Last month I attended Context27, a small and cozy speculative fiction convention in Columbus, OH. Context is a writers convention, and this year’s guests of honor where Jonathan Maberry and Betsy Mitchell. Other guests included Laura Resnick, Jennifer Brozek, Maurice Broaddus, Jerry Gordon, Jason Sizemore, Daniel and Trista Robichaud, Lucy Snyder, Ferrett Steinmetz, Michael West and more. Along with panels and workshops, the convention also had a flash fiction contest, well-appointed dealer room, a live recording of the Funky Werepig podcast, a consuite, and of course, parties! This was also my first time on panels, but more on that later.
For a small additional fee, attendees could sign up for one of the many workshops, which included Writing for Young Adults, Crafting a Compelling Plot, Characterization Through Dialog,Anthology Editing, and Point of View, among many others. The panels were also primarily writer and publishing focused, and included topics such as Busting Writer’s Block, Hot New Writers, Classics You May Have Missed, Getting a Day Job in Publishing, The Care and Feeding of Beta Readers, Skewering the Tropes, The Art of the Short Story, Social Media for Authors and Readers, Homebrewing Science, Podcasting, Publishing Disasters, Tales from the Slushpile, The Future of Magazines and Periodicals, What is an MFA and Do I Want One,and about a bazillion more. I really have no idea how all this incredible programming was jammed into 48 hours.
There was a number of small presses in attendance too, including among others Apex Books, Alliteration Ink, Loconeal Publishing and Seventh Star Press, all of whom had tables in the dealer room with other vendors and publishers. It worked out very nicely, because you could go right from an author’s workshop or panel to the dealer room, get a copy of their book, and have it signed. You could also speak with the publishers and the editors, which was pretty cool. For us non-writer types, there was plenty of opportunity to network with authors, editors, and publishers.
I’d like the thank the organizers for making two scheduling decisions in particular that I’m sure made the convention more enjoyable for everyone. First, the registration desk was in an unassuming hallway that just happened to be the exact midway point between where the dealer room and bar/restaurant were, and where the panel rooms and consuite was. This meant that if you weren’t quite sure where you were, or weren’t sure where you needed to be (the hotel was set up very oddly, so this happened more often than you’d think), just a few steps in any direction meant you were either at the restaurant end of the hotel and could orient yourself, at the Consuite end and could orient yourself, or right in front of the registration desk, and could ask where a certain room was. the other excellent decision made by the organizers was a scheduled lunch and dinner break in the panel and workshop schedule. When there are three panels in a row that you want to go to, and you want to pick something up in the dealer room and have it signed, and you want to go to this other reading, it’s very tempting to skip mealtime. Having absolutely nothing scheduled for an hour around lunchtime and and hour around dinner time made it easy to get something to eat either at the hotel restaurant, one of the restaurants across the street, or at the well-appointed Consuite. People, there was sushi and buffalo wings in the Consuite. Sushi.
With all the scheduled workshops, events, panels, and scheduled meal breaks, I imagine it was pretty tough to find a time during the day when every author was available for a mass autograph session. They came up with a pretty unique solution to this scheduling quandary! Instead of doing a mass autograph session in one of the ballrooms, two or three authors took over a front table in the dealer room, and did autographs there. It kept the lines short and the atmosphere casual.
And speaking of casual, Context is the most casual convention I’ve ever been to. It sounds cliche, but this the kind of event where you can walk in not knowing a soul, and leave with twenty new friends (half of whom are published authors). It helps that Context is a smaller convention, and it also helps that everyone is there to learn something, or share something they’ve learned. You get a very different kind of camaraderie in this kind of environment that you would at a larger convention. Discussions in workshops or panels turn into discussions later, which turn into exchanges of e-mail addresses, which often turns into opportunities for both groups.
Oh, and if you’re wondering…? Being on panels is really fun! the three panels I was on were Being a Woman in Publishing (with co-panelists Laura Resnick and Leslie Anderson), Hot New Writers (with co-panelists Rodney Carlstrom and Michael West) and Writing Book Reviews and Being a Good Reviewer (with co-panelists Gery Deer and Anton Cancre). It was a fantastic experience, not least of all because my co-panelists were friendly and had interesting things to say. Want to ensure that you’ll make friends at a convention? Sign up to do programming!
Moderating is also pretty fun, as I learned while I moderated Being a Woman in Publishing. As we were setting up the panel, I quickly mentioned a few topics to Laura and Leslie, and as those got discussed we got off onto some fascinating tangents. My job was to keep the conversation going, keep us on topic, and ask interesting questions if there were any awkward silences. As things were wrapping up I took questions from the audience. Since it was my first panel ever, and my first time moderating, ever, I decided to go big or go home, so I cosplayed Sabetha Belacoros for most of the day. No one recognized who I was, but I got a lot of compliments on the hat.
If you live anywhere near Columbus, Ohio, and are interested in a smaller scale convention that offers writers workshops with a focus on fantasy, science fiction and horror writing, Context should be at the top of your list. And oh, have you seen who the guests of honor are next year? Chuck Wendig and Ellen Datlow! might want to make your hotel reservation early!