Clubhouse: An Old Guy Attends VCON 42 Convention

Do you like to attend fan-run conventions?

Do you watch panels, lectures and demonstrations non-stop all day long? Do you fill several notebooks with lengthy accounts of what you see and hear?

Then you must be a newbie.

More experienced congoers pick and chose what they are most interested in and learn to pace themselves. Slowly they place more and more emphasis on meeting people rather than acquiring information.

All fans eventually become seniors. These retired folk often travel from convention to convention across North America meeting up with friends they only ever meet at conventions. They seem to know everybody and drift about in a fog of good fellowship while barely attending the events at the convention itself. Comfy lounge chairs and room parties are more important to these ancient ones than lectures or panels. Is this your ultimate fate? Your ultimate desire? Your ultimate goal?

Well, I can’t claim to know everyone. I’m too poor to traipse about the continent. I am a senior, however, and I definitely need to pace myself. So, let me describe my recent attempt to emulate the eldritch elder fans by attending VCON 42 in Richmond, B.C. Compared to that tribe, it was sort of like sitting outside my local Starbucks pretending I was at a café in Paris; an exercise in imagination, in other words.

Took the ferry from Nanaimo to Vancouver on Thursday Oct 4th to stay overnight with friends. Seniors travel free during most of the week, so the Ferry cost me nothing. Good start to the trip.

Arrived at the hotel by Skytrain early Friday morning. Went directly to Pre-Reg and got registered. Promptly sat down on a bench in the hall and read through the program book. Every now and then people I knew wandered past and said hello as if surprised to see me, as if surprised to see I was still alive. Glad to say most of them were pleased about that. The Chair, Chris Sturges, handed me the key for the Writers Workshops room. That pleased me.

My hotel room had already been cleaned so was able to check in at 10:30 am. Once settled in I checked out all the function space so I’d have zero problems knowing where to go. Turned out my key failed to open the Writers Workshop room so I went to the front desk and got that straightened out. The workshop room had a nice boardroom setup, plenty of space, and miracle of miracles, a washroom tucked in the corner. A vital necessity in the course of a three-hour workshop.

I then plopped myself down in a chair in the lobby and relaxed. Old friends came up to greet me. Many pleasant catch-up conversations. Ah, living the life, I thought.

Then time for me to moderate the Novel Writing workshop from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. On entering I was delighted to see coffee, tea and munchies provided as requested. For this particular workshop, hefty meat sandwiches! Huzzah! Main meal of the day for free!

Three high-powered professionals giving critiques, namely Charles Stross (VCON 42 Author GoH), Matthew Hughes and Judy McCrosky. Plus four “newbies” who had previously submitted manuscripts. As is my wont, I had already emailed everyone the speaking schedule. “Edge of the Map” by Peter Tupper was first to be critiqued, starting with comments by the “newbies” and then the Pros. My rules are strict. No one is allowed to speak other than the person giving the critique. No one is allowed to speak for more than five minutes (I time everybody with a stop watch). The person being critiqued is not allowed to speak until all the critiques have been delivered. This slides into a ten minute break with general discussion and further elaboration of points, questions and answers, etc.

As usual I felt inspired and excited by all the insights and professional advice I was hearing. But I noticed an overwhelming sense of fatigue creeping over me and, though intellectually stimulated, was hard put to stay awake. I had this problem throughout the con. Being overweight is part of it, and being 67 years old, and probably I was overwhelmed by more sensory input than I was used to on a daily basis, and who knows what else. Point is I was annoyed my stamina and energy was way lower than I had anticipated. I was determined not to let this hinder me from having a good time.

The workshop was high energy and very intense. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. Every manuscript was fully critiqued. Success! Good feeling. Then I went to my room and collapsed for a while.

At 5:00 pm came the opening ceremonies. Charles Stross present, and Artist GoH Ashley Mackenzie, Canvention GoH Amal El-Mohtar, Chair Chris Sturges, Vice-Chair Jenni Merrifield, and Toast Master Chilam. I was a bit taken aback by a sudden flood of young teenagers down the aisles dancing frenetically with much hand-clapping to poorly broadcast music so fuzzy I couldn’t make out the words. Evidently these were the vampires who had stolen all my energy. At any rate they woke everybody up before scampering out of the room. Apparently, a dance ensemble from a local high school (I regret I didn’t catch the name). There was a high level of anticipation and good will expressed in everyone’s subsequent statements. Boded well for the con, I thought.

Again I collapsed in my room, but only for a short bit. Ran through my notes for the panel I would take part in at 7:00 pm.

“Growing up Monster Kid!” with Stan G. Hyde. Both of us were extremely young when “Shock Theatre” released the Universal Horror pictures on TV for the first time in 1957 which unleased a temporary “Monster Craze” that lasted into the early 1960s. I came armed with a first issue of “Famous Monsters of Filmland” dating from 1958. I explained that there were no books about horror or SF films in those days, no other magazines (until imitations sprang up), no sources of information. To gaze upon full page photos from films us little kids had never heard of and desperately wanted to see was an experience unique to our generation. We looked back to the past (“Lon Chaney shall never die!”) whereas today’s kids look forward to what’s coming next. Stan came armed with an excellent selection of slides. We basically just riffed off each one, spelling each other in quick succession. We had fun. Hope the audience did.

When I first started participating in panels decades ago I did extensive research and created voluminous notes. Bit of a handicap, actually. Now I just refresh my memory on basic info like dates, consider a few necessary points to make, and just wing it. Panels are over in a flash anyway. If you can make the audience laugh once or twice, maybe astound them at least once, you deserve to feel satisfied.

Also, I used to worry deeply how the audience would respond. Then I developed the concept that my primary purpose was to entertain them, not lecture them. Now I participate in a panel with the intention of having as much fun as possible. I figure that, if it is obvious I am having fun, this will prove infectious and the audience will start having fun. Consequently, I enjoy speaking in front of people. Doesn’t matter how many. Could be six, could be two hundred. I enjoy every minute of it. I used to be pathologically shy and absolutely terrified of public speaking. Now it’s a pleasure. I certainly have come a long way. All to do with no longer worrying about what other people think and just having fun. Whole purpose of my life these days, to  tell the truth.

But, ready to collapse again, so once more back to my hotel room to rest.

Because of my schedule, and my frequent rests, I was missing many fine programming items, some to do with this year’s theme of Britain’s contribution to SF&F. Pity, but it was obvious I needed to pace myself with extreme diligence.

Nevertheless at 9:30 pm I sent myself off to the SF Canada party hosted by Fran Skene and Barbara Scott in their room. For some years I tried to join SF Canada, a sort of writer’s union, but though I had “fannish credentials up the ying yang” I lacked professional qualifications. However, since I started publishing Polar Borealis Magazine I finally met the requirements and am a proud member in good standing.

At the party I met Lynne Sargent wearing her Aurora Awards Nominee pin (handed out at a ceremony earlier in the day). She is one of three poets I published in issue #4 who were nominated in the “best Poem/Song” category for this year’s Aurora Awards. They are:

“Heaven is the Hell of No Choices” by Matt Moore

“Meat Puppets” by Lynne Sargent

“Shadows in the Mist” by Lee F. Patrick

I have to confess I was hoping Lynne would win. Her sale to me was her first sale ever, and to win the nation’s most prestigious SF poetry award for her first published poem would be quite a feat! Would look very good in her resume, so to speak. Still, being nominated is quite an honour. It was a pleasure to witness her excitement.

I spent most of the evening talking to Joshua Pantalleresco who puts out the Podcast “Just Joshing,” more than a hundred episodes so far. He started by publishing written interviews. It was Robert J. Sawyer who suggested he switch to doing podcast interviews. Just goes to show how Rob promotes and encourages anyone furthering the cause of Canadian SF. He’s been a great encouragement to me as well. Thanks, Rob! Anyway, Joshua had been nominated for the “Best Fan Related Work” category in the 2018 Aurora Awards. I wished him luck. We talked of many things. When we got onto the subject of religion I suspected I had had a bit too much wine to drink. When we switched to politics I knew I must be drunk, so retired to bed.

Next day’s Short Story workshop bright and early starting 10:00 am. Marcie Lynn Tentchoff, Holly Schofield and Candas Jane Dorsey were the pros. Particularly pleased Candas agreed to participate at the last minute. One of the legends of Canadian SpecFic writing, to put it mildly. For me, much inspiration and much fatigue. The two seem to go together. Fueled myself with muffins and banana bread from the munchies provided. Another successful workshop.

After a brief rest at 1:00 pm I appeared on the “Amazing Stories, Back in Print” panel with Steve Fahnestalk (fellow columnist) and Judy McCrosky ( Editorial Assistant). I came armed with issue #7 (October 1926) and the 35th Anniversary Issue (April 1961). Steve had a box of the “New” Amazing Stories first issue and handed them out, pleasing the thirty or so people in the audience. I talked about the early history of Amazing, mostly about Hugo Gernsback, Steve told many an amusing tale re his experiences as a columnist, and Judy spoke to the process of submitting to the current zine. We covered quite a few bases. I commented I was pleased to see my zine mentioned in the Introduction to Steve’s column “SF on Film” and read out “His [Steve] non-fiction output for Amazing Stories is close to half a million words over the last four-plus years,” and added “And every word well-worth reading,” which garnered Steve a round of applause. Again, a fun panel.

After wandering a bit to meet and talk with assorted fen, I finally attended a panel just to watch and listen, namely “The Windship Stories: Collaborative World Building.” This is a shared world anthology by seven authors, four of whom were present, Lisa Smedman, Fran Skene, Peter Tupper, and Guy Immega (who used to design robotic implements for the Space Shuttle). Their book “Windship – The Crazy Plague” is a must-have for me as soon as I found out it includes the discovery of alien ruins and artifacts and a mystery as to the fate of the aliens. That be number one in what stirs my sense of wonder. Interestingly the participants had created their own members-only Wikipedia to work out the background details collectively. Brilliant idea!

Then followed a pleasant dinner in Harold’s Bistro with longtime friend Fran Skene, which gave me the energy to attend the Aurora Awards ceremony. First off, Hall of Fame awards were awarded to author Robert Charles Wilson, scientist Jamie Matthews, and author Candas Jane Dorsey. Candas gave a magnificent speech passing the torch to a younger generation of authors to carry on the fight against the gathering forces of darkness. A timely speech indeed.

During the awards, having been invited to do so, I got up to read out the list of nominees for “Best Related Work.” Tremendous fun to pop the wax seal off the silver envelope and read out the winner “Enigma Front: The Monster Within, by Renée Bennett.” I then stumbled off the stage as fast as possible to make room for Renée rushing up to receive her award from CSFFA President Cliff Samuels.

I was pleased to see Joshua Pantalleresco win the “Best Fan Related Work” Aurora for his podcasts. Very pleased, having met him the night before.

When it came time for the “Best Poem/Song” award I was sorry Lynne didn’t win, but pleased as punch Matt Moore won. After all, the whole point of Polar Borealis is to promote Canadian writers, and to have one of “my” poets win was a genuine thrill.

Afterwards the presenters posed for a joint picture (I hope I remembered to suck in my gut) and received metal maple leaves that had been cut out of a previous year’s awards. I then spent an hour or two at a second SF Canada party. I forget who all I talked to, though I remember Sandra Wickham, Chair of the Creative Ink Festival upcoming in May, asking if I was coming. “Oh yes, got my membership already.” “Are you willing to do programming?” “Sure.” “We’re full up with single presentations, but if you want to be on a panel contact my programming committee.” “Will do.” And that’s how it’s done. You ask, or someone else asks, you say yes, and you start preparing. But how can you, as a newbie, reach the point of being invited? Simple. Get involved at the volunteer level. Build up a resume of experience. Get your name known. Do assorted appropriate things. Learn how to share your enthusiasms. Sooner or later you’ll be one of the people called upon because organizers know you can deliver. I may not be a big name, but I’m useful for filling in gaps. Proving yourself useful is key.

Sunday started with the second Short Story Workshop featuring professionals Casey June Wolf, Rhea Rose, and Amal El-Mohtar, the Canvention GoH. Only a week previously Amal had had trouble entering the States because of her ethnic background, despite the fact she was born and raised in Canada. Hoping she had a very good time at VCON. Certainly she was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, offering superb critiques. No, I can’t quote her. I didn’t take notes, and my memory is almost entirely subliminally dependent on my subconscious nowadays. Very much in the fleeting moment I am.

Immediately after the workshop I had to rush to catch the Skytrain to catch a bus to catch the ferry home. This time I had to pay, but I figure my total travel costs, including buses, came to less than thirty dollars. Not bad for a guy on limited pension income.

I took no notes. I took no pictures. I have precious few clear memories of the event. But I had a hell of a good time. I figure, toward the end of my life, that’s all that matters.

In short, I may not quite fit into the category of wandering old fart fan but I claim the right to call myself a wondering old fart fan. Not a bad thing to be. Really.

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