"Guest of Honor": three words I honestly never expected to hear applied to myself, and I frequently remarked on that during Lunacon. But invited as GoH I was, and so last weekend (the 14th through 16th) I was at Lunacon in Rye Brook, NY.
Note: in the following piece I'll try to link to the people or places mentioned, but in some cases I can't find or am not sure of an appropriate link.
I posed some problems at the last minute to the con staff, who rose to the occasion magnificently. The people who had been expected to watch the house, and our kids, during my absence were suddenly unable to make it, so I was confronted by the problem of having to bring down four more people than I had expected to. With trepidation I mentioned this to Lunacon, and honestly expected to be told that this was going to be my problem. Instead, they informed me they could get another room adjoining ours for the kids, since I had planned to only stay two nights rather than their budgeted 4. In addition, they helped out with feeding rather more mouths than were planned.
The only actual convention-related glitch was in providing the badges, which actually weren't ready until around noon on Saturday; the joke was made that as a GoH I should have a huge hat like Gilgamesh Wulfenbach in Girl Genius, which would have served as identification. Other than that, nothing con-related was an issue (that I encountered) and I have NOTHING but praise for the wonderful convention staff who made my first GoH experience pretty much undiluted fun.
The hotel had two false fire alarms – one in my first panel, the other early on Saturday morning – but fortunately nothing else significant.
Once we arrived and got settled in, I had one other personal priority to deal with: my daughter Victoria's birthday. March 14th was her birthday, and so we had to mark that. Kathleen had brought a homemade cake, and despite some issues with the food (warning: the Chinese takeout nearby? NO.), the birthday was a success, with presents including a lot of Spider-Man stuff (Vicky's heavily into Spider-Man these days), a beautiful knitted Wonder Woman doll, and others.
Because of the birthday (and because it was Friday) I only had two events on Friday: the "Meet the Pros" party and "The Biggest Writing Mistakes New Authors Make" panel. The latter was briefly interrupted by the fire alarm, but that was only a minor glitch and the panel, helmed ably by Michael Ventrella, was lively and I would like to think produced some useful insights for anyone attending. The other panel members were the well-known Ian Randal Strock, April Grey, and Ken Altabef. Michael was also wise enough to immediately point out that there were two significant categories of "writing mistakes" – those of the actual craft of writing, and those of the business of writing – and discussion touched on both aspects.
I'm not really good at the "mingling" business, so I didn't succeed in "Meeting the Pros" much; I spent most of my time at Michael's table. I wish I'd checked around the room a bit more; there was one guest I **REALLY** wanted to meet, and never did – Walt Simonson. (Or, possibly, I met him and didn't REALIZE I'd met him; he doesn't in fact look like a Norse god with lightning crackling around him but actually looks like, well, one of us ORDINARY people!)
Saturday was a whole different ball game. My schedule was packed on Saturday, with no less than eight events, in between which I had to grab food, etc. The ConCom had been careful in their scheduling, though, so I did in fact have intervals where I could do that in reasonable time.
The first panel of the day was "Amazing Women", with a well assorted panel including Esther Friesner (currently working her "Princesses of Myth" series but best known to me for her role in the Chicks in Chainmail series, to which I have a submission), Sara Grasberg (media expert with a concentration in gender studies, if I recall correctly), and a reader and thus representative more of the audience than the usual pros named Stephanie Gangone. This, too, was a lively panel with a lot of discussion of what makes female characters "amazing". My attitude's always been that, well, they should be amazing people and the rest takes care of itself.
Next up was "History Repeats: Revisiting Old Skool Games". Technically I was moderator on this, but aside from making sure the panelists (myself, Debra Lieven, Chris Adams, and Joshua Kronengold) introduced ourselves, this one ended up simply being an unbridled reminiscence-fest, discussing old games (classic RPGs) from the late 70s and early 80s and then delving into what made them interesting or unusual – what kinds of games worked best for what reasons, and so on and so forth. I suspect this one could have run for hours, though I'm not sure we'd have gotten a clear POINT out of it!
Then… a Guest of Honor speech. By ME.
I had originally started to write out a long, detailed speech, and then I realized that I would never be able to memorize it – so I'd be trying to read it while standing on a podium. That's a sucky way to address an audience. So I finally decided to simply memorize some points I wanted to touch upon, and do it all ad-hoc. I was helped by having three gorgeous posters with me that Baen had provided – one of the cover of Spheres of Influence, one for Portal, and one of the just-completed cover painting for Paradigms Lost, showing Jason Wood confronting the Maelkodan; these provided anchors to remind me of my three main "universe" talking points, and I could do the rest myself. As this was my first attempt at a GoH speech I made the speech mainly about my journey to becoming an author, and hopefully did so in a reasonably entertaining way. Following that was an autographing session which actually did include people asking for my autograph, so it was a success!
Then, at 5:00, the panel I'd created: "If I am Ever the…" Critiquing. The concept of this panel was to take one of the "If I am ever" lists (Evil Overlord, Hero, Sidekick, etc.) and have each of the panelists take the persona of one of their own characters of that category and then go down the list, critiquing it. I did Ugu the Unbowed (one of the villains from Polychrome), Michael Ventrella did his vampiric politician villain from his new novel Bloodsuckers, Esther Friesner did the Dread Lord Cthulhu, Chuck Rothman his nigh-omnipotent supercomputer villain, and Susan de Guardiola a version of (I hope I recall correctly) Morgan La Fey, seductive sorceress supreme. Much fun was had by all both agreeing with, and heckling, the recommendations of the list.
The Game Designing Meet-Up was the least… productive, from my point of view. It wasn't nearly as clearly organized and while there were some fun discussions, I don't know that anything got accomplished (at least in the subgroup I was in).
The True Malevolence panel, with Catt Kingsgrave, Terry Carney, Gary Frank, and William Freedman, was very focused and a lot of fun. Catt brought a personal perspective from experience of human evil, and there was a lot of spirited discussion on what makes true malevolence work – and not work – in a written context, as well as exactly what malevolence and evil really are, and whether they differ in a written setting versus the real world. A great panel.
After this, I got to experience a convention tradition which I had previously only heard of: an Eye of Argon reading. For those few unfamiliar with The Eye of Argon, it is a Conanesque pastiche of the work of Robert E. Howard (as I am currently reading the Conan stories to my son Gabriel, I am actually struck by how closely it comes to Howard's prose in some ways) which is noteworthy due to an incredible concatenation of errors of typography, word choice, and grammar that render the whole a trainwreck of lurid delerium-like intensity. It was written by a 16 year old named Jim Theiss, so its quality, or lack thereof, is hardly surprising; I think it's something of a shame that poor Jim had to see his early work become a byword for mockery, as some of the text actually seems to indicate some potential that could easily have been brought out under the right circumstances.
Still, readings of The Eye of Argon have become a tradition at many SF conventions. At Lunacon, the rules are thus: the panelists take turns reading the manuscript. Each reads until they either make a mistake (and "mistakes" in this context definitely include "correcting one of the miswritten words") or laugh aloud. You get two turns; once you fail the second time, you must stand in front of the audience and start acting out the story.
This was great fun. I had thought I could do much better than I did, but my tendency to imagine things betrayed me; when I reached one of the (many) points at which the story mixed up (via grammatical error) who was doing what, I suddenly envisioned the ludicrousness in full force, and nearly laughed myself unconscious. My second turn lasted perhaps a paragraph before I found myself unable to pronounce something. I then spent my time being either a nubile maiden or mighty Grignr the barbarian as our adventures were narrated by the remaining panelists and, finally, members of the audience.
My last panel, on Sunday, featured myself, Paul Levinson, and Felicia Herman on "How Much Do We Have to Pay for Free Speech"; this was a very interesting, and relevant, panel which also touched frequently on exactly what is "free speech" – and on the fact that real "free speech" is a right and a responsibility. This was an active and effective panel.
Finally, I did my reading; as I had an hour, I read both from Polychrome, as the Kickstarter had just started that weekend, and from my unpublished work Demons of the Past. There was a pretty good turnout and, I hope, most people found the stories interesting.
Overall, as I said, I very much enjoyed my first GoH stint, and Lunacon was a lot of fun. I hope I'll have a chance to go back again!