Context 27 was Awesome.
Posted October 7, 2014on:
Over the weekend of Sept 27/28 Elizabeth Campbell and I attended Context 27 in Columbus Oh. Maybe you’ve seen some of my teaser photos? Every convention has a personality, and Context’s personality is “mellow and inviting”. This is my second year attending Context, and two years in a row it’s been the most welcoming convention I’ve attended. I recognized a lot of people from last year, so it felt like a reunion with plenty of hugs in hallways and Omgosh Hi!’s.
But it isn’t easy to walk into a hotel full of strangers. To help break the ice, Elizabeth had the genius idea of picking up a pack of “Hello my name is” stickers and a pack of markers. For people we knew well, we gave them obnoxious or non sequitur name tags. For example, I quickly had stickers that said “Sober Andrea” and “I don’t know how to use my phone”, and “on vacation”. For people we didn’t know, I’d ask them what they’d like on their name tag. Context was the perfect amount of people for this kind of game, more than a few hundred people and I don’t think it would have worked. Next year, we should pick up half a dozen packs and give them to different people, so by the end of the weekend everyone gets at least one sticker.
The programming at Context is designed for writers. There are workshops you can sign up for, readings, panels, games, and the famous Friday Night Flash Fiction Contest, along with the requisite dealer room, consuite and nighttime parties. What was I, a non-writer, doing at a writers convention you ask? Well, I had such a fantastic time last year that I had to go back… and would you believe that writers like book reviewers? This was also a big first for me: being on panels. Would anyone show up for my panels? Would my co-panelists be cool? What if I was a crappy moderator? quick answers are yes, yes, and I did fine.
It was probably easier because the quantity of people to serve was smaller, but this consuite was fantastic. Snacks, soda, coffee, more snacks, breakfast, dinner, sandwiches, dessert. Sushi even showed up a few times. The dealer room was small but well curated. No items were repeated, so no one was completing with anyone else, which was nice. There were shiny new books from the big publishers, more shiny new books from small presses, steampunk jewelry and accessories, used books, Star Wars items, and more. Two of my favorite small presses, Apex and Alliteration Ink were right near the front, so I barely made my way to the back of the room. I’m sure there was a lot back there I never saw.
Autograph sessions were done in a unique way. Instead of having one large mass autograph session, two or three authors at a time would spend a scheduled hour in the dealer room, answering questions and chatting and autographing books. I had some books I wanted signed, and never managed to be in the dealer room at the right time, so luckily I was able to catch up with people later. Personally, I think I prefer the larger mass autograph sessions.
With the majority of the programming being on Saturday, Elizabeth and I spent most of Friday browsing Columbus area bookstores, schmoozing with friends in the dealer room, and hanging out in the bar. Much pumpkin beer was had. Then we went to some panels!
Ready to hear more than you ever wanted to know about all the panels I jammed into one weekend?
Our first Friday panel was Classics You May Have Missed, with Denise Verrico, Daniel Robichaud, and Jason Sanford. I instantly became a fan of Robichaud’s when he outed himself as a Vonnegut expert. Classics the panelists suggested included Dragon’s Egg by Forward, Sirens of Titan by Vonnegut, C.L. Moore’s “Northwest Smith” stories, This Alien Shore by Friedman, Primary Inversion by Asaro, The Integral Trees by Niven, The Book of the People by Henderson, and Startide Rising by Brin. This was basically the “blow up everyone’s TBR list” panel.
Next was Tales from the Slushpile, with panelists Rodney Carlstrom, James Barnes, Jennifer Brozek and Janet Harriett. There was discussion of what slush reading is (not beta reading!) what a slush reader does (is the first line of defense for the editor, makes sure the author follows guidelines, etc), that it’s a great idea for writers who are in the early stages of their career to read slush because it will help them become better writers, and how to become a slush reader. Everyone on the panel agreed that conventions like this are a great way to connect with editors that you’re interested in slush reading for. Jennifer probably had the best advice of the panel: Imagine that the editor is tired, frustrated and just wants to be done for the night. Can your story pull them out of that?
I wish I’d paid better attention to the time, because I totally missed the Friday night Flash Fiction contest, which I heard later was awesome.
This was my first experience being on panels, and I’ve got to say that having a good panel boils down to having good panelists. I’d never met most of my co-panelists before, so we were adding “so, whatdya wanna talk about?” into the conversation as we whispered our introductions and hinicetomeetyous. I don’t know if co-panelists are always this awesome by default, or if I just got lucky.
Saturday morning it was time to get my game face on, bright and early (and by bright and early, I mean 10am)! First panel I’ve ever been on, and I’m moderating it. Might as well go all out, and cosplay for it, right? RIGHT. Sabetha hat on, I was ready to rock moderating Being a Woman in Publishing. My co-panelists were Laura Resnick (yes, THAT Laura Resnick!) and Leslie K. Anderson. My job as moderator consisted of keeping the conversation going, and taking questions from the audience. I had a few questions prepared, but I mostly let Laura and Lesley run the show, as they were, actually, women in publishing. There was discussion of how far the publishing industry has come in the last 20 years, of negative experiences both Laura and Leslie had had. There was discussion of scantily clad ladies on the cover art that were written by women, for other women to read. It’s hard to tell from my description, but this panel did *not* turn into a bitch fest. Quite the opposite in fact. It was a positive, empowering discussion of that thanks to women like Laura Resnick, the industry is easier for the next generation. It was a good panel, lots of great questions from the audience. I wish I’d taken notes or remembered what I said.
Elizabeth and I stuck around for a while for the next two panels: Skewering the Trope: Tough Guys (panelists Brady Allen, John Horner Jacobs and Lawrence Connolly), and Skewering the Trope: Tough Women (panelists Lucy Snyder, Sarah Hans and K. W. Taylor). These panels consisted of discussions of who the panelists favorite “tough” characters were, old definitions of “tough” vs new definitions, how it’s become popular to root for the villains and the difference between villains and anti-heroes. The panelists from the Tough Guys panel seemed to pull most of their examples from books, where the panelists from the Tough Women panel seemed to pull most of their examples from movies and tv shows. The Tough Women panel also included discussion of the Bechtel test, “Trinity Syndrome” that “toughness” for female characters finally means something other than physical strength, and what seems to be an obsession with tough female characters being petite. The male panelists seemed to have an easier time coming up with examples of tough guys they liked and why they liked them, but the female panelists’ discussion had more depth.
After lunch we attended “Social Media for Authors and Readers”, with panelists Gery Deer, Ferrett Steinmetz, Betsy Mitchell and John Horner Jacobs. This panel was mostly about how to behave yourself online. Don’t do the hard sell (unless you’re Sam Sykes, and it’s your punchline!), don’t respond to negative reviews, don’t make an ass out yourself online. You’ll do better in social media if you are supportive of others, and if people really like what you are saying and RT’ing, you’ll even become a curator. Social media isn’t about selling, or about getting famous, it’s about engagement.
Then i found a quiet spot and a snack, and collected my thoughts for my next panel, “Hot New Writers”, with co-panelists Michael West, and Rodney Carlstrom. We didn’t have a big audience at all for this panel, and it was obvious most of the titles we mentioned no one had heard of. Rodney and I instantly bonded over a love for Benjanun Sriduangkaew, and I also mentioned Stephanie Saulter, Francesca Forrest and Greg VanEekout. Most of this panel was me and Rodney blowing up each other’s TBR lists. He mentioned a Michael West novel, and Plow the Bones by Douglas Warwick, both of which I purchased at the dealer room before leaving the Con.
Then was dinner, hotwings, some crying (from the hotwings!) and waiting for the parties to get set up. There were three publisher hosted parties, and everyone was invited to wander from party to party, since they were all a little different. The “quiet” party was very popular: no loud music, no strobe lights or weird lighting. Just a room with snacks and booze and plenty of places to sit down and chat. I can’t tell you much more than that, because what happens at an Apex party stays at the Apex party!
Sunday morning, after LOTS of coffee, I got to what was probably the most interesting panel all weekend “How to Get a Day Job in Publishing”, with panelists Betsy Mitchell, James Barnes and Gery Deer. The gist of their discussion was that there are lots of career opportunities in publishing for people who aren’t authors: editing, marketing, cover art, sales, etc. There was also a lot of discussion about how much of industry is now farmed out to contractors, because the publishing companies are running very lean. Betsy recommended that people should work for a small publisher first, becuase that’s how you learn to do every single job. As I was listening, i realized “I really need to network with all three of these people!” and by the end of the weekend, I had!
The convention was starting to wrap up Sunday afternoon, but not before my last panel of the weekend, Getting Your Book Reviewed And Being A Good Reviewer, with co-panelists Gery Deer and Anton Cancre. This was the panel I was most looking forward to, the one I’m actually somewhat of an expert on! Anton is a writer and horror reviewer, and Gery works in television and run a public relations and marketing firm. Needless to say, us panelists represented an amazing variety of experiences in reviewing and promoting books. I heard I did great. Wish I could remember what I said.
I’m proud of myself that I was able to stay within my budget at the dealer room. So many pretty books! One of the neatest things I acquired at Context was a little publication with 100 word stories about nightmares the writers had. And the typesetting was done in an artful manner than forces the readers to slow down while reading. Some of the typesetting was purposely vague, so that you’re not sure who is speaking, or what line comes next. Changing the voice or order of the lines completely changes the story!
So yet again, Context has spoiled me rotten. Great guests, excellent programming, wonderful hotel, the best consuite I’ve ever seen, and just the nicest, friendliest group of writerly people you’re gonna find anywhere.
And did you see who their guests of honor are gonna be next year? So, who wants to meet up in Columbus next fall?
other goodies i bought: