You know it’s going to be an eventful convention when the hotel gets struck by lightning on the first day. Naturally, the power flickered and set off the fire alarms. Rumor also had it that there was a tornado touchdown somewhere “nearby”, but rumor is an attention whore and will say things like this to be noticed. I don’t know if there was a tornado, but con ops confirmed the lightning strike at the opening ceremony. Several people apologized.
Of course, the same storm gave the elder half of the Hoyt Collective (Sarah and Dan) one of their travel adventures. Because nothing was landing at Richmond airport during that storm, they got diverted to D.C., a misfortune they were able to survive although it meant they arrived at the hotel a bit frazzled and very hungry just before Sarah’s first panel was due to start. Which led to my second act of evil for the con.
My first act of evil was my first panel, fittingly about writing believable villains. This happened before the lightning strike (who schedules panels at 3pm on the first day? Ravencon) – but we had a good audience and it was a fun discussion covering things like what the villain side of the hero’s journey looks like and the difference between heroes, antiheroes, and villains. Everyone on the panel agreed that a well written villain is in a lot of ways the hero of the other side, albeit one who loses. After the panel I found myself having to explain precisely who was the “Austrian painter” who considered himself a hero bringing back his people’s honor and pride – which ended rather badly. At least the person who asked me who I meant admitted she was lousy with history (I behaved. I simply told her the fellow’s name without any snark or commentary on the quality of schools these days).
The second act was to take Sarah’s place at her first panel – since she’d only just arrived, hadn’t eaten all day, and was being whisked off for food by Speaker (Tedd Roberts) and assorted others, I gave the panelists the choice of me impersonating Sarah or me apologizing for her. They accepted impersonation, so for the panel on finding and training the muse, I was Sarah Hoyt. Mostly. The accent isn’t one of hers, and I can’t do accents worth shit, so they got the Australian accent. Still, we do share a muse (although the bitch seems to spend most of her time off in the Bahamas somewhere admiring the dancing boys while she enjoys one of those fancy drinks with the little umbrellas). That one was fun – as well as my commentary about our muse, there was a lot of discussion of how the way to get the bitch doing her job is mostly setting up a bunch of cues that tell her “this is writing time – do your job” and then getting your conscious mind out of the way. A lot harder than it sounds, I might add, and made even more fun by everyone on the panel relating tales of being hit by stories that demanded they be written right bloody now.
Then I had my second panel. At ten pm. I can hear those of you who know I’m narcoleptic going “oh God” already. This was nominally about the books we loved from our childhood and the ones that influenced us, which turned into something more along the lines of a bunch of SF nerds talking about books we’d read and what was memorable about them. Pure fluff, basically.
Saturday was spiced up by the hotel lifts failing – and since Barfly Central was on the 8th floor, this was a serious problem. Sarah’s signing session was marked by a steady stream of people wanting books signed, which she didn’t expect. After that I had a panel on “Writing the Other” which did not turn PC despite repeatedly flailing in that direction (folks, “other” does not mean “the sex/sexual orientation/skin color I am not”. At least, not exclusively. It also means “aliens, elves, people from more than a few decades ago, people from a different state than you, and damn near anyone who isn’t actually you”). I may have hammered that point a little do hard, but when someone asked the panel if they’d ever refrained from writing a character who was “other” in some way for fear they’d be criticized for either doing it wrong or not having the ‘right’ to write this particular group, I er… opened up a bit. And pointed out that you do your research, talk to people and do your best to get the facts right, and if people still object the problem is theirs. Mentioning how disappointed I am I never got a fatwa over Impaler may have startled a few people…
Poor Sarah had to contend with a horrible combination of fluffy-headed social justice warrioress, equally fluffy-headed brown-noser, and the Interchangeable Feminist Author of the sensible clothing and All Males Are Evil style (also a brown-noser). She and the panel moderator could probably have had a fun discussion about female archetypes instead of the flapping about how “we” need to write more older women that the Matron and Crone panel devolved into. Every time it looked like there might be meat, the terrible trio fended it off.
In a fit of insanity (or something) I found myself on an 11pm panel. Even more shocking it was serious – despite a title of “The Shrinking of American Heroes”. Honestly, a panel with that title at 11pm on Saturday night? Everyone is either well lubricated or so tired they might as well be sloshed. This was the panel where Dan Hoyt and Mrs Kilted Dave had to pull Sarah back from berserker (she was my designated heckler) when one of the other panelists made the mistake of comparing America to various empires that declined and ultimately fell (although I don’t think Germany was precisely a case of ‘decline’ so much as ‘barking mad boss got them into wars they couldn’t win’). Not good. Funnily enough, I don’t think the unfortunate panelist actually believes America is an empire or that it’s in decline. Headed for a much-needed kick in the ass, unquestionably, but that isn’t a decline. More a course correction that may or may not avert an actual decline. On the empire front, you could say it is if you think of the states as countries (which is kind of accurate), but when you talk about the rest of the world, America is a bloody awful Imperialist power. The tendency is to go in, do what needs doing then go home. If we were really about imperialism, Afghanistan and Iraq would be the latest additions to an empire that would include such minor states as Japan, large chunks of Italy, Germany (and probably Austria as well), South Korea… You get the idea. Anyway, this one turned into more of a combination of what makes a hero, the difference between heroes and idols, and the kinds of heroes that are preferred at different times. After which I staggered to bed because…
At 9 am Sunday morning I was on a panel about comedy in SF & F. Right 9am Sunday morning. Okay, Sarah was also on the panel. So was Stephen Simmons. Alas, the moderator was a terribly earnest gentleman (quite nice, but oh, so very earnest and serious) and managed to leech all the fun out of things. I tried my best but… we lost people. Tragic, really.
There was more humor in Sarah’s panel later that day, on Xeno-linguistics. That one went interesting places what with comments about Klingon, the ways language shapes culture and thought and how languages work. I will admit to feeding a few questions intended to liven things up a bit. Only with the best intentions, of course.
Now the “alas” list – the panels I wish I’d been able to get to. The big one is of course Seriously Inventive Ways of Killing People. With Mad Mike Williamson and our very own mad scientist Speaker to Lab Animals. Dan Hoyt’s Epic Fail panel sounded like it would have been fun, but that was 11pm on Friday night, and I’d have fallen asleep.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this I got to about ¾ of the Baen Traveling Roadshow, encountered a flood in the ladies room, and while attempting to disguise myself as a sparkly Interchangeable Feminist got entangled with a glitter bomb and ended up trailing glitter everywhere I went. I kid you not. There was glitter everywhere except the hoo haa. It was terrifying. Seriously.
And that was Ravencon 2014. I had a blast, talked more in 3 days than I’d normally talk in a month, and had a wonderful time catching up with Sarah and Dan, meeting a bunch of other folk I only ever see at conventions again, and of course meeting new friends. Barfly Central was as usual wonderful, and the con suite two doors down (and run by mostly the same folks) was the best con suite I’ve ever seen. Seriously. Real food in the mornings. Individually packaged cookies with labels that included whether they were safe for attendees with food allergy or intolerance issues. Fruit. Ye gods these people are awesome.
I’m going back there next year if they’ll have me, 5 hour (plus) drive and D.C. Area traffic be damned.