Reflections on Norwescon 38

To fully explain what attending the science fiction and fantasy convention Norwescon 38 meant to me I have to go all the way back almost three years to when I was living in Greece.  In Europe I was isolated from anything like science fiction conventions.  As a writer I was lonely, as there were no writer’s groups I could join, not so much to critique each other’s work, but more to hang out with like-minded people.  Although not even half of what I write is science fiction, I write a fair amount of it, and my roots as a writer are in science fiction and fantasy.  I got my first inspiration to become a writer while reading Harlan Ellison’s nightmarish science fiction story “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” and I attended the Clarion West science fiction writing workshop in 1973.

Back to the point:  In Greece I dreamed of attending conventions but thought that it would never happen.  Then when I suddenly found myself in the position of uprooting and moving back to the States, I sought to rectify the situation.  Life is short, after all.  So I attended Condor convention in San Diego.  From San Diego my sons and I moved up to Yakima, Washington, but though I heard about Norwescon 37 in nearby Seattle and longed to attend, the membership fee and journey over the mountains was too expensive.  Norwescon was in spring, and by mid-summer we had managed to make the move to Seattle, and by late fall I had booked memberships and a room at the hotel for one night for Norwescon 38 in the following spring, determined not to miss out on it this time.

For those of you unfamiliar with what goes down at science fiction conventions like Norwescon, there are panels discussing various aspects of the field, some focusing on writing, some on films, some on gaming, and so on.  There is an art show, a dealers room where all sorts of genre trinkets are sold, readings by writers, autographing sessions, film showings, a masquerade, parties, gaming rooms.  A large percentage of the attendees walk around dressed in outlandish costumes, some of them so intricate and professional-looking that they must have been working on them all year.  It’s a crazy atmosphere in which you can let loose your inner geek, nerd, whatever you consider yourself.  Although not all the attendees are geeks, nerds, and so on.  Many, like myself, are professional writers, editors, publishers, and artists getting together to exchange ideas in a congenial environment.

I had two main goals:  to attend as many writer’s panels I was interested in as I could, and to show my thirteen-year-old son a crazy good time.  In both of these I succeeded.

The con started on Thursday, but looking over the schedule, I saw that the events began in the afternoon shortly before I would have had to start heading home, so I decided to wait and go on Friday.  As soon as my son went to school Friday morning, I was off.  I spent the next couple of hours on bus and light rail train until I arrived at the hotel, which was out near SeaTac airport.  Throughout the morning and early afternoon I attended one writer’s panel after another.  They were on subjects such as short story writing, marketing self-published fiction, and diversity in science fiction literature.

I also attended a packed-out question and answer session with George R.R. Martin, a superlative writer of science fiction and fantasy short stories, but most recently famous for “Game of Thrones.”  Every event of which he was a part, including the autograph session I went to the next day with my son, was mobbed, with lines forming at the door and winding through hallways and outside.  I didn’t envy him that sort of fame at all.  I was glad I was incognito, able to roam freely wherever I wanted without everyone I passed getting all bent out of shape.

Because I focused so much on writing on Friday, when I returned with my son for Saturday and Sunday I was able to focus more on events and subjects that interested him.  The exception was early Saturday morning.  We had to get up before daylight to make the long trip to the con so I could make the Science Fiction Writers of America meeting which was scheduled before events began.  It was my first SFWA meeting; I had been looking forward to it and it didn’t disappoint.  What I wanted to do more than anything was to meet other local writers and get to know my peers.  Everyone who attended was very congenial, and they were magnanimous about letting my thirteen-year-old sit in and help himself to the donuts.

After the meeting we strolled around the art show and dealers room, and then we spent over an hour milling about and then waiting in line to get George R.R. Martin’s autograph.  I would have given it a pass, but for my son it was the high point of the con.  They were giving out a limited number of tickets for the autograph session and had all sorts of crazy rules for when we approached the man.  One book each.  No personal notes.  No banter.  I thought it was ridiculous.  It took all the fun out of it and made what should have been a congenial event, a chance for a writer to interact with his fans, into a rigid, formal, stilted ceremony.  Not Martin’s fault, of course.  An unfortunate necessity brought about by circumstance.  Anyway…  Once we got our tickets we were herded through the line and in and out of the signing room within a few minutes.

Afterwards we attended an entertaining panel of horror writers and publishers on horror influences – more specifically, what horror films or books inspired the panelists to focus on horror in their careers.  Then my son and I booked into our hotel room, ate lunch, and got off our feet for a few hours.  We revived in time to attend another panel on horror and then to check out the lazer tag games.  They turned out to be a bit of a dud, as all the safety rules took the guts out of the game, so we soon left to wander around.  Later at night we briefly attended a party hosted by a space exploration society.  And so it goes…

Sunday morning I attended one last panel called “Worth the Dues?” about the value of writers organizations while my son played complementary arcade games in a nearby hallway.  And that was about it.  My son thought it was the best vacation ever, and I had a great time myself.  Life is short.  As far as I can see, I’m going to attend more cons up the road to make up for lost time.

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