This afternoon, I went to my last event of ICON 40 and staggered home. And then promptly took a few hour nap before coming out of a dark pit of exhaustion long enough to help with the boys. Now that they are asleep, I figured it was a good time to think about the last few days and write up what happened.
ICON is one of my two major conventions of the year. I consider it my "home" convention. Ever since I moved back to Iowa in 2008, I started going back after taking a few years off from the last time I moved in Iowa. I've also been a benefactor since then, mainly to help them but also because I like going here.
This year was the first year I came to ICON as an author, not just a guest. Last year, I was sitting at Adam J. Whitlatch's reading and realized that I should have told someone that I could do one myself. It diminished Adam's glorious Russian accent just slightly but it was okay. His War of the Worlds book is pretty good even without the accent.
This convention started with a multiple author signing at Barnes and Noble. This was like the one as WisCon, but with a lot more interaction than before. There were authors like Jed Q. Peterson who wandered constantly and pretty much engaged with others. Others sat at their tables and chatted. My table mate from WisCon was only one down from me this time; it's a small world.
It was kind of cool that a lot of people recoganized me. More so is that I actually was able to identify others. For those who know me, the ability remember faces and names is something I've struggled with most of my life. I don't remember people. But, as I've made friends with these authors, I managed to keep them in my head long enough to remember their faces (and usually what they wrote, but not always their names).
I managed to sell four books then, half to friends and the others with people who I've chatted casually with but not at the "giving each other shit" level.
It was a lot of fun, mainly because it was something new and I managed not to utterly humiliate myself.
Sadly, I wasn't able to do the dinner after that. My parental obligations took precedence.
I didn't have much time on Friday, but I did have a reading at 23:00. I stopped by at 18:30 long enough to pick me and SMWM's tickets and then head out. The swag bags were okay this year, not that I focus everything on it. The coupon for Half-Price Books was awesome but everything else, unfortunately, didn't really peak my interest since we live only a mile from most of the events and locations referenced in there. I'm also a benefactor for ICON (mainly to help) but the swag for that didn't really appeal to me either. That's okay, I mainly come for the company, not the bags. If they dropped the swag, I'd be okay with that. The only one I got was the ICON 35 t-shirt which had my favorite logo on it.
After the boys went to bed, I headed back in to do my reading. The parking this year had a pretty high sticker shock so I ended up parking on the street and just walking in (sans coat because I didn't want to carry it around).
This was my second reading. The room was entirely empty until Shannon and Stephanie came. That made it a lot more enjoyable, not speaking into an empty room. I know there is a totem pole when it comes to authors (more popular ones are during the day) but that almost midnight one was brutal.
While Shannon has read almost everything I've written, Stephanie had not. At Shannon's advice, I ended up reading Midlife Crisis and Best of Enemies. His claims that Midlife Crisis was "humorous", the grim dark aspects were initially a turn off but she occasionally laughed. She also said that Best of Enemies wasn't as enjoyable… understandable though a bummer.
I was also ashamed to see that I missed a few Oxford commas. And I broke a world law that I had decided on (I don't write rape scenes, but I also decided that there won't be any references to it either but I missed one).
Oh, Saturday. This was the busiest day of the convention. I had a number of panels and really didn't do much beyond then until the late evening.
RPG 101 was a lot of fun. I happened to have gone up to the consuite first and Athena Foster happened to be in the room. We talked about her plans before we met up with Daniel 'Stitch' Mohr. The panel talked a lot about what is gaming, how it affected our lives, and the types of RPG games that we play and how to pick them. There were some good questions and I think everyone was happy with the results.
As soon as that was over, I headed over to the Meet and Greet. Sadly, it was over half over by the time I got there. My assigned position was way in the back but I met up with Shannon and Stephanie and moved over to them. Since I was relatively unknown, no one came to visit me so I decided to imitate Jed a little and wander around. The Ryans were willing to watch my spot.
With hindsight, when I knew that I had two panels at the same time, I should have asked if they would do that from the beginning. Also, I need a better phone/tablet to handle the Square credit card reader or a cash box like Adam carries around).
I also wonder if ICON (or conventions in general) would be able to provide a service like GenCon where authors who can't handle cash/credit cards could use them for a small fee? There were a few authors who could only handle cash or checks, which I appear to have none at the time.
To my surprise, Mickey Zucker Reichert called me over. She and I talked briefly at Barnes and Nobel and I would have a panel with her earlier, but she was trying to remember what I submitted to her writing group back in 2010 and 2011 (ish).
One of them was Flight of the Scions. I remember that because it was on of the things that set me down the R5-D4 Plots. It was rather specific, "if you have a POV character and want to keep a secret, then find a different POV."
I couldn't remember the other submission, but she expressed interest in Sand and Blood. When I brought a copy over, she flipped to the back and actually remembered the first chapter: the names of the characters, the events in the first book, and everything else. I was floored (internally, I was squeeing). After chatting, we decided to swap books. She wanted to see what she helped me write; she rarely saw a finished version of the chapters that went through her writing group.
I ended up talking just a tad too long and had to rush over to my next panel, Guided Improv. I wasn't sure what to expect with this one, but it ended up being a wonderfully complicated, difficulty panel where we did various improvised stories. It was less of the improv of being a game master and just a rapid-fire back-and-forth stories. A lot of enjoyable but exhausting in the end. My co-panelist/story-creator, Gregga J. Johnn was awesome: energetic, enthusiastic, and imaginative.
I will also have trouble getting the image of someone sucking on a sponge that had food flavoring to make something taste like Taco John's.
After Guided Improv, I had a little time to kill. So I headed into the dealers hall, bought too many books from authors I knew, and chatted with some authors.
The folks over at Obsolete Press had some interesting ideas with their Page Fright platform, I might need to pay attention to them. My own press, Broken Typewriter Press, does similar things with ala carte services, but they have a better branding and marketing support.
I also meet up with Shannon and Stephanie (they were my anchors for this convention) and we talked for a bit before they had to go their separate ways.
My final panel was Development of a Faith System Within Science Fiction & Fantasy with Mickey and Stitch. This is the one I had to do a fair amount of research for, including work on my fantasy world, Fedran. This was the only really packed panel I was in but there were some really good questions. I also thought I did a good job of moderating, but there were a lot of questions for this one.
Even though the panel was good, Mickey pointed out that she had been carrying my book around all day in hopes of reading it. This pretty much redoubled the squeeing in my head. I hope she likes what she reads; it's kind of scary knowing that a role-model is going to be reading something I spent years working on.
After that panel, I was done with obligations for the convention. I headed back home to pick up SMWM. I ended up taking a two hour nap before we both headed over to Lone Star for a lovely dinner. Because the consuite is awesome, but sometimes you want a bacon-wrapped filet mignon.
Finally, it was back to the convention where we wandered around for a little while. We met up with Jim C. Hines and Stitch and Stitch's wife (I didn't have her name, sorry). Stitch has a wolf puppet, he's adorable. And Jim is always fun to talk to.
Sadly, we were hoping to meet up with Shannon and Stephanie again, but couldn't. We headed up to the party rooms, but nothing really drew our attention. Neither did the first gaming room. But we did stumble in the Mature Gaming and played our first game of Cards Against Humanity. That is a seriously fun game. I won, but the game didn't end until a quarter after two in the morning.
On our way home, we had the slowest Taco Bell service in our lives (50 minutes to serve 7 cars).
Sunday started with only four hours of sleep. I managed to stagger in for the Benefactor's Brunch (which was morning). Had some really fun conversations, mainly with Matt McKeever's daughter who seemed to like me once we talked about Mickey's Club House (remember, a road rally isn't a race, boys and girls) and our favorite Frozen characters. She insisted on holding my hand as we headed back to the elevator after the brunch. It was adorable and her father didn't seem to mind.
I really liked hearing about Matt's effort with OSFest, a similar convention over in Omaha. Sounds like they need writers and more participants for their tracks.
After brunch (which is really breakfast because it ended at 09:00), I finally go to go to panels without participating in them.
The first was a workshop on makeup. I was the only boy there, imagine that, but I loved seeing how the artist created a galaxy/nebula domino mask on her victim/sister. It was also cool to see the techniques of applying and being applied again. That will probably show up in my book.
This workshop also gave me an idea for a costume. Maybe I'll create it for next year and actually humiliate myself in public?
After that, it was Rachel Eliason for her reading from one of her books and her serialized piece coming out next month. I stumbled on the Ryans there who were about ready to leave, but little did we know… actually, I really don't like writers who say that.
The final panel I attended with the Ryans was the Leatherworking 101. I was interested in this for a few reasons: some day, I want to make a leather-bound book of my writing, there is always time for research, I need a new medium for my next anniversary gift, and leather has always appealed to me. I got a bunch of good ideas and it doesn't look too hard to get started. At least enough for the gift and maybe a few small items with only a few hundred dollars. We'll see, but I think my dad has his old leather working stuff which might help.
And that ended up being my ICON. Once we finished that, it was head home, sleep for four hours, and then dive back into my day-to-day.
Things that went wrong
Everything above this point is what went right, so I don't have a dedicated section for that.
Overall, it was a smooth con but I didn't quite care for the new location. The parking was unplesant but workable, I found a few spots 3-6 blocks away and I don't mind walking. The distance for the overflow hotels I could see would be a detractor; the DoubleTree filled up too fast as did the overflow.
There were things that going to the same location for a few years would hopefully fix. I heard gossip about going back to the Marriott, but until I see something officially, I'm not counting that.
The new location was also spread out. More than once, there were people scattered everywhere looking for groups to gather. There was no good place to spot and troll for conventions, something I like doing, so it felt isolated. It needed a good place for those who are slightly uncomfortable socially to hang out and hope someone will talk to them. The third-floor was almost good enough but didn't get the traffic like the Marriott center floor and benches.
I'm pretty sure that I'll adapt to the new location within a year, so I'm not going to say these are serious problems.
The dance was sad. Part of this is I'm still used to the packed room from the mid-nineties. But this year, it was two couples dancing in a well-light, huge empty room. It was somewhat depressing. Hearing that the DJ quit was a bummer but it was hard to dancing in a big, almost empty room. I think the dance may be on its last legs (which may be a function of the increased average age of the convention goers).
The signs were confusing. For some reason, I really wanted to rotate them about ninety degrees. But when it say "go right", they mean "go down the hall". I got lost a few times in the first day.
As I mentioned before, financial services for authors could be useful. Either someone in the dealer's hall willing to handle credit cards. I liked how there were a few "coop-style" tables (bunch of authors selling stuff) in the hall, but having one in the Meet and Greet would be nice also.
SMWM wished there were more events for non-writers, fans, or convention spouses. Next year, I'm going to suggest panels on photography, self-defense (she loves those), pick-up games, and other things. That is one reason she only went Saturday night.
Day care would be awesome, but probably difficult. WisCon provides it and it is easy to get spoiled.
I had a grand time. I met new people, talked to old friends, played new games, and generally enjoyed myself. I also felt more confident in myself and didn't fumble a conversation more than a few times. So, I consider that a win.
If you did happen to go to my (or anyone else's) panel, please send feedback or review it (from the Sched website). That is the best way to get better and help us. Or you know, buy our books and review them.
Or just review them.
We'll find out.
Next year is going to be awesome.