In mid-January, amongst the single digit temperatures and icy roads, I prepared for ConFusion, an annual science fiction convention that takes place just outside Detroit. Because everyone wants to visit Detroit in January, right? A few days before the convention, the weather broke, the temps exploded into the 20s, and the skies cleared.
Guests of honor and special guests this year included Karen Lord, Steven Erikson, Ted Chiang, Joe Abercrombie, Dr. Cynthia Chestek, Heather Dale, gaming guests of honor Monte Cook and Shanna Germain, and fan guest of honor Aaron Thul. Everyone certainly had their scheduled events, but there was plenty of time for meet and greets and casual chatting and networking.
I’ve a soft spot in my heart for ConFusion – it was the first scifi convention I attended and it’s close to where I live. It’s become my home Con. For reasons other than distance, it’s become a favorite midwest convention for many fans and authors. People show up at ConFusion just to hang out with their friends. Along with the standard convention events like Masquerade, mass autograph session, new book launch parties and readings, a board gaming & RPG room, a well stocked consuite, an Anime room, a jam-packed dealer room, artists alley, themed evening parties, more panels than you can shake a stick at, and volunteer staff who are cheerful and friendly, ConFusion boasts a few unique events, the type often described as “it’s become a thing”. In this column I’ll be highlighting some “things”, and a few other events that made this convention extra special for me.
If you get up early enough on Saturday morning, you can watch a half dozen sleepy authors set up and play their Author D&D game. A seat in the game is often auctioned off for charity. This year’s Author D&D included Peter V Brett, Myke Cole, Diana Rowland, Jim C. Hines, Wesley Chu, Douglas Hulick, Sam Sykes, Joe Abercrombie, and Alexander Kammer. Observers were supposed to stay quiet (photos are allowed) and not interrupt the game. If you’re in the right place at the right time on Friday evening, you can often catch authors rolling their characters. Knowing how to play D&D is not a requirement for being involved in this game, in years past I’ve watched people get crash courses the evening before. I’m sure authors play D&D at other conventions, but this particular one has become a thing at ConFusion.
Later on Saturday, Guest of honor Karen Lord did a book launch party for The Galaxy Game, along with Jim C. Hines who was launching Unbound, the third book in the Magic ex Libris series. Less “party”, and more reading + organized fun games event, Lord and Hines first took turns reading from their own novels. We even got a few hilarious pages out of Hines’ Rise of the Spider Goddess. A goofy word game was played after the reading, followed by a Q&A session and some book give aways. The prize of the afternoon was a hardback copy of Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds, and as it turned out, nearly everyone in the room already owned Hines’ Libriomancer, so most of those paperbacks ended up on the free table.
Do you reddit? More specifically, do you visit the Reddit/r/fantasy subreddit? Moderated by Steve Drew, the fantasy subreddit has become a community where authors and fans can interact, live “ask me anything” interviews take place, and everyone posts links to their favorite articles online. At ConFusion, Steve wrangles a hurricane of planned and unplanned author AMAs. Along with every laptop anyone can spare, Steve and crew take over a boardroom for much of Saturday afternoon, with authors and others popping in for an hour here and there to do a Reddit AMA. It’s become a thing. The room is open to all convention attendees, but too often people pop their heads in and think it’s some kind of private author hangout. Yes, this room is an author clubhouse of sorts, but it IS open to the public. Come on in, say hi, watch Robert Jackson Bennett’s famous sexual experience video on the big screen, have some coffee (or other adult beverage). Knowing many of these people by sight, I walked right into the AMA room, and introduced myself to Steve Drew. A few minutes later, I found myself sitting in between Tom Doyle and Robert Jackson Bennett, with my very own quickie AMA on the laptop screen in front of me. So yeah, that happened.
I was a blogger/fan/critic in a room full of authors, which leads me to my last “it’s a thing”. This one isn’t so much a ConFusion unique thing as a shift that’s starting to happen at fan run conventions across the country. What I’m talking about is bloggers, critics, and podcasters being welcomed into panels and conversations that once upon a time were the realm of published authors, artists, and other industry professionals. I was on five, yes five panels at ConFusion. There was at least one panel where I was the only non-author, and at the Book Reviewing 101 panel I believe only one panelist was a published author. Being a panelist is equal amounts of fun and responsibility, and for any bloggers reading this, I highly suggest signing up for programming at the next convention you attend. We *are* part of the conversation, and it was the authors I felt most invited and welcomed by. (Tiny fangirl squee moment: I was on a panel with Ted Chiang! Squee!!).
If you live within easy driving distance of Detroit, ConFusion is a convention you should consider. On the budget and logistical side, Pre-registered badges are affordable, and you can get a deal on a hotel room if you book through the convention. And if panels aren’t your thing there are plenty of other activities to keep you entertained, along with plenty of child and teen-friendly programming to keep your little nerdlings involved and entertained. Beyond the logistics, this is one of the most fun, most relaxed, and friendly conventions in the midwest.
I’ll end with a much deserved shout out to the volunteers who made it happen: Dave Klecha, Ryan Carey, Anna Carey, Brian Decker, Merrie Haskell, Julie Winningham, and so many others who made this amazing event possible.