It’s not often you get the chance to attend the inauguration of a new convention. I had that opportunity when I attended Con•Gregate at the Marriott in Winston-Salem, NC, from July 11th to 13th. Putting on any convention or conference has to require not only a lot of work but a considerable amount of time as well, and launching a new convention must demand even more. So I send out kudos to ConGregate Productions’ board of directors — Everette Beach, Laura Haywood-Cory, Paul Cory, James Fulbright, and Tera Fulbright — and all the staff and volunteers for their admirable efforts. I think everyone who attended considered the convention a success.
In addition to a variety of panels, convention goers could broaden their knowledge and skills with workshops and demonstrations on costuming, make-up, special effects, and prop-building and workshops and seminars on writing — beginning the story (and revising that beginning), writing dialogue, plotting, revising (identifying and fixing grammar mistakes), going beyond the first draft, the Magical Words Workshop (feedback on your first 2500 words), and the Magical Words Seminar: Live Action Slush Pile reading.
Other activities included gaming; filk concerts with the Blibbering Humdingers, Danny Birt, Gray Rinehart, and White Plectrum; author readings and signings; book launch parties for Gail Z. Martin and Misty Massey with Silence in the Library Publishing, and D. B. Jackson (David B. Coe); the Baen Traveling Show; games for fans — Fandom Feud, Debate Club, and Geek Trivia; comedy with Phil Keeling; the Dealers’ Room; the Masquerade (costume contest); the Charity Auction and the Monster Hunters International Charity Game.
A number of the panels were designated ET for “expert talks.” Topics for these ranged from science to podcasting, from art to fantasy. Other panels, labeled AP, emphasized “audience participation.” While panels at speculative fiction conventions always involve audience questions and comments, the special emphasis on audience participation in this latter group made these panels even more enjoyable.
Here’s a partial rundown of some of the panel topics:
- Art — Art and Gaming; The Business of Being an Artist
- Brainstorming — Building the Big, Bad, Radioactive Bug; Killing the Big, Bad, Radioactive Bug; World Building with Steven Long
- Children’s Activities — Junior Ghost Busters; Kids Crafts; Kids Filk and Cookies
- Costuming — Costuming 201
- Fandom — How I Got Started in Fandom; Sports Geeks
- Fantasy — Magic’s Price; Epic Fantasy; Urban Fantasy: Future of the Genre
- Gaming — What’s Your Gamer Type?
- Instruction — Learn about Sched.org; Learning to Navigate BoardGameGeek.com; ConGoing 101; Kickstarting Your Project; Managing Your Finances as a Writer
- Media/TV — Science Fiction/Fantasy on TV; Gone Too Soon [cancelled TV series]; 10 Years of NuWHo
- Miscellaneous — Raising the Next Generation; Geeks Get Fit
- Paranormal/Horror — Paranormal: Truth or Fiction; I’m Friends With the Monster Under My Bed; I Hate Zombies, but What if…
Podcasting — The How-to’s of Podcasting
- Publishing — Self-Publishing Pros and Cons
- Reading — What Are “YOU” Reading?
- Science — Ask a Neuroscientist; Harvesting Space for a Greener Earthquake; NASA Panel; Interstellar Travel
- Science Fiction — Almost Human; Dr. Who Through a Woman’s Eyes; Will Star Wars Be the Next Marvel?
- Social Media — Social Media/Marketing for Authors/Artists/Others
- Steampunk — Mecha Samurai and Steampunk Camels
- Writing — Alternate History; An Alien for Your World, A World for Your Alien; Cues from Shakespeare: Fantasy and Thriller writer; Learning to Write for Your Editor; The Writing Life; The Myth of the Strong Woman; Subverting the Trope
- Young Adult — Forever Young
Several awards were presented at the convention. Award winners included Mur Lafferty, who won the Manley Wade Wellman Award, an award which recognizes outstanding achievement in science fiction and fantasy novels written by North Carolina authors; Rich Sigfrit, who won the Cornerstone Award, an award dedicated to acknowledging other fans’ contributions, which is presented by Singularity Effect, a group of fans from the Carolinas; and Misty Massey, who won the “plank,” ConGregate’s special award for the guest who went above and beyond the convention’s first year. Winners of the Masquerade include Mark MacDicken — Master Class, James and Tina Rippe — Novice Class, Michele Giffin — Journey Man Class, Regina — Best Craftsmanship, and Mikki Stith — Judges Choice for DarkChylde.
My interest in science fiction stems from my interest in science and learning more about the solar system and the universe, so I was especially fascinated by the panels about NASA and space exploration. Most people don’t realize that NASA deals with much more than space exploration; it also includes earth science, meteorology (weather and weather forecasting), exobiology, geology, geography, public health, and more. People also don’t recognize that the science necessary for space exploration has given us so many advances in the technology we use today. Every time you fasten a shoe or bag or anything else with velcro, you are using a development that came through NASA. Many medical advances, including lasik, have come from the space program. GPS — useful for finding your way to conventions and conferences you haven’t attended before — depends on satellites in space. In fact, according to Les Johnson, most of us do not realize how much our entire economy depends on space technology and that if the technology went down, our economy could collapse. That is just plain scary.
It’s unfortunate that the government has so reduced the funding for NASA. Now is the time to prepare for the future. Some people don’t see a point in spending on something to benefit us in years to come when we have so many problems now, but the truth is that the advances in science and technology do benefit us now and are, in fact, a bargain. According to Les Johnson, the budget given to NASA is equivalent to the amount Americans spend on potato chips in a year. I think we could manage to give a bit more to our scientists, don’t you?
The news from NASA, however, also includes positives. In 2017, NASA plans to launch a vessel using solar sail technology to study an asteroid. I’m really excited about this project. Since the quantity of elements and substances on Earth is limited — and retrieving them too often involves destruction of land our growing human population may someday need — asteroids offer a future source of raw materials for technology and industry. Exploration of the viability of that resource needs to be done. In addition, solar sail technology, which has the advantage of using the free solar wind to propel the spacecraft, is an economical option for space travel that needs to be explored.
On July 20 we will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the first walk on the moon, an event that awed and inspired many people in this country and around the world. In fact, according to the NASA panel, some of the best things about the space program are that it increases our understanding of the universe and gives us a vision of the future and of the things we can do as a country that we’ve forgotten in recent years. If anything is inspiring, that is.
As you can tell, I really enjoyed the convention and am looking forward to next year, when the convention will be moving to High Point, NC.
I’ll leave you with a wave from Greg8, the delightful little green man created by John Grigni to be Con•Gregate’s mascot.
Image of Greg8 used with Con•Gregate’s permission.
For more information and photos see my blog post A New Speculative Fiction Convention: Con•Gregate 2014.