I Had A Horrific Weekend (in a good way)

Last weekend the annual World Horror Convention took place in Portland. It’s a slightly different sort of convention than ones I’ve been to in the past; it’s very small, and it was largely composed of a much different group of people than the sci-fi/fantasy cons in the area. One reason is that it was a very professional con; cosplay was not a thing there, and the focus was almost completely on the professional field of writing. So horror writers and editors came from across the country, while lots of writers who live nearby but don’t write horror stayed home.

I hadn’t realized until now just how distinct a genre horror was from science fiction and fantasy– at least, professionally speaking. There really aren’t any large publishers along the lines of Tor Books or DAW; publishers are small independent operations, and on top of that, there’s a larger focus on short stories. Horror seems to thrive as short fiction, even more so than sci-fi/fantasy.

Some of the differences can be seen in the categories of awards given out at the Bram Stoker Awards Banquet. The Bram Stoker Awards are basically the horror genre’s equivalent of the Nebula Awards, voted on by the members of the Horror Writers’ Association. Categories in the Bram Stoker Awards which are not in the Nebulas or the Hugos include Best Anthology, Best Young Adult Novel, and Best First Novel– all of which I think are superb categories, especially the latter two, which I’d love to see in the equivalent SF&F awards. (In fairness, Best Anthology is a category at the World Fantasy Awards.)

Attending the banquet required the purchase of an $50 extra ticket, but it was well worth it. I took plenty of pictures (even though, as is the norm for convention stage shows, the lighting was terrible, blinding the participants without the benefit of illuminating them for either the audience or the photographers). The food was decent, the wine at the table was free, and the company at the table was excellent.

Most excitingly, though, I had a personal interest in the Best Anthology category, given that my story Someone to Remember is the leadoff story in After Death…, which was edited by Eric J. Guignard and one of five nominees in the category. And much to my pleasure, Eric won! Which I figure means I can claim about 2% of a Bram Stoker Award.

Other highlights of the weekend included a trip with Scott Edelman and several other folks to Pok Pok, a well-known authentic Thai restaurant in Portland. That was quite good, even if the image of Scott with a fish head in his mouth, making the fish head talk, is one that may haunt my dreams for some time. Mostly, though, it was just fun to hang out with friends in Portland, meet some new folks, and celebrate Eric Guignard’s award with him.

Full gallery of photos here.

By the way, if you enjoy the photography I do at conventions or while traveling, please consider giving my Photography Facebook page a “like”, if you haven’t already. I’ll be posting a lot of galleries and photography-specific announcements there. And while I hate to be “that guy” who begs for likes or shares, I haven’t actually mentioned my Facebook page here before, and well, I’m at 99 likes! The obsessive-compulsive in me wants to hit a 3 digit number!

Another Year of Onions and Roses at Norwescon

Last weekend was Norwescon 37, and the fourth I’ve attended since moving to Seattle. Norwescon has become my “home” con, in multiple senses of the word. It’s the largest sci-fi/fantasy con in Seattle focused on literature and writing– which makes it a good home for me as a writer. But it’s also large enough to host a thriving cosplay community, which makes it a good home for me as a photographer. It’s small enough to be friendly and low-pressure, yet big enough to get some energy out of the crowd. Every year I go, the con becomes more enjoyable as I meet more people, make new friends, and feel more a part of the community.

Every year after the con is over, Norwescon solicits feedback from congoers, asking people to submit feedback in the form of “roses” (good things) and “onions” (bad things). So with that in mind, here I go. Some of these are duplicates from previous years, but if they remain prominent in my mind, well, I’m including them again.

Rose: Panels. There were a lot of good panels this time– and some more advanced and creative stuff, alongside the usual Worldbuilding 101 and ZOMG E-Books.

First Page Idol was a panel with some nice audience interaction, where you could anonymously submit your first page and the panel would judge it, which resulted in some interesting feedback. There were also some good science panels– I particularly enjoyed David Levine’s recap of his visit to NASA.

A few of the panels seemed to wander around their subject a bit, never entirely delving into what they were meant to delve into. For my money, anytime a panel can get past the uber-basic introduction that is widely known to anyone with a passing fancy in the subject, into more detailed and interesting stuff, it’s a win for me. This tends to be why I favor panels with narrowly focused and clear-defined topics, especially if they’re dependent on some unique knowledge of the panelists.

All in all, Norwescon is better than most cons at making interesting panels. In fact, the panels are popular enough that they’re frequently standing room only… the Cascade rooms are often too small for the panels they’re trying to host. I don’t know what the solution is there.

I also saw a lot of demo panels, where the panelists were actually demonstrating something and the audience was usually involved. Those were fun. Weapons and armor demos, horror makeup demos– those were my favorites, without a doubt.

Onion: Registration. Norwescon had (as far as I can tell) basically the same process in place as last year. This meant long lines as people waited to input all their information into a computer (there were about eight computers in the reg area), printed a sheet to take to the cashier, then paid and got their badge. For pre-registered folks with a sheet already printed, they could sometimes skip ahead in the line, but if you weren’t registered, or had pre-registered but didn’t have a sheet, well, then, you were stuck.

There has got to be a better system. These days, Norwescon is the only con I go to that has more than a five-minute wait to register, and from my understanding, there were points on Thursday afternoon when the line was at least an hour long. Maybe I just never see peak times at the other cons? When I was at RadCon, I did see the line back up a bit a few times as I walked by on the first day, but never to an hour long.

One difference between Norwescon and most other cons is that Norwescon prints the names on the badges right at registration, whereas most cons pre-print their badges, or use regular old paper stickers for people’s names. Norwescon’s method results in a slightly nicer badge, but it’s never exactly well executed. This year, the badges were printed well (and you could choose to have ONLY your badge name printed– props for that), but the art design of the badge was such that you could only read the left half of the badge, before the black printing blended into the darkly-colored art on the right side.

Maybe this is a case where something is being Rube Goldberg’d that doesn’t need to be? I mean, in the end, I think most people would be happy with easy registration and a readable badge.

Rose: Room parties. As usual, the room parties were awesome. On Friday night, I particularly enjoyed a party that was hosted by Evil Girlfriend Media, celebrating the launch of an anthology titled Bless Your Mechanical Heart. (Side note: Several friends of mine have stories in this anthology. But favoritism aside, I’ve read a few stories so far and am highly impressed.)

Just like last year, my favorite room party was Master Plan, which is always a blast– the mixology contest on Friday was particularly fun (speaking as a non-contestant, anyway).

Onion: Dealer’s Room. The Dealer’s Room was okay this year, however, it did seem to lack in terms of booksellers. There was only one small bookseller, from what I saw (there were a few writers’ associations and authors with booths, both inside and outside, but only one dealer that appeared to sell more than a handful of books). If an attendee wanted to buy a book by the Guest of Honor, so they could get an autograph (as was the case with a friend of mine), it appears they were S.O.L.

It seems like it would be worthwhile to ensure that there’s a dealer who can sell books by the Guests of Honor and the various writing panelists, so that interested attendees can spend their money… but that didn’t appear to be the case.

Other than that, I had no complaints about the dealer’s room. But I can haz books for sale at my sci-fi con please?

Rose: Photography. I feel like the Saturday evening photo area gets a little bit better organized each year. The layout was slightly changed from last year… the standing area was only behind one row of chairs, instead of two, which meant that the people in the second row weren’t caught in an awkward half-standing crouch, like I was last year.

The photo area is set up like an L-shape, with photographers on both sides of the L looking toward the cosplayer(s) in the middle. I was standing on the short side of the L, while all the photographers giving direction were on the long side of the L… which is okay, although I do have a large number of profile shots because the cosplayer just never turned to face the short side. There are two marks for the cosplayers to stand on, one facing each direction, but they would frequently face the long side from both marks, because that’s where the photographers talking to them were. Tip to cosplayers: for a better chance of seeing good shots, face both directions.

Despite my whining, I did enjoy the photo area– it’s a feature not seen at many other cons– and I stood there for over four hours on Saturday night taking pictures.

Speaking of pictures, you can see the full set on Flickr or on my photography Facebook page.

Thanks again to all the folks who made Norwescon awesome, especially the volunteers who put in a lot of hard work before, during, and after. See you next year!

Driving to Pasco: A Surprisingly Good Way to Spend a Weekend (thanks to RadCon)

Last Friday I drove over Snoqualmie Pass, where I-90 threads its way through the Cascade Mountains, in slushy rain, dodging traffic and semi-trucks and snowplows. The purpose behind this taking of my life (and my friend Keffy’s) into my hands was in the interest of getting to RadCon, a weekend-long science fiction convention in Pasco. Pasco is one-third of the Tri-Cities area of Washington, about three hours east of Seattle.

This was my first RadCon– I’d eyed it with curiosity over the past couple of years, but scheduling and general laziness meant I wasn’t able to go until this year. And I’m pleased to say it was worth the danger.

RadCon turned out to be a large costuming and gaming convention, that happened to feature a writing track. I didn’t attend any writing panels– all the topics were too basic, frankly, to interest me. Instead, I spend my days attending a few costuming and art panels. At one panel that was supposed to be about lighting a set on a budget (which I hoped might lead to some ideas for studio lighting), none of the panelists showed up, as they were busy making a movie at RadCon. But nevertheless, us audience members bravely soldiered on anyway, discussing our mutual experience (one of the audience members was a stage magician; another was a blacksmith interested in lighting for tutorial videos). It turned out to be one of my favorite panels.

At the writing events I did go to– which mostly ended up being after-hours parties in the small press room and similar things– it felt small, comfortable and intimate. I joined in a discussion with Howard Tayler, the artist Guest of Honor, and several other pros, and all in all had a good time both seeing friends and meeting new ones. A lot of the usual Seattle writing crowd wasn’t there, although a few were– but despite that, RadCon honestly felt like the friendliest con I’ve ever been to. Frequently I found myself in interesting conversations with total strangers, on topics ranging from photography, to the con experience, to life as a geek, to BDSM.

Part of the reason for that may have been how the room parties were arranged– in most cons, you can only drink inside the room parties, which are almost universally loud, cramped, and dark. RadCon, however, was able to close off an entire third-floor section to people 21 and over, which meant that people could mingle in a large, wide balcony/hallway area and could actually talk to each other without forgoing their drinks. It probably also helped that this was pretty much the only area to party– the bar was dead, and there was nowhere else to go– which meant that everyone found that their way there. Pros and fans mingled, writers and gamers and costumers mingled, cheap Jell-O shots were abundant and all in all I had a pretty awesome time.

RadCon also trended a lot younger than most science fiction cons– there were a lot of teenagers and college students there in costume, hanging out with friends. Since RadCon is pretty much the entire convention scene in the Tri-Cities area of Washington, a lot of local folks (especially younger folks) seemed to gravitate to it. RadCon seemed to be the cool place to hang out this weekend, which was kind of nice to see. I am all for having enthusiastic younger people becoming more involved in the fan scene, even if they’re primarily anime or gaming fans for right now as opposed to readers– although I suspect many of them are avid readers as well.

That’s not to say I couldn’t things to complain about. The food options are rather limited, for one. (I’m just glad the fan suite was selling pizza for $2/slice, because that’s pretty much what I lived off of… that and granola bars.) Taking pictures at the Masquerade was kind of terrible, because the lighting setup was apparently designed by someone with a deep visceral hatred of photography. Oh, and I woke up with a hangover on Sunday… although, admittedly, that last one was entirely my fault.

Luckily I shook it off in time to drive back over Snoqualmie Pass while it was still light. Despite a few dire warnings, the conditions were actually better on Sunday than they’d been on Friday.

Next year I will definitely be braving the pass to head to RadCon again.

In the meantime, here’s the slideshow of pictures from the con. I spent most of the weekend doing photography, and all in all, I’m quite happy with the results. There were lots of great costumes (thanks cosplayers!), and the weapons demo and fire show made for some very pretty pictures as well.

GeekGirlCon: Fandom, The Next Generation

I spent Saturday hanging out at the Washington State Convention Center, enjoying GeekGirlCon. This was my first time attending GGC since its debut year in 2011, and I was blown away by how much it’s grown. In 2011, it was in a tiny suite of rooms in the northwest corner of the Seattle Center; this year, it took up most of the Conference Center at the WSCC.

I loved the atmosphere at GeekGirlCon. The place was busy without being jam-packed, and there were wide-open lobby spaces for easy photography, meeting friends, and even concerts, courtesy of Molly Lewis and The Doubleclicks.

But of course, “atmosphere” means more than the physical surroundings. I got the distinct but hard-to-define sense that GeekGirlCon was a much safer space than usual cons. Maybe it was the prevalence of gender-bending cosplay, and people taking risks with their cosplay that they might not at a usual con. I don’t mean risque cosplay– although there was some of that, too– I mean cosplay that involves stepping out of your comfort zone, to play someone who’s not like you, either in gender, or body shape, or personality. People seemed more willing to open up, try something different, even potentially embarrassing, because of the friendly atmosphere that permeated the con. I suspect that just the name and theme of the con attracted a more open, welcoming, and socially aware crowd, and that was reflected in people’s comfort, and also in the overall atmosphere.

The crowd at GeekGirlCon was an all-ages crowd, but trended toward the young side. It felt like most of the adults I saw were in their 20s and 30s, and there were also a lot of families with young kids. That second part in particular was nice to see– I truly did feel like I was seeing a lot of next-generation fans. And kids at GGC got a chance not just to indulge in the typical range of media properties that are classified as “geek,” but also to kindle the love of creativity and science that to me, more than anything, defines what is at the heart of geekdom.

One of the coolest features at the con was the DIY Science Zone, where panelists and volunteers helped kids do various science experiments. Apparently one of the panelists even brought a small piece of the Chelyabinsk meteor for show-and-tell. I think one of the bigger challenges facing not just geekdom but society in general is how to bring more inclusiveness and diversity to the Science and Technology fields, not just for this generation’s sake but for the next, and so I’m always glad to see GGC maintain such a strong focus on real-life science and tech.

The exhibition hall, meanwhile, was full of local artists and small craft folk; most dealer’s rooms generally are, but I got the sense at GeekGirlCon that there was a much larger portion of artists just starting out, maybe even folks operating a booth for the first time. And I don’t mean that in a bad way; there was a charming, almost homespun feel about the exhibition/dealer area that I liked a lot.

But ultimately, the number one reason I say that GGC felt like the next generation of fandom is because of how open, diverse, and inclusive it felt. To me, it felt like how fandom and geekdom could be, once we get past the misogyny and homophobia and various market-driven forces that seem determined to tell us how to be a geek in present times, how certain pursuits and books and games are “boy” or “girl”. I was only at GGC for one day, but I still felt that in some sense GeekGirlCon represents the potential for what geek culture could become; hopefully it really is a window into the next generation.

Occasionally during and after cons, I hear people fretting about how fandom is aging, or dying out, or withering away, but having been to GGC I’m quite confident in saying it’s doing just fine. Sure, it’s changing, but all in all, I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

Anti-Harassment Policies at PNW Conventions: A Follow-Up

My post last week documenting anti-harassment policies at conventions in the Pacific Northwest got a lot of great feedback from readers, as well as con staff and volunteers. It was largely inspired by John Scalzi’s Convention Policy, refusing to attend or support conventions that do not have anti-harassment policies. Over 700 people have co-signed, myself included. If you’d like to co-sign, you can do so here.

So in planning 2014, I needed to evaluate which cons actually met the policy and which didn’t: the resulting research and documentation effort exploded with the help of commenters, and a list of eight cons grew into a list of sixteen. After the effort, I would say there are only three cons which I would not attend as a result of co-signing the Convention Harassment Policy: those are PAX, SteamCon, and RustyCon.

I feel like I should throw up a bunch of disclaimers: one, this is my opinion and my judgment call only. I’m not an authority in this area, just a fan who’s done some research. Others may reach different conclusions than me. PAX, for example, does have an anti-harassment policy, it’s just extremely short and rather vague about what constitutes harassment (UPDATE: As of 9/19. PAX has improved its harassment policy. Thanks to Merus for bringing that to my attention). GearCon, which has a slightly better harassment policy (and which I judged as being over “The Scalzi Threshold”), nevertheless definitely has room for improvement and others might not be willing to give it a pass. So I encourage folks to do their own research and decide for themselves.

Second, this is based only on anti-harassment policies. I did not consider past history, panels, or thematic content of each con. So even if you consider PAX’s harassment policy okay, you might still feel uncomfortable attending, given the controversies surrounding the Dickwolves T-shirts and/or Mike Krahulik in general. That, of course, is up to you; my list is about official anti-harassment policies only. I did try to cover cons’ commitment to enforcing those policies (in so far as how easy it would be to find staffers, security desks, etc), but I didn’t consider history. Another example is GeekGirlCon: in my evaluation of their anti-harassment policy, I didn’t consider their name and their backstory, even though many folks might be more comfortable attending it simply because of the theme. Making that call was out of my scope.

And my final disclaimer, particularly important given what about I’m say, is this is based on my experience only. I can’t judge the on-the-ground conditions at cons I’ve never been to, although I did try to update my post with addendums when con volunteers or ConCom members chimed in via the comments. Other folks may have different experiences, or bad memories that may make them uncomfortable attending certain cons no matter what their official policy is. And conventions that were very fast and responsive to my inquiries may not be similarly responsive to everyone; this is based on my experience only.

That said, I can’t help but feel that the speed and attitude with which a con responds to questions about its policies may be indicative of how quickly, fairly, and thoroughly it responds to violations of those policies. A con which responds quickly to inquiries, will, I hope, also be fast on the draw in responding to incidents. Similarly, I have no reason to believe that a con which is slow or non-responsive to inquiries will be any better or faster in responding to actual reports or incidents. In the process of doing my research, I e-mailed at least half the conventions listed in the guide, and here’s a general overview of how they responded:

The Good

Norwescon, Foolscap, OryCon, ECCC, and RCCC responded quickly to my e-mail queries. ConCom members from RadCon and Foolscap also posted in the comments of the original post. Norwescon and RadCon updated their sites with brand new harassment policies while I was researching, and OryCon quickly modified their anti-harassment page as a result of some minor suggestions I made. Foolscap and RCCC made sure to post their already-existing harassment policy online.

The Not as Good

GeekGirlCon, GearCon, SteamCon*, and RustyCon have not responded to my e-mails in the past 7-10 days. GeekGirlCon has a robust anti-harassment policy in place, and my e-mail was mainly just inquiring after some details. GearCon has one in place, though I ranked them at the bottom of all the cons above “The Scalzi Threshold” and there’s definitely room for improvement.

SteamCon* and RustyCon, from what I can tell, do not have anti-harassment policies (at least not online), and I never heard back any information from them indicating otherwise. If anyone associated with either con has any information on this, please leave a comment or get in touch with me via the “Contact” tab so I can update the original guide with accurate information.

(*On 9/20, the SteamCon Vice-Chair responded to my e-mail with a statement that a new Code of Conduct was in the final stages of approval and would be posted in time for the con.)

(*RustyCon now also has an online harassment policy.)

I plan to keep the original guide up-to-date going forward, so as cons modify or add anti-harassment policies, I will update that page. If I’ve missed any cons that you think should be on the list, please leave a comment and let me know. (And if you can link to information pertaining to that con’s anti-harassment policy and save me some research effort, all the better!)

Finally, I hope folks have found this useful. If you have any suggestions for improvement, or ideas for future research efforts that could also be useful to the community, feel free to leave a comment. Even if I don’t act on the idea, maybe it’ll inspire somebody else.

Here’s to hopefully making conventions as safe and inviting as possible for as many fellow geeks/nerds/human beings as we can.

Anti-Harassment Policies at Conventions in the Pacific Northwest

Completed Updates: 1/12: Added World Horror Con 2014. Addendums posted for ECCC, GeekGirlCon, RustyCon, and SteamCon. 9/25: Addendum posted for GeekGirlCon. 9/20: Addendum posted and conclusions updated for SteamCon. 9/19: Addendum posted and conclusions updated for Penny Arcade Expo. 9/18: Added Rose City Comic Con. 9/16: Added SteamCon; Addendum posted for Foolscap. 9/13: Added Foolscap, GameStorm, GearCon, Kumoricon, Portland Comic Con, and VCon; Addendums posted for Kumoricon, RadCon, and Sakura-Con. 9/12: Added Sakura-Con.

There’s been a strong push recently to ensure that all conventions of a “geek” persuasion– sci-fi cons, comic cons, gaming cons– have clearly worded and strongly enforced anti-harassment policies in place. This effort picked up momentum in the wake of some highly publicized incidents of sexual harassment; I also feel like there’s a growing awareness and consensus that harassment is a problem at conventions, and that it should be strongly addressed. Geek culture is sometimes (okay, almost always) not as enlightened or progressive as we’d like it to be.

Many of us who regularly attend conventions value them as safe spaces; anti-harassment policies help ensure that the idea of “safe spaces” is built into the culture of conventions, and also that cons are not caught off guard by reports of harassment. They ensure that volunteers and staff know what to do; they ensure that resources are in place for victims to seek help; and they spell out clear consequences for harassers.

In July, John Scalzi posted his own personal policy when it comes to attending conventions– namely, if they don’t have an anti-harassment policy, he won’t go. As one of the most popular science fiction authors writing today, it had an impact, and nearly 700 people (including myself) co-signed his policy. You can read it for yourself here.

I must admit, when I co-signed, I thought, “well, it’s a nice gesture, but it probably won’t affect me much. It’s 2013, right? Scalzi is just stating the obvious, right? Pretty much every con has this in place by now– I can’t imagine that I’d actually have to skip a con because of this.”

Well, fast forward to a couple days ago, when I was planning my convention schedule for 2014 and I realized that things were not nearly as clear as I’d expected. Of the major cons I checked in the Pacific Northwest, less than half had a clearly posted anti-harassment policy that met the guidelines as laid out in Scalzi’s post. So I started doing research and e-mailing cons, and below I present the summation of my results. I present it as a resource for other co-signers, or anyone who just wants to know what they can expect at cons in the Pacific Northwest region.

For the purposes of this effort, I considered a good anti-harassment to be one that contained, at minimum, the following elements:

1) A definition of what specific behavior constitutes “harassment”
2) Resources that victims and witnesses can go to for help
3) A description of what actions the con will take in the event of reported harassment

Here’s what I found. If you’d like me to add a PNW con to this list, contact me or leave a comment. I will also update this post as required when more current information comes in:

Emerald City Comicon

The ECCC website has no anti-harassment policy as of 9/12. However, after e-mailing them, I received an official response that one is ready, and will be posted on the FAQ section of their website by the end of the month. In addition, the anti-harassment policy will also be printed in all next year’s program guides.

ADDENDUM: ECCC’s policy is available here, under Section 9 of “Rules and Policies.” It has a fairly comprehensive definition of harassment, as well as instructions for folks who are victims or witnesses to harassment, how to find staff members, and what response can be expected from the con. Thumbs up!

Foolscap

Foolscap does not have a policy on their website. However, when I e-mailed them, I got an extremely fast and thorough response stating that they do print an anti-harassment policy in the conbook, and a promise to correct the oversight of it not being on the website as soon as possible. When that’s available, I’ll add a link to it. In the meantime, here’s the overview of their poicy, quoted with permission from e-mail:

The gist of the policy is that we ask people to report any incidents that they experience or observe – even if they seem small – to a member of the convention committee, and we point out some places where a member can always be found during convention hours. We commit to documenting the report (with whatever detail the reporter wants to provide), quickly convening a subset of the committee to discuss an appropriate response, and implementing the response immediately. We also commit to informing the reporter of what action we’re taking immediately.

It’s tough to judge a policy from an overview, but it seems to have all the pieces in place. I like the emphasis on who to report to, and the commitment to quickly making a response and informing the reporter of what action was taken. And the speedy e-mail response is encouraging as a general indicator of how responsive they are to this issue.

(ADDENDUM: Karen G. Anderson of the FoolsCap ConCom posted the full Foolscap policy in the comments, excerpted here: “Unacceptable Behavior. It’s our aim that everyone involved with the convention (members, guests, and dealers — also visitors and hotel staff) be treated with fairness and respect. If you have concerns about behavior you see or experience at the convention, we urge you to notify a Foolscap ConCom member quickly (during convention hours, find us at Registration or in Hospitality). In case of urgent concerns about someone’s immediate safety at the convention, please notify police and hotel staff. If unacceptable behavior occurs at the convention (behavior so judged by three or more members of the ConCom) the ConCom reserves the right to to revoke a membership and ask the offending member(s) to leave.”

The policy is short– it doesn’t exactly define harassment, but it does urge people to find con staff (or hotel staff, or the police) if they experience or see questionable behavior. The acknowledgement to both witnesses and victims is nice. I do wonder how quickly the ConCom would take action in case of harassment, as it’s a little unclear, but since offending member can clearly be asked to leave it gives me hope that the ConCom’s actions would be quick.)

GameStorm

GameStorm’s anti-harassment is online, listed under their Code of Conduct. Up top, the consequences of violating the policy are clearly spelled out. A nice touch worth calling out is their explicit mention that It applies to all pre-con, at con, and post-con activities that are related to GameStorm. (Some cons will exempt areas or things not under direct con control, like room parties or the hotel parking lot. Props to GameStorm for making sure their policy covers everything.)

Under the “Personal Interaction” section there’s a nice description of harassing behaviors, as well as a section that says If you do not feel comfortable talking with the individuals involved, or if talking to them once does not work, please immediately report the situation to any GameStorm committee or staff member. If possible provide a badge name or name and a physical description of the person or persons involved. The committee or staff member will notify Convention Operations and/or the Con Chair.

There’s no mention of how to identify a con staff member or where the security desk is located, but since this is just a web policy, hopefully those details will be clear on the ground. The site DOES have a web form for contacting security, which is a nice touch I haven’t seen elsewhere.

In the comments, Wes brought to my attention that GameStorm is sponsored by the same fan group that sponsors OryCon (OSFCI), who were extremely responsive to my queries regarding OryCon’s policies and by all appearances take this issue extremely seriously.

GearCon

GearCon’s anti-harassment policy is online, located here; the anti-harassment policy is included in Section 4 (“Code of Conduct”). It’s got some nice notes to it, but is light on specifics. Here’s how they define harassment: subject other attendees to unwelcome sexual attention/behavior, or engage in harassment based on age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or ability. In particular: role-play and historical reenactment are not justifications for abusive behavior.

I do like the broadness of the definition (if not the vagueness), and the explicit statement that roleplay does not excuse being an asshole. However, there’s no mention in the overall Code of Conduct as to who to make a report to or seek help from. There’s some implicit references to “venue security,” but it’s not clear if there’s a security desk, or an Ops desk, or how to identify con staff to whom you can make a report.

In other sections of the overall policy (i.e. Section 3, “Security”), it does specify consequences (Attendees and participants may be ejected from Portland GEAR Con for engaging in injurious or illegal behavior), however for the Code of Conduct section the consequences seem to be more implied. I’d like to see more specifics spelled out, particularly for sexual harassment.

If anyone involved with, or who’s attended GearCon, wants to chime in (are con staff easily identifiable? Is there a security desk? Who would a harassed con attendee make a report to, and would they be easy to find?), please leave a comment. I’ve also e-mailed them with a few questions and will update this when I hear back.

GeekGirlCon

GGC’s anti-harassment policy is easy to find on their website. It has clear guidelines of what steps the con should and will take in the event of harassment, as well as a few examples of what may constitute harassment (albeit a bit hard to find, under the “Expulsion” section) and who can take a report. And it goes into lots of specifics for how convention staff should address potential incidents.

My only nitpick is that it is clearly written for staff as opposed to victims. Don’t get me wrong– education convention staff is incredibly important, but I’d like to see a section added which starts with something along these lines: “If you feel you’ve been harassed, please immediately report the incident to (con staff/con security/desk located at _______). Con staff can be identified by (T-shirt/Badge Ribbon/etc).”

It’s possible that such an item will be at the con or in the program guide; I e-mailed the con a couple days ago to see if such might be the case, but haven’t yet received a reply.

(ADDENDUM: On 9/24, I got an e-mail from GeekGirlCon with some additional details. Quoting from it, with permission: “We are currently in the process of updating all the convention-related content on our website, and that includes a more robust anti-harassment policy. We hope to have this new language posted by the end of the month. The new language will include some of the issues you raised around the current harassment policy being more directed to staff, and less clear for convention-goers.” I’ll post an updated link when that’s available.

ADDENDUM, 1/12: The updated policy is now available here.)

Kumoricon

Kumoricon’s anti-harassment policy can be found online under the “Registration” menu option. In addition, they also have their Full Program Guide and Pocket Guide Online, which was nice to see, as I was able to verify that the program guide also contains the anti-harassment policy. The pocket guide does not, although it does contain a map with the location of the 24-hour Con Office marked. That’s a good start, although it’d be nice if there was a phone number listed to reach the con office or security.

The policy itself contains a fairly comprehensive list of behaviors considered harassment, as well as clear consequences for those found in violation of the policy. Like many cons, it’s a little unclear about where to seek help (how do you identify con staff? Can the “Ops Desk” labeled on the map be considered the Security Desk?), although as usual, hopefully that’d be clearer on the ground.

(ADDENDUM: Jeff, a previous Kumoricon staff member, posted in the comments with the following: “Having worked staff at Kumoricon before, I can say that staff members are incredibly easy to find. They are all supposed to wear convention t-shirts that have Staff printed on them somewhere.”)

Norwescon

Norwescon is one of two cons that actually posted a brand-new harassment policy while I was researching this post (the other is RadCon, down below). The NWC anti-harassment policy can be viewed here, on their website.

The policy is a good general statement of intent, although it’s a bit light of specifics. The statement on what constitutes harassing behavior is okay, but a bit general: Harassment is behavior which focuses unwelcome attention on a person and either inappropriately crosses reasonable expectations of social boundaries, or continues after a clear showing of disinterest or a request to desist.

Moving on, who can victims seek help from? Well, any staff member wearing a badge may receive a report of harassment. Fine, but how can you identify them? And what about the security desk? I know Norwescon has one, but it’s not really mentioned. I’d love to see some additional victim’s resources listed, including a phone number they can reach the security desk at.

In fairness, it’s likely this information will appear in the convention guide. I hope it does, preferably in the same section as the anti-harassment policy.

OryCon

OryCon’s policy is online and easy to find. The first two paragraphs are very clear about what constitute harassment, so the first element of a good harassment policy is definitely present. Initially, I was a bit concerned that the second element (“where can victims find help?”) was not present. I e-mailed the con chair, who replied and stated that there were already plans to have signs in registration with visual aides of how to find con staff and what their badges looked like.

Moreover, in the past two days I see that a paragraph has been added to the online policy stating: “If you feel have been harassed, please find the nearest OryCon volunteer, identifiable by a burgundy badge ribbon with gold lettering. Alternatively, please contact the Information Desk in the lobby, the Office staff in the Weidler room during operating hours, or the Operations staff at any time in the Portland room on the second floor.”

Someone on the OryCon staff deserves a fist bump for moving that fast in response to my e-mail.

The policy also spells out clear consequences for harassers in the fourth and fifth paragraphs. In fact, of all the cons I’ve listed here, OryCon’s harassment policy is, in my opinion, the clearest and most comprehensive. Props!

Penny Arcade Expo

PAX’s anti-harassment policy can be found here: Rules and Guidelines for PAX

It’s very light on specifics. The first element I’m looking for (what constitutes harassment?) is pretty much entirely absent. It does say who to report to, and having been to PAX, I know that Enforcers are pretty much omnipresent and easy to locate, which is nice.

As for the third element, there’s a chain of escalation mentioned, but no mention of what consequences harassers might expect. (Warning? Eviction, with or without refund? Permanent ban from PAX?)

(ADDENDUM: As of 9/19/13, PAX has posted an updated and much more comprehensive policy, located here. It gives a fairly specific definition of harassment, and lays out clear consequences for harassers. It also tells people who to report to, although it’s a little vague on where to find them– PAX enforcers are generally easy to find, but the policy specifically mentions “Enforcer Safety Circle members.” Does that cover all Enforcers or a particular subset? I’m sure any Enforcer could help, but I’m curious.)

Portland Comic Con

Portland Comic Con is run by Wizard World; as a result their site is big on marketing and promotion, but on-the-ground policies are hard to find. That said, through Google I was able to locate the Wizard World anti-harassment policy.

The first and second sections give a broad definition of harassment, with few specifics, but enough to at least suggest they’ve put some thought into it. There’s also a section directed at folks who want to make a report: Anyone who sees or feels that their experience is being compromised due to unacceptable or questionable behavior is encouraged to speak with Wizard World staff immediately with any concerns for appropriate action. Wizard World staff can be located in the Registration area and throughout the show floor in black polo shirts marked STAFF. Props for that.

And finally, there are defined consequences in the second paragraph, with a clear note that harassment is grounds for eviction without refund. Probably my only nitpick with this policy is that it could call out examples of sexual harassment a little more clearly (while I like to see harassment broadly defined, I do think sexual harassment is still the biggest issue, and some more specifics on what constitutes “harassment” would not go amiss). But for a simple, straightforward anti-harassment policy, it seems like a pretty good one.

RadCon

Along with Norwescon, RadCon is the other con to post a brand new policy online this week. It’s on their website and easy to find under the “Info” menu.

It starts by clearly listing what behavior constitutes harassers; it moves on to a list of consequences for harassers, and a section with directions for victims (“If you feel you have been harassed…”) My only nitpick is that I wish it were a bit more specific as to how to find resources for help. How can you identify a con staff member? (Badge marking or color? T-shirt?) How can you find security? Is there a number to call?

Again, as with Norwescon, I expect that this information would be in the program guide, in which case– awesome! I hope it’s easy to find, preferably located in the same part of the guide as the policy itself for easy reference.

(ADDENDUM: Elizabeth Vann-Clark, RadCon’s Vice-Chair, adds the following in the comments: “Thank you for the revision suggestion to our code of conduct/ harassment policy. Folks who attend RadCon can easily find our security staff, as they wear t-shirts and vests that are labeled “Security” in large letters. Their station is also marked on our convention maps and displays a large banner. Out of all of our staff, they are probably the easiest to find 🙂 Which is why we didn’t consider describing how to find them in RadCon’s policy. Other con staff have distinguishing badges that do not look like typical membership badges.”)

Rose City Comic Con

It took me a couple e-mails to get in touch with them, but the response after the second e-mail was prompt (albeit short)– just a link to their FAQ page, where they had posted their Anti-Harassment Policy in the few hours between the time I e-mailed them and the time they replied. That link I shall now share with you.

It seems like a very good harassment policy, overall. I like the extra emphasis on photography, as I do think (merely based on my own anecdote-based data set) that tends to be a common form of harassment at large comic cons. It covers various forms of harassment (and lists a few specific types), then states clearly that harassment is defined by the victim, which is a nice and sometimes-overlooked touch. The policy proceeds to lay out some options on how staff can choose to respond, and it also very clearly tells people where to make a report. The encouragement of victims not to take matters into their own hands isn’t something I think I’ve seen elsewhere, and I generally agree with it (seek the help of professional security or, if not available, the cops).

It’s interesting that they call out social media, though. That could be uncharitably interpreted as “please keep quiet about this,” although hopefully it just means “please report the incident and do not post on social media in lieu of seeking help.”

RustyCon

I was not able to find an anti-harassment policy on RustyCon’s website. I e-mailed their Board of Directors asking for more information, but have not yet received a reply. It’s possible that they will have a policy at the con or in their printed guide. If you are on the RustyCon staff and you are aware of any such information in this area, please leave a comment or e-mail me via the Contact tab up top.

RustyCon is the smallest con on this list, but if anything, I would suggest that almost makes it more critical for them to have an anti-harassment policy in place. If you’d like to contact RustyCon yourself, their contact page is here.

ADDENDUM: RustyCon now has a policy located on their website. It feels a bit thrown together and too focused on legalese, although it does include a broad definition of general harassment and various categories; where to take a complaint (it could stand to be more specific– how do you find a security person? Hopefully that info, and the convention office location, is in the RustyCon guide). And it lays out consequences. So I’m pleased to see that RustyCon is now “Scalzi-compliant.”

Sakura-Con

Sakura-Con’s policies are located online (and props for having a Japanese version!) Their basic Code of Conduct is in Section II, which touches on harassment, but then Section III-K covers harassment and assault in depth. It contains a fairly good description of what constitutes harassment, and well-established procedures for dealing with and punishing harassers. It lays out a three strikes policy (Section III-Z), with no time limit between strikes, with an exception for criminal actions which will lead to immediate ejection.

My only concern about the online policy is that, as with a few other cons, it’s not immediately clear how to find someone to report an incident to or seek help from. What are the identifying markers of con staff? It says to report the matter to Sakura Attendee Services, but how would a victim find it? Is there a phone number?

But that’s just the policy as stated on their website; hopefully this information would be easy to find on the ground and in the program guide. (I’ve never been to Sakura-Con, because it conflicts with Norwescon every year, so if any Sakura con-goers have firsthand info, please leave a comment.)

(ADDENDUM: In the comments, John B. provides some additional info on Sakura-Con:
“Identifying staff/S.A.S.: All staff members have a clearly identifiable badge, as well as a distinctive staffer shirt. Sakuracon Attendee Services have a unique badge as well. All staffers, however, are briefed on what to do if they’re contacted by a victim, and know where/how to find SAS personnel.
Policy availability: The anti-harrassment policy is presented in the souvenir booklet given to all attendees, >and< directly linked with the rest of the policies from the registration page. Attendees must read and sign off on the policies before registering.")

SteamCon

SteamCon does not appear to have an anti-harassment policy available online. I e-mailed them asking for more information, but have not yet received a reply. As with RustyCon, it’s possible that they will have a policy at the con or in their printed guide. If you are on the SteamCon staff and would like to fill in any details, please leave a comment or e-mail me via the Contact tab up top.

(ADDENDUM: SteamCon’s Code of Conduct can be found here. Sexual harassment is sort of mixed in with general harassment, which isn’t necessarily bad, although it would nice to see a line item or two that specifically calls out sexually harassing behavior. They do emphasize “if someone tells you to leave them alone, then walk away and do not approach them again”, which is good. Hopefully at some point they will post them on the main SteamCon site itself. (If it’s there, I couldn’t find it.)

VCon

VCon’s policy is online and clearly available under the “About Us” section. The definition of harassment is broad, which is good (VCON does not permit harassment in regards to sex, gender, sexual orientation, dress, age, race, religion or lack thereof, disability, or involvement / non-involvement in any group or activity at any VCON event or venue), but in the following paragraph also goes into specifics of what harassment actually is, which is nice to see.

There’s a section detailing who to report to (though it’s a bit light on specifics– this seems to be an overall trend with web-based policies) and a clear statement on potential consequences.

World Horror Con 2014

WHC2014 is in Portland, Oregon, and sponsored by OSCFI, the same folks who sponsor OryCon and GameStorm. Which is good, because it means I have high confidence in their anti-harassment policies. You can find WHC’s by scrolling down here, on the WHC site.

That said, the WHC policy (at least the online version) does omit some things, like how to identify staffers or the procedure for reporting harassment or filing a complaint. Hopefully that will be clearer at the con and/or in the written materials– I’ll be e-mailing WHC to confirm this.

CONCLUSIONS

In the process of researching this post, most of my initial concerns were assuaged. As a co-signer of John Scalzi’s convention policy, the only cons on this list that I would have reservations about attending is RustyCon. (Since I have direct assurance from ECCC and SteamCon that they will have such a policy in place shortly, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt for now.)

Finally, just because we all like a list, here’s my own personal ranking of the harassment policies listed here. This is, of course, just my opinion, and it’s based only on what I can see on the web. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll do a followup post based on how things seem on the ground and how cons live up to their stated policies.

BEST
OryCon
GameStorm
Rose City Comic Con
ECCC
VCon
Penny Arcade Expo (As of 9/19)
GeekGirlCon
Portland Comic Con
Sakura-Con
RadCon
Kumoricon
Foolscap
Norwescon
SteamCon
RustyCon
GearCon
–THE SCALZI THRESHOLD–
Penny Arcade Expo
WORST

INSUFFICIENT INFORMATION: RustyCon, SteamCon, ECCC

POST-SCRIPT

If you are on the staff of any of the listed cons and would like to update or clarify the information here, please leave a comment.

Similarly, if you disagree with my assessment in any case, or think there are other factors I should have taken into consideration, please comment. My objective with this post is to contribute to a dialogue, not present myself as an authority.

Want to make your own list, or add information on a con that I’ve missed? Add a comment! Or write up a post on your own site and I’ll be happy to link to it.

Science Fiction in San Antonio

LoneStarCon 3, the 71st Annual World Science Fiction Convention (aka WorldCon), took place in San Antonio over Labor Day weekend. I’d been looking forward to this con even more than usual– it’s been my first since Norwescon over five months ago, plus, it was a welcome relief from a long vacationless slog at work. I needed a break, so I flew down to San Antonio to meet authors, hang out into the wee hours with friends, and just generally have an awesome time being a geek. My roommate was the inimitable Folly Blaine, and we stayed on the 26th floor of the Marriott Riverwalk, overlooking a gorgeous view of San Antonio.

I arrived late Thursday (technically early Friday) in San Antonio, stepping out into the nighttime air which was still every bit as warm as Seattle in the midst of a hot summer afternoon. Luckily, most buildings were air conditioned down to temperatures so cold you could leave milk out without worrying about spoilage. So between staying inside and occasionally darting outside long enough to thaw, I was able to maintain something approaching comfort.

This was also the first con in which I got to use my new camera (a Canon EOS 7D, instead of my old Canon Rebel T1i). I did photography during and after the Masquerade, and during the Hugo Ceremony. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my long lens with me during the ceremony, but I did manage to find the Hugo Photo room afterward and got some good pics of the winners (i.e. the Writing Excuses crew, seen left). The set up in the room wasn’t very good– the blue photo backdrop in particular was rather useless, as you can see in the photos, and the room was so small and the photographers were crammed so close to the winners that I really needed a wider-angle lens. (I had thought I was being clever by kneeling in front of the crowd of photographers, but it turns out I was too close. Ah, well. Luckily I managed to get some good pictures while generally avoiding the dreaded Up-The-Nose Shot.)

The full Flickr set with all my pics is here. If you’re in any of these pics and would like me to send you the full-size original (or would like me to take the photo down, for whatever reason) get in touch with me via any of the methods on the Contacts tab and let me know. If you’d like to reproduce any pics on your blog, personal, or author site, you’re welcome to, all I ask is that you credit me for the photo and link back to the original Flickr page.

As far as the con programming itself, it was okay. I’ve learned what I do and don’t like on panels, and while there were quite a few that I enjoyed (like the Mad Science panel, seen here), I stayed way the hell away from anything that even had a whiff of Things were so much better in the old days, or What’s wrong with things today?

WorldCon is steeped in its own arcane tradition– as noted earlier, it’s been going for over 70 years, and it occasionally feels like a relic of an earlier time. Today there is at least one annual con in every major city and state; WorldCon dates back to a time where cons were less frequent, travel was more expensive, and there was a need for a major con which switched cities every year. (If this sounds familiar, it might be because I said the same thing about Westercon last year.) Now, there may still very well be a need for a travelling con: WorldCon is inexorably linked to the Hugo Awards, and it’s nice that those are given out in a different city every year, so lots of different folks have an opportunity to come see them. It’s nice to have a reason for folks from around the world to travel to one city and hang out, and it’s nice that that city changes. It would be nice if that city was in North America less often, to make it even more of a “WorldCon”– but it’s usually in North America. This year, Helsinki, Finland lost the bid for the 2015 WorldCon to Spokane, Washington.

So all in all, WorldCon does occasionally feel a bit conservative and stodgy, and that’s reflected in both the politics and the programming. There’s a distinct hint of yearning for “the golden age” of sci-fi, that things were better back in the glory days of fandom: in my frank opinion, that line of thinking is bullshit. Times change; it’s the nature of progress. Science fiction and geek culture is, in fact, healthier than ever, as evidenced by the huge number of conventions across the world, not to mention the huge success of science fiction and fantasy films at the box office (The Avengers, now the second-highest grossing movie in the history of ever, won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Long Form Presentation this year– my friend Patrick Swenson is seen here, guarding the Hugo in Joss Whedon’s absence.)

Sure, fandom has had its share of conflicts lately, but those conflicts are by and large fights to make fandom more inclusive: friendlier to women, and people of color, and queer and LGBT folks. I think huge strides have been made in this area, and it’s a fight that will continue– in the meantime, anyone that yearns for the olden days gets little more than an eyeroll from me. Welcome to progress, folks. It ain’t always pretty and it ain’t always easy, but it is– I firmly believe– inevitable.

A brief example of WorldCon stodginess worth mentioning is in its seeming reluctance to acknowledge Young Adult fiction as an actual thing. Despite what naysayers would have you believe (“young people these days are only interested in TV and video games”) books geared toward teens and young adults are thriving. So far, though, WorldCon has refused to acknowledge it with a Hugo category, despite increasing pressure from the membership. Hopefully that will change within the next few years, but whereas I think healthy, growing aspects of the industry should be encouraged as much as possible, WorldCon is fundamentally a small-c conservative place. Maybe that’s a good thing, in some ways. But in an era of rapid change, it can also make it seem slow, dinosaur-like, and more than occasionally a bit petulant as well.

It seems like every year after WorldCon lots of people post blog entries and tweets fretting about how WorldCon membership is getting older, that attendance numbers are declining, etc. But frankly, I’m not worried, nor do I plan to spend a lot of time worrying about it. It seems to me that fandom is fine, just different in the eyes of the younger generation. It’s evolving; it’s less exclusive, and more popular, and enjoying a heyday. I hope that WorldCon is able to keep up with fandom, but ultimately I suspect fandom is going to drag WorldCon into the future, not vice versa– or perhaps WorldCon will fade away and sci-fi/fantasy fandom will continue, different but motivated by the same geekiness at heart, the same love of asking ‘what if’ and speculating on the answers.

But larger questions aside, I enjoyed myself at LoneStarCon, and many thanks to the volunteers who worked their butts off putting on the con. My only regret is that many friends were so busy that I didn’t get to hang out with folks much outside of late nights at the bar. The con was also fairly spread out, and I found myself going long hours, even most of entire days, without running into a single person I knew. As a result, I had some occasional issues with depression– I’m also in the midst of switching meds, which didn’t help– but I’m pleased to say that the end, the good times outweighed my own personal neuroses.

And of course, congratulations to all my friends and personal heroes who won Hugo Awards! The Hugos were the icing on top of a tasty WorldCon cake. And even if the cake did occasionally seem in danger of going stale, I have every confidence that things will be fine. With folks like the group below leading the way in Science Fiction & Fantasy, why on Earth (or off Earth) wouldn’t I be?

(P.S. Major props to Paul Cornell for his hosting of the Hugo Awards, and his shoutout to the SF&F activists– some in this picture, but many others less well-known or working entirely behind-the-scenes– who are helping to make sure that the field truly is welcoming and relevant to all.)