An Electrifying Saturday

We get plenty of rain in Seattle, but it’s usually in the form of a misty drizzle– the sort of rain where you’re not sure if it’s even worth the trouble of opening an umbrella. But a few times a year, lightning does light up the sky. It’s not very often, and the storms never last long, but whenever I hear that rumble of thunder, I immediately get excited and even somewhat nostalgic for the Southeast U.S. For me, there’s something therapeutic about ferociously bad weather, as long as I’m enjoying it from home and not, say, trying to drive through it.

Last night we got one of the best storms since we’ve moved to Seattle, and even though it was still relatively short (there were two or three brief bands of rain and lightning over the course of maybe two hours), it was nevertheless fun. I’ve been playing with a new camera (a Canon EOS 7D), so I took the camera to the overhang at the front of the building, set up a tripod, and decided to see what I could capture. Naturally, as soon as I did the rain and thunder faded away, but my patience was rewarded when another band of storms came through and I caught this picture, at about 1:30 am this morning:

That may be one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken. The overhang of my apartment is not exactly the greatest view– with a better vantage point I’d love to get a picture of lightning framing the Space Needle, or the downtown skyline– but given that it was my first attempt at lightning photography ever, I’m pretty happy.

Also, apparently taking that picture used up all my electricity-related karma for a while. When I left this morning to drive to Writer’s Group, I found my car battery dead. I took a taxi, and when I finally joined up with my fellow Wordslingers and turned on my laptop, I found it was only at half-power, despite having charged all night.

I got a measure of revenge on the universe by having this conversation on Twitter. (Warning: terrible puns ensue. Click on link at your own risk.)

Post-Election Advice, from a Liberal to the GOP

Obviously, I’m violating my no-politics rule here. But since we only have a Presidential Election once every four years, and I need to get this off my chest, I’m granting myself a waiver.

This election season has been long, expensive, and emotionally draining. As someone who leans left on the political scale, I have to admit, I’m pleased with the results. We re-elected Obama. Pretty much all the social conservatives who shared their views on rape were soundly defeated. Marriage equality, having gone 0-for-32 in previous elections, went 4-for-4, including in my own state of Washington.

To any conservatives who happen to be reading this, I’m not posting to gloat. The issues are too important to treat the way you would a college football game, rooting for one team or another and trumpeting over the folks who you “beat.” The governance of three hundred million people is at stake, and it’s in everybody’s interest to have at least two parties, motivated by different philosophies, working together to overcome the challenges we face.

The GOP is already trying to come to terms with this loss, figuring out what happened and how to avoid it in the future. With that in mind, here’s a few tips from this side. (Not that I think Karl Rove will ever actually read this or anything.) Believe me when I say this is honest advice, offered in good faith, from one American to another.

Appealing to minorities: A lot of GOP pundits seem to think that inviting Marco Rubio to give a speech at the RNC counts as Latino outreach. Or inviting Condoleeza Rice counts as outreach to African-Americans (and women).

Let me give you a tip: it’s not the color of your spokespeople that matter; it’s your policies. If Tom Tancredo and Kris Kobach are setting policy behind the scenes, it doesn’t matter if Marco Rubio’s your face. Minorities, like most people, aren’t stupid. They vote primarily based on policy, not skin color, especially here in the 21st century. And when you suggest otherwise, you’re just adding insult to injury.

You want to improve your appeal to minorities? It’s not enough to find a member of said minority group to be your face. You have to listen to them, too, and pursue policies that broadly appeal to them.

Appealing to women: I can’t count the number of times a Romney surrogate got on TV and belitted issues related to the so-called “War on Women” as “small”, “distracting,” or “shiny objects.” Regardless of whether or you agree that there actually is a War on Women, the fact is there were millions of women (and millions of sympathetic men) who were very much worried about women’s access to pre-natal health care, birth control, and reproductive rights. Belittling the issues they care about is not a good way to get their vote. If you honestly think your approach is better, then by all means, have that argument. Being argumentative is far better than being dismissive– at least the former shows you care.

Also, the note on minorities applies here, too. You can’t just nominate women and expect other women to automatically vote for them; policies matter.

Don’t blame Chris Christie. If Hurricane Sandy had struck when an election wasn’t going on, then nothing Chris Christie did would have so much as raised an eyebrow. He did what we expect of competent government officials: put aside politics and focused on the important task at hand.

Two major crises erupted in the final months of the campaign: Hurricane Sandy, and the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. Here’s the thing: Americans like it when our leaders transcend politics during crises, as Chris Christie and Barack Obama did. It’s how Democrats and Republicans reacted after 9/11, after all: they put aside politics (at least for a little while) and sang God Bless America on the steps of Congress. It’s how Reagan responded to Carter’s failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran.

Mitt Romney steadfastly stayed political. He had a political statement out about the Middle East unrest even before the actual Benghazi attack, and after Sandy, he co-opted a political rally for a cheap photo op. Imagine if he had, say, taken a day’s worth of advertising dollars and donated it to the Red Cross… or made some sort, any sort, of actually meaningful gesture. He’d have fared much better. He’d have looked like a President, not just a Presidential Candidate.

Over and over again, Americans have shown that we like our leaders to transcend politics in times of crisis, to show that even though we disagree, we’re still all Americans, and we support each other. It’s what happened after 9/11; it’s what didn’t happen after the Benghazi attack or after Hurricane Sandy. And that’s not Chris Christie’s fault.

Liberals Aren’t Just Looking For Handouts. Over and over, conservative pundits insist that liberals, and democratic voters, are just people looking for government handouts, people who see government as “Santa Claus,” as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly put it. Um, no, that’s not it at all. I’m a white male middle-class voter with a good job who’s never been in debt or gotten any meaningful sort of government assistance in any way (except for, like every other American pupil, a free grade school education). If that situation continues for the rest of my life, I’m fine with that (okay, I would like to see some of the money I’ve put into Social Security and Medicare back at some point, but that’s money I paid into the system, not a handout).

I admit, I vote out of compassion, and empathy. As I said in my pre-Election Day post, I see government as a tool for addressing society-wide problems, including poverty and health care. I believe that we as a society have a vested in ensuring that children don’t go hungry, and that they get health care and a good education. I believe we have a vested interest in keeping our air, water, and soil clean; in keeping our bridges, roads and airports in good condition; in funding scientific research for the sake of improved medicine, technology, and quality of life.

You may not agree with me, and that’s fine. But don’t belittle me as wanting “government handouts” because I see government as a useful tool for addressing society-wide problems. If you can honestly examine why I vote the way I do, then you’ll do much better against me. In the words of Sun Tzu, Know thy enemy.

Don’t blame the media. There is a whole industry, from Fox News to Rush Limbaugh to the right-wing blogosphere, that has made a very successful business out of telling conservatives what they want to hear. And while we all like to be told we’re right, and to have our beliefs validated, this election took it to an extreme. Many conservatives who were genuinely expecting a Romney landslide were surprised and shocked when Nate Silver and the mainstream polls turned out to be correct after all. Reality burst the bubble of conservative punditry, and rather than take a step back and self-reflect, many conservatives are now mad at the media. To me, this argument sounds like:

Person A: Two plus two equals three.
Person B: Two plus two equals four.
They look it up, it turns out Person B is right
Person A: It’s all your fault for not agreeing with me!

Um, no… that’s not how reality works.

If you think the media is really liberal, consider the response to the first debate. It was virtually unanimous, even among liberal pundits, that Romney won. Now consider the other debates, particularly the Town Hall debate. The general consensus, among everyone but the conservative pundits, was that Obama won. In every case where Mitt Romney performed poorly, the conservatives tried to spin the facts to match the reality they wanted. Liberals spin, too, but (as in the first debate) they were generally faster to acknowledge reality as well.

Look, there’s definitely a place for spinning, and putting the best light possible on the facts. Everyone does it. But spinning the facts should not be a total replacement for self-reflection. After the first debate, liberals engaged in a lot (possibly an excessive amount) of self-reflection. Conservatives never did, and by and large, they aren’t doing it now.

After this loss, I see a lot of finger pointing at others: the media; Chris Christie; greedy liberals who just want a government handout. It’s all spinning, none of it’s self-reflection. But when you’re belittling and dismissive of the things people care about– be it immigration reform, health care, access to birth control, gay rights– you’re never going to win their votes.

Final Summary: You want people to vote for you? Listen to them, don’t just dismiss them. You’ll do much better if you try to convince them that your approach is a superior way to address their concerns, rather than telling them that their concerns are invalid, or that they’re stupid or greedy for placing importance on them.

This is a video of my neighborhood in Seattle Tuesday night, celebrating marriage equality and the re-election of America’s first African-American president. You may not agree with it, but this is our country, and I am mighty damn proud of it, both now and always. Political tides come and go, and there will probably be elections in the future where you’re dancing in the street and I’m crying into my beer. But America will go on, and if we treat each other with respect, if we work together honestly, to solve our problems, we will be so much better off for it.

When it comes to America, whether your side lost or won, it’s no reason to stop believing.

How Not to Get Any Writing Done

Go exploring in Seattle on a sunny weekend.

Find a bunch of baby goslings and their parents while wandering around South Lake Union Park.

Visit a street fair in the University District.

Take a walk on the seashore.

Go kayaking in Puget Sound. (Note: this is not me, but as far as ways to not write go, this seems as fine a method as any.)

For good measure, you can always read a couple of novels.

And acquire that kickass TV show you’ve been meaning to watch on DVD.

Bonus meta-procrastination: Compose a blog entry explaining in pictorial format why you haven’t been writing.

I’m sure I am not the only writer who failed at getting writing done this weekend, though for most people I suspect their reason rhymes with “Riablo Smee.”

Basking in the Crowd at Emerald City Comicon

Saturday was an excellent day. After spending the morning at Writers Group, and getting feedback on Chapter 1 of a new novel, I headed over to the Washington State Convention Center to spend the afternoon at Emerald City Comicon.

This was the second year in a row I spent a day at ECCC, and I have to say, this year was way more fun than last year. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t fighting a cold this year. Or perhaps it’s that this year was way more chaotic and crowded.

That’s right, you heard me. I like chaos at cons. I like crowds. The energy is fantastic, and I have never once had a problem with stereotypical smelly B.O. Let’s face it, folks, we’re well beyond the days of the basement-dwelling nerd. Geeks have self-respect these days.

In all seriousness, though, this year did feel much different. Just for comparison, here’s a shot of the main exhibition hall on Saturday afternoon at last year’s con. Busy, but not really crowded:

Here’s a shot of the exhibition hall on Saturday afternoon this year:

I rest my case. Not only were there more people, there seemed to be a lot more energy in the crowd. (Although again, that may be because I was healthy this year.) I got the same vibe from ECCC this year that I get from Dragon*Con: mad delightful chaos, with plenty of energy, enthusiasm, and of course, lots of kickass costumes everywhere you look.

ECCC also had a fantastic guest list this year: George Takei, Wil Wheaton, Summer Glau, Adam Baldwin, and Edward James Olmos, to name a few. The lines to get into the guest panels were incredibly long (I saw on Twitter that people waited for an hour and still didn’t get into the George Takei panel), but luckily for me, I wasn’t that interested in the special guest panels. Instead, I walked around, took pictures, toured the exhibition hall, and attended a Star Trek vs. Star Wars Dance-Off put on by members of the fantastic Portico Dance Company (see right).

In other words, I soaked up the atmosphere and just had fun. I’d love to see a George Takei or a Wil Wheaton panel sometime, but I’m not going wait in line for hours to do it, especially when I’m only there for one afternoon.

There are two types of conventions I go to: media cons, and literary cons. Media cons, like ECCC, I attend for the crowds and the costumes and the energy. Literary cons I attend to meet authors, sit on panels, and learn stuff that I didn’t know before. Admittedly, most cons have a little bit of both (and Dragon*Con is as close to a fusion of the two as I’ve found), but ECCC was a pure media con. Fun, crowds, costumes, merchandise, spiffy art.

Next week is Norwescon, and that’ll be more the literary side of things: hang out with writers (including, hopefully, many of the awesome folks I met at the Rainforest Writers Village), attend panels, do the writer’s workshop. I’m really looking forward to it, but mostly for different reasons.

What literary cons and media cons have in common, though, is getting to hang out with passionate, creative people. At literary cons, it’s the writers I get that vibe from. At media cons, it’s the cosplayers. There were some amazing costumes, most of which took a lot of work and dedication to put together. Cosplaying well takes skill (and sometimes guts), and like writing, it’s essentially a creative art– a completely different one, perhaps, but still, it’s a manifestation of that same fusion of creativity, passion and energy that I sense in writers, and indeed, in all pursuers of the geeky creative arts.

Speaking of creative arts, there was some damn fine art of the drawn and painted variety there too, of course. I went to the ECCC Art Auction in the evening, and bought a cool piece by Lar DeSouza. (All the proceeds went to the Seattle Children’s Hospital, so I blew my budget for a good cause.) My favorite find of the day, though, was a print from DPI Studios. Jaysin is a nice guy and a fantastic artist, and I bought a limited edition print of the picture that is currently featured on DPI Studios’ homepage. I snagged the last one, too, which makes it all the sweeter.

There was creativity of another kind as well, in the form of a preview for BrickCon, a Lego exhibition that will be at the Seattle Center in October. There was a lego Batcave, a lego Stargate, a bunch of lego Star Wars vehicles (including a very nice Lego Super Star Destroyer), and perhaps my favorite, a Lego Space Needle.

Next year I think I’m gonna have to carve out time in my schedule to go for all three days of ECCC. Maybe get a VIP pass, too. I mean, it’s only a ten-minute walk from my apartment. Since I have free lodging, I don’t have to feel guilty about shelling out the extra cash, right? As well as the extra cash for cool art? Right? (The correct answer is: no, I should not.)

Full slideshow of pics from the con is here.

Exploring Mt. Baker

Mt. Baker is an 11,000-foot mountain that lies about 90 miles north of Seattle, and is frequently visible from the city on clear days. Its snow-covered visage is almost as much a part of the local Seattle scenery at its more famous relative to the south, Mt. Rainier. So, in my continued effort to see more of the outdoor Pacific Northwest, I joined a group of friends, and people who would soon be friends, and headed north for some hiking and sightseeing around the mountain.

On Saturday we did a five-mile hike to Heliotrope Ridge. It felt a lot longer than five miles, thanks to a long uphill climb at the beginning and several streams which took us a while to ford. The trail took us up through dense, lush pine forest, into the streams and past meadows of wildflowers, to the edge of the Coleman Glacier. The glacier is the biggest on Mt. Baker, and even though it was at its smallest size of the year, it was still an impressive sight.

The weather was perfect: sunny, mid-70s, and not too hazy, which made for some very nice views, both of Mt. Baker and the surrounding scenery. Far up on the slope, where the snow and glaciers still reign supreme even in summer, we could see hikers and snowshoers making their way across the slope.

After a soak in the hot tub at the rental cabin, a huge and excellent dinner, and a night of games and conversation, we headed out again the next day, and stopped at Silver Lake near the Canadian border for lunch. Afterward, most of the group headed back to Seattle, but a few of us stuck around for a bit. I had originally planned to join the group heading back to Seattle, but I’m glad I didn’t. We got some excellent views of Mt. Shuksan (ninth-highest in the state), and made it up past the snow line to the Mt. Baker Ski Area. We had hoped to drive even higher, up to Artist Point, a viewpoint with a 360-degree view of both Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker. But the road was closed, and hiking there would have been an 8-mile walk. At that point, it was 4 pm, so we piled in the car and headed back to Seattle.

Now I’m in the middle of a two-day break between trips. Tomorrow, I’m meeting a friend from Texas, and early Wednesday morning we’re due to embark on a driving, hiking, and backpacking tour of Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. There probably won’t be much tweeting or blogging during the trip, but there will hopefully be some excellent photos and stories when I return.

(For those interested, here’s the full set of Mt. Baker photos).

On the Sidelines of the Pride Parade

Yesterday morning I went to the 37th Annual Seattle Pride Parade. Having never been to a pride parade before, I wasn’t sure what to expect… well, I had an idea, of course, but I was curious as to how close to reality it would be. So I took my camera and headed downtown in the direction of the rainbows.

After the first hour, I almost left. Not ’cause I was offended, mind you. Well, okay, I was offended, but it was because almost every single group in the parade was just a bunch of people in matching corporate T-shirts walking down the road, surrounding a car or mascot festooned with the corporate logo and handing out literature or coupons or goodies.

So while I’d like to acknowledge BECU, Esurance, Group Health, Microsoft, Verizon, Expedia, Macy’s, Fuze, Amazon, Orbitz, Alaska Air, Starbucks, Best Buy, Chipotle, Cupcake Royale, various radio stations and car dealerships, and anybody else I missed for their support of a good cause, I do have to ask: did y’all have to be frontloaded at the start of the parade? If it weren’t for the lesbian bikers who led the way, I’d have thought I missed the Pride Parade and stumbled onto the Corporate Advertising Parade.

I realize that parades need to paid for, and it’s great that so many corporations are willing to attach their names and their logos and their money to a cause once considered taboo. Equality is becoming mainstream, and that’s great! It’s just that I felt like I was exposed to enough advertising to make up for several months of not watching TV. I mean, holy Oscar Mayer® ham sandwich with Wonderbread® and Hellman’s Mayonnaise®, Batman©.

But I’m glad I stuck around, because the next two and a half hours more than made up for the first. It had its share of drag queens and raunchiness (which matched my expectations), but it also had chorus groups, and community and activist organizations, and dance troops, and sports teams, and drum bands, and even, to my surprise, churches. Despite the fact that I’m not religious, I grew up mostly as a Lutheran, and was proud of the number of Lutheran churches marching in the parade. So Central Lutheran Church, Immanuel Lutheran Church, and Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, among several others, I give you guys props. It’d be nice if y’all could get your more conservative compatriots on board, too.

The parade lasted for a solid three hours, and by the time it was done I was ready to leave– not because the parade was bad, far from it. But after several hours on my feet, I really just wanted to sit down somewhere, rest my legs, and get something to eat. Judging from how the crowds began to thin well before the end of the parade, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. And I felt kind of bad for the groups at the end of the parade. While there was still plenty of crowd left, I couldn’t help but feel like those groups got shafted a bit. Maybe if the number of corporate marchers had been cut by, say, 50%, the parade would have been a more reasonable length? I hate to armchair quarterback. I’m just sayin’.

I also had a bit of an epiphany while watching the parade. Now, I’m not gay, and I don’t plan to get gay-married or civil-unionized at any point in the future. I support marriage equality and gay rights because it’s the right thing to do; because gay people in love deserve all of the same rights and legal protections and official support networks that straight people in love do. Gay people deserve to be accepted and loved for who they are, just like everybody else. And therein lies the root of my epiphany. I’m not just supporting gay rights for the sake of gay people; I’m supporting them for the sake of everybody. Because gender orientation aside, gay rights is ultimately the cause of allowing people to live their lives however they want, as long as they aren’t hurting anybody. And if I have some political creed at the root of my being, that is it. People deserve to live their lives the way they see fit, and gay marriage is an important step in letting that happen.

From my point of view, gay marriage is just one aspect of a wider change in society. It used to be that people let their identities and their lives be dictated to them by custom, by societal pressures, by religion. But more and more, I see people determining their identities and their lives for themselves, living life the way they want, determining their values not because it’s what they grew up with or it’s what society has pressured them into, but because it’s what they want and what they believe and who they are.

Whether you’re gay or straight or somewhere in between, that’s something you should be able to support. And if you’ve found your way in life, if you’ve found that niche that makes you happy, if you’re accepted for who you are and you accept others for who they are, then regardless of your gender or your religion or your sexual orientation, you absolutely deserve to be proud.

Writing Advice, and a Little Bit of Hero Worship

This evening, I joined about 2,000 fellow geeks at Town Hall in Seattle to see Neil Gaiman do a reading and be interviewed by Maria Headley. I’ve been attending a lot of author signings recently, but this one was particularly special, because if there’s any author working today whom I actually idolize, it’s Neil Gaiman. (I wouldn’t just dress up as any author for Halloween, after all.) On top of that, he’s not just an excellent writer, he’s also a great public speaker and oral storyteller. For many authors, skill with the written word does not go hand-in-hand with public speaking (I suspect I’m one of them), but Neil Gaiman is superb in both arenas, and if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, I definitely recommend it.

Over the course of the ensuing discussion and Q&A session, he gave several tidbits of advice for writers, but one in particular stood out for me. Paraphrased, it was basically this:

There will always be better writers out there than you. But, there is no one else who can tell your stories. So the sooner you stop trying to tell other people’s stories, and start telling your own, the better off you’ll be.

And he’s right. New writers, myself included, do start out by trying (often unconsciously) to emulate our favorite authors. But with enough practice, you eventually find your own voice, and that’s when you really start writing stories that are truly your own. It’s good to remember, because as a new writer, it’s easy to read stuff by great authors (like Gaiman) and think, Oh, geez, he’s such a better writer than I am! I’ll never be able to write the kind of awesome stuff what he does! I’m doomed to failure! And it’s true. You’ll never be able to write like Neil Gaiman. But if you’re true to your own voice, if you write your own stories, and bring to them your own unique set of experiences and passions, then Neil Gaiman won’t be able to write like you, either. The thought made me smile– it’s not about being better, or best. It’s about being you.

So with that in mind, I took my newly acquired signed copies of Neverwhere and American Gods (pre-signed, because an author signing with 2,000 people would just be painful), and headed home to write.

Rumor has it Neil may be back in town in November with his wife, Amanda Palmer, for something involving both reading and music. If so, I’ll definitely be there.

Camping on Lake Cushman

After seven months living in Seattle, I finally went on a West Coast camping trip. One of my original motivations for moving out here had been the wide mix of outdoor destinations: from Puget Sound and the islands, to the Olympic Peninsula, to the Pacific Ocean, to the Cascade Range. But a long, wet winter didn’t exactly make me enthusiastic about getting outdoors for multi-day stretches.

So when I finally got a good opportunity for a camping trip into the midst of the Olympic Mountains, I jumped at it. However, the trip was unusual for me in that it wasn’t a backpacking trip. Instead, it was a car camping trip, to a place that was essentially a small RV resort on the shore of Lake Cushman.

For me, there are pros and cons to car camping instead of backpacking. Here’s a quick summation:

Cons: Noisier campsite (including stereos blasting ’til the wee hours). Less natural setting. My camping skills (largely learned through backpacking) are not as useful.
Pros: It’s easier to bring beer.

So in the end, it evens out. It was a really fun group of people, though, and we ate well, drank well, and entertained ourselves well. The weather was pretty good– we only had a few showers’ worth of rain, although we didn’t exactly have a lot of Sun, either. It was also, according to longtime Seattle residents, unseasonably cold, even for the Pacific Northwest. The weather sort of reminded me of November camping in North Carolina: not exactly the dead of winter, but still plenty cold. On the first night, one girl started to go into hypothermia, and had to finish the night in the car.

As for me, I basically just threw all my camping clothes into my backpack and went– at first, I was thinking that I had brought too much, but I was glad I had it all. The temperature probably got down close to 40 degrees at night.

During the days we went hiking, although on Sunday one other person and I elected to rent a motor boat and take it out across the lake instead of going on the hike. This was pretty cool– I had never driven a motor boat before– although we had some drama when the motor died on us, and we resorted to paddling with the oars for a good fifteen minutes. (As it turns out, paddling a motor boat is much harder than paddling a canoe.) But after we got fed up with paddling, I tried the motor again, and with considerable fidgeting, was able to get it started– huzzah! Just call me “Cap’n Andrew.”

So all in all, good times. One other benefit of the trip: a couple of the guys I met on the trip are avid backpackers, so hopefully I made some connections that will lead to more serious backpacking excursions later this summer. Maybe some hiking around Mt. Rainier? Here’s to hoping.

Norwescon in a Nutshell

Last weekend was Norwescon, Seattle’s largest and longest-running science fiction convention. Now that I live in Seattle, it’s my “home con,” geographically, so I pretty much had to go. I had even planned to go home each night rather than stay at the hotel, but a second look at the logistics convinced me to find a room, which I did easily thanks to the Norwescon room share forum. Major props to Norwescon for having said forum– I wish all cons had one; finding a roomie at most cons usually means a wild goose chase across the Internet.

Major anti-props, however, for having to pick between Norwescon and Sakura-Con. Seattle’s largest sci-fi convention and its largest anime convention on the exact same weekend? Does nobody actually communicate about these things? I know holiday weekends are rare, but really. This one isn’t exactly Norwescon’s fault (Sakura-Con is newer), and for me, there was no hesitation about which to go to. Sakura-Con is only half a mile from my apartment, and I would have loved to visit for a day and check it out, but I wasn’t about to miss out on a day of panels, friends, hobnobbing with local authors and room parties in order to pay my respects to the anime geeks. As long as I have to pick, Norwescon will win every time.

Because I was introduced to conventions through Dragon*Con, I inevitably end up comparing it to every other con I attend. This is somewhat unfair, since Dragon*Con spans four gigantic hotels and plays host to 50,000 people. But nevertheless the chaos of the crowds, creative costumes wherever you look, and the large and diverse selection of panels are inseparably linked up with cons in my mind, and I can’t help but feel somewhat disappointed if a con fails to deliver. Norwescon, I am pleased to say, did not disappoint in any of these areas: there were a wide assortment of great panels, excellent panelists, and an endless stream of cheerful chaos making its way through the halls.

Norwescon is a dense con: 3,600 people in one hotel. Admittedly, the SeaTac Doubletree is as large and sprawly a hotel as they come– 900 rooms in seven wings that branch out and snake their way around the huge property. But the beating heart of the con, in the ballrooms and the conference rooms, was fairly small. There was no place to stop and take pictures without blocking traffic, and just finding somewhere to sit down and take a breather was not always easy, especially at mealtimes when the hotel bar was packed. But all in all, I enjoyed the chaos of it.

Cons have two sides for me: the “social” side, and the “writing” side. The social side is, essentially, entirely about having fun: hanging out with friends, admiring costumes, seeing the occasional celebrity, and just generally wallowing in the crazy, awesome atmosphere of a con. But the “writing” side is my biggest justification for going: to see professional authors and editors talk, ask them questions, and hopefully even network a bit. It’s still fun, and ideally it still involves hanging out with friends, but there’s also a more serious motivation behind it.

From a social perspective, Norwescon was awesome. This was my first con where I knew more than just a couple of people– for starters, a good portion of my writing group was there. And indeed, right after I got there on Thursday afternoon, I met up with a few people at a writing panel and eventually we headed out to dinner across the street. Thursday night involved some good conversation and a long game of Agricola with new friends that kept me awake until about 4 am. Friday and Saturday evenings were mostly spent surfing room parties, and relying on Andrew Rosenberg’s connections to get the bartender at the Speakeasy to break out the good Scotch. I hung out with “old” friends (not that I really have any old friends in Seattle, having lived here for less than six months), but made plenty of new friends as well.

If my impossible-to-reach gold standard of social cons is Dragon*Con, then my impossible-to-reach gold standard of writing cons will always be last year’s NASFIC. That was where I met and made friends with Mary Robinette Kowal, Matt Rotundo, James Maxey, and even ate with Edmund Schubert (of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show) and several other professional editors and authors. It’s unfair of me (not to mention hard on myself) to feel disappointed if a con doesn’t reach that level of awesomeness, but nevertheless I do.

In that respect, Norwescon was pretty much a big fat letdown. This isn’t the con’s fault at all– it’s mine, if it’s anyone’s. While Mary Robinette Kowal was there (and I even got a chance to chat with her briefly a couple of times), by and large I felt like a socially awkward galoot through most of the con. For example, on Saturday night Pyr Books hosted a big party, where I briefly got to meet Jay Lake, Lou Anders, and a few other big-name authors and editors. But by and large, all I managed was a brief hello, and all the while a major part of my own brain was yelling at me, “You’re just some random fan and wannabe author who hasn’t even finished his first novel. Why would the professionals possibly want to talk to you?”

Yes, I’m just venting my own insecurities now. But by and large, what had come naturally to me at NASFIC did not come naturally at all while I was at Norwescon. I would hang out on the periphery of a group of people, debating whether to interrupt and introduce myself, or interject some comment into a conversation I wasn’t a part of, or just wait until someone drew me into the conversation themselves– which never did happen. At one point, I started chatting with an editor, asking him about his current projects, but got cut off when another panelist stepped smoothly between the two of us, his back to me, and started his own conversation with said editor. (That was when Mr. Cellophane started running through my head.)

It was such a different experience from NASFIC, or even last year’s Dragon*Con, where I really felt like my people skills and my networking abilities were progressing nicely. At Norwescon, my resolve as far as being anything but a socially inept introvert absolutely, totally failed. Oh, well. Chalk it up to a learning experience, I guess. Maybe the reason I did so much better at NASFIC is that I was far more clueless about what I was doing. It’s easier to not be intimidated when you’re clueless.

But outside of those situations, it was a different story. I made friends, partied into wee hours, and learned that it’s actually pretty hard to down a Jell-O shot when the cup is tightly wedged in a woman’s corset-enhanced bosom. As long as I focus on the good times, and not my own raging insecurities, Norwescon was a most excellent con.

A few other random notes:

-The writing panels at Norwescon were some of the best I’ve been to, and all the panelists deserve major props.

-On the flip side, I’ve reached a point where I’ve heard enough writing advice that, intellectually, I know most of it already. At this point, I really just need to do one major thing: WRITE MORE.

-From now on, I’m attending more author readings at cons. Cat Rambo’s and Jay Lake’s in particular were excellent.

-I took another step into cosplay beyond the simple horns and face-painting I did at Dragon*Con, and bought the first couple parts of what will hopefully be a pretty decent outfit by the time I’m done. My plan is to create an original character; maybe I’ll even write a story about him at some point (role-playing! gasp!). Unfortunately, my next con isn’t until WorldCon, which means I won’t be able to debut the whole thing for a few months.

-The photography at Norwescon was all right but not great, because as mentioned earlier, there was really no good place to stop people and take pictures. That said, I did get a few, and was lucky in that I snuck out of the Masquerade midway through and accidentally found the designated photography area. Why does the photography area get set up and used during the Masquerade, rather than before or after? I guess it’s because they’re afraid of crowds, but it still kind of sucks.

-The full set of photos, such as they are, is posted on Flickr here.

A Few Hours At Emerald City Comicon

It pains me to admit that, by and large, comic books are a gaping hole in my geek-cred. I’ve only bought a handful over the course of my life, and while I’ve certainly seen my share of comic book movies, in general I prefer my stories to be of the wordier variety.

But I still wanted to check out Emerald City Comicon. In part, it was only a ten-minute walk from my apartment. In another part, I hadn’t been to a comic convention before (except insofar as Dragon*Con has everything there), and I wanted to see how it compared. In a third part, it was an opportunity for cosplay photography.

Unfortunately, counterbalanced against all of those was the fact that for the past week I’ve been fighting the worst cold I’ve had in years. By Saturday I was feeling better, but I was still congested. So I set myself some ground rules (don’t shake hands with anyone… try not to breathe too close to anyone… be very careful about where you cough) and headed down to the Washington State Convention Center.

Despite my earlier comments, one type of comics that I do spend a lot of time reading is webcomics. So when I got there, my first stop was the Webcomics Weekly panel, starring Dave Kellett, Scott Kurtz, Kris Straub, and Brad Guigar. They’re an awesome group of guys, and their comics rock.

After that I walked around a bit. There were several artists in the exhibition area who I would have liked to have met, but I didn’t want to risk giving any of them my cold. So I mainly stuck with walking around, checking out some of the art on display, and taking pictures of costumes. The Washington State Convention Center is actually sort of a challenging place for photography– lots of different lighting conditions, running the gamut from darkened hallways to a variety of atrium-like settings, mean that you need to be fast with adjusting camera settings or you’re going to get a lot of photos that don’t come out. But there were plenty of good costumes that needed takin’ pictures of, so I gave it my best shot (no pun intended). The photos aren’t my greatest ever, but you can see the set here: Link

I had planned to stick around for the actual Masquerade, but after only a couple of hours, I was already starting to feel tired, so I headed out. All in all, it was a fun con, and would have been much more fun had I not been fighting a cold. Interestingly, there was much more of a family atmosphere here than a lot of cons I’ve been to– which can be both good and bad, but all in all it turned out all right.

Next up on the con list: Norwescon, in late April. Hopefully that should be enough time for me to finally get over this damn cold.