Where could you hear about Shakespeare, neuroscience, alternate history, podcasting, Ghost Busters, nerdiquette, harvesting space, epic fantasy, and Kickstarting all in the same place?
Or about Dr. Who, radioactive bugs, makeup and special effects, villains, mythology, religion, paranormal, tropes, trivia, and Star Wars?
Or about costuming, Marvel, ghost stories, magic, social media, marketing, superheroes, and NASA? Or art, world building, managing your finances, zombies, vampires, publishing, Harry Potter, magic, and solar sails?
If you guessed Con•Gregate 2014, you are right. This brand new convention was held July 11th to 13th in Winston-Salem, NC. For a first-time convention, there were an extensive range of panel topics, a good number of guests, and few (if any) glitches. The crew running the convention did a stellar job.
Featured guests at the convention were Writer Guest of Honor Larry Correia, Artist Guest of Honor Mark Poole, Special Literary Guest Toni Weisskopf, and Special Media Art Guest Jennifer McCollum. Other guests included authors, artists and graphic designers, scientists, publishers, costumers, singers and musicians, paranormal investigators, producers, makeup artists, actors, editors, game designers, librarians, podcasters, bloggers, and even a comedian.
The panelists and experts led lively and informative presentations and discussions. Many of the panels involved audience participation; some even focused on audience participation. In the panel “World Building with Steven Long,” Steven led the audience in brainstorming ideas to create a world and situation that could be used as the basis for a game or novel. We brainstormed five possible settings and voted. When we remained deadlocked after a couple votes, we decided to combine the two top choices: post-apocalyptic alternate Earth and underground civilization. We added further details: fracking in multiple locations around the world had caused the apocalypse by releasing many types of dragons which had long been confined in deep underground caves by magic, which also returned to the world. The world we brainstormed has so many fascinating possibilities for stories that I might have to write one.
Another panel that involved audience participation was “Debate Club.” This panel was moderated by Michael D. Pederson, with M. Doc Geressy leading one side of the room and James Maxey leading the other in short debates about a variety of science fiction/fantasy topics, such as Star Trek versus Star Wars and the new Dr. Who versus the original Dr. Who. These audience participation panels added an extra dimension of fun to the panel.
You never know what you may learn at a convention. A. J. Hartley‘s “Cues from Shakespeare: Fantasy and Thriller Writer” gave me a new perspective for viewing Shakespeare’s plays. For instance, A. J. pointed out that Shakespeare was not writing literary fiction; he was a genre writer. I had never thought about Shakespeare that way, but it makes sense because he wrote plays that would appeal to a wide audience, from the educated upper class to the illiterate groundlings. A. J. also mentioned that Shakespeare used a number of thriller elements in his dramas: conspiracy, murder, politics, battles, love/sex, ghosts and supernatural, and pirates. In addition, Shakespeare did not invent plots but used well-known stories, added twists, and wrote them exceptionally well. He excelled in the use of vivid imagery (to compensate for the minimal stage decoration, props, and costuming in that time) and in pacing, allowing spaces in the drama for the pace to slow down so characters could reflect on the action. Every writer could learn a thing or two from studying Shakespeare.
The convention had a number of workshops for writers. I didn’t attend Allen Wold‘s workshops, but I’ve attended them at other conventions and found them invaluable. Allen has encouraged and guided aspiring writers for years, and I highly recommend his workshops. The one workshop I attended was Paula S. Jordan‘s “Beyond the First Draft.” To provide the greatest opportunity for interaction, this workshop was capped at five people; we had three. Paula and Gray Rinehart listened to each of us discuss her/his work and gave valuable feedback. It’s not often a writer gets such an opportunity, and I truly appreciated it.
Although there are so many things to do at a convention, I try to squeeze in one or two filk concerts and I attended three at Con•Gregate. While each musician is unique, all amaze me with their talent and unfailingly give entertaining performances.
While I’m mentioning filk, I have to put in a plug for Danny Birt, who has a Kickstarter campaign going to help produce his next CD. I met Danny at a con years ago and always enjoy his concerts since his songs tend to be playful and laced with humor.
One more convention weekend has zipped past. It’ll be a long wait, but I’m looking forward to attending this one again next year.
For a more about the convention, check out the post Con•Gregate 2014 on The Author Chronicles blog.
Image of Greg8, the con’s mascot, created by John Grigni,
used with Con•Gregate’s permission.
Many thanks to Tera Fulbright for promptly answering my questions.