I got back yesterday from my first ever Science Fiction/Fantasy Convention, ConQuest 41, in Kansas City, Missouri. There are many reasons I've never attended a convention before. Most related to either money or the fact that I was uncomfortable with someone dressing up as an alien and expecting me to call them "Zorg" all weekend. Happy to report this convention was not only economical, but "Zorg" free. There were people in costumes (mostly steampunk per the theme), but most were dressed in ordinary clothes just like me.
The convention gave me a taste of how beneficial such experiences can be. The first panel, helpfully, was an introduction to conventions in general with suggestions for how to make the most of them and a breakdown of the various types and what kind of attendees they cater to.
There were typically panels from 10 am to 5 pm in three rooms simultaneously while readings occurred in another room. There was Live Action Role Play gaming and video gaming as well as writer's workshop activities.
I focused mostly on panels catering to writers which covered such topics as how to schmooze, the science in science fiction, what is steampunk, the changing face of publishing, and other related topics. Unfortunately, I only saw one reading featuring the authors of Hadley Rille Books. I enjoyed it and would have liked to see more, but my goal of building relationships got in the way as the people I needed to connect with always seemed to be available during the readings I wanted to attend.
I did get critiques of 50 pages each of my two novels which were helpful in thinking about how to make them better, and I also entered the "Story In A Box" writing contest which required you to draw from a bag your first line, setting, a character, a prop, and timeframe. My story required a steam powered vehicle, swimming in dangerous waters, and a bad angel in the future. It's included below this post.
I did meet some publishers, writers and others. I gave out 25 teaser copies of my new book, and picked up some other books I have been looking for at the various dealers. I also got a number of autographs as well as photos with George RR Martin, Toni Weiskopf and Michael Swanwick.
I definitely enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to others. I can't wait to do it again.
Here's my story from "Story In A Bag."
The stars went out one by one leaving Bia alone in the dark. Damn him! She knew she shouldn’t have listened. She knew and yet the same as always, his smile had been all it took to convince her to ignore her reservations and climb aboard his steam ship.
Another relic from the past to feed Jax’s endless fascination with history. He’d spent two years researching the parts needed to fix it and making them in his shop. “A spacecraft mechanic can fix anything,” he’d bragged.
She remembered the glow in his eyes when he told her he’d finished. A working steam ship, and he wanted her to go with him on its’ maiden voyage. The thing didn’t even look seaworthy to her. Besides, no one sailed on actual water anymore. It was unnecessary with all the abundant shuttle craft and air taxis. They could get you across any body of water in minutes, so why bother? It was the twenty-third century, for heaven’s sake. She cursed Jax again for his stupid obsession with the past.
To make matters worse, when it went down, he hadn’t even stayed with her.
“A captain goes down with his ship,” he’d said. Some stupid quote he’d read in an old story or fable. She hadn’t really thought he meant it. Her last memory of him was Jax kneeling on the deck, hands deep inside a compartment, struggling to figure out what went wrong and repair it. All he cared about was saving his ship.
“What about me?!” she screamed to the stars. “If you loved me so much, why wasn’t I more important than that stupid ship?!” She sighed.
No one could hear her anyway. At least, no one who could answer. Besides, she was in dangerous waters full of all sorts of creatures she didn’t even want to think about. What if one of them heard her? No more yelling, Bia. You’ve got to not panic and stay in control if you want to live. And she desperately wanted to live. Never had she been so grateful for her mom’s insistence that she learn how to swim.
“No one swims, Mom!” she’d protested. “I don’t even like water!”
“Swimming used to be very popular,” her Mom insisted. “Remember Grandma’s stories? You never know when a skill like that might come in handy.”
Her mother was right again, damn it. She hated when that happened. She’d tried swimming for a while after the ship had disappeared, but she couldn’t continue for long. Her arms weren’t used to it. I have wimpy arms, crying out at me with every stroke! She blamed her Mom for that, too.
“Men are the ones who do the heavy labor, Bia,” her Mom’s voice echoed through her mind with such clarity that she almost expected to see her mother floating nearby. “Women take care of the softer, finer things.”
So she’d grown up shirking physical exercise as something for men. With four bothers and a father, she hadn’t needed to do it, and after she’d grown, she’d had boyfriends and friends to take care of those things requiring physical endurance.
I fell into a stereotype! My God! I hate stereotypes! Too lazy to live by my own principles! Maybe I deserve to drown out here.
A white glow floated across the water to the east, drawing her eyes to it. It seemed to float along across the water. She watched it approaching until a face appeared, and then a long white gown. Were those actually wings she was seeing? She hated clichés even more than stereotypes. The angel-like creature stopped above her and looked down, smiling.
“Hello, Bia,” he said in a soft, tenor voice.
“What are you, some kind of angel?”
He laughed. “Something like that, I suppose. I’m whatever you want me to be. I appear differently to each person who meets me.”
“What are you doing here? I don’t exactly have time for light conversation.”
He laughed again. “Keeping your sense of humor, even at a time like this. That’s a good sign.”
She frowned. “Look, either help me or go away.”
“What if I told you your swimming is a waste of time?” he said. “The shore’s too far away. You’ll never make it. Not in the shape you’re in.”
She cursed to herself and sneered. “Is that why you came here? To tell me something I’d already guessed?” She started swimming again, hoping to get away from him, but he floated along above her, never losing the position he’d held when he first arrived.
“That’s it. Wear yourself out. It will make it easier when you go down,” he said.
“Look, I thought angels were supposed to help humans, but you’re not helping at all,” she said between breaths as she swam. “So shut up.”
The angel chuckled and shrugged. “I’m not that kind of angel.”
“What are you then? A bad angel?”
“Perhaps to some.”
She ignored him and kept swimming. “Fine. Enjoy your last moments, Bia.” He watched her a moment, then disappeared into the blackness as if he’d never been there.
Her arms were already tired. Maybe he was right, she couldn’t even see the shore from here. “Jax, you idiot! Why do I always choose the losers?”
She realized she might die out here, but if she was going to go, it was going to be her way. I will not just lie her and drown, damn it! The thought made her swim harder, stroke after stroke, doing her best to ignore the emptiness of the horizon in front of her.
After she’d struggled on for what seemed like an hour, another white glow appeared on the horizon, moving toward her. Not another angel. God’s mocking me, just like those religious fanatics at university did. Okay, so I have no faith in fairy tales. It’s my right. Freedom of choice and all that.
The white glow moved faster than the bad angel had. Within moments, it was upon her. A shuttle craft? She blinked. Her eyes weren’t lying. She stopped swimming and began waving frantically. “Over here! Please God, let them see me!”
God? Why am I calling him? Stupid expression! Another thing she’d gotten from her mother.
She spun in the water as she continued to wave. I don’t think they saw me. But then the shuttle turned, moving back toward her. She saw the pilot’s eyes as he leaned toward the window and peered down at her with surprise. Yes! He saw me!
The shuttle turned again and hovered over her. She saw the door slide open and the ladder drop. Even angels can be wrong? She laughed. I can’t wait to tell my mother.