Balticon 47 After Action Report

b47_banner_1I was simply not prepared for Balticon this year. Well, to be fair to myself, I did get to Balticon with everything I needed to have, and I did everything I said I was going to do. I was exhausted throughout the weekend, though, and getting everything together was not easy. I really need to take another look at my time-management practices and learn when to tell people, “I just can’t fix your computer / write your program / talk you down off that ledge right now, because I had plans to do something else. So read a book / do it in a spreadsheet for now / call 911 and ask for help, because I’m gonna be busy.”

Yeah, I doubt I’ll ever be able to make myself do that. But I’ll try. At any rate, Balticon 47 was a success for me, and I think it was for its hard-working committee as well, and deservedly so.

My road to Balticon began with frustration, though. See, I was gonna print these nifty business cards, one for each book in my catalog, with QR codes and review snippets on the back, so people could easily find our eBooks. Unfortunately, iPrint, whom I’d used successfully in the past, changed their interface in mid-design of these. This resulted in my existing saved project being corrupted, and my computer being completely unable to upload files. Repeated cries for help to their tech support yielded naught, so they lost that business, and all future business from me, most likely. I was left with too short a window to go elsewhere, so I printed the cards on my trusty HP Color Laser. Not my favorite route, but they looked okay, and they are resulting in eBook sales.

Memorial Day Friday traffic landed me at the Hunt Valley Inn a few minutes after the start of my first panel, “Out of sight, out of mind.” I walked in a bit late, to discover that I had almost stood up one of my favorite SF authors, Allen Steele, who was one of my co-panelists. The point of the panel was to discuss electronic versus print publishing of short fiction. We concluded that electronic publishing can lend more permanence, but the hard part, with so many people competing, is how to get yourself noticed. I was pleased that both my co-panelists and the audience had a lot of questions about my audio and comics work as well, and also to learn that Allen is a fellow comics fan who’s as unhappy with the current state of the art form as I am.

My next panel, “SF and the thinking person” (it was “the thinking MAN,” but the all-male panel agreed that title had to go!) was about how SF literature influences philosophy and public policy. I thought the most interesting question raised was why so many SF novels ¬†take on the topic of slavery. Since my first novel was all about slavery, I felt moved to defend the practice. I agree with Robert Heinlein that slavery never goes away, it just hides. I later learned from a fellow podcaster, Leona Winokur, that there’s a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about human trafficking in all its evil forms: http://www.notforsalecampaign.org/

I joined fellow author Phil Giunta for dinner at the Corner Stable – I hate to say it, but it’s a cramped and crowded venue and and it’s losing its appeal. We waited 45 minutes for a table (we’d been told 15-20) and I really felt unwelcome while we waited. The staff made us feel that we were in their way. Not going to be at the top of my list next time.

At the opening ceremonies Allen Steele and my old friend Yoji Kondo were both presented with the Heinlein Award. Well-deserved on both counts, and I imagine the committee had to do a bit of dancing to get Yoji the award, since he was instrumental in founding it.

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Yoji Kondo and Michael Flynn

I moderated the panel “Raising Geeklings,” where a LOT of us got to talk about our philosophies of raising children, and how being fan parents differs from being non-fan parents. I think a very valuable point was made by a panelist who stressed the importance of not forcing the things you love down your children’s throats. That would be as bad as pressuring your kid to go to your college, or to be a football star because you were. A point well taken, but, looking around, I think most fan parents take it well. I know a lot of very good parents in Fandom. I was happy that kids felt welcome to participate in the discussion. To me, the equality of intellectual opportunity, regardless of age, is what really sets Fandom apart from the rest of society. The age lines just aren’t as important to us. Maybe because we’re all kids at heart, and that’s not a bad thing to be.

I drew an 11 PM reading slot, I think perhaps because I’ve written the odd (very odd) piece of erotica. I read the opening pages of ¬†“Axel’s Flight” from ReDeus: Beyond Borders. The audience was appreciative, and my co-readers were also very gracious listeners.

I was ready to go home after that, but there was a teen dance. Eta Hack, who serves as youth programming coordinator for three (count ’em THREE) local cons, does a wonderful job providing activities for the under-21 set at the con. My younger son wanted to dance (he lives to dance!) and the older one got wrangled as a D.J. by Eta’s son Daniel. And my laptop got pressed into service at the D.J. booth, as I was the only person on the premises, I guess, with a library of over 7,000 songs. Fortunately I was able to hang in the bar with old friends Don Sakers, Tom Atkinson and new friend Melissa Scott until almost 2 AM.

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Gary Concrd, the Ultraman

Got up bright and early (okay, not that bright and early!) to make the Science Ficton in Comic Books panel. A plus here was that Bob Greenberger, whom I’ve not managed to see at all since he left Connecticut to take up residence in my native Howard County, was on the panel. We covered everything from Buck Rogers to the latest SF titles from from the smaller comics companies today. I didn’t have time to mention a forgotten, SF-themed hero from All-Star and Adventure Comics in the 1940s, Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man. He was sort of Buck Rogers with pacifist leanings. I was also disappointed that, when I mentioned Archaia Entertainment’s Space:1999 Aftershock project, the audience reaction was staggeringly negative. I think highly of the title, and I was sorry to hear it dismissed when some stuff I consider abysmal hackery (no names) was lionized. Oh well, to each his own. An enjoyable panel, nonetheless.

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“Crazy 8 Press Presents” was the first of two small press expos for me. Bob Greenberger, Phil Giunta and I were the only three of the dozen-plus authors who’ve now been published by C8, and Phil and I are merely contributors, whereas Bob is a founding partner. We got a chance to plug ReDeus, and tell people what’s to come next from this venture where NYT Bestselling authors are self-publishing both their backlists and new works.

I had very little time for the Dealer’s room, unfortunately, and I didn’t even get much past the front door. One of the booksellers had purchased an estate library of SF paperbacks, and had 2,000 books piled up on the table with volume pricing beginning at $1.50 a copy and going down as you bought ten or more. I bought ten volumes, including some Blish, Del Rey, and Eric Frank Russell, plus Peter David’s Rocketeer novelization, which I didn’t know existed.

Had a nice chat with Barbara from MystiCon, wherein we established that there might be a Prometheus Radio performance at MystiCon 2014. More to follow. I also caught up Lauretta Nagel of Constellation Books (sadly now closed!) and Inge Heyer and Kathy Daugherty from Shore Leave.

My autograph session was quiet, aside from chatting with my table-mates and Paulette Jaxton, who kindly stopped by to see what I had new, and tell me how much she enjoys my work. (I did sign autographs, during the weekend, but I rarely seem to do it at the designated time! That’s okay.)

Dinner at Silver Spring Mining Company was very nice (except please never cook broccoli if the ends of it have turned brown. It tastes like tire rubber!) My dear friend Paul Balze joined Farpoint’s Sharon Van Blarcom, my family, and Phil. Paul lost his mom very suddenly this week, and we were glad he was able to come out and share some time with us. I think we helped him get his mind off the terrible sadness that comes with losing a parent, especially suddenly. At least for a little while.

The others hit the masquerade while I kicked back on the couches outside the bar to read some of Time Travelers Strictly Cash and an old Avengers issue. By the time Spider had wrestled reincarnation to the ground and Yellowjacket had revealed the Stranger to actually be the Toad, I was dozing. Fortunately, Renee came and saved me from being discovered asleep by the rent-a-cops that some hotels require at SF cons to keep the Wrong Element ™ in line, and we headed out. This business of falling asleep whenever I sit down after eight o’clock is getting old. Of course, I guess, so am I.

Although I didn’t have to be at the hotel until three, I wanted to get there early to have lunch with Phil and Bob. Unfortunately, it was a comedy of errors morning. We needed a DVD for a presentation in the ballroom later. Have I ever mentioned I hate authoring DVDs? Compared to CDs, it’s such a complicated and usually error-ridden process, even my beloved MacBook Pro with the full Adobe Creative Suite can’t make it easy. I burned three DVDs before I realized there was no sound because, for some odd reason, Encore had defaulted the audio track to channel two.

Made Lunch (a bit late) at the Nautilus Diner, where we talked about finding time to write and what would be involved in publishing a comic book version of ReDeus. (Too much at present, Bob thinks, and I tend to agree.) A late lunch meant I missed Dr. Beatrice Kondo’s lecture on evaluating medical studies, which I really wanted to hear. Beatrice (who is one of my oldest friends, and also an evolutionary biologist) is passionate about keeping people informed about medicine, so that they neither are misled by experts nor sucked in by shysters.

Got to read a little of Mutiny Springs Eternal, my new novella, just released Friday, at the “Firebringer Press Presents” panel. We also heard Phil reading from By Your Side, which is always scary good fun. And then things got hectic…

See, at Farpoint, we (several friends and I, under the monicker “The Usual Suspects”) presented a stage parody of Joss Whedon’s utterly brilliant Avengers movie. The crew at Balticon wanted an encore. We agreed, despite being quite ill-prepared. In the three months since Farpoint, there just hadn’t been time in our lives to rehearse very often. This convention parody thing was a lot easier when we were all single or childless and working entry-level jobs or going to college. Now… Oy.

We decided to squeeze in one last rehearsal before the show, in the hotel courtyard, where we no doubt annoyed a lot of people who were out for a breath of air. Before said rehearsal, though, I needed more books. It’s an addiction. What do you want me to do? I found some Murray Leinster and Edmond Hamilton, and then we dove into rehearsal. And then we cut rehearsal short as we wanted to make a (horribly brief) appearance at an 80th birthday party for Yoji.

Thanks largely to a lot of help from Eric, Lian and the rest of the crew from TechnoFandom, Balticon’s amazing AV crew, the show came off with very few hitches. One blown audio cue, the result of a forgotten line. There were, sadly, a lot of those; but the energy level was very high, the audience was very, very receptive (even when, despite my better judgment, I allowed myself to go onstage in a stripper suit and be peeled down to my boxers. I mean, seriously, who wants to see a 47-year-old fanboy in his boxers?)

We took a huge crowd to Basta Pasta for dinner. I recommend this place highly. It wasn’t crowded, and both the food and the service were quite good. Afterwards, I relaxed with fellow cast members and a double shot of a 14-year-old Balvenie, aged in rum casks. Expensive but very nice.

The final event was the Erotica a la Carte (also known as Iron Chef Erotica, I think) a competition in which I was a participant. It’s like this: No, I don’t write a lot of erotica, though I appreciate those who do. Several years ago, at a Farpoint, my friend Nobilis of the Nobilis Erotica podcast asked if we could schedule a reading by some of his fellow writers for a late night slot. I scheduled the session, and decided it would be fun to bring my own contribution. The result was a humorous story from my Arbiter Chronicles universe titled, “Daddy Detests Salmon Mousse.” Since then, I’ve been asked to return for some of the con-based erotica presentations. At the last Farpoint, Nobilis asked me to please consider being a contestant in this event. I knew nothing about it (though I’ve watched Iron Chef often), but I agreed. I had no idea that I was competing in something that would have a next round at Balticon, no idea that the writers would be heckled and even tickled as they tried to write, and no idea that I would win the thing. But I left Farpoint the proud owner of a small, green knitted phallus, attesting to the fact that I can write a dirty story under pressure. That competition was judged by the audience. Whoever got the loudest applause won, and my tale of a young man who loses his virginity during a meter shower (something of a riff on Smallville) got the most applause. You see, the “secret ingredient” we had to work into our story was “meteorite.”

So I was in the finals and obliged to appear at Balticon to compete against writers who had won similar phallic trophies at other cons. The competition was tough. After we’d all read, I did not think my story was the most erotic. Cecilia Tan, our celebrity judge, seemed to agree, saying that my story had focused less on erotica and more on humor, but she did leave it up to the audience. The audience judged by humor. Now I didn’t really think my story was the most humorous, either, but… well it did work in the secret ingredient (“Balticon” — I threw in a Dundalk joke as well) and the special second secret ingredient (“Tentacles” — my protagonist wanted to woo a sea goddess) and it silenced the puppet.

It’s like this… the talented Helen Madden leads the heckling at these things, and she makes use of a hand puppet with an outrageous accent. You try to write anything for fifteen minutes with Helen and her hand puppet shrieking insults at you, and you’ll want to go at the damned puppet with seam ripper. I guess the audience appreciated the contestants’ position, since they cheered loudly for my ending, in which the young protagonist finds his sea goddess on a podcasting panel, but must jump one hurdle to win her hand: she has an obnoxious hand puppet, and he has to silence it. He does. I’ll let you guess how one silences a hand puppet in an erotic story. I shant share the story with you. It overused the F-word and it made the writings of William S. Burroughs look coherent. But I guess it was funny.

You see, I was picked as the winner. For my troubles I won this lovely golden artichoke. More socially acceptable than a knit phallus, I should think. Apparently “artichoke” was the secret ingredient in the first of these competitions, and so it was immortalized for the trophy. God… who knows where that artichoke has been?

GoldenArtichoke

4 thoughts on “Balticon 47 After Action Report

  1. I had a fun time at the convention. If you want to include any of my photos from the Firebringer Press panel or the Avengers show, go ahead.

  2. What a lovely artichoke… I am so envious! (Did you save that story?) My, you certainly had a busy con. I’m sure you looked smashing in your boxers…

  3. See, the thing about seam rippers and hand puppets is that a well-executed rip can not only disembowel the puppet, but can snag an artery on the way out…

    Well played, sir.

  4. Pingback: Review – Starbrat by John Morressy | Steven H. Wilson

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