Sunday, August 05, 2007

Con Report for Confluence 2007 (With a little history ;))

Hmm, a con report. I did indeed say that I would do one for Confluence 2007 in Pittsburgh, PA. The only trick is that I've never written one before. On the other hand, this seems an appropriate moment simply because Confluence marked a number of first for me.

1) I'd never flown to a con before.
2) I'd never been in a con program book.
3) I'd never done a formal reading.
4) I'd never spoke on a panel.
5) I'd never sang one of my own songs in a filk circle.

And from that list (and the grin you can't see), you have to be able to guess I thought Confluence was a wonderful convention. It's a small convention, possibly even smaller than Potlatch, which I've been to once. This lent the con a more personal feel. Most of the con going I've done has been at Baycon, and for someone like me, the concept of hanging out chatting with "pros" in the hallways just isn't that easy. At Confluence, I found myself chatting with strangers without even thinking about it. Everyone seemed just as interested in having a great time as I was, and I found people to be very supportive.

Seriously, as a first convention, I can't imagine a better one than Confluence, and as one to try your hand at being part of the program, it was wonderful.

Okay, onto the story. It's been so long since I found out about the PARSEC (Pittsburgh's Premiere Science Fiction Organization) short story contest that I can't remember how it first came to my attention. I do remember that when the topic of "Hard Port" came out in 2003 (for the 2004 contest) I couldn't help thinking no one would think of something hard to carry. I wrote up my idea, sent it in, and was stunned to receive a second place win. Not only that, but Barbara Carlson invited me to appear in Triangulation 2004, at the time a publication limited to PARSEC members only. (The current editor, Pete Butler, would like everyone to know that it is open to all submissions as of 2007, and he looks forward to seeing what you can come up with.)

That year I also sold Curve of Her Claw to Fantasist Enterprises for Cloaked in Shadow, so I checked with Ann Cecil regarding my eligibility. Then, even with her go ahead, I failed to come up with a story for the 2005 contest. I thought the same thing was going to happen with 2006, but then Unique Worlds (under the first of its three titles ;)) came into mind not as a full story but as a little girl with such a mix of hope and fear in her eyes. I struggled with it a bit because I couldn't see the shape of the story. Luckily, for once I wasn't playing on the edge of the deadline. There were several times though that I thought the story wouldn't come together. And then it did in time for the deadline with a grand 9 days to spare!

At this point you're wondering what's all this about a story? I thought this was a con report?

Well, my story won first place in the PARSEC contest, which includes being printed in the convention program book for everyone to read. It seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. I'd always gone to conventions as someone lost in the crowd. There, I'd have a purpose, a role. So I said I was coming, asked if they wanted me on the program, and Kira Heston and Laurie D.T. Mann made it happen :).

So anyway, that's how I came to be stumbling off a plane early in the morning after a night of flying with enough time to get food, check in, get settled (even take a nap because 7 AM in Pittsburg is a nasty 4 AM in my time zone :)) before registration opened. I failed to negotiate my way through the process as a participant, but a few helpful suggestions and I arrived at my first panel (for the second time) with everything I needed.

This first panel was Introducing: Dark Fantasy and the first ever panel I was a panelist for. I shared this distinction with four other folks including Wen Spencer (an excellent science fiction and fantasy writer who I knew already from Forward Motion) and Judi Miller (the filk sign language interpreter who I met in the registration line all unknowing). The panel might not have come to any firm conclusions regarding a hard and fast definition of dark fantasy, but we had an interesting discussion about what made it different from both horror and fantasy. Wendy Delmater (of Abyss and Apex) was a strong contributor from the peanut gallery, a timely choice since their latest issue focused on dark fantasy.

From there I went to Short Form Fantasy to hear a discussion on whether short form fantasy was a viable form including current trends observed in Realms of Fantasy toward fairy-tale retellings as opposed to unique worlds. The majority of panelists focused their efforts on novels or short stories that shared the world of their novels, so the first discussion was whether short mean a standalone work compared to a multi-book trilogy ;). It was there that I first caught sight of Joshua B. Palmatier who I knew from the Online Writer's Workshop listserv.

My next panel came soon after with What's Next for the Web? We discussed the influence of audience on what comes to be, how the development of content management systems has enabled anyone to produce content and what the limitations of those systems are, and numerous other topics related to the question, including the need for dynamic content, and tricks to creating dynamic content with minimal effort.

The New Space Opera panel discussed whether the latest wave of Space Opera was a British or US invention, who might fall into that category based primarily on their short works, and a bit of the history along with some of the definition quibbles.

I spent the rest of the evening in the filk room until way too late at night, first listening to a memorial filk circle for Cynthia McQuillin and Leigh Ann Hussey, then joining in with open filk. My sister and I even sang a version of the poem Sea Fever that I set to music back in 8th grade :) all in haunting minor chords.

In an insane bit of nostalgia, my sister and I decided we wanted to watch Johnny Quest. This meant getting up a bare 5 hours after we'd crashed in bed (ignoring that the previous night was spend transferring between airplanes. We did manage it, watched an episode full of child-endangerment and illogical statements like, "I don't see any bad guys so I guess it's safe for you to go wandering in a 100-year old rotting hulk," (okay paraphrased :)), but still good fun.

I then slipped off to do the writing exercises, struggling with my Palm all the way, because I don't write by hand. Still, good exercises in which we explored different dialogue techniques such as how to work around to something or convey a statement or emotion without saying it outright. This also soothed my writing deprived soul enough so I could enjoy the conference guilt free :).

I went to a vocal workshop with Margaret Davis and Kristoph Klover who I had heard several times in the Bay Area. The exercises had some interesting variations just perfect for a science fiction convention, such as Muadib done to a rising and falling scale. We ended with the first verse of Will You Go (a Gaelic folksong from Brigadoon) which happens to be a favorite of mine.

Sadly, I missed Wen Spencer's reading due to too much going on all at once. It was hard to keep track of where I wanted to be at any particular time because there were always at least 2 if not more things I wanted to do or see. I skipped out on all but the early morning videos because though they would have been fun, I can see them elsewhere, which is not true of the panels and such.

I ended up missing or being late to several panels just because I ended up in an interesting conversation with someone, something that speaks to the comfortable atmosphere of this conference more than anything else. And yes, I had at least two bathroom conversations, but none with an agent and certainly not while clutching pitch material to my chest :).

I did make it to Alan Irvine's Irish Folktales, which is the true way to experience an Irish tale, and he did a wonderful job of making the stories come to life through vocal inflection and body movement.

I also went to Joshua B. Palmatier's reading and heard a bit from the world of Skewed Throne, which I'd been intending to check out for some time. My copy should arrive in the mail in the next week or so ;).

The panel on Glitches in Books and Movies turned out to be rants as opposed to how to avoid making the same, but the analyses of some of the works were interesting anyway.

And now looking at the schedule I see another panel I would have wanted to go to but missed. Isn't that always the way with schedules. I would have liked to have seen the swords though.

The discussion on Speculative Fiction Markets ended up going to the audience a bit more than expected, but we discussed some of the good markets out there and how to find new markets. We also touched on anthologies and where they fit in a writer's career. (Note: I say we not because I was on this panel but because they opened it to the audience and this is an area that I have quite a bit of expertise so contributed on a few points.)

The presentation of Grease Wars: A Musical Travesty was great fun. The play itself, by Luke Ski, was a well done combination of the two (Grease and Star Wars) and everyone did a grand time making it come to life. Oddly for the venue, it made me want to re-watch Grease not Star Wars, but...

The rest of Saturday was spent on filk, two concerts and then the open filk, though I didn't manage to stay up quite as late as the previous night :).

Sunday started early again with Thunderbirds Are Go!, a sad misunderstanding when I was thinking of Thunder Cats and honestly I think the extra hour of sleep would have done me better ;).

Again I joined in with the writing exercises, this time on cutting passages down to the telling details, which brought forth a character whose tale I still have to discover.

From there I dove into the science part of science fiction, starting with Low Tech Ain't No Tech which was a discussion on advanced scientific techniques used by ancient cultures, everything from medical science to the aqueducts and roads that still stand today, unlike the nearby highway that will need another resurfacing soon ;).

Then I went to Running Away from Science which ended up as an interesting discussion over whether science has moved so far beyond the public grasp that it fails to compel and what value do pseudosciences like astrology have to offer such that so many are willing to devote time to learning and understanding them.

I had to slip away early to do my first autographing session ever, something that didn't do so well as far as how many signatures I doled out, but which resulted in quite a few good conversations about the different topics we'd discussed in the panels.

The Robotics Presentation by Chris Urmson provided a behind the scenes look at the strengths and weaknesses of the challenges and what the teams went through to qualify and even place.

Here again I had to sneak out to make sure I made it to my own reading. I closed out the conference with Jamie Lackey, both of us reading our PARSEC contest stories. Among other things, the contrast between my story (an urban fantasy) and hers (an epic fantasy) showed just how not limiting a theme-based contest can be. Those who stayed to hear us seemed to enjoy themselves and some even came forward to pick up one of my cards (designed by Hanna Sandvig -- (See Below)). Maybe some of them will seek out my other publications.

I did go to the dealer's room and the art room in the few times when I didn't want to be somewhere else. Both of them were full of fascinating displays.

So there it is. A busy con, and I made it to probably less than a fourth of the offerings, and probably about half to three-fourths of the ones I wished I could have managed. Definitely a time when temporary clone technology would have come in handy.

As a convention goer, I'd say it's a busy, welcoming, fun convention. As a participant, especially a first timer, I'd say everyone was extremely helpful, from Wen Spencer steering me right on getting my name card, to the panelist who, when I asked a question from the very back, first introduced me to the audience as the PARSEC short story winner. Despite the distance, when I can manage the trip, I plan to head on back just because it was a wonderful experience that I'd love to repeat.

And that's my convention report. A little long winded, but I couldn't talk about one thing and not another. Hope you enjoyed it if you lasted this long, and that you'll consider giving Confluence a try :).


Holly said...

Sounds like it was a great con. And, like all great cons, impossible to keep up with. :D

Deirdre said...

Very cool...and btw, nice card!

Margaret said...

Oh it definitely was a great con, Holly, ...and yeah, I'm getting the feeling the keep up is just something to expect :D.

Thanks Dee :).

Diane said...

Just read this now (February)--whew! You did a whole lot! Impressive. Hope you come back.

Margaret said...

Yeah, I must admit I tend to treat a good con as a feast to be devoured in all its wonders.

Sadly, this year isn't looking good for me to come, but there's always next :).