ICON 39 Retrospective

I consider ICON Iowa to be my “home” convention when it comes to writing, science fiction, and fantasy. It is close to where I live, actually walking distance though I'm always running too late to actually walk it. I've been going since I moved to Iowa the first time in 1995, but I did take a few years off while living in Illinois. Ever since I moved back in 2008, I've been going steadily and kicking in a bit more than normal (I've done the Benefactor registration since I moved back).

This year, it was on October 31 through November 2. Because of my priorities, I couldn't attend on Friday because I had to go treating with SMWM, EDM, and BAM.

Should have dones

Being that I had a book published this year, I really should have contacted them and jumped in on the Thursday author signing and maybe a reading. For some reason, I didn't and I felt like it was a lost opportunity.

Scheduling software

This year, ICON went with Sched.org for their schedules. This was the first time I've ever used the website and I was pretty impressed. I like having the ability to tick the panels I wanted to attend (I only made about a third as usual) and have it pushed over to Google Calendar for my phone.

It was also a kick to see my name in the panel list.

“Off with Its Head!”

Because of some logistics and communication problems, the first panel I went to was the Off with Its Head!. The panel's focus was killing off characters in novels. This is relevant because Sand and Bone has some deaths in it and I was curious of other thoughts on the topic.

This was a fun panel, mainly because the panelists talked well with each other but also because they had a wide range of experiences and genres. One of the biggest things I came out was a reinforcement that it isn't okay to kill a dog. I've seen that in a number of books and heard authors talking about their dislike of it.

The other is killing off characters someone loves. An author doesn't always know who resonates with the reader. And, as one of the panelists mention, killing off that character can actually turn off a reader from the series or even an author. Doubly so for young readers who haven't been jaded by literary death as the older ones.

“Writing Combat”

I stuck in the room for the second panel, Writing Combat. I went with this panel because I have a very detailed style when it comes to writing and I haven't quite learned the art of abstracting some of it. Most of my fights are short, which is a point that came up a few times, and usually violent. It did point out that my main character, Rutejìmo, is a bit hardier than normal but that is plot relevant, so I don't feel too bad him not showing the effects as much. I was reminded of something I missed in Bone though.

Overall, it was a fun panel. Melissa Ann Conroy talked about fighting in corsets which gave me an idea for one of the fight scenes in a later book. Not to mention, I actually knew most of what she was talking about Japanese sword fighting though I only did it for about half a year.

“Adam Witlatch Reading”

I like to support other readers. I also had to miss Adam's reading last year because EDM decided to throw a fit. This time, I got to hear the prologue for two of his books, which was cool. And I like his book cards.

He's fun to talk to and listen, a good reading voice with a fun Russian accent for one of his characters. If I ever do a reading, I need to practice “voices” (and not just because the lady who does the Stephanie Plum novels is awesome at it).

“Running and Creating RPG Games”

And then we got to the scary one. This was my first of two panels and the only one that I was the only one on. No other panelists to riff on or talk to, just me and what ended up being about two dozen people.

It wasn't done in the normal panel format either. Instead of a table in the middle, it was me at one of three circular tables just… chatting. I talked about the types of games and types of players. I got questions about how to handle long-running RPG games, modifying rules, and rules lawyers. Overall, I thought I did a pretty good job of answering the questions and no one stormed out on me (always a fear).

After the panel, four people thanked me for some of the things I said or ideas I gave them. Which just felt awesome. After the diasterous WisCon panel, it was nice to talk about something I knew a lot about but was also very friendly (that was only one of my WisCon panels, the others were a lot smoother).

“Aaron Bunce Reading”

I met Aaron only a few months ago and read his book. Even said, I wanted to hear him to read it. It was a much different experience from Adam's, but I thought there was very enjoyable. He also read one of my favorite parts of the book, which didn't hurt.

I also liked listening to his process and inspirations for his books, something I had only gotten a bit about when talking to him earlier. Lots of fun.

The inbetweens

Between a lot of these panels, I wandered around. I talked a fair amount with Shannon Ryan and his wife, Stephanie. Love doing that, we seem to share similar interests. I also met up with some folks that I've met over the years and just chatted. It was fun.

I did manage to sell two copies of my book in the ConSuite, though I wasn't planning on it. Mainly I was just showing off my pretty cover.

Shannon did invite me to chat with the Paradise ICON folks, but I couldn't get SMWM on the phone to ask her. So, I had to turn down what would have been a fantastic evening of chatting. I have yet to meet someone from the Paradise ICON group that wasn't nice; they are just fun and high enough at writing to have really interesting conversations.

Dinner and games

SMWM came in somewhat late, after registration. With her, we ended up having dinner with two ladies (who I should know their names, but I fail). It was a fantastic dinner talking about everything from paganism, survivalists, diabetes, fantasy, and fandom. The service was incredibly slow but we had a lot of fun. I love talking to people from different backgrounds.

After dinner, SMWM and I got pulled into a Starcraft board game. It took about three or four hours before we finished round two. The game would be a lot faster if we knew the rules, but it was one experienced player teaching five players how to play.

That game has some evil ideas from Robo Rally (you have to plan your moves four in advance and in reverse order). It was also slightly above my comprehension level for three in the morning.

“Benefactors Breakfast”

I'm a benefactor for ICON because it is my home convention. It also gives me a chance to chat with people I don't know in a place that I don't feel like I'm being too much of fanboi.

This year, they sat me down with Jim C. Hines and Scott Lynch. I had never heard of Scott, but he is a very energetic, snarky person who I was glad I had a chance to meet. He also spoke relatively plainly and didn't gloss over things, which was nice.

I didn't have much to say at the table, which is fine. I spent half of it thinking to myself “don't mention my book, don't mention my book” because neither probably cared about it.

I couldn't stay long because the point I was dreading had come up.

“Series Verses a World”

After the diasterous WisCon panel (yeah, it haunts me), I was worried about this one. I reviewed about three dozen series and a couple dozen worlds as research in hopes that I could speak intelligently about it. One of the panelists didn't show up, so it was just Glen Cook and me chatting on a dance floor with others.

There were a couple points I was stupid, but overall, I thought it was a pretty solid panel. We talked about shared worlds (Shannon had an idea for a story in my Fedran world from this) and long-running series. Game of Thrones only got a brief discussion, but we did cover Power Rangers, Pokemon, Glen's series, my plans for mine, Forgotten Realms, and a bunch of others. Besides Glen's two series, which I have shamefully not read but I do own, I actually knew everything they mentioned.

I didn't come out of it feeling stupid, which is good. The audience was pretty well engaged and I could address almost every question given to us.

“Beyond SF 101”

The last panel I went to was with Jim C. Hines and Scott Lynch. Shannon sat with me and it was about mid-level writers. A lot of the questions were right at the point I am with writing, so it was great to hear some of the things to expect in the next few years.

One of the biggest things that I came out is to expect about five to ten years of working at it before things start to build up steam. And that gives me an expectation of time lines, even if they are longer. My current plan of ten years to see if this works seems right on target.

Also, a paraphrased line “write more words and don't be a dick” (Scott) followed my current plans. Well, I try not to be an ass in general, but steadily pumping out the best words I can sounds like the right way to go toward “success.”

And the end

After that, I chatted with Shannon for a while, met up with Lettie Prell who was a lot of fun to talk to, chatted with Kate Perkin about the problems of being nearly blind, and briefly chatted with random other people from Paradise ICON; they are so friendly, it makes me want to attend even though I can never find the time. After that, I just wandered off with new ideas and plans for next year.