NorWesCon 41 Report — Professor Plum in the hall with the selfie stick

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The very first NorWesCon I attended wasn’t actually a NorWesCon—it was called Alternacon in 1987 because some really weird things had happened at the now notorious NorWesCon 9 the year before. The convention hotel canceled the subsequent contract and the committee scrambled to put together a convention at a smaller hotel the next year and chose to temporarily rename the convention. In any case, from 1987 through 2012 I never missed a NorWesCon. For a few of those conventions (1993, 1994, and 1995) I only attended for a single day, but I managed to make at least an appearance at every one up until NorWesCon 35. For a variety of reasons (some of which will be mentioned below) my husband and I chose to skip NorWesCon 36 and 37 before resuming for 38 and 39. We had planned to attend last year, but that was before our old apartment building was sold—between needing to find a new place to live, dealing with my husband’s surgery, packing, and actually moving, we wound up cancelling our plans to attend NorWesCon 40 at the last minute.

This year my husband was on convention staff. I didn’t have any obligations—no fan table to run, no panels that I was on (it’s been years since I was an attending pro at NorWesCon), and I wasn’t on staff.


This year they tried something new with the registration process on the first day: instead of having a long line snaking down a busy hallway, the line was wound around a path laid out in tape in one of the ballrooms that wasn’t being used for programming that day, and then runners would come and take 4-6 people from the front of the line to the registration kiosks as they cleared out. I think it was a big improvement. It was a lot easier to stand and chat amiably with the strangers who happen to be in line next to you. It was quieter and we weren’t making it difficult for people who needed to use the hallways to set other things up.

They also had a nice way to handle people in wheelchairs or other access issues. They had a separate section set off for them so they could sit, and a person standing in line was handed a numbered ticket to be the place holder for the person waiting at the ADA location.

The only issue I had with registration is that when my rollover form was processed last year (we had to cancel at the last minute because we signed our lease for the new place during the convention), my address was updated, but the actually membership didn’t get rolled over. So I had to buy a new four-day pass. My husband’s rollover from was completely correctly processed: both his address was updated and the system showed that he had a membership for this year. It wasn’t really a big deal, though, and the rollover process is a courtesy the convention offers.


I had picked three panels in the Guidebook app for Thursday… and I didn’t go to any of them. I wandered the dealer’s den, had dinner with friends and other things. I love having Guidebook on my iPhone to pick out panels and events I want to go to and get reminders beforehand. However, I used the Tracks menu to search for panels, instead of looking at the whole grid, and somehow I didn’t notice the Culture track (which is where they put the LGBT-related panels) until after the convention.

On Friday I first attended the “Cyborgs and Purple Unicorns: Gender in Science Fiction” with Nisi Shawl, Eva Elasigue, keerawa, and I seem to remember another panelist who isn’t listed in the program. It was a very good discussion about how gender and gender-related issues have been handled in sf/f at different times, and related topics.

The panel “Bad to the Bone: Villains in SF/F” with panelists Scott James Magner, Lee Moyer, Julie McGalliard, and Joseph Brassy was a lot of fun.

I also attended a panel on the Voyager probes: “Voyager: Visit to the Outer Darkness” which was very interesting. The planetary scientist who was supposed to be the moderator had her flight delayed, and another panelist who was supposed to be there wasn’t, so Ethan Siegel had to do the panel all on his own. He did a good job, including dealing with the audience members who wanted to correct him any time he misspoke. I was particularly impressed with how he explained the concept of radioactive decay and half-life when it became clear several audience members didn’t understand it.

There was also an editing panel that I hadn’t planned to attend that I hadn’t originally planned to attend, but now I can’t find it in the Guidebook so I don’t have the panelist’s names.

There were a lot more panels I meant to attend this day, but I wound up spending time in the Dealer’s Den and the Art Show instead. I also learned that while I can stand around for hours in the six-inch platform heels (and dance in them and so forth), doing so at a con while having a heavy bag on one shoulder and trying to keep track of the cloak that was also part of the costume that day is a lot harder on my feet than just walking, standing, and dancing in the heels. But it was still fun to be taller for at least part of con.

On Saturday the first panel I meant to attend was completely packed when I got there, but my friend Mark had mentioned in the group chat that he was in the “Writing Comics” panel down the hall, and when I peeked in there were some empty seats, so I went in. The panelists were Donna Barr and G. Willow Wilson and it was a wonderfully informative conversation. Barr’s work has mostly been in the self-publishing end of the industry, while Wilson’s experience is writing for the large publishers. They did a good job of explaining the pros and cons and gotchas of either model.

The next hour I was double-booked, and I misread my schedule, so I thought I could sit through the first half of “Your Story Engine” then slip down the hall to Nisi Shawl’s reading. But Nisi’s reading coincided with the first half of the con, so I missed her reading entirely. Besides being disappointed at that, I kinda of wished I hadn’t sat in the Story Engine panel. Most of the 25 minutes I sat through were fun and informative. But one panelist, while trying to make his point, deployed a very jarring and homophobic analogy. And it’s one of those things that 99% of the people wouldn’t recognize it as homophobic. But it really did sour the panel for me.

I missed Nisi’s reading, but did get to hear Scott James Magner’s reading, and it was quite enjoyable.

I then headed down to listen to Leannan Sidhe, Dara, and Jeri Lynn play some cool music.

“Ready, Set, Practice That Pitch” with panelists Curtis C. Chen, Cory Skerry, Randy Henderson, and Susan Chang was very good. I took a lot of notes. I’m still not very good at coming up with a compelling elevator pitch or three-line pitch for my novels, but I think Chen made a very good point that making the pitch isn’t as important as figuring out how to boil your novel down in that way. I have a tendency to try to write my pitches the way that the summary on the back cover of a paperback might read, and that isn’t really a good way to do a pitch. So, I need to practice more.

“Science Fiction in the Time of Trump” with Nisi Shawl, P.J. Manney, Else Sjunnerson-Henry, and Gordon Van Gelder was a good panel. The discussing was fairly wide-ranging other topics of writing utopias and dystopias, the when arts react to good times and bad times in the culture, myth making, and what both readers and writers/artists can do to build bridges and fight bad things in the culture. It was great.

Sunday I skipped a panel I had planned for the morning to go deal with my Art Show and Art Auction activities.

“Writing LGBT Characters in the Post-Partiarchy” with Nisi Shawl, Crystal Frasier, and J.A. Pitts was very good. I was particularly amused that all three panelists (and most of the audience) were rolling their eyes at the title and panel description, since the description seemed to believe that we are already living in a society that is no longer a patriarchy. But the rest of the panel was a great discussion with good questions from the audience.

And then my last panel was “Social Media for Authors” with K.G. Anderson and K. Tempest Bradford. There were supposed to be two other panelists, but Cat Rambo had a conflict, and the other panelist didn’t show up. But Nisi was sitting near the front and though she didn’t get up to the table, she wound up being a panelist regardless. Also, Karen had interviewed Cat and had some lengthy remarks from Cat to read. This was another really good discussion with some practical suggestions. I’m happy to say that I was already following some of the advice, and I’m seeing good ways to apply the other information.

Buying Stuff

I did a slightly better job than usual refraining from buying lots of stuff in the Dealer’s Den. I bought a nice tiger wood mechanical pencil from Pandora House Crafts (which is a business run by one of my best friends). I bought two adorable otter-themed art prints from Studio Catawampus as early birthday presents for my husband. I later also bought a demonic lynx print from them after Michael had visited the table and expressed surprise I hadn’t grabbed the lynx. I simply hadn’t seen it! I picked up a book from Cat Rambo’s table — a double anthology Neither Here Nor There. And because I bought a book from her she gave me a key chain fob that says “Writers Just Fucking Write.”

At the charity auction I picked up a couple of very cool hand-made bags. I also got a pair of red light saber earrings and a pair of green light saber earrings to go with the purple ones that I picked up year before last at Geek Girl Con. Can’t have too many light sabers!


On Friday I was dressed as the Social Justice Necromancer. I took a couple of bad pictures of myself in the costume with my selfie stick. I passed out a bunch of Bill of Rights bookmarks, and only one pocket Constitution. It was a fun costume.

On Saturday I was dressed as Professor Plum from the game Clue, and Auntie was dressed as Mrs Peacock (her costume equipped with replicas of the little toy weapons that are in the box set). It was also fun. She got a Hall Costume Award. I got lots of compliments and was handed a ribbon about the color purple for it.

Other Things

I had a lot of fun at this convention. My husband came down sick part way through, so that wasn’t wonderful. We also both had trouble sleeping several nights. We didn’t bring extra pillows, for one thing. On the other hand, I took naps several times during the con.

We forgot to pack our box of games, and Juli sans-e had decided not to bring her box because she was certain I would bring ours. I forgot to pack my galley edits so I could work on those. There were several other little things that we usually pack that I missed. Given that I worked 37 hours during the last three days before the vacation started, I’m amazed that we got out of the house as early as we did Thursday and we had most of what we meant to bring.

I tried to get writing done, and wasn’t very productive at that. Usually at a convention I get several thousand words written toward one project or another, but I kept finding myself starting at the screen with no words coming out. I’m going to blame that on the crazy super long work hours for the last couple of months.

However, I felt more rested than I have in a long time by the time we got home on Monday. And on Tuesday, my first day back at the office, I found myself staring blankly at the log-in screen for nearly a minute before I remembered my work password. I consider that a sign that this was a good convention.

We have already purchased our memberships for next year. So, clearly, we both had a good time.

Upcoming Conventions

Locus Awards Weekend, June 22-24, in Seattle

Geek Girl Con, October 27-28, in Seattle

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