Awesome is an overused adjective, but it really is the prefect word to describe my recent trip. This past weekend I went back to Seton Hill University for the first time since I graduated from the MFA program four years ago. I was excited to see some of my old friends and mentors, but I didn’t have any great expectations for the writer’s convention itself. It’s a small con by comparison, so I figured it would just be okay.
Boy was I surprised.
Every single Guest of Honor was fantastic. Seriously. I’m not kidding. They were fun and smart and very knowledgeable in their areas of expertise.
Shout out to Literary Agent Natalie Kimber of the The Rights Factory, whom I found charming and incredibly insightful. She pulled out a Phillip K. Dick reference that I had never heard of! And I love PKD. She is upbeat and has a heart to do good things, not just for writers, but for the world as a whole. I was very impressed by her.
Sandra Kasturi owns and edits ChiZine Publications, which is both a magazine and a small press. They have a great reputation and have won a lot of awards. She was outrageously funny and smart, and was awesome enough to share some insight into how a small press works. She really gets it. And by “it” I mean what it takes to be successful.
Chris Kepner was cool enough to take a role for Vicki Thompson’s mystery dinner (Look her up, she is amazing.) They do a little skit every residency and he played a male stripper. Enough said. I sat across from Chris and his wife and daughter. They were all lovely.
And Mark Oshiro, the guest Author, was fucking off the hook inspiring. His life story and the way he learned to write utterly wrecked me. I have so much respect and love for him and I barely know him. He is also gracious and humble to go along with a brilliant skill set, not just for writing but editing as well. We were able to submit a short piece for his critique and he gave me a new insight for improving the beginning of my latest manuscript. It was only five pages and he was able to intuit a great deal, enough to provide solid advice on how to move forward. He is known for Mark Reads and Mark Watches, and his entire catalog at Mark Does Stuff, among other things. And oh yeah, he writes. I bought his YA debut novel, Anger is a Gift, and can’t wait to read it. And pretty much anything he publishes from now till the end of time.
And since this parallels the Seton Hill MFA program residency, we got to see a presentation and reading by Daniel Jose Older. It was like a one-man Broadway play. He was so animated and full of energy that it was infectious. That’s right, he infected us with energy. And happiness. All I can say is wow.
The workshops were amazing. I got a lot out of all of them. I woke up Friday morning a little bit down and missing my wife, and I had a full slate ahead of me, with a few live pitches tucked in there. My first ever.
The day opened with a poetry workshop with my former mentor, the enigmatic Timons Esaias. Timons is an award-winning poet and short story writer, and he has a mastery of the English language, and the history that surrounds it, like nobody I have ever met. Truly astounding. He is a modern Mark Twain. It was a great way to start the day. The rest of the day went by quickly and my pitch sessions went about as well as they could. I was fortunate enough to have a beer with him later.
I spent a lot of time with Suz Jay. She is an incredible writer and a great friend. We shared a critique with each other and I also bought an anthology that she had a story in. There are so many brilliant people that attend this con, but she really made the weekend better in every way.
This is a relatively small con, but it packs a punch. If you want to rub elbows with a bunch of established and up and coming writers, I can’t think of a better con to attend. It was amazing all the way around. My hat is off to the staff. Con chairman Deanna Sjolander is stupendous. She was everywhere. And she is a fabulous person to hang out with. She is extremely experienced at running cons all over the world and we are truly blessed to have her as the head of this little con. She worked on World Con staff last year and played an instrumental role. She is also an amazing writer and editor. I can’t say enough wonderful adjectives about her.
The rest of the staff are also awesome. Donna Munro did a splendid job with programming and filled the halls of the costume ball with out of this world artwork and she is simply as cool as they come. Gina Anderson (she took some great pics of the con,) and Cathy Oswald (one of my SHU classmates and all-around wonderful friend,) ran the pitch sessions. Judy Fleming and Sy Reagor also kept everything rolling smoothly with arrangements and schedules and an auction of cool stuff and I don’t even know what all. And oh yeah, there was a costume ball that had
to be coordinated. And critique groups organized by Alex Savage. And a book selling event! I’m sure I’m missing something. These incredible people knocked it out of the park. I’m telling you, if you have never been to a writing con and want to see how It’s done right, you can’t go wrong with this one. They all really care and have the right attitude about making sure the con works for everyone attending and making sure it is a positive and inclusive environment.
I’m sure I missed someone or something, but suffice to say it was awesome. Heh.
High Fives staff peoples! I will be going back next year for sure.
Do you have any favorite cons you like to attend?