Review of the Doris Betts Spring Writers Festival at Mitchell Community College in Statesville, NC
Your Humble Reviewers were surprised to learn there was an annual writers’ event in our town, since we had not heard of it prior to about one week before the event. When we looked it up, we discovered that not only were three local writers attending, but that fantasy author N.K. Jemisin was also coming in from New York for the event. A chance to be in a writing workshop with her was too good to miss, especially since it was close enough for us to walk there if it wasn’t a rainy day.
She was doing a reading at the festival, and it was here that we discovered that Nora and the female half of the Exploding Spaceship were both alums of Tulane. Nora originally comes from Mobile, Alabama and her southern heritage has not been buried by her time in New York. She is a very engaging reader and even the non-genre reading members of the audience appreciated her tale entitled “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters” about a drug-dealer who meets a dragon amidst the flooded streets of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The writing workshops were kept small: no more than about 12 people were allowed in each. Nora was well prepared and started off by giving several good references including books by Sam Delaney, Orson Scott Card, and Stephen King. There was then a brief discussion on where to find writing exercises: one involved a story starting paragraph with a first line quote and then choosing dialogue or narrative, who is acting, whom they are acting toward or with, the tone, and what action is the person completing. The second involved a mythological creature, a location in Statesville and an object. This one led to some quite funny situations, so the workshop ended on a light note. One interesting thing about the workshop: Nora answers the normal “how-do-you-come-up-with-stories” question by saying that she can’t really describe how her creativity works, and that she is not a visual person, so she doesn’t see it as a movie in her head.
Overall the festival was a good experience and one that we would recommend to any beginning writer (assuming the genre of one of the workshops matches yours). The 17-year-old son of our neighbors found the workshop interesting and useful, so we would even recommend it for older teens. The festival itself is free, with fees needing to be paid in advance for a reception and lunch. One note about books: this festival has no arrangements to sell books from its authors so unless the authors can bring their own, their books will not be available. Those wanting things signed should order them from local bookshops ahead of time.
Review of Eastercon 2014 or Satellite 4 in Glasgow, Scotland
Angela ventured across the Atlantic to do science panels at our first UK convention which was not a Worldcon. UK fandom is much the same as in the US, in the sense that many of them have known each other for years, all the con organizers know each other and you find a good mix of scientists among the fans.
This convention took much better advantage of all the science-types attending and had many interesting space science panels, as well as one with women scientists and women writers having a discussion about how the fields have similarities and differences in the treatment of women. It was an inclusive convention, with every type of fan you would see at a convention in the US.
Most of the major genre and magazine publishers in the UK had a presence at the convention. Many had panels, book launches or parties, as well as dealer room tables. The dealer room was actually mostly books and magazines, which is quite different from a US convention where book dealers are sometimes absent entirely. The hotel facilities were fine, even if the food available was a bit poor for the cost compared to downtown Glasgow. One difference between US cons and UK cons is the cost. The door cost for this convention was 75 GBP and no one but the guests of honor got free membership. This is about 130 USD, and so is substantially more expensive than any convention here but Dragon Con or a Worldcon, about three times the cost of similarly sized conventions in the US.
The location was next to the SECC across the river from the main part of Glasgow, so not very close to the city centre (note the British spelling…) where you can find transportation, cheaper (but still quite nice!) hotel rooms and cheaper, better food. This convention suffers like many in the US: in order to get the space for the convention at the cheapest rate, they have to choose a hotel away from any conveniences, so the hotel has people over a barrel when it comes to food and lodging. Better for the convention, but not so good for the fans.
The writing panels were quite well attended and had some very good panelists. Many were on topics seen in writing tracks at US conventions, but there were some which had a definite UK bent to them. There were several networking events and some opportunities for new writers to get some feedback on their craft. The best panel all weekend was a reading/vocal performance panel by writers from Glasgow and Edinburgh called Planet Scotland, the highlight of which was Hal Duncan’s performance of a story appearing in his new anthology from Lethe Press called Scruffians!
The biggest attraction appeared to be the special kegs of beer brought in for the convention, which I am sure made the hotel very happy as they made a great deal of money from alcohol sales. For some Americans accustomed to alcohol not being allowed in convention areas, this would be quite a difference. In fact, people drank all day, but would slowly nurse their drinks, carrying their glasses to panels and events and then getting refills when the panels let out. Most US conventions with heavy alcohol consumption tend to have binge events in the late evenings, but this was different because attendees rarely got drunk, despite the volume of alcohol consumed.
Review of RavenCon in Richmond, Virginia
This is a good convention for beginning writers, with several writing panels going on simultaneously. The guests range from fantasy writers to military SF writers so usually you can find genre-specific writing panels which suit your work. There are numerous networking opportunities at this convention as they have a room set aside for book release parties, in addition to the group parties in the evenings.
The dealers’ room is well laid out and not too crowded. Vendors range from weapons, t-shirts, tabletop gaming, costumes to several book dealers. The used book dealers at this convention are very good and usually get most of our dealer room moolah.
This is a family-friendly convention with children’s activities and panels which would be appropriate for teen writers. Anything not under-18 appropriate is in a post 10 p.m. timeslot and is clearly labeled for mature audiences.
The host hotel seems to not generate many complaints, but Your Humble Reviewers have not stayed in it, because it has been either been completely full or the convention room block was full, making the regular room price outrageous by comparison. In 2014, the weekend of the con was also the weekend of a race at the speedway nearby so every room at every hotel was booked solid. We had to stay 20 miles away and drive in. So if you are interested in attending in 2015, we suggest booking your room early.
Review of Outlantacon (Gaylaxicon 2014)
This is a science fiction convention geared toward GBLT fans and allies. From the start it has had writing panels from many published writers and for 2014, 70% of the guests were writers, including Your Humble Reviewers. This means many writing panels at once, usually at least two, so everyone can find something which can help their writing. The panels are small, sometimes having as many panelists as audience members, so audience members can get information specific for their situation. Panelists at this con depend more on audience questions, because with such a small group it works better to engage each audience member directly rather than lecturing them on what could be an irrelevant topic. Note that while some panels do concentrate on GBLT specific issues, most are on topics which are useful for any writer. Writing good stories is not dependent on the sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, race, etc. of the characters, but on good craft, clear consistent plotting and a balance of setting, plot and characterization.
Another fun thing about this convention is the game shows such as Match Game, which have guest and audience participation. Most of these definitely have adult content, as do some panels during children-awake hours, so you would need to schedule your small people accordingly. There is a very active board game crowd at this convention with a nearly 24-hour game room, and this is primarily where the younger con-goers congregate. At times, you can see every table with a game going, with gamers from not tall enough to get on the chairs easily up to older folks who have been gaming for 30 years or more.
The convention itself is well run and organized. The con suite is great and allows special events too, which is good because the male half of the review team has celebrated his birthday there with cake for his fellow con-goers. Several book release parties are usually held over the weekend there as well.
The Marriott where this convention is held is very nice with large rooms and a good restaurant. This is the only convention we go to regularly where we look forward to the hotel food. The restaurant has a world-wide cuisine with particularly good Asian (especially the chicken potstickers) and Mexican influenced dishes. The bar is well stocked for almost anyone’s taste and for those from states with limited varieties of whiskey available due to state-run stores, it is a welcome change. One great advantage to the location for those coming westward on I-85 is that you reach the exit for the convention without going through downtown, nor do you need to go around the loop, so it is not as much of a traffic nightmare as some Atlanta conventions.