookit me - I'm critiquing good!
My track record of being paired with G. David Nordley on con writing workshop critiques continued uninterrupted. He and I were in a critique sessions Friday (and again on Saturday). Gerry has critiqued me at virtually every single con workshop I've attended. Which is good, because he gives a solid critique. And when it's something that involves space technology or space travel, he is fantastic.
My second story critique session went well enough. This story, "Breaking Through", has some real strengths (the relationship of the main character), but some real flaws that I could sort of sense but not completely. Well, the critiquers (Erin Tidwell, John Pitts, Paul Melko, and Jak Koke) nailed down the big issues - the ending does not work with the rest of the story, and some of the characters are a bit shallow. Good feedback. Harder to fix, because it affects a lot of the story. So this one might have to sit for a while until the changes come to me.
Post-session I met Mary Rosenblum and we had a fantastic dinner. Lots of talking about writing, and how writing was going for me, and what makes character-focused stories good and enjoyable and powerful. But we also talked about life on her farm, and herding dogs, and printer security software, and the raising of teenagers. Since the first time I met her (back at Potlatch 2007), Mary has been wonderful and generous to me. She is the person I think of as my mentor in the world of being a science fiction writer. I owe her a debt I can never repay, even with meals at cons, so the best I can ever do is try to write stronger stories, and try to help others somewhere near as much as she's helped me.
Post-dinner, I took a short break after the long day and sat in the room for 30 minutes of vegging. Then I went to the Pro Party for a bit more than an hour and socialized with my fellow Pros! ("My fellow Pros" is such a strange thing to say). Eventually, it was 11PM and time for my reading.
The (late-night) reading went well. There were many people there I knew and a few I didn't know! I read "The Blur, Pinky and Me", "Cat, Owl, Cigarette", and the first part of "When Lina Went On The Lam". I had a lot of fun reading (the old acting side coming back out), and the stories were well-received. After me, Mark Teppo took the next half hour and read an excellent manifesto "written" by the main character of his book LIGHTBREAKER. Mark also read parts of LIGHTBREAKER. Both very enjoyable, and I really liked the manifesto.
Post this incredibly big day, I chatted with MK Hobson and Kami Miller while having a glass of absinthe (which takes like licorice and clings to your mouth). Eventually the day caught up with me and I said my goodnights, went back to the room, and crashed at about 1:30 AM.
Somehow, I dragged myself out of bed at 8 AM, did calisthenics, took a shower, packed, and made it to a 9 AM breakfast organized by catrambo. A good breakfast, where I chatted software with Cat's husband Wayne, chatted about writing with the folks around the table, and listened to Kelly Robson's awesomely entertaining stories about her adventures in the world of wine.
Two more critique sessions followed. In between I went back to the room, packed up, checked out, and stored my bags. Again, the critiques went well and hopefully I was able to give feedback that was helpful to the writers.
Finally, I attended a panel after snagging a quick soda at the Green Room. "Orbital Habitats" was about issues humans will encounter as they try to live in space. The panel wandered a bit, as all panels do, but I came away with lots of useful information (I have some space station stories cooking in the old brain hopper) and a reference to the Sacramento chapter of the Space Society.
The last event of Norwescon for me was the Writers Workshop Social. I chatted with many different folks who had participated in the workshop, including Garth and Mark and Carole and Kami and Dan. Brenda Cooper playfully (and rightfully) chewed me out for dissing myself so many times in the "Emotion-Driven SF/F" panel the previous day. She reminded me to act like a professional because you are in the public eye. It's okay to dis yourself once or twice, since you're setting your place in the panel, but not the whole time.
After that, it was a quick goodbye to everyone and off to the airport. SeaTac didn't have free wireless (that's crazy) so I typed up some notes. On the plane, I started into markteppo's LIGHTBREAKER and will post thoughts and notes once I finished.
Final funny note: About 30 minutes after I got home, C and I went downtown to a pub to meet up with the Aussie Rules Football people. We watched Hawthorne pound North Melbourne for three quarters then decided to call it a night. As if I didn't have a busy enough day already! (No worries. It was much fun!)
Cons are fantastic. They are a time where I really feel like a SF/F writer. Being a "Pro" was, in a weird way, both helpful and frightening. Helpful because it gives me the glimmer of a sense that I might actually figure things out (to some degree). Frightening because there is a whole much more I don't know that I know I have to learn in order to do what I want to do with my writing. Yet, I'm in a position of authority, on the other side of the table (so to speak).
Doing the Sci-Fi Spelling Bee was a real blast and I will definitely offer to do it again at future cons. The reading also went well and will help give me the gumption I need to audition with a site as a podcast reader. (Drama Degree, re-activate!)
In the end, I feel very recharged as a writer and a science fiction nerd. I do believe that my experiences at Norwescon will light the booster rockets and help me get cooking again on challenging myself with my writing and taking it to the next level. All that's left (all!) is the hard, hard work. But I'm ready for that.