FenCon 2021

First off my thanks to Karl Gallagher and Todd Caldwell. You know what you did. For the readers of this blog, if you haven’t read any of Karl’s work, I highly recommend it, and also, aren’t his covers lovely?

This is going to be a bit of an AAR for the con, and a bit of me musing about conventions in general. I hadn’t intended to do any more conventions. That’s a period, full stop. Between the job uncertainty for the last several months, a move across country, and my own personal crisis of ‘to write, or not to write?’ it was a serious thought. LibertyCon, the con of my heart and chosen family, has become so popular I will likely never again be able to attend. I simply can’t commit during the twenty minutes tickets are on sale, even if I can beat the rush to actually get tickets. That, and now it’s too far away for easy travel. So it’s a good thing FenCon exists, and that I live less than fifteen minutes from the con hotel. Con, and sleep in my own bed at night? Yes, please! Plus, it’s all that I love about LibertyCon: Small, literary, warm and welcoming…

Through the machinations of friends, I was not only able to go to the con, but was a guest and panelist. Through the machination of my son, I was also a vendor and sold enough books to pay for the thing, plus he sold books for friends, and we’re committed to do it again next year! This year, FenCon was about 300 attendees, less than half their usual attendance. Next year, I’m hoping to see more like a thousand. The space will hold it. It might be a little interesting in the hangout spot – the bar and restaurant area behind the lobby – but I think it will be a blast. Just like this year.

I did my usual of meeting new people, hanging out with old friends, and the new element this con was having my son along. He’d badgered me into asking for a table, just a couple of weeks before the con. I’d emailed, thinking they would say no, but they had space! So the Little Man spent his weekend camped behind the table committing commerce. I spent a little time there, but on Friday we set up, and he shooed me off. “Go! Talk to people!”

I’m a trained extrovert, maybe even an ambivert at this point in my life. I really enjoy people. Getting up on a panel and having fascinating conversations with smart folks? That’s a rush. I was in an exalted state all weekend. It was fun. The panel that got me there in the first place made me nervous, but it went grandly, and talking about vaccines tripped all my happy geek breakers over, especially as it was handled professionally and smoothly with Karl Gallagher moderating.

Speaking of moderating, I was asked to moderate a couple of panels. Not the first time I’ve done this, but it reminded me how much I enjoy that. Bringing out the quiet person in the panel, or steering the topics into some really neat areas. Watching a panelist sit up and get that light in their eyes when they have a moment of inspiration. On one of the panels early Saturday, we were talking about refilling the creative well, and tips for doing so. Going to a con like this one? Does it for me. I got home and Monday, started doing daily wordcounts again.

It’s not just the panels. I didn’t make it into any that I wasn’t sitting on (although since I was on 6 or so, that’s a lot). It’s the conversations in the hallways when the panel was just not long enough. It’s sitting around the table at dinner time talking through story and world building and rabbit trails off into the weeds, but the sparks fly, and before you know it, you’ve solved the block on that novel you shoved in a drawer… or maybe that’s just me.

Final verdict? I’m doing cons. I’m doing them if I have to prybar them into my schedule somehow, someway. It doesn’t matter if there’s not a direct return on investment. For me, they feed my writer soul. It helps that FenCon is a well-run convention, with a great staff of folks who just enjoy fandom. There’s a little bit of issues, with the whole miscommunication about Indie authors, but I’m sure that can be worked out and the con fully brought into the modern era. There are too many great Indies out there to leave them out of the mix when you are planning a con and scheduling guests and panelists.

You know what would be fun? A convention of just Indies. Hmmm…. Nope. I’m not that crazy. Someone else is going to have to coordinate that one!

(Header image: me. Photo by Dorothy Grant)

17 comments

  1. Ah, I am teh disappoint on LC. Especially because next year will be my first. FenCon is a bit of a haul for me. And since DragonCon left a bad taste in my mouth, it’ll be a bit before I commit to long distance travel for a con.

    1. Author persona for me is nice dresses. I didn’t go as costume-adjacent as I do for LibertyCon, but I probably will next year. I have a great dress that I can fit into if I’m very good about diet & exercise πŸ˜€

  2. I noticed a sign on the wall behind you that says “Whiskey”, then “Tango”.
    Is the word that is cut off in the photo “Foxtrot”?

    It sounds like you had an awesome good time.

    1. Sadly, no, but I’m sure we aren’t the only ones who filled it in like that!

      I did have a good time. Some of it was sheer joy at finally being able to do public gathering again.

    1. it does. Very large cons, or what I call media cons, will do a writer little good. They don’t have many readers of traditional books. Small literary cons will be more useful for meeting like-minded people, building networks, and fueling the writing brain.

  3. I agree — Fencon went really well this year, despite being much smaller than usual. I hope that it will be back to full size next year. And it was a pleasure spending time with you there, and I’m glad you’re coming back next year.

    I agree about the issues with Indie authors. There are so many changes to the field that cons need to figure out how to integrate them into the program, and make them feel welcome. But there are so many of them that it’s harder for the program development people to know who is worth inviting — particularly since the staff probably mostly doesn’t include a lot of people who read much Indie, since they’re usually older and have developed reading habits more based on tradpub, and they will therefore invite people they’re familiar with onto the program. But, over time, I expect that will be changing, as more people who read a lot of Indie work get involved with the program development.

    Dragoncon, although really large (at 45,000 this year, it deliberately had shrunk by half to allow more distancing), in some ways has the feel of a small con (although the crowding takes away from that) — or, more accurately, the feel of many small cons all taking place in the same collection of hotels. Since each track mostly takes place in the same set of rooms (and similar tracks are located near each other), you can be at most of the literary SF/Fantasy events in the same three rooms of the Hyatt, with many of the same few hundred people, and ignore the tens of thousands of other people. The downside is that, of course, if you’re also interested in the science track — it’s two hotels over. Or the space track — at least it’s near the science track rooms. Etc. And, of course, the common areas (restaurants, elevators, etc.) are all really crowded. It took me time to figure out how to like it — but, once I did, it’s a lot of fun.

    The best way I’ve found to approach a larger con (and that even includes Worldcon, at 5-10,000 people), is to get to know a group of interesting people at a smaller con, and who are also going to the larger con. It gives you a base from which to expand, and take advantage of what the larger con has to offer, without getting lost in the size.

    I’ve never thought of large cons as entry points. Instead, I always suggest smaller cons as the base of fannish contact, and then, using that base, trying a larger con to see if you like it.

  4. I enjoyed your commemts about your offspring committing commerce. Sounds like a sharp business man, go getter, and definitely not waiting for the dole to take care of him. I could tell you were both amused and proud, among several other emotions.

  5. I no longer go to cons. That’s not going to change. However, I do consider them invaluable for the person exploring the genre(s). Glad you had a good time!

  6. Yep, Kurt’s books are GOOD! And he’s agreed to join our anthology. It was good to see you smiling, and the boy getting more involved. Involved = busy, which is good for keeping him out of trouble! πŸ™‚

  7. The convention of just indies? That’s 20booksto50K in Vegas. And while that’s far to go and expensive – if you do it online it’s FREE. Also, everything is being recorded and so you can get to EVERYTHING. If you’re in the FB group, you can sign up for it.

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