A Quiet Weekend at Westercon

Westercon has a long and prestigious history– it’s been around since 1948, and has been hosted in various western cities every year since. It’s a bit like WorldCon, moving from city to city, and this year it was in Seattle, in the same Doubletree Hotel that hosts Norwescon every April. However, Westercon is much smaller than either WorldCon or Norwescon– whereas those two have attendees in the thousands, there were probably only about 800 people (at most) at Westercon this weekend. This makes it one of the smaller cons I’ve attended– and since the Doubletree can host cons at least five times bigger (i.e. Norwescon), it felt very quiet. The bar was never full, and there was always plenty of room to walk in the hallways. Which is good, but it’s kind of disappointing, too. I like the chaos of cons, and I like seeing a wide variety of people and costumes, but by and large, Westercon was not the con for that.

In a way, Westercon feels like a relic of an earlier era– it dates back to a time when cons were few and far between, travel was more expensive, and fans who lived in the Western U.S. needed a regional con. Now, with every semi-large city in America hosting at least one con a year, it feels a bit obsolete. Nevertheless, Westercon seems to enjoy a base of dedicated attendees, and I certainly won’t complain about getting an extra chance to hang out with local writers.

Despite its small size, it was still a great opportunity– there were plenty of pros there, and it was easier to slow down and catch up with people than it can be at busier cons. The pro-to-fan ratio was pretty high, and while that’s bad for the pros and vendors looking to sell their stuff, it’s good for us newer writers looking for advice and networking opportunities, and anyone just looking for a chance to chill out and chat with folks.

The panels were smaller, too. Often at Norwescon the seats are arranged auditorium-style and the panels are standing room only; here, the panels were generally arranged in chairs around a large central table, which lent a much more personal feel to the panels… not to mention making it easier to see the panelists and ask questions. There were occasional hiccups– I attended a panel on Dystopian Design that apparently had no panelists scheduled at all– but we were still able to get some good discussion going.

Despite its small size, there were some big names present– Robin Hobb, Greg Bear, and David Brin, to name a few. David Brin is one of my favorite authors of all time, and it was awesome to get a chance to meet him. It was fun hearing him speak, because despite being very smart and successful, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. At his readings and panels, he was more than happy to tell jokes and ramble and occasionally derail his own train of thought– but he was clearly enjoying himself through it all. He kind of reminds me of Robin Williams, if Robin Williams were a futurist instead of a comedian.

Another highlight of the con was my first-ever public reading– even though it ended up being only to fellow members of my writing group. On Friday, the 4 of us who were at the con decided to arrange an impromptu public reading late Saturday afternoon, and so for the first time ever (but hopefully not the last) the Cloud City Wordslingers had a quick reading. Each of spent a few minutes reading a snippet of fiction– and even though a couple last-minute tweets and posters did not entice anybody else to come, I still had fun, and it was good practice. I look forward to doing it again sometime, hopefully in front of people I don’t know.

The other highlight was BarCon– the chances I got to hang out with folks at chat at the bar, whether it was the writing group (lunch on Saturday), or Patrick Swenson, Tod McCoy, and Shoshana (Saturday dinner), or Jennifer Brozek, Keffy, Liz, and Lily Cohen-Moore (late night chilling and drinking). Fantastic folks, all. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again– part of what keeps me at this whole writing business is the community of folks you get involved with. I love it. (P.S. If you’re a reader or a gamer, check out Lily’s kickstarter, The Guide to the Village by the Sea.

In the end, even though Westercon was quiet and I didn’t get much good photography in, I certainly won’t complain about getting to go. (What pictures I did manage to get can be seen here.)

One other highlight worth noting– there were some fantastic musicians there, including Leannan Sidhe, Vixy and Tony, and Jeff and Maya Bohnhoff. Excellent concerts, and the Bohnhoffs’ Masquerade Intermission was considerably more entertaining than the actual Masquerade. (That’s a compliment to the Bohnhoffs, not a diss on the Masquerade, although with only 9 entries, it was somewhat sparse.)

Now I really need to buckle down and get back to the Clarion West Write-a-thon. There are words to be written, and sadly, blog entries don’t count.