Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Con Report: Upstate Steampunk

It's been a few days now since Upstate Steampunk in South Carolina, so I feel more than comfortable finally writing this con report after having that time to digest the full impact of the awesome that was my very first foray into convention-going.Yes, you read that right -- I'd never been to a con before Upstate Steampunk, and it was such an amazing experience that I'm going to be heading to three more in the first six months of 2011.

My trip to S.C. started with a 4.5 hour drive from Eastern Massachusetts to Central New York to pick up my friend who agreed to act as technical assistant on the trip (that's how I was able to record my presentation). We then switched off driving the 14 hours to South Carolina. Random trivia: did you know that Pennsylvania feels like the widest state on the East Coast? This is despite the fact that Virginia takes at least 45 minutes longer to drive through on a North-South route.

But anyway, we got into South Carolina just before midnight on Friday, November 19, and promptly collapsed until the next morning when we had to wake up before 8 so we could register for the day's events. This meant that we missed the Friday night pre-registration and meet-up, but after 19 hours of driving I don't think either one of us wanted to do anything except crash.

Saturday morning was a blast though -- we registered for the day's events and then went straight to the vendor room, where I met a good number of awesome folks plying their wares. I spent some time with Jim Looper of Bitz N Pieces, who graciously demonstrated a six-shooter replica he was selling for a good chunk of change. Jim assured me the gun was non-operational, but it was still all kinds of cool to chat with him about the different pieces he had in stock. I wish I had the wherewithall to grab a picture of Jim -- he led a dueling demonstration at noon that was six different kinds of cool. Kind of sad I couldn't stick around for the entire dueling demo, but my presentation was at 1 and we had to eat lunch and do some prep work.

The time of my presentation rolled around, and I was surprised at the turnout -- many of the seats in the classroom were full. Not quite standing-room only, which would've been entertaining, but still a very respectable showing for people interested in the roots of Steampunk. The video, which will be posted later, will show you the talk I gave and hopefully you'll be able to hear the questions folks asked as well. Suffice to say, the discussion ranged far and wide once we got comfortable with each other, and didn't result in me talking at people for 90 minutes (which was something I was slightly frightened of). I did have a few technical difficulties in that I had to keep switching between my Powerpoint and a video player for my video clips -- the way we downloaded the videos meant I couldn't embed the files into the presentation itself.

Anyway, after I spoke I sat in on the very elucidating presentation by Lydia Ferguson on Captain Nemo as the new Ancient Mariner as represented by his character in Volume 1 of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Lydia certainly knew what she was talking about, and she did a very good job of keeping the presentation lively. Well prior to my own presentation was a discussion of the golems in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series and how they represented both the machines that drove the industrial revolution and the people who worked those machines. Janet Brennan Croft was the Golempunk presenter -- she mentioned Moist von Lipwig, one of my favorite Pratchett characters of all time in her talk, so that made me happy.

I ended up not going to a whole lot of panels, which was unfortunate because there were some dang cool topics that people were talking about. Thus is the peril of having one 90 minute talk to yourself and then being on a later hour-long panel with a group of other gents. Speaking of said panel -- with Brian K. Ladd, Maxwell Cynn, and Shane McElveen -- I have to admit that it was more interesting listening to my fellow panelists answer than talking myself. Brian, Maxwell, and Shane are all very talented and creative gents, and I was honored to be included among them. Gail Gray, our facilitator, also didn't hesitate to offer some answers to the audience members.

The other panelists and I had a whole lot of fun riffing off each other; Maxwell attended my Roots talk and I saw him nodding profusely when Gail asked if anyone had attended it. Funny anecdote: when I met Brian and his wife Megan earlier in the day, Gail was singing my praises and Brian commented that Gail was pretty much the "world's biggest cheerleader." Which of course amused me to no end. Speaking of Gail Gray and Fissure Magazine, you can purchase their Steampunk issue at, wherein you'll find my first published short story, "Dark Days in Bright City."

Back to the panel -- someone asked about the definition of Steampunk and if anything was excluded or not. I can't remember my exact response (which included monkeys and rockets fueled by cheese for some reason), but it amounted to the fact that Steampunk as a genre is a wide open field right now. Write what you want, and if someone likes it then someone likes it. Maxwell, Brian, and Shane had some very good advice about getting published and the potential pitfalls therein. Maxwell especially had an interesting way of putting out his first novel; he'd come up with a way to code the book into a website so at certain points you would receive emails from the characters in a sort of multimedia immersive experience.

Brian spoke at length about dealing with changes from editors, and the fact that you can break any rule on the books so long as you know why you're breaking it. And Shane made several very good points about the importance of critique; he has one trusted editor that reads all of his stuff, although he also works with a writing partner for his screenwriting. All of us agreed that crit groups are important, but even more important than that is knowing when to walk away from a crit group. Brian made a fascinating point in that he sees crit groups as being there to work -- not to socialize.

It was unfortunate that the panel was only an hour long. I had tons of fun being up there with my fellow panelists, and in fact Gail told me later that one of the attendees to that panel said he thought we were better than the authors' panel at DragonCon! You can imagine how cool that was to hear.

I ended my day with an open-ended workshop where folks talked about the stuff they made. Which is also the only time I took pictures:

A giant hammer made from foam and an old clock.
Many of the materials were purchased from Lowe's,
which was a common theme.

The creator of this map (Ed, who's not in the picture) developed this entire fantasy world
that he intends to offer to people as a fantasy setting for them to write their adventures in.

The Gatling gun was made from an old gas-powered hedge trimmer
and parts purchased at Lowe's.

My compatriot and I were more or less drained after the workshops ended at 5 on Saturday. I wandered downstairs after we'd had dinner at the Ruby Tuesday's down the street and took in some of the belly dancing. I could tell even at 8 p.m. though that I was done for the night -- didn't even stay awake to go to the Steampunk ball. This of course means that I am unfortunately unable to report who won Mr. and Mrs. Upstate Steampunk.

I can however say that driving down to Greenville was a good decision. I met a whole lot of good people there, made some awesome contacts for Flying Pen, and had an all-around great time. Now of course I'm looking forward to the conventions I'll be attending in 2011!


Linda G. said...

Sounds like a blast. Great pics! Looking forward to viewing your talk once you post it.

L. T. Host said...

Awesome! I'm so glad it was a fun time for you, it must have been a great resource, too. I'm sad you didn't take more pictures, too, but I understand. :)

Gary Corby said...

Very cool gattling gun. How did he carry it around without being arrested?

Congratulations on Dark Days in Bright City!

Matthew Delman said...

Linda -- Thanks! Vids are up now.

L.T. -- It was an awesome resource. I met a ton of interesting folks and found out that my projects have spread farther than I thought.

Gary -- I think it was a case of "oh look, this thing is clearly fake." Kind of like how when cosplay guns look too real people are forced to put plugs in the ends of the barrels.

And thanks for the congratulations.

ggray said...

I'm so thrilled you posted your Roots of Steampunk panel on You Tube. The one bad thing about the Upstate Steampunk Con was that I was unable to attend any panels due to being a vendor. There were so many marvelous panels and I "needed" to see yours to get more background to help with my steampunk novel. I only wish we had a videotape of the authors panels with the four of you. It was so good and offered writers a chance to see how its done. I already spoke with Gypsey and next year she'll have a videographer and next year, I'd like an hour and a half! You were smart to choose the longer time because I feel we had to break way to soon. It was my first Con too, so I had no idea what to do or expect. I was winging it in many ways. Can you post the link to your blog on the Upstate Steampunk Facebook pages. I'm going to post it on my Facebook page and get the word out. So far, this is the only video I know of from the con.