You Had to be There: CONvergence 2016 – Day 1

As a geek, fewer things make my heart sing more than going to a convention. Ever since my very first San Diego Comic Con back in 1996 where we got up at the crack of dawn to drive down from Orange County to San Diego just to be there for one day, I’ve always loved the feeling I get from being around my fellow geeks and nerds, talking about and enjoying a thing we all love together. I’ve covered them for amateur publications, been paid staff for some of the Wizard World conventions, worked my way towards being a senior staff member at a convention, and just plain been an attendee at a convention. I’ve seen them from all sides, and the charged up feeling of preparing for my very first day at this year’s science fiction/fantasy convention known as CONvergence here in Bloomington, Minn. is no different.

6:42 am: The first year I attended, I worked as a volunteer on the Bridge, which is the center of Operations. It didn’t take very long for me to learn the knack of their incident logging report system and my years of customer service experience helped me become pretty adept. This year, I’ve decided to work on the Bridge again, taking a four-hour shift starting at 8 am for the first three days. I’m not staying at any of the area hotels this year, but since my husband now knows how to drive a car, this means that we can attend the con independently of each other and meet up whenever we know we have panel interests that collide. I’m also getting over a cold, so I’ll be packing a lot of cough drops and refusing to shake peoples’ hands all weekend long.

I’m also going to be a panelist for two panels and moderating three more. But more on those when I come to them in my liveblog. It’s now time for me to finish up this part of my post so that I can continue getting read to drive on over and hopefully find parking.

3:45 pm: Wow, this is the first chance I’ve been able to sit down and do some proper blogging since I got here. My Bridge shift was mostly uneventful, except for the part where I took down a report related to an Emergency. I will forever bless the fact that I am a fairly quick typist, even if I’m not used to full-sized keyboards anymore. I only briefly annoyed Dispatch, which is also a good thing and I will now endeavor to remember to close my Events when they’ve been handled appropriately.

The Geeky Destinations panel at 12:30 pm was fairly cool. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I did come away with was a huge list of places that are cool to visit and are connected to geeky franchises and properties. There was a lot of time spent on North America and the UK, which meant that almost everywhere else got some very short shrift. One thing that I found odd about the panel is that it felt like it was heavily weighted towards the more extroverted speakers and the panelist in the middle didn’t say a lot. One of the panelists mentioned that he was very interested in going to Japan, so after the panel was over, I told him about the Japan travel blogs that Graham Stark and Kathleen De Vere are posting on the Loading Ready Run channel; not only was he already familiar with LRR through their Magic content, but he was surprised that they were doing the travelogues.

My husband brought me a burger and tater tots from Sonic, but I didn’t even have a chance to eat them because I got to my panel room early. The first panel I’m moderating for this convention was “Kids These Days,” and I think it went very, very well. Of all the panels I’m on this year, this was the one where we had the most to say in our private email thread before the panel, and I was able to use all that information in crafting our topics of discussion and figuring out what questions to ask and how to steer the conversation. We even were able to touch on a huge topic that got contentious regarding how some folks have felt that “fandom has gone too far” and I was able to give that topic the amount of space that I knew the other panelists wanted to have for it. We went a little bit over time, but I don’t think it was too bad.

10:12 pm: So much has happened since I last sat down to blog! The first thing I did was to stop back off at the Bridge to get my Volunteer card signed so that I could get credited for all the time I spent in the morning, then to the Programming room to get my one panel hour credit as well. If all goes well and I continue to be at all of my shifts and all of my panels, I will have accrued at least 17 volunteer hours by the end of the convention. It’s not the most amount of time I’ve volunteered at a convention, but it’s definitely more than I’ve done in recent memory. It feels good to help out a geek-themed event again.

After that, I dipped into a panel on crowdfunding which I found very helpful and useful. My only experiences thus far on the production end of a Kickstarter was when I helped produce backer rewards for the first “new” Smut Peddler graphic novel (in which I also contributed a story). The panelists (whose names I didn’t immediately get because I was late to the panel) had a lot of great words of wisdom and between them had successfully (and unsuccessfully) used platforms like Kickstarter, Patreon, IndieGogo and more to fund their creative endeavors. The most important piece of advice I think I learned is that specific platforms are designed for very specific types of things, but the most important question you’ve got to ask yourself is: Do I have an audience for this at all? After the panel, I went up to speak to panelist and author Chrysoula Tzavelas about my plans to create a book of my own work first and then use the funds I get from that to help launch my publishing imprint, and she sounded very encouraging. I’m going to talk at her so much after this convention is over.

After that panel was over, I found my husband standing near a gentleman who looked familiar and it turned out that it was one of my co-panelists from last year, at the “Surviving Minnesota Nice” panel. The reason why my husband recognized him was that he was one of his mother’s students when she taught instrument at Carleton College. We caught up briefly, and then we started to have a wide-ranging conversation about mashup and pastiche culture and how (to him at least) there didn’t seem to be anything new to be super-excited about. We got a lot of nuggets of conversation out of that, and in the end I think we all agreed that whether or not someone could find something new and interesting depended on a lot of things, the least of them including whether or not the person had the time to go out and seek new things. Also, not having the inclination and not being open to new things is actually two very different things. While my husband went off to attend a panel, I waited in line for the Opening Ceremonies seating and started up a conversation with my co-panelist’s friends about how hard it is as a non-Minnesotan to deal with “Minnesota Nice” in your everyday life. Before we knew it, it was time to find our seats for the show.

The Opening Ceremony at CONvergence is definitely a hit-and-miss type of show. The “miss” part comes from me being a newer attendee to this convention and even after three years, I still haven’t cottoned on to all the convention’s memes and in-jokes. There were also the regular bits of technical difficulties that can screw up a show, like accidentally showing the same pre-recorded bit twice with “friend of the show” Robert Cargill as a “Wacky Races”-style announcer. The parts which were a hit with me and the audience was the Cabin in the Woods parody for the opening skit, the pre-show announcements, and most of Paul Cornell’s emcee bit, which included a lot of Brexit jokes. I really have no idea how a British sci-fi and comics author became so beloved at a Minneapolis convention, but I’m sure there’s a pretty good story in that. As an additional bit of excellence, there was closed captioning showing on the video screens, which I think is a new thing for them this year.

Shortly after was the Fancy Bastard Pie Competition, which was Fan Guest of Honor Greg Weisman’s idea and basically an excuse for him to sample all sorts of wonderful, homemade pies and share the rest with the audience. The winner of the competition was a woman who had baked a berry-something pie and her prize was for her to get to ask him about a spoiler for any series in which he’s had a hand in creating, but if she ever told anyone else what the spoiler was, he’d not do the competition anymore. After he finished telling her the spoiler far away from where the pie was being dished out, I got a chance to speak to him about the panel I’ll be moderating tomorrow (“Why Diversity Needs to be Deeper Than Marketing,” 8:30 pm in Doubletree Edina, be there!). But what I really wanted to talk to him about was how he agreed to be the “test pilot” for the new program this year where the funds to pay for his attendance at the convention were crowdfunded by the convention attendees. Weisman stated several times that if almost any other convention had asked him to be a part of this test program, he probably would have turned them down. For him, a lot of it had to do with the fact that he has attended CONvergence before and he knows what to expect of both the fans and the con staff and how they will treat him. To further emphasize this point, he stated that because he knows he will be well-cared for at CONvergence, it is also one of the few conventions where he will not ask for a per diem. He also doesn’t know if a program like this would work at any other convention, largely due to the this very specific convention space and the crowd it tends to attract. Based on the enthusiastic crowd response during his bit at Opening Ceremony, I think I’m definitely more excited to see whom they’ll attempt this with next.

Anyhow, unless something truly amazing happens at the live music circle that’s going to start in about a half an hour, I think I’m going to close this live-blog for today. See y’all on Day 2!