Con Report: PenguiCon 2012

I’ve attended most of the PenguiCons since they started ten or so years ago, so I was particularly looking forward to this year’s, which was to be the first I’d be at where I was doing a panel. That panel was “Fantasy vs. Dark Fantasy vs. Horror: What Happened to the Boundaries?”, and it was really the first thing I did after registering on Friday (April 27th).

I was somewhat nervous, despite having done panels before, as I was the only person conducting the panel–another first for me. Fortunately, I needn’t have worried. Not only was the panel well attended (by between 15-20 people), we were all seated around a circular table (as opposed to the usual row-of-panelists facing rows-of-attendees scheme), which really helped me with making the panel into what I wanted it to be, which was a discussion. It also helped that the topic was one that I’d suggested, and that it was something I’d already put a serious amount of thought into, thanks to all the publicity I’d done for Brutal Light (coming up with answers to questions on ‘why write dark fantasy,’ which in the process had me explaining what I believed dark fantasy to be). The discussion was fun and at the end, I gave away a couple signed copies of Brutal Light.

From then on, I went into attendee-mode. Since I didn’t get a room at the hotel (being as I’m both cheap and local), I set out for various panels that attracted my interest. I dropped in on the opening ceremonies, and got treated to seeing John Scalzi playing ukelele and singing Prince’s “Kiss.” Even though my life was much more complete after that, I kept on with the evening, catching Mikey Mason‘s Geek Rock Comedy Show, and generally tracking down and chatting a bit with friends I usually only see at local cons.

Saturday was more of the same, plus drinking. PenguiCon is pretty massive, and in addition to literature has lots of programming for tech, science, gaming, and more, and there’s always something going on. I did manage to hit a few panels, including one on “DC Comics’ New 52,” and one called “Strike a Pose!”, loosely inspired by a famous blog posting by Jim C. Hines (and this followup). My wife showed up that evening and we spent the rest of it hanging with friends, dancing and enjoying some tasty mixed drinks. (Sadly, as I had to drive, I kept my enjoyment to a couple drinks, with plenty of time to let the buzz subside before I headed out. Next year I definitely have to get a room, at least for Saturday night.)

I ended up skipping Sunday altogether, for reasons of laziness. But all in all, I had a good time, met a bunch of cool people, and am very much looking forward to next year’s PenguiCon!

Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and several previously published and forthcoming short stories. He can be found via his website, his blog A Taste of Strange, as @gwox on Twitter, and in many other far-flung places on the Internet.

Penguicon 4/27/12 – 4/29/12

I’m going to be at the combination science fiction/tech geekery convention PenguiCon, in Dearborn, Michigan, today (Friday 4/27) through Sunday 4/29. I’m only scheduled for one panel, though, on Friday 4/27 at 6 pm: “Fantasy vs. Dark Fantasy vs. Horror: What Happened to the Boundaries?” Essentially its a look at how dark fantasy as a subgenre blurs the boundaries between fantasy and horror, and why its appeal is so strong. It looks like I’m gonna be running that panel solo, too, so whoever attends will be subjected to my eccentric views on all of this. I’ll be heavily caffeinated, so if nothing else, it’ll be entertaining!

I’ll also be giving away a couple signed copies of my dark fantasy novel Brutal Light to panel attendees. So if you’re in the SW Michigan area, or even farther out, drop in and say hi! PenguiCon has become, in my opinion, the premier fan-run con in Michigan, and there’s always a lot going on. Even though I’m only on one panel, I’ll be bopping about through the whole convention.

Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and several previously published and forthcoming short stories. He can be found via his website, his blog A Taste of Strange, as @gwox on Twitter, and in many other far-flung places on the Internet.

Convention Memories: A Hazy Ramble

As I consider which conventions I’ll be going to this year, as both a writer and a fan, I’ve been reminiscing about the first SF/fantasy convention I ever went to–ConClave. It was in 1995, when the convention was still being held in the Holiday Inn South in Lansing, and I had no idea what I was getting into.

I was 26, and you may wonder how it is a 26-year-old SF fan could go for so long without going to a con. I wonder now, myself; the only thing I can think of was that I had no idea that cons were going on so close, or that I might have easily gone to one before then. (This was back when the ‘net was young, there was no Google, and downloading something simple like a picture could take the better part of an hour at 2800 baud. And we liked it that way!) A friend invited me to go to the one in Lansing, so we went–me thinking it was just for the day.

The hotel was packed. My first memory of it was the long, curving corridor you had to walk through just to get to the front desk, and the immense open lounge with the piano at the center. It was packed. Of course, I knew no one except my friend, but that didn’t stop me from being amazed at the costumes some of the fen wore. (Amazed for assorted reasons, depending on the costume and the person filling it.)

A few unfortunate things prevented me from enjoying this first experience more than I did. For one, my friend and I got separated somehow, and I did not see her until the following morning. I lived in the Lansing area at that time, and had not planned on staying overnight. I had no place to sleep, but felt I couldn’t just go home without finding where my friend had gotten to. So, I was up all night, sometimes chatting in the con suites, but mostly just trying to stay awake, and stay in public areas where I could hope to spot her. I wasn’t very happy when I finally did find her.

Yet, I clearly liked something about the experience, as I readily accepted when she invited me to Detroit for another con (one which was a much better experience, as I knew what to expect). There was something invigorating about it, being amidst all these people who were dancing, chatting, screening films, buying books, and just generally being welcoming and understanding. I’m convinced that all of us, no matter what our interests are, need such a community.

I went to a lot more conventions in the latter half of the nineties and the early part of the ‘aughts before my attendance fell off. I made a number of lifelong friends, had a hell of a lot of fun, and figured I would always be back. (Of course, that was not to be….) Now, all my best memories of these times sort of blend together… all the late-night parties, the Elven Toasts, the panels, the dances, the writers I met, and even the interminable Sunday afternoons where there was nothing left to do but none of us wanted to leave… things like that. Even though I’m going back to conventions now, with the aim of getting my book in front of people’s faces, it’s no longer quite the same. The old crew, with a few exceptions, has either dispersed, doesn’t want to go anymore, is too busy to go, or can’t afford to go. C’est la vie…

On coming back to ConClave last year, this time as a writer promoting his book on panels, I was surprised and saddened to see it a ghost of its former self. I suspect that the economy is to blame–fen who would ordinarily go to all of Michigan’s fan-run cons likely had to cut back. I really hope that ConFusion (coming in a week-and-a-half to Troy, Michigan) has healthier attendance–I have a lot of fond memories of that con as well, especially from its years at the Van Dyke Park Hotel, and would hate to see it going the way of ConClave and ConTraption.

(Note: I will be at ConFusion, but I unfortunately won’t be on any panels. But say hi anyway if you’re there and see me around!)

Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and several previously published and forthcoming short stories. He can be found via his website, his blog A Taste of Strange, as @gwox on Twitter, and in many other far-flung places on the Internet.

Back from ConClave!

I had a great time at ConClave over the weekend, participating in four panels, attending a few others, and in general chatting with old friends and new. I neglected to take much in the way of pictures this time around, so words shall have to suffice.

On Friday I was on two back-to-back panels — “The Death of an American Author” (a panel on the impact e-books and e-publishing has had and will have on readers, writers, and the industry) with Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Jim C. Hines and Doug Lugthart (a.k.a. L. Warren Douglas), and “Self-Promotion and Networking” (a fairly self-explanatory title) with Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Jim C. Hines. They were the first panels I’d done in fourteen years (since the one panel I did at a con in Virginia in support of the late, lamented Mythic Heroes project of the 90’s, which has nothing to do with the current RPG game of the same name), and happily, thanks to both my preparation before the panels and the welcoming atmosphere created by my co-panelists, I managed to speak up fairly regularly, and managed to sound, much of the time, like my train of thought had actually finished boarding at the station before I let it depart. (This will startle people who know me as either being quiet or as someone who starts sentences with no idea where they’re going to end. There’s a reason I gravitated to being a writer instead of a speaker.)

After that, I got to enjoy part of a wildly entertaining concert by Seanan McGuire, who, in addition to being a very prolific author (both under her own name and as Mira Grant, author of the Hugo-nominated ‘Feed’), is an amazing singer. Some chatting and wandering about rounded out the evening before I headed home (as I live reasonably close to Romulus–the Detroit metro area city, not the Romulan homeworld–I’d decided to skip getting a hotel room for this convention).

Saturday, ordinarly the prime day for any convention, turned out to be a bit truncated for me, as I had to leave mid-afternoon to attend the wedding of two friends. Still, I managed to take a couple spins around the Dealers’ Room, chatted again with Bryan Thomas Schmidt and his publisher (picking up his book, The Worker Prince, in the process), and chatted with more people in the ConSuite. I managed to return late in the evening to be in the audience for a panel on “Michigan’s Most Haunted” locations–of interest more to me as a writer than as a potential believer, but nonetheless fun. And that finished day two.

Sunday got me out early for a panel on “When Should a Series End?” (a panel on that magical time in any book series, movie series, or tv series, when it’s time for a graceful exit, and how it looks when that time goes by without such an exit) with Seanan McGuire, Emmy Jackson, and Jim C. Hines. It was the best attended of the panels I was on, likely because of Seanan’s presence–not just because she was the Guest of Honor, but because she’s a very fun and outgoing person, someone I’d love to listen to in any setting. I managed to get through this panel without actually saying ‘derp derp derp de derp,’ despite the dullness brought on by the truncated sleep I’d gotten. Between that panel and the next, I chatted with folks some, and took one more spin around the Dealer’s room. My last panel, “What Makes a Book Unreadable?” (the varying things that readers might consider to be ‘deal-breakers’ in their enjoyment of a story), with Charles P. Zaglanis and Emmy Jackson. Very sparsely attended, both because it was getting on in the afternoon, when many people had already left, and because we were up against Seanan’s book signing, but also fun, because it went from being a panel to a freewheeling discussion on anything and everything that annoyed us about different books we’d read or movies we’d seen. Once the panel was over, I had to depart right away (to assist with de-walnutting my in-laws’ back yard), so after buying a copy of Emmy Jackson’s book Empty Cradle: the Untimely Death of Corey Sanderson, depart I did.

(Note: Bryan Thomas Schmidt posted his con report earlier today, and it includes a picture of me with the other panelists from the “Death of the American Author” panel. The other panelists were chatting, while I, having noticed the camera, adopted a pose and smile that makes it look like I have a thought balloon with the word ‘derp’ in it–which makes it pretty average for my photos, I’m afraid.)