July 1-4, 2005
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
For people who have never attended a Westercon, this is a “floating” con sponsored by the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society but hosted by various fan groups along the west coast, southwest and northwest regions.
Let’s get the unpleasantries out of the way first. Out of the three years that I’ve attended, programming has always proved a challenge. This year, I submitted my ideas for panels and didn’t heard anything in reply. After several e-mail requests I was finally told to check a programming grid online. The grid was awkward to read, not exactly printer-friendly, and color-coded with green for “open” panels and blue for “closed.”
There was a lot of blue staring back at me.
I attributed the awkward manner in which guests were supposed to check the programming grid for themselves to Westercon’s decision to have the Con Chair serve as head of Programming. This is a lot of responsibility for one person to shoulder and should have been delegated better. I did manage to get panels though—all of them solid, fun panels that I looked forward to.
The Westin Hotel of Calgary was our host, and with “early bird” programming commencing a day early the Dealer’s Room was open for setup. I was at the Dragon Moon table alongside The Sentry Box, one of the biggest and most popular Calgary-based gaming/book stores; Edge Publishing (another Calgary-based publisher); and OnSpec Magazine. The Dealer’s Room had a lot to offer in books, jewelry, clothing and other cool stuff.
My first panel was “The Independent Press: Myths and Mythconceptions,” featuring Dragon Moon author Valerie Grisworld-Ford and myself alongside Danita Maslan (launching her debut novel, Rogue Harvest) and independent comic book artist Andrew Foley. The questions from the house (and from the panelists) foreshadowed a great con as the curiosity level from the fans and panel participants was sincere and engaging.
Dragon Moon Press publisher Gwen Gades hosted “Just Tell Me What You Want,” a two-hour seminar on what to send publishers, for both art and manuscript proposals. Robert J. Sawyer (with special guest Edo Van Belkom) presented his own solo panel, “Ask a Professional Anything,” a chance to find out what really goes into making a professional writing career. “Making a Reading Work” was my own two-hour workshop where readings, character voices and foreign accents were explored.
With all the workshops and panels, you would think Canadians are a serious bunch. Hardly. They also know how to have fun with their SF/F, as was evident with “Chicks in Chain Mail,” a panel about the popularity of kick-ass women in the genre. This panel had everything going for it—it was recorded for broadcast on Canadian radio with seven panelists, and I was the only guy on the panel… and I had to go to the bathroom.
With the first question, “What are the panelists opinions of wearing chain mail bras and, if you have, how do you deal with the chafing?” I knew this was going to be one wacky ride. The microphone eventually reached me and I finally uttered, “I’m the only guy here, I’m feeling very insecure right now, and I have to pee. Hello, Canada!” With a standing-room-only attendance, this panel was a real hoot, reminding me why this topic is a favorite of mine at cons.
Canadian Scapers were a VERY strong presence at Westercon. I was invited to participate on “Farscape: Beyond the Miniseries,” provided I prepared materials for this panel. This lead-in presentation to a widescreen showing of Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars was run by Nicola Wood of FarscapeCanada.com. I’m glad I invested time and funds in creating a sampler DVD of Farscape clips as Nicola gave a PowerPoint presentation of carefully constructed battle plans, ranging from donations to libraries to support for the upcoming Joss Whedon epic, Serenity.
Finally, Westercon 58 hosted the most book premieres I had ever seen at a weekend convention. On Friday, Danita Maslan launched her debut eco-thriller Rogue Harvest, the latest title from Robert J. Sawyer Books. EDGE Publishing launched two books on Sunday: Courtesan Prince, by Lynda Williams and Tesseracts Nine, edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Geoff Ryman. It was on Saturday when Dragon Moon held the biggest launch: Legacy of Morevi, Not Your Father’s Horseman, and Dominion. Dragon Moon’s launch also had the largest number of authors in attendance, with the most collective miles travelled: Valerie Griswold-Ford (from New Hampshire), Lai Zhao (Hong Kong), Michael R. Mennenga (Arizona), Evo Terra (also Arizona), J.Y.T. Kennedy (Alberta) and me (Virginia). The Canadian fans exceeded my expectations in their turnout.
To celebrate this incredible launch, Dragon Moon authors had reserved a suite for the weekend, dubbing it “The Dragon’s Den.” We rearranged the furniture so we could feature a bar, plenty of space for guests and a direct route to the bathroom. In one corner of the room, we had our books for sale and along the wall we had on display the covers of Dragon Moon titles. The iTunes Party Shuffle was fired up with my eclectic Science Fiction/Fantasy mix (inspired by Nth Degree’s own party mix) and the party was underway. We only had one rule for this celebration: If you spew, you clean it up and you pay for any damages. That’s it. A beautiful Dragon Moon Press cake—that we forgot to serve at the book launch—was finally cut and served to the guests, many of whom had attended our premiere. By eleven o’clock (and as it was Calgary, the sun was just setting!) the suite was in full swing. Outside on the balcony, my roommates Val and Lai shot me narrow-eyed looks as Michael R. Mennenga and I indulged in cigars. I gave myself an hour tops for my energy as I had done three panels, manned the Dragon Moon booth and premiered a book. I was running on empty and was hoping to make it to midnight.
2 a.m. That was when the last guest left, the signs on the door came down, and the room was cleaned. All three of us were stunned at the amount of leftover alcohol, so we agreed that maybe another party was in order for the following night.
After another day of panels, we decided not to wait for a formal start to the party to break in our two OnSpec shot glasses. The Dragon’s Den beverage of choice: Captain Morgan’s 1680, the drink of pirates and privateers everywhere. These may have been double-shot glasses to the land-locked Calgarians, but we “maritime opportunists” regarded them as singles… all night long.
Now what made this particular—completely off-the-cuff—party crazy was not that we were encouraging people to drink our leftover alcohol, but that the Canadians were bringing contributions to a party that was supposed to rid us of all alcohol. Valerie and I did what only good pirates could do: we shot whatever people brought us. There was “Sour Puss,” a raspberry liquor. Then some peach schnapps. The rum. And finally, a pink tequila mix called Baja Rosa. After being caught by digital cameras performing the Tragically White Boy Dance, I retired to the balcony, again with the guys, enjoying a good Cuban stogie and a beer. I honestly didn’t think this party could get any odder after some party guests spontaneously began performing yoga…
…until two words passed from party guest to party guest: Pool Party. The Westin’s pool was still open after midnight and some of our Dragon Moon regulars were in the mood for a good soaking. The room cleared pretty quickly and I bravely slipped into my black Speedos [Ah! TMI—ed.] and headed out for some hot tub fun.
The post-con crash lasted about a week, and that was on account of Westercon being nothing less than incredible. An amazing time, beyond any other con experience I’ve known.