My Farpoint Schedule

Farpoint 2015 is this weekend! Guests include Colin Ferguson, Tim Russ, Timothy Zahn, and, of course, me.

I know I said I’d retired from Farpoint and all, but Renee and I stepped up this year to run the Art Show, so that our friends Cindy Woods and Heather Mikkelsen could take over Programming, where they’ve done a stellar job. So I’ll be in the Art Show room a lot this weekend.

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Capclave 2013

small_dodo_transparentI haven’t been to a con on Farpoint’s old weekend (Columbus Day, politically incorrect as it now is) since, well… Farpoint 2000. People still complain that Farpoint made the choice to move from October to February, but, well, if we moved back now we’d be against Capclave. And that would be a shame, because Capclave is not a con I’d want to miss, or hold a con up against. It’s not a huge con, just as Farpoint isn’t. It is, like Balticon, a literary SF con, sponsored by the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA). The program was chock-full, with six tracks running until midnight Friday and Saturday, and I was kept quite busy throughout, which is how I like it.

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Shore Leave 35 After Action Report

Shore Leave is, I believe, the oldest surviving fan-run Star Trek convention in the United States. Does anyone know of an older one? Please let me know, if so. I’ve been attending since Shore Leave VI, in 1984. I recall that Mark Lenard and Walter Koenig were there. At that point in time, I didn’t know there was much more to a con than actors and a dealers’ room. I was on the committee for Shore Leaves VII and VIII, and then wrote, directed or appeared in plays at their “Shore Leave Showcase” on Sunday afternoons for more years than I could count. You might say I have a long history with this convention.

This is my third outing as a guest of the convention and part of its author track. I got to participate in a lot of programming. Here’s the highlight.

Friday there was an authors’ panel on Star Trek: Into Darkness. Actually, I wasn’t part of it, but my son Ethan was, so I attended. For this one, I think we heard from the audience more than the panelists. Susan Olesen, who proposed the panel, had really wanted to avoid having it become an “Old Trek v. New Trek” battle. I guess that couldn’t be avoided. There were some very good comments about the story structure and the characterization, but there was an awful lot of outrage directed at the film for parodying the beloved death scene from Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. My favorite moment was when Ethan described the relationship between Kirk and Spock as “guy love,” a la Scrubs, and A.C. Crispin called out “Thus spake the grandson of Bev Volker.” (My late Mother-in-law was a major player in the fanzine movement known as “Hurt/Comfort,” which was all about male-male friendships. She also help Ann edit her first novel, Yesterday’s Son.)

Meet the Pros always happens late Friday night at Shore Leave. This year several dozen authors were lined up to sell and sign their books, myself included. I sold a few books, notably volumes II and III of the ReDeus series, and signed a lot of autographs alongside fellow ReDeus authors Phil Giunta and William Leisner.

Saturday morning we discussed The Influence of Soundtracks on Writing. This was Jim Johnson’s brain child. Turns out an awful lot of us put an awful lot of energy into finding the perfect music to write to, and film music, lacking lyrics, is ideal. David Mack tagged Hans Zimmer as his favorite composer for inspiration. Several of us mentioned John Williams, and I brought up my favorite, Patrick Doyle. Though I do admit that I just throw my “Scores” genre on shuffle most of the time. Melissa Scott talked about fitting the piece of music to the mood of the passage being written. I also told the story of how one piece of music from the Lost in Space TV series (“Lift-Off” by Hans J. Salter) inspired me to turn the god-awful final act of Unfriendly Persuasion into something that I wasn’t ashamed to put before human eyes.

The Influence of Fanzines on Fandom delivered several perspectives. Paul Kupperberg was very active in Comics fandom in the early 70s, and keeps his hand in today. Martha Sayre started off in Trek fandom, also in the 1970s, and is still active now. Phil Giunta and I started off in Trek fic as well, in the 90s and 80s, respectively. And Loraine Anderson describes herself as “Halfway between pro and fandom.” Not a bad place to be. We reminisced a lot, of course, talking about Prestype and wax rollers and collating parties. We also took on some questions of intellectual property, how creators feel about their characters being “slashed,” and Amazon’s new “Worlds” program for paid fanfic.

Superheroes in Film was a free-for-all. Well, when you put Peter David, Keith RA DeCandido, Greg Cox, Ethan and me on a panel to talk about comic books and their film adaptations, that’s what you expect. Thanks to Jon Eigen for bringing up the ridiculous level of violence and the too-long scenes of people punching each other, and to Peter for answering it, “So you didn’t like Man of Steel?” (No one on the panel did, except Greg, who wrote the novelization. Sorry, Greg! You’re still a helluva storyteller!) Favorite question: “What the hell is up with DC Comics?” The answer? Peter basically said that, as a comics company, DC is a wonderful producer of TV shows.

The Firebringer Press session was opposite Bill Shatner’s autograph line, so it was under-attended. But we did have two very nice attendees who asked great questions, and we filled the whole hour talking about what’s coming next, and admiring Mike Riehl’s beautiful concept sketches for our upcoming anthology.

Saturday night was the Marty Gear Memorial. I’m so grateful to my friends at Shore Leave for helping me pull this together on short notice. So many of Marty’s friends and family were able to gather together for the first time since his passing and share their memories. It was just what we all needed. We spoke in turns for two hours plus, without a pause. Some of the stories were funny, some were touching. One or two moved me to tears. And yes, someone (I think it was Cindy Shockey) had the presence of mind to have Kleenex delivered to the room in advance!

“The New Frontier – Self Publishing” was basically a primer on what to think about if you’re going to self-publish. Thanks to Aaron Rosenberg for saying that the Crazy 8 Press crowd saw me as a pioneer in this field. In fact, Don Sakers is largely responsible for me knowing how to do this! Great discussion, covering a lot of the points covered in a similar panel at Mysticon, and in my earlier blogs.

“Old Tyme Radio” was TA Chafin’s baby. Alan is a rabid collector of OTR. Alan, any idea why it was spelled with a “Y?” We reviewed a lot of the SF radio throughout the decades since its inception, and covered some modern stuff, too. Richard C. White joined us at the last minute, and was a pleasure to share a panel with. He’s written a novella based on the classic series Rocky Jordan.

Sunday was capped with the ReDeus panel, which featured too many authors to fit on one wall of the room. Bob Greenberger and Aaron Rosenberg (Paul K. had to catch a train) discussed plans for ReDeus in the next year, including plans to release two or three novels alongside another anthology.

Actors? Yeah, they were there too. I don’t move in that circle much, but I saw Brent Spiner at his table, as well as Greg Evigan. Never did see William Shatner, Eddie McClintock, Amanda Tapping or Saul Rubinek. (Oh, wait! I think I went in the ballroom during Saul’s talk, but I was on a mission and it didn’t register.) Fortunately, I did see Shatner at his one-man show back in November. I can never thank him enough for his inspirational advice: “Never be afraid to make an ass of yourself. I do it all the time!” (And no, that’s not a dig. William Shatner was, is and always will be my hero. I hope the love and admiration that fans at Shore Leave brought to him makes up for some of the undeserved abuse he’s suffered over the years from people who claim to be fans.)

I was glad to catch up with old and dear friends from the committee: Inge Heyer, Marilyn Mann, (never saw her – we only spoke on the phone!), George Laurence, Larry Kozek and the Conventional Magic crew, Jim Kratzer, Kathy Daugherty, Weston Scrimger, Karen Strong, Melissa James, and (briefly on the escalator) Kett Kettering.

Seeing these people, most of whom I’ve known and worked with for almost thirty years, it occurred to me that local Fandom still has an overwhelming ratio of maturity to youth in key positions. I’m proud that my two sons, as well as a half-dozen or so other high school and college age fans are on the Farpoint and Shore Leave committees and staffs, but there are still an awful lot of us doing a bit more work than we probably should after all these years. I think one of the biggest priorities we have as con organizers (and retired con organizers like myself) is to encourage young people to join our ranks. We need to find what they’re interested in and support it, we need to make them feel welcome at our cons, and we need to embrace their ideas. This was a message which rung out loud and clear at Marty’s memorial, and it’s a very important one. If you’re reading this blog and you can think of something we should be doing that we’re not, please shout out!

 

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.”

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Reflection: Farpoint 2012

No review this week.  My brain is simply too fried to evaluate.  What I’ll write about instead is the thing that fried my brain, that thing being an event called Farpoint 2012.  Farpoint is a regional science fiction media convention.  “Regional” because it primarily draws its attendance from Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic area, although it occasionally pulls in members from as far away as Texas, California, Canada or even Germany.  It’s not a Dragon*Con or a San Diego ComicCon, which pull heavily from all over the U.S. and even the world.  It’s smaller, more laid back, and built to stay that way.

“Science fiction media” because those attendees come to Farpoint to celebrate the fandom which develops around TV shows and movies rooted in speculative fiction, fantasy and the supernatural.  We used to call them “Star Trek Conventions,” but that’s far too narrow a description for what Farpoint and many gatherings of its kind have become.

This was our nineteenth Farpoint.  I’ve been involved in some capacity for all of them.  This year I was co-operations manager with my wife Renee.  I think we worked a bit harder on the planning and execution that we intended or wanted to, but the result was a successful event that everyone seemed to enjoy.  Our attendance numbers aren’t in, but they hovered somewhere around 700 people.  That’s a good, healthy turnout for this convention.  A lot of well-intentioned friends frequently approach me with sentences that open, “You know, you could pull in a lot more people and make a lot more money if you…”  And I’m sure all the ideas which finish those sentences are wonderful.  The thing is, making more money would be nice, but growing much bigger isn’t really Farpoint’s goal.  Farpoint’s goal is to maximize people’s enjoyment, and part of the way it does it is by not being over-crowded.

It was nice, however, to see the convention reaching its peak attendance earlier.  Friday night the registration desk was mobbed with people picking up their pre-purchased memberships, and our opening ceremonies and Friday social were the best attended they’ve ever been.  I got the impression that people were just more excited to get to the con this year, resulting in them taking time off work and leaving earlier.  It was a nice atmosphere, and it made for an appreciative audience for the evening’s entertainment.  Gentleman Jim made a first-time appearance with us, performing (very well!) a mix of songs, including tributes to our celebrity guests for the weekend.  We presented the Volker-McChesney Award for service to fandom to a dear friend, Melissa James, who’s an integral part of Shore Leave, a summertime event similar to Farpoint.  We auctioned off donated items to raise funds for the Julien Fleming Fund and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and then my own Prometheus Radio Theatre hosted a variety show of music and comedy.

The Boogie Knights, Jonah Knight and Insane Ian provided the music, and I hope I’m not delusional when I say Prometheus provided the comedy.  My friends Renfield and June offered us a short adventure in the lives of two space-based hired guns and their trusty robot, and then we presented an episode of Waste of Space, a sitcom about evil geniuses that my son Ethan and I developed.  Kate Vernon from Battlestar Galactica and Kristen Bauer from True Blood were out special guests.  Sadly, Kate’s onscreen husband, Michael Hogan, missed his connecting flight and couldn’t be in the play, but the audience and the cast still had a blast.  Having your celebrity guest star (Kristen) miss a cue and tell the audience it’s because she’s having such a good time listening to you is not only funny, it’s very good for the egos of part-time actors.  I hope to have that show posted soon on the Prometheus Radio Theatre podcast feed.

While the Pack Ratz oversaw their annual Karaoke event, Vic’s Place, I threw a launch party for my latest book, Unfriendly Persuasion.  I sold a case of books, which doesn’t suck.  I understand our vendors in the dealers room also had a pretty successful evening of sales.  I know at least one said she’d made back the cost of her trip that first night.

Saturday I sat on four panels on New Media and authoring topics.  All were well-attended, which I was happy to see, as I was beginning to fear Farpoint needed to offer less programming.  The most successful panel seemed to be a discussion on self-publishing which included Aaron Rosenberg, Glenn Hauman and Marianne Petrino-Schaad, with some assists by Don Sakers.  We couldn’t possibly give a complete primer on how to self-publish a book in an hour (especially since we’re authors, and mostly want to talk about ourselves!) but we answered a lot of great questions from the audience, and I think we hit the high points.

Michael Hogan had arrived safely late Friday night, so all of our guest Q & A sessions and autographs went as expected.  More and more lately, our Farpoint actor guests are electing to make extra money by signing autographs and selling pictures throughout the day.  That means that there’s no scheduled “autograph session,” and thus no long lines.  It seems to be a pretty good system.
Saturday night’s cornerstone is always the Masquerade, where our costumers put together often screamingly funny presentations to feature their handiwork.  Sometimes there are duds, but not often.  These people are serious about their costuming, and serious about being funny.  I spent the time staffing the Con Hospitality Suite, and I’m told I missed one of the best shows in years.  Fortunately, there’s video.  I must see the Green Lantern entry put together by Don Sakers, Renfield and June and my son Ethan.

At Masqeurade half-time, Marty Gear auctioned off a meet-and-greet session with the lovely Kristen Bauer, again to benefit our charities.  Now Marty is our elder statesman.  His fandom career began in 1953 at WorldCon, where, just fifteen, he was taken under the wing of E.E. “Doc” Smith, and got to watch the Hugo Award ceremony from the balcony with John W. Campbell, Robert Heinlein, Sprague DeCamp and Isass Asimov.  Marty impresses the hell out of all of us.  He also loves vampires, has a very large library of bad vampire jokes, and can’t resist a pretty face.  The fact that Kristen’s pretty face so often is seen complete with fangs made Marty very enthusiastic about this meet and greet opportunity, as did his ceaseless devotion to raising money for our charities.  So Marty opened the bidding at a nice high figure himself, then waited.  Apparently, the audience, probably hit by our still-tough economy, didn’t bite.  So Marty dug into his supply of vampire jokes and decided to outlast them.  A frenzy erupted.  Audience members began passing a box to collect a matching donation.  Rumor has it Peter David threw his platinum card at the stage.  Kristen, meanwhile, made a grand performance, trying to figure out a way to hang herself from the chandelier to end her suffering.  The masquerade stage hands, dressed, traditionally, as ninjas, supplied a ladder.  Marty got his meet and greet, and our charities split over $700 for his and Kristen’s efforts.  (And that was only one of the items sold!)

Saturday ended with a Ten Forward dance, deejayed by the Pack Ratz.  They do a fantastic job picking the music mix, and the dance floor was packed.  I understand my son Christian impressed the crowd with his moves.  He certainly doesn’t get them from me!  Ten Forward is really loud, and I’m not really young anymore.  I spent a good deal of it sitting in another room, talking to Nobilis and Michael Jan Friedman about the merits of various publishing strategies.

Sunday is our most laid back day.  More Q & A, more autographs, more panels.  Attendance is usually a little less.  I was very happy to see more than a dozen podcasters show up for our podcasting roundtable, however.  New to our company were Jay Smith and Keith R.A. DeCandido, and we had some very good discussion about the changes the last year has brought to our endeavors.  Lauretta from Constellation Books was kind enough to add all of the Firebringer Press titles to her selection.  Constellation is an excellent, independent book store in Reisterstown, and Lauretta has begun working the local conventions.

We end every convention with a dead dog party, the name describing the state of the committee.  After the attendees have gone home, the committee, staff and some of the guests gather to eat, (the first time in three days some of us have done that sitting down!) wind down, and deconstruct the con.  There wasn’t actually a lot to deconstruct this year.  We talked about next year’s 20th anniversary event, and Peter David, T.A. Chafin and Bob Greenberger made plans for their next “Mystery Trekkie Theatre,” to be presented at Shore Leave.  I finished the evening chatting with my cousin Dave, Michael Hogan and two very nice young ladies, Alicia and Stephanie, who were big BSG fans and had flown in to see him.  (One also joined our staff, ably assisting with the huge amount of video that must be shot throughout the weekend.)

Not an objective review by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s my event, after all.  It was a weekend well-spent, however, if it did distract me a bit from being able to do an actual review this week.  This coming weekend, I’ll be attending MystiCon in Roanoake as an author/podcaster guest.  They’ve got me scheduled for quite a few panels, and I’m looking forward to it.  Let’s hope I can maintain my energy level for one more weekend of cons!