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!

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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.

Norwescon: Roses, Onions, and Assorted Vegetation

Norwescon was a blast this year. For me, it was also a bit of a healing process, a reassurance that yes, life is still totally awesome. It was great– even more so than usual– to hang out with friends, meet new writer peeps, take lots of photos, and just spend a few days indulging my creative and social sides. My writing has been fairly neglected over the past couple months, what with family and travel and work and life, and so Norwescon was a bit of a kick in the pants, as if life shook me by the shoulder and said, “hey, I’m expecting some stories from you this year.”

The con is always very good about soliciting post-con feedback, so I’ll do most of the con recap in a “Roses/Onions” format. That’s Norwescon-speak for good things and bad things, although just as an aside, I’d rather have a bushel of onions than a bushel of roses– the former is tastier. That said… we’ll stick with convention for the time being. (No pun intended.)

Rose:Name Badges.

The most universal gripe I heard last year was that the names on the badges were too small to read from more than about a foot away. After all, at a con where you’re seeing new people constantly, it’s nice to be able to see their name without squinting at their chest. So I was pleased to see they addressed that. There was still some name badge silliness– for example, the requirement that someone have a badge name AND a real name, and that they both be on the badge… this led to oddities like someone having their real name printed twice. Why not just make the badge name optional? (I suppose it’s possible that it was and I wasn’t paying attention, but I never saw anyone with just one name on their badge.)

Onion: Registration.

The name badges took a step forward; the registration took a step forward and three steps back. This year, they tried a new process, with stages delineated represented by traffic light-ish colors (red, yellow, blue, green). Unfortunately no one knew what the stages actually meant, so a volunteer had to be stationed up front telling people exactly what to do, and I presume, repeat the exact same thing three thousand times.

The general idea was that people could input their own information, print the form, take it to the cashier, and pick up their badge. But I suspect confusion slowed things down (not to mention forcing the pre-reg folks to go through the whole process too) . Everyone I know who registered on Thursday afternoon said the line took at least an hour, which for a relatively small con like Norwescon, is silly. I got there on Thursday evening, at which point there was no longer a line, but was still caught in registration for several extra minutes by a jammed printer which I had to fix myself. I suspect it wouldn’t be too hard to remove the physical paper from the process entirely, since its only purpose is to be carried three feet to the cashier.

Rose: Readings

Lots of fantastic and well-attended readings this year; Tina Connolly and Nancy Kress stood out particularly in my mind. The Broad Universe Rapid-Fire reading was also very good– Camille Alexa’s telling of her story “All Them Pretty Babies” might be hands-down my favorite reading ever (pictured left). Cat Rambo, Folly Blaine, and Mae Empson were all fantastic as well.

All those folks read short stories instead of novels; by and large I was not as much a fan of the novel excerpt readings, not just because novels are less satisfying than short stories in that format but also, by and large, they weren’t read as well. Oral storytelling is an art in and of itself, and not all writers have it. But of the folks who did read longer excerpts, Patrick Swenson’s stood out in my mind, and I can’t wait to read his book The Ultra Thin Man when it comes out from Tor next year.

Onion: Overcrowded panels.

I didn’t attend many panels (more on that later) but Norwescon appears to be outgrowing its panel space. Most of the panels take place in the Cascade rooms upstairs, and a decent percentage of panels (maybe even a majority) were standing-room only. It’s great that the panels are so well-attended, but it does make things feel a bit overcrowded.

There were also a few cases in which panels were assigned to poor spaces. For example, the Weapons Demo, in which various martial artists and combat experts did demos for writers to help them write fight scenes more accurately. It was a great panel, but it was scheduled in a room with low ceilings– this made any weapon demos with anything longer than a short sword kind of impractical. Recommendation? Put the Weapons Demos in one of the Evergreen rooms next year. The ceilings there are high enough that someone can construct a 10-foot tall costume and still not touch the ceiling.

That’s not a hypothetical, as you can see in the picture to the right. The Venus & Venice Carnival Fashion Show, which showcased both traditional and sci-fi-style Carnival costumes, was excellent. The real Venice Carnival is now on my bucket list.

Rose: Parties.

The parties at Norwescon were, as usual, excellent. Particular props go out to the folks who organized the Masterplan party, which was easily my favorite room party.

For pure socializing and hanging out, the more sedate “writerly” parties were pretty awesome too, as was the Saturday afternoon Fairwood Social. It was fun to hang out with both the “amateurs” and the pros, too. I’ve had enough practice that this sort of mingling and chatting comes almost naturally to me now. Almost.

Onion: Advanced Writing Panels

I’ve more or less stopped going to the writing panels at Norwescon. Not because of the overcrowding, but because I kind of feel like I’ve seen them all before. To be clear, this isn’t a Norwescon-only problem, it’s a problem at all cons, except maybe World Fantasy, which has the luxury of assuming its entire audience are pros.

But by and large, it feels like all cons have the same writing panels. There’s the Worldbuilding 101 panel, How to Write a First Page, the How to Submit Your Stories to Markets, How to Edit, How to Critique, How to Write a Character Arc… which is fine. They cover the basics, and I presume the reason they keep having them is because they’re popular.

But each of these panels is pretty much the same every year, and each time the panelists give a very basic level of advice that they could give in their sleep. Given the sizable chunk of serious/aspiring pros at Norwescon– people who’ve written a fair amount, are actively submitting and publishing their stories, and know a lot of what’s being said– I think there’s room for some more advanced panels, or panels that cover unusual topics. To be fair, the science panels at Norwescon are pretty cool and cover some of this (for example, the “Pigs in Space” panel dealing with agriculture in space was very useful from a Science Fiction standpoint), but I think there’s room for more.

Some fantastic writing panels that stand out in my memory (at Norwescon and other cons) include things like Weapons Demos for Writers, Mapmaking for Fantasy Books, and in-depth discussions of a particular Fantasy Archetype (i.e. The Changeling, or the Eternal Wanderer). I’d really like to see authors and panelists take more advantage of niche knowledge to create really unique panels, because those are almost always more fun than something broad and basic.

Rose: Photography.

I really like the designated Masquerade photography area. No other con I’ve attended has anything similar, and it’s a great opportunity to get photos of both hall costumes and the Masquerade. You know what would be really cool? If there was an area– even just a few feet of a wall– where a section of backdrop was left up all weekend and people could get pics in front of it anytime. Hall photography at Norwescon isn’t the easiest, since the registration area takes up the largest empty space and obvious gathering places are limited. An all-weekend photo area might give folks a place to take pictures that doesn’t block hall traffic. Just my two cents.

Onion: Photography.

This isn’t really the con’s fault, but sitting in the second row of the Masquerade photo area was a mistake. I was too short (and the gaps were too small) to get good pics from behind the first row without standing up, and if I stood up, I felt like I was blocking the people behind me. As a result I spent two hours alternating between sitting and being in a rather uncomfortable half-crouch. My legs were killing me, which contributed partly to my decision to leave midway through and go drink scotch. Next year it’ll be easier to just stand up for the whole thing instead.

Also, the flow of cosplayers through the photo area was a bit disorganized. Large groups were spontaneously pulled together out of various hall costumers, which isn’t bad, but then having to get pictures of the groups and then of the folks individually, from multiple angles and poses, meant that things moved slow and those of us who didn’t have the leg strength to half-crouch for four hours missed out on a bunch of the Masqueraders. I realize this is mostly just me whining now, but well, an onion is an onion. I got some great pictures, I just wish I’d gotten more great pictures. The pics I did get are here: link.

Rose: Volunteers.

Sure, it may sound like I’m complaining in the onions above, but only in the sense that you tell someone you love when there’s a piece of spinach between their teeth. Norwescon has grown on me, and all in all it’s a fantastically-run con. I have a better time every year I go, partly because I feel more comfortable there each time, but partly because it is well-run, despite occasional hiccups like this year’s registration.

With almost every con I go to, my respect and appreciation for con volunteers deepens. It’s tough to sit and do a job when everyone around you is chatting to friends, having fun, networking, cosplaying, or just generally having fun. So thanks, everyone. A particular note of thanks for the hospitality suite. The food options close to the hotel aren’t exactly numerous, and the hospitality suite helped keep me going several times.

Onion/Rose: Harassment Policy.

This might yet go either way. I noticed, to my surprise, that there was a panel on creating an anti-harassment policy for Norwescon. While it’s good that one is under consideration, it’s somewhat disconcerting that there wasn’t one already.

I wasn’t able to make it to the panel, so I don’t know the outcome, but I hope one gets put in place for next year. Anti-harassment policies work best when thought out and constructed before an incident, not hastily thrown together or updated after one, as ReaderCon learned with much difficulty not so long ago. I’d hate to see anything similar happen to Norwescon.

Rose: People.

Each year I know more people at Norwescon, and each year I make more friends and strengthen previous ones. What really makes Norwescon so much fun for me these days is getting to chat to people, and not just my writing group, who I see fairly often, but also people who I may only see once or twice a year. Especially this year, having spent so much time in North Carolina and missing the Rainforest Writers’ Retreat, it was awesome beyond words to see everyone again. If I ever leave Seattle, I think the writing and fan community would be the thing I miss the most.

And now, after a con last weekend and three blog entries in four days, it’s time to get to writing actual stories. Thanks again, everyone, for making Norwescon great.

Norwescon: Best Con, or Best Con Ever?

From a personal perspective, this year’s Norwescon was probably the most complete and rewarding convention I’ve ever been to. Over the course of four days, I switched between the roles of writer, cosplayer, and photographer. I hung out with old friends, met new ones, mingled with professional authors, and hung out far too late at room parties. If there is a “platonic ideal” of conventions, this year’s Norwescon came as close as I’ve ever seen.

The few days leading up to Norwescon were a little stressful, as my hotel room got cancelled without notice (my roommate’s fault, not the hotel’s) and I had to scramble a bit. Luckily I found a room with my old roommate from last year, and after some last-minute rushing to get cosplay stuff together, I arrived on Thursday only a little later than planned. And Thursday night kicked off quite well, with Fairwood Press hosting a small press publishing party in the Presidential Suite.

Friday was my day for going nuts with cosplay, so I painted myself solid black and went as a drow, i.e. dark elf. (As seen below with fellow Wordslinger Andrew Rosenberg.) I had wanted to wear this costume at Dragon*Con last year, but the TSA tried to steal my airbrush.

Speaking of which, airbrushes are kind of a pain to lug to cons. If you forget a part (which I did), you’re screwed, unless you can jury-rig it (which I did). The airbrush makeup is comfortable, doesn’t rub off much, and goes on fast, but next time I may try sponge makeup.

I haven’t done much cosplaying until now, but this was the most complete costume I’ve ever done, as well as my favorite. I even picked up a hat and a cane in the dealers’ room to go along with it.

I’m not sure exactly what appeals to me about cosplay. Partly I think it’s the just fun to spend a little while as someone, or something, else. It’s also a bit of a personal challenge– I usually like to blend in with the crowd, but when you’re cosplaying, you’re inherently calling attention to yourself. Admittedly, cosplaying at a convention is not exactly out of the norm, but this costume would blend in more at, say, Dragon*Con, than Norwescon, where most costumes tend to lean toward goth or steampunk.

So it was fun, and I plan to do it again. At the risk of losing several Man Points, I’ll admit that I like putting outfits, makeup effects, and characters together. Maybe I’ll even use one as the inspiration for a story– which I estimate would earn about 200 Nerd Points, redeemable for luggage or a Doctor Who prize pack.

Saturday was Serious Writer Day for me, although I did keep the hat and the cane, because they were awesome. I had my lunch with my writing group, the Cloud City Wordslingers, and that afternoon I had a short story critiqued at the Fairwood Writers Workshop. This was a round-robin session where several pro authors, including one of my personal writing heroes, Jay Lake, gave me feedback on a short story. It was a really useful and fun exercise– this is the second writing workshop I’ve done at a con, and I plan to keep doing them.

As it turns out, two of the pros really liked my story and the third tore it apart. But that’s how these things go– taste and advice are often subjective, even among writers who know what they’re doing.

The other cool part about the Writers Workshop was the Saturday afternoon social, in which we got to mingle and chat with the other workshop participants. It was great for meeting folks, making friends, and comparing notes.

Also, on Saturday, they announced the nominees for this year’s Hugo and Campbell Awards– congratulations to everyone on the list! Later that night, at the DAW Books Party, I was able to congratulate several of the nominees in person, including Stina Leicht (Campbell Award) and Mary Robinette Kowal (Best Novella; Best Related Work).

As the DAW Party wound down, a few of us made our way back over to the far wing of the hotel, where several room parties were in full swing, many complete with open bars and dance floors. I still had half a bottle of Scotch left over from the Rainforest Writers Village, and with the help of a few friends, we drank the rest of it, and danced, chatted, and generally had an awesome time until the wee hours of the morning.

For thirty years, I have avoided having a hangover. Partly by not going to a lot of parties, but partly also by being smart and drinking lots of water on the few-and-far-between occasions when I have gotten plastered. Not so this time. I woke up on Sunday morning feeling pretty horrific. Nevertheless, I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled my way to a string of Sunday morning panels and readings, the highlight of which (and the last thing on my agenda) was a reading by local author Amy Thomson. (Amy Thomson is the author of “The Color of Distance,” which is possibly my favorite science fiction novel ever– and that’s saying a lot.) She read from a story called Buddha Nature, which will be appearing in Analog in a few months. Keep an eye out for it.

So all in all, a completely awesome con. I’ll close it off with a quick list of positives and negatives (or to use Norwescon terminology, roses and onions):

Rose: Photography. This year I knew about the Masquerade Photo Area, and took advantage of it. I spent about three hours on Saturday evening taking pictures of cosplayers. Fun times. To anyone I offended while muttering obscenities at my camera for recharging the flash too slowly, I apologize. Full set of Norwescon pics here.

Onion: Name Badges. The names on the con badges were too small to read from further than about two feet away, which meant you pretty much had to lean forward and squint to read anybody’s. Kind of defeats the purpose (namely, so you don’t have to admit that you’ve forgotten someone’s name thirty seconds after they introduce themselves).

Rose: Dealer’s Room. Norwescon has my favorite dealer’s room of any con, including Dragon*Con. Maybe it’s because I can buy cosplaying stuff for males beyond just steampunk garb. Or maybe it’s the general diversity of the dealers, or how friendly and willing to chat they are. But I like the dealer’s room.

Onion: Panels. This is a personal one for me: I didn’t attend many panels. Partly because Norwescon was more of a social con for me this year (which was awesome), but I was also a little reluctant to hit up the writing panels. I’ve mentioned this before, but once you go to enough cons, the panels start getting repetitive. You reach a point where you know it all (in theory, if not practice).

Maybe soon I’ll make a few more sales and can sit on the other side of the table. Or maybe I should branch out on the panels– Norwescon has some fantastic science panels, touching on everything from space to biology to nanotech, which I think could serve as fertile grounds for story ideas. I just didn’t get a chance. Ah, well. There’s always next year.

Rose: Meeting So Many Awesome People. Again, kind of a personal one. But until now, I haven’t had much luck meeting new people at cons– partly due to my own shyness, partly because geeks tend to be clique-ish by nature. This year was different: Emily, Steve, Josh, y’all are awesome. As are the folks I met (or re-met) at the Writers’ Workshop: Mae, Tinnara, Jeff, Rebecca, and I know I’m leaving some folks out– my apologies. Thanks, everyone, for an amazing con.

Onion: SakuraCon. It’s an old gripe, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it. It’s a ten-minute walk from my apartment, and I’d love to check it out one year. But as long as it and Norwescon are the same weekend, Norwescon will win every time.

Rose: Room Parties with Open Bars. Enough said. And thanks, party-hosting-folks, for helping make Norwescon what it is.

Rose: Room Parties with Burlesque Dances. Oh, did that break my alternating rose/onion pattern? Whoops.

Onion: Room Parties with Jabba the Hutt. He kicked us out. Come on, the door was open. How were we supposed to know it was private?

At least we didn’t get fed to the rancor.

Rose: Single Malt Scotch. That is some pretty awesome stuff.

Onion: Single Malt Scotch. But holy shit, it will f**k you up in the morning.

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.