Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The World That Was: World Steam Expo Convention Report, Part 2

As you may recall, when last we left our intrepid adventurer, he was face-down in a pillow after spending a fine day signing books, suffering stage-induced amnesia and meeting many awesome folk on the first night of the World Steam Expo.

As things turned out, Saturday was kind of a day off for me, because all of my panels were scheduled for Sunday and Monday. After getting a nice breakfast in my room (a service I would continue to make good use of for the rest of the weekend), I headed downstairs to take in the sights and see what the convention had to offer. The Aegis Swordsmanship Academy had taken over an event room and converted it into an incredible little field camp, where they were offering an assortment of fascinating and fun seminars. My favorites were the Nerf boarding action, the knife-fighting ring and the lockpick seminar. I wanted to participate in the Nerf battles, but apparently it was BYOG (Bring Your Own Gun), and I hadn't planned ahead, curse the luck.

After taking a look at the Aegis room, I wandered into the dealers' area and gawked at all the beautiful wares on sale. I found the lovely and charming Sal Palland of Off the Beaten Path Bookstore and Cafe, and worked out a time to come by her table to sign books after the author panel on Sunday. The next stop was the Marquis ballroom, where lessons were being taught in waltz, swing dance and tango. The classes looked like a lot of fun, but alas, I had no partner to dance with. So I continued my walkabout, peeking in various panels, then went and got my laptop from the room and settled in the green room to work some more on the chapter I'd be reading. Many revisions and additions later, I packed up and headed downstairs to catch author and friend Gail Carriger's seminar on Gothic Victorian literary roots of steampunk. Being a Victorian lit. major in college, the seminar sounded really interesting, and Gail did not disappoint. We chatted for a bit afterwards, sharing our impressions of the convention and talking a bit of shop before she had to dash off to dinner with a publisher. Such is the life of a New York Times bestselling author.

Me, I headed back to the hotel bar for dinner and people-watching, preparing myself for the main event of the evening: the Midnight Carnival. The carnival was a six-hour spectacle of music, comedy, magic, burlesque and acrobatics, featuring every performer at the convention. At various points during the evening I got to enjoy The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for NothingFrenchy and the Punk, and the fabulous magic act of Pop Haydn. Roaming between the ballroom and the bar I crossed paths with Gail again, and got to meet the great Howard Taylor, of Schlock Mercenary fame. Howard and Gail headed off to various and sundry shenanigans with the Aegis crew, and I returned to the Carnival. My plans for an early night disappeared in a rowdy haze of Irish drinking songs and roaring toasts with The Bawdy Boys. A fun time was had by all, and it was deep into the wee hours of the morning by the time I headed back to my room.

I made a point of sleeping in on Sunday, and ordering a pot of coffee with breakfast. Then I spent a final few hours tinkering with the chapter before packing up and heading downstairs to my first panel. I'm not gonna lie; I was nervous as hell. It was a solo panel, I wasn't a steampunk author (at least, not yet), and no one at the convention had likely ever heard of me. And to top it all off, I would be reading my very own work to an audience for the first time ever. Provided, of course, that there was an audience at all. I was fully prepared to find myself presiding over an empty room when 2:30 finally rolled around.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried. I didn't pack in the crowd like Gail did in the same room the day before, but I had nine or ten wonderful folks who were interested in writing, and I had a lot of fun answering questions on everything from getting published to getting stomped on by horses during the filming of Full Metal Jousting. We had such a fine time chatting that I almost ran out of time before the reading, and had to plop down quickly and present the chapter during the last fifteen minutes of the panel. I'm happy to say that everyone seemed to like what they heard, and even laughed at the appropriate places. For someone like me, who's made a career from other people's worlds and characters, being able to entertain an audience with something I made from whole cloth was amazing. I left the panel excited and energized to finish the book, which will be ready later this summer. (More on that in future blog posts.)

After the panel I dashed upstairs to drop my laptop bag off, drink a little more coffee (because that’s exactly what I needed to help calm down), and then returned to the very same room for the steampunk author’s panel. Joining me on the panel were the great Jay Lake, the ever-lovely and elegant Miss Gail, fiction and non-fiction author G. D. Falksen, and newly-minted steampunk author John R. White. The panel was moderated by my pal Arica, and we had a lively time answering questions and talking about the vagaries of writing and the writing life.

Before I knew it, the panel was over. Still riding high on the success of my reading (and the ginormous cup of coffee I'd been carrying around), I bounded over to Sal's table in the dealer's room to sign books. To my immense surprise, she had sold all but one of the big Darkblade omnibus editions she'd brought to the convention, and I had a nice little line of folks to chat with. Gail was there signing as well (her line was just the tiniest bit longer than mine), and since we had dinner plans, I hung about and helped sell books (once a bookseller, always a bookseller) until it was time to close down for the evening.

Freed from our obligations for the day, Gail and I headed upstairs to catch dinner at the hotel's Italian restaurant... only to find it unaccountably closed. So, once again, it was back to the hotel bar (the waitresses knew me by name at this point). We had a fine meal, and talked... and talked... and talked. It's very rare that I get to sit down with a fellow writer and talk about the strange life we lead. We nattered on about books, and agents, and publishers, and the other writers we knew... Eventually we got up and strolled around the convention, chattering like magpies, until finally coming to rest in the lobby and letting the rest of the con swirl around us. Jay came by at one point, accompanied by his entourage, and John sat down for a bit to ask me some questions about game writing. A steady stream of fans stopped to take pictures with Gail. It was grand.

Eventually, Gail decided it was time to retire for the night. I, still completely keyed up by the events of the day, went wandering about and stumbled, once again, on The Bawdy Boys. Drawn in by the sounds of "South Australia" (one of my favorites), I danced and sang and roared along with the rest until sometime past ohmygod o'clock. It was a fine end to a thoroughly amazing day.

A few (and I mean a few) hours later, I was up and at it again. Breakfast and coffee manage to return some semblance of humanity in time for my last panel of the convention. Fortunately, it was about writing strong villains, which was something I knew a thing or two about. Gail joined me on the panel, which was surprisingly well-attended, and the audience asked us a lot of fun and thought-provoking questions. 

Once the panel was finished, so too was the convention. There was nothing left to do but head back to the room, zip up my bags, and await my ride to the airport. Since the convention booked the travel for all the guests, there were a surprisingly large number of us flying out at the same time, which made for a lot of double-takes in the security line. By happy chance I ran into Gail again on the other side of security, and we sat and chatted for a while until her flight was called. Mere moments later I passed the League of Steam heading for their gate, and had the chance to say goodbye before my own flight was called. 

And so came to an end one of the best convention weekends I can recall in many, many years. I want to thank the staff of the World Steam Expo, Sal from Off the Beaten Path, my fellow guests, and of course the convention attendees for a truly wonderful time. If you're a steampunk fan, believe me, you don't want to miss out on this convention!

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