May 31

Balticon Impressions

I really just can’t say enough about my experience at Balticon.  From start to finish it was a fun, educational experience and I am so glad that I went.

Granted, having won the Compton Crook Award for State of Decay I was one of the Guests of Honor, and as such they took really great care of me.  A huge shout out to Adrienne Reynolds who not only kept track of me while keeping about a zillion other irons in the fire, but she and her husband schooled me in the ways of the business more than literally anyone else has to date.  She, with the help of one of her nimble runners Galia (a very sweet and perky pink-haired girl) made sure that I never had to wonder where I was supposed to go next, how I was supposed to get there, or what exactly I was supposed to do once I got there.  By taking those stresses off the table for me, they ensured that the whole experience was fun, valuable and informative.  Both me and my wife are very grateful to everyone who pitched in on our behalf.

On to the ‘con itself.  The ceremony for the Compton Crook Award was very nice – I received a nice plaque, and a (very) nice check.  Last year’s winner Paolo Bacigalupi (for The Windup Girl) helped present the award and was very kind and encouraging.  Paolo is, I quickly discovered, quite a character…he is also a really nice guy and lent his social skills at the GoH dinner and in general to help draw me out a little as I tend to be on the other side of the spectrum, and somewhat introverted.  This was appreciated.  After picking up a copy for him to sign, I’ve begun The Windup Girl and it absolutely is as good as they say (seriously, this book won just about every award there was to win) – if you haven’t read it yet, you really should.

I sat in on a few panels, something I hadn’t done at the last ‘con.  This go around I left it wide open and let them place me wherever a spot was open but next time I think I’ll be more strategic, now that I know what exactly I’m dealing with, but this was a great opportunity to test the waters and realize that they can be a lot of fun.  I sat on one with Paolo, and met a rather intense guy named Myke Cole at another – Myke is a reservist who has served three tours in Iraq, and I think you (like me) are going to want to read his debut novel Control Point when it is released in 2012 as it meshes military and magic.  It should be very interesting to see the fantasy element layered over his real-life military experience.

I think my favorite moment though was not a planned one.  I’d been scheduled for a reading that no one showed up to except someone who had showed up to record for a podcast, and so Adrienne ended up setting up a quieter sit down the following day where we could just do a 30 minute recording.  After we ditched the reading, we ended up in one of the hotel hallways where ‘con tables were set up and (along with her husband) ended up having a nice long conversation about everything from The Banana Splits (and how one of them might qualify as a Steampunk Furrie…it’s a Paolo thing, don’t ask) to how to treat the business of writing.  Writing strikes me as a weird kind of ‘sink-or-swim’ business…it’s kind of a mystery before you manage to get that first contract, and it kind of stays that way even after.  All of the juicy knowledge seems to be tribal, something that gets passed on through conversations like the one I experienced that night.  I was actually glad no one had showed up for the reading.  The recording the next day went well, and while I’ve forgotten the relevant names at the moment (my apologies for that, I was a little wiped by that point) there should be a follow-up interview where we can all get better acquainted.

In the end one of the most telling things was that I left Balticon with no pictures, even though I’d meant to take them.  I was too busy doing other things while I was there.  Norwescon was a hoot, but Balticon felt more like a business trip – a fun, informative business trip that was over before I knew it and left me wanting more.  I realized how rarely I get to talk to other writers, and it was really great to get to talk shop with people who understood where I was coming from and who had a lot of the same writing experiences.

As the winner of the Compton Crook Award, tradition dictates I return to Balticon next year as a Guest of Honor to pass the award to the next winner.  They didn’t have to ask me twice.



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  1. S. Reesa Herberth

    My partner and I were on the Start Up Rituals/Writing Discipline panel with you and Myke, and I thought it was a lot of fun. Very much enjoyed hearing both your comments on the subject, and I thought between the four of us, we did a decent job presenting a lot of different pathways to the same conclusion. I hope the audience felt the same.

    Congratulations on winning, and I’ll look forward to spending panel time with you again some day.

    1. James

      Thanks, I had fun too – that was my third panel ever! It was priceless when Myke jokingly told those guys to get out and some of them did. I think the audience probably took away that no two styles of getting there are exactly the same – it’s making sure that you do get there that’s the key (at least I hope they did). I’m sure we’ll bump into one another at another ‘con down the road!

  2. Nicole L Bates

    I’m glad to hear it was a great experience because I am registered to go this coming May! (not as a guest of honor of course, but should be fun nonetheless)

  3. James

    Cool, hope to see you there!

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