BayCon Notes

I’m back from BayCon. Exhausted, of course, but I had a great time. A year ago I didn’t really believe that attending conventions would be any fun (I’m slightly agoraphobic ever since I was nearly crushed in a crowd in an amusement park some years back), but I truly have found it’s invaluable for the people you get to interact with. All writers, published or otherwise, should be seriously looking at opportunities to get to a good, local convention like this one.

One of the highlights of the con was the — I’d like to say “impromptu” but it was loosely planned — meet-up of Outer Alliance members. It was so nice to be able to sit down and socialize with a group of writers with similar outlooks. Allies are hard to come by in this business, and I felt truly swept away by this group.

I was on five panels (which felt like a lot, but I talked to a couple of other guests who were on as many as nine). My first one was wearing my hat as a Classicist, a discussion on alternative history and what other religions may have risen to global dominance. Out of necessity, we ended up talking a great deal about how Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism succeeded, because without that grounding it’s impossible to tweak the parameters. In reality, which other religions may have risen to dominance is completely dependent on what you imagine being different in history. The success and spread of a religion is a result of many complex factors, most of them involving human nature and the rest involving random acts of the universe. And, of course, religions grow and change in response to the realities of life for whoever is practicing them, so it’s safe to assume that if some other religion had risen to global dominance, it wouldn’t exist in exactly the same form as it exists today (or as it existed in history).

Friday also gave me the opportunity to attend a panel on Young Adult fiction. Those of you who follow my life closely know that I very nearly enrolled in an MFA program that emphasizes writing for young people, even though I’ve never actually attempted to write YA before. I found it quite interesting to see how the YA market has changed since I was a YA reader (most notably in how few taboos are left in terms of subject matter). We then spent the evening playing blackjack for the Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation, which is a great way to lose money.

I skipped most of Saturday because of a personal conflict, but I did still manage to make it to an evening reading by Chaz Brenchley and Juliette Wade. Both stories were a tremendous amount of fun, and I’m becoming more and more fond of author readings.

Sunday was my three-panel day, but I kicked it off by sitting in for an Iron Editor panel, in which the first two pages of attendees’ stories are critiqued by professional editors (in real time). I think the aspiring writers in the room learned a great deal about how to open a story, and if a con near you is doing one, I do recommend participating (though I imagine it can be quite hard on the ego to see your work eviscerated).

My first panel of the day was also my first time moderating a panel. It was on self-publishing, and the room was almost at capacity for it. I had a great group of panelists, and the audience took a lot of notes. A few key takeaway points for those of you who weren’t there: 1) Traditional publishers do a lot of work, and when you self-publish, those tasks still need to get done. If you can’t do them yourself, hire someone. And hire an editor regardless, because it’s nigh unto impossible to edit your own work competently. 2) The business model of the major traditional publishers appears to be very, very broken. They’re going to need to adapt or die. 3) Discovering new titles in a sea of self-published garbage is the major challenge for readers. The panel expects a new class of gatekeepers to emerge, in the form of book-recommenders. In the meantime, make it a point to read the negative reviews of any book you’re considering buying, because they’ll give you a more honest appraisal of whether or not it’s a book you’ll enjoy (remembering that you don’t need to agree with the reviewer’s conclusions). The panel steadfastly refused to predict where the self-publishing market is going, because nobody could have predicted where it would be today.

I then attended a panel on defining alternative lifestyles, to prep myself for participating in a panel on portrayals of alternative lifestyles in science fiction and fantasy. Not surprisingly, we discussed Heinlein at length, and all the panelists had excellent suggestions of what to read if you’re interested in seeing good portrayals of non-traditional characters. Just please don’t think that your M/M romance novels reflect reality…

I ended the day (exhausted) with a panel on hard science fiction. We spent most of the panel trying to come up with a good definition of hard science fiction, which seems to boil down to “If I like hard science fiction, it’s whatever I like. If I don’t like hard science fiction, it’s whatever I don’t like.”

It was right about this time I made my most important discovery of the con: Con Crud is resistant to Purell!

After a nap and a lot of hacking and coughing, I groggily dragged myself down for a reading by D.M. Atkins. A good work-in-progress, which I admired her courage for sharing. I don’t like to read anything to an audience that hasn’t been professionally edited. I can’t imagine reading something that’s still a draft.

I only had one Monday panel, an actual-science panel on Mars. I’d been trying to get my friends at JPL to send me some of the 3-D Mars imagery, but didn’t succeed in time for the convention. However, as luck would have it, there was a Solar System Ambassador at the convention who had exactly the images I was looking for, and the 3-D glasses! Sometimes the universe smiles on you.

And that was pretty much my con. I’m sure this post is riddled with typos and omissions, but I’m pretty out of it at the moment, so I hope you’ll forgive me. Good cons aren’t good for keeping one rested.

2 thoughts on “BayCon Notes

  1. Hi Kyle,
    I just wanted to thank you for your kind encouragement to me – a newbie writer- and your words of wisdom. They were greatly appreciated! Hope you’re now crud-free & feeling better. Please pass my regards to your husband.

    • And, likewise, it was great to meet you! Now that I’m near my medicine again (why, oh, why don’t hotel convenience stores sell Zicam?) I’m confident I’ll get the upper hand with the crud, but I’m glad to be near my own bed again.