Essay: Balticon 50–All That Was and Could Have Been
This year was my sixth at Balticon, and boy was it a crazy time. If you’re not familiar with Balticon, that’s okay. It’s held every year in Baltimore, Maryland during Memorial Day weekend. While it’s technically a “sci-fi/fantasy” convention, the podcasting community made serious inroads nearly a decade ago. Since then, it’s been very friendly to the so-called “new-media” endeavors like podcasting, YouTube, and the like.
When I first attended Balticon, the first presentation of Closet Treats was wrapping up. I had made a number of connections via social media to both patrons and other creators. Therefore, the con, for me, wasn’t about being on panels. It was more about meeting all the folks I’d fanboyed over as well as the listeners that helped me find my footing in the podcast/writing community.
And community is the important word here. Since the very first Balticon, my fellow creators and listeners made me feel welcome. Even those whose audiences dwarfed my own were supportive and excited that I’d joined the ranks. The connections I made at that first con kept my head above water for several years and was a major reason I didn’t pod-fade and simply give up trying to make a career out of writing.
The community this year was a bit fractured. Not because anything changed with the community itself, but because of scheduling issues, a larger number of folks who weren’t able to attend, and the extreme volatility of the con itself. With Sci-Fi/Fantasy luminaries such as GRR Martin, Larry Niven, and etc, the Balticon was more highly attended than ever. Because of these popular guests, the rest of us felt as though we were after thoughts. While it would be easy to lay all these issues at a single person’s doorstep, one has to remember that in addition to the 50th anniversary insanity, the con was at a new hotel for the first time in many years. In short, the hotel wasn’t prepared for the insanity and neither were the volunteers.
Despite those problems, however, I had the luxury of hanging out with many creators, making plans for my future as a full-time creator, and finding more help in that endeavor than I dreamed possible. In short, I wasn’t an official participant for many panels, but a lot of work was done.
Brainstorming with the likes of Scott Pond, David Wood, Terry Mixon, Dave Robison, John Walker, Charlie Brown, and David Sobkowiak helped me solidify a plan going forward with YouTube, my podcast, DRS, and a number of other endeavors. In addition, I met an entirely new crop of Fiendlings (patrons of my work), bought drinks for some old-timers, and was finally able to meet a number of listeners to the DRS Writing Podcast.
If I were to list all the people that helped make this a great con, and pledged their support for my “transition” from a part-time writer to full-time, this missive would be about a thousand lines longer. I sometimes forget how many folks enjoy my writing, and conventions like Balticon serve as a reminder that I’m not alone in creating and I’m not simply screaming into the darkness.
My launch party for The Black: Outbreak wasn’t made official, but Laura Nicole Spencer, Val Griswold-Ford, and I made it happen on the patio outside the bar. It turned into guerrilla theatre where I shouted a reading over the noise of cars, helicopters, and con-goers while interested parties looked on with smiles, the occasional wince in horror, and laughter. All this, of course, while I wore a new set of cat slippers (blame Stephanie Harvey and family for that one), and a psychedelic kitty t-shirt. Photos were taken, and perhaps even some video. When I get hold of them, I’ll post them as quickly as I can.
I look forward to Memorial Day every year because I know I’ll see friends I rarely get to talk to in person, I’ll make new ones, and I return to my keyboard refreshed and ready to kick some fiction ass. It’s my annual sojourn into a creative paradise that is too short in duration, but more than powerful enough to keep me going.
Regardless of how chaotic, disorganized, and somewhat disappointing the panels were, I had a blast. While I hope next year runs more smoothly, I’ll be there. And if you have the time and money, I suggest you join us.
Again, thanks to all of you that helped me brainstorm as well as pledged your support. I needed both more than I can say. Now all that’s left for me to do is execute the plan, adapt to any hiccups along the way, and get my ass in the chair to pound on the keys. My “transition” is coming. I’m preparing for it. Without this year’s Balticon, I’m not sure I’d survive it.