Category: conventions


It’s con season, as noted over on the Generations Geek blog. I will be at CONvergence over the Fourth of July weekend and at Shore Leave the weekend of July 15. Cons are a weird experience for me. Although I’ve been a sci-fi geek essentially my entire life, cons were not a big deal for me for decades. I think part of that is because I grew up in northern Minnesota, far from any conventions. Combine that with my neuroses around crowds and strangers and places I haven’t been before—imagine that, a neurotic writer!—and you can see why I wasn’t rushing out to cons even after I moved to the Twin Cities, where there are many wonderful cons. But then I started being a writer guest at Shore Leave, thanks to Star Trek fiction. For years, Shore Leave was the only con I regularly attended, halfway across the country, even though there were lots of cons in my own backyard. Finally, a few years ago, I started going to CONvergence as a writer guest, and I’ve grown quite fond of it. But cons are still roller coasters for me, full of ego boosts, awkward social interactions, reunions with old friends, and crowd-induced claustrophobia. So if you ever meet me at a con and I look a bit skittish, like a dog during a thunderstorm, give me a moment, my mood will soon swing back the other way!

Still not really talking about what I’m not talking about: Star Trek fan films. Trek fandom has been biting its own tail for months about this, and with the fan film guidelines CBS and Paramount have recently released, it’s gotten worse. I’m not going to rehash the whole story here. If you’re a fan you already know it; if you’re not, well, neither of us has the time or energy to go over the history. But I’m in the middle on this. I’ve watched and enjoyed fan films. I’ve considered writing for them, but never did. But, as a writer, I’m also big on intellectual property. And I’ve written official Star Trek fiction, published by Simon & Schuster—which, according to the guidelines, disqualifies me from working on a fan film. I don’t take that personally, but I was never really invested in the idea in the first place. Which brings me back to why I haven’t been talking about this. I know people on both sides of the issue, people who totally support the studio’s point of view and people who are deeply invested in fan films either as viewers or creators. Online debates have been intense, and there have been people on both sides who have—I like to give the benefit of the doubt and assume in the heat of the moment—veered off into regrettable personal attacks. The whole situation saddens me. It’s the fiftieth anniversary year of the franchise we all love, and instead of wholehearted celebration, there is instead an atmosphere of taking sides. No matter how many justifiable fingers can be pointed in either direction, the end result is disheartening.

It’s a good thing I’ve got that degree in how to be a freelancer in the new world of publishing. Oh, wait, that never happened. I really don’t think anyone in the industry really knows what they’re doing. Not in a bad way, like, “That guy is driving the wrong way on a one-way street,” but more like, “Uh . . . is this the detour? Is this even a road? Why have all the street signs been painted over?” So you’ve got a lot of people—writers and editors from beginners to pros alike—just trying to keep moving forward, but the rules keep changing, and the game board, instead of being a proper map, is just a white board anyone can erase and redraw with the full conviction that people on the internet seem to have about anything. All I want to do is write my little stories, get them out there for people to read, and somehow make a fair amount of money to pay the bills. That was hard enough in olden days when publishing was a relatively straightforward business that followed the same traditions it always had. Nowadays, on the frontier of e-books and print on demand, when big publishers are buying up self-publishing businesses like farm teams, it’s hard to know what to think. So I just keep on writing my little stories, and I try to get some printed traditionally and self-publish others, and I’ll see where it takes me. Check out my author page on Amazon, where you can see them all. (In theory. It’s kind of buggy. Because it’s not like a little site like Amazon has the resources to . . . oh, wait.)

IMG_2016I’m in that weird post-con mood, somewhere between melancholy reminiscence on one hand and the joy of returning to regularly timed meals on the other. CONvergence was a blast of geek power that was both energizing and draining over four days at the DoubleTree Hotel in Minneapolis, Minnesota, just a short drive across the mighty Mississippi River from my lair in St. Paul. My daughter Ella came with, as did a friend of hers who did some mighty cosplay, five costumes in four days: Daryl from The Walking Dead, Peggy Carter from Captain America, Castiel and Dean from Supernatural, and a Hogwarts student from Harry Potter (I forget which house).

My Thursday started with attending the panel “Mainstreaming of Geekdom” on how geek culture has come into the limelight from the fringes of yesteryear. It was an interesting panel, including insightful commentary from panelist Michael R. Underwood. My first panel of the con, “Walking Dead: Comics or TV?” was next. In preparation, I read the comics from the first issue up through the issues corresponding roughly to the first half of the last season. For those who haven’t read the comics, I say “roughly” because the TV adaptation takes some diversions from the source material so it doesn’t line up exactly. The panel compared and contrasted the two versions of the story and made me excited for the upcoming season and reading more of the comics.

After a couple hours wandering around, I attended the panel “Many Faces of Dracula,” which included local horror author Joel Arnold, a friend of mine. The panel discussed many cinematic versions of the famous bloodsucker, including Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Jack Palance, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman, and more. Fun stuff.

Next I was back on stage for a Sherlock panel, focusing on the third season. We talked about what we loved and what we didn’t, touching upon Sherlock’s “return from the dead,” the fate of Moriarty, and the tone of a season that left a lot of fans divided. I left the con for a while to meet up with fellow Trek writer Bill Leisner, who kindly supplied, on consignment, a small box of the ReDeus anthologies (which we had both contributed to) for my signing the next day. After we had a bite to eat, I went back to the con for a bit and was able to drag the kids away from all the fun.

Friday kicked off with my time at the signing table. I shared the table with the super-personable Wesley Chu, who was a great guy to chat with when we weren’t talking with people dropping by the table. I sold just one book, and that was to Joel, but I had fun and did plenty of PR for my new Trek eBook, The More Things Change. Now I’ve got to get Bill’s books back to him.

Following my signing, I wandered around and stumbled into an unscheduled signing by Marina Sirtis, Deanna Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I took advantage of the opportunity to give her a signed copy of The Sky’s the Limit, the TNG twentieth-anniversary anthology in which I have a story. I told her my daughter would be furious that I had met her on my own, but Marina told me to bring her back later and she would give Ella a signed photo in trade for the book I’d given her. Cool! Then we all went to Marina’s first talk at the con, a hilarious hour of snark and attitude, and then quickly got in the autograph line so Ella got to meet Marina as well. Marina commented on Ella’s friend’s Peggy Carter cosplay. Marina was laughing and smiling on stage all the time, it seemed, but every time I snapped a photo, she looked so serious, as above.

The rest of Friday night is a blur . . . I attended one panel that never quite came together, and then wandered a bit with the kids before calling it a night.

Saturday was a busy day. I had a panel right away at 9:30 in the morning, “Cartoons You Can Watch With Your Kids.” This was a lot of fun, and one of my fellow panelists was animator Greg Guler, who has worked on, among many other things, Phineas and Ferb, a favorite of ours. He had great insider stories from his years in the business.

I dropped by the signing table when it was Joel’s turn and picked up his novel Northwoods Deep. I got a little something to eat and soon was on my next panel, “The Hobbit: That Wasn’t in the Book!” We talked about the changes Peter Jackson and Co. made in adapting the book into a trilogy of films, including which additional scenes were extrapolated from Tolkien’s writings and which were made up entirely outside canon. This was held in one of the bigger rooms and was well attended. It gave me the perfect opportunity to mention Middle-earth Envisioned: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings On Screen, On Stage, and Beyond, to which I contributed a sidebar. One of my fellow panelists was David Lenander, a Tolkien scholar long active in the Rivendell Group, a local chapter of the Mythopoeic Society.

I had another panel right away, “Agents of SHIELD.” This played to a packed room, there were even people who had to stand in back. We reviewed the first season, its hits and misses, its relation to the Marvel films, and what we hope for in season two. We’d done an episode on this topic for Generations Geek, the podcast I do with Ella, so I felt well prepared, and it seemed to go well, especially with the help of publisher/writer Lee Harris as moderator. He closed the panel by saying, “If you liked this panel, I’m Lee Harris. If you didn’t, I’m Paul Cornell.”

I met up with Joel after that and went to the hotel bar for a burger, fries, and a glass of cabernet. It’s nice to have a sit-down chat with a fellow writer. We then attended a panel, “Cover Art for Your eBook,” which covered a lot of the pitfalls inexperienced self-publishers fall into when they slap together a cover and gave advice on how to do a better job. The panelists included Lee Harris. After that I called it a night.

And then it was Sunday, the last day. I started off with another 9:30 panel, “Your Child & Geekery.” We shared stories on raising geeky kids, and how we approached sharing our love of things geek with our children at various ages. Unfortunately, given the early hour on the last day of the con, the panel was sparsely attended, but it was an interesting talk nevertheless.

Following that, Ella and I were interviewed for the Skiffy and Fanty Show, a geeky podcast that was nominated for a Hugo Award earlier this year. We seemed to talk as though we knew what we were saying, and Shaun Duke and Paul Weimer were fun to talk with. I’ll post on Facebook and Twitter when I find out when our segment will become available.

That’s pretty much it. I got to talk to the eminently personable Emma Bull for a bit in the lobby, though most of her panels were scheduled opposite of mine, so I missed out on a lot of her con presence. I’ve known Emma since the early nineties when I worked at Barnes & Noble and would have her in for signings. I got to say hello to writer Paul Cornell a couple times as he dashed after his toddler in the corridor; I did a Gerry Anderson panel with him at CONvergence 2013. I introduced myself to comic book artist Christopher Jones, I’m happy to say, since I missed all his appearances as well. There’s always so much going on, there’s no way you can see it all. Also had a lovely chat with Carrie Patel, whose first novel, The Buried Life, comes out the end of July from Angry Robot.

All that remains is a shout out to all the panelists I didn’t name above and all the people at CONvergence, which is fan run, for putting on another great con. The kid and I both look forward to next year.