Con Review: Salt Lake Comic Con 2017

Salt Lake Comic Conby Erin Ashley

 

Salt Lake Comic Con 2017
September 6–8, 2017
Salt Lake City, UT
http://saltlakecomiccon.com/slcc17/

This was an extremely large comic con for being so young. Only four years old, this convention already books major guests like Patrick Stewart, Nathan Fillion, Dick Van Dyke, Val Kilmer, Christopher Lloyd, Chris Sabat, Sean Schemmel, Zachary Levi, Eliza Dushku, Will Wheaton, Gates McFadden, Brandon Sanderson, Jim Butcher, and numerous other big names from movies, television, cosplay, literature, and artistry. They had numerous tracks for fandom and a mini-con for kids! There were short mini-panels, question and answers sessions, and craft areas for the kids to enjoy. 

Yes, you can start your little cosplayers early and let them get their pictures taken with Picachu, Malificient, fairy princesses, Bob the minion, the Red Queen, and many others. 

For adults, they had a wide array of the usual booths featuring your favorite authors, book sellers, gamers, artists, t-shirts, and all sorts of vendors to meet your fandom paraphenalia and costuming needs. As a new-to-me addition, they provided a speed-dating room every day. You could go in as yourself or in your costume and have fun meeting people. All of this was in addition to Celebrity Row, where you could get your favorite actors’ autographs, selfies, photo-ops, and generally spend a little time with some of your favorite famous people. The feature presentations with one or two celebrities were well organized and interesting. Most were pretty funny too. Jokes ran rampant.

There was also a Delorean from Back to the Future available for photo-ops (all proceeds went to charity) and Baby, the 1967 Chevy Impala from Supernatural. And these are just a few of the attractions that were available. 

I attended a number of the writing panels and found them very well put together and informative. Panels covered everything from generating story ideas to characterization to how to talk to editors and how to publish or self publish. They discussed writing short fiction, long fiction, comics, and screenplays—providing a sampling for most everyone and appealing to most everyone’s writing level. Writingexcuses.com recorded a few episodes during the convention as well. Sorry, but no spoilers here. They’ll publish it all next year for everyone. Don’t worry. It’s worth the wait.

There was also a gaming section, but next year will be the start of Salt Lake Gaming Con in connection with the Comic Con. Hold on tight. These folks are expanding quickly. Can’t wait to see who they attract for this.

All in all, it was a great convention. Reportedly, over 60,0000 people attended. But where else can we all get together and give directions like “just walk about a hundred yards, take a left at the TARDIS, and when you see the Orc statue you’re there!” It’s well worth a trip out to Utah. As the convention has been held at the Salt Palace, it lies right in the middle of Salt Lake City, with numerous hotels, restaurants, and other attractions in walking distance. Just in case you want to stay an extra day and check out the city.

 

Con Review: ConGregate Premier—Stackpole & Zahn Writing Workshops

by Erin Ashley

 

Greetings from ConGregate 2017, where Michael A. Stackpole and Timothy Zahn were both on hand to run the convention’s writing workshops. Con-goers who wanted to attend could pay for all nine of the classes in advance for a discount or pay $10 per class when the convention started. Either way, we received our money’s worth. 

Mr. Stackpole’s classes included Finding The Story, World Building 101, 21 Day To A Novel, Characterization, Advanced Characterization, Plotting, and Writing Serial Fiction.

  • Finding The Story: Mr. Stackpole gives a number of basic plot recipes. While this might sound formulaic, it’s more about discovering the pieces that you MUST have in a certain type of story to give the readers the experience that they want. Then your particular characters, settings, and twists give your manuscript its unique flavor.
  • World Building 101: Mr. Stackpole explains how civilizations have historically developed and how to use that knowledge to build your own societies. Then, he takes it a step further, helping young authors find the conflicts inherent in the worlds that they build, how the different levels of society interact with different parts of the world, and how the power gradient flows between different people and levels in the world. 
  • 21 Days To A Novel: This is not how to write an entire novel in 21 days (that’s NaNoWriMo on steroids). It’s 21 days of exercises to help develop the characters, plot, setting, and conflict that you need to get your story rolling. So, it’s more 21 Days of Planning A Novel. Even if you already have your novel planned or are an avid discovery writer, these exercises are great diagnostic tools, if you should find yourself stumped or hitting writers’ block. 
  • Characterization and Advanced Characterization: If you decide to take the classes a la carte, I recommend taking both of these together. They flow and combine together easily, and you (the class member) get even greater ideas on how to characterize well and in a hurry. Mike gives the class a number of characterization systems and explains the pros and cons of each. He also explains the need for characters to have growth arcs and how to show them to the reader. Mike gives the class a list of specific traits that the most enduring characters have, and how to impart them to your own characters. In case you get writer’s block during character creation, he gives you a series of questions and exercises to help shake things loose. These exercises also help build conflicts into and around your characters to make them more effective in the story and more interesting to readers. 
  • Plotting: Mike takes a specific story idea and walks the class through building the story. He shows the tropes, pitfalls, and cliches (so easy to fall into) and how to use them to trick the reader into looking one way, while you build the story in another. He also shows how to seed the little bits of information through the story, so that when the twist comes it is “surprising and inevitable”. If you are having trouble twisting your plots together to achieve the effect on the reader that you want, you need this class.
  • Serial Fiction: Mike explains how the internet is changing the industry to incorporate more serial works. While we all enjoy a great book series, there are also serialized short story pieces—like newspapers produced more than 100 years ago. Now, that market is open on the internet again. Think Serialbox.com and similar sites. With that in mind, Mike teaches you how to break longer works into shorter ones, plot a series (even a book series) in advance, seed the little story nuggets that pull the reader through one episode into another, and more. Continuity is king here! Readers will notice if you accidentally switch a newborn’s gender in a romance series, etc. Few things kick a reader out of the story faster. 

Mr. Zahn’s classes included 101 Ideas In An hour and I Have An Idea-Now What?.

  • 101 Ideas In An Hour: Mr. Zahn helps you find and work through different ideas, created on the fly in the class. Any aspect of any story might be covered, including characters, plots, science fiction, technology, fantasy, magic systems,  alien cultures, and more. He helps you get into the “writer mindset” of questioning, researching material, and extrapolating the possible advances or consequences of the ideas. The class discovers how small changes in technology, magic, culture, etc. can impact society, religion, politics, economics, and so many other parts of a world and its people. 
  • I Have An Idea Now What?: In this workshop, Mr. Zahn provided a basic prompt (genre, time period, and very basic technology idea) and led the class through a series of questioning and creative exercises to evolve that first prompt into characters, viewpoint characters, plot, setting, conflicts in the world and between individual characters, the conflicts and economics of industry, and more. He also described particular characters you would need to tell the specific genre of story you wanted to tell. A fantastic exercise!

In addition to their knowledge of the craft and industry, I was impressed by both Mike and Timothy’s down to earth and helpful attitudes. They obviously remember what it was like for them at the beginning of their careers and want to help new authors find their way in as well. These are the kind of “celebrities” you can kick back and have a beer/soda with. 

My recommendation: Take the classes. Ask any questions you have. Visit with Mike and Tim for a few minutes before/after class or at their dealer’s tables. Even ask them to take five minutes to help you work through a specific problem you are having in your work. They are exceptional at it!