BayCon 2017 Con Report

The experience of a science fiction convention is a mix of your state, coincidence, programming, and organization, at least in my opinion. For this year’s BayCon, all those pieces fell into place.

The programming was varied, interesting, and provoked many conversations, both coming up in other panels and in the hallway or con suite. I met new friends and had a chance to talk to ones I’ve known for years. I learned new things both about how I see things and how others feel about them. Despite being completely wiped still, the creative juice from the convention helped me solve an issue the final Apprentice beta reader brought up so the solution uses the existing material and expands upon it rather than requiring a huge rewrite that would likely break more than it fixed.

That’s the power of a strong convention. It expands your mind, helps you understand why you think the way you do (and sometimes changes that position), and gives you a place to discuss, argue, and analyze your favorite books and shows with others who “grok” what you’re trying to convey. Heck, I even got to talk about a powerful, but obscure, book I read a long time ago with someone who understood it in a very different way (Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy).

Oh, and I got to see a brand new filk created right in front of me from a tongue-in-cheek comment.

What I did not get was downtime to make many notes for my con report, so I apologize if I miss mentioning anything I experienced and welcome reminders in the comments along with something I may not have had the opportunity to participate in. I often found myself skipping panels (most accidentally) because I fell into an interesting conversation or more than one thing happened at the same time. I did, however, manage to get to Emerian Rich’s shrunken head makers workshop. I also succeeded in recovering my muscle memory of crochet, but did not finish the shrunken head. Since I went for the company, though, I have no regrets.

I went to the opening ceremonies and “met” the guests of honor, a good number of which would be on my next panel, The Seduction of Utopia. I can tell you I was nervous, both about the topic and moderating such personalities.

The panelists did just what I hoped, though, and took the topic in directions I couldn’t have predicted. It went from recognizing utopia’s impossibility to recognizing it is wholly individual to valuing the concept of utopia either as a calm in the storm of life or something to strive for because even without reaching it (and possibly because of failure) society would move in the right direction. We discussed the impact of education, the complexity of cultural disconnects, and many more topics. I wish I’d taken better notes because we had some great questions/comments from the audience as well, but I was too caught up in the discussion.

Daniel Dociu, the artist guest of honor, made some surprising contributions thanks to growing up outside of the United States, a rare element among the panelists, but each came from a different viewpoint that affected the discussion. Daniel Abraham even voiced the truly un-American *wink* position of loving to be wrong. I found the comments of all the panelists offered a broad, often conflicting, range on the topic, which is what makes for a good panel, and a great start to the con.

One thing led to another (a minute-by-minute report would be way too long), and I ended up in the con suite where the hospitality staff offers light snacks and complex conversation for everyone. I like to spend time in there because the relaxed environment allows for discussions on almost anything. We discussed authors and programs we liked, but often had issues with, from Buffy to Scorpion and a billion in between, touching on writing, implications, influence, and consequences. We did not discuss The Expanse even though Daniel Abraham (one of the writers along with Ty Franck) was in the conversation, but I did get a good recommendation for his urban fantasy series. I was able to give back with the knowledge that Gail Carriger was stopping by the next day.

After the official meet the guests, I had my Art of Storytelling panel, where I’d come up with a viable plan and all. Well, like all good battles, I got confused between military and normal time so didn’t realize the risk when a short comment became an interesting conversation, but when I stumbled in late (my first time *sigh*), instead of a few annoyed people, the room was full and the members were entertaining themselves with stories. It was grand, especially because one of the panelist never managed to make it, but my husband Colin jumped in to round the panel back up to three.

Tiny Crane BayCon 2017

Made by an audience member from one of the unused prompt papers for The Art of Storytelling

While we were organizing how it would work, the members gave us a crazy collection of prompts (person, place, and things) which we drew from a hat to craft tall tale-type (say that ten times fast) stories on the fly. It all ended in weaving the whole collection together (thanks to Tom Merritt’s blending of the cues) with a skinny penguin who looked like Abraham Lincoln but is actually Robert De Niro, and Abraham Lincoln’s fraternal twin, hanging out at a 24-hour donut shop in a dress with a Hello Kitty micro-pattern. So yes, pretty wild. The audience was in stitches…and I have a pen Chewbacca slobbered on to treasure *dubious look*. I also received the tiny crane some of you might have seen before on my one social media post from the con, but I used a penny for a better scale for this picture.

*Takes deep breath*

And that was just the half-day on Friday. My schedule had 17 things marked, but I managed only a few of them because I’ve learned to be flexible. I know I missed some very useful/fascinating discussions, but I gained as many as I missed.

Saturday started with the world-building panel, and one I wanted to go well with practical techniques for people to walk out the door with. It ended up being surprisingly successful in a very odd way as my panelists weren’t all conscious of what they did, but gamely attempted to answer my questions…after which, I’d parse out the technique and they’d confirm it. I’ll post more on that next Tuesday, as I’ve decided to share the notes from that one generally because I think there’s a lot of value to be had.

I made a new friend in the world-building panel and stopped in for the panel on writing fantastical beasts because she kept praising one of the panelists. I picked up some books to check out and got some good tips, especially to play with primary senses and use imagery to convey difference.

Then I got to be a panelist for the first time (having moderated every other panel I was on) with the Girls will be Girls panel. I’ll admit that didn’t go as I expected either, but for different reasons. However, we had a lively discussion about YA literature, what it provides that’s different than labeled adult literature and why there are so many crossover readers. We also had a true YA perspective from Linden Tarr who opened our eyes to how the reading world has changed since most of us were in school based on her current student experience. I have a list of titles to check out as a result (including I didn’t know Warm Bodies was a book first), and I learned why I liked the Hunger Games book so much as the discussion led me to a realization of the underlying theme of community.

As an odd side-note, I was outed in terms of my birthday at the beginning of the panel. There’s something both embarrassing and kind of neat to have the whole room burst out in Happy Birthday. Thanks go to everyone who was there, especially since I used it as an excuse not to disturb the restaurant when my family took me out later that night *wink*.

Sunday, I had no official assignments, so went to a few panels, including an American Sign Language introduction where I learned a cultural background of the signs I’d been unaware of before, and the Escape Velocity discussion of our colonization chances from floating artificial environments to gene manipulation to transform humanity for environment specialization. Once again, I ended up talking to a bunch of people, then went to the shrunken head class.

Dinner was an invitation to join a group of writers and writing professionals at the hotel dining room where we also swept up a few other people who were waiting to be seated. It was great fun chatting. I hope to see more of the folks who were there. I only spoke to a small section because of the length of the table and the noise level in the room, but it was an appropriately fascinating discussion including both learning to do public speaking and the reproduction habits of insects…with a glimpse into scientific publishing as well as fiction.

Dinner went long because we didn’t want it to end, but by sheer luck I made it to the open sing in time to hear a girl I’d met in the con suite play her ukulele with her mom as accompaniment. Both her contribution and the others were wonderful, and this is where I got to see filk unfold in front of me as I mentioned earlier.

Monday morning dawned without the chance to talk to my morning panel panelists. Like the world building, I wanted “The Dreaded Outline” to be technique focused and was relieved to catch Loren Rhoads in the Green Room. She agreed with the focus and was a Scrivener user even. J.L. Doty had also signed on but announced he didn’t outline, which would certainly have provided an interesting perspective (this was after we got to the panel room).

While the panel did segue into submission outlining a bit and into the danger of empowering words with fear (the point of the dreaded outline but we also touched on synopses), there were many different approaches discussed. The panel provided a lovely demonstration of how many different ways successful writers can approach outlining, including J.L. Doty, who didn’t outline in the traditional academic sense but actually did a process very similar to that Jay Hartlove described. Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff spoke of learning to outline because publishers required it, but also of how that helped her. She recommended Writing Great Screen Plays while Writing Down the Bones and Sal Stein On Writing were also mention (along with others I didn’t manage to write down) as ways to improve your plotting skills. Ultimately, though, despite the many different approaches, everyone seemed to agree using some form of outline, whether written after starting, before, or as an iterative step, helped improve the complexity of the story and the strength of the completed draft.

After outlining, I ended up in more hallway conversations, so didn’t get to another panel until my last one on Ultranationalism. I didn’t go into the panel as prepared as I prefer to be because I wasn’t sure exactly how it would go, but I had some notes that I don’t think I ever used. This panel could have been very divisive (and was in some ways) while the moderator was worried we would come to blows. Instead, it became a probe into how this happens and what we can do about it along with cautions to watch our own tendencies to fanaticism in opposition movements. Between international affairs and anthropology, along with a keen eye to human behavior, there were many learning moments, though I realized one of my statements had been misinterpreted because I failed to finish it. As a bonus, I give you this insight: We can only change our own minds. The unspoken, and so missing, piece is giving others the tools and information to change their own minds is crucial, but we cannot change theirs without becoming that which we’re trying to prevent.

I missed the closing ceremonies because of catching another friend or two, then went to eat during which we collected even more. None of us wanted the convention to be over, and we were still talking about things that went on, sure signs of a wonderful convention. Colin and I even ended up going to the Dead Dog Party…sort of…for my first time. Turns out the party was in the other room, but a small group of us fell into another great discussion, so much fun was had by all.

The folks who put on BayCon, whether organizing the whole thing, running a department or one of the rooms, keeping us safe, gophering, or any of the areas I might not even be aware of pulled off an amazing experience that makes me eager for next year…after I’ve recovered from this one *wink*. As James Konijn, one of the co-chairs for this year said, it’s hard to keep from letting the fan take over and becoming completely incoherent. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. BayCon would not be here without the thousands of volunteer hours put in across the whole year. You all are amazing for doing this…and doing it so well.

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4 Responses to BayCon 2017 Con Report

  1. Randy Smith says:

    It sounds like you had a great convention! I enjoyed getting to chat with you all-too briefly in the Green Room.

    • Margaret McGaffey Fisk says:

      As did I. You were one of the first people I came to recognize at BayCon, Randy, though I don’t know which year that was. You joined a hallway discussion I was in after a panel in the old hotel but not the old old hotel or the old old hotel by a different name (yes, I got some reminders of history this year ;)). Hope to catch you longer next year.

  2. Emerian Rich says:

    Loved having you in the crochet class. 🙂

    • Margaret McGaffey Fisk says:

      I bring chaos wherever I go, and for some bizarre reason, people enjoy it :). I like making people smile and laugh, even when it’s at the expense of my poor shrunken head. Hmm, does that mean the person it embodied got away?

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