Jeremy "Bolthy" Zimmerman (bolthy) wrote,
Jeremy "Bolthy" Zimmerman
bolthy

NorWesCon 2010 After Action Report

So, I had my first real exposure to Norwescon. I'd had limited visits in the past. Several years ago I attended on Thursday only and sat in on, like, one or two panels. (I remember one with Mike Pondsmith, whose words encouraged me to pursue game design. Hm.) Another time I dropped in to have drinks with friends who were attending. And one year I lucked into having a table in the dealer room.

But this was my first year buying a full membership, staying in the hotel and attending a crap ton of panels. So, here is my general commentary on the experience.


The Venue

The hotel was something of a mixed blessing. Our room was nice, much better than the rooms I've stayed at for other conventions. We lucked out and had a room right on the small lake that bordered the hotel. Google Maps tells me this was Bow Lake, which makes me do a double take because I know from working at the County that there's a recycling and transfer station there. Huh.

Anyway, the room was comfortable, the view was nice. The whole place was clean and professional. And yet we were faintly miserable. Our room was on a high traffic area, so we had loud con attendees walking past our room at all hours of the night. I guess we were also between the big party wing and the center of the hotel, so people had to go that way to get their drinking on. So it wasn't the most restful experience.

Plus, food at the hotel was ridiculously expensive. In order to save money, we just tromped across the street and ate at one of the smaller, less expensive restaurants nearby. Even grabbing something pre-made at the coffee shop cost an arm and a leg. We dropped $25 for two sandwiches, two juices, a muffin and a mocha. That just strikes me as a bit much. But then, a sit down breakfast at their restaurant cost us twice as much. Even without my snooty expensive coffee.

Panels

I won't do a blow by blow of the panels I attended. I sat in on over a dozen panels, and not all bear detailed mention. Overall it was a very different experience from RustyCon. I expected them to be bigger, but the difference was staggering. The panelists at NorWesCon had a bit spiffier credentials. Which makes sense. But while panelists would often outnumber attendees at RustyCon, that was definitely not the case at NorWesCon.

Broadly, the panelists were professional and friendly and came off as knowledgeable. There was only one author who annoyed me deeply. There was one bigwig who scared people off from his panels. Otherwise the panelists were great.

The writing panels were, almost universally, PACKED. Standing room only. There were a couple notable exceptions, like the "Gender Queers in Urban Fantasy" and a panel on creating believable religions. But otherwise: PACKED. What was extra surprising was that most of these panels were in the smaller of the rooms the convention had to offer.

Overall, though, I felt like I got something from almost every panel I sat in on. I'll admit to getting a little tired of the pat phrases that gets dispensed to new writers. I've heard "Show don't tell" and "Kill your darlings" so many times over the past four days that I'm surprised I don't have people repeating them in my dreams. But the volume of good advice provided beyond that outweighed a bit of exasperation.

The halls between panels were also a zoo. There was no system for lining up for the panels. It was just kind of a clusterfrag. If you were at all claustrophobic, this wasn't the place for you. It also sucked for the relatively high volume of wheelchairs that had to get down the hallways. From talking to a more experienced con-goer, I gather that this is typical and she defended the fact that it was an all volunteer organization in the largest hotel in the area. (As opposed to PAX or SakuraCon, which are for-profit events in dedicated convention space.) Her feeling was that there's an all-night weekend-stay culture for NorWesCon that the other conventions didn't have. PAX doesn't have their current schedule up, but SakuraCon looked like it had stuff going on most hours of the night. But then, the person I know is prone to being argumentative.

In addition to the always excellent KC Ball, I also really enjoyed the stuff I heard from Mary Robinette Kowal. Her explanations of stuff through her experiences with puppetry really gave me a lot to think about.

Eileen Gunn was awesome in the one panel I saw her in. But then, I'm biased. When someone in the audience told her, "You have to know the rules in order to break them," she responded with, "I've broken plenty of rules without knowing what they are." Having been called on breaking rules I didn't know existed, I felt a little vindicated. This isn't to say I break rules well, but it's always frustrating to stumble over those things on accident. Of course, I say that right after having a friend who has been writing urban fantasy without knowing or reading any urban fantasy. So my moral highground is kinda low.

Other authors I liked hearing, whose names I jotted down, included John Pitts, Alma Alexander, Joshua Palmatier, Jack Skillingstead, Darragh Metzger, Jason Henninger, Cat Rambo, Randy Henderson, Kevin Radthorne... I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting.

Readings

I sat in on the readings of a few friends. I sadly hadn't read any of the authors that were doing readings at the convention. I'm, like, a decade behind the curve I guess. I haven't even read Cory Doctorow. (*gasp*) Going with that, I only asked three authors to sign a book, and they were all people I already knew personally. I have a bunch of authors to seek out next year that I saw at the con this year, but my panel schedule didn't allow for that this time around.

Nathan Crowder, who is part of my every-other-week type-and-gripe, read his short story "Deacon Carter's Last Dime." Even though it had been published in Crossed Genres Year One with my own short story, I hadn't read it. (Yeah, I'm a lousy friend.) I feel like an extra big heel because his story was amazing. It was, by far, the best thing I've heard from him. It nearly brought me to tears. Holy macaroni it was good. Nate had a great reading voice to begin with, and the story was just heart breaking.

A.M.Dellamonica taught my recent writing class and I was able to meet her face-to-face, and her charming wife, at the convention. She read from her upcoming book Blue Magic, which seemed like it had a lot of interesting ideas but I was utterly lost. I hadn't read the first book, so an excerpt from the sequel was a little confusing.

Rosemary Jones, who I play D&D with, read from her story from Realms of the Dead. Since her excerpt was relatively short, she shared her space with fellow writer in the anthology, Erik Scott de Bie.

I had wanted to go to KC Ball's reading, but it was a the same time I'd be on the hotseat for the workshop. But my girlfriend went in my stead and enjoyed it.

Fairwood Writers Workshop

Sunday morning I was on the hot seat, where three professional writers and a moderator would give me feedback on my novel. I was only entirely terrified. The panel consisted of Rosemary Jones, John Pitts and Andrea Howe of Blue Falcon Editing. The moderator was Rhiannon Held of the Fairwood Writers Group.

I'd been vocal about how nervous I was about this since, well, December when I sent off the manuscript. Rosemary had been alternating between trying to assure me that it would be fine and cracking jokes about making me cry like a little girl.

The morning started off poorly. The room where I was to have my workshop experience was on the 14th floor of the hotel, just off of the nightclub that they have up there. Since I was the first workshop person that morning, the elevators were locked from going up that far. The only saving grace was that two of my critique panelists were also in the elevator having the same problem. We headed over to the front desk, got someone to unlock it, rescued Rosemary from the ninth floor and made it up there in one piece. The fourth person arrived a little bit later after having even more problems with the elevator than we did.

The room was quite nice, and had a lovely view.

I think the thing that I had genuinely not expected was that all four reviewers liked my writing. And I very nearly started sobbing out of relief when the fourth person said the same thing. This isn't to say that they thought it was perfect and that I should submit it to an agent on a bed of flower petals. In fact, the feedback they gave suggests pretty heavy duty revisions. But having them all speak highly of it made me feel a lot better.

I've learned enough about what not to do (if not how not to do it) over the last year that I've been very self-conscious over the flaws I know exist in Red King. So I was surprised that they liked it. Best of all, their feedback helped me look at changing it differently. Since the book grew sort of organically, I've been uncertain how to change it without the whole thing tumbling apart. But the workshop tilted things around so that I could look at the thing differently and really see what was necessary.

I had suggested the possibility of a second POV. They were pretty strongly against it, feeling the story would work better with just a single POV. They felt that the POV provides a character that readers an identify with easily, and shifting POVs will weaken that emotional connection.



As with RustyCon, I didn't have note taking material with me. So I jotted notes into my iPhone. When I have a chance, I'll transcribe those notes in here, so you can see what books were recommended to me and other thoughts that came up.
Tags: conventions, court of the red king, norwescon 2010, workshops
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