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.