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[conventions] Some post-convention thoughts on being at World Steam Expo

As anyone who’s been following my blog for the past few days knows, I had a real blast at World Steam Expo. That was an absolutely terrific convention, which from my perspective was very well run. I met a lot of very nice, fun people there, and was extremely well-entertained in many different respects.

Some of this of course is simply due to my own state of mind and body. I have been feeling better these last few months than I have since April of 2009. So this is me in full form, able to enjoy late night parties, a little bit of alcohol, and pushing my sleep schedule around without disrupting myself significantly. Yes, I’m exhausted now, but it’s a fun kind of post-event exhaustion, not the medical-grade exhaustion I’ve been living with for so long thanks to my excellent cancer adventures,.

But a great deal more of this had to do with the nature of the event. My experience of World Steam Expo was rather different from my usual convention experience, and I’ve been noodling on what and why. I’m curious to see if I can draw any useful lessons from this.

In no particular order…

Guest Relations

World Steam Expo had one of the best guest relations efforts I have ever encountered. I don’t believe I’ve ever been treated so well by a convention, except when being a Guest of Honor.

At World Steam Expo, I was an author guest — I believe there were five of us, total. I was met at the airport and driven to the hotel. Some logistical snafus which were entirely my own fault were cleared up even before I arrived, thanks to the head of guest relations responding very quickly to help messages from me in transit. I was provided with a call list of guest relations staff and other con com staff, should I need anything, and the few times I did make requests, they were handled promptly and cheerfully. My room was ready with no hassle and no waiting. The con-com had worked with the hotel to keep all the pro guests in a few sections of the hotel, so it was very easy to interact with the other guests without trooping all over the place. At the end of the convention, I was driven back to the airport.

The Green Room was open literally every time I visited it, from fairly early in the morning until very late at night. Three meals a day were served in there for the pro guests. Access was very strictly controlled, which made it a relaxing space, especially for the more recognizable actors, musicians and performers who had fans actively seeking them out. The Green Room kept a well-stocked open bar, and a huge selection of juices and sodas. They had laid on a masseur for the weekend at the convention’s expense, with whom pro guests could book 90 minute slots.

Really, we were insanely well-treated. And at considerable expense, with a budget that I frankly wouldn’t expect from almost any SF convention. (I assume this had to do with the requirements and expectations of the musicians and performers who were there as pro guests.) This made World Steam Expo a high quality experience for me as an author pro guest.

Being a Side Show at Someone Else’s Circus

For the most part, I attend SF/F conventions and genre-oriented writing conferences or retreats, as well as similar events such as the Locus Awards, or the Nebulas when they’re not on the East Coast. Reasonably often I am an ‘anchor’ pro, as I was at Paradise Lost II a couple of weekends ago in San Antonio. This involves being fairly heavily programmed with panels (or lectures), as well as critique sessions. If I’m a toastmaster or a GoH, all the more so. Outside of formal programming, there are always a goodly number of hallway conversations and BarCon discussions about writing and craft and publishing. My time at those events really isn’t my own, as I’m working. That’s a kind of work I greatly enjoy, but it’s still a significant commitment for me to go to most conventions as a pro.

World Steam Expo isn’t a writing convention. It isn’t even particularly book oriented. This is steampunk, which is more of a costuming and music and art and performance and maker movement than it is a literary movement. Gail Carriger and I and the other writers there were definitely supporting cast rather than the main event.

And that made this convention very, very different.

For one, by my usual standards, I was very lightly programmed. This meant I didn’t have to go to bed early in order to leap out of bed early in order to make morning panels or critique sessions or business meetings. That in turn meant I could stay up late to enjoy the concerts and parties.

Likewise, as the days rolled on, I had time to visit the dealer room, attend panels and performances, have a massage or hit the hot tub. Basically, I did whatever I wanted. That’s a very unusual convention experience for me.

So while World Steam Expo certainly delivered a great deal of value to me, I was in the interesting position of delivering value as a supporting cast member. Third camel from the left, so to speak. That was a terrific way to see this rich, complex blowout of a convention.

Working a Convention Cold

I think the last time I worked a convention cold was when I attended Orycon in the fall of 2000, before I was even a baby pro. I’d just moved to Oregon that spring, and hadn’t yet made contact with the local writer community. I had a story in the convention workshop, along with Deborah Layne and Brenda Cooper, and we were pro’d by among other people Devon Monk and Wolf Read. All of whom are friends now, as are many other people I met that weekend. But going in, I didn’t know anyone.

After that, every conference or convention or workshop I attended, whether early on as an aspiring/new writer, or later as a mentoring pro, I knew some people. Usually a lot more than “some”. The chain of affinity that develops among any cohesive social group took hold of me.

Except for this time. Going into World Steam Expo, I knew exactly four people who were going to be there. Only one of them did I know even minimally well (@howardtayler), and until he found me in the hall, I didn’t even realize he was going to be there. I also knew Evelyn Kreite, though I’d never met her in real life, and G.D. Falksen, whom I’d met exactly once in real life. And Gail, of course, though I know her only casually from the West Coast convention circuit.

My approach was to be friendly to everybody, and chat up anyone who would sit still. Going in, I more or less interviewed the guest relations volunteer who picked me up at the airport. (Hi, Dres!) Then I chatted up Tom Downey, head of guest relations, to the degree that he was free to talk to me amid pre-con madness. After I’d settled into my room, I went down to the lobby to people watch and talk to whoever was there. Met a very nice man named Joel, from Aegis, which led to me meeting Sal and a bunch of other Aegis folks. They gave me a place to take a break, fed me a few times, watched my belongings once or twice, and were generality crazy nice. (It turned out that was where Howard was hanging out as well.) Likewise, very early on I popped into the Green Room, where I met the League of S.T.E.A.M., who adopted me and dragged me around and introduced me to the members of Abney Park and a bunch of other musicians and performers and artists and photographers.

By being open to possibilities, I met a whole bunch of new people, some of whom bid fair to become good friends over time. Usually, I’m spending my free Con time with my old friends, meeting new people as they daisy chain into the world of writers, but that’s a much more gradual process. World Steam Expo forced me to make new friends wholesale. And because of that, I got to do a whole lot of other things I would normally have missed out on, like being shot by the H.U.G. gun, or going backstage during the Abney Park concert to be part of the League of S.T.E.A.M.’s surprise on-stage raid on Captain Robert. Plus, there might be some cool new work shaking out of all this, just because. A writing project, at least, and maybe more.

What Does It All Mean?

Heck if I know what it all means. I’m not likely to change my convention-going habits. WriterLand is my home town, and you all are my friends. But I learned (or re-learned) some new ways to experience a convention. I made some terrifically fun new friends. And I should probably stretch my convention/conference habits when time and funds permit.

Also, I’d go back to World Steam Expo in a heartbeat if they invite me again in a future year. If you get a chance to attend, in any capacity, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

[conventions] World Steam Expo, Day Three



Let’s see…

I cracked myself out of bed around 8 am yesterday, did my usual morning routine, before discovering that the reading I thought I had at 1 pm was actually at 10 am. Oops. Still, I made it there in good order, and had a pleasing turnout given that [a] it was the first hour of programming on day three of a Con and [b] this isn’t a book-focused Con. I read “The Lollygang Save the World on Accident” and did Q&A for a while. It was fun and worthwhile.

Afterwards I diddled around with some folks, before hitting the League of S.T.E.A.M.‘s parlor show. Twice. Basically, they were working in character, demo’ing some of their props and gadgets and whatnot. Hilarious fun, though my favorite hands down was the net cannon, a/k/a the H.U.G. gun.

After that I started to wander about, when Lady Ameliorette Potts texted me to come back if I wanted to get shot with the H.U.G. gun my own self. Hijinks ensued.

Jay Lake getting nailed by the H.U.G. gun

(The Facebook comment thread on that image is hilarious, by the way.)

Then it was time to go off to the author panel, where I shared stage space with Gail Carriger, G.D. Falksen, Michael Lee and John White. That was a good hour of moderated Q&A with a pretty full house.

Evening devolved an impromptu birthday party in the Green Room for Captain Robert of Abney Park. After that, the evening unfolded. I caught part of League of S.T.E.A.M.‘s review of their Web series, and about half the set of Steam Powered Giraffe. I finally decided their music was a fusion of high lonesome, three part harmony and stage comedy. Pretty wild stuff.

Further screwing around ensued, culminating in the League of S.T.E.A.M. conducting an impromptu stage raid on Abney Park during their encore of their concert set. Captain Roberts was H.U.G.ed, then spanked with the punchy fist for his birthday. I went along on this raid as the blogger embed, and it was one of the funniest things I have been part of in a very long time.

Afterward, more partying and dancing and whatnot until after 2 am.

Today is a slow, short day. I’m off to the airport at 3 pm to fly home, arriving about midnight. I do have some serious thoughts about my World Steam Expo experience, specifically about working a Con cold, and about being a very minor sideshow in someone else’s world, but for now I’ll just say this has been the most fun I’ve had in a very, very long time. My thanks to the World Steam Expo con com and volunteers, to old friends like @howardtayler and Evelyn Kreite, and to new friends very much including League of S.T.E.A.M..

What a weekend. Now I need a vacation to get over my vacation.

Photo © 2012 Ellie Copperbottom, used with permission.

[conventions] World Steam Expo, Day Two

So the whack factor ran a little higher yesterday. All to the good. After sleeping quite late (by my standards) and a morning workout, I met up with @howardtayler for a leisurely lunch off-site. We had a terrific conversation about writing, life and the value of kindness. Howard also did nifty caricatures of both our waitress and her manager. It was hilariously fun to watch them react with such delight.

Walking back from lunch, we passed a pretty radical steampunked car.

Steampunk car

More photos later when I have the bandwidth to upload them. (That would not be right now, unfortunately.)

Back inside, I hooked up with Ellie Copperbottom of the League of S.T.E.A.M. to host a High Tea. Which was a blast, and very odd at the same time. Then I wound up down in the Vendor Room signing books, where we all but sold out of my stock at the table of Off the Beaten Path Books. Gail Carriger and I crossed paths there again.

Dinner consisted of me and a very helpful concom rep making a White Castle run. Sixty dollars later, the League and I were pigging out hard. From there, things devolved into an evening of music, hot tubbing (well, warm tubbing), drinking, and electroshock therapy. I managed to enjoy an electric kiss with a lovely young woman, as well as try out the new sport of electric motorboating. Plus people were doing shots off Boba Fett’s icy head, but I eschewed that particular pursuit.

Today I have an author panel and a reading and a day of hanging out.

So, yeah. A lot of fun here. A lot of fun.

Photo © 2012 Howard Tayler, used with permission.

[conventions] World Steam Expo, Day One

Yesterday was even more entertaining that Thursday. I cracked my happy ass out of bed extremely late by my own standards, hit the health club for some time on the stationary bike, then caught breakfast in the Green Room. After some bloggery and email time and whatnot, I had my massage — And how cool is it that World Steam Expo has a masseur on retainer for the pros!? — and then went exploring. This eventually involved use of the hot tub, among other things.

I spent a decent chunk of the day hanging out with the inestimable Howard Tayler, who created a truly impressive steampunk caricature of me. (When I get home, I shall scan and post this, but at the moment it is my badge art.) Howard is his own self hanging out in the Aegis room, which is basically a camp for combat geeks. Inside the Con hotel, these cats have a rappelling tower, weapons training with actual pointy objects, a bunch of Nerf weapons, and a Victorian encampment. They are pretty much a real life incarnation of the Black Briar group in J.A. Pitt‘s Black Blade BluesPowells | BN ]. The Aegis group helped me make a notable entrance to opening ceremonies.

Also spent a lot more time partying with The League of S.T.E.A.M. and a whole bunch of other folks, including briefly running across the few people besides Howard that I actually knew before I turned up here. Specifically, Gail Carriger, G.D. Falksen (who has an important planet named after him in the Sunspin universe) and Evelyn Kriete (who is responsible for me being invited to this convention). I caught the last part of the The Men That Will Not be Blamed for Nothing concert.

I even got a bit more work done on Going to Extremes.

Today I have lunch with Howard, a High Tea to host, and a plan to hear some more excellent performances. A bit more programming tomorrow.

Interestingly, I am way off my normal schedule here, even my normal convention schedule. I’m not sure what clock I’m living on, but it’s neither Jay time nor Con time. I’m just going with the flow. Which it turns out is remarkably difficult for me to do. I feel twitchy about not being up at 5 am exercising (hard to do when you’re going to bed at 2 am) and why I’m not writing more.

But I’m here to have fun, which I am decidedly doing; and to see and be seen, which I am decidedly doing.

Is this what time off feels like?

[conventions] World Steam Expo, Day Zero

Yesterday waa a fine day. I got up too early, to be driven to the airport by [info]lillypond, a/k/a my sister. The flights to Detroit were uneventful, other than being about 40 minutes late getting into DTW. I was able to start digging in to revising the Going to Extremes outline on the plane, plus answering a ton of email. Also had several pleasant conversations with various fellow travelers.

Arriving at World Steam Expo was an interesting experience. It’s been years since I walked into a Con cold, not knowing anyone or anything. (I think I know maybe two or three people here.) So once I got settled, I hung out in the lobby and talked to various folks. Eventually I fell in with low persons (a/k/a The League of S.T.E.A.M.), who led me into bad ways (a/k/a Abney Park). Strong drink was consumed, and gutter language was used. A few regrettable incidents may have occurred. I went to bed highly entertained around 2 am, which is the latest I’ve stayed up in forever.

Plus as a special bonus, I ran into @howardtayler, who in addition to being a brilliant cartoonist and storyteller, is also well on his way to becoming one of my favorite people anywhere, ever.

My schedule today consists of a massage. Oh, how shall I cram it all in?

See some, all or none of you around this joint.

[personal] Miscellaneous miscellany

Yesterday was a long, good day. Day Jobbery went well, even better than normal. We had a terrific Open Dinner here in Austin, with @dratz, @itsaJuliasaurus (a/k/a Mrs. @dratz), [info]stillsostrange, @StevenBrust, Skyler White, D—, old Austin Slug Tribe friends Jn4 and CH, [info]jess_ka, E—, [info]sophielandon and Mr. [info]sophielandon. I got to talk with everyone but E—, to whom I regretfully didn’t even manage to say good-bye.

Afterwards, we rolled back to chez @dratz where I wound up interviewing @StevenBrust and Skyler White on camera.

Jay Lake interviewing Steven Brust and Skyler White

This was a cold interview, from my perspective, in that I hadn’t known I’d be conducting it until about a minute before the interview started, and I’d done none of my usual interview preparation. Nonetheless, Steve and Skyler were gracious and cooperative interview subjects. Oddly, I went to bed feeling a bad attack of imposter syndrome post-interview. That’s mostly a measure of how tired I was, given my usual bullet-resistant writerly ego.

Now I’m heading back to Portland, rather underslept and feeling more than a bit behind on my writing. The latter is not in fact true, this is just my psychotically persistent writerself talking, so I’ll be fine. After lunch with [info]mlerules, I’ll be working Day Jobbery this afternoon, then photographing [info]the_child‘s lacrosse team, and spending the evening with her. More Day Jobbery tomorrow and (hopefully) lunch with [info]kenscholes. Then off to Detroit on Thursday.

I do owe a couple of blog posts, time and mental focus permitting. Among other things, I want to document last Saturday’s cheesefest at Paradise Lost II.

Also of note, a dream from a couple of nights ago. I was watching television (in my dream). It was a nature documentary about a family of manta rays that had adopted a kitten. That was all very sweet and adorbz until at one point in the documentary, the manta rays turned on their kitten. As they began slashing at the animal, taking bites out of it, I felt the stinging, tearing pain of each bite in my body. I got wrapped up in wondering how the documentary crew had managed to capture then broadcast the pain to me, the viewer. Interpretation of the meaning of this dream is left as an exercise for the reader.

At any rate, I’m off. Be well.

Photo © 2012 Donnie Reynolds and Waterloo Productions. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

[conventions] Wrap up on Paradise Lost II, my week ahead

Paradise Lost II went well, my personal epiphanies aside. The conference ran well, critique was solid, and I enjoyed talks by John Joseph Adams and Steven Brust. We had a lovely cheese fest on Saturday, and a really terrific dinner Saturday night that included deep fried beets and a drop-in from my cousin N—. Park ranger stories were told, among other things.

We drove back to Austin from San Antonio yesterday. Thanks to the location of the FBI office there, as well as some trafficmancy by @Madge707, it took us three hours to get from downtown San Antonio to chez @dratz in Central Austin. Dinner with my Aunt V— ensured shortly thereafter at Hut’s Hamburgers. We wound up the evening with a rousing game of Gloom, and some talk time.

There may be photoblogging of the cheese, et cetera, later, but the photos are in @dratz‘s camera, so I don’t have them yet.

Today I am working Day Jobbery here in Austin, followed by tonight’s Open Dinner. Off to Portland tomorrow where I will see [info]the_child for the first time in a week. Thursday I skive out of town again for World Steam Expo in Dearborn, MI.

More to come, as time and blog space permit. See some, all or none of you here and there about the country.