Monday, January 20, 2014

MarsCon 2014 Report

This is going to be long. I mean, long. With links and pictures and all kinds of stuff. You are warned.

I don't even know where to begin. I always enjoy cons, but I don't think I've ever had such a great time at one before.

And I'm an introvert, but I think last night I was feeling just a tingle of the phenomenon that KT (an extrovert's extrovert) has told me about so often, where a big event like this ends and instead of being tired and ready to recover, she's aching for more, more, more.

I think it has to do with the kind of introvert that I am. I do not make friends easily. I'm not shy, per se. I don't have a problem talking to people, usually. But I am really bad at starting conversations. It's much easier for me to be in a social situation if there's someone else present that I know who can help me break the ice. Get the ball rolling, so to speak.

And this year, aside from about an hour early on Friday evening before people really started to arrive, I don't think I went anywhere that I didn't encounter someone I knew. Seriously. Half the time I got on the damn elevator, there was someone in there I knew, let alone any of the panels or performances or activities.

And not just the usual suspects, either. Of course there was what I think of as my "usual" crew of friends that grew out of school friendships -- KT and Kevin, DJ and Ora, Greg, and T. Elizabeth, Jenn and Brian all came to MarsCon for the first time this year, and I'm pretty sure they're hooked -- Brian, at least, is already planning a costume for next year. And I had family there as well -- John and Sam, and my kids, and Matt (who I suppose is no longer technically family, but I still think of him that way by way of his being, y'know, the father of my children). And there was also the usual collection of the friends I used to see more often but now run into mainly at cons and the like -- Elliot and Marcy and John D. and John H.

And this year, thanks in large part to KT's obsession with music and filk, I had "music friends" like Jonah and Mikey and Chuck and Bert. And thanks partly to my participation as a guest last year, I had "author friends" like Amy and Kat and Michael. Also, I made new friends of both sorts, like Danny and Nobilis.

There were also random other folks -- people who I've worked with, for instance, and with whom I am Facebook friends, some of whom I didn't even know were geeks, like John T. and Caren and Erika.

There was even an occasion where a bunch of us were sitting around a table and I was the only one who knew everyone.

So pretty much the only times I felt like I was on my own were times that I was actually alone. Which weren't many, because I was insanely busy!

It. Was. Wonderful.

So. Ready for the blow-by-blow? (Click on pictures to embiggen.)


I took a half-day from work. Came home, ate a good lunch, finished packing, fed the cat, and drove the whopping four miles to the hotel. I got checked in, picked up my badge, and spent most of the rest of the afternoon kind of lounging in my room, until I started to see Facebook posts indicating that people were beginning to arrive. So I changed into my Femme Fatale Red Riding Hood outfit and headed down to the lobby.

This was my one slow period; I did a tour of the public areas and said hi to a few people, then sat in the "pit" (a slightly sunken lounge area in the hotel lobby) for maybe forty-five minutes or so until I spotted some friends arriving.

Around 6 or so, I got a text from Matt that he and the kids had arrived, so I wandered up to the kids' meet-and-greet party. The kids' activities this year were mostly Harry Potter/Hogwarts themed -- the meet-and-greet started with a decorate-your-own wand activity. Then the kids got to choose their Patronuses and draw them on wooden pendants. They had a game that involved using their new wands to keep balloons in the air, and then they had ice cream sundaes.

I left that to go catch the already-in-progress Friday night show (a medley of entertainers), where I joined a whole bunch of friends and we had enormous fun until I had to slip out a bit early to make my way to my first two events.

The first was a re-imagining of the old game show Match Guest. The MC would read out a sentence or two with a blank in it, and everyone in the room would write down our answers to fill in the blanks. Audience members whose answers more-or-less matched what panelists answered got points; at the end, the member with the most points won, essentially, a MarsCon gift certificate. (There were actually two winners who split the prize, because even after three tie-breaker rounds, they were still tied.) This was the "adult" version, in which we did not even think about using any answers that were not at least R-rated. It was hilarious and fun, and I very much hope I can do it again next year!

Immediately following that, there was "Erotic Fairy Tale Rewrites". Each panelist selected a fairy tale to rewrite, and the audience supplied us with: an extra character, a sexy situation, a location, and an object that had to be included. While we wrote, the audience played MadLibs, and then we each read our resulting stories. I was very pleased with how mine turned out, and I'll post it over on the writing blog on Wednesday, so if you're interested, be on the lookout.

That wrapped up earlier than expected, so I gleefully skipped down the hall to jump into Filk and Cookies. I arrived just in time to catch Sam singing her parody of "My Favorite Things" (sideways video posted by my brother), and a bit later, she also sang her parody of "The Impossible Dream" (video posted by me).

Filk and Cookies was supposed to end at 1am, but Mikey and Jonah kept goading each other (and the other guests who brought instruments along) and then there was the whole Corn Palace incident (you had to be there) and they didn't kick us out of the room until well after 2. Still giggling, I stumbled back to my room and went to bed.

You may have noticed that I didn't mention dinner in there anywhere. Which would be because I didn't have any. I had some ice cream at the kids' meet-and-greet, and KT brought me a clementine to the fairy tale rewrite panel, and I had a cookie and some soda at Filk and Cookies, though, so I guess that counts. Right?


You'd think that after all that, I'd sleep in, but no; I woke up at about 7:15. I did lounge around in bed for a bit, and then I took a shower and made myself some coffee and got dressed. I left the room around 8:45 or so and headed downstairs to see the kids get sorted into their Hogwarts houses for the day's kids' activities.

I ran into some friends in the hallway, so I missed seeing Penny draw Slytherin, but Matt told me she handled her disappointment with aplomb. I did arrive just as Jess was also sorted into Slytherin, though (which Matt "helped" happen, because after all the Sorting Hat does take your preferences into consideration), and Penny seemed pretty pleased that she'd at least have her friend with her. And then I sidled up to her and suggested that maybe she could pretend she was actually a Gryffindor who was in Slytherin as a spy, and that notion also cheered her considerably. Alex got into Gryffindor, which I think he was pleased about mostly because Penny told him that was good.

A gajillion kudos to the volunteer team who put the "Hogwarts" kids' activity room together, because it was amazing. Not for the first time, I wished I was a kid so I could participate! (I did get sorted, along with several other adults, when all the kids were done and they had a ton of leftover badges.)

They had a "library" in the center, at which each kid was given a small, hardcover blank book. They made their own bookplates for the front, and there were crayons and markers for them to use to decorate it with. Each corner of the room had a "class" stationed there, and they rotated the kids around the stations in their houses, to keep any one station from being swamped, which was a great idea. They had Runes, History, Magical Creatures, and Potions.

Later in the day, they had a Triwizard Tournament, which I gather was sort of a scavenger hunt thing. I missed that because I was sitting on a panel at the same time. It sounded like fun, though.

Right around noon, I wandered back up to my room to collect my publicity handouts and stuff, and also to call my mom (my dad had been admitted to the hospital on Thursday night with several small blood clots in one lung and in his leg, and while he had improved enough for me to feel okay about going to the con, I still wanted to check in). I was in the room for maybe fifteen minutes, and then I went back down and joined a few friends to listen to some music -- the Blibbering Humdingers, Danny Birt, and Jonah Knight.

Then I set up in with a bunch of other authors for signings, though mostly no one even came over to my end of the room -- the people who came in for signings were pretty much there just for the guests of honor. But it was still an enjoyable hour that I spent talking with Nobilis Reed, and toward the end, Caren came in and pity-bought a book from me and we talked for a while, too, so it was still fun.

After that, I sat on a panel to talk about the Hunger Games series -- both the movies and the books -- and that turned out to be tons of fun, too, with a very smart and thoughtful panel and a lively-but-polite audience.

Then I went upstairs to the Con Suite, because aside from that cup of coffee I'd had in my room that morning and a cupcake during Jonah's concert, I hadn't eaten anything all day, and it was now 4 in the afternoon. Unfortunately, because it was 4 in the afternoon, the Con Suite didn't have out any "real" food, so I had some chips and some Chex mix and a cookie. And I sat down with Amy Moler and KT and eventually a whole bunch of other folks as well, including Jenn and Brian and Kevin and Nobilis and I'm absolutely certain that I'm forgetting someone (Greg, maybe?) but the point is: a bunch of us. And we talked about writing and other things for an hour, until it was time for Amy to go collect her family and get some dinner, and the rest of us headed off to other assorted entertainments. Primarily, the big Saturday night entertainment, starting with Mikey Mason's concert, and then segueing into the costume contest.

Alas, technical difficulties in setting up the stage kept us standing in the hall for almost 40 minutes after the concert was supposed to start, and made the concert run well over its planned time. I had to leave as soon as Mikey finished playing in order to get to my evening panels, where I sat at the head of a table with several other romance and erotica professionals to talk about writing and publishing, and the appeal of fairy tale erotica, and sex in roleplaying, and by the time we got to the panel running from 11-midnight, we were so tired that it turned into us just taking questions from the audience and talking about whatever we all felt like talking about. (I'll probably go into a little more detail about these panels over on the writing blog post later this week. And Nobilis recorded some of it for his podcasts, so eventually he will post that, and I will probably put a link over on the writing blog as well, if you're interested.)

I was so tired when that ended that I went back to my room and went straight to bed, without looking around for other activities or parties.

Yes, I missed dinner again. After also missing breakfast and lunch. But I'd had a cupcake, some snacks around four, and I had a drink -- the hotel bar named a delicious fruity concoction after Mikey Mason, and he spent the whole weekend reminding everyone to "put Mikey Mason in your mouth" and that "I'm delicious!" -- during Mikey's concert.


Once again with the not sleeping in. I woke up even earlier, not long after six, though I stayed in bed for a good while again.

Sunday is usually a lot slower, programming-wise, than the other days, so I took my time getting dressed and packing up, and I reminded myself to go to the Con Suite for breakfast (whoo, an actual meal for the first time in nearly 48 hours!) where I ran into KT, so I sat down and chatted with her while I ate my eggs and ham. (MarsCon has the best Con Suite ever; I was just too busy to visit it at mealtimes.)

Eventually, I took all my stuff down to the car and plopped down in the lobby to wait for the panel I was interested in actually being an audience member of, but Nobilis came over and talked to me for a while, and just as he was leaving, Matt and the kids came in, and the kids piled on me, so I sat and played with them for a while instead. Eventually, I walked them back down to where Matt was volunteering in the family-oriented games room, and schlepped back across the hotel (it's a huge, sprawling building) to be on the panel of writers for the PG version of Fairy Tale Rewrites. (That one wasn't quite as good -- possibly because I was sleep-deprived -- but I'll include at the end of this post because I thought it was still fairly clever. Though if there had been judging of any sort, I'm pretty certain that Danny Birt would've taken the prize for his extremely dark and grim version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears -- or more precisely, Goldilocks Gets Her Revenge.)

Then I wandered on over to the main programming hall for the closing concert, featuring the Blibbering Humdingers, Jonah Knight, Mikey Mason, and Danny Birt (yeah, the same Danny who'd just kicked my ass at flashfic; he's a talented guy). Everyone was punchy and tired (except Jonah, who had more energy at this show than he'd exhibited all the rest of the con) but that just added to the fun; they were teasing each other and playing around and being silly and it was brilliant.

I took a video of Mikey's trademark 80s Cartoon Theme Songs that, I think, really captures the essence of the whole concert. (That little "ho" contest? Was sort of instigated by me, because I'd been talking to Mikey about it earlier in the day. And that's Sam -- my sister-in-law -- who won it.)

When the con was over, Elizabeth, Jenn, Brian, and Jenn's cousin Chris (who came in just for the one day) and I all went out for a late lunch/early dinner, and that felt pretty con-like, too, even though we weren't in the hotel anymore.

(And after that, I went down to the hospital to visit my dad, who was doing oodles better, and bored enough to be happy to listen to me babble about the con for an hour.)

I'm already looking forward to next year, and I really feel rejuvenated and re-inspired as a writer.

It was the Best Con Ever.

MarsCon 2014 fairy tale rewrite

Original story (chosen by me): Aladdin
Additional elements (chosen by the audience):
A character: Ninja
A setting: Titanic on a good day
A problem: No light
An object: Picture of Mary Todd Lincoln (a callback joke to the erotic rewrites on Friday night)

The story (written in about 20 minutes -- typos are fixed here, but nothing else):

The ninja lurked in a shadowy corner of the Titanic's empty ballroom, and concentrated on his mission -- the theft of a valuable portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln. The gentleman who owned the portrait kept it with him all the time, except during his nightly promenade of the deck. During that time, the ninja would crawl from the ballroom's vents into the gentleman's stateroom, take the portrait, and stash it in the hiding place he had prepared in the second dining room.

The hour was at hand. The ninja crept from his corner and toward the vent... When suddenly, the lights extinguished, all at once.

The ninja was well-acquainted with darkness, being a ninja, but this sudden loss was a bit surprising. Before he could react, though, a brilliant light appeared in the center of the room, brighter than any electric, billowing smoke began the fill the room, and a booming voice declared, "I claim this room for the palace of my master, Aladdin!"

"Wait!" the ninja cried. "At least let me leave first!"

From the smoke, a face emerged, cruel and cold and as tall as the ninja's entire body. "Why should I grant YOUR wish?" the djinn demanded. "You are not my master." The djinn's eyes narrowed. "In fact, my master will require servants for his palace. You will do nicely."

"But I am not a servant," the ninja protested. "I am a thief, a spy, and a sometime assassin!"

"Who am I to question my master's needs?" the djinn said. "My master commanded me to build him a palace, and to that end I have claimed this ballroom and everything in it, and that includes you."

"But why can you not simply create the palace from the ether?" the ninja asked.

The djinn snorted. "Have YOU ever created something from the ether? It's a LOT easier to just steal what's needed."

Well, that was something the ninja could understand, anyway. This Aladdin who commanded the djinn seemed to be someone the ninja could get along with, and to tell the truth, he was tired of running all over the world to steal boring antiquities. "Maybe I could help you with the rest of the palace," he admitted. "What else do we need to steal?"

"A hundred concubines."

The ninja smiled and stepped into the djinn's smoke, and together, they disappeared, along with the Titanic's beautiful ballroom.



chuck said...

Glad you had a great time, Liz. So did I. Also, as an introvert myself, I totally identify with so much of what you've written here. I come away from these things exhausted, no matter how enjoyable the whole enterprise was.

In any case, it was great seeing you and sharing the experience!

Lynn said...

I personally think I am broken. Too much social.