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.

8 thoughts on “Norwescon in a Nutshell

  1. Good to hear you had a good time!

    The Easter weekend clash is basically just a business thing — it’s cheaper for both cons to book what’s typically a low-business weekend for the hotels and convention spaces. I go into a little more detail about the history and reasoning [here][1].

    [1]: http://www.michaelhanscom.com/eclecticism/2010/03/28/norwescon-sakura-con-and-easter-weekend/

    I’m glad you found the Masquerade photo area! It actually kind of wraps around the Masquerade itself, starting before, running through, and then continuing for a good while afterward (this year we were there for a solid four hours, from 6pm until 10pm). There are a number of factors that go into the scheduling, but part is the complexity of some of the Masquerade costumes: it’s not uncommon for people to create costumes that are to fancy, complex, or unwieldy to wander around in, and are only worn for the Masquerade competition. Because of this, we need to have the photo area running during the Masquerade, so that they can come through as soon as they’re offstage, get their photos, and then go off to change into a more mobile costume. There are certainly other factors, including having only so much physical space to play with in the hotel, and yes, having to minimize the crowding in the lobby, but that’s one of the big considerations.

    • Hi Michael–

      Thanks for your reply. I actually Googled a bit as I was writing this, and found your blog post about the scheduling conflict. I left the complaint in my own post, though. I can appreciate the fact that there are legitimate business reasons, but that doesn’t change the fact the situation is, shall we say, less than optimal for fans.

      With regards to space: Norwescon could solve its space issues in the main lobby (and provide ample space for photos) if they could just find somewhere else for the registration desk. I’m sure I’m not the first person to have thought of that, and I appreciate that registration is easy to find, but there’s “easy to find” and then there’s “right smack in the middle of the most densely crowded area.” I’m guessing that if a better place was available, they would use it, but definitely having the reg desk where it is makes the con feel a lot smaller, space-wise.

      • Oh, I’ll definitely agree that the scheduling conflict is unfortunate, and worth complaining about! I’m just doing what little I can to assure people that it’s not due to unfriendly rivalry and intentional cross-scheduling, and actually stems from a real reason. Unfortunately, that also means it’s not likely to change in the near future.

        I spent a little time brainstorming with one of the other photographers about ways to rearrange the lobby area or other possible locations for the registration desk (so that we could move or expand the Masquerade photo setup), and couldn’t come up with any good, realistic ideas. Most of what we came up with fell apart pretty quickly, usually through making crowding issues even worse. That just happens to be one of the few large, open, easily accessible areas in the hotel, and registration lines often need a lot of space.

        I guess all this boils down to saying that we know and appreciate the frustrations! 🙂 Now, if we could just get all of our membership to pre-register online electronically so we didn’t _need_ the registration desk…. 😉

  2. Thank you for the kind words about my reading!

    This was my fourth or fifth Norwescon, and I’m encouraged by seeing some things that have been problematic in the past changed this year. I always find the number of people intimidating and a little frustrating, particularly when trying to get some good pictures of the marvelous costumes.

    • Thanks for the comment, Cat! I’m looking forward to reading more of your stories. All in all I was impressed with the running of things at Norwescon, and generally enjoyed the atmosphere. But I definitely regret the pics of great costumes I wasn’t able to get because of the crowds.

  3. Thanks for clearing up the issue between Norwescon vs. Sakura-Con. Rumor has it that there was a huge battle in times past, where Norwescon didn’t want anything to do with anime, so the Sakura crowd started their own con, and intentionally scheduled it the same weekend, and now that they have 25,000 attendees, they can stick it to Norwes.

    The “Easter is cheaper” explanation sounds more reasonable, and I’m a big fan of truth.

    Andrew, I loved hanging out with you, and I know exactly how you feel. I developed all my social skills in two places: IRC chat rooms, and cons, particularly Radcon and Norwescon. It’s less about knowing what to say, and more about not feeling that terrible fear of a thousand vague social punishments. The worst of which is seeming like a dork.

    What I love about cons is that all those people are dorks, even the socially clueful ones. /Especially/ the socially clueful ones. Most are extremely understanding and friendly, so it’s a good place to experiment and exit the comfort zone.

    This is a topic I have a lot of experience with, so if you want any tips, chat with me after writer’s group.

    • Hey Luna, it was great hanging out with you (and Roland, and everyone else)! I do love that pretty much everyone at cons is a geek of some sort or another, and in that way cons are less intimidating than a lot of similar social situations.

      Like FDR said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”… admittedly, he was talking about the Great Depression and not networking, but the statement is still valid. If half your brain is occupied with the fear of seeming like a dork, then you’re only operating in the conversation with half your wits about you, which in turn makes you more likely to seem like a dork. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle that way.

      And I have, in the past, done this pretty successfully, but it takes a lot of energy for me, and apparently I just didn’t have it at Norwescon. Maybe after Writer’s Group I need a “Socialite’s Group.” 😉

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