Capclave Convention Report

Kate Paulk

I’ll start by observing that I-95, particularly around Baltimore is a horror story all by itself. The half-hour of stop/start traffic that I experienced on the way to Capclave is nothing to the massive delays that hit people who left later than I did. There were 7 hour trips from Philadelphia to the DC area – normally a 2.5 hour journey.

This explains the rather unnerving quietness that had me wondering what in heck I’d let myself in for on Friday evening. I’m not used to empty halls and a dealer’s room with a handful of people in it at any stage in a convention. Usually you have to fight through the hordes to get anywhere. I also hadn’t realized that Capclave is a smallish, literary con.

That means I didn’t gather too much material for the next book in the ConVent series, but I can live with that.

At any rate, Friday was so quiet, I gave up and went to bed early.

Saturday more than made up for the low key start, and then some. First I arrive outside the dealer’s room, where someone is putting up a notice that Sir Terry Pratchett will be speaking at 1pm. Cue a mix of fangirl squee and a mild “oh bugger” because my reading is scheduled opposite it. Oh well, says I, no-one’s going to bother with my reading against that, I’ll just cancel.

Into the dealer’s room, where new sparklies are acquired (Christina Cowan of Undiscovered Treasures runs a convention-circuit only business, but it’s worth scheduling at least one con on her rounds because her jewelry is magnificent) and chatting happens, then back out and more chatting with Lawrence Schoen, who is being charming and entertaining at the author table.

Con staffer arrives and tells everyone there’s been a last minute change – PTerry is now speaking at 12, in slightly less than half an hour. Squee gets more intense, plus my reading isn’t scheduled against him any more.

PTerry is, of course, magnificent. The man could recite a grocery list and make it funny. We got readings from two sections of Snuff, a rather more serious discussion between PTerry and Rob (his assistant) about Terry’s Choosing To Die documentary (it might not have a commercial release in the US, but it’s on YouTube. Watch it. With Kleenex. LOTS of Kleenex), and PTerry’s visceral longing for properly made tea (It’s a US thing. ‘Merkins do NOT know how to make a proper cuppa). He looked tired – understandable, since he’s been on a fricking long tour – and will no doubt be very happy to be home again. That damned disease might have slowed him down physically and added some interesting hurdles, but it hasn’t dulled his wits any – something I suspect the people who cancelled their own panels appreciated.

My reading, by contrast, was a small, intimate affair at which no actual reading occurred because, well, it seemed kind of pointless reading to one person. We chatted about Impaler, and the history of the era, and I thanked my audience of one for being there. Ah, well. I don’t have the pull for big readings yet… One day.

After the excitement of a one-person audience, I needed to rest a little before my moderating debut. Panel moderation is… not the world’s easiest task. There are people who’ll sit and play mouse unless you directly ask them something, and others who’ll take over given half a chance. Plus, there’s the issue of asking good questions and keeping the discussion rolling and more-or-less on topic.

The topic in this case was alternate history world building, in which the panel took a suggestion from the audience and ran with it, hopefully building an alternate history that more or less worked and maybe even getting a story scenario out of it. I went in there hoping that there’d be two or three suggestions that could work together and build something fun for all concerned.

I was actually the only person on the panel who wasn’t a member of the 163x club, and between Chuck Gannon, Iver Cooper, Walter Hunt, and Alan Smale, I was probably the most light-weight. Just as well I didn’t need to do the heavy lifting…

Some of the suggestions (excuse my faulty memory) were the US government not overriding Virginia legislation to effectively tax slavery out of existence – and the prospect of this preventing the Civil War some 20 years later; domesticatable rhinoceruses (rhinoceri?); the Roman Empire lasting long enough to tip into its own Industrial Revolution – apparently this would have only needed another 50 years or so; and the Roman Empire getting/discovering/using gunpowder.

Of course, evil little writer-brains lit up on that last one. Let’s face it, what SF/Fantasy author doesn’t relish the opportunity to introduce stuff that goes boom? If you’re not blowing stuff up somewhere, you’re not trying hard enough.

So, the panel decided that we’d go with the combination of stuff going boom and the industrial revolution scenario, since we figured there was a good chance of the two happening pretty much in combination anyhow. We didn’t manage to fit the domesticate rhinos in anywhere, except as kind of a joke, but we had fun, and I figure in a few years we’ll see a bunch of “Romans with guns” books, every one of them totally different.

Dinner followed, then the usual wide-ranging discussions that happen when there’s a friendly group with at least some lubrication, before the mass signing.
I didn’t sign anything, but I sold a copy of Impaler, so I’m not complaining.

Sunday was, as usual, rather quieter. The early departures do that.

I was on an unmoderated panel with Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Sherin Nicole and Michael Pedersen on just what is urban fantasy, at which the panelists all agreed that it’s a marketing term to make a nice little box for the sales folk to tick off, since there really aren’t clear boundaries there. I – of course – commented that it’s kind of like porn. You know it when you see it. Much was made of the kick-ass female on the cover, usually with a bare back and tattoo somewhere down there, and the tendency to set the things in the same handful of cities – something the panelists agreed was more due to editorial risk-aversion and a somewhat… insular view of what people will read.
The absence of any representatives of the major publishers – or of agencies for that matter – may have had a little to do with this.</p?

The next panel was moderation job #2, with the potential for absolute mayhem. I mean, “Innies or Outies” is a bad start, even when the rest of the description is about whether or not your supernatural critters are hidden from the rest of the world or not. Jokes about closets – very large, very inclusive closets – occurred. The fact that Carrie Vaughn, one of the guests of honor, was also on the panel didn’t exactly help. She shared the fun with me, Chuck Gannon, and Val Griswold-Ford.

We ended up having an entertaining discussion about crypto supernatural critters (thanks for that term, Chuck), the fun one could have with an orphaned child from crypto werewolves starting to change shape was mentioned (and Chuck accused me of spoiling his next book – it’s not my fault my erratic telepathy decided to kick in right then), the entertaining possibilities of rebellious genetic vampires living in – still sanctified – churches to piss off the parents were discussed, as well as the potential for vampire presidents, the reason the DC area is safe from the zombie apocalypse (no brains in Congress, the Senate or the Executive branch), and whether or not there really are vampires in the IRS.

There was also some not-quite-ranting from all concerned along the lines of story and character rule – if you want a sermon, go to church, and if you want a lecture, go to college. What you believe strongly will leak into your work anyway – or your work will suffer for it – but if you set out to make this or that point, you’ll be writing crap. Oh, yes, and editors really are demons. All the panelists agreed on that point. They’re not sure what agents are, but editors are definitely demons.

Mind boggler for the day was the fellow who’d been published 9 or 10 years ago asking me about getting into indie or micro press publishing because he simply could not get back into the mainstream industry. There’s a massive change sliding through the industry, one that I rather suspect the big publishers should be needing brown corduroys for. (Like red jackets, they hide… things).

After some more discussion likely to explode brains in the big publishing houses, I called it a wrap, and headed home the next day (stay tuned – one day there will be a post on the adventures of travel with GPS. Thus far it has never taken me home the same way it took me to a convention).

All told, a good con, a lot of fun, and a bit more good PR for me. I’m happy.


  1. What, nothing exciting ever happens in a small literary con? I think you ought to rally the neglected new-authors-no-one-wanted-my-autograph to save the unsuspecting from some appropriate eldrich horror, inflamed to mayhem by being consigned to a small con.

    1. Terry Pratchett happened – that’s plenty exciting. Even the editorial demons gave this one a pass.

  2. Sounds like a fun Con, Kate. As a side note, I really enjoy Carrie Vaughn’s work. I’m glad you got to meet her. Her blog certainly makes her seem like a nice person.

    1. That was a fun panel, with everyone chiming in to say that message will happen if you care, but if you try to force it you’ll write a really bad sermon.

      Doing panels at the conventions is a great way to make new friends.

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