Baycon 2016 Con Report

BayCon 2016If you’ve been following my blog, you already know Baycon is special to me, but even with a limited knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes, I can tell you this year required a Herculean effort both over the year and in the last few weeks. In my opinion, the staff came through with flying colors. They deserve a standing ovation and a gold star :).

The hotel was a new one to me (Baycon was there the one year I missed) and had some characteristics that meant getting around was a little like playing 3D chess at times, but there was a lot of meeting space and wonderful things to do pretty much everywhere. Sometimes getting turned around meant I popped in for something I hadn’t been planning to do, but people were happy to point me in the right direction. If I had a recommendation to make for next year, it would be to have tables and chairs in a gathering space in front of the DIY room for people to chat, because the only free space I found was outdoors where people can get sunburns, and this hotel didn’t have much of a hangout space in the lobby.

I don’t usually mention the organization stuff, taking it as understood, but I think this attitude is unfair to those who move mountains each year to provide what has become my main link to fandom, and I know I’m not alone in that connection. It’s easy to take the con for granted when everything runs smoothly, and so many complain when you can see the guide wires in the wire work, but I know I wouldn’t have been able to pull this together myself and have it go even half as well.

You’d think with all that above I was setting it up as a caveat for a mediocre year, but nothing could be further from the truth. As usual, I didn’t get to half the things I’d wanted to (which meant a majority of the programming appealed to me) and every one of my panels went well (even the one where I was the moderator ;)). I managed to get to the DIY room once, popped in to listen to some other panels, saw good friends and made new ones, and basically enjoyed myself. The only part I regret is not making any of the musical events, but the timing just never worked out.

Enough with the general notes. Here’s the con through my eyes:

My very first panel was: Are We Alone in the Universe? with Chris Butler, Todd McCaffrey, Tom Saidak, David Gerrold, and me. Honestly, I was a bit intimidated with all these big names and…umm…me. Then we have the topic, which is near and dear to me but I have some odd ideas (which should surprise no one). Imagine my astonishment when we had a lively discussion with give and take, different perspectives, and no one trying to drown out anyone else. We looked at the way planets are classified, at humanity’s historical approach to life (and specifically intelligent life), the possibility of micro-visitations, and more. Chris Butler said it best. I wish I’d recorded his exact words, but it went something like this: He didn’t expect us to come to any real conclusions on the panel, but apparently we had. Are we alone in the universe? Most likely not. However, we (humans) are arrogant enough to think we are and change the evidence to suit. Astronomy, archeology, philosophy, physics, statistics, and sociology were only a few of the areas we covered in this opening panel, exactly what I love about Baycon and a sign of good things to come.

From there, I went directly into my reading, shared with Cliff Winnig who could not have been a better reading partner. Not only did we have a full room despite being Friday midday, but we had enough time to do a bit of discussion as well. I read a scene from Shafter (my SF adventure) that had people laughing aloud to my delight. Cliff read the first few chapters of his current work in progress, a sociological SF novel right up my alley currently titled Boundary Conditions. He also opened with a handful of Twitter stories (140 characters max) to offer a humorous balance to a book that certainly has its dark moments, but also lovely interactions both between the characters and with the aliens. Finally, I finished up with a scene introducing Nathaniel Bowden in Secrets since we still had time. Once again, it was well received. I got the impression we succeeded in serving our purpose in entertaining those who attended the reading, always a good thing.

After those panels, I went to find people, did a first pass through the dealer’s room, checked out the party floor, and all the usual con things. I honestly can’t remember if that was the night (or Saturday) when I ended up in the Oasis, a quiet space for coloring and talking without the bright lights and noise in some of the other rooms. I had a lovely time chatting about writing, came out of it with a name for the shuttle pilot in Apprentice, and even started coloring a mosaic to break the “new book” ice before I wandered about once again. A lovely place for down time when needed.

On Saturday morning, I came to the realization I had failed the basic con rules taught me on my first venture into Baycon. I hadn’t eaten enough, but even worse, I hadn’t been drinking enough liquid despite water stations throughout the con. So, I spent the time before my only Saturday panel rectifying the oversight, a very good thing had I known what insanity M. Todd Gallowglas had planned for us :).

We knew nothing about the Magical Mystery Panel beyond the name, the perpetrator, and that a ton of us were assigned to it. This did little to prepare for a thunderdome write off where panelists were separated into pairs, each pair got a topic provided by the audience, and then an incredibly short time to come up with a story, write it by hand in legible script, and turn it in. The stories were then read by the two MCs and voted on by the audience.

To say it was stressful is understating by a mile, but it was also exhilarating, fun, and amazing. I can’t tell you how glad I was to be in the second batch. I picked up a lot about the challenge and what appealed to the audience in listening to the first group. This enabled me to win my bout with a 94-word flash on Our Capybara Overlords that invoked The Princess Bride and ended with a last minute sentence when down to 30 seconds or less. What I found the most amazing about mine was how the MC only stumbled on two of my words! No, really, it was amazing and I’m thrilled to have been included.

After a quick sojourn for food, I went to the fingerloop braiding class taught by my sister, Jennifer McGaffey. There’s a long history between Baycon, fingerloop braiding, and me that goes something like this: I have to play with things with my hands. When I choose poorly (usually the plastic strip for ribbons), I end up with micro cuts on my fingers. My sister has a habit of catching me at it and handing me a fingerloop braid she just made (how she keeps her hands busy) because it’s safer. So…I promised I’d go to the class, and I showed up (late) but ended up sitting with three others demonstrating most of the age ranges among members. We had a grand time chatting, encouraging each other, and making braids happen :). Mine is now a bracelet that looks surprisingly nice.

Most of my party gathered to see Browncoats: Independence War, a fan film set in the Firefly universe, Saturday evening. I won’t claim it was Hollywood polish, but the story was clear, many of the characters pulled on my heartstrings, and overall, I found the cinematography amazing and well beyond my expectations. I had fun visiting this world again through very different eyes.

On Sunday, I was deciding between a bunch of panels, narrowed it down to one, then confused myself and ended up in the wrong room. Sometimes that’s a serendipitous thing though.

I tend to avoid trope panels since I learned after the fact that one was a “see familiar panelist rant” by design at a con I visited. Yet there I was at Fantasy Tropes: A Writing Tool or a Story Crutch? I won’t lie. There was a little bashing going on, but there was just as much looking at why tropes drew people, how to play with reader expectation to give a good story and even some ideas for new takes on old tropes. My short story, Curve of Her Claw did just that with dark elves, while A Magical Brew (appearing in How Beer Saved the World 2 later this year) involves another take on elves just because that’s how the story came together. I don’t think we should follow tropes exactly as they’re laid out, but neither do I think we should twist ourselves inside out to avoid them. Just tell a good story. That’s what counts.

In true con tradition, I have friends I only get to see at Baycon because we live on opposite ends of the con radius. I stopped in for Beyond Olympus and Asgard in the hopes of catching some friends and got an interesting discussion on bringing a broader view of cultures into writing while respecting the cultures used as source material.

I returned from a lovely lunch to my Sunday panel, The Space to Move Forward with Steven Mix, Lillian Csernica, Father John Blaker, and me. The panel was a tough subject in that it was looking at ways to manage PTSD, depression, survivor’s guilt, disability and more. Steven was an excellent moderator, and the format worked well with as many stories from the attending members as us panelists. I especially appreciated how supportive it all felt but with a positive focus of coping and regaining your balance.

On Monday, I was called on to moderate New Classics for New Readers with Beth Barany and Sarah Stegall. I started us out with some parameters and asked for more or refinements, then typing as fast as I could go, I tried both to capture the suggestions and keep us true to the parameters. It was fast, dynamic, and wonderful with some lovely suggestions. Oh, and because I’m mean, I assigned myself homework I still need to put together (cleaning up, organizing, and posting the reading list and parameters). I’m shooting to have that up next Tuesday, at which point I’d love to get more suggestions that fit in the parameters because (completely without bias of course) I think science fiction and fantasy are the perfect gateways to start a new reading habit whether you’re 5 or 50.

And that was it for me beyond packing up and driving back home, though I did another chance to go through the dealer’s room and talk with an author there. Oh, and I didn’t mention going to parties and having lovely chats with a bunch of people on the other nights as well, including hanging out in the Fanzine lounge to learn a little fandom history. The art room was also full of talented work, and though I didn’t pick any up this year, my son snagged two of the dragons to decorate his first adult home.

I love Baycon because people are open to discussion, have interesting opinions on a ton of things, and it’s a celebration of creativity whether in costuming, makering (is that the word?), art, music, writing, and more. This year hit all those notes and once again made me wish there were three of me so I could get to everything that I wanted to do. Already, I can’t wait for next year :).
Gold Star

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