Penguicon

To Penguicon!!!

I’m off to play Guest of Honor at Penguicon today. I’ve been going to this convention for years, so it’s doubly awesome to have been invited to be author GoH. Triply awesome when you realize that as GoH, I get to invent a flavor of liquid nitrogen ice cream!

I’ll be making Troll Toe Ice Cream, for anyone who wants to stop by…

The full schedule looks like so:

Friday, April 26:

  • 6:00PM-7:00PM: Opening Ceremonies
  • 7:00PM-8:00PM: GoH Social Hour (Meet n’ Greet, with Q&A for all the Guests of Honor)
  • 9:00PM-10:00PM: You’ve Written It, Now What?

Saturday, April 27:

  • 4:00PM-5:00PM: Make ‘Em Laugh: Comedy in Speculative Fiction
  • 5:00PM-7:00PM: ICE CREAM!!! (I probably won’t be there the whole two hours, since I’ll need to run and get dinner.)
  • 7:00PM-8:00PM: Jim C. Hines – Sexism and Cover Art

Sunday, April 28:

  • 3:00PM-4:00PM: Closing Ceremonies

My wife Amy will be coming along on this one. It’s our first convention with just the two of us, and I’m really looking forward to it. Partly because we get to spend a weekend together in a nice hotel surrounded by geeks. And partly because, well, it’s the first time she’ll see me doing the Guest of Honor thing.

It’s a combination of sharing something that’s really important to me with my best friend in the world, and at the same time, spreading my authorial peacock feathers to show off for my mate. Which is a little silly, but still cool.

Double-Facepalm (Jim’s Talking About Rape Again)

While at Penguicon, whenever I used my phone in the lobby, it would try to connect to the local wireless networks, which means I was routinely greeted with this screen:

I don’t know the story behind the network names. I overheard one rumor that “rape rape rape rape rape” was an official Penguicon network. When I e-mailed someone on Penguicon staff, I was told it probably wasn’t, but they weren’t 100% certain. I haven’t yet gotten confirmation one way or another.

My guess is that someone was trying to be edgy and provocative. As sometimes happens, they overshot “edgy” and landed squarely in the “asshole” category.

There will always be people who try to be shocking and fail. I suspect this wasn’t an official Penguicon network, and was instead just a random cry for attention. (Though if it turns out that it was an official Penguicon network, I think that may be the last time I attend this con.)

ETA: Randy Bradakis, who is on the Penguicon ConCom and Board left the following comment (with the disclaimer that he’s not speaking for Penguicon as a whole here):

I can state firmly that this was not created at the request of the Penguicon ConCom, and that there will be discussions about both the reasons that this is unacceptable and how we can be certain that it is not repeated. While it might, in some specific in-joke sort of way, have been amusing to the creators at whatever other location it was created for, it is not the sort of “joke” that should be part of the Penguicon environment.

There are plans for more specific network requests for next year, and I will make it my recommendation that we at least have someone at the ConCom level give specific instructions to the networking staff about the image we wish to present.

I want you to know that I am deeply sorry for any offense that this caused. At any and all levels of future convention running that I am involved, I will strive to keep the idea of a safe and comfortable environment foremost in everyone’s mind, and encourage this behavior in my fellow Con-runners as well.

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On a similarly annoying note, I’ve been reading The Becoming by Jeanne Stein. Within the first chapter, our heroine Anna Strong is attacked and raped by the bad guy, who turns out to be a vampire. I almost stopped reading right there, due to the “Let’s use rape to get this story started!” approach, but I’m trying to read more urban fantasy as context for my own work-in-progress.

I’m now more than halfway through the book. The word rape has vanished, and Strong’s character has now begun to refer to the incident as when a vampire had sex with her. (In addition, while our heroine is female, so far every other significant character has been male … but that’s a different rant.)

Writing about rape is difficult, in no small part because everyone’s reaction is different. But when an author uses rape as a plot device to get the story moving, pulls out the “rape = sex” fallacy, and doesn’t seem to indicate any physical or emotional effects on the character (save becoming a vampire, naturally) … well, for me it puts the book squarely into the “Doing it Wrong” category.

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Comments and discussion welcome, as always.

Making it Look Easy

I was feeling a bit … let’s call it “feisty” … at some of the panels this weekend. I found myself jumping in to argue with several of my fellow panelists. (But only when they were wrong, of course!)

During the humor panel, it was put forth as a truism that you can’t force humor. It must come naturally. Organically.

I would like to point out that passing a kidney stone is also an organic process.

So I got feisty. Because you can force humor and make it work. You know who does it all the time? Professional humorists. Howard Tayler (of Schlock Mercenary) was in the audience, and we chatted a bit after the panel. SchlockHoward has been producing a daily webcomic since June of 2000. Not because Schlock flows organically from his–

Ack. Very Bad Image. Strike that.

The point is, I guarantee there are days Howard doesn’t feel funny, and doesn’t want to work on the comic. But he does the work anyway.

As I write this post, it also occurs to me that of the panelist who said you can’t force funny and Howard in the audience who in fact does exactly that, only one of these two people currently makes a living from their humor.

I’m not trying to bash my fellow panelist here. I disagree with them, but I understand where their assumption comes from. Because while you can force humor, that humor will fail if it feels forced. We’ve all seen the guy who tries too hard to tell a joke and ends up flopping. Heck, I’ve been that guy more times than I like to think about.

One sign of skill is the ability to make it look easy. I watched Jef Mallett draw his character Frazz last month. He sketched a bit, then began inking lines, making it look so easy and natural I’m sure a lot of us were thinking, “Hey, I could do that!”

And maybe I could. With years of practice and work.

Ask a professional comedian how many times they’ve practiced their routine. Ask them how often they bounce jokes past other comedians to learn what to keep, what to change, and what to discard.

I think this one pushed my buttons so hard because not only do I disagree, but I’ve heard similar claims about writing. “You can’t force the writing to come.” “The story has to flow naturally, when the muse is ready.”

Well, my muse is ready every Monday through Friday at 12:00 sharp, because that’s the only time I’ve got. Some days I don’t feel like writing, but I force myself to do it. As a result, I’ve written at least one book a year for close to a decade now.

And you know, there are some damn funny bits in those books, too.

Post-Penguicon

The final tally from the rape crisis center fundraiser was $1553. My thanks to everyone who donated. Congratulations to Maria Lima, who won the ARC of Snow Queen’s Shadow. I’ll be notifying the other three winners in the next day or so.

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Each year, Brenda Novak runs an auction to raise money for diabetes research. Her efforts passed the one million dollar mark last year, and she’s still going strong. My contribution to this year’s auction is a critique of a short story or the first chapter of a novel. The auction runs through the end of the month, and you can bid here.

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Penguicon was a blast, as always. No con is perfect, and there were a few bumps over the weekend (like the dealers room having zero of my books on hand), but overall I had tremendous fun meeting and talking to people, being a smart-ass on panels, and just generally catching up with everyone.

April was a busy month, and I’m still working on getting my brain back up to what passes for functional for me, but here are some of my thoughts from this weekend.

  • I know a lot of very smart, funny, nifty people.
  • No matter how successful I become, I will never be as popular as a simple cardboard box.
  • The first rule of princess mafia is that you don’t talk about princess mafia.  …Aw, crap. Never mind!
  • Apparently my jacket contains its own TARDIS. (This observation brought to you by John Scalzi.)
  • I sometimes struggle to balance the need to present useful, intelligent information on panels with the need to be a smart-ass. (But it’s the smart-ass stuff that ends up on Twitter!)
  • For male authors, there may be a correlation between hair and number of books published. Evidence is here.
  • Never tell a former NASA scientist that the moon landing was faked. (Also, ouch, my poor face…)
  • The longer I hang out at the bar, the more profanity slips into my conversation. Need to remember to flip that switch back before returning to work!
  • I trust myself to do a good job as Toastmaster at ConFusion, but I don’t know if I can top Howard Tayler in a tux.
  • Some good photos from John Scalzi and Al Bogdan.

I’ll have more thoughts about the cons and some of the panels, but for now, I’ll just say I’m glad I went. I ended up doing an episode of Writing Excuses with Howard Tayler and Brandon Sanderson, which was fun. Sold a goodly number of books, had some great conversations (and some bizarre conversations), shared a super-DAW-twin reading with Saladin Ahmed, got a Tom Smith song stuck in my head (for two days and counting), and just generally had a great time.

Penguicon

Looking forward to Penguicon this weekend. For those of you who will be attending, my schedule is below. For everyone else who isn’t going and doesn’t care, this is your cue to skip to the next blog post…

  • Friday, 8:00 p.m. — To Series or Not To Series (with Stephanie Osborn, Steven Lake, Merrie Haskell, and Brandon Sanderson)
  • Friday, 9:00 p.m. — Using Social Networking for Promotion (with Steven Lake, Daniel Hogan, Christine Purcell, and Stewart Sternberg)
  • Friday, 10:00 p.m. — E-pub vs. Print (with Stephanie Osborn, Jon David, and Lydia Nyx)
  • Saturday, 10:00 a.m. — Humor in Writing (with Steven Lake, Daniel Hogan, and Michael Cieslak)
  • Saturday, 12:00 p.m. — Author signing
  • Saturday, 4:00 p.m. — It’s OK, the First Draft Is SUPPOSED to Suck! (with Stephanie Osborn, Brandon Sanderson, Lydia Nyx, and Michael Cieslak)
  • Sunday, 10:00 a.m. — Writers Groups (with Brandon Sanderson, Michael Cieslak, Stewart Sternberg, and Charles Zaglanis)
  • Sunday, 1:00 p.m. — Reading (I plan on reading “The Blue Corpse Corps,” my goblins vs. zombies short story. Assuming anyone shows up to a Sunday afternoon reading…)

This is a very busy schedule, and some of you will recall my grumbling about being overscheduled. I did speak with the programmers, and said I’d be willing to do a maximum of five or six panels, plus the signing and reading. So that’s what they gave me. (In other words, yes it’s going to be a very busy weekend, but they’ve eliminated a few panels from my original schedule, and I’ve signed off on this one.)

Can’t wait to see everyone!

Convention Follow-up

Dawn’s in trouble.  Jim blew up some internet yesterday. Must be Tuesday.

Some follow-up thoughts to my post about conventions and membership comp policies.

I screwed up. I wrote that post in part to sort out my own feelings about what was and wasn’t fair before contacting Penguicon about scheduling and money issues. However, I ignored the fact that this is the internet, and of course my post would get back to the Penguicon staff, who would likely feel a bit blind-sided and attacked. It’s not like this is my first time online, and I should have contacted them privately before blogging about that aspect. Mea culpa, and I apologize to the folks at Penguicon.

Two links that came out of yesterday’s discussion:

My thanks to everyone who participated in the conversation. That’s one of the things I love about blogging — I hear different sides of an argument, and get a better understanding of various perspectives, whether I agree with them all or not. A number of factors seem to come into play with reimbursement policies, including the size of the con, the age of the con (startup cons may not have the budget to cover memberships), the location (U.S. and non-U.S. cons seem to have different attitudes … perhaps related to size), and the type of con (relaxacon vs. Big Media Con vs. professional-oriented vs. fan-oriented, and so on.)

The one thing I keep coming back to is the importance of communication. In many of the stories of program participants getting angry over convention policies, one of the biggest problems was people didn’t know they were expected to pay for membership until much later, sometimes when they showed up at the convention. A con has the right to make whatever policies they choose, but I think it’s very important to make sure everyone’s aware of those policies up front so that the participants can decide whether or not it’s worth their time to attend.

Ideally, it seems like it would be helpful for the initial communication between con and participants to include the following:

  • Is this an invitation to be a participant, or just a poll who might want to do programming? (There was discussion and disagreement on what constituted an official invitation to participate at a con.)
  • What is the reimbursement policy for participants?
  • In the case of something like Penguicon, with different tiers of participants, what exactly would the arrangement be for this guest? (Turns out I’m a “nifty” guest, meaning I wouldn’t have to pay the $25 … but I didn’t find that out until yesterday.)

Finally, it occurs to me that it’s easy for me to sit back and tell the con staff what they should do. However, while I feel that these are all valid points and worth discussing, it’s also important to remember that the con staff are volunteers, and they work their asses off. As someone who enjoys the con experience, I want to thank everyone who chips in to make them happen.

Convention Comp Policies

Most of the time, when I attend a convention and do programming, membership is comped (i.e., I don’t have to pay for a convention badge). This makes sense to me. Generally you have to do a minimum of 3 or so panels, but at that point you’re considered to be contributing to the con, just like someone who volunteers for X hours in exchange for a comped badge.

This isn’t always the case. Three examples come to mind.

1. World Fantasy Con. I was told I could do either a reading or a panel last year, and either way I was still paying the $100+ for con membership. For a world convention, where the majority of attendees are authors, you just can’t comp memberships to everyone who wants to do programming … nor can you put everyone who asks onto as many panels as they want. It’s the nature of the convention, and I get that.

2. Windycon. Their policy for years has been that authors pay for membership like everyone else. But if you do X number of panels, they’ll mail you a check several months later to reimburse your membership. I’ve asked about this policy, and it was blamed on “panelists who took their comp badges and then blew off their panels.” I’m … skeptical. Is this really such a huge problem? If so, then why aren’t other cons doing this? And why not just stop inviting those particular individuals to be on programming?

ETA:  My explanation above is quoted from an e-mail I received when I asked about Windycon’s policy, but I’m told that this is a vast oversimplification.

3. Penguicon. Program participants at Penguicon get a reduced rate. I believe it’s $25 this year. In some years, I’ve been told I could be a “nifty guest,” and got my membership comped for that, but I believe nifty status is pretty much up to the whim of whoever’s doing programming. I know of at least two authors who refuse to do programming at Penguicon for this reason, and I suspect there are more. Penguicon is a really fun con, but this aspect does make me a bit cranky.

I understand that panels can be publicity for authors, and we’re benefiting from exposure. At the same time, if I’m reading my Penguicon schedule correctly, I’m scheduled for eight panels, and the group signing, and a reading … and being told I’ll have to pay $25 for the privilege of working my ass off that weekend.

I generally enjoy doing panels. And they do help me sell a few books. But don’t pretend it isn’t work. And I find myself wondering … am I really so popular they want me on eight panels, or is this a result of other authors backing out?

I need to follow up with Penguicon’s programming staff about this, but I’m trying to sort out what’s fair. Should authors be content to pay for registration and settle for “exposure”? (I can tell you exactly what I’d say to a magazine or anthology that offered to pay me in exposure…) Or am I slipping into diva mode by expecting to be comped for my membership?

Discussion welcome, as always. I would especially love to hear from other authors and from folks who organize and run cons, to know what you think.

Jim C. Hines