Tag Archives: movies

Conventions—The Advanced Class for Dedicated Fans

by Gail Z. Martin

How can you get more out of your con going?  Here are some ideas to increase your con pleasure.

Take a look at the program , if possible, before you go to the event.  Some cons manage to get the program more-or-less finalized far enough in advance to put the program on the web site.  If you can see the program before you go, you’ll know what your must-do events are and you can agonize over scheduling conflicts far enough in advance to create a plan of action.

Look over the guest list of writers, artists and celebrities.  See if any of your favorites are going, and look for meet-and-greet or special events that showcase those people.  Especially for guests of honor, there are usually special panels and events that are all about them.  Those are ones you won’t want to miss.  For non-GOHs, look for readings, signings and panels where you can get a chance to shake hands, ask a question or get a book signed.

Don’t forget to factor in the video and anime schedules, so that you don’t miss a hard-to-find favorite.  And check the party board as soon as you arrive and then at least once before 5 p.m. to know where the night life is happening.

At smaller cons, there is no separate green room for GOH or panel participants, so you run a good chance of meeting people in the con suite.  If you’ve got your heart set on making a personal connection, best times are during the breaks your favorite author has between panels.  Just be polite and don’t talk so long that you make him/her late for the next panel!

Want to be a SMOF? (Secret Master of Fandom)  Be visible for all the right reasons.  Promote the event before, during and after on social media.  Blog, tweet, post on Facebook and upload photos (all with the intent to make sure everyone looks good).  If the con permits photos and video clips, do mini-interviews with other con-goers and the non-GOH guests (GOH will be booked).  Have a podcast?  Plan to do at-con interviews and set up a schedule in advance with the non-GOH guests.  Anything you can do to be helpful and promote the con will put you on the way to SMOF-dom.

Cons can be expensive, so here are some budget tips.  Although it’s nice to stay at the con hotel, nearby hotels can be a lot cheaper, and  may only be a block or two away.  You could save enough just with this tip to pay your food bill for the rest of the con.  Get a fridge in your room and buy your food (and adult beverages) outside of the hotel.  If you can’t find a quik-mart in walking distance, think about ordering out for delivery food to avoid high-cost hotel meals.  Many room parties also supply late night beverages and munchies, so you can have fun and save money at the same time.  Offer to volunteer.  Cons always need more helpers, and especially if you’re local or can come in early, volunteering can be a way to get free or discounted con admission, plus you might have the chance to spend more time with some of the GOHs or other guests.

Oh, and make sure you have a great time—that’s what it’s all about!



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Why Aspiring Writers (Should) Love Cons

by Gail Z. Martin

So you want to be a writer?  Get thee to a convention!

Conventions are fantastic networking and educational opportunities, and they cost a fraction of what many writing conferences charge.

Most conventions have some kind of writing track where you can hear published writers talk about writing and ask them questions.  This is a golden opportunity to learn about the craft from people who are already doing it successfully.

Writing track panels also often include panels on creating characters, writing a good plot,  building dialog, etc.  There are panels with agents and editors sharing tips on how to find an agent or submit a manuscript.  And if you’re lucky, there’s Alan Wold’s wonderful two-day writing workshop.    There are also panels on promoting your books,  publishing e-books, self-publishing and other aspects of the writing life.

Cons are also a great way to meet authors and get to ask your own questions.  Make it low-key, and don’t be a stalker, but you’ll find that many writers are very approachable at cons because they go to connect with people.  Use common courtesy, but don’t be afraid to approach someone and ask a question (try to make it a reasonably quick one).  You’ll do best if you’ve obviously done some homework ahead of time, so don’t ask obvious questions like “how do I find an agent?” (Writers Digest Books have whole books on the topic—read these first and ask a more advanced question.)  Don’t ask a writer to read your manuscript (he or she really doesn’t have time), but it’s OK to ask short technical questions.  Many genuine and long-lasting fan/writer friendships have begun with a conversation at a con!

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Cons 101

by Gail Z. Martin

If you’ve never been to a sci-fi convention, you’re missing the heart of fandom.  Conventions (referred to as “cons”) are gatherings devoted to books, movies, gaming where likeminded people can get together and have a good time.

There is a con somewhere in the U.S. pretty much every weekend.  On several weekends, especially Memorial Day and Labor Day, you’ll have to choose which con to attend.

Cons come in every size and flavor.  Some cons are very small, with only a few hundred in attendance.  These cons have a warmth and intimacy that is hard to find in larger gatherings, but depending on the culture of the sponsoring group, they may seem a little cliquish to outsiders.  Small cons offer a great opportunity to get to meet other fans, have fairly in-depth conversations, and even get face time with the author and artist guests.  Costuming may range from non-existent to intense, depending on the con’s focus.  The vendor room at small cons may not have a wide range of goods for sale, but you’ll have the chance to talk to the vendors and learn more about the products.  Small cons are usually priced inexpensively, and if you’re local and can avoid needing a hotel room, you can further reduce your costs.

Other cons are huge, like Dragon*Con in Atlanta with over 40,000 people and ComiCon in New York and San Diego with well over 100,000 fans.  There’s so much going on at these cons that you won’t build a lot of new relationships.  On the other hand, these cons draw major media stars, bestselling authors, and big-name artists.  Costuming at the big cons is a high art, and you’ll be swiveling your head to see thousands of people who look like they just walked off the set of your favorite movie.  The vendor areas are packed with a huge variety of items for sale ranging from collectible art to pricy costumes and weapons, but it can be difficult to see the merchandise for the crowds.  Because the largest cons draw such a huge attendance, hotels in the area often charge premium rates.  Ticket prices also reflect the scope and depth of the offerings at the event, meaning that the cost to attend the bigger events is understandably higher than for a local con.

While some conventions are multi-media events, catering to books, movies, TV, costuming and gaming, many cons focus on a single specialty.  There are book-only literary cons, all-gaming cons, and cons just for media or costuming.  Make sure you know the focus of the con you’re considering attending before you go so that you’re not disappointed.

If you’re a fan of the genre, you owe it to yourself to try going to a few cons just for the experience.  It can be a wonderful way to discover that you’re not the only one who enjoys certain books, movies or games, and many people have forged new friendships at conventions that last for years.  Give it a shot, and enjoy the experience of having your favorite stories come to life in a whole new way.


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Cons in pop culture

by Gail Z. Martin

I just finished reading Carole Nelson Douglas’s Cat in a Kiwi Con, a very tongue-in-cheek mystery set in, of all places, a sci-fi convention.  Having met Carole on a panel at DragonCon (she’s also been on my Ghost in the Machine podcast and is a big favorite of mine), I had to laugh all the way through the book at how spot on it caught convention life as viewed by a mundane suddenly pulled into the action.

It reminded me in some ways of my favorite con send-up, Galaxy Quest.  Only someone who knew and loved conventions could create such a funny and gentle parody that poked fun without making fun.

My kids didn’t really “get” Galaxy Quest until the first time we took them to DragonCon.  We made a point to come back and watch the movie again afterwards.  They laughed so hard now that they were insiders.

Cons are our chance to step into an alternative universe ruled by the fen.  Yet even in our con revelry, there are still touchpoints with those outside of the family.  I was reminded of this at Ravencon where we shared the hotel with a high school prom.  I don’t think it occurred to the seniors at the prom that they were every bit as much in costume as we were, or that it was just as much of a fantasy for them as for us.  (I was, however, very impressed by the Klingon in a formal purple outfit with a parasol.  Nice touch.)

Cons are really a tribal thing, just like football games, NASCAR races, NCAA basketball games and hockey.  Those who get it, get it.  Those who don’t shake their heads and wonder.  I always look at the hotel security cops who patrol at cons and wonder what on earth (or elsewhere) they make of it.  Of course, it’s not so very different from the Renaissance Festivals where I do signings, where everyone speaks some form of Shakespearean English and corsets rule.  (Even Scooby Doo did a take on a mystery at a Renaissance Festival.)

Sure, sometimes pop culture mocks fandom.  Then again, it also mocks sports fans and enthusiasts of just about anything (mocking subcultures has made Wayne Farrell a rich man).  So when you think of it that way, fandom isn’t really quite as isolated as we fen sometimes think.  One man’s beloved subculture is another’s weird gathering.  Viva la difference!

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Things Readers Wish Writers Would Keep In Mind

by Gail Z. Martin

Last week I talked about things writers wish they could whisper in readers’ ears.  Now it’s time to turn that around and remind writers what readers wish they’d remember.

#1  It’s been a year since we read the last book in the series, so give us some gentle reminders to get us up to speed.  Admittedly, this is tricky for both readers and writers, because each individual reading a book will have forgotten different things than the next reader, and the writer has to cover the waterfront without slowing things down to a halt to recap the last four 600-page books.  Perhaps it’s best to agree to meet in the imperfect middle, with a few mental nudges from the writer (short of an full-blown recap) and the reader’s agreement to go back and skim through the last volume if they’ve forgotten everything.

#2  Just because you, the writer, have worked out ever detail in your head (or your notebooks), readers don’t have to know it.  Some writers get so enthralled by their own backstory that they feel compelled to share it, even when it doesn’t actually matter to the plot.  It’s like reading a book about World War II and having someone drop in a three-page description of the Napoleonic Wars just because you ought to know about them.  However, just because a reader becomes enthralled by a certain element in a book, the writer is not automatically obligated to fill in all the details.  Some things work better when mysterious around the edges.

#3  Speaking of which…writers shouldn’t feel compelled to explain what is better left unsaid (such as faster than light travel, wormholes, or magic), and readers should try not to feel gypped when they don’t get a free physics class as part of the price of the book.  The corollary is that just because a writer is a rocket scientist doesn’t mean he/she is required to explain physics to the poor reader who just wants a space opera adventure.

There.  I’ve gotten it all off my chest.  I hope I’ve touched on some things that other people wanted the chance to say.  Think of something else?  Let me know!

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Fandom needs its Glee

by Gail Z. Martin

Thanks to Glee, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and Guitar Hero, my kids know the words to all the songs that were popular when I was in high school, and quite a few songs that made the charts when I was still riding a tricycle.

These TV shows, plus Karaoke and dance video games and the ubiquitous Rock Band have made the hits of the 70s and 80s—and some of the 60s—cool again.  Sure, the songs have an updated sound (no chord organs), and they’re not the original artists.  But as covers go, they’re pretty damn good.  Better than many cover bands I’ve heard.  But what really matters is that these shows and games managed to make songs that were meaningless to teens and  twenty-somethings relevant and relatable.

So how does fandom go about doing the same thing for the favorite books that aren’t on the radar of anyone under 50?

I think one thing that’s important to note about the Glee phenomenon is that no one lectured viewers about the relative merit of the old songs.  Not only that, both artists and performers had to be willing to bend to update the sound.  And it doesn’t work for every song.  I don’t think we’ll be seeing the car crash ballads of the 1950s revived, unless they’re updated for drive-bys. (It’s possible.)

What does this mean for fandom?  Instead of bemoaning the dearth of young people at (some) cons, perhaps some bending is in order from the old guard to entice young fen into the flock.  Media cons certainly have young fans in droves, because they like the fames and the TV/movie tie-ins and the costumes.  How is that a bad thing?  These don’t diminish books; they extend our audience.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize that some stories won’t resonate with readers outside of the time period of the story’s creation because the world has changed too much, even for sci fi.  Stories that are overtly sexist, racist, jingoistic or otherwise exclusive will feel like ancient history, not futuristic tales.  Some stores, beloved as they may be, outlive their time.

The artists whose work has suddenly become relevant to a whole new generation are profiting from the exposure.  The original fans find themselves smiling and singing along, much to the amazement of their kids.  (If you’d have asked me if someday my teenagers would know the songs from Rocky Horror Picture Show, I wouldn’t have bet money on it, and I’d have been wrong.)  In fact, by closing the musical generation gap, these shows have opened a door to a whole new form of togetherness.

Cons can be a terrific forum for shared interests across generations.  I’ve seen it happen.  If it’s not happening at a con near you, tune in to an episode of Glee or fire up Guitar Hero and see if you don’t get a few ideas on how to bridge the gap.


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Keeping the Fandom Flame in a Sci-Fi World

by Gail Z. Martin

What do you do when the fantastic becomes commonplace?

Back in the day, early in the 20th century, sci-fi had a lot of ground to cover. Rocket ships, ray guns, space travel, light-up gadgets—there was no limit to what could be imagined.

A funny thing happened on the way to the future. Reality caught up—and sometimes passed—sci-fi. Space shuttle launches became ho-hum. Middle school kids carry cell phones far more advanced that Uhura’s entire communication panel, let alone Kirk’s communicator and Bones’ tri-corder put together. Our cars not only talk to us, they plan out our route, dial our phones and can call for help if we get stuck. The Internet happened.

Personally, I think that the closer reality became to sci-fi, the harder it’s gotten for the genre to keep up. Maybe that’s why fantasy does so well—it’s easier to surprise us in the past than to predict a future more mind-boggling than the one in which we already live.
There’s a hidden benefit to this shift. Long ago, it was difficult for the average person to imagine a ray gun future because it was so vastly different from what someone living in a rural community in the pre-World War II world experienced, a world that for many people still lacked indoor plumbing and electricity. As sci-fi converged with the real world, it became mainstream.

One quick run through the programming on TV shows plenty of plots hinging on scientific thrills and wonders—as well as fantasy elements and the paranormal—that are on every network and channel, not just Syfy. Books that at one time would have been considered “fannish” become mega-bestsellers, like Harry Potter and Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books. Role-playing games broke out of the basement thanks to video gaming and took over every living room in America. Thanks to Cartoon Network, anime elements are as accessible as sushi at your local supermarket.

How do you keep the fandom flame? In my opinion, fandom wins when it embraces this new crop of readers, gamers and movie-goers and includes programming to attract them. Instead of considering mass-media newcomers as second-class, value their perspective and create ways to draw them further into other elements of fandom by exposing them in positive ways. Put the “fun” back in “fan” and stop taking fandom quite so seriously. Realize that the passing of the torch is inevitable, and is best done with grace and humor.
Older fans often remember the sting of exclusion from the “mainstream” culture. Let’s make sure fandom shows a more welcoming face now that we have seen the future….and they are us.

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Why book fans need media and gaming fans (and vice versa)

by Gail Z. Martin

I run into some groups of fans who have a “separate but equal” view when it comes to conventions. Some book fans get twitchy around fans whose primary experience with the genre comes via gaming, movies and TV. Multi-media fans sometimes don’t “get” what all the excitement is about listening to a bunch of authors talk in a hotel ballroom.

Can’t we all get along?

I’ll be the first to admit that I consume the genre in multiple ways: books, music, movies, TV, anime, costuming, and when time permits, role playing games (video and old school). For me—and for many fans—consuming the genre in more than one way deepens the experience.

Don’t get me wrong—I love books. After all, I write them. But I also enjoy the genre when it’s presented well in a variety of formats. I’ll get something different out of each experience. Experiencing the story in ways that stimulates multiple senses makes it more memorable, more tangible and more pleasurable.

That’s why I think that the books vs. media “controversy” is a tempest in a teapot. Book and multi-media fans have a lot they can learn from each other. Working together with respect for each other’s perspective and experience, they can gain a whole new way of alooking at their favorites. They can serve as cultural translators for each other, and in the process, find treasures in formats they might not have otherwise explored. I really believe book fans need media and gaming fans—and vice versa—because together they provide a more well-rounded and wholistic fandom, with roots in the past but comfortable and fluent in the present.

It’s worth the effort to bridge the divide. Fandom is stronger—and more fun—when we work together.

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The Graying of the Fan—Or Not

by Gail Z. Martin

I attend more than a dozen sci-fi/fantasy conventions each year, mostly along the East Coast. One of the topics that comes up often in conversation, if not as the actual topic of a panel, is the fear in some areas that fandom is graying and that young people aren’t embracing the genre.

I just don’t see it.

If anything, the Millennial generation—those folks now in their teens and twenties—are the most sci-fi saturated generation in history. They teethed on Buffy, came of age with Harry Potter, immersed themselves playing Final Fantasy, navigated the Twilight phenomenon, and exist in a world where a huge percentage of the books, movies and TV shows have a supernatural/paranormal bent. It’s almost impossible for them to avoid the genre. These young people played with light sabers as kids and went trick-or-treating as anime characters.

But here’s what over-40 fans need to accept—the next generation of fans are a multi-media fandom raised in a multi-media world. Few of them are going to go back and read pulp stories from the 1930s or 1940s—why should they? Not only were those stories, however much they may be revered as classics of the genre, written fifty years before they were born, but the sci-fi in them isn’t amazing to people who played with computers in day care, are indigenous citizens of the Internet and navigate iPads, iPods and cell phones with the fluency of a Borg.

I’ve found that when people lament the decline of fandom, there’s really a wish for fandom to remain primarily book oriented, and, if truth be told, on books published a while ago. Yet, as futurists should know better than anyone, time marches on.
I’ve been to cons that eschew media and gaming where people ponder the lack of young fans. Then I go to multi-media cons like DragonCon, and I see where all the young fans are. The next generation of fans want to celebrate the genre as they’ve come to love it—and that goes beyond books to gaming, anime, movies, TV and the Web. Speak their language, honor their interface with the genre, and they will come—in droves.

Something amazing happens at multi-media cons. Older fans discover elements of the genre that they’re surprised to like. Younger fans get switched on to authors who were published long before the fans were born. And just like on a Star Trek episode where two alien races have a positive first encounter, the whole thing works surprisingly well.

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