Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Westercon 66 Con Report by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Westercon 66 Con Report by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Westercon 66 (2013) was held (as with most all Westercons) over the 4th of July weekend, the weekend of the big plane crash in San Francisco, and several other disruptive bits of news.

But my trip from Phoenix to Sacramento was absolutely nominal.

Except for the addition of the TSA checkpoint hassle, and the chisseling away of passenger seat and overhead space, the trip could have been typical of the 1970's (during which I did a lot of flying, so, yes, disruptions were less of a problem then.)

The plane was full the whole way, and the Phoenix airport (both ways) was absolutely jammed to capacity -- yet staff was on hand and the passengers moved smoothly through the airport.  My rides to and from the airport on both ends were likewise on time and on light traffic moments.

By the time I was on the way back home, the problem at the San Francisco airport was being resolved, and only 3 of the 5 flights on the board from Sacramento to San Francisco were still showing cancelled.  You have to admire the emergency crews that worked through the disruption.  We have so many great folks in this world! 

I got the feeling that the world is waking up at last from the doldrums of the last few years.

The convention was filled with laughter, high spirits, good parties, and busy, lively crowds with the usual level of knowledge one finds at science fiction conventions.

In fact, it was so boisterous that there were people who took refuge on the party floor during a very loud concert held on the ground floor! 

Westercon is a "regional" con that moves from city to city throughout the West USA, each site bidding for the convention as with Worldcon.


2014 Westercon is in Utah, and 2015 will be in San Diego, CA. 

So wherever it is held, most of the attendees are local residents, old friends who come to the con to see each other, party, and exchange songs and books (lots of songs!).  And there is always a scattering of folks from around the country, bringing lots of party with them.

I connected with a twitter-friend @Robynmcintyre and had a blast getting to know her in person. 

I met a few people new at the con, one an SF writer with a post-global-warming book out postulating a 200 foot rise in the ocean levels (max at the point where she is writing her story.)  I met her in the Green Room and talked for a couple hours with her, and a fellow doing an academic book on the state-of-the-art in research about Mars.

Also still sitting in the Green Room, I met the moderator of a panel I was on about Star Trek (with John and Bjo Trimble and David Gerrold).  Turns out the moderator is into videogames, and was delighted to hear of the story-driven RPG approach of the crew working on Ambrov X (the Sime~Gen Videogame).


Consensus among those attending their first science fiction convention seemed to be that entering a group of people who already know each other seems difficult, as they all get chattering to each other about things they experienced in common, somehow forgetting to include the new folks in the conversation.

I've found that typical in other organizations, too, and for the most part organizational leaders remind members to turn around and welcome the new folks into the conversation.  But it takes much reminding!

This issue didn't really prevail at the original Star Trek Conventions where hardly anyone knew anyone else -- except maybe having read something about them or by them in a printed 'zine.  So everyone being strangers (at first), they all connected with each other on the common ground of Trek.

Later, though, the group dynamic shifted to "everyone knows everyone" and the new person, alone in the crowd, had difficulty joining in. 

It seems it's a human behavior thing, not a group-specific characteristic, so I'm not surprised to find it at Westercon or any other con.  But I am gleeful to report that those who found a hard time connecting with people at Westercon 66 are willing to try other conventions.  They will soon be feeling at home. 

Friday morning, I did my stint in Adrienne Foster's Writing Workshop.  The format is that 3 professionals and 3 beginners and a moderator all read all 3 manuscripts by the beginning writers.  Then we sit around a table and each person gives their commentary and analysis of the manuscript.  You get both the beginning writer's input, and the professional input which always contrast starkly. 

The author of the manuscript has to keep SILENT (very hard but accomplished by these 3) during the commentaries, then gets a few minutes to ask clarification questions but NOT DEFEND.

Unusual at this workshop was that we all joined in many uproarious bursts of laughter.  The general spirit of the convention was just that high!  And when the sense of humor is engaged, learning is much easier.

It usually turns out the three pros all pretty much agree on the problems, but sometimes take a different approach to possible solutions.

That's what happened this time, and it provided an interesting discussion.

This time (I've done Adrienne's workshop a number of times), we had three manuscripts that each demonstrated a DIFFERENT skills dearth.  That's unusual.  Ordinarily, we see three manuscripts that lack conflict.

This time we had one that I saw as lacking in conflict which could be cured by bringing forward the COMMON THEME between two disparate viewpoint characters, and adding a third (a villain) opposing the main character's attempt to solve the problem.

And we had one that needed to find a different opening scene, and finally one that proved the most interesting as its only flaw lay in scene structure issues (which is the foundation of information feed).



That final manuscript became the subject of an additional 2 hour conversation between the author, the moderator and me.  And I expect that story to sell one day not so long from now. 

After the workshop, I connected with another long-time Sime~Gen fan-writer friend from the area, Mary Lou Mendum who has several Sime~Gen novel-length works posted on simegen.com/sgfandom/, and then in the evening more fans brought together the elements of a Sime~Gen party.

So that evening I sat around in a hotel room holding various conversations against a total roar of sound that ebbed and flowed.  The party was on the party floor, so party-hoppers kept coming in asking "what's this?" and getting (from the hostess Kaires) the explanation of what is Sime~Gen, and all about the latest development, the Sime~Gen Videogame.

Of course, I'd be remiss not to ask for your support on the Ambrov X Kickstarter which is running Sept 3 to Oct 4, 2013.  And that might seem out of place to Romance Writers -- but actually, no, it's not.  You will learn a lot about the dynamics of the marketplace in this new and evolving environment and pick up many clues about how to gain more respect for the Romance field by supporting this Kickstarter and watching the way it unfolds.

Remember, you "donate" to a Kickstarter (using your Amazon or Paypal account, sometimes other means, always easy), but your account does NOT GET CHARGED at all unless the Kickstarter makes it's goal.  So supporting doesn't cost you anything unless you actually get something for it -- each level of support carries with it some tangible reward, and for most products, a copy of the product itself.

People are using this method of capitalizing projects ranging from BOOKS (yes, print and/or e-book) to Web-TV series, and feature films. 

Crowdsourcing capital is changing the face of fiction. 

Kickstarter and the other crowd-sourcing features of our new world indicate a type of change going on that is at least as signficant as the invention of the printing press (before movable type). 

We'll have to go into that in more detail, but today we're talking about Westercon which was a landmark for Sime~Gen, the debut of Ambrov X.  The Facebook Page and website (where you can sign up for a free newsletter if you're not on Facebook) --


So Friday afternoon, I stopped in to the Gaming room and found a group intent on a board game.  I waved the first Ambrov X flyer at them and immediate interest arose.  The person running the gaming room examined the back of the flyer and then asked if she could POST IT.  I gave her a front and a back (a few of the copies didn't get printed on both sides, so they got used for wall-postings), and a couple for the table.

So as I said, the Sime~Gen Party at Westercon 66 was such a ROAR (a lot of happy people is a good sign for fiction sales in general!) that I'm not sure how much of the facts of the game actually sank into people's minds. 

And the rest of the weekend was non-stop conversation, so as usual I came home hoarse and wonderfully tired.  The hotel wasn't as huge as a Worldcon hotel/convention center setting, so my feet weren't as sore, but my voice was.

I did learn a lot talking to first-timers: #1 that there are people attending their FIRST SF con, #2 that a bunch of them are WRITERS, #3 that there is an appetite for something new, #4 SFRomance has what they're looking for, but they have no clue that it does! 

We have our work cut out for us showing not telling the world that well read, well educated people will find the entertainment they're looking for in Science Fiction Romance.  That may be the conundrum of the century.

by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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